Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It's All Relative

We’re number one! We’re number one!

But not in a good way.

I was speaking with a couple I know about the price of gas recently and we were laughing (mostly to keep from crying) about the marketing and ploys used by the evil, greedy oil companies. Last week gas near my house shot up to $4.07/gallon and I actually screamed when I drove past the gas station that morning. This couple pointed out that we all wigged-out when we saw $4.07 because it went up 40¢ per gallon overnight. OVER! NIGHT! And then two days later it was down to $3.98/gallon. What did we all do? We felt relief and filled up our tanks. We were HAPPY that gas went down to $3.98, which was still 30¢ over the cost of just a few days earlier, but because it was under $4 again, we were actually okay with paying $3.98. What a brilliant game of manipulation, making us happy to pay $3.98 per gallon by just charging a little more for one day before settling on this still exorbitant price. Fuckers.

Briana and I were chatting about it and I said that if we’re going to pay Canadian prices for gas, I want to see some of the benefits Canadian citizens have. How about we get some decent health care down here, which I blame for the economic crisis we’re in? Maybe we could borrow their conscience about how to treat the planet. Would THEY have a governor FIGHTING the declaration of polar bears as a threatened species? How exactly are they going to respond to the American refugees seeking asylum across the border in a few years when endemic warfare becomes our system of government? Will they build a fence along their southern border and put up signs for Canadian drivers to watch out for Americans trying to illegally enter their country, dashing dangerously across streets and hiding out in the backs of trucks? Makes me wonder. Will they one day soon be developing specific laws on how to deal with all the illegal Americans living in their country, sending them back to the U.S., where the druglords rule, clean drinking water is unaffordable, and where you can die from a sinus infection because medical care and medications are so overpriced that the black market meds, which are mostly placebos, are actually killing people due to a lack of treatment? I wonder.

Today I was at that place I’m not going to talk about anymore, and it was so quiet that I was reading the online news. I came across an article that actually had me in tears.

Homeless Mom.

Now, it’s sad enough that in California, the Unemployment Rate for April was 6.2% (only Alaska and Michigan had higher rates in the U.S.), and the cost of living is obscene, but to know that there are so many middle-class employees now out-of-work and homeless, that there are entire parking lots that are devoted to providing safe places for people to park when they live in their car. It breaks my heart.

I think about Boyfriend Extraordinaire, who rents an average three-bedroom townhouse and has two roommates who stay in the other two bedrooms because rent in this average suburban neighborhood of townhouses almost two hours outside of L.A., runs about $1,700/month. It makes me sick. And B.E. handles all the repairs in the house because he’s afraid that if he complains about anything to the landlord, the rent will shoot up. What he’s doing is fairly common because there is NO PARKING at all in his neighborhood. The area was designed to provide appropriate parking to one working pair of adults in each house, but that situation just isn’t realistic, and even the families rent out their extra rooms, throwing extra cars into the streets for parking. As well as landslides, earthquakes, wildfires, traffic issues and smog, I guess California is also known for having insufficient parking, which I didn’t know. B.E. has already lost one roommate because the parking situation is such a nightmare. On top of all the other things he worries about, both of his roommates have recently lost their jobs due to downsizing and lay-offs. One recently started selling his stuff (of which he has little) to have gas money for job-hunting. These are people about $1 away from living in their cars, too. When I say “these…people”, I include B.E. in that mix as well, because if the roommates have to leave, what are the odds that he’ll find a new roommate immediately? Not good. He could just as easily be out of a home because his roommates are out of work.

By me, the Unemployment Rate is better at 5.4%, but I know many people who are unemployed, underemployed, or unhappily employed and “looking”, none with any success. A more frightening thought is what I found in the public records database. In the area my library serves, just for 2008 so far, there are 461 foreclosures on private residences. In 2006, the Census folks estimated the population to be right around 53,000, and according to Epodunk.com, the average home houses 3.53 people. That means of 15,000 homes, 3.1% are in foreclosure. I know I see 100 people each day, and statistically, three out of those 100 are losing or just lost their home. Yikes!

Many people have it much worse than I do, and I don’t pretend for one second that my life sucks because it could always be so much worse. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I live with my disabled mother and my deeply depressed and unemployed adult brother. They both had breakdowns when my dad died, and I’ve kind of taken over the lead of my very fucked up little family because otherwise they’d be living on the street. Mom declared bankruptcy last year because of all the bills from my dad’s business, which became hers when he died, and the house is still in his name because my mom can’t prove a sufficient income to have it put in her name. I never know when the roof might be yanked out from above us. Between my mom’s Disability check, the assistance she gets for the utilities, the food she receives from the food pantry, and my income, we’re able to survive, but each month something doesn’t get paid. I’m the only driver and I have to do all the chauffeuring, so even though I really need an additional job to make ends meet, I can’t do it because I need to be around to take them to doctor appointments or for whatever the household needs. One day I’ll have my own life. However, I’m afraid that it wouldn’t be a windfall that would make that happen, but another tragic loss. I can honestly recognize myself in the faces of the people living in their cars, losing their homes.

