Hanging off the Wire
October 29, 2011
Slippery Willie’s Stupid Ugly Shoes
Hanging off the Wire
October 29, 2011
Slippery Willie’s Stupid Ugly Shoes
Final Episode: “Down & UP”
Bob had been right when he told Tracey that Greg was a “good guy”. Greg, feeling partly responsible for Bob’s back injury, had “forgiven” their rent payments for October, November and December. But now it was January and Greg, seriously impacted by the tough economy, was strapped for cash. He needed his rent payments from all of his tenants. Tracey, bringing home a meager $780.00 a month from her part time job, was terrified. She was actually having nightmares about being “homeless” and kept waking up soaked with sweat as she visualized Jake and herself cowering together under a bridge as rain pounded down around them as they attempted to stay dry. Bob, at that moment in time, was quite useless and Tracey felt as if she was almost alone. Having been to several Nar-Anon meetings with Judi Pavano, she had started praying. She was now praying as hard as she ever had in her entire life and was finding a certain inner peace when talking to God. Just like that one of her prayers was answered.
Tracey arrived at work and her manager called her in to the office and told her that one of the full time cashiers had abruptly quit. He offered her the full time position and, just like that, Tracey’s income doubled. When she went on break she called Greg Margolese and told him what happened and then asked if he might possibly rent them a smaller house with a smaller rent payment than the one they occupied. Greg happened to have a two-bedroom, one-bath vacancy only six blocks away from where they were living and readily agreed. The rent would be $250.00 a month less.Tracey, suddenly re-enforced by her new job and Greg’s cooperation gathered her inner strength and resolve, said a prayer, and went home and packed a suitcase with Bob’s belongings. She placed it in front of her husband and told him, “Either you enter re-hab today or Jake and I are leaving you.”
Bob Slider, possessing an inner strength he did not realize he had, was admitted to the Rosedale Wellness Center an hour later. Tracey gave him a big hug, told him that she loved him, and watched as he walked down the hall with a nurse to the elevator. She was sick to her stomach and simultaneously happy. That Sunday she and Jake went to Mass with Judi and Tommy. It was the first time that either of them had gone to any kind of church service in years.
Bob was released from re-hab 28 days later. Tracey drove him home to their new house. She had, along with help from Jake, Tommy, Judi and a few neighbors, completed the move. Bob was stunned but relieved. He began attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings three times a week, enrolled in school and a year later received a certification as an X-Ray Technician. He got a job at Memorial Hospital and remained in school to get further certifications in CT Scans and MRI’s. His pain meds now consisted of only non-narcotic NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs) like ibuprofen. The previous year’s events had brought them to the very brink of homelessness. The love that flowed among them as a family had been their greatest ally shoring up their weakened defenses in their struggle to survive.. They had beaten the odds. Many do not.
On Easter Sunday, Bob, Tracey and Jake began their day at an Easter Sunrise Service. They were all dressed up and, when the service ended, they had somewhere to go.
PLEASE PRAY FOR ALL THE HOMELESS who are not as blessed as Bob, Tracey and Jake Slider.——
Long ago in Ireland, the land of shamrocks, leprechauns, soft winds and smiles, there lived a man named Jack. Jack was quite lazy and did not like to work. But he had the gift of “blarney” and could talk the peat off the moss. He would tell wondrous tales about his adventures as a world traveler and the people in his village would be held spellbound by his golden tongue; however, Jack outsmarted himself when he stole money from the townsfolk. He thought that they were not very smart and would never find out. But they did find out and began chasing him down the streets of the village.
As Jack ran down the road as fast as he could he rounded a bend and ran smack into the devil. The devil smiled at Jack and told him it was time for him to die and that he was there to take his soul. Jack quickly convinced the devil that if he would let him go and promise to never take his soul he would give him all the souls of the folks who were chasing him. “And how do you plan to do that, Jack?” the devil asked.
“Well now, all ye have ta do is turn ye-self into a pot of gold coins. Then I will give the coins to the people and you will be in all of their pockets. They will be yours.”
