Homelessness, NIMBYism, and Golf – George Carlin Tells It Like It Is

My friend Jon in Ireland (aka “Beat on the Street” on various homeless forums) posted this on my Facebook today.  If you are wondering what the heck homelessness has to do with golf, here’s your chance to find out.

There is a fair amount of the standard salty George Carlin language in the clip, so if that offends you, you probably shouldn’t watch.

I have to agree with him on golf, though (and I just know somebody will skewer me for this) – but golf is THE most boring game on the planet.  I NEVER got the point of it.  Same as baseball, which is supposed to be the great American sport.  Like golf, I can’t watch baseball.  It’s like death by tranquilizer.

Give me basketball any day.  There’s a game that makes me want to jump through the TV and land in the middle of all the action.  THAT should be “America’s sport” (OK, let the flamings commence).

EDD Hatred Level Escalates; Awesome Book; Religious Past

Today was a day that was mainly frustrating and exhausting, for personal reasons.

In addition, yesterday I gasped with joy as I opened my P.O. box.  A beaming, glowing ray of light fell upon the envelope from California EDD.  The angelic chorus sounded.  For a brief moment, the world was so very lovely.  Finally, finally after hours of fruitless phone calls trying to get through, several e-mails begging for a response, with only maddeningly robotic (and clearly deceptive) “we will get back to you within 48 hours” automatons to appease me…  FINALLY!!!!!!!  My claim forms for my extended benefits had arrived (in case you haven’t yet read my previous post on this subject, I am now owed several months’ worth of retroactive extended unemployment benefits, prior to my getting a job.  Sat down recently and tallied up the amount owed from the day that I filed.  Turns out I’m owed in the vicinity of a little over $5K at this point, which would take me 1/4 of the way towards accummulating the $20K I recently found out I need to pull out of my bum to get this house so that I can then start the whole fun part of seeing what’s involved to use it for transitional housing purposes to take in other homeless women/children (that’s a story for another post, but soon, I promise).

Ripped open the envelope to find… a (second) “approval” notice letting me know that yes, I am eligible for extended unemployment benefits (well, duh, same exact notice I already received waaaaaaaay back when this crap saga started)…

There were no claims forms included.

None.

Zilch.

Aaaaaaaaaand………… yeah.

Seriously.  I know they’re backed up because CA is now like the poster child mascot of insanely skyrocketing unemployment rate states (OK, besides Michigan), but what the eff?!?!?!?!?!

WHERE are my UI benefits?  With those I could at least start the process, combine those with the money I have on me now and I’d be $6K down, only $14K to go.

* * * * *

In other news, stumbled upon this book called I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed, by Kyria Abrahams.  She was raised in the same religion/cult/whateveryouwannacallit as I was (won’t reference it here, you’re welcome to look it up if you like, but if you’re a reader and a devoted member of this religion, I’d really appreciate you skipping the part where you leave me comments telling me how wrong I am about the organization, wrong for leaving, assuming you know everything about me, assuming you know everything about your own religion/cult/whatever, assuming you know everything period, etc.)

I read the first couple of pages and identified so strongly with it (plus it’s hysterically funny – the chick has mad sarcasm skills, which is kind of my M.O. too, so I liked her right off the bat) that I had to stay up all night reading it.

It really brought back waves of memories for me – I left the organization at 18 when I moved out of my parents’ house, although while staying with them they insisted on dragging me back, which I put up with to the best of my ability… zoning out, which I’ve perfected the art of.

Kyria really got the language and syntax and feel of what it’s like growing up as a member spot on.  Many of our experiences were alike – particularly the one where she swallowed a bottle full of pills in a failed suicide attempt and her parents ignored it, didn’t drive her to the hospital, nothing.  Left her to either get over it or else face the consequences of her actions and die.  That struck me so because I had such an eerily similar experience – at 14, in a fit of hopelessness, I impulsively swallowed a jumbo bottle of Tylenol (yeah, go ahead and laugh – but ODing on Tylenol causes liver failure, it turns out!)  My family’s tenant found me in the bathroom and called my mother, who blithely told him “have her stick her finger down her throat”, hung up and drove to Palm Springs with my sister for the week, leaving me to be sick and/or die while said tenant, also a member of this religion, shrugged his shoulders and went back to bed (turned out I was just in agony all night and the next morning.  Nothing major.  I was lucky.)

Now, clearly I got over the whole idea of death after that… agony like that made me decide it really wasn’t in the cards for me.  Nope, never trying that again *shudder*.  But still, it was scary.  And finding out that there was someone with a childhood so similar to mine – let alone her writing a book that is breaking into mainstream literature! – was kind of an eye-opener for me.

