Blood Money


Blood Money

This month I needed to earn some extra cash. Fortunately, overtime at work became available.  In addition, I decided to take a seasonal part-time job. If that wasn’t enough I had a bright idea to give plasma.  Working on fine tuning personality flaws and various levels of unhealthy habits takes time, but physically rebuilding your kingdom takes money.  Allow me to get a little materialistic.

Riding around on a Whatcom Transit Authority bus from Fairhaven to Bakerview, I’m on my way to sell plasma.  If I make a “donation” of plasma (which, incidentally, stated in the fine print, will be used for scientific research), five times within 30 days they will pay me $300.  That’s 300 bucks!  This seems like an easy way to make money so I take two buses and walk three blocks in the rain on a Saturday morning to get there.  Literally, licking my lips, thinking about how I’ll spend the introductory payment of 50 bucks.

Checking in I’m handed a large happy-blue laminated card with my name written in dry marker.  The card uses pictures and simple words to illustrate how the next two hours of my day will unfold.  The six stages of plasma donation are: check-in, exam, survey, blood test, donation (relax) and reschedule.  At each stage, the clerk initials it. “Your card is blue so the staff will see you are a NEW person.”

This is a large building, tall ceilings, bright and clean with the slight smell of bleach.  The place is full of activity, full of donors.  Downtrodden, impatient faces wait in roped lines, these are my people. Middle-aged people who need to supplement their income seem to be the majority of the donators. It enrages me.   How is it so many people who should be far into their careers making decent money are HERE selling plasma?


Kingdom Re-building

Rebuilding a life takes time and patience, oh, and money.  Without any thought of where to pitch my castle, I sort of selected the worst place to do it, well the 50th worst place.  The city of Bellingham is ranked number 50 in America’s top 50 worst cities to live in due to the high cost of homes.  The financial news and opinion website 24/7 Wall St reported: “The median home value is 7.3 times greater than the median income, making Bellingham one of the least affordable cities in the county.”   The cost of living is way up, wages are too low.

$300,000, 949 sqft home in Bellingham

Nationwide, the picture is even more discouraging for those with gilded aspirations.  The Pew Research Center compared the annual income of a middle-class household in 1979 to those in 2011.  In 1979 the average middle-class household brought in $61,542. In 2011 it only increased 17% to $72,036.  “The EPI estimates that if middle-class household incomes had kept pace with the top 1% between 1979 and 2011, they would have had an average annual income of $156,318 in 2011.”

The residual middle-class habits still exist.  Often I shop for new cars online, look at homes for sale, window shop at expensive shoe stores downtown and flip through racks in boutiques, I’ll sneak into an art gallery or a furniture  store make a mental list of what I like then lie to myself saying “when I can, I need to come back and get this.” WHY do I do this to myself?  WHY do I believe one day I’ll own a home? Today, after seven years of living on my own I am ready to face my reality.  Unless something significant happens, I’ll never return to a middle-class lifestyle.  The time of personal kingdom building is over!

Bags of blood plasma

The plasma place rejected me for donation.
I came up one vein short.
“You’ve only got one good vein.  You need two for a donation.  We do that for your safety.
You have to wait three weeks before you can be seen again.”

I’m furious.
Let me run around the block for a half hour.
Drink some water or something…
No 50 bucks today.
No 300 bucks by mid-October.
That was a power bill, a phone bill, lunch money, school money. It was money!

At the first bus stop on the way home, I wait 20 minutes for the 232 back with three other folks. I notice they are in their 60’s, 70’s limping, carrying bags of groceries, backpacks, their mouths turned down, pressed tight.  They are my future.  What I may become.
We sit there in silence, in the rain.

fuck this day.



This Side of Paradise

Times change, they always do, it is no surprise- but are you ready for it this time? 

Since I was 15 I have always been able to find employment.  Between 1990 and 1993, however, thanks to a working husband, I was able to stay home and raised my kids.  In 1993, when I was looking to return to the work force I sought out a part-time/evening job at a local mall.  I found work and the shift I needed without any problem at a kitchen appliance store.  That time in my life we lived in North Bend Washington, a small city just off  I-90 set in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.  North Bend is the last/first town  on your way through the mountain pass.  This small town with a population of about 5,000 people hosts few restaurants, an outlet mall and gas stations making it a great pit-stop for travelers.  Thanks to the booming retail and restaurant industry in the 90’s I was employed for many years while I worked on my degree. 

