Sunday, September 18

The Truth of Being Poor

In the wake of Hurricane Fema, which bestowed famine and pestilence on the Katrina ravaged Gulf Cost - many Americans have shown a complete inability to face a sad reality of America's promise of unlimited oppurtunity and prosperity.

Some of us are being left behind.

No, not as in "Left Behind" in the same sense as the popular series of Christian books about the Rapture - Left behind as in abandoned by our fellow citizens, and left to rot and die in decaying inner cities. Fully 14% of American's are living poverty - white and black alike - but exactly what is it that we've tried to do about it?

Over the past several decades the Left has tried to throw money at the problem, while the Right-wing has attempted to blame the poor themselves, claiming that any attempt at government aid is only a method to further "enable" their dependance on those services and funds. Yet, in the wake of Katrina - just like a abusive husband the morning after a particularly violent bender - our so-called Compassionate Conservative President has just delivered a beatiful bouquet of social aid programs that would make even the most staunch welfare-estate Liberal blush.

Will it actually change things? Even and as generous as it appears it's still nothing compared to the corporate welfare he continues to insist on dolling out via tax cuts which continue to heap mountains of debt upon our children. Is it simply throwing good money after bad, and is that reason enough to throw up our hands in frustration?

What we've lost sight of as the blame-game has been played against the poor and helpless by the Right, and the pander-game by the Left, is the fact that we're talking about people - people with dreams just like our own, but hopes that have been tempered and pounded down but their own realities.

Author John Scalzi just may have written the best peice I've ever heard of on what poverty is really about - called "Being Poor". Reading this just might remind of what is it that is truly at stake when President Johnson called for his "War on Poverty" - and also might make us realize just how far we are from winning that

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they're what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there's not an $800 car in America that's worth a damn.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends' houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won't hear you say "I get free lunch" when you get to the cashier.

Being poor is living next to the freeway.

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.

Being poor is wondering if your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn't mind when you ask for help.

Being poor is off-brand toys.

Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.

Being poor is knowing you can't leave $5 on the coffee table when your friends are around.

Being poor is hoping your kids don't have a growth spurt.

Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn't have make dinner tonight because you're not hungry anyway.

Being poor is Goodwill underwear.

Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you.

Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.

Being poor is your kid's school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning.

Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.

Being poor is relying on people who don't give a damn about you.

Being poor is an overnight shift under florescent lights.

Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.

Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.

Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger's trash.

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.

Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a goddamned difference.

Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.

Being poor is not taking the job because you can't find someone you trust to watch your kids.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.

Being poor is not talking to that girl because she'll probably just laugh at your clothes.

Being poor is hoping you'll be invited for dinner.

Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

Being poor is your kid's teacher assuming you don't have any books in your home.

Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.

Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you're not actually stupid.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you're not actually lazy.

Being poor is a six-hour wait in an emergency room with a sick child asleep on your lap.

Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn't bought first.

Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that's two extra packages for every dollar.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't know you made when you were 14 years old.

Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.

Being poor is knowing you're being judged.

Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.

Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.

Being poor is deciding that it's all right to base a relationship on shelter.

Being poor is knowing you really shouldn't spend that buck on a Lotto ticket.

Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.

Being poor is feeling helpless when your child makes the same mistakes you did, and won't listen to you beg them against doing so.

Being poor is a cough that doesn't go away.

Being poor is making sure you don't spill on the couch, just in case you have to give it back before the lease is up.

Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.

Being poor is four years of night classes for an Associates of Art degree.

Being poor is a lumpy futon bed.

Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.

Being poor is seeing how few options you have.

Being poor is running in place.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn't leave.
I don't usually bring up personal issues on my blog, I tend to thing those that blather on and on about their own lives are incredibly vapid and self-possesed. But I can say from personal experience that nearly all of those criteria have applied to me and my wife in the last 5 years.

In 1999 I was a corporate software consultant pulling down between $55-65 and hour depending on the nature of the gig. In 2000, that changed - drastically. First was the post Y2K software slowdown. On January 1st I had a job doing "fixes" on some antiquainted COBOL code for the California Department of Transportation - on Jan 4th, I was looking for work. I eventually found it several months later after exhausting our savings, but not before being forced to duck an eviction by filing for bankruptcy. That job was with an up and coming dot com, at about half what I had previously been making, but I had a health plan for my family - something we'd foregone during our wild and wholly time as a high risk/high return consultant - I even had stock options.

Then 9/11 happened.

The company I worked for took a major hit - limping along as it had been in the aftermath of the dot-com meltdown - as one of our clients was actually housed in the Trade Center Building, and we really couldn't afford to lose even a single client. A week later I was laid off.

A month after that - my wife, now without healthcare - fell and broke her back making her ineligible to return to the workforce. I was the sole breadwinner. Insurance wasn't available as she had incurred the injury as home, and disability payments for were basically impossible to justify using barely competent county health service doctors.

Still I rallied back, working again as a consultant for a web design firm with as it turned out some rather flaky and unscrupluous clientelle. Eventually that job fizzed as the client and the company began to sue each other. Savings gone. Eviction number two on the plate.

Still we fought. We managed to find a new place to live using friends to verify our employment - which was still none-existent. After 20 years working in IT, my skillset by 2003 had become obsolete - useless. I had no income other than gradually selling my possesions one by one on Ebay. We manage to keep going another year until eviction number three came down the pike and finally we surrendered, tearfuly left Sacramento and moved all our remain possesions into storage and ourselves into a spare bedroom of my mothers in Los Angeles - a city we'd grown to hate.

25 years after I'd originally left and I wound up exactly where I started - back in South Central LA - only this time I brought a semi-invalid wife and our three cats with me. Technically Homeless. Virtually Hopeless.

For the last year I've done some of the most humiliating work I could ever imagine for less than 1/3 of what I earned at the dot com. 8 dollars and hour, 6 sometimes 7 days a week.

We've survived. We're alive. But that's almost all. And everyone expects us to be happy about it. Not.

I can say first hand, particular after experiencing each and every element of the oh-so-enabling state and federal system of "aid" that John Scalzi has it exactly right - I know what Being Poor is.

I am Poor. I am a survivor.

Many more of us are than were a month ago.

But I can also say that it's well past time that we - the poor - did something about it - at the voting booth, on the blogs, on the op-ed pages - to make sure that both corporations and government know, to quote Network - that "We're as mad as hell, and we're not gonna take it anymore". Bush can spout his platitudes, and continue to maneuver continued hand-outs to Halliurton and Bectel - but what I think we all want, what all have to demand - are results.

Don't tell a story - fix the problem. Nothing less will do.


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