This blog is not FDA approved
I run. Ok, honestly, I think about running while walking around my neighborhood in San Francisco. This is a green city as you might know. We compost everything here. But when I’m walking/thinking about running, I’m green—not in the way you think, not in the same way as my fascist environmentalist neighbors.
A sign of age, maybe. But I don’t think I’ve ever thought of myself as a jealous person before moving here. I never wanted what others had before because I never much thought about other people, in general.
As I’ve gotten married and had a child, my arse, which is where my head has resided for most of my life, is not an option. I have learned I need to be present. I need to think of someone other than myself. But if you broaden who you think about, who you care about, who you notice in the world, the width of that broader social net cannot be controlled. Sure, on the positive side of things, I think about my son and my wife and their needs, but on these walks I take, I also think about my neighbors and what they have and I wonder: do they need so much more than we do?
I’m not sure how to answer this. People have what they have and they take what they take. I’m not sure I want to get into the business of telling people that they have too much. So maybe the better way to express what I feel when I walk around the renovated Edwardians that surround my humble flat, is that I’m reminded just how far up my butt my head has been. In other words, what the hell have I been doing for the 40 years that make up my life?
I have, in no specific order been the following: a project manager, frozen yogurt pourer, telemarketer, sausage maker, assistant dean, high school teacher, college instructor, bagel baker, freelance musician, writer, grad student in religion, butler. And I moved furniture, too. A lot of stuff, right? Nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve never cheated or tried to get ahead by dishonest means. But at 40, I do not have much saved in the bank, I rent, and I have a little baby boy who I want desperately not to want for things. Oh, and I have a butt-load of debt from the fancy Ivy-League education I sport to no real utility.
I grew up poor. I always had food, so it wasn’t like I was that kind of poor you hear about in heart breaking detail on PBS. But my family didn’t have a lot, either. I’ve noticed this has affected me in different ways over the years: before getting married, it made me not fear being poor; in fact, it made me not care about money as a rule. But now as a father and a husband, I’ve noticed a new concern for money. I do not want my son to suffer the shame of not having much. He will have food and a place to live. I think I can say that without sounding overly confident. And though I do not need for him to have anything and everything he wants, I hate the idea that he cannot have a small yard to play in or a dog if he so chooses. I grew up in apartments. I’m an urban dweller, and apartments can be very nice. But as a child growing up in a mixed neighborhood in LA, I remember wanting more than anything to have a house like all of my classmates.
There’s a race component to this, I know it. I am Latino. I was one of three people of color in my gifted and talented elementary classes. One of two in my junior high school accelerated classes. One of one in my high school college prep classes. I’m a supporter of the ideal of public education because a poor kid like me got the same great stuff that my classmates from Malibu received (though since I graduated, Malibu kids have gotten their own high school leaving poor kids like me to a much worse education). But even if things were the same, there is a problem for kids like me, that type of kid who Richard Rodriguez and others call, the scholarship kid. When you get home, the class disparity kicks in, as does the shame.
I was ashamed of the dinginess of the apartment I grew up in. I did not invite my affluent/accelerated friends home. They didn’t get the poverty—the tiny rooms, and the fact that we took care of my older sister’s kids. My parents, especially my mother, did her best. And like I said, we didn’t go hungry. We had clothes. We had a roof that didn’t leak.
I know I’m probably sounding spoiled here. I know there are people who would’ve killed to have the few things I had as a child, but still, I don’t want The Boy, my boy, to feel this need. I will move mountains so he can go to a good school, I know I can do that. But then will history repeat itself? Will he be the scholarship kid ashamed of his humble flat?
As I walk/think-about-running the small mountains that make up the streets of my neighborhood, I think I’d love to move these mountains, as well, because I’m huffing and puffing, but also because I am looking at the homes around me like puzzles, and I’m annoyed. What are these owners of these lovely homes doing that I am not? I don’t think it’s about being smarter or harder-working? Or maybe it is. I’m not a tech-person, as many of them are. Mistake on my part? Does this choice lock me out of having a small home in these lovely hills?
I’m a teacher of poor kids, poor like I was. Though for reasons I won’t go into now, I know I can’t continue doing that. Do I have one more jump left in these walking/thinking legs? Maybe if I stop going on these damned green-walks, I will be better able to jump into a better, higher-paying career.
I hope so. I am getting ready to try. Wish me luck.