Friday, June 27, 2014

DO NOT Tell Me to "Be Grateful..."

There is an article on Daily Kos today that details the warning of a multi-millionaire to his fellow oligarchs, about the coming revolution should the economy continue down the path it is currently on.  The headline is,“The pitchforks ARE coming!”  The guy makes a good historical presentation about what happens when the disparity between the haves and the have-nots reaches the boiling point.  Like, say, just before the revolution in France.  (Or the Bolshevik revolution, for that matter, though for some reason, he chose not to use that particular example.)  The peasants take over and the heads of the rich roll into the gutter.   

It was a well-formed argument, but I did have one bone to pick.  Daily Kos asked the question:  What happens when real opportunity for everyone below $100k evaporates entirely?   $100k?  Really?  Who pulled that number out of their ass?  Who thinks that $100k gross income constitutes wealth in this country anymore?

I felt compelled to leave a comment calling bullshit on this assumption.  It went something like this:       

The only argument I have with this is the "$100k" cut off. My husband grossed over $101k last year. Between taxes, FICA, health insurance and being obligated to pay into a retirement fund which will probably crash and burn way before we need it, his take-home was about $55k. And the "bonuses" his employer gave out last year--in lieu of pay raises--have dried up in 2014, so we will be sliding backwards again this year. One step forward, three steps back. Yeah, we aren't worrying about keeping a roof over our heads or food on the table, but we have three over-ten-year-old vehicles because we could not possibly afford a $500/month car payment, we have a $20k roof job staring us in the face, and we can't even think about taking a vacation. Believe me, $100k is no magic number.

Why does $100k sound like such a fortune to folks?  Does no one get that we are forced to face expenditures no one had any clue about forty years ago?  For example:

  • ·         Our gasoline bill for a month is typically over $500, closer to $600. 

  • ·         They take almost ten grand pre-tax out of the husband’s paycheck for really crappy health insurance that forty years ago was free for the employee and might have cost $50/month to cover family members. 

  • ·         The husband pours over $6k a year into a 401k plan that may or may not ever make any money…in fact, there’s no guarantee that even the money he has put into it will still be there when we retire, since it is ALL invested into a volatile boom/bust stock market.  Forty years ago, he worked for K-mart.  After 10 years with the company, he was vested in the retirement plan—into which he never had to contribute one dime--and guaranteed a pension upon retirement.

  • ·         A new vehicle typically costs three to four times what it may have in 1984.  We are not grossing three to four times more than we did then, and we sure as hell are not getting to take home  anywhere near four times what we did in the eighties.
  •      The first home we purchased in Oregon cost us $34k.  That’s thirty-four thousand dollars.  Five figures.  The home we live in now came with a $184k price tag.  This is not because the home we have now has been a huge step up from our first.  Homes in the same neighborhood we lived in thirty years ago are going for at least $180k now.

Still, I knew someone would surely get their panties in a wad that I would dare to comp lain about making $100,000 a year.  Sure enough, within half an hour, this reply was posted:   

Are you kidding? My husband and I lost our house to a made-to-fail loan, filed bankruptcy due to medical bills and are living with my mom and still barely make ends meet. No one at my husband's company has had a raise in 8 years despite the company doing really well all those years. I have chronic health issues and am lucky to pick up a few hours worth of work a month.

Be thankful for what you have.

No.  I WILL NOT.  I refuse to be told to shut up and be happy with the crumbs that have been left on my plate by the 1%, just because I may have one or two crumbs more than someone else.  That is exactly what the oligarchs want us to think, want us to do to one another.  And it is not okay. 

So I “penned” this reply:

My point, dear, is that we had a better lifestyle back in the 80's when we were making $40k combined per year. $100k sounds like a lot, but in today's dollars, it doesn't add up to nearly as much as $40k did thirty years ago. The health insurance we pay almost $10k a year for is Kaiser Permanente, which S.U.C.K.S. (they are the ones who sent my husband home with hypodermic needles and heparin when he had blood clots in his legs, and told him he needed to schedule a colonoscopy when he wanted to make an appt to have his knee looked at...)

We took out a second mortgage on our house in 2006 to buy a business because we were afraid the company my husband worked for was going under. That didn't happen…somehow the factory he works for successfully morphed from factory to import business, salvaging at least enough income to keep the doors open.  But we DID have to close the restaurant because, after 5 years, we had not made a dime on it. We are, however, still paying off that loan.

My husband did not receive a raise between 2003 and 2010, and since then, he has received two 2% COLA's. He became one of those "lucky to have a job" members of the middle class who people like YOU (and his bosses, and even himself, at times) accuse of being ungrateful for "what we have." I'm sorry for your problems, dear, but just because you seem to be suffering more than us, doesn't mean our issues are not legitimate. I don't know about you, but "lucky to have a job" was never MY idea of the American Dream. We haven't just sat back and waited for riches to be conferred upon us. We have worked our asses off for the past forty years only to be pushed backwards in this past decade. We are nearing retirement age and the picture we are getting of what our "golden years" will look like, if we are ever ABLE to retire, is not at all attractive. DO NOT tell me to be thankful for that.

