Update from Ridgeline Drive, May 1, 2013

Well, it was a little dicey there for a while here in The Hood. I thought I’d be moving back into my 2000 Saturn L1 “mobile home”. The woman who’s place I’m crashing at had told her 15 year old daughter last month that she would sign her out of the place for wayward youth she’s being held at if she could make it to Level 2 (of 4). I was a little surprised when the girl’s treatment team let her mom make that promise, given that there is no way they would agree to it, but I imagine they figured nothing else was working so what the heck. When we met Monday morning, the team let the mom “decide” to keep her daughter there to complete the program. Of course her daughter flipped out when they brought her in and had her mom tell her she wasn’t going home. (Her sixteenth birthday is this month.) But her toddler-appropriate emotional response—an infinite loop of “It’s not fair / You lied to me / I want to go home now”—was mostly sadness and despair without her usual violent threats and histrionics.

The staff had fully explained the state of the art, no tolerance, behaviorally based program to my friend when her daughter was first committed in December as I have several times since. At the intake interview they said it was possible to complete the program in 12 weeks but that a reasonable time frame was more like six months. My friend heard this as “She’ll be fine and ready to come home a manageable child in 12 weeks” and her daughter heard: “I only have to resist this for 12 weeks and I’ll be back ditching school and running the streets with unemployed 20-something year old men.” Reality and its constraints are not part of either’s belief system; magical thinking and instant gratification without personal responsibility or consequences are their way.

I’m a brutal reality kinda guy. I don’t just accept reality; I love it and its constraints. Reality is a nice frame of reference and its constraints provide some useful boundaries to operate within. Living here has been a rude awakening for me. As a trained social psychologist and informed liberal Democrat, I knew all about the dysfunction of the underclass intellectually. But to actually see it and live among it is another thing entirely. My three now grown children had more self-awareness, impulse control, and functional life skills as toddlers than these people may ever master.

I am constantly reminded of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” and extended by him and others to understand human curiosity. His fundamental insight was that there is a hierarchy of human needs starting with Physiological needs like food and shelter. If these are not met, a person cannot attain the next level, Safety needs: security of body, employment, resources, mortality, the family, health, and property. Until physiological and safety needs are met, a person cannot attain the next level: Love/Belonging: friendship, family, sexual intimacy. Only after these three needs are met can they attain Esteem: self-esteem, confidence, achievement, and respect of and by others. Finally, once all four needs are met, can one achieve Self-Actualization: morality, creativity, spontaneity, lack of prejudice, and acceptance of facts/reality. I learned of his work as an undergraduate Psychology major at Purdue University when I was 20.

For most of my Upper Middle Class life, I had never met anyone who’s Physiological and Safety needs had not been fully met. Maybe a third had not achieved Love/Belonging, which helped me greatly appreciate my upbringing and family and realize what a blessing this was. Perhaps half had not achieved Esteem, and most were certainly not self-actualized. I loved Maslow’s Hierarchy, a useful tool but more than a little self-serving since it puts people like me on top. It explains why many people are not living productive lives and helps me have compassion for them. [Before you think: “What a privileged self-absorbed jerk!” let me add that hubris is a constant struggle for me. I’m a high functional sentient/intelligent guy, but no saint or sage.]

I was pretty confident that the staff would not—probably legally could not—prematurely release my friend’s daughter. But letting her mom voluntarily face the reality that she needs to finish the entire program, with no short cuts or easy out, while wildly risky from my perspective, paid off. I was surprised at my friend’s resolve and clear rational thinking in the face of her daughter’s pleading and wailing and complimented her.

So the good news is that my friend has accepted the reality of this situation and her daughter will have to complete the program. My friend will have to attend a number of mandatory family counseling sessions and learn some functional parenting and human being skills. They both may have a shot at a productive, or at least not completely dysfunctional, parent-child relationship and this precious almost 16-year old child a productive or at least not completely wasted life. Oh, and also, I have a place to live for at least another three months…

Paying Bills

I’m just a guy trying to help out a friend. But living an upper middle class life from birth has not prepared me for the dysfunction I’m up against. A simple rule I learned as a toddler was this: You pay your bills before you go shopping at the Mall for the shit you think White People buy (because you saw it in a commercial on TV). Big important examples are rent/mortgage payments and Utility bills. I pay the past due amount on the Comcast cable bill each month when the service is cut off. I kept the Water on last month with a past due payment. Now I’m trying to keep the lights on. I gave Pepco $600 over the phone on the bill that has not been paid since Nov 30, 2012. But after talking with them and keeping the lights on, when I tried to update my friend, her response was: “I can’t talk about this now.” If not now, when?