One day I approached my boss with a request for Sunday/Mondays off.  My request was denied.  It was important to my home life that I get these two days off in a row to help accommodate child care.  Without blinking an eye, I took a walk around the mall and applied to three other stores that had “Help Wanted” signs (remember those).  One place, a leather store, hired me on the spot, and for fifty cents more an hour! At the end of my shift, I gave my notice to the appliance store. There was no worry in my mind that I would be able to find a job with the schedule I wanted, I was more concerned that another person might snatch it up before me.  Those day of jobs-a-plenty are over.

Since 2008 I have been laid off three times.  It’s no fun and I don’t appreciate it.  I stick my tongue out at this sour economy!  *blah*  Recently I saw a video about a real estate agent from Arizona who was unemployed.  She mentions that she was down to cashing out her last IRA to pay her rent.  I wish I was that lucky!  How close is the middle class from becoming homeless or permanent renters in our nation this year?

The recession will force 1.5 million more people into homelessness over the next two years, according to estimates by The National Alliance to End Homelessness. In a 2007 study by the The National Alliance to End Homelessness, Washington ranks in the top ten states with the highest rates of homelessness.

Visual changes have made their way to my city. The first neighborhood I moved to when I came to Bellingham seeking work was Broadway Park off Cornwall Avenue.  It’s an affluent neighborhood where toned husbands stroll their children on the sidewalks while little hot mamas jog in packs of two.  After living there for three months it dawned on me that everyone around that part of town was beautiful.  It felt like I was living in the (original) Star Trek episode 24, “This Side of Paradise” where the crew lands on a planet full of healthy, flourishing colonist that never grow old.  I had yet to see any homeless people in my part of town.  I asked a neighbor jokingly, “I’m new to Bellingham, and was wondering where do you keep all the ugly people?”  This may sound harsh, but I just wasn’t use to living in such a lovely place.  It felt like the whole world was happy, healthy and loved!  That was 2010. 

Two years later, as I drive around town, I can’t help but notice more homeless people on the corners.  These are not your typical homeless types.  I’m seeing students, and working class folks asking for some change.  Alcohol induced crime seems to also be on an increase in Bellingham.  In the last three Cascadia Weeklys, a local newspaper, it seems there are more stories where a drunk person walks into a strangers home mistaking it for theirs. This says two things to me:  people still feel the crime in town is low enough that they don’t need to lock their front doors and, that more people are turning to an easily accessible drug to escape reality. 

Seeing a homeless person on the street pings a new place in my heart these days.  They lean up against a building of commerce, legs stretched out into the sidewalk, creating a human speed bump, an obstacle to walk around.  Questions: Are they like a pit no one wants to fall into?  Are they visual reminders that one day, if you don’t play your cards right you could end up there?  Are you prepared to be laid off 5 or 10 years before retirement after putting 10-20 years into a company?   How is your debt to income ratio?

Lee Jeffries “Homeless” 

 Corporations are all about making a profit.  That is what they are designed to do.  It’s like asking if a lion eats meat.  With the large amount of workers in the market, companies do not need to pay workers a wage that is competitive to keep them.  It is a employers market.  We are now working slaves.  Decent performance may keep our jobs only for as long as the employer needs us; we are disposable.  The moral obligation of corporations to pay Americans a decent wage so the worker can raise a family, own a house and two cars is as out of date as a teenager listening to the radio- why would they? 

This poem popped into my mind a few mornings back:

I: The Beginning of Insanity

“Tick, Tick” went the brain
Fuse is blown, not easy to replace
Confusion and clarity enter
Eggs fold in cake batter
Eyes open in denial
Filth has risen up around her, overnight

Empty pockets- no keys
car keys, house keys, mail keys
Body presses against a brick wall
Surrender to the forces of nature
Arms fling upward like white flags
Baggy clothes hide a sick frame

Sitting on the sidewalk
Like crumpled garbage
tossed out of a moving car
Back to the wall, built to support business
the concrete track carries people.
Did both let her down?
Paths once straight
now a hard couch,
now an unmade bed
for far too many

II: Graphic

My line graph reads:
“Power to the Corporations”
Margin to the left points to the sky
Labeled below: “Time” stretches right
toward a dark future.
Our lady’s figure mark the points
High at the head
Bent at the waist
Peak at he knees
Tapered at the feet

The title of my graph
“Hope in America”
A blood red line