Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The more you have.

Many years ago I was told "If you know what you have, you don't have much."  The comment, made by a friend really rubbed me the wrong way.  For years I have been fairly anal about the things I own.  I always do my best to take care of these things, I want them to last, I take pride in some of them, I want to keep them.

I guess in his own way, he didn't mean it as a derogatory thing.  If you step back and think about it, if you really know every little thing you own in this life, you really don't have much, or you are overly anal about what you own, and should broaden your horizons a bit.  After all these years, that single of hand comment just popped back into my brain, I guess because of the road I have traveled these past three years.

I don't have a lot to my name these days, then again, I never really did.  I have always been a minimalist. Right down to when I had a say in how my room was decorated, what furniture was in it, I am a minimalist.  A dresser that I can set my television and whatever video game console I am using at the moment, a bed, a couch or chairs to sit in, a gun safe/cabinet if I have any firearms, and maybe a dorm fridge for booze or drinks I don't want in the kitchen.  My room's walls are bare, except countless cheap book shelves full of movies and books I acquired in better times.  In some regards, I think the days of DVD/Blu-ray and book collections are going the way of the dinosaurs, but hey, I have seen stranger collections mounted to the walls of a house (imagine countless Barbie Dolls, NASCAR collectibles,  or Matchbox cars hanging on the wall).  All that clutter, even with my movies and books drive me insane.

I have the movies listed alphabetical by name, the books by author (be it novel or textbook, with law codes by volume and state).  Yes, I finally got into a house, got my junk out of storage, and here at the house.  Ultimately, this isn't about what I currently have, this is about what I have lost along the way, because remember, since I know what I have lost these past several years, how much did I really own?  Yes, this is going to be a whiny bitchy post, because at some point, even the strongest and weakest people need to vent.  The only difference between being strong is not needing to vent as often.  It doesn't make you a better man to keep it bottled up.

In 2009, we (my family) lost the farm.  I mean that literally.  Bad prices for livestock, dog issues, bad business deals, any excuse will do, right?  You see, farming by its very nature is a boom or bust proposition.  You have great years, horrible years, and years you can't help but want to crawl into a bottle.  Believe it or not, we had all three of those things in a year, and it totally destroyed our so-called profit margin, which was never about turning a huge profit.  It was always about ensuring our stock had the best possible care.  The best vet care, the best feed, the best shelter from the elements and the best roughage.  Along with that, we wanted the best employees to care for these animals.  So, deals that went bad, left us short, I took a pay cut, a massive pay cut.  I worked for free, my business, my animals, my bad luck.  The economy going "tits up" as a British friend said didn't help matters.  Dogs rampaging through the farm cut down on stock.  All conspired with a lender, who ended up snagging the place and putting us off it.

I was packing, moving stuff as quickly as I could, with little help.  However, when the day came, while I had more help, I was totally spent, and things were lost, things were left, and those things went into the trash.  Wedding photos, childhood pictures (including my senior class photos of me flicking the camera off), family trinkets, family dishes, silver, most of my books, and a host of other things (including my bed).  Oh how I wish I had that bed and books now, I miss my waterbed, I miss being able to randomly pick up a book and reading it.  But all in all, I can point the finger of blame, but its my fault. 

A few years later we had re-established ourselves.  I was putting money in savings, we were in a house much as we are now.  Things from the farm had been mostly forgotten.  We were building a new live off the farm, replacing those things we had lost, making our way through the world.  My dad got suckered, and once we found out that he had started slipping his wheels and was personally funding the repair of the house we were renting with the intentions to own, it was too late (a few tens of thousands of dollars in WV would go a long way to buying a house).  You might be surprised that my dad's mind slipping was periodic, he had been working five to six days a week.  It wasn't the type of job that he was expected to do a whole lot.  He drove a coal truck up a hill, and back down the same hill, and as has been proven scientifically those with dementia can fully function, so long as it is repetitious things they have done for years (you are safer riding with someone suffering from dementia if they have driven daily for 60 years than you are with a novice driver).  He got laid off a week before we were put out, our day in court lasted about thirty minutes, judge didn't care that my Dad had put money into the house we were renting.  He didn't care about all the crap the owner had instigated with neighbors, just didn't even want to be there.  Out we went.  We lost nothing in that cesspool of a town in that cesspool of a county.  Mostly because I had help that time, and a lesson learned.

