Hang around Cracked long enough, and you’ll see me talking about poverty. A lot. Like, an amount that could make people think I have an obsession. Like, “Randy Quaid screaming voodoo spells at turds” levels of crazy.
But there’s a lot to say about the subject, because if you haven’t lived through it, it’s hard to understand and empathize with those who have. And trust me, if you’re one of the lucky few who are blessed enough to escape it, you’ll look back on facets of your former life and think, “What the dicking fuck?” You start to see some weird-ass side effects of the poverty, like …
#5. You Get So Good At Packing, It’s Like A Superpower
I’ve known poor people who were lucky enough to live in the same house their entire lives, but for the most part, that wasn’t the case. A whole nutload of us moved constantly, because when you have no money, you fall into insane, clusterfuck cycles. It goes something like this:
Moving into a new place requires the first and last month’s rent, plus a deposit. You have to pay all of the fees associated with turning on your utilities, especially if you have outstanding bills. So you borrow money from friends and family to get all that going, and you dive right into your new place already in debt. Those people will likely never see that money paid back. Eventually, you fall behind on your rent, and either the landlord evicts you or you do like my mom did and pack your shit and hit the bricks before they can serve you legal papers. You just get to the point where you’re like, “Fuck this. RUN!”
So now you owe the last landlord money, and you’re right back to borrowing again so you can get set up in your new apartment. In a year or so, you’ll do it all over again.
“You shall call me Chad, Lord of Lands!”
I never spent two consecutive Christmases in one place until I was almost 30. Christmas, as we all know, is the standard by which time is measured among the poor, because it’s our yearly reminder that “Hahaha! You ain’t got jack shit!” Moving once a year was just something I grew up with, so it was weird when I started noticing in my teens that a whole lot of my unpoor friends didn’t do that. They stayed in the same house. They didn’t have to make new friends because they were uprooted and dropped into a new school. They had never tried to strap a mattress to the roof of a Ford Escort.
When you live like that, you become damn near a savant at packing. You see all of your shit as Tetris pieces, and you’re able to fill any box without a square inch of air remaining. It’s like you gain the ability to bend time and space. But it’s not just the physical manipulation that’s impressive. You gain the memory of a supercomputer. Even without the aid of labels, you could glance at a pile of 30 boxes and immediately pick out which ones are yours. “Are you looking for the scissors? They’re in the Lunchables box under the toilet paper. Third one on the middle row, next to the Tupperware container filled with live cats.”
Even today, if my landlord told me to get the hell out, I could have everything we own sitting in our new house in a matter of hours. They’d turn around for a second and then look back to find a cloud of smoke like the goddamn Road Runner.
#4. You Wear Giant Shoes
When you have no money, everything is expensive, but even cheap shoes are the bane of poor people’s existence. They’re marketed as a symbol of style, so we already go into it thinking they’re an unnecessary luxury. I say “we” because even though I’m not poor anymore, I still carry that feeling with me. “You need new shoes? Shit. How the hell are we going to affor- wait a minute. We can totally afford them now. Just go buy the fucking shoes, dumbcock.”
Middle-class and rich people buy shoes that fit. Then, when their kids’ feet get too big for them, they go out and buy a new pair. Poor people have a whole system, because buying shoes is a major life event. In the best-case scenario, shoes need to last for a couple of years. It never works out that way, but that’s always the plan.
Stop whining, they’re fine. Those will last at least another year.
What they do is buy shoes that are a size or two too big, so the kid’s feet can “grow into them.” The kid gets used to the feeling of having two inches of air between their toes and the front of the shoe, and over enough time, that settles in their mind as the way shoes are supposed to feel. The thing is, cheap shoes get torn up pretty easily, so by the time their feet grow into the proper fit, it’s time to get new shoes again, because this pair is full of tears and stab wounds. Because of that “giant shoe” frame of mind, the correct fit feels small to a poor kid.
It’s such a weird cycle, because it means you’re always wearing shoes that are way too big, like a goddamn clown. It gets to where when you become an adult and stop growing, you still find yourself squeezing the toes of the shoe when you try them on, to see if there’s enough room to grow into them.
“It’s not good enough until I can fit your old shoes inside your new ones.”
By the way, when I said that thing about squeezing the toe, every poor person reading this article knew exactly what I was talking about. That’s a poverty go-to move for shoe shopping. When the kid’s foot is inside, you squeeze the front two inches. If you can feel a toe there, the shoes are too small. They’ll outgrow them in a month. Put that shit back and buy a size 26 1/2.
#3. You Drink A Lot Of Pop* And Tea
*For those of you who get all uppity about the word “pop,” mentally replace it with “soda.” I’m not feeding your weird word peeves. Feel free to argue about the correct term among yourselves. It’ll be a productive, intelligent conversation.
Here’s a basic rule of thumb that every poor person understands: Milk and juice are expensive as a brass fuck. I don’t know what that phrase means, but my mom used it all the time, and she was poor, so let’s just pretend that has meaning.
“Let’s get down to brass tacks, boys.”
At the right store, cheap-ass knockoff pop can go for as low as a few cents per can when you buy them in bulk. Plus, they come in their own containers, so you don’t have to worry about washing cups. I don’t know how other parts of the country make their tea, but southern iced tea uses about five bags. You just throw that shit in four or five cups’ worth of hot tap water, add a cup of sugar, and let it brew until it turns dark brown. Then you fill up the rest of the pitcher with cold water, stir it, and bam … you have a gallon of tea. You’re welcome.
A box of cheap teabags are a couple of bucks for one hundred, which translates to 20 gallons of tea for the price of one gallon of cheap juice (or a half gallon of milk). Even if you go through an entire gallon of tea per day, that’s almost a month’s worth of drinks for a couple of dollars. It’s all about making it stretch for as long as possible, because you only get your food stamps once per month. If you blow it all on healthy stuff like milk and juice, you’re drinking tap water by the third week. Gross.
Oh, God, I think I’m gonna puke.
Even now, I drink a gallon of iced tea every day. I’m sure my kidneys will eventually make me regret that, but I can’t break the habit, no matter how hard I try. Drinking tea is a reflex at this point, like a smoker who subconsciously flicks an ink pen as if it has an ash on the end, or Prince crotch-thrusting while he does his taxes (chest, chest, points to the sky).
For poor people, tea and pop are the ramen noodles of drinks. And yes, before you start crying because I didn’t mention it, Kool-Aid. The drink so awesome that it can become popsicles. Or hair dye.