Community Prayer

My neighbors,

We are gathered here today in peace

We honor the truth of the word love

We strive together to build a better community

To promote and create our neighborhood

That takes care of one another through

Respect, compassion, courage, and vision.

For anybody that would not honor our covenant

We will lead them by our actions to the light of love in your name.

Hear our prayer so that we may be one people, your people.

Thank you.

The pocket full of happiness

I keep a pocket full of happiness with me almost always. It contains: two rubber ducks (one yellow with the word Believe on its chest, the other silver), a squishy rubber pig, an alpaca, a scarab beetle, a small handmade book, and a full sized harmonica.

Top Hat Ravioli

Top Hat Ravioli

I use it to bring smiles to children and adults alike. I change it up sometimes so there are different things, but those are typically the staple items. If you want to see someone smile really big, pull something they’d never expect from your own pocket. Fussy kids? No problem, pull out a rubber pig. Cranky adults? No sweat, a rubber duck usually does the trick. Giving them an unexpected surprise from a stranger’s pocket (that isn’t disgusting or ethically challenging) brings joy which is kind of a trademark of mine.

It’s the Monday after payday and our finances have hit as close to nada as they’ve ever been. The ban on overtime (even the measly four hours my husband would get a week) really hurt. Our groceries came out of that overtime and boy are we feeling it.

I felt a tremendous amount of stress when I went to Pet Supplies to get food for the cats and dogs. The bags of food glared hatefully at me, “You don’t have enough money to feed them and you too.” The prices exclaimed disdainfully. I started to cry. I broke down in the middle of the aisle while my frequent companion, six year old (nearly seven) neighbor Nicholas, was off looking at fish, and a guinea pig he insists is a hamster, and scorpions. I just flat out couldn’t keep my cool.

“How can I afford to feed my cats and dogs and my family.” I bemoaned. Despair washed over me as I tried to do math in my overloaded brain. My little dog Piggy needs to have grain free food. She doesn’t do well if there is grains so tack on another 5 bucks just for not having filler. yay.

One of the young women that worked there disappeared as soon as the tears started. I felt really alone. I picked up a 5 pound bag of food for 12 bucks. I went to the cat food and picked up a 20 pound bag for the same price. Here came the young woman who gave me a five pound bag at just over 10 with no grains in the ingredients. She said she was sorry she couldn’t do more.

When I got into the car, Nicholas said, “Are you in a bad mood today, Mare?”

“No, Nicholas. My heart is just sad because I don’t have many dollars.”

“You know what you need, Mare?” He asked while waving out the window absently.

“No, what do I need.” I asked, impatiently waiting for the light to change. I wanted to be home sulking.

“A pocket full of happiness that has $100 dollars in it.” He said just as matter of factly as if he were telling me the weather.

“Indeed, that would be a happy pocket.” I chuckled. Oh, the wisdom of children. Then I remembered, I get to work for some dollars this weekend as a dishwasher. I’ll have enough. I forgot all about it until he reminded me with happiness.

I promised him a Dunkin Donuts (our favorite) when I have dollars again. He was pleased he made me laugh. I was pleased he prodded me to remember to look forward in hope.


A Pocket Full of Happiness!

A Pocket Full of Happiness!

Thank you to whomever left the pocket full of happiness tacked to my door with a nose magnet. The gratitude I feel for this is just magnified. I will obey the command that Nicholas get his doughnuts. Thank you.

I asked Nicholas as he walked up the hill to his home after getting off the school bus, “Guess what I got on my door today?!’

Nicholas was so overjoyed to declare it before I even said anything, he said, “A pocket full of happiness with dollars in it so I get Dunkin Donuts!”

I laughed. “How did you know?”

“I just knew it!” He grinned while swinging his Spiderman (his favorite super hero) backpack from shoulder to shoulder. Man, I sure do love that little kid.

We went to Dunkin Donuts as the instructions commanded. Nicholas had a raspberry cheesecake doughnut, an Oreo cookie cheesecake doughnut, a milk, AND a cinnamon munchkin. I got a small coffee and a chocolate coconut doughnut. I mooed every time Nicholas lifted his milk up over the bag we place in the middle of the table. He laughs hysterically every time. Then he started doing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” on my arms and hair so I screamed playfully.

“YOU SCARED ME!” He said as he dropped his raspberry doughnut splatted on the floor while he farted. While we both bellowed peppery laughter, he declared, “Excuse me!” We laughed even harder than the cows. It really was a pocket full of happiness. Truly, thank you with all sincerity.

George gets burned

My young neighbors, George and Gracie. I love them.

My young neighbors, George and Gracie. I love them.

I stepped out my front door into the spring weather with the bite of winter nipping my skin, still hanging on to hope that it will last. George sat shoulder slumped on the concrete wall. He lifted his feet as Pumpkin the ever terrorizing Chihuahua let him know in no uncertain terms what she thought about his morose. As I tugged the yapping pup along beside the tubby pup, George hollered at me, “Mayor? I think I need one of those hugs when you put the dogs back inside.”

I nodded and smiled apologetically as Pumpkin continued her tirade against the world, Piggy chugging along beside her. Duties all done and accounted for, I placed the still overly verbose Pumpkin inside calling for the older canine to come. After a deep breath for some muffling on the shrill bark, I opened my arms and George ran around to accept the hug.

“What pain is on your brain?” I inquired as he broke the hug and dribbled to the ground in his pajama pants.

