"The Grippers": Getting Homeless Without Even Trying

The “GRIPPERS” (Getting Homeless Without Even Trying) was introduced here, in serial form, on June 6, 2011. It ran for 20 weeks (episodes) and followed the journey of Bob and Tracey Slider and their son, Jake, 12, as they plummeted downward toward the murky, scary world of being homeless. If you would like to start at the beginning scroll DOWN to the first chapter.

The “Grippers”  is being made into a novel and I hope to have it published sometime in 2013. OOPS!!!   2016   Can you believe it?  That is three years already.  I turned 72 yesterday. Better get my ass in gear..LOL

"Grippers" (how to get homeless without even trying #15)

Episode #15: “Here come the Holidays” (click on the “Grippers” tab for previous 14 episodes)

Tracey Slider was frazzled and had reached stress levels she had never before encountered. She was not smiling, she was abrupt with Jake, she could not sit still for more than ten minutes at a time, she was not sleeping well and a sense of impending disaster monopolized her thoughts. She was doing her best to manage every penny she was earning but there are no finish lines  when you are riding on a merry-go-round.

It was November 12, less than two weeks until Thanksgiving. Tracey  had worked her six hour shift and, upon clocking out, started to do shopping for the family. She knew to the penny how much was in their checking account, $143.00. She filled the cart with about $60.00 worth of grocery items including two cans of cranberry sauce, two cans of corn and two cans of sweet potatoes which would be used for Thanksgiving. There would be $83.00 left and $75.00 would go to the electric company as per her arrangement with them. There was enough gas in the truck to get them through payday which was four days away. She was proud of herself and deserved to be. She was like  a car running on fumes and now the gas station was in sight.

Tracey unloaded her items onto the checkout counter and watched as her friend, Helen, scanned the items. They were chatting about nothing important when Helen said, “Okay, Trace, that comes to $60.28.”

Tracey smiled, “I can’t believe it. I wanted to spend $60.00 and I went  28 cents over. Not bad.” She swiped her debit card and keyed in her pin number. A message popped up, Insufficient Funds. Tracey was startled and smiled at Helen. She swiped her card again. Insufficient Funds. She looked at Helen, “I don’t understand.” She tried again. Insufficient Funds.

Customers were lined up in back of her. She was wearing the store’s company uniform. It is a fact that humiliation can embrace a person in a nano-second. Tracey instantly wanted to be somewhere else. She fought the panic rising within her and garnered some composure. She took a deep breath through her nose, exhaled and said, “Okay Helen, I’ll just leave the stuff over here. I’ll be back in 15 minutes.”

She left the store, got into Bob’s truck and began to tremble. Taking a few more deep breaths she wiped her teary eyes and headed home. All she could think was, It has to be a mistake, it has to be a mistake. How could they do this. She hurried into the house and right past Bob who was sleeping on the sofa. Sitting down at the computer she logged into her on-line banking site. The screen opened, she keyed in her password and stared at the screen. Balance–negative $89.00. Transactions–there had been two. Friday afternoon a $100.00 cash withdrawal had been made and another one for $60.00. Then there were two bank charges of $36.00 each, one for “insufficient funds” and one for an “over limit” fee. She stared and stared. She thought —-I don’t understand–I didn’t—Oh my God—-She jumped up from the chair and rushed into the living room yelling, “Bob, Bob, wake up! Wake up!”

He remained still and quiet on the sofa. She started yelling at him and pushing his shoulder, “Bob, wake up right now. C’mon, wake up!”

Her groggy husband opened his eyes. “Huh—what? I’m sleeping. Leave me alone. What’s your problem anyway?”

“Did you take money from the ATM yesterday?”

“Huh—the ATM. No–I don’t think so. What’s the difference anyway?”

“”Oh my God, Bob, you did–didn’t you.”

“Fine Tracey, I did. So what. I needed some medicine and I can’t get any until next week. So yeah, I took some money. I suppose I should just lie around here in pain. Now leave me alone.”

“Oh my God, Bob. You’re buying drugs. You’re buying drugs.You took our food money and our money for the power bill and bought drugs from someone. Your stupid two withdrawals overlapped and you caused us to be minus $89.00 in our account. How in God’s name could you do this to me and Jake. How could you?”

Bob was pretty well stoned so he shrugged, rolled over on his side and went back to sleep. Tracey looked down at him and at the moment all she could feel for her husband was contempt.

