Norman Garmezy, a developmental psychologist and clinician at the University of Minnesota, met thousands of children in his four decades of research. But one boy in particular stuck with him. He was nine years old, with an alcoholic mother and an absent father. Each day, he would arrive at school with the exact same sandwich: two slices of bread with nothing in between. At home, there was no other food available, and no one to make any. Even so, Garmezy would later recall, the boy wanted to make sure that “no one would feel pity for him and no one would know the ineptitude of his mother.” Each day, without fail, he would walk in with a smile on his face and a “bread sandwich” tucked into his bag.
The book was Dream of the Red Chamber, also known as The Story of the Stone, written by Cao Xuequin. The critic Anthony West called it “one of the great novels of world literature … to the Chinese as Proust is to the French or Karamazov to the Russians”.
But for the sort of reader who can wait for a fire to get roaring, who can live with a cat who refuses to sit in your lap — in short, a reader who enjoys a house in winter — there are the rewards of beauty and humanity in “Weathering.” So many of the characters, worn down by a life of disappointments, feel as Luke does when, after fruitlessly digging in his garden for ancient coins, he tells Pepper: “In the end you have to let it go.” But one senses that Wood feels differently, as does Pepper. She looks at the old man as he stares despondently into his drink. “Why?” she asks him, an innocent and startling demand. “Why do you?” Why indeed?
For one thing, lower-income people behave more consistently as consumers than more affluent ones. Poorer people tend to value a dollar more consistently, irrespective of the context. It is not simply that those with less money pinch more pennies; it is that they are compelled to value those pennies in absolute rather than relative terms.
Whereas the well-off may dabble in frugality, necessity makes the poor experts in it. To them, a dollar has real tangible value. A dollar saved is a dollar to be spent elsewhere, not merely a piece of token accounting.
The customs officer at Changi Airport in Singapore gestured at my girlfriend’s suitcase as it rolled out from the X-ray machine. He repeated his question for a third and final time: “Are you sure you don’t have anything in your bag that you’d like to tell us about?”
By now, panic had spread across my girlfriend’s face. If we confessed to what was in there, we would be in trouble. If we didn’t and they searched her bag, things would only be worse.
To me, the greatest tragedy of the store’s end is not that the neighborhood is losing another beloved longtime business, and a piece of its living history, but that Contant and McCoy, who are now both in their seventies, are losing, under dismal circumstances, the jobs they’ve held for nearly four decades.