When I first moved to Washington, DC, I rented a reasonably priced studio apartment a few blocks from the Metro. I had no job at the time and was living off the cruel joke I referred to as my savings. In the evenings, lacking anything better to do, I used to head south, down Connecticut Avenue, to a neighborhood known as Kalorama and stare into the windows of the handsome, single-family town houses, wondering what went on in those well-appointed rooms. What would it be like to have not only your own apartment but an entire building in which you could do whatever you wanted? I'd watch a white-haired man slipping out of his back brace and ask myself what he'd done to deserve such a privileged life. Had I been able to swap places with him, I would have done so immediately. One evening I passed by a house, the kitchen brightly lit--the bare windows permitting me a view of the interior. Inside were a host of Asians, who I imagined to be Chinese. They were all dressed in white. I thought, how odd that the family all dresses in the same white attire. Only after some moments did it dawn on me that the Chinese people dressed in white were not the residents of the house. They were hired cooks preparing a feast of a dinner party for the real home owners. That should give you an idea of the lifestyle of people who live in Kalorama.
I'd never devoted much time to envy while living in Philadelphia, but there it had been possible to rent a good-size apartment and still have enough money left over for a movie or a decent cut of meat. To be broke in Washington was to feel a constant, needling sense of failure, as you were regularly confronted by people who had not only more but much, much more. Indeed, though my apartment in Philadelphia was about the same size as my Washington apartment, the rent was about half as much. In Washington, in the early 1980s my daily budget was a quickly spent ten dollars, and every extravagance called for a corresponding sacrifice. If I bought a hot dog on the street, I'd have to make up that money by eating eggs for dinner or walking fifty blocks to downtown Washington rather than taking the Metro. The newspaper was fished out of trash cans, section by section, and I was always on the lookout for a good chicken-back recipe. Across town, in Petworth, the graffiti was calling for the rich to be eaten, imprisoned, or taxed out of existence. Though it sometimes seemed like a nice idea, I hoped the revolution would not take place during my lifetime. I didn't want the rich to go away until I could at least briefly join their ranks. Someday I would be able to afford a host of Asian cooks to prepare a dinner party for me, in formal attire, in my private home in Kalorama. The money was tempting. I just didn't know how to get it. More than twenty years later, I still live in the same studio apartment in Cleveland Park. Fortunately, it's rent-controlled. I'm now independently wealthy, in a sense. I receive a monthly check from the U.S. government that allows me to live without working. I live on my Social Security disability income. I'm a member of the idle poor.