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Will Work For Poverty

Sitting in their booth at a high end Mexican Restaurant, Sandy Price & Derek Fisher each had a drink in front of them, both wearing their ‘sunday best’, and both completely pissed off by everything they saw around them. Sandy took a sip of her drink, set it back down on the table and folded her arms, scoffing.

“Money is no object to those who have it,” she said under her breath, “We didn’t even get to pay for this ourselves. Your parents paid for this. That isn’t a dig towards you or your parents, for the record. It’s a dig toward poverty.”

“Well, with your job, we won’t be poverty stricken much longer,” Derek said, opening his menu and rubbing his nose on his jacket sleeve, “Do you want to split a big plate of nachos or something?”

“Look at this woman,” Sandy said, and Derek lowered his menu to see her nodding in the direction of a woman sitting a few tables away in a backless black dress and her hair done up, wearing an emerald necklace around her neck. She was appearing to laugh at the guy she was with.

“What about her?” Derek asked.

“She hates her date,” Sandy said, “She’s poor, but she’s with him because he pays for things. That’s not a dig against her either, it’s again a dig against poverty. It makes you do things you normally wouldn’t. She wants to be able to partake in the things everyone else does, so she sticks it out with this guy, who isn’t necessarily a bad guy, he just isn’t her type, so she doesn’t have to feel that bad about her financial situation. Society has made you feel guilty about your fiscal standing. They’ve turned being poor into something shameful.”

“I mean, sure, but does that mean she doesn’t deserve it? Everyone deserves some niceties, right? Your bank statement shouldn’t dictate your self worth, or whether or not you get to treat yourself every now and then. She’s doing what it takes to get by,” Derek said, “Besides, how can you tell she’s poor?”

“Her heels are tearing, see where the heel is on her shoe, and the fabric of the shoe is coming up? Those aren’t real emeralds, they’re fakes, albeit convincing ones at that, and I saw that exact dress at a discount shop a month ago for about 7 dollars,” Sandy said.

“You’re like Sherlock Holmes,” Derek said, “It’s pretty impressive. Why’s this bother you so much?”

“Why doesn’t it bother you?”

“It does, but I also want to have a nice time. If she’s allowed to, why aren’t we allowed to take one night off and just enjoy ourselves?” Derek asked, and Sandy sighed, scratching the back of her head, pulling her hair up into a ponytail.

“You’re right,” she said, “I’m sorry. Let’s just order.”

Derek ran through the menu items once again when a waitress stopped at the table, asking if they were ready to order, and before Derek could reply, Sandy finished her drink, looked up at the waitress and asked her, “How fucking miserable is your existence?”

“Can I not take you anywhere?!” Derek yelled.

“It’s pretty miserable,” the waitress replied, to both of their surprise, “I have to spend all night waiting on people who often are pieces of entitled shit, giving them food I can’t afford myself, and then go home to an apartment I can barely afford. Yeah. It’s pretty terrible. I’d much rather jump in front of a garbage truck than continue to collect this scam of a paycheck.”

“I like her,” Sandy said, “She’s got personality. So tell me, sit down, please-”

Sandy patted the booth seat and the waitress sat beside them.

“-are you looking for anything else?”

“You mean job wise? Why bother? Everything is taken or unavailable. There’s no middle ground. Being poor is now my full time occupation. Do you know how much work it takes to lie to the unemployment office just so they’ll continue to give you unemployment checks? Literally being unemployed is more work than being employed. You apparently can’t be poor if you’re making too much, even if what you’re making isn’t enough to live on. No, you gotta put on your worst clothes, not shower for a few days and then go lie to these people simply so you can afford to both live somewhere AND eat for another month.”

“Just once, just one night, why is that too much to ask?” Derek mumbled, rubbing his eyes with his palms, “Every single time we go somewhere it’s something. One of us gets a stick up our ass about how things ought to be, that we can’t enjoy how things are at that moment in time. Like when I yelled at that couple who took that parking spot or the other week when you told me you wanted to jump out our window. We can never live in the moment, because apparently the moment is never good enough.”

“Don’t you think that’s a problem?” Sandy asked, “Shouldn’t that realization say enough to warrant you to want to change things?”

“But change isn’t instantaneous, Sandy, it doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t just wake up after years with depression and think ‘gee, I feel great today, guess I’m cured!’. You have good days, you have bad days, and eventually the good days outweigh the bad days and that’s when you start realizing that you might have a handle on this depression thing.  Yes, I want change, just like anyone else, but if change is all I ever focus on, I’ll never have any fun at all.”

