It drives me to drink. I just attempted to purchase an item from a fairly large retail chain, online, and the site simply wouldn’t allow me to proceed through. The indication on the screen was that the security code was wrong. For the credit card. I called. The kind man on the phone indicated that, indeed, this sort of thing happens on that site…but we could process the order over the phone and it’s never an issue.
I started with gift cards, and had a balance. My stupid ass shredded the physical cards after having successfully put them in the online checkout. They were there. I shredded them. Then the site wouldn’t process the credit card to cover the remaining balance…and there was no way to get the gift cards back. My choice? Either accept my utter fucking numbskullery by having shredded the gift cards before completing a transaction & pay full price for the item…or delete the whole thing, relinquish the gift cards, and sulk like a struggling twenty-something scraping together pennies.
Here’s what I did…I ended up placing the order, without the gift cards. Then, I sent an email to the company’s help desk. And, I’m sitting here like a whining little shithead, unable to enjoy life or the fact that I’m supposed to be having a cheat day…enjoying friends and family, drinking copious amounts of whatever-the-fuck-I’m-given and eating equally copious amounts of sugar, flour, and processed food-like products.
And my friends are texting me. My family is there. There is delicious beer and food and people who love me…and me? I’m going to be a teenage boy stomping his feet and pouting. Because I lost $40 in gift cards. Because I shredded the fucking things before I was through the entire process. Because I have the maturity of a toddler Kardashian. The maturity, but sure as hell NOT the money.
Actually, what I have is the brain and experience of a poor person. Not destitute. Never food or shelter insecure. (Though, what the fuck do I know. My mother busted her ass and never transferred, shared, or even hinted at her anxiety and problems.) But poor nonetheless. I grew up in extremely “affordable” apartments. It was a time when one could have free lunch (…and I had a free lunch card until the day I graduated high school…), food stamps (check), and partial welfare (check) and not be viewed by society immediately and unequivocally as a human parasite. Single parent home. Mom working two full time jobs. Here’s what she would do…drop me off at my Nanny’s (…not “Oh, yes…we have a Nanny helping us to raise young Gregory,” but my Grandmother…) in the evening, tuck me in, kiss me goodnight, and go to work at an all-night convenience store. Then, I’d wake up with her in the house. She came straight to me after her graveyard shift at the “shittymart” or whatever the fuck it was called. She’d take me to school, then take the bus to the local dry-cleaners. School let out, Mom was home by then. Wash, rinse, repeat. I can’t say I really knew we were poor. The neighborhood was low-income. The school district had all poor people. Shades of poor, but we’ll put it this way…generally “vacation” meant time to sit, do nothing, contemplate the minimum-wage shit-hole to which one would be returning soon, and maybe drink Iron City beer. Life just was what it was, and we were all riding on the same economy row boat down the Allegheny river.
It wasn’t until I somehow landed in Shaler Area school district in 9th grade that I realized, “Oh shit, we don’t have any fucking money.” Shaler’s feeder communities were distinguished by zip code…lower income in Etna, Millvale, and parts of Reserve; upper income in Glenshaw. And that shit was obvious in the way we, the free lunch gang, were treated, and also which zip codes populated which classes. One fucknut teacher, the Advanced Placement (AP) English teacher, actually taught a lesson through which he wrote 15116 (Glenshaw) and then 15223 (Etna) and explained how his AP and general education classes were populated with 15116 kids, and the remedial classes were full of 15223 students. At the time, I lived in a hobbit-sized after-thought apartment/house/bivouac situation. In Etna. I sat there in class listening, boiling on the inside, halfway embarrassed and halfway furious at the free lunch card in my pocket, of my consignment or Marshall’s clothes. I worked 20 hours a week at Wendy’s just to keep up with whomever the fuck I decided it was important to keep up with. But it became clear…there at Shaler Area High School…there in Etna…in advanced placement English…that I was poor. Money mattered. And then, we ended up in a real house in Glenshaw, paying approximately the same amount of rent that we’d been paying in Etna, due to family kindness and the need to upkeep a deceased uncle’s house. We knew the house would eventually be sold, but we also knew we’d be there through high school. And there I was, living among the rich, but paying de facto subsidized rent and knowing that really, we were still poor. Cigarettes and lottery tickets poor. Gallons of Turner’s iced tea (…on sale for $1.00…) poor. One piece-of-shit car always-on-the-precipice-of-breaking-down poor. No…we can remove those stumps, build a retaining wall, reframe the door, and do the electrical wiring ourselves (…but, no we can’t…) poor.
I’m not looking for pity. Not looking for sympathy. I’m just explaining, perhaps even for myself, why I remain with this interesting, unhealthy, worrisome relationship with money. It still controls me, and currently I’m in a stable position with decent income and reliable housing and transportation. As overused as this quip may be, I suppose one can take the kid out of poverty but one can’t take the poverty out of the kid.
And I think…why was I the only Etna kid in that class? Am I special? (No, I’m not.) What about all of the Etna kids in remedial or vocational tracts? Did they want to be where they were? Did they all actually deserve to be there? And the Glenshaw kids. Were they just smarter than the poor kids? (No, a polo shirt, hundred-dollar penny loafers, and a new car at 16 do not equal actual ability or intelligence.) This shit careened through my brain almost every day that I lived and attended high school in Shaler after having seen that display of classism in AP English.
There are clearly reasons beyond ability, beyond potential, beyond even performance, that dictate which people will move through the academic system in a tract that will place them in positions of power, wealth, and conventional professionalism. There is no true meritocracy. I mean, we often (…sometimes? typically?…) choose people based upon ability…but how any person arrives at a place of skill or ability to then BE chosen is inextricably related to socio-economic and historical factors that I’m certain are more nefarious than equitable, honest, and transparent.
Oh, and happy holidays.
Shipyard Gingerbread Head in a Lovely, Mildly Disturbing Duvel Tulip Glass