The last part of the book is the darkest.  This is where our life experiences varied more (and Kyria admits she has some medical/mental issues such as OCD, etc. that didn’t help with some of the more naive/destructive choices she made in her desperation).  She married super-young to someone she had nothing in common with, as children with our upbringing are wont to do (no premarital sex, and no secular “dating”.  “Dating” = “Marriage”).  She was, unsurprisingly, miserable, and started cutting, using drugs, and sleeping around to escape her marriage (adultery is the only valid and accepted reason to divorce, in this religion).

OK, slightly different from me – I never dated boys from my congregation.  I didn’t want to.  Was never interested.  There were, as she points out in the book, very few prospects, and I never felt like settling for a pale shadow of the real thing, just so that I could have sex or play house.  I knew even then that I wasn’t wholly and completely invested in my religion.  I think to some degree, I was always looking for the time when I could bolt.  I was attracted to men and dating and life outside of my super-narrow, controlled little world.  I saw hypocrisy and abuse everywhere I turned; not only in my own family, but in others in the congregation.  To have admitted so would certainly have meant trouble for me – even complete shunning from all I knew, including my own family.  So, when I turned 18, I simply disappeared.  I didn’t take any of the complicated channels that the heads of the congregation, or “elders” pretend are mandatory.  I refused to be labeled, refused to be shunned, I simply up and left and nobody ever questioned it.  Nobody ever really wondered where I’d gone or why, or what I was doing.  Nobody cared to investigate, they just made their assumptions and moved on with their lives, zealously preaching to anybody who would listen.  One more fallen angel.  Oh, well.

On the few occasions my family dragged me back this year, I was generally regarded with unease and suspicion, which amused me more than anything else.  You could tell it was in everybody’s mind that I must have turned into some little Satanic whore (paranoia and fear are big there).  Nobody knew anything for sure, and I didn’t volunteer any information on that score, neither confirmation nor denial, even when prodded, but some form of “sexual misconduct” was widely assumed, it was quite obvious.  After spending several years away, I had come more to grips with the knowledge that these people didn’t truly have any claim to me or sway over my life (in stark contrast to the certainty I had held in my childhood, that they could ruin me – or rather, that they could have God ruin me).  Now, to a degree, I enjoyed being the boogeyman, responding cheerfully yet bluntly when I spoke at all and seeing the awkward shifting and furtive glances at my outspokenness, my complete and utter lack of “spiritual” thoughts and goals, at least as far as they define such.  I had always been something of an oddball, even when a child.  I was disarmingly perceptive and never quite took things at face value as much as I “should” have.  I had opinions and ideas of my own, questions even about things in the Bible that made me uncomfortable or curious.  I was mildly bothered by the idea of “proving” a scripture by reading another scripture.  To some degree, I wanted to look at and hear all points of view before coming to my own conclusions.  This was highly frowned upon in the organization – looking at outside points of view was considered falling prey to Satan.  We were only to accept what we were told at face value by the heads of the organization, all mere men who were supposedly being “inspired” by God.  Chastised often for this moral failing, I did what I could to sublimate it, bury it, bend my will and conform.  It was embarrassing to be scrutinized and looked down upon.  It was embarrassing to be different within the organization, and also to be different outside of it – in school, and at work.  But, when it comes down to it, I was never the conforming type.  Now, I can find humor in my role as fallen, sinful, devious skank-ho; even relish it a little.

It wasn’t always like this.  It took a lot of struggling and therapy.  And reading Kyria’s book brought a lot of it back in a flood; despite the barbed humor which had me laughing my arse off, the feelings and pain beneath it were refreshed.  I don’t think anybody who breaks free from that kind of past ever fully gets over it.

Anyway, it was just kind of crazy and surreal seeing that there was someone else like me; someone who fought back (although sometimes in different ways) and got up the courage to leave.  We both had to learn to live in the real world – you’re not prepared for it at all when you come from that background.  You’re taught to fear the world, flee from it, dangers lurk everywhere ready to pounce on you.  In an interview, Kyria made a point that struck me as all too true – you are told by your family, your friends, your fellow congregation members that life isn’t worth living outside the organization.  That if you leave, everything will go horribly for you because you’re defying God, slapping him in the face, and being punished for it.  The irony, of course, is that initially that does often happen, your life does go sort of wonky – but not for those reasons.  It’s not difficult so much because the real world makes it difficult and you are being punished.  It is difficult because, never having lived in the real world, you have no idea to go about it, and have to start from scratch, teaching yourself and painstakingly learning through trial and error.

