Friday, February 13, 2009

Moneyless in Seattle

Being on Welfare wasn't as bad as you might think it would be. Yeah, there was a lot of paperwork, but nothing worse than what you'd run into during a typical day at school. Some of the people were less than polite, but that's life in general; no problem. I guess the worst parts were the long, interminable waits in the DSHS office, sitting on the sticky chairs, watching the 'challenged' couples making out in the corner while feral children ran batshit around the room with their hair full of bugs. None of which is a treat, but imagine sitting in the middle of same with two black eyes, holding a helpless infant in your arms. Yeah, that I could have done without.

Anywho, the actual day-to-day living was remarkably free of worry. I could count on having money to pay the bills when they came due every month. I got the best medical care I have ever received in my life. I never needed for anything related to caring for my, medical care, supplies, diapers, you name it. I was able to make a budget for the first time since moving out of my parents house and not have to worry about someone going on a big self-pity jag at the end of the month when bills were due, smacking me around, grabbing the checkbook and dashing out to purchase, say, a dartboard.

And not just any dartboard; a competition-quality dartboard. Because all the other guys where he worked could play darts and he couldn't, see, and it took inches off his dick or something, so this meant he had to go buy the most expensive dartboard available and specialty darts RIGHT NOW and practice so he wouldn't be embarrassed. (and in doing so take out the entire wall around the sonofabitch for about a foot around and lose us our cleaning deposit...because we were renting at the time....) OO, or then there was the time we ABSOLUTELY NEEDED A BANG-OLUFFSEN STEREO and I got slapped around because I pointed out the fact that we were a month behind on the rent and our only means of transportation (a benelli road racing motorcycle, just what the urban couple with a kid on the way needs, parts scarcer than hens teeth and made of platinum when you did find them; another MUST HAVE RIGHT NOW purchase) had just shit the bed. Again. Or then there was the time we ABSOLUTELY HAD TO GO LOOK AT A SMALL PLANE for sale in Enumclaw...even though by this time we had to take the bus to get there because were living in an attic, our 4wd (...guess why we had that?) was being reposessed, and we were both 'employed' by a cult that 'paid' in past life regression sessions, but that he deserved because he also worked at a print shop and earned a paycheck (ostensibly for standing next to a machine with his hand resting on it for 8 hours, when he wasn't screwing the secretary) and my pregnant ass did not. Then he decided that he needed an emerald tree boa. Want to hear about the emerald tree boa? A week after not buying the small plane we're out at some goddamn sporting goods store in Bumfuck Egypt looking at bamboo flyfishing pole blanks (because everone who is dirt poor and in debt and who lives in the middle of the city and has no transportation and works for a cult that pays in past life regressions and has a baby on the way NEEDS TO MAKE THEIR OWN FLYFISHING ROD -which I might add, is NOT the cheapest hobby in the world but one that absolutely had to be pursued) and while we were there we happened to wander in to a pet store where there was an emerald tree boa. SUDDENLY WE HAD TO OWN AN EMERALD TREE BOA.

So yes, being on welfare was a significant step up compared to that shit.

My absolute favorite thing about Welfare was food stamps. I don't know how they do it these days, but back when they gave you sheaves of what looked like Monopoly money, all colorful and fake looking, just screaming to anyone who cared to look 'hey, I'm indigent!' Of course, you got over the stigma real quick when everyone else in line was buying their groceries using stamps too....and you had a baby to feed.

Since I was fortunate enough to be poor in downtown Seattle, I had access to what were possibly the best ingredients available on the West Coast, and that at the beginning of the 'Pacific Rim Cuisine' movement as well. Even ghetto little corner markets carried things like craft brewed beers and frozen quail. Soon I was shopping at the foggy break of day at the Pike Street Market, expresso in hand, baby in frontpack, bumping elbows with world-class chefs and food managers, buying duck, goose, salmon, wildcrafted chanterelles, you name it. ON FOOD STAMPS. It was awesome!

