Whatever happens, he is not going to give up smoking. That’s his last shred of comfort left in his life and he refuses to surrender it. Ever since they bought the house, he and his wife have been struggling to pay the mortgage and the property tax. Needless to say, Edison, New Jersey, has very high property taxes. And immediately the family’s disposable income drops to zero.
His wife’s female instinct kicks in and she starts to obsessively calculate every penny they have. They cut everything: no weekend outings, no beer or rice wine, no hair salon visit, no weekend beef steak, no restaurant, no takeout, no new clothes, no purchase of any kind, not even potato chips or cookies. She has even managed to borrow a haircut kit from a friend and started to cut his hair. And for herself, she only does ponytails anyway and she never goes to a hairdresser. She even starts to mend his socks when holes appear in them.
Somehow he feels that she enjoys this. Being the one who does the budgeting and barks out orders, she suddenly becomes more matured and more powerful. She must enjoy it. She buys the cheapest chicken meat and the cheapest eggs in the market, mix them with beans and rice. “Vegetables and fruits are too expensive. Let’s just take vitamin pills.” She announced several months ago. Ever since then, they have been eating bean, rice, chicken and eggs every day.
Now that he thinks of it, the fact that he can still smoke is a miracle, but he has fought hard for his rights to cigarette. She finally agreed, but with a caveat–she knows a friend who knows a friend who can get fake cigarettes from a street vendor under the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Those cigarettes cost only 20% of what one can get in regular market. “Those cigarettes might be poisonous and I might die.” He protested, but to no avail. “My friend’s friend has been smoking it for a decade and he’s very much alive.” She said and it was settled. He is amazed to see this family financial crisis has infinitely increased her power. He wants to take her down a peg or two, but hasn’t found a way to do it.
Today they are going to a friend’s place for dinner and he has been dreaming of this for a week. Finally he can eat something that’s not chicken or bean or egg. It’s a Friday and she packed his lunch bag, with the leftover chicken and bean from their Thursday’s dinner. In the cafeteria in the office, he is so disgusted by his lunch that he throws it into the garbage. He scours the office in the afternoon for a piece of cake or a cookie, but with no success. When the day’s work is over, he almost feels a little dizzy. However, his spirit is high–he is going to have a wonderful dinner.
“I threw the lunch away. If I eat one morsel of bean and chicken, I am going to vomit.” He says when the two are driving to their friend’s place.
“Me too.” She says. “I have been thinking about today’s dinner the whole day. And I can’t stand the lunch I brought with me. So I only ate very little of it and threw the rest away. Thank goodness we still have a little pot of homemade rice wine we can give to the host as a present. This way we don’t have to buy anything for them.”
The door bell is pressed and the door is opened, but the host is surprised to see them. They have mistaken the date. The party is for Sunday night, not Friday night.
“Oh, of course. I must be out of my mind. How can I even think people would give a party on Friday night? I must have been driven crazy by all the budgeting and all the mortgage payments.” She says.
“Tell me about it. We are struggling too.” The host and hostess say. “However since you are already here, just join us for dinner.”
They all go to the dining space, which is next to the kitchen and sit down. Hunger has now driven the two to distraction. However as soon as they sit down, she lets out a cry and he can’t help but grumble. The two scream in unison,
“Chicken and beans? You are eating chicken and beans too?”