Poor mouth

This is… just to juicy to pass up. And let’s just say that, like Kathy, I do know a bit about Being Poor (italics are Mr. John Scalzi’s original):

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

No one else knows silly stuff like prices of things. Right.

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

On the other hand, this never bothers people with money. They like it when their kids are greedy and demanding!

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they’re what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there’s not an $800 car in America that’s worth a damn.

I owned a car I paid $300 for, and it ran for quite a few years. Sure, it was twelve years old when I bought it, but being poor I had already figured out what would be good to own cheap car-wise.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Then being able to go to the emergency room and get it extracted when the abscess threatens your life, or being able to find a dentist who will do payments. Or are poor people not resourceful? I guess I wasn’t poor — just broke.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends’ houses but never has friends over to yours.

When I was a kid I didn’t know we were poor. neither did our friends; but in the 60s and 70s kids were still satisfied with a big tree to climb and being able to run around and scream at the top of our lungs.

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier.

This free lunch stigma was unknown to us, though the kids who got free lunch (which, every now and then, was me) were not. You just filled out this card and got a date stamp on it.

Being poor is living next to the freeway.

Or out in the country. Or in a neighborhood just across the railroad tracks from the “nicer” one. So? During Christmas we’d drive through the nice neighborhood (in our ancient, rusted-through-floorboards Chevy station wagon) and look at the Christmas lights.

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.

Our parents regulated our in-between-meal snacks and didn’t seem too bothered by having to do so.

Being poor is wondering if your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn’t mind when you ask for help.

My aunt and uncle had a nice house in the suburbs with a huge yard and a swimming pool. We’d go there every other week. They were Baptist, so my father was popular at their parties because he had the ice chest with Budweiser in the back of the station wagon. My parents were of that generation that felt comfortable with people of any income level, including the rich. It was okay if you were rich around my folks; they wouldn’t hold it against you.

Being poor is off-brand toys.

We were limited as to the toys we could have. Our parents didn’t think it was good for us to be showered with toys, most of which they figrured we would lose interest in and break or discard anyway after the first few weeks of owning them. They were right. I could get as many books as I wanted, though.

Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.

Well, we did live in Florida. We did have a gas heater in the main room — it was an old house. We had window air-conditioning units for a while, but my father had them removed; he claimed they gave us colds. It could have been that they were tired of paying a higher electric bill, but personally I think my parents like the tropical heat of Miami.

Being poor is knowing you can’t leave $5 on the coffee table when your friends are around.

So poor people only associate with the criminal class. Got it.

Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt.

I wore my sister’s old clothes (though younger, she was bigger than me and grew faster), my grandmother made most of our clothes, and we also got clothes from friends. My grandmother even made me some lacy underpants. Sears was a treat, not a necessity.

Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you.

Our old house was a two bedroom. I shared with my sister until I got tired of it and started sleeping on the couch. Then my father made the rarely-used dining room into my bedroom. He did all house repairs and alterations himself with the help of friends, which is probably why the house didn’t really hold together all that well. That was before my parents split up and my father, sister, and I moved into the two bedroom trailer. A single wide. With no a/c.

Somehow I can’t seem to get a country song out of the experience, though.

Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.

Yeah, that’s happened. I just glued them back on.

Being poor is your kid’s school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning.

Hey! I went to that school! It was actually one of the better public schools in the county; rich kids, poor kids, middle-class kids, and kids who didn’t speak English went there. What can I say — back then they figured knowledge hadn’t changed in fifteen years, and air-conditioning was for the teacher’s lounge anyway.

Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.

Well it’s better than nothing. Up until about three years ago that was the highest my hourly wage had ever gotten. I paid rent and owned a car.

Being poor is relying on people who don’t give a damn about you.

That’s called “being employed.” I don’t need my boss to “care” about me, just to pay me.

Being poor is an overnight shift under florescent lights.

It’s also called “working while going to college, so you can buy cds, beer, and Ho-Hos.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.

Actually, that’s called “being divorced from a scumbag.”

Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.

Actually, that’s called “the toilet is broken.” It happens to rich people too. Maybe they have an illegal immigrant empty the tub into the toilet instead, I don’t know.

Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger’s trash.

Huh. I thought it was called “recycling.” Actually, I call it “being resourceful.” If the lamp works, you have a free lamp! I got a tv/vcr cart that way that I am using right now. For some reason this doesn’t make me want to cry hot tears of shame.

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.

Five-second rule!

Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a goddamned difference.

Poor people can’t finish high school on time. It’s in the contract. No really, this is ridiculous. A GED does make a difference — it can get you into community college, for one thing; and I also believe you need at least that to get into the military. True, you won’t be showered in riches the minute you get the document. I supposed that does suck.

