It Costs More to be Poor

I’ve been poor, upper middle class, and poor again. What always amazes me is how much more it costs to be poor, overall. Poverty almost forces you to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

When I’m doing well, I can buy bigger packages for better value or stock up on sale items in the grocery store; when I’m poor I must buy only whatever amount I need right now, at whatever price it is right now. You can’t afford to pay $3.00 more in order to ‘save’ $5.00 if you don’t have the 3 bucks, you know?

If you don’t have the money to pay all your bills on time, you incur late fees. Juggling the bills adds a lot of expense, but what choice do you have? You simply do not have enough money at any one time to cover everything. If you’re unlucky enough to end up with your electricity or water turned off due to non-payment, you will not only pay late fees but also a fee to reconnect the service.

When I’m doing well, I have a cushion in my checking account and am never overdrawn; when I’m poor, I sometimes end up overdrawn and must pay a $40.00 bank fee, even if I was only a dollar short. When that happens, there’s an excellent chance that it will keep happening, because I’m now even further in the hole and each new transaction that hits the bank while I’m overdrawn will cost me an additional $40.00. Hard as hell to dig yourself out of this cycle.

When you have a decent car, your only expenses are insurance, gas and regular maintenance. When you have a crappy car, the best you could afford, it will break down regularly, costing you money in two ways: fixing it, and missing work while it’s being fixed. That’s in addition to the insurance and gas (regular maintenance often goes undone, because you can’t afford the $25 oil change.) Hello, being overdrawn again.

If you’re sick, you put off going to the doctor as long as possible. You can’t afford the co-pay (IF you have insurance), the prescription, and the time off work. Of course, this is often disastrous, since you may well end up far sicker in the long run, which will cost even more money.

If you don’t have a car at all, you take public transportation (if you have access to it). If you need to do a big grocery shopping trip, or must go somewhere not served by public transportation, maybe you have good friends with the means and desire to drive you around. If not, you have to take a taxi… one of the most expensive ways to get around!

Being poor often means your credit record is shot. If, God forbid, a major money-sucking event happens and you need to borrow money to survive it, you’ll have to sell your soul to the devil (ie: payday lenders), and pay outrageous interest fees.

In the days before cell phones, if you didn’t have a home phone you had to walk to a payphone and pay for each call. Far less cost-effective than paying for a home phone, but again, you can’t afford to spend money now to save money in the long run.

The poor are literally nickel and dimed, sometimes to death.

Published in: on November 12, 2012 at 11:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

My Real Dad

People often use the phrase “real dad” to mean their biological father, as distinguishable from their step father. In my case, my step father is my “real dad”. No doubt about it.

This is a man who married my mother when I was four years old, and was divorced from her by the time I was eight. Less than four short years as an official family member. With no blood tie, and no legal obligation, many men would just fade into the background, never to be heard from again. Not my dad, though.

We had weekend visits, special outings, birthdays and Christmases. He took me to my first professional baseball and football games, accompanied me to my first concert, and taught me to love roller coasters, epic movies, and haunted houses. Knowing my mother couldn’t afford to, he bought me my school wardrobe every year, right down to the shoes. He walked me down the aisle at my wedding, and he cried. He attended the births of my children, and is a doting grandfather to them. How much more real can you get?

My dad is a rare breed. A truly special human being.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Published in: on June 17, 2012 at 10:33 am  Leave a Comment  

A Ticket To Ride

Bear with me for a moment, if you will. I’m working on a theory, here. In the list of universal truths, “Life will bring pain” has got to be way up there, right? It seems to be an inevitability. It’s going to happen… you just don’t know when.

Take me, for instance. I was pretty much born into pain, and it lasted for my entire childhood. By any measure, my early life was absolutely miserable. My mom was a teenager when she had me, and we were dirt poor – I got shoes and gloves from my elementary school’s lost and found when a teacher took pity on me. I was a sickly kid… nary an illness passed me by. My mom has Borderline Personality Disorder (look it up… it’s bad news) and was never much of a mother to me at all. I never even met my biological father until I was an adult. To top it off… I was repeatedly molested by one of my mom’s brothers. The first time it happened, I was six months old. Just about my whole family knew it was happening, and didn’t do much about it. I eventually put a stop to it myself when I was 13. I was basically left unprotected from the very big, very bad world. All of this just might explain why I suffered with depression and suicidal urges for so long. Ya’ think?

