Thursday, April 13, 2017

Penniless, insolvent and on the way to the breadline.

(Poverty redux)

The poverty level in the U.S. has risen for the fourth straight year. I don’t have a clear idea of what poverty means today. When do you reach that point where you say: “Oh, I’m at the poverty level. How did this happen?”
The conservative Heritage Foundation says living in poverty is better than many people imagine. (Possibly because none of the members has lived in poverty.) Due to housing and food subsidies, poverty doesn’t necessarily exclude having a television or two, a computer, internet service, a dishwasher or Nike sneakers. You might not be able to afford a personal trainer but you can probably get a free gym membership. Even if you’re not quite at the poverty level there are many handouts for people whose income is under a certain amount. You can receive help with your heating bill and your electric bill. You can get food stamps and could spend them on Lays salt and vinegar chips and Entenmann's powdered donuts if you wanted to.

I have some markers for what rich means. Rich is going into Citarella and throwing some Tuscan herbs into the cart without a thought even though they are 3.95 for .56 oz bringing the per pound price to $125. I don’t know if Citarella takes food stamps but I’d like to see the cashier’s face when someone hands them in. (Citarella is where I buy mesclun. The pieces are loose and it has a good ratio of radicchio and frisée to baby beet greens, etc.)

Rich sometimes means being able to take a long hot shower any time it suits you. A long hot shower especially if the shower has a built in seat and is exclusively yours, is an activity that makes me feel financially healthy if not outright rich. Also keeping the house at 72 degrees in winter. Whenever anyone walks into my house in winter they say, “It feels good in here.” You bet it does.
Poverty level varies wildly depending on the city you live in. In New York City, you can be at the poverty level and make $100,000 a year not only because of the high rents and high food costs but because the figure messes with your good sense.
“Hey, mom, guess how much this job pays a year?”
“How much?”
“Wow, Bobby, that’s a lot.”
Bobby begins charging like an AlphaPower Battery and pretty soon his Visa bill is at $30,000 from eating out and taking trips and buying rounds of drinks and before you know it Bobby is in debt and having to call Suzy Orman’s show and ask her to approve any purchase.

There are no subsidies that dispel the psychological disgrace a father or mother might feel when the family slips into the poverty level. The Brookings Institution says that in spite of having certain amenities, poor families face severe challenges. They probably have, as the Department of Agriculture so romantically puts it “food insecurity.” That’s a phrase I would use for single males living alone but it turns out it’s a phrase the Agriculture Department has for poverty level citizens. I take back everything I’ve thought and said about the dullness of government bureaucrats. Somebody there had an existential thought:
“What shall we call it when people feel they won’t be able to buy the food they want?”
“Call it food insecurity.”
Again this doesn’t mean that you don’t have the staples or that you can compete in the poverty sweepstakes with a family from Bangladesh. It only means you have free-floating anxiety about your food supply. (Many middle-class families also have free-floating anxiety about food when tomatoes are 3.29 a pound.) The Department of Agriculture says 17.2 million households were defined as “food insecure” last year.
Even if you are living at the “poverty level” you are not destitute - a word you don’t hear much about.  The dictionary defines destitute as: lacking the necessities of life and the synonyms are penniless, impoverished, insolvent, on the breadline. I have not seen any statistics for people who are destitute.
The truly forgotten when it comes to the empathy spotlight is the middle-class, the breadwinners who are just barely hanging in there. These families earn too much to qualify for subsidies and earn too little to avoid constant worry. They are “future insecure.” They have to make ends meet all on their own and there is no safety net.

(I apologize for re-posting old posts.  It's not that I'm lazy and don't feel like writing anything fresh. Well, yes.  It's exactly that.)

Don't forget to go over to Goodreads and enter the Amazon giveaway for my new book.  They are giving away 100 copies so you've got a good chance of getting one.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Giveaway on Goodreads of Fortune's Daughters

I'm Consuelo's new book
pub date May 9, 2017

Amazon is having a giveaway of 100 books.  Use the link above to enter.

If any of my Goodreads friends would like to review this book, (digital copies only) let me know in the comments with your e-mail address.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hey, Weezy.

(With so much tough weather and March not going out "like a lamb" and the first 100 days, etc. we need this distraction.  This is a re-post from 2014).

