Whale-Sized Karma

You’ll get yours, eventually. Maybe.

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about karma of late. To oversimplify, it means that whatever happens to you happens because of your actions. It’s a comforting theory. Be good, and good things will happen to you. Be bad, and you’ll get yours, eventually.

There are days when my belief in karma is the only thing that keeps me from imploding under the sheer weight of my righteous indignation. I may have been screwed over by despicable people (most notably, Andy Johnson), and I may be able to do very little about it other than shine a light on them through this blog, but I have to believe that, by dint of the rot in their very souls, they’re going to get tripped up sooner or later.

But mine is a scientific mind, and so I know on some level that this is all magical thinking. It would be wonderful if justice were that straightforward, but quite often it is not. The world is a random, chaotic place, and we aren’t in control at all. Not even a little bit.

Because of this, I know that a lot of the politicians who have perpetrated so much hate, discord and crime in recent years will get off scot-free. The insurrectionist traitors who stormed our capitol may be pursued and tried, but no sentences will be enough to pay for what they’ve done to this country. My only hope is that they keep making idiotic choices that come back to bite them in the butt, hopefully without taking any more lives with them in the process. (Five was already too many.)

Karma. A nice dream. I’ll leave you with a true story that is either the most beautiful example of karma or the most beautiful example of the random and chaotic essence of our world. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

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This is the story of the Essex. It was an American whaleship that, on August 12, 1819, sailed out of Nantucket, MA and straight into infamy. In my opinion, the only vessel worse (and in fact it’s much, much worse) than a whaler is a slave ship. The horrors we humans can visit upon this world never cease to amaze me.

But this last journey of the Essex would turn out to be either karma or chaos for its crew. The 21 men anticipated a 2 ½ year trip to catch whales in the South Pacific. But within 2 days their bad luck began when they ran into a storm that nearly sank the ship and damaged the sail as well as destroying two of the six whaleboats, and damaging a third. Captain Pollard chose to press on without getting replacements.

They hunted for whales that following spring and summer, and eventually made it to what is now Ecuador. Running out of whales to slaughter, they decided to go further south and west, where there was very little land, and that land was rumored to be inhabited by cannibals. But hey, there should be more whales there, so why not?

They stopped in at the Galapagos Islands, where they managed to take 360 giant tortoises aboard alive, thinking these creatures could go a year without food and water, and they could simply eat them as needed. These tortoises immediately began to starve. But, hey, the crew got to eat really well for a while there.

While island hopping for tortoises, a helmsman thought it would be funny to set fire to an island. That fire raged out of control and burned every living plant and animal to death, leaving a desolated, ash-covered wasteland and driving two species to near extinction. (The Floreana Island tortoise and the Floreana mockingbird, because I know you’ll ask.)

When they reached their whaling grounds, the first whale they saw came up under one of the whaleboats and completely shattered it. That left them with three.

During the next hunt one of the boats was damaged, again by a whale, and had to go back to the ship for repairs. Both of the others harpooned whales and were dragged by them over the horizon.

Those who were on the ship noticed a whale as long as their vessel acting really weird. It was just lying there on the surface, staring at them. And then it charged them and rammed the ship. The current theory is that the whale heard the hammering that was going on to repair the whaleboat, and it sounded like a rival bull sperm whale’s echolocation to him. We’ll never know.

Needless to say, ramming the ship stunned the whale. The crew thought of harpooning it, but was afraid that this would cause the whale to thrash and might damage the ship further. The whale finally perked up and swam away.

And then it turned. It was now facing the ship’s bow. It charged again, at twice its normal speed, and hit the Essex head on, shattering the bow. The crew scrambled to put provisions into the half repaired whaleboat when the captain’s whaleboat showed up. That must have come as one heck of a shock to the Captain.

Needless to say, the ship was toast. There were 20 crew members (one had deserted) to divide between, basically, 2 ½ boats. And they were in the middle of nowhere. The closest land was the Marquesas Islands, and that’s where Captain Pollard wanted to go, but his crew remembered those cannibal rumors, and wanted to go back to South America instead, which was twice as far away. And that’s what they tried to do, bailing all the while.

