A consequence of longtime poverty and homelessness is a certain kind of cultural isolation. You lose track of the wider world and become disengaged from it.
My own worst bout of homelessness happened in 1984. The fact that I can say that with a degree of certainty never ceases to amaze me because during that time I lost track of what year it was. I didn’t know whether it was 1983, 1984 or even 1985. I have no memory of the reelection of Ronald Reagan.
Another example was when I was so poor during my first 20 years of adult life that I had no concept of how credit worked. So when I needed a loan around 1981, all I could think of was to walk into a bank and ask for one.
I did so, and I was startled by the question that came out of the banker: “What do you have for collateral?”
Collateral? What’s that?
He helped me out by asking if I had equity in any property, say, a house.
At the time I owned a house that I inherited from my parents. But I didn’t know that was what equity meant. I had always thought it meant I had to give the bank my house in order to get the loan I wanted.
Around the same time I was working at a major university, where I was expected to contribute money to a retirement fund set up for me. I didn’t want to do it because they were going to take my contribution from my paychecks. I didn’t understand that all I had to do was live another 25 years or so and then I could get all the money I contributed back, multiplied more than 10 times.
Thirteen years ago, Anitra and I moved into an apartment building run by Seattle Housing Authority (SHA). It came with some conveniences — a toilet, shower, stove, oven and refrigerator.
We both love cottage cheese, so we would always keep at least a three-day supply.
But then we started noticing the tubs of cottage cheese would become moldy after just one day. Naturally, we thought the store was at fault for selling us cottage cheese that was on the shelf too long. Then we thought the brand we were buying from was cheating on the best buy dates.
Finally we figured out the truth — our refrigerator was biting the dust.
Well, that was more than a year ago. It’s a measure of my own poverty-induced isolation that we didn’t even think to ask SHA to replace our dead refrigerator until after all this time had passed.
Not only did SHA consider a dead fridge a health hazard, they thought it was important enough to replace it within two days of finding out about it.
The first thing we did was restock our cottage cheese reserves.
Speaking of cultural isolation, it is Friday, Oct. 27, as I write this, and I just learned that the 2023 World Series will begin today between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers. Who and who?
I’ve been to both Texas and Arizona, and the main difference I noticed in between them was New Mexico. No, I kid. The difference was the Grand Canyon and Dr Pepper.
As I understand, the World Series is a sequence of seven scheduled baseball games between two baseball teams that ends with victory for the team that first wins four of the games. The provision being that the seventh can’t end in a tie, even if it has to go an extra thousand rounds, or “innings” as they say.
My cultural isolation from baseball began when I was six. My father proudly took me to a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park, and promised me the Red Sox would win. I don’t remember who the other team was. I just remember with crystal clarity that the Red Sox did not win, and my faith in my father’s omniscience ended forever.
After that I still tried to make sense out of baseball by reading informative insider essays in old copies of Boys’ Life left lying around in doctor’s offices. I also found the Boys’ Life jokes page a great help in getting my bearings within the culture where I found myself.
Read more of the Nov. 1-7, 2023 issue.