We were homeless, it should have been expected, but it wasn't.  We figured, as we had been told by certain authoritative people that the matter would be resolved quickly, we went into a hotel room.  At that time I had a few thousand dollars in savings, I had a job.  About a month later, nothing was settled, my parents were way outside of their means with a hotel room.  A former friend got us a tent, I had the funds to rent a camp site at a local park, and we started trying to plug away.  What I quickly found out was that my parents were massively overdrawn.  I assumed that it was only a few hundred dollars, but before it was said and done, I had wiped out my savings trying to keep them on a level playing field for his next series of retirement and social security checks. 

I had dealt with pawn shops before, mostly to buy things (great deals are there, if you know that they pay you roughly quarter to half of what something is worth).  So, off the the pawn shop I went, with some belongings in hand.  What they were is not important, I recovered them a few months later.  We plugged away, my dad trying to find work, but pushing 70 years old, Mom and I both said for him to call it a career.  A few months later, drained of savings, massive vehicle problems along the way, I was barely holding on.  Money was extremely tight, but just the same, we were holding steady.  In September, my job went up in flames.  It started with my newish truck, an F-150 suffering from a catastrophic engine failure (due to cam phasers and oil channel design).  The rest of it is, a co-worker with a history of mental illness, claimed that his father was beating his mother so he was going to kill him, because the father had royally screwed up his life.  He later said, and showed up at the campground with a .270 rifle his wife had bought him, that he was going to kill my parents and possible kill me, because we were possessed by Lucifer.  When I called my boss, told her what happened, the fact that he had been off his medications and left the site, I was blamed in part.  Making matters worse, I asked if there were other sites I could work at, offered to take a pay cut (back to minimum wage from $8.15 an hour) and a demotion.  She said she had nothing, but with this guy threatening everyone in my family, the site I worked being an hour away, and the fact I really believed he would kill someone, I wanted to be closer in (time wise), and because there wasn't anything, I was let go.  In a sense I was happy, new truck wouldn't be damaged going in and out of mine sites, and no hour commute.  It left me able to have more time for sleep, so I was clear headed for college classes.

As I worked on my degrees, I went looking for work, and found none.  We continued to hum along on my Dad's retirements and the odd jobs I picked up.  Mostly, I would help clean up the park after a major holiday or storm, for a reduction in rent.  I would go places, and help people work on their vehicles, as I had become very proficient at it.  I kept hunting and searching because I didn't want to winter in that damned tent.  But when the park closed, things hadn't improved, and we moved to another campground.  Because of the rules of the place, we started loosing money.  Its not cheap to heat a tent, but thanks to the DVD/Blu-ray collection I owned, we didn't have the additional expense of cable.  I would travel to the library or Starbucks to use the internet.  But I was constantly in and out of pawn shops to sell things or pick them up.  When we were at that campground, I lost my dignity.  Imagine, after months of using a toilet to defecate in, a cup to pee in, going to bath only to find the bathhouse locked.  Yeah, they knew people in that place used it, so they locked it, because dirty Jews.  Imagine loading up with deodorant, finding the cleanest cloths you own to go somewhere to do college work.

Spring came, and we moved to another campground.  At this point, we were back to breaking even.  As year two of our experience came to be, we were breaking even, but we were still behind.  At least the owners here didn't simply lock the bathhouse.  But they wanted more rent money, even knowing what our situation was.  I kept looking for work, and kept getting turned away.  As things got tighter and tighter, the newer truck went away, replaced with a beater we managed to get cheap.  My Dad sold his truck, old as it was.  Nothing we did seemed to get us caught back up, and to make ends meet, my Mom and I started working forty hours a week at the campground for our rent ($450 a month).  Everything from cleaning puke covered bathrooms to mowing the grass.