There was very little food and water to begin with, but the situation was made worse when most of the food got soaked by seawater, which of course rendered it very salty, which meant that every time they ate, they became more dehydrated and thirsty. (I’m getting thirsty just writing about it.) They soon resorted to drinking their own urine.

By a huge stroke of luck, a month later they landed on a deserted atoll called Henderson Island. Ironically, it’s situated just 120 miles from Pitcairn Island, where the descendants of the 1789 Bounty mutineers still live to this day.

On Henderson, the crew was able to find fresh water, and ate birds, crabs, eggs, and peppergrass. But they pretty much had wiped out the island within a week, and decided to move on. Three men remained behind, and actually managed to survive for a year before being rescued.

The other 17 men, in their 2 ½ boats, attempted to head to Easter Island. Within a week they once again ran out of food, and were only left with saltwater soaked bread yet again. They totally missed Easter Island, and began to die one by one.

The first two that died were buried at sea. One boat, carrying three men, got separated from the other two, and it is assumed it was the whaleboat later found washed up on Ducie Island with three skeletons inside.

As the last 12 started dying, some were eaten by their crewmates. So the people scared of encountering cannibals became cannibals themselves. Imagine.

By February, they were out of bodies to eat and were forced to draw lots as to who would be sacrificed. The ironically named Owen Coffin, the 17-year-old first cousin of Captain Pollard, drew the short straw. To Pollard’s credit, he offered to take his place, but Coffin felt that his lot wasn’t any worse than theirs. His best friend on the ship shot him.

The two remaining boats became separated, and one was rescued 89 days after the Essex had sunk. On it were three survivors.

Four days later, when Pollard’s boat was finally rescued, nearly in sight of South America, he and another crewman were so delirious, and so desperately sucking on the bones of dead men, they didn’t even notice the ship draw near, and were extremely terrified when they finally did.

So 8 men survived, and 7 bodies were eaten. But here’s what I find even more astounding. After all that trauma, all 8 men were back at sea within a few months. Captain Pollard kept having such bad luck at sea that eventually no one would sail with him, and he had to retire to Nantucket.

Nantucket is a small place, and he had to share it with the mother of the cousin whom he had eaten. Needless to say, relationships were rather strained. He became a night watchman. He would lock himself up in his room and fast every year on the anniversary of the sinking of the Essex. He never married or had children. He lived to be 78.

The first mate, Owen Chase, also survived, and went on to write a book about the experience, which inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick. Chase had a very successful sailing career as a sea captain, and eventually built his own whaler. He also had many wives and many children. But the ordeal haunted him, and he was eventually institutionalized after he was found to be hiding food in the attic of his Nantucket house. He lived to be 73.

All the other survivors, save one, lived long lives and died in a variety of sailor ways. And so it goes. Karma? Chaos? Or just the circle of life?

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Another Scammer Messed With

I look at it as a civic duty.

If you recall my post Messing with a Scammer, you’ll know that I take great delight in acting stupid and gullible in order to waste the time of a con artist. I look at it as a civic duty. The more time they spend with me, the less time they’ll spend bilking little old ladies out of their life savings.

It seems I’m not alone in this pastime, because a loved one of mine recently shared this exchange that he had with your basic scumbag. He was doing an honest day’s work when his phone beeped, and he came across a text from a coworker. But red flags went up because the text was coming from a strange number, and his language and syntax seemed a little off. I’m sure it wasn’t hard for the scammer to find out that they were coworkers on line, and then search for his phone number. Then they were off to the races, as the saying goes.

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Knowing his coworker would never make such a request, he decided to play along.

Scam2

Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen, buddy. So now he started acting like he wasn’t very clever about these complicated tech thingies.

Scam3

Scam4

Ooh, the genious scammer sent a photo! Just trying to be helpful. Which made my friend look on line for some photos of his own to send back.

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Now the scammer is convinced he is dealing with a fool. But he’s the fool. He sent his e-mail. Wanna mess with him too? Please, please do! Sign him up for as much spam e-mail as you can possibly think of.