“We’re going to have to move again.” He explained. “It’ll be cool and all because we’ll have a pond, but I really wish we could stay this time.”

“Why do you have to go?” I asked. “I’m going to really miss you.”

“We can’t pay the rent any more.” He said like it was a litany he’d become accustomed to. It hurt to watch him curl up, knees to chest, tugging his hood over his face.

“What are you doing?” I asked glancing the parking lot to notice a Rent-An-Expensive Couch van pull into the broken parking lot.

“I’m hiding from them.” He said in a hushed tone.

“Why?” I prodded him further. Yes, as an adult, I’m hyper aware of debts, payments, bill collectors, and even rent-expensive-cheap stuff places. I shouldn’t ask because it’s none of my business, but I really like George and Gracie.

“They’re here to take away our couches. My mama said just to let them take the furniture already, but the babysitter won’t do it. We get woke up because they come too early in the morning and we hide so they don’t know we’re there.” He sighed heavily, as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. “I won’t have a place to sleep if they get in.”

“I’m sorry you’re experiencing that, George. If I could help you, I would. I don’t have any dollars either.” I leaned on my cane and watched the eight-year-old American boy hide his shame.

“Mayor? Can I ask you a question?” He pushed back his hood when the truck started to back out of the parking lot having not retrieved the sofas. I nodded ascent. “What did you mean when you said black lives matter? I’ve never heard a white woman say that before.”

I winced. George has a way of speaking his thoughts and ideas that, quite honestly, I haven’t seen in a child in a very long time. “It means to me that we are all human and should be equal, but we’re not. I protest against those people who want to keep us different because I don’t believe that’s just.”

“People don’t like me.” He confessed. Like a true questioner, I asked, “Why not?”

“Because I’m mixed.” He said pulling his hood back over his face. Then in a voice that is small, nearly broken, very fragile, he shares something so tragic it made me weep. “Sometimes,” He stated ever so softly. “I feel like I’m a mistake. Like I wasn’t meant to be here.” And he covered his face with his hood completely obscuring his beautiful honest face.

I had to breathe deeply because the mixture of anger, sadness, compassion, and longing to ease his suffering were so strong, I got the wellies.

“George, please stand up.” I asked gently. He complied and I took each of his shoulders in my hands and leveled myself with his true green eyes. “I need you to understand something, believe it and feel it deep in your heart, do you understand that?” He nodded so I continued. “You my beautiful perfect human friend are never, no matter what anyone else in this world tells you, are NEVER a mistake. You are a bridge between the two. You are a leader with an extraordinary gift for storytelling. You ARE the future of peace in this world. Do you understand what I mean?” I felt completely intent with my purpose. He looked up at me with such an open comprehension that I felt like I was looking into something way bigger than he or I.

“I understand. But people…” He started to say when I interrupted him.

“People can be nasty, vicious creatures, but so can they be humans who don’t understand the differences. Black lives matter because ALL lives matter. You are so important to me and to your sister and your family. Even if they say hateful words, they always, like me, will love you. Black lives matter, George, because you think I’m better than you because I’m white. I promise you, my beautiful friend, we are equals in spirit. We are equals as physical beings. Just because we have different melanin doesn’t…”

“What’s melanin?” He interrupted me.

“It’s what makes your skin darker than mine and because I have less, I’m more pale than you are.” I explained.

“That’s it? That’s what’s different?” He looked at me incredulously. I nodded my head. “Well that’s just plain stupid.”

“George, my friend, I couldn’t agree with you more. Want a cupcake?”

“After another hug?” He asked, his eyes no longer filled with tears.

“Absolutely. We’ll break bread together.” He grinned back at me as I went and got two applesauce cupcakes topped with green holiday frosting. We sat in the spring sun feeling the icy breeze sharing each others company, heart to heart, spirit to spirit.

Love Thy Neighbor Campaign

I’d really like for you to join me in the Love Thy Neighbor Campaign. Below is a link where you can purchase the shirts and wear them with pride while you perform public acts of random kindness to your fellow humans. They’re very affordable, stylish, and the best part is, if I don’t meet the 20 I need to meet the minimum sales goal, you don’t even get charged!

I’d really like to meet my first goal of 20 shirts, so please buy the shirt, share the link, and act responsibly while wearing the shirt to promote Unity in CommUNITY!

Love Thy Neighbor


Love Thy Neighbor: FOR SALE!

Just like on the back of my super hero cape, you can also own this design to wear with pride anywhere you travel. It’s love is demonstrated for all humans to be and love who they do. Part of the proceeds will go to The Crisis Center in Bristol, TN/VA as a way to give back for their contributions to loving thy neighbor enough to speak out.

Love Thy Neighbor

Entering The War Zone

This link will take you to an interesting article about poverty in America.

This link will take you to an interesting article about poverty in America.

Let me preface the following piece with my current observation that although I’ve moved into a larger place in the same neighborhood and the characters (my neighbors) have changed names, the situations are as accurate now as they were then. There are several personal experience notes about myself that I included to show just how someone like me got into this situation. I do not write it with hopes of pity or a firm case of I’m-glad-it’s-not-me’s but to demonstrate how easy it is to fall between the cracks.

I have since been able to secure health insurance which has allowed me to take care of myself better, but the deductibles from my unemployed standpoint are just as daunting as knowing I have heaps of medical bills left over from when I didn’t have it. I am still looking for employment that I’m able to do and I feel confident that I will achieve this even after 5 years of unemployment.

