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Saturday, May 06, 2006

In Which Zombie Solves Her Book Problem

If you read the previous post entitled "Zombie Leads an Exciting Life," then you know I have book issues.

Lots of book issues. Supersized book issues. I am the literary equivalent of the Crazy Cat Lady. But I have found a way to resolve the fire hazard that has become my house.

I initially thought of selling them off, but that will take too much time and effort for not much money. We thought about having a garage sale, or perhaps putting some ads on Craigslist ("For twenty bucks, you can come to my house and haul away as many books as your hot little hands can carry. Don't worry about hurrying. I have enough books to let the entire tri-county area haul away as many as they want and will still not have made a dent in my inventory") but that seemed like too much work, too.

But then! Something happened.

I got an email from my boss, who is organizing a book drive, to send books to Mississippi, for folks that lost theirs during Katrina.

I don't know about y'all, but I was horrified/annoyed at the whole Katrina thing.

I was horrified at the extent of the storm and how much damage it did. I was horrified that people were living like animals down there - that it looked like a third world nation - and all of this right here in my own country: The United States of America, Land of the Free, Home of the Brave (but only if you are a fat, white rich man). I was horrified at how badly the rescue efforts were handled and horrified at how people were behaving. I was also horrified by the images I saw on TV - little kids and old people, living in filth and starving, having lost everything.

That's some traumatic shit right there.

I was annoyed that it turned into a "race issue," however. Granted, most of the people that were left behind in New Orleans were black - but that is a city of many black people. The more important issue, to me, was that those that were left behind were poor.

Poverty is not something that is confined to specific races or ethnic groups. Poverty is not confined to specific age groups or gender groups. Poverty crosses all barriers that way. You can argue with me, if you want, but I'm sticking to that. Having grown up poor as dirt (and still not quite a stellar example of financial independence), I know what poverty is. I know what being hungry is, and what having to go without is. And I am white. Very white. Glow-in-the-dark white.

If Katrina had somehow managed to whack into my old town in Pennsylvania, we would've seen much of the same stuff. And that town is predominantly white. I think there was one black family there when I went to high school.

While whiteness is prevalent in that town, so is extreme poverty. When Pennzoil, Quaker State and Wolf's Head all moved out of town within a 2 year period, everything went to hell, economically speaking, and the area wasn't doing that well to begin with. The only jobs left to people were working at the three telemarketing firms in the area or working at Wal-Mart.

I don't have to tell y'all that Wally World isn't exactly synonymous with "living wage" or "job security." And forget anything like "medical insurance" or "basic human kindness." In fact, I would venture to say that most jobs of the Wally World ilk are not big on any of that. But that is a topic for another time.


The people in that town are poor. If Katrina had bitchslapped that town, we would've seen the same images we saw in New Orleans, only with white faces. The people there suffer through the same hardships poor people everywhere do - a lack of the means to support oneself and one's family in a sufficient manner and a definite lack of resources to turn to in the event of an emergency, whether it be a medical problem or a large hurricane barrelling towards you at light speed.

While I definitely feel for those that lost everything in this storm, I could not, at the time and even now, help but be annoyed that it turned into a "race issue" when the more important issue of poverty in this country could've been seriously addressed for once. I felt that harping on race detracted from the bigger issue we face here.

I suppose it had something to do with the fact that poverty isn't something we like to think about existing in this "great" country of ours. After all, we are an incredibly rich nation. In theory, there is more than enough to go around for everyone, so anyone that has nothing is probably just lazy, right? The American Dream is within everyone's grasp, we are all taught from the time we are born. If you work hard and are patient and diligent, you will be rich, or comfortable, at the very least. You will succeed in life.