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Scam7

Hee hee.

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Now Mr. Scammer starts getting testy.

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Scam10

I’d include more screen shots, but it’s just another 50 or so idiot-related images that my friend sent to tie up scammer’s phone. But hey, if the phone number or the e-mail are still active, I strongly encourage you to mess with this dimwit. It’s a dirty job, but in the end, it’s quite satisfying, and a lot more fun than waiting for karma to bite him in the butt.

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The Teddy Bear Boy

He was very quiet, and seemed a little sad.

About a decade and a half ago, one of my coworkers, Don, asked me if I would be willing to rent a room to his 17-year-old son, Lee. He wanted to continue attending my neighborhood high school with his friends, and my coworker was moving to the neighboring county. I said yes, albeit reluctantly.

I don’t “do” kids. I have no children of my own, by choice. I didn’t even hang out with kids that much when I was one myself.

But this young man seemed nice enough. I was assured that he was pretty self-sufficient. He’d buy and prepare his own food, Don said. He was very quiet, and seemed a little sad.

I felt sorry for Lee. Don said that his mother had died when he was very young. He and his brother had been raised by a single parent who worked the graveyard shift for as long as I had known him, so I can’t imagine their lives were particularly conventional.

Little did I know.

Lee would often sleep with his bedroom door open. I’d see him hugging a teddy bear as I walked past at night on my way to work. I thought that was rather unusual for a boy his age, but to each his own.

My next intel about Lee was that his father treated him horribly. I could hear the man scream at him over the phone from the other side of the house. His other son could do no wrong.

I came to realize that Lee was gay, and I already knew that his father was a homophobe, so I thought that explained it all. It made me feel even more sorry for Lee, because it must be awful to be rejected by the only parent you have.

Then one night I had to rush Lee to the hospital with extreme stomach pains. It turned out that he had been existing for years on a basic diet of chocolate donuts and coca cola, and that hadn’t done his intestines much good. This broke my heart.

My heartbreak turned to fury, though, when I discovered that his father had let Lee’s health insurance lapse. Rather than thanking me for bringing his son to the hospital, Don was outraged, because now he’d be stuck with a medical bill. He viewed his son as a massive inconvenience.

Don was so angry that he decided to yank his son out of my house. Before he left, I learned many truths about Lee.

First of all, his mother wasn’t dead, as far as he knew. She had abandoned him and his brother at a rest stop when they were very little. The police had given them each a teddy bear, and he had kept his ever since.

It was doubtful that Don was even his father. Apparently his wife had been rather promiscuous. (I had thought he and his brother didn’t look very much alike.) Don had had to drive several hundred miles to pick the boys up, and he had resented Lee, in particular, from that day to this.

After Don entered my house in a rage and grabbed all his stuff and yanked a protesting, pleading Lee out the door, I never saw them again. Don quit working with me, pulled Lee out of school, and left no valid forwarding address.

I often wonder how Lee turned out. I tried looking for him on Facebook, but his name is way too common. I will forever wonder if I could have done more for that lonely, neglected 17-year-old boy who only had a stuffed animal for comfort for most of his life. It’s one of my biggest regrets.

I’m glad that at least once in his life, a kind stranger had the decency to give him a teddy bear to hug. I hope he was able to rise above his circumstances. He deserved much more from his childhood than he got.

I also hope that karma has rolled over his father like a crosstown bus.

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Score One for Nature!

Even if it were true (and it’s most definitely not) that rhino horns held medicinal properties, that doesn’t give you the right to kill them.

I’m not a violent person. I don’t even believe in the death penalty. But when I stumbled across this article about three rhino poachers getting killed by a pride of lions, I have to say that I was kind of pleased by the justice that Mother Nature meted out.

Even if it were true (and it’s most definitely not) that rhino horns held medicinal properties, that doesn’t give you the right to kill them. And if you are stupid enough to break into a game PRESERVE full of wild animals to commit this crime, you certainly can’t blame the lions for viewing you as a delicious midnight snack. You were about to do what you do, so they did what they do. Fair’s fair.

