the great toilet paper war aka lessons in poverty aka why millennials rule

I sat on my bed, in our little shack of a house, counting out the quarters, dimes, nickels, hoping I wouldn’t need the pennies, phone cradled between ear and shoulder. My friend enthused about her new SUV, how it matched her boyfriend’s. The license plate read “HISGIRL” she said, words tumbling out faster than the coins from my change jar. One dollar, two dollars, two-fifty, three…. I needed tampons. “Cool,” I said, continuing to count change.

Even then I was what the government considers “sustainably” poor. Meaning, I had a roof over my head. My children received adequate calories daily. The electricity and hot water worked. Mostly.

But the line between functionally poor and destitute is less a line than a tightrope – one on which I spent a fair amount of time perched, inching one foot, then another, knowing the safety net existed more in theory than practicality. Especially during my college days. The recent… controversy?… at HSU over whether or not the school would provide toilet paper to dorm students reminded me of that time.

Disclosure: I have neither read nor researched the actual story. The situation popped up on my radar in the form of someone saying, “Millennials are soooooo entitled!” and a headline or two flashing by on Twitter. So my thoughts stem from: a.) having been a (“sustainably”) poor person and, b.) being compelled to defend a generation who, in my experience, deserves exactly none of the scorn heaped upon them.

If you’ve never been poor – and I don’t mean the kind of “poor” like you can’t afford to hit up Sushi Spot with your buds, I mean “poor” like the few dollars you get from recycling brown bottles is all that stands between you and being overdrawn – then how can I explain to you? Every penny counts. Do you know how sad it is to count pennies? Pennies are stupid. How are they even still a form of currency? And yet, when it comes to necessities – tampons or toilet paper – those little copper circles can make the difference between being an acceptably, stereotypically poor “starving” college student and actually starving.

Check out the Co-op, Wildberries, Safeway – toilet paper is more expensive than ramen.

Do you know what hating on millennials sounds like? It sounds like every stereotype of every older person criticizing younger people ever. Gen Xers (me) are apparently really whiny. Whatever. I have no idea what happened to Generation Y, perhaps the worst-named generation ever. Did they all become tech billionaires? In any case, here’s what I know about millennials:

  • Everybody wants to be loved by them. THEY ARE VERY IMPORTANT.
  • All the people I know in that demographic care about politics, the world at large, the future, art, beauty and other people. So what if they utilize their phones to express and engage? That’s the tool they’ve been provided.
  • For a generation inundated with news consistently including the refrain “THIS GENERATION WILL BE WORSE OFF THAN THEIR PARENTS STUDENT LOAN DEBT KILLING EVERYONE INCOME INEQUITY INESCAPABLE CLIMATE CHANGE PLANET DOOMED,” they’ve managed to stay pretty fucking optimistic. They should receive kudos for that alone. (Kudos, kids!)
  • They are, as a generation, less homophobic, less racist, less misogynist, more accepting, more open overall than any generation in recent history. THANK YOU, MILLENNIALS.

To mock people for being concerned that the cost of human necessities may interfere with their pursuit of a college education is to boast that one has never suffered such indignities – in other words, you reveal your own ignorance and privilege and might as well embrace Trump as your president like the bratty neonate you are.

To write off the concerns of a population based on their age is to ignore current facts and existing history. The kids deserve applause. We older people know what it’s like to inherit a mess and yet we’ve failed to clean things up. We can’t erase climate change or income inequity any time soon, can’t scoop the plastic out of the ocean or eradicate the racism out of our institutions – like those before us, we’ve left it to the next generation to right things. Only with even less financial security and promise. Given that, a little toilet paper doesn’t seem like so much to provide.

 

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