Potential Dead People

An essay on living in a poverty ridden community

Under the guise of Southern hospitality, with honeysuckle blossoms haunting the air, I drift the night. My feet thump the sidewalk broken by misuse; years of neglect punctuated by my footfalls. My neighborhood is one that demands ten year old cars. It is scary when the people fight around here because of the plight they find themselves an unfortunate part of because of dreams and potential unfulfilled. My neighborhood has the underlying unpleasant odor of beer, weed, and other illegal activities.

Yards fall slack without pride. A few sparks of well tended flower gardens shine. Not because of their beauty but because they are shrines to hope. They are shrines that will eventually be abandoned as hands are thrown up in the air. Hands that once tended the colorful petals as lovingly as a mother to a child. There are a few homes on my lane that try to fight back the tides of a dying plot of city; a shade of its former glory. Only a few of us arriving in the nick of time to protect others from themselves. Humility has no place in Highland View. There are too many with tirades against the injustices of our living conditions.

Still, I walk without fear I should have. I see echoes of laughter glimmering from the past. I glimpse it in abandoned windows that no longer warm families. The empty souls stare back with unblinking eyes. The grounding of community lost to history. A history built on lies and destruction that the world had never known before this city built it. A city duped into believing that they had a common enemy. An entire world sealed within gated walls, forbidden entry enforced with weapons and paperwork badges of freedom ringing with atomic bombs.

I walk my neighborhood that decays before my eyes. I see “This planet sucks!” spray-painted before the stop sign. Perhaps in homage, perhaps the truth, but still yet another defacement of the place where I live among the chronically poor who possess apathetic landlords. People whom, if better choices had been made in their lives, would never have chosen to live where litter clogs the gutters whenever the rain falls. They would never have chosen to embrace the cracks of sudden gunfire that sometimes escalate in frequency throughout the night. They would not allow the prostitution to run rampant or the induction of child-drug-addicts infusing into our schools like violent swords clashing publicly.

My feet witness a dead carcass that, after sunbathing rudely naked with guts exposed in the road all afternoon, has finally been moved to the sidewalk. There is a sign nearby that proudly announces that you’ve now entered Historic Highland View Neighborhood. What it really confesses is the boundaries of the “War Zone.” Tell me that the scream of sirens blaring through the night or the hovering helicopters with the spotlights allow you to sleep without multiple locks upon your doors. I can’t say that. I live with it.

Pretend that the drug dealers don’t matter with their shady clientele driving past my walking sneakers. On evenings, just like this one, I watch cars and trucks that don’t belong here piss in my yard. Tell me that they have my best interests at heart. If you can, I will show you what it’s like to hate the broken streetlight at the end of my driveway that no longer provides its security. The long dark stretches in between the twilight-like illuminations make my feet move faster, though I bid them to hold steady to show I am without fear while walking in my neighborhood.

Sometimes, unbidden, the night reveals dark secrets. The kind of secrets that glare angrily when they are recognized. The secrets that, when seen in the daylight, are so ugly that they are an eyesore to humanity. I inhale the despair deeply while I witness them surrender to primal urges of violence. Intolerance sings death mettle. The bodies fly so fast that the air only budges three minutes after the landing of the first blow. I am terrified as I wait for the combat to erupt from the doors and windows scattering physical shrapnel into the streets.

The weather is warm with a hint of future rainbows. The dark clouds, even on the clearest of days, hang heavy like black velvet paintings of dogs playing poker. As I step into my driveway, returning from my slum stroll, I turn a blind eye to the horrors I see around me. If I didn’t, I may submit to the subtle enticement of permanent stagnation just as the majority of my neighbors have.

As I enjoy my freshly raked back yard, I listen to the world calling for its mates. I can hear the cars driving by on the road just beyond my rear neighbor’s home. The cars disregard the speed limits. Their absent mufflers pronounce the presence of the different vehicles. Some blare music with a high treble voice into the air with cussing and body parts displayed like bad tattoos on scrawny underfed young men and women. The kids are covered in sores with Mountain Dew meth teeth rattling their very skeletons. They all pretend that nobody knows, but everybody does.

My porch is tidy with seating for myself and another. As I sit in my green wing-back folding chair, I hear the alarm of yelling coming from the same house it normally does. They just moved in from out of state in hopes of a better life. They, like most that live around here, are baffled how they ended up here. They don’t remember being loved by one another any more. They do believe in “Better The Devil You Know” with all of their hearts. Verbal abuse screams without repercussions throughout their family tree. It’s all they know. It’s how they were raised. There are a thousand reasons or excuses but the real reason is because they depend on each other like they depend on their own unhappiness.

A firecracker gunshot slaps my ears with its suddenness. Reflexively, I flinch. Yet another child comes knocking on my door asking for food as their stomachs growl in protest. They never leave my house without my rectifying their situation. I don’t have much, but clearly I have more than they. I give freely from my garden, cupboards, and fridge as the needs arise. I err at times and find myself unable to feed my own family. I walk out from under the kerosene soaked blanket that awaits ignition and hangs over my neighborhood into the places that barely hide the looks of contempt that drips from their upturned noses. I accept food from the food banks when I need to. In return, I help them fold clothing into neat piles of unwanted/outdated/stained/worn/or otherwise damaged clothing. Periodically I get lucky and win a find that they share with me for free. I don’t feel so discouraged on those days.

