Columns

2017.10.18 A poor man in Saginaw

By DAVID GREEN

I have a few recollections of the day I moved to Saginaw in 1972. It was almost exactly 45 years ago.

There was snow on the ground when I moved into the YMCA for temporary housing. I suppose my parents dropped me off with my luggage and bicycle, and I rented a room in the Y.

I was charged $11.40 for a two-day stay, then paid $22.06 for an additional week.

I would be rather astounded if I had actually remembered those numbers. Instead, I came across a notebook last week in which I kept track of expenses. By now, it’s a historical document.

This was a surprise. I don’t recall ever keeping a penny-by-penny tally of expenditures. My guess is that I was prompted by reading Henry David Thoreau’s journals. At Walden, in particular, I remember that he listed his costs as a record of his experience in the little house he built.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

After college, I went to Saginaw deliberately to work in a system of day care centers. I hoped that I wouldn’t die in Saginaw which was then the murder capital of Michigan.

My first week there brought several dime expenditures for telephone calls. I suppose I was trying to rent an apartment. By the end of the first week there’s mention of paying rent, $15. It was the third floor of a family home and I’m amazed that rent was so cheap.

In week two I spent 45¢ for food and 92¢ for “food.” I assume that second listing was something like McDonald’s. I started spending 50¢ a week to buy a New Yorker magazine, but eventually I discovered that I could read it at the library.

My Month One tally—about three weeks—lists total expenditures of $127.43, including $1 for entertainment, $12.16 for food and $2.05 for telephone. Moving on in the book, there’s 45¢ for the Laundromat, 80¢ for two city bus rides and 70¢ for photocopying.

In the second month, entertainment expenses skyrocketed to $2.13, with a notation that I had guests. I even spent $1.10 one day in December on food for guests. I was quite the gracious host, apparently.

December was the month with significant changes in my life. I spent $380 to buy Connie Ries’s VW Bug and that required $114.55 for insurance. I filled up with $3 in gasoline. I remember gas costing 25¢ a gallon at one point during my Saginaw days. I wanted a vehicle because I didn’t like being chased by German shepherds on my way to work, and when it was too snowy to pedal, the dog situation became even worse. The day I was bitten through my gloved hand was the day I started looking for a car.

Dec. 28: paper/pail, $2.06. 

Dec. 29: parking meter, 10¢.

In January I splurged on a Peterson’s bird guide ($5.95), a hair brush ($1.33) and pants ($8.74). I had automotive expenses like crazy: battery charge, oil, brake repair, plug wires, muffler, etc.

I drove to Morenci in March, listing it as entertainment, and later to East Lansing and to Lapeer. In June I had dinner with Chris Price for $5. I must have bought her meal. I recall eating with her at a Chinese restaurant in Saginaw.

I bought a Joni Mitchell album (For the Roses) in July and had $13.78 in medical expenses. I also bought a new pair of glasses for $64.16. That really set me back. I wish the notebook mentioned how much I was being paid for my job of maintaining the lending library of toys and books for the day care system, along with other miscellaneous duties.

There were camera supplies, batik supplies, and more entertainment that involved Chris. There were books, a meditation lesson, a map of Vancouver Island, camping equipment and a “cheap Timex watch” for $13.43.

I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms. – HDT

When I die, Henry, I will know that I have lived and done some marrow sucking, and the two years in my gun-filled Saginaw neighborhood were an essential part of it all.