Anyway, rich people get their high school diplomas upon birth. That way they can go straight from yacht parties to Harvard without ever having to go to school with the plebes.

Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.

No, that’s called being dressed trashy — as in, not neat, things untied, stains on your shirt, that overall “dirty,” unkempt, I-don’t-care look — and mooching around with an attitude to make people nervous because you’re eaten up with envy at the fact that they own things you can’t afford.

Being poor is not taking the job because you can’t find someone you trust to watch your kids.

No, actually, that’s called being divorced, or not having good relations with your family, or hanging out with a bad crowd, or not belonging to a stable community institution like a church. And of course no community anywhere has daycare options for poor people who want to work but need a place to leave their kids during the workday.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.

No, that’s called “living in a bad neighborhood.” Or it can be “my wealthy neighbors were running drugs for a lark on the side.” Rich people commit crime too.

Being poor is not talking to that girl because she’ll probably just laugh at your clothes.

Considering the fact that high fashion among teens has for years imitated that of the underclass this is no longer a problem.

Being poor is hoping you’ll be invited for dinner.

Mother used all her food stamps to buy crack? No matter how poor we were — and teachers in Dade County Florida in the 60s and 70s did not get paid a high salary — and no matter how much my parents spent at the bar, they always made sure we had enough food. But hell, I loved to be invited over to other peoples’ homes to eat. I was a little eating machine.

Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.

Actually, I am pretty sure I’ve never seen a poor person transform into a sidewalk, one covered with brown broken glass or otherwise. I’ve seen them lie down on the sidewalk — I’ve been one of those people lying down on the sidewalk, broken beer bottles and all — but just being a sidewalk? People weren’t into that performance art stuff when I was a kid.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.

Well, if you use your lack of large income as an excuse to mumble and use trashy slang because you’re too lazy (or too intent on appearing “cool,” which ever since Marlon Brando roared over to that small town on his motorcycle has meant mumbling and using trashy slang), then I think that something can indeed be judged about you by the way you talk. Otherwise bank accounts don’t do anything to speech patterns.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

People usually do need their income to be raised at regular intervals, even people with money. In fact, it is considered a little strange in this country — unusual, anyway — to refuse a raise. Anyway, I’ve never had a raise that big within jobs, though as I’ve changed jobs my income has gone up more than that at times.

Being poor is your kid’s teacher assuming you don’t have any books in your home.

I have never heard of that. Perhaps people are prejudiced by the fact that many “poor” people in this country seem to prefer a tv in their home.

Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Been there, done that. Of course, maybe if I hadn’t spent money at McDonald’s every day that week… Most utility companies will work with you if the amount you’re unable to come up with is that low.

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.

Five-second rule!

Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.

Sounds like being a bit whiny, to me. “I work haaaard!” Cry me a river.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid.

Perhaps it’s something other than your empty wallet that made them think that. It usually is.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy.

They see an able-bodied, youngish human being and wonder “so what is it?” In my case, it turned out to be… laziness.

Being poor is a six-hour wait in an emergency room with a sick child asleep on your lap.

Rich people who walk into emergency rooms get wafted immediately to the best room in the hospital, past the bleeding hobo and the pregnant crack addict in labor. Not.

Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn’t bought first.

I’ve found loads of neat things in thrift stores, including several nice old typewriters and my real wooden armchair with green velvet cushions.

Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that’s two extra packages for every dollar.

And they have the same crappy, salty, stale noodle taste as the 12 cent package.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn’t know you made when you were 14 years old.

And being locked into them forever and ever and ever amen!

Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.

Actually they’re just tired of you punishing them for not having made stupid choices in life when they were fourteen and then staying in their little rut of misery for the rest of their lives.

Being poor is knowing you’re being judged.

No, it’s being expected to abide by the rules of civilized society just like everyone else, and not getting a pass when you refuse to because you don’t have a three figure income.

Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.

Rich kids get oil painting sets and stretched canvasses delivered to their bedrooms by Donner and Blitzen?

Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.

I’ve gathered a fair amount of change that way. Life is a smorgasbord of opportunities.

Being poor is deciding that it’s all right to base a relationship on shelter.

Actually, that’s another bad choice, but we’ve already discerned that this is a pattern.

Being poor is knowing you really shouldn’t spend that buck on a Lotto ticket.

So don’t. I never do.

Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.

She might if you were a bit nicer instead of walking around with a sourpuss.

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.

I think that’s actually more of your bad choices manifesting themselves in your kid, who has already been made to understand — by you — that as a Poor Child™ he’ll never get a fair shake.

Being poor is a cough that doesn’t go away.

1. Quit smoking. 2. If it’s not smoking, there are clinics for poor people where you can get treated for whatever it is. Coughs that won’t go away are usually indicators of either cancer or a serious threat to the public health, like tuberculosis, so no doctor will turn you away.