The air conditioner behind my neighbor’s house, beyond my backyard fence grumbles then screams to life. Any conversations have to be raised in volume to compensate for the intrusion. Those neighbors are unaware, or pretend to be, of the noises that they pollute our neighborhood with. They are the same neighbors that used to tie up their dog to the porch by their side door, but the dog barked and whined too much. Their solution was to purchase a large kennel over which they strapped a common blue tarp. They moved that to back of their yard closest to mine. Now I experience their ignorance and abandonment first hand through my open second story windows. My torn screens mock back towards the yearnings of the lonely puppy.

The little girl that lives in that house has a heart filled with song. On afternoons, just like this, she opens her mouth and mimics the radio with unusual accuracy. When she allows it, she carries on quite the free concert behind a curtain of overgrown underbrush that keeps my own secrets from running around naked on the streets with the other misfits and results of bad or absent parenting while they were growing up.

I hear drunken revelers blowing air-horns like air raid sirens. Cops rarely patrol here. As I explained, this is a war zone. The people here live in imminent danger of becoming homeless or starving (The American Way). The only relief, the only thing that seems to erase the fears and uncertainties are found in little plastic baggies willed with tiny pieces of what looks like large salt crystals or sticky green buds the size of dimes that would kill most of an hour if it’s right. I had to research that. I don’t see it, but I know it exists. Its testament more obvious than I love Jesus stickers found on nearly every vehicle parked nearby on the streets.

If I get overwhelmed by The War Zone that surrounds me daily, I need only walk a mile and a half to the east, a mile and a half to the south, two and a half miles to the west, and only a mere 500 feet to the north to get relief. This is a very high concentration of depression. It will pollute the rest of the city if not kept in check.

My neighborhood mirrors the ugliness back to the surrounding places. Where I live serves a valuable purpose with its grotesque vulgarity. It exposes gaping holes in the system that so many cling to so gratefully blind to the issues at hand. They have tidy bug-free kitchens that can run more than one appliance at a time. They don’t want to see the invisible sore-covered humans living in squalor in homes not fit for rats.

The people in my neighborhood are easy to deny. They are easy to cut from welfare when many depend on it for food their minimum wage jobs can’t provide. They are easy to remove from health care because nobody misses someone they can’t see. It’s easy to deny civil and human rights to people who don’t matter. Not a single person exists in this war zone until they pull a knife or shoot up a movie theater. Then, and only then, can the comfortable people sitting in front of their 72″ televisions look at one another and comment wryly about the state of things with un-witty quips like, “I told you so.”

Being poor and living in this neighborhood war does not make any of us less human. If anything, it exaggerates it to the point of total comprehension. It brings itself forth like a bloody head of an aborted fetus whom was saved from a life of disregard. It presents itself like the eleven o’clock news at 10; off-kilter, disturbing, unbalanced, with prejudice and biased opinions towards people they can’t even see.

Come on, Middle America! Look out into your own backyards. Open your eyes and see what I am showing you. Step out of your cushy jobs that shuffle papers all day. Roll up your sleeves, step into the trenches where character is ripped from the soul like a vulture at a tasty buffet of rotted flesh. Come away with me where the bastardized virgins are escaping from infant wombs at an incredible rate. Step into The War Zone with me and declare a cease fire.

I can’t guarantee success because most people I know don’t even realize that they are in need of assistance. Most are so blinded by their own fight for survival that they become invisible to one another. It’s easy, you see, to forget that not everybody got fairy-tale bedtime stories. Many, you see, had different things taught to them inappropriately by those commissioned by birth to love and protect them. Failure reeks the rooms they enter like the overbearing cologne on a woman that smells of pennies and death barely concealed under funeral sweet floral perfumes.

Among all of this, I have a place. It is an oasis in the midst of all the destruction. It exists because I created it as a spot of joy within The War Zone. It is found within the confines of my neighbor’s lonely dog’s cries coming from the north, the assassinating ninja raccoons to the east, the garbage strewn gutters to the south, and the raped hedges (now growing back thicker) with non-blooming roses of Sharon and the dominant kudzu that twines blankets over anything stupid enough to remain stationary.

A couple of summers ago, while I was walking Waddell Circle, I noticed a pile of mail on a porch. Not a few pieces of mail, but a pile. The green VW Bug that was parked on the street out front looked abandoned. Upon further inspection, driven by curiosity, I checked the doors. The back door, not visible from the street, was wide open. A little dog stared back at me as he sat among the remains of a torn up bag of dog food. Laying in the floor of the barely furnished apartment in front of a television that babbled about cute architecture, lay the body of a woman I didn’t know. I hurried home and called for a wellness check on her. She had been dead for nearly two months. Her body was suspended in mummification. Sadly, nobody noticed. Another person out of the competition for survival. I don’t know what happened to her. I don’t know why she died, but the same thing could happen to any who live in my neighborhood. All who live here are like her; disregarded, unimportant, forgotten as human beings. That hangs in the air here like her unreported death.

It is a parasitic film that hangs like a multitude of ticks on each disabled or unstable adult. It doesn’t lie and offer rainbows. It only allows the release into death. A final resting place of certainty in this unforgiving and uncertain place in which we live. It is a cesspool of sickness. Most of the people I know have some sort of disease and spend countless hours seeking relief for their pain, regrets, fears, and financial stability. They know that what they are experiencing will kill them. They are right to believe it.

Without access to medical care, without access to education that they more than likely can’t afford, without proper legal representation this despair is thick with disposable people. I’ve heard people with comfortable pockets mock the people that live in my neighborhood. “If they’d just get off their lazy asses and get a job.” Or, “You don’t look sick to me.” Or, “You can find the answer in God’s word.” It’s disheartening to think that these people who have money can take it for granted when most people in The War Zone wish nothing more than to be valued.

