Tag Archives: being poor

Technology & The Art of Being Poor

Art.  No, not really, but it makes for a catchy title.  I do not consider being poor “art”, that would be way too petit bourgeois.  It just helps, sometimes, to think of my economic situation in different ways, so I don’t let it depress me – too much.

Today was supposed to be grocery-shopping day.

After I had the awful experience (at Martin’s Foods in Duncansville) of having my EBT card declined due to their mistake, I am doubly paranoid about having my card declined, and as I sat on my porch waiting for the van to pick me up, I realized I needed to check my balance.

So I picked up my phone, looked up the EBT Hotline in contacts, and pressed the number.


No ring sound, no “Thank you for calling Pennsylvania EBT customer service.  For English, press 1.”

I hung up and tried again.


I went to check all my sound settings.  They were all ok.  Then I decided to see if any of the sounds played.

No.  No “Oye” by Pitbull (default ringtone, heh).  No notification sound.  No nothing.

Van pulls up.  Oh good, I can ask the driver.

The driver is my age.  He laughs.  “You’re asking the wrong person.”


I told him I couldn’t go because I couldn’t call for a pickup, and I couldn’t call to check my EBT balance to make sure I didn’t get declined when it came time to check out.  He understood, and left.

In a fit of pique and swearing like a sailor, I stomped up the stairs to my apt.

Cursing Motorola.  Cursing Moto.  Cursing technology.

Got on the internet and realized 2 things: 1. I could have looked up my balance on the internet, and 2. many people are having this issue with Moto G 1st gen.

The solution?  Reboot.  So I did.

No.  Still no Pit Bull.

Read a few forums and one said to go into developer mode – which I had miraculously unlocked on my phone when I first got it, in order to change some settings to cut down on the amount of space things take up (or something, I forget what, exactly).  And change from ART to Dalvik, which apparently messes up your “optimal performance”, but fixes the “no sound” issue.

So I did.  And Pit Bull was rapping and singing again!

Called the EBT Hotline.  Got my balance.  Yay!

Called the van place and booked for tomorrow.

It’s these little things that drive me crazy, and almost all of them are connected in some way to technology.  I admit, some of it is my fault, because I have always had one of my kids or someone else (usually a boyfriend) fix my technology problems or at least told me how I could fix them.

Now that I live alone, the only ones I can ask are the cats.  And they aren’t telling.

Now nearly everything has technology connected to it.  Had I not had a phone or an internet connection – both of which I often think I should get rid of when I am frustrated – I wouldn’t have had any way to check my food stamp balance.  Because they aren’t even food stamps anymore, they’re credits on a card.

And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but when was the last time you saw a pay phone?  As in, phone booth, put quarter in, make call?

Yeah, I thought so.  Me neither.

It was technology that led to the Martin’s Incident, and the same goes for today.

The smallest, seemingly easiest things to do with technology are all way over my head.  And it frustrates me to no end that I can’t do stuff that, say, a 12 yr old can do.

I know, I sound like an old bat.

Verizon has a how-to class on Moto G.  I would love to take that class, as it is free.  But it’s on Saturdays.

Van doesn’t run on Saturdays.  So that’s a no-go.

This is where the being poor part intersects the technology dummy part.  Too poor to own a car, can’t take classes to use technology.

And it is pretty much this way for most things.  Being poor is not only a matter of not being able to afford things, it also makes errands and things people take for granted about 10 times harder than they should be.

Got to do laundry?  Two choices: either lug your laundry to the laudromat on foot (which is difficult, try it sometime), or call the van and pay $6 round trip to go do your laundry.

Run out of milk?  Catfood? Garbage bags?  (I chose those because I frequently run out of them)  Got $6 in exact change?  No?

Tough shit.  Walk to the store that’s 3/4 of a mile one-way from your apt?  That’s my new goal.  But if I didn’t have the “Rest-n-Roll” cart that comes with a fold-down seat, I wouldn’t even attempt it.  Because I would probably need to sit down along the way and…

When was the last time you saw a bench on the street, that wasn’t a bus stop?

