Friday, December 27, 2013


It's Christmas Eve and I am having a fine time. I'm doing housework and eating vanilla ice cream with molasses and ginger and a gourmet lemon shortbread cookie. Tomorrow I'll eat peanuts and apples and celery and turkey with yams and likely end up laying about and watching holiday movies all day long. I will spend the day simply, alone, happy, content and at peace.

So it is with the need for both individuals---and the public in general---to judge yet all I choose to do. Most peoples first thought will be: That's awful! How can I be happy spending a holiday in such a way? Aren't I lonely? What kind of a holiday meal is that can I have a holiday without stuffing and cranberries and cakes and pies and buttered rolls and company and so on? And who do I think I am, to be spending food stamps on things like ice cream and expensive gourmet cookies?

Surely I must be crazy.....(that's a distinct possibility...but I digress).

Due to my years of isolation from my many illnesses, I found myself alone at a holiday some time ago. At first it seemed a little bit lonely and unfortunate...but I quickly began to realize that the time honored traditions of “HOLIDAY” impressed upon the brains of the American public had nothing at all to do with happiness. Over time, being free to do whatever I liked, I began to disengage from the idea of societal programming and began instead to appreciate the simplicity and peace of it all. No manic cleaning, no guests, no dealing with the odd insufferable relative, no drive to shop, cook, put up decorations, wrap presents, entertain and wash all those remaining pots and pans. No exhaustion. Truly no negativity. Over the years I have tried a couple of times (against my better judgment) to please others by having company (what a lot of thankless work that was!) and to accompany a friend to a family holiday meal where I was left to amuse myself with relatives who were not keen on my presence and presented with a meal, most of which was highly desirable yet not on my seriously exclusive diet....(what a miserable/boring day that was!) And today, after months of being away from this column, seriously ill and pretty much unable to do most of what needed attending to, I find myself in just the last two days, finally able to function! (Just go two months without doing any house work and you will find great joy in cleaning a toilet and other assorted annoying tasks.)

So here I am doing exactly what I want and have wanted to be able to do for quite some time. The only thing lacking being a very few goodies. Having recently gone onto an even more restrictive diet I was at odds for finding much of anything sweet that I could eat. Carrying a list of the "newly banned", it was determined that I could eat one brand of vanilla ice cream with few problems, along with the find of a single suitable package of gluten free cookies and a small box of candied ginger I have concocted a delightful sweet that won't put in me into anaphylactic shock. So go ahead and judge my injudicious purchase of what “should be” banned sweets by someone who uses food stamps. For some, my poverty is no excuse for even a cookie and some ice cream as I am simply a drain on the economy and they would happily point out that I really deserve even less.

Bah, Humbug ye Scrooges...for ye are proof that money does not bring thee happiness, but rather unhappiness and a need for thy scapegoats. But for today, as my Christmas Gift to the masses, I will happily play that role for you.  Go ahead! Enjoy!  Indulge yourself in a bit of self righteous condemnation...I won't tell and nobody's to be the wiser...

(Limited time offer/one day only. No rain checks. Offer expires Dec. 26, 2013)

My wish for all who read this: May the peace of the season find permanent residence within you, rather than it's somewhat limited yearly visitation. 
                  Peace on Earth, good will to all, man and beast, big and small.

Todays Lesson: “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” Wayne Dyer

copyright Linda Matthews 12/27/2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Last month, the CDC released a new study showing that, from 2008 to 2011, rates of obesity among low-income children, ages 2-4 in WIC monitored programs, fell approximately 1% in 19 of the 43 states. People hail attempts at dietary improvements for this decrease in obesity rates. However, it is not clear exactly why this is happening, since studies show that even when given the exact same diet as their richer counterparts, that the poor will still gain much more weight. This difference is generally attributed to higher cortisol production associated with the stress of poverty. In a 2012 study it was determined that approximately 50 million people are currently food insecure in the U.S., and that number rises to 1 in 4 for children.

A few years ago I moved near a soup kitchen in Florida, a hard hit state which has more than it's share of poor and homeless winter arrivals. After the stock market collapsed, I noticed the arrival of increasing numbers of people to the kitchen, and I was surprised at the obesity of some of them. But not now. Now the obese have slimmed down significantly and considering the high fat and carbohydrate content of the food that most soup kitchens serve (and I applaud them for doing the best that they can!), I find this new finding somewhat frightening. I myself have observed stick thin individuals, some of whom looked to be on the verge of starvation. Once as I was out walking in the late afternoon, I came across two teenagers behind a bush, sitting on a hidden ledge, having a “snack”, which was actually their dinner.

