by Fred Reed
Recently by Fred Reed: The View From Abroad
Before I learned about poverty, I was just a country boy from up the holler in West Virginia, with twelve toes, and I guess I didn’t know much. Especially about poverty. When I got to Washington, DC, I decided that I ought to be poor. I just wish I’da started earlier.
It’s a good deal. You get lots of free stuff and you don’t have to work. If I had knowed about poverty when I was fourteen, and what a good thing it was, I’DA give up my paper route. I mean, who in his right mind would get up at four-thirty in the morning in January, with eight inches of snow on the ground, and ride across lawns on a bike with four hundred pounds of the Wheeling Intelligencer in a basket, so people could read about crooked politicians and clip grocery coupons? And then I’d catch the school bus.
That teacher lady said I was pretty smart, and she hoped I’d go far, but I reckoned she’DA been happy if I just went to the next country over.
When you got out of high school, you had to get a job, and get up mornings even if you didn’t want to, and do something all day that you probably didn’t like. Unless you were poor, and then you could sleep in and do what you wanted all day. I didn’t know it then, though.
Best thing if you want to be poor is to go to Washington, the Yankee Capital, and take up poverty. Then the feddle gummint gives you a house for free. It may not be the best house in the world. You probably don’t have your own swimming pool like a football field. But it’s dry and warm and nothing wrong with it. And in the morning you can get up early, just to appreciate that you don’t have to, and watch all those other people go to work. They got better houses, sure. But they got to sit all day in little square boxes in offices and scratch on pieces of paper. You don’t, if you’re poor.
The gummint gives you Medicaid in case you fall on your head, and Food Stamps, or really it’s like a credit card, so you can act like one of them high-dollar lawyers that work twenty hours a day and makes a million dollars till they die of a heart attack. Don’t matter. There’s always another waiting in line. You can get roasted chicken at Safeway or Cheetos or anything you want. Or you can sell your Food Stamps and buy liquor. Or that left-handed tobacco.
The gummint gives you welfare, which is money. See, you get to be poor and have money at the same time. Only America has figured out how to do that. It makes you feel all patriotic, when you wake up at eleven to eat roasted chicken.
Now, welfare ain’t a lot of money. It ain’t a lot of work, either. But it’s enough to live on really good if you think about it. For a couple of hundred dollars you can buy a cheap stereo that lasts forever. Cheap stuff now is a lot better than expensive stuff used to be. Another few hundred gets you a cheap computer that lasts for five years, and internet don’t cost much. You can steal all the music you want. You can get CDs from your friends and copy them.
Anyhow, after I heard about this and went to Washington to be poor, I met this feller, Git-Some Jukis. That wasn’t his real name, not Git-Some, but everybody called him that because he had a lot of girlfriends. He was real smart and had a beard and read books He told me he wanted a good education when he got out of high school, but it cost too much. He said being poor was better than a university. It was because when you are poor you have plenty of time to study, and everything you need is free.
Like, there’s the Martin Luther King Public Library on Ninth Street, where you can get any kind of book you want and read it. If you don’t read too good, there’s plenty of ways on the Internet to learn if you really want to, but Git-Some could read fine already. He had this thing called a Kindle, that cost about seventy dollars. That’s less than you can sell one bunch of Food Stamps for. And he used to get free books from the Internet with it.
The more he talked about it, the more I thought maybe I’d do it too. It sure sounded easy, and everything was free. If you wanted to learn about Art, you could spend whole afternoons at the National Gallery or the Phillips Collection, whatever that was. A collection of Phillpses, I guess. I reckon I’ll go find out, once I get really settled into poverty. You could go to all the Smithsonian museums, which are free, and read all about any of it on the computer before you went.
And he said you could find all kinds of free music, like classical at the Kennedy Center, and lots of free lectures about interesting stuff, and there was so much of it that getting educated could take up all your time.
Git-Some said it was harder to get free stuff if you were white, and he was, but he said you could still get most of it if you were smart. Just to be sure, he’d told the feddle gummint that he was a Cambodian refugee, but albino. They kept sending him letters in Cambodian, which he couldn’t read. He told them it was because in his village they didn’t have a school because of all the land mines.
He said someplace called MIT put all its college courses on the Internet and he was studying like a steam beaver, and anybody who had the advantage of poverty, and didn’t feel thankful and study and listen to music was just shiftless. He kind of upset me. Momma always told me not to be shiftless.
I thought about it all, and what Git-Some said. I’d always had curiosity about things and I wanted to educate myself, but I never had time because I had to work, like night shift at Kriegstedt’s Amoco on Route 301 in Virginia. Having a job really gets in the way of your poverty. I decided to be like Git-Some. I’d buy me a Kindle with my first Food Stamps and get him to help me. It made me appreciate things. I always liked America fine. But poverty made me realize what a wonderful great country I lived in.
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well, A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be, Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle, Au Phuc Dup and Nowhere to Go: The Only Really True Book About Viet Nam, and A Grand Adventure: Wisdom’s Price-Along with Bits and Pieces about Mexico. Visit his blog.