Yeah, I thought so.  Me neither.

Further compounding things – and preventing me from ever being able to walk to the bank if I had to – is that this area of PA, for some extremely weird reason, has very few crosswalks.

I’m serious.  Drive down any street in Altoona and thereabouts, and you will see traffic lights on corners, but signs that indicate you cannot cross the street on foot.  Signs with a person on them and a big red slash across it.  It’s one of the strangest things I’ve seen here.

And yes, people do get tickets for jaywalking if they try to cross the street.  Really.

So, if I need to go someplace that I cannot walk to, it’s $6.  The nearest branch of my bank has “no pedestrian” signs, AND no walk-up ATM.  Last time I went, they wanted to charge me FOR CASHING A CHECK AT MY OWN BANK!

New policy.  “You can use the ATM outside,” she said.

“But I don’t have a car!”

Blank look.  Crickets chirp.

So, I got behind a car in the drive-thru ATM.  That was really weird and embarrassing, standing out in the drive-thru lane.

And in the car in front of me, the woman who I noticed had seen me standing there, finished her transaction.  Then, put on her makeup, put on her seat belt, looked in the glove compartment for something, and basically twiddled around for 5 minutes before she left.

And all the while I am hoping a car doesn’t come up behind me.

Little things.  Being poor makes everything unnecessarily hard.  Everything you do takes twice as long, usually, too.  It makes going to the grocery store an all-day adventure.

And not in a good way, either.

Goddess help you if you’re disabled or frail.  (I am disabled, but not frail, thankfully)

I mentioned the lottery to a van driver once.  Told him if I ever won, the first thing I would do is buy a car.

“No you won’t,” he said.

“Why not? I asked.

“There’s insurance and gas. You can’t afford those on disability.”

I realized that, if I did win enough to buy a car, and nothing else, he was right.  Compounding this would be that SSI would cut me off, and so would the EBT people.  Even if I cashed the check immediately and spent it all on a car.  Income is income, and even if you are broke the very next day, it would take at least another month to get your benefits back.

“It’s like they want you to stay poor,” many people have remarked to me.


Today’s recommendation for books is….

“The Murder Pit”, by Jeff Shelby.  It’s what you call a “cozy mystery”, which are books that feature an amateur sleuth (usually female), are set in a small town (usually), downplay violence and sex, are funny (sometimes), and have a love interest for the sleuth.

Basically, “Murder She Wrote”, in book form.

There is a subgenre that features cats as helpers to the sleuth, or sometimes they solve the crime all by themselves and then get a human to help them.

Those are my favorite kinds of cozies.

As for movies?  I highly recommend “The Imitation Game”, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing.  No, I haven’t seen it but many people tell me it’s good.

I haven’t seen it because the van doesn’t run past 4PM (or thereabouts on weekdays), and not at all on weekends.  See?  See what I mean?

Be good.  Be kind.  Don’t get run over in an ATM drive-thru.






Hey, Merry Christmas!

I do tell people, “Merry Christmas!” and “Happy Hanukkah!” depending on to whom I am speaking.  No point in saying, “Have a great Yule!” because that means nowt to most people and who am I, anyway?  The holiday police?

Naw, I greet people this time of year in whatever way keeps them the most, well, merry.

I celebrate Christmas, always have.  I don’t always celebrate Yule in the manner I would like, because most of the places I have lived do not have anywhere to burn a Yule log (yep, y’all stole that from pagan folk).

Here is a brief explanation of Yule, by the BBC:

“The Winter Solstice falls on the shortest day of the year (21st December) and was celebrated in Britain long before the arrival of Christianity. The Druids (Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months.

It was also the Druids who began the tradition of the yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year.” (“Winter Solstice”, BBC website, 6/7/2006)

And thus concludes this installment of ‘alternative religion and holidays’.

What I want to write about, this week, is something a lot of you probably don’t want to think about – how poor folk might deal with this time of year.