On my birthday in 2009 I had a mini-stroke. I was, at the time, working in a legal office processing court petitions. I was very good at my job and commonly received praise for accuracy and efficiency. For three months I couldn’t walk a straight line if you paid me money. I could no longer drive because I had no depth perception. The pain in my head was so strong and so constant that I couldn’t get much rest. Pain pills, anti-nausea and anti-dizzy medications had little to no effect. I was told by my job to not come back until I got better because my productivity had fallen so low. I couldn’t concentrate enough to hold my head up most of the time. A week before my doctor deemed me healthy enough to return to work, I was “laid-off” because I was too sick. They couldn’t say it, but that’s why.

Without work, I applied at every job opportunity I could find in the Oak Ridge area. I primarily worked in office settings and commonly excelled wherever I was placed. I couldn’t find anything and nobody returned calls of inquiry.

In March of 2010, I was granted emergency custody of my nephew who I call and consider to be my son. The living conditions from which he came were worse than even my neighborhood’s War Zone. He was very emotionally and mentally ill. Then began a battle to get him the services he required. He was placed in therapy, out-patient drug programs, taken to court dates from the trouble he’d gotten into, and basically completely redid everything to get a baseline of his condition.

In March of 2011 after a mental snap, he was finally placed in a residential facility to stabilize his psychosis, PTSD, and Depression. He remained there for 9 months. In the mean time, another troubled child came to live in my home.

I again flooded the market with resumes and applications. I put in a minimum of five a weekday for three weeks straight. I had no income and two kids to feed when my son would come home for weekend visits. My estranged husband took the transportation to go to his job which severely limited my potential income. Of all the places I applied, what came of it? Nothing. That’s what happened. Nothing. Not even a response to these inquiry calls either.

I am writing all of this not to ask for help but to explain that I am not the only one who lives under these conditions in the Highland View neighborhood. Most of the time I serve a small purpose by being a ray of hope for those around me. Other times it’s very difficult to see the absent silver lining that is in every cloud. I protect if I’m asked or see the immediate need arise. I feed them if they come to me hungry and ask. I transport them when I am able, but mostly they all just want their voices to be heard from behind the lines. It is sad that nobody else seems to want to stop and help the injured souls that abide here in my neighborhood. Nobody offers these things to the lost or the frightened anxious humans. Better than you is a common behavior I’ve observed in nearly every place I’ve gone, even on my lane.

At the local free clinic or the local food banks, I see people lining up 30+ deep at first bell of help. I see them shifting uncomfortably to get a bag of food because they are hungry. I see mostly people like me, middle-aged, waiting with their discouragement. They act awkward if I talk to them, engage them in conversations. They meet my eyes most often with defiance as if they know that this isn’t the life meant for them but the life they chose either because of circumstances or life events, or, yes, maybe because they didn’t want to see what they could make of their lives. I realize that this contradicts what I wrote about available resources before, but some of them could be given every resource with all new everything and it would still go to waste because they no longer believe in life, or hope, or love.

They, as do others, view themselves as pariahs unworthy of anything good. Paragons of the underworld, they put on a good show that is not at all entertaining. Reality television could not possibly ingratiate itself to making a chronicle of the anguish these people in my neighborhood experience every day. They become the very cracks they fell through by turning to illegal activities to survive the War Zone we live in. Nothing holds any sacredness, not even life. Nothing offers them redemption from their lives. Anger and gossip are easier and far more palatable than the alternatives of disappointment and responsibility.

This is a neighborhood where getting probation is a lucky break. This is a neighborhood where there are limited single parents but many blended families. This is a neighborhood that feels forgotten. This is a neighborhood that doesn’t get but a happy hand press at election time and a fuck you until next election. This is a neighborhood that’s given all it can and is still sadly lacking. This isn’t a neighborhood where a band-aid will do any good. A serious change has to be made in this neighborhood. This needs to be addressed so that a light can be shined into the darkest of our society’s secrets that live around me in my neighborhood. I am asking for a cease fire against the poor. This corruption that flourishes here needs to be redeemed. I need to feel safe again.

There is a man I know of who provides for his family of six by practicing Freeganism. If he can’t find what his family needs, he tries harder. He is in poor physical health. His neck has no cartilage between the vertebrae. He is in constant severe pain and it will remain that way because he can’t afford to get the surgery that would make his life better. He couldn’t afford to leave his family to go without so he continues onward. His wife was attending college to earn a degree in psychology but was forced to drop out, even though she was attending school on a grant, to get a job to supplement their Freegan lifestyle they are forced to live. He feels trapped and depressed most of the time while his family walks around on eggshells trying to offer peace that will never be enough until his body is healed and his emotional self can catch up. Failure is an unwelcome moniker I know he wears with disdain. Yet, the bills keep coming. Their family is commonly without utilities which becomes tragic in the winter when there isn’t any heat or a stove that works without them.

The programs that could help are sadly underfunded. They sometimes have to refuse all but the most desperate, usually with regret that their funds are being diluted just as quickly as those they serve. It’s so discouraging to realize that, although these are all First-World problems, enough people in my neighborhood are suffering on every level. This has to end.

There has to be a solution to the issues, problems and difficulties I’ve described. However, until the voices of the downtrodden are heard, until the people that need a hand up not a hand out are aided, until we can shake the label of unworthy from the public eyes; This tragedy will continue on American soil.

