Ketchup Sandwiches and Other Things Stupid Poor People Eat
“Folks of privilege don’t understand how $17 can ruin you”
I met this woman named Mae. She’s a van driver for a production company. She works 14-hour days but says she doesn’t mind, says she keeps one eye on the road and the other on the prize — a paycheck that has to last through the dead months.
We’re driving through a poor stretch of Atlanta. Dirty streets. Old houses. Plastic toys upturned in front yards, no kids though. The neighborhood is quiet. I live in L.A., land of nannies and gardeners where the hills are alive with the sound of toddlers and leaf blowers. I prefer Atlanta. You can find parking at the grocery store in the middle of the day. In L.A. it doesn’t matter what time it is, the Trader Joe’s is packed with SAHs and WAHs (stay-at-homes and work-at-homes).
We pass a decades-old Buick Skylark. I point it out.
“You into cars?” Mae asks.
I’m not into cars, but my dad and I once abandoned one of those Buicks on the side of a Florida highway when I was a teenager. That’s how my family did cars — we bought them on their last leg and left them where they died. I tell her how I’d come home from high school and there’d be nothing in the fridge but a bottle of red wine vinegar and a head of lettuce. On the counter, there’d be a bag of potatoes and a bottle of olive oil from the Dollar Store. That was dinner, potatoes and lettuce.
“I hear you,” she says. “We had ketchup sandwiches all the time growing up. We didn’t complain. We ate them.”
Mae’s voice is rich, melodic, it’s Maya Angelou meets Gladys Knight. I tell her about the time I borrowed red stirrup pants. (Remember stirrup pants from the ‘80s?) I borrowed them from my friend Marla. Her two older brothers drove Corvettes, one each. Marla drove a more sensible car for a 16-year-old, an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. But it was new. And it was hers. She let me borrow the pants for a party in her neighborhood. (God knows I couldn’t go in my own shit clothes.) Long and short of it, the pants ripped in the calf. My mother wept like death had come, struggling with red thread, looking at me like I’d done the worst thing ever. Marla wanted $17 to replace them.