Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Down, but not out!


Three days a week I am privileged to drive oldsters to their endless doctor appointments.
The man in the photo, I’ll call him Jim, has been my passenger a couple of times a month for the last year or so. At 88 he is seeing his health spiral downwards rapidly.
Jim has had a heart condition since his thirties.

Recently a doctor told him his heart was operating at about 15% of efficiency. That doctor told him there was nothing to be done, as he wouldn’t be able to handle the major operation that would have a dicey chance of any measurable success. Jim is okay with that-

Last week I took him to three different appointments within a five hour window. The first doctor ran some tests for the second doctor so the third doctor could review the tests done by doctor #1 and doctor #2.
No, these were not at the same facility making it easy for Jim.
Three different facilities with plenty of walking required.
Jim moves so slowly it seems to take forever for him to get from one spot to another. We’ve laughed that he moves so slowly that he’s actually going back in time. He wouldn’t mind going back to those days of teaching at a midwest University.
He has a motorized scooter but its impossible to use considering the van challenges and the various obstacles at the hospital and at the doctors offices.

Watching him shuffle into his third appointment I wondered just what is it we’re doing to each other?
Why does he have to go to three different places when the doctors must know that the strain and stress are just pushing him closer to his final dance with that angel thats waiting to take him away on the last great adventure.
Is it too much to ask that they come together and meet with him?
Are those days gone forever?
Are we at the mercy of a system, that we have created, that acts at arms distance just when we want to be held close.
Jim and I spoke about it.
He shrugged saying its bad, but the only game in town. That he has a sense of humor about all this is remarkable.

Jim is not a rich man.
I wonder if I’d be driving a rich man to three different facilities?
Jim struggled to make it back to the van after the third appointment.  
He was exhausted!
I wish he could be treated differently. Perhaps one of those three doctors could compile all the information and make a “house call” sharing whatever news with Jim where he is comfortable.
I wish for a lot of things…

Email me at letkidsbekids@mac.com if you have any thoughts...

Friday, December 20, 2013

Standing Up for Whats Right!!

Join a protest !!
"WHEN: 2PM Friday
WHY: "In response to the dismissal of Vice Principal Mark Zmuda, Eastside Catholic, an alliance of Seattle Archdiocesan School students and LGBTQ rights organizations led by Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea), will be protesting at the Archdiocese of Seattle Offices.
The Vice Principal was fired for loving and marrying another man--

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Trip to the Pawnshop! A Christmas Story.

A Trip to the Pawnshop!
A Christmas Story

A few days before Christmas I gave a ride to the neighborhood pawnshop to a man who recently became a resident of a homeless shelter in Seattle.
I met him while filming conversations with a number of teenagers who had volunteered to help a homeless camp settle in at their new location on a church parking lot in an upscale neighborhood.
While I was filming he approached me asking if I was with the local press. I told him I was there to help out and talk with volunteers and residents if the opportunity presented itself. While I was explaining why I was there I was thinking he was probably a church member or one of the a parents of the dozen or so high school kids milling about looking to make themselves useful.
I’ll admit my surprise when he told me he was going to be staying in the shelter we were in the process of constructing.
Considering the many years I’ve been hanging around the edge, my pre conceptions still surprise me.
I noticed some of the people standing near us do a double take when he mentioned his status.
George, not his given name, is not what you think of when you think homeless man. He is well groomed, well spoken and well dressed.
He’s in a pickle to use his words.
A pickle brought about by insurmountable medical debt combined with the inability to find a job. He told me his wife had recently died from the cancer that struck her five years ago when there was a ceiling on the amount the insurance company would pay. He said they flew past the million cap two years into her treatment. A number of brain surgeries, rehab, and a stroke all brought about the sale of his home, investments, stocks and bonds and his wife’s car.
He commented on wondering what would have happened to his loves stress level if she were sick now when the cap has been taken away by the changes in health care coverage.
After liquidating most of his assets he moved the two of them into a small apartment near the hospital.
George was an executive with a religious organization overseeing their IT programs statewide. He told me he had no idea that there was no unemployment insurance until he was laid off. Capital needs to settle outstanding law suits against the church apparently made him too expensive to keep around.
He shared that what little family was alive was no longer able to help. They had done more than enough the first few years and were as played out, as were many others out there-
George showed a hang mans humor to the situation making poignant remarks about the organization he had showed so much loyalty to through the years.
He actually laughed when he told me his downward spiral had one more foot in the rear to deliver before fate took a well deserved break.

