Getting us cheap

A few years ago, if you were making just a breath over $20 an hour, you could consider yourself lower-middle class if your husband made at least as much. You had your Valentine's Day dinner at Applebee's, but both your cars ran. In some sections of the country, you were middle-class.

Of course, you said you were middle-class, and you say it now. Almost all Americans say they're middle-class if they sleep indoors.

There have been raises for a number of us over the past few years, but something doesn't feel right. Everything seems shaky, and there's a financial flutter in your gut all the time. One misstep, one more hike in your property taxes, one merger, and you'll never see the inside of the Applebee's again unless you're waiting tables.

I think it started with Stormy Daniels.

It probably reflects my upbringing on the generic toilet paper level of society, but I had trouble keeping up with the news because they kept saying former president and current convicted felon Donald Trump bought her silence for $130,000.

“That's it?” I'd say every time a news anchor said. “A hush money payment of $130,000? That's what you get for that?”

I used to work in a hotel laundry. The job paid $3.35 an hour. Do you know what you have to handle if you work in a hotel laundry? I do, and we were underpaid by maybe $130,000 a year.

Some people can leave a job like that for a better job and convince themselves that the co-workers they left behind are a bunch of baboons who deserve to be overworked and poor, and some people can remember their co-workers as dirt-smeared, sweat-bathed people who worked through hopelessness, and could still joke on their breaks.

I'm the second kind of person, which is why I see Stormy Daniels as a work sister, the kind of woman who might have given me a cigarette when we were on our last break of the day and my pack was empty.

“Yeah,” she'd have said. “I've got one, honey. I hope you don't mind menthol.”

She wouldn't have said it like she was flirting, and I wouldn't have minded menthol at all.

I bet she doesn't have any of the $130,000 left, either, and she's still working.

And she's 45 years old. I saw that, too, in the days when I worked with my arms and my back and my shoulders. I worked physical labor jobs, and I worked with men who were getting too old for the work, but they couldn't find anything else, so they waited for Social Security with the patience of cattle and with nearly the same future.

And $130,000 won't change your life.

In most places, $130,000 won't buy you a house, and it wouldn't when she got the money, either.

So, how do you spend that money? Do you spend $13,000 a year for 10 years? Do you spend it all at once? If you invest it with a professional, you could draw maybe $400 a month in income.

It's not much money, is it, no matter how you imagine it.

They got Stormy Daniels cheap, the same way they got me from time to time in a lifetime of work.

I've had my hands in the dirty laundry. I've wiped the sweat out of my eyes and thought about my break in 20 minutes and the end of the shift in three hours.

And I'd get a can of Sprite out of the vending machine and sit on a molded orange plastic chair and take my break.

“I've got one, honey,” she'd say. “I hope you don't mind menthol.”

No one talks about Stormy Daniels and how little she was paid. No one talked about us in the laundry room, either. Why the heck would they?

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