She let her “husband” live off of her for over 17 years until she recently threw him out (again, maybe for the last time, we’ll see). Her 24-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter with an infant have lived with her for free since January 1. I don’t have a solution to this problem.

Update from Ridgeline Drive in The Ghetto, October 10, 2012

Well, let’s see. My crashing rights here are extended indefinitely, the 15-year old girl (Gina) whose bedroom I occupy will soon become a ward of the state and mercifully will not be coming “home” to this hell-hole, her dysfunctional mother incapable of doing the simple things Gina’s professional keepers at RICA urged her to do. [I won’t go into her step-father, the Haitian lunatic Tasha has clung to for 17 years, whose presence may perhaps explain Gina’s over sexualized young body and shattered soul, but without her testimony cannot be brought to justice.]

Everything I have tried to do here for Tasha has instantly become an entitlement. Now, even the few skills she once had–like loading the dishwasher and running it once every dish, pot, and cooking utensil was dirty, or taking out the trash not twice a week as scheduled by the City of Gaithersburg, but at least once a month when the stink became unbearable–has been lost and replaced with “Andy will do it if I just wait”. Having lived here for less than three months among the people my Party, the Democrats, taxed hard working Middle Class citizen’s wages to shovel money to in the name of compassion, I understand their (the Middle Class’) rage and believe their continued irrational desertion to the handmaidens of the Filthy Rich and Corporations, the Republicans, is justified.

To say this ongoing needs-based misadventure has been a rude awaking is an understatement. Mitt Romney is wrong about almost everything, but he and the Republicans are dead right on about one thing: you cannot help people who will not help themselves. The dysfunction here in The Hood is unfathomable and an affront to me as a functional human being. It is a moral outrage that challenges me to my core. Yes, poverty, lousy parents, indifferent teachers, even racism–it all is unfair and totally sucks. As a trained Social Psychologist and Liberal Do Gooder I understand all the excuses and post hoc explanations. As a Buddhist I understand the need for compassion, but I also understand the need for dispassion. I cannot end other peoples’ suffering for them. At some point every person has to decide to transcend their surroundings and the limitations their environment has imposed, get off their ass, let go of their excuses, and take control of something, anything, within their control.

As toddlers, my three children in the early 1980s, my slightly older 4-year old step-son in the early 1990s [once I got him under my roof], and my five grandchildren now in a new Millennium, had more self-awareness, impulse control, and ability to make rational choices and think not magically but logically than the Philistines in whose midst I find myself ever will or could, even at gunpoint. To my fellow Liberals I say this harsh Truth, the lifeboat is not going to hold everyone, start preparing yourselves to make some difficult but necessary draconian choices. For the functional and productive among us to survive on a crowded and limited planet with finite resources and pissed off dispossessed masses numbering in the billions, more than a few dysfunctional people are not going to make it. In fact, I dare say few of them will join us if we manage to survive.

Hello world! IT’S NOT EASY BEING POOR EVEN IN RICH LIBERAL MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND

Background

Let’s just jump right in. I worked for over two decades, mostly as an information Technology professional and homeowner in Montgomery County [Aug 1979-2000]. During my tenure as a full time IT worker, I earned and paid Federal, State, and Local taxes on over one million dollars, and paid property taxes on a property in Germantown (1983-1985, value about $85,000) and Rockville (1986-2005, valued at $260,000 in 2005). I have been mostly unemployed or occasionally under-employed (I was a 50 year old, Caucasian Male, my Bad) since my lay-off in April, 2000. I started writing a book, Why Women Are So Problematic: A Memoir and Whimsical Polemic, in the summer of 2002. At the time, with assets and on-demand credit of about $200,000, it seemed like a reasonable plan to write the book and start a new career as an author. Well, the little secret about writing is not that it is difficult. It is that when you can write, it is easy and wonderful; but you cannot write all the time, and when you go flat, you can’t really even edit effectively. I do not know how people write for money they need to eat, or feed their loved ones…

