"Honey, honey, honey," she says as she pulls up a stool to sit close to me.
She is the size of the porcelain dolls that I used to adorn my shelves with. A Little Asian Woman Wearing a Red Baseball Cap. Puffy Black Jacket. Fake Prada Purse.
"I just got off my shift. I work the night shift."
She talks to me as if I am the receiving end of a telephone conversation, as if I am the friend who often gains her afterthoughts from the phrase "how are you?"
It is 9:30a.m. and I am sitting off in the corner of my favorite Starbucks on 54th and Lexington, sipping a cup of coffee with steamed milk before heading for a UN briefing on dialogues about Judaism. I wasn't expecting a coffee companion so early in the morning but, per usual, I delight in the grace of encountering someone who feels like talking.
"Honey, honey, honey, how are old are you?"
"22," I reply.
"Honey, honey, honey, You are very pretty. And you make money?" She puts her hand on my wrist as she speaks to me as if I have hired her on as a confidante in this big, bustling city.
"No, I don't make money."
I am learning how very hard it is to explain to someone why you, a young 22-year-old clearly dressed for a day at the office, has given up making a salary for an entire year. It is easier to explain it when you are the middle of chaotic preschool or scooping out soup at a soup kitchen. Not when you do your work in Manhattan. People don't get it. Many don't open their arms to the idea that anyone should be prancing around Manhattan with no money in their pockets.
"I am a volunteer," I continue.
"A volunteer? No, No, NO." She is getting a little forceful with me, people around us start to look on. "You make the money. You are 22. You make the money."
"I will eventually?"
"Honey, honey, honey, NOW. You make the money now. How old are you?"
"You make the money now, I show you. I show you." She pulls out a crumbled business card and a wad of one dollar bills. The faded business card reads "Trump Plaza"."He is my boss. I work for him. I make the money."
At this point in the conversation I am beginning to think that the woman is a little off, not that I doubt that this lady could be the next apprentice. She asks twice more about my age and then proceeds to tell me about some ridiculous "get rich quick" website and offers to help me "make the money."
"I am sorry, I really cannot make money this year."
"Honey, honey, honey. Why you do this? Why you not make money? You need money."
The conversation with this woman, of whom I never learned the name of in all the 20 minutes, stayed stuck in my head throughout the rest of day. Eventually we spoke of love and she proceeded to show me a picture of her husband that took up the background of her cell phone, but I stayed fixated on her comments about money.
I am beginning to grow afraid of big digits. I am petrified of any number that comes with three or four zeros trailing obediently in a line behind it. I am feeling the urge to finish this year in June and move off to Bali or an orphanage in South America and never come back. To live off of simplicity and the good grace of God but never green currency. Never Green Currency.
I guess this is what a year of money will do to you, make you long for, but dread at the same time, the day when you have money in your pocket.
I can stir up conversations with Money in my head just as easily as the dialogue I shared with the pint-sized Starbucksian (new word? new species?) from "Wall Street."
"You need me, whether you like it or not," he grumbles. To me, Money is frumpy and old. And he smells like dollar bills and cigars. How appropriate. He is a heavier-set version of Hugh Heffner, probably a part of the mafia as well. "What do you think you will do without me?"
"I don't know. Play, skip, laugh? Enjoy life. I really don't need you."
"Oh but you do. You can't play writer and journalist with a pile of loans tugging at your sleeves." He finishes with a hearty laugh that makes the walls quake with greed. Makes little children shiver and hide under the sleeves of their mothers. Makes me want to crawl into a ball and hum Christmas symphonies to myself.
And then he reels me in with a parade of Green Divas who promise to secure me as they flaunt themselves all over the world. They may start out innocently lounging within the folds of my wallet but I am afraid they will taunt me and push me into work that I don't want to do, into climbing a ladder that I personally don't feel like climbing.
And its the conclusion to a post where I wish I had the solution, where I wish I knew a way to calculate my future and my dreams without the use of any digits. But I am afraid I don't.
I am 22 and I am afraid of digits. Big ones. Little ones. The ones, twos, and threes.
Anybody out there better versed in life and finances that desires to finish my cliff-hanger conversation with Mr. Big Bucks? How do you keep dreams on the horizon in such a costly world?