My first impression of the depressed economy in Tennessee did not stem from living in Oak Ridge. I admit that I’m jaded towards the entire state due to my experiences here. At first glance, it may just be culture shock having moved from a small Mormon filled town to a community plagued with the dregs of criminal activity.

I worked in a gas station in the community I first experienced after moving to Claxton which is just south of Clinton, Tennessee. Not all, but a lot of people spent their days buying beer as if it were water. A lot of the people played the fool’s game of the state lottery, but more than those were the people addicted to one kind of drug or the other. I witnessed people spending cash on cigarettes, beer, and junk food but refused their filthy child an apple. Three year-olds with sippy cups filled with Mountain Dew were pretty common as well. I watched young men who had no education steal beer which I made them promptly return. I nearly got in a fist fight because a man was trying to steal gas from two older ladies. I watched as young people with dreams in their hearts gave up and buckled down to a life they didn’t want. The list continues of things I’ve seen with my own two eyes.

I am not saying that all drug addicts, poor people, or criminals have less than stellar hygiene, but it is quite common to the people that I first observed. I am not passing any kind of judgment on the people I live nearby. My goal is to report as accurately as possible what I’ve seen, heard, and experienced here in East Tennessee.

Heck, the bar I used to own only became available because one of the owners shot the other one to death inside the bar. He made it to the parking lot before submitting to his injuries. These are the people who have fallen. These are the people who, out of desperation, do horrible things to one another. I can’t point a finger and say that this or that is at fault, but I do know from experience that when there is no hope, there is rarely help.

In the building in which I live we had four families. Each deals daily with financial burdens that are negligible if suitable employment were to be had, but there isn’t. We grow gardens in our back yard in hopes of supplementing our groceries with wholesome foods. We stand by one another. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to go rescue one of them from disaster such as health issues, unable to drive, or because they got too scared and couldn’t get home. If I try to describe it to other people it’s as if they believe that those of us who live in the War Zone ask to get sick so we can collect government checks. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The fact is, health issues seem to be the most dominant problem that anyone I know has to deal with. It’s depressing to know that proper medical care could actually do some good, but they, like me, can’t afford to get required medical care and have to resort to free-health clinics.

There used to be a family that lived down at the other end of my street. The dad worked as many hours as he could. He is a beanpole in stature with bad teeth and questionable judgment. Every bit of money that he earned and brought into his house went to bills. The SNAP benefits they received were so paltry, even with two teens living at home, that they were commonly gone within the first week of receipt. The matriarch, an overweight woman with a skewed view of herself as being sexy, wore slinky ill-fitting clothing, smoked like a chimney, and ate everything in sight leaving her children hungry and sharing my dinner.

I used to send food home with the kids (boxes of mac and cheese or soups) until they informed me that they weren’t getting any of it. The boy became a 7:30 PM staple at my dinner table to share our own meager meals. It became necessary.

Once, while I sat on my neighbor’s porch shooting the breeze, this mother arrived, uninvited, to hang out. I mean this literally. She was barely covered with a slit in her skirt that she’d put there and was higher than her lowest fat roll. Her boobs were unrestrained in their barely concealing top. We disregarded her attire until the conversation turned to her son. We were bragging to her about how wonderful her boy was and all of his good qualities that we saw on a regular basis. He piped up with, “See mom, I am a good person.”

Without warning, she punched him in the chest hard enough to hear meat against flesh. We sat there stunned while the boy blushed red and fell silent. I grabbed my neighbor’s leg to keep from pummeling the sad example of a poverty stricken woman trying so desperately to be somebody, ANYbody, other than who she had become to the detriment of her child. I asked her to leave.

The buildings on the east, west, and south of my own are maintained abandoned. I’ve never seen anyone living in either the east or west buildings but their grass gets mowed every once in a while. Upon occasion someone will come and check the interiors for squatters, but other than that they are abandoned.

The building to the south used to have a family that lived there until the roof leaked and health issues ate up the rest of the money they had socked away. The owner of the building bought it years ago to supplement his income. His kids are all grown now, his wife and he just don’t need it. They also send someone over to mow, although not as frequently as the other two.
There are many desperate people in my neighborhood doing desperate acts to stay afloat, but the tides of bounty always recede to reveal the tide pools of emptiness. There is never enough in my neighborhood except enough crime, enough hunger, enough drugs, enough poverty, enough mental illness, enough anger. Some live solely on the child support because they have no other income.

When neighborhoods like mine sit stagnant, as it has, for a while things become volatile and uncertain. It no longer feels safe to walk around even though I do it anyway. Call it stupidity, call it a warrior’s spirit, call it ignorance, but I don’t want to be hibernated by the shadiness of my neighborhood. I don’t want to be locked up in hopes that things won’t explode.

I acknowledge that my neighborhood may not be as bad as some, but it’s far worse than most. I live here. This is the place where I put my unwilling roots. This is the place where, at this time, I come from and don’t want to give up. There is little hope that this neighborhood under any regime will ever improve to a point of beauty again. I’ve seen all of this. I’ve experienced all of this. I hear the cries in the night with little or no punctuation. Last night I listened to a man yelling and cussing for hours on end. If the police do respond to a call, rarely is there something done.