Now, I might have bought upmarket, but I was a single woman with a child who made my own everything. This meant that at the end of any given month I had a full freezer and a whole stack of funny money left over, stuff that could ONLY be used to purchase food. Since you can only buy so much duck, and you can only fit so much food into a freezer, this was when you started 'cracking stamps.'

Anything that cost less than a dollar was changed back to you in coin, at par. (This is why you can go in to any quickie mart here in the Northwest and find boxes of apples, onions and potatoes next to the checkout stand.) You could actually make money cracking stamps, since their face value was some percentage less than real cash, so some dedicated cheaters would get their stamps at the beginning of the month and crack the whole stack. You came out money ahead, and it was all real coin money you could spend on ANYTHING YOU, you ended up with a whole bunch of stuff like single onions and potatoes and turkey tails lying around, so you could make stew, too.

I completely let down welfare queens everywhere. I should have cracked my stamps and then run out and bought a whole bunch of malt liquor and a couple of rocks, right? Nope. My coin went to cab fare.
Yes, it's sad. I know.

I hated riding public transportation with a baby. Public transportation is NOT CLEAN. That, and I hated riding mass transit anyway because I am a freak magnet. I am. If there is someone within a city block of me wearing a tinfoil hat, they will be irresistably drawn in by my freak magnetron and end up in the seat right next to me talking about how the CIA implanted a tracking device in their penis that shoots out radio frequencies whenever they masturbate.
Oh yes.
The final straw was when I was riding the bus just looking out the window, caught a motion and turned and found a filthy freaky drunk slowly stroking my sleeping baby's head. I was nice. I told him to please stop. This earned me getting my shit called a fucking whore for the rest of the bus ride, and then Mayor McFreak followed me off the bus and called me a fucking whore all the way down the street too. So yes, whenever possible, I preferred to take a cab.

I like cabbies. Every single one I ever met was a man with a plan, a total scamming motherfucker, and a smartass. They were pretty good to me at a time when I really needed the break...helping me with my groceries, taking me the shortest routes and then waiving half the fare, showing me around town and telling me where things were, and just being friendly, decent and real. In a different reality, with a better driving record, I could totally get into driving hack, and God help pedestrians everywhere; right, so I guess it all worked out for the best. To this day I will take a cab if it is at all possible or necessary.

I was driving around shopping yesterday with the 'all-growed-up' version of the baby I was packing around back then, musing back on how different things are. Some things haven't changed, though. We're still shopping together. I guess thats pretty cool.


  1. YAY first ,
    I am having a day for it .
    That made me feel like I want to be moneyless in seattle now , except for the public transport part :-)

  2. I empathise with your freak magnetism. I suffer from the same affliction.

    Being broke isn't so bad when everybody you know is also broke. There's a lot more give and take and generosity than when you're all comparing cars and exotic holidays.

  3. Could you wire me cab fare immediately?

    I have to take public transit to work in half an hour.

    *notes that Beast has had TWO firsts today*

    *sidles up to Garfer wearing tinfoil hat and stroking his thigh*

  4. I think this might have been a past life regression session?
    You are such an amazing person..and an incredible storyteller..and I believe every word.
    Who do you suppose will play YOU in the film version?

    I do not prefer Cabbies because I know that back home they are Nuclear Physicists and here they are seething, bitter, ticking Human Timebombs that with my luck, will prolly go off about a block before my stop!

  5. Bangkok cabbies are very sweet, but plenty of them start the job when they've only been in the city for a few days, so you have to give them directions. And they can't read maps. And some of them can't read at all. And I strongly suspect that for some of them it's their first time in charge of a four-wheeled vehicle.

  6. there is no funny money anymore, now it's the "discreet" EBT card. Which, of course, is not so discreet since you have to announce to the cashier that you are indeed using one in order to buy groceries. Even if they have a self-swiper for cards. You STILL have to tell god and everyone that you're broke as shit. God bless 'murikuh.

  7. I want to climb into the cash cab. Win money up until my destination. I wouldn't even use my shout out because all my smart friends would be right there with me. Come on! Get in.

