I’ve been thinking of writing a book about poverty, and the cancerous growth of agencies as middlemen that add nothing but misery, leaving the rest of us to deal with the hidden costs. It’s too big a subject. You start getting lost in minutiae. What does it mean in a changing world, for example, to be working class? What does it mean to be poor? These are relative concepts. I once asked my former best mate Liam what the girl he got off with the night before was like. He started off by telling me she was quite nice. Then he told me she wasn’t really that nice. By the time we got to the truth we were both howling with laughter. Well, I was. Linda Tirado tells us how it is.
She does a good definition of poverty, choosing ‘between the terrible option and the dreadful option’. That could be choosing between paying your rent or eating. Walking to work when walking back will mean missing the start of the second split-shift of the day in the other job and getting sacked. For Linda Tirado Living Hand To Mouth is a metaphor for the way she lives, but one that can also be taken literally. Tirado was in an car wreck and her mouth was smashed up. It left her in constant pain and in need of dental treatment, which she couldn’t afford. It also left her the stigmata of a poor person’s teeth, which she covered up with her hand and made her unable to eat in public or, funnily enough, tell jokes, because we signal the punch-line by laughter and, with her teeth, she wasn’t willing to do that, show herself off, like a freak.
Another mark of the poor is polyester. If you wear a uniform and its made of polyester, you can be pretty sure that you are poor. Check your wardrobe.
Tirado tells us that roughly one-third of Americans are like her and can be classified as the working poor. Poor people talk. Nobody listens. That’s not politics. That’s life. But she’s not talking about other people. She’s telling the reader about herself, her experiences. ‘I made a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter in the long term. I will never not be poor.’ Poor people play safe. We have that cigarette or that drink, things within our grasp. It’s easier that way. There’s no makeover show -discounting the lottery, which is a regressive tax anyway – no holiday from being poor.
‘We start the day with a deficit.’ But sometimes that deficit is not enough to get Food Stamps or help with the rent and it’s never enough to get Health Care. Tirado is good on being the wrong kind of poor. It is not a crime-yet. But on a daily basis the law favours the rich. The poor are always suspect. She doesn’t want to overthrow the rich, but she just wants them to be more considerate of poorer people, which is a polite way of saying be fair guys. In other words she does want to overthrow the rich. She wants those to have bleak lives to have a bit more. I’m with her on that one.
‘Poverty,’ she says ‘is when a quarter is a miracle.
‘Poor is when a dollar is a miracle.
‘Broke is when five bucks is a miracle.
‘Working class is being broke, but doing so in a place that is not so run down.’
A miracle for me is if our political masters gave a shit. Change is a revolutionary idea.