23 November 2009

Never. Before. (Forgotten. Found.)

Beau had never had a Tootsie Roll Pop before...
So he ate it. 6 teeth-splintering bites.

Jaime had never had a cell phone before...
So he waited half an hour for someone to pick up. He had not pressed the 'Send' button yet.

Paul hadn't been to college before...
He thought the books were extra merchandise, bought by the rich people.

Grace hadn't celebrated her Birthday in 45 years...
She didn't know her age. Or the song.

It was the first time in forever that Joe had seen his chin, and that mole.

Jules had waited 40 years to see Lake Michigan again, and had forgotton you couldn't see the other side.

Kevin spoke to his father in Louisiana, who had not yet forgotten about him (even though he sounded different. Faded accent.)

Rosa received her one and only laminated picture of her son, and realized how much he looked like her.

Gary had never smelled new shoes.

Nobody had ever made Ray a birthday card.

Louise said that it had been months since someone had looked her in the eye.

[I don't realize what I'm doing until I am told what I have done.
We don't see significance until it's verbalized,

19 November 2009


The sign up list for the Referral Desk has two columns:
Name and Need
Both columns vary greatly from day to day.

Name: Need:
Natasha Everything
Carrie Nothing at all

Natasha came in and laughed at her own joke, and then said she really didn't have anything to talk about.
Carrie and I filled out a full FAFSA form.

You never know.

(Other endearing "Needs": Anna. Hugs. A million dollars. A girlfriend.)

10 November 2009

The Obama Phone

In May of 2009, a new internet website was launched that would change all of humanity: http://www.safelinkwireless.com/. This site introduced a program that offered a free cell phone with free monthly minutes available to individuals who were currently recieveing other forms of government assistance (such as food stamps, SSI, Medicaid, etc.)
There are a few other stipulations:
1. You must have the phone sent to a residential address
2. Only one phone will be sent to each address
(There were some more stipulations, but they were in a big paragraph with really small writing.)

This phone, now commonly known as the "Obama Phone", changed my job drastically .

Obama Phone Side-Effect #1.
The Address Scramble

A good number of citizens currently receiving goverment benefits do not have their very own residential address. Many of them have no address at all, many recieve mail at other agencies such as ours (which is not considered a residential address), and some recieve mail at a residents shared with other able-bodied phone-hungry adults. Thus began the Address Scramble of 2009, where everyone claimed their sister's and their mom's and their dogsitter's address to receive The Obama Phone (which resulted in a mobs of complaints two weeks later that the rightful owner of the address surprising received the phone instead of them... and equally surprisingly would not hand it over). Somehow, those complaints ended up aimed at me...

Obama Phone Side-Effect #2.
Incorrectly Directed Death Threats

Since I had assisted approximately 200 people in navegating this website over the past half of a year, I was the only face they could think of when things went wrong. It has become my problem that phones won't charge, free minutes haven't been received, and phones screens have been broken when phones have been used as weapons. When I try to explain that I don't know anything about the phones (and definitely don't have replacements hidden somewhere in my desk), I am often met with verbal violence (and long, fierce detonations of The Look). I have memorized the toll-free Customer Service number, further deepening my association with phone-problems.

Obama Phone Side-Effect #3.
ReachOut Wireless

Sometime after the birth of the Obama Phone (respectively, the First Phone), ReachOut Wireless emerged, with a slightly less professional-looking website, and a shady inquiry for the full Social Security number instead of just the last four digits. I began starting the application with a personal disclaimer that I knew nothing about this cell phone service, and can't repair, refund, or in any other way reconcile the storms you may encounter during cellphonehood. ReachOut had no record of all of the Obama Phone addresses, so everyone who didn't nab an address during the Musical Address episode in the Spring dove for one now (and many who were successful looked forward to further success). Affectionatly called "Not the Obama Phone but the Other One", ReachOut uses phones that sometimes have cameras, making it a fan favorite.

Obama Phone Side-Effect #4.
Phone Juggling

You may be familiar with the "one for drugs, one for girls" multiple cell phone designation, but those aren't your only options. Today, I witnessed a particularly spectacular feat:
Mr. Monty came into my office to use the Long Distance telephone line (a service we offer to anyone needing to call outside of the area, at a limit of three times per month) to call his family in California. During that call, a phone rang somewhere in this jacket. His mother got the "holdonasec" while he answered a call from his case worker, wondering about paper work. His case worker got the next "gimmeaminute" while he gave the iloveyou to his mom. Directly after our line was hung up and he picked up the cell with his case worker, another ring came from his pocket (it was Sweet Home Alabama). His "Boo" was told "donthangup" while he pacified his caseworker. When "Shawty" got sick of waiting, the casworker got "konemoment" while I'm pretty sure "girlyougottachill!" reached both receivers.