On the other hand, as an adult, I’ve been pretty damn lucky. Gainful employment and good friends. A long and stable marriage to a good man that produced three wonderful children. An affluent lifestyle that allowed me to stay home with them for many years. A mutual, and for the most part, amicable parting of the ways that led me to an exciting new phase of my life. Finding a new love when I wasn’t even looking. Maybe more importantly, finding myself. I’m now married to the love of my life, my daughters have grown into lovely young women, and I have a great job serving a wonderful community of people. I’m more satisfied with my life than ever.

Conversely, I know many people who had idyllic childhoods, loved & warm & protected. The big bad world didn’t catch up with them until later, you see. As adults, though, they struggle. With love and its attending relationships, or money – just barely getting by. Drugs or alcohol grab them by the tail, or the loss, too soon, of a loved one. Maybe just painfully bad luck. Sometimes these folks have a bad spell and move on to better times, sometimes not.

So, my theory is this: We all have to pay sometime. I paid big time, early and often. You may have paid a little or a lot. Maybe it caught up with you later, or maybe you’re paying through the nose right now, as you read this. If that’s the case, you have my full sympathies. It just seems to me that everyone must have his or her share of tragedy. It’s like the price of admission to this fantastic and awful adventure that we call living.

Okay, you may say, but what about we poor doomed souls who seem to have been paying all our lives… rotten childhoods, followed by more of the same? Well, even those of you in that situation have surely had brief moments of joy in your lives. Bright, shiny memories to hold on to in dark times. Though it can’t eradicate the bad, it does at least temper it with good. And who knows? Maybe you’ll be living it up in some Utopian after-life, paid in full for all of eternity!

In any event, I believe the price has been worth it. I’d pay it again, if it got me here. So just know it going in. You’ll have to pay a price, large or small, sooner or later. Buy your ticket with grace and courage & hang on tight. Life is a wonderful, if bumpy, ride.

Published in: on June 10, 2010 at 12:34 pm  Comments (3)  

My desk, my world

There’s something about my desk. When I sit before it, my world seems to narrow to its dimensions. At 3 x 5 feet, it’s a sizable desk… but a small world. This old oak monstrosity has seen better days. Battered, bruised, scarred by cigarettes smoked long ago. I wouldn’t dream of refinishing it. I love every single mark upon it. As my arms rest on its character rich surface, worn smooth as marble by all the arms before mine, I can breathe. I am home.

Of course, my very modern flat screen monitor sits on this island, calling out to me, and I cannot often ignore that siren song. But while I’m being seduced by that insistent lover – the internet – I am surrounded by things I love. At least it’s not a deserted island.

A large basket to my left holds my paperwork, and frequently one cat or the other. A smaller basket at the back right corner holds my favorite writing utensils in the world, Zebra F-402 pens: black ink distilled through a fine point.  So smooth and lovely. Sharing quarters with those are my favorite sketching pencils, Dixon Tri-Conderoga: triangular shaped, black rubber coated #2 pencils. A joy to hold in hand. Mustn’t forget the retractable point Sharpie! How did I ever survive without one? My orange handled scissors give a pop of color, and the fuse-bead flower my daughter made adds a hint of whimsy and love. A pile of books, a pile of new paperwork, a dictionary and a thesaurus.  An old adding machine for which replacement ribbons are no longer available… and yet, I can’t bear to part with it, I love it so.

On the wall to my left, a family gallery grins down at me. Our children, their children, grandparents long gone… they are all happy to see me. To my right, A plain Jane pot-lid rack from Ikea serves as a folder holder. Utterly utilitarian, it mingles with its neighbor, a beautiful switch plate cover designed to look like an old french postcard – topped with my favorite letter: N.

In the back left corner is both the bane of my existence, and the sole reason for my continued presence in the world. A lovely metal pot, oblong and large enough to hold all of my prescription bottles. Six different medications – ten pills total – everydamnday. While I love the sculpted vines on the rusty brown pot, I am not terribly fond of those pills. Still, I am thankful for the time they allow me. Days in which I am, first and foremost, alive. Once past that hurdle, I also appreciate not having panic attacks, keeping kidney disease at bay, and quieting the pain enough so that I can walk down the stairs every morning. And sit at my desk.