This is my annual plea to those of you who donate to the food bank.

First of all, thank you.  It’s really good-hearted of you to donate, and I hope you keep on doing it.  But I have some suggestions…

You’ve heard of BPA?  It’s not good for you and it’s in most canned foods, especially canned pastas and meats. Apparently it has been linked to cancer.   It’s also in vegetables and beans – the highest amount found in canned vegetables is in green beans.  And green beans, along with corn, seem to be the 2 things most people donate.

Please don’t.  Oh, you could go all “organic aisle” and get canned stuff without BPA,  but no one expects you to do that – that stuff is expensive.  I was just at the store today, and a can of
“BPA-free organic beans” is $2.39!!  That’s ridiculous.

So please, get dried beans and lentils instead.  They take longer to make than, say, popping open a can, but especially this time of year when people are cooking and baking a lot anyway…oh yeah, we po’ folk bake cookies and cook holiday meals too.

Dried milk instead of evaporated milk (I know, dried milk is pricey, but it’s much needed). Tomatoes, soups, vegetables in those box things instead of cans.  Stuff in glass jars is a little trickier, so you may want to ask your food bank if that’s ok.  Think of what you like to eat during the holidays, and maybe toss in a bag of cookies or something.

In Hollidaysburg, it will go to the people for whom it was intended.  Wherever you live, I don’t know – use your discretion.  I have seen people in Memphis and Altoona rip off the poor that way.  One director of a charity thrift shop in Altoona keeps all the “good stuff” in the back (pastries and so on) that the local grocery store donates to them, then sets out mostly bread for people in need to take.

“Well gosh, poor people don’t need pastries!  The nerve!  They’re all too fat anyway!”

Oh, this is turning into a rant.  Sorry.

Yes, I agree that giving is an act of kindness, and “beggars can’t be choosers”, nor should they “look a gift horse in the mouth”…but, come on, it’s the holidays!  Everywhere you look, people are buying things, visiting relatives, getting involved in holiday things, and of course TV has all the heartwarming shows anyone could ever watch.

A percentage of the population hasn’t money to buy presents, may have no family with which to spend the holidays, and/or is isolated and not involved in holiday activities.  Maybe they are ill, physically or mentally.   Most of them wouldn’t dream of asking for anything from anyone…

…which is why I am going to do it on their behalf.  Because I am one of them, and I choose not to use the food bank because I would rather have very little or no food at the end of the month than to eat the canned stuff they give out.

Side note: Hate to belabor the fact, but just in case y’all think people on disability are not poor, the poverty level for a ‘family of 1’ is $11,670.  That’s per year, folks.  The usual disability check is $735/month (that’s the basic check amount), or $8,820/year.  That means a lot of people subsist at a level that is almost 25% lower than the federal poverty line.

I want to drive home the point because I don’t know how else to get it across – think about how much you make, because you are able to work.  Hell, I don’t begrudge you a million dollars, if you can get it –  that’s not the point.  I want you to imagine how you could live on $11,000/year or less.

If you suddenly become poor, does that mean you have no right to at least eat a somewhat healthy diet?  Compare prices in the store sometime, healthy vs non-healthy, and then you can understand why that food stamp person in the line in front of you is buying canned punch instead of real juice, white bread and pasta instead of the whole wheat versions, even soda instead of something more healthy.

Ever try to bring 2 cases of water home on public transportation?  They get really angry if you try it and they threaten to ban you if you do it again.

Don’t you even dare say we can drink “free” tap water.  If you lived in SuperFund Pennsylvania like I do, you won’t even give your pets tap water, it is that nasty, unhealthy, and sometimes you can set fire to it thanks to fracking.  A water pitcher with filter?  Yeah, I have one.  It sits empty because I can’t afford the refill filter.  That, I have to save up for.  Oh, and in PA most renters have to pay their own water bill…and it’s $60/month.  There is no federal or state program to assist you with your water bill. So, tap water isn’t really free.