Informative Transgressions

Most people get information through well-greased channels: The press. Social media. Gossip in your business/social circle. Gossip from people with wide ranging connections, such as your barber or hair person, the cab driver. Chatter at parties. Presentations and side bar discussions at conferences.

Of course, a lot of what we learn is through observation, such as figuring out how to manage a difficult boss by watching someone else handle him or judging the state of the town by how busy its stores and restaurants are.

But we also learn things via what amount to social transgressions. If you live in a big city, getting panhandled is a (probably genuine) show of desperation. Even if we try not to look or think too hard about their circumstances, some of the message still penetrates.

It may just be coincidence, but I’ve had a couple of the transgressions recently, and I wonder if they are another sign of stress in our society.

One was at my gym, which is in a large community center. I come late in the day, and the receptionist most days, of the week, who we’ll call Mary, is a woman in her late 50s. I had worked out she was living alone. She’d been friendly and we’d had some short conversations.

One day, she mentioned the death of her son, in a way that it would have seemed insensitive for me not to ask for more. I got a twenty-minute account of how he and, wound up going from Oxycontin to heroin because it was cheaper. She said she rationalized it was not that bad because he smoked heroin rather than injected it, but he had had a form of intermittent childhood asthma (I can’t remember the clinical name) that had kept him from pursuing a basketball scholarship, and the smoking brought his lung problems back. He tried without much success to get off, had started stealing to support his habit and wound up in prison for two years.

He’d moved in with her, worked at off and on jobs, and was still not clean all that often. She described him as a lost soul, someone who’d never had a driving interest or tight relationship with a girlfriend.

He’d come home one evening in August and went back to his bedroom. He came out a while later for a snack, grabbed a beer, spoke to her briefly, and returned to his chamber. A bit later, she heard a crash. She guessed as to what he’d knocked down and figured she’d better not intrude.

The next day, he hadn’t emerged by midday and she went to check on him. He was dead on the floor. She was crying so hard at this point that I wasn’t clear on whether he died of an overdose or from the item that crashed, a bookcase, falling on him.

She then recounted what happened next: her distraught call to the police, their cold treatment and hostile questions when they arrived, how she had nowhere to go and the only solace was a neighbor she barely knew coming over that day to sit with her and listen to her.

She didn’t have enough to afford to bury him. She had to beg people she knew at the community center for $200 so she would have enough to cremate him. She still didn’t have enough to buy nice urn but she had his ashes on her mantle along with his photo.

She told me this story the day after Kobe Bryan died. She said it meant a lot to her that three of her son’s friends had put on their Facebook pages that he would be shooting hoops with Kobe now.

I feel I’ve led a sheltered life, since I don’t know anyone personally who died of opioids (I do know one who died from meth, but he was the very good friend of a very good friend, so I was still a bit removed). So I also felt a bit uncomfortable at getting an education of sorts from hearing about her tragedy. And yes, this was her only child.

I have a feeling the management is trying to force her out, which I find appalling given that she clearly would have difficulty finding other employment. They have moved her off the afternoon/evening shift. They seem not to see her, an older woman with a heavy-ish accent as not the sort they want representing them; I now see younger people, more top 10% friendly, at reception when I go there.

I’m new there but I did give them a not-trivial donation to buy some extra equipment, so I in theory have more pull than your average Joe. However I’m not sure how to say, without looking like a pushy Yankee (which is even worse coming from a woman), that them giving her worse hours looks like age discrimination.

The other incident was on my way back from Dallas. There was no traffic that day, so wheelchair attendant had parked me close to the gate. I pulled out my laptop and started working.

Before the gate agents arrived, another wheelchair attendant came up, apparently my next minder. This was unusual; at best, they show up shortly before the plane starts boarding.

She was a short, very blonde middle aged woman with a round face and oversized, rectangular horn-rimmed glasses. She immediately started telling me she was a photographer and how digital cameras had really cut into her business. At the end, she gave me her card: Tammy Cromer.

Tammy then gave a long-form account of her role in shutting down a toxic plant run by Gibraltar, Inc. and her book about it: Fruit of the Orchard: Environmental Justice in East Texas. From the Amazon summary:

In 1982, a toxic waste facility opened in the Piney Woods in Winona, Texas. The residents were told that the company would plant fruit trees on the land left over from its ostensible salt-water injection well. Soon after the plant opened, however, residents started noticing huge orange clouds rising from the facility and an increase in rates of cancer and birth defects in both humans and animals. The company dismissed their concerns, and confusion about what chemicals it accepted made investigations difficult.

Outraged by what she saw, Phyllis Glazer founded Mothers Organized to Stop Environmental Sins (MOSES) and worked tirelessly to publicize the problems in Winona. The story was featured in People, the Houston Chronicle magazine, and The Dallas Observer. Phyllis Glazer was voted one of the 20 Most Impressive Texans of 1997 by Texas Monthly because of her work in Winona. The plant finally closed in 1998, citing the negative publicity generated by the group.

This book originated in 1994 when Cromer-Campbell was asked by Phyllis Glazer to produce a photograph for a poster about the campaign. She was so touched by the people in the town that she set out to document their stories. Using a plastic Holga camera, she created hauntingly distorted images that are both works of art and testaments to the damage inflicted on the people of a small Texas town by one company’s greed.In the accompanying essays, Phyllis Glazer describes the history of Winona and the fight against the facility, Roy Flukinger discusses Cromer-Campbell’s striking photographic technique, Eugene Hargrove explores issues of environmental justice, and Marvin Legator elaborates on how industry and government discourage victims of chemical exposure from seeking or obtaining relief.

Tammy’s account had much more detail on the horrific health problems in the community and the concerted efforts by the owners to hide evidence.

Tammy said her photographs had been turned into a show designed for an exhibition at a university that could fit into a lot of categories, such as art, environmental justice, and journalism.

