Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Week 5: How Dry I Am



"19.99. This case of beer. It's usually $17.76." My husband put the case of beer down on the linoleum. "We're gonna have to drink this slower than usual."

So much for beer at the cookout.

We'd been planning a cookout to celebrate moving to the new house. But I went to the store this week to pick up hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, the usual stuff, and the bill came to $150. Two months ago, that was more than I spent in a month for groceries. Now?

"Have you heard from anyone about next weekend?"

"Yeah. Well, Bert isn't sure he can come down from Bethlehem. Roger's not coming, 'cause he's all the way in Jersey. Kate says she's coming, and so are your parents."

"Anyone else?"

"Haven't heard."

I hate that my friends and I are spread out. It wasn't a big deal, when you could afford to drive ten, twenty miles one way to hang out with someone. But now?

My sister lives in Florida. Other relatives are out in California, Missouri, Colorado. It was only seven months ago they were out here for our wedding.

Don't know when I'll see any of them again. Just can't afford it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Week 4: Welcome to Killadelphia

The bad thing about Philadelphia is that it's hard to separate one cause of violence from another.

I can go for days without watching the local news. It's usually the same: fire in Kensington, shooting in West Philly, robbery in North Philly, racial strife in South Philly. It's like MadLibs--all you do is move the crimes, going round-robin. Shooting in Kensington. Robbery in West Philly. Fire in South Philly. And so it goes.

A few blocks from Kate, when you cross over into West Philly, there was a shooting at the Hess station. Hess is known for carrying the cheapest gas--them and Wawa. Well, whatever cheap is these days, I don't know.

But it was at a gas station. Two men arguing, one pulls a gun, shoots the other, drives off. That's what I heard, anyway. There's so many shootings these days, it's hard to keep them separate. A shooting. A fire. A robbery. A drug bust. A kid shot in crossfire. There've been at least 130 murders this year, and it's only May. Probably more. I've lost count.

But it was at a gas station. Three blocks from a police station on Chestnut. And a lot of us can't help but wonder whether this was the normal kind of shooting--drugs, a woman, a botched robbery.

Or fighting over gas.

I'd say it's gonna get ugly, but it's already ugly in Philadelphia. It was ugly before the shortage, and it ain't gonna get pretty any time soon.

The Hess station ran out of regular gas two days later. I drove by, on my way to see Kate, and saw that only premium was left. So much for the cheapest gas in the city.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Week 3: I Never Wanted To Be a Housewife

I'll tell you one thing that scares the hell out of me--running out of birth control.

When I was a kid, both my parents worked. We were poor, working class Irish--my father didn't finish high school and so bounced from job to job, until getting a job with the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Man, that feels weird now, just thinking about it. He died of cancer, and I sometimes wonder if it was being around those exhaust fumes for 8+ hours a day that did it.

My mom was a nurse; in the 1980s, this didn't seem to be anything special, but by the end of the 1990s and on, being a nurse meant you had a good-paying job, albeit dealing with sick people for the most part.

Both their parents worked; my dad's mom, because his dad died when he was four, and my mom's mom because her dad died when she was sixteen. My dad died when I was seven, but since mom was already working, this didn't change much her being home; we had less money, and she worked more hours, but otherwise, things went on as before, only a little more empty.

I'm starting to notice a pattern.

At any rate--work is what my family has always done. We didn't have any stay-at-home moms, no housewives.

Where am I going with this?

My job--my boring, stupid, data entry job--has the option of working from home, and only coming in one day a week to drop off what you've done.

It's a tempting offer.

Right now we carpool, my husband and I, since we work at the same company. But it's getting more expensive, driving to work. He's talked about becoming a homeworker, suggesting I should too.

One problem.

No health care for homeworkers.

Well. That's one hell of a wrench to throw in. I currently spend $50 a month on medication--birth control, anti-depressant, and allergy medication. No health care means pregnancy. No health care means depression and anxiety attacks come back. No heath care means... well, I can live with sneezing a lot.

I'm not sure what to do. There's got to be something. Maybe a new job, something closer to home.

I'm at a loss.

Some good news: we moved into the house last week, and I went out to Lowe's and picked up plants for the garden--tomatoes, green peppers, jalapeƱo peppers, squash and zuchini. I had to go to a local independent to find the onions, potatoes, and herbs I wanted to plant (mint, parsley, the usual stuff).

Now I have to sit and wait. And weed. I don't really like either.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Week 2: Ain't No Water In the Well

"You win the bid on the Victrola?" Kate asked me.

"No--but I've got another one lined up. Don't know if I can afford it."

"How much is it going for?"

"Hundred dollars."

"Well, that's not so bad."



"Well, dude, you take the trolley to work. I gotta drive."

"Ooo. Ouch."

I keep looking at our mortgage. Right now, we can pay it pretty easily--you know, as long as we don't go to the movies every weekend or buy every CD we want on a whim. Piracy is our friend; it was before, copying movies or downloading music, but now, I swear, it's probably the only way I'll hear the new Wilco album. Which sucks, because I usually go and buy their records, not just download, like somebody who's dead or rich as sultans, like the Beatles.
But I look at the mortgage, and I look at how much money we put in the car this week, and I get nervous. I know, everybody has to tighten the belt, but...
Well, I guess I could stand to loose some weight. Let the tightening begin.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Week 1: Kate Gives Thanks

Kate has never owned a car. She never even learned to drive. On moving to Philadelphia to attend Temple University, she found she didn't need a car, that Philly's public transportation was decent enough that she could get around without needing a car; and besides, her boyfriends usually had one.

When she found that her boyfriend of the last five years was cheating on her, she threw him out--well, the relationship had been falling apart for the past year, with her in grad school and him not even holding down a job. Change was needed.
A car, however, was still not needed. Even without a boyfriend.

Public transportation is Kate's friend. SEPTA--that institution both dreaded and necessary for Philadelphians--was enough to get her from her apartment in University City, to her job at the EPA in Center City, to school at Drexel after work, and back home again. This particular rout is one of the few running on trolleys.

Kate loved the trolleys. Running above ground and below, avoiding the jerking terror of a bus, she happily paid her two dollars a ride.

And then they started talking rate hikes. Again.

"What're you doing Friday?" she asked Mary.

"I dunno, probably watching a movie with Dennis. Why?"

"Wanna come down and hang out?"

Mary, unfortunately, didn't live around the corner like she used to when they both lived in Fairmount; instead, the two girls had gone to different ends of the city, Kate to University City, with its students, anarchists, and Ethiopian immigrants, and Mary to Mount Airy, with its liberals, Unitarians, and strong community organizations.

For being in the same city, they didn't see each other as often as they'd like.

Mary sighed. "Yeah, but can you take the train up here? I don't wanna drive down."
"Why not?"

"Dude--have you see the gas prices?"

"Not really--why?"

"Four dollars a gallon. I'm putting more than $200 a month into my car. Just in gas."

"Wow," Kate said flatly.

"Easy for you to say--you don't have to deal with any of this."

"So are you coming down?"

"Are you coming up?"

A pause.

"Yeah, I'll come up, if you'll drive me home--I don't like taking the train that late at night."

"Well hell, we might as well come down if we're going to drive there and back anyway."

Kate smiled. "Cool. We'll go over to Dahlak's and get a drink? I'll chip in for gas, too."

"You don't have to... Hell, yes you do." Mary gave a caustic laugh and hung up.