[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
I poured myself a tiny glass of whiskey, fully intending to not drink it. I like to have a beverage next to me when I write, whether it's a strong cup of coffee or a zesty lemon water or an enthusiastic glass of bottom-shelf whiskey.
I went to the grocery store earlier, and I could tell that the girl bagging my groceries was new. She kept asking the checkout clerk, who also happened to be the store manager, "What bag should I put this in?" as she held up a single red pepper, an air freshener, cat treats, frozen bread. If I were a bit less kind and a bit more brave, I would have told her to move aside and let me determine where exactly to put my red pepper. She had the look of a kid whose parents made her get a job, but who didn't really need a job. She could get fired or quit that second and her life wouldn't change at all. She had no motivation to be there, is what I'm saying. And as I eyed her bright red smock, I can't say I altogether blame her.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be rich enough to not have to work. I wonder what I would do with myself, and then I think, "why, I'd do whatever I wanted." I'd travel a lot, and write a lot, and run a lot, and probably lose track of days. Who cares if it's Wednesday or June or 2022? Very rich people (probably) don't need to know anything about the date, much less the hour of the day. Rich people aren't hungrily anticipating the next three-day weekend, or saving their coveted PTO days for a holiday trip home to see family. No, I thought, rich people lounge in warm weather and get daily massages and pay other people to scrub their toilets and insist that their daughter get a job bagging groceries so she learns what it's like to be "normal." Rich people have more than a month's worth of savings. Rich people pay for their snotty kids to go to USC or Yale, "for the college experience." Rich people have large wine collections and expensive art and a billion pairs of shoes, just because. It would be nice if rich people would do something useful with their money but maybe, if I were rich, I'd keep it all for me, too. Money has a way of corrupting people, says Russ Feingold, a former U.S. Senator for (you guessed it) the Democratic party. "Speech doesn't corrupt. Money corrupts and money isn't speech."
I had exactly one sip of my whiskey before pouring it out, which makes me feel empowered and emboldened all at once. It's funny how alcohol will do that-make you feel unnecessarily brave and also unequivocally sure of whatever it is you want to be sure of. I once got into a half-drunk argument about the utility of DNA kits, which I happen to not care about at all. But tipsy Sarah cared, and tipsy Sarah, for some reason, found DNA kits highly predatory.
I like to think that, if I were rich, I'd be exactly like I am now, except I'd have a fatter retirement fund and I'd be able to give more away. The cashier kept telling the bagger girl what to put in each bag, "Don't put chemicals in the same bag as the fruit," she instructed. "You can put the wine with the paper goods." "It's better to put the eggs on top, and the heavier stuff on the bottom." I wondered if this girl had ever even been in a grocery store before today, if she'd ever been the snotty-nosed kid crying in a shopping cart while her mother frantically searched for the cheapest cut of chicken. Probably not. Probably, she'd never eaten the cheapest cut of chicken, but that's no reason to dislike her.
The cashier smiled at me apologetically, and I tried to smile back, but my face felt stuck. I didn't want to have to try to be nice to this woman, or this girl. I didn't want to roll my eyes in solidarity with the woman, who, after this experience, would forever believe that the younger generation is doomed. And I didn't want to have to imply to the girl that it's okay to be totally clueless. "You have to push the button the make the groceries come to you," the cashier reminded the girl, "Oh right! I keep forgetting," she laughed at herself, the kind of laugh that isn't mean to be self-deferential, but self-deprecating. I wanted to say, "It's not cute to be clueless," but I couldn't be the one to tell her that.
I had a boss once, who was a strong, smart, savvy woman. She told me, right after I entered the workforce, "It's okay to be smart. I don't know who told you it wasn't but it is." And ever since then, I stopped acting clueless. She was right. It isn't cute. Maybe this girl would figure that out someday too. Maybe a woman she loved and respected would gently shake her awake from her lackadaisical stupor, "It's okay to be enthusiastic about things. It's okay to work hard. It's okay to have dreams."
My dream, if I could ever be so bold, is to write something someday that matters. I've written a lot of unimportant gunk, and I've written a few good things. But my dream is to write something memorable. Something touching. Something that feels like a relief to read. Something that makes it impossible to find the next best thing, because nothing quite scratches the same itch. And that dream is why I have an assortment of drinks next to me at all times. That dream is why I travel with a notebook and a laptop. That dream is what motivates me to spin stories out of nothing, and what gets me through the days when my pages remain blank. "It's okay to be enthusiastic about things. It's okay to work hard. It's okay to have dreams."