Friday, March 07, 2014

I've Got The Blues For Paper

I’ve got the blues about paper today. I walk around my house examining notes, short stories, papers from high school written in long hand, looking through papers to throw away, thinking about days long gone when we learned to write script.

My mind jumps ahead: future generations where no one will know how to write script. Writing by hand will disappear except for a few who carry on. Handwriting will become a fine transcribed art that no one teaches and that no one knows how to do anymore.

Later, my cabdriver explains how now-a-days, children do their assignments online on the computer so they don’t write anything down at all anymore not like we did back in the day. He said they barely learn print, they type everything on the computer.

Columbia forced me to buy a typewriter in 1978. They said hand written assignments get get lower grades. Hasn’t anyone explained this to you before? I mean I ‘m sorry to break it down to you like this and feel bad no one told you before that at Columbia. Miz. Leftow, you already lost one grade this term by handing in hand-written homework. You would have gotten a B+ but because it was hand written you only are due a C+. Sorry…

When I explained how poor I was, she said, “You’re smart, you’re here at Columbia so you’ll figure out a way to survive.”

Back then all I had was two pairs of jeans a skirt a few blouses and one sweater from the $10 store. I had no money to spend but needed that typewriter. Back then I couldn’t conceive a typewriter had a memory so you wouldn’t have to typewrite the whole page if you made a mistake.

My cabbie ‘s conversation brings me back. He’s telling me how hard it is to get by with four children, two are teenagers. The only way they get by is because his wife lies and says he doesn’t live there so she can get food stamps Medicaid and section 8, he said as he drove his Lincoln Town Car working paying for High Class radio service trying to make a buck. It ain’t easy out here and that rent we pay would cost us 2100 instead of the 900 we pay and in this way we get by he confided.

Four children and us and two cats. I show the vet our Medicaid card he continued and then we don’t pay. Medicaid for cats is good he said. We’re doing the best we can to get by and she works on the side too. My wife’s a certified home health nursing aide and she gets work a few days a week at a hospital up in the Bronx. After they take out the taxes it’s about 50 bucks for a 12-hour day then she got to make sure it don’t get in the way of watching out for our children so thank God she doesn’t work everyday.

It gives her time off to cook and clean house and watch over our teens and younger children. We pay for catholic school – and they have to go to college. There’s no jobs out there you know. We try to get by – but it’s hard to qualify. That’s why she wants to work too. She works off the books. There’s just too many bills to pay. You know growing children need clothes and shoes - those are expensive.

It’s a different world out there. My cabby alerts me that the ride and story have come to an end.
They don’t do things the way they used to. My cabbie is a young man. He’s only 42. His radio comes alive. A voice asks his location in Spanish.

It’s a lot to chew on. I think about all the finagling I did to get by twenty-two years working professionally to help our young – a noble job made harder by the huge bureaucracy I functioned in.

I enter my apartment and look around me again at all the paper I’d been trying to separate earlier into throw away and keep. Notes and each piece of paper seems to have so much meaning I don’t know how to throw them out.

In Washington Heights where I live most of the people survive on a lie because otherwise they’d be too poor to unable to survive, pay their rent, and take care of their children’s needs plus pay medical expenses. In order to qualify for government programs, my cabbie’s wife promises government agencies to sue him for child support if he can be found. He lives with her and pays for the children to attend Catholic School. They lie to get by or go live on the street. Life has become a double whammy, like Yossarian in Catch 22, where no matter what you do, you fight a losing battle.

Uh uh, I worked hard for that money, and can’t get me no, no, no, no – satisfaction!

This story was re-edited & rewritten because the original format was half poetry, half narrative. I tried to make it all fit as one piece. If anyone has read the other piece or cares to search for it, I'd appreciate any comments as to which piece you prefer.