You were committing a crime. You were in a place where you had no right to be. Nature stepped up, leaving nothing but your shoes and your gloves and one skull behind, along with the nefarious weapons you planned to use to commit your atrocity.

Sometimes justice balances the scale in unexpected ways. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If I didn’t believe so firmly in karma, I’d probably implode under the sheer weight of my righteous indignation. Fortunately, a little of that weight was lifted this time around.

Lions

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20,528 Karma Bombs in Two Minutes

Born in 1800’s America, I’d have been an abolitionist. That is, if I were lucky enough to be a member of the upper class, rather than dying at the age of 25 while working some nasty, brutish factory job for 100 hours a week, while pregnant for the 6th time. What a difference time and place makes in your fate.

That thought, among many others, was in the forefront of my mind while looking at an interactive entitled The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes. This stunning, horrifying animation graphically illustrates the 20,528 voyages that we still have accurate records of for the 315 year period between the 16th and 19th centuries. This visual will haunt me for quite some time.

Each vessel is a dot moving across the Atlantic. You can pause the graphic and click on each one to get the chilling specifics. For example, “The Noordstar, under a flag of the Netherlands, left Senegambia in 1679 with 500 enslaved people, and arrived in Surinam with 421.”

Each dot represents the theft and kidnap of human beings. Each dot represents pain and disease and pestilence and death and despair and the destruction of families and communities. Each dot represents avarice and evil. And there were so many of them. So very many.

And consider this: 2 million of these slaves did not survive the ocean passage. That means the Atlantic Ocean is riddled with minute traces of 2 million bodies. Think of that the next time you make a sand castle on the beach or take a cruise to the Bahamas.

I was really surprised to discover that fewer than 4 percent of the slave ships arrived in the continental U.S. Most went to Brazil or the Caribbean. Not that that’s an excuse, mind you. It just makes me realize that the horror of the American slave trade was eclipsed a thousand times over by what was happening to our south. I can’t even imagine it. It is the stuff of nightmares.

Another interesting thing about this graphic is that if you were to look at it without knowing what it was, you’d be inclined to think that it was missiles being shot at us from Africa. And in a way, it was. Because this destructive and horrible industry was not only devastating to that continent. It was a poisonous legacy for the ports of call, as well. It brought a moral plague to our shores. And for centuries we welcomed it.

It is sobering to see that the very places where these ships landed are economically depressed to this day. They are also, in my opinion, still sites of heightened prejudice, ignorance, and fundamentalism. They are areas of backwardness. As observations go, that one isn’t particularly scientific. It could be pure coincidence. But it could also be karma brought upon us by a legacy of greed.

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Lack vs. Abundance

There is an interesting human spectrum that tells you a great deal about people. I call it the generosity spectrum. But it also has a great deal to do with trust, confidence, kindness, and a sense of karma.

At one extreme, you have people who are so wide open that they put themselves at risk. These are the people who will not only pick up every hitchhiker they see, but will invite them to come crash on their couch for a couple of months. Need a shirt? Here’s the one off my back. Yeah, I know it’s snowing, but you said you needed a shirt.

At the other extreme, you get the bitter old men who will not let the neighborhood kids retrieve their balls from their yards. They see everyone as a threat, and guard their property jealously. They are definitely not people who will support you in times of crisis. In fact, they will resent that you even ask.

I don’t think either extreme is particularly healthy, to be honest, but I must admit that I try to surround myself with people toward the more generous end of the spectrum. The reason I do that is that I’ve noticed that those people who look at the world from a place of abundance tend to have more positive things happening in their lives. As unscientific as it is, abundance tends to breed abundance.

Sadly, I’ve had quite a few encounters with the opposite extreme of late.

I’m working on an anthology that will include several of my blog entries on the subject of, ironically, gratitude. Being my first book, this is an extremely low budget operation. I saw some artwork that I would have loved to have used on the front cover, and I approached the artist. I told him that I thought his work was amazing, told him what I had in mind, and asked if he’d allow me to use a print of his painting, give him due credit and increased exposure, and give him a percentage of the profits should any arise. He responded that he was sick and tired of people trying to steal his work. Message received.