She also described another East Texas project that might gel, a possible documentary about a woman who had slid into prostitution (she had clearly been groomed, first recruited to be a photography model, then paid more to dance, then offered much more to go make a patron “happy”, and she’d worked her way into a high-end clientele). She was “rescued” by a Christian and resisted his interest in marrying her. But he did help her buy an abandoned nursing home and turn it into a transition center for women who’d been sex trafficked. Tammy did give me the name of the woman in question but I didn’t record it. I gather this founder has gotten kudos precisely because her institution has a better success rate than others by virtue of being run by someone who had been in the trade.

Tammy also cheerfully told me about her divorce and how she was going to be working again at one of the local arenas for some upcoming concerts (which she liked, even though the tips could be terrific or terrible, getting to see the acts was a treat).

And then I had to board.

While Tammy was so extroverted she could carry off her presentation well (she was very engaging), it was still sad to recognize that someone who would ordinarily be able to pursue her craft, or have a job that might be more amenable to keeping it going as a sideline (say as a low-level administrator in a college or private school) instead was selling to everyone she met in her physically taxing day job.

I did order her book.

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  1. jackiebass

    I live in an economically depressed area in upstate nY. You see people, many of them old, picking cans out of the garbage for the $.05 deposit. They are always finding a new homeless camp hidden away out of sight. It bothers me that in a country as wealthy as the uS something like this exist. What is even more troubling is that many people believe those on food stamps, unemployment, or Medicaid are lazy and it’s their fault. They actually think society should let them die. The area strongly supports Trump.

    1. rd

      They don’t understand yet that it is their Social Security retirement/disability and Medicare benefits that are in the Mnuchin/Kudlow gunsights. Many of the farmers are also looking for continued government support on corn and dairy prices. They think the target is on the back of the “others” that are “sponging off society.”

  2. Amfortas the hippie

    for some reason, the periodic rashes of suicides and overdoses…as well as the likely suicides/overdoses that get euphemised on the scanner into “accidents”, etc…seem to cluster in spring time.
    in such a small, isolated place(4500 folks in the county), even when it’s “white trash”,or otherwise perceived as “deserved” or “not a surprise”, it has a large effect…because everyone is related, somehow.
    meth is the thing, out here…although vicodin diversion and abuse is a substantial underground trade.
    meth is the working class drug…people get into it so they can work longer…the second or third job…or gig(lots of informal, sideline work going on around here, to make ends meet).
    my sources tell me that the meth is all coming from Mexico, now…after several labs blowing up…
    the deaths hit you where you live.
    this is a former farming community…so suicides have always been a periodic phenomenon(which should say volumes about our ag policy over the last 100 years or so…Parity Pricing Now!)…but the incidence is way up since 08 or so.
    it’s despair…and everyone knows it.
    another crazy datapoint is that my county doesn’t have the worst of it….of the 4 counties that abut us, 3 have major meth problems, making ours look small by comparison…and the incidence of “accidental deaths” in those counties is even worse(derived from anecdote, because i am not as plugged in to those places). so many toothless white folks!
    so many desperate people!
    again…it’s despair…and everyone knows it…but few want to acknowledge it, let alone talk about it….and the problems that feed it are so overwhelming…and the parties and Ideologies and “The Way Things Are” are so geared to and adept at limiting even thinking about what we could do about it…that it’s just easier to put it all down to blaming the Little Fish for polluting the water.
    so we shake our heads…say “what a shame”…and slip back into the talking points and shibboleths of Normality…and try not to think.
    everything is so not fine.

    and, like your two examples….i’ve found…and been shocked by finding…that people long to open up and talk about it, if given the encouragement…or whatever is in my hoary visage that indicate that it’s OK to open up to me in this manner.
    around the hospital environs, especially…perhaps given the varieties of Doom that bring people there in the first place.
    there is a great, unaddressed and unacknowledged Longing out there….to hash all this out….to talk about all these things that we blame ourselves for…
    but that we know…at some level…are not our faults, at all.
    the smartest thing the Machine ever did was get us to blame ourselves, and to be ashamed of failing to be psychopathic enough to “make it”.

    1. flora

      It seems like expressing sadness, deep disappointment, despair, grief, and a whole range of emotional responses to life’s ups and downs here in the US is strongly discouraged. We’re supposed to act like upbeat ‘salesmen and women’ all the time, even to ourselves in our own thoughts (how else could we keep up the act). We’re supposed to ‘suck it up’ and ‘get over it’, no matter how devastating the loss. When the culture around you, and even you yourself ignores half your emotional life, it can be awfully isolating, imo.

      There’s no time for the human in this our libertarian, each-against-all modern US.

      The farm crisis of the 1980s saw a big spike in farmer suicides all across the country. Many states setup crisis hotlines to connect farmers with people who know what they’re going through, and that connection with people who listen, know the problems, have resources, really helped curb the deaths from despair in rural areas. Making a human connection in desperate times is so important, and it’s something ignored.

      1. furies

        The pathologizing of grief, distress etc. A huge boon to Pharma. How many suicides/violence as a result of prescription psych drugs (see black box warnings) freely dispensed?

        Personal experience sees these results all around me.

        Yes. The skill of ‘active listening’ seems rare these days. Again something neoliberism engenders…no one has the time or emotional energy from just trying to survive.

        It’s all so crazy making.

        1. flora

          How many suicides/violence as a result of prescription psych drugs (see black box warnings) freely dispensed?

          I once was prescribed a fluoroquinolone based (black box warning) antibiotic. After 3 pills, my brain started telling me to “just die, you should die, after all you’ll die eventually so why go thru all the pain between now and then when you could end it now, think of all the suffering you’ll save yourself if you just end it now”. It was a very seductive voice, hypnotic almost, but it wasn’t MY voice. Holy Murgartroid! I’ve never, ever, in my whole life (even in the teenage years of angst and ‘I’ll show them’- heh) had suicide thoughts. But that fluoroquinolone drug seductively made me think it was a good idea, so sensible, so rational.