Published in: on October 24, 2009 at 1:30 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,

Sadly, not much has changed

vet headstone

Published in: on October 19, 2009 at 12:42 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Friendship, love, and heartache

A little over a year ago, I’d have said it was impossible to develop a true friendship with someone on the internet. I had friends who frequented chat rooms, and used online dating services and I just didn’t get it. Said friends informed me that it was not only possible to make friends, but to fall in love – at least a little – with someone you’ve never met. “How can this be?”, I asked myself. “Why?” I wanted to know.

Then I stumbled upon the website that is now my online home ( Initially, the draw was deep conversation with very smart people – something harder and harder to find in ‘real life’. The community as a whole quickly became even more attractive. Even then, I’d have described the feeling I had as friendly – but not friendship.

Last winter, there was a discussion on the site about Christmas shopping. I mentioned that my husband was facing a lay-off at work and we were unsure if we would even be able to do any Christmas shopping. When I signed on the next day, I had a private message from a fellow member of the site – expressing the hope that the layoff wouldn’t come and hoping it wouldn’t offend me if she offered to send me a little money to buy a few things for our kids. She remembered what it was like to be in that position herself many years prior. “It would be a gift”, she stressed. No repayment would be expected or accepted. I had tears streaming down my face at the generosity of this ‘stranger’ as I replied to her message. I respectfully declined (as we had relatives to fall back on if need be). I deeply appreciated her offer for many reasons. Not the least of which was a new definition for the word friendship.

Since that time, I have made several friends there. A number of you are probably reading this right now! But that one, that first one… she has proven to be the most optimistic, brave and feisty person I’ve ever known. Chris has been fighting Leukemia for years. Through many bouts of chemo and nausea and hairless-ness, she has never failed to be true to herself. A loving mother and wife, an independent business woman, a friend to all. At times she has contemplated throwing in the towel, but never has she done so. After her long (and ongoing) bout with Leukemia, it seemed absurdly unfair when she was diagnosed with an aggressive type of breast cancer. To illustrate the type of woman she is, she and her friends held a going away party for the ‘girls’! Less than a week after finding out, she underwent a double mastectomy on Thursday.

Sadly, she’s in the ICU fighting for her life as I type. Usually breast cancer is the more survivable of the two cancers in question, but she has experienced several complications since the surgery. Infection, seizures, and a mini-stroke are conspiring to do what cancer has not. Once again, tears are streaming down my face. “How can this be?”, I ask myself. “Why?” I want to know.

Published in: on October 19, 2009 at 12:34 am  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , , ,

Facebook debate over health care reform

Regarding the reform bill…
Random Friend of a Friend That I Don’t Even Know: This is mentioned in section 1233 of HR3200. It was primarily written by a group formerly known as the Hemlock society. It asks questions like is life worth living and are you a financial burden to your family!!! Do you really want the government checking on this with you and your doctor? I have a living will the doctor and the family will know what I want but this should ALWAYS be a private decision.I couldn’t be more opposed to this.
ME: No it doesn’t ask those questions.
RFofF: I saw a copy of the questionnaire on television not from the document they did mentioned the exact section.If you have better information please pass it along. Regardless I can’t support any government end of life involvement.
RFofF: you made me stay up late actually reviewing sections of Hr3200. Good for you I shouldn’t have relied on the national news media. It’s actually worse than I thought!! Read pages 425, 427,429and 430. the government pretty much gets to tell you what you have to do at the end of your life.
ME: I respectfully disagree. I just re-read the pertinent pages of the bill, just to be sure I wasn’t mistaken. It requires that a consultation be PAID FOR by the plan – IF YOU WANT ONE – every 5 years (or more often if your health condition changes). For goodness’ sake, it doesn’t even require the consultation, let alone an advanced directive! If YOU choose to draw up an advanced directive, YOUR wishes will be followed, not anyone else’s. If YOU choose to draw up an advanced directive, it must (From page 430):
‘‘(ii) effectively communicate(s) the INDIVIDUALS’s PREFERENCES regarding life-sustaining treatment, including an indication of the treatment and care DESIRED BY THE INDIVIDUAL.” (The ‘individual’ is YOU. Emphasis mine).
In no way does that mean the doctor, the government, or anybody but YOU gets to decide.
(BTW, I am not shouting at you… I would use italics to emphasize words if facebook supported it)

Published in: on October 19, 2009 at 12:30 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

This describes my entire wedding reception

Published in: on October 19, 2009 at 12:24 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

A comfort to me

I don’t mean to be morbid, but I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. Well, not death exactly, but the bit that comes after. You know… the arrangements. A TV movie, of all things, inspired this line of thought. As our male lead prepares to bury his late wife, he must – of course – pick out clothes for her to wear in her eternal rest. Mind you, this was a woman who spent her life in jeans and a t-shirt.  Maybe a sweater, but that’s about it. So what does he pick out for her? A dress. A navy blue, polyester dress – covered in teeny, tiny flowers. With a high ruffled collar.

