Money for Nothing

Sure, Allie had heard of the fabled inflation that was also supposed to be happening in the magical land of Europe (which came across as magical to anyone who couldn’t fathom adequate soft infrastructures). But she didn’t really give much credence to it. Maybe things seemed “expensive” by “spoiled” European standards, so accustomed as that continent was to the cost of living matching its wages, but Allie didn’t genuinely believe they were. Maybe the price of things had risen by a few cents, at best. She could live with a few cents. Until, upon walking into an Auchan one garden-variety rainy afternoon in Paris, she quickly saw that it was all so much, much more than a few cents. 

The store itself was medium-sized, packing a workable enough selection, even if ultimately limited with regard to more “frivolous” categories like toiletries (for example, one could find tampons, but not tweezers). Allie had often gone into it while staying in this part of Paris at one of her acquaintances-turned-friends’ (after a bonding hostel stay experience in Amsterdam) apartments. And she had always found the price points to be both steadfast and reasonable. Alas, one look at the prices surrounding her and she suddenly envisioned herself as Snow White in that haunted forest scene wherein she’s met by all manner of horrifying sights. For Allie, instead of owls, bats or branches that turned into clawing hands, it was mouthwash for 5.71, pasta for 4.12 a pack, a single aubergine for 4.79. Everything was all just too damn much.

Where once it felt as though you could walk out of the store with a few days’ worth of food for twenty euros, it was now quite the opposite. And, unfortunately, twenty euros was all she had to spend not just for the day, but for the next five. Rationing her budget thanks to yet another insouciant and impromptu trip that she oughtn’t have taken, Allie was foolish not to account for the erstwhile “legend” of inflation that she assumed had only taken true hold in the United States. Yes, how very American of her to assume that all things happening in America were insular, had no bearing on the rest of the world. Only to be rudely awakened upon actually leaving the bubble for a while. In truth, it was a wonder she was able to secure any European friendships based on her endlessly irksome American ways. 

And yet, without such friendships, she would not have been able to “muck about” in different cities so freely…so “willy-nilly.” Just as she was doing now, in Paris. The cushion of having “various people” to “crash” with, however, now appeared rather useless in terms of mitigating costs. Mainly because, at present, there was no such ability as “mitigating costs” when they came to assault one at every corner of every day-to-day facet and function. That was, evidently, what the government (and the capitalist system it supported), wanted. De facto, eugenics of the poor. “Poor” now extending even to those who once might have been considered middle class. But, as Reaganism and Thatcherism sought to teach us all, that social stratum long ago went the way of the dodo. Many tried to tell themselves otherwise for a bit before and after the 2008 financial crisis because the price of things still vaguely (very vaguely) aligned with people’s wages. 

But, as labor has ceased to increase in value in terms of what workers are paid (because employers are aware that another shill remains a dime a dozen), the value of work itself is nonexistent. To declare anything else would be yet another “alternative fact” of the twenty-first century. Allie, however, knew the truth. The incontrovertible, objective truth: working was utterly, literally worthless. In her estimation, the homeless person on the street was getting as much for their “just being” efforts as the “legitimate” people who toiled their lives away (and at least the homeless in Paris were likely better-educated than the average person, for they were, it appeared, constantly reading). Except that the “legitimates” who toiled their lives away were diluted by the middling “rewards” of a warm bed and a hot shower now and again (when “extra time” after work permitted)—as though these were “luxuries” as opposed to what should be inherent rights of being a human in the modern world. 

Just as it should be an inherent right that grocery products weren’t obscenely labeled with unrealistic numbers that no ordinary mortal could possibly keep up with via job titles like “server” or “receptionist” or “gig worker.” Allie bore no title of any kind and was still resentful, so she could only imagine what people with a “bona fide” consistent job must think of this injustice. For she would be far more enraged by the amounts expected to be handed over at the register if she had actually lost most of the time in her day to procure little more than four items (eggs, butter, milk and a bag of oranges). Fortunately, Allie had mastered the art of being somewhere between an artist and a vagabond—and that meant, to society at large, being a layabout and a ne’er-do-well using “art” as nothing more than smoke and mirrors to evade “reality.” But ultimately, she was a broke ass like everyone else who could afford little beyond “the basics.” Even if capitalism had rendered the most truly basic items as non-basic. 

It took much hemming and hawing (plus the usual philosophical sense of dread) for Allie to finally weed out any unnecessary sundries from her basket, opting for what she did because, in her estimation, she found them to be the most versatile (the eggs, the butter and the milk, anyway. The oranges would simply have to serve as her daily snack).

After coughing up her only dough for the week, refusing to pay the extra twenty cents for a bag to put them in, she could hear the opening notes to that old, familiar tune on the store’s speaker system. That’s right… as she was leaving, Allie could only titter at how odd and uncanny it was that Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” should begin to play. All too tailored to the scenario at hand. 

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