RELEARNING POVERTY




Yard sales are on the rise, according to the media. If that is not a reliable indicator of our current economic woes, writers for the ultra hip web-based Huffpo's reprint of Marx Berlinger's account of his cheap cashmere safari certainly is. Mind you, Berlinger's idea of a great buy is a $98 cardigan. How amusing. That happens to be almost a fourth of family's food budget for the month. To me, a bargain is the $20 cardigan pullovers I bought last year at the men's department of Hell Mart. They probably were made with South American yarnwool, which does not seem to have the same cachet as wool from more upscale sources. That makes me no never mind since I am way past any concern with upscale clothing, except when I get this strange compulsion to ship Sarah Palin to Darfur for four years or for as long as her 150K wardrobe lasts. Perhaps after seeing how Darfurians live might get her to see the absurdity of spending in one month the same amount of money that would keep the average American in adequate duds doe 80 years. Imagine how far that would go in Darfur.

I was poor once. It was, if you will have it, elective poverty, a rite of passage fortunate Americans undergo when they or their spouse choose to pursue a graduate degree. I remember eating a lot of a casseroles and some dreadful hamburger concotions, the worst of which went by the politically incorrect name of Buddha burgers. I got that recipe from the back of a beans sprout tin and reader, I liked it not. At the time, I was young and hopeful and that made the lack of cashmere in my life easier to endure. Prada had yet to be heard of in the frozen waste of the Midwest and Valentino was yet to be born. American obsession with brand names had yet to become viral an din any case, the Norwegian bachelor farmers, furnished its own Carmem Miranda style uniform.
I was still new to America when we moved to a small town that had one clothing store where middle and upper middle class women shopped for Jones of New York and Vera dresses. I was no longer truly poor. I shopped at the Goodwill, trundled my laundry to the laundromat in a homemade backpack and baked my own bread. Most of my friends had a similar lifestyle and everything was almost hunky dory in spite of the Vietnam war, the occasionally violent struggle for equal rights and civil rights. In my native country a team of CIA supported generals held sway. In Chile, Allende met his doom. Iran-contra and Watergate came and went as I lived in relative properity. I never became a Prada or Valentino supporter, but I did a bit of traveling, tasted caviar, learned the difference between jug wine and a fine grand cru, for season tickets for the opera, acquired a small collection of antique Navaho and Mexican Renaissance jewelry, indulged my somewhat expensive passion for silversmithing. A few years ago my life changed for the better in many ways, but my disposal income shrank dramatically. As my family and I slipped from the middle class to land on the tenuous perch of the lower middle class, I began to learn what is really important. I learned that a healthy sense of self, love, friendship, and simple pleasures beat caviar and grand cru wine any day. As for Prada and Valentino, they will continue to be less important to me the the label on a pund of hamburger.

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