Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Got class?

I love my neighborhood. I love what Bostonians say about my neighborhood, "Aw yeah, gang problems there some years back but a lot of families now." I love the unpretentious, it-is-what-it-is vibe, where businesses don't worry about looking trendy, they just do what they do. I love that in my two weeks of living here I've gotten more Spanish listening practice than I did in a whole year of living next door to a Mexican. I love that even though it looks kind of groady on the outside, on the inside it's a woven community, where people stop to chat with the mailmen and gossip hanging out their windows. 

Nevertheless, I feel a little bit like I stick out. Maybe I've grown discriminatory in my old age, or maybe I'm just more aware of incongruence after spending a year being the obviously odd one out, but when I see people "like me" in my neighborhood, I notice them because they're different. They're yuppies or they're students. They're dressed business casual, they carry some kind of work bag, often they'll have coffee in their hand. I feel self-conscious because I know I look like they look, with my sun dresses and backpack and travel mug. And if they stick out, I must also stick out. 

My neighborhood isn't the only place I stick out, though. Working downtown has its advantages, even if it means dodging tourists on the street and battling the onslaught of suits on the sidewalk when work lets out. But I didn't realize how little I fit in with this part of town until I went to a glasses boutique on Newbury Street. I gawked a bit when I greeted the receptionist and later the optometrist, both women impeccably dressed, with fastidious makeup/manicures/accessories and flawless personal appearance. 

My vanity flaring, I suddenly felt acutely aware of my scuffed up shoes, my pilled-fabric dress, my free college sunglasses, my bare and sweat-shining face, my six-dollar purse. In that moment I realized how indulgent I was being: I am not the kind of person who can afford to buy designer eyeglasses. I shamed myself for my foolishness in operating outside of my means when there were needy people on every corner asking me to notice them. I wondered briefly, fleetingly, what these women thought of me in all my shlumpiness. Did they wonder what I was doing there like I also was wondering what I was doing there?

I've always thought of myself as rich, and I think I'm accurate in saying that. I must be rich. I've traveled abroad, I've gone to college, I live in one of the more expensive cities in the United States, I'm getting a graduate degree. I may not have a lot of money in my bank account at the moment, but I have resources and opportunities. And that's more than most people have. So it was strange, very strange to me, walking out of the shop on Newbury Street, to feel like a stranger in this upper-crust part of town. 

In my neighborhood there are a handful of immigration law offices or resource centers for foreigners. I see these peeling signs in the dingy windows and I smile with optimism that there may one day be a place for me in one such establishment. And I know it's not the most lucrative of futures, but I am not concerned with upward mobility. I am not concerned with carving a comfortable and stable existence for myself. I assert (oh so naively!) that the security afforded by money is a farce, and I will not put my eggs in a financial basket. (Proverbially-speaking.) 

Living simply sounds like a good idea when you're cozied up in a nice apartment, eating Ben & Jerry's, with a dependable gameplan for how your bills are going to get paid. I clearly don't know what I'm talking about. I'm a privileged and inexperienced yuppie who doesn't know what she's saying. If I knew what I was really saying I probably wouldn't be saying it. Living simply is significantly less attractive to people who have no other choice but to live this way. But I have to remind myself what is important to me, I have to keep my eye on the prize. I am too easily distracted by nice things (like designer eyeglasses . . .), but my heart longs for those things that will never pass away.

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