BETTE A. STEVENS, AUTHOR – PURE TRASH AND DOG BONE SOUP

dog bone soupAnd now, there’s the rest of the story. DOGBONE SOUP is the long-awaited “rest of the story”of Shawn Daniels and his brother. Bette Stevens novel is now available for your reading pleasure. And it is a pleasure.

Bette has the purest, freshest writing style I’ve read in many a long year. Reading her prose is like peering into an exceptionally clear, deep pool. It looks like the bottom is close enough to touch, but watch out. Those waters run deep.

This author knows how to tell a story. Her style and the story are a perfect blend. Like the clear water, this author runs deep.

If I hadn’t come down with the flu, I’d be writing my review. In the meantime, here’s a good one from Barbara Ann Mojica’s Blog, GROWING UP MUCH TOO SOON.

DOG BONE SOUP is a wonderful story. It’s a coming of in a hardscrabble world, armed only with courage, determination, intelligence, and grit. Sometimes, that’s enough.


PURE TRASH: BETTE STEVENS – The Prequel

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.

Bette Stevens

Bette 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.

HAVE ANY CHANGE YOU CAN SPARE? – RICH PASCHALL

Begging on the city streets, Rich Paschall

It was a particularly nice evening for this time of year. The temperature has been known to be brutal when the calendar reaches this point of winter, but this night was different. People walked as if the wind was not pushing them along. For a town known as “The Windy City,” there was barely any wind at all. A few people were standing about in front of sports bars, having a smoke or talking about this year’s football disaster. There was no reason to hurry inside.

A parking spot was waiting for me across the street from my destination. It was not the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar from the short story series from last year, but in my mind it was close enough. I was ready to order some food that I probably should not have, but I thought I would just forget the word “cholesterol” for a while.

72-homeless-analog-OnTheRoad_007As I crossed the street I noticed a man and woman walking down the sidewalk at a pace to intercept me at the corner. They passed up people smoking or chatting or both and headed straight for me. They were middle-aged, whatever that actually means, and rather poorly dressed. By that I mean, their clothes were worn and a bit dirty. They did not look grizzled as so many street people do, but rather just tired and run down.

“Do you have any change you can spare?” the man asked. The woman looked at me as if she was hopeful I would give a positive response.

“I don’t know,” I said honestly as I shoved my hands in my pockets to find out. At that the man launched into a story of their personal problems. He told me they had a streak of bad luck in recent years. They both had lost their jobs a few years back and eventually lost all they had.

Now they were living on the street and just trying to survive. He added a few details about their lives and capped it off by saying that his wife lost or had her identification stolen and that made their situation more difficult.

In my left pocket were a few coins which totaled just under a dollar. I handed it to the man but thought I could not let it go at that. In the past when I saw people begging at street corners, I thought they could turn things around for themselves if they just knew where to go and who to see.  A little information might be all they need, so I thought I would do my best to pass some along.

“Do you know the church with the big clock tower down the street? You can see it when you get to the top of the bridge?” I pointed down the road toward St. Benedict’s. The impressive clock tower could be seen from a long distance down the road.

The man knew exactly what I was about to say. Yes, he knew the church and he did stop there on weekdays for lunch. If anyone came to the rectory during the week begging for food at lunch time (or much of the day), they provided some lunch. They were prepared and ready to give out something as begging had become a common occurrence in recent years.

The man then proceeded to tell me, in case I had a need to know, of other churches that would give them food. They knew where to go and on what days in order to get something. I guess it is nice to know the churches are responsive, as some of my Republican friends don’t feel this is the government’s job, but I was surprised to hear his list. The shocking part, in my opinion, is that we are not in a poor neighborhood.  In fact, the land around St. Benedict’s itself is highly desirable and the property values are quite high.

How many of those upwardly mobile professionals know that so people are living on the streets and in the parks and under the viaducts nearby?

Undeterred in my efforts to hand out useful information, I asked the couple if they knew where the Salvation Army was located. I said they might be able to help them get back on their feet. They could certainly provide shelter in an emergency as the winter could get quite severe. They had a general idea where they were located, but they were skeptical that this was a good idea. So at that, I offered up information on The Night Ministry. This organization will go around in search of people needing help, especially on below freezing nights. They did not know it but said they would keep it in mind.

As they prepared to go, I told them to try to stay warm. They then told me they knew a few people who froze to death last year when we had many days of subzero weather. I encouraged them to remember the shelters when the weather gets worse. They said they would and moved on

I doubted they would use a shelter no matter how cold it got. How do people go from living a normal life to adapting to life on the street?  How is it they become so set in this lifestyle, they would not use the help to get off the streets, even when they have information on how to do it? Is the real world just so tough for some that living on the streets is a viable option? The thought lingered as I moved inside for chicken wings and sports.

AMERICANS ARE FAT … AND GETTING FATTER …

Doobster at Mindful Digression wrote a piece today about how fat Americans are. He noted, among other statistics, that poverty food tends to be unhealthy. Duh. Being poor and eating well are contradictions in terms. If you live on a very limited and/or fixed income, you can’t eat a healthy diet. You can’t afford it.

Let’s start with who is poor.

Old people are poor, or at least a large percentage of them. Also poor? Some very hard-working but low-income workers. The people who serve you in restaurants, pump your gas, do all those jobs you don’t want to do and probably never think about — if you can help it.

