Americaphiles

The Story Of My Fucking Life

One-ten

Posted by ilbebe on April 29, 2012

The Song of the Modern Poor is not always one of love.

When I was nine I had oral surgery that was intended to remove an extra canine tooth, but upon knocking me out and cutting me open, the surgeon determined that taking out the tooth at that point would do more harm than good. Still, after the surgery, I got braces for the first time. They were only on my four upper front teeth, and meant to put those teeth in a position where they would be unaffected by the superfluous tooth. Two years later, after the braces had done their work, they were removed and I had the wonky tooth removed. Being that it was my second round of surgery, I knew what to expect- I knew I would wake up groggy and disoriented, knew there were a few days of an applesauce diet in my future. What I didn’t know was that somehow I had developed an uncommon threshold dosage for the drugs intended to knock me out.

 

I was on the operating table, and after the nurse put the first needle in, the local anesthetic in my lower arm that would numb it up for the knock-out needle, she sweetly told me that I was just going to fall asleep and wake up all-better and gave me the second needle. But I didn’t go out. A brief pow-wow was held to figure out what to do, and it was determined that they would just give me more. For the second round, the nurse made a point of dramatically showing me the gigantic needle she was going to stab me with, presumably as some sort of additional ploy to get me to pass out in fear. That didn’t faze me, and so as I faded to black, the last thing I remembered was her glaring at me, waiting for me to go under. Professional.

 

How is this experience symptomatic of being poor? Most poor people’s only experience with “oral surgery” is euphemistic; it translates to “bar fight”, or “car accident”, or “meth”; most poor people don’t get the dental care they deserve. But that experience with the needle helped me understand Ham On Rye. The line “Were they insane? Didn’t they know I could hear them?” resonated me with me, and reminded me of the steely look the nurse leveled on me while she waited for me to be unconscious. I know that obviously you have to being doing okay to afford elective surgery for your kids, but the connection I’m drawing here is between being poor and being helpless. The Fear.
Growing up in New Hampshire, my family was rarely in want, but we were pretty poor. Luckily, the town had a great little library, completely free and open on Saturdays, and when I was six I checked out a book about money. It was a kid’s book about different monies of the world throughout history, mostly pictures, and it was pornography for a kid like me who never had more than a dollar at a time. Throughout my childhood, I constantly asked my parents if there was anything I could do around the house for grit, and the answer was always no. Well, sometimes the answer was There’s Definitely Something You Could Do, But Don’t Think There’s Any Money Involved.
For whatever reason, I misplaced the book, and when it was due a month later, the town librarian asked me where it was. The cycle of shame began. Initially it was in equal parts about the late fine; the sting to my pride that resulted from losing something; and finally, the shame of thinking that the librarian thought I was keeping the book because I liked looking at the money so much. The librarian was friends with my mom, and a week after the librarian’s initial notice, my mom was asking me where the book was on a near-daily basis. I hated not having an answer for either of them, and though I can’t say that the missing book kept me away from the library, it did have me hanging my head when I approached the desk to check things out. It was awful.
When I found the book nearly a year later, I was reluctant at first to say anything for fear of how huge the fine would be. The late fines were clearly posted on an index card that sat by the desk; they were something on the order of one day five cents two days ten cents and so forth. You can do the math the same way I did and understand that my young self was reasonably afraid of a twenty-dollar fine. But after a few days of hand-wringing I brought it back and was massively relieved when the librarian said she was pleased that I had finally found the book, and that she respected me for it. “Wasn’t expecting to see that one again!” She could have been talking about me, if she had any way of knowing how close the missing book had come on many occasions from keeping me away from what I loved most; the library.
She said How About We Call The Fine A Dollar, and while parting with the dollar was heartbreaking, I appreciated the mercy I had been shown. The weight off of my shoulders was immense, and every once in a while I would look at that book on the shelf and feel its totemic pull- Check Me Out Again, Check Me Out! But I had learned an early, if slightly warped and entirely self-inflicted lesson about how my unhealthy lust for cash had cost me dearly. A corollary notion was my growing hatred of not having the cash to begin with- The self-hatred which plagues the poor.
It wasn’t until I was 30, however, that I began to really understand the high cost of having no dough. A simple example which illustrates how things cost more when you have less money is to look at me walking a mile and a half down Claremont Avenue to get the cheapest cigs in town. When you buy two packs at the place I go, you save a dollar. But if it’s going to be three more days until your next dole, and spending money on cigs is already reckless, you act rationally and buy just one. Then the strain of financial worry runs you through the pack in less than your hoped-for three days, and you find yourself walking back to the store to buy another pack. You have not saved a dollar. Deal with it, poory. Get a job.
Another way to look at the cost money trouble wreaks upon the soul is to consider the abominable amount of Simpler Times beer I drank during the first nine months of last year. Simpler Times is gross, but it sells for $2.99 a six-pack at Trader Joe’s. After tax and the can deposit, eighteen cans of beer cost me $10.74. There were times I paid with exact change. A further depressing thing about Simpler Times, and Trader Joe’s beer selection in general, is that they don’t refrigerate it in the store, so I would walk home and put the beer in the freezer. Then I’d set an alarm for ninety minutes later, when it would be cold enough to not quite enjoy, but stomach. Now sure, I could have been drinking less, or planning ahead more, but when you are looking at someone who is in mild agony standing in front of the freezer deciding whether to a lukewarm beer that’s only been cooling down for an hour is drinkable, you are looking at the disgrace of The Year Without A Nap. You are looking at the vice that results from the self-hatred that plagues those in not need, but want.
I refer to 2011 as The Year Without A Nap because for the first nine months of it, until I went camping with friends and pulled my head out of my ass, I was sleeping about ten or twelve hours a day, generally between 5AM and 5PM. Pathetic. There were many occasions where I found myself running to Trader Joe’s before it closed at nine because I couldn’t justify the additional expense of getting cold Pabst at Safeway at the outrageous price of $10 a twelve-pack. Call it a first-world problem or whatever trendy phrase you like, but this was and is a waste of a life. When I first started working for Wicked, I was losing sleep waiting for credit card payments to clear so I could immediately re-spend the money on things like food, and BART tickets, and yes, beer. Now, collecting unemployment and suffering through rejection after rejection in my job search, I had realized that the easiest way to get ahead financially when you were of limited means was to stay at home at do practically nothing. I died in an armchair, watching baseball and playing a mindless online game called Mahjong Safari. Repeat: I spent hours and hours playing a fucking online matching game.
Enough. This poor motherfucker’s back, and feeling very different about being of the lower class. I should’ve listened earlier, Bobby- When you ain’t got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.
Enough.
-Noon, 4/29/12, my pal Phil’s apartment, Union Street, Brooklyn, NY. Cheshire Cat fading in.

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