the working poor - quotes and descriptions to inspire creative writing
"Alistair, these are pocket-money wages and you know it. These are grown men and women with families and they earn what I'd give my kid for tidying their own bedroom. We need international laws to stop mega-corps hiding assets abroad anywhere, then every country needs to bring in the same minimum wage level, abolishing exchange rates. One world, one currency, one wage for workers doing the same job wherever they are. Now, that's fair trade. No more sub-class humanity and then, sensible land use. No growing cash-crops while people starve and struggle for water. At the same time bring in high tech agriculture as Israel has, spreading globally - water efficient and scientifically supported. That we have working poor is a crime against our own souls and it has to stop."
Kyanne drags her worn pumps over the sidewalk cracks between the bakery and the drug store. Between them she has three-quarter hours but with the travelling and delays between shifts she's out longer than a junior doctor. Low pay and no benefits, casual all the way - great for the employer. Kyanne is a true bargain. The cheque is cut by her university debts, the tuition for a degree that never got her foot in any doors. As she walks she hears her mother telling her not to take an Arts subject, to be a nurse or a dental hygienist. But Kyanne loved colour and shape and form. She dreamed in oils and thought in imagery. She could conjure fantastical ideas no number cruncher ever could, open doors to new ways of thinking. She pushes open the drug store door, painting a smile on her face that almost brought a spasm to her cheek muscles. "Hello."
"Kyanne, mop the floor before you reorganize the back shelf. There's vomit in aisle three."
They call it theft, I say it's ethical redistribution. I'm not going in noone's house, not beating on old ladies or pulling knives - I just do my thing, flow along, enjoy the day and stuff finds me. It's weird like that. But those ones in the suits they don't see it from where we are, that all these stores are their oasis, their bounty, but for us it's a mirage in the desert, cruel. We can see all that stuff we need, our kids too, but it might as well not be there at all. How would them suit people like to wake up and see only cheap unhealthy shit on the shelves and no decent clothes, cos that's our life. When does stealing become something else; I'd say when it's filling a real need. That's all I do, peaceful facilitating of providing for urgent needs. It's the fifth emergency service.
Once the bus has pulled away Cindy breaks into a run, dashing into the alley behind the stores and restaurants. The food back there is double wrapped in those bins, much of it still cold from the refrigerators. Free food means enough for rent and a chance to take a day or two off this month - a chance to get more than four hours sleep at a time.
Four jobs and no sleep. That's what it took to raise baby Joe and keep him with his mama. Otherwise it was taking him to the "home" and sleeping on benches. Travis wasn't about to let that happen. He'd break before that happened. Rosa was lonely but she knew why he did it. She worked too every time her mama could watch Joe. As he waited on the park bench, the misty rain falling on his black skin his eyes rolled to a close and his head fell forwards, jangling the invisible chains around his limbs. His eyes moved in instant REM sleep and his mind filled with crazy dreams of Joe.
On the day Matilda opened her eyes for the first time, her parents were hazy blurs, but she had taken in their aromas, bathed in their soft words and felt the warm touch of gentle hands. Each time she had cried they came at once and so an idea of safety in her world developed, a foundation on which her future personality would rest. In the years that followed life wasn't so simple. Her father struggled to provide enough for the family and her mother had returned to work. Life was now daycare and tired parents who fitted every house chore into the weekend. Though they adored her with every atom of their bodies their tempers frayed, with each other and with her. She was praised when they felt guilty and chastised when they were frustrated. Inside, little Matilda grew a seed of worry, powerless as she was to mend the parents she loved or articulate her feelings. At school she became the teachers pet, at least by hard work she could avoid more angry voices coming her way...
When my Dad skipped out of our lives my sister became my mom. Not because we didn't have Mom anymore, but because she spent every waking hour earning enough money to pay the mortgage and buy groceries. Sometimes I think back to how I used to whine for the cool stuff other kids had, I'd like to scrub those memories from my brain, but I was a kid and that's what kids do. If Annie hadn't started cooking and doing laundry I don't know what would have happened; I've heard about foster homes and to be honest they sound more like cattle holding pens with just as much love. Annie walked me to school, helped me learn spellings and told me to go to bed at eight thirty. Sometimes she shouted so much like Mom it was like they were the same person, but Annie was just thirteen. Perhaps that's why she doesn't have kids now, maybe raising me was enough for her. When we turned sixteen we had to get out and find jobs, Mom was all spent after so many years of non-stop labour...
Retirement was never an option for Davy and me. It wasn't that we never worked, we worked so hard sometimes we wondered if our love was even still there. It wasn't that we didn't save, we did, we saved every month. But then lightening struck. Our daughter was hit by a car and brain damaged, she was still our Raina but everything she had learnt since pre-K was gone. So at fifteen she needed physiotherapy, speech therapy, intensive lessons from specialists – and that was just the basics. The list of recommended treatments went of for pages of close-set typing. After her hospital discharge nothing was free.
The driver was uninsured and our savings were disappearing fast. The community was generous, fundraising tens of thousands, but it was gone sooner than we ever could have predicted and still the bills keep rolling in. Now one of us must be home for her twenty-four seven or we need a “baby-sitter” she knows. We sold the house, moved into a condo, we have one car and eat the cheapest food. There is nothing left in our bank account, not even for our own funerals, but what can we do? Give her up to the state? I'll be in my free-coffin before I let that happen. Brain damage or not, Raina is the joy of our lives and we love her infinitely.
She's starting to read again now, just small words. She bakes bread and paints, she is kind to the dog and laughs freely. Her brother says he'll keep her when we're gone and I know he will, he's a good lad, patient considering all the attention and money that got diverted to his little sister. He says he has everything he needs from us already, he has a solid core, he knows who he is and in that way he's richer than most. I can't think how he got so wise or what we did to deserve a boy like that, but we thank God for him and his sister every day.
The affluent streets road expensive bicycles and skied in the winter. For us in the east side it was all about cheap, the inexpensive or the free. Teddy's Dad was a house painter, one day he marched onto the street with a can of almost finished white and an brush congealed by twelve hours of painting. After a few minutes he marched away, his coveralls still on, leaving a hopscotch grid behind him. It was the finest gift any of us got that year. It was fun, it never broke, it was free and it brought as together. From that day onward we were the hopscotch kids. We were an unbreakable band and it got us through tough times. Sure we bickered, stormed and fought, but as the years rolled by those scraps only forged into a stronger group.
Riley takes his black bag of trash toward the thrift store twenty minutes before the staff arrive. The camera picks up theft but substitutions are harder to spot. With his back to the camera he makes the switch and prays it isn't ladies clothing. He needs jeans and t-shirts. He swallows hard. Foraged clothing and dumpster food, it sure as hell isn't the future he dreamed of.