Friday, December 28, 2012

Poverty and Trips to Idaho

I wrote this story over 20 years ago when I worked for the Postal Service. Some of the incidents actually took place. Well, possibly just one incident. But in the ensuing 20 years, one thing hasn’t changed. Many Americans can’t get the idea out of their heads that poor people are screwing us. My only question is this. If they’ve been screwing us for this long, why aren’t they doing better?

    It’s that time of the year when offices start collecting for Christmas care packages for the needy. At my workplace, in addition to asking for non-perishable canned goods, we were also asked if we knew of any needy families on our route that might benefit from our generosity. The request came with one caveat.

“Make sure the families are truly needy,” we were cautioned. One year we brought food to a home and the family was away on vacation to Idaho.”

This seemed rather strange to me. I never took vacationing in Idaho to be a measure of one’s financial well-being or not-so-well-being, and yet the implication clearly was that the truly poor would not be vacationing there.

I don’t know. Having vacationed in Washington D.C., Boston and other tourist hotspots, I’d look at Idaho as a pretty cheap getaway, all things considered. I have never heard anyone say, “We’d like to go to Idaho this year, but I don’t think we can afford it.”

I generally set an income level of 15 to 20 thousand a year for a family of four as being in the struggling range and below that to be poverty. But maybe I’m na├»ve to be considering poverty based solely on economic indicators. 

Maybe there is something to be said for the Idaho/poverty connection. I checked out some books from the library and sure enough Idaho has one of the lowest number of people living off Uncle Sam.

So if you can’t live there and be in poverty, it stands to reason you shouldn’t be able to visit there either and be in poverty. You can’t have it both ways. Therefore it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to be giving someone visiting Idaho a Christmas care package. Or anything else for that matter.

I’m very careful about this now that I know. Like they say, a little bit of knowledge goes a long way—maybe not as far as Idaho but still a long way.

I was walking into a neighborhood K-mart the other day and there was a Salvation Army soldier manning the post. I walked over to him and casually struck up a conversation.

“I was just wondering,” I said, “but you don’t happen to know if this money or any of the stuff you buy with this money goes to people who vacation in Idaho, do you?”

He looked real smug, like he knew where I was coming from but at the same time didn’t want to be bothered—like he had seen me coming or something. He stepped back and pointed to a sign taped to his pot. It read: WE DON’T GIVE NO MONEY, NO HOW TO PEOPLE WHO VACATION IN IDAHO.

“Satisfied?” he asked.

“Very much so,” I replied, “and impressed I might add.”

“Well, let’s put some of the green stuff into the pot then.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Not so quick. Being satisfied and being willing to part with my hard earned cash are two different things. You know, I watch a lot of 60-minutes, so I’m not exactly walking around in a vacuum. I know there is a lot of fraud going around, especially amongst the poor. You read the papers, don’t you?”

“What are you getting at?” he asked, a little impatiently.

“How do you know,” I said rather deliberately so as to make my point perfectly clear, “that some woman doesn’t tell you that her family never visits Idaho and then after you’ve given her a turkey and a week’s supply of canned peas they don’t pack up and hit the road. How-do-you-know, eh, how-do-you-know?”

“I don’t know, I’ll ask her.”

“You don’t think she’d lie to you if she wanted the turkey bad enough? Maybe you should have her sign an affidavit.”

“Stating what?”

“That they aren’t going to Idaho.”

“Never, ever? For how long?”

“For as long as they want to be treated as poor people.”

“And maybe, I could drop you right where you stand,” he said, sounding not so much like a Salvation Army soldier but more like a real soldier.

I wasn’t taking any chances. I dropped a buck in the pot and took off. Still, something has to be done about this Idaho problem. I’m just not exactly sure what but something has to be done.

I’ll tell you what I would like to do, though. I’d like to take a trip to Idaho over the holidays. Then I could send postcards to all my friends.

“Merry Christmas from Idaho,” I could write. “Wish you were here. Wish you could afford to be here.”
I’d be the envy of all my friends. “Man, that Phil has it made,” they’d say. “He’s doing Christmas in Idaho. He must be rich.”

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pearl Harbor Day 1982, Hope for the Holidays

I left Vietnam in July 1971 and the Army in January 1973. For the next few years I lived in San Pedro and Long Beach, California; Rochester, New York; and Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina before settling in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Somewhere in the middle of all that moving around I got married and by 1982 I was the father of two girls. I had done a little writing while living in California but not that much and I had reflected back on Vietnam even less. But by 1982 I was ready to take look back  , not just on Vietnam but also on just about everything else.


Hope For the Holidays
                     --a GI remembers
                           Virginian Pilot, Tuesday, December 7, 1982

In December 1970, I was nearing the end of my first year in the army. It was a strange year. I held none of the then-popular objections to serving in the army. Both my parents had served their country during World War II and I was proud to be following in their footsteps.

But there was one problem. I didn’t really feel that I was walking the same path that they had. So many changes had taken place and the army had come under so much attack in recent years that it was hard to believe that my army was my father’s army. His had had the support of the entire nation. Mine didn’t even have the support of its own members. After one year I was still looking for the missing link.

But as the year was drawing to a close it was the upcoming Bob Hope Christmas Show that occupied my thoughts more than anything else as the 12 days of Christmas passed so tediously slow.

I was an information specialist assigned to the 1st Aviation Brigade. We’d be in charge of taking the official pictures of the show—Hope, the girls, the celebrities, the girls—did I mention the girls.