Six years later, and I’m still nowhere near done learning to adjust.  I don’t think I completely ever will be.  But… it’s a start.

Stranded. Well, Plegh.

Agh!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m stranded. Worst morning ever.

I had to relocate the trailer quickly last night. Got a text message from P. in the Wal-Mart lot. Some kids apparently were teasing Fezzik through the trailer window while I was at work and he started going insane barking and attracting attention, which is very very bad. So, the other RV-ers asked me to move, and I understand. I feel terrible.

So, I moved the trailer Sam’s Club a few miles away (texted Aishwarya who told me to call her in the morning and she’d take me back to Wal-Mart to pick up my car).

Big mistake.

First of all, Sam’s Club is located in a crummier town. And situated right by train tracks. This loud train comes through honking its horn, all night long… about every hour and a half. Which wakes me up every hour and a half.

Then, around 4 a.m., Fezzik starts barking nonstop and I can’t figure out why because he’s not much of a barker unless he thinks that a strange man might hurt me.

I finally get up, step outside, and there are about 50 Mexican immigrants standing around, cooking breakfast, etc. Apparently this is where they stand around all day looking for under-the-table work.

Well, fuck.

So Fezzik is going nuts because he doesn’t like the jillion strange men hanging around my trailer.

(But wait, it gets worse.)

I go to call Aishwarya, figuring that I can find somewhere more suitable to move the trailer, and then get my car. The problem is, I can’t find my phone. Nowhere in the trailer, nowhere in my purse. Since I used the GPS feature on it to find Sam’s Club yesterday, I know the only other possible option is that I left it at the gas station I used yesterday to fuel up.

So I walk to the gas station.

The guy working there says “no, you have to ask the night guy who was here when you came in last night, he’s the one that would know”.

Because apparently they don’t have a fucking lost and found box.

So I tell him it’s an emergency, and ask if he can just call the guy. He says, like I’m an idiot, “no, the night guy sleeps during the day. He’s sleeping”.

Well, duh. I know that, and I’m really, really sorry, but this is fucking important, I’m homeless and I’m stranded and it’s my fucking phone you asshole!!!!!!!!!!

(In my mind, that’s what I said. Not really.)

He said if I left it there, the night guy probably took it with him and told me to come back tonight. Great. Just great. It’s probably gone forever, someone probably found it and stole it, but fine. I’ll try back tonight.

So I walk back to the trailer, grab my laptop, ignoring dumbass whistles and catcalls from 50 Mexican immigrants, and walk two and a half miles in the other direction, until I find a Starbucks.

And here I am, frantically e-mailing Aishwarya and Dwight (please, please check your e-mail, guys!!!!!). If I can at least get to my car, then I’ll be OK for the day – maybe I can drive to Sprint and see if they replace stolen phones. Getting to my car is the fun part, though.

Sigh. I am so insanely, monstrously frustrated right now.

Interview-ness

Well, I had my interview this morning.

Sigh.

You know, within a week of being laid off from work, I got a job offer from an investment banker. At the time, the economy had started to crumble, but I don’t think anyone quite realized the severity of the situation. I turned the job offer down. It paid slightly better than my former position, but the folks I had interviewed with were like corpses in business suits. I couldn’t get… well, anything out of them. I kept searching for a sign of humanity, a smile or something. Desperate to make some kind of human connection with them, I even threw out a couple of jokes. Nothing. I had assumed that I completely bombed the interview, so it was definitely a surprise to receive the job offer.

I should have jumped on it. I should have. But all I kept thinking about were those interviewers who seemed so miserable, so completely deathlike, and I imagined the job sucking away any last vestige of spirit, individuality, creativity, and silliness that I retained. I was positive that a job like that would drain my soul bone-dry.

My boyfriend at the time thought I was crazy. And I suppose, in a way, he was right. But it’s hard to describe the complete and utter panic that clawed at me when I visualized myself being swallowed up by that company. I wanted to be me, not a bad carbon copy of myself, a vague humorless imprint.

If I was offered that job again today, would I take it? Hell, yes. Would I stay there once the economy righted itself? I doubt it.

