Blessed Be The Lower Middle Class
God bless me, I'm a poor guy with money.
Maybe I should explain. I'm an attorney in a small Midwestern town with a regional corporate and estate planning practice. I work hard, and make what most would consider good money, especially since the cost of living in southwest Michigan is low. I also don't have many debts. My father's ample salary paid for college and law school, so my earnings have always been available for savings and my mortgage.
Monetarily blessed, I am.
But I don't seem to be able to afford a lot of things that other people enjoy.
It struck me last month when I attended a conference on Mackinac Island, a fairly pricey tourist spot on Lake Huron that is accessible only by ferry, just five miles from the Mackinac Bridge.
As the ferry moved from the mainland, I saw my 2000 Venture Van sandwiched by SUVs and Lincolns. When I got to the island, I saw lots of people with expensive bicycles and remembered that my well-worn Schwinn is more than five years old. I saw people nonchalantly drop serious dollars on over-priced memorabilia and artsy stuff, or pay $5 for a hot dog or pay $500 for one night at the Grand Hotel, possibly the most luxurious hotel in Michigan.
Don't get me wrong. I wasn't dwelling on these things. They just kind of quietly lumbered in the bowels of my mind, like the way my crawling baldness does.
Then, on my last morning there, while trying to grab a quick breakfast at a deli, a young couple with their little son and best Tommy Hilfiger leisure look came in and mused over the offerings, including a dozen types of coffee.
After a few moments, the wife asked the worker, politely but with a small air of anxiety, “Do you have mild Starbucks?”
The closest I've come to Starbucks is that “Glenn, Glenn, Glenn” commercial. I would have thought the 12 types of coffee on the menu board pretty much exhausted the list (though on reflection I now realize that “Mocha Cow Cud” wasn't up there either).
Inside, I shook my head. It never would have occurred to me to inquire about a coffee not listed on that board.
It reminded me of a friend who dined at a fine California restaurant and commented to the waiter that she didn't recognize any of wines on the list.
“Those,” the waiter snootily replied, “are the waters.”
The possibility of such a wide assortment of waters wasn't part of her mental landscape, just as the blossoming variety of coffees isn't part of mine.
Since that exchange, I started thinking about all the other things that aren't part of my mental landscape: How to stock a 4,000-square-foot house with nice furniture; the hottest vacation spots; what designer clothes will make me look the most with-it; and what SUV handles best on super-smooth freeways.
For the most part, I don't think about those things for the same reason my friend doesn't think about gourmet waters: It's simply something she can't afford. And even if a financial windfall made it affordable, she probably wouldn't buy it because she doesn't live in a world where such things have a place.
I think it's a blessed state.
Which isn't a stretch. Jesus, after all, blessed the poor.
I had always interpreted the blessing to mean that the poor will do well in the next world, like disease-infected Lazarus in Abraham's bosom.
But in this era when mass society is affluent society, I'm beginning to think it applies to this world, right now.
“Blessed are the poor, for you won't worry about the fashionableness of your car. Blessed are the poor, for you will not think about the difference between Pellegrino and Eddie Bauer waters. Blessed are the poor, for you won't know when your clothes are out of style. Blessed are the poor, for you won't find yourself dissatisfied when the dozen coffee choices don't include mild Starbucks.”
I'm beginning to think that the lower middle-class in America might have it the best: Blessed are the lower middle class in America, for you have enough to live comfortably, but not enough to consume yourself with the comforts.
As the sole wage earner who seeks to provide average comforts for his family, to put his seven children though college and to retire before age 105, I put myself in the lower middle class as far as disposable income goes.
It rarely bothers me that I enjoy far fewer of the creature comforts enjoyed by others, but sometimes the materialistic whimsy rears its head, like when I kind of wished I had the nice Lincoln that I saw next to my van. Then I overhead that lady inquire about mild Starbucks.
As I walked away, I was no longer merely “not bothered” by the lack of moneyed things in my life. I was elated by it.
Now, re-reading the above, I suppose for my next virtue I'll have to root out reverse snobbishness.
Eric Scheske publishes
The Daily Eudemon.
- July 3-9, 2005