Overcoming Affluenza — A Journey In Lean Cuisines


There’s something empowering about watching a Tinder date slip you a $30.00 gift card to Trader Joes. Just kidding, no there isn’t. All the nights you spent balled up on your camping mattress — all the nights blubbering insecurities about how the only thing you’ll ever amount to is one of those exotic dancers who strips next to the airport — have just manifested themselves in the form of a portable, plastic mockery.

I believe it was my mention of a breakfast of canned beans that triggered this gentleman’s pity meter. Bashfully, gratefully, hungrily I accepted his offering. For the first time in my entitled life, I was poor. Better yet, I was poor in Los Angeles.

I left my hometown for beachier pastures earlier this year. Initially, moving out of Minnesota was supposed to be a symbol of my emancipation. For 26 years my father had cradled me with comforts, luxuries, trips, drivers — a real bed. The life was luxe but at four years ‘till thirty I was painfully aware that I could no longer be daddy’s little diva. Gatherings with ever-maturing friends had now become horribly awkward. What had once been talks of “LOL!” and “JK!” were now all “401k!” and IRA!” The only 401k I could relate to was the price I was willing to pay for the latest Prada cross-body. The time had come to get my shit together and make something of myself. What better place to live out this quarter-life crisis than good old L.A.

I should mention I had pulled a similar melodramatic relocation a few years before this current journey. I boldly proclaimed my ‘plans’ to just, “get a job when I get there,” and “pay my way eventually!” Using that daddy’s-girl charm, I convinced him to support me financially through what turned out to be a deplorable three-month stint in Hollywood. I never found that job; I couldn’t pay my rent, and daddy vowed never to make the same financial investment again.

When ‘the big move’ 2.0 came around last April, he rightfully so, was having none of it. If I were to leave again, he said, I would be cut off, shipped away with a tiny allowance for the first few months of my arrival. Sold. I declared my exit, packed up my princess condo, and set out on the road. I was finally free, snipped from the fishing line of my father’s money and all of its emotional accouterments. As God as my witness, I’d never need daddy’s money again!

False. Twenty-two weeks of fun-employment no longer — slaving over job applications, a slew of unstable gigs — my savings had evaporated into the exosphere. If ever there were a situation where I like, totally couldn’t even, it was living broke in Los Angeles.

Some perspective; being poor in my hometown of Minneapolis is not even a thing. Unlike in L.A., nobody bats an eye. In fact, I am going to go ahead and say that it is considered chic for someone my age to be impoverished there. We’ve fashioned entire co-cultures around dumpster-diving, bike-riding, cigarette rolling, riff-raff. We willingly partake in poverty-themed activities including but not limited to; thrifting our clothing, digging through ‘free-stuff’ bins at crusty cafes, and buying used mattresses off Craigslist. If I so much as talked about doing that shit in L.A., the barista at Starbucks would, by law, no longer be allowed to give me the passcode to their hobo-proof bathroom.

Along those lines, I had recently been witness to a homeless man wiping his naked little tushie in broad daylight. Convinced this was to be my destiny, I phoned my father and broke down, professing dilapidated funds.

Because he is the best father on this planet (yes, you, Papa!), he extended an olive branch and agreed to help me once again. Stoked out of my fucking gourd for the magical $500 dollar deposit I had become accustomed to receiving anytime I had cried financial wolf, you could imagine my ‘surprise,’ if you will, when I got a three-tier stack of Target gift cards instead. Well played, father, well played.

Graciously, he had picked ones with little sayings too, like, ‘THANK YOU’ and ‘CONGRATS,’ as in, “Congrats, Dominique, you’re a total failure,” and “Thank you, honey, for depleting my retirement funds.”

Here I was roughly $-32.00 in my checking, $24.00 in my ‘savings,’ and very much in need of groceries. I had been slipping away to 7-11 for the past few days, buying Snickers bar dinners with a $300.00 Comme des Garcons wallet full of my laundry quarters. Shortly after, Jesus took the wheel and drove my ass to Target.

Target for groceries, though? Hadn’t daddy heard of Whole Foods? I couldn’t blame him. Buying your groceries at Target was a practice embraced by my Hormel-happy hometown. Trying to procure healthy sustenance, however, was as fruitful as finding my soul mate at the Gathering of the Juggalos. I scoffed past the aisles of preserved meals; boxes of Dinty Moore, cups of Easy Mac –it was freshman dorm life all over again. I settled on Lean Cuisines. What better symbolism for my current state of affairs. I too was, but a lowly, mass of molecules, frozen in a state of tasteless existence.

One of my choices for the week was Apple Cranberry Chicken. I wanted to ease back into this college-chic revival period as painlessly as possible. At a 30-point, Zagat rated eatery this could be an honorable dish. In the freezer aisle, it’s a dismal nod to the life I left behind. Note; this particular meal is a member of Lean Cuisines, “Spa Collection.” I’ll give you a coupon for one of these gems if you can tell me what facet of a glorified TV dinner screams ‘spa.’ My guess would be the branding is supposed to hint at the fact that this dish is approved for green juicing power bitches that enjoy weekly colonics. Overall a judgment-free way to settle into the thought that I just bought a weeks work of Soylent Green with a card shaped like a zoo animal.

Mushroom Mezzaluna Ravioli was up next. Outlook bleak. But since I was too busy paying overdraft fees to afford even Taco Bell, this was my life now. Knife into one of these bad boys, I dare you. Someone julienned the ear off an unborn elephant, stuffed it into a colostomy bag, and called it pasta. ‘Mezzaluna’ is Italian for ‘go fuck yourself.’ And that’s exactly what you’re doing upon ingestion.

Back at Target, various aspects of my anxiety disorder were reignited during a brief detour through the Nate Berkus collection. Excessive loss of self-worth arose as I realized I couldn’t even afford a box of gold plated paperclips. After hauling my sorry tits back to the freezer section, I haphazardly tossed Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes into my basket. You guys…the meat patty though. Picture a sea cucumber that’s just wiggled out of Kim Jong Un’s asshole. Now picture it in your mouth. Poverty ain’t no joke.

The choice to experiment with Santa Fe-Style Rice and Beans stemmed from shame. I grabbed it in a huff, hoping passers-by wouldn’t notice the aisles ‘Meals for One,’ signage mistletoe’d over my cheerless being. This dish is the frozen equivalent of eating Taco Johns from a declining strip mall in the suburban Midwest. By the time I got around to indulging in this horror, it was moments away from becoming a cardboard shit brick, welded onto the ice wall on the back of my freezer. Porcupine’d in an arctic burn; its icy quills were a violent reminder to reconsider. “It gets better,” the porcupine whispered, his stalactites melting to tears in my hands. In about an hour, I was deucing corn-coated talismans of shame into the toilet bowl.

I consumed Roasted Turkey Breast for, thankfully, my final meal of the week. This is the kind of thing you’re supposed to stumble upon cleaning out an abandoned bomb shelter -not your freezer. Littering my apartment were enough warming trays to construct a necessary detox facility. My funds may have been reduced to gift cards; my meals to mush, but just like my looming irritable bowel syndrome, I would no longer let these trying times bring me down. Beached on my bed, I finished this meal off with its soppy dessert accompaniment; spiced apples. Enough was enough. If I had to lie, cheat, steal, or buy my Chanel at Goodwill, I would do it with pride. I sat myself up. As was my outlook on life, a cinnamon-coated cud appeared to be on its way back up again.