          Holy #%&*!#. ! When I realized what was happening, I threw the pills in the trash, deciding I’d rather take my chances with a bacteria than with pills that had my brain telling me to off myself. On the following day I went to my Dr. and said,” Rerun the panels. If I need an antibiotic then prescribe a non-fluoroquinolone, some A-B that’s been around a long time with no black-box mood alteration or depression warnings.”

    2. lordkoos

      I recall visiting New Orleans in 2006 about 6 months after Hurricane Katrina. People everywhere were eager to tell their personal stories about the storm, their losses, and how they coped. People want and need to be heard. One of the reasons I like Bernie Sanders is from seeing videos of him listening to people and showing empathy.

    3. JBird4049

      “for some reason, the periodic rashes of suicides and overdoses…as well as the likely suicides/overdoses that get euphemised on the scanner into “accidents”, etc…seem to cluster in spring time.”

      When AIDS really got strong in the San Francisco Bay Area, especially when people realized that there was something causing certain death and was supposedly God’s Punishment on the Wicked Gays, hardly anyone died of that. An awful lot of people were dying “after a brief illness.” Pages of obituaries of death from a brief illness. When people realized that intravenous drug users were also also victims that made the dreaded brief illness even more lethal. Pages and pages of dead gays, addicts, hemophiliacs, and surgery patients all dying from it.

  3. Stephen The Tech Critic

    When I lived and went to university in California, I got called for jury duty an absurd number of times. Twice was in a rural county in the Central Valley. The first time, the judge excused me because I was a student, but this excuse only meant I’d get called against within a few months (!). The second judge refused to excuse me, and I was chosen for the jury. This put me under a lot of pressure because I had mandatory-attendance lab sessions in which I could not miss without completely screwing over my lab group.

    The criminal trial defendant an older, obviously poor Mexican man (possibly immigrant) who never spoke and may have barely known English. He was charged with DUI or DWI (can’t remember), and this charge was distinct from “DUI/DWI per se“. The lack of the suffix in the charge indicated that the defendant was deemed “drunk” despite not exceeding the legal BAC limit. The evidence against him was the testimony of a couple cops and a short video of his car weaving. The below-limit breathalyser result was reported as evidence that he’d had something to drink. Also, the defendant’s lawyer was atrociously bad. I think the defendant could have made a better case for himself in Spanish.

    During jury questions, I requested elaboration on the calibration standards and detection limits of the BAC equipment. I felt it was unclear that his “positive” numerical result was indicative of anything untold. The judge censored my question. The jury deliberation consisted of everyone announcing, one-at-a-time, their intent to convict him. I managed to avoid committing until I was the last person in the room, and despite my serious doubts I gave in. I think he got a few months in jail and fines he likely could not afford to pay on top of everything else. I felt absolutely terrible about it as I do to this day.

    1. Gregg Spindler

      Hey, these things end VERY badly, too. Maybe the guy you sent to jail sobered up. Maybe.

      My 25 year old daughter was killed by a drunk driver back in 2013 — with her boss, a PhD scientist, standing in a parking lot, during daylight, 200 feet off of a highway. She was thrown 125 feet and actually lived a short while, naked and disemboweled, with a good Samaritan by her side. Her boss was decapitated and dismembered.

      This led to all sorts of transgressions…

      The killer was a Native American, right between the ages of my two daughters, who failed at in-patient rehab twice. He quit work early that day as a construction laborer on a federal dam project (think of Davis-Bacon and good union wages) because he spent the prior 4th of July weekend doing meth and didn’t feel well. Pot and alcohol apparently soothes the pain of the downer. Community members told me that repeated complaints to Tribal Police on that weekend went unanswered. The attitude is “Indians will do what Indians do”, I guess.

      While in jail awaiting trial, his wife posted on her Facebook ™ account pictures of the killer doing gang symbols with his 10 year old son.

      Most blood evidence was thrown out because law enforcement didn’t get a warrant (required by the McNeely SCOTUS decision a few months before, by the court’s “liberals”). Without the one allowed sample, they guy would have walked out free. But the defense attorney argued his client couldn’t have been drunk at the time based on evidence. Nonetheless he was convicted of Vehicular Homicide and acquitted of Manslaughter in a bench trial (no jury trial for the victims).

      Then it turned out the judge’s son (white kid, reportedly a user and seller by community members) was living with a member of the killer’s clan.

      Then last 4th of July, the 30 year old wife overdosed on fentanyl. Her obit said what a great wife and mom she was. Family oriented, I suppose like the Sopranos (an assistant US attorney told me the clan was at the center of all sorts of depravity)?

      The tribe, Yankton Sioux, was dispossessed of their land; the reservation was allowed to be sold off by members in the 1930s. Being good Ag land, it is mostly gone. Their community reminds me of what South African townships look like. And non-drug users are ostracized, vandalized and intimidated by the gangs.

      In the aftermath, I attempted for several years to work with South Dakota politicians of all sorts to try and improve DUI enforcement and laws. It went absolutely NOWHERE and at one point, the vehicular homicide statute was at risk of being gutted. Yet far more innocent victims are killed by drunk drivers every single year. No other industrialized country has such a piss-poor record on DUI.

      Only in America. You can’t make this shit up.

      1. Gregg Spindler


        Yet far more innocent victims are killed by drunk drivers every single year than were killed on 9/11.

        I also wish to emphasize I have no animosity towards Native Americans; they are victims, too. Some community members were very kind and helpful through this ordeal.

        1. Anonylisa

          So sorry about your daughter.

