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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

How to Survive Not-Quite-So-Abject Poverty

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 32 seconds

You're reading this, so you have some kind of device on which to view it.
It's on my blog, so you have some kind of internet access. And if not, you have just enough cash to buy a tea at that coffee shop that has free WiFi.
If this is right. You might be just the person I'm talking to.

You might have an apartment or maybe you're couch surfing for now until you can find a place cheap enough to dump your suitcase of diminishing ramshackle belongings.

You don't have a car, or if you do, it's not going to pass that next inspection.

When you eat, it might not be ramen noodles every day, but when you're short on rent by twenty five dollars (meaning you're short on everything else by about two hundred dollars), you reach past your empty ice cube tray and pull out that bag of freezer burnt peas and carrots you bought 4 months ago when this same thing happened- to make the noodles a bit more interesting.

The beer cans your roommates leave strewn about the living room and kitchen are each good for five cents towards a bit of laundry money so you can at least be clean for work.
You leave the Miller lite bottles where they are because the machine won't take those.

You read your homework for class on the bus, and then the train, and then on another bus because you worked a 17hr shift last night to try and fill the $200 defecit. You made $145.
Just enough to buy the newest edition of the textbook for class, which you note bitterly, has an edition that came out the previous year, which is now only $35.

Tomorrow is the first of the month, and though you need a new month pass for the bus/train, you add the $5.25 floating around in your pocket to your card so you can take one more trip to campus and then back to work.

Your depression is flaring up again, but the medication they put you on costs $30 a bottle and you've already split your last pill in half to buy some extra time.

When you get off the train, you walk by the two story book store, looming over you at the corner. Oversized red sans serif announcing the final days of the already gutted behemoth.
Your mother worked there until they let her go, so your insurance lapses along with her job.
You can't sign up for classes with no insurance, so when you get home there's an envelope containing what you thought would just be another request for your immunization records, but is instead a crisp correspondence on University letterhead announcing that you'll need to pay $1,000 for the school insurance. Yours doesn't meet "mandatory minimum requirements".

Your essays are typed on a four year old Mac book whose "0" key sticks every time. Purchased in '07 before the recession hit. After seeing a post on Facebook from a younger friend, you donate the Mac book to them in the hopes that it will help them survive their own not-quite-so-abject poverty experience.

It's now Thursday. Today is the start of a three day work-a-thon. You leave your apartment at 7am, but the first two busses whiz past you, already filled to the brim with passengers. Somehow you manage to get to job #1 at 8:15am. Caught up in paperwork and errands, you forget to eat lunch until you look up and realize it's 3:10pm. All the better. Now your fullness will last a bit longer into the evening.
You're technically off at 5, but job #2 starts at 5:20pm and sometimes the traffic makes the busses late, so you know you need to leave at 4:45pm. Since it's now so close to time to leave, you can't take a full lunch break. So you run downstairs to Dunkin's and order an eggwhite flatbread sandwich for $2.34 (because that one is supposed to be better for you, or have lower calories or something) and try to savor that plastic sheen on the cheese and the hard kernels of "whole grains", instead of just demolishing it in two bites. You drink a full glass of water with it so the bread will hold a little more weight in your stomach. That- and you forgot to drink anything all day, so you're dehydrated.

You finish up at your desk job and rush to catch the train, to the bus, and then speed walk to job #2.
Mostly cleaning up, it's not a glamorous occupation, but after some initial work you can sit, sedentary, for about an hour while you let the stressful buzz of the commute to get here subside. But sometimes, like now, it just resonates and echoes. So you get up and clean the drains and mop one more time to keep your mind off of it.

Thankfully, you get to sleep on this overnight shift. Once 8pm hits, you're technically free to relax, but you haven't eaten dinner yet and this realization makes you even more hungry. Trudging downstairs, wishing there were a way you could completely avoid using the swollen soles of your feet, you get to the microwave and slide the frozen burrito onto the glass. The icy brick of it makes a loud clanking noise and jolts you back to the cacophony of the train, the reception desk, the customers- but the beeping of the microwave timer brings you back to reality and you relish the warmth of the burrito inside the paper towel hovel you crafted for it. Feels like hands pressed against warm sidewalks in the summer.

You clumsily hop scotch your way back up the steps, biting just the end off of the burrito in the hopes that it might actually be less scalding by the time you get upstairs. It's not, but you eat it anyway. Too tired to wait, too hungry to go to bed.

Your alarm pings you awake. It's 5:25am. You're back on at 6, but if you want to eat breakfast before 9am, you'd better do it now. There' are some morning duties to tend to which require getting a little muddy, sweaty, stinky. Nothing to wake up your senses like a stinging, pungent smell waiting to be cleaned.

The next pungent smell is you peeling off your sullied work clothes to get in the staff shower, but then you get to rinse off the last day and a half of hair-tie grunge, and go back to office attire. You have to set an alarm so you don't get too caught up luxuriating, because you need to be back at the office and now you only have thirty minutes to do it.


You plop down with your many bags and realize that smell you were silently bemoaning wasn't the T, but was your Job #2 work tennis shoes which have literal shit on them- a common occupational hazard for you. You don't have time right now to rinse them off so you double tie the plastic bag they're in and shove them in the nook by your feet.

Work #3 comes into play at lunchtime. You have a schedule to put out for the following week and you gave away your computer, so you need to work on it now. Cross checking emails from employees to confirm which schedule changes they requested and then confirming you're available to cover the dates they can't, you set up the calendar and mail it out. About two hours later, you get a reply email from one of the employees saying they can't make it in tonight. It's almost 3 o'clock and their shift starts at 5:30. You have Job #2 duties, so you can't just swoop in and take the shift which, although it doesn't feel like it at the time, is actually the simplest solution. So you set about emailing all the other employees, imploring one of them to take a shift while framing it like it's something desireable "Does anyone want more hours?". We all know the answer, but replace "want" with a more apt word like "need" and things start to make a bit more sense. Finally someone volunteers, and it's someone dependable, so you don't need to be waiting in the wings, but it's almost time for job #2 again so you start to pack up your things.

Repeat Thursday afternoon routine and fast forward till Saturday morning. This time it's 7am, but you won't get off so easy. This time you're staying at Job #2 until 4pm.
More cleaning, customers, phone calls, and a few card transactions later and it's 1:30pm.

It's dead. So you sit down with your new tiny off-brand laptop that you bought just for writing, and start fumbling around on the keys:
Like the product of rape

the fruit of unpaid labor

I leave
a taste,
a pain,
a memory

at best

Outlawed from my body

Sandy aggregate of the time

Expanse and Sprawling

Inescapable Commodity


Like all things

Must pass

The start of a catharsis that might just get you through however much longer you have to do this.

This goes on for seven years, but the extended release of your writing is timeless.

And that's how you survive.

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