Tuesday, March 5, 2013

If I were a zygote

Hungry after my shift at the grocery store today, I picked up a hot fish sandwich from the deli for $1.99 then agonized over whether to purchase a cold Coke for an additional $1.79. The Coke wasn't strictly necessary; I could drink water just as easily. But there's just something about a Coke to wash down a fish sandwich.

Since it was for my supper, I splurged. 

It was a perfect symbol, I thought, for what my life has become: Painful decisions about trivial matters brought on because I work part time making minimum wage. There isn't a dollar to waste. There is no comfort zone, no savings to fall back should an emergency arise. 

Even if I had a full time job, I would not have enough income to afford my own place to stay, which means I must continue to rely on the kindness of my brother and his family, who allow me to stay in their spare bedroom. If not for them, I would be living in my car or on the street.

I am going to give up liability insurance for my car, even though it's mandatory. I've been driving for more than thirty years and have never had an accident. I will have to take my chances because I can't afford to continue to throw away money on insurance I never use.

Despite a medical condition, I no longer take needed medications because I can't afford them. I'm just asking for trouble, I know, but what to do?

I will soon have to turn my phone off because it's hard to justify spending $100 a month just to have a cell phone. The only reason I have kept my phone is because it allows me to connect to the Internet although my Internet service is very limited and not very good.

Needless to say I don't have cable TV or any of the other bells and whistles of modern American life.  

I buy the Sunday newspaper religiously and immediately turn to the classified section, which consists of two, perhaps three pages. While there's a lot of demand for truck drivers, there are few help-wanted ads for anything else. There are never ads for writer/media types like me, or anything even remotely suitable for my qualifications.

The online job boards are more promising, but most of the companies currently hiring are the big box stores like Dollar General and Lowe's, companies looking for cashiers and customer service clerks at minimum wage.  Almost all are part time, no benefits to speak of.

Complicating matters is the fact that I'm an older worker. Jobs are scarce for older workers. Another complication: I don't go to one of the big churches. I've been told several times that unless you go to one of the big churches, you won't get a decent job because you have to be connected with a church family. Whether that's true or not, I can't say, though I suspect it is. Even if I showed up religiously at the First Baptist Church in downtown Tupelo, what are they going to make of a gay man? That's another problem all by itself. They'd just as soon see me swinging from a magnolia tree.

It's a bleak picture. It's hard to see what sort of future -- if any -- waits for me. 

People have asked me why I don't simply move somewhere else. The answer: I don't have money to relocate somewhere else. At the moment I've got $52 in my bank account. How far is that going to get me? 

I try to be optimistic, but it's hard, and each day it gets harder. I find myself with feelings of increasing desperation. I sometimes think about putting an end to it. I sometimes feel overwhelmed with helplessness and despair. It's embarrassing to not have money enough to pay your bills, to make your own way in the world. It's demeaning, dehumanizing. 

I find it hard to fathom that almost half of all Americans are either at poverty level, where I am, or damn close to it. For three decades our economic policies have favored the wealthy elites, the huge corporations, Wall Street, bankers, stockbrokers, the Mitt Romney types. We were told the wealth would "trickle down." It hasn't. Instead, the middle class has been gutted and millions have been thrown into poverty. 

I'm just one of those millions, one of those hapless statistics, in the wrong place at the wrong time, just one more person for whom the American Dream was only a dream and never anything more.

Poverty is man-made, the natural result of decisions and choices that we, as a society, make. Poverty is the outcome of the economic policies put into place at the state and national levels. Poverty persists because we allow it to do so. As a society, we have decided that we have endless billions to throw away in subsidies for the oil industry, or for war, or for never ending tax relief for the wealthy, but there is no money to help the working poor. 

And so there I was, when my shift ended, agonizing over whether to purchase a Coke for a meager supper. That's what my life has been reduced to. 

I write about it knowing full well there is nothing anyone can do about it, and knowing, too, that others are in far worse shape. 

We are all caught up in America's particularly harsh form of hyper-capitalism of profits at any price, and profits over people. Always profits over people. 

What saddens me is that so many Americans don't realize there are alternatives. Far easier to dismiss me as just one more taker on food stamps than to admit there's something seriously wrong with the way we do business and the way we treat our own.

If I were a zygote, or a corporation, I'd have scads of people passionately caring about my well being. But I'm not a zygote or a corporation, so I'm on my own, as though modern life is nothing more than some half-assed replay of the Wild Wild West. 


  1. There is Democrat running for Mayor of Tupelo named Jason Shelton. I don't know him but others speak highly of him. Why don't you volunteer to help him? Tell him your situation; that you can't do anything that costs anything. This is a very good way of finding a job. BTW, if you lose your Internet, go to your public library. It has newspapers, too. Good luck! I'm thinking about you.

  2. FYI: I have cell service through Verizon for 1.99/day on days that I use it. On days when I don't, there's no charge. Text messages are 25 cents to send or receive.