What it's like to be poor
Your dreams are haunted with scenarios that you awake from relieved that it's just your weary imagination. But then reality hits and it's little better. You're always on the brink, waiting for the next disaster that if it doesn't kill you, desensitizes you even more. Thankfully, for now, living in poverty in America still provides many comforts, food is plentiful and cheap, the police guard your safety, there are public libraries, and tv or radio to inform and entertain. You probably don't have a car, so you either adventure to work, school, or the store on unreliable, time-consuming public transportation; walk yourself scrawny, or car pool. Car pooling forces you to associate at work with whoever is friendly enough to take you, but most likely your fast-food job has a turn-over rate so high that soon you'll fell like a car-whore. High-turnover jobs force you to become desensitized to the coming and going of the new same-old-face as they come and go.
But maybe instead of working retail of fast-food you're a janitor, which is like being a better paid but less glamorous house-wife: you're only acknowledged when you mess up. If you're paid by the hour but improve your inefficiency you take home less pay, and for some reason it's physically strenuous jobs like Fed-Ex package handling that don't offer health-care.
Human beings are social animals, and that doesn't change when you're poor. We spend to conform in an attempt to feel secure and live comfortably among friends. The poor like everyone make stupid choices in an attempt to fit-in. It's hard having to see the upper-middle class norm in tv shows, magazines, and movies and not become hopelessly envious which clouds our decisions. It's equally hard to watch people drown in New Orleans or come back from Iraq minus a limb and resist the urge to give what little you have to charity when it may mean missing your rent. Our generosity and weaknesses are scientifically exploited by advertisers who prey upon our insecurities and desires. You slap "all natural" or "reinvested directly back" on anything and it's hard for me to resist buying even if it costs an extra dollar that I really shouldn't be paying.
Money is the prime tension between broken families and marriages, and it's not hard to imagine why (except to the Bush dynasty I'm sure). Living with limited resources forces one to adopt a de-facto Social Darwinism philosophy that no matter how hard you try to combat keeps being proved true again and again. You calculate a parents love by comparing what they do for you compared to another sibling. It makes men feel impotent and any sexual act becomes an expression of frustration rather than love. All your social relationships are affected. Any friendship will naturally wane when you can't go out to eat or on that even-modest spring-break trip when others can. Soon you feel like a parasite and act out, hyper-defensively, to prove you aren't, straining the friendship even more. If you ever do crawl out of poverty you wonder if one of the countless friends that disappeared from your life will one day turn-up on your porch to ask for some ridiculous favor. You fear the nightly-sirens are coming for a friend who crossed that precarious line between desperate and criminal. People wonder why you don't talk about yourself and its because you'll just depress them and yourself.
And even though you might be white, strait, and male you too know what it's like to be pre-judged negatively when your credit card bounces at the grocery store or you're flagged and followed at Wal-Mart by "disguised" security guards because of your worn-out clothes. And it makes you fear taking control of your life and planning your future because your past is full of disaster. You lack job-skills because your family didn't have that spare computer to tinker with. Your public school is full of both wonderful teachers and those who couldn't care less about you because they have their own problems, let alone whatever potentially violent adventures you might face walking home or on the playground that day.
Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.
Being poor is knowing you're being judged.
Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.
Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.
Being poor is deciding that it's all right to base a relationship on shelter.
Being poor is knowing you really shouldn't spend that buck on a Lotto ticket.
Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.
Being poor is feeling helpless when your child makes the same mistakes you did, and won't listen to you beg them against doing so.
Being poor is a cough that doesn't go away.
Being poor is making sure you don't spill on the couch, just in case you have to give it back before the lease is up.
Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.
Being poor is four years of night classes for an Associates of Art degree.
Being poor is a lumpy futon bed.
Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.
Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.
Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.
Being poor is seeing how few options you have.
Being poor is running in place.
Being poor is people wondering why you didn't leave.
This is the sad reality of our current system:
Being poor means having to pay your bills with money orders because all the banks have you blacklisted and won't let you open a checking account.
Being poor means having to pay a fee to a check-cashing service because you can't open that checking account.
Being poor means having to pay your car insurance bill monthly, including the $3 service charge that you wouldn't have to pay if you could pay the whole bill at once.
Being poor means late charges.
Being poor means higher interest rates.
Being poor means no sick days; if you don't go to work, you don't get paid.
Being poor means having to pay a $50 fine becuase you got a ticket for a busted muffler that you couldn't afford to fix in the first place.
Being poor means throwing mud on your license plates because you couldn't afford to renew them on time, and hoping that you don't get stopped in a roadblock.
Being poor means higher heating bills because you live in poorly-insulated housing.