In April 2018, my good friend Daniel Nelson wrote Man Repeller’s most popular and divisive money diary. A third of commenters rolled their eyes at him, another third wanted to sleep with him, and the rest wanted him to write a book. For Chaos Month, I texted Danny to see if he’d be up for a round two—a kind of financial check-in, as we’ve done before. “I’ll do it but I think it may be a bit darker,” he replied. “So let chaos reign.” See what he filed to me below, which I can promise you was originally formatted like a delirious long-form poem. -Haley Nahman
I am 32. I currently work as a fabricator in a design/build studio in South Brooklyn. Right now I’m a cabinetmaker. Tomorrow I might be pouring concrete. The job is very fluid and oscillates between very intense activity and days and days of sweeping up the shop. I also do jobs on the side, so…hire me.
I’m not sure I can say much has changed since my original money diary, though I am two years older. And now, at this moment, I am in a state similar to being underwater. This is one of the intense periods. I know I’m being melodramatic, but I am so tired my body feels buoyant. The last three weeks have been made up of seven-day work weeks and anywhere from 14-16 hour days. Lol, this sounds like a prison letter, but I have done it to myself.
In the last installment I mentioned I only say “yes” to projects, and now that’s on display: Too many yes’s. Too many commitments. Too many steps in a day. I recently told my girlfriend Kiki that I feel I’m beginning to settle into it, which is good, because there are two more weeks like this to go. She thinks that may be a sign of impending mania, but I think it’s more like a new kind of rhythm. I am living in an altered state and my spirit isn’t bucking so much as trying to hold onto normalcy.
Money means only as much as it is exactly worth right now. I have very little ability to focus on the future or the past. I use money like I use my own will. Kiki is being tolerant of me. Money will come and go.
Day 1, Saturday
At the fancy cafe across the divide between Crown and Prospect Heights, I order a large coffee and simple egg sandwich ($15.75), then light it up with all the extras in order to fortify against the three glasses of vodka I had last night. I stayed up watching YouTube videos with Kiki on how to make your cat sit down. But the cat walked off and I had another drink. Later I asked Kiki to quiz me on the state capitals, though she seemed very uninvested to the point of saying, “I don’t want to.” Which is funny because I’d made the suggestion as a bridge to her after an argument we’d gotten into earlier. (She’s really good with trivia.) I get all the capitals correct, but the divide between us is no smaller.
Home Depot this morning is a kind of respite. Just looking at wood, picking up wood, putting wood on a cart. I talk with my friend Mary on the phone and that’s useful because it lets me act hungover as opposed to depressed, which after a while becomes convincing enough that the back-up protocols start hitting—the me-against-the-world effect—which is mildly invigorating. She’s talking about the budget for one of the theater projects we are working on together. Mary loves to talk about the budget. Bringing it up like the weather: “Before I leave the house, I’ve got to check the budget!” Admittedly it’s effective. After our conversation I under-estimate my wood count to the cashier in order to pinch maybe $18 bucks ($259.19). Out of character. Direct result of budget rhetoric. On my way to the studio, I imagine being chased down by the cops for my illicit lumber grab and getting booked then and there on the side of the road. I think about it over and over. I realize I am probably fantasizing.
(Note: Money I spend on supplies will be reimbursed, so it isn’t strictly my expense. But for now it is. Generally it depends on when I get around to invoicing, which can be protracted.)
Two slices of pizza and a beer for lunch ($18) to fight the headache blooming above my eyes. The new guy at the pizza place sees me slap my forehead when I make a mistake playing chess on my phone and asks if I’m okay. I nod. “Oh my goodness,” he squeals, “I thought you had accidentally put a million dollars in my bank account!” I laugh. Is that a common joke?
After work I’m going to the play Mary hired me to build a set for. I call her and Max to meet up for dinner beforehand, but they are already sitting down to eat, so I walk to the Japanese mall to order a bowl of Tonkotsu ($15.35). In the end I also get two panda sake cans ($14.50). In my mind this leads to joviality, but I can’t stop judging the people around me. There’s nothing worse than being tipsy and judgmental. No insight. No epiphanies. Just small cruel circles of thought that buzz your hot ears like a fly that might bite.
