My wife and I applied for welfare yesterday. I was an entertainment industry cog, a stagehand, for 20 years. I wore out. Osteoarthritis. The doctor said not to lift over 20 lbs ever again. Said it was a good thing I quit when I did. For years I just kept working through the pain. When I couldn't take it anymore, they finally took an x-ray.
That was over a year ago, now. Hundreds of tests and doctors later, and I'm only worse. State disability payments from California ended last month. The 401K money is gone, had to use that to move up here where it's cheap and we're near relatives, near Cooperstown, NY (NY-20). The welfare office has the greatest view...
It's a hell of a system we have for our workers. A patchwork of various worker's comp laws that in many cases were written by the corporations that want to replace cogs cheaply. When I hear McCain talking about the American worker being the "fundamental" of the economy, I think wow, we really are fucked. Because if we treat the fundamentals of our economy this badly, then we can't be in for much fun. Even the cogs that don't wear out don't share in the prosperity.
If you wear out your cartilage helping multinational corporations get rich, tough shit. Get a lawyer. Listen carefully while he describes to you the things that Arnold Schwarzenegger (or some other corporate shill of a politician) did to your worker's comp system. Listen carefully when he says that you should apply for Social Security Disability right away if you think it's going to be a while before you get better (if you're going to get better). Listen very carefully while he tells you that your eventual judgment or settlement will be small, based on a set or rules that sets a price on each body part, not your future earnings potential.
Social Security will deny you on the first application for disability. It will take two years to get a hearing for an appeal after that. During that time, your other disability benefits will run out. Your 401k will run out. Your savings will be gone. Your credit cards will max out. Your co-pays, if you've managed to keep your insurance this long, will go up.
At that point, you can start trying to borrow money from friends and relatives, who will treat you like a contagion when they find out.
Then you can go get welfare.
I recommend you try it my way. Before you're to this point, move somewhere where it's cheap to live. Get a little place with low rent. Then, when you do go to get welfare, you can sit in an under-heated waiting room with people who haven't showered in days, who sleep laying in the chairs, occasionally aroused by the cop who doesn't look to happy to even have to work there. But at least this room, a converted 1950's cinder block school building with crappy insulation and a dwindling budget, has a great view. Looking out to the yellow and red leaved trees on the mountains south of Cooperstown, NY, I could at least think that while I try to struggle through the longest winter of my life, just trying to hang on until a possible settlement this summer, I will at least have these wonderful views.
I will watch the leaves spiral down over my fall garden and think about the welfare Halliburton and Exxon got over the last 8 years. Eventually, the leaves will be mulch and the snow will spiral onto the garden, a thick white blanket covering the ground as I think about the blanket pardons that will go out to the perps from the Bush junta right before Janurary 20th.
We'll stretch our food stamp budget with beans and rice, cutting back on meat, and I'll tell myself how much healthier I'm eating while saving money. Maybe we'll be able to make hamburgers on Fridays.
We'll keep the heater down to 58. I'll remember to turn off lights when we're not using them. All things I should do anyway, but now, not really a choice. Now it's my job.
When I'm watching my son shovel snow because I can't, I'll think about my old job, when I was part of the magic that made theater goers laugh and cry and hum along. Or even further back, when I lit soap operas but still managed to brighten up someone's life through a good picture on their 9 inch Sony in Peoria. Those were tough days, when I would work all night and feel like the King of the Ladder Jockeys, throwing big stage lights around like they were toys, never thinking about the padding in my joints wearing away...
And then I'll go back to welfare, and get the "what are you doing here" look from the cop as he waves his wand around my crotch. I'll take the literacy test, even though I have a Bachelor of Arts, and I'll explain, again, why I can't work, handing over yet another pile of forms from my doctor, telling everyone exactly what's wrong with me.
As if any doctor could get that deep.
I try to keep telling myself that this doesn't mean I'm worthless. I reason with myself that I paid taxes for all those years, this is the least I deserve for all that. I spent $24 of the last $1000 on an ad in the Pennysaver for my internet marketing business, which is now losing clients and money faster than I can afford. Even though the disability means I don't have to fulfill the welfare work requirement, I desperately need something to do, even if I can only do it for an hour at a time before the pain in my hands and back make me stop. It's something I can do here at my desk, with the morning sun on my back, enjoying the smell of my basil plants defying the 28 degrees out the window. It's something I can do.
But there's no money in the system. People are cutting back on marketing and advertising. It's a long shot, but what else do I have? Welfare won't pay the bills. Welfare won't keep my daughter in college or a car in my driveway. Hell, it might not even be enough to keep propane in this big hungry monster of a tank.
I don't even know how much longer I'm going to have the ire to belch out a diary like this. When I started writing this, I was angry. Now I'm just sad. The bright horizon that was my future when I got out of college 22 years ago has become a valley of Mad Max proportions, where even my friends and relatives act like they always thought I might wind up like this, dragging my ass across, scooping the last tuna out of a can with my finger so as not to waste any.
Every time I have to explain these feelings to my 13 year-old son, I feel like I've been punched in the stomach. Tonight I have to explain how his birthday isn't going to be very good next month. I'm going to have to explain how the most I can give him is a little jam session with his old man on guitar. Those seem so special now.
Maybe we'll have hamburgers on election night and he can have a little steak for his birthday. Maybe I'll be able to sleep knowing Obama will be the next president, and I won't need the pills to sleep through the night, as if a change at the top of the federal government could alleviate my nightmares and anxiety.
But, hey, thanks to this uniquely American socialism, at least I can afford to stare at this very nice view.