I felt the same kind of panic today at my interview, for different reasons. It wasn’t a high-end financial firm this time, just a little chintzy office run by a quack of a guy who invents “health” aids that don’t actually do anything, that nobody actually needs or uses except really paranoid/OCD people who buy everything they see in airplane catalogues (i.e., oxygen bars, personal UV lights to kill bacteria, et cetera). He was a bit of a pompous, insensitive ass, but I suppose not intolerable. The overwhelming, pervasive feeling of the office though… it was one of depressing resignation. Four or five people in one room, sitting at their computers, ignoring one another, keyboards clacking as they processed orders and data. When I walked in, no one looked up. No one spoke. Just clacking keyboards.

I suppose I should feel good that I even got in to interview – the owner told me that he had received over 1,000 resumés for the position. He is looking to make a decision by tomorrow, so at least by then I will know, no dangling and wondering here. I tried to muster up enthusiasm and put on my “interview face”, but I don’t know how well I did. I’m not much of an actor, and from the moment I entered the door, I felt heavy and overwhelmed with sadness. Everything just seemed grey. Somehow, I managed to keep the interview going for about a half an hour – asking my pre-selected questions, specifically chosen to maximize the appearance of my interest in the company.

Lest you think that I am picky and a whiny, selfish, spoiled brat – believe me, if I am offered the job, I will take it. And I will smile every day that I walk in there, no matter how much of a dead end I feel it is. I am under no illusions about the precariousness of my situation, or the likelihood that I will be offered another position anytime soon. Yes, I will take it.

I post my personal feelings and fears only so that you can see that I am human and imperfect too. I am not always able to look at the bright side, or find the silver lining in everything. I am no Pollyanna.

But… this is what it is. Sometimes, to get by, we just have to suck it up and take the most readily available option, until we can move up to something better.

Just don’t do drugs or prostitution, kids! (By the way, I’m now a guest writer for Street Voices, how cool is that? After depressing interviews like this, at least I can head over to Starbucks and make believe, a little, that I’m a “writer”, haha. So, there’s still a little fun out there for me. Thanks, Matt!)

Job Searching and the Almighty Dollar

It’s raining today. God, I love the rain. You don’t see it much in Orange County.

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Quick note: Please check out Homeless Tales, the brainchild of Matt Barnes from the UK. I spent several hours last night browsing through the stories that compile his Street Voices Project, and I was fascinated by the work of the various contributers. Matt and his writers are doing their utmost to raise awareness of this social issue, and to put faces to the various homeless out there, no matter their circumstances. I have a huge amount of respect for their work and send out my kudos to them. If you haven’t already been, please check out Homeless Tales!

* * * * *

Once your most basic needs (shelter, food, and water) have been met, your mind will naturally turn to money – the most important long-term solution to get you out of this.

I mentioned before, I’m not a fan of panhandling. Many homeless people out there are mentally ill/addicts and feel this is their only recourse. I am not judging those individuals. They are humans as well and deserving of compassion and assistance – medical and rehabilitory assistance in addition to food and shelter. However, I have always worked and I am fully capable of continuing to work. I will not panhandle or beg for money. There are many less fortunate homeless people who do not have the advantages I have, who cannot/do not know how to care for themselves, and who need those contributions more than I do. If you are homeless and reading this blog, that means you have figured out how to access a computer – so chances are pretty high that you are self-reliant and have at least some rudimentary skills that qualify you to find yourself money without panhandling.

First of all, sell any assets that you will not need or that do not have irreplaceable sentimental value (i.e., your grandmother’s wedding ring). If you have a laptop and phone and vehicle, obviously those are things that will come in useful to you. Items like furniture, decor, TV, stereo, etc. are not necessary and can be easily replaced once you are back on your feet. Only you can decide what you are willing to give up, but you will find that material belongings count for very little when you need to buy food and gasoline, or come up with enough money to put down a rental deposit so you can get off of the street. I have built up a collection of fine vintage clothing for several years – guess what’s happening to that? I’m eBaying it off, piece by piece.

As an immediate/temporary solution, you may be able to apply for Unemployment Insurance (UI), State Disability Insurance (SDI), Social Security Disability, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), State Supplementary Payments (SSP) or welfare/food stamps. This guy I mentioned in a previous post has listed the various ins and outs of applying for these programs, including various rules and loopholes. There’s nothing I can say here on those topics that he hasn’t already, so visit his site and review your available options.

If you are not disabled in any way and are physically and mentally capable of working – find a job. Yes, the economy is in the toilet right now. Salaries have been slashed by about 20% on average. But there are jobs out there, even if competition is stiff for some of the higher-paying ones. If you are educated and formerly held a prestigious position – get over it. You may not be able to find something comparable to your last job right now. You may need to wait for the economy to right itself. Do not be too proud to take a lower-paying or less glamorous job in the interim. I did very well for myself in my former life and got every single job I ever interviewed for, but guess what? Right now I’m homeless, and although I have sent out hundreds of applications, the fish aren’t biting. This means that I need to be willing to take anything that comes along (unless it pays less than my UI, in which case I would be shooting myself in the foot – you can’t file for UI and work at the same time).

