Thursday, November 09, 2006

So Poor, You Can't Even Pay Attention

Now that we have just acquired massive debt, I feel it is appropriate to talk about being poor. This is actually only the second car loan I have ever had. If you buy crap piles, you may as well pay cash for them.

When we bought our first car, I said to my soon-to-be-wife, "This is it. We can't be poor anymore." No more living with mom for the summer (not that I had for a few years). No more jobs that only pay $20 per day. No living off credit cards, as students are so fond of doing. It was scary then. Now, working ourselves to death is just the way of life we all seem to fall into eventually.

But however bad my situation is, I think my kids will always have it better than I did. That is my goal anyway. My sister told me that her husband read my blog and commented, "He makes it sound like you were REALLY poor when you were kids." That's good. Because we were REALLY poor.

So poor that we had to come up with our own fun, like folding eachother up in the hide-a-bed couch. Jumping off the roof. Playing on construction sites. Writing letters to girls in my second grade class telling them I want to "hump" them, because I thought that is what normal people did.

My parents were divorced and my mother worked and went to school. The kids were on their own. When we came home from school, we felt lucky if there was a wilted head of lettuce in the fridge to pick at. Days with bread were heaven. I favored mustard sandwiches but my brother just decided to go for it and try a blend of ketchup and jelly. He ate more than one. He also didn't hesitate to grab a raw potato and gnaw it down to a powdery white stump. I usually just ate frozen peas. Occasionally, I would try to eat one of those cylinders of frozen orange juice concentrate but it would take days to eat half of it, in all it's potent sweetness.

I had seen my sister make her own "thousand island" dressing, more generically known in Utah as "fry sauce" and I tried it once. It resulted in the kitchen sink being clogged with fistfuls of soggy flour dough. And, of course, I had to endure my mother waking me up in the night to yell at me. It wasn't uncommon.

It tortured me that my sister had one of those little dipping packets from McDonalds; a little plastic cup filled with honey. She saved it and saved it. I asked her over and over if I could have it, but no. It was special and it was hers. I was too dumb to realize I could have walked one block to McDonald's and just asked for one there.

One time I found a half-drank bottle of orange juice at a bus stop and I took it home and put it in the refrigerator. I didn't drink any, because I wanted my mother to see how full it was. What a hero I would be for providing our family with this mostly-full bottle of orange juice. If only I could find some partially edible bacon and eggs laying around. I would be right up there with Jesus.

Then my mother came home and yelled at me for even touching the bottle of orange juice. Why am I being yelled at? I am a hero. It blew my mind.

One time I was walking home from a friends house and I found five one-dollar bills blowing around in the street. I ran home with them, excited to show them to mom. She would be so happy that I could by my own crap and I wouldn't have to ask her to by stuff for me. But when I showed her the money I found, she didn't get excited or happy for me. She asked if she could borrow it.

What? For food, she said. Reluctantly, I let her borrow the money. But I wanted it ALL back someday. I would not forget.

I stole candy from 7-Eleven. It didn't seem wrong. Kids were supposed to have candy and that was the only way kids like me were going to get any. My friend showed me how. Sometimes I feel bad that I stole from 7-Eleven, but when I think back I know that I only took 3 cent Bazooka Joe gum and those little Jolly Ranchers. In total, I probably only stole about a dollars worth of candy. I will make it up to them. Plus, I think the clerk in the store knew I was stealing and simply didn't care.

Our family only drove Volkswagon Bugs until I was about 10 years old or older. We didn't even have a car for years after the divorce. We had a Ford Maverik for a short period and I remember being drugged up, laying on the seat, watching my mother sweat and cry and worry about the car overheating and barely moving on the highway while she was shuttling me to the doctors between Colorado Springs and Denver.

When Ben Folds says, "In hindsight, being poor was not so bad." It only makes me think he has completely forgotten what it is really like to be poor.

1 comment:

Kris said...

Honestly, though...being poor couldn't have been too bad, because if you would have had everything you thought you wanted and needed you wouldn't be who you are today. So maybe being poor really isn't all that bad. Maybe knowing how it felt as a child not having everything makes you a better Dad because you don't want your children to feel that way, isn't that what it's all about? Trying to be better, have better and give better?