There were so many things I could’ve written about this week, like the fantastic new Bookmarks bookstore in downtown Winston-Salem or about the woman at Sephora who asked if I was there “to do something about my eyebrows” (I was not) or about how much profanity one can use when your upstairs neighbor aggressively vacuums before breakfast. (REALLY, TODD? REALLY?!)
But then I saw a Facebook post from Noel and Shane Pauley, a Georgia couple who have gone viral because of their dopey hashtagged date night, one that made me raise one of my massive, tangled eyebrows and shout “Really?” for the first time since the dude upstairs stopped Dyson-ing each individual carpet fiber.
Last Friday, the Pauleys posted a picture of themselves grinning in front of their local Goodwill after deciding that they’d do something “hysterical” — Noel’s word — and buy clothes for each other in the store. The couple said they’d each spend $10 bucks, then go out in public in their new outfits and “act like it was completely normal!” After they selected each other’s casual separates, they went to Longhorn Steakhouse and probably both ripped their rotator cuffs trying to pat themselves on the back, because OMG THEY WOULDN’T EVER REALLY BUY CLOTHING AT GOODWILL, THAT’S THE JOKE!
I’m not one of the 290,000 people who gave them a virtual thumbs up on Facebook, because I don’t think this is cute or clever or adorable. Their toothy selfies should be distributed as a cautionary tale for what white privilege looks like: It’s playing dress-up in second-hand clothes before you cut into a ribeye, giggling to yourself about how you’d never really wear something like that, and there’s no way you’d ever reduce yourself to wearing someone else’s hand-me-downs, ugh!
“We were hoping someone might think we were pitiful and buy our dinner, but no such luck,” Noel commented on her own blog post about their night out, which couldn’t have been more insensitive if she’d just written “Someone might’ve mistaken us for one of the poors!” LOL, LOL, LOL, amirite?!
“It just seems like, to do this, you’ve never had your options so limited that you could only shop at Goodwill,” Sarah Howell, the associate minister of worship and missions at Centenary United Methodist, told me. “They can’t relate to people who are seen by and ridiculed by broader society, because they can change out of those outfits when they get home. Other people have external markers of their poverty and their social status that they can’t just take off.”
In one of the previous paragraphs, Pauley said that people “snickered” at them as they walked into the restaurant and, although some of the other diners might’ve glanced toward their table between bites of overcooked calamari, “NO ONE said a word to us about our outfits.” That clearly says more about the other Longhorn customers than it says about the Pauleys themselves — and it also sort of implies that if Noel and Shane saw a couple wearing similarly unfashionable or outdated outfits, they’d lock eyes, lean across the smudged wooden table and say something like, “Well somebody had a big day at Goodwill.”
What the Pauleys don’t seem to understand is that a lot of people do the Goodwill Challenge every day, without the hashtags or the smug sense of superiority. Their LIVES are an effing Goodwill challenge — and it’s not for laughs, to entertain each other, or a cute idea for going viral on the internet.
According to the 2015 US Census, there are some 43.1 million Americans who live below the poverty line, millions of people whose lives involve trying to find something for themselves or for their kids to wear for 10 bucks — the equivalent of 90 minutes worth of minimum wage work — and they aren’t stopping for steaks on their way home either.
“We only have a great marriage because we put our relationship with Jesus Christ first and let Him tell us how to live and love,” Pauley wrote as a disclaimer at the end of her blog post. Oh, right. I’ve skipped Sunday School since about 1992, but I totally remember that time Jesus and the disciples went to Outback while they all slummed it in last season’s shrouds. (Jesus does love a Bloomin’ Onion.)
Yes, the Pauleys are outspoken Christians whose blog header says they’ve been “called to follow Jesus,” and apparently He only shops at the Gap. “John the Baptist wore camel hair and probably got the same weird looks that these kids got,” Howell said. “But he wasn’t wearing it ironically. It was a sign of being separated from high society and a sign of poverty. He was showing his solidarity and prophetic witness. That’s a very different approach.”
Again, my religious beliefs are limited to the Eternal Church of David Bowie, but even I understand the disconnect between their #GoodwillDateNight and all of those neatly typed New Testament allegories.
If you’ve seen the Pauleys’ posts and want to have a date night that involves secondhand clothes, maybe you could volunteer at a local clothing closet and meet some of the real people who benefit from those services in your community. Or if you feel like you know a thing or two about fashion, then maybe challenge yourselves to pick four or five items out of each other’s closets to donate, possibly to one of the organizations that provide clothing to those who need something nice to wear for their job interviews. (Surprisingly, Noel Pauley’s Facebook page has a section where she’s selling some of her old clothes, and that sound you just heard was both of my eyeballs ricocheting off the back of my own skull). If you want to enjoy dinner together, the two of you can help serve a meal at a homeless shelter. It seems like volunteering to help those who are less fortunate would feel better than chewing a chain-restaurant steak and spending two hours pretending to be “pitiful.”
You might not go viral — and you’re not going to have a cutesy hashtag — but you’ll be better for it. And people like me can get back to writing about that new bookstore and our own overgrown eyebrows. You’re welcome.