January 17, 2019
Ann Arbor, Michigan
It was 5:17 a.m., and I panicking about rent. Nothing is as stressful as money stress. Or so I’ve read, and it makes sense.
Recently, I quit working for all of my copywriting clients—the things that get in the way of “actual work,” but are the only reason many freelance journalists survive. At first focusing on more interesting work seemed plausible, at least for a few months, because of a small amount of inheritance I was supposedly getting. But the inheritance never arrived. The check turned out to have been sent to the wrong address, and resending it was a process, so a month after it was supposed to be in my mailbox I was panicking about rent while it was still dark out.
I got out of bed and went to the bathroom by nightlight, because I didn’t want to wake my boyfriend Nathan. The bathroom light is attached to a fan, which is from around the 1970s and rattles and hums like it’s about to take flight. I huddled next to the heater and scrolled through Twitter, read the news, counted all my outstanding invoices, some dating back to August, sent follow-up emails for said invoices, and made coffee.
I made pour-over coffee, but not like hipster pour over. I boiled water in a rusty kettle and poured it over a cone fitted with a brown paper filter filled with grounds that drip into a not-photo-worthy coffee pot.
I got dressed and put on makeup and brushed my hair. “Oh, are you going out today?” Nathan asked, a little too excited. I took this as an insult to my work-from-home-in-pajamas-and-unwashed-hair lifestyle, but it was his first day back in class after winter break, so I let it slide. He’s in grad school at the University of Michigan and will be done in May, thank God. Not that I don’t like Michigan, or that I even believe in God. It’s just so gray here, and small. We used to live in Iraq, which was hot and sunny and small in its own way, but I loved it. Before that I lived in Chicago, which is the best city on earth.
I walked to the bank to get a form notarized so the check-resending process could start. The tellers were chatty–we talked about the death of cash, and wondered and worried about whether homeless people still received much these days from passers by. One teller had seen an episode of Shark Tank with a pitch that tried to solve this problem, but he couldn’t remember if the investors liked it.
I got my form notarized and the branch manager faxed the form for free, so I wouldn’t have to walk to FedEx in the snow. “Michigan nice” is a thing.
Back at home I responded to about a million emails. There are always about a million emails to respond to, most of them not very important. I think everyone feels this way.
My parents were visiting the next day and I wanted to cook a feast, so I spent an hour flipping through the pages of “Taste of Persia,” agonizing over a menu, and finally decided on nine dishes, if you count dessert. Nathan made me cut three. I said I would but didn’t.
I rented a Maven (the best invention since Uber, basically ZipCar without membership fees) and went to three grocery stores–Meijer for basics, a wine shop, and a Middle Eastern grocery for rosewater, sumac, and pomegranate molasses. You know how some people walk into Target needing deodorant and end up spending $100? That’s me in grocery stores. I spent almost all of the remaining money in my bank account. While driving I debated if it would be wrong to call an ex-boyfriend’s mother with a few cooking questions. She’s Persian and one of the best cooks I’ve ever known, and also the only thing I miss about that relationship. Isn’t it weird to break up with families?
It started sleeting on the way home and I waited six minutes to turn left at an intersection, but did hear Christina Aguilera’s “Come On Over” in that time, so it wasn’t a complete waste. I stopped at a small restaurant in a strip mall called Stars Cafe, which has the best baba ghanoush in Ann Arbor, and picked up a large order plus two chicken shawarmas for dinner. My bank account was now in dire straits.
When I got home Nathan was sitting on the couch doing homework. I showed him the frame I got for a photo I took on a road trip through the Italian alps. It was during sunset, and the mountains look beautiful and ominous. The colors are all deep blues and oranges and gold. “Black would have looked much better,” I said, once it was in the brown frame. “This is one of those things only you notice or care about,” he responded. I stared at it and decided he was right, but still argued that caring about minute things is important when you work from home. Caring is also a way to procrastinate.
We unpacked the groceries and ate our shawarmas at the kitchen table and talked about President Trump’s latest Tweets. We discussed the government shutdown and Brexit and how ISIS isn’t actually defeated and really wished we could have a drink after all that, but dry January was still happening and it was long. We squeezed some grapefruit juice into lime LaCroix and served it in coupe glasses with citrus wedges and felt like the most basic people ever, but it was also delicious and fun. Of course, I put it on my Instagram stories.