Saturday, June 11, 2005

Conversations outside of your class

And by class, I don't mean classroom. I mean cultural/financial class. New Kid mentioned in her post about class last week that she feels insulated, about not being able to have conversations with people outside of her class so that she doesn't forget what it's like to be of a lower class or to understand what it's like:
What I find hard is figuring out where the kinds of conversations you talk about can happen. So many of the activites in which any of us take part are already divided by class. for instance, if I go workout at the Y, I'm talking to people like me who've got enough money to pay for a Y membership, and who've got time to go to the Y, and who don't work manual labor jobs where they're too exhausted to go to the Y. And if I go at certain times of the day I'm probably only going to run into other professional types. The grocery stores I shop at are firmly middle-upper class stores - why? well, because they have the things I want to buy, and I find the experience of shopping there pleasant.
I got a good dose of cross-class conversation at my hairdresser's this morning. Her entire family has a gambling problem. She used to have a gambling problem and other addictions. I know that wealthy people also have gambling problems, but it seems to me that more people in my hairdresser's realm--lower-middle class perhaps--are more likely to gamble. We live very close to Atlantic City. It's about an hour's drive away. It's very easy just to go for the night. My hairdresser and her family routinely go and spend hundreds of dollars gambling. As she said, it's not a problem if you have the money to do it. It's like going to an expensive hotel or something. But if you start tapping into the money that you need for bills, then things are getting bad.

The allure of gambling to her and her family seemed to be the promise of extra cash to buy stuff. She said her sister went to Wal-Mart and spent her winnings immediately. She's not an educated woman and neither is her family. They are stuck in dead-end jobs. They own houses and cars; they're not on the verge of poverty, but they have no way of moving up except by gambling, winning the lottery, etc. For most of the people I'm friends with, the way to moving up is to do better at your current job or get a better-paying job primarily by gaining experience or education. Or we scrimp a little, put money aside to buy a bigger house, bigger car, better vacation (or vacation at all), nicer clothes, etc. Saving is not an option for many of the people I see just below my class level (it's barely an option for me). They're already living paycheck to paycheck, sometimes as a result of poor financial decisions (buying a plasma tv on credit, for example), but not always. Saving requires some discipline and delayed gratification. Our society doesn't really teach this. Buy now! Only 29.95/month! 0% interest for the first six months! Cut taxes and start an expensive war! Borrow money to pay for Social Security! Somewhere we need to teach those lessons. People say parents should do it, but so many people have parents that need to be educated and it's hard to combat the ads, the movies and tv shows that throw glamorous lifestyles on credit at us every day.

I did not say anything to my hairdresser. If she wants to gamble, that's fine. But I also wanted to say that Donald Trump is counting on people like her to make his fortune. The rich make their money from people who are trying hard to be just like him. But there's no way she'd see that.