Friday, September 25, 2009

Already In The Books

My history of poverty is well-documented by the Social Security Administration. Each year they send out a statement  containing my 'Earnings Record', starting in 1983 with my first summer job as a dishwasher and continuing all the way to 2008, a year of typically sporadic income which found me well under the official poverty standard- I even got a tax credit that year, despite claiming no dependents. According to my  SSA statement, my annual income didn't exceed the poverty level until 1999. I was 33 years old in 1999. I understand poor.

I have only exceeded the poverty threshold seven times in my twenty-six years in the labor force. There is a string of zeroes from income? Was I in prison? That decade is hazy.

I realize that many people consider it 'bad form' to openly discuss financial matters, but if you aren't poor now, you probably will be soon, so you might as well get  used to talking about it openly. In fact, open communication may prove crucial to your very survival, because when you get down to it, the only folks who truly look out for the best interests of poor people are other poor people. They need each other.  Poor people tend to develop loose, symbiotic bartering networks; goods and services are exchanged in lieu of cash, neither party having access to the money needed to procure said goods and services from commercial sources.

Anyway, I used to be a bit reticent about my low standard of living, but with poverty on the rise and the Boomer middle-class approaching doddering homelessness, I feel the time is right  to stop considering my financial history as a source of personal shame and start referring to it as my "curricula vitae" and "professional credentials".

I'm a bona-fide expert on being poor without living poorly and I have documentation that backs it up, so it only makes sense that I should become a private consultant, teaching formerly well-to-do ex-professionals how to do simple things like cooking inexpensive, healthy meals and learning how to shop  without buying completely stupid, over-priced example would an item that caught my eye at market: a pre-packaged hot dog, already tucked inside a bleached, starchy roll and ready to be microwaved. That single-serving monstrosity cost more than an entire package of hot dog buns and almost as much as an entire pound of 'decent' franks.  
(Note:I would never recommend buying hot dogs to anyone. I'll explain why soon)

 Lesson Three in my new course will be how to shop for groceries by doing weight/cost analysis. One example I will use will be cheap hot dogs vs. 'premium' cat food. In most cases, you will find that the cat food is significantly higher in price than those bright pink frankfurters in your basket...and if your life is so harried that you can't stop to eat a better meal than a microwaved hot dog, you aren't doing your already over-stressed heart any favors by feeding it slurried pork snouts.
Consider that advice a freebie- I don't want my potential clients dying prematurely.
(That part comes during the lawsuits)

And, to be honest, I love poor folks. They are my kinda people. They understand  the utilitarian appeal of duct tape and don't mock me for wearing old shoes.

I have also noticed (and this is generalized) that less-affluent friends seem more willing to share physical items of sentimental value with me than their wealthier counterparts;  perhaps  a chronically wealthy person might perceive  a used book- one that was obviously  read many times by the previous owner- as some sort of slight or breach of decorum; but any competent poor person will recognize that they have received something that means something to the giver, and by doing so, their own value as a human being has been affirmed.
On the other hand, a wealthier person might tell you about the same book, but not give it to you- they just assume that you'll be able to drop $20 at the bookshop. I mean, it's only $20, right?

A gift means a lot when it comes from a poor person. It is likely that they had to sacrifice some small but meaningful part of their budget in order to give that gift to you. Perhaps they gave you one of their prized possessions because they knew it would thrill you and  would make you happy.  There is a certain purity in such a gift that can't be purchased, it has to an innate part of the object and has little to do with monetary price. Masters of poverty understand this.

Rich people, on  the other hand, just don't get  it. I am sure that the vast majority of  'socially-aware' charitable persons have only the best of intentions, but they haven't got a clue about what it really means to have a $25 weekly food budget.

At some point, those good intentions took a one-way train to Tartarus, and 'Poverty' is now a trendy fashion statement. Take the example above. Is this the best way to fight poverty?

What I see here is an excuse to ogle a woman's hips that is lamely disguised as enlightened socio-economic commentary. Seriously, I suddenly don't give two moldy figs about the starving kids in North Korafricastan, and am more interested in testing the elasticity of that belt than I am in fighting for the food rights of fifth-world peasants.

I'd have to add  add that despite my low income, I have never been truly homeless, have usually had some sort of 'job', and have never been in danger of starving. I usually have a car, I always have a guitar and I have a PC with amazingly fast Internet...I'm not starving by any means, and probably never will be. America is good that way. For me, anyway.

People with kids, on the other hand...


secret agent woman said...

Anti-poverty as a fashion statement is offensive and hypocritical.

billy pilgrim said...

i think the rich are only truly generous when it's tax deductible or when it comes to creating a legacy. of course the legacy is tax deductible and getting a building named after them is an added bonus as is the free pass to heaven when inflated tax receipts are issued by churches.


texas has caritas which is a catholic organization that gives away food, clothes, housing wares etc. the local grociers and walmart especially donate bent cans, returned clothes, lamps sheets etc. plus just food in general. i have used it on more than one occasion and i do qualify. they give you so many pounds of food per person..families with children would get more than a single person like me.which is the way it should be. but they don't really have an understanding of diabetics and they continue to give me bags of rice and macaroni and sugared cereal and bread..holy sweet Goddess they give you tons of bread. I'm can also get food stamps. but for me it's like $11 and figure that could go better to someone else so dont get it..but you should look into all the local food banks and into food stamps. they have vouchers for clothese for some of the second hand stores too...use what is out there..
i worry about you.

whimsical brainpan said...

*does the secret handshake*

angel said...

Another fascinating look at the world around us.

And I have always felt that having cats is a luxury.


more cowbell said...

I think a whole lot of folks are getting an unwilling education on this subject right about now.