Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Class Struggle on the Refrigerator - Relate?

Class Struggle on the Refrigerator
by Adair Lara

Adaid Lara is a columnist who writes in an amusing, informal way about the challenges of everyday life -- family, school, work, relatives. In this column, she looks at indicators of social status -- telltale signs revealing the underlying class structure of a society that prides itself on not haveing rigid social barriers. She makes us think about distinctions for which Americans may not always have sociological lables or official categories, but that people sense nevertheless and that shape their behavior and channel their aspirations.

I was reading an article [...] Steve Rubenstein wrote about a new $6,000 refrigerator that is so fancy it can be told to stop producing ice cubs on the Sabbath. But when Steve pointed out that refrigerator magnets wouldn't stick to its designer wood panels, the salesman sniffed, "We're in a niche. The people who can afford one of our refrigerators may not be the same people who use refrigerator magnets."

I glanced over at our fridge. We bought it new about a year ago for $600. It's white, I think - I really can't be sure because just about every inch of it is covered with photo magnets. I buy the magnets at Office Depot (they're really designed for business cards) and cut up photos to fit in them. Over the magnets are invitations, clippings, New Yorker cartoons, movie listings, poems, report cards.

I sighed. Every time I think I've made a successful escape from the working-class thing, there it is again.

I still collect those Cashmere Bouquet soaps from motel rooms. When I worked at a posh style magazine, my boss circled the words "kitchen table" in the lead of a story I was working on and scrawled in the margin, "Our readers don't have kitchen tables."

And I wondered, where then do they read the paper? When I was little, we had not only a table in our kitchen - it look suspiciuosly like the redwood picnic benches down the road at Samuel Taylor Park - but also a couch. I still miss that couch.

I'm a have with the soul of a have-not.

I shop [...] at garage sales, trying on brown leather jackets and pointing out the boxes of wineglasses to Bill, elbowing aside teenagers to offer 15 cents for a 25-cent pair of used Van sneakers.

It's embarassing, but it's not my fault. My mother did our shopping at a thrift store called Bargain Box. She liked bargains. "It was only $75 for the pair of you," she told my twin and me once, referring to the bill for our birth at the public clinic.

So I think nothing of wearing other people's castoffs. I only think, "What a perfectly good pair of black Gap jeans. And only a dollar." Two of my sisters opened secondhand clothing shops when they grew up, just switching the side of the counter they were on.

All of us Daly kids are better off than our parents were when we were kids, but it hasn't sunk in. We all still stockpile toilet paper as if we might run out. My sister Connie just Fed-Ex'ed me a nicely wrapped box of presents in return for a favor, and I unwrapped them to find a toothbrush holder, a knitted grandma hat, a pair of too-small slippers and a Dick Francis audiotape.

It looked exactly like the stuff you see left over at the end of the day at a garage sale - probably is.

We still kind of go nuts when anything's free. When another sister and I went wine tasting, I noticed her slipping the free chocolates into her pocket and urging me to load up on the free apples. I ignored her, being preoccupied with getting my share of the thimblefuls of wine they were pouring, the cheapskates.

You can take the girl out of the class, but you can't take the class out of the girl. Or, in this case, get anything resembling class into the girl. A boyfriend who was watching me decorate the house for Christmas once informed me that it was very working class of me to hang holiday cards from a string across the mantel.

I saw what he meant, but privately I wondered how else I was supposed to demonstrate to visitors that I had received all of these cards. I didn't have enough magnets to put them all on the fridge.


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