I’ll freely admit that life as a quasi-graduate student has not seen me living very high on the hog. I’m working long hours — most of which are for free — both in offices and on miscellaneous projects of sorts. I’m on a clothing rotation consisting of three shirts and one pair of pants. By the way, my world felt like it was collapsing last week when I got a blotch of pasta sauce on that one, precious pair of trousers. Speaking of sauce, here’s another sad tale to illustrate my life of luxury…
Buying groceries the other night, I found a 99-cent bag of bowtie pasta. After snatching it off the shelf, I went to buy the sauce, but realized the jar, costing $3, would increase my pasta-related spending by 300 percent. So, I’ve abandoned sauce. And if I ration out the plain bowties correctly, it’s only about 20 cents a meal. Judge me if you must.
“Frank likes his eggs,” my roommates joke, as I hard-boil eggs for the 28th day in a row. I play along, too sheepish to admit that I’m not necessarily in it for the genuine love of yolks or whites, but because I can enjoy these AA eggs at 14 cents a pop.
I went to two different events this past weekend solely because they promised free food. That equaled two free dinners. One of them was popcorn. Ralph’s has free sample giveaways on Fridays. Naturally, lunch at Ralph’s happens on Fridays.
There is a two-layered force of tragic irony at play here. The first deals with the phenomena of diminishing luxury as one progresses through this stage of life. I’m getting older and more educated, but I’ve gone from a fully furnished, suburban home with food everywhere, to a student-loan–comped dorm with a student-loan–comped meal plan. From there, it was a dirty, non-comped apartment with non-comped food and non-comped electricity.
My current situation? I’m virtually broke from funding college, figuring out how to save up rent, trying to save up for a car and being in debt from those loans that seemed free at the time. On top of all
that, I’m also trying to eat and clothe myself.
I’m often working for free to try and “get ahead,” so we’re left with one hungry, tired, smelly kid.
The second tragic, yet ironic layer comes directly from living in Los Angeles. I’m in the mecca of glamour, surrounded by celebrities, Porsches, posh nightclubs, cafes and boutiques, but I’m the guy holding that $1 burrito from 7-Eleven. I’m the guy bringing a coupon to Supercuts.
But don’t waste your pity on me or start sending canned goods. This is the struggle I signed up for. This is the struggle I’ve come to enjoy. There’s something romantic about it.
There’s excitement and intrigue in everything. There’s an authentic sink-or-swim quality that can’t be contrived. I’m a sucker for a good story, and this is real drama … or maybe it’s a comedy.
The problem I often found as a teenager with an Xbox was that a lot of video games eventually prove to be too little of a challenge. They’re a blast for the first few hours until you’ve figured them out, and then the magic is gone. Too easy. Too simple. No threat of failure. No fun.
I’m not close to having figured this place out. The magic remains. The threat of failure is clear and present. The proverbial floor many talk about “falling through” is right below my feet, and I can hear the molded plywood creaking. There’s something primal and invigorating about it. I won’t be able to sit on the couch in the basement and beat Los Angeles in a single night with a two-liter bottle of Wild Cherry Pepsi and a party-sized bag of Funyuns beside me.
I’ve drifted in and out of an affair with ambition for as long as I can remember, but Los Angeles has brought my hunger levels to an all-time high. Yes, partly because of the malnourishment, but also from that excess of glamour surrounding me.
Every time I step outside, I get a passing whiff of my hopes and dreams, which quickly fades into the odor of my dirty clothes.
I can see the Hollywood sign from my kitchen as I eat Cup Noodles and think, “Maybe someday I’ll be eating a plate of noodles.” I walk over the stars on the Walk of Fame, and think of how much they’ve accomplished, and how little I’ve done. It’s humbling. It’s a tad overwhelming. But it’s terribly motivating.
Frank Marasco is a first year graduate student in Los Angeles. He can be reached at email@example.com.