A friend of a friend recently coined the term “the privileged poor,” for those who have learned to live well on less. Our group includes teachers, free-lance writers, editors, temps, the underemployed artist underclass. We are used to getting a bargain, shopping at thrift stores, and, in retrospect, had the traits of “recessionistas” before the recession hit. Wiktionary (we’re not in the “real” dictionaries yet) defines the recessionista as “a person who is able to stick to a tight budget while still managing to dress stylishly.” Recessionistas, I imagine, also like to have a good time—otherwise why bother dressing well? On my recent trip to New York, to give a reading on Staten Island, I learned that even the members of the frugal artist class, the girl-gang with whom I run, have tightened their belts—the ones they’ve found at Salvation Army. Any nervousness I had about over-spending in NY “to keep up with the Janes” was quickly erased. I flew into NYC on a free frequent flier ticket, took the AirTrain from Newark ($15) and only spent $6 on a Metrocard my whole trip.
I stayed with a friend for the first two nights —a fellow recessionista who cooked amazing omelets rather than order takeout, as we did on my visits in the past. She found us a $42 (less than what it would cost me had I taken a cab from Newark) hour-long massage in the east village. Recessionistas still like to treat themselves, if possible. And our “massage” was really “body work” as the women who work in the storefront aren’t licensed. There was no face-cradle, just a paper towel over the sheet. There were no showers, no coat hangers or hooks for your clothes, no private rooms—just curtains between massage tables. But the women who worked there were strong and amazing and walked on our backs. It was the best “body work” I ever had.
Later that night we went to see another friend in Brooklyn who had just furnished her stylish apartment with furniture she’d bought on Craigslist. We supplied ice cream, wine, and flowers. She made us a salad with tuna and green beans and vinaigrette. It was delicious—and cost barely anything compared to a restaurant.
The Staten Island reading was hosted by a most glamorous recessionista who treated me to Starbucks, then bought us water (for the reading) at the gas station next door, avoiding the overpriced ethos water at Starbucks. The recessionistas I know do what they can to help the poor—and many a recessionista I know give to charities, donate their time and used items to various organizations. The recessionistas I know are aware of their “privilege” and know they are not truly “poor,” as so many in our country and in the world are. But they may not fully trust the impact they can make buying overpriced ethos water.
The next day I went to the movies—no matinee prices, I’m afraid, in Manhattan —with another friend. Pre-recession I might have splurged on a fountain drink—just for the ice. This time I smuggled in diet
coke for us, and we helped ourselves to straws from the concession stand. We had dinner -- hamburgers—and lingered in a restaurant for hours talking.
I hadn’t been to the movies in a very long time and just joined Netflix as part of my recessionista-plan. I recently watched Sex in the City, the movie, again, to see if it was as terrible as I thought it was the first time around. It was, I’m afraid. And now the movie also seems terribly dated and even obscene. As a writer myself, I was always knew Carrie’s great TV apartment and shoe-buying prowess was a crock (no pun intended, as she would never wear Crocs.) I was willing to go with it because the show was so culturally interesting. But the movie is so “let them eat cake” with its shameless consumerism that when I watched it again, in light of the recent economic downturn, I was truly offended. “Women come to New York for the two L's: Labels and Love.” I don’t think so. That’s not why I came to New York on this trip—and that’s not why I came to New York in 1985 and lived there for thirteen years.
The final night I stayed at a small boutique hotel—a treat indeed—that I paid for with the honorarium I received in Staten Island. There was a complimentary breakfast the next morning where I met another friend before she headed off to work. Though we were happy to pay for her breakfast, as we noshed away, we realized the wait staff thought we were both staying in the hotel. Well, what recessionista could resist? I left a generous tip. On my walk around the Village, before heading out the airport, I saw a great tee shirt in the window of Urban Outfitters which read “Broke is the New Black.” I walked in, ready to buy it. But it was $24! It didn’t even have sleeves. I’m going to check online every once in a while to see if it goes on sale.
-- DD (Hollywood, FL)