And this is true for some people. My grandfather is an excellent example of that. He was born very poor, an immigrant from Hungary. He grew up in a tiny coal town in Pennsylvania, where his father worked in the mines. My great-grandfather, whom I never met, worked hard every day of his life, to support himself and his family. My grandfather got out of that life, through sheer determination. He put himself through college. He worked for AT&T for many years (next time you're outside, look at the phone poles...see that little black box up there? My grandfather was part of the team that designed that little black box). He eventually ended up working for the Department of Energy in D.C., and was very successful. He is retired now, but still does consultant work for them. That is, y'know, inspiring, sure.

The fact remains, however, that some people work hard all of their lives - only to just scrape by. Though my grandfather succeeded in life, his father never got to have a nice house or not worry about money. And it was certainly not for lack of hard work.

For the 37 million Americans that live below the poverty line, it is not easy to drag oneself up by the proverbial bootstraps. Public education in this country is abysmal, we lack decent health care for everyone, and sometimes, the options for bettering yourself never materialize, no matter how hard you work or how much you strive for it.

For the 37 million Americans that live below the poverty line, life is certainly not easy. Any little problem can be a major setback. Missing a single day of work can jeopardize your ability to pay the rent when you live paycheck to paycheck as many of these people do. Contemplate for a moment, if you will, trying to pay for decent child care when you only make 6 dollars an hour (if you're lucky). Forget about ever getting sick, since you have no health insurance and certainly can't afford a trip to the doctor. If you are able to manage to afford a trip to the doctor, you had better hope you don't need any medicine, because that will definitely be out of your financial reach. No, you will wait and wait until it is too bad to handle anymore, and you will end up in the ER, and the bill will be even bigger. If you miss work because you or your child are sick, then you are in even bigger trouble still.

The irony in this situation, though, is that these 37 million Americans are the ones we rely on every day - they clean our houses, flip our burgers, bag our groceries and vacuum our offices. Without them, who would ring up our purchases at the mall? Who would mop the floors at our children's schools? Those we need the most, we ignore. We do not meet their needs, when we definitely have the resources to do so. We do not care about the problem enough to even talk about it, let alone find a workable solution.

As mentioned before, I am not a stellar example of financial independence. I work full time, I have several side projects, and my children get Social Security survivors benefits from the death of their father, sure. We get by, but sometimes just barely. I live paycheck to paycheck. I do not have a car of my own and am reliant on my roommate to get me where I need to be. If Katrina had rolled over my house, you would've seen me and my children and my dog sitting on the roof with a sign screaming for help.

At any rate, I am donating as many of my books as possible to this drive that my company is handling. It is probably not unknown that I think books are vital. Teaching a child to read is the greatest gift you can give him or her. Through books, people learn. Through books, people are shown a wider realm that they may not ever experience otherwise. Through books, people can be made to laugh, to cry, to think, to dream. In short, through books, people become more aware.

And being aware is a crucial first step in combatting this country's problems.

If my books can be put to good use, then I am happy to unload them. I might not even cry as much, since I know they will be appreciated.

I may not be able to singlehandedly effect a national discussion on the issue of poverty in this country, but I do know I can give a little kid a copy of The Cat in the Hat. I can give a high schooler a copy of On the Road and inspire him as I was inspired by that book when I was in high school. I can give a middle-aged mother a copy of Without by Donald Hall and show her beauty in its purest form.

That, I think, is no small thing.

If anyone is interested in helping with this endeavor, please contact me and we'll see what can be done.

link | posted by Zombie at 9:43 AM |


Anonymous Hunter commented at 12:58 AM~  

I think that if Katrina -- or any other Storm With A Name -- had managed to hit your old hometown, or mine, or any of those small places in PA that are only known by people who grew up there, we'd be seeing something entirely different on TV than what we saw about NO.


