Oh Honey Boo Boo!

Whenever I hear about some TV show that others are watching more times than not I am reminded why I basically avoid TV except during my late night bouts with insomnia where TV serves as the perfect prescription for sleep. Last night though as I sipped my tea and scanned my twitter time line I was intrigued by a hash tag that kept popping up #honeybooboo, I mean what the fuck is a honey boo boo? One of my tweeps was gracious enough to not only tell me that it was a TV show but also sent me a clip about the show.

If you live in the same TV avoidance cave me as me, let me explain, Honey Boo Boo is the nickname of a 6 year old girl and “breakout” start that now has a TV show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” on TLC (The Learning Channel). Honey Boo Boo is really Alana Thompson who is an adorable and charismatic girl; apparently Alana had been on Toddlers & Tiara and was so personable that she and her family landed their own show. In the perfect world that might not sound bad, right?

Well Alana and her family are working class and southern, they proudly own their redneck status from all that I have read and while that is not a bad thing, I find this all terribly disturbing. The truth is most of us and I include myself aren’t laughing with these people, we are laughing at them. For a brief period in time we can take a load off by amusing ourselves with people who frankly drew the short straw in the game of life. Shows like this basically allow us to think that no matter how much fucked up ness we are dealing with, at least we aren’t eating cheese balls for breakfast and feeding our kids Mountain Dew and Red Bull and calling it go-go juice.

Granted this family seems extremely self-aware that not everyone is going to like them and that’s a pretty healthy attitude, they seem like good people even if they do have cultural norms different than my own. Yet why is it that we live in a world where other people’s norms are turned into fodder? The older I get, I see that we are all connected and when we can laugh at other people’s norms it’s a slippery slope to the level of disconnect that has become common in our society. On a practical note, I worry that one day Alana will grow up and realize the whole world was laughing at her, just in prepping to write this post, I came across many critiques about Alana and her family. Why does Alana have to be emulating some mythical stereotypical Black woman, maybe she is just being a kid.

Anyway while Honey Boo Boo and her family may be good TV watching, I think I will pass since somehow watching this family live their life, doesn’t quite sit right with me.

It’s bad for your health

Being less than solidly middle class with access to good quality health care that you can actually afford is bad for your health. No really it is. So many of us take it for granted that we will live a nice long life, that we now see the 50’s and 60’s as young, funny thing is that view is often a middle class perspective that is not a universal truth and most certainly not for many folks in the working class. In working class land, jobs that require physical labor are often the norm so much so that you want to retire by your late 50’s because no matter what lies we tell ourselves a body in its late 50’s is not the same as a body in its 20’s.

Case in point, my father in law, he is the last of that generation where being working class wasn’t a dirty word. Nope, he served in the military, used the GI Bill to go to trade school and became a union electrician who was able to earn a solid wage that in many ways has helped to advance his family out of the working class. The Spousal Unit and I joke that my father in law paid to send his only kid, my hubby; to a big name school but my hubby will never earn close to what my father in law’s earnings were. That’s not an exaggeration that is truth. Yet my father in law who often spent his days climbing poles by his mid 50’s was worn out physically from years of physically demanding work. So in his late 50’s he cashed out and retired and now lives in the southwest spending his days hiking and golfing. My father in law was one of the lucky ones, most working class folks these days don’t retire to solid pensions and savings, instead you work until your body gives out then you die. It’s a truth that many poor and working class folks understand hence when a beloved family member gets sick and dies at a seemingly young age we are not shocked. It’s just the way it is.

Fact is struggling to survive day in and day out takes a toll on you both physically and mentally, figuring out how to rob Peter to pay Paul to keep the lights on, rent paid, food on the table and maybe do something a little frivolous for your kids is hard work. Time to unwind, relax and rejuvenate, those are often privileges reserved for those who are little higher up on the economic food chain. Instead we (some may find my use of the word we off-putting but I will most likely always consider myself working class) get our relief in whatever form that we can and sometimes it’s not healthy. Too much tasty but unhealthy food, too many butts, maybe even too many drinks. Simple accessible vices of relaxation for those who struggle to keep their head above water will often in many cases help exacerbate things and lead to an early earthly departure.

Let’s not forget that in the United States even access to health care is almost solely based on what you can afford. What this means is when you are middle class and above you often have a decent employer sponsored health care plan and can afford the co-payments for specialists, etc. Want to delve into alternative health care so that you can deal with your stress, its do-able. Try that shit when you are working class and it’s not going to happen. I remember a few years ago I was having back issues and really didn’t like what my then primary care physician was suggesting, so I tried a chiropractor. I didn’t have insurance that covered the tab but I was able to pay out of pocket for a second until the suggested treatment plan involved three visits a week and at $60 a pop for 3 months…had to let that go. I was fortunate in that I was able to get a few adjustments but many can’t even afford that.