A moment of silence passed between the three of them.

“Are you gonna finish that?” the waitress asked, as Derek slid the remainder of his drink over to her. He sighed and looked around at everyone else in the restaurant.

“We sit here, or wherever we decide to go, and we criticize and nitpick and yeah they’re bullshit, these people are assholes, they’re making everyone else miserable, but ya know what, at least they’re enjoying themselves. Don’t we get to enjoy ourselves every now and then? Isn’t that allowed? Sure, this girl might hate her date and she might only be with him so she doesn’t have to be unhappy about her financial situation all the time, but god, at least she’s enjoying what he’s giving her. Have we become so entrenched in what we don’t have, what we can’t attain, that we can no longer appreciate what we do have, what we have attained?”

“Your boyfriend’s right,” the waitress said.

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Sandy said, with Derek echoing her sentiment.

“Well, whatever he is, he’s right. Yeah, I’m mad as hell about my life. I’m a young black woman working at an nice mexican restaurant, and not even real mexican food, but what white people think mexican food should be, and they don’t even fuckin’ tip me. Not just because I’m black, but also because I’m young, and tips are a ‘handout’. I work hard. I bust my fuckin’ black ass every single day just trying to make enough to feed myself, and still I gotta cater to some dumb bitch who thinks racism ended the same year as Hee-Haw. But still, every now and then, I do take stock of what I have and what I’ve done and enjoy that. If I lived my entire life in misery, I’d never get anything done.”

Derek and Sandy exchanged a glance and the waitress finished the drink and then stood up, wiping her apron down.

“Now, can I take your order, or are we gonna continue Sociology 101?” she asked.

“…give us a few minutes,” Sandy said, and the waitress turned and left. Sandy looked into her now empty glass as Derek took his jacket off and put it on the booth top behind them. He exhaled and looked at her.

“I think we should break up,” Sandy said.

“We’re not even dating.”

“That’s what makes it so difficult,” she replied, “I’m not doing anything but dragging you down into my filth. You have the capacity to be uplifting. Be inspirational. Look at what I’m doing to you, look at what we’ve done to eachother. You’re right. I can’t be happy. I can’t make you happy. Nothing is worth it.”

“Don’t give me that college grade Kafka bullshit,” Derek said, “Something is worth it,  but it’s not worth everything. I don’t care about you because it’s the right thing to do, I care about you because you care about me, because somebody has to. You’re unhappy, you’re miserable, you want to kill everything you see, but I accept that because I understand. I’m the same way. I just mask it better than you do. I manage to hide it behind this exterior of pleasantness. Don’t you dare sit there and tell me that the work you do with those kids isn’t worth it. I’ve seen you working. I know how happy it makes you. You’re not broken. You’re just frayed along the edges. You’re not a shattered plate, you’ve just got some cracks.”

“…maybe instead of breaking up, we should become a real couple,” Sandy said, “Maybe the problem isn’t that we’re bad for one another, but that we’re so good for one another that we don’t want to take the initiative and actually make it official. Maybe the uncertainty of what we are is what’s making us angry.”

Derek waited a moment, and then smiled. He took her hand and looked at her eyes.

“There’s a lot of happy people out there, why would I ever want to be just like them? I like being a little bit sad. Uniqueness is underrated. They say everyone is special? No. Everyone is so much alike that it hurts, so the fact that we are unhappy, that we’re not mindlessly just taking everything at face value, that we can see how bad things can be…maybe that’s what makes us real. Why be happy like them? Let’s be sad like us.”

“You’re such a fucking loser,” Sandy said, “You’re seriously the biggest fucking loser I have ever known, with the most hackneyed, cliche pseudo intellectual uplifting faux psychology bullshit spewing from your mouth…but the reality is you don’t believe it. Everyone else who says things like that…they believe it. You don’t. You just say it to make me feel better, and I appreciate that.”

“Of course I don’t believe it, who actually, honestly believes in garbage like that?” Derek asked, laughing, “But it makes you feel better, so I say it, because that’s what caring for someone else is about. Doing whatever you can to make them feel just a little bit better. You wanna be miserable? Fine. Let’s be miserable. But at least recognize that we can be miserable together, and that that’s more than these people have. Being unhappy together is better than faking happiness with someone you detest.”

