Henry and I were walking down the street awhile back and he said, "Remember that time we were rich?"

Of course I did. In twenty years of being a freelance writeró with income augmented through slinging hash, mixing drinks, scooping cat shit, walking dogs and sometimes even dreadful office gigsóonly two of those years did we have any money to speak of.

The first time was 1996-97 when a book contract, a lucrative online column and sundry other unexpected forces combined to make old Spike start to feel mighty invincible and possibly related to Midas. This burgeoning hubris resulted in a series of risks that led down a bizarre path which consequently demanded all the surplus income be funneled to lawyers, therapists, and surgeons.

Wealth Wave II came courtesy of that little old high tech boom, when even drummers could find lucrative work. We ate out lots, then. Went to Toy Joy every week. Took exotic trips to Galveston.

Then came the crash.

So here we are in jobless Austin, in a world where freelance writing opportunities are about as abundant as Dodo birds and I donít know about yíalls situation but ours is steadily moving from real challenging to maybe the Lord does give you more than you can handle after all and looking for the silver lining might require laser surgery and the assistance of several of those fat old hairy men you see on the beach with metal detectors.

But sometimes there is a glimmer of hope. For example, recently I was clawing my way through piles of utility termination notices praying to come across a tampon buried in my bag. (The little incoming checks I was hoping/expecting last week didnít materialize. Since the outgoing checks were already bouncing, I couldnít fall back on my old write-a-hot-check-for-tampons routine because tampons are already too expensive without an additional $32.50 tariff affixed from my bank.)

Anyway, the good news was, I did find TWO tampons which unbelievably I had had the presence of mind to put in a sealed baggie so they werenít all gnarly and blown up and dirty and screaming Toxic Shock Syndrome. Even better I found a quarter and two pennies which, combined with the three quarters and dime I found in a pair of shorts this morning meant, cha-ching, we could buy a dozen eggsó at least three more meals! Plus, when youíre poor, found quarters evoke the same thrill they did when you were five and really, arenít we all just striving to relive false memories of happy childhoods?

Another upside: I donít owe taxes this year. So my money isnít being funneled to Iraq to help Pat Robertson burst across the Jordanian border and impose Fundamental Christianity on starving Iraqis who might just agree to listen to this Jesus crap in exchange for a little bit of rice. (Aside: I see "fun" and "mental" in fundamental and I feel a joke about oxymorons coming on, do you?) (Aside numero dos: I might just agree to listen to this Jesus crap in exchange for a little bit of rice.)

More perks still! The other day, Mr. Bill Collector Guy knocks on the door. I did not follow through on my promise to pay and heís here to collect. I am pms-ing so hard I just look at him and say No. I canít. Sorry. And this man sees the tears in my eyes and says, hereís my number, call when you feel better. So I call him the next day, because he was nice, and he says he can take a check postdated for two weeks from now, how about that. So I say okay, come and get it and he does and we wind up talking for an hour about hockey and Muhummed Ali and what an asshole Bush is and I start to feel better. Never wouldíve met the guy if could afford to pay my bills on time.

We get to play soccer on scholarship. We have a financial assistance membership at the Y. This serves a dual purpose. But I can workout fifteen times a day to calm my head, which I do. And I only shower at the Y so my water bill is cut in half.

Hereís the best part. Until it gets cut, Henry qualifies for CHIP, which is sort of like Medicaid. Okay, so we have to pick from a small handful of providers. And those who accept it book fifteen appointments per single time slot in order to make money at it, so you have to sit in the office for about six hours just for a wellness check-up.

But they give you cool reading materials.

There we were, at the clinic, noticing how white we were compared to the other seventy-five folks whoíd been booked into four available slots. And after I was done thinking, it really is true, there are no socioeconomic barriers in our society, this is just a coincidence that most poor people are minorities, and after I listened to some new moms talk about their doctor-advocated formula feeding, I perused "Growing Up 12 Years," a pamphlet with information for me to share with Henry as he rides the gnarly wave of adolescence.

Thank God the folks at this clinic recognize that poor folk like me need so much spelled out for us. The page titled MARRIAGE informed: "In the past some people had suggested marriage would soon be gone forever. One rarely hears those thoughts anymore. Research and experience have shown the need (emphasis mine) for good marriages for the sake of the partners, their children, and society as a whole." It continued, ticking off the alleged physical, mental, financial, and societal benefits of marriage. (Including: less absence from the workforce! And greater productivity!)

Next came Moral Development. "It is philosophically impossible to have firm moral standards without some form of religious instruction. Traditional Christianity and Judaism place value on the individual, the healthy family, and compassion toward others. The media and most other world views emphasize selfishness, irresponsible lives, and hunger for possessions. This is one of the main reasons so many children, teenagers, and young adults are confused and in trouble."

Never mind the lack of cohesiveness factor in the above passage, or that Iím a member of the media who might be affronted by such sweeping generalizations about the media, or that Iím a single mother of a bastard (I never did get around to marrying the kidís dad) and my most scary life events occurred within marriage, at the handís of a husband (a creep I accidentally married). Or that my sonís surrogate father is a gay man who has been there for him every day since he was two. Or that Iím studying Buddhism. Obviously, to become morally developed I need to git me a good Christian man and marry him quick to start heading down the righteous path. (I guess a Jew will do in a pinch but apparently Muslims arenít morally developed and need not apply.)

So for those of you rolling around in piles of cash, not struggling through this recession-the-Bush- regime-refuses-to-call-a-recessionÖ for those of you looking to find the light: Send me all your money. Iíll take care of it. You can have my space in line. Itís real fun down here. Educational too!
About the author:
Spike Gillespie is the author of All the Wrong Men and One Perfect Boy: A Memoir, and the dotnovel thebelljar.net.  Her next book, a collection of essays entitled, Surrender (but don't give yourself away): Old Cars, Found Hope and Other Cheap Tricks will be out in September 2003. Gillespie is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and her work has appeared in, among other places, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, National Geographic Traveler, GQ, Playboy and Elle, and online at Salon, Nerve, Oxygen, Underwire and AustinMama. She is a reformed circus poodle, a retired stripper (Crazy Lady, 1978-81) and mother to three spawn-of-satan mutts and one freakin' hilarious and very tall almost-twelve-year-old ("But remember, son, I'll always be wider than you...").  She is currently working on a novel about how utterly fucked up love can be (How novel indeed...).