After he was made “redundant” he went out with his co-workers for dinner and drinks at their favorite hangout-the Edgewater Inn.
He over did it plowing his car into a concrete barrier designed to keep cars off the rail tracks. Car was totaled – insurance had lapsed.
“Hey, the good thing was I pushed the car onto the lot near the art college for the night. If the cops had of arrived I would have been in the clink for sure!”
Amazing what we can laugh at when reality is standing within spitting distance.
George and I talked for a while before he got recruited to help empty one of the trucks bringing camper gear from their last asphalt home.
I told him I would be back in the morning.
We would meet near the camp Christmas tree.
When I returned in the morning we walked over to the church where they had set up coffee and some Danish for whoever wanted to dig into the pile of goodies.
George told me he had a small storage unit across town that he was going to visit to get a few items to hock or sell. He was down to less than ten bucks and needed to get whatever he could get before tackling Social Security to investigate what might be available to him. He told me that avenue was a bust a few years ago but he wanted to try again.
As I was thinking about the expense of a storage unit he read my mind telling me it belonged to a friend who gave him the combination. I guess he thought I was going to ask about the expense of a unit. I wasn’t going to -

An appointment I had scheduled for later in the morning had cancelled, via a text, while we were having coffee. I told him I’d run him around for a couple of hours.
When we got to the storage locker facility I waited in the car for him. He was gone about twenty-five minutes returning with a small bag under his arm.
“Got a couple of binoculars and the last of anything silver. Should fetch a couple of hundred, I hope.”
I went online on my iphone to look up the retail price of a Swift Audubon 8.5 x 44 and a Swift Micron 10 x 25 sets of binoculars. Together they were listed at a bit over $410.00 with the 8.5 x 44 valued at $359.00.
George thought he’d get at least a hundred for the two of them. His wife had given him the better set for his birthday one year so he was determined to “hock’ them getting them back as soon as possible.
Along with the binoculars he had three one-ounce pure silver bars he had given his wife on their last wedding anniversary.
They were limited edition bars with Christmas scenes carved on them.
He married during the holiday season thirty plus years ago.
We talked about nothing in particular on our way to the pawnshop. Sports, the weather and politics consumed the silent time during the short ride.
When we parked near the pawnshop we shared our surprise at how welcoming it looked from the street.
Neither of us had ever been in a hockshop so we had no idea what to expect.
My expectations were tied to Rod Steiger’s gritty role in the Pawnbroker. “His character Nazerman dealt with his war time trauma by stifling his emotions, with the result that he saw everyone around him, especially the desperate people who come into his pawnshop, as scum of the earth.”