          Growing up in NM we heard these stories every night on the news. I’ll never forget the family of 5 driving on christmas eve in the 90’s. Hit head-on by a drunk guy. Killed 4 of them. I could not imagine what life was like for the one who lived. What a horror.

          I saw stories of many men in court for their 5th or 6th DWI. They only get about 5 years. Vehicular homicide is only 7 years. I used to joke that if you wanted to murder someone, get drunk and run over them. Less prison time than murder (10 minimum). Breathalizers in cars help some, but many of these chronic drunk drivers drive cars that are not their own and drive without a license. They are too drunk to care.

      2. Jim

        Sir, My condolences to you and your family.
        Try this outrage on for size: In California if you are caught driving with no insurance, your car gets towed and you can lose your license. If you are stopped for DUI and fail the tests, your car gets towed. In some cases you can get a provisional license to drive to work or drive with an ignition interlock device. Nice sop to the insurance and liquor industries.

        The following is from a website that has a nice summary.
        The emphasis is mine
        “Most DUI cases are prosecuted as misdemeanors. But the offense may be charged as a felony if someone is injured or you have four (4) or more prior DUIs on your record. Some convictions carry jail time for California DUIs. In many cases, defendants can continue driving as long as they have an ignition interlock device (IID) installed.”

        Felony DUI, like you kill someone? Max 3 years in prison and five years license suspension, concurrent, so it’s only 2 years suspension?

        JFC! Why don’t people lose their license for life after their 3rd DUI?

        No sympathy for drunk drivers, nor for people who voluntarily start taking hard drugs, in spite of knowing the addiction risk, other than patients hooked on them by their doctors and The Sacklers.

        1. False Solace

          I assume the reason they don’t confiscate driver’s licenses more often is to ensure employers don’t have to deal with all the absenteeism it would cause. The US doesn’t exactly have robust public transportation, for labor or anyone else.

      3. Titus

        No my good man, for indeed, this agony and it’s story happens everywhere in the world. It is just worse in America because we are such hypocrites. My heart goes out to you. And having a similar experience I understand the suffering (2 brothers, mother &father all dead, the same day. They shot each other). There are so many things we do to make everything worse in America. We are number 1 in robbing our citizens, and easily number two in the amount and degree of suffer we inflict on each other (China being no.1). If only those that preach and teach would actually act on what they say. Change is coming, like it or not change is coming.

    2. Charles 2

      I managed to avoid committing until I was the last person in the room, and despite my serious doubts I gave in. I think he got a few months in jail and fines he likely could not afford to pay on top of everything else.

      Every citizen of a country that uses jury trial who has been selected should self educate about jury nullification in his/her juridiction. I say “self educate “ because some judges do not hesitate to seed FUD, sometimes with outright lies, and muzzle free speech about it under the disguise of “outrage to the court”.

      This way, you could have avoided “to feel absolutely terrible about it”

      Also, I am not a lawyer, but telling that you are aware of jury nullification and willing to use it is a double edged sword. On one side, it is usually an express lane to be thrown out of jury selection, on the other side, there may be some legal risk, or at least some legal harassment risk to do so if the judge is vindictive.

      IMHO, if one want to be serious with juries, secret bulletins and majority votes as in continental European countries are a far superior system than the Rube Goldberg contraption of unanimous juries, hung juries and retrial dramas that one has in the US.

  4. Jane

    It may just be coincidence, but I’ve had a couple of the transgressions recently, and I wonder if they are another sign of stress in our society.

    There are so many marginalized groups today I am not surprised this is happening more often. Sometimes a person just needs to know another human being acknowledges they exist; taking the time to listen to their story validates that existence. Kudos for not brushing them off.

      1. aletheia33

        and yes, acts of caring, recriprocal if/as needed, are the best way we have to save us all now. listening to those who cross our paths as often as possible, and taking care of one another as best we can, seeking out ways to support the overwhelmed.

        and that includes this: i’ve become convinced that one of the most effective things one can do right now, if not already doing it, is to donate and/or volunteer to canvass or make phone calls for the sanders campaign. their best hope and strategy (and it’s working!) is what they can do on the ground to bring out voters, people in the kind of predicaments we’re discussing here who never vote or will not vote without support and listening/explaining, and time is shrinking by the day. these phone calls for bernie are a powerful tool in his arsenal, and they only cost a bit of one’s time. the potential payoff down the road for everyone is huge.

    1. flora

      taking the time to listen to their story validates that existence.

      Yes. There is no “app for that”.

  5. petal

    Is there anything we can do to help her buy a proper urn? I don’t have much but am willing to chip in a few dollars. She’s been through enough.

    1. a different chris

      >Is there anything we can do to help her buy a proper urn?

      But that’s the problem with our whole culture. She would feel uneasy taking a “handout”. If everybody, from us to Bill Gates got free urns for our spouses then this wouldn’t be an issue.

      Hillary Clinton would give her a free urn, after she filled out 30 pages of paperwork and stood in line for awhile. Because heaven forbid Gates gets a free urn…

      1. Laughingsong

        So what’s the difference between a “handout” and a gift? Not trying to be contrary here; I totally get this issue. I ask because there’s a nuance or context here that I don’t have the ability to noodle out much less articulate. And having some way, some statement maybe, that will make people feel more comfortable about accepting help seems like a good thing to work out.

        1. Mo's Bike Shop

          “Bandaid Solution” instead of ‘handout’? Like recycling (which I only do for neighborliness, not science), I’m just subsidizing the stupid oppressive system whenever I give in and hand over one of the relatively many dollars I have to the guy who is just unloading/pleading and could do a lot with just one more dollar.

          For the most basic definition of ‘gift,’ I don’t expect the potential recipient to suffer dire consequences or death if I forget to get them a ‘gift.’

      2. Matthew

        Well, if people keep having to use GoFundMe to pay for cancer treatments and rent, I imagine this attitude will change rather quickly.