“Oh, I see you've found yourself a nice little hidey hole!” I said with a smile. Then I commented on the treat the young man was eating: a large packaged honey bun. “Oh...that's not so good for you.” It seemed a poor choice for a meal.

“Yes I know,” he said. “And I'm diabetic. But this is what they gave me to eat for later and it's all I've got.” Neither of them was overweight....even though this was typical of the type of food that they ate.

I was totally appalled. “Oh that's awful! I am so sorry! ” I said, with great shame at my judgement. “I wish I could help you, but I'm on food stamps myself.” I wished them luck, then I moved on.

Over a year ago, when I still had a car and was out running errands, I saw a sign at a church announcing “free food today”. I was struggling to keep above water financially, so I thought, Yes, I should take advantage of this opportunity, and went over to apply. As I waited for the doors to open, more people arrived. They were among the poorest people that I have ever seen. The condition of their clothing and obvious lack was so apparent that I began to feel quite out of place. I began to feel somewhat torn about my presence there, but I kept my place in line. When my number was called and I entered into the privacy of the one room panty, they took one look at my license and announced that, “We only serve people who live right here in this community and you live too far away to be in our area, but since you are here and we want to give you something. However, we can only do this once. We won't be able to help you again as we are a small church with limitations. The people we serve are very poor.”

“I AM very poor,” I protested. How could $715 a month not be very poor? It's thousands a year below poverty level.  But then I noted, “However, I am not homeless.” It was obvious to everyone, including myself, that even though my income was well below the poverty line, that my situation was nowhere near the level of desperation of those standing outside.

By now I felt extremely uncomfortable. I suggested repeatedly that maybe I just shouldn't be taking anything. The extent of neglect of the American people and the extreme situation so many were in, dawned upon my consciousness like the great glare of a police light on someone who has committed a heinous crime....I felt great shame....and greed.

But they insisted that I take something, so I did. I eventually opened one can, but I was unable to eat the rest, so I donated what they had given me to a food drive. Since then I have not applied to take home free food anywhere because there isn't enough food to fill a far greater need than I have. Such is the sad, unnoticed, state of the American people.

That many of the American public assume the so called “greed” of the homeless and poor is a true testament of both their projected fear and ignorance. No one lives this way out of choice. No one.

Todays Lesson: “The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” Mother Teresa

copyright Linda Matthews 10/20/2013

Update:  Shortly after this was written  the State of Florida enacted back-to-back food stamp cuts and I had no choice but to start attending a local soup kitchen to save money.

Monday, October 7, 2013


The bus route ends near my home and in doing so, follows a lazy loop, both leaving and rejoining the same street west of the library. To escape the early autumn heat, most people catch the bus regardless of which way it is going. I wondered if it had passed already as I didn't wish to be caught off guard if it stopped on the other side, too far away to catch unawares.

A man stood waiting at the stop on the “going back out” side.
“Has the bus passed yet?” I asked.

He made some hand and arm movements that were hard to interpret.

“It's passed on the other side already?” I asked unsure.

This time his movements were more had not yet arrived. Was he looking at me as I spoke, I wondered?

“Are you deaf,” I queried.

He pointed at his throat.

“You're mute? You can't speak?”

Yes, that was it. Thus began a brief conversation, written upon small crumpled papers, magically produced in an eerie form of prestidigitation. An orange, blunt ended dollar store marker quickly wrote this mans' tale of a series of true life unfortunate events, his gestures punctuating his sentences.

With each question I asked came a sudden exasperated outburst noticeable only by a full body reaction, but totally without sound. We communicated in the only means available to him, each answer written in single, well practiced sentences. The bus passed on it's way out as I asked and he answered.

He did not know how long it had been since he had last worked. He had been a self taught tree surgeon. His voice had been lost while in police custody when someone had punched him in the throat. He had sued but lost. He could not get work now. He had tried to collect aluminum cans for money but this only resulted in his being beaten up and the cans stolen. Someone had tried to kill him recently by hitting him in the head with a bottle. He had no real friends, no one that he could actually trust. He had applied for medicare, but denied once, he did not try again. He had applied for medicaid but gave up after the third try.

