Women on the verge…

For the past eight months, I have been fortunate to work at a part-time job with limited benefits. I say fortunate because of the lack of job availability or options. Thanks to a church member’s recommendation, I was able to secure the job.

Unemployment was an albatross for a long time. My earnings went from a high-five figured salary to zero, to another five-figure salary but this time way down the numeric line. Bookkeeper, Administrator, Special Ed teacher, are titles of the past garnered from a Master’s from a prestigious university and a Master of Science from a not so prestigious college. My current title is, “File Clerk”.

I now work as a file clerk in a homeless women’s’ shelter.

I now work as a file clerk in a mental health homeless women’s’ shelter.

I now work as a file clerk in a mental health homeless women’s’ shelter surrounded by housing projects in a not so desirable part of town.

The search for full-time work with a different title continues, as the part-time work brings in a steady source of income. Some money is definitely better than no money.

The shelter.

The women at the shelter are a mix of ages, races and multitudes of mental health diagnosis-from depression to psychotic. Clients (the women) have endured domestic violence, sexual abuse, incarceration, abandonment, etc., compounded by untreated mental illness. This combination has left many unable to function within society.

The shelter culture, as my director states, is reminiscent of high school cliques. Jocks, nerds, beauty queens, popular, class clowns, stoners are present in the cafeteria only on an adult female level. There are those with seniority (years at the shelter) who are matrons, sought of the welcome committee who console those newly admitted to the shelter.

Yes, a client is admitted, usually from a referring agency, no walk-ins. Once admitted, a bed and room are assigned. The shelter provides three full meals, shower facilities, laundry as well as toiletries. Free medical checkups, psychiatric services and counseling are also provided and a requirement towards securing housing. Check out from the rooms is 10:00am and check in/sign in begins at 5pm. Some clients spend the entire day sitting in the cafeteria, which, also functions as a recreation room. The clients engage in card games, music, conversations, socializing, fights, verbal and some physical, takes place on a daily basis.

The goal of the shelter is to place the clients in permanent shared or single dwelling housing within special housing facilities. The shelter is a stepping-stone for the clients. A place to pause, get back on track, take personal responsibility and gain understanding of their mental illness which leads to self-care.

I spend twenty-one hours a week in this shelter working amongst the clients who visit the clinic for medical, psychiatric and counseling appointments.  I listen to their plights, offer encouragement and direct them through proper channels to obtain services. Remaining distant and aloof is not an option. It is impossible not to care no matter how difficult a client is or can be.

Foods we once ate…and in some cases continue to do so

Oh, food the family ate, back in the day before the pyramid guide and nutrition hysteria.

Here’s a sample of what was:

Curried Lamb-made with the cheap curry found in A&P

Curried chicken with Perdue Chicken before chickens were put on a so-called healthy grain diet

Curried beef-I guess at this point curry put on just about anything

Carolina white rice smothered in Heinz ketchup or was it Heinz ketchup with a dash of rice?

Devil’s Underwood spread on Wonder bread

Chef Boyardee-spaghetti and meatballs or ravioliEgg salad-saturated in mayo- the Hellman’s kind

Uneeda biscuit crushed and placed in a bowl with milk added

Beer with pep milk and sugar- I found this combination quite strange-maybe it’s a Jamaican thing

Olive loaf and spiced ham on Wonder bread, lathered in mayo-the Hellman’s kind

 

Oxtails in gravy with Lima beans

Pigs feet with white beans in sauce

Scotch bonnet peppers pickled in vinegar

Bread pudding

Fried cakes (Johnny cakes) with ketchup

Whole wheat bread lathered with mayonnaise, American cheese and tomatoes

White bread toasted, buttered and sprinkled with sugar

Raisin bread, lathered with mayo-the Hellman’s kind, American cheese and tomatoes

Canned sardines in tomatoes sauce with a side of Carolina white rice

Canned sardines in oil on top of Saltine crackers

Liver, fried and smothered with onions

Cow foot (YUCK!)

SPAM slices, fried with eggs over easy

What foods did you or your family eat?

Pot of Fire

At the age of twenty-five, I consumed my first one pound, twenty dollar lobster, steamed, cracked opened by my own hand, succulent pieces dipped in butter at a now defunct restaurant called Broadway Bay.

What’s the big deal and why did it take so long to eat a lobster?

Trauma.

A lobster, a pot of boiling water with a pinch of salt and a child equals trauma.

I was nine years old and lived in my childhood home in Brooklyn, New York. I was also a latch key kid and spent many hours after a tortuous day at catholic school, alone in the house, waiting for mom, my mom or a sibling to come home from work and school.

Being a latch key kid had its advantages.

I was able to:

-play with matches (almost set the house on fire after setting a match to a perfume bottle)

-sneak outside and run amok with my friends (but back in the house for mom’s four o clock check in call)

– eat bags of chips and Kit Kats bought with the school’s weekly two dollar pledge envelope money (which seldom found its way into the teacher’s hand)

-rummage through my siblings private draws and read love letters (I was an imaginary participant in the RIF program sans the use of library books)

The list can go on but it stops here.

As soon as mom, yes, she is my mom, came home, I was velcroed to her side. I heard stories about her workday, some funny and some, well maybe a PG rating should have been implemented. After this, she would start dinner while changing into her house clothes as I did homework on the dining room table. This was our daily routine, until, she returned home one evening, with a large paper bag.

The brown paper bag went immediately into the kitchen as I trailed behind it. Mom withdrew a lobster and placed into the stainless steel sink.  The lobster was about three pounds, multi-coloured with dark hues of specks and its claws where a dark shade of ruddy pine green. As it stood in the sink mom turned on the faucet and ran tepid water on it.

Giddy with excitement over the gift I thought I received, I remained spellbound and did not inquire what I had done to deserve a new pet or where the tank was or the food to feed it. I splashed water around the poor thing while thinking of names to call it as I tried to figure out its sex.

Mom, yes my mom, meanwhile, started dinner. She placed a large pot of water on the stove and I figured, ‘oh spaghetti’. I did not think of what was to come for my young budding mind did not comprehend the scenario in front of me. Mom, who is from the Caribbean, is accustomed to petting the goat in the afternoon that would later become the invited, cooked and well seasoned guest on the dinner plates.  Bon Appétit-no problem!

The pot of water had turned into a rage of boiling bubbles that broke the surface with bursts of hot air.

I continued to play with my pet lobster.

Steam emitted from the surface of the pot.

I continued to play with my pet lobster now named Ricky.

In a gesture that took two seconds to execute, Ricky went from a caressing waterfall in the stainless steel sink to the rage and fury of boiling water gone wild in an aluminum pot. One clawed waved listlessly in the air and then it was over.

Sixteen years later, I sat in Broadway Bay with my bib and butter and eagerly dived in. Of course dating someone who loved lobster was the ultimate incentive and long after our ending, my lobster fetish began and endured. Until…Karma.

At the age of forty-something, I ate a piece of lobster during lunchtime at one of the dogs’ press shows. In less than twenty minutes, my scalp was on fire with the itchies. Thankfully, I had a Zrytec in my purse that was able to quell the allergic reaction. I was confused, ashamed, and stupefied. Twenty -two years of lobster consumption now reduced to avoidance. No more jaunts to the Caribbean with lobster for breakfast, lunch and dinner. No more Red Lobster in fits of desperation or for that matter, no more Fairway $7.99 lobster specials!! It was over, done, did, over.

What goes around comes around. I let Ricky meet his maker without protest or tears that would not have swayed mom, my mom’s , eye on the prize. She devoured him that night as I cried in my bedroom, oblivious to my heartache.

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