To Return the Favor
But something kept telling me not to delete the blog, and now I see why. Recently I've heard some very distressing news. It seems GIHN is in trouble. They're suffering a lack of funds, and if they don't find some more soon, they could be forced to shut down. Dozens of newly-homeless families would be subjected to the fate we were six short years ago.
Well, they helped us when we needed it, so now I get to return the favor. Unfortunately, I cannot aid them financially (although I'd gladly do so), but the blog's still up. It might even still have a few people who check in on an irregular basis. So I can help get the word out. Perhaps many people can get together and help a truly deserving organization. Or maybe, just maybe, there's a big wheel whose bank account size is exceeded only by the size of their compassion and who can write GIHN a check for the full $60,000 they need to keep operating.
It's a shame that there is even a need for GIHN's services at all in a country such as ours, but as long as there are homeless families, thank God that there is a GIHN around to help them.
One Year Later...Almost
Coming back now after nearly a year away is, well, like revisiting the house where you grew up, or climbing into a musty old attic where so much of your being is stored. So much that's familiar, yet so much that feels new simply because you haven't seen it in awhile.
But soft; let me take a quick moment to update everyone on our (mis)adventures:
After my last post in 2007, I plunged headlong into the dual business of keeping a roof over our heads (no small feat) and discharging my duties at work without landing in jail (an even larger feat). Mike graduated from high school in June (we're still trying to figure out how), but isn't in college yet becuase frankly we didn't expect him to so we weren't scouting out any campuses and instead were focused on yet another year of high school. He's chomping at the bit to enter school, so we're shooting for this coming fall. Ness made her grade with flying colors and is now in 5th grade. She's developing some talent in music (she can play keyboard, violin and guitar, her favorite) but she's at the point where we have to watch her grades lest they slip. Mama went for job training this past November and passed as far as we know -- she's still waiting for her final test scores. The Trusty Steed is still ferrying us back and forth, although she's beginning to show her age and cantankerousness. We've been adopted by two of the neighborhood cats, a mother and her kitten. We can't actually take them in due to lease restrictions, but we keep them relatively well-fed and ear-scratched. Maybe I should take some time to find them a good, dry home.
I seem to have fared worst of all of us. Although the nightmares of being homeless finally stopped, the Beast hasn't been idle. In fact, after reading a book on the subject, I'm convinced that I have full-blown clinical depression, but that's a downer for another time ("Yes, I'll have the Prozac with a Zoloft chaser, please." Brrr!) Somewhere in a dark corner of my mind, he's cackling to himself and rubbing his claws together with glee... Money is still tight and nowhere near the level I enjoyed in 2000-2002, and the job? Well, the less said the better (some future employer might be reading this, so I have to keep it wound tight.)
Still, it's not all bad. I finally got off my lazy duff and returned to school last fall. Broke straight As my first semester back and I'm now in the midst of my second (out of 4). My major? Why graphic design, of course. It seems to be the only thing I'm good at that also 1) makes me happy and 2) offers the prospect of letting me pull down some good money for a change.
I occasionally keep up with news on homelessness but not to the degree I did when I was in it. For one thing, the old feelings resurface and they feel just as unpleasant now as they did then. But mostly I'm too busy to devote much time to it. As I mentioned above, though, I still occasionally get posts from homeless people in the midst of their own personal hell. Sadly, all I can do is offer words of encouragement but maybe sometimes that's enough, neh?
The Slavery of Freedom
However, I occasionally have a thing or two to say, so maybe I'll continue just a bit longer.
Today's offering is twofold, but both borne of the same incident. We were in the Greensboro Housing Authority offices for recertification today. For the uninitiated, each year we have to report our income and family composition -- prove that we're still poor enough to live in the projects*, if you will -- which determines if our rent will stay the same, increase or we'll be booted out altogether.
The first realization came as I was filling out the reporting forms and looking over the voluminous rules and regulations the office receptionist handed me. I realized that although my family is living in the most free nation on earth (arguably), we are not free.
Gasp! Horrors! Must be one'a those pinko reds!
