Sunday, February 19, 2012

Don't Cry For Me, America

The Squawker's adult life has been spent in poverty with some brighter periods of on the edge working class "stability". The reasons for this are complex and range from the "personal is political"--wider trends to the fact of illness and slipping through the cracks. One decent stable good job for either her or her spouse could have made all the difference. 

She did the right things, never did street drugs, never drank, went to college, graduated with a decent G.P.A, got more training and schooling, did volunteer work, married The Reckoner, and well, tried and failed. In my case, there was serious health problems to confront as well. For both of us, the door of opportunity got slammed over and over. There have been brighter moments of some working class stability, but also times spent in severe poverty.

Today we are somewhere on the low end but not quite the most desperate end. We are still short of food at the end of the month, and now questioning how we are going to pay for a car repair. The Squawker was unable to pay her medical bills this month but is hoping to send a little next. The Squawker knows that she fell down the ladder and climbing back up is probably not going to happen given her age and state of health but with time and God's help, never takes anything for granted including food in one's fridge and a roof.

This is not some academic's website where from a lofty ivory tower there is pontificating about what "those poor people" should do to improve their lot. The Squawker and The Reckoner, are two middle aged people who have seen life for years from the viewpoint of the "disposable" American. The kind of people you saw holding their posters on "We are the 99%" but with more to say then will fit on one poster board or piece of paper. The Squawker questions aspects of the Occupy Movement and does not trust the likes of Soros and pals, but understands the sentiments of those who have spoken up, to say "Something here is not right!"

You won't see us telling any of you to go to poverty simulation exercises at a silly Bridges out of Poverty meeting. Someone send those folks a note, there are plenty of REAL POOR people out there they could talk to rather then playing PRETEND with the MIDDLE CLASS.  Personally the idea of middle class people faking that all they have to eat for the week is a few boxes of cheap box macaroni and cheese offends The Squawker.

The Squawker herself has lived in poverty and know what it is like. She has scoured the web, trying to find websites where people talk openly about being poor in America. There are many who talk about what is happening but very few who have a voice who have lived it or are living it. There is almost nowhere that the poor in America really have a voice.  That probably because Internet hook-up comes to very few poor people. Due to the generosity of a good friend for a computer and the necessity of making money online to pay bills in the Squawker and Reckoner household, the blessings of being on the web are here.  So it's time for at least a few of us to have a voice.

As for poverty, to show what we have gone through....and that we are real, the Squawker will share some of her experiences:

Picture this, there is no money left in your account, for gas, food or anything else. You do not know what to do. Homelessness looms. Your young adult life has already been lived in a series of rented rooms with milk crates as you work low level jobs that offer no medical care or stability with a long series of roommates coming and going. Finally you get your own 2 room apartment in a "bad side" of your college town. However you never see it and never can rest as mere survival necessitates working 60-70 hours a week at low level jobs. At one point there is 4 pieced together part time jobs.

You return to school hoping for another chance, knowing that you entered too low paying of a field with too few of job opportunities where your bad lungs serve as a barrier.  These jobs range from working at Arby's , temp house cleaner for the disabled, plastics and other factory work where you are never fast enough as health problems loom. Temp agencies "own" everything, and you would be thankful even if a factory job panned out to be full time and secure, but it never happens except for a few couple month intervals.  Everything is temporary but your bills.

Other people seem able to get good jobs, not you. Your clothes are getting older and more ripped up and worn. Thrift stores offer only so much, and even there you can barely afford clothes, as everything has to be put into rent to keep yourself off the street. The demands for a "professional appearance" seem like a joke. Hair cuts and manicures are not affordable.  You wonder how you will get ahead. You imagine lines of nice outfits where work could be gotten and you could join with the regular people. When your car is lost, despair sets in.  The street is very close.

Picture this, two feet of black water in the bathtub, why did big city metro water always turn black in an otherwise clean bathtub? Rats and mice scurrying along the floor, having to make sure your shoes were not filled with mouse turds which look like miniature forms of rabbit droppings except less round. Hearing the squeaking and the rustling of the pink colored glue traps that did little, dropped into place by a slum landlord from hell who told you "Everyone's got problems!" when you tell her, you think the apartment has reached horror movie level infestations. The landlord won't fix the stove either.  The apartment before this had roaches and a nightmare of a pipe bursting in the ceiling ending your time there. Neither had working stoves even if you could afford another $50 a month for the gas company.  It rains inside when you are poor too.

Picture this, the Squawker after being turned down for work by the temp agency that morning goes out to her kitchen to eat, with only 5 dollars in her pocket that must be preserved to get to whatever next job may come for gas, and find half a loaf of bread, a carton of eggs and a few old condiments in the refrigerator. She makes egg salad spaghetti for dinner, a new invention, which joins other notable meals such as hotdog omelets, ramen noodle tuna mix, and when desperation really hits mayonnaise and onion or ketchup sandwiches.

Picture this, urban youths throw a rock through your window because they are bored, smashing it into bits.Three apartments down, one apartment has nothing in it but a plastic mattress and lawn chair, there are always lines outside of this apartment, later the cops bust it for drug-deals. Cops sprawl young people across the trunks of police cars right on your street to arrest them and search them for drugs, they believed they have dealt. Homeless people with shopping carts sleep on the ledge of the old abandoned Chinese restaurant across the street while gang members, you must avoid eye contact with flash signs to each other at the corner convenience store which offers you nothing but ramen noodles, a limp onion or two and bologna, along with endless chips and various forms of liquor to imbibe. It costs a 6-7 dollar cab ride to get to the regular grocery store, each way, The Squawker due to health problems does not walk well and there is no car, to get there. One other choice is a 2 bus transfer, and 1 hour trip each way to get to the local Save-A-Lot. At least there is one Mexican grocery store, a direct bus route away, which provides some fruits and vegetables and food with real sustenance.  A trip down there is 4 dollars. Sometimes even the few dollars to get somewhere barely exists. Life becomes narrow when just leaving out the door, costs you almost 5 dollars off the top.  The poor who cannot walk well, are really in trouble.

Picture this, The Squawker because of work that demands she is street smart to survive tells the Reckoner to hide at the local bus stop as they wait for a bus to take them home. She sees trouble walking from yards away, her urban experiences and earlier job experiences with "violent youth" as a residential counselor giving her extra sensitive radar. They are standing with a crowd at a bus stop, the Squawker whispers to the Reckoner with only seconds to spare before they are seen,  "HIDE NOW" and he thankfully listens, as they peer behind a brick wall, part of the ramshackle buildings next to the bus stop, they watch as a man takes out a sawed-off shot gun and robs every person they were waiting by. They hide and wait until he is finished clearing everyone of their wallets, jewelry and cash, and go home. This experience is the icing of the cake of a life spent in danger, trying to keep three chess paces ahead of various abusers, users, con artists and the violent, in a dangerous neighborhood, that has included The Squawker having to fight off getting jumped and robbed and the Reckoner being chased by three men on a subway stop to clean him of his too little cash. Women in these areas learn fast what being followed means. Some may ask, "why did you live there?" But zip code is determined by income in your huge metro city, some relief would come later when The Squawker and Reckoner escaped on purpose to a small rural town. The night before they moved away, finally getting the means to escape, a cacophony of gun fire, erupted at 5am from about a quarter of a block away.

This is just some snapshots. There is far more to say......

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