You might want to read Senior poverty is much worse than you think, or Senior Poverty: Action Needed to Address A Growing Problem even though these studies are not really up-to-date and the poverty scenario for older people is worse now than when these studies were published. A State-by-State Snapshot of Poverty Among Seniors: Findings From Analysis of the Supplemental Poverty Measure is pretty interesting too.

Nationally, nearly half of all seniors (48%) live with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty threshold (under the supplemental measure), compared to 34 percent under the official measure.3 The share of seniors with incomes below 200 percent of poverty is higher under the supplemental measure in every state than under the official measure.
Under the supplemental measure, at least two-fifths of seniors (40%) have incomes below 200 percent of poverty in 48 states and in DC; using the official measure, this is the case in only six states.

At least half of seniors have incomes below 200 percent of poverty in 10 states and DC based on the supplemental measure: DC (59%); California (56%); Hawaii (55%); Georgia (54%); Louisiana, New York, Rhode Island, and Tennessee (52%); Florida and Mississippi (51%); and Arizona (50%).

In terms you might understand more easily, 100% of the government poverty “line” for a couple in Massachusetts is $12,000/per year. You can get some kind assistance — senior housing, for example — up to 400% of that amount. After that, no matter what the actual cost of living or your personal circumstances, even if 75% of your money goes to pay for medicine you need to survive, you’re out of luck. And the total amount is much less in other states. Poverty is relative to the cost of living based on where you are.

Poverty food is high in fat and carbs, low in protein. No fresh vegetables … or anything that isn’t prepackaged or canned. Mac & Cheese, the fallback position of poor people throughout our land, along with every other kind of pasta and rice, not to mention instant mashed potatoes — offer no real food value. But at least you don’t have to be hungry.

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LET’S TALK ABOUT FOOD

Eating healthy is more expensive than “poverty food” — carbohydrates, sugar, and fat. The price of eating healthy keeps going up, too. There are no options for those on limited incomes. We (personally) choose to eat less so we can eat better, but our cupboard is often bare. We buy just enough for dinner, a light lunch, and coffee in the morning. There’s no spare. Not going to be doing any entertaining in the foreseeable future.

As social security and pension money does NOT rise — ever — and the cost of living ALWAYS rises, we can but hope we need less food.

The price of chicken and fish is easily 50% more than it was a year ago, but the money on which we live is the same. Chicken? Really? Has chicken feed risen that much? It can’t be the transportation costs, because that’s way down in the past year. So you figure maybe it’s price gouging?

I know all you Republicans out there think we live on government handouts, high (as it were) on the hog. But those governments handouts are pretty hard to come by. I don’t get any and neither does anyone I know. Even those who technically qualify don’t seem to be able to get what they need.

We don’t qualify for any help because although we do not have enough to live on, we are “rich” by government standards. That means we do not get help paying for medications and I specifically do not take medicines that cost a lot. I can’t afford them. Medical conditions go untreated or are treated using less than the best medicines. There’s nothing to be done about it. Dental care is a crisis. Needing new glasses is time for fear and trembling.

All we can do is keep tightening our belts and hoping that we won’t outlive our money. The government levels of “acceptable” poverty for senior citizens is so low no one could live on it at all, much less in dignity. Or afford proper medication, food, and utilities. Or have any fun at all. But hey, why should the poor — grandma and granddad — have any fun? They are old, so all they need to do is survive. If they die, so what? They had their lives already.

The food the poor can afford — most of them working poor who don’t earn enough to feed themselves or their family — rely on food pantries to make up at least part of the gap. Food pantries try desperately hard to help and without them, there would be even more starvation than there is. They deserve a lot of credit for their efforts.

But what do they distribute? Lots of carbs. Boxes and boxes of pasta, beans, mac & cheese. Canned vegetables (past date, mostly) because that’s what gets donated by those with plenty. Nothing fresh, nothing healthy. The poor are not entitled to eat well. In the opinion of many, they are not entitled to eat at all. And it is the mainstay of every comedian’s best monologue about how FAT the POOR are. Really terribly funny. I’m laughing all the way to the food bank.

While everyone is busy laughing heartily at the Walmart crowd, consider that they represent a rather broad cross-section of America’s poor of whatever region you care to name. Fat? Yes, they are. Given their diet, it’s inevitable. They aren’t going to their gyms. They have no gyms for people without discretionary income. And when these people get through with their poorly paying no-future jobs, do you figure they go exercise on that machinery they got with the spare money the government throws at them?

We should be a lot more ashamed of ourselves than we are, but we are so busy blaming poor people for their own problems, how the poor are lazy and unwilling to work because they are busy stuffing their faces with junk food. The working poor I know … and sadly, I know a fair number of them … are hard-working and ambitious. They just don’t have anywhere to work which will pay them a living wage. No one is interested.

So if you had to live on what they live on, I bet you’d stuff your face with junk food too. Because junk food is better than no food. Even if it makes you fat.


I Got Skills – If you could choose to be a master (or mistress) of any skill in the world, which skill would you pick? I have skill at writing. Today I am trying to make use of it to highlight a social problem, a growing injustice, an issue of reality.  I never chose writing. It picked me long ago.

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.

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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.

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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.