Wait, put down the pitchforks and I'll explain. It occurred to me that if I owned my own home, I would not have to do this every year. My private affairs would be just those: my private affairs. How much money I made and how I made it would be my business. Who I had over and why they were there would be my business. What Mama does in her spare time during the day when I'm at work and the kids were in school would be her business. Where the kids went to school and how well they were doing would be their business. Our lives would be -- our lives.
Instead, we have to report on our financial and some social activities to the Overlords, in order to keep a roof over our heads and heat around our bodies. And if we don't report, the roof and heat immediately go away. In addition, we have to submit to inspections pretty much whenever management feels like it; report if I make more money, temporarily or not; report who in the house is working and why or why not; how well the kids are doing in school and why or why not; and always, always dread the next inspection or recertification where we may have forgotten to dot some arcane i or cross some obsolete t that'll land us right back on the street.
I pass by houses every day and I envy those within. Sure, they have their own set of problems, but they're not sweating losing their home just because they can finally tell some bigwig "none of your business" when s/he wants to go poking into their private affairs.
Yes, I can almost hear the rebuttals: "But you're better off than when you were homeless." "But at least you have a roof over your head." "At least you're still alive." "Well, you got to go through some of that if people are helping you." But show of hands, now: how many of you like having to strip naked -- socially speaking -- for whoever orders you to do it "or else"?
The other thing came from a poster I saw on the wall at the GHA offices. It was a PSA** for health care services. The headline was "Poverty Doesn't Make You Sick, But It Can Keep You From Getting Well." How sadly true, but I submit to you that poverty can indeed make you sick.
Poverty can make you mentally sick by making you worry all the time. About money. About the rest of the family's health. About who's going to screw you today, or tomorrow. About the bills piling up. About everything in the universe that you could knock out of the way if you just had your hands on some money. And some people wonder why others play the lottery. All that worry leads to stress, and all that stress leads to...
Poverty can make you physically ill as well. Most of it comes from the mental stress that builds up over worrying about money so much. It's been scientifically proven that stress makes you fat and does horrible things to your immune system. In addition, poor people can't buy the right kinds of food -- fresh fruits, vegetables, foods with low fat and high nutritional content, even dietetic foods -- because they're more expensive. So we end up eating the wrong things. Pretty soon, you're flat on your back with a bug, a stroke or a heart attack. Or you're listening to your doctor (if you can afford to see one) utter those dread words "it's Type 2 Diabetes. There's no cure."
So to sum, I say that poverty can make you very sick indeed. It can also make you a slave. And neither prospect is very pleasant.
* The irony being, of course, that if we were making enough money to leave the projects, we would've long since left.
** Public Service Announcement, but you knew that already, didn't you?
Then Beggars Would Ride
Working full time in retail.
What the heck was I thinking?
Well, it's not like there are any graphic design jobs coming my way anymore (and I'm about ready to chuck the whole graphics thing anyway, for more than one reason), so I might as well just shut up, give up and make the best of it.
So what events have transpired since the tsunami...er, I mean, the holidays hit?
My biggest fear thankfully didn't come to pass; thanks to the generosity of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, my co-workers and some of my out of town friends, Mama and the kids had an excellent holiday. Even I got some presents (which I certainly wasn't expecting), but the biggest thing was getting the Trusty Steed to Durham to visit my mother and aunt and back without a hitch. Missed seeing my brother and his new baby, but that's okay; he's always at my mom's house, and we get along like oil and water anyway.
I guess the biggest thing since New Year's Day is that I've finally gotten serious about wanting to lose weight. Nothing faddish or fancy, no Atkins or South Beach diets or anything like that. Let's call this one the Po' Man's Diet. I can't afford a lot of health food and the like (even though we're on Food Stamps), so I use portion control and keep track of what I eat with a cheap food diary I picked up at Borders ($3.95). I try to keep my calories below 2500 a day* and my fat intake to 30% of that. I pay a lot of attention to the nutrition labels on the back of the packages. I've taken up yoga and pilates**, and -- if I can ever learn the moves -- plan to get into t'ai-c'hi. So far I've lost about 10 pounds, but I won't be satisfied until I hit 185 and therefore won't be mistaken for Shamu the Killer Whale.
