Today, I drank a carefully measured cup of two-day-old coffee from the French press in my refrigerator, staved off my morning oatmeal until 2pm, which pushed my lunch back several hours and turned it into dinner, so I could save on food for the day. For “linner,” I cut a miniature sweet potato in half and put it in a casserole dish with a few thin slices of tofu and threw it in the oven. When I tried to take it out to move my food around in a circle to pretend like I was actively “cooking” something, I dropped the casserole dish, and one half of the miniature sweet potato fell out onto the oven door. I stabbed it with a knife and threw him back into the casserole dish, which I then proceeded to drop once more (I can’t afford to buy potholders, so thin kitchen towels were used.), casting both the tofu and the sweet potato halves into and on the oven. Here’s where I realized how poor I am: I cried. And not because it was a frustrating mishap (though it was, especially because the smoke detector was blaring and wouldn’t stop even when I climbed on that wobbly spinning bar stool and took out the batteries then ripped that fucker off of the ceiling, and it still won’t stop, just dangling there like a dying canary I used to think was cute until I took it down into the mineshaft). I cried because I need this food–this tofu and these miniature sweet potatoes–to last me through the rest of this week. Seriously.
What did I do? Here’s my new favorite “I’m so poor” joke: I’m so poor that I scraped sweet potato and tofu off the bottom of my oven, put it into a casserole dish, added paprika and cumin, cooked it for 10 more minutes, and then I called it “dinner.”
I haven’t been talking about how poor I am in a serious way or how terrifying it is to be on the cusp of my 30th birthday, wondering when I’ll have enough quarters to do laundry again. This isn’t a place I thought I would be after my master’s degree or after I hit milestones in my adult emotional development. For the most part, I’ve been living in a “fake it til I make it” mentality, because we’re better equipped to deal with middle-class individuals than we are with those in poverty, and the last thing you want to do to a potential employer is make them feel bad for you by admitting that you are in poverty. In fact, a great deal of my friends from Michigan, Idaho, Oregon, California, etc., are still buying into the “fake it til I make it,” but what if “making it” isn’t the same as it used to be, and what if the people you’re “faking it” to are of the class that’s either wealthy enough that they’re oblivious to the real concerns of the poor (I’m one of these people, too, because I do have a laptop computer and a Netflix account, I actually own a French press for coffee, and I have amassed a wealth of friends as a support net, and I don’t forget how lucky I am for having these things), or are so wealthy they think that simply allowing you to socialize with them is priceless?
In Hollywood, it’s always the latter.
I had to interview a woman about her time in Hollywood recently. She’s an actress. She’s from the Midwest originally, and I have to admit that I quite like her, but if I weren’t interviewing her, vouched for as a good writer by her friend, she would probably ignore me otherwise, and I mean really ignore me. A question arose about who she socialized with when she first got here, and she said that she would never make friends with a Jamba Juice employee or Peet’s barista, but she’d probably make friends with another patron of those stores. It makes sense, I suppose. I’m of the service class, always have been, so what would I even have in common with a Hollywood actress? Judging from the interview, though, apparently a lot. What she doesn’t know is that I’m getting paid only a laughable fee for the project with her, and am otherwise considered an unpaid intern for my other projects. In a world where I am rewarded for my skill, education, and years of experience, it wouldn’t be difficult for me to conceive that, yes, maybe she would consider me enough for friend material or see me as a colleague. But this isn’t a perfect world, and my talking to her shouldn’t even be in the realm of possibilities. Did I reiterate yet how much I actually really like this woman? Was I faking it until I was making it with her?
Which of these statements is true:
I don’t like rich people.
I didn’t like rich people, but now I like some rich people.
All rich people have no idea how it feels to be poor, even if they were poor once.
Some rich people are wonderfully philanthropic and have good intentions.
Most poor people hate rich people.
I like rich people.
I would like money, but I don’t want to be rich.
If I have all the money I want, I will probably be rich.
ALL OF THEM ARE TRUE!!!!!! YOU WIN!!!!!!