Oh. I forgot. No one cares about poor people.

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.

Rich people blithely spill wine, beer, coffee, and indelible paint on their $4,000 dupioni-silk-upholstered Italian couches, secure in the knowledge that they can just throw it in the trash and buy a new one. Oh, to be rich and able to be a dirty slob in one’s own house!

Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.

Been there, done that. Far from complaining, I am instead grateful that there is still a place where I can actually borrow money.

Being poor is four years of night classes for an Associates of Art degree.

Scattered over nearly twenty years, here! (Waves hand.) Alas, this meant that I missed out on such wonderful full time college experiences as binge-drinking, hooking up, and waking up in a pool of vomit next to a strange exchange student. Oh well, sacrifices must sometimes be made…

Being poor is a lumpy futon bed.

I thought being poor was a sidewalk. Make up your mind!

Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.

Most communities list these places in the phone book, actually.

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Tell them you’re researching a book.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.

The thrill — it’s addicting!

Being poor is seeing how few options you have.

While totally ignoring the option of pulling one’s head out of one’s ass and getting one’s act together, without which actions no options are possible.

Being poor is running in place.

At least you’ll keep fit.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.

Tell them you were waiting for Godot.

25 Responses to “Poor mouth”

  1. Russell Wardlow Says:

    Oh, Christ Almighty.

    John Edwards needs to hire this guy as a speechwriter for his next “Two Americas” campaign.

  2. Pixy Misa Says:


    I wrote something much longer, but I deleted it all, because “gah” sums it up well enough.

  3. TheFatGuy Says:


  4. aelfheld Says:

    The mating call of the Left: “Pity me!”

  5. Ith Says:

    Geez, I’ve experienced a good deal of that list, some of it hapenning right now, but what I seem to be missing is the giant chip for my shoulder. I gotta get me one of those.

    “Gah” pretty much sums it up for me too.

  6. andrea Says:

    Zigzackly doesn’t think much about this poor list either. I wonder why.

  7. ilyka Says:

    From the comment he left at Zigzackly, I’d say you’re being a bit tough on Scalzi. It doesn’t seem that what he wrote was intended as a “whine,” unless now it’s whiny to say “being poor sucks.”

    But you, feh–I know you have a heart of coal and at least you’re entertaining about it. This post was worth it for “Tell them you’re waiting for Godot” alone.

    What shocked me was Kathy’s “obviously you’re not poor, you can afford a blog” comment. Er, mine’s is free, Kathy (thanks to the “Gah” man above). And I ain’t rich. I don’t think I whine about it, and God knows I’m fortunate to have been born here and not in Calcutta, but does it suck? Hell, yes, it sucks. That most of it’s my own stupid fault does not alleviate the sucking, either.

  8. The_Real_JeffS Says:

    Jeez, Scalzi does a good job of simultaneously sneering and whining, doesn’t he? A class act, for an idiot.

  9. ricki Says:

    Oh, for Pete’s sake.

    My mom grew up poor. Her family did not have a telephone until she was in college (and yes, my mom went to college - she ferreted out scholarships and worked summers and all that stuff). They didn’t have indoor plumbing ’til she was in high school.

    And you know the stories I hear from her about being poor? How they made do. How they really, had enough. How they had fun. What a good cook her mom was. How she and her friends went swimming in the river. How they went fishing for perch, how her brother hunted and brought home venison and rabbit. There was never any thought of “pity us,” it was a thought of “We are together, we have skills and ingenuity, we can manage.”

    Incidentally, this was before all those “Great Society” programs that Johnson instituted.

    I’ve been in situations in college and grad school where I didn’t have a lot of bucks (I’ve eaten my share of Ramen and also been grateful for the fact that the church I attended at the time had a free hot lunch after the Sunday service) but I never saw it as anyone’s fault - it was a temporary condition faced by many college students, just something you endured.

    In bad situations, a person has two choices: they can say “Okay, I will do what I can to make the best of this” or they can sit down and go “oh, poor me! Oh, why doesn’t someone come and rescue me! Oh, how this is so much the fault of everyone else, and how I hate them!”

  10. CGHill Says:

    I got three years’ use out of a $75 car once. Oh, yeah, the transmission (two-speed Powerglide) went south, but it was like a $200 repair. Adjusted for inflation, this is about one-sixth what a transmission rebuild costs today.

    My next-to-last sofa was a castoff; it was actually better than the one I had had. (I refused to take it with me when I bought the house, so somebody else probably has it now.)

    Somewhere in this mountain of detritus I still have a couple of old coupon-style food stamps and a long-since-expired bus pass. Just as a reminder, doncha know. Been there, hated that. Which is why I busted a nut to get out of it.