I don’t want people to feel sorry for me because my husband “only” makes $100k a year.  I want people to get mad.  Not just the people who can’t make ends meet because the jobs left to most  people are minimum wage with no appreciable benefits.  I want the folks like us—the ones who used to believe that hard work and keeping your nose to the grindstone would at least cover our butts in the end, even if it didn’t finance a lifestyle of the rich and famous—to get mad as hell. 

We are NOT grateful that we are “lucky to have a job.”  We are mad as hell that that concept even exists.

We are NOT grateful that we are “lucky to have health insurance”, when that insurance guarantees us only the bare minimum of acceptable health care, which is all that $10k per year will buy, apparently.

We are NOT grateful that we have to drive a 10-year-old car that we got used off of Craigslist, because we couldn’t possibly even consider making a car payment when our car insurance costs us $150 a month. 

We are NOT grateful that, when it comes time to retire in less than ten years, we have no idea where we will be able to afford to live, or whether we can expect to be able to afford to live at all. 

It makes me insane when someone who is arguably more disadvantaged than I am tells me to shut up and count my blessings.  I AM counting my blessings, hon.  I’m counting mine, and yours, and my sisters’, and the guy who lives next door’s.  And they keep coming up short because they are ending up in the pockets of someone who absorbs more money in a day than all of us put together will make in our lifetimes.

Do not presume to tell me I should be grateful for being cheated.  We are in the same boat, you and me, and we need each other if we are ever going to change this mess.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Last weekend, the husband and I took a trip into that sucking hole of negative energy that we created during the café years.  Many things were said, mostly by him, and mostly laying the blame for every bad thing directly on me.  For my part, I cried and writhed and let myself be utterly shamed and demoralized.  I was convinced that my husband had stopped loving me because of all the crap that had gone on between us during those arduous five years; and that three years later, all my efforts to clean the slate of how horrible I had been, had gone for naught.  Husband’s position was written in stone.  He no longer loved me.

Honestly, for the entire rest of that day, I was lost.  I thought some action was required of ME to end the stalemate.  I pondered several different courses of action, from staying, to leaving, to ending myself (Yes.  I did.)  I had no idea what to do, and was very nearly convinced that the situation would best resolve itself if I “walked on.”

I inhabited that lonely, dark and sorry place until late in the evening, when I drove down to the Safeway to get myself something for dinner.  I shopped.  I cooked (well, I microwaved a Stouffer’s dinner.)  I ate.

And gradually, the pain lifted.  I climbed up the stairs and played Solitaire on my iPad until I couldn’t keep my swollen, tear-scoured eyes open any longer.  And I slept.

That in itself was unusual.  Normally, when I get into these obsessive places where I feel desperate to make life-changing (or –ending) decisions, I don’t sleep.  I get caught in a Star-trek-esque “causality loop” that goes on for days, and only recedes slowly, after the obsessive replays fade in the light of everyday living.  I may eventually feel resolved, or resigned, or simply tired of being sad, but I never feel good or refreshed immediately following one of these episodes.

I know that those of you who still come here are sick to death of reading about this stuff.  But I had to bring it up this time…because this time was different.  Because not only did I sleep, a normal, restful sleep, but I woke up the next day completely free of the two-ton emotional weight I generally carry around after one of these dives into uncertainty and depression.  I did indeed feel good.  For no earthly reason at all. 

I had NOT thought anything through, I had NOT come to any earth-shaking decisions,  I had not taken any drugs, had not done any meditating, had not dragged my problems before the Creator in the sense that I prayed or petitioned or performed any ritual.  I just ate a Salisbury steak, played solitaire and went to bed.  Didn’t even have any important or enlightening dreams, that I can remember.

But I woke up refreshed, no longer sad and desperate.  Happier and more positive than I have been in a long time, as a matter of fact. 

It felt awesome, albeit very strange.  When I revisited the issue of the argument of the day before, my eyes didn’t well up, my lip did not tremble.  I did not experience that old “fight or flight” reflex to which I’ve become so accustomed.  What happened was this:

I suddenly recalled how I felt when I was over-challenged and basically nuts, running that restaurant.  One of the most horrible aspects of that time was that the husband completely turned his back on me.  Yes, I was mean, and I was crazy…so I guess I don’t really blame him.  But it hurt so bad.  All I could think was that marriage…love...the unconditional love upon which a marriage is supposed to be built…was not supposed to be like that.  Sure, I was an asshole, but he utterly abandoned me, emotionally.  When I needed him most, he just…walked away.

And now I was prepared to do exactly the same thing to him.          

NOT what marriage…love…the unconditional love upon which a marriage is supposed to be built, is all about.  And I damned well knew it.  Moreso than most people, since I had experienced it. 

