05/24/2012 05:02 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Letter From a 'Nouveau Pauvre'


Since the Four Horsemen of My Apocalypse (1. Cheney, and his sock puppet, Bush; 2.The Big Banks; 3. Big Pharma; and 4. America's Military Industrial Complex, for whom even Cheney served as a sock puppet) flushed America's and, very nearly, the planet's economy into the toilet (and the jury's still out), I have become, increasingly, acquainted with poverty. The new poverty. (There's a poetic allusion in that last line, to Frost: poem appended, at the very end of this column.)

And I am so very, very not-alone in my diminished, and diminishing, circumstances. I hear from formerly-middle-or-close-to-it-class friends, the world over, regularly: we have become poor; we are in debt; we expect no uptick in our lifetimes, and even, our children's, if we have them, lifetimes.

In Teaneck, N.J., alone, where I live at present (beached, as it were), fully half the town's businesses have closed. And a goodly portion of those still open -- diners that haven't lifted their faces since the '70s, tiny shops trying to make a go of it peddling lattés or frozen yogurt, the sole local cinema (unheated this past winter), second-hand clothing shops, hair-dressers -- are empty. Empty all day long. Their owners may still be manning the tills, but we all know many of the businesses have long been up for sale, and there are no buyers interested.

Occasionally, I think back to the 1980s, the last decade when I can honestly say I worked myself to a frazzle, and made pots of money for my pains -- in Europe, of all places -- and I hardly recognize, in memory, the young woman that I was.

I wore numerous hats back then (as there were numerous hats offered me): publisher, editor, advertising copywriter, model, high-level tutor, private secretary, movie extra, working (her-ass-off) print journalist (and I know I'm omitting some other hats I'll remember the moment this essay posts).

Thing is, too, all my hats were gorgeous.

Practically rent-free, I house-sat for expat friends in their posh Athenian apartment, wore clothes made in Paris (I still have them), had my hair (fire-engine-red) attended to weekly, along with my nails; waxed every last hair off my body every two weeks; had standing appointments for massages, Pilates and Yoga; and spent every spare moment of every vacation at some fabulous, elite, secluded, new-to-me destination in Greece ... or reading ephemera beside the Hilton swimming pool (I was a member; no inexpensive proposition).

I knew life was good. And, back then, I failed to see the '80s and '90s as any sort of burgeoning bubble, the summer before the nuclear winter to come.

I did get out of Greece, out of Europe entirely, while the getting out was good, though not through any sort of prescience: my mother fell ill in America, and I went home to care for her. But, every year, and sometimes twice a year, I returned like a swallow, to nest, temporarily, in Greece, my true homeland.

Until this year.

This year, I have nothing further to sell to finance a visit to Greece.

This year, the Greece I knew is, in fact, really no longer "receiving" many visitors but the swallows.

One of the Nouveaux Pauvres (well, the French would have a name for it already, wouldn't they?), I am becoming acquainted with ... the night; the dark at the end of the tunnel.

Until recently, very recently, I was one of the unemployed-no-longer-looking-for-work, but I have changed that status over the course of the past month. Almost two years ago, I was all but fully employed as a teacher of Iyengar-style yoga, with some 200 students. The Depression (Recession, my ass!) ate most of the yoga studios hereabouts, and their students. But still, I apply for positions here and there: positions that might earn me a little gas money, but certainly not pay my health insurance, which comes out of savings, month in and month out.

I also continue writing and publishing, though money has nothing to do with either of those activities.

Yoga. Writing. Both have become avocations pure as the driven snow; not sullied by lucre, either incoming or outgoing.

And I read. Because the only true solace, for those of us who were once "Blessed by Mammon," in these current times of Austerity (who the hell comes up with these terms, I ask you?!), is that rendered by philosophy, by poetry, by the yoga sutras, by the wingéd words of friends, sent out via the Internet ... virtual, and virtually for free.

I do not claim to be keeping a stiff upper lip. I do not claim to believe it doesn't matter that schoolchildren have no new clothes, no new toys, not even new books, or books at all. I do not like the New Poverty. Not one bit.

But neither, I think, did Robert Frost "like" the night, like being "one acquainted with the night."

It's just something he found, one day, he had to acquaint himself with. And, thank God, he chose to write about it, in glorious terza rima ... and help me here, some 84 years farther down the dark and winding road.

"Acquainted with the Night"

by Robert Frost

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain--and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
O luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.