poverty

THE NOT-SO-HALCYON DAYS OF YORE – PURE TRASH, BETTE A. STEVENS

There are so many television shows and movies, not to mention sappy posts on Facebook and other social media sites about “the good old days” … kind of makes me a trifle queasy. As someone who grew up in those good old days, I can attest to their not being all that great. There were good things about them, but it was by no means all roses.

Good is a relative term, after all. If you were white, Christian and middle class … preferably male and not (for example) a woman with professional ambitions … the world was something resembling your oyster. A family could live on one salary. If you were “regular folk” and didn’t stand out in any particular way, life could be gentle and sweet.

The thing is, an awful lot of people aren’t and weren’t people who could blend in. If you were poor, anything but white or Christian, or a woman who wanted to be more than a mother and homemaker, the world was a far rougher place.

author-bette-a-stevens

Pure Trash: The Story: Shawn Daniels in a Poor Boy’s Adventure: 1950s Rural New England is set in rural New England in the mid 1950s. It’s a sharp reminder how brutal our society could be to those deemed different or inferior. Not only was bullying common, it wasn’t considered wrong. I remember how badly the poor kids in my class were treated when I was going through elementary school. How the teachers took every opportunity to humiliate kids whose clothing was tattered and whose shoes were worn. I remember feeling awful for those little girls and boys. Not merely bullied by their classmates (who oddly, didn’t much notice the differences until the teachers pointed them out), but tormented by those who were supposed to care for and protect them. Bad enough for me and the handful of Jewish kids as Christmas rolled around. For them, it was the wrong time of year all year round.

In this short story, Shawn and Willie Daniels set off one Saturday in search of whatever they can find that they can turn into money. One man’s trash can be a poor child’s treasure. Bottles that people throw away could be collected and turned into ice cream and soda pop. Shawn is excited. It’s going to be a terrific day. Until the real world intrudes and Shawn is sharply and painfully reminded that he’s different … and not in a good way.

The story is about bullying, but more important, it’s about being different and being judged without compassion, without understanding or love.

It’s a very fast read. Only 21 pages, the story flies by. I was left wanting more. I want to know how the boys grow up. I want them to become CEOs of big corporations so they can thumb their noses at their whole miserable society. An excellent short story leaving plenty of room for thought.

Though set in 1955, the story is entirely relevant today. Despite much-touted progress, we still judge each other harshly based on appearance and assumptions. Everything changes … but maybe not so much.

For lots more information about the book and its author, stop by the authors’ website: 4 Writers and Readers. Pure Trash is available on Kindle and as a paperback from Amazon.

FEEDING THE HUNGRY – UNSUNG HEROES

Community Food Bank_0There are still some heroes in our midst, many of whom work at local food banks. In big cities and rural villages, they do their best to feed the hungrySupported by religious organizations of every denomination, with help from local groceries, businesses and private citizens who don’t want their neighbors to go hungry, they provide food for people who otherwise might not eat.

Food banks operate quietly in almost every community. These are the places that make it possible to not send the kids to bed hungry. They give food without requiring a lot of paperwork. They help while trying to let those they help maintain their dignity. They do not judge. They are friendly, smiling, and act like what they do is no big deal. Think nothing of it, they say. Being poor is not shameful in their eyes.

There is nothing scarier than knowing there is nothing to eat and no money to buy food. Poverty is painful, humiliating, and frightening. The big bad wolf is not merely at the door, he’s in the house.

Poverty isn’t limited to the lazy, drug users, or any particular group or class. It is part of the daily lives of the elderly, a familiar companion to anyone on a fixed income. It haunts the working poor, the disabled, and many who have been hit by “life accidents” from the closing of the plant where they used to work, to illness, fire, flood, or other calamity.

What all these people have in common is they have been assaulted and beaten by events over which they had no control. Government agencies are not user-friendly and frequently so rules-bound it’s impossible to live long enough to get help, even if you theoretically qualify.