Now I want a smoke. Looking for cheap cigarettes makes me miss my train. I’m late to the show. I enter the darkened room and sit behind Mary in the front row. I keep thinking the set is going to fall down every time someone slams the door. On my way home I try to replace Kiki’s vodka I drank but everything is closed so I get beer instead ($15). We kiss when I walk through the door. She is in her sweater. The cat is running laps around the apartment. Things seem softer with us, which feels good. We watch most of Ex Machina, which hasn’t held up. At some point our internet fails and though I make a hotspot with my phone I refuse to tell Kiki the password as a gag. She doesn’t like it. Thank god the internet returns.
The password was WN64ab93Zn.
Day 2, Sunday
I ask for avocado on the bagel ($12.50) to reward myself for working on a Sunday. Kiki was sleeping sweetly when I left and I lifted the blanket and kissed her on her foot. She’s the only person I’ve met whose feet I don’t think are weird. They are weird, but nice too. She smiled in her sleep and I pet the cat before I walked out.
Mary responds to the texts I sent her earlier by calling me. She is clearly still in bed but quickly grows annoyed as we speak. When we fight, I can’t help but flash back to when we dated years ago—some heavy triggers, so I try to put them to bed. I suggest she head to the studio so we can go to Home Depot together and she agrees. Then my train comes, thank god. Our goodbye is frosty.
On the train a teenager is yelling at an old woman maybe 20 feet away from us. I sit across from him and wonder if I should intervene, but don’t.
No lunch today. When we get supplies at Home Depot, Mary pays.
Later I meet Kiki and Matthew and a few others at Michael and Charles’ birthday party in the city, but I am too tired to enjoy myself. The tab is on the birthday boy’s card and even though his boyfriend makes a speech to the point of “pay up,” I choose to wait to pay for my two beers and BLT until later because I have no money. Scumbag.
Day 3, Monday
I wake up so tired I think I could actually die and that would be for the best. Kiki slept on the couch by accident and I turn the TV off on my way out. Matthew picks me up and we get coffee and bagels ($8.50). I try half-seriously to shield my order from Matthew but he finds out I asked for onions on my bagel. I first started doing it to hit a credit card minimum, but now their rule has changed and I still do it. He claims this is indicative of some internal social problem, but everything is indicative of some internal social problem.
There isn’t any traffic at all which is a kind of uncanny glory. Then I remember it’s a holiday. No one else is at the studio. I like working alone with Matthew and being a skeleton crew, it makes us closer and more dominant in the arbitrary territory wars of the shop. Grover is not here, which is a relief. He is a watcher, a breathe-down-your-neck kind of guy. He is one of the first people I met in NYC and has since become a bit of a bête noire. I wonder if I will ever be rid of him. And also if I will miss him?
Lunch is Thai food again: chicken and beef curry on brown rice ($15.25). Everything in the food hall is “again” for me. Work. Eat. Repeat. Is this the way I grow old, in these hot commons, overpaying for counterfeit street food?
I buy a coffee ($2.50). I see Hank, an old acquaintance, and when I leave I try to shake his hand, but he goes in for a hug, so I both hug him and shake his girlfriend’s hand simultaneously. I’m not responsible enough for arm-based greetings. “That was bad,” I say to Matthew after. “It wasn’t terrible,” he says. But I feel him considering me, and wonder if this was what he meant regarding my bagel.
Later we pull two free bed frames ($0) out of the West Elm dumpster and put them in the studio to take home later. Raymond arrives and is furious that someone has apparently gone through his little nest of things. He tells us to come look but it looks the same as usual. Raymond always hoards tools that he doesn’t need, so periodically his area gets raided. “Maybe Pete did it,” I say. Raymond kicks one of the bed frames. I write my name on the other one and scoot it.
I work late and smell bad on the train home, like a mix of ripe fruit and a diaper. It’s just sawdust and sweat, but there’s something else. Some special sauce. I give the guy who can’t play the saxophone a gold dollar coin ($1) and wonder if he knows or thinks it’s only a normal coin.
I debate what to eat for dinner for a long time, standing on the corner listening to a woman beg her dog to pee. “Peepee! Go peepee!” I definitely don’t want sushi, but they’re open late and I know I can just get one small thing for cheap. What I really want is to get drunk immediately—I am feeling myself entering a mode of exhaustion with work where all I want to do is have two strong drinks afterward and go to bed. I decide I’m going to buy a sake can and the idea brightens me. But when I get there the place is closed. A guy who works there says he can sell me a “drop bag” for cash. I decide to buy it ($10). “And a yellow sake can too,” I say, but it isn’t in the cards.
I walk home forlorn, wondering what the fuck a drop bag is. Inside there is a roll, a miso, and something they call a sushi cup, which is literally just a coffee cup filled with rice and fish. Honestly not a bad deal.