  11. andrea Says:

    Ilyka: I think that what Kathy meant that anyone who had access to a computer wasn’t “poor” in the normal sense of the word — and anyone who can afford their own domain at least can make ends meet. Myself, it’s not the subject matter I find fault with, it’s the tone. As a current not-that-rich person reading this sentimental, pity-party list of grievances made me feel as if something hot and wet was slopping itself all over me. The comments were even worse, and brought home to me again just how little spine is left in the national character.

    It goes without saying that, as my father used to say “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” But my father meant that to be humorous; Scalzi and the other poor-mouths (an expression my mother brought from the grinding poverty of her Depression-era Tennessee mountains upbringing used for people who complained all the time about being poor) show a complete inability to… not laugh at themselves, maybe, but to realize that they aren’t the center of a world which is deliberately shitting on them out of sheer meanness. They lack perspective, and without it they will forever be poor in some fashion, psychologically and spiritually if not monetarily.

  12. rothy Says:

    Dayum! Why do I get the feeling this woman has never talked with someone who lived through the Great Depression? For instance - living in a house with hardly enough room - my mothers parents had a three bed/one bath house with 7 kids. Those 7 kids went off and had 25+ grandkids and my happiest happiest memories were being in a crowded house with my cousins sleeping on mats on the floor and trying to share a socket plug with five other females going through their beauty routines.

    Opposite of that was my fathers childhood home, which had only ever one girl (my grandmother) and three boys and it always felt so empty because I got to use the bathroom anytime I pleased and I was made to sleep on plastic covered mattresses well into my teen years…certainly not because I wet the bed! I always ended up opting for that little spot on the mattress with my other cousins because it ws so damn fun. and this in a family that grew up in a Great Depression-poor home!!

    Wish that woman would just grow up.

  13. andrea Says:

    Actually, John Scalzi is a man. But yeah.

  14. fporretto Says:

    John Scalzi writes well, but as for the cogency and coherence of his opinions…well, he writes well, doesn’t he?

  15. ricki Says:

    ” but to realize that they aren’t the center of a world which is deliberately shitting on them out of sheer meanness. ”

    damn f-in straight! And amen to the people who remark that Scalzi doesn’t seem to have talked to anyone who lived through the Depression. I have. It’s a very different attitude from what Scalzi presents. It’s a breath of fresh air in the “pity me” world we seem to inhabit now.

  16. andrea Says:

    I guess being raised by parents who grew up in the Depression gave me a different outlook on life.

  17. andrea Says:

    Oh yeah. And that well-off aunt I mentioned? My mother’s sister. Grew up in the same Depression-era Tennessee mountain town. Their times were extra hard because their father abandoned them.

  18. JannyMae Says:

    Being poor is wearing penny-loafers with the soles flapping because Mom can’t buy you shoes (again) because Dad pissed away most of his paycheck on booze (again).

    Yep, I’ve been poor, too. The difference is, I worked hard and so did the rest of my family, to get OUT of that situation…without government handouts!

    Somebody please summon a WAAAAHmbulance for this person.

  19. bonniewarford Says:

    God, this is hilarious. I wish someone would link you to Scalzi so he could see what an ass he was.

    Have you ever thought about writing political speeches?

  20. David Fleck Says:

    It doesn’t seem that what he wrote was intended as a “whine,” unless now it’s whiny to say “being poor sucks.”
    Really? Damn, I never knew that!! (Smacks forehead) …Scalzi goes on to say he wrote it to teach all us fat heartless bastards empathy, apparently because he’s got such a huge swinging empathy-dick, and he’s shaming us all because we’re so puny and empathy-challenged and stupid.

  21. andrea Says:

    Bonniewarford: ugh, no, I hate politics. Besides, no one I wrote a speech for would ever get elected. I tend to be too, ah, ranty.

    David: I know, isn’t it wonderful that such a magnanimous man exists? Without his sage words I’d still have no idea that instead of being proud of my family’s resourcefulness and ability to enjoy life despite not having lots of money I should instead be a trauma-wracked neurotic.

  22. Stina Says:

    Feh. What a turkey.

    I grew up in a lower-middle class household on a very tight budget in the 1970s; both of my parents grew up in poverty-stricken rural areas in the 1940s and 1950s.

    If any of us had subscribed to the Scalzi School of Socio-Economic Internalization, we would have produced enough pointless indignation to power Manhattan for a year.

    Hey!! A new use for the poor!!

  23. andrea Says:

    Jobs! Doing something they enjoy!

  24. The Urban Refugee Says:

    Staying Poor

    Staying poor is a result of thinking that others owe you a living. They don’t. The only person who owes you a decent living is you.
    Staying poor is a result of becoming too reliant on others. There is a massive infrastructure devoted to helping the…

  25. drdarrow Says:

    I have always live by the Zig Ziglar quote… you look yourself in the mirror and say “Your raise becomes effective when you do.”