  6. Mike

    I can sum up my region with one word, but some details first…

    poverty rate above 30%; crime between gangs maneuvering for room in the drug trade (meth, heroin, black market pain killers), murder rate between NYC and Chicago; drop-out rate from area high schools very high, asbestos cleanup closing some poorer schools; cynicism galore; many “legal” citizens using family, friends, and “connections” to cheat whoever & whoever they can; roadways a danger due to potholes and made-to-be-crazy drivers angry at anything in their way, because money & time; most old neighborhoods basically trashed, ignored by city hall; ICE raids on schools; police presence only in minority neighborhoods; kids working two or more temp jobs while in school; infrastructure… what infrastructure? This does not cover personal issues I could detail regarding friends and neighbors, which only become stats at the end of the day.

    …in short, Philadelphia.

  7. JohnnyGL

    Those were some brutal stories.

    It’s a nice illustration of the schizophrenic directions of our society. Rampant inequality and despair shaped and created by neoliberalism, combined with the requisite self-promotion, creativity needed in a society that propgandizes and accords higher social status to entrepreneurs.

    1. JohnnyGL

      One of the best books on inequality being tightly correlated with social disfunction is ‘the spirit level’. It also makes the case for causality, not just correlation. Convincingly so, in my view.

    2. False Solace

      There are so few opportunities that people have to relentlessly self-promote in ways that would previously be considered gauche. The only strange thing in this case is that middle aged people resorted to it. From what I’ve seen, young people accept it as a matter of course.

  8. Wukchumni

    In my business life, it was all about observations, albeit usually of a round 2 inches or less. I had to discern minute differences, always being hypercritical in judgement, can I make money on this coin which another dealer is trying to sell, or ixnay on that eh, sometimes poring over thousands of individual discs all in a day’s work.

    They call observations such as yours you’ve shared with us, anecdotal, almost as if they don’t matter on account of being one of a kind outliers, but when you put them all together, it paints a mosaic of a country in pain.

    I remember seeing an old gent rooting through the trash a few years back looking for the ne plus ultra of scavenging-containers worth a Nickel, and he kind of resembled my grandfather, and it brought it all home to me, in a what have we become, fashion?

    1. Laughingsong

      Off topic Wuk but I might have been at the other end of some of those rounds? I worked as a die polisher at the US mint in SF (excuse me, Assay Office). I polished dies for collector issues and proof sets. I can’t tell you how many times I’d accidentally rubbed out Washington’s little bow on the obverse and the rays on the reverse of the 50-cent piece

      1. Wukchumni

        ha ha

        Wonder if you weren’t working there when a gent working for the mint in the capacity of a security guard circa 1991, made off with proof commemorative half Dollars, which he decided Reno casinos would be a good place to fence the goods, by inserting them in slot machines…

        1. Off The Street

          Getting silver dollar payouts from casinos was a thrill, while it lasted. Another sign of a bygone age, along with the legions of stained-thumb slot players pumping in whatever coin they could. The germs on those coins would probably kill those without the proper, er, immune system training.

        2. Laughingsong

          No I was there during a yearlong interim from computer work. It was at the beginning of my career and the mint actually paid better than the contract jobs on offer. 1987-1988. I guess it would have had to have been a security guard, because us polishers and kick-press operators pretty much had to disrobe to get in and out.

          1. Wukchumni

            Some of the most valuable proof sets are ones that don’t have an “S” mintmark, as whomever was polishing the dies, polished a little too hard.

            The 1975 one is worth some serious semollians. A run of the mill ordinary 1975 proof set is worth less than $10.

            The 1975 No-S Proof Roosevelt dime is one of the hottest modern coins in the marketplace after a PR-68 example graded by Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) recently crossed the block for an astounding $456,000, including 20% buyer’s fee. The coin, which sold in the Heritage Auctions sale at Long Beach on September 6, 2019, hadn’t been on an auction floor in eight years.

  9. Dirk77

    For the first woman, the receptionist at your gym, you might inquire about her to the management, someone who handles the hiring. And merely say that you’ve not seen her recently, but you liked her and enjoyed talking with her. So wondered if she had got a job somewhere else? And leave it at that unless they are forthcoming with additional information.

  10. tegnost

    They call observations such as yours you’ve shared with us, anecdotal, almost as if they don’t matter on account of being one of a kind outliers, but when you put them all together, it paints a mosaic of a country in pain.

    Indeed…so much opportunity lost, it’s sad…I might buy the book too, we could at least give hope to one person
    reply to wuk 9:16 am…

  11. sporble

    Thanks, Yves, for sharing – and thanks to the rest, too.
    One wonderful aspect of NC is the sense of community, that there are many of us paying attention to what’s important, and that definitely includes individuals and their stories. In a just (or at least: less neoliberalistic) world, things would’ve worked out better for “Mary” and her son, for Tammy, and for many others.
    I agree with Jane & others here: just sharing – listening – is one way to help share the burden, and maybe even alleviate some suffering.

    Am reminded of this (very brief, 9 sec.) scene from “Brazil”:

    1. Susan the other

      Tuttle remains a hero for all time. I think of him often;) Together indeed. But what happens when the “together” you thought was the be-all-end-all ideology of all time goes rancid. That’s what happened to us, imo. And we’ve been in denial for a good century now. Two god-awful world wars. Extreme inequality. A dying planet. Nothin’ left to homestead. When we who have escaped the worst look around and see the carnage – everywhere – we tend to feel guilty that the suffering isn’t equal. Why not me? Even the squillionaires are riddled with guilt. Everyone thinks if we just double-down on our wonderful Americanism things will turn around. I’m not so sure. If we double-down now we’ll just kill the planet faster. So the thought occurs to me that evolution runs in both directions. It eliminates both the very rich and the very poor – metaphorically speaking. It would not take very complex accounting to determine what everyone should have, as a human right, to live a successful life while preserving the planet. But it goes against our ideology, not just against it a little – it eclipses it. Who is gonna bite that bullet? The poor are suffering; the rich are guilt-ridden; everybody in between is anxious if not terrified. And there’s really no time left.

