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26 August 2010

Why I HATE "if you can afford alcohol and cigarettes than you don't need food stamps"

Let's say it is mid-December in Austin, Texas. At two in the morning, it is 37 degress and just starting to rain, and this little camp site out in the woods off South 1st Street near Slaughter Lane is "home" and it has been for the last six months.  You have no television, no books, no light to read by anyway. 

You have no internet connection to read that several people you know have posted and "liked" a popular new facebook page entitled.
If you can afford alcohol and cigarettes than you don't need food stamps
It would have only made you cry-- half for them and half for yourself.  You really never did believe people were so brutal, but it seems that they are.

Tonight, it is just your own thoughts and most of those are agonzing-- especially at this time of year when you see Christamas Trees on top of the cars going by, and most of the college students have left to be home with family. 

You don't have family-- not really.  You don't have friends-- not really.  When you lost your job and your spouse left with the kids, and your neighbors, and your priest, and your family, and your friends-- all just watched you fall, out of control.  No one reached out and you knew the fall would probably break you.  No one offered a hand, no one even tried to break your fall.  So there you are, in the woods, and you will be there the next night, and the night after that.

You have learned the hard truth that you do not matter-- not even to family, not even to friends.

You hate carrying your sleeping bag and backpack with you every where you go, but there is no place to secure your things except to take them with you.  All of your worldly posesions are attached to or inside your backpack.  The library lets you stay inside and will watch your backpack for you , but you are not allowed to take it inside, and security watches you ever time you go into the bathroom to make sure you are not bathing in the sink.  But it is warm there and dry, and you can charge your cell phone if you have one-- maybe sleep a little before security catches you.  You think you'll go there tomorrow.

Cell phone, what a joke-- like anyone is going to call you for an interview?   Like you have anyone to call?

You do not plan more than that-- there is no point in it.

You carried a plastic bag with you when you left downtown.  Inside is a pack of cheap cigarettes that taste like cardboard and are labled "cigars" and because of the brown paper and the label those cost half of what a pack labled "cigarettes" and in white paper would cost.  You also have a six pack of pint-sized cans of cheap beer.  Ice cold beer is not exacty what you want, but it maye help you sleep, and might even make the haunting memories slip away for a few minutes.

You pop the top on one can and guzzle several ounces of the beer.  It rained last week and was nearly as cold, you remember as you light one of the little "cigars."  At least there is no lightning tonight.  Last week, during the thunderstorm, you wedged yourself up on the little mound of roots under this very tree with your back against the trunk to stay dry-- or as dry as possible.  You worried about the tree being struck by lightning for a moment, but then decided that it didn't matter.  Being struck by lightning would be some end to the pain.

On your third beer, you remember that you have a pack of cookies you had saved from the bag of food you received from the Mobile Loaves and Fishes truck that had been at the downtown bus stop that evening.  You fish that out of your pack and gobble them down before they get wet.  A few minutes later the shivering stops, and you drift off for a few minutes. 

You wake, unaware that is now past three, and the rain is continuing, but survival forces you to make a decision.  You unroll your sleeping bag which is not waterproof, and get inside.  The weight of the water on your legs and chest is dreadful-- the bag is absorbing the water and you know it will soon feel wet in the bag and on your clothes.  You sit up and open a fourth beer and chug it-- hoping that the dose of alcohol will knock you out and allow you to sleep.

The last thing you remember before sleep sets in was hoping it will be sunny and that you can dry the bag out before bedtime tomorrow.  Yo can't do that at the library, so you will have to go get food from the truck downtown while carrying the wet bag.  It is humiliating.  There is no hiding that you sleep in the woods-- you smell like and look like it and all of the office workers-- of which you once were one-- look at you as if diseased, or as if crazy.  Looking like that, smelling like that, carrying the soggy load on your back, how many times a day does someone drive by yelling, "Get a job?"

Do they not see?   Except for those instances, you declare to yourself, Tomorrow, I will be invisible.  The comfort of that thought allows you to sleep.

Let's say it is August in Austin, Texas.  It is two in the morning and still 90 degrees outside.  You are sitting under the overpass above the red gravel under 183 near Burnett Road.... 

But you don't want me to tell you this story. 

Do you?

I know some of these people.  I didn't want to hear their stories, either.  They'll make you treasure the very rare human, and then hate the far more common part-humans among us.

Trust me, I softened the blow of the true horror of the stories of their lives.  Only the rare few dare to know such things-- if you are not human, it will probably make you much more human to hear the whole truth-- and becoming more human is too painful for most to bear.  I won't do that to you, and don't think I could-- I resist it, too. 

Hell.  If I was fully human, I would live in the woods with them.

"Maybe only one in two hundred are like that," a wise man once told me about the truly good persons in life.  I think he was foolishly optimistic.

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