It doesn’t take much to feel rich

In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a mom is asked why she gives her a kid a cup of coffee it’s just dumped down the sink. It’s their only luxury, the mom says.

Luxury comes from the little things in life
Classic NYC Coffee Shop

Me: So I bought some bathroom tissue.
Her: Do we need any?
Me: Well, no. But they were on sale – 48 rolls for $23.
Her: You bought 48 rolls!?
Me: Well, actually it’s looks like I bought two orders, so 96. (thinking) I could cancel one order.
Her: (laughing)
Me: I’ll cancel one order.

It’s not a bad trade – I get to smell nice all the time, she gets bulk commodities.

Told her recently about how, during grade school, there was always this huge garbage bag fulla pretzels during lunch.

These were big, soft, doughy kinds you get on the street corner except they were cold and soggy.

For $0.25, you could get one after lunch. Usually didn’t have a quarter to buy one but one kid named Scott always bought one. Realized one day that he bought it in lieu of lunch altogether.

I think this is the first time I told any one that. Figured my family didn’t have any scratch either so why rat him out?

In any case, recall that my mom gave me a quarter once so I bought one. It was wet, soggy and dense. But I loved it. I felt rich.

There’s this scene in one of my favourite books where a mother is asked why she pours a cuppa joe for her kid if her kid never drinks it.

The mom replies that they don’t have much of anything. But she can afford to give her kid one cup of cheap coffee to dump down the sink.

Said once that I have more clothes than anyone else I know.

Just got another custom made suit. When I put it on, I immediately remembered the pretzel and laughed. Felt silly. Then I gave my mom a call.

Funny how the mind works, yeah?

“There was a special Nolan idea about the coffee. It was their one great luxury. Mama made a big potful each morning and reheated it for dinner and supper and it got stronger as the day wore on. It was an awful lot of water and very little coffee but Mama put a lump of chicory in it which made it taste strong and bitter. Each one was allowed three cups a day with milk. Other times you could help yourself to a cup of black coffee anytime you felt like it. Sometimes when you had nothing at all and it was raining and you were alone in the flat, it was wonderful to know that you could have something even though it was only a cup of black and bitter coffee.

Neeley and Francie loved coffee but seldom drank it. Today, as usual, Neeley let his coffee stand black and ate his condensed milk spread on bread. He sipped a little of the black coffee for the sake of formality. Mama poured out Francie’s coffee and put the milk in it even though she knew that the child wouldn’t drink it.

Francie loved the smell of coffee and the way it was hot. As she ate her bread and meat, she kept one hand curved about the cup enjoying its warmth. From time to time, she’d smell the bitter sweetness of it. That was better than drinking it. At the end of the meal, it went down the sink.

Mama had two sisters, Sissy and Evy, who came to the flat often. Every time they saw the coffee thrown away, they gave Mama a lecture about wasting things.

Mama explained: ‘Francie is entitled to one cup each meal like the rest. If it makes her feel better to throw it away rather than to drink it, all right. I think it’s good that people like us can waste something once in a while and get the feeling of how it would be to have lots of money and not have to worry about scrounging.’

This queer point of view satisfied Mama and pleased Francie. It was one of the links between the ground-down poor and the wasteful rich. The girl felt that even if she had less than anybody in Williamsburg, somehow she had more. She was richer because she had something to waste. She ate her sugar bun slowly, reluctant to have done with its sweet taste, while the coffee got ice-cold. Regally, she poured it down the sink drain feeling casually extravagant.”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Location: downtown in just a bit
Mood: groggy
Music: waiting At the counter For the man To pour the coffee
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10 replies on “It doesn’t take much to feel rich”

I knew exactly what book you were talking about as soon as you mentioned it! My favorite part is Francie's aunt and the milk delivery horse.

Ha – I know that book backwards and forwards – it's one of my faves. I don't think anything depicts NYC like it does.

This post brought back so many memories for me. I dunno if I already mentioned this, but back in the days when I lived outside the country, I used to envy/hate Americans for being picky and wasteful. And that was me at the age of 8-10 years. By the time we moved here, there was a free lunch program at school which of course my parents enrolled me and my sisters for. And yes, the food was so much better than what we got where I came from but that didn't stop kids from pointing and saying "ewww, you're gonna eat that?" I couldn't help but feel embarrassed for actually liking the food.

Ah, I remember thinking the same thing. At home, I'd eat Chinese food but in school we had burgers, pizza, fries, etc.

Well, not exactly burgers, pizza,and fries, but close approximations of them. And "yes," I liked it too. Everyone needs something to mock about another person, I suppose.

That made me think of not wasting food too. Back then it was hard everyone didn't have enough food. We are lucky now to have plenty of food.
Mentioning about school lunch program… I was on that too and I remember another asian kid who was richer than me said to me that they didn't like me because I was too poor to buy my own food. That was so mean. All I did was quickly glance at him because I thought he was a cute sophomore and I was a little freshman. I loved reading a Tree Grows in Brooklyn too as a kid. I remember she cut a piece of her hair for memory in an envelope I think. By the way bulk toilet roll is common in the burbs but maybe not for the city. You buy bulk from Costco since it is cheaper. Welcome to the shopping style of the burbs.

And that's the main reason why the wife is not happy with me trying to get all that bulk – we live in any NYC apartment and just don't have the room for all the things I really wanna get.

That *is* mean. I wonder if he grew out of that. I don't think I was particularly mean growing up but I think I did have my moments.

I'm glad so many people like that book, it's a classic and one that I think most people should try to read if possible.

When I was a kid, my brother and I got made fun in school of because our parents didn't have much money. We were always wearing clothes from the thrift store, and got into tons of fights over it. We never had money that the other kids had, and resented our parents. My folks were both hard working dedicated people, but the money simply wasn't there.

When I was in junior high, my parents decided to move to a worse part of town to try and get out of debt. I transferred schools, and strangely all of a sudden I was one of the 'richest' kids in school. If you were one of the lucky few that came from a two-parent home, you were a rich kid.

It was a really humbling experience that turned my opinion of how things are upside down. I grew up in a below 60k household, but I've felt rich, knowing that I grew up with so much more than so many, ever since.

I really do think that either I'm the Asian version of you, or you're the white version of me.

That's roughly similar to what happened to us as well. We moved out of this pretty low-income place to a better place but my dad started getting better clients and my mom started working so our life changed for the better pretty fast. But it never really leaves you, I don't think – hence the 48 rolls of bathroom tissue for $23 – but maybe that's a good thing. I'm very appreciative for all i do have now, having not had much when I was younger.

Me too, but my childhood happened in the reverse.
Growing up in elementary and junior high school we were poor but didn't know it, because everyone was poor and I guess my dad made a little bit more money and I felt a little richer than my classmates. But when I reach high school going to an affluent area out of my home when everyone's parents seem to be professionals and spoke English and graduated college or were business owners or took vacations, I felt like a big nobody for being poor. I was afraid to invite friends or classmates over because it was a crappy place unless I knew them really well and I know they won't make fun of me for being poor. Thanks for sharing.

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