Pundits predicted the death of the news industry back in 2028 when Trump and Biden were both moved to assisted care homes and were taken away from their microphones. The ex-presidents had the option of separate rooms at the home but neither could afford to stay alone for long. As a Pulitzer Prize winning human interest writer, my editor had me invited to hear their side of the story of what it is like to share a room because of the government budget cuts, but from behind their oxygen masks, I couldn’t make out much of what they were saying about each other, so instead I wrote an article on the paucity of care they were receiving. This article generated more sympathy for those two than they had received in years.
It isn’t just ex-presidents having to cut corners these days. For this week’s assignment, I spent the weekend talking to desperate people online about the impact of raging inflation. Exhausted, I hope it will be a rare morning that my building superintendent doesn't stop and ask me a million questions on my way out. But I’m wrong.
“Boss! I found all your wife’s things next to the garbage chute. Would you like me to take them over to the Salvation Army?”
“No, don’t do that,” I say firmly. I really can’t imagine anyone else wearing them after she’s gone.
“Ok got it Boss,” he backs off shrugging, then smiles super friendly like. “You’re a smart news guy, what else is going on today that I should know about?”
“Prices are up.” Patrick is too dumb to talk economics with.
“Inflation? I’m lucky they give me a free apartment in this building, bro.”
“Good for you,” I say and go out the door before he pulls me into talking about anything else. I need to get to the office, Life Tree Media’s CEO now makes us show up at the office in person on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. Mondays are the worst. I wipe the food residue off of the desk from whoever was sitting in my spot all weekend. To save money, our company began hot desking our seats when we are not in the office.
I hurry to the company canteen and order one skinny oat decaf latte at a subsidized price of $17. It’s for Paul, our Chief Editor. Even after being around for so long, it’s still important to show I’m part of the team. I will skip lunch today to make up for it.
During our “Make the world a better place” meeting, now renamed “Positive Action”, I think over my plans for Christmas during everyones dull presentations about whats wrong with the world and how to fix it. It’s already December but the prices for flights to Minneapolis have not fallen yet. I decide to definitely buy a ticket this week for the cheaper $499 Chinatown bus that swings through the Nashville transfer hub before heading north to Minneapolis. One has to balance the question of time versus money.
After wrapping up the daily meeting nuts and bolts, Paul looks more serious. “Corporate has announced a 15% salary cut to balance the budget. I know things are tough but remember, we together are creating a positive impact,” he says, “Now get back to work everyone. And thank you to whoever bought this coffee.” He nods at the group and rushes off to places and management floors unknown.
When I return to my apartment, Patrick opens the door and gets in my face to ask, “watching the Nets game tonight?”
“Of course,” I say and nod my head. A white lie. I’ll be too busy posting opinions on Twitter to watch the two-hour basketball game. On my mobile, I add a reminder to check the score before I go to sleep.
I remember something else.
“Patrick, do you think you can fix a toilet? Mine keeps running,”
“Sure, I can do that.”
“The three plumbers in Bushwick have not answered my calls all day, I’ll give you $50?”
“Deal.” He looks down the street toward the darkened shops. ”Looks like I’m the only one still working here, and you too, boss.”
When I wake up, Everything is a blur. I don’t mean it was all a blur like I got drunk or stoned last night. It's a blur because I have been wearing my daily-wear contacts for 3 days at a time. After I put in eye drops, my vision clears and the first thing I see is Winston pointed like a torpedo on four legs toward the door waiting for the tiniest possibility of escape. Winston is the most hyperactive border collie in Brooklyn.
As I walk past Usagi Coffee I notice the white board in the window has been redrawn again. It reads “Coffees from $21” in stylish handwriting with little coffee beans inside the circles in the letters and butterflies bursting out from the serifs. Below, in plainer handwriting, “Closed until further notice.”
Reading this I feel lighter. I will no longer watch the successful hipsters of Brooklyn drinking craft lattes and have a debate with myself if it's worth paying $21 to be part of the club.
I do receive a lot of angry looks while I walk Winston around Bushwick. Due to the price of pet food, most people in Brooklyn have given up their Mini Poodles, Corgis and Shibas a long ago. Maybe Winston brings back bad memories. The students at the local art school have been painting murals on abandoned buildings all over Brooklyn. “Feed people, not pets.”
Full disclosure, this might sound like a product placement, but I’ve been able to afford pet food because I was lucky enough to sign up early for the IAmAGoodListener app. Everyone needs a side hustle these days.
Even as prices for everything else rose last year, hourly booking as an Accredited Listener took off as all the real psychologists and therapists began canceling appointments to focus on the online debate about the future of psychology. After my wife's passing, it has been helpful for me personally to hear other people cry.
Last month my profitable second job took a hit when Life Tree Media installed TrackYourEmployeesSideHustle and I had to stop listening to clients while I work. Now I can only fit in five hours of listening while I’m watching Netflix at night.
When I get back to my building with Winston in tow, still worrying about how I'm going to buy his pet food next month, Patrick stops me and says, “a letter from management” and hands me an envelope.
Pulling out a sheet of recycled A4 paper, I see the landlord’s printed WhatsApp history with his mistress on one side , and flipping it over, on the other, “A 30% rent increase will be effective from Dec 1st.”
“What the f*k!” I shout at Patrick, who right now represents all the evil of the landlord.
I think of how I’m important enough to work for the nation’s leading life hacks media company, and shape the fate of Azerbaijan’s invasion of Tajikistan on Twitter, but I can’t even afford to pay rent for my apartment.
Out the window I watch a cow chewing on the grass growing out of the cracks of Bushwick avenue. This would be a puzzling sight like a near-future apocalyptic SciFi show if I hadn’t read the organic farms of Long Island have been releasing their livestock to free graze since last month. Or is it ‘urban graze’?
I see a Twitter priority notification.
* Nobby Networks is in final negotiations of a $720 billion buyout of Summit Media.
This would be the third time we have been digested by a larger company, so I don’t put much thought into it and go to sleep.
Wednesday, I need to take the whole afternoon off to go way out to Scarsdale in Westchester County, to the only dentist I find still accepting appointments. While he is drilling my root canal, every few minutes he takes his gloves off checks his twitter account, and then puts the gloves back on. The dental hygienist needs to prepare another shot of Novocaine two hours later when the first one wears off.
After paying the dentist bill, I check my digital wallet. $553 dollars left. Budgeting for my trip home next week gives $499 for the ticket and $54 for food.
I receive a notification.
* The Chinatown Manhattan-Minneapolis ticket price has been increased from $499 to $649.
I read that three times. Then check the other bus companies, they have also increased fares. I can think of a dozen people at work who could explain the causes of inflation, but I can’t think of one who would lend me money. When I arrive home, I see Patrick, the only person outside of work that I talk to regularly.
“Patrick? I'm really hard up and we’ve known each other a long time, can I borrow $100 dollars to go back home for Christmas?”
He goes back to his little office and comes back with an actual paper hundred dollar bill.
I realize I have no way to return here, or to pay my rent if I make it back. Winston can come with me, but Patrick will need to clean up everything else I leave behind. Tears well up in my eyes. I realize it doesn’t matter if Patrick is for or against my political party or understands economics or anything else I go on about, and I give him a hug.
“Are you ok?’ Patrick looks at me with real concern.
“I’ll be fine,” I say, and then think about what I can fit into my suitcase to carry home. On the journey home, I think I'll write a human interest story about a 46-year-old Pulitzer Prize winning journalist that needs to go back home to live with his parents.