If she were alive, I’m certain she’d have objected vehemently. Not for me, this funeral attire! I don’t know about you, but that’s the last thing I’d ever want to wear, especially if it’s the last thing I ever would.

Now, you may say that the occasion of going to meet your maker warrants dressing your best, but I’d say you’re wrong. I doubt very highly that God, if He exists, wants to meet a pale imitation of me, with a stiff smile followed by a  “man-these-shoes-are-killing-my-feet” cringe. Don’t you think He would prefer to see the real you? The one who’s comfortable in your own skin (not to mention your clothes)? Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we all  go to our graves wearing our rattiest “hell, I’m not going anywhere today” clothes… I mean, I do think some level of respect is appropriate here. I’m just saying, be yourself – even in death. And, if you’re a banker or something, and you’d feel naked without a suit, then by all means, wear your best one! Me, on the other hand? No.

When I’m put in the ground, I’d like to be wearing a Lands’ End polo shirt… they make the nicest ones. I’m partial to navy. A pair of Levi’s 501s, the lightly faded ones, if you will. Some cushy socks. I’d also like some of my favorite things in that box with me. That small piece of baby blanket that’s comforted me throughout my life? In my hand, please. Pictures of my kids. The stuffed animal “buddies” they’ve given me over the years. My down pillow, if there’s room. A letter from my love.

And, last but not least, a new pair of shoes on my feet. White canvas, flat soled, lace-to-toe tennis shoes. After all, I don’t know where I’m going, or how long it’ll take me to get there.  Comfortable shoes, at the very least, seem like a must for my last trip. I’ll see you at the funeral… come as you are.

Published in: on October 19, 2009 at 12:16 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Ode to the kooky ones

We all have one, don’t we? That kooky relative that’s just a little… off. When I was a teenager, my favorite uncle (who is a tad kooky himself) married a woman named Marilyn. To my white bread suburban eyes, she was as exotic as they come. Her brown hair was a wild array of curls, spreading willy-nilly up and around her head like fluffy clouds. Her eyes sparkled just a little too much. She laughed loudly and often, and she had the broadest smile I’d ever seen. She was rarely without it as far as I could tell. Just a little too happy, to my narrow way of thinking. And she was very bohemian, with her loose, flowing clothes and odd grooming habits. This was the first woman I’d ever known that didn’t shave her legs, on purpose! Being a very vain teen, I wouldn’t take out the garbage without full on hair and make-up. For me, Marilyn just did not compute. I was both fascinated and repelled by her. Even a little embarrassed for her. She was just so… wild. A free spirit in our conformist Washington, DC suburb.

Once, at a holiday family dinner, I had an attack of severe stomach pains (a frequent occurrence at the time). She actually got down on her hands and knees to teach me the universal ‘let-out-the-gas’ technique. “You just put your head down, and your butt up… like this!” right in front of everyone! I was completely mortified, but – ahem – relieved. Clearly, she meant well. But couldn’t she be a little more ‘normal’? Again, that push me/pull me dynamic was hard at work.

She wrote a long book of poetry: The Asboo Bampin Forest and Other Places I Have Been. I got the chance to read it, bound in manuscript form. It was a wild ride, indeed. Beautiful and surreal. My favorite poem was Daffodils Laughing, and I have never gotten it – or her – out of my head. Her smile and happy daffodils are forever linked. In fact, when I hear the song “Yellow”, I think of her.

These days, I rarely wear make-up and seldom shave my legs unless I have to. I’m not making a statement or bucking the establishment either, as she was. I am simply lazy! And I disdained her. God, the shallowness of the young! She cared not a whit about convention, or people’s opinions of her. She lived as she liked, and I now admire her for that. Sadly, the marriage was not long-lived. I never had the chance to know Marilyn as an adult, a relationship I think I’d have quite enjoyed. Still, my memories of her have informed my views on life in some indelible way. I’m awfully glad I knew her.

Wherever you are Marilyn, I hope the daffodils are laughing.

Published in: on October 19, 2009 at 12:07 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,