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Tall Boys and Short Stacks: Transitioning To A No Income Lifestyle

“Three bucks,” one of the usual bartenders said while handing over a PBR tall boy can. I fumbled through my cash and handed him a five while trying to figure out why it wasn’t only a buck. I swear PBR was always only a dollar, though, at the point of the night when I’ve moved on to PBR, my memory can’t always be trusted. I took my change, tipped a buck, and noticed that everyone around me was drinking the same thing, including the David Cross looking guy with the handlebar mustache.

The PBR tall boy can is the official beer of downtown Benson. I was out a few weekends ago during one of those Omaha local music showcases and I think the entire neighborhood ran out. I was sitting at the end of the bar in Burke’s Pub around last call with the infamous Dr. Sanchez, when it happened. There was no more PBR. None. I’m more of a High Life guy when it comes to cheap beer, so I took it in stride and bought a round of the champagne, but others took to the streets ready to riot, in that polite Omaha way. I even read an article the other day about how PBR is the newest “hipster beer,” especially since we are in a recession. Apparently everyone is a hipster in Omaha.

I however, was not drinking this PBR tall boy to be hip. I am not a “hipster,” I’m much cooler. I also was not drinking it for my usual reason, because I was six IPA’s in and it was last call. No, I was drinking PBR because it was the most beer for the buck, and my job doesn’t pay well. Actually, it doesn’t pay at all. It’s a nice thought, but you can’t pay for beer with the love of your son, and he doesn’t have enough pull around here to get me free guest list spots at The Waiting Room.

I took a swig from the can and turned around as “Instant Karma” came on the house speakers during a set change between bands. I headed towards the stage and took a spot against the wall by the merch table and the bathroom, passing a guy that looked just like the bearded John Lennon. I did at least a triple take, shook my head and shrugged. Instant fucking karma is right. This PBR is some crazy shit I thought, as I tried to coax some flavor out of my next sip while checking out the CDs on the table in front of me. I haven’t bought a CD in months, and the two Hopluias I drank before switching to PBR killed any chance of breaking that streak.

I’ve never been much of a consumer, but as I watched Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies take the stage, I remembered a time in the not so distant past when I could buy things from merch tables at shows whenever I wanted to. I remembered when I could afford to drink microbrews all night instead of PBR, never once thinking twice about leaving a tip. I remembered the countless nights of freely buying rounds for my friends. Now, I’ve got a budget. Now I sometimes have to embarrassingly and reluctantly skip a tip. Now I have to sheepishly ask my wife for cash on my way out the door. It’s fucking weird.

Not having a personal income is hard to get used to. You feel less free. You feel like a cheapskate. Sometimes, you feel like a kid with a crappy allowance. I’ve always been one to pick up the tab, now I have to defer to Mommy Warbucks. It’s odd to go from a weekly paycheck to complete co-dependence. It’s one thing to be the secondary bread winner, it’s another to not bring in any at all and have to bake it at home.

Going to play poker once a week with friends feels so decadent now. Now, losing is more heartbreaking. Dropping twenty or forty bucks on poker night used to be a small price to pay for good company and conversation. Now I’m trying to stretch out my short stacks and praying to break even. It’s only a matter of time before I’ll have to skip a week here or there. I really can’t justify asking my wife for enough cash to play cards especially when I’m not catching any and coming home empty handed.

The money issue is relatively new to us now that my bankroll has finally dwindled down to double digits after four months of my stay at home dad career. My wife is now paying my car payment and credit card bill. She’s also paying all of the other bills that I used to pay and the ones that she always has, out of our singular income, while I stare with amazement, shame, and fear at the balance of my checking account. It’s hard to leave the house without my wife and her debit card. I can’t even really buy her Christmas presents. I am quickly becoming completely dependent on my wife outside of our home, while I am becoming more independent as a father inside of it. It’s not an easy transition to make, though I’m thankful that she’s generous, understanding, and an all around team player while I adjust to life as the unpaid equipment manager.

On the bright side, not having to deal with money, bills, stores, co-workers, bosses, and commerce in general, is freeing in other ways. I feel like I’m off the grid, but instead of going “Into the Wild,” I just spend time at home with my beard, my dog, and my son. I don’t need to buy clothes, because I rarely get dressed. I don’t need gas money, because I rarely drive anywhere. I don’t go to the grocery store, well, because I can’t afford it. It’s a stress free lifestyle, but one that still is going to take some getting used to, especially since I’m a big fan of going out and doing things and those things always seem to cost money. No more working in radio means no more free concert tickets, CDs, or beers bought by your biggest fans. I now have to actually pay the piper for the passions I’ve gotten hooked on through the years, and if I’ve learned anything from the rock and roll lifestyle I’ve flirted with for the past decade or so, it’s that there is always a cover charge and the beer isn’t free unless you’re in the band.

We knew making the shift to a one income household would come with its challenges, but we also knew that the benefits were important enough to us to try to make it work. My son doesn’t have to go to daycare, and we don’t have to pay for it. I suppose that’s the biggest justification. As long as we’re able to do so, I know we prefer it this way. So far, so good. I leave the house a bit less, I drink cheaper beer sometimes, and I’m starting to play smarter poker. I’ve cut back on the shows I’m going to and I’ve had to get creative about being able to secure the music I want to listen to. But, I also get to spend my days in my Homer Simpson slippers watching my son learn and grow and drool. Every second is priceless, and it’s all worth it. It doesn’t pay, but the benefits are great and I’m getting good at this stay at home dad gig. I’m even getting good at doing the household chores. One day soon, if I play my cards right, I may even ask for an allowance. Until then, PBR me, ASAP, I’ll buy the next one.

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