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Saturday, January 29, 2011

When Being Poor Was Easier

The BBC has been broadcasting a series of The Story of Pop, hosted by Alan Freeman.

The latest installment, A Trip on the London Underground, is about Progressive Rock and the unusual music of the late 60s- early 70s and includes a young David Bowie talking about the poor days. He was good friends with Marc Bolan, who got him going to the trash bins of Carnaby Street after closing to salvage soiled and damaged clothing. It got me thinking about those days when I was young, healthy and poor.

It's easier to be poor when there are good times for the middle class. The middle class would throw things out because of their replacement ability- food that isn't bad, just unwanted; clothing that doesn't fit or has gone out of style. We dumpster-dove before the term was ever invented because what was discarded was perfectly usable. It was during a comparatively thriving economy which we don't have now.

Also, I'm thinking about how the recycle-reuse movement has taken much away from the poor. If you're really poor, you can't afford the thrift and consignment stores of today, where most of the middle class brings their unwanted goods. And then shops there, using their spare time to bargain-hunt. Even then, the rare affordable goods are more often bads now, as people are making things last longer and giving away less and money is so tight that charity organizations hold out for the top dollar they can get rather than part with anything, much less the extravagant waste that we depended on finding for free in a trash can.

So how are the really poor surviving now? They look much worse than we did, are depressed to the point of addiction and filth, have no hope left... being young and poor when I was, was a test of imagination and creativity. There was surplus to work with, at least. There's no surplus now. It's Dickensian, at best. I'm hanging on, but if I were to be booted out of the system, I'd be dead within a year. I have no doubt. Is this the America we worked so hard to create?

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