3 TVs and No Food: Growing Up Poor in America

Yesterday around noon, I met a woman who was going to sing at a funeral later in the afternoon.  I asked who had passed.  She said, kind of matter-of-factly, “It was my friend’s son.  He was shot.  We have a lot of killin’s round here.”  She lives roughly 15 miles from my house.

Today I stopped by my friend Neng’s place. (You might remember him, the Montagnard refugee who lived in the woods for seven years, and sometimes had to eat squirrels and birds.) I was bringing Neng some hot peppers, donated by my friend Lawrence. I knocked, and when he opened the door, he said, “No food ma’am! Need go bank. Food stamps no work. Two weeks.” We drove over to Compare Foods, at the corner of Summit and Bessemer.  Neng likes to go into the store and shop alone, so I sat in the car.

As I looked around, it didn’t look anything like the parking lot of The Fresh Market on New Garden, where I got my strawberries on sale this weekend.  The parking lot of Compare Foods was a literal sea of poverty.  It was about 5:30 pm, so lots of folks coming and going. Broken down, old cars, ragged clothes, even the way people walked… so different, more stooped, somehow.  Defeated.

To begin to understand, take a look at this New York Times article on poverty – published 4 days ago. Heartbreak.  These are the people I saw today at Compare Foods.  And they are the woman in whose neighborhood “There are a lot of killin’s.”

3 TVs and No Food: Growing Up Poor in America

Remember the words to the old Elvis Presley song, “In the Ghetto?”  Ringing in my ears.


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