The Gentle Art of Poverty
October 7, 2010 10:19 AM   Subscribe

A former magazine writer in his late fifties moves to San Diego and lives on very little money indeed. In the October 1977 issue of The Atlantic, he describes the stratagems behind his thriftiness.

[via Give Me Something To Read]

Present-day introduction by Joshua Green, who recalls the article in response to Todd Henderson's tax protest discussed here previously.

As this is archive copy, it seems that formatting errors have mangled some sentences. Still, I found it reasonably easy to read.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (23 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ah--That explains odd sentences like:
"I have re- $4000, with which I opened a checking account-a fused. "
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:37 AM on October 7, 2010


He doesn't mention another option he has for supplementing his income — writing.
posted by orange swan at 10:44 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fascinating read. Weird to hear him keep referring to 60 as old though, most of the sixty somethings that I know don't seem to think that way. I think that the depression diagnosis was probably correct.
posted by octothorpe at 10:57 AM on October 7, 2010


Being 60 in 1977 was different from being 60 in 2010, I think.
posted by Lexica at 11:00 AM on October 7, 2010 [11 favorites]


I dunno whether this is just sad, or whether it's a triumph of sorts. On the all too obvious side, he's a bloke in vastly reduced circumstances who's clearly struggling a bit and is more than a little shocked at how he's having to get by. On the other hand, he is getting by and seemingly enjoying some of the ways he's doing it, even if it's only at the "Heh heh, I got dessert with my 50c sea-bass lunch.. suckers!" level. In the end, I guess my hat does come off to him for making the most of a whole series of bad things.
posted by Ahab at 11:01 AM on October 7, 2010


Like some sort of low budget fight club almost. With less fighting. Okay, no fighting.
posted by so_ at 11:27 AM on October 7, 2010


Sadly, if he tried publishing something like this in the Atlantic today, he could expect a responding screed by Atlantic business and economics editor Megan McArdle on how he should have saved more money when he was younger.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:28 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah - it's really depressing how much the Atlantic sucks now. Fallows is still worth reading, and Coates is consistently interesting, but Michael Kelly really did a number on a 150 year American institution.
posted by bonecrusher at 11:39 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


From Halloween Jack's link :

"If you want to know what happens when libertarians are in power, try to imagine a boot kicking at a sleeping bum, forever."

That's pretty great.
posted by bonecrusher at 11:48 AM on October 7, 2010 [10 favorites]


"If you want to know what happens when libertarians are in power, try to imagine a boot kicking at a sleeping bum, forever."

My Favorite is from the book 'Red Mars', by Kim Stanley Robinson: 'That's libertarians for you — anarchists who want police protection from their slaves.'
posted by overhauser at 12:35 PM on October 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


Megan McArdle is a self-promoting hack who isn't very good at economics.

Our own Mutant could wipe the floor with her, and the fact that HE (or someone equally talented) isn't writing for the Atlantic is an indictment of its current quality.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:36 PM on October 7, 2010


I just wanted to get to the part where he finds someone who gives him a hug.

It never really comes.
posted by bicyclefish at 12:41 PM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wonder if anyone's tried to figure out who this guy was and how the rest of his life played out (I'm not expecting a happy ending, but I can't help wondering).
posted by treepour at 12:54 PM on October 7, 2010


Yeah, bicyclefish, there wasn't much about relationships in there. Reminded me though: I know a lot of people go into the therapist and lead with "I'm the best at (skill)! I can do (skill) and (skill) so well, blah blah blah." Then the tears start, and none of that stuff matters anymore.

That's what his article reminded me of -- a long visit to the therapist. It starts with talk about how well he saved himself from his predicament, then thrived, then eventually worked around to the fact that everything felt meaningless.

Which sucks to read for 90% of the population, because they are convinced that they will one day reach the point with their chosen skillset where they are so good at it that they really are worth something. That it might end up with "oh, that was actually incorrect, and I'm still depressed" is crushing.

(And I include myself with that group...sigh)
posted by circular at 1:02 PM on October 7, 2010


Megan McArdle is a self-promoting hack who isn't very good at economics.

I'm sure there are valid reasons to critique McArdle, but that wasn't worth reading. Her father benefited from taxpayer spending? She criticized an article that was written by that Alternet poster? She has a conflict of interest by means of writing about "her future-fiancee's ex-employer"?

Christ, engage with her ideas instead of weird ad hominem attacks and stretched connections between her and other organizations.
posted by ripley_ at 2:32 PM on October 7, 2010


Megan McArdle is a self-promoting hack who isn't very good at economics.

Well there's not really a lot of incentive for her to do better. So long as Caitlin Flanagan still draws breath, McArdle will always be only the second-worst writer employed by the Atlantic.
posted by Rangeboy at 3:56 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


this is just beautiful, thanks
posted by nervousfritz at 7:31 PM on October 7, 2010


the words are all jumbled up after a while and I stopped getting it, I'll trudge on, maybe it's some kind of mistake
posted by nervousfritz at 7:39 PM on October 7, 2010


Our own Mutant could wipe the floor with her, and the fact that HE (or someone equally talented) isn't writing for the Atlantic is an indictment of its current quality.

Mutant's real writing probably doesn't come cheap. What we see here is mere crumbs. The Atlantic can't afford him.
posted by yesster at 7:59 PM on October 7, 2010


I was a kid in San Diego in that era, so it was an eyeopener to see how differently the writer lived from my family. Thanks for sharing.
posted by dragonplayer at 8:24 PM on October 7, 2010


I was around there not long after this, dragonplayer. Went to school at San Diego High and often took my lunches at City College next door. In the years before Horton Plaza was a high-end shopping mall, downtown SD was a beat place. (There's a song called "Walk the Beat" by a very early '80s punk/new wave band called the Penetrators that really sums up the dull dead streets of that era, with bored sailors walking around and old people waiting to die.)

This is a wonderfully written and sad article. I don't really want to hear what happened to him, either -- or what, exactly, he was like before all this.
posted by kenlayne at 9:18 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Being 60 in 1977 was different from being 60 in 2010, I think.

Boomers hadn't discovered just how cool aging really was. Now we know.
posted by codswallop at 11:41 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Being 60 in 1977 was different from being 60 in 2010, I think.

My grandfather retired early to Florida at 62 in 1975. Because he didn't think he had a lot of years left in him. (Lived to 90, of course.)
posted by smackfu at 6:41 AM on October 8, 2010


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