To make a long unpleasant story short, in early 2008, the book still not finished, and my money ran out. I had help, My Valerie does like to eat and go out for entertainment. A friend told me in 2002 that I was loved and lived a blessed life because I was (relatively) rich. Damn if he wasn’t right. My idea of material things is: a 1996 Saturn 2-door, a descent digital camera, a vacation in Canada (2002), two vacations in Jamaica (1994 and 1998), a week or two each year at the family condo in Ocean City, MD, dinner out once a week, and a home that had been a rental for years before you bought, gutted, and rebuilt it in 1986 and over a period of years. With my lifestyle, $120,000/year is about $30,000 more than you can spend. Even if you move in your Future Former Fiancée for Life, who’s hug tits, short chubby body and freaky slut sexual tastes you love, and who’s beautiful 4-year-old son, you actually love as much as your three biological children, in 1993—to save her from a failed marriage and him from two clueless “parents” and have them live with you for free for almost a decade—it is still hard to not have an obscenely high set of credit scores, pay all your bills on time, and live debt-free with tons of on-demand credit at very low interest rates. In short, I could solve ones of thousands of dollars problems for myself, my lady, her son, my children, my sibling, even my parents with a personal check, and tens of thousands of dollars problems with an equity line check, 24/7/365.

However, once you become “poor:” your new lady friend of four years, your soul mate; (and with your father safely dead) your four younger siblings you helped raise for their entire lives; and the mother you supported emotionally and kept married to your dead father for 48 years); even two of your three biological children (the “self-made” sons, of course) all conveniently forget your years or even decades of faithful love and service. It is a fucking Greek Tragedy, to be sure. I’m not as poor as real poor people, who never had anything, have nothing now, and will never have anything. I’m more of a former rich liberal suburban white guy appearing, but actually Italian-American, Agrarian Socialist Democrat, somewhat more radicalized by my new found “poverty.” And that hyphen is misleading, I love this dying culture as much as Osama did before my brother, Barack, sent those Navy Seals to send him to his virgins in the afterlife…

The Poverty Experiment

So here is what this Poverty Experiment, as I have begun calling it, has taught me:

1)      Poverty really sucks

2)      No matter how much it sucks right now, it will soon suck even more a few minutes/hours/days from now

3)      Homelessness sucks even more than other poverty “perks” like having to beg for social benefits you paid for a thousands of times over with your own taxes

4)      You can’t finish writing a book when you are mostly just thinking: “If I don’t kill myself before noon, I wander what I’ll have for lunch? Should I take a nap, surf some porn and jack-off, play Minesweeper for a few hours, or just watch the Discovery Channel?”

In mid-2005, after a “Psychic Tune-Up,” I told a great Insight Therapist, Dr. Frank Doyle, in Chevy Chase, MD, the following: “Well, I hope I’ve finally gotten humble enough now.” His response, damn him, was to laugh and say: “Probably not!” At least I’ve learned to never again say what I said then, out loud. Seven years and a lot of humility later, I bet I’m still not humble enough, but I fucking better be almost there or I’m going to start randomly kil… um, or something really bad is going to happen.

The Food Stamp Application (Part 1)

In October, 2011, my middle child, Tony, trying to emulate his father, me, the ultimate Good Son, invited me to live with him, his beautiful wife, Dawn, and my then 14 month old grandson, Logan, as an alternative to homelessness, My Valerie having decided she could no longer afford me, long before the balance sheet was balanced. Well, wanting to be a good son isn’t really the same as actually being one. Let’s just say we lasted five months under the same roof; his wife only threatened to throw me out once or twice. [Just forget the fact that in most cultures, for almost all of time, a son doesn’t “own” anything, it belongs to his father, unless his grandfather is still alive. And yes, I did want to scream “God is Great; fit Dawn with a Burka, and perform an sacred Honor Killing when she threatened me, knowing as I do, that in most cultures for most of recorded history (about 10,000 years) a daughter-in-law only spoke to her father-in-law when he invited her to do so, and even then she choose her respectful words very carefully. At least now I know the real reason the “Terrorists” hate us—our corrosive dying culture has “empowered” women to threaten their husband’s fathers. And Bush told you it was because they resented and/or feared our Freedom and Democracy; please… What a complete and utter dumb-ass moron idiot that Baby, AKA “W”, Bush is.]

One of Tony’s demands was that I apply for Food Stamps, so I did with the help of my social benefits expert daughter, Christy. Apparently poor people keep really good records at their fingertips, because years of no W-2 income was insufficient to justify the awesome $50/week benefit. In addition to the tens of pages application which I filled out, the idiots wanted my non-existent tax returns and a birth certificate. I think I paid for not one but two duplicate ones, each time I got a DoD Secret Security Clearance—I bet they’re in the same folder, stored somewhere in the greater Metro Area right now. I haven’t filed a personal tax return for years. My company, Anything for Life, Inc. grossed about $2,500/year from me teaching Tai Chi classes for the County part-time until it was revoked in 2011 for not paying the $300 yearly filing fee with Maryland, so I don’t jump right on filing those returns either since I never owe any taxes.