Eventually, I took an odd job helping a new business owner with some security problems he was having.  It didn't pay anything at all in terms of money, but it kept us from having to deal with the local food bank, which was notorious for giving people opened food, food that shouldn't be given to diabetics, and refused to acknowledge religious preferences (I am fairly secular as a Jewish Rabbi but I don't do pork).  "You might be Jewish, but if you're hungry enough you'll eat those pork chops and be happy for it."  They are right, when you are very hungry because you haven't eaten anything but Ramen Noodles for a week, you'll really eat just about anything, including an open package of pork chops that are freezer burned beyond recognition. 

Anyway, this business owner was very grateful for the assistance in setting up new security protocols, and cameras.  And to repay my kindness, he and his partner kept us in food and supplies, at a very reduced rate.  The campground owner went and told him about us, being the homeless bums that we are, and when he came to our site, it angered him.  Not because we had lied about being homeless, but because we were homeless.  He offered other jobs to us, but because of his own failing business, it was often in trade.  The store was nasty on the outside, we power washed it for him, he paid in gas and an AR-15 rifle he had acquired.  It was pawned, never recovered.  And that is how it went that third summer, while I worked 40 hours a week to cover a portion of the rent.  The campground owners out of pity said they didn't want my Mom working.  We had to buy propane for the heaters the previous winter at a higher price.

Eventually, the business owner failed, he closed up shop, but he had inquired as to why we were homeless.  Around the community we were called gypsies by most.  Several said that as a Clergyman, my father and I had both taken vows of poverty.  He wanted the truth and so he came to us, and we told him.  He was outraged further, and more so when he found out that we were working constantly to pay the bill of rent.  After several more months of dealing with his own issues, he came to us and told us he had an apartment that could be lent to us for a few months.  It was just about this time last year.

Off to the apartment we went.  Real beds, real showers, real television.  No longer did we have to mow the grass of others (outside of the apartment), the bathrooms we cleaned were our own.  But the things we had pawned, my grandmothers wedding rings, my pistol, the AR-15, video games, computers, we lost them all.  But I can live with that, my parents and I was in a real home.  It had solid walls, it had the things that we all take for granted.

In November, my Dad said he wanted to go home.  It was like he was "called" to go there, actually he said he felt driven to come home, to the place of his birth.  A few days after we arrived, and he had spoken to his son, and family members he took ill.  His health rapidly deteriorated, and on the fifth of January we were presented with a single viable option, remove him from life support.  At that time we were living in a hotel.  My niece had come to live with us, because of her personal demons.  We struggled from that point on to maintain those rooms.  But we did, and eventually into a house with the help of that former business owner.

After we got in, to keep things going I pawned and lost my pistol, a Model of 1917 Winchester rifle, my Dad's Browning/Remington shotgun, and a few other items like my my Grandmother's silver set.  But we are barely holding on, while I look for work, college degrees in tow.  I had a few great job prospects lined up, but along the way, I have lost my physical conditioning.  I am no longer in physical shape to qualify for specific jobs.

If you are reading this at this point, here is the list of things I have lost:
Model of 1917 Winchester Rifle
Remington/Browning 12 gauge semi-auto shotgun
Springfield Armory XDm 9mm
Smith & Wesson Core Pro Series 9mm
Smith & Wesson Sigma 9mm
Colt Delta Elite 10mm
Remington 16 gauge
Mosin Nagant 7.62x54r
Sig M400 AR-15
M-1 Garand
My Grandmother's wedding and engagement ring set
My parents wedding rings
My Grandmother's silver set
All of my books
Family jewelry
Family keepsakes (pictures, dishes)
Paintings (nothing fancy or by someone renown)
Furniture and appliances
My Dad's retirement watch
My Dad's pinkie ring
My career
A job
My dignity

Of all those things, most can never be replaced.  Most of those things can be replaced, I can always buy more guns, books, and paintings.  I can buy jewelry, CDs, furniture and appliances.  Eventually I will find a new job, and a new career.  But I can never replace my dignity, that is something that this whole ordeal has taken from me that in time I can replace, but never fully.  Sure, the dignity of living in a home, of being a contributing member of society can be resumed, but being unable to shower, to have clean cloths is something that will haunt my Mom and I for the rest of our natural lives.