If you can find under-the-table work here and there, that is awesome. You are paid in cash and there is no record going to the IRS, so they can’t tax you. This means that you can collect some supplemental income and still file for UI, if that is applicable to your situation. Many small business owners will pay under-the-table.

Search on Craigslist.org, Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, and any other job board you can find. If you have a professional-looking photo of yourself in business attire, attach it to every cover letter you e-mail out. Try to stand out from the sea of nameless, faceless applicants. Distinguish yourself. When hiring managers can put a face to the name, they are more likely to think of you as a person, and remember you when it comes down to weeding through the candidates and deciding who to bring in for interviews.

If you have never had a job, or are super-young and have no previous job experience, search for “entry-level” jobs. These are jobs that require no formal training. Apply at grocery stores, restaurants, retail chains; hell, apply to be the person in the oversized chicken suit outside of Chick-Fil-A! Apply to be the person in the Chuck-E suit at Chuck-E-Cheese. For many of these jobs, you don’t have to apply online – walk right into an establishment and ask to speak to the manager. You may have the front desk person/receptionist/hostess ask you what this is regarding. Don’t tell them up front that it’s regarding applying for a job, they’ll just try to re-route you, or hand you an application to fill out. You want the manager to actually meet you so that you get a chance to make an impression. If they tell you the manager is not available and try to hand you an application to get rid of you, ask to make an appointment to speak to the manager directly. Make sure that every time you visit the establishment, you are clean and well-dressed. Make sure your interview suit/dress is modest, in fashion, and unwrinkled. Do whatever you have to, just find a job and save as much of each paycheck as you can.

At no point during a job search should you tell anyone that you are homeless. It may be tempting to milk your circumstances for sympathy, but DON’T. It will rarely work. The vast majority of society has built-in prejudices against the homeless. If you look like a bum, people will treat you like a bum. If you don’t look like you a bum, are well-dressed/qualified/articulate, but tell people you are homeless, they are still likely to treat you like a bum. Do not appeal to your interviewer in this manner. Never appear desperate. Project confidence and prepare for every interview hours or even days in advance. Find the company’s website and read up on their mission statement, their philosophy, their history, and then drop nuggets of that into your responses to interview questions, so that hiring managers will know you have done your research on the company, will fit in well, and really want to work there.

That is the most important thing in an interview – you may be the most qualified person on the planet, but if you aren’t particularly interested in the job or the company, they will hire someone less qualified who is. This may be a job you are just taking until you can get something better when the economy improves, but they don’t need to know that. As far as an interviewer is concerned, this is your dream job and you will stay here until retirement, OK? You can always change your mind after you get the job and something better comes along. That is not illegal. But you need somet
hing right now, so stretch the truth if you must. Lie a little and say that you see yourself working your way up from a cashier at McDonalds to management at their corporate office. Stress your loyalty to your employer. This doesn’t mean you have to stay there forever. You just need a job right now, do whatever you must to get it.

While job searching, look for other means to come up with extra money. You can sell belongings, as I’ve already noted. Or take a particular talent and start an e-business with it. I run a modest resumé-writing business on the side populated with friends and clients who have no idea that I am homeless. Set yourself up a webpage at Starbucks or the public library, and put your talents to good use. Promote yourself on Craigslist, Twitter, MySpace, or any one of hundreds of online resources. Invest in some cheap flyers and post them on college boards, community boards, Starbucks boards, anywhere you can. Market yourself.

Look into mystery shopping, or marketing companies who will pay you to stand around and promote their products. I did this a couple of years ago for extra cash on the side. I was one of those people who stood behind a table at Costco and handed out free samples on the weekends. You can laugh, but do you know how much I made doing that? $25/hour.

