Writing about being poor has gotten popular lately, some say because the failing economy has put poverty on our minds, although I personally think it's because The Hunger Games is hot. Who can say?
Poverty Fact #1: All poor people are good at archery.
We've gotten narratives from actual poor people, and from middle class people pretending to be poor people, and from rich people talking about poor people.
What's missing, obviously, is rich people telling you what it's like to be a poor person. That's what I'm going to do. "Oh no," you might say. "That doesn't make any sense," you might say. "That can't possibly turn out well. It will be so insulting and condescending, it blurs the line between comic and tragic." You might say it's like an Asian woman telling people what it feels like to be a black man.
Well, that column is coming soon. But for now, I'm uploading this column by satellite uplink from my diamond-encrusted hover yacht in the Aegean Sea to tell you what it truly feels like to be desperately poor.
#5. Poor People Can't Hear What You're Saying
I don't know if it's that poor people don't have Internet access, or if they can't read, or if they don't know what a newspaper is, but my rich colleagues seem pretty certain that it's safe to talk smack about poor people on public blogs and websites and national media outlets like they will never see it.
Poverty Fact #4: Poor people can only see light in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Stats do show that up to 100 million Americans have no Internet access at home, but most articles with those statistics seem to focus on things that are boring to rich people, like how this stops poor people from doing homework that increasingly requires online access or from applying for jobs when 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies (including Target and Walmart) accept online applications. Nobody wants to parse this out into useful conclusions, like how many poor people can see the bad things you write about them online.
Looking at the blow-up about Tom Corley's 20 Things the Rich Do Every Day post, I think it's fair to say, "some."
However, just like in real life, I think it's fair enough for us rich people to assume that poor people don't exist online either. So let's just go forward with that assumption. I will speak freely here, as if we were among friends at a golf club or political fundraising dinner.
#4. Being Poor Is Probably a Lot of Fun
I don't know about you, but I can vouch that it's hard to find a moment's leisure time between telling your employees what to do, telling your household help what to do, and exchanging Beltway/Hollywood/Silicon Valley buzzwords with your colleagues. (Wonk! Cume! Disruptive!)
Sure, there's the several hours each day we spend exercising, listening to audio books, reading nonfiction, forcing our children to volunteer, making "happy birthday" calls, "networking" at power lunches or on the links, and purchasing organic, local, sustainable farm-to-table food, but what poor people can't understand is that isn't what we consider recreation. It's self-improvement, and it's hard work. Some of the people I network with can be the most absolute bores. And there's nothing like endless droning to ruin your enjoyment of a world class filet mignon.
Meanwhile, the poorest Americans are unemployed at rates over 21 percent, probably because they're not listening to enough audio books, and while the media keep painting that as a bad thing, I have to admit I'm practically green with envy.
Or that might actually just be ink stains from rolling around in my money.
I think about all the weight I could lose if I couldn't afford three meals a day. I mean, it's so hard to have the discipline to skip a meal. But if financial circumstances simply make it impossible to eat, it's like having your own personal diet coach! And without having to worry about teleconferences and meetings all day, poor people are free to spend as much time as they want on their yachts, unburdened by the meaningless demands of the rat race. Without obligations to their shareholders and partners, they can just take off spontaneously to Martha's Vineyard or Cannes whenever they want.
Poverty Fact #8: Poor people spring forth, fully formed, from untended piles of refuse. This is why you never see any poor children.
Poor people always think it's a cakewalk being rich, but the truth is it's absolutely exhausting. So many possessions to manage and worry about, so many business irons in the fire to keep going. My friends and I are always trying to figure out how to simplify, you know? The poor are really lucky, if you think about it. I wish I could have the kind of simplicity, the kind of clear priorities that must come with lacking worldly possessions. Except I would like to have that without lacking worldly possessions.
I like to think of it as the John Lennon method of enlightenment.
I wish I had the free time to take a pottery class or go on a commercial spaceflight or build an orphanage in Africa (I hear it is a beautiful country). It's frustrating to see poor people with so much free time (I believe they spend most of their day hanging out at Walmarts) not taking advantage of it to do any of these things! I guess that's why they're poor -- they're always thinking about mundane things like not starving and fending off foreclosure and how to afford medical care instead of reaching for the stars. Dream bigger, poor people!
#3. Poor People Have Everything Rich People Have, Just Smaller
I brought up yachts before, as in unemployed poor people have spare time to spend out on their yachts, and my editor sent that paragraph back to me with a note that just has "Seriously?" underlined three times.
Cracked editors prefer to edit on paper because being mean is more effective with red pen.
Look, I get it: Poor people have a lot less money than we do to spend on their yachts. I'm sure they're not nearly as nice. Maybe they only have one sleeping cabin, or maybe they're only big enough for day trips. Maybe they can only afford one or two crew members. But all those fancy trimmings aren't important. If you have the right perspective, you can unwind just as easily on a modest yacht as on a luxurious one. And having to fetch your own champagne really makes you value it more, I find. Take the Dom Perignon you've been saving for a special occasion -- when someone pours it and hands it to you, it's so easy to be distracted and just toss it down without even paying attention. When you get it yourself, you really can take the time to slow down and appreciate it.
My point is, poor people always make a big deal about not being able to afford this or that, when they just need to be content with scaling down. Sure, they may not be able to afford a gold-plated helicopter, but why can't they be happy with a regular helicopter? It does everything the gold ones do.
Honestly? The gold probably weighs it down if anything.
And if you can't afford a Bentley or an eight-bedroom home, just buy a smaller home and a ... what's the name of a poor-person car? A Model-T? A Datsun? You get the idea. So you have to give up a little space or a few luxury features. Big deal, it still keeps you warm or gets you from A to B. It's not like there's anyone out there who doesn't have any car or any house. Ha ha! That's crazy! Like something out of a movie.
Poverty Fact #23: Homelessness hasn't existed since 1843.