The people who run food banks — the staff, organizers, local businesses and plain folk who work to make food available to those who need it — are unsung heroes. I would just like to thank you. You have kept many of us going when we had nowhere else to turn.

You’re the good guys and we need more of you in our world.

WEEKLY WRITING CHALLENGE: SNAPSHOT OF LIVING POOR

snow shack

Should I buy it? Do I need it?

I sit here a mass of nerves, stomach jumping, head spinning. What’s the problem?

My Kindle isn’t working like it should anymore. It has served me well for more than two years. Now, things that didn’t work perfectly at the start work even less well. It’s beginning to die. So what’s the problem? Get a new one, right?

Poverty. I can buy it cheaper now — on credit — than will be possible for months (years?) to come. I depend on my Kindle. I don’t buy paper books. No room. I have to make a decision. Today.

My hands are shaky. I should use what I’ve got until it dies then buy something. But that won’t work well. I’ll wind up paying full price. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

You wouldn’t think I’d get into such a stomach-churning lather over spending $200 — especially when it’s something I use constantly, on which I depend. You wouldn’t think so. You’d think, at my age, this decision would be simple, obvious. But never having enough money means nothing is obvious or simple.

My moment in time. Sitting on the edge of a razor, ready to slide downward. I feel myself about to be cut in two. I see us losing the house, living in our car, no place to go. The moment is pure panic worry, anxiety, insecurity. Caught doubting myself, my motives, my reasons. Gut-wrenching fear, because the ever-hungry demons of poverty shadow me, make me second-guess each purchase, no matter how tiny.

Should I have bought the cheaper spaghetti? The generic rice? Not bought the fish that wasn’t on sale? Skipped the better dog food? Never mind a Kindle. I don’t deserve it. The other one still works, sort of. What’s wrong with me?

There’s no fun in this. No fun, no reward. I’ll be sorry no matter what I do.

I hate being poor. Right now, I hate being me.

Concrete Flowers

Marilyn Armstrong:

I am haunted by these images. Even more haunted by the spectre of finding that I am one of the people in the picture. Times are hard and likely to get worse … much worse … before they get better.

Originally posted on LUST & RUM:

While the eyes of America are diverted by the need for media flavored chewing gum, faux celebrity and egocentric politicians who dance and posture like drunken lemmings on the edge of a fiscal cliff, the lost and the broken take root on the sidewalks of New York like unwanted urban weeds that force themselves through the cracks in the concrete.

Tonight in New York City, more than 50,000 people will sleep on the streets or in emergency shelters.  Below are five of them.

'Window Shopper' 55th Street and Lexington Ave

‘Window Shopper’ 55th Street and Lexington Ave

'The Wheels on the Bus' 37th Street and 9th Avenue

‘The Wheels on the Bus’ 37th Street and 9th Avenue

'Homes Fit for Heroes, Heroes Fit for Homes' 86th Street and 2nd Avenue

‘Homes Fit for Heroes, Heroes Fit for Homes’ 86th Street and 2nd Avenue

'Establishing Communications' 86th Street and Lexington Avenue

‘Establishing Communications’ 86th Street and Lexington Avenue

'Doorman' 86th Street and Lexington Avenue

‘Doorman’ 86th Street and Lexington Avenue

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The Abracadabra Solution

When I was much younger, I played a mental game where I would pretend I was God. I could do anything, so what would I do to fix the world, its people and make life the way it ought to be?

It’s easy to say I’d make it so no one ever needs to fear hunger, homelessness, or lack of medical care. Everyone would be warm, fed and safe. There would be no war, plague or famine. Everyone I love who is sick I would make well, including me. Except when I got into the nitty-gritty of how to get it done, even as God, it turns out to be exceedingly complicated. Unless you go with the “abracadabra solution.” That’s the one where you wave a wand and voilà! Everything is fixed, everyone is fed, housed, and the whole world is playing “nice” with all its neighbors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In a real world, there has to be enough food to go around and farmers to grow it. You need to harvest and distribute food because it doesn’t automatically go from the field to the kitchen table without a good deal of other stuff happening in between. You need doctors and nurses to run hospitals. You have to manufacture stockpiles of medications, clothing and other goods. Unless we plan a fairyland built on a child’s imaginings, the mechanics of a perfected world are staggering.

