Confessions of a Modern Day American

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Why do I have to eat from a dumpster?  It makes me sick just having to do it.  You don’t know what you are going to get, if anything at all, and then is it going to be any good.  I try to look in the restaurant garbage, but so does everyone else.  Those are the dumpsters more likely to have any food in them and at this point it doesn’t matter if it’s rotten or not.  I have to eat.  I am losing weight, big time.  I look like one of the young kids who sag their pants.  How did I get this way so fast?

I’ll tell you how.  Three years ago I lost my job.  It was the toughest thing to do, to go home and tell your family that there will be no more paycheck.  Four kids and a wife who has never worked a day in her life, huddled on the couch listening to their now deadbeat dad explain how things are going to be different.  Oh, I got unemployment, which is never enough.  When that ran out I got a 26-week extension followed by another 13 weeks when that was up.  I tried to find work, but no one wants to hire a forty something.

All the while the bank was fed up with me and after getting nine months behind they finally foreclosed on our beloved house.  A sheriff’s officer escorted my whole family to our car and asked us to vacate the premises.  We drove down the road in our new home, the kids crying and the wife yelling.  At me.  We did the best we could and lived out of that car for three months during the summer.  Visiting rescue missions, handout houses, food pantries and other places of charity.  We lived a bleak existence here in America.  The richest country in the world.

One day, on my way back from the food bank, I arrived back at the spot where the car was parked.  The car was gone.  The place where it was parked was now vacant.  Instead, there was a rock with a piece of paper under it.  It was a note saying that her and the kids can’t live like this any longer.  No indication of where they went, no goodbye, no nothing.  I stood there holding two bags of free groceries while reading this note.  It was written in one of the kid’s crayons.

I have been living on the streets since that fateful day.  At first it was very hard.  I didn’t know where to go or stay.  I was stuck downtown trying to sleep in places I thought were safe, but abandoned buildings, under loading docks, or alleys aren’t the safest areas to rest.  I have been mugged many times, beat up even more, only for the meager possessions I did have.  My coat, shoes and wallet have succumbed to theft.  I have an un-healed broken finger from fending off a baseball bat wielding, homeless vagabond, one rainy evening.  I reckon he needed my gym bag more than I.

I trust no one.  I keep to myself and clamp my mouth shut.  I collect cans and walk seven miles to garner a few dollars.  I spend it as quickly as possible so no one can rob me.  I know a place near the scrap yard that sells three-for-a-dollar snack cakes.  I fill up on these whenever I can.  I can’t always find enough cans.  I never know where my next meal will come from, if at all.  I can’t tell you how many times I have gone without eating.  I saw my reflection in a store window the other day.  My eyes were sunk in, my cheeks were bony.  My beard was at least six inches and if I were clean-shaven, I bet you could see the shape of my jawbone.  My tattered clothes were hanging off me in such a slovenly manner to which I automatically tightened my rope belt to hold my pants up as if to gather what composure I did have left.  Still, I am a wadded-up human life who hasn’t stayed in the trash can I was first thrown into.

I must go now.  There is the thrift bread store that throws away out-dated loaves of bread.  Sometimes there is mold on them, but if you pick it off the rest is usually good.  The fruit stand near-by has rotten fruit to pick over in their trash.  All you have to do is bite the places on the fruit that are not all soft and mushy.

As sad as this story is, it is playing out on many lives right now.  The population of the homeless is increasing everyday.  This bleak tale belongs to many Americans.  Men and women.  Some shocking cases involve kids.  I know.  I have seen it lately.  I watched it when I was homeless.  It is why I cater to them today as much as I can.  I can only do so much, but one thing is for sure.  The homeless hoards are growing and will never make any extinction list.

Jeff Payne

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