Since many souls were better than only one, the devil readily agreed and turned himself into a pot of gold coins. Jack gave the coins to all the people and they went away smiling never realizing that they had given themselves to the devil in return for money.
So Jack lived on, grew old and, like all mortal men, finally died. His life had been so sinful on earth that he could not get into heaven and since the devil could not take his soul, he could not get into hell. He had nowhere to go. He asked the devil how he was supposed to see because he was in complete darkness. The devil laughed and tossed Jack a burning ember from the fires of hell, an ember that would never burn out.
Jack, using the ember to guide his way, found a pumpkin patch (some say it was turnips) and carved out a pumpkin. He put the ember inside and began carrying it around so he could see where he was going. To this day he wanders the earth seeking a resting place. And that is why he is known as “Jack-O’-Lantern” or “Jack of the Lantern”.
Episode #18 “Christmas” (click on the “Grippers tab for previous episodes)
A year earlier Bob and Tracey Slider both had full-time jobs, health insurance, two vehicles, a nice house, and were bringing home over $4300.00 a month. Their success as an average American family was obvious as the twinkling lights from the Christmas tree sent out tiny flashes of color that bounced off the wrapped gifts below. There was peace and contentment in the hearts of the Slider family. Two days later, Tracey was laid off.
In February, Bob’s hours were cut and on the Friday prior to Memorial Day his company, Bildot Building Supply, closed its doors and went out of business. In September, Bob hurt his back and was unable to work at all. Ignoring the warnings about the dangers of prescription pain pills and constantly seeking pain relief he began taking more meds than were prescribed and became a “prescription junkie” using the last bit of the family’s monies to buy pills on the street. Then he was arrested for DUI. He wound up on probation, had to pay heavy fines and was required to do community service. Tracey, who had been hired as a part-time cashier at the local super-market, was fighting the good fight to make ends meet but the pressure to pay bills and Bob’s addiction problem were pushing her to the edges of despair and resentment.The only time that Bob seemed like the “old” Bob was when he had a few pills in him and had a supply stashed somewhere. However, being an addict it never mattered how many pills he had because it would never be enough. An addict is always scheming about how to get more drugs even if their pockets are filled with them.
Christmas morning arrived and the usual joyful atmosphere that accompanied the day was absent. Jake was inside a vacuum he did not really understand. His dad had changed and his mom seemed so unhappy. Tracey did her best to make sure her boy received some gifts but it was impossible to live up to the standard of past years. Jake, whose grades had slipped and who had become somewhat withdrawn and distant, had reached inside of himself and had planned to do something special for his mom for Christmas. In addition, he had asked his folks for nothing for himself. The 12 year-old had been greatly underestimated. He pulled her aside Christmas morning and gave her a card. In it was $100.00 in cash. Jake had quietly been working after school hustling lawn jobs and cleanup jobs around the neighborhood. Tracey did not have a clue. “Mom,” he said, “I’m not a baby anymore. I can see what’s going on around here. This is between you and me. I don’t think you should tell dad. Merry Christmas, love you.”
Tracey looked at her son and just began to cry. It was the greatest Christmas gift she had ever received. She hugged her son so tight he thought he might break. It was the best feeling he had ever had.
Next Time: “Here We Go Again”
It seems that the war on childhood obesity has some new commandos entering the fray. Their purpose—to protect us and our kids and grandkids from sugar, fat and sodium, those little monsters that seem to get into most everything we eat and drink. Then these little demons trick us into thinking that what we are eating and drinking is good because it tastes good but they know it really isn’t good and they happily go about their business of making us fat. Since we are not nearly as smart as the government, a new bureaucracy called “The Inter-Agency Working Group In Food Marketed To Children” has been put in place.Their job— to protect us from these evil monsters because they know that we are not smart enough or diligent enough to do it for ourselves, no less our children. Whew!