If I had the power to change just MY little piece of the world — a different question — I would make it so that we would have cures for our ailments and all the money we paid into programs that were supposed to take care of us actually would take care of us. I’d want a life in which we could live without the shadows of fear darkening our days, without the gnawing worry we’ll end up homeless, sick and forgotten. I would make it so I would never again wake up in the grip of terror because I have no idea how I will stretch the money to match the month.

Maybe I should just go with “abracadabra” after all.

In five years?

While the government diddles around with our lives, someone asked me “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

This is a bad question to ask people our age, especially right now. We are living on fixed incomes that barely allow us to survive. The future is not something we really want to talk about, look at, or think about. We have a pretty good idea what is coming for us and it isn’t pretty. We won’t get better jobs. There are no bonuses, promotions or raises in our future. Our careers have ended and we no longer work. No one is going to leave us their fortune. I’m pretty sure we aren’t going to hit big on the lottery.

So what do you figure is likely to be the scenario in five years? You don’t need to be a visionary or a prophet to figure it out. It’s kind of obvious.

Old House in Hadley

We will be poorer. Hopefully we will have somehow managed to not lose the house which will be in serious need of repair and improvements for which we still won’t have money. Each year, we will have less money to work with, fewer resources. Our fixed income doesn’t stretch to cover the month now and will cover less in five years.

Most of you are younger than we are. You can’t imagine a time in your lives when you have no expectation of life getting better. For us, things are never going to get better. Our fondest hope is as our situation worsens, we survive. That’s not pessimism. It’s reality. We will fight an endless battle to make ends meet. Just like we are already doing but we will be five years older and that much tireder.

Social Security won’t go up nor will any pension money. We’ll be lucky if they don’t take it away; if they do, we are on the street. We won’t get younger or healthier. Property taxes will rise as will the cost of medical care, drugs, food, and everything else. Our income will remain the same or less. If we don’t die, we’ll be lucky to have a roof over our heads and something to eat.

75-BricksBoston

A look into the future fills us with trepidation. We live with constant gnawing dread as our resources shrink and our government continues to marginalize us, as if all the contributions made throughout our working lives count for nothing, as if our lives count for nothing.

I’m not inherently pessimistic, but reality bites and I’ve got a big hole in my ass to prove it. You can run, but eventually, you hit a wall. This is reality for most senior citizens. Grandma and grandpa live in or at the edge of poverty. They live in fear. They know nothing good is coming down the pipeline. Relief is not on the way. The vast majority of us worked hard and now we can barely make ends meet. It’s humiliating and depressing. What the government calls “entitlements” is actually our money. We invested in programs we were assured would provide a dignified retirement. The money we paid into these retirement programs and social security were supposed to prevent exactly what is happening. It was supposed to keep the wolf from the door, make sure that we didn’t end up in poverty. It was supposed to guarantee we would have a decent quality of life and be able to live in dignity.

For those of you who think we are just being negative, your turn will come. It will be a lot worse by the time you are our age. Everyone thinks they are going to dodge this bullet, that this is a scenario that can never happen to them. But it will. Unless you are very good with your money (never too early to start), exceedingly lucky, or already wealthy, this is your future too. There’s no “Get out of old-age free” card on the Monopoly board of life.

Not long ago, we believed something good was bound to happen. This could not be our fate. The economy and the housing market would go back up. We could sell the house and find a place we could live better. But it didn’t happen. With each passing month, as the months roll into years, we know there’s not going to be a last-minute save. Not this time.

The overall economy and real estate market — even in this depressed area — will ultimately recover, but it will be too late for us.

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