  12. vlade

    On the first case. Since it’s a community centre, I’d try to frame keeping her visibly (i.e. not on unsocial hours) as a service to the community – not only providing gym etc.. but also taking care of employees in distress. I don’t know whether they do any sort of letters/mags/comms, but them keeping Mary would certainly create some feel good PR should they want it (bonus to Mary – it would make it harder to get rid of her later on, as that would create bad PR).

    Yes, cynical. But could work..

  13. Bill Carson

    I used to live in the neck of East Texas that Tammy is describing. Unless there is more than one of these places, I used to live in the same town as the abandoned nursing home turned transition center, which is called Morgan’s Mercy Mansion.

    It has been a while since I’ve been back to visit, but each time I go it seems like everything needs a coat of paint or two. Most of the economic gains since the ’08 crash have occurred in the larger metropolitan areas, while rural America continues to slowly die. And believe me, those rural Americans know they have been forgotten. They are not unaware. Obama did nothing for them. They could sense Hillary’s disdain. (Has she even stepped foot in Arkansas since January of 1993?)

    This piece from Cracked magazine (of all sources) tells the story well. How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind: Six Reasons for Trump’s Rise that No One Talks About

  14. Krystyn Walentka

    Living it and seeing it. The hustle is real and desperate.

    Funny thing in our society though, people love to say “If you need help do not be afraid to ask for it!” But when you ask for it either people think you are selfish or there is no help given. There is some notion of a noble silent suffering person that people love to help. Suffer, but do not disturb me is the lesson.

    Being in the snowbird state of Arizona right now I see a bifurcated mix, higher income people who summer down here because they can and poorer people who come down because they have to. Not much in between. But lately I have been seeing all the older white retired men looking and fretting over their portfolios on their MacBooks.

    This whole RV/VanLife thing is being exploited by the wealthy now since they found they can make even more money by being able to spend a bit more. A guy told me he was renting his house for $2500 a month while he comes down to Yuma and parks in his RV/House on BLM land for $80 a month.

    Now all the campgrounds think they can charge more and it drives the less fortunate to camp in WalMart parking lots.

    1. Bill Carson

      Now all the campgrounds think they can charge more and it drives the less fortunate to camp in WalMart parking lots.

      Yep. There’s a local RV park/Tiny Home Village near me that charges lot rent of $600/mo.

      1. Krystyn Walentka

        Thanks for confirming my antidote. That lot is probably filled with these wealthier snowbirds and it pisses me off. Same way I get pissed off watching people in brand new Teslas shopping at thrift stores.

        1. Bill Carson

          Sometimes it is wealthier snowbirds, but I have seen many others who are just trying to save a buck. For instance, a recent retiree and his wife who bought a tiny home in an effort to make their fixed retirement income go further than, say, renting an apartment. They may not have enough income now to qualify for a mortgage, and $80,000 for a tiny home sounds cheap in comparison to stick-built homes for sale. But it seems to me that tiny homes are just smaller mobiles with the same shortcomings: depreciation of the home AND they are beholden to their RV or trailer park owner. It makes no sense economically unless you own the land.

        2. jrs

          It seems thrift stores throw a great deal of their donations away, they just receive too much stuff.

          So if the Tesla driver makes use of some used stuff instead of buying new, it probably just stems the waste production (by a small bit). We are just drowning in stuff as a society.

    2. Janie

      We saw this bifurcation all over the country for 7 years. The down and out in barely-running campers and the hundred thousand dollar diesel pushers driven by retired military and civil servants made up the majority.

      Hope you are enjoying your new life style.

  15. Bill Carson

    My eyes have been opened during this election in particular to the number of people who suffer from the malady I call “white privilege.”

    I have one friend in particular: deeply religious Christian (Calvinist), Republican, well-educated, stay at home mom, home-schooler, very patriotic, believes in limited government and strict construction of the Constitution, free market capitalist. This all sounds very particular, but there are a lot of them out there.

    The thing that astounds most is this person’s belief in “personal responsibility.” She hates the idea of a social safety net. All of the people you have described above are guilty of “bad choices,” and they alone should face the consequences. Government should not be involved with education or healthcare. Social Security is stealing, and people should be left to save on their own if they choose to do so, and anyone who doesn’t save enough for their old age is just out of luck. “Rugged individualism on steroids.” “Socialism is bad because it robs a person of liberty and freedom.” All praise belong to Jesus Christ, Adam Smith, James Madison, Milton Friedman, and (ironically enough) Ayn Rand.

    This is such an individualistic belief structure that I cannot understand how anyone can reconcile it with Christianity. But she does and there are many, many like her.

    But she’s just one flavor of white privilege. There are others.

    1. vlade

      Ayn “gimme my benefits or death!”*) Rand? I’m amazed..

      *) “Whenever the welfare-state laws offer them [people unwilling to pay taxes or anything to the government] some small restitution, the victims should take it. “

    2. jefemt

      I keep coming up with punishing policies. And the implied judgment, lack of coampssion, and typically out of self-professed Christians.

      Pigeon-holing, but there it is…

    3. notabanktoadie

      She should be pointed to Leviticus 25 and asked why all families should not PERMANENTLY own some land to live on.

      1. JBird4049

        Calvinism does have the idea of the preselected, the chosen by God even before they were born, be destined for Heaven regardless of what they do and the rest of us reprobates destined for Hell, no matter what they do.

        I’ve wondered what they thought Jesus was for.

