Posts Tagged ‘class differences’


October 11, 2011

My skin feels grimy at the end of the night in St. Louis. We moved to the city just six weeks ago. My husband and I are returning from an evening at a microbrewery. We pull up in front of our house. Like everyone else, we park on the street. Our two-car garage sits empty in the back. Sally, the neighborhood matriarch, hollers at me. We’ve got pizza! She’s sitting on a porch swing near a screen broadcasting the end of a Cardinals game. It’s 10:30 Friday night and half of the block is gathered on their lawn.
They are always, cooking in there, says one neighbor, swirling a glass of red wine, tilting it toward the house. They are always drinking too. Cans of Busch-lite or glasses of red box-wine. A family member presses a cold can into my palm even when I insist I don’t want one. Some of Sally’s kids or assorted relations, we haven’t figured out which, live on this street. They replace each other’s roofs and are remodeling Sally’s kitchen. The grandkids or neighbors ride bikes up and down the sidewalks. Recently, Sally has been working ten or twelve hour shifts at a doctor’s office that has added new practices, but no extra staff.
I am not sure what her husband does, a mammoth man anchoring down the couch or bench in front of the TV. Sally’s daughter, Mary, boasts that for the first time in her life she has moved up in the world. She swallows some wine from a glass and smiles. From waitress to dental receptionist. Her first full time job. She’s thirty-three. Mary wears glasses and a pageboy clipped by her sister-in-law. The front lawn is oily with varying degrees of intoxicated relatives. I think about my own daughters two thousand miles away in Seattle. Both are in graduate school, one is studying to be an architect, the other a microbiologist. Sally says she never imagined she be in this place, with a “real” job. I never imagined being in this place.
She complains too that she has to do the work of two people; she can’t always depend on a paycheck, but reiterates how grateful she is to have had this opportunity to be a receptionist. She’s looking for another job. “Everything happens for a reason,” she says smiling again. I invite Sally and Mary to tour my house. They ooze over everything, the old-fashioned spice chest and telephone cabinet. I cannot tell if it’s feigned or real. I wonder how they see my style. For one thing, when I had my wood floor redone, I used a water-based stain instead of the high-gloss polyurethane that Sally is using in her house. Sally whispers to my husband that my house looks like a showroom. Not a good thing. However, when we return to the living room, Sally lingers over a poster I’ve had framed and mounted above my fireplace. A girl, in sheer saffron robes, draped over a couch. She also notes my other piece of art, a highly popular Klimt. She pauses, rocks on her feet.. At last she says, they look like angels.
Then, out of left field, Sally notifies me she once earned a scholarship to the University of Hawaii. Explains she didn’t go because she was a daddy’s girl. Continues that she been a concert violinist and was offered a job with the symphony. I got married … had children, she says. I couldn’t travel. You make your choices.
I gulp down the last of my beer, think about the five different states I’ve lived in, the people on Sally’s front lawn. Before they go, Sally and Mary regale us with sloshy testimonials. They know Thomas is a minister, but I know they don’t have a clue about Unitarian beliefs. Sally laughs and says if she falls asleep before she finishes her prayers, the angels finish for her. Mary declares, with a look of astonishment, that she prays each morning in the shower. She is still wearing her dental uniform, almost like medical scrubs, even though it’s Friday night. Her teeth are crooked.


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