It is not uncommon for me to be talking to someone who is talking to someone else, which causes a lot of those "Oops I answered the wrong question--I was wondering why you asked me that" moments.

The teenager in your life will no longer be the only one who only gives you 1/8 of their attention.
Get ready for an Obamaphonation.

05 November 2009

News. Worthy.

I grew up in a place where big things showed up on the news. If your neighbors made a 15-foot snowman in their front yard, it was on the news. If there was a bomb threat at your high school, it was on the news. If something happened that other people should know about, good or bad, rest assured, you would know about it.

Tragedy struck this neighborhood this week -- twice -- and I bet you haven't heard about it. At least not on the news. Earlier in the week, a woman was found dead in an alleyway. She was the sister of one of my co-workers, and at first, it was not known whether or not it was a heart attack, H1N1, accident, homicide, suicide... But this was not reported on the news.

Yesterday, a woman jumped off of a 7-story parking ramp onto the sidewalk a block away from our building. Today, I have heard many different theories as to who she was... but that is all I have heard. Theories. Guesses. No names. Because this was not reported on the news.

We know that the latter of these two women was someone we probably know, or knew. We know that we probably had seen her earlier this week. We know that she has a family, that she has friends, that she lives a life that others remember. But not all of them will know. They will be left, like us, to wonder who it was; she will be left without homage, and without being grieved over--at least in this neighborhood, at least for now.

We all speculated today: What if she had jumped off of Rockford High School? Off of Forest Hills Foods? What if she was white? What if she had a name others recognized? Then, would this have been news-worthy? Would it have been worth reporting to others? Would her life have been valuable enough to merit at it's end?

Many people who live in the Heartside area watch the news every morning--more often than I do. It is always on in our dining room, on more than one screen, every day. When tragedy is not acknowleged in this neighborhood, it sends a message that many already feel: that the rest of the city, and the rest of the world, do not care what happens down here, doesn't care if they are mugged or robbed or if they create something beautiful or destroy it. Their lives are invisible, even when they end.

But this is not news to them. I think they've believed it for a while.

04 November 2009

Estrella y mi Oso

Mr. Estrella is a walking paradox. He is a short Spanish-speaking mexican teenager who dresses like a gangster and talks like a retired English professor with a thick accent. He's everybody dude's friend, every girl's "husband". I don't know where he came from, or where he's going, but he sticks out wherever he is, and not just because he wears a fluorescent orange coat.
He really has four names, but Estrella is the one I picked.
Mr. Estrella has been to see me in my office 32 times since September--mostly just to talk. Every conversation ends like this:
"Pues. No se, Anita. Adios"
(And then, he punches my stuffed bear in the face)
"Estrella! Mi oso! Me PresciOso!"
"It's ugly oso."
And so it goes. I am pleased with a pun in my sencond language, and he is pleased with his insult to a bear I was given that was found in a dumpster.
Mr. Estrella got a job painting, which I could tell before he told me. He was covered in it. When he got paid, he bought me three bags of gummy bears. He had never had them before. I gave him some.
"Anita! They are so delicious! I love them! I love them with all of my heart, Anita!"
I looked in every drawer until I found calling card that would work for calls outside of the country. Mr. Estrella has not talked to his mother in a year. There is five minutes left on the calling card, but she never answers. Today, Estrella cried.
Estrella came into my office last week with a string of spanish exclamations that came a little too fast. All I could catch was "Your teacher! Sooo nice! She is going to call!" And then he went to work. An hour later, I answered the phone:
"Anna? Hi! It's Rachel! Your 3rd grade teacher! I met your friend Juan, and I want to give him a Bible in Spanish. Can I drop it off to you?"
She did, and Estrella carries it with him everywhere he goes now. He said he "looks at it every night".
Mr. Estrella looks like Paulie, the native-american/phillipino-looking-19-going-on-11-kid-with-a-dutch-last-name. They both have drinking problems, but Estrella pointed out one very important difference:
"Him, man's body, boy's mind. Me, mind and body both match."
Estrella says after he gets paid next, he will move. He says he has no family here, and that his 7 different supposed wives don't count. "Nobody is sad when I am sad" he says. He thinks he will go to New York.
He told me that he was not going to say goodbye.
I asked him why.
He answered in Spanish, and the best translation I could come up with was:
"For the sake of the bear."