A couple of my coworkers have a tradition of going to a certain restaurant for lunch every Wednesday because that particular restaurant hosts “free pie Wednesdays.” Basically, you get a free piece of pie with your meal. Good times.
Sometimes I go with them to enjoy the pie. Sometimes I don’t. Often times when I don’t go it’s because I always end up eating too much. Lately, though, I haven’t been going because money is tight.
When asked if I would be going to lunch this past Wednesday, I declined. There was then a sarcastic comment about me not enjoying their company. I explained that I didn’t have any money.
In truth, I probably could have afforded it, but if something comes up between now and payday I’ll regret spending that money today. However, one of my coworkers seemed incredulous upon hearing my announcement.
“No money? But you’ve been wearing all these nice hoodies and pullovers.”
The items in question are a Nike hoodie and Adidas pullover I’ve been wearing since the cooler weather has moved in. And, yes, they are nice. They are, I explained to him, not items I recently purchased. I bought the hoodie close to four years ago, when the University of Michigan changed from Nike apparel to Adidas. I bought the pullover two or three years ago. I also bought both items when I was married and could afford to do so.
I make enough money to support my children and I, but just barely. I shop at Aldi for groceries instead of a more reputable chain. When the kids need clothes I go to either Goodwill or The Gap outlet store, which has The Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic clothes for ridiculously low prices. Of course, you have to check the clothes for defects first. There’s a reason they are so unbelievably cheap.
I often pass up invites to go out because I just don’t have the money to enjoy myself. I have friends who barhop often. I don’t ever go because I just don’t have the money to do it, my decision to stop drinking notwithstanding. And being the lone sober person among a group full of drunks is the suck. I don’t really get to take the kids to do fun things either, other than playing outside or going to the park. We go to the movies occasionally, but only on Wednesdays because the local movie theater has discounted tickets on Wednesdays. I haven’t been able to put the twins in any sports since my ex and I split up because sports are insanely expensive. They are playing football this year only because they are on the high school team. There’s no way I could afford an organized league.
But I have nice things, so I must have money, right? I have some nice clothes, most of which were bought when I was married, or given to me for Christmas by my father. I have a nice, big-screen LCD TV, which I bought when I was married (see a theme here?). I have a nice computer, which was paid for by selling old shit I no longer wanted on eBay. I have a decent car, which because of horrible, horrible financial decisions involving both ex-wives, I just made my final payment on – almost nine years after it was purchased. I have a smartphone. It was free with my contract.
I’m not exactly rolling in the money here because my shirt has Nike’s patented swoosh on it.
My coworker’s comment bothered me, because people are always bitching about those on welfare having nice things, and until that moment it had never occurred to me to look at things from their point of view. You hear it all the time. They have iPhones. They have Nikes. They have a BMW. They have this. They have that. Are poor people supposed to dress in rags when they go out in public? Do they have to be unshaven, wear unclean clothes, and drive a hoopty to stop the criticism from those more well-off than them and prove that they are, in fact, actually poor and in need of financial assistance?
The fact is, you don’t know how that man or woman with food stamps got an iPhone – it was probably free with the contract. Those Nikes could be second-hand, or bought from Goodwill. That BMW could have been salvaged or bought through some program that helps those less fortunate than you. You just don’t fucking know.
I have no doubt there are people abusing the welfare system. Every system gets abused by nefarious people. But there are people out there struggling to survive and challenging their struggle simply because they have one or two nice things disregards their very real struggle. Until you know about, and understand, a person’s circumstances you have no right to judge their decisions or lifestyle.
Believe me, I don’t want money (or lack thereof) to be the reason I’m not going out to lunch. I’d much rather decline lunch because that pie is unhealthy for me. Or because your company sucks. But I don’t have that option. So I’ll sit at my desk while you guys go out, and enjoy this Hot Pocket. NOM.