The other day I was talking about Bette Davis looking around Joseph Cotton’s house and exclaiming “What a dump.”  It got me to thinking of other famous movie lines. Why do we love them so?  (Two of them are from my favorite philosopher, Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) from Gone With The Wind

What a dump.  
Sometimes I get up and say that to my house especially if it’s in disarray and I have just visited a person who lives in a really good house while I still live in what the realtors like to call a ‘starter house.’  That’s realtor speak for “Let’s face it, that’s all you can afford.”  My house can hardly be called a starter house since I have already had all the children I can have and they are out in the world with their own kids.  I should be living in my “finish” house with all the money I accumulated.  Where is that money by the way?

Most times I LOVE my house especially in winter when the big fat iron radiators are scalding hot and the rooms are like a sauna.  When I come home after a trip I say, “Hello, my friend.  I missed you.”

You can’t handle the truth.
My first response is, “You’re right.”  I can’t handle the truth. There are all kinds of truths.  Some truths are always changing and some never change. If the truth has to do with my self-delusional mistakes where I wasn’t paying attention or just let whatever happened happen, then I need a shot of whiskey before absorbing it. After about a minute, having fortified myself, I would let the truth wash over me and seep into my consciousness and if I don’t die on the spot I guess I can handle the truth. 

You done had a baby, Miss Scarlett and you ain’t never going to be no 18.5 inches (in the waist) again.  Never.  And there ain’t nothing to do about it.
The speech Mammy gives to Scarlett after the birth of Bonnie is a good reminder that once we’ve had a baby we will probably not ever have Gisele Bundchen’s butt no matter how many squats go down.  More important, our girlish consciousness will be replaced by a gritty (grim?) confidence.  We have been to a strange place.  Even Snookie got it.  “It’s different now,” she said.

Mr. Rhett you is bad!
What’s that rustling noise I hear? “
Lawdy Mr. Rhett that ain’t nothing but my red silk petticoat you done give me.
Nothing but your petticoat?  I don’t believe it, let me see … pull up your skirt.”
 Mr. Rhett you is bad. Yo lawdy hoo hoo!”

We love a bad boy.  Always have, always will.  I’ll take a bad boy anytime.

I don’t know nothin’ bout birthin’ babies!”
Who hasn’t exaggerated on the resume only to have it come back and bite. 
Prissy could have walked a little faster to get the doctor.

You complete me.
I have never heard this quoted with any seriousness.  It’s always a joke as it should be.  We come into this world complete and we leave it complete.  Any missing parts have to be self-generated.

(This notion that we need another person to complete us is one of the more misguided myths alive today. The origins of the “soulmate” are found in the writings of Plato who surmised that there was once a “super race” comprising both male and female in one person. They were getting too powerful so Zeus cut each of them in two. This forceful separation left both halves desperate to be reunited.)

Love is never having to say you’re sorry.
This ridiculous idea is exactly what was wrong with the Fifties and even the Sixties and Seventies.  The truth according to MGM.  Wrong. Unrealistic. Delusional.

Hey Weezy.  

Oops how did that get in here although if there’s a better example of a good working marriage than George and Louise Jefferson's, I can’t think of it.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

I haven't prayed seriously in a long time.

(Disclaimer:  this is not a thoughtful discussion on religious beliefs.)

I haven't prayed seriously in a long time, but when Deepak Chopra sent me an e-mail with the subject line: Does God Listen to Prayers? I thought, hey, I want to know that.  Usually I approach God like this: I get up from a chair and my knee hurts. I say, Oh, god. That is shorthand for Really?  It has to hurt just to get up? My lazy default expression to many events is, Oh, my god!  Sometimes, if I look around my house and feel reasonably good and all my kids are okay, I say, Thank you, Lord

I had very formal and intense religious training at the hands of the Pallotine nuns, the German strain.  I know how to sing the Catholic mass in Latin.  I have no idea why I talk to God in this lackadaisical way. Do I think there is a man/woman sitting on a throne up in the clouds who hears me and looks down and thinks, Huh, look at that.  She thanked me so I will reward her with some peace and happiness?  Yes, that's what I probably think in my crude brain stem. But wait - that can't be, right?  A throne?  Up in the clouds?   That makes no sense even to a seriously religious person.

