Tuesday, December 1, 2015


           Two years ago a friend on Facebook, a guy I never met who lives on the East Coast, contacted me through Facebook’s chat function with an “amazing opportunity” and because he “couldn’t sleep at night” he wanted to “share this once-in-a-lifetime chance” with a “real go-getter.”  
            I guess I was the go-getter. 
            He explained to me that the grand prize for the person who could sell the most within the parameters of this “opportunity” was a brand new BMW. 
            “Who wouldn’t want to own a BMW???” he typed emphatically.
            “Well,” I began, “just last week I bought a BMW, a slightly used X5.”  I explained some of the features:  a sleek merino leather interior and a really cool moon roof that I can open up while cruising north on the Pacific Highway pretending to be in a Mr. Mister video.
            I don’t remember the exact words he used, but his response to my enthusiasm was a comment along the lines of “Well, la-dee-dah.”  I didn’t expect this, of course.  If anyone is excited about their new car purchase and talks to me about it, I am happy for them, I don’t scorn them.  I don’t feel any sort of envy in situations like this.  I actually find that when people upgrade their cars or their homes I tend to feel inspired.  My Italian immigrant grandfather used to say, “Quando il sole splende, il sole splende per tutti,” That phrase translates to this:  “When the sun shines, the sun shines for everybody.”  If someone can work hard and buy something nice, then I can, too.
            My life was not always that of the entrepreneur with the cool German car living a shorts-based existence in beachy southern California.  Truth be told, for most of the time I have owned my company, it has been a struggle.  It’s taken me a lot of work to get to where I am now.  I know that most people refuse to look at the work involved and glamorize the life of people who start their own businesses.  I suppose this comes from seeing too many informercials promising that you, too, can be sipping mai tais in Fiji while your business runs itself, or the latter-day equivalent:  the YouTube ad with the guy who claims that if you read a book a day you can start your own business, tool around in an Italian sports car all day and live in a (rented) mansion full of tacky décor (just click your mouse and transfer some cash for the “secrets”).
            I constantly remind myself of a time many Junes ago in hot Phoenix when I was staring down at a bleak summer after a somewhat mediocre holiday season and spring.  I owned a retail store then and I knew that for the next 3 months traffic would be way down inside my store because people would be either hiding under rocks or heading to San Diego to get out of the heat, anything but driving around that hellish metropolis to go shopping.  So, with credit cards at their limits and very little cash in the bank and not yet having proved my credit-worthiness to qualify for a line of credit with my bank, I sat down at my kitchen table to budget out the summer.  I used estimates on sales and worked with what little money I had left.  Part of this budget included spending $90 for the MONTH on food.    In order for everything to work I had to spend no more than $3 a day on food.  Yes, this was in the United States.  Could I do it?
            I found creative ways to stretch my food dollars.  I discovered the ethnic grocery stores – Mexican and Vietnamese – that sold the basics in bulk for less than any “big box” store.  They also received the second-rate produce that was not up to the chain store standards.  Tomatoes were three pounds for a dollar.  Lettuce was fifty cents per head.  Meats were cheaper at the Mexican places and fish was cheaper at the Vietnamese places.  I was also introduced to new foods at these stores.  At Loi Nam Grocery I will never forget the delight on the face of an Asian man in his 80s when a worker at the store dumped out a crate of what looked like a type of tomato.  The old man was so happy, smiling broadly and muttering ecstatic phrases to himself in his own language.  I had to ask what these things were.  His daughter who could speak some English told me they were a certain type of persimmon found in Vietnam and Laos.  I bought some.  They were cheap and I had to see what all the fuss was about.  It was that June I learned to appreciate the small joys in discovering a new fruit.
            I had a small plastic container in my kitchen for my food money.  When the calendar ground to the end of June I found that I had 83 cents left in this container.  83 cents!  I survived on 3 bucks a day for food and had money left over.  I did it.  Yay!
            I wanted to shout my victory from the rooftops.  I told some customers about what I did.  Most people reacted in the opposite way of how I felt.  One older lady looked at me gravely and tears swelled up in her eyes.  “I never knew things were so bad for you,” she said quietly.  I didn’t share this sadness.  I felt like I had accomplished something massive.
            Most people don’t know this story of mine.  While I feel those days are far behind me I know full well that things could go back to this – for me or for anyone else – and I am fine with knowing I could do what it takes to make do with what I have.  What I wrote here was not meant to garner any sort of sympathy or to engender feelings of any sort, good or bad.  I would only ask that when I do buy that beach house overlooking the Pacific that you please keep in mind my $3-a-day struggle and just be happy for me.

1 comment:

  1. I rejoice with you. Sometimes these days I get frustrated with my 20-somethings who don't seem to want to persevere. Then I wonder (worry?) if I'm sounding like almost-50... :-) (at least we both know that I didn't walk to school uphill both ways in the snow... ((smile))