Smile Politely

Middle-Class Begging

I love the musical My Fair Lady (which was based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw). There is a scene in which Eliza Doolittle’s father gives a wonderful speech about poverty:

If I was one of the deserving poor, and had put by a bit, I could chuck it; but then why should I, acause the deserving poor might as well be millionaires for all the happiness they ever has. They don’t know what happiness is. But I, as one of the undeserving poor, have nothing between me and the pauper’s uniform but this here blasted three thousand a year that shoves me into the middle class.

Ah, the undeserving poor. Champaign-Urbana is rife with them. But we never see them out on the streets, begging for spare change. Instead, they are cozy in their middle-class homes with their middle-class families. Oh, but they do beg. Middle-class begging is just a little harder to spot.

For example, you have probably, at some time or another, received a postcard in the mail from one of your friends that says something like:

I’m having a Pampered Chef party!
2:00 p.m. Saturday, April 26
123 Anystreet, Champaign

Or, maybe it’s a Lia Sophia jewelry party or Premier Designs or a Creative Memories scrapbooking party, or the age-old classic: Tupperware.

All of these “parties” work the same way. Some middle-class mom wants to go on a vacation or redecorate her living room, but she doesn’t have enough cash. So, she doesn’t walk up and down the streets of Champaign-Urbana, holding up a sign that says, “Need money. Trying to redecorate.” (like any respectable beggar). Instead, she hosts a party and invites all her friends who, of course, attend and are subsequently “guilted” into buying a bunch of junk that they don’t really need but do so because of the obligation to their friend. The party hostess then makes a tidy little profit from all the “commissions” and is able to buy new furniture.

Now, all of my female friends out there (both of you), please forgive me for my apparent sexist slant. My use of feminine pronouns in the preceding paragraph in no way implies that only women are guilty of middle-class begging.

I must confess that I, too, am a middle-class beggar.

We don’t have too many street musicians here in C-U, but jaunt on up to Chicago and you will find them throughout the loop on just about every street corner. You stop a minute and listen to them and if you like their style you throw a buck into their guitar case.

So I do my middle-class begging on the weekends at Papa George Restaurant, playing the piano and hoping people throw a dollar or two in my big brandy snifter. It’s really no different than what street musicians do except I’m inside and better dressed.

But I’m still a middle-class beggar.

What about you? Have you seen any examples of middle-class begging in our community? Or maybe you, yourself, are a middle-class beggar.

I am interested in hearing about other forms of this peculiar phenomenon, so post a comment a let me know about your experiences with middle-class begging.

I am,

Your Humble Heretic

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