It would be badness -- similar badness, even, with flooding and filth and masses of poor finding out just how much worse things can actually get, but nobody knows these places. Nobody has dreams of going there every year and seeing some drunk women flashing for beads, or whatever the fuck it is they do. It really wouldn't be national news -- even if the storm somehow made it from the Gulf to Maine over land without losing any force. The small towns would be forgotten, much like they're being forgotten even now. Sure, people are doing stuff for them, but it's mostly spillover from people knowing the big city that was really hit hard with an I Told You So factor. I haven't seen any of those squishy human interest stories on the news about people who bought trailers in Where The Fuck Is That, Some State Next To Louisiana, but never got to live in it.

As for being poor and health care...I don't think anyone can afford health care unless they're able to shell out A Brand New SUV! in cash for whatever it is that's wrong with them. Which is probably why they have specail Medical Care Only credit card plans. After finding out what it would cost to get Gremlin's teeth fixed, I became instantly glad that I'm still under a version of The Military Plan, because once you get used to that reality doesn't work anymore.

It's good that your books have a place to go, and aren't going to be hauled away by Book Control after your neighbours call them about your Collecting Habit. Me, I miss most of my books, because they're currently living in PA. And the ones that aren't, well, I have to get around to throwing some of them away, because, where I used to rained inside.

Blogger Zombie commented at 8:11 AM~  

Actually, you're probably right, we wouldn't hear about it if it was my old town or your old town - but I was trying to make a point with something I am familiar with - which is poor, poor steel/coal/oil towns in PA. That are mostly white.

But you are right that if Katrina or something similar had whacked into PA, it wouldn't have gotten the coverage. Maybe they'd cover Pittsburgh, or Philadelphia, maybe Johnstown or Allentown, but not the others.

Shanksville is one such town in PA - a poor, poor town - and that's where one of those 9/11 planes landed. I bet if I asked 10 people on the street where Shanksville is, 9 of them wouldn't know.

But at any rate, I was trying to illustrate that poverty isn't something that is confined to race. Probably I shouldn't write heartfelt sermons when I am half-awake, but there you go anyway. ;-)

Anonymous Hunter commented at 8:40 AM~  

I got your point -- poor is everywhere. You can't go outside without stepping in poor.

And I'm not even sure I know where Shanksville is. I 'know', I just don't know. And, for most people, it doesn't actually matter what the place is called, it's just part of some great, emotional event for them.

You're probably right about the half-awake thing. I shouldn't comment first-thing when I wake up, either....

Blogger Zombie commented at 10:02 AM~  

Shanksville is a ways eastish of Johnstown.

At least you know it is in PA, though. Those 9 out of 10 people would be like, "Uh...Arkansas?"

Anonymous cynlee commented at 10:11 AM~  

Shalom y'all,

I am so glad to hear of your satisfaction in finding a home for your books. It's an excellent idea. Makes me wish I still had some more of my old collection around.



Blogger Ralph Nadir commented at 5:54 PM~  

Hey, just thought I'd check in. I've got a bag of books already put together to bring in when they start accepting them.

Oh, and I've started blogging again. Same old address, different blog:

Blogger skippystalin commented at 8:13 PM~  

Shanksville is also where those miners were trapped for a week or something back in 2002. I got to see all of the local coverage from the Sam Adams bar at Pittsburg International airport.

If I remember correctly, it's an hour southwest of Pittsburg.

I'm such a world traveller.

Anonymous Matt commented at 3:31 PM~  

I dunno if the small towns would really have been forgotten cause I saw a lot of coverage of areas of Mississippi and Alabama. And yes, I'm from Louisiana. I live 2 hours west of New Orleans .. thankfully far enough inland that we didn't get anywhere near what New Orleans got. However, I did grow up in the New Orleans area so I had the privilege of worrying about friends and extended family's well being. So to day that it only got press coverage because Louisiana is the home of Mardi Gras isn't entirely fair. It's home to a lot of culture, music, art and people I love. But I've ranted on one hell of a digressional tangent here. My original intent was to give the Zombs babe major kudos for donating such a treasure.

Anonymous Anonymous commented at 3:33 PM~  

*head desk* that should say "say" not day .. damned slippery keyboard

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