He, here’s a Michael Jackson song you probably haven’t heard in a long time, but right now it’s my song:
You can’t win, you can’t break even
And you can’t get out of the game.
People keep sayin’ things are gonna change,
But they look just like they’re stayin’ the same.
You can’t win; way over our head
And you’ve only got yourself to blame.
You can’t win, chile, you can’t break even,
And you can’t get out of the game.
I know, inspirational, yes? Sure, it’s no “We Are the World,” but I’ve been singing it to myself all evening ever since I left work. “Work” in this case is my second job, waiting tables at a restaurant. I took the second job, many of you will remember, quite some time ago to try to make ends meet (read: feed a family of eight, keep them clothed, and keep a roof over their heads). Well, the strain and the pain–some emotional, some physical–is not worth the “gain” (and I use that term extremely loosely). Lemme ‘splain.
Last night, for example: I worked as a server in hopes of making some money for the coming week, to buy stupid stuff like, for example, groceries. Sometimes I work as a cashier, for which I get paid $7.00 an hour and work about a 3.5-hour shift. A server can often make $80-$100 in tips on a good shift. Servers get paid far less per hour, of course: they really work for the tips. Since things are so tight for us all the time, I’ve tried to add some server shifts to make more. I got tired of leaving after a shift knowing I’d just made $28 and the servers had made three times that much in the same span of time. The only problem with that is that it’s a gamble. One never knows if it will be a busy night, and one never knows how people will tip. The paycheck shrinks because server pay is less than cashier pay, so it’s up to a good night of tips to bring in the money.
I was counting on last night being a good night, especially since our account had taken such a hit last week at the grocery store. We are always struggling just to make ends meet as it is, but couple that with not only the inflated food prices of late but also the unusually high cost of living where we live and the result is truly disheartening. (And no, I’m not comparing the prices we paid where we lived before–five years ago–with today’s prices here. I’m comparing today’s prices here with today’s prices pretty much anywhere else. Every time I travel, I go in a grocery store, and every time I do it makes me absolutely sick how much more we are paying for everyday items than people do in other places.)
So I’d just like to thank the family of five who took up two tables and made a royal mess, whose drinks I frequently and promptly refilled, who consumed every morsel of food I brought them, as well as the dessert, who left me the grand sum of zero dollars for a tip. I’d also like to thank the party of twelve who came in fifteen minutes before dinner was over. I had about decided not to take any more tables since it was so late, and taking your party would mean having to open up a special section, which of course would also mean that I would have to stay and clean said special section after everyone left. Still, because I needed more money, and because you were a big group, I took your party and opened that section for you. I brought about 50 refills to your table, promptly brought your requests from the kitchen, kept your table clean of extra plates, and pretty much made sure you had everything you needed. You ran up a tab of more than $105.00, and for my trouble, for all my time serving you, for the extra hour it took to clean up after you and your messy kids, you left me all of $4.00. I hope those children enjoyed that night out. My children don’t get to eat out in restaurants: their mom and dad can’t afford it. Wonder why?
At the end of the evening, I wanted to cry. I don’t know what was worse: the scared feeling that it is still one week to payday from Job #1 and what I brought home last night was/is our grocery money until then, or the anger I felt at these people who would come in, make total slobs of themselves, and then stiff me like that. My last table left at about 9:30, and I did not leave until 11:20 because of all the cleaning up I had to do. To add insult to injury, or more precisely, to add injury to insult, I slipped and fell in the kitchen last night, leaving me with a big knot on my arm and a bruise on my back and aches all over my body.
So I am not going back to Job #2 for the foreseeable future. I had already made that decision before last night (I wouldn’t just walk out with no notice), but last night confirmed that. The hours I have to put it, for so little return, are not worth the strain it puts on my family, not to mention that it makes it impossible for me to be there whenever I am needed by church members. Maybe that’s why required language of a Call to a Minister in our denomination says that the pastor’s compensation package is to be such that he may be “free from worldly cares and avocations” (“avocation” is an old word for a second job).
Yes, we have a budget. Yes, we’ve been through this. It was not, contrary to popular opinion, a magic pill that makes all your troubles go away. Ramsey isn’t saying anything that Larry Burkett didn’t already say anyway: he just does it with all the charm of Michael Savage, all the compassion of Rush Limbaugh, and all the patience of Dr. Laura Schlessinger, hence his popularity on talk radio. But even Ramsey himself in his seminars says that when you’ve cut everything you can cut, what you need is to increase your income. In the words of my 11 year old, DUH! Only nothing I’ve/we’ve tried has gotten me/us very far.
I’ve already said we don’t eat out. Don’t have cable. Don’t take vacations. My wife and I have not bought any new clothes in I can’t tell you how long. An online friend recently said, “Yeah, before you do Crown Financial or Dave Ramsey you’re miserable because you don’t have any money. After you go through them you’re miserable because you still don’t have any money and you never go do anything!”
My wife and I have no health insurance. The children are on our state’s S-CHIP program. (Sorry, Republicans: you may look down your noses at us for this, but the only other option we have is for them to be uninsured, and we’re not going to do that to them, so despise away.) Even S-CHIP doesn’t pay for everything, like our special-needs child’s much-needed (and much-neglected) physical and occupational therapies. (She has one session a week with a tech under the supervision of a PT or OT, not the at-least-two-a-week with an actual PT and OT that she really needs.) And when they do get care (at the Dr. or dentist) they are treated differently. They are treated as “Medicaid kids,” which apparently are a different class of human being from “regular kids.” “Oh, I’m sorry, we’ve scheduled all our allotted Medicaid appointments for the day. The Dr. can see your child three weeks from today.” (I’m not making this up.)
I’ve read all summer (on blogs and Facebook) about families going to the beach. The only time my kids have been to the beach was when I did a wedding for some dear friends from Mississippi. The parents of the bride paid for us all to come down and stay at a very exclusive condo. On top of that, they still paid me an honorarium for performing the ceremony, as if the trip to the beach were not payment enough! Anyway, that was four years ago. They still talk about it, even the ones who were too young at the time to remember it now (they’ve heard their older siblings talk about it). They want to know when we’re going back. So do I, but more importantly, I want to know when my wife will be able to go to the grocery store without crying, when we will be able to pay the bills and set aside the food money and have something left over for school books, soccer registration fees, Scout dues, etc. When we won’t have to say “No” to even the smallest requests from our children, such as going to Sonic for stupid “Happy Hour” half-price drinks (yes, we’ve cut that out, too). When I won’t feel like I’m disappointing my wife and children daily by not providing for them, thus rendering myself “worse than an infidel.” I am worn out with fatigue and anxiety, and I don’t see an end in sight.
I’ve tried to do many different things. I had hoped to get some music published this year. First one publisher passed, and it looks as though another has as well (they said I’d hear something by July 1, and it ain’t July 1 if you haven’t noticed). My wife is trying to get some things going, but that takes at least a small amount of capital: gotta have money to make money, as they say.
It used to be that, when things would get bad, really, really bad, something would “turn up,” as Mr Micawber says all the time in David Copperfield. A wedding would come along, or even a funeral (although I never expect an honorarium for a funeral, I have almost always been pleasantly surprised to receive one), or a speaking engagement at a retreat. All of these have happened in the past at very opportune, one might even say providential, times. It’s been a long, long time since anything like that has happened.
Is there an end in sight? Do I even want to know the answer to that question?