For many Poles, there's simply no money left over for a movie
Warsaw — Mrs. Z, a Warsaw housewife, last visited a hairdresser a year ago, just before her 10th wedding anniversary.
That was also the last time she and her husband went to a theater. They haven't seen a movie for a year.
Several million Poles can tell a story like the one Polityka published last month about Mr. and Mrs. Z and their two small daughters.
''Their average spending for culture, education, sports, and recreation - as these things are listed in the statistical yearbook - amounted to 40 zlotys,'' the weekly's writer noted. ''It's what they pay for radio and TV.''
These days life for low-income Polish families is an unremitting effort to make ends meet. They must contend with rationing and constant shortages - and pockets are drained to the last groszen by the higher prices instituted Feb. 1 as a first step toward a realistically based economy.
Mr. Z, who works in a design office, was chosen for the Polityka survey as a typical four-person family man. Unlike many Polish women, his wife does not have a job. She stays home to care for the two girls, age 31/2 and 9.
For the first seven years of their marriage, the Z's lived with her mother. It was cramped, as they all lived in a single room of 26 square meters. But they were saving money to furnish their own place. They got a two-room flat three years ago.
Their February income, including allowances, was 13,392 zlotys ($170 at the official exchange rate, but comparison in Western terms is pointless). Before the end of the shortest month of the year, they were 500 zlotys overspent, and they had simply paid their rent and heating bills and bought food.
They borrowed 1,000 zlotys from mother to get by, since Mr. Z's ''13th month'' bonus was due and they could repay the loan.
Meat rationing is tight, but most Poles do get their quota now. For the Z family, that means 300 grams daily. One February day, Mrs. Z got a pound of the best Polish ham, which is hard to find. By giving the children only one slice a day, it lasted them a week.
The month's meat took nearly 3,000 zlotys; milk, bread, butter (rationed), potatoes, and other vegetables another 2,500. Fruit took 650. ''Just imagine,'' Mrs. Z said, ''only six or seven apples for two small children each week.''
Mr. and Mrs. Z do not drink alcohol. They do buy fruit juice, which is 40 zlotys a bottle.
In February they bought nothing extra for the girls, no clothes or shoes. Mr. Z nominally has 200 zlotys ''for himself.'' Last month he spent them on food items available through his office. ''I bought only three newspapers,'' he said.
Students, too, are finding the budgeting rough. Only about 1 in 3 qualifies for a stipend that does not exceed 1,800 zlotys a month.
For a shared room in a Warsaw University dormitory and a daily meal - to which they contribute half their meat ration (after buying it themselves) - they pay almost 1,000 zlotys a month. Costs of bus fares and minimal essentials on the private market pile up. Toothpaste is 300 zlotys, stockings are 600, and shoes (if they can be found) can run up to 2,000.
A group of students spent an evening debating ''what we might do without.'' After combing budgets on a ''you use your vodka (or some other) coupon for this, and I'll use mine for that'' basis, the minimum necessities still totaled 7,000 zlotys a month. That equals the average monthly wage here.
Students are not permitted to have jobs. But many, whose parents are not able to help them much, can get by only by tutoring or by baby-sitting.
They are very serious about their studies. They are much more concerned about what they see as too much official jargon about ''youth problems'' and too little action or understanding than they are about politics or their own material difficulties. ''They (the authorities) can't communicate often even with their own children,'' one remarked with feeling.
Talking with them quickly reveals their frustrations about their limited prospects. Polish medical schools are good, for example, but a student asks, ''Who wants to be a doctor on half the pay of an office-block cleaner?''
The major concern is how long martial law will preclude foreign travel, especially westward. They are very bitter about this.
''Ninety-five percent of this young generation is very patriotic,'' a young woman student says passionately. ''Many of us have been to Western countries, and we feel ashamed when we see young people there who don't have greater intelligence than ourselves but can express themselves and make full use of their abilities.
''We don't want to escape from here to be a nobody in a strange country, we want to do something here.''
The authorities would do well to catch this mood.