I also saw an amazing film at the Seattle International Film Festival and had the opportunity to talk to the director afterwards. I then wrote a very positive review for this blog, encouraging everyone to go see it, and sent the director the link, thinking he’d be flattered. Instead he told me to take the review down, saying he didn’t give me permission to use his words, and that it had been a private conversation. (Mind you, this took place in a crowded room, with a total stranger, at a film festival where he was present to promote his work.) Um… yeah. That was the first time I’d ever had to take down a blog entry.

But perhaps the most painful encounters I’ve had with people more toward the “lack” end of the generosity spectrum have come from friends and family. I wasn’t expecting this at all. It has caused me to reevaluate the way I view some of them.

Recently tragedy struck my family. I’m extremely close to my niece and nephew, especially now that my sister has passed away. So when my niece needed help, I naturally stepped up.

Her husband broke his neck. He was the sole breadwinner of the family, and they have three children, ages 1, 3, and 6. Needless to say, this is bad. No family should have to choose between feeding their children and paying the rent, especially when they’re already dealing with the stress of extreme pain and slow recovery.

This catastrophe has consumed me for well over a week. I have averaged about 3 hours of sleep a day, and my whole world revolves around this situation. So I created a GoFundMe campaign to try to raise money to take some of the pressure off them. Then I asked friends and family to share the campaign on social media.

Mind you, I didn’t ask anyone to contribute money. Not everyone has the money to contribute. I totally get that. I live it. I simply asked them to spread the word. By doing so, they would be showing support at a time when I am feeling particularly helpless, and that is worth more to me than gold. They would also be giving their friends and family the chance to pay it forward if they have been through similar past tragedies and are in a position to do so, and that is a great opportunity for healing.

A lot of people stepped up and shared. This means so much to me that it brings tears to my eyes. But others showed that they are coming from a place of lack rather than abundance by reacting in a variety of negative ways.

I’m told I’m being pushy, or inappropriate, or embarrassing. I’m told that I have a lot of nerve, when there are so many people in the world who are worse off, and when there is so much drama happening all over the place. I’m being ignored by people who never ignore me. I’m being told that they get requests like this all the time, and if they shared mine, they’d have to share everyone’s, and we can’t have that, can we?

Oh, where to begin. Point by point, I suppose. First of all, I don’t think there’s any shame in asking for help when it’s desperately needed. Sorry if that makes you uncomfortable. Yes, there are billions of people who are worse off. How do you determine the cut off? Who is “allowed” to be scared, worried, stressed out, and in need of support, and who is not? I know that tragedies abound, but this is a situation where I can actually make a difference, and when an opportunity like that presents itself, I’m going to jump on it.

I would never, EVER ignore a plea for help. That’s just rude. And granted, my social network is probably smaller than a lot of peoples, so I don’t get requests of this type as often as they probably do, but I promise you, when someone comes to me, at the end of their rope, their lives changed for the worst, and asks me to simply share a Facebook post, I’m going to share it every single time. Every. Single. Time. Because the people on my Facebook feed are grown ass adults who can decide whether or not to contribute or pass on a post, so they’ll “get over” my intrusion. Or they won’t. Oh well.

And, too, coming from the more generous end of the spectrum, I truly believe that even if you can’t contribute financially to someone you love, you can, and should, always be able to contribute emotionally. It’s not easy to ask for help. But it’s made so much worse when you are rejected after you ask. It’s times like this that show what you’re truly made of. I’d hate to be made of selfish things. It don’t think it’s a good look.

But that’s just me.

End of rant.

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No Joy in Plumpville

I went shopping for a bathing suit the other day, and to my horror I discovered that I’ve finally reached a size where all suits come with little skirts. Even I have to admit that it looks better that way, but it’s official: society no longer wishes to gaze upon my thighs. Ah well. It was a good run.

