Around 2005 or 2006 I was living in Richmond. It was winter. And on this particular evening there was a record cold snap. Was going to fall below zero, which doesn’t happen much in that area. Virginia in general is obsessed with weather for some reason. It snows, sometimes, and it gets dangerously hot, sometimes, which means any time it might snow or might get dangerously hot people make a big deal out of it. So on this particular night, the whole city went into lockdown because of the extreme cold. The news was telling people what kind of precautions to take, and so on.
On this night I was leaving a yoga class at the YMCA and I was headed home and I was waiting for the bus. And while I was waiting for the bus, a guy walked up to me and extended his hand, which had some money, and he asked if I had a place to stay that night. It took me a second to realize what the deal was, but basically, I was dressed in my usual worn clothes and jacket, I happened to have a long scruffy beard, and I was carrying a yoga mat that looked like a bedroll, and this guy thought I was homeless and he wondered if I needed help on this very cold night.
So I told him no thanks, I was fine, and he was suddenly very embarrassed because he must have figured that I was very embarrassed, like I found this situation humiliating. I could just see it in his face, something like: my god, man, sorry I assumed that you were sleeping in the street, forgive me.
And the funny thing was, I didn’t mind at all. To me it was not a big deal and, in addition to making me ponder the dynamics of the situation (Richmond has a very difficult and complicated racial history and this guy was black and I am white and that seemed in the mix, if only because it made me think about how I can subconsciously attach race to class), I thought, “This is a story I will tell people later.”
I thought it was interesting but it in no way made me feel bad. And the reason it in no way made me feel bad, or at least one of the reasons, is because, growing up white, middle class, male, and educated, I never had to worry that people might think I was a bum. Dressing in shitty clothes was never a concern for me. Whatever else my fears might have been, “I hope people don’t think I’m poor” was not one of them. If I was broke, if my clothes were threadbare, well, that meant I was a bohemian, not that I was living in poverty. And that is real luxury right there, as much as a middle class existence itself, maybe.