Poverty and Joy

I drove by our emergency homeless center and swung around back. It hits me every time I go there. This time I burst into tears and had to sit in the car for a few minutes. I’ve seen it before, but this time of year makes it worse.

Lined up by the back door are about two dozen small bikes and strollers. Little bikes. A little Fuchsia colored bike that obviously belonged to a little girl.

How does that not tug at your heartstrings? I don’t even like kids. I don’t like being around them, the shrieking and screaming, and the “me, me, me”. I never wanted kids. I didn’t even like myself when I was a kid. I don’t feel like I missed anything. I baby sat a couple of times for friends and realized that this was not for me. When W. C. Fields was asked how he liked children he replied, “Crisp!”

So that is why it seems so strange to me to live in a country where people who actually like kids allow this to exist.

For all the talk about Christian values dominating this country, why is it that on the eve of an event involving a homeless family seeking shelter, it’s no longer an event rare enough to become the stuff of legends, 2000 years later it’s so common that no one notices. What would Jesus say about that? Suffer the little children?

We are a wealthy country and this is unnecessary, ergo, deliberate. We can fix it, but we won’t. Oh, I can just hear some of you screaming, “Socialist”.

Is that what I am? Because I don’t think a rich country should tolerate poverty? Well, then I guess I am a Socialist and I’ll tell you what I’ll do, if you name callers would get off of your gigantic bulbous asses and go fix the problem, I’ll let you tattoo a large red “S” right on my fucking forehead.

Women and children first. They once mattered. Now we have emergency shelters that can serve but a few. The rest live under freeways, out of sight.

I wonder where they were just before they came to the shelter? Hanging on by a thread, and then the thread broke.

I think a lot about poverty. It’s one of those things you don’t get over. My mother was stricken with Multiple Sclerosis when I was just a year old. My father passed away after a lengthy illness, when I was six.

My first home was foreclosed when I was seven years old. I was dragged, kicking and screaming out of the country and forced to become a city boy.

I’m a simple man and I’ll take country poverty over its urban cousin any day. In the country, the best anyone ever does is “get by”. So, if you are “just barely getting by”, it’s not so obvious. You don’t have to wear it around like an optic orange safety vest.

City poverty is segregated and regulated. The poorer you are, the closer you live to the gritty core, the railroad tracks or the freeway.

My mother was able to work during periods of remission, but It is worth noting that during those periods during which my mother could not work, we were able to “barely get by” on my father’s Veterans and Social Security survivor benefits. Is that socialism?

My mother was too proud and too independent to take “welfare” as she would disdainfully refer to it, but there was a time when we ran out of food.

My sister got hit by a car and broke her pelvis. There were additional unexpected expenses.

My mother was making bread rolls and came up short on the flour. Exhausted and disgusted she grabbed a couple of handfuls of corn meal and threw it in with very low expectations for the outcome.

The rolls were amazing! Their texture was soft and dense, almost like cake, and they gave off this wonderful bakery smell. There was just a hint of sweetness. For years, my mother attempted to replicate that recipe, but because she didn’t measure the original amount of corn meal, they were never quite the same.

Now desperate, my mother turned to the Salvation Army and borrowed seven dollars.

Even though it was just a loan, my mother was too embarrassed to go to our regular market, so we went to one several blocks away.

We bought dry beans, flour, and salt pork. When we got to the cashier and presented the check, she acted confused, picked up her microphone and asked the manager, over the intercom, how to handle the transaction. He boomed back, “Treat it just like welfare.”

I was thirteen. I remember the searing heat flaring up in me. I think that is the day I crossed over. I had long hair when the buzz cut was the style. I was wearing a ratty old parka that was semi ratty when I got it. I looked poor, I was poor, I lived poor, we just borrowed seven fucking dollars to avoid starvation, and we are publicly humiliated for it.

I’ve never stopped brooding about that. I’ve scraped the bottom and the taste is bitter.

I tell this story because most of the people who write about poverty are merely students of it; rarely participants. And to be sure, there are varying degrees of poverty, and this great land has all types in abundance.

According to a recent release of Census data, nearly half of Americans are now considered poor. The middle class is shrinking at an alarming rate.

We fought a fifty year war on poverty and lost. Got beaten by it, and have apparently surrendered.

Now, 49 million Americans live in poverty – with 2.6 million falling into the category last year. That’s 16 percent of Americans.

16.2 million children are food insecure, as are 3 million seniors.

The one percent likes to dispute the significance of the data arguing that poor people are really much better off than the statistics reveal. Huh?

In essence, they say that Americans are faking poverty, and they deserve no better. So, I guess it is safe to conclude that we won’t be doing anything about it any time soon.

There will be more and more little bikes and strollers hidden away behind emergency shelters in the years to come. It is a tale of two cities; the one we wished we still lived in, Bedford Falls, and the one it has become, Pottersville. I find no joy in that.

George W. Mantor
The Real Estate Professor
Founder, American Foreclosure Resistance Movement

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” — Mahatma Gandhi