I told him about my blog and how I was very determined to try and help people to understand the true story of the poor and homeless. I wished I had had more to offer him than sympathy and those moments my words seemed pitifully small, yet they were all I had to give. I told him I would like to write about his circumstances and was that okay? He said yes. His name was Robert.

The bus came and we got onto it. I saved a spot for him. As we bused the short leg to my stop I inquired, “Do you have family?” He did, but not here. “If they knew where you were, would they help you?” He looked taken aback at this question and paused as if it had never occurred to him. Yes, he seemed to think so. I encouraged him to approach the soup kitchen and see if they could contact someone for him. With that I got up to leave. I hoped he would try to contact his family.

It is impossible to know exactly what any one persons' full story is in the span of a bus ride, but it seemed excruciatingly obvious to me that this man had far exceeded his level of tolerance to his situation. It made me think of the overwhelming intensity of emotion so often associated with Aspergers' Syndrome (a type of high functioning autism). Whether he had such a syndrome or not was moot. He had far exceeded his capacity for what life had given him. Even a totally normal person, in such a position of victimization, trying and failing at every possible option, totally friendless and unable to even cry out when attacked ---let alone tell his story--- would most certainly be rendered broken, and likely permanently so. So reactive had he become, no doubt so fearful and seemed impossible to me that he would ever find a job again. Here was a man, who, if nothing else, had been totally disabled by his circumstances.

And all I could do was to write about it.

Todays Lesson: The true alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words.
William H. Gass, A Temple of Texts

copyright Linda Matthews 10/7/2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013


I recently said farewell to my dark green, '99 Ford Taurus, a nice comfortable car with chronic, terminal “health” conditions. It had been on life support for a while. A few months back I'd thought she was a goner, yet like Lazarus, I saw her rise from the dead, (the miracle mostly being that I was able to come up with the $417 repair cost!). Alas tho, her resurrection was short lived, and with a heavy heart I looked to receive the best possible payout for a “junked” vehicle. I thanked the old girl for sticking around as long as she did. “I know I got peeved at you,” I said as I sat in the front seat and baked in the hot Florida sun. I cleaned out my last meager belongings: my St. Christophers Medal, auto papers, maps and and other items. “It's not your fault that you were so poorly designed. You did the best you could,” then I closed the door for the last time. They came and dragged her away and I wondered if she'd be scrapped or fixed and I felt a great deal of empathy for the fate of the car whose faulty construct and tenacity to keep going were so similar to my own.

Afterwards I sat with the overwhelming realization that for the first time since I was 19 my personal transport was gone. Given my health and financial status I realized that I might never have another car again. Having had health problems my entire life, I never worried about getting “older”. I had long known what chronic illness and disability were like, but what appeared as the final loss of personal mobility was a heavy blow...especially at my age.

I'd already started riding the bus some time back (tho sometimes with great difficulty), with it's limited, long winded routes, and for the most part I could reach those destinations most necessary for survival. But what would I do if I had to evacuate, especially with two cats? How would I get to the one bank that didn't charge me a fee? How would I carry large heavy items? How would I get to my club store? Question after question came to mind and little worries began to swirl about inside my head, their black tendrils threatening to take root in my mind.... This isn't such a problem when you know a number of people, or an extended family lives nearby. But the occassional years of isolation from being totally incapacitated, gave me few to call upon and I suddenly was thrust into what must be a common denominator for those seniors who move to be near their kids but leave most everyone they know behind. When you have severe mobility issues or few to rely upon, your trips and visits often are relegated to necessities, and the days of fun and freedom wane like the golden strands on a graying blondes' head, fewer and fewer, their shiny glint ever duller in the sun.

Lost now was the ability to go to the beach and collect sea beans just before the hurricanes rolled in. Lost now were the days of running all my errands at once in a single time and gas saving day, sometimes stopping for a $1 taco or burger as a special treat....maybe even really splurging with a side of beans or fries for another buck or so. So much for going to Barnes and Nobel to check out the books and magazines and (if I'm lucky enough to have the funds) buy a rare gift card during the holidays. No more “days off” where on a rare occasion I'd take a day long vacay (the only vacay I ever get any more) and go from one thrift shop to the next, stopping for a taco and to visit some of the farther away libraries. Some times I'd spend little more than gas money and take my lunch and drink, but it was a rare self given gift to get away and enjoy myself for an entire day that offered the possibility of fun, even if all I had to spend were a few bucks. Then I felt an especially deep pang at the realization that no more would I be able to stop at Twisty Cone on my way home from my out of town doctor and purchase a sugar free ice cream....and it was sooooo gooooood! Tho the opportunity usually presented itself only a few times a years (if I had the money), sometimes I'd even get a small sundae (okay, yes, it wasn't totally sugar free as a sundae: my bad!). I sigh out loud just writing about it. My diet so restricted...but that was one thing I really loved that I could occasionally get away with. In that moment it seemed even farther, even more difficult to get to, I wondered if I'd ever go again.