For fun I actually got on-line and paid the private company $35 to pay a kid $5 to walk across the street in Philly and pay them $3.50 to get a duplicate Birth Certificate and snail mail it to me. Unfortunately, that process takes a month, and the Social Services idiots, for some reason, are very slow but demand that you, the poor person, jump through their bullshit hoops really fast. So on the day that my tax returns and birth certificate were due, at about 4:30 PM, I went to the Social Services office, since it is impossible to call from off-site. I asked to speak face-to-face with a supervisor, which was sadly impossible. I could, and did, call her on the House Phone. My voice message was: “Hello, sorry I missed you. Who is qualified to comment on my soon to be posted blog, It’s Not Easy… [the one you are reading] before I post it?” She picked up immediately, having been tipped off by the “greeter” and sitting there in her undisclosed location bunker and asked for my case number. Needless to say, with no tax returns and no birth certificate, I received the computer generated rejection letter and the override, no doubt upper management expedited, custom letter congratulating me on getting my new Food Stamp Poor People [Independence] Card, which I was assured was retroactively approved and would have a fat first time $200 extra—sweet.

The Food Stamp Application (Part 2)

I received and put to good use the $50/week food benefit for six months, when the idiots informed me that I needed to reapply. I figured sure, “I certify that nothing has changed, ba bye and keep that money coming.” No, you fill out the same forms again, and submit the non-existent tax returns and (at least I have a valid duplicate) Birth Certificate. Surely they couldn’t be that stupid/inefficient/asinine, I went to talk to my supervisor friend. No, it’s a two hour wait to see a social worker who takes your information and then says the supervisor will call you to set up an appointment. She didn’t, but the fucking idiots—or their idiot on-auto-pilot computers—did send me a form letter cancelling my benefits effective May 14, 2012. That’s why you are reading this blog, which I compassionately withheld in good faith after the Social Services Supervisor applied The Big Picture to my application and coughed up my benefits in early December, 2011 with a little retroactive bonus from before the day I went in.

A Simple Solution to the Social Welfare Benefits Bureaucracy Problem

So here is my simple solution: I call it The Trusted Citizen Program. Like every American, I have a Social Security Number. Like very American, every penny of my wages and any other generated active or passive income is reported to the Federal government, and my State government. Computers already owned by the Feds, using real software correctly and competently written and tested by red-blooded, actually give a damn, Americans like me —not by Rich Spoiled High Brahmond Caste Indian Nations who can pay the bribe to get a visa and are here as a matter of their nation’s deliberate policy to destroy Americans IT workforce on a work visa pushed by greedy corporations who want cheap compliant foreigners, not people like me, working for them. The software program crawls through all the government collected income data and finds American citizens who have not worked, or have worked only a little, in a given year. If your lifetime taxed earnings exceed, let’s say $500,000, and/or you made $100,000 the year before, and/or you paid $10,000 in property taxes, the software system identifies you as a Trusted Citizen and sends you a form letter informing you of all the social service benefits you not only qualify for, but have been enrolled in and are now receiving, forever, until your financial plight improves, which the same software will identify for you. The few people who aren’t picked up by the software system can apply for benefits on line or in person, the form is: “I certify I’m poor, give me the fucking benefits I qualify for, now.” Half of the bureaucrats now employed checking massive inefficient handwritten paperwork applications and re-application for benefits are retrained as fraud specialists who just look through on-line government databases, not hand written applicant forms, to find the cheaters and put them in jail for mandatory 10 year terms without parole.

Update 20120801

No longer homeless! Met a young ebony goddess, Tasha (age 38), three weeks ago. I offered to help her: gave her a light and cooked her some pasta primavera. The next day while hanging out with her and giving her a ride, she invited me to crash at her place while her 15-year-old out of control baby goddess is in a holding facility for 90 days. It wasn’t as crazy as that sounds, but pretty close. As I live in “The Ghetto” for the first time, it occurs to me that Ridgeline Drive, Montgomery Village, Maryland, 2012 is the 60s all over again–maybe to stay this time… (Everybody just sharing what little they have, staying alive and trying to make things better than they are. There is a lot of pain and hate, but also a lot of love there and people who are real.) Between Tasha and Tisha, my very spiritual authentic Muslim dear friend and 30 year old goddess, and Tasha’s neighbor, there is much reason for hope. Maybe we will survive as a species after all.