One of the things I am struck by in my work is that so many of the families and clients I deal with are weary; it’s a bone weariness that causes people to age and age fast. I can’t tell you how many people I know who are younger than me but look so much older. Sometimes it’s hard living, but in many cases its life. It’s the fact that things are not taken care of, like dental care. Dental care is one of those tricky issues in that many people regardless of class don’t have dental insurance yet when you are on more solid economic footing you can afford out of pocket treatment costs. Yet when you are struggling to survive its easy to put it off and for many that will lead to loss of teeth, I think of this often as I have been dealing with my own dental issues and the startling reminder that both my parents by age 40 had dentures. My Pops has a full set and my Mom had a partial. I am knocking on 40’s door and still need several thousands of dollars in work but I am determined to keep my teeth. Another reminder for me of how I live in multiple spaces with a foot in many worlds.

This is part of my continuing series on the working class and poverty, I would love to host a guest blogger to write about these issues so if you are interested, let me know.

High Price of living on the egde…payday loans

No, I did not take out a payday loan recently, though I did  over a decade ago  and it wasn’t the end of the world. The reason I am writing this is because someone recently posed the question to me about how bad is it to take out a payday loan? For those not in the know, payday loans are short term loans you get meant to help you out until payday….say you are a working stiff and suddenly your car dies and needs $500 worth of repairs. In the ideal world you would have some type of emergency fund that could easily cover the cost of such an unexpected expense or at the very least you would have a credit card for this type of thing.

Problem though is for millions of Americans that live on the financial edge either by choice or circumstance, what they earn is what they have….meaning there is no emergency fund or credit card to handle such an unexpected expense. It seems that many times folks who live on the edge often don’t have friends and relatives who can float them a loan since they too are living on the edge. Once upon a time, it was considered okay to ask your employer to float you a loan and take it out of your paycheck but that sort of thing rarely happens anymore and is considered in poor taste.

So you need that car fixed otherwise you aren’t going to work, or maybe you are a single Mama and your kid’s father decided to not pay child support and you don’t have enough to pay the kid’s daycare, buy food and make the light bill. What do you do? Enter the payday loan joint, a place where you can borrow say $500 with no credit check either by giving them the title to your car or writing a postdated check where you write the check for say $575.

Now payday loan places have lots of critics, for starters they charge insane interest rates, and for many users have created a trap where the user is only paying interest and taking months if not years to pay off a seemingly small sum of money. Of course in recent years as the horror stories have gotten out, states have started to clamp down on these outfits though a cursory search on Google shows they do still exist. I suspect with the economic downturn they have found new customers with the formerly middle class. After all just because one’s income drops doesn’t mean one’s bills have dropped and sometimes you need cash. Dental work, car repairs, etc…all things that come up and when they do you need cash.

So my thoughts? I think because most of us would never ever want to ask a friend to float us a few hundred bucks (which I did recently, in fact it was a joke, I had a plumbing situation that came up and a buddy floated me the cash for a few days to cover the bill and I later loaned her some cash while she was dealing with a situation) places like payday loans will always have a place. I think they also exist because mainstream financial institutes tend not to make products that work for those on the financial fringes, its well known that in larger cities especially in minority areas there are a shortage of banks and credit unions. Instead leaving the inhabitants in such areas to utilize check cashing joints (in Chicago, we call these places currency exchanges) and payday loan places to meet the financial needs of the people. Until banks and credit unions stop using the much revered FICO score (check out Edmund Andrews book Busted, a 6 figure earning NY Times reporter who got a half million dollars in mortgages that he could not afford and is now in foreclosure but because he started off with a stellar FICO score he was able to get this cash) to determine things such as whether or not someone is credit worthy since there are a number of reasons why someone might have a less than perfect FICO score but still be  able to pay back a loan or be responsible with a credit card.

In fact as I have learned once you have a lousy credit score it can take years to get it back in the right direction…having married really young and made a few bone headed moves in my early 20’s, I have struggled most of my adult life to have a good credit score. It probably doesn’t help that professionally I do work that pays little so never is there an infusion of cash to make good decisions when it comes to finance. Though I will say with age comes a different perspective and hopefully when I check out I will leave this world with good credit.

So to the person who asked me about payday loans, in the ideal world you would avoid them because yes they are predatory. On the other hand if lack of transportation or daycare will make you lose your job thus creating a downward spiral of economic woes, take that loan out if you have no other choices but do everything you can to pay it off in a timely manner. Ideally you would work towards creating an emergency fund even  if its only $5 or $10 every few weeks so that in the future you won’t be in such a place.

If anyone else has any thoughts on payday loans, feel free to share.