        1. Oregoncharles

          I grew up in a Presbyterian (technically Calvinist) church; but heard nothing of Calvin’s actual doctrines until college, in a humanities class. At that point, I started wondering where the Calvinists were, because my family’s church (which I’d long since abandoned) certainly wasn’t. Calvin was a nasty piece of work.

          Turns out there’s a separate line of Presbyterian churches that are Dominionist – that is, actually Calvinist. Had no clue about that when I was going to church.

    4. flora

      I don’t know if that’s ‘white privilege’ or the sound of the ‘lucky’ (of any race) whistling past the graveyard. (it can’t happen to me because …)

      Her ‘privilege’, I’m guessing, includes children healthy enough not to bankrupt the family in unpayable medical bills, for just one example. Same for herself and her husband. That’s luck. Luck can change in an instant. (Denying that is the ‘whistling past the graveyard’ part.)

      1. jrs

        There is a good chance she also literally doesn’t know anything. I mean if her husband is supporting her she maybe knows nothing about the job market or at least nothing of it recently. No this has nothing in common with the unemployed who want to work and just can’t find work to pay the bills. They know plenty about the “good job market”!

        But if she isn’t earning an income or trying to, not even reliant on (meager) government “generosity” like disability, what does she possibly know of the struggle to do so and pay bills and how it is figuratively and sometimes literally killing the rest of us? How do we expect people who don’t work (and not because they can’t find work or have become disabled) to relate to working class (even if this is broadly defined) issues?

        The material conditions of their lives simply don’t involve it!

  16. Alternate Delegate

    Two opioid deaths in the last two years (connected to one through work, to the other through friends). This is a comparatively stable Midwestern urban area, and the social context is college education and W2 employment.

    Stress levels are sky high even when your job isn’t precariat.

  17. ambrit

    Several here mention the need to tell your story to someone, anyone. I see it on my ‘out and about’ days. I saw it in the face of an older mentally retarded man at the XYZ fast food outlet yesterday. He was trying to manage the menu prices in his head with the three dollars he had in his hand. He would look up and mutter to himself and point to something and then look down at his money. The older woman behind the counter would cut in on him, in an insistent voice with, “Is that what you want? Make up your mind!” The poor man was obviously becoming flustered. Finally, a middle class looking man just behind the poor soul leaned forward and said to the unfortunate, “I’ll cover the amount you are short.” Three more of us in the line immediately pulled out a dollar each and handed them forward. The look of relief on the retarded man’s face was like watching a small child realize that there really is a Santa Claus. Alas and alack, this sort of positive community sentiment is notable by it’s lack. Curiously enough, none of we ‘good guys’ could look each other in the eye after this event.
    As for the tale telling part of this story; the man’s name was James and he lived in a group home. He just had to talk so someone. I sat with him for about ten minutes. While I was leaving, another of the ‘good guys’ came over and sat with James. Again, the pure unadulterated emotional content displayed on that man’s face was almost too intense to observe. Such a degree of engagement with the world can only be a burden at times.
    Many years ago I read somewhere that the best judgement of the quality of a society is in how well it treats the least able of it’s citizens. If this gauge were to be applied today to our nation, I fear that we would discover that we live in a failed state.

    1. ambrit

      I just realized that our societal problem is not “deaths of despair” per se.
      The problem is “Lives of Despair.”

    2. flora

      Thank you, Ambrit. And, thank you. To quietly and humanly sit with someone in their need, and again, to see others sit with a someone, while pretending each to each other to deny the human value of the decent human act lest the MSM conditioned libertarian mind-meld descend upon them, the human value of the others who step up,…. why am I thinking of the resistance in France WWII, silent but seen. Heroism comes in many forms. No, no, that is too much, It cannot be that. Surely. I am out of my depth. Thank you.

      1. ambrit

        I think I understand. For the rest of the day yesterday, I had to battle the compunction to start crying.
        That is another sort of despair. The feeling of unity in sorrow.
        whenever I find myself “out of my depth,” I try to float.
        Be safe!

        1. aletheia33

          FWIW to share, i am now actively, deliberately practicing being present to, listening to, behaving respectfully toward, people i meet when out and about who would seem to welcome that. it’s usually people actively struggling, but it’s really everyone now, who, if they are not completely cocooned in false protection, are scared and so are feeling acutely, consciously or not, the psychological isolation that individualism and neoliberalism force everyone to endure.

          i am an introvert and have never felt socially adept. now i am trying this different kind of sociality. it turns out, to my surprise, to be a blessing to be able to just be present, make no demands, and just share humanness, with whoever. it cuts through all the social performing we think we depend on and as such can feel more deeply rewarding than socializing as usual can. (not that there is anything wrong with socializing as usual, it is of course the bedrock of having a society at all.)

          perhaps too personal a comment but the context here seems to invite it.

          the kinds of connections that we are missing out on, how much more satisfying and real they can be than what we’ve known, most of us i think have no idea. to be moved, to care, which is not always easy to feel, it breaks your heart sometimes, is nothing to hide or pull back from or be embarrassed about. it makes us more alive. many experience this with their spouses and children but not outside that. but we have to take it outside our little walled-in families.

          hopefully, many are now beginning to find this out. the aspiration to connection and taking care of one another is a watchword of bernie sanders’s “revolution,” which is more than political, it is social. so many young people have embraced his insistence on “us” wholeheartedly without irony. look at his surrogates exhorting everyone in the rally to take the hands of the people next to them, lift them up aloft together, and declare that they are willing to help someone they do not know who is in need. and they do it with alacrity. there is a spiritual dynamism to this that has not been seen since MLK.

          for the benefit of my own soul, i am glad i am seeing this in my lifetime. whether bernie wins the election or not, everything he has done and will do will bear fruit.