That reminded me of the time I was in a mall and noticed that Victoria’s Secret was having a sale. None of their underwear on the display case was my size. So I asked the skinny little teen-aged clerk if they had any. She got this amused look on her face and said, yes we do. We just keep it hidden in this drawer right here.

I purchased what I had come for, and being the non-confrontational type, I left. But I wish I had walked up to the clerk and said, as if talking to a puppy, “You’re sooooo cute! You actually think you’ll be that size all your life! I was your size at your age. The difference is, I’m a nice person, so I’m still liked. What will you do when you have no body AND no personality? Poor thing.”

I do derive a great deal of comfort from the fact that the aging process will bite that girl in the butt sooner or later. It’s the great equalizer. Karma in the form of cellulite.

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[Image credit: bewonderfour.com]

An Appeal to All Supervisors

I’m sure the very people who most need to read this are the very ones who won’t, but nevertheless I have to try. If I manage to influence just one person to change for even one hour, then I’ve done something great.

Supervisors wield more power than they realize. Often employees spend more time with them than they do their own loved ones, so they impact people’s lives a great deal. They can make one’s working life a living hell or a pleasure. They can cause one to go home feeling exhausted and emotionally drained or empowered and confident and ready to take life on.

I genuinely believe that the average person wants to do a good job. How hard is it to give them positive feedback when they do so? It only takes a minute and it costs not a dime. If you allow your staff to shine, you will shine by association. If, on the other hand, you are so busy jealously guarding your turf that you expend all your energy keeping people down, you will wind up looking like the a**hole that you are. Everybody loses.

This problem isn’t a new one. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, was written in 1843. He described Mr. Fezziwig, Scrooge’s old boss, as follows, “He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count them up: what then. The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

Sadly, the Fezziwigs of this world seem to be the exception, not the rule. And that’s so unnecessary. Making people’s lives a living hell is also counterproductive and cruel. So take a minute to think about how people feel after an encounter with you, if not for their sakes, then for your own. After all, as Jacob Marley learned the hard way, we wear the chains we forge in life. In other words, karma’s a b**ch.

Jacob Marley-A. Guinness

Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley in Scrooge.

Pardon Me While I Rant

(Since I feel like a break today, I’m posting an article that I wrote which was published in Folio Weekly, a local alternative newspaper here in Jacksonville, Florida, in October, 2012.)

I’d like to think I’m a good person. I have followed the rules all my life. I don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs. The police have never been called to my door. I got straight A’s in school. When I’ve got the sniffles, I power through and go to work. I don’t litter. I vote. I donate blood sporadically. I give little old ladies my seat on the bus. I pay my taxes. I even recycle.  I just made my 34th micro loan to Kiva.org. When I was 10 years old, I started my own business growing and selling house plants at the flea market, and I’ve pretty much worked or been in school ever since. I’m not the kind of person you’ll see on Jerry Springer. I don’t even WATCH Jerry Springer.

Is it just me, or should all of the above count for something? I mean, after 47 years of never coloring outside the lines, you’d think that the universe could see its way clear to cut me just the tiniest bit of slack. So much for good karma.

Two years ago I decided that my life was one big do-over. I was at a job that I loved, but it had no room for advancement, lousy pay, and even worse benefits. I needed a change. So I started researching other careers, and quickly became overwhelmed with the possibilities. Then I decided to go backward. Instead of trying to find a new career, I decided to figure out what kind of LIFE I wanted, and then figure out what type of career would allow me to have that life. To heck with the fact that now is not the time to be leaving a perfectly good job. I had a tiger by the tail, man! The sky was the limit for me! And everyone told me they admired my courage. Before I knew it, I’d sold my house (and took a total financial BATH on it, to be honest), left a 16 year relationship, quit my job, and moved myself and my dogs 3 ½ hours south, where I knew no one, all so I could study Dental Laboratory Technology at the only school in Florida that offers it.

