Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The working poor.

I am trying to get back into the swing of things, I am mending up nicely, working on a few odds and end things, trying to get money up for the poor stray cat that I fished out of the cesspool this past winter.  Some prick actually had the nerve to shoot him with an air rifle.  If you are going to do something like that, be kind, make sure the animal doesn't suffer.

So, as I sit here, unable to sleep yet again, I came across an article on Huffington Post.  It was a painful read.  I was there, will be there again shortly depending on the job I find.  Sure I have something lined out, but lets be honest, most jobs really don't pay enough anymore.

A few years ago when I had a nearly minimum wage paying job, I was a supervisor and made nearly a dollar over the minimum, it was difficult.  I waited for payday like a child waited for Christmas, waiting to see if Santa brought me what I had asked for.  It wasn't like I really had the money to spend on things, the majority of my money was spent before I even got it.  Carefully taking the hours I had worked, figuring out how much overtime I had, charging myself a higher tax rate than I actually paid, I would figure out how much I would pay so that all of my bills had something on them, and I had enough for gas and food for the next two week period.

Eventually, I had to start figuring in the amount of repairs to my vehicle, and how long I could put off repairs.  I spent three hours on a job site one morning using duct tape and a lighter fixing a spring leaf (see above).  This was to last until Tuesday so I could limp the truck home until payday came, but that turned into a three month wait to fix.  I simply could not afford to fix it otherwise.  Surprisingly, that little fix actually held.  I don't believe in luck, but that stunt should have resulted in a nasty accident, so I guess I had a little riding with me. 

I cannot count the times I was pulled into a gas station on payday, because I simply did not have enough to keep gas in the truck, it was worse when gas was over $4.00 a gallon.  I often comment that I ended up moving back in with my parents, maybe you could understand if I said that even today, it would take nearly half of my paycheck to fill up, just to keep working. 

In some strange way, I was actually able to save some money, it can be done, it is easy.  Most people think its crazy, but I would simply say I owed myself $50 a month, and then brainwashed myself into thinking that the savings account belonged to someone else.  But, really that lasted until I needed tires, or I had a brake failure of some kind.  Then it was off to the parts store to buy the parts, and get to work, sometimes I was sitting on a job site with the help of a co-worker changing out brake linings, replacing a radiator, and at one point replacing the air intake.  I have sat in the parking lot of the parts store replacing calipers and bleeding the brakes while I was on my way to work.  I have patched radiator hoses with gorilla tape on my way home from work.

One of the many joys of being the working poor, you pick up some interesting jobs skills along the way.  For me it was learning how to be a mechanic.  I can strip down a door in an F-150 with nearly the same efficiency of a NASCAR pit crew changing four tires and topping off the tank.  I can change a tire in five minutes, using that junky jack that comes with your vehicle.  I can patch and plug said tire and reseal the bead with ease.  Mostly because I could not afford to pay someone to do it, that was a luxury. 

I often comment that I moved back home with my parents, because as the price of everything increased, my paycheck stayed the same.  I couldn't afford rent, everything I owned would fit in a 10x10 room anyway, so no real loss.  But it sucked, being in your late twenties and living at home with my Mommy and Daddy.  Not like I was there often, I spent most of my time sleeping in the drivers seat, sitting in the middle of nowhere, the center of everywhere.  Sometimes because I was on the clock, most of the time because I was cutting corners (hey, if I could pull up somewhere and sleep and save gas, it was worth it).  Because your job pays so little that you can't even have a one room shanty.  I don't even want to imagine having a wife and kids working like that. 

But I worked that job, I owned it.  It was my wife, my children, my life.  It wore on me, I look back at Facebook and Live Journal from that time, and I see that I had become a very evil tempered person.  I still am in many ways, but I can honestly say it was the stress.  Constantly worrying about bills, keeping up with repairs, keeping things on my vehicle lined out so it would pass an inspection.  That is a crappy way to live life, paycheck to meager paycheck.  But I am sure I am preaching to the choir, most of you who are reading this, will know exactly what I mean.  You are living the high life, the new American Dream.  Work yourself to death at a job, and show so little actual return that you go numb.