This new arm of the “food police” is suggesting that the food industry “retool” recipes in order to attain new levels of sugar, fat and sodium in the vast majority of food and drinks we consume. Restaurants are included. The consequences of non-compliance with new guidelines will be no more marketing and advertising allowed. Joining the ranks of the unemployed will be “Tony the Tiger”, “Count Chocula”, M&Ms, Girl Scout cookies, popcorn, pretzels, bagels, milk, sherbet, even water. I’m getting a headache—
It is very nice that this new age government loves us so much that they will even consider throwing themselves on a bowl of instant oatmeal to protect us but, golly gee, did they ever stop to consider that maybe, just maybe, we can decide for ourselves what is good and not good or healthy and not healthy. Hey guys, just give us the info–we can decide. The fact is if I want to give my kid a cupcake—it’s none of your business. If I want to give my kid raw carrots with fat free dressing—it’s none of your business. Give me the info—I can decide. You bureaucrats might find this preposterous but, we the people, are actually smart enough to disseminate the information which you provide us (we really appreciate this info) and then feed ourselves and our little ones accordingly. Even the president, the top guy over all of these organizations, likes his cheeseburgers, drinks beer and smokes cigarettes. So what–he is an adult, has disseminated the information, and made his choices. Well, good for him. It’s called freedom.
Look, if my grandkids come over and I want to give them a plate full of home-made, sugar filled, butter soaked, chocolate chip cookies that’s my business. If I want to give them celery sticks with tofu dip, that’s my business. Give us the info–we can decide for ourselves. The vast majority of American parents know what’s best for their children, not the government. Just give us the info and let us decide.
Episode #17 “Here comes Christmas” (Click on “the “Grippers tab for previous episodes)
It was almost noon and Bob was just sitting in the lounge chair, feet up, heating pad on his lower back and eyes closed. Tracey had come to a point where she did not believe his condition was nearly as serious as he kept saying it was. He had been to physical therapy twice a week for three months and she was acutely aware of how often he would move around normally. She knew what she saw and Bob’s actions and behavior had numbed her into cynicism. The truth was, Bob’s back was definitely better but far from healed. The slightest wrong move could cause excruciating pain and when he tried to get up in the morning it might take him ten or fifteen minutes just to straighten up. However, his pill usage, constant complaining, the lack of money and daily pressure, topped off by his cleaning out the checking account to buy “street drugs” had Tracey desensitized.
“Bob, what about the Christmas lights?”
“Huh, oh, what about them.”
“”You always put them up on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, that’s what.”
“I can’t today, Tracey. Maybe tomorrow. My back is killing me.”
Jake came out from his room. “Hey, ain’t we putting the lights up today?”
“Not today, Jake. Dad’s not feeling good. Maybe tomorrow.”
Jake mumbled, “He’s never feeling good anymore. Whatever.”
“What did you say to me, Jake?”
“Nothing. I didn’t say nothing.”
“Yeah, well, just don’t get smart with me. I’m not in the mood for any of your 12 year-old nonsense. I just hope that you never have to go through what I’m going through. You don’t have a clue, so be quiet.”
That brief encounter more or less set the mood that would embrace the family on its four-week trek toward Christmas Day. It was different this year—very, very different. Unemployment, disability, lack of money, overdue bills and Bob’s addiction joined forces to create a constant, unending anxiety that was slowly but surely tearing the family apart.
Next Time: Christmas Day
Three days a week from 9 a.m to noon they come and they wait. Three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday they come just to get a drop of reprieve from the outreach hose bib. A bus pass to the VA or to get to a job interview, a bag of groceries, a voucher to get used clothes at the thrift store, maybe a small amount of money to help pay an overdue utility bill, and sometimes just to talk to someone, anyone who will listen.The homeless, the disabled, the sick, the unemployed, the downtrodden, the marginalized, addicts and ex-cons just out of the “big-house”. All are different yet all are living with one common denominator running their lives—survival.
It was 8:30 a.m. and the sun was already doing its thing, slowly roasting the folks as they waited patiently for the doors to open, some having been there since 7 a.m. Florida, ah yes, palm trees, blue skies and beaches–just another day in paradise.
Andre and Jessica had made the three mile walk to the St. Vincent De Paul outreach office and had arrived at 8 a.m. They signed in and were #11 on the list. At 10:15 a man opened the door and called their name. As they approached he smiled and said, “Hi folks, c’mon in. Sorry it took so long. How you guys doing today?”
