Prepare to Be Poor!

Experts predict a recession, and you’ll have to learn to cope with pecuniary hardship. Here is some advice from a poverty-stricken poet.

The key to being poor is finding ways to not spend money. One of the best methods is taking walks. (Remember, you’re not shopping!) Certain walks even turn a profit. Every so often, one discovers money on the sidewalk. (Be careful that the person who dropped the money isn’t standing nearby. You’re not a thief; you’re just accepting gifts the universe offers.) Recently I found the most battered dime I’d ever seen, outside a natural foods store on Third Avenue. F.D.R. looked like he had leprosy. Nonetheless, this coin was still negotiable.

More often on a walk, one will find reading material: the New York Post, for example, with its thrilling game “Word Strength.” I seem to be the only person on earth who plays “Word Strength.” The idea is to find a given number of five-letter words within a larger word, like “dispensary.” Playing “Word Strength,” one learns a lot about language. For example, while anagramming “defrosted,” I discovered that both “doser” and “doter” are words. And I refreshed my memory about what an ester is. It’s an inorganic or organic acid in which at least one -OH (hydroxy) group is replaced by an -O-alkyl (alkoxy) group. And all the time I’m playing “Word Strength,” I’m spending no money!

Which brings me to one of the cheapest activities: education. Now is your opportunity to study those subjects you have always been curious about. The workings of the inner ear, for example. (I recommend the book Endoscopic Anatomy of the Middle Ear by Manfred Tschabitscher and Clemens Klug.) This is known as “recessionary learning.”

Or you can become an artist! The only reason you aren’t one now is because you fear you’re untalented. But if your only goal is not spending money, art is suddenly appealing. Of course, I don’t mean expensive marble sculpture. You must choose a cheapo art form. For example, choreography. You can spend long hours developing your dance notation. Here’s an example, using typography:

 

0 0

=

(( ~~~

 

This image shows two dancers—the two parentheses—approaching a 20 foot high sculpture of a sneering face. In the next scene, one of the dancers will rub her hand seductively across the huge mouth.

Here’s another idea. You’ve heard of flower arranging. Try pen arranging! Like many households, mine has a collection of pens by the phone in the living room. In our case, it’s in a jar from Arrowhead Mills Organic Crunchy Valencia Peanut Butter. The jar contains exactly 10 pens (one of which is shaped like a seahorse), plus a black Sharpie marker, 13 pencils (one red), two pen caps, a tiny scissors, an eraser and a box cutter. Finding the perfect arrangement of these utilitarian items is a pleasant and aesthetic exercise. Try it yourself, with your collection! See if an hour or two goes by, at zero cost!

The hardest part about being poor in this country is that all other Americans feel you are a failure. You can counteract this problem by reading great books from other cultures that value poverty. Let me suggest The Book of Proverbs. (Note: It’s in the Bible.) I just opened it at random to chapter 11, verse 2: “When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.” And two verses later, we find: “Riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death.” Almost every spiritual tradition values poverty, for some reason.

Anyway, don’t get too religious. The recession will only last a year or two.