Saturday, October 20, 2007

Week 24: That's the Sound of the Men Workin' on a Chain Gang

Kate's still with us. We've been having trouble getting a hold of her family. A lot of phone tag.

Here's the thing. Pennsylvania has some of the best farmland in the country. We really do. We can grow almost anything here--corn, grapes, apples, wheat, you name it. Jersey's much the same. The thing about agriculture, though, is that it requires a lot of manual labor.

I wasn't sure when I read lead-tag's journal about FEMA the labor camps whether he was kidding or not. Well, not. Kate and I stopped down at a local orchard to get some produce, and we saw all these people out working in the trees. "OK," I said, "guess that's what ya gotta do." But then Kate said she recognized one of the workers.

"That's Lisa--"


"Over there, that's Lisa. She's--I worked with her. She lost her job when I did."

"What's she doing out here?"

"I-I don't know."

I walked up to the kid running the stand. "Hey--what's with the people?"


"Where'd they come from?"

"Oh, they're from the camp."


"Yeah, the camp. Outside of Norristown."

"There's a what?"

"You know, with the trailers and stuff. Refugees, I guess."

"From what?"

"Homelessness, I guess. Look, all I know is they're brought here to pick the apples."

We doubled-back after buying our produce, and snuck into the orchard. There we saw Lisa, up on a ladder.

"Lisa!" Kate's voice was little more than a hiss.

"Kate? Shh! Kate, don't let 'em know you're here."


"Quiet! Look, wherever you came from, go back. You don't want to get caught up."

"Caught in what?"

Lisa looked around, I guess for a boss. Nothing. "After you left, the government came through--told everyone who wanted that they could find work out in the country, and a place to live. So I went. I was tired of being shot at."

"Damn it, Lisa, you shouldn't've left. Arthur would've--"

"Arthur's got his own problems. There's a price on his head."


I laughed. "'Price on his head'--what is he, Robin Hood? Are we back in the Middle Ages now?"

Kate gave me a withering look.

Lisa continued. "A gang. Look, it's a long story. He's got problems with a gang; I got the hell out of there. Jumped on the truck and didn't look back."

"Why didn't you try to get back to West Chester?"

"Um... Because I'm a lesbian and they're devout Catholics?"

"Yeah. Well, I doubt you're gettin' any pu-"

"Shh. Look, guys, get going. Go home. I'll see if I can talk to you later."

Kate said, "I still have my cellphone."


We still haven't heard from her.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Week 23: An Unexpected Party

I was awoken this morning by pounding at the door.


"I need your help."

"Obviously, if you're up here."

I brewed some coffee--something I rarely do anymore, due to the cost and scarcity, but this counts as a special occasion. We sat at the kitchen table, as I made some toast and preserves.

"I need to get to Reading."

"Good luck."

"No--I mean it. I need to get home. To my parents."

"Why? What's going on? I mean, other than the end of the world as we know it."

"I was laid off. And I haven't been able to get to class--I can't afford it now."


"Can you help me?"


"Mary, please. What choice do I have?"

What choice do I have?

"Take a couple of days and stay with us. OK? We'll figure out how to get you home, but take a couple of days here and rest. Try and get a hold of your mom, see what's going on in Reading."

That afternoon, we went down to my parents' place for lunch; Lansdale has a shuttle going back and forth between the train station and Center Point in Worcester. Kate told my folks about losing her job, and how she needed to get to Reading.

"Are there still Greyhound buses?" Kate asked.

"In King of Prussia, there are," my stepfather said.

"Is--is there any way to get there? I know, I should've gone from Philly, but, I guess I wasn't thinking."

"It's alright, Kate," I said, "I'll take you."

And I will, but not for a few days--I'm going to try and get a collection for gas money.

I've got a bad feeling about this...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Week 23: I Just Wasn't Made For These Times

The ax came down on Friday. Half the office was let go, including Kate. Her paystub in hand, she took the trolley back to Arthur's.

"They laid me off."

"I'm sorry, Kate."

"No--it's OK. I--I can just spend more time on school."


"Arthur. I don't know if... I don't know how I'll chip in right now."

He nodded. "There's probably something. The co-op--"

"The co-op already has three people working there. That's all they can support. They want volunteers, not workers."

Arthur began fiddling with a broken radio. One of his sister's kids dropped it down the stairs that morning. "Kate, I'll help you as long as I can, but--"

"But this isn't a charity. I know."

Kate left. Arthur sat back. He knew what she was going to do, but he didn't feel he could stop her. Resources were stretched as it was.

That night, Kate packed two bags. There wasn't much left--the bed and dishes she knew she'd have to leave behind; she selected a few of her favorite books. A few favorite clothes. A few favorite cds. Her laptop.

She missed the apartment. The backyard, with her tomato plants; the mantel over the fireplace, where a Buddha sat next to a rosemary tree; her books. It wasn't much, but it had been hers. But that was over now.

"Where are you gonna go?" Lisa, who worked with her until the layoff, had been her roommate for the past two months here at Arthur's. She'd been let go too.

"I don't know. I just want to go home. I want to go back to Reading."


"I don't know. I just--look, I've got some friends out of the city. They say things are OK out there. I'm going up to them, and from there, I'll figure something out."

"Are you serious?"

"What choice is there? I can't stay here. I can't even go to school anymore. At least in Reading I have family." She paused. "What are you going to do?"

"I don't know."

In the morning, Kate took the trolley to 30th Street Station, boarded the R5, and headed for Lansdale.