I call it the dead eyes, a reference of sorts to Mr. Stephen King.  Its that dull expressionless eyes that you see in a soldier who has been through hell, the look of a homeless person who does not know when they will eat next, the look of someone who knows there is so much more in the world, yet they are trapped in a corner of it.  It is that feeling of waking up and moving about the house on auto-pilot, unaware of your surroundings because of a lack of sleep and stress.  Before it dawns on you, you have to leave for another day of work at a job that is nothing but an endless pit of despair.

Its the quick glace at the caller ID or your cell phone to see who is calling you that just adds to the hellish experience.  Is it a family member, the boss or supervisor, maybe a friend calling to check on you, but deep down you know how it is.  You always know its not a family member or a friend, you hold out hope that its just your boss or supervisor, but you know.  You know your phone is ringing because you owe someone somewhere money, and this is your daily reminder from the collection section to pay up.  Sometimes the rep on the phone tries to act polite and caring, I hate that.  They come off as I understand how bad it is, I want to help you, I really do, cross my heart and all that bull.  Other times they come off as real pricks, they treat you like a deadbeat.  I would rather that call, at least they are showing real emotions.  Stuck in their own hell I suppose, I can imagine sitting in that call center, random numbers constantly flashing up with some basic account information all day, every day.  The stories are usually the same, really they are.  I was laid off, I just don't have the money right now, any number of reasons, many of them are legitimate.  But to hear one sad story after another like that, after a while all that compassion gets used up.  Sometimes you really do have a deadbeat just jiving you, you can never really tell these days.

 But as I was saying I prefer the you are a deadbeat type calls in many ways.  The honesty of it.  Usually I would try to make out some arrangements with the person in question, and hope I could swing enough to take care of it.  Often times I was lying, I knew no matter how much I swung anything, the money just wouldn't be there.  More often than not I just stopped answering the phone.  If a name didn't pop up on my cellphone, it meant I didn't know you, which meant I screened your call.  Oh how that pisses them off, calling five or six times in a day, and I refused to answer the phone.  Only so much self righteous indignation can be taken.  These people didn't have a clue of what I was dealing with day in and day out.  They have their own little cushy hell to live, I had a brutal learn to pull yourself up hell.

You know, at the time I left my job, after everything that had happened, the job was leaving anyway, I just got out the door before everything went wrong with it, I should have been afraid.  I mean most people become very nervous when they quit a job or get fired before they have something else in line.  I felt free, I didn't have to worry about all the pitfalls of that job.  I knew I would have to pay bills with no income until I found something, but no more hour long drives to the job, no more crappy paychecks which were likely to arrive late, no more stress.  Lots of long sleepless nights were ahead, I knew that, but at least I wouldn't have to look into the eyes of people who had their souls sucked dry by that job. 

Each person has their own hell in life, that much I am sure.  It is specific and unique to each of us.  For me it was long hours in the dead hours.  Those hours at night where nothing moves, even the frogs do not croak, and the mosquitoes don't bite.  It is the hours I seem to do my best thinking anymore, because only the haunts are out and about.  Ultimately, I am not alone in this, there are so many people living life like this, that young lady in the article linked above is just one of them.  Things will eventually improve, faster for her I am sure, faster for the others that the Huffington Post mentions in their series, but for people like me, it will be a slow crawl.  I often feel as if I will die with my boots on, and that honestly scares the shit out of me.  God, demons, ghosts, staring down the barrel of a loaded gun do not scare me as much as the prospect of working until the day I die.  Being sixty or older working a job because I could never escape that first job, I could never escape a life where even a minimalistic lifestyle was beyond my means.  And really that should scare us all.