4/19/20: Money I

Sunday: particularly slow, the hours seem interleaved with lead. The normal chores seem onerous and insulting in their slowness, the way in which they consist of a thousand thousand individual steps that have to be scraped through exactingly, achingly, at a preordained speed limit every time, and not one station to be missed.

One thing that pretty much every piece of art and media that purports to engage with/present “modern American life” I’ve ever experienced fails at, is its depiction of what it is like to lack, and daily worry about, money. I notice it a lot in horror movies: the way the characters always live in immaculate upper middle class houses, and are immaculately clean and beautiful. Nothing has the weathered look of things that have been out in reality.

But even in more grounded media you notice it. And to be fair, it often isn’t a main concern of the creator. On one level this must be because the insulting mundanity of monetary woes are counterintuitive to Plot; it’s not inherently exciting to watch/read about someone doing the daily despairing check-in on their banking account, wondering whether or not they can afford some minor expenditure. When themes of money are engaged, they’re done in sweeping, poetic ways: “We are Poor” or  “We are Rich;” and there’s lots of honest things to be gained from that approach, but in that approach money becomes part of a larger aesthetic ambience rather than presented in the frustrating form of daily atmosphere that it is for me and, I’m assuming, so many others.

The real life money woes of people “like me” are boring, even though they command enormous acreage in our minds. They’re one of the most private problems, ones that  talk about even less than ostensibly more arcane ones. I’ve publicly agonized over a broken heart more than my depleted bank account, even though the latter seems comparatively mundane and unpersonal, and requires less internal excavation to present to others.

Money in this sense is a part of life, a part that, seemingly, can’t be elevated or even acknowledged by so much “realist” media and art. In the second-by-second pointillist boredom of it, it refuses to assimilate into a plot; it’s untranscendable, intransmutable. Love, war, despair all are willing to gracefully acquiesce to Plot’s forms and function; but these money woes of mine, maybe as much of a part of my life as these other things, refuses to unfold with the humanmade symmetries of a told story.

As of right now, I have $5,960.55 in my bank account. I make $550 a week.

Possibly related: I think one reason I don’t like Nabokov is that his prose is always so rich; it ignores and doesn’t understand the mental feelings of poverty. Maybe Nabokov knew poverty in his life, I don’t know; but his prose never knew it, and always shows up in finery, luxe and ignorant of the despair of not-having.

Whenever I’m in some middle class or upper middle class home, I fetishize their neatness, the prim tasteless tastefulness with which they are always arranged: the gleaming wood floors, the sterile white furniture, the dog trained to perfection at an expensive local doggie school. One time I house sat for a couple in Hudson, and I still think about the bedrooms and the windows and the insufferable, irresistible manicure of everything they owned.

If you take Frost into Hudson, you’ll be forced to see lots of these kinds of houses. On the verdant stretch that drops you off onto Main Street, they’re spread out on either side of the road like pastries.

And if you want, you can go to First & Main and look at all the smug little shops, and wonder what it would be like to go in to one of them with a mind to spend. You can watch the people walk around and wonder, fruitlessly, what it might be like to be them. There’s a bell-tower in the quadrangle, facing the front row of shops on Main Street; you’ve seen it a hundred times and never walked the grass in front it, never touched its brickwork to find out whether it was authentically old or if it just seemed so, the way the whole of Hudson presents itself as a pleasantly aged little hamlet, which of course it is not.

(Each of these unremarkable little Cleveland suburbs are defined by some central wish like this, some fantasy they hold about themselves: Hudson wants to be elite, cultured; Streetsboro wants to be an indispensable Commercial Zone; Aurora wants to be a beautiful place for beautiful people to raise beautiful children; Kent wants to be Columbus.)

You can go anywhere you want there, of course, and wish anything that you want. And in certain lights it does all look kind of lovely, and you feel a susceptibility to its predictable spell, and helplessly-indulgently imagine alternate routes of your own life, branching off from current one, where somehow you ended up with a boring but comfortable job, a well-paying one, and bought a house here, and – responsibly, over time – filled it up with nice things: a big brand name TV, a leather couch, an iPad on the coffee table next to a book of Ansel Adams’s photographs; and three times a week you go to a regional restaurant chain and overpay for mediocre food, and take it home in folding brown paper boxes with the logo stamped, actually stamped, onto the flap, and walk to your car with your partner in the chill spring evening air, watching the clouds cover up the sun as it descends, as if out of propriety; and you get home and contentedly lock up the house, stopping for a second at the sliding back doors to consider your silhouette, held in the glass, before flipping the lock into place and going upstairs to bed.

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