Even rarer than the police patrols are the sounds of a normal, typical neighborhood. The steady groan of a lawnmower being pushed the length of the yard. The steady clack of flying walnuts and sticks imitate the key strokes of a manual typewriter. The ding is the metallic clank of yard debris on the turn before the next pass. In the summer, before the heat riles the ire, kids sometimes play in the few fenced yards. Maybe they splash in plastic pools or chase each other while playing tag, but the sounds they make create a sense of normal. Only this neighborhood isn’t. It is far from normal. If it is considered normal, then I have little hope for America.


As I’m scrolling through my newsfeed each day, I noticed an unusually high ratio of hate. Hate Justin Beiber? That’s okay. Hate Westboro Baptist Church? That’s okay. How about Democrats? Republicans? Atheists? Gays? Women? Men? Goldfish? That’s okay too.

I am all about personal freedom. I believe that every person is entitled to their own opinions, beliefs, and ways of doing things. What I don’t understand is why the hate of such ridiculous things? If you want to hate something, what about poverty? Hunger? Rape? Acid Attacks? War? Human Rights Violations?

These are things that should be hated. These are things that should not be tolerated, but we do. We allow it because it isn’t in our own backyard. It’s okay because it isn’t directly affecting most of us, thankfully, on a daily basis. We turn our face away because we believe that people, all people, should be like we are.

If you’re reading this, you at least have electricity with pretty good odds you have clean safe water to drink. If you’re reading this, you’re probably not worrying about soldiers breaking into your house, killing the man/men and raping the women. If you’re reading this, odds are you have at least a rudimentary education that taught you how to unlike the millions of children who will never witness these words. If you’re reading this, odds are you’re using some sort of electronics device that cost enough to supply an entire village for an entire year clean water, food, and/or medicine needed for survival.

The generosity shown by the United States when 9/11 happened, when Katrina hit, when, most recently, the tornadoes hit in Oklahoma, is amazing. That’s because it happened where we couldn’t ignore it. We couldn’t walk away because the victims of these tragedies are our neighbors, friends and relatives. They have faces like ours. They were our friends, neighbors, countrywo/men. It was if our banding together would prevent another of these tragedies, whether man made or not, from happening. A NIMBY attitude that permeated our popular culture and brought unity where there had been division.

Think about this: The people in a remote village in South Africa, in Russian States, in China, in Singapore are someone’s neighbors, friends and relatives too. They have faces, but they don’t look like our well fed American selves. They don’t have the resources we do. They don’t have what we do, but that doesn’t make them any less of a human being. That doesn’t mean they deserve any less dignity or recognition for their accomplishments. We instead focus on their “failure” to be as we are. That’s victim blaming at its horrendous “best.”

Hate is such a nasty thing. It takes away from our compassion. It takes away from our kindness. It blurs love into a meaningless statement of favorites instead of being the action it is intended to be. Think about what you dislike. Now think about all the wonderful things we could be doing for each other right now in the name of love. Do not tolerate the abominations against humanity. Find a way to change the hate speak into love speak. It’s the only way the human race, humanity, will survive.

When we were addresses

I remember when we were addresses, not numbers. The generation before me remembers when people were people, not addresses. The generation after me is all numbers, although I do participate, I am not truly a part of that group. I remember before we were numbers when the only question that mattered was, “Where do you live?” I remember next the question became, “Where’s the phone?” Followed by, “I paged you several times and you didn’t call me back.” The questions of communication that have allowed us to have less connection to where we live and more anonymity while contradictorily being more exposed by social media than ever before in my lifetime.

When I was growing up, the most crucial part of a conversation was, “Where do you live?” It was a question that was dictated by locational reference what type of person they may be. If I lived two blocks north of my childhood home, I would probably be a member of an African-American family. If I were to go two blocks to the south, I’d probably be an older white woman, more than likely widowed. If I journeyed three blocks to the west, more than likely I’d be a blend of Hispanic or African-American. Four blocks to the east primarily Dutch middle class white families with American flags on the porch.

We knew the boundaries and most of the time accepted them without question for “our own protection.” Most of the time we did follow the rules, but it was a struggle to do so. When we didn’t, it usually wasn’t long before going where we didn’t live was firmly corrected by threats or actively rejected by mild violence.

We followed the codes set down by our histories. We learned how to behave in a society that was not accepting of people outside of the boundary.

Again, it was all about where a person lived. We had communities that were based on a respective leveling field of either economic means, or by employability. There was a carefully balanced ecocosim that existed only because, as children, we didn’t understand how it worked. We mostly went with the flow. It’s what we knew. It was our normal.

What's your phone number?

What’s your phone number?

In our house, we had a main phone located on the kitchen wall. Because of the cord, we could reach the sink for a drink of water, but if we got hungry, the fridge was just out of reach. We wrote phone numbers in tiny letters on the dining room wallpaper. We hid around the corner in the kitchen and spoke as if we were at a funeral in fears we’d be told to get off the phone. After a family emergency, we finally got a second line, upstairs in my parent’s bedroom. My parents argued for years whether or not to put in a third line in the basement, but that never happened.

When the portable phones first appeared as affordable, we, as a people, felt the freedom to roam the house away from prying ears and eyes. When the phone rang, members in our household would call out for the location of the phone. When one person, like me for example, hogged the phone, we were chastised and grounded from using the portable phones.

As we grew accustomed to being able to roam, we further became accustomed to the caller ID which allowed us to preview the incoming calls and screen out the ones we didn’t want. We were able to sort out the people we wanted in our lives by their phone numbers. Our neighborhoods expanded when we could freely communicate with portability. But those phones never quite reached far enough. You couldn’t be but a short bit away from the base and although it was farther than just the kitchen sink, it wasn’t far enough to go to the end of the road.