I sigh again as I write this. The realization of the depth of my loss took it's toll for a little while. Then, like everything else in a “less than” life, I accepted it and moved on.

Todays Lesson: “Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” George Orwell

copyright Linda Matthews 9/22/2013

Update:  I was the lucky recipient of a "pay when I can" loan just before the government shutdown.  The timing was indeed fortuitous as I finally found just what I'd been looking for:  a 1993 Geo Metro with 109,000 miles (half from being towed behind a winnebago) for $2500.  I was the first caller right after posting, but for a much sought after vehicle that receives up to 47 mpg highway, it was quite strange that no one else inquired about it...that is until the government came back to life.  Bids came as high as $5000 but I'd been told that as first call I had dibs and am now a happy camper!

Saturday, September 7, 2013


I have awakened too late. I feed the cats, gulp down black coffee and run out to meet the bus while eating a bulk purchased protein bar. Today I want to try something new. Gone are the days of Sunday being a day off with the luxury of eating an entire bagel with cream cheese and banana, kicking back, drinking a cup of coffee, reading a Sunday paper and watching the Sunday morning debate shows. Now I will never again eat bananas or bagels because they make me seriously ill, I'll rarely buy a Sunday paper as it's a luxury I can no longer afford, nor have time to watch the morning debates as Sunday is now known as “Walmart Day”.

On Sundays there is a special bus with only a few runs, that goes straight to Walmart with no transfers. This is great because I don't want to haul a 25 LB bag of cat litter from bus to bus. Normally I would do this purchase on a car trip, but after a $500 auto repair job resulting in less than a two month reprieve, it seems likely that I may be permanently without a car. Today I will try the previously unthinkable: I want to see if I can bring a 25LB bag of cat litter home by bus.

Fortunately I arrive on time. Sunday morning can be rather crowded on the bus. It used to be that you could take a cart on the bus, but no more. Fortunately I have a handy cart that folds-up to the shape and size of a sizable laptop, but I still have concerns about this proposition: Will this small plastic cart be able to carry a 25LB load? And, will I, being 5'1” thin and anemic, be able to carry and lift it onto the small platform just inside the bus? I am uncertain, as I can slightly lift the bag awkwardly at best, and I have never tried to lift one that high. But I cannot afford to buy even 10LB bags of cat litter as the amount needed would be about 4.5 times more expensive. To survive on my income, all things must be thought out in this way. I need to at least try to do it.

I arrive at Walmart and I have an hour until the bus returns. I need groceries but the cat litter is likely all I will be able to handle. I go to the back of the store, pull out my plastic cart and unfold it. An elderly woman asks if I need help. I thank her and rudely drop the litter into the cart and try pulling it about. It does not fall apart and the bottom does not fall through. With great difficulty I lift the small cart and litter, getting momentary hung up over the top of the shopping cart, but I am able to do it. I wonder if I will be able to get it onto the small “leave your big stuff here platform” just inside the bus, and I hope that the bus doesn't take off while I am doing so.... I meander about. I buy a head of lettuce and some yogurt. I want to buy almond milk but it is too heavy. Same thing goes for potatoes.

I get a bit behind and rush out to the bus stop. No one is there which makes me nervous, but apparently they've all been waiting in the entryway watching through the glass doors for the bus. The crowd emerges fully loaded with bags, double back packs, a wheelchair back loaded with at least four large cloth bags. The wheelchair lift is down so I wheel in, plunge the cart handle down and lift. Success! I move as quickly as I can but I still delay the line. I take a seat elsewhere and make a note to turn the cart next time as it rolls back and forth in the direction of an elderly rider as the bus meanders down the road.

I run into a homeless man whom I'd seen on the bus before. We talk. He will be receiving social security retirement in 10 days and getting a place to live for the first time in a year. I am sincerely happy for him.