So now I was going to turn around and do to him what had hurt me so much? 

No.  You don’t do that to the one you love.  And you SURE don’t do it when you know you’re doing it, and you know you shouldn’t.

So what brought about all this unaccustomed insight and understanding?

Lately, when I do my morning ritual, one of the things I have asked of the Creator is to give me sight.  To allow me to see in the dark places, and from far away, as my spirit guides Owl and Hawk do.  Honestly, I don’t have any idea how I thought the answer to that request would manifest itself.  But I’m sure I expected it to be dramatic and obvious…maybe slightly less spectacular than a lightning bolt or an owl landing in my tree in broad daylight and speaking to me.  When nothing like that transpires, you start thinking in the back of your mind that maybe your spiritual path is all in your head; maybe you’re out there raising your arms and baring your soul to the empty air.      

But that isn’t so, is it?  Because the Creator can speak to us so softly, direct us so quietly, that we can entirely miss what is going on if we don’t make the effort to really look.  And it looks as if the answer to my request for sight has come in the form of slowly being able to see clearly what I am doing when I start down one of these destructive, negative paths.  And allowing what I see to make me to stop and change direction, to move away from the sucking negative hole of my tendency toward depression and hopelessness. 

I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am that the Creator does see fit to grant my requests, always in ways I could never imagine, but always in ways that put me back on the path toward the light.   

Indeed, “Sometimes I go around feeling sorry for myself, and all the while I am being carried by the wind across the sky…”       



Sunday, June 1, 2014

Muddy Waters

So, I never said I could simply make a decision and stick to it.  In fact, I believe I stated precisely the opposite in a previous post, to the effect that I was having a devil of a time scraping up anything resembling courage of my convictions.  While this affliction has served to make me allergic to decision-making, it has also caused me to continue to pursue conflicting options.  In English, that means I keep moving in the direction of committing to my business, while continuing to basically let guilt, desperation and general weeniness compel me to answer help wanted ads.  Sigh! 

It all came to a head this weekend, when I received a call back on yet another resume emailed to a craigslist posting, even as I was on my way to check out farmers’ market venues on the coast for Café de la Rue.  Unfortunately, the Universe provided me with no clear direction this time around.  We were pleased by one of the markets we visited, but there are a few major problems that might be difficult to overcome.  And the husband perked up considerably when I mentioned a call back on a job close to home.  He loves jobs.  He sees jobs as the answer to everything.  And they have been, for him.  So now I have his approval/disapproval to contend with.

I can't blame the Universe for just letting me wallow in indecision this time around.  I guess She believes that if I can ignore a 2 x 4 upside of the head, I’m determined not to pay attention to Her, in any case.  

There are too many “logical” ways to look at this, and I suck at picking the winner.  On the one hand, a job would create a nice, steady flow of income with which I could pay down our most nagging debts.  And it wouldn’t cost me a thing—at least, not in terms of money—to hop on that gravy train and ride it to financial freedom.  Take the job, do the job, collect the paycheck.  What could be simpler?

But then, how can I so willingly forget how much I hate, how much I suck at, and how dismally I have habitually failed at working for other people?  My thirty-year work history is littered with failures, hurts, misunderstandings, gaffes and frustrations.  There is something about me that inspires employers to dislike me even while it invites them to take advantage of my heroic work ethic.  It’s like, I give off these vibes that say, “I’ll work myself to death for you, but I expect some kind of recognition and respect in return” even though I’ve never screwed up the courage to actually say that to anyone.  It’s been the rare boss, in my experience, who has been willing to accept the one without tendering the other.  And so was nurtured my uninspired attitude toward working for a living.

But financial freedom isn’t the sum total of what it’s all about, is it?  Even at my age, when there is an almost overwhelming desire to tie up loose ends in order to enter retirement with as few financial obligations as possible, I can’t accept the trade-off of today’s happiness for some uncertain future freedom.  Or maybe it’s because of my age, because of what I’ve experienced time after time, decade after decade, that I’m unwilling to make that deal with the devil.  I’ve been in the position where I dragged myself out of bed, day after day, dreading going to work, putting in 8 or 10 or 12 hours at a place I hated, just to bring home that paycheck.  More often than not, in fact, when it came to working for someone else.  And who wants to hate more than half her waking hours, at this stage of the game?  Once you come to the unwavering conclusion that you'll probably get less hours than you have already used (and marching up to the big 6-0 will do that to you), you aren't quite as willing to hate so many of the ones you have left.

Then again, it’s not as if the specter of putting myself out there, entrepreneurially, and falling flat on my face doesn’t loom large in my recent past.  That was no picnic, either. 

It’s not even a matter of choosing between the devil I know and the devil I don’t know…because I know them both.

I just have to choose the one that’s easier to live with. 

And perhaps that will be the one that the Universe has pointed out with that gigantic arrow I mentioned in my last post…