He knew how they were doing and they knew that he knew but his friendly, unbureaucratic manner quickly put them at ease. “Okay, have a seat. I’m Joe. At least it’s cool in here, right?”
They sat, sighed and let the cool A/C soak into their overheated bodies. They said nothing.
“Well now,” Joe said looking straight at them, “I can see you have some heavy duty stuff going on. I hope we can help. So, what’s going on?”
They were a mixed race couple and they could feel inside themselves that whoever this man was it did not matter at all. You can just sense some things. They loosened up. Andre began to speak and tears quickly fell from Jessica’s eyes. “Look man, we got two kids, six and eight years old, and we’re getting kicked out of our place at 11 a.m. if we don’t come up with $58.00, and we ain’t got a dime.”
“Where are the kids now?” Joe asked.
“In school. Look, we don’t care so much about us but the kids need a bed tonight, know what I mean?”
“I do Andre, I do. And for what it’s worth, you guys need a bed too. Where you staying?”
“Barkley Motel over on—“
“Yeah, I know the place. Here’s the thing, Andre, we don’t pay rent monies from this office. We just don’t have the funds. But let me make a call.”
He picked up the phone and started punching numbers. He smiled kindly at them and, as he waited for an answer, twirled his finger in the air as if to say, “C’mon–pick up already”. After several moments went by he said, “Yeah, hey, this is Joe over at the St. Vincent De Paul outreach office. I have a couple here who–What? What are you talking about? You have to be kidding me. These folks need help right now–not tomorrow. I have no time for this. I have to go. Have a nice day.”
Andre’s and Jessica’s hopes had risen and fallen in a matter of moments. Andre, a big man, said, “Man, what we gonna do?”
Joe asked, “What happens after tomorrow? Getting through today is almost like a stay of execution.”
“No, no, tomorrow I know I can get some work. Just gotta get through today. Plus, we got a place lined up for Saturday. Her mom worked it out. She’s up in Jersey but knew someone and, anyway, come Saturday we’ll be okay.”
“No kidding, Andre. That’s awesome. But today is only Wednesday. Well, we can’t have the kids coming home today to no home at all. Now, here is a food voucher. Go across the street and get some groceries and bring them home with you.”
“They ain’t been too nice to us over at the motel.”
“Don’t you worry about that. Trust me, okay.You go back there, everything will be all right.”
When they arrived back at the motel and walked to the front desk the manger smiled at them. “Okay, I have good news for you. You’re paid up through Saturday.”
Jessica almost collapsed from relief. Andre held her up and a happy tear rolled down his cheek. Back at the St. Vincent De Paul office Joe was smiling and handing someone a bus pass.
The other day I picked up my four year old grandson, Tyler, from “Kid’s Planet”, one of the millions of day-care, pre-school, baby sitting centers that are spread out across the country. As Tyler and I were leaving we passed a young mom who was pleading with her three year old, “Please Jessica, Please. Do it for mommy. Please.”
The cute little tyke’s response—“NO, I don’t want to. I don’t want to.”
As Jessica’s refusals rapidly transformed into tears, screams and foot stomping (the kid looked like a promising clogger) mommy pleaded some more, “Oh Jessica, please—do it for mommy. Aren’t we friends?”
I don’t know about you but the last time I had a three year old friend I was three years old. Anyway, Tyler just stared at the unfolding drama and I shook my head and kept on walking not having any idea as to what Jessica did not want and what Mommy did. I really did not care either. What I would like to have seen was mommy say to cute little Jessica “NO!”, pick her up, plop her into her car seat and be on her way. Oh well—.
I don’t get it. Children, especially in their formative years, besides being loved and nurtured, need to be taught that “No” means “No”. They need to learn that they cannot have everything they want and that there are consequences to refusing to cooperate. Developing these qualities requires due diligence from their primary teachers— their parents. They need this so that they may develop a healthy fear and respect for rules, authority, and primarily so that they may have a healthy , social existence as adults. I know some kids can be obstinate and stubborn and drive a parent nuts. But–you are the PARENT, the ADULT. You do NOT beg them to be “good” or promise them a reward if they behave (that drives me crazy–you do not reward bad behavior).
