The truth about farina… and other dirty little secrets
I’m keeping an eye on eBay; I have three BUY IT NOW listings, and the minute any one of them sells I can walk the two blocks to Avanza and buy a pack of Pall Malls.
You might be thinking that someone so financially hard up must have better things to spend her money on than cigarettes. If that’s indeed what you’re thinking, I have just three things to say:
(1) You are thinking too loud. Shut up and go away.
(2) Yes, but there are also WORSE things I could be spending my money on: crystal meth, for example; an AK-47; anything manufactured by small children working eighteen hours a day in unheated factories built over toxic-waste dumps in third-world countries; one of those magnetic bracelets that cures cancer, malaria, etc. And…
(3) The cupboard is not quite bare: I get a box of “commodities” once a month, which always includes a pound of “cheese product,” some peanut butter, canned milk, dry milk, canned vegetables, cereal (usually farina), one-half ton of white rice, and a “protein source.” Sometimes the protein source is comparatively elegant — chunk tuna in spring water, for example. More often it’s a can of generic BEEF or PORK, the sort of thing you might keep in your emergency stash for when there’s a famine or a plague of locusts. It’s my understanding that if you open the can and set it outside, locusts flee for their lives.
No one’s saying what part of the cow or pig this stuff comes from. “Large fatty tumor” is my guess.
Somewhere in the U.S. there is a huge farina warehouse bursting at the seams. Bags of farina pop out, the lucky ones land in a truck bed, the trucker drives to a rock quarry and dumps all the bags of farina into it so they can be punctured (by landing on sharp bits of rock) and coated with dust, and then the Rock Quarry People (You’ve never seen them; they are a government secret) load the gritty, leaking bags back into the truck. The RQP get to keep the leakage.
I have six bags of quarry-processed, nutrient-free farina in my pantry. I’m not complaining, but have you ever really looked at farina? Don’t you wonder what the grain-processing industry has to do to convert newly harvested wheat into white sand? I think farina must be what’s left after they’ve removed all the useful components. First they remove the bran and put it into jars priced at $9.95, or about $145 a pound; ditto for the wheat germ. Most of the remainder is suitable for white flour, which has to be “enriched” because all the good stuff is in expensive gourmet jars. Finally, they sweep the floor, dump the dustpan contents into barrels, and label them “farina.”
The vegetable of choice has been canned corn for the last few months. My most recent delivery contained seven cans of corn and two cans of apricots. Again, not complaining here, but they never give me stuff that can be combined for, oh, soup or a casserole. Technically, I could steam some rice, make cheese sauce with the canned milk and the “cheese product,” mix in some BEEF and corn, bake it at 350 degrees for an hour, remove it carefully from the oven, carry it carefully outside, and toss it in the dumpster. Then I could go back inside and make farina á les apricots garnished with corn and served with a side of peanut butter.
So I won’t starve, and, yes, I’m grateful to have a roof over my head and a warm bed. But, see, I could have all that in prison, plus a better library.
Feels like jail
I began feeling “poor” only recently, when I received a shutoff notice from the electric company. Thank you, Mr. and Ms. Taxpayer, for helping me with that little problem via the Department of Health and Human Services. But are you going to be there for me next month? Clearly I needed a more systematic approach to bill-paying. The old system — waiting for the Money Fairy to deposit the cash and write the checks — was no longer working.
I do my banking, such as it is, online, so with a few keystrokes I instructed my bank to pay my rent, utilities, and Qwest bills on the day I receive my social-security check. So the bank did that very thing, as instructed, and I bought one pack of cigarettes, some toilet paper, toothpaste, cat food, and cat litter, which is about as much as I can carry, not having any sort of motor vehicle… which, as it turns out, is just as well, because my bank balance, after those expenditures, was $19.57.
This all happened last Friday, and I didn’t handle it well. I sort of fell apart for a little while.
You see, I had been creating a new tradition of inviting friends and family members for lunch on Fridays. I’ve been pretty lonely since I moved into this apartment. Without wheels, especially in bad weather, it feels like jail. So I started this tradition, which was working nicely but was only about two weeks old when I figured out how poor I was. What to serve my guests? Farina con leche? I actually found an exotic Asian recipe involving rice and peanut butter, but the recipe also called for actual peanuts plus water chestnuts and soy sauce, which I was lacking. It looked kind of pretty in the picture, but in my mind it had “dumpster” written all over it.
Is “new tradition” an oxymoron?
Well, I started to cry, and I literally made myself sick, and there is nothing like a vertigo attack to make you feel isolated because in the acute phase you can’t even call someone on the phone. So I spent two days in bed, getting up only to creep Gollum-like to the bathroom. On the third day I felt good enough to start crying again.
That’s when I had the epiphany.
To be continued…