“Upper Middle Classhole,” by Alec Carvlin

Mar 28th, 2018 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

“Mommy, Daddy, are we middle class?” My eyes sparkled with hope.

“Yes, dear,” they answered. “We are.” And then we went out for ice cream to celebrate the fact that we could afford it.

That’s how I imagined the interaction playing out, anyway. In reality, they scoffed and entered into a passive-aggressive line of questioning.

“Who told you to ask that and why do they want to know?”

This as if my parents’ finances were actually of interest to the other members of my first grade class.

“Oh, little Timmy is writing a research paper on the socioeconomic diversity of families in New Jersey’s 23rd school district and needs additional data points. Care to contribute?”

Even then they wouldn’t have given me a straight answer.

“You tell this “Timmy” that it’s none of his damned business, but that if he must know, people in our tax bracket are still jealous of Bill Gates.”

That was about as much as you’d get out of them. Talking about money just wasn’t allowed in our house. It was uncouth, like smelling something rancid at a black-tie event and demanding to know who farted. But these were social intricacies that were lost on the mind of a 6 year-old boy, deeply mired as I was in the demographic of quasi-humans devoted to the doctrine of the disgusting. I suppose it’s unsurprising, then. that I took their trepidation and boiled it down to a simple case of “he who denied it supplied it.” They refused to answer, therefore, we are middle classFine by me. Being anywhere but the middle seemed to call attention to oneself, and I was already catching enough bad press for the corduroy pants and quarter-zip sweaters my parents insisted on sending me to public school in. Middle class it is.


“You aren’t middle class—you’re rich!”

This charge was leveled on me in the third grade by a boy named Brian who had come over for a play-date the previous weekend.

“No I’m not,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest. I was indignant, likely the result of my red-blooded rhetoric of the past three years being uprooted and ridiculed. But I was also confused—Brian and I had played with Legos, not Fabergé eggs. And he was always the one with the cool lunches, whipping out Gushers and Fruit Roll-Ups and Lunchables when all I had were bags of local, organic celery sticks and homemade artisan PB&Js; truly disgusting shit. So where was he getting the idea that I was wealthy?

“You live in a mansion,” he cried, opening his arms and turning to the gathering crowd. “With a pool!”

“So do you!” I shot back. It was true—when my mother and I had picked him up for the play-date, the building he was standing outside of was big—almost half the size of my own house—and had a fenced-in pool in the back yard.

Brian brayed with laughter.

“You idiot. I live in a duplex!”

These words burned into my psyche, despite the secret expressions of solidarity whispered at me in the halls like, “I have a pool too” or “I never heard of a duplex neither.” And I was forced me to revisit my sense of self the only way I knew how—by asking someone else.

“Mommy, Daddy, are we middle class?” This time around, my eyes were sullen, devoid of hope or sparkle.

“Sure,” they answered.

“Then why don’t we live in a duplex?”

“Ah, well… we’re more upper middle class.”


The term upper middle class is a bit of a misnomer, as it refers to an income range above the limit of the actual middle class. That being said, the more literal distinction, lower upper class, sounds fucking stupid. And maybe that’s why “Mommy” and “Daddy” didn’t answer the first time around. Or that their classification of “still jealous of Bill Gates” was as accurate as they could get. That’s probably a cop-out, though. When it comes to the titan of American capital, social and otherwise, who among us isn’t jealous?

I don’t know why I wanted so desperately to be in the middle class, but fortunately, things have changed. That is, a week ago, my mother finally opened up about how much she makes.

“$2,000 a day? Are you fucking kidding me, mom?!”

Currently I’m clamoring to be back in the upper middle class, where ethical questions about estate tax are easier to answer and my attendance at Occupy Wall Street rallies isn’t quite so ironic. Then again, none of that money is mine until after they die, and both of my parents are in fairly good health. Annoying right? Especially since, in the meantime, the clock is ticking; two months from now my savings will be gone and I’ll be cut off, leaving me to ask, both hopeful and hopeless, “Mommy, Daddy, am I lower class?”


Alec Carvlin wants to do everything, but has currently settled for writing essays. From time to time he also posts on his incredibly uninvolved blog, Notes From my Phone (aleccarvlin.com/blog), and on twitter (@AlecCarvlin). He graduated from Dartmouth College with a BA in Classical Studies, and regrets nothing.

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