Because I am a young man who loves life and lives to have fun, I have obviously spent a few Saturday nights at home looking at the Facebook. Ha ha! Wow! Party! It is a party on Facebook and everyone is invited, everybody’s rockin’.
It begins with a friend request from someone you went to high school with but never really knew and know less now. What is their life like? What has happened to them and their hair? You prowl the streets of the network, peeping into the windows (or Macs, right? Right?) and keyholes of these distant memories, these unpeople. Sometimes someone has left their blinds right open and you see right in, directly into every part of their lives. What horrors? What babies? What is that milk-toast face lifting up from the haunted carriage to look back at you? You stumble off into the night, terrified. It is the Beyond – the world outside of yours where people get pregnant and married young and work as forklift operators or don’t work at all, they have loans that seem totally impossible to repay and you think – that is a life I don’t understand and never will. That is a life of Circumstance, of a kind of low-socio economic standing that is hard to relate to.
“I’m glad that I will never be in that kind of position” I think arrogantly, looking at photos of a 20-year old mother hosting their two year old’s birthday party. “I am glad that I am young and free and will always be economically stable and not have a baby that pulls down the walls of my life.”
These are the shitty, dumb things that I think to myself looking at these photos and later relate to some friends, leaning against a brick wall in the back alley next to a bar.
You know, their husbands are all like – wearing Oakley sunglasses
and backwards caps
and, like, facial hair in the manner of the bass player from Korn
Ha ha ha I am so funny, god, just kill me now because I will never as funny as this, this right now criticising the lives of Other People who seem to be worse off than me. And then I take in my surroundings and realise where I am and what I’m doing – that I am of a fairly low-socio economic standing myself, that my personal guarantee would amount to a Camry Wagon with some problems and that I am offsetting my wage (my writer’s wage haha nope) with benefit payments and the other week opted out early from a round of In-House Servicing at a job search agency by having my girlfriend call to tell them she had to go to the doctor. Who even needs baby to pull down the walls of my life, they are crumbling around me as it is.
As a literate teenager, it seemed romantic as hell to be poor – to be a wandering, starving artist, blowing through the streets, blowing minds, trading your waistcoat for a piece of bread and then trading that bread for a kind smile from a fair lady and ah ha ha you just tumble away, carried by the winds of whimsy. You’d live on prose and sunshine and when you eventually sojourned off into the mountains and died under a sycamore or perhaps a fig tree, Patti Smith would write a song to play at your funeral. Beauty.
And now I’m sitting here looking up How To Warm Red Wine From Fridge and realise that I am in that life right now, I am in that life of not having heaps-much money and trying to write and yes, probably wandering – but where is my romance? Where is my beauty? Where is my waistcoat?
Because as a child, the idea of Poverty, the identity of the Homeless seems like a distant, almost unreal thing. That’s a thing that happens to Other People. It’s probably even a thing that happens to Bad People. As a child growing up in the middle-upper class with two parents, you think that there is sense in the world, that there structure and form and surely someone is watching out for all of it. Surely people who don’t want to be poor will never be poor. But you grow up and go to school and you realise that actually poverty can be there anytime, anywhere, like any good taxi driver. You realise that sometimes people have illnesses and problems that they probably never imagined before they had them. You realise that you grew up more in the lower-middle class than the middle-upper. You build yourself a Conscience about it and feel angry and righteous – who is helping them? Who isn’t? How dare they?! When friends make even vaguely classist comments about the poverty-stricken or the underprivileged you are there, ready to defend, ready to wield so much outrage.
Later in life, you understand how easily you could fall into hard times in a less than romantic Dickensian way. I have passed people on the street who are obviously struggling, who have weird manners and bodily problems and I have thought – that could become me. I could just as easily descend into that. That is me driving past in my carriage, looking down on the commoners – there but for the grace of my (beautiful, white) horses go I.
So on a Saturday night when I am mocking the inhabitants of Facebook, what am I thinking? Where is my sense of Righteousness? Is it like some awful idea of universal Justice that I still carry with me from childhood – that it seems “about right” that someone who spent high school tagging desks and pushing kids over should now be in debt and have all of the babies? The same justice that I can then criticise someone else for saying they avoid certain shopping centres because of the low-percentage of anglo-saxons or “native Australians”? Can I just not feel empathic towards a low-class that seems like they had “every opportunity” and threw it away on Holden Commodores and cartons of Bundaberg Rum? Because it’s fine for people of other races to be underprivileged – they live in a world where they’re doomed from the beginning, ground up in a system of negative-gearing designed by a great ancestral White Whale. But for my classmates of ’07? You blew it. You blew it by making choices that I didn’t (or haven’t yet.) You blew it by having a different life to me. You blew it by not just ‘knowing better’. You blew it by not reading as much in high school as I did, by not paying attention when we studied To Kill A Mockingbird. You blew it by throwing a cupcake at me one time because fate was on my side and now you’re destined to die beneath an overturned forklift or in a drinking game.
Is that what I’m thinking? Even though I know consciously that actually, bad things happen to all kinds of people and there aren’t necessarily systems in place to help them when they do? Did I build myself a Conscience and light it on fire? Where I once Raged Against the Machine do I now just sit in front of it warming my wine?
Heh, no, though. I wouldn’t wish an overturned forklift on anyone. Because as you look longer and longer, the initial feeling of “Yes – yes, of course that happened to you” becomes, “No” and later, “God” and later still nothing as you just scroll through the endless sadness and desperation and feel heartache – a heartache that we do not live in a world built for happiness but a world built maybe just for mediocrity at best. But despite all that, I still can’t bring myself to accept their friend request.
Christopher Hocking is an Adelaide writer who has been published on Scum Mag and rejected by McSweeneys, Voiceworks, Stilts, Bumf and more. He hopes to have better luck at running a cafe and perhaps will with yr help.
Read more ‘What am I meant to do with my time?‘
(Top photo by Prairie Kitten)