I exit the bus and return home. I am very tired and my back hurts. After 4 hours of rest I can write this blog. The trip took 2.25 hours of time and I have saved approximately $11.50. Once I recover I will resume work on devices to stretch my meager funds. With a Mensan mind I have other things I'd rather to be doing, but the logistics of my situation and survival are more pressing events...for now anyway.

Todays Lesson: I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed. Booker T. Washington

copyright Linda Matthews  9/7/2013

Friday, August 30, 2013


For some time now I have been contemplating writing a blog about the lifestyle of myself and others who live in poverty. Too many times I've heard the urban legends about the luxury lifestyle of those “abusing” the system. One particularly popular story concerns the outrage of a man who stands behind someone in the grocery store purchasing lobster with food stamps. He would like to buy lobster but he can't afford it! What greed and misuse of the system! He equates this scenario with HIS taxes, wastefully thrown away in what he assumes to be easy access to money not really needed.

Every poor person I've talked to can't believe this story lives! They think it's absolutely ludicrous! The closest thing any poor person around here has gotten to eating a “lobster” would be some poor soul in deep woods who pulled a crawdad out of a tea stained crick. The truth about anyone seen buying lobster or any other high priced item with food stamps is this: Someone receiving $350 a month, plus food stamps, has sold their stamps for far less than they are worth for some aspect that they deem far more important than food, such as keeping their car running so their kids have a relatively safe place to sleep. I say this because I have actually met and talked to people in such circumstances. The greater problem here is: This is the best they can do with what they've been given. Of course it's illegal, but by the necessities of survival and the limits of the system, the poorest among us are made criminals.

Such people are the real tragedy in America and I beside them am a literal Queen of Plenty. My story pales so in comparison to theirs, but because I have not found an ongoing detailed accounting of their lives and difficulties, I've decided to document my own life, my own tale, of the $715/month high end of the poverty scale because the general population in America is pretty much totally clueless as to the state so many people are in and the woefully inadequate services that are available. I will also be documenting my encounters with the truly needy, because at age sixty, 5'1” and a little over 100 lbs., unlike many, I am not afraid of someone based simply on the fact that they “seem” very poor or homeless. And I say “seem” because often as I walk about with my big oversized carry-all bag (that may at anytime come in handy) I am pegged as a pariah...even though I look neither poor or homeless. Then I become someone to be feared. Someone to turn your back on or run away from or to refuse to speak to. Someone who is less, less than you, less than others, less than eligible of being treated like a regular human being. One of The Great Undeserving....the poor who need so much, yet by many American accounts, deserve little if anything. For some who read this, rest assured that in many cases that is exactly all that they are receiving: some assistance but not enough to do more than barely survive upon.

So my question to you is: Who among us is not deserving of three meals a day, a safe place to sleep and basic life giving and preventative health care? Who doesn't deserve that, I mean, really? The alcoholic who was raped as a child? The vet whose PTSD is exacerbated by being homeless? The drug addict that has no access to a live-in recovery facility? The children who grew up in poverty and see hopelessness as a way of life? The mother on welfare who goes to work only to be exhausted and ends up paying the bulk of her income to a baby sitter? The alcoholics who use booze because it's the only way they can sleep—and even then, fitfully—because you never know when you may be attacked, beaten, robbed? Or the young adults who were foster children, with no family and nowhere to go when they cannot find a job? Over half are released from foster care and go directly into poverty and homelessness.

Upon thorough examination, one sees that it is not the people who are the problem. The problem is that the system is broken. The American Dream has become just that. For the multitudes, a facade. For the poor, a nightmare come true which by it's very design is nearly inescapable.

So I am going to document for you what I live and see and learn. And hopefully—I do so hope---that some of you will take the opportunity to begin to question the unexamined stories in your heads about the so called “truth” about poverty. It is these lies, viewed as truths, and the seemingly ever present need to blame, that I believe are the crux of our problems in America. When we stop worrying about ourselves and begin to simply do what is right—and I feel that that is starting to happen now—then things will finally begin to correct themselves.

So please join me on a journey to personally become the change that we keep demanding of our leaders. One by one I truly believe that we can and will change things in America, for that is ultimately my true purpose here: to illuminate not just poverty but the recesses of your minds. To help you realize that the renewal of our country depends upon cooperation, not condemnation. And that is the full and complete reason that we as a country stand still today. Progress will come when we simply do what's right, big or small, in whatever way we can.

Todays Lesson: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates

copyright Linda Matthews 8/30/2013