  8. BEAST: its still a great city. if i was young and single, thats where I'd be.

    garfy: having good friends helps too. as far as exotic holidays, though, i don't know if eastern washington qualifies. they have snakes and mexicans, and pears. lemme know.

    mj: he could turn into a blancmange at ANY MOMENT and then you'd be sorry, wouldn't you. yes you would.

    coppens: well, its true. whaddya gonna do. and i cant begin to imagine who'd play me....? gaaaaah just the mere thought of a film version makes me want to have extreme plastic surgery and enter the witness protection program.

    tim: seattle has dominican and haitian hackies and they're flat insane. ten over the limit up walls, down alleys, on curbs, through vacant lots...and all the while romancing you with that gorgeous accent. its nice!

  9. bitchy: shit. and to think i missed out on the celluloid revolution. it would have made cleaning my dope so much more meaningful.

    gale: that cash cab dude is kind of bald-headed and freaky. i think he wears a training bra, too. i would find it distracting. i figure we should skip the questions and just mug his ass.

  10. but are you still buying chanterelles and quail???

    questions have to asked.

  11. Freak magnetism -- I attract a suprprisingly low number of freaks, I can remember two. Both of them here in Coquille, and near down town, must be a mystic invisible whirlpool that attracts nut cases. The first one was an older woman who was walking on the sidewalk and approaching everyone. She approached me with a wild look in her eyes. Before she even opened here mouth I said firmly, "Go away". It worked, she went away. Second time was in a grocery store and a different woman who admittedly looked normal, announced to all and sundry that the crazy people were in Coquille today and she spoke to EVERYone in the store. She asked me,"Do I know you?" I replied very firmly, "No!". It might have been the frowny face, I dunno.

    I was in a situation early in the 70's when I and my 2 year old were on welfare for about a year. I was working part time, going to school full time and fortunately had 24hour day care just around the corner that the welfare check took care of. I never did get food stamps as at that time you had to take a voucher and go get them at the post office. I decided that particular humilation could wait.

    Eventually I obained my two year degree, began working full time and stopped submitting the monthly information for the welfare money. Did get some good basic health care provided for my child during that time. I too remember long waits although my child played fairly quietly under the long table in the meeting room.

    Point being welfare can be helpful and not become a generational institution within the family.

    Good on ya!!

    Public transportation: I do not like buses and do love taxi's even if you do have to give directions occasionally.

  12. I truly love the way you write.

    Every time we watch the cash cab I tell hubby, "I hope this is the episode where he gets held up. I can't wait for that one!" I agree, lets take his cash and run.

    In the movie version, I think you should be played by Lorraine Bracco (without the brooklyn accent) because she's hot and well, you're hot. makes sense.

  13. Freak magnet here, too! Just yesterday I was out in my car port opening up a coconut with the Big Sharp Bread Knife of Doom when I hear "Excuse me!" So I wheel around, holding the BSBKoD aloft, and see no one. The fuck?(I'm always leery to go outside any more cuz my once nice neighborhood has turned into Planet Freakazoid.) So I turn back to the business of the coconut and again, "Excuse me!" So, once again, I wheel back around, holding aloft the BSBKoD and this time sporting my own wild eyed pissed off face...turns out to be some weird-ass..."Oh no, it's not like that," the moron says when he sees the BSBKoD. So he wants to know if I know anyone who needs some tile work done. Why don't people fucking know NOT to walk up in somebody's property? Who the fuck goes door to door soliciting tile work? Likely fucking story. Next time the Smith & Wesson will be with me as an assistant coconut opener.

    I should do a series on all the weirdos I encounter.

  14. "Cracking stamps".

    I love reading about how people respond to poverty and deprivation, it really stimulates ingenuity. And it really pisses off middle-management when they realise it's happening and they feel they ought to stop it.

    I saw "The Terminal" for the first time the other day. There was a short bit in the middle when the Tom Hanks' character discovers trolleys. And the management, instead of reacting to his ingenuity by paying him to collect up all the trolleys, decide they would rather create a brand new job and pay someone else to stop him collecting his quarters.

