My Voices Article for March

Middleclassmenship: the Less-intelligent-than-average-American Guide to Appearing to still be Middle Class
My wife’s cousins, improbably named the Astors, could easily be the poster family for the new economy. Cousin Matthew was 30 last week and is still waiting tables. He told me yesterday, “There is nothing wrong with waiting tables when you are in your twenties, but 30 should be some sort of cut-off for those who don’t intend to make it a career.” Matthew has a degree in English Literature with a minor in modern American poetry and is beginning to wonder how he will ever pay back his $139,000 in student loans. He has published in several poetry anthologies for which he receives almost $12 a month in royalties. One former poet Laureate, Billy Collins, called the young poets in one of the anthologies, “the future of American poetry.” Billy is often right.
Matthew’s twin, Jimmy, served two tours in Pakghanistan and returned with a serious case of post-traumatic stress syndrome. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs told him recently that they have no record of his application for disability. They also told him not to worry, as in their experience missing applications are often processed sooner than applications that have been properly logged in. Their mom, Cynthia, has been holding the family together with her salary as an autoworker. She is 54 and like most her age, she is a staunch supporter of the UAW. Before she was laid off last month, she was making over $30 an hour. Cyn called to tell me she was rehired yesterday—same job sans union—at $10.72 an hour. The good news is that with the dad, Sam, sick enough to be playing the health care reimbursement tango pretty much fulltime, the family qualifies for food stamps.
As if that wasn’t enough bad news, my cousin Myron—the rash red-headed savant—who made his money playing the ponies, called to say the Cousin’s Club, a 60 year fixture in our lives, was in danger of closing. “Many members can’t pay their dues,” he said, “And the landlord sold the building that housed our crappy little clubroom to a California holding company with ties to General Electric.” “The new owners are thinking upscale condo.” “The building overlooks the Gowanus Canal, for god’s sake” I piped in. “Yes,” he said, it’s a petrochemical cesspool that glows in the dark.” “Remember the good old days,” he reflected, “When the only way you could get your money out of a ratty old building was to burn it down for insurance?”
What I retained from Myron’s rant was just one line: “Remember the good old days.” Let’s do that. And, until the job producers can find a way to charge us for our memories, we can use them and pretense to maintain our thin grasp on our membership in the middle class. For those of you using imagination rather than heating oil for the first time this winter, it might help you to recall the words of the social critic and historian, Christopher Lasch, “that nothing succeeds like the appearance of success.” To help you on your way, we are pleased to publish Middleclassmenship: the Less-intelligent-than-average-American Guide to Appearing to still be Middle Class. In the guide you will learn how to make appearance trump reality in:
1. Housing: use the last of your money to buy a real dump in some inner city area like south central Brooklyn and claim to be the first in the area to “gentrify.” Who knows, in 20 years people might marvel at your prescience.
2. Shop: Browse places like Best Buy and Barnes and Noble and fiddle endlessly with nooks, kindles, and Ipads as if you had an intention of buying them. Attend all the classes and lectures—especially if free snacks are a possibility.
3. Food: Shop at the upscale markets that offer tastings. Find a coffee shop open 24 hours and essentially move in. Remember that you can’t go back to your not- yet- fashionable- home after the sun goes down. The best coffee shops offer refills at a nominal rate. Learn to use tons of sugar in your coffee and tea. Be a regular. Befriend people. They might buy you one.
4. Dress: Buy all your clothing at Good Will on sale days. Just make sure it is so odd looking that it might be cool. Cram your conversations with the people in your coffee shop, your market and your Barnes and Noble with talk of your love of Project Runway and the “new fashion.”
5. Restaurants: Be seen at decent places waiting patiently for a table. Order a side salad and talk about your endless need to diet.
6. Civics: Attend all the meetings for the libraries, schools, and parks. There are always refreshments and the meeting rooms are heated and cooled. Remember to complain about child care, taxes, mortgage rates and unforgiving bosses as if you still had any of those things.
7. Job: Imagine there was a partnership between the workers and the owners—as if, as a worker you still had a stake in the success of the business you work for.
Most of all, buy the LAGuide. If necessary, use your last dime. Free with this month’s issue, is a paper bag wrapper, so no one need know how far you’ve fallen.

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