Alison Berkley: What’s a cash-strapped Princess to do?
October 8, 2002
I am sitting on a Greyhound bus during a rain storm somewhere in New Hampshire, still hours from my final destination in Jamaica, Vermont. A baby screams for hours as if on cue. A truck driver from Boise squishes into the seat next to me and insists on talking my ear off even though my eyes are closed. He wants to know if there are any famous cities in Vermont. Across the aisle sits a pretty girl with dreads so nappy all I want to do is dump a bottle of conditioner over her head. Due to Friday night traffic out of Boston and the dark, wetness of a fall New England storm, I’ve been on this dreadful bus for five hours and am missing my best friend’s wedding rehearsal dinner. Mind you that for reasons like these I do not prefer public transportation. But due to recent circumstances, I am simply left no choice.
Now I always thought that being able “to afford” something meant that if I had enough money in the bank to pay for it than I could have it. This simple equation entitled me to luxuries such as impulse buys at Boogie’s (platform flip-flops and a pink terry sweatshirt), salmon ahi tar-tar at l’Hostaria, dancing and drinks at points various with Emily and the Cache Cache/Campo crew, and “fashion-as-art” boutique items such as a pair of black, lizard-skin boots from Bloomingbirds that, so help me God, better never go out of style. (I would hock one of those puppies right now to pay for a rental car, I swear.)
My rationale for such indulgences has always been, “I would rather enjoy my life than keep it in the bank,” or as my mom always justified her expensive purchases, “Honey, you get what you pay for.” Until now, I’ve functioned just fine on the Gas Tank Finance Plan: As long as I fill up the old checking account before it gets to “E” I’m not worried. I fancy myself living spontaneously and chalking up experiences rather than savings. What better place to continue this practice than in Aspen?
So I danced and ate and drank and shopped the summer away, savoring the flavors and the people and the sights and the sounds like a kaleidoscope of gluttony and hedonism.
Then I woke up one day and realized I was broke.
The longer I live in Aspen, the more money I spend and the less money I make. Wait ? what am I talking about? I have no money. I know I said I always want what I can’t have, but this is ridiculous. Aspen is the capitol of wanting what you can’t have. I feel like Cinderella going in reverse. My chariot turned into a pumpkin, the glass slipper doesn’t fit, my Prince is broke as a joke, I had to hock my jewels to pay the rent, and I’ve got three evil step-dogs that shed everywhere and make me sneeze constantly, not to mention it’s just plain gross.
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In the blur of all that pleasure (or is it denial?), it didn’t really matter. But the off-season is really throwing me off. My distractions have all left town for more happening venues, and I can’t find a paying job to save my life. As a few people have pointed out to me, I have chosen the most expensive town in the world and I’ve never been so poor.
The finer things in life daunt me at every turn, tantalizing behind shiny glass windows and high up on mountainsides and down streets with big, stone-pillar entrances. I walk by homes and imagine what I’d do with them: what color I’d paint the outside, what kind of furniture I’d choose for the inside, or which house I’d choose on a certain block. I admire the cars parked out front, the Audi wagons and the Range Rovers and the Porsches, though I’d probably want a different color. I select my favorite architectural features (French doors, dormers, and balconies), and my favorite neighborhoods (I’d prefer the shaded privacy of a river lot on Oklahoma Flats to the exposure of Red Mountain any day). I pick outfits I admire on store manikins (the Geisha belt and ribbon pumps at Gucci) and drool over expensive purses in window displays and wonder if I would ever actually wear a fur like that. I read menus on those little outdoor podium things and imagine what I’d order on an unlimited budget.
My dad says the stock market is affecting everyone. He says to stop crying, he wants to cry at least once a day too. He says it’s a good lesson, to learn the value of money for once in my life. But still. What is a girl to do? So I got on a plane and flew to the East Coast where I can’t afford to rent a car so here I am on this god-damned bus.
This bus will take me to the site of a beautiful fall wedding on 65 acres overlooking what could have been. I’ll see old childhood friends who married ivy-league educated men and live in renovated houses, pregnant with their first babies, working regular jobs, leaving the house at the same time every morning and coming home at the same time for dinner. I’ll go to my cousin’s in New York just after the bar mitzvah is over (because it’s on the same day as the wedding in Vermont) and I’ll see the tent come down and help eat the leftovers. I’ll watch family member’s inquisitive faces, groping to understand where I am and why. I’ll listen to their ideas on how I should get a fresh start and go back to grad school. We’ll plan to go visit Ground Zero but end up getting manicures and pedicures instead. I’ll visit the house where I grew up skiing in Vermont that was recently sold and my throat will tighten with tears and I’ll stand there, frozen, feeling like the leaves floating and swirling in the wind, falling and drifting and falling again.
But I’ll remember who I am and where I came from and realize that maybe I was right. Money isn’t everything, but living is ? I just a need a higher credit limit.
[Make checks payable to “Pay The Princess” P.O. Box 10301, Aspen, CO 81612 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org]