On a whim I decide to move my car to an easier position for loading tools tomorrow morning.
Turns out I was about to be towed. Pricelesssss.
Day 4, Tuesday
I start the day with a bagel and coffee ($8.50). You know the drill at this point. Today I’m $42 dollars overdrawn on my account because last week I pulled into a parking spot in front of my house and crushed an old Jeep Cherokee bumper for no fucking reason other than I was too tired and lost my spatial intuition. I left a note, then prayed the rain would erase it. Then it did rain, so I replaced the note. Yesterday the girl contacted me and I paid her $1,054.75 for the repairs. She was extremely understanding. Now I realize that anyone could have taken that note, texted me, Venmoed-requested me, and I would have paid them. But I think it was her. And here I thought you accidentally put a million dollars in my bank account, lol.
At Home Depot I use a fake tax exemption I discovered a few days earlier, which saves me $50 on lumber and supplies for another set Mary has hired me to build ($495). Bow before the budget. I’m so tired. People seem rude and friendly interchangeably, seemingly at random. The venue where we are building the set is down the street from a lot that once was a strange Latin disco. Now it just looks like a parking lot.
The Thai food I order for lunch ($16) is bad and there are two music tracks playing simultaneously, at the same volume. The table is sticky. The floor is sticky. The food is food. I wonder if something is wrong with me. I try to imagine opening a Thai restaurant without the slightest idea of how to cook Thai food. Is this my problem? I could just start a Thai restaurant.
Mary tries to buy us coffees, but the woman makes her Americanos so she walks out and gets us Dunkin coffees instead ($0).
I run to a nearby hardware store to buy screws. The guy working is flirting with a girl who is trying to fix her strobe light. I buy three boxes, then end up having to go to Home Depot anyway to get more plywood ($95). So much for a quick trip.
Later, Mary, Matthew, and I go to a bar/restaurant for dinner ($49). There’s a comedy show about to start and I want to sit down far away to avoid crowd work. A guy by the window offers to scoot over and I am unusually grateful. The show starts. The host reminds me of Kiki’s cousin. “Hell yeah,” he says. It’s his tag line.
Day 5, Wednesday
I’m dangerously tired today. I buy a coffee, a bagel with cream cheese, and a banana for me and Matthew ($14.50). Later I buy another iced coffee ($3.50). For lunch I get mystery fried chicken from the vegan sandwich spot in the food hall at work ($16). Matthew is surprised by how good the vegan sandwiches are. We are bound to return.
Today I’m charged $14.95 for my Audible subscription. My headphones broke weeks ago, so now I just pay to know I could, at some point, tune back into a book on tape. Nothing is real at all. Conversations last only as long as someone is speaking and break into pieces before reaching the other side.
Day 6, Thursday
Matt picks me up this morning. I talk with Kiki on the phone later and she says she heard me yell, “I love getting picked up!” Though I don’t remember. We get bagels that are not toasted enough. Matthew pays. Then we listen to “Hot 97 Ebro in the Morning.” Matthew seems surprised I’m acquainted.
The set I built for the play is breaking. My boss’ son gives me attitude and I basically tell him to suck it and walk out of the office. I’m hanging on by a thread.
Matthew seems serene, but it likely was an illusion born of my own storm front. Mary is texting me that the set is breaking. I’m so tired, I forgot Kiki was leaving for New Orleans on Sunday and when she reminds me I shake my head sadly. I’ll miss her.
Vegan tacos for lunch ($14.50). Matthew fucking loves vegan sandos. Funny, I haven’t eaten here since the last time I did the money diary. I wonder aloud if I’ll be paid for the stage set I built for the play. In a way I hope I won’t be. Just to have a reason.
Fried fish burrito at a kimchi Mexican food mix-up for dinner ($13). Matthew and I wander through a conversation about some old socialite’s death. I think if it might be a murder. We drink some White Claws I found in the back of his minivan on the ride home and I’m in a good mood for the first time all day. Things seemed to be turning up.
When he drops me off at my car there is no ticket despite having left it halfway in a crosswalk. Unexpected bonus. I buy more lumber at Home Depot ($23.92). The hot girls work at the Nostrand Home Depot but comparatively it’s a worse Home Depot. Everything is kinda broken and the wood is wobbly.
When I arrive at the build-out venue, the lighting guy wants to have a man-to-man talk about using my drill. Annoying.