Next time: “Thanksgiving”

"Grippers" (how to get homeless without even trying #12)

Episode # 12  “Trick or Treat” (click on the “grippers” tab and scroll down for the previous 11 episodes)

Summer and the balance of September were gone and October had taken the time baton and charged forward. It was Halloween and the Sliders were  now full fledged “Grippers” financially drowning and just barely “treading water” as they tried to avoid being sucked under and lost in the abyss of abject poverty. They had been tossed one lifeline which Tracey grabbed onto. Through her friend Judi’s recommendation she had been hired as a part-time cashier at the local supermarket. She was working 20 hours a week and being paid $12.00 an hour. Her first bi-monthly paycheck had come in and she had received $390.00. At $780.00 a month they were now $256.00 a month better off than when receiving unemployment. The extra good news was that the possibility of being promoted to full-time was very real.

Bob, unable to collect unemployment, was moving around very slowly because of his injured back. He had qualified for medicaid through the Department of Children & Families and he was going to physical therapy three times a week. He was also taking oxycodone pills three times a day and had  been prescribed xanax to help him “relax” . It had taken less than two months for him to become addicted to these pills. The once happy-go-lucky, vibrant, hard working husband and father had turned sullen and quiet and was absorbed in his own personal “pity party” telling his wife, “You just don’t understand. You have no idea how much pain I’m in.” He was wrong. She understood much more  than he thought she did. She realized the pills had changed him dramatically and that  all he seemed to be concerned about was having enough of them.

It was 8 p.m. on Halloween. Tracey was next door at Judi’s and they had been greeting  all the little “trick or treaters” since six o’clock. The onslaught of monsters and ghouls and super-heroes and various other creatures was almost down to a trickle so they went inside to have some coffee and chat. Tracey thought she heard Bob’s truck start and hurried to Judi’s front door. She was just in time to see his  truck going down the street. Wonder where he’s going, she thought. Hope he’s all right.

He wasn’t all right. Having taken too many xanax along with his oxycodone had caused him to “fall asleep” as he pulled into the convenience store a half mile from the house. He proceeded to unceremoniously  smash into the side of a new Toyota Corolla. By 9:30 Bob was in handcuffs and on his way to jail. Charges were DUI with property damage. Tracey would not hear from him until 11:30. By then she was frantic about where he might be. When she heard her husband tell her that he needed to be bailed out of jail her mind went momentarily blank and she almost fainted. Fortunately, Judi and Tommy were both  there. Judi, standing next to Tracey,  quickly put her arm around her and helped her to sit down. She took the phone and began to gather the information from a nervous voiced Bob. Tommy quickly sat next to Jake who had started to cry. More dark days were ahead.

Next time: Episode # 13  “Now what?”

"Grippers" (how to get homeless without even trying # 11)

Episode # 11 What about Jake  (click on the “grippers” tab and scroll down for the previous 10 episodes)

Lest we forget 12 year old Jake. What has been going on with him through all of this?

Jake, an only child, (he did not know that he had a sister that had been still-born two years before he had been born) had been the “shining star” in the lives of his parents. However, he had not been overindulged. His parents assigned him certain chores that were his ongoing responsibility and they checked his homework every night. He received a bi-monthly allowance and if he had not completed his assigned chores part of his allowance was withheld. He was being taught that there are consequences to what you do and do not do, an extremely important lesson for the character development of any child.

Bob, a blue-collar, fix-it type of guy, had Jake by his side anytime there were house or car repairs to do. Jake knew all about hand tools and power tools, could change the oil in the car, pull the spark plugs, maintain the lawn mower, mix concrete, and had, under his dad’s watchful eye, replaced the broken belt in the electric dryer. Bob had Jake out in the back yard at four years old teaching him how to throw, catch and hit a ball and Jake had been in Little League since he was six. Jake loved his parents deeply and his dad was his hero.

Bob and Tracey had decided to be honest with their son about the family situation. They did their best to explain the unemployment situation, why they had sold mom’s car and the two TV’s (they still had the big TV in the living room) and why new clothes and shoes for the beginning of 7th grade were going to have to be put “on-hold”. Jake understood it all the best he could and was happy that his parents had trusted him with this “grown-up” information and had confided in him. What he did not understand were the changes in his parent’s moods, their new abruptness, their ongoing  pre-occupation with things inside themselves and the sudden lack of laughter as the joking around and good natured teasing that used to seem to always fill the air was mysteriously absent. Bob had no idea the effect his new found cranky quietness was having on his boy.

Bob had always taken good care of his family and was proud of it. But his ego had taken a hit when he was laid off even though it was not his fault. Suddenly, not having the necessary monies available for paying bills and taking care of other things was new found territory he was traveling in. He could not turn around and go back to where he had been and this provided another heavy shot to his ego. The two roofing jobs and work for his landlord gave his ego a temporary reprieve. It had felt good to be sweating again. Then came the back injury. Making things more stressful than they had been was the fact that he had been cut from unemployment because his injury had caused him to be temporarily unable to work. He had been humiliated once again when he was forced to apply to the Department of Children & Families for emergency medical assistance (only poor people get medicaid) and that application was still pending. The fact that he had applied enabled him to get some medical help contingent on the application being approved. It also allowed him to acquire his new monthly prescription of 90 oxycodone pills for “pain management”. Quickly and unexpectedly those pills were becoming his “new best friend”. He was supposed to take three a day. A few times he took four. The problem with that was a person would run out of their “meds” prior to the renewal date and with strict rules in place about prescription renewals, especially on “controlled substances”, being out of an addictive medication  two or three days before it could be refilled could present quite the dilemma for the patient. The fiend called withdrawal would rear it ugly head.

