Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Class Comfort Level Persists

My father was a salesman who worked on commission only, my mother temped as a secretary throughout my childhood. My sister and I would spend every weekend at our immigrant grandparent’s apartment because parenting was not on the to-do list of either of my folks. In both environments, the kids I hung out with were from what we all considered “regular” families but now recognize to have been mostly from the socio-economic class that lies between the poor and the middle class.

My mother was always quite vocal about my father’s irresponsible financial behavior which consisted mainsly of going deeply into debt in order to project a middle-class image. She often called him Willie Loman, in reference to Arthur Miller’s character in “Death of a Salesman.” Both of them were Jewish and college-educated so, in some ways, they were atypical of the "white" working-class. And, in those days, Jews were not really considered white, anyway. 

In spite of my parents' educational achievements, they fell far short of the material prosperity held out by their socio-economic aspirations. None of us possessed the mannerisms of that desirable group. Kids in my school seemed to know instinctively that I was not one of them and treated me accordingly. Was I too outgoing? Too open? I couldn't figure it out. But the friends I made then were all from similar class backgrounds. We just had so much in common that I never considered befriending one of the “rich kids.” Like the weather it was just a given, a reality too obvious to be questioned or discussed.

At Ohio State University, I was introduced to a broader vision of the world. Now, if I so desired, I could be friends with students who wouldn’t have had anything to do with me before. And, sometimes, I chose to pursue these very people. It was to prove my worth, as though their privilege might rub off on me and allow me to rewrite my past. Sometimes making them like me was simply a way to extract a sort of revenge.

But as college years faded into real life, my path diverged sharply from that of the factory-owners’ daughters and the trust-fund babies. Economic struggle is not just theoretical when there is no family safety net waiting to catch you if you fall.

To this day, I find myself gravitating instinctively toward people from similar circumstances. Instead of diminishing, this tendency seems to be increase with age. I can’t put my finger on the exact cues of this shared oppression but, considering my automatic selection process, the indicators must be quite blatant and obvious to all.

Evidently, the people who can best put up with me, are those who have made their way without a lot of financial and emotional support. It has nothing to do with concious intention or some form of reverse snobbery. It just happens.