The more tired I become, the more likely the stage will collapse. I start searching the grounds to find even more support wood. Though I have already double-reinforced every weak point, I begin tacking things on. In the end I wind up in the attic with my phone light. It is full of empty chair frames and strange Thai restaurant wood carvings. The whole downstairs seems drenched in a wheat paste of grime but this place seems cutoff from that. Everything is muffled. I am skittish about digging in the racks for the two-by-fours I saw strewn amongst the oddly spiritual wreckage. I begin saying my old prayers from childhood when I had to go to the basement at night. My protections.
Being tired is revving my paranoia.
Downstairs there are more people than before. Men I have seen but not met. I’m not high but feel my trip start to spiral. I feet like I can’t see. I feel like I can’t hear my own voice. I announce to no one that I have to reinforce the bottom of the stage, then just lay on the gross linoleum floor underneath, looking at the the plywood above me, willing myself to move again.
Day 7, Friday
Late. I skip breakfast. Lunch is burger, fries, and a beer ($24). Matthew and I have a nice lunch.
I admit to him that I didn’t eat my first burger until I was 19. And no bacon until I was 20. We discuss the difference between Peanut M&Ms and Reese’s. It seems good but I can feel an edge. I think he might regret having signed up to work with me. I’ve been snappy and erratic.
Emergen-C, water, DayQuil VapoCOOL, Hot Pink 7’s scratcher ($10.55). Has anyone tried DayQuil VapoCOOL? It’s completely wild. I have started buying scratchers and not scratching them. What does that mean?
Day 8, Saturday
Fuck. No work. Thank god. But it doesn’t matter. I am in the mode of work. I am in the mode of no stopping. Today is just a spacer between real days. Nothing means anything.
I am anxious about the stage. In my mind the big producer is jumping on it and it breaks. In my mind I am repairing it. In my mind I am working.
Last night I fell asleep at 8 p.m. Woke up after 16 hours of what felt like straight dreams. My estranged old friend, sex, etc.
Kiki and I go to breakfast. I playfully guilt her into paying. The food is good. Normally I don’t like this place. Then we walk in the park and look at dogs. We talk to the pigeon man. I sign up for some charity and then regret it. Kiki tries to convince me to buy a dog for my dad to some success. I get us beers across the park. ($16)
Kiki orders a chocolate stout. She says she wanted a Guinness but they didn’t have it. This isn’t the first time she’s done this. Haha. She hates her beer. We see our friend’s family dog walking with a stranger across the street. The woman next to us is drunk and keeps dropping things on the ground. Her friend is laughing. She screams, “NOW what am I dropping!?”
Kiki quizzes me on the first time I ate certain foods after I tell her about my conversation with Matthew. She grimaces while she sips her beer. I drive her home to lay down and then meet Andy and Max at a bar in Williamsburg that I haven’t been to for probably six years.
Andy buys my first drink. I buy our second round ($14). We go to dinner and get sat at the bar because a table will take an hour. The bartender is wearing a very rolled-up cap. Extra rolled up. We drink Baijiu which tastes like hay. We talk about the coronavirus. The boys are afraid, but playfully. Though maybe I just choose to interpret them that way. Andy shows us a disaster product associated with the Kardashians. Something feels more dystopian than usual.
I try to make a point about disaster reporting creating an artificial global claustrophobia in relation to developing markets. Though I feel a bit lost. The sesame noodles are incredible ($50).
When I get back home, Kiki and Matthew are watching a Kirk Douglas movie about a Hollywood producer. They are drinking White Claws spiked with vodka which I find impressively irreverent. Kiki is making the jokes I would normally be making. Being nasty. She is cutting up and I feel sad she is leaving.
I have a tequila and sit on the couch with them while they watch. Soon I begin to drift off. I can’t tell you what happens. Kirk Douglas has an insane chin dimple. Matthew goes home. I remember Kiki pulling the blanket up to me as I slept. And thinking about the feeling of a laser when it crosses your eye. I like that feeling.
Last night I lay on my roof smoking a cigarette and staring at the sky while it turned around me. The clouds were shaped like a hunter. When I was a kid I always wanted to see things in the sky. But I never could, it wasn’t enough. Now I can see it all. One thing after the next. I don’t know anything about money. I’m honestly hoping for a moon shot while paying off travel debts I incurred under the auspices of being young and able. Fuck it. I had forgotten this part of the city. The wear-you-down-into-sand part. Sacrifice on sacrifice. No sleep. Exhaustion is its own kind of euphoria and this whole city is a cult for it.