If you are a female in your 20s and you have no moral objection, you may want to look into donating your eggs (a lot of college students do it). You don’t need to be a supermodel astrophysicist to do this (I certainly can’t claim to be one, I’m just a spunky, cute-ish kid with a good head on her shoulders and a fair amount of common sense)! Many prospective parents out there are just looking for a donor who is physically reminiscent of them, and isn’t a carrier for any major diseases or disabilities. I went to check out this opportunity today. I found an agency who is putting me in their database; if I am chosen as a donor, my first-time fee will be $5,500, plus all medical expenses. Keep in mind, if you pursue this option, it pays well for a reason. Sperm donors only get about $75 a pop because their donation process is quick, easy, painless, and pleasurable. For women, you EARN that money. It is a roughly 2-month long process involving self-injected hormones, monitoring appointments, psychological evaluations, and possible side effects. Take all of this into consideration before you make the decision. Personally, I have found that people have the remarkable ability to do things that they never thought they’d be able to do in dire circumstances. I never thought that I’d be able to ransack through a blood-and-brain-splattered suicide scene either, but I ended up having to do just that when my biological father shot himself in January, because my other family members were too queasy to do it, and someone had to. Take a hard look at yourself and decide what you are willing/able to do and where you draw your boundaries, and then stick to them.

There are opportunities to earn money honestly if you search for them. So many people out there are throwing their hands up in the air and blaming the sucky economy for not being able to find work. Don’t be proud. Do what you must. Consider every alternative. You’re homeless and jobless, do you really have anything better to do? Your job is to find a job.

Road Trip and General Thoughts on Police

I spent my first official homeless morning watching the sun rise over the Colorado River.

It’s a beautiful day.

I know I’m not a hopeless case (Thank you, Bono).

* * * * *

So, I am officially a gypsy, a nomad, a wanderer, whatever romantic crap I need to tell myself to get through this. Sometimes that’s the only way to deal with stuff. Homelessness is serious business, but if you don’t laugh about serious business, or find the romantic/fun/noble in it, then you will just break down and cry and feel dejected and hopeless, thus wasting valuable time that could otherwise be used working towards getting back into a house. Sarcasm and humor are my weapons.

So far, towing a trailer is not as difficult as I expected, which is excellent! I’ve only taken it about 6 miles, though. I’m stopped at the local Starbucks recharging my phone and posting on my laptop. It is going to take me considerably longer to get back to Orange County than it took to get to Blythe (which was about 2 hours, 45 minutes). I’m looking at a 4-5 hour return ride. My trusty mastiff Fezzik is with me, so at least I have company. Poor thing, I think he’s mildly confused about what’s going on. But he likes the car ride and being around me, so he’s pretty happy.

Trailer smells funky (like fat, greasy man and dead animals/fish – the dude apparently did a lot of hunting and fishing) and has a lot of junk in it that I’ll have to dump today so that I can fit my own boxes and Fezzik’s crate in there. I’m less bothered by the smell and the mess than by the idea that I’ll be sleeping on the bed that my pervert, drug-addict sperm donor used to jack off in, before he blew his brains out with a Remington 12-gauge. Ew. But, c’est la vie, have to roll with the punches, Oedipal/Electral undertones aside. First thing though, I’m stripping those bed linens and putting my own blankets on.

Was stopped by a police officer 5 miles outside of Blythe for speeding. Argh. Anyway, I know that I just spent the entire last blog telling all of the homeless women out there to come off as strong and independent and fearless, for protection. However, there are times when a general air of innocence and naïveté can serve you well. Learn when those times are. One of them is while dealing with police, which is likely to happen at some point.

Police officers can be assholes, I think most people will agree. But when it boils down to it, they are usually just doing their job, have a quota to fill, and all that jazz. They could possibly be more sympathetic, it’s true. But you will not earn their sympathy if you give them attitude. Know your rights, and assert them if necessary, but always remain calm and sound appreciative, even if you aren’t.

If you are pulled over by a police officer, the first thing that you should do is roll down your window and put your hands on the frame so that they can see them. The most dangerous moment for a police officer is first approaching a vehicle. They don’t know if you are armed, so this is always when they are the most nervous. Putting your hands clearly in view so that they can see you do not have a weapon is a very reassuring gesture, and more than once a police officer has let me off with a warning based upon that alone. Don’t cry, either. Officers HATE it when women cry. Not only does it make them feel a little bit like jerks, they also feel like you’re manipulating them.

Pick your battles. If you do get a ticket, don’t argue or get angry/defensive. This will not help you. Many officers have control issues, and enter the police force at least in part so that they get to exercise that aspect of their personality often. You can always go to court to try to argue the ticket (half the time, officers don’t even show up and the ticket is automatically dismissed). If an officer catches you sleeping in your car and asks you to move along, either go (you can always find another parking lot) or, if you are parking at Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club, politely say “Thank you for your concern, officer. Wal-Mart management has given me permission to park here overnight, as it is a private parking lot and that is their national policy. I would really appreciate it if you could check with them to verify that, before you ask me to move”. It is important that you keep a sincere and humble tone here. Don’t be snarky or triumphant. Always be sure to let them know that you realize they are doing their job and are grateful for the job they do to keep the community safe. It is OK to assert your rights, but if you’re a jerk about it, they may ask you to move on, anyway. If politeness doesn’t work and they ask you to leave anyway, just do it. It’s not worth it to piss off a cop and end up in jail, or having your car impounded.