The big negative of late, however, is that the Beast has made new inroads into my mind. He's gotten quiet since late November, but now relentlessly goes around all the mental barriers I put up. Most of his attacks now seem to have as their source the fact that I used to make 3-4 times as much as I used to when I worked at the ad agency and had a lot more fun. And didn't have to deal with the public at all. It's getting harder and harder to keep from getting depressed when he starts up a fresh attack.
It's said that once you stop looking for what you want, it comes to you. Or something like that. Maybe now that I've stopped looking, a better job with more money will fall into my lap.
Hmm, maybe the Flying Monkeys will come and whisk me off to Oz, too.***
* All that running around at work has some benefit; at a calculated calorie burn rate of about 3-4 calories a minute, I can knock off between 1350-1800 calories a day. And yeah, sometimes I fill the hole with a cookie or a slice of cake.
** Don't be fooled, guys; you see only women doing this stuff on the commercials and videos, but it's intense enough for us dudes, too. Check out vids by yoga instructor Rodney Yee if you don't believe me. Intense stuff. There are also football players and soldiers using yoga, too.
***Glinda the Good Witch: giggity, giggity!
I've decided that the best analogy that describes modern-day Christmas (circa 2006) is like a tsunami. You know when it hits, it's going to hit hard. You don't really want to be in the area, but you absolutely can't resist seeing what the effects will be.
Still, I can think of worse things to be hit by. And we are doing much better this year than we were this time last year, when we had no heat*, not much money coming in, the Trusty Steed sitting moribund in the driveway, the threat of eviction loomed on the horizon, and even Christmas itself was in jeopardy.
This year, thank God, there is abundant heat, the rent is paid up, there's money coming in (at least through the holidays) and -- thanks to the generosity of GIHN, Mt. Zion Baptist Church, some good friends now living sadly out-of-state, and my co-workers -- the kids are going to have a deliriously Merry Christmas. Mt. Zion even helped get the Trusty Steed a badly needed and long overdue tune up (it still grumbles a bit when I go faster than 60, but at least it's not threatening to fly apart altogether).
What a difference a year makes.
The store had adopted my family for Christmas and gave us the presents today. I was absolultely overwhelmed at the amount of gifts my co-workers and managers had collected for us. And after I'd been such a b-----d all year. Thanks, guys, for putting up with all the growls and snarls. There is a Cratchit under all this Scrooge. Somewhere. Really.
Still, there's a part of me that feels...uncomfortable. My kids are taken care of, but it bugs the crap out of me that there are other kids who may not have anyone to adopt them. It really chaps my hids that there are homeless families on Christmas. I know GIHN is helping at least one right now. I can think of few fates more horrible than being homeless during the holidays, and it bugs me that I'm not yet in a position to help out where it counts. Oh, I drop what little money I can into the Salvation Army kettles when I see one, but I'd love to help in a way that really counts. I'd love to win a fat Powerball prize and start funding food banks and emergency utility aid and holiday toy drive efforts. Not for any personal aggrandizement, either. Just so some kid who wants that particular toy at Christmas would get it. Just so a family whose breadwinner won't be working after the New Year could eat and focus on securing that next job. Just so those families whose presents were stolen** could still find a reason to get up on Christmas morning.
Yeah, yeah, I'm a bleeding-heart liberal. Sue me.
Let me finish up what may be my last post of the year with a thought. Just a little one:
This season isn't about Santa Claus, or Rudolph, or Jingle Bells, or Tickle Me Elmo. It's not about Christmas trees or carols or festive displays or pretty lights and tinsel. It's not even about family, or Peace on Earth, or giving gifts or Good Will Toward Men, although those are always a good idea.
It's about that little baby born 2000-some years ago in that manger. And why He was sent here. And what he represented. And even why he later died.
It's all about...love.
And when everything else -- wealth, fame, beauty -- has faded away, love abides.
*The gas had been off for a year due to nonpayment, so we were literally heating a 1200 square foot house with space heaters I'd buy from a nearby discount store with my meager earnings. Four of them kept us from freezing to death, although it still wasn't the most comfortable environment. We still have those heaters, and everytime I get to feeling cocky, I haul one out and take a hard look at it as a reminder.
**We've all heard of families who come home to find that some yahoo has broken in and stolen every present from under their tree. People that do this and ruin someone else's Christmas ought to be taken out back somewhere and shot.