The waitress reappeared at their table, pen in her hand, waiting for their order. Sandy and Derek looked at her while she waited, then they both stood up, put their jackets back on and Derek reached into his back pocket where he pulled out a twenty dollar bill and gave it to her.

“Fuck your establishment,” he said.

“Amen brother,” she replied, as they left.

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Money Can’t Buy Happiness

Happiness, stability, normality; these will all one day become expensive commodities that only the rich can purchase and have access too. The rest of us will stand outside the store window, gazing in longingly at the new happiness that we can’t afford. At the shiny new stability that we will never attain. The rich, they will purchase these without much thought, only because it’s the new model that their friends have, and just as quickly toss those out for the new upgrades. We might be able to buy some at half price or lower in second hand stores, but it won’t be the same. They’ll be used. We’ll know the difference.

We’ll watch the ads. Those fast paced ads with the new hit pop single and the dozen of smiling faces of people our age trying to sell us something we can’t afford, trying to force us deeper into emotional debt. Some of us may be lucky enough to know someone who could afford the new happiness, and maybe they’ll let us play around with it for a day or so, but that’ll be it. It won’t be a long lasting experience. We’ll be jealous, and start talking down about happiness, about stability, about how the knockoffs we have are the better alternative. About how the people who own happiness and stability and normality are self entitled, narcissistic, pretentious elitists who’re ruining the economy, who’re pushing more and more people into poverty and depression and that they don’t deserve what they have.

They say money can’t buy happiness.

Not yet it can’t.

But it won’t be long.

 

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You Left Us Little Choice

Derek Fisher and Sandy Price were cruising through a parking lot, attempting to find a space to park so they could go inside and eat dinner. They’d been dying to try out this new place, ‘Spoonfed’, for weeks now. They finally had saved up some cash to do so, and had made am 8:00 P.M. reservation for that evening. Derek checked the time on his car dashboard again as Sandy circled around once more. It was now 7:47 P.M. and Derek sighed, leaning his elbow against the door and rubbing his forehead.

“Don’t worry, it’s gonna be fine,” Sandy said.

“This is the highlight of our week. Do you realize that? Do you realize that this is…this is our…our night out? And…and you can’t even, like, it’s fucking frustrating. We don’t get weekends off work because we need the money, so this is what we have to do. Scrimp and save. Daydream about eating a fucking restaurant. THAT’S high class for us.”

“Derek, don’t do this,” Sandy said, sounding exasperated, “I know it’s annoying, I know, but we’ll find a spot. It’s a parking lot. Granted, it’s a public, free lot but still. There may be some competition but we’ll find a place. It’s not a thing to get worked up over.”

“I just, I don’t…I don’t think you see what I’m getting at here.”

“I see exactly what you’re getting at here,” Sandy said, “And I agree. This is sad. This is our fun. We don’t get glitz and glamour and champagne and we don’t get to even go to a country club once a month or something.”

“Like you’d ever be caught dead at a country club.”

“My point is, you’re right. But it still isn’t something to get upset over, especially when in a few minutes, we’ll be sitting down to a table and enjoying dinner,” Sandy said.

“I guess you’re right,” Derek said, “I’m sorry.”

Sandy pulled around again, and this time they spotted a spot. They both perked up immediately. Sandy started to push a little bit more on the gas and as they were halfway to it, another car pulled in. They stopped, sitting in the idling car, and Derek could barely breath. They watched a well dressed older couple get out of the car, which was a fancy Lexus, and Derek balled his fists up.

“Are you. fucking. KIDDING ME,” he snarled, getting out as Sandy grabbed at the back of his shirt to keep him in the car, but to no avail. He leaned on his door and looked at the older couple. He whistled and that got their attention; they both turned and noticed him.

“Excuse me,” he said, “We’ve been driving for…god, a half hour I guess now, trying to find a spot and we found this one and we were about to park when you swooped in and took it from under us.”

“Oh, well, we’re sorry, we didn’t know,” the older man said, looking back from his car to Derek.

“Well, is there any way we could get you to give it up? This is our one time out in a long time, we both work all the time, we just want to have a nice dinner. We…we don’t have the money to pay for a garage spot or we would. We’d be so grateful if you could-”

“We’ll be late for our reservation,” the older man said, helping his wife into her coat.

