we stayed awake

I want to share this poem I found on the blog bathrobetransmissions. I thought it beautifully expressed the schizophrenic feeling of being on food stamps. My thanks to the author.


It could have been any nighttime

anywhere, but

it wasn’t.

It could have been any season, in any

midwestern midsized town, but

it wasn’t.

We should have been sleeping,

we’re both so responsible.

We were giddy, though.

We stayed awake talking

about food,

provoked over plenty,

like third world refugees;

we hailed from the towards-the-bottom portion

of discount dented groceries and fruit about to over-ripen.

Two too-idealistic not-kids

giddy, sleep foregoing

making spectacles of our responsibility

while we giggled and plotted

at the newly accessible grocer’s shelves.

Our eyes lustrous in the dark,

we conspired to dream

of pastrami and provolone,

of plums, kumquats, and radicchio,

lasagna with fresh mozzarella,

and being well-fed.

The U.S. government can placate us poor so easily with food stamps.

We have so much. Why does this break my heart?

December 7, 2011

revised January 27, 2012

via we stayed awake.

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty on a budget isn’t easy. Beauty with no budget is even tougher. For example: cutting your own hair is tougher than it looks. While I first tried to forego haircuts altogether, eventually I couldn’t stand the thicket of hair over my eyes and seized a pair of scissors. I thought the results quite fetching, until I scored a coupon for a $4 haircut and the hairdresser blurted out, “Who in the world cut your hair?” I mumbled something, but we both knew the truth. I vowed to seek other ways to keep my hair in check.

My new gray hair posed a bigger problem. Potential employers shy away from the Cruella De Vil look. So I figured I’d be better off if I got rid of the gray. Checking out the prices at the local salons was a shock, and I learned the color would need re-doing every six to eight weeks.

Then I saw a free trial offer from eSalon.com. They promised salon quality, help from on-line hairdressers, and delivery to my door for a fraction of the cost. Why not? I thought. How hard could it be?

I filled out the online questionnaire telling them my hair goals (to look like Kiera Knightley), my hair type (neglected), and my preferred color. I bogged down on this last. They had dozens of color variations from violet to icy to copper to auburn. Did I want “gold brown” or “dark brown”? Reddish? Blonde? Ash?

After carefully studying the sleek models showing every permutation of brown, I boldly selected medium brown and sent off my request. Soon a package arrived in the mail with detailed instructions, two bottles of chemicals, gloves and a small brush. I waited until I had the house to myself and set up. First direction: clip your hair into four equal sections. I don’t own any hair clips. But being an innovative sort, I figured I could use paper clips. Next, mix the chemicals. The directions didn’t mention that they smell bad. Think of a week-old diaper pail.

Undeterred, I proceeded to the next step. Take a section of hair and get the goop onto the gray. I chose to use the little brush. Here’s where I discovered the next problem. I’m nearsighted. I can’t even see people in front of me without my glasses. After I found myself applying dye to the bathroom door, I put the glasses back on and decided my frames could use a new tie-dye look.

Next, I realized I’d forgotten the gel you’re supposed to apply to the skin around your hair to keep from looking like a tanning-booth victim. Too late. All I managed to do was smear the gel into the already dyed section of hair. The whole process was taking too long. I had visions of each quarter of hair turning out a different color.

I hurried through the first two sections and then had another realization. How are you supposed to see the back of your head? Did I even have any gray hairs back there? How would I know? I tried to find a mirror, but no luck. By now, I was sure the front of my head must be turning black. I hurriedly raked some goo onto the back sections, turning my neck and ears brown in the process, and set the timer on my phone for 15 minutes. I didn’t dare leave the bathroom. What if I got dye all over the house?

The instructions suggested the next step take place in the shower. I then had my next realization: I had no way to get my clothes off over my head without dyeing them. I tried. The paperclips got stuck on my pajamas. More minutes went by while I wrestled my way out. I was sure my hair must be dissolving by then.

I got into the shower. The next step was “shine.” I was supposed to mix water into the remaining dye until it was foamy, pour it back into the bottle and then apply it to the rest of my hair, lathering for two minutes. Again, no glasses. Big dish, little bottle. Not possible to pour it back in. Instead I decided I’d pour the dish on top of my head. Some of it actually made it onto my hair. Most ended up down my back, over my front and all over the shower.

I shined on and then spent the next 10 minutes rinsing the goo from my hair, my ears, my feet and shower. Here I learned lesson number six. Don’t rinse brown dye from your hair in a shower with beige grout.

I emerged with no gray hair looking like a Pygmy. My bathroom looked like I’d slaughtered a brown-blooded animal in it. If anyone ever goes missing in my house, I’m in trouble.

Hairdressers everywhere now have my complete respect.

Despite this experience, it is possible to be cheap and look professional. Dollar-store eyeshadow seems to work as well as more expensive brands. I haven’t gone blind yet or developed any rashes. And my homemade soap takes off makeup and keeps my face clean, although a Mary Kay lady warned me soap would wither my face like an apple doll. So far, so good, unless you ask my daughter.

And I’ve found Goodwill a reliable source of professional-type clothing for those times when I have to leave my office and actually meet people. This last comes with a caveat. Inspect the clothes carefully. They may have been donated for a reason.

This summer I went to a writing conference to meet agents for a novel I’ve written. I felt very spiffy in a $3 pair of black slacks and a jacket from Goodwill. To my horror, right before my agent appointment, I discovered the reason the pants were so cheap. The zipper was broken. I’d been wandering around the conference with a major draft. I raced to the hotel desk and got a sewing kit and ducked into a restroom. No safety pins. Standing in a stall, I sewed the zipper into the up position, (not easy when you’re wearing the pants) and dashed to my appointment, sliding into my seat just before the doors closed. The agent did request a look at the book, but going to the bathroom the rest of the day required something resembling the limbo. At least my hair wasn’t gray.