The Fires of Winter
Lemme tell ya, folks, when my family and I lost out home earlier this year, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was go to a homeless shelter. We got lucky and linked up with GIHN, but there are others not as fortunate, and who have to go to Urban Ministry's or the Salvation Army's shelter, despite any reservations they may have. I had my reasons for not wanting to go to as shelter; I'm sure this guy had his reasons as well. Even if it was for the sheer pride of it all.
Of course, at the end of the day, it's a damn shame that he has to be homeless in America at all.
*Yes, this is unusual. Although I'm a news junkie, I often don't get to watch it much anymore because I'm either out running errands in the Trusty Steed or Ness has switched the TV to something she wants to watch and subsequently hidden the remote.
Chestnuts Roasting on a...Oh, Wait. That's Me...
But for now, some updates: Thanksgiving went without a hitch (except for the inevitable refereeing of the kids) and I even got the turkey right (for a change...) It usually comes out very dry. This year I dumped most of a can of chicken broth into the turkey before I closed the oven bag. Succulent and delicious! Leftovers this year weren't the ordeal they normally are.
I forgot to title my last post. I've typed one in, as you can see. Gotta keep consistency, after all.
I seem to be getting used to working in retail, even at Christmas (or maybe I'm just suffering from Stockholm Syndrome). Mixing it up with The Public both smart and stupid is just another walk in the park for me now. Still, I get the most boneheaded questions (like the lady that wanted to know if the Christmas trees on display were the same ones in the boxes right next to them even though there's a picture of the thing on the box) and the weirdest calls from the front registers (like the trainee who wanted to know if the clearance price she was seeing on her register was actually a clearance price. Well, duh, sweetheart...) The thing about work that bothers me the most now is when I don't get to finish cleaning up the department or setting up merchandise due to constant interruptions, and then having to end my shift with half my to-do list undone. Still, my fellow daytime co-workers have learned to have the coffee hot when I hit the door in the morning, and to not annoy "Michael B" too much until he's had a cup. Most days, anyway.
Could be worse; all the managers I had problems with are gone, along with, sadly, some I liked. And the ones I didn't like, I hated with a cold-flame passion. But I like all the current managers, especially my department head (Hi, O4!) She's got the same "get-it-done-however" attitude I have. Scary, no?
The Beast has quieted down some since my last post. I think just staying so busy has kept him off balance. Still, he manages to get in a jab every now and then. His latest tactic involves sowing doubt that I'll ever get back in school, or get my diploma once there.
My mom turned 70 today. Thank God. There were a few times we didn't think she'd make it, but not only is she still quite active, she's become cantankerous in her old age. Gee, can't imagine what that's like...
Took the family to the Greensboro Christmas parade* earlier today. It was actually good this year. The most impressive presentation was by Lawndale Baptist Church, who had people dressed as ancient shepherds, leading an assortment of domestic animals, including honest-to-God camels** and a huge float with the Three Wise Men and the Nativity, although the baby playing Jesus was a bit old I think (had to have been at least a year old).
We seem to have made a friend in the projects. There are numerous feral cats living in the woods nearby; they avoid us, we leave them alone (although a few have fallen prey to some of the cars that travel up and down the street). One calico cat, however, seems to have been someone's pet, once. We feed her whenever she decides to show up, and we can tell she's dying to come in, but as much as we'd like that, our lease (and landlord) say that's a no-no. I've been thinking of having someone come get her before the maintenance people decide to start a anti-cat pogrom but I haven't had much time to work on the idea. Calico*** also shows up on an irregular basis, so it's hard to predict where she'll be at any given time.
We've officially got copies of Ness' Christmas list. Oh, Lord. Suffice it to say it's two pages long, front and back, and composed mostly of items that Daddy will never be able to afford. Short of winning the Powerball, anyway. I asked her to prioritize the top ten items she wanted and there are a few things that I may be able to get, if I don't get kung-fu'ed by little old ladies shopping for their grandkids first.
*It's official name is the Greensboro Jaycees Holiday Parade, but I don't care what anybody says, it's a Christmas parade if it hits in December.
**I have no idea where in the world this place found camels. Pretty docile ones, too.
***I know it's lame, but we couldn't agree on a better name for her.