“What’s the difference between a lesbian and a dyke? A dyke thinks she looks good with a $12 haircut.” The first time I heard that joke, I thought, Twelve dollars! I can’t pay more than $5! In fact, last month I cut my own hair to save a few bucks. I guess it didn’t turn out so well, because my girlfriend started calling me “Sideshow Bob.” Yesterday, when I suggested that I was going to give it another try, she screamed, “Nooooo!” Instead, we schlepped a giant laundry bag of old clothes to the secondhand store to raise enough money for a $12 haircut. We got $13.30 -- which was enough for the haircut but not a tip -- so I put on a hat and we took the cash to the grocery store to buy a pressurized can of cinnamon rolls and some tuna.
Back at home, we sat down on the bed (we don’t have a couch) with our dinner and watched the first presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama on an old black-and-white TV I got for free. But these are tough times. So tough, in fact, that I quit my teaching job six months ago because education funding cuts in the state of California made working at a grocery store a more secure job.
Here’s the sad part: Neither my girlfriend nor I have kids or expensive addictions. We both have master’s degrees and work full-time. We share a one-bedroom apartment with a dog and a cat -- we moved in together with lesbian speed because the cost of living is so high in San Francisco -- and barely make ends meet.
I don’t really believe in the myth of being poor but happy. At the poorest times in my life I wasn’t happy. I was just hungry. And the poorest times in my life can’t even compare to the poorest times of most people in the world. But I get why people romanticize poverty. I remember an argument my parents had when I was younger. My dad was fastidiously insisting he needed a certain kind of cooking bowl and my mother turned to me and said, “Your father doesn’t remember the days we were so poor we were making dinner in the coffeepot because we didn’t have a pan to cook in.” I love to imagine my parents as newlyweds, all jacked up on new love cooking dinner in the coffeepot.