I watched the premiere episode of this new series last night. Created by Morgan Spurlock of Supersize Me fame, it proposes the theory that 30 days experiencing a different kind of life can change your life forever.
Last night, Morgan and his fiancee Alex tried to live on minimum wage for 30 days. And oh, the misty water-colored memories it brought back! Loki and I were actually making more than minimum wage when we got married, but due to the cost of living in Connecticut, I'd say we were doing about as well as Morgan and Alex were in the episode.
We lived in the cheapest apartment we could find that was actually habitable for human beings - it cost $425/month, and we had a lovely view of a graveyard that was a popular place for drug deals to go down. We lived on the 3rd floor, had no shower, only a tub, and we never once turned on the heat while we were there because we couldn't afford it - we just bundled up or snuggled up or walked to the hospital down the road to hang out in the spacious and warm lobby, reading the old magazines.
I was on a message board about the show and I noticed that even while people were sympathetic to the plight of the working poor, there is an attitude that poor people should punish themselves for daring to be poor - similar, in a way, to the attitude expressed by people over at Gilliard's blog about the girl in Aruba, who some seem to think deserve what happened to her because she made some foolish choices.
How should they punish themselves? Let's start with the basics: they certainly should never splurge and eat out - that's just wasteful. Let them eat ramen noodles! They shouldn't be messing around with sex, even if they have birth control - birth control can fail, so it's way too risky - so poor folks, abstinence only until you get a better job! You injured yourself? Suck it up, dude - health care is for people with money.
I realize that people can make bad choices, and depending on the circumstances of your life, one bad choice can be so devastating that you wish you could go back and do it differently. But we only expect poor people to live lives of Spartan perfection. There are people who can live that way and do live that way, and kudos to them. But human beings in general won't do it.
And when you live that way for a while, even when you make good choices, you can find yourself getting knocked down, hard, and it can whittle away at your spirit.
Loki and I scrimped and saved for a car back then (public transportation in CT is not great). We didn't turn on the heat, we ate ramen noodles and only ramen noodles, we didn't leave the apartment, etc. We needed the car to get out to find better jobs - where we were living, there was very limited public transportation, so we had to work at places within walking distance.
So we get the car - we paid $500 for a 1979 Chevy Malibu. I got a job as a certified nurse's aide, which paid $8.00/hr. Loki got a job working in the lab at the hospital, which was a 5 minute walk from the apartment and paid almost $9.00/hr. We were rolling in the money!
But things go wrong with the car, you end up paying over $300 to fix it. You get rolling again, but someone behind you slides into your car, pushing you into the car in front of you, so now you have a car that needs body work, you are at fault for hitting the person in front of you, and then your car insurance goes up.
You start to realize that no matter how careful you are, shit happens. You never get ahead because it costs money to make money. I remember showing up for a job interview in my nicest clothes, including a pair of shoes that I spent $12 precious dollars on. I sat in the waiting room, and I looked at everyone else who was interviewing for the job. I looked like a hobo compared to them, even in my nicest clothes. I did my best, but it was for a bank teller position, and your appearance is important, so I didn't get the job (even though I am an engaging interviewee - when I get an interview, I usually get offered the job.)
I remember suffering through an abcessed tooth, because I didn't have any dental insurance. Eventually, the whole left side of my face swelled up, so I didn't have a choice - even at the grocery store they don't like deformed people manning the cash registers. The electric and the gas didn't get paid that month because I had to spend $120+ to get the tooth pulled, and I suffered through the pain of recovering from the abcess because I didn't have medical insurance and the painkillers would have cost $60 that I didn't have. (And the pain? Worse than childbirth. By a lot.)
Next week's episode doesn't look quite as interesting - I think a couch potato tries to use drugs to improve his physical appearance, kind of meh - but I will be tuning into this show in the future.