Being articulate and well-groomed always helps. It’s sad, but officers are more likely to respond well to you if you don’t seem like the stereotypical vagrant. This is unfortunate, since the less articulate/educated, more despondent homeless are the ones who really need the kindness and understanding most. But, it is the way it is. Use your intelligence and coherence to your advantage.

Naïveté will also work wonders for you. People, especially men, generally want to do whatever they can for a helpless female (even more so if you’re cute!) It’s a chivalry thing. Don’t overdo it, just learn to be a little wide-eyed and lost, ask for help/advice because you’ve never done _______ before and you don’t quite understand the process. Sometimes you can use this to explain away a traffic violation or other mistake. Or, you can use it like I did today – getting park rangers to help me hitch up the trailer to my truck, and connect the turn signal wires (because I sure as hell didn’t know how). Learn when to be independent and when to use your natural feminine wiles a little (for good, not evil!!! Don’t be Machiavellian, and try to stick with innocence and sweetness and cuteness, NOT sex – which is another post in itself… maybe I’ll go into that tomorrow, but now I have to hit the road and get back to Orange County).

Initiation

In three days, I will be homeless.

This is not by choice (although many individuals before me have chosen this lifestyle and enjoyed the freedoms that it can offer, and if that is what works for them, kudos!) Personally, I enjoy having a permanent residence and the sense of stability and security that it gives me. I look forward to living in an actual house again. However, it is what it is – in three days, I will be homeless. There are no caveats here, no “maybe” or “unless” or “possibly I can come up with something before then”. Come Thursday, February 26, I will be making my way on the streets of Orange County as best I can, and I will be considered that most stigmatized of people – a homeless woman.

Initially, the idea of this terrified me. Here is a summary of the commentary that first ran through my head: This would never happen to me. I am not the kind of person that lives on the street. I have a life, I have friends, I have a dog, I have stable employment and residential history, references, education, skills, talents – I have worked hard all of my life to ensure stability for myself. How did this happen, HOW CAN I DO THIS?!?!?!?!

So, I cried for a few hours. I cried and I let the panic run its course. Then, I started planning.

I wonder how many other people like me are out there. People who had the stereotypical idea of a homeless man or woman, who believed that it would not, could not, happen to them. The truth is, we never know the whole story. We don’t know other people’s circumstances. You can speculate that the wino sitting outside the 7-11 begging for change is there because he’s too lazy or stupid or uneducated or selfish or mentally ill. But will we ever truly know? Look at me. I’ve worked hard for all of my adult life (and all of my adolescence), sought out a college education, worked for corporations and executives, built a life and a “secure” foundation to fall back upon. Yet, here I am. So, now what?

You may wonder how I got here. I will give you a summed-up, generic background on me:

I grew up in Orange County, CA. I got excellent grades and tested in top percentiles at school. I was considered a precocious student and skipped a grade. I taught myself to read at 2 years of age, and I read newspapers, novels, anything I could get my hands on. My family situation was never the best (I have a mentally ill parent who has rejected consistent diagnoses, medication, and advice from various friends, doctors and therapists. It all boils down to the fact that you can’t help someone who refuses to admit that they have a problem). I was subjected to various physical/mental/emotional abuse for the majority of my life, and sexual abuse from an estranged family member while a toddler. Despite all of this, I strove to rise above my personal situation. I created a mental image of who I wanted to be. I fought, and continue to fight, to live up to that image and resolve some of the less savory tendencies that I have, whether they are biological or learned from the examples that I witnessed growing up. I am proud of the progress that I have made and the life that I have built. I am proud of who I am, as well as who I am evolving into.

I started working “under the table” at 10, as I knew how to pass for older than I actually was. I got a legal work permit at 12 years old and went to work full-time in addition to schooling (how many 8th grade students do you know with two secular jobs after school lets out?) I supported my parent and younger sister from ages 12 – 18. At two points as a teenager, I was physically thrown out of the house while my parent was in the throes of a bipolar depressive episode. Both times, I was on my own for a couple of months, until said parent tracked me down through school, reported me as a runaway and sent police to retrieve me from the friends’ house where I was staying.

