It doesn’t always pay to be pretty.
Carla Paige recounts bussing home from work, off her feet for the day. She barely sits back in her seat good when a lady leans over and says, “You’re so pretty. You look like Diana Ross.”
Paige hears this more times than she can count — svelte and petite, dark-chocolate skinned with features that, indeed, are easy on the eyes. She’s patient with this nice, well-meaning lady who proceeds to cheerfully interrogate her for cosmetic tips, what kind of foundation Paige puts on, things like that.
At length, the admirer departs. Paige, though flattered, is relieved. She’d love to have Diana Ross’ money. Instead she just went off shift at Catholic Eldercare in Northeast Minneapolis as a certified nursing assistant and is headed for her South Minneapolis apartment.
Catholic Eldercare, a 25-year-old nonprofit, does for seniors when they can no longer quite do for themselves. Among other services, it offers skilled nursing care, independent living assistance, help with assisted living and an adult day program.
Providing such care was something that struck Paige close to home. Personal experience moved her to go into it as a line work. “Taking care of my mom,” she recalls, “when she got diagnosed with cancer. It made me feel, by my taking care of her, that [I could make] my services useful to other elderly people. It makes me feel good about myself in taking care of others.”
Paige moved to Minneapolis from her native Gary, Indiana because, tough as times are here, they’re worse, she says, back home. “There’s no jobs there. It’s bad. Nothing but drugs and killing.”
When her mom passed away and her grandmother died soon after, there was nothing to keep her in Gary. Between violent surroundings and the trauma of personal loss, “It was too much to bear.” So, she packed her bags and pulled up stakes.
At 39, Paige lives a modest life, single with kids who’re grown and on their own. Between her paycheck, food stamps, and SSI for a medical condition, she keeps it together, riding out the recession that officially was over more than a year ago.
Paige doesn’t drive, so she’s not bothered about car insurance or the criminal price of gas. She saves on bus fares by including a monthly card in her budget instead of paying piecemeal. She covers the rent, telephone, utilities and, by being careful where she shops, food.
“I pick and choose more than I used to. I used to make my purchases at the Mall of America. Today, it’s thrift stores. Sometimes it’s the clothing shelf at a community center or church.”
It’s the same for cosmetics to keep up her appearance, something many women would not call a luxury. “A lady has to take care of how she looks,” Paige says. “It’s a necessity.” While the top-shelf products advertised in Essence and Vogue are out of the question, she does well with what she can afford.
“I go straight to the dollar store. There’s a good selection of things — foundation, eyeliner, lipstick. They work.” Judging by the attention she attracts, that’s an understatement.
Paige doesn’t do a lot of running around at clubs and, for that matter, isn’t real big on dating. Not for lack of opportunity. She’s just leery, which is quite understandable.
Some women, before the recession, considered hooking up with a man as a career option. Getting married, shacking up, being a girlfriend — one way or another, depending on him to provide. These days, it’s even more so a viable means to financial ends.
Not for this gal. She has a streak of independence as wide as the day is long. “If you take their money,” Paige states, “you have to take their mess. I don’t go through what some women do, [their] trouble with men, the controlling, the abuse issues. There’s a lot of domestic [problems]. That’s not for me.”
She does her relaxing at home. Accordingly, her entertainment dollar goes farther. She often contents herself with fixing a snack and popping a flick in the DVD player. “I watch movies like American Gangster, Casino, Goodfellas. For lighter fare, she’ll put on an installment of the Rush Hour franchise, an avid fan of both Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.
She does get out of the house now and then to socialize with friends. Ultimately, though, holding down the bottom line takes precedence over having fun.
She likes the job our president is doing with the economy. “Obama just got in there, and in two years has done more than Bush did with two whole terms.” She adds a comment on the president’s progress against global terrorism: “Bush couldn’t even find Bin Laden. It took Obama to come in and find him. If he runs for reelection, I think he’ll win again.”
Meanwhile, Carla Paige gets along making the best of things. Including enduring ardent admiration from strangers as she makes her way home at the end of the day.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.