Thursday night, my friend K was reading a book at home when she received a desperate phone call from a friend, who will remain known as X.
X: “I’m at Planet Thai, and I don’t have enough cash to pay the bill, and I have ten dollars in my bank account but I get paid tomorrow, and they don’t take Amex. Can I swing by and borrow some cash?”
Now, I don’t have to point out the obvious errs of eating out when you simply don’t have the money to. Or maybe I do. Because I have a feeling that just about everyone in New York has a friend who lives by paycheck to paycheck. The personality in question often goes to the movies, eats out, buys you drinks or rounds of drinks at the same time. You know this person. Even if you don’t know that he or she is living by paycheck to paycheck.
In little ways, this person’s dollar dilemma might show. Like when they say they aren’t eating lunch today because they can’t afford it. Or when they buy a $300 pair of stockings when not intending to shop, or when you notice there’s always boxes from eBay in their apartment lobby. Or when they say they really need a haircut but can’t get one now. Then you offer to cut their hair, and they make a face like they’re about to vomit.
Sounding more familiar now?
I’m aware that Amex can be a disappointing card for acceptance range, but that doesn’t dispel the fact that X was eating out his last pennies — and running into debt — in a cavernous room with a leaky boat hanging from the ceiling and splashy, colored lights obscuring the restaurant’s endlessly long menus and pretend-Thai food served by enterprising Chinese.
In the end, X scrounged up the cash from another friend nearby and went home without serving as stand-in dishwasher for the night. And life, you know, went on.
“Cheap eats,” thanks to New York Magazine, has become synonymous with meals under $20 that — while lowered in some expectations — hold true in their own categories, like dosa, fried chicken or tapas. Greasy and snack-like, these do not a healthy diet constitute. But aside from that, the astute reader of this blog’s Cost Calculator would find evidence that a meal for two or more, usually plus leftovers, seldom costs more than $15 to make at home.
I know not everyone is excited to cook, and that’s fine. But desperate times call for desperate measures — and if you ask me, cooking sounds a lot more appealing than borrowing to pay up a tab.