Sucks, doesn’t it? I grew up poor. I also grew up privileged. Depending on how you look at it. I had a desperately poor teenage mother, and my sister and I spent a great deal of time being raised by our grandparents, who were once REALLY FUCKING POOR, but had come into some money with hard work a decades-long investment in our family bar. When I was with my mother, we had potato chips for dinner. When I was with my grandparents, we had potato chips AND prime rib. None of us knew what money was for different reasons, and I think we still don’t, and I think this is major criteria defining my working-class generation of over-educated, unpaid workers. Notice I don’t say unemployed here. I don’t say that, because we are all usually working at least 40 hours a week; we’re just not getting paid.
I’ve said this statement several times in the past few years, and it has been met with a lot of criticism: I WANT MONEY. I do. I really do. But when people hear this, it sounds evil, and it sounds corrupt and selfish, and I get that, but what I’m really saying is that I want power. And I want to come into enough power where I can make my personal my political and create an even distribution of wealth-to-work, and I want to know what it takes to be able to do that, with a conscience. Recently, New York passed a bill that gave restaurant workers the power to ask for the money they’ve earned and to fight for fair wages and working conditions. Restaurant owners retaliated by
insinuating that all restaurant workers involved in class-action lawsuits against wealthy restaurant owners were lazy and selfish. Um…what? Did I tell you about that barista job I quit after 3 hours a few weeks ago, because they told me I wouldn’t start earning money for my work until I completed a 3-day training, and they would withhold my wages until they knew I was going to stay with the restaurant for a while? Did I tell you how guilty I felt about quitting that job, even though it was clearly a horrible place? And I bet every single one of those restaurant employees in the class-action lawsuit has at least 25% of their brain dedicated to a Stockholm Syndrome-driven guilt complex that told them maybe their employers weren’t so bad, even though they were being paid below the minimum wage, weren’t being paid overtime, were physically abused or denied sick leave, and were exposed to one of the highest-stress work environments out there. But why?
I stumbled on this article about youths and the job market, which gave an overview of three books we should all probably read–Intern Nation, Non-Stop Inertia, and Chavs. And it made me fucking mad. Here’s their conclusion, though (italics mine):
The biggest lesson to take from these three books is that a greater degree of consolidation is also necessary for those hoping to resist the most damaging effects of these [economic] changes. Practically, this means organizing across sectors that have remained stubbornly separated: interns, temporary workers, graduate students, the chronically unemployed, non-unionized service industry workers, and undocumented workers.
I want to balk at this, because there’s no way anybody can compare the harshness of the life of an undocumented migrant worker to that of mine, but I’m starting to think that’s what rich people want us to do. (I used to think this a long time ago after reading bell hooks’ Class Matters and somehow forgot in my climb to “the top.”) I’m starting to think that they want us to get embroiled in the “who’s better off than who” concerns, because that’s exactly what’s dividing us and making the rich richer. Clearly, this isn’t a new idea, but its recent application into my life is forcing me to see this at eye level. If you do happen to have more opportunities than a migrant worker (heads up all you white people who don’t realize how damn good you have it), it should be your duty to use what little power you have to advance your class–interns, temporary workers, service workers, the chronically unemployed, the disabled, etc.–because you’re all the same: Fucked. Just don’t forget it when you reach the top. For all you fake-it-til-you-make-its out there, the next time you go into your internship or your minimum-wage job, stop trying to look better than the other people to get ahead, because if you’re adhering to that competitive Mad Max mentality, you’re perpetuating and even spreading the idea that we should make our workforce run an unrealistic gauntlet just to afford food.
You know what? Usually, I’d probably crack jokes about those Occupy Wall Street people, because it unnerves me when people with laptops and video equipment claim to be poor. I’m not sure if that’s wrong, if I’m wrong, if I’m not truly poor, if I’m just led to believe that I’m poor, if I really am representative of today’s poverty, or what. I’m confused. Poverty is confusing. And I’m starting to feel that while these people have relatively a lot, they’re just the Kings of the Poor, and maybe they are the ones who have to be championing for those who don’t have as much. Can a revolution be ignited by privileged youth? Look at the 60s.
Sorry this isn’t a funny post. My only joke for the day is, “I’m so poor that I ate oven crumbs, and I’m fucking pissed about it.” And maybe we’ll all laugh about it later!!!!!!! LOL!!!!! What’s your “I’m so poor” joke? Seriously, I really need to laugh right now.