Monthly Archives: May 2008

Salvation Army Simulates Poverty

If you would like to watch me turn from a well-balanced happy woman to a glass-shatterer and purity of spitting rage, you really just have to mention simulating poverty…

It is a primal sort of reaction. Even so, a piece of my mind can stand apart from that and see some benefit to it I suppose, after all the gap between those with wealth and those with none is so extreme. People with even middling incomes take so much for granted, there is so much they don’t know about survival on even minimum wage, I suppose a taste of reality is better then none at all? The obvious answer is yes, but only if they acknowledge the limits, do not presume that a week long exercise can bestow upon them anything but a glimmer of what is truly lived by those in poverty. They have to acknowledge that simulation is impossible.

Poverty is a constant weight, it is constant worry, it is constant struggle. It is an absence of choices; with the weight, worry, and struggle stretching forever into the future. It is a blinding lack of safety nets, and no one to rescue you when you fall. It is you financially supporting your parents rather than relying on them for support. It is a heavy responsibility for others. It is knowing that this responsibility carries more needs then you can provide for. It is a daily battle, a daily fear for the roof over your head, the food in the refrigerator, your transportation to work. It is breaking your body and swallowing insults to keep a paycheck. It is always being talked down to, disrespected, seen as less. It is the feeling that you are less. You cannot experience it for a day, or even a year, because it is the feeling of being trapped, the feeling you get when you have tried and been carved down to the bone in your failure. It is knowing you cannot get out. There’s no point in looking ahead, day by day is the only possible way to survive it. Poverty carves itself into your face in deep jagged lines, and makes you old before your time.

Poverty is hopelessness, converted into apathy or rage. Until you fight back; only then does it become a strength. But most simply fight each other, fight over the scraps they are allowed. I will never deny that the extraordinary and the lucky make it out of poverty, my point is that they should not be the only ones. But with classes of 40 in schools that are falling down and don’t even offer the minimum courses required to enter a 4 year college, with an absence of preventative health care, with high rents for overcrowded slum housing that slowly kills its inhabitants with lead poisoning and asthma, with racism and racial profiling channeling more and more youth into the prison system, with communities from which all decent paying jobs and hope for the future have long since fled…these are all systemic barriers of dizzying magnitude.

You can give people, very humbly, some idea of what is required of the poor to survive. I support that. You cannot simulate for the rich what it is like to live in poverty, there is such an arrogance in the very idea of that. And a danger too, when people believe they understand something that they do not…

also published at


Economic Bubbles and the Blue Line

I rode the train home late last night, the blue line down through South Central and Watts; L.A. makes me sad sometimes. There is so much speculation on the state of the economy, you can read it in the papers. Taking the blue train late at any time through South Central and Watts, most of that speculation seems rather out of touch. There haven’t been any good times here for a very long time, and when the economy turns, it hits here hardest. And it keeps on hitting. The contrast is stark between this world inhabited by tens of thousands of people, and the world of financial speculation. From here the bubble is very clear, and entirely maddening. Most maddening is that the bubble requires the world of poverty to exist, it is built upon it, immense wealth cannot be held by everyone. It depends on millions of poor in this country, many millions more around the world…

I was talking to an older guy who was only wearing one shoe last night, and white tube socks pulled up high. He was riding the green line train up and down, having nowhere else to go. His legs were swollen the way my gran’s legs became swollen with her diabetes and lack of exercise, the way my friend Mark’s legs became swollen when he was turned out into the streets. Like age and diabetes, the streets swell you up, make you sick, kill you. He was voting for Hillary Clinton, he said he had a crush on her. I laughed at that. He asked me if I was a model and I laughed at that too. He told me I could be anything I wanted to be, this was America, told he was working on his own modeling career. I can forgive this man his bubble, I can forgive him almost anything he needs to survive.

I can’t forgive the people who speculate on the economy night after night on the news, and I can’t figure out who they’re talking about. I don’t know the world they’re talking about either. None of them address the growing gap between rich and poor, growing numbers of people in the streets, growing poverty, growing legions of police to control the poor and protect the wealthy. The only things shrinking are the job pool, the supply of affordable housing, the access to health care, the number of teachers, support for veterans and the elderly, the water table, the ice in the arctic…

Was it the Economy that Slapped Michael Jackson?

So many of us waited this week with bated breath, on the edge of our seats. Some of us wanted the dirty bastard to lose it all, some of us wanted the misunderstood superstar to keep it. FInally, the suspense has ended. Neverland is safe. For now.

But all of us know it is a sad sad day when the economy digs its foul claws of recession into even the richest of men. The nation mourns, for the wake of foreclosures has left not even the most priveleged amongst us safe. And now that this national wave of catastrophe has lapped upon Neverland’s shores, how can anyone sleep at night? Who could possibly dream of ever attaining Michael Jackson’s immense wealth? Yet even he has had to face the pinch of poverty. Even he has had to work to scrape together the last minute deal to save his property from auction and certain occupation at the hand of strangers. What the hell happened to Elizabeth Taylor? What can lie in store for the rest of us?

It is certainly not a road trip to Bahrain to hang out with the Crown Prince.

For those of us not cushioned by multi-million dollar homes and exotic wild animals that we can sell to cover our asses, there sits between us and homelessness only a few gold chains and the toaster oven at the pawn shop. Those won’t get you very far, we all know that. We are, most of us, one major illness away from eviction or foreclosure, one lay-off, one arrest, one unexpected expense. Most of us pay more than a third of our income in rent or a mortgage. And to be sure, most of us don’t have those large settlements to pay off to the parents of kids we’ve had over just to “play” with our toys…we’ve got expenses like food. And gas. And this broadband wireless connection. Boyfriends run the tab up too, fancy underwear when you’re with ’em, liquor when you’re not…it all adds up. But the point here is that a national landmark like Neverland, almost put up for auction so that any multi-millionaire at all could just buy it, well, that should send a clear message to our leaders that something is wrong. Something must be done. The housing crisis must be averted, and I am paying them more than enough to do it. Not to save the Michael Jacksons of the world of course, they can just sell one of their Malibu homes. But I ask it for the rest of us, the ones with nowhere to turn, the ones even now soldiering on without their jewelry or their toaster ovens…