“But you can just go down the block and get a garage spot. You can pay to do that. We can’t but you can.”

“Just because I can pay for it doesn’t mean I should. This is free, public parking. I’d like to take advantage of that.”

“But you don’t HAVE TO!” Derek shouted, “Do you not see the…the problem here? The problem isn’t that you took a space we were about to take, the problem is that you CAN pay for parking, but you just WON’T. We can’t even do that. We could BARELY afford this dinner! Why not spend the extra bit of cash if you can afford to?”

“Because I don’t want to,” the older man said.

“What’s your name, sir?” Derek asked.

“Peter,” he said.

“Peter, hi, I’m Derek. Listen, you work. I work. You make money. I make money. The difference is that you came from a generation when work actually allowed you to survive. I don’t. See, people my age, we don’t have that luxury. We barely have any luxuries to be honest with you, but when we do, it’s like the end of the fucking world for us. It’s like your team winning the goddamn Superbowl. You know what I mean? Did you ever have a time in your life when you had to save for something? Maybe like, when you were young parents and your kid needed braces, but you weren’t making enough yet and so you had to save every last penny?”

“Yeah, it’s something we’ve all been through,” Peter said as his wife applied some lipstick, clearly annoyed at having to wait out this conversation.

“Okay, well, take that and multiply it by ‘forever’. That’s our reality. We don’t have the whole ‘work your way up’ thing at jobs anymore, alright? That…that doesn’t exist. We live our lives in perpetual saving mode. That’s just how things are for us. And you can’t say it’s because we don’t apply ourselves. God knows we try.”

“Nobody’s saying you don’t, but what I am saying is this; you will get there. Be patient.”

“No, no, see, Peter, we WON’T. We won’t because the middle class doesn’t exist anymore. That isn’t a thing. It’s a piece of the past,” Derek said. They heard a car door shut and Derek looked back to see Sandy getting out on her side.

“Derek, come on, let’s just go,” she said, “I’m hungry.”

“I’m-I’m in the middle of something here,” he said.

“Derek?” Peter asked, “Can we go now? We really do have to catch a reservation.”

“Peter wait,” Derek said, chasing after them, “I just want you, if nothing else, to at least recognize that you can pay for the parking. At least admit that to me. Because see, when you say you don’t ‘want’ to, that’s different. You guys, you have choices. You grew up with the options. We don’t have choices or options. That’s why if we had the money, we’d spend it, because we don’t really know a life with money, and all we know is how life is without it. That’s why money makes no real difference to us, not in the abstract.”

“Money doesn’t make a difference?”

“No, ugh, how do I explain this,” Derek said, shaking his head.

“I think what he means is that…it’s like when you live your life in poverty, ok? You don’t know what it feels like to NOT live in poverty, so therefore without the concept of spending money, you feel like spending money isn’t really that bad a thing. It’s like being a kid and saying, ‘I can’t wait to grow up so I can stay up all night like mom and dad!’. Get it? That sorta thing,” Sandy said.

“Yes,” Derek said, snapping his fingers, pointing from Sandy to Peter and his wife, “Yeah, no, that’s a great analogy Sandy, thank you. This is what I’ve been trying to get through to you.”

“We’re leaving now, Derek,” Peter said, taking his wifes hand and leading her through the parking lot.

“Poverty isn’t preferred, Peter!” Derek shouted after them, “Your generation used up everything, hiked up the cost of living and holds those under it to the same standards! It isn’t fair! Fuck you Peter! Fuck you and fuck your fancy car and your fancy clothes and your wife! Fuck your mcmansion!”

Sandy sighed and shook her head.

“NOW can we go?” she asked.

“I don’t get it, how can they NOT care? About the problems their own children, or people their childrens age, are facing?”

“Because they’re not facing them themselves, Derek,” Sandy said, “They got a free ride, and they don’t see anything as being hard because it wasn’t for them. Simple as that. Now can we go? Inequality isn’t part of a full dinner.”

“Yeah. Alright.”

As they got back into their car, a homeless man showed up at Dereks window and knocked on the glass. Derek rolled his window down.

“Can you spare a dollar?” he asked, and Derek reached into his pocket, pulled out a dollar and shoved it into the homeless mans hand before they drove off. Sandy grinned.

“You didn’t have to do that,” she said, “I wouldn’t have called you a hypocrite.”

“I know,” Derek said, “But it’s still the right thing to do.”