Yesterday, I couldn’t do a favor for a friend because I couldn’t cover $120. It took me by surprise. I didn’t think I was that broke. But I was. I am. The little checkout machine wouldn’t take my debit card, no matter how many times I swiped it. The cashier was embarrassed. I was humiliated. The people waiting in line behind me were pissed. No one was happy. Perhaps the only thing worse than being poor, is being poor in public. We can forgive a lot of things in this country but we can not forgive poverty. We dislike poor people more than we dislike Congress, more than we dislike buying a car. We do not like them, no we don’t.
I have been demonstrably, irrefutably, poor for quite some time now. Two and half years of cancer treatment and no regular income will do that to a person. I’m poor but I didn’t feel poor until relatively recently. I thought of myself as broke. Broke is a temporary state of affairs. One is broke when one has more outgoing than incoming. Broke is what happens when the baby needs new softball cleats the same week the alternator goes out when the house payment is due. Broke can be managed.
Poor can not be managed. Poor is permanent. Poor is how things are going to be, forever. Poor is having no money and not knowing when the not having of money will change and having no way to act on that absence of money for your self. I am virtually unemployable in any traditional sense of the word.
My next option is government assistance and while I am pursuing that path, the process is, shall we say, byzantine. It moves at its own pace, caring little that I am left defenseless against grocery stores which insist on being paid immediately. Have you bought dog food lately? Electricity, too.
I have depended on the generosity of a few close friends for almost a year now. I loved my girlfriends before they were paying my bills. I love them, now. I love that they know me so well, they know I will not tell when I need help so they simply send me greenbacks whenever they can. I love my girlfriends so much, I can not call them and tell them how broke I am because they deserve to not have that information foisted on them. They have done enough.
The billboard that tracks the lottery jackpots read $427,000,000, so I bought a lottery ticket, just one. You can’t win if you don’t play, right? $427,000,000 is a lot of money. I went home after my retail defeat to lick my wounds and I spent most of the evening daydreaming about what I would do with $427,000,000. It gives me something to think about other than I am poor and broken and sick and a miserable failure and I’m gonna die alone, buried in Potter’s Field.
$427,000,000 would buy a lot of libraries and medical clinics and art and music teachers for the rural poor. It would buy books for poor kids in college and plane tickets so they could home for Christmas. No one I love would ever want for anything, ever again. I would send a lot of girls to engineering school.
It wouldn’t all be philanthropy all the time. I am human. I would buy a Chesterfield sofa and a cabinet stereo and maybe a Heywood-Wakefield dining room suite and a lot of books and records and good cheese. I would travel, everywhere. I want to put a foot on every continent, even Antarctica. I want to tango in Argentina and watch elephants in Kenya and picnic with a view of The Eiffel Tower. But first, I have to win $427,000,000.
I want nothing more but to be able to earn a living with my writing. But the internet has been both boon and curse to the fledgling writer. Anyone can publish their own words for a global audience and that is a good thing. The internet does away with the idea that those writers should be paid for the words we read and enjoy and that is a bad thing.
If I were walking to my subway stop and enjoyed a street musician’s performance, I would put a dollar in the bucket. That is how these things work. But writers on the web? Not so much. Millions of us read and enjoy a multitude of writers’ work every day and we never think of putting a dollar in the bucket. The internet has done that. None of us would walk into a bookstore, pick up a magazine, read it and then put it back. Okay, maybe some of you would, but most of us wouldn’t. Because it wouldn’t be right.
I have a lot of boring adult things I have to do today. Laundry that isn’t going to fold all on its own and the goddamned dishwasher full of dishes, again. I have writing to do. But come time for the lottery numbers to be announced, I’ll be glued to the set with my ticket in hand, hoping it goes my way.