I keep finding myself envying my friend, Toby Steffian. No matter what mishaps befal him, he finds ways to survive -- with eclat. Here are some things he told me about last week:
"When I lost my job as a professor I went around and applied for welfare, not because I thought I could get it yet, but because I was so scared of poverty and of the indignities welfare officials might force upon me that it seemed reassuring to get practice. I wanted to know that I could face rock bottom and stay alive there.
"The bottom-line job in my mind has always been sales. Last year when I could find no job I wanted, I became a salesman. After a while, having made only one sale, I quit.
"What next? I became a waiter. The earnings are terrible.
"Sometimes my pay ran out so I scrounged around looking for ways to get food. I got some butcher's scraps free and found that with 10 minutes of work I could get enough beef off the fat for one hamburger.
"The man at the roadside fruit stand let me take some of the peaches with brown spots he had thrown away. They were even better tasting than the ones he was selling. At the fish market I got what's left after they filet fish, and I made fish soup.
"Material life moved up another peg when I found out that they actually throw away lobster bodies in the fish store. I took some home. Heaven.
"At the restaurant where I work, someone left a third of a bottle of champagne one day. Heaven again.
"Luckily a friend knew of a cheap apartment in a little house -- probably built for servants -- in the middle of estate country.
"A flower store nearby has the freshest flowers in the country. They can't sell a flower that will wilt a couple of days later, so they throw out a lot with a few days life left in them. I raid the trash barrels. My best haul was 10 birds of paradise. Hardly anyone buys that many at once: They cost $3.00 each.
"At the plant store, if a plant wilts and will take too long to revive, they throw it away. No amount of nurturing time is too long for me. A potted palm and a large gardenia are now doing very nicely.
"The dumpsters beside stores are bountiful. Built a trellis the other day with some discarded 2-by-4s.
"And I 'borrow estates.' It works this way. The estate owners around here don't build fences between properties because they want to ride their horses across each other's land. It's cricket to walk, jog, and cross-country ski on the riding trails. I do.
"When an owner appears, I immediately start toward him, wave, and start talking: 'Hello, I'm a neighbor; from the blue house over there.'
"'Your house is really attractive. It looks about 100 years old. Is that right?"
"Let me tell you about that. . . ' To himself he thinks, 'This guy appreciates and understands what I have. He doesn't sound dangerous.'"
"Sometimes I knock at the door and ask if I can look at something interesting on the estate: 'Madam, your rose garden if very beautiful. Aren't those American Beauties over there? Could I look at them for a moment?'"
"'Let me show you our whole garden. Come back if you like.'
"Sometimes I gather wild foods, such as watercress. About a thousand dollars' worth grows unharvested in one stream here. I also swim, fish, picnic, grow vegetables, converse, and sit reading in a mansion turned into a museum, all on land only millionaires can hope to own.
"The car question is troublesome. In America, people junk cars needing repairs that cost more than the car is worth.
"Too bad there aren't stores and subsidies for car with high salvation costs. The same goes for all kinds of discarded goods.
"The other day the chairman of a charity sent me a form letter saying that this winter will be worse for the poor than any one since 1930. He wanted help soliciting canned food to distribute to the poor. I called him and suggested that he organize a staff to collect all the wasted free food, as I do.
"Another idea: Go to the seed companies. They are not allowed to sell seeds that have been returned. Why not get those seeds to plant and to eat as sprouts?
The charity chairman asked me to come speak to his staff about organizing to get this bountiful society's discarded goods into the hands of the poor. All of America could be organized that way. We could call the concept "bountifulness sharing."