Jake, bewildered at his father’s behavior, did not and could not understand. He began to withdraw into himself, his grades began to slip and he was suddenly feeling insecure and unhappy. Tracey was beginning to notice the changes in her boy. As for Bob, he did not have a clue.

Next time: Episode #12  “Trick or Treat”

"Grippers" (how to get homeless without even trying # 10

Episode #10  Good News & Bad News (click on the “grippers” tab and scroll down for the previous 9 episodes)

Tracey Slider had always had an affinity for managing money. Consequently, she had been able to dispense the meager funds they had in such a way as to keep all their bills current except, of course, the credit card debt. That was a totally different issue and, being several months behind in payments,  collectors were virtually calling them every day leaving Tracey and Bob both at a point that when the phone rang they would get an instant flip-flop inside themselves. However, combined with unemployment kicking in during the third week of June, the Sliders were temporarily managing their lives okay.

At the end of June,  Chris Jackson, one of Bob’s former co-workers at Bildot, called Bob and asked him if he would be interested in doing a roofing job. Chris’s neighbor needed a roof replaced and offered the job to Chris who had experience doing roofing. Bob jumped at the chance and by the middle of July had pocketed $1200.00 in cash for his labor. Chris and Bob had done such a good job they were hired by  another  neighbor down the street to do his roof and Bob earned another $1400.00 by the middle of August. In addition, Greg Margolese had come up with some painting and repair jobs at several of his rental  homes and Bob did that work as a trade-off against September’s rent.

Early in September, Greg called Bob on a Sunday evening and asked him if he could do some dry-wall finishing for him on Monday morning. First thing Monday, Bob stopped at Home Depot and picked up a five gallon pail of joint compound. He headed over to the vacant house on Darby Rd., got out of his truck and lowered the tail gate.He removed the bunji cord that was holding the pail of  “mud” in place, reached across his chest with his right arm, grabbed the handle on the pail and pulled. The pail of “mud”, weighing 50 or 60 pounds, did not move, its bottom edge caught on a bolt in the truck bed. Bob thought he had been struck by lightning as pain shot across his lower back, shot down his legs and exploded in his brain. He could not move.

For a moment he stood there, totally stunned and motionless. He did not understand what had happened. He took some deep breaths and tried to stand up straight. The pain in his lower back and down his legs was excruciating. It took almost ten minutes to close the tail gate and then slowly, inch by inch, work his way down the side of the truck and into the cab to get himself seated. He literally had to lean against the truck seat and pull himself into the truck by holding onto the steering wheel. The pain was so intense he was sweating profusely and tears filled his eyes. As he sat and got himself positioned the pain subsided a bit. Bob knew he was in serious trouble.

The nano-second pull on the pail of joint compound and the subsequent back explosion resulted in the “domino principle” taking effect. The first thing was that when Tracey lost her job nine months earlier and Bob’s hours were cut they had dropped their health insurance putting an additional $372.00 per month in their pockets. They did not want to do this but they needed the money.  Secondly, to collect unemployment a person had to be “ready, willing and able” to work. In addition, it was required to document that you had applied for at least five different jobs per week. (The work Bob had been doing was “off the books” and the cash payments he received were “under the table”.) Finally, Tracey immediately took Bob to the emergency room. He signed papers attesting to the fact that he was responsible for payment. An MRI was done and it was discovered that Bob had two herniated discs in his lower back, L4 and L5 in the lumbar region. The hospital gave him pain medications and referred him to a local orthopedic doctor. When they called to make that appointment and told them that they had no insurance they were told that they would need $175.00 for the initial consultation. The hope that had been resurrected inside them quickly had become “hope deferred”.

Next time: Episode #11 “What about Jake”

"Grippers" (how to get homeless without even trying) Re-cap Episodes 1 thru 9

Re-cap: Episodes 1 thru 9  (Episode #10 will post next week) click on “grippers” and scroll down for previous nine episodes.

The great American paradox (Episode #6) of today is that there are  millions of people across this great land that are simultaneously rich and poor. They are “rich” (materially) because they have most everything money can buy; a car, big-screen TV, appliances, clothing, air-conditioned homes, video game systems, computers, cell phones, cable TV, etc. They are “poor” because they have lost their jobs, cannot find a new job and are, literally speaking,  rapidly running out of money. They are losing their grip. These are the pre-homeless folks I call  “Grippers”, people hanging on for dear life to what they have, hoping and praying that the economic tsunami that is engulfing the nation does not sweep them away and plunge them into the nether world we call “homelessness”, a place that might be in a car or under a bridge or in an alleyway or abandoned building requiring no forwarding address.