    But don't you just feel that you've managed to stick your two fingers up at the pricks in your past? Seems like it to me.

  15.'s what makes you who you are...and why i still come back to see you...

  16. One can go without money - or preetty damn less - a long way. Had and have my share. What I hate are people in administrations that make you small when you stand in front of them. In some bureaus the prussian - or better nationalsocialism - "spirit" is still alive: "Denn wer will, der kann" (roughly: Who wants, can!) - and who can not, for whatever reasons, must be a workshy deviant malcontent from a bad breed. Full kasko-insuranced public employees who have no idea how life can go, with a little share of power over other humans ...

    "Sooo, you have an academic degree, häh?" "And you? A moustace ..." And there was FUN in the bureau!

    (In German the word used was "Schnautzbärtle", he had it pretty Adolf-style ...)
    Oh, independence ...

  17. Thank you for living it so you had such a great story afterward.

  18. Mrs. Pirate: not the quail; they're annoying to eat. but the chanterelles, OH HELL YES.

    retro: if there were less turkeys in the surrounding countryside the freaks would be free to migrate elsewhere. turkey enforced freak see how it works?

    joy: thank you! lorraine bracco and i do share a body type, i guess...i was thinking more along the lines of Elijah Woods, but with implants.

    xul: YES. YES YOU SHOULD. and you should also post A LOT MORE OFTEN TOO.

    sopwith: yeah, I do. the best revenge is living well, and i managed to do that on full public assistance, never mind since then...! meanwhile my ex is living surrounded by his expensive toys and absolutely HATES his life. im not too noble to gloat. oh hell no!

    daisy: you know, i have to differ on that. who i am is who i am DESPITE whats happened to me. its a small picky point, I know, but im not one of those folks who thinks that everything happens for a reason, and thats where that kind of thinking can lead. some things you make happen, and sometimes shit just happens, and you decide what to make out of it.

    mago: I had my share of those types, let me tell you. that kind of thinking is alive and well here. some people simply cannot help themselves...they seem to put themselves into positions where they CAN find people they can 'lord it over'. its creepy and evil.

    jeannie: I think that may be one of the most amazing things anyone has ever said to me.

  19. FN...perhaps my meaning didn't get across as clear as i thought...i still think people can read my mind...i think you had shit happen and you made steak out of the shit...and dammit if it does smell like angus beef cooked medium rare...i think some things happen to you but for the most part it is you who changes that or lays in it...obviously you didn't lay in it...

  20. bought back memories of when I was on the dole - I cleaned part-time on a false NI number, I rented out the spare room to a lodger for cash, I worked out when the supermarkets would reduce the prices of food nearing its sell-by date, I signed on for Unemployment benefit & had a thriving pot selling business.

    It was fun and I was comfortably off - but I don't think I could go back to that life, its amazing tho' what you can do when faced with adversity.

  21. Years ago, in England, many firms doled out luncheon vouchers.I suppose, kids in bedsits got by on LVs strictly for a lunchtime sandwich, but most of us twigged to the fact that we could actually use them to buy other stuff (soap, toothpaste,etc, thus saving genuine coin for real spending, like the pub!) in the mini-markets. I don't remember ever paying for lunch with them!
    And dear old Italy, with its chronic coin shortage...for a whole summer I got my change in fruit, candy, bouillon cubes, gettone...
    Yep! There's something to be said for funny money. Although the circumstances of needing it are crap.
    Oh, sorry...not my blog!

  22. daisy: nah, you're cool. i just did the knee-jerk reaction thing there. its one of my pet peeves, having grown up catholic with that passive victimized 'thank god for the opportunity to suffer with jesus' type thinking. oh really? does that go for children too? aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand im going to stop myself right there...!

    frobi: isn't it? i'm glad to be doing without all the constant dodging and worry, though. the only way I was able to make it off welfare was to work under a fake ss# too. they make no provision for that interim period between joblessness and stability. i had to break the law in order to bridge it.

    dinah: you post as much as you want, chickie. its always worth reading.

  23. a recovering catholic myself i understand that statement more than you know...

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