          1. ambrit

            It is heartening to read of other people in this world making the effort to be better human beings. That has been subtly demonized over the past few decades. Many have been programmed to associate humanitarian thoughts and deeds with “official” organizations and ’causes.’ to that end, the ‘hook’ has been the all too human effect of the counterintuitive “strength in numbers” fallacy. One must first be strong individually, and self aware before entering into any collective movement that is aimed at ‘reform’ of any sort. Without self awareness, all sorts of evils can be carried out in the individual’s “name.”
            I’m glad to see the true legacy of MLK being bought up out of the depths of history and into the light of “A New Day.”
            I’m glad you are making the effort. do not forget to forgive yourself when the inevitable stumble and fall happen. Remember to get back up and carry on.

    3. Prairie Bear

      Curiously enough, none of we ‘good guys’ could look each other in the eye after this event.

      I will generally give someone a few dollars when I am asked or if someone is standing at an intersection with a sign, etc. Almost always. I definitely do not feel any warm fuzzies come over me, not that I’m doing it for that reason. It makes me feel vaguely ashamed, creepy and sad. Or something like that.

      1. ambrit

        Absolutely. I get the same effect. I really don’t know whether it is due to the overwhelming magnitude of the “problem,” which realization can lead to feeling helpless and somehow therefore depraved, or remnants of our early Capitalist programming, in which we were taught to view the disadvantaged as somehow deserving of their fates.
        In my “lighter” moments I fall back on the (in)famous quip: “No good deed goes unpunished.”
        I make note of the fact that some ‘problems’ are beyond the ability of any one person to “solve.” There is where society should step in and do the work. In cases like this one we are suffering through today, society seems to have abandoned it’s original purpose and turned towards self-bondage to an Oligarchy. Thus, the idea of society will have to be “re-invented” yet again. That will require a period of dissolution and chaos. The Gods help us all when that process gathers momentum.

  18. Rod


    and, like your two examples….i’ve found…and been shocked by finding…that people long to open up and talk about it, if given the encouragement…or whatever is in my hoary visage that indicate that it’s OK to open up to me in this manner.

    I find this very true nowadays–more, and more often, than I can recall from the past.

    sometimes just a nod and a smile of recognition or greeting opens the floodgates, and often they close with a “sorry to go on like that”…or “thanks I guess I needed to get that out..”
    Sometimes I can help directly, but mostly it is just listening deliberately.

    I have begun thinking of these instances as Precious examples of how really we social species were hardwired and meant to interact.

  19. ChrisAtRU

    Thanks for this Yves.

    I keep going back to what the WPA did in terms of funding the arts (down to horrible Ayn Rand’s play), and it gives me more reason to support a Sanders presidency. Further hope for a Job Guarantee at a living wage which would provide better options for anyone looking for work (regardless of age).

  20. TheCatSaid

    Mark Kulacz has a personal look at the opioid endemic here.
    It has touched his life personally and he has a number of insights and questions.

  21. smoker

    Just my opinion, but the most egregious transgression going on is the rampant corruption, utter destruction of dignified employment – with the concurrent bipartisan destruction of a safety net – and the directly related suicides, slow and quick.

    1. smoker

      In other words, righteously despairing and weeping in public -given the current state of affairs, and the past state of affairs – is not a transgression, to my mind.

  22. cripes

    The medical-death complex and their police, ambulance and mortuary attendants are vultures of the worst kind, targeting grieving family members at their most vulnerable; for the money.

    Personal anecdotes: I was barely 20 when my father died likely of botched cancer surgery in NYU hospital on east 39th st. Within 3 days I received an eviction notice from the landlord at our rent stabilized WEA ave apt. More horror stories followed, but you get the idea.

    A few years later mother died of a cerebral aneurysm, my sister in England stuck in the Great Storm (hurricane) of 1987, and the others in British Columbia and NYC, so I alone attended the ICU, brain scans and reluctantly signed consent to remove life support. A nearby mortuary grabbed the body and gave us a cheery upsell and a thuggish ultimatum for payment with a thinly veiled threat to dump our dearly departed in potters field.
    I wrote a check.

    My employer sent a wreath for the service and canned me within the week. Like your friend, I am not alone among the millions who have endured this ghoulish financial extraction.

    The safety net is a tightrope suspended over a canyon of sharp rocks and rushing waters I have been peering into most of my life.

    There is no decency, no mercy and no solidarity left in this craphole of a country.

  23. cripes


    thanks for the sympathies, it was a long time ago, but the lesson is never forgotten.

    Later when i worked in social services, I made a point to reassure fragile clients, reeling from evictions, deaths, unemployment or homelessness, that I would not pile more punishment on top of their suffering. Even small gestures went a long way. And some material help.

    The word solidarity recently comes to mind again and again as a way to alleviate much unnecessary suffering. Can’t understand why/how its been erased from our collective memories in favor of predatory opportunism. The lack of civic spirit bodes poorly for Corona virus or any type of crisis lacking fraternal welfare.

    Not me. Us!

  24. Roland

    This post and comments thread brings to mind a few of the YouTube channels I follow. Part of the cultural superstructure of the prison-industrial complex is a large online ex-convict community, many of whom were addicts. Some of the ex-con YT channels have stories that encapsulate the themes discussed here.

    I particularly recommend Jessica Kent, Christina Randall, and OG Badger. One of the comments above mentioned the bleakness of parts of upstate NY–that’s where Jessica Kent is from, and a few of her videos describe the conditions. These channels, however, all are mostly optimistic in tone, which adds to the poignancy.

    Other channels such as Big Herc’s Fresh Out, Lockdown 23 & 1, and After Prison Show feature a lot of interviews. From a Marxist point of view, many of the interview subjects would be referred to as lumpenproletariat, but that class is an important part of the current political economy. n.b. a lot of the material would be NSF family blog.

  25. furies

    Thanks to Yes for posting this and to all the commentary.

    I feel less alone with my outrage…we, not ME.

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