Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cause cheap is how I feel

Recently I came to a crossroads in my life. Pushing 50, I was out of a job, out of money, out of options. A college graduate, I found myself competing with other college graduates for minimum wage jobs in the great state of Mississippi - a "right to work" state.

With a fast-dwindling bank account, I applied for, and received, food stamps.

Never in my life did I think I would come to such a crossroads. Never have I relied on the government for anything. Never have I accepted hand-outs or charity.

But ...

As a single man with a household of one (me), I'm eligible for $189 in food stamps each month. Roughly $50 a week. How I'm supposed to be flopping down T-bone steaks in the check-out line, I'm not sure, but apparently, like other "young bucks" before me, that's what I'm doing. Sucking on the government's tits. Living the high life.

Serves me right for voting for the "food stamp president," I suppose.

I have no health care, no savings, nothing to fall back on except a cardboard box under a bridge. That's my reward for working my whole life and suddenly falling on hard times.

I know, as Americans, we can do better. But there are elements in our society that won't stand for it. A lot of those elements are planted firmly in front of Fox News and are convinced that people like me sucking up food stamps are what's wrong with this country, not the fact that the vast majority of tax dollars go straight into the military. They'd probably tell me to sign up if I weren't so old. And they have little to say about how huge corporations receive twice as much "welfare" as Americans citizens do. No, don't go there, the world of high finance and lobbyist shenanigans is too complicated. Blame the idiotic schmucks with their food stamps.And for Christ's sake, don't ever suggest that raising minimum wage is the answer. Are there no poor houses? Are all the prisons full?

I used my EBT card today for the first time. I bought pasta, spaghetti sauce, cans of soup, coffee, butter, crackers. Afterward, in my beat-up car that's 15 years old and has more than 200,000 miles on it, I cried.  I was ashamed.

Speaking of my car, if it breaks down, I don't know what I'll do since I live in the country and there's no other way to get around. That car is all that stands between me and oblivion - a busted radiator, a spent battery, some little problem that's just beyond what my budget can accommodate, and I'm finished.

I've published several books, even wrote a movie and was nominated for best screenplay. I spent twenty years as a media professional. I've worked every day of my life. But none of that matters in this brave new world the Republicans and rich folks and their lobbyists have created, which is increasingly impoverishing the majority of Americans. We don't talk about the American Dream anymore, because it no longer exists - if it ever did. We obsess about how the rich will fare if their taxes go up, but never a thought for the increasing numbers of Americans who are at the poverty level, or almost there.

What can the future possibly hold for me? What kind of life is this that I'm living? Is this the best Americans can do?

We're desperate to put guns in classrooms, but try to offer health care to everyone and suddenly we're talking about a civil war. We throw away billions in corporate welfare - they're the real welfare queens, if you want to know - but try to help people like me and suddenly we'll be slip sliding into the horrors of socialism. 

Mississippi is a proud right-to-work state, solidly red, more Republican than Mitt Romney. So, Mississippi, where are the jobs you were supposed to attract by throwing your workers under the bus? Why is it that right to work states are also the poorest?

It's painfully obvious to me where the Republican party wants to take America. It wants to take America to Mississippi. It wants every American to live like we do in Mississippi - scraping by, barely surviving, college graduates fighting over minimum wage jobs while the boss hog rich fucks laugh all the way to the bank. It's a world of economic brutality, a social Darwinistic struggle for the survival of the fittest, like something out of a Charles Dickens novel.

But that's not enough. When folks get poor, like me, well, we must be blamed for it, and not society, and not the politicians who made it happen, who took all that money from those rich corporations and spent all their time in Washington licking those rich folks' boots. Don't blame them. Blame the poor. Poverty is a crime. Even Christians hate the poor now because their rich masters told them to.

Christ knows I'm trying. I've applied for every job I can think of, and then some. I've mailed out all kinds of resumes. Funny: Employers ain't much interested in older workers these days.

I've also spent a lot of time trying to finish some of my book projects and get them in the mail in the hopes that I might make a sale. I've all but begged friends and acquaintances to head over to Amazon.com and purchase one of my books, telling them flat out that they would be helping a "starving artist." No doubt they thought I was kidding. I was not.

Since I'm a writer, I have decided to write about this brave new world of brutality that I'm entering, this world of poverty and scraping by, this world where folks look down their noses on the down and out, this world where some of us pray we get hit by a bus and die instantly because we can't afford anything else. You can take away my dignity as I stand in line at the welfare office. You can shame me at the check-out counter with your greedy eyes looking at my EBT card and my purchases and judging me. But you can't stop me from telling the truth about it. That's all I got left now.

The society that I live in today is the result of choices and decisions Americans have made. Or, perhaps more accurately, decisions its political leaders have made. Most every one of those decisions are made in favor of Big Money and huge corporations, always at the expense of workers. They get away with it because there are media organizations like Fox News who gleefully and willingly flood the airwaves with myth and misinformation about what's going on, who never miss a chance to demonize the poor and provide endless column inches on why it's in our best interests to destroy unions, to pamper the rich (those hallowed job creators!), to bow down in reverent awe at the feet of huge corporations, who are now the only "people" in this country who seem to have any rights.

Case in point: My neighbor down the road lives in a trailer and has a Romney sign still sitting in his front yard. He's convinced that Romney would have ushered in a golden era of jobs, jobs, jobs. In many ways, he's what's wrong with this country. He doesn't connect the dots between what politicians are actually doing (as opposed to their rhetoric) and the fact that he lives in a trailer and drives a beat-up truck. And no doubt he watches Fox News.

Mississippi is the poorest, fattest, least educated state in the Union. It didn't get that way because of enlightened political leadership.

Let me finish with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday we celebrate today:

"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

Would that there were moral leaders like Dr. King in today's world, not the prosperity Gospel shills and culture warriors like Mike Huckabee and James Dobsen. Would that the pope cared more about the poor than stem cells, zygotes and gay marriage. Would that we had political leaders willing to fight for decent wages for workers just as hard as they fight for tax cuts for the rich.

To all intents and purposes, those days are long gone.


  1. Hi! I could write a similar story, but I rarely comment, especially on facebook, because my family loves to tell me, "You got all those degrees, but you ain't got no common sense." or "If you're so smart, why ain't you rich." And I used to have friends (I have weeded them out of my life) that would tell me I was a sinner or God would bless me. I would ask them what was I doing wrong. No one ever and told me, "You must have secret sin; sin in your heart or something."

    And people now throw around the word karma a lot and say you must deserve hard times for something you did. Or they tell you that it's your fault because of the laws of attraction and you must have been thinking negative thoughts. Or you haven't learned a lesson you need to learn.

    I've decided to turn their ridiculous theories back on them. Ok, if people need to learn lessons, maybe I am the teacher. I am poor. Did you help me? Were you kind? Did you pass your test? If not, I still have to be poor. I have to be poor until people quit being asses.

    Many days I thank God that I found the teachings of Buddha. I am having a challenging incarnation and I'm hopeful the next one will be easier. ;)

  2. Nick, how very brave you are to put yourself out there like that. It seems that the employers are not interested in anybody they deem they would have to pay more than minimum wage because my Waylon has been unemployed for 3 years now and is only 33. He has applied for everything and not one call back has he gotten.