Ever since Google, Skype, the Cloud, etc., I believe in miracles, I believe even more miracles are in the pipeline. I believe that God is so tired of our uninteresting demands and whining he/she is allowing humans to make their own miracles.  In the near future, we will be able to jiggle our brains and manipulate our abilities and emotions. Unhappiness will be a thing of the past.  We will live in a sappy, giggly uninteresting world.  There will be no more writers because if you are already happy, why write?

Deepak's e-mail said the reason we don't get answers to our prayers is that (I'm paraphrasing here) our intentions are muddled and unfocused.  Unanswered prayers are the product of a mind that is restless, shallow, conflicted, or unable to focus.  Guilty as charged.  But wouldn't you think that God has some sentimental affection for the restless and shallow among us who are unable to focus?  Wouldn't he just say, Oh for goddsakes, that woman is never going to be able to focus, just give her whatever she asks for.  Does she even know what she wants?  Of course she doesn't.  Just give her something she asked for in the past. She might even figure it out. 

God actually did that for me and I did figure it out. All my adult life I had yearned for a newspaper column where I could express all my ideas and throw them out to the world and utilize the tyranny of my discontinuous mind. * I was certain that I had some good ideas.  From time to time I published op-ed pieces in The New York Times and Newsday, but I yearned for a regular gig.  Once Mort Persky, the editor of SHE, a sister publication to Playboy, asked me to write a column on sex.  “Mort, I screamed, I was raised in a convent boarding school.  We put on our clothes under our nightgowns.  I can’t even type the word “sex” without looking around for Sister Francisca to come and slap me.”  “That’s exactly why I asked you,” he said.  Sone  It was only recently that I figured out that this blog was the answer to my prayers.  I get to talk about anything and it's a regular gig.

*Richard Dawkins’ essay in The New Statesman, Escaping the Tyranny of the Discontinuous Mind is about something serious but applies to me in a silly way.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Fortune's Daughters is on pre-sale on Amazon

For the past twelve months I've been writing a new historical novel set in the first third of the twentieth century.  The book will be published by Lake Union, an imprint of the Amazon Group that also bought and published Three Daughters. The publication date is May 9, 2017 however the book is available for pre-order on Amazon.  

For all of the writers who read my blog, I will soon devote a new post recounting the unique personal experiences that came with my Amazon association.  

Here is the link to Fortune's Daughters and below is the prologue.


At the turn of the twentieth century, the Hempstead Plains, fertile and halcyon, bordered by the great Atlantic, blessed by God with every source of outdoor pleasure, broke off from Queens and became Nassau, the sixty-first county of New York State.

America’s bankers and industrial tycoons built castles along the rolling North Coast and manicured the rough virgin woods from Great Neck to Lloyd Harbor. J. P. Morgan, Frank Woolworth, Marshall 3Field, Harry Guggenheim, Frank Doubleday, and Asa Simpson. The names told the history of America’s stunning growth. The unblemished county was only twenty-nine miles from the squalor of glutted lower Manhattan, where the millions were made  on the corner of Broad and Wall.


I feel crass and filthy offering this title for you to purchase but I feel crass and filthy for lesser behavior.  Also, I will be posting regularly again.    X

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

State of the Union according to Google

(On Friday, we will have a new president.  Decided this might be a good time to repost this entry from 2013)

Google knows how the citizens are doing.  It has saved all our questions, all our searches, all our subjects and sub categories, We only have to prompt it with a word or two and it shows us where we have been, where we are and where we need to go. 

My job is:
killing me
makes me depressed

My wife
doesn’t want kids
doesn’t trust me
doesn’t love me anymore
doesn’t listen to me
doesn’t respect me
doesn’t support me
doesn’t like me anymore
doesn’t like my family

My husband:
is gay
got a family
cheated on me
is mean
hit me
hates his job

I lie
about everything
too much
all the time
to myself

My house is:
on fire
making me sick
in foreclosure

I’m happiest when:
Happiness is:
a choice
like a butterfly

My health is:
better in November
not good
going down fast
getting worse

Government is:
killing us
watching us
lying to us

I worry about:
everything all the time
money all the time
my boyfriend
my boyfriend dying
I hate:
my job
my life
everything about you

How do I:
put this gently
get pinkeye

God bless you all and God bless America

Friday, January 13, 2017

The ruinous price of pettiness.