Episodes #1 thru #9 of the “Grippers” follows the journey of the Slider family, Bob, his wife Tracey and their 12 year old son, Jake. Kind, decent, law-abiding, hardworking  folks their whole lives they unexpectedly go through a downward spiral that includes both of them losing their jobs and rapidly running out of money. They buy some time by holding a huge yard sale and, combined with the sale of Tracey’s car,  manage to garner over $1200.00. Combined with some assistance from the St. Vincent De Paul Society in getting their electricity turned back on they are caught up with their obligations (except credit cards)  through the month of June. Bob is trying to find some work and they both have applied for unemployment, Tracey for the second time because she had been “kicked out of the system” when her computer failed during a thunderstorm and she could not sign in on time.

Next time: Episode #10  Good news and Bad News

"Grippers" #2 (how to get homeless without even trying))

Recap: Episode #1 –Bob Slider is laid off (click on “grippers” tab to view)

Episode #2–Tracey has more bad news

Due to a “fender-bender” on US 19, Bob was a half-hour late and did not get home until 6 p.m. Jake was nervously pacing back and forth in the driveway dressed in his baseball uniform. Bob had not even turned off the engine before Jake was standing by the window, all hyper. “Dad, where have you been? I’m supposed to be at the field by six. We gotta leave right now.”
“Hey Jake, slow down. Slow down. Why didn’t mom take you?
“Her car won’t start.”
“Oh great, just what I need. Okay, wait here. I have to talk to your mother. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“But dad, coach said—“
“Stop it Jake. Just stop. Now, wait here and I’ll be right back. Don’t worry, I’ll talk to coach.”
Jake’s lips tightened, he folded his arms and leaned against the truck. Bob headed into the house glad that Jake was outside. His ever present smile was missing but Tracey did not seem to notice. She just started speaking. “Where have you been? My car won’t start and you’re not going to believe it but it is so nuts and—“
“Whoa, Tracey, slow down. I can always fix the car.”
“I don’t care about the car.”
“Well then, what? What is going on?”
“What’s going on? I’ll tell you what’s going on. They cancelled my unemployment because of that thunderstorm when our power went out and I didn’t sign in on line on time and their computer kicked me out of their system and I don’t even know if I can get it back and—oh my God, what a disaster. I needed that money for grocery shopping. Boy, I wish they would start giving you 40 hours again. This is getting a bit scary.”
Bob was stunned and seemed to go into a bit of a daze. Only six months earlier the two of them had been bringing over $4300.00 a month into the house. Then Tracey’s company “downsized” and a new computer system replaced her and eight other people who were suddenly considered
non-essential. Tracey’s take home pay went from almost $1500.00 a month down to $126.00 a week in unemployment benefits. In less than six months the family’s monthly income had been reduced by over $2300.00. Hack off another $504.00. Now it was over $2800.00 a month less. They were already one rent payment behind, had missed a truck payment and were at the end of a two week extension on their delinquent power bill. The car insurance was due, May was ending and June was only three days away. Inside Bob’s head it was like a “demolition derby” as all of these thoughts crashed into each other in a matter of seconds. All he could say was, “Huh?”
“You heard me, Bob. They cancelled my unemployment.”
Jake came into the house. ” Dad, we have to LEAVE. I’m so late. I won’t even be able to play.”
Bob turned and snapped at his son, “Jake, I told you to wait outside so just do what I told you. I’ll be there in a minute. I said I would talk to coach. Now, don’t worry and just go outside and wait, okay?”
Jake stomped out in a huff and Tracey said, “We really needed that money for food. Your check was going to cover the electric bill and a partial rent payment. Plus, Jake needs his inhaler and that’s $68.00. Mr. Margolese has been real good about the rent but we have to pay him something now. The new month is next week.”
“C’mon, Tracey. We’re in this house 12 years. I have maintained it for him, paid for repairs out of my own pocket, even repaired some of his other houses. It’s like our own house.”
“Oh Bob, that sounds so nice but the fact is–it is NOT our house.”
“He’s a good guy. I’ll talk to him.”
“Look, you better get Jake over to his game. Then come back and we’ll talk about this. So, tell me, why do you have that funny look on your face. Is there something you’re not telling me?”
Bob rolled his eyes upward, tightened his lips and breathed deeply through his nose. She could always see right through him. “Look Tracey, I may as well tell you right now and get it over with.”
“Tell me what?”
“Bildot closed down today. Out of business. I don’t have a job.”
“Oh my God, oh my God.”
Next time: Incident #3 Trying to pay the bills