She stopped me in the parking lot of a convenient store and popped open her trunk, “Does your little girl like Barbie?”
“No, thank you,” I said.
“But look, it’s a great little basket – you have a sand bucket and shovel, some Barbie stickers and paper for writing. Cute, huh? Eight bucks.”
“Hmmmm…we really don’t need it.”
“Okay. I’ll take it.”
I’m from a place where creative ways for a head of a family to make a buck are used by most people I know. Cutting someone’s grass, shoveling some snow, selling make-up, selling left over prescription pills, cutting hair, setting up a flea market booth, having a yard sale, fixing a car, repairing a roof, making and selling jewelry, taking someone’s picture, cleaning someone’s house, giving someone a ride for gas money, betting on a horse, playing pool, grooming someone’s dog, collecting aluminum cans, standing on the corner with a pizza advertisement, working at a food pantry to get the leftovers. You name it, I’ve seen it done, and done a lot of creative stuff myself to make money. And those were in good times.
Now times are less than good – and people have doubled and tripled their creative efforts to make money. I had never been stopped in a convenience store parking lot to buy a cute bucket for kids, nor have I ever seen so many yard sale signs, so many crafts laid out in front yards with “for sale” signs on them (I saw a really cool wooden clubhouse for kids in a yard that had been handmade – but it would have never made it back to Georgia), so many cars for sale in driveways, furniture sitting out with signs on it, and on and on and on and on and on.
It never ceases to amaze me how much hustle people have in them when the cards are down, how they do what they need to do to get food on the table and the rent paid, and how people shift money around from person to person, family to family to help others get food on the table and the rent paid.
My great uncle works in a food pantry and brings extra food to my grandma and her brother – he told me about all the “strangers” suddenly coming for food, not the usual folks who tended to be older and on social security drawing very small monthly checks. “It must really be bad,” he said.
And I think of the Barbie bucket I bought in the parking lot and the signs – dozens and dozens of signs – advertising items and services for sale. Hustlin’ we call it in my family – hustlin’ to make a buck – and so rarely does that hustle happen in the official economy, that one that is above ground, above the table, counted in government statistics and weekly reports. It seems to me more people are hustlin’ out in the open when they used to be more underground. But the underground economy is sagging too, so the creative efforts are coming out from everywhere. These are folks who have either rejected the official economy because of the devastatingly low wages (I mean, really, does anyone think you can feed yourself, much less a family, on $7.00 an hour?), bullshit red tape (have you applied for jobs lately? nearly everything – even foodservice – requires online applications), humiliating drug tests (does anyone really think that someone who smokes a joint on the weekend should not be allowed to cook a hamburger on Wednesday?), or have taken up hustlin’ as a second or third job (should it really take two or three jobs to live a modest life?).
But they know their rights, and they know they have the right, and the responsibility, to make money for rent and food, so they do it. And I also know that if the government could tax them on their Barbie bucket sales out of their trunk, it would. And that $5.00 sale, with a cost of items at at least $4.00 would leave a $1.00 profit, a .30 tax, and .70 left for her hustle. Not quite worth it…unless of course .70 is exactly what you need to buy that loaf of bread that will feed your kids half the week.
Reminds me of a verse from a song – Know Your Rights by The Clash:
And Number 2
You have the right to food money
Providing of course you
Don’t mind a little
And if you cross your fingers