Penury for Your Thoughts

Angela Nissel's 'Broke Diaries' strikes it rich.

Dear Angela,

Just finished reading your book, The Broke Diaries, and I thought I was gonna die from laughing. Your diary entries about how you squeezed through your senior year at the University of Pennsylvania on virtually no money were uplifting, touching and often hilarious.

My favorite was the one where the Russian immigrant guy who was working for the electric company came to shut off your power for non-payment. Obviously, he hadn't come across a whole lot of exotic, Jamaica-lookin' women back in Minsk, because he not only fell for you hard, he refused to shut off your power and he hooked things up so you could get free electricity. And you didn't have to be anything but polite. Plus, you did introduce him to your Russian-speaking friend so he could feel a little bit at home. Like he would really want to.

I've been telling a lot of my friends about this book. Usually I tout heavier fare about hurricanes and physics and stuff, but yours just struck a chord in me. I try to explain to them about how you attempted to make a long-distance phone call and bill it to your checking but you didn't have enough in the account, so you got a $1,200 bill from the phone company and the bank canceled your checking account. Then when you went to get an account at another bank, they wouldn't even take your cash because a computer told them not to. So you have to go to one of those check-cashing places ... that was one of the most vivid and outrageous pieces of first-person writing I've read in a long time.

Dear Ang,

I'm back. Had to take my son to the orthodontist. So I'm sittin' there reading your book, the part about where you go out to dinner with that dude that walks around campus pretending to be pre-med but turns out to be a clerk at the 7-11, lives with his mom and targets broke chicks like yourself for dinner dates. Suddenly this woman next to me starts calling people on her cell phone. One right after the other. Loud-talkin'. I look over and cringe. The woman's on a collision course with 50. Way too much makeup, not nearly enough skirt. Got her legs crossed and her foot's bouncing. Big-ass Fred Flintstone feet with toe rings! She'd better be glad there isn't a war on because the government would never allow her to use that much metal for something like that.

Anyway, she keeps talking, so I start reading out loud. She talks louder, so I read louder. All the other people in the waiting room look on curiously. (I know they're rooting for me.) Finally, she says, "Do you mind?! I'm on the phone." I say, "Obviously, I mind. That's why I started reading out loud."

It's kind of ironic that I was boldly reading about a woman who pretty much survived a year of her life simply by acting boldly.

Dear Angie,

I see this book started off with you posting your Broke Diaries on the Internet. People commiserated and even offered to send you money (which you refused). I'm glad everything worked out. You've got your degree in medical anthropology (thanks, in part, to the textbook you had to steal) and your book is killer. I get the feeling that no matter how successful you become, you're going to look back and find that that year is one of your all-time favorites. Thanks for sharing it with me.


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