I had a friend who was a famous writer at the height of his fame. He told me that instead of enjoying his success he was in “thought purgatory” over something his roommate was doing.

“What could that possibly be to distract you from all the fun?”

“He doesn’t buy any bar soap for the shower?”

“Wait. What?”

“He uses my bar of soap all of the time and never replaces it?”

“Why don’t you take your soap with you.  They sell those covered soap dishes.  I had one in boarding school.”

“I want to see how long it will be before he notices and buys a new bar. God help me, I want to escalate the problem.”

“Suppose you just let the bar get smaller and smaller until it is gone.”

“I’ve tried that.  At the end it was just a millimeter before it dissolved. I went without soap washing for a week."
“What did he do?”

“He went merrily along the same way and the operative word here is “merrily” because while I was being consumed with only one thought – driven by one idea amid all the good news that was pouring in to my voicemail and e-mail, he was blithe as a toddler in a field of daisies.”

“Why didn’t you Just ask him to buy some soap?" My friend looked at me as if I had an IQ of 20.  His voice rose a few decibels.

 “Why didn’t I just ask him to buy soap???  Why didn’t I just buy Amazon at $14?  Why didn’t I just stop smoking years ago?  I couldn’t!!!!!!!!!!” he screamed. “That would be so petty.  He would know that I had noticed and thought of it. He would know that I had been thinking about the bar of soap in the little nook in the shower stall. I would make me look small. Diminished.  I can’t tell him.  I compose that conversation in my head over and over but I can’t say it.”

“Why not?”

“I would be discovered as a petty miser who is squabbling over a 79 cent bar of soap.”

“By whom? The thoughtless roommate?  You are assuming his thoughts are all lofty.  Climate change.  Religion and ethics. You already have a mixed opinion of him so why worry?  And by the way, why label your request as petty or miserly and why label a simple request as a squabble?”

My friend, a brilliant writer, stopped talking and remained quiet for several seconds. Several seconds in conversations feels like a very long time.  Finally, he said.  “You are right on every level.  I will tell him tonight that we’re out of shower soap and please pick up a few bars.”

“There you go.” 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

"Your own secrets sucked out of you..."

I wonder which is preferable, to walk around all your life swollen up with your own secrets until you burst from the pressure of them, or to have them sucked out of you, every paragraph, every sentence, every word of them, so at the end you're depleted of all that was once as precious to you as hoarded gold, as close to you as your skin - everything that was of the deepest importance to you, everything that made you cringe and wish to conceal, everything that belonged to you alone - and must spend the rest of your days like an empty sack flapping in the wind, an empty sack branded with a bright fluorescent label so that everyone will know what sort of secrets used to be inside you?  This is from Margaret Atwood

Really?  On first reading I love the idea of this quote but then...?   I'd love to have all my secrets sucked out of me.  Secrets are not all that precious.  The stuff I wished to conceal when I was trying to make my way, I gladly reveal now.   I like to sit around.  I'm an emotional eater.  I am not against lying although I'm recently adverse to stealing.  I have intimacy problems. I'm full of shame sometimes.  Every successful social encounter leaves me feeling filthy. Yes, filthy.  I still talk too much.  So what?   'So what' to everything. I call it my "so what" cure.  

There are still scenes from the past that make me cringe. Cringe as in hunching my shoulders inward and turning to confront myself.  When I write that sentence the scenes become insignificant.  I call this my "state exactly what is troubling you and it will diminish" cure.  
The things that are precious to me, images that I remember with a full heart are not secrets at all.  They are small ephemeral moments that catch someone close to me stunned by life.  Yes, life can stun you, good or bad.  In that moment, there are no secrets - just you and the thing itself.  And you can recover. You can recover from almost anything.
I recently saw The Master, and the best scene in that movie is when Phillip Seymour Hoffman sits very close to Joaquin Phoenix and asks him the sort of questions that I wish someone would ask me.
What is the most important thing in your life?  What do you wish would happen more than anything in the world?  What makes you most afraid?  

The answers are not the answers of old: children, health, accidents. 
The most important thing in my life is the ability to keep on going.  More than anything in the world I wish to know myself better.  I am most afraid of fulfilling my childhood dreams.