And it scares the shit out of me. I honestly think about defecting on a daily basis.

Yet, today I was having a conversation with someone about a citizenship assistance program, and how each meeting sees at least one person who previously attended and that person has become a citizen. They return to the class with their good news and treats, so there is a party going on at each meeting, with food, drinks and the kind of high spirits I’ve never known in my life. It’s contagious and inspiring and I want to be a part of this. I want to help people become citizens. I already register voters, and that thrill is enormous for me, but to help someone become a citizen would just be awesome. One of the people who became a citizen said that 27 different countries were represented at this person’s citizenship ceremony, and each and every one of those people coming from those other countries was thrilled to tears to now be American citizens. This represents so much to them, so much hope and promise that they didn’t have from wherever they came from, and it’s hard to believe that as bad as I feel things are here, it’s a lot worse in other countries.

This leaves me emotionally confused, because while I’m saddened that a 67-year-old professional woman is living with her two dogs in her car, making $8/hour at a part-time job, at least she has the safety of her car on a protected lot, with the companionship of her beloved dogs. Maybe that’s something.

It’s amazing to me where people find hope.


Anonymous said...


Yeah....those are the exact reasons why I'm confused people still live in California if they aren't upper class. Who can afford it? In my lifetime I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to own a house. I'll be in an apartment forever.

Dances With Books said...

I hear ya, Bria. I will probably be in an apartment forever as well. The thing that really frightens me is that the morons in this country will probably elect the Repugs AGAIN no matter how screwed over they are. Just wait: they will pull some fear stunt at the last minute, and no matter how bad the country is doing, they will vote for them anyhow (then have the gall to complain about the country after).

Believe me, you are not the only one considering defecting to some other country. At least, in my case, I am fluent in Spanish, so if Canada does not work, just about any place in Latin America will work (ya, I am THAT hopeless at this point).

Hang in there. People living in cars when this mess could have been avoided is just wrong.

Emily said...

I live in Alaska and have family and friends in Michigan. I am reminded to be grateful everyday when I see men and women with signs on street corners and when then bastard security guards kick homeless folks out of the mall, some of whom are our patrons. Not only is the economy bad but society just wants to ignore it in hopes that it will go away.

Rachel said...

I'm here in sunny southern California and here's a picture of a gas station that makes me cringe everytime I drive past it: http://kamiiyu.deviantart.com/art/California-Gas-Prices-83225361
Only this gas station raised it's prices to $4.45 for the cheapest and $4.93 for diesal.
and I know what you mean about the living in the car thing... It sucks! Thankfully, even though I can barely afford driving (on part time making $12 an hour) I at least have a home to go to. I'm moving out of state as soon as I can.

Evyl Fashionista said...

I've been unemployed for over three months and have had only one (!) interview during that whole time. Either I'm hideously over-qualified for jobs or don't have one specific thing in my work history that a company wants. Either way, no one will look at me. I have three recruiters working my resume in addition to me sending them out on my own. I can't even get companies to acknowledge receipt of my resume!

I'm lucky in the fact that my husband is working, but unemployment is not nearly enough to make up for my lack of an actual salary. It's very depressing to watch what little savings we had disappear just to pay the monthly bills. Just this morning I went through my costume closet to see what I can reasonably sell off. (I work during the fall at a renaissance faire)

During my 20 odd years in the workforce, I have NEVER dealt with this bad of an economy before. If nothing comes up soon, I may just see about getting a part-time retail job just to supplement my megre unemployment check.

Bobby said...

I am almost there, it is a sad sad world.

And I mean literally, not "my credit cards are max'd", but, oh my, there's no $$ left, but there's the car.

Debbie said...

The only reason I can still afford to live in So. Calif. is that we bought our house 15 years ago, and our payment is less than most people's rent. We couldn't afford to buy even a much smaller place if we had to start over. And, along with Rachel, we're planning to move out of state when we retire in less than 4 years(maybe not to the same state, though!).

Rachel said...

Oh and I just found out that diesal has risen over $5.19 a gallon now.

Rachel said...

(sorry, early in the morning, meant Diesel)