When we walked in a young lady greeted us pointing out where various items were displayed.
The store was immaculate.
A Christmas tree and a platter of cookies on a side table invited us to browse brightly lit counters and shelves full of inexpensive goodies.
George got in line as I wandered around the store looking at treasures people had either sold or forgotten to retrieve.
I joined George when he got to the counter. A middle-aged man, who had no resemblance to Steiger’s Nazerman, who overflowed with anger and remorse, greeted us warmly.  This guy was obviously a graduate of the Dale Carnegie School. He made us feel totally comfortable and not at all embarrassed that we were at the “Bank of Last Resort.”
The man made very positive comments about the more expensive binoculars saying he would look up a value. He invited us to share the cookies as well as offering coffee if we wanted a cup. This reception was completely contrary to what I thought of pawnshops. I couldn’t hold back my expressed wish that my bank could learn a few things from this shopkeeper. The man laughed as he continued looking at his computer. After a couple of minutes he asked George if he had anything else he wanted valued. George took out the three individually wrapped ingots proudly displaying them. A number of the other employees came over to gaze at the silver saying how beautiful they were. George couldn’t help but tell them they were a gift to his wife. As soon as that came out of his mouth I could feel his regret.
The proprietor looked at the silver through a loop complimenting the engravings.
A few minutes passed before the man looked at George telling him he could give him $15.00 for the binoculars and .20 cents per gram for the silver bars. A total touching $35.00.
Can you actually hear silence or the stoppage of time? If so, I did.
The very moment George heard the offered price it seemed as if both had taken a sabbatical.
Similar to the characters starring in lame television situational dramas I asked the man to repeat what he said even though he had been very clear. He explained that he needed to have a margin to sell the items if the client never came back into the shop.
George stepped out of that frozen moment thanking the man for his time and expertise. He told him that he would consider the price returning if he decided to sell.
George reverently wrapped the silver ingots placing them back in the little bag he had laid on the counter.
We left.
On the way to the car George reached into his pocket to drop some coins into a Salvation Army bucket. He got a “God bless you” from the lady swinging the bell.
When we got to the car I asked him if he would mind if I called around to get some prices on the silver. He nodded his approval saying nothing.
I called a couple of dealers to find out that the best deal was based on silver content. Neither of the places I called cared what the pieces were as they were only interested in purity and weight. Best price was .61 cents a gram.
George sighed loudly, laughed and asked if I would mind dropping him off back at the shelter. Our original plan of hitting Starbucks after the successful financial transaction was dead-
We drove back in silence. I could only imagine what might be going on in his mind.
When we got back George thanked me for the ride saying he’d see me later. I had intended to leave straight away but got hooked into a conversation with a couple of people about some kids that were scheduled to come to camp and sing Christmas carols. I wasn’t the one who organized it so I begged off and hit the trail.
As I was walking back to my car George called out to me. I stopped and waited for him wondering what was causing the ear to ear grin on his face.
“Here, look at this.” He said handing me an envelope.
On the outside of the envelope someone had written, “my daughter wrote the note inside.”
I opened it up way too slowly for George. Inside was a note bordered by drawings of a Christmas tree and a snowman. Little birds were circling an angel perched on the top of the tree. The snowman had an immense hat with a red bow prominently displayed left of center.
The handwritten note read as follows.
Dear homeless man,
Daddy told us about you when he came home tonight. He said he heard your wife had died and you have no job. We are so sorry that has happened to you. We know you must be sad but we want you to be happy at Christmas - not sad. Daddy said you felt like a very nice man and he is usually right about such things. We will say prayers for you.
Your friends
Jennifer, Amy, Jimmy
On the bottom was written.
This was totally the kids’ idea. They decided to share what they had saved with you. We added to their gift. Merry Christmas.
I looked at George who was biting back the tears that were forming in his eyes. He showed me cash totaling $143.86, a Starbucks gift card, a QFC gift card and a sixty-day all region bus pass.
After a moment he insisted on treating me at Starbucks.
Merry Christmas.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Where are We going to go?

I think I have finally hit the wall around the realities of what the "poor" face in our city.

Up until a couple of years ago the "poor" were fairly easy to identify.
We all knew who they were, where they “lived” and the challenges they faced around feeding their families, housing, transportation and the limited choices they had with little or no disposable income.

We visited homeless shelters, tent cities and served meals at indoor shelters when we could-
We advocated for housing, medical services, education, and a open heart from the community.

Things have changed.
Changed dramatically!

I now know college grads living at home, or with three or four roommates, because they can't find a job and are trying desperately to figure out how they’re ever going to pay their student loans.

Worse yet, I know people working hard that are facing soaring rental increases that are beyond their reach.

One person's situation is bothering me the most.

A single mom, in her thirties, has just been notified that her rent will increase by $800.00 a month! Her rent will now be $2,000.00 a month for a two bedroom apartment, in an old building, not worthy of this rent increase.
She works more than full time, for a local school district, in a first grade classroom dedicated to special needs kids.
Her income does not allow her to ever consider $2,000.00 a month rent.
In addition to her paid job she coaches special needs adults, mentors and supports the imprisoned and is a stellar mother dedicated to her son’s success.
She is the role model we all applaud when given the opportunity.
We applaud as we allow her to frantically look for a place to live in a city that no longer seems to welcome those who earn a real living doing the work we so honor.

Where will she go?
Where will I go?

What have we done to ourselves?