Don’t say it. Do NOT mistake me for a Dental Hygienist. I respect that profession immensely, but no WAY is this girl sticking her hands into other people’s mouths. No. What I learned to do is make dental appliances such as retainers. And oh, how I love it! I love making things with my hands. I love the variety. I love solving dental problems for people. I love the smell of acrylic before it hardens. I graduated Summa Cum Laude in May.  So, happy ending, right? Of course not, or I wouldn’t be ranting. I sent out 198 resumes and/or applications to dental laboratories, and was willing to relocate anywhere on the continent… and NOTHING. Rejection letter upon rejection letter. Yeah, yeah, the economy. Blah, blah, blah.

I gambled and I lost. I’ve no one to blame but myself. And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that that wasn’t supposed to happen. What about the American dream? Where’s the chicken in every pot, for Pete’s sake? I’m not only chicken-less, but I’m pot-less, people!

So, with my tail between my legs, I went back to my old job. Thank heavens I had left on good terms, or I’d be in deep trouble. And I realize I’m lucky to even HAVE a job in this day and age. The problem is that I’m now homeless. Before, I was able to survive on 10 dollars an hour because I had owned my home for 25 years, and the mortgage was only 430 dollars a month. Now, even though I have a some of the money from the sale of my house still left over, and a credit rating of 835, which is about as good as you can get, no one will allow me to buy a home, because I don’t have a year and a half of work history. Well, duh. I was in college. And I’m back with the employer who kept me for 10 years, so you’d think that this would indicate a modicum of stability. But no one will touch me. This thrusts me squarely back into the realm of renting. Great. Except that based on my calculations, the very most I can afford to pay is 600 dollars a month, and everything I’ve seen in that price range in this town comes with either hot and cold running cockroaches or hot and cold running crack addicts.

Get a studio apartment, you say. Well, yeah, but I still have my two little dogs, and while they’re mature and not destructive, if they heard strangers on the other side of the wall, they’d bark and that would not work out well in the long run. Give up the dogs, the only bright spot in my otherwise dreary existence and my only source of unconditional love? It makes me cry to think that that is what I’ll be forced to do.

Do I sound like a brat to you? Believe me, I do realize that I’m a lot better off than most people in the world. I’m grateful for so much. I live in a country with no famine or gulags or land mines, I have good friends and family, I have no children to worry about. I’m intelligent and relatively healthy. But I’ve worked hard for everything I have, and like most Americans, since birth I’ve been spoon fed the idea that if you work hard, you’ll get ahead. Instead of a mid-life crisis, I seem to be having a mid-life tantrum, because I never truly believed that I could lose everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.

How is this possible? I’m 47 and I’m sleeping on a friend’s couch. Half of everything I own has been stuffed into the back seat of my ratty old car for a month and a half now. I feel like a freakin’ Okie, a la the Grapes of Wrath. Don’t I deserve my dogs? I mean, is that too much to ask?

I always thought I understood the concept of homelessness. I’ve seen people on the streets and it breaks my heart. I’ve donated clothing. I’ve thought about what it would be like, and I know that one way or another I’ll always be lucky enough to have some sort of roof over my head, whether it be mine or someone else’s, and for that I’m quite grateful. But when thinking about homelessness, I never really grasped the fundamental concept of wanting desperately to go home, and having no home to go to. Call me nouveau homeless if you want. I haven’t really earned the right to be called just plain homeless. I haven’t paid my dues. Yet. I strongly suspect that I have a great deal more to lose before all is said and done, though, so who knows?

So if you see me driving around in my ratty red sedan, which is bursting at the seams with old family photographs, college yearbooks, and my favorite lamp,  and I’m stopping at every for rent sign I see, please be kind. I realize I’m grasping at straws, thinking that there is a 600 dollar a month single family house somewhere out there that will allow me to keep my two little dogs and not have to go to bed with a cocked pistol under my pillow. Try not to laugh too loudly at my naiveté. You will be witnessing the last gasp of an American dreamer who just wants, more than anything, to go home.

(Update: I’m happy to say that since the writing of this article, I’ve found a wonderful place to live, and my dogs and I are quite happy here. However, it’s more than I can afford, really, and I’m spending 350.00 a month more than I’m earning as a bridgetender. If something doesn’t change soon, I’ll be back on the streets in about 5 months. It’s a scary and unsustainable way to live.)