When you were out and about and had to make a call, you stopped off at a phone booth, that for a dime, would allow you to call anyone in your local area, and for a bit more allowed you access to a long distance party for as long as you kept feeding the machine. If your call got disconnected, you could sometimes get a refund by calling the operator. That operator was a real person with a real job directing people where they needed to go to get connected. I miss that tremendously.

Now, I can use 411 for number search only. I can’t ask if a double yolk egg messes up a recipe at three in the morning. I can’t speak with a human being. I have to pray the voice recognition software hears me clearly when I ask for business or residence or government entity. I can’t get to know anyone because there isn’t anyone there to get to know. Even information is disconnected from who we are.

Pagers came along and were first used for business contacts to keep informed by phone. If a pager went off, people looked around to see who was so important they had to be reached at any time day or night. If I heard a pager go off and saw a well dressed man or woman get up and leave to find a phone, I thought they had something really good going for them. Then pagers became affordable enough for anyone to have one. The good side was that communication grew with the people who could page me, but got lost because I still had to find a phone from which to contact them. We were still tied to the house phone mentality that kept a person in their respectable place. Boundaries were still strong but weakening.

When I got my first pager, I felt so self important. I believed that it made me appear to be more prestigious. I believed that I was more important than someone else. It created a prejudice for me against those who couldn’t afford 20 bucks a month. I held onto that until they started to get even more popular and everyone had one. My balloon popped and I was back to being average again.

Cell phones, when I was younger, were only for the Wall Street people. They were the only people who could afford the daunting fees of paying for minutes. When I’d see people with cell phones, I’d think, man, they must really have made it. They must be somebody. I aspired to own one so I could go from being “normal” to extraordinary. I bought into the number mentality. I believed I’d be more successful once I had one. In fact, I wasn’t very successful at much, but I wanted to believe I was.

When I got my first cell phone, I called everyone and informed them of my “accomplishment.” I was so proud and self-important that I really believed I was better than everyone else. Until they became affordable enough for everyone to have a cell phone easily, that changed the field again. Then it was a battle to have the best phone with a vanity number, perhaps. The more features, the better the phone. The better the phone with its many features the better of a person held it. Or so I believed.

Then, one day it occurred to me that we were becoming numbers. We no longer had to remember where people lived because we could meet them anywhere they were. It was the perfect way to lose the base of community and for people to universally accept it. “Can I have your number?” Changed into, “Can I get your digits?” People became numbers and didn’t question it any more. We accepted the fact that in order to “be” somebody, you needed to be within the circle. You needed to have a number. I bought that too.

More recently, I’ve discovered, although it’s been a feature for years that your closest people don’t even get to be ten digits. They get shortened, usually by order of importance, to speed dial. On my phone, number one is pre-programmed to my voice mail. I can’t change that. Number two was held by my best friend, three by my husband, four by my son, five by my mother, six by another friend, seven eight and nine are all friends as well. I don’t remember their phone numbers any more, just their speed dial number. I don’t have to think. I don’t have to be actively involved in which number to dial after the first digit. I can stay connected by disconnecting myself from having to be a thinking person.

My son said to me, “If I don’t have my phone with me, I don’t exist.” After I checked my phone for the third time during the course of our conversation, I realized that his statement is accepted as the norm. We no longer exist unless we can check our phones to verify that we are an active member in our selected social circle.

If I forget my phone, I feel lost and disoriented. I’ve become that dependent on having it nearby. My son, on the other hand, knows the language of the Internet youth. He understands the importance of late night texting to build his own group of digits. He gets that some people’s conversations with him are imperative to his happiness, and so asks permission to walk the path he is on with technology while still hanging out with his parents.

Sometimes I balk heavily at his usage of his phone, but today, it’s more important than ever to have a strong identity via which number is assigned to you. The phone was all important until social media took over.

I am a self proclaimed Facebook addict whom checks frequently on the people I care about to see what’s happening in their lives. I’ve watched Cancer take people I love. I’ve watched divorces and breakups. I’ve seen weddings and birthdays, births and anniversaries, and graduations celebrated. Even when I couldn’t be with the people I love, I feel a bit like a stalker/participant. But this bothers me as well because even though I’m watching this occur in video, chat, posts, or pictures, it’s not the same as living in the same house, hanging out with the same people, going to the same places as a group, having an actual community that puts hands in the soil together and grows something spectacular.

It’s not the same to see a picture as it is to be right in the middle of it. It’s not the same to read a book and imagine festival through the perceptions of the writer. Events of life demand participation in such a way that sweat and dressy clothes get over worn by the weather as much as the laughter and camaraderie does the same. It’s not the same to watch a video and catch that tiny snapshot into the bigger picture. It’s not enough to want to see it.

Everything on Facebook, MySpace, yahoo, CNN, FOX, anything .com are compilations of 1’s and 0’s. Nothing that is seen on the web, on videos, in articles posted, or even graphics that offer snippets of political views or causes we find important exist. They are all 1’s and 0’s. It’s not real. It is propaganda designed to make us think we are more important than we really are. We’re digits with names that identify us down to the picture of dinner last night. We’re numbers that matter only when someone finds fault in our illogical thinking or erratic behaviors.

I remember when we were addresses instead of numbers. I remember when it all began because I lived through it. I remember when exposure to other cultures, races, or ideals, went against everything I was taught to believe. I remember when where a person came from meant more than what they did in their bedroom or what they believed publicly. I remember. You should remember as well.