My letters to you are meant to be part of a conversation, but the majority of the time they are a one-sided discussion. It is as if my epistles are private, but I know they are not. If you are reading this, I have absolutely no idea who you are, and this circumstance has emboldened me, giving me the courage to write about everything and everybody in telling my whole story — without inhibition, without shame, and without fear. I read novels about the idle rich, or about people in better circumstances, and I’m hereby setting out to describe in unabashed detail the silent lives of low-income people. Wealth or poverty is relative, I suppose. There is an off-ramp from the interstate highway on the way to Greenville where a homeless man, with long dirty hair, unshaven, with rumpled and filthy clothes, stands with a cardboard sign smiling sweetly, trying to make eye contact with the motorists who stop at the nearby stop sign. He stands there each and every day. One afternoon, near a shopping mall, I saw another one with a sign laying on his back, sobbing in the pouring rain. The Heritage Foundation, a government think tank, writes that the poor are not really so bad off as we might believe. After all, it’s not as if we live in the days of Charles Dickens.
I do not live at the poverty level which the federal government has delineated, but Social Security was never meant to be a person’s only source of income. It is mandated that only a certain percentage of my monthly resources should be spent on food, and this is why I was issued a food stamp card. It is easily recognizable in the check-out aisle, with its bright red, white, and blue colors representing the American flag. Whenever you use it, the people who are watching you in the grocery store will know something about you. The Greenville newspaper, The Daily Reflector, has within it a column entitled “Bless Your Heart,” which communicates approval toward issues and people it approves of while heaping sarcasm toward things it does not. In one issue, it gave out a bless your heart to a person with a smart phone using a food stamp card to pay for her groceries. These attitudes are institutionalized. You may have read my previous letters and asked yourself, “Why does this writer speak of receiving food stamp benefits and he owns an iPhone? I’m a taxpayer!” The main reason I bought one was so I could call someone for help in case I had a flat tire while riding my bicycle. Food stamp benefits are based upon monthly income, not on a person’s savings. I won a settlement in a class action lawsuit against the government years ago, so now I have a nest egg in a savings account, which I am not ashamed to say that I add to it each and every month. Is all this social welfare or social justice? Ask yourself why such a large population of people have to depend on food stamps and food banks to make it every month — it isn’t necessarily because they don’t work. Those who do not work cannot, either because they are elderly or because they are disabled. My handicap has been proven time and time again by the preponderance of the evidence. I will never own property or have a family of my own, and I have put my shattered dreams behind me.
Laura owns a house and a car because she also entered into a class action lawsuit, but her’s was because she was injured by a pharmaceutical company. She received a lot more money than I did, but she spent it all. Laura still takes a lot of medicine. When I came over to see her yesterday, Pee Wee had given her a bath and washed her hair, but it was in disarray when I arrived. She was pale and her speech was rather slow. Diane and I have been trying to get Laura to use her crafts room and to start painting her ceramics. Laura and I were in there painting with the television on when Diane and her husband, Gayle, arrived unexpectedly. Gayle came to help Laura with her fax machine, and since he was a computer technician when he was in the Army, he knew more about it than I did. “Laura, it looks like you’re stoned,” Gayle said when he saw her. Diane said the same thing.
Diane came into the crafts room, sitting beside Laura on the couch as we were painting and Gayle was in the bedroom working on the fax. Diane either did not fully realize what she had done the other night, or else she wasn’t aware that I knew about it. She didn’t act in any way differently towards me, so I must be taking things a little too seriously. I tried to forget about the whole incident as we sat around the crafts table, littered with paints and ceramics. We looked up at the television which was situated upon a large chest. On it was a show entitled Horders, a program about people who pack rotten food and trash in their homes and refuse to part with it, living with flies, rats, and other vermin. There was a commercial that came on in the middle of it about trained psychotherapists who were just a phone call away. Give them your credit card number, and they would charge you only a dollar a minute. The next commercial was for a group of California psychics who could put you on the right path, all you needed to do was to dial their number on your cell phone. Meanwhile, Diane and I were talking to Laura about her medicine, and she showed us the double dose handfuls she takes every morning and night.
Gayle finished with Laura’s fax machine and left for the grocery store. He goes grocery shopping for himself and Diane everyday, always calling her on the phone while he’s in there. While Diane was sitting in the crafts room, Gayle called her three times. “It never fails,” she said. When he was leaving the Food Lion, Diane gave Laura a hug and said goodbye. It wasn’t long after that when Laura got tired of painting and wanted to lay back down in the bed. She wrapped up and I sat in the recliner facing her, turning on some music on my iPhone. Laura was falling asleep. I told her I would call her and wake her up in time to take her medicine a six o’clock, so I left and went home; when I called her at six, she didn’t answer.