So look, don’t be your child’s friend. Friends are people you can fight and argue with, have fun with, share things with and, if one is lucky, a friend can be a lifelong treasure. Your cutie pie will have his or her share of friends throughout their lives. You are a parent—a unique and profound position you have been blessed with. Along with that position comes the responsibility of saying “NO”. If your little one seems sad or mad or is pouting because they have been told “NO” be glad. It means that you are doing your job and succeeding.
Episode #16 “Thanksgiving” (click on the “Grippers” tab for previous 15 episodes)
Tracey was standing in her own living room feeling completely lost and helpless. She had managed their meager finances with painstaking care and just like that there was no money, no food and she could not follow through on making her agreed payment with the power company. Embraced by a sense of despair she instinctively hurried over to Judi Parano’s.
Judi hugged her and said, “C’mon Trace, I’ll make some coffee and we can sit down and talk.”
Judi quickly became Tracey’s navigator and began guiding her friend and neighbor on a straighter course. The first thing she did was reach into her purse and pull out $80.00 and hand it to Tracey. “Here, put this in your pocket and don’t tell Bob you have it.”
Tracey tried to say something and Judi said, “Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to say anything. Now, I want you to call the St. Vincent De Paul Society—“
“Oh no, Judi. I can’t. They just helped us about two or three months ago. I’d feel so embarrassed asking again. I don’t think I can.”
“You can. I’ll stand right next to you for moral support. Now, I have this pamphlet I want to give you. I know you have not said too much about Bob’s pill problem but I know he has one and he will need help with that. But you need help dealing with it. This is a schedule of Nar-Anon meetings in the area.”
“It’s like Al-Anon which is for families and friends of alcoholics. Nar-Anon is for families and friends of people hooked on drugs. Tracey—I’ve been there. My brother Anthony is a user. He was tearing the family apart.”
“Anthony? The computer guy with the great job. I had no idea–“
“Tracey, he USED to have a great job. He was fired for missing so much work and he blames everyone else and, oh my God, we don’t even know where he is. Haven’t seen or heard from him in two months. I’m sick over it but I have learned that I cannot do a thing about it. We’re here for him if he decides he wants REAL help. But, in the meantime—–Anyway, you need these meetings. Trust me, there are so many people out there with family members that have gotten caught up in this prescription pill insanity you wouldn’t believe it. You need to remember that Bob Slider, your husband, is still the man he was. That person has been taken over by an evil entity that has transformed him. The real Bob will be back. He just needs you and Jake to be there when he begins his journey home. Understand?”
Ron and Jan from St. Vincent De Paul came out again. Once again they were able to assist with the power bill. They also included Tracey in their “Thanksgiving Giveaway Program” and, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Tracey went over to Sacred Heart Catholic Church and was given a holiday “basket” which included a frozen turkey and all the “fixins” including dessert for Thanksgiving day.
Thanksgiving turned out to be a good day in the Slider home. Bob had his “medication” and was acting normal. He and Jake were watching football together and joking around with each other. Tracey, temporarily upbeat and enjoying the moment, happily prepared the meal. On this Thanksgiving day they all had something to be thankful for.
Next time: Here Comes Christmas
1. Wear something to school that you think is ugly to see if other kids think it is ugly too. (Different viewpoints may enhance empathy.)
2. Volunteer at a local children’s hospital or rehabilitation center for interaction with kids that are “different.”
3. Implement classroom role playing activities among groups, having some kids experiment “alternative” ways of seeing, hearing and moving. (This might help develop positive changes in attitudes and perceptions of handicapped children by non-handicapped children.)
1. Have you ever had to wear something to school that made you feel embarrassed? If so, what was it? How did your peers react? Did everyone think it was ugly?
2. What would you do if you were Willie and your shoes would not come off?
3. If you were in school with Willie, and everyone was making fun of him, would you stick up for him or join the others?
4. Some people are tall, some short, some have light skin, some have dark skin, some have bigger noses or ears than others and some have different color eyes. Does this make us all different or are we all still the same?