The blog post was titled “Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or Poverty Thoughts,” by a young woman with the cyber-moniker “KillerMartinis.” (Warning: The post contains some bad language, especially in the comments.) Its first manifestation, apparently, was as a comment to another post, later worked up into a full-fledged cry of the heart on the author’s own blog. From there it went to Gawker, then hit the big time at The Huffington Post. The attention-grabbing title headed up a heart-rending story of a young single mom caught in a grind of multiple jobs, roach-infested motels, a smoking habit, dead-end relationships, and bad teeth. The teeth were emblematic of the rut she was in, because she said they barred her from jobs where appearance mattered, whether as a legal secretary or humble waitress: “Beauty is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that’s how you get the job that you need in order to be beautiful. There isn’t much point trying.”
Her story went viral, as they say. Because so many people offered to help, she set up a GoFundMe page to finance a new start (raising nearly $62,000 so far), including dental work, a vacation, and a book-length project. It’s a touching example of ordinary generosity and the power of the internet—also, perhaps, the chutzpah of one individual whose story appears to be riddled with holes. A little internet digging revealed that Linda Walther Tirado, aka “KillerMartinis,” comes from a privileged background, and even though she may have hit the skids a few times during her young-adult life, she’s now married and things are looking up. And she wears dentures. Protests from skeptics and former admirers led her to post a video in which she takes them out. (“Is This What You Want?” demanded one of her defenders on HuffPo, seeking to shame the naysayers.)
Let’s talk about teeth for a minute. My right front tooth was knocked out when I was 7, and I have since put up with a series of caps that always end up looking snaggly. That’s why I’ve perfected the closed-lipped smile. My husband is the oldest of seven children, almost all of whom inherited their mother’s narrow jaw. Their teeth were so crowded the incisors looked like fangs, but their father’s income could not cover braces for everybody. Recently I saw The Caine Mutiny and noticed Humphrey Bogart’s crooked choppers, which didn’t seem to affect his performance. Or his popularity: When the movie was released in 1954 Bogey was a screen idol.
There’s some overlooked good news here. The reason bad teeth are a detriment now is because so many people can afford to get them fixed now. The reason Linda Tirado can write a viral post about the causes of poverty is because poverty now has causes. Left and right disagree vehemently about what those causes are, but up until about 200 years ago poverty was not “caused”—it was the default condition of most of humanity. And what happened about 200 years ago? An economic system based on freedom that gradually raised the living standard to a point where we have certain expectations. Such as expecting we will never go through hard times. The hopelessness Tirado expressed so eloquently in her original post is not a necessary corollary of poverty in the United States, unless unrealistic expectations make it so. And that leads to terrible decisions, from the government on down.