At 18 I left for good and got a roommate. Over the next several years, I enrolled myself into college and worked my way from entry-level, minimum-wage jobs into administrative and legal secretary positions, then onwards up to an Executive Assistant at a major corporation. For a long time, I always had at least two jobs, sometimes three. When I landed my Exec. Asst. gig, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had arrived, I could concentrate on only one job, I was earning the means to live on my own, in my own house, sans roommates. I rented a cute cottage towards the beach area and enjoyed the little life that I had built for myself. I got myself a dog. I dated. I loved. I worked. I had fun. Even with the occasional disappointment or blip that happens to everyone, life was good.

In July of 2008, my corporation had mass layoffs. The economy was beginning to crumble, and the auto industry was the first to be affected due to the skyrocketing prices of gas. Over 280 out of 500 employees were laid off, and I was among them. The company that I worked for was enormously kind and fair to each and every one of us, and compensated us well with a severance package, so I was OK for a while. I did some temp-to-hire work for an environmental engineering company for a few months, but they ended up having layoffs right before Christmas 2008 and again I was out of a job. Since then, I have been searching for employment without success. I am on extended unemployment benefits, but I prefer actual work. Salaries have been slashed by at least 20% (often more) so I have no hope of making what I used to, but that is to be expected – I’m in good company, at the moment it’s a status symbol simply to have a job at all.

In the past three months I have sent out several hundred resumés and applications, some as far away as Los Angeles and San Diego counties. Whereas it used to take me a matter of days to find employment, it is now rare for me to even receive calls for interviews – there are simply too many people out there responding to every advertisement. I do all that I can to make my application stand out, but when it comes down to it, hiring managers must sift through hundreds of resumés for every single position. My chances are severely handicapped at this point, but all I can do is forage on.

Against my better judgment, I moved out of my cottage and in with my bipolar parent at her suggestion. I figured that it would be relatively temporary and would cut my living costs dramatically while I continued to search for unemployment. For just over two months, somehow I made it work. Until two days ago. On a downward bipolar cycle, my parent attacked me and ordered me out of the house. I have been told to leave immediately, but police informed me that I could require a 30-day notice, which I waived as long as I had five days to find other arrangements.

Could I ask friends for help? Possibly. However, my closest friends have so many problems of their own right now – many of them are out of work, or live in small apartments, or have various other personal problems and I am certain that I would be a burden and an imposition on them. There is also the problem of my (very large) mastiff, who I would not dream of selfishly dragging with me into someone else’s home.

So, here I am.

Luckily for me (and my dog!), I recently inherited a truck and travel trailer. Around New Year’s Eve, my biological father committed suicide. I had not seen or had any form of contact with him in over 20 years. There was no suicide note, and it fell to me as the eldest child to divy up his assets (of which there were few) among his four surviving children (my sister and I, and two half-sisters from a second marriage, whom I had never met before). This successfully accomplished, I was left with the aforementioned truck and travel trailer, both of which have registration and insurance paid up through July.

If you are an individual in a similar situation (especially a single, vulnerable woman), I hope that by detailing my experiences in this blog, I may help you come up with tips and ideas for survival and safety for however long your present circumstances may last. Perhaps you didn’t choose for this to happen, but it is what it is. It is happening and you must stay strong and level-headed, so that you can make opportunities happen for yourself and dig yourself out of this hole.

Perhaps you’re not homeless, have never been homeless, and are currently not faced with the threat of becoming homeless. Maybe you are reading this because homelessness is a topic close to your heart, or maybe you just feel that you should cultivate some knowledge on survival skills, because with the economy the way it is right now, who knows what will happen in the future? In any event, I hope that my postings will give you something to think about and/or something to laugh about, for humor can be mined from even the most dire of circumstances.

I have just over $300 cash to my name, in addition to various personal belongings. I have three days to take my plans for the coming weeks/months and put them into motion. I have never been homeless before and I will not deny that I am afraid, but I plan to face this with humor and dignity. I can do this. I can do this without becoming a casualty or a stereotype. I can be homeless and still clean, nourished, confident, well-dressed, dry in the rain, and warm at night. I can make wise and preventive decisions that will help protect me and keep me safe in tenuous circumstances. I can and will continue to bring in revenue, interview, and locate permanent employment. I can be a tall woman with flaming red hair, a jowly and imposing Neapolitan mastiff, and a 30-foot RV in tow and still manage to remain inconspicuous and under the radar (…right?). I think that if a wussy chick like me can do all of this, then anybody can.