ManFriend and I saw The Mountain Goats on Sunday night. John Darnielle’s songs can make you feel happy and sad at the same time. And everyone knows all the words:
How many folk rock gigs involve the crowd enthusiastically yelling “hail Satan“? (from 2.25 in the Satan link if you just want to hear the crowd.)
Anyway, there’s something about his songs that make me think about, well, let’s be honest, romanticise the idea of sharing poverty with someone. Romanticising those “remember when we lived in that cockroach-infested flat with no hot water and no food but we had our love and we boiled the kettle to fill the bath for each other” memories, as only a middle-class wanker who has always had hot water can do. Because really, living in that flat would be an enormous strain on your health, on your mental health, and on your relationship. And cockroaches stink, especially when they get inside the phone. Remember when we all had home phones? How old-fashioned that now seems.
As a writer, there’s also a middle-class wanker notion that you need to suffer for your craft. “Suffer for your craft”. Could there be a wankier cliche? Having life throw shit and used tampons at you doesn’t make you a good writer. It just gives you experiences to draw on if you want to write about shit and used tampons. It doesn’t mean your writing’s going to be any good.
I think I’ve been pretty lucky thoughout my life. Things have always worked out, even when I’ve been of no fixed address. Which has happened a few times. Luckily, there was always a friend with a cupboard I could sleep in. So while I was thinking “oh, I wish I’d lived in poverty in my twenties so I could write wistfully about love that ended because it was all too fucking hard but gee, for a while there we had our love to keep us warm”, I realised that I had lived in poverty in my twenties. I just did it while single.
There was my first flat when I moved to Sydney with my best friend after high school, where we lived on homebrand toast and rice for weeks because that was all we could afford. Things got really dire – and bland – when the soy sauce and instant coffee ran out. A few weeks after that we had to call our parents and ask for money before we got scurvy. We used to pretend we were high school kids so we’d get the $5.95 all you can eat deal at Pizza Hut, but they cottoned on to us pretty quick. Then we’d use a shop-a-docket to get a Big Mac at McDonald’s to share for dinner, but since we were both vego at the time, we’d pull out the patties and “enjoy” our bread and lettuce.
Then there was the sharehouse with the junkie, where you had to wear your workboots into the bathroom to kick the needles out of the way before a shower. Because I had the front room, dodgy fuckers would climb through my bedroom window at all hours, wanting to buy drugs from my housemate. And the pet ferret and pet rat would eat all my uni notes and bite my toes.
And there was the empty flat, where the only furniture we had in the living room was a cupboard door on two cardboard boxes for a table, and my flatmate and I sat on cushions on the floor. We only had two cushions, so when we had a visitor, someone got a sore butt. There was only one powerpoint in the kitchen so the kettle was in there and the toaster was in the living room and there was a mark on the opposite wall from where the toaster hit it when the powerpoint exploded. It almost took my hand with it.
Another sharehouse was held together with wire and gaffa tape and the kitchen floor was sinking from the weight of the fridge. The electricity was so dodgy that when someone boiled the kettle, someone else’s stereo in their room would cut out. Once I’d paid rent, I had to make $50 last a fortnight. That’s hard. Fucking hard. My housemates were stoners who didn’t like to get off the couch, so when they ordered takeaway they’d buy some for me if I went and picked it up for them. Win win, huh?
And these are just the dodgy places where I was really poor. It doesn’t include the place with the outside toilet and the rotting floorboards in the bathroom so you had to be careful getting out of the shower, or the place with water leaking from the light fittings and a male flatmate who stole my underwear, or the place where my religious flatmate said that having my boyfriend stay the night in my room “compromised her principles”. Those aren’t stories about being poor.
But I haven’t shared it with anyone. I was povvo and single.
So now I’ve shared it with you.
(And obviously, the title of this post is having at laugh at me being poor, not me playing my miniature violin.)