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5 Saltine Crackers

Dinner tonight:

1 half sized can of Bushes baked beans, heated for 1 minute
- cost: .89
1 can of Spinach, slightly salted and heated for 1 minute 30 seconds
- cost: .39
1 glass of Skim Milk with an expiration date of 4-26-10
- cost: too long ago to remember.

Total cost: $1.38

Taste: simple, not at all complex.
Nutritional value: Better than my average meals of junk food and hot dogs.
Thing Most Appreciated: No Saltine Crackers in sight.


Why:

As I sit here drinking the rest of my milk before it goes bad, I think back on other times when food was such a rare commodity that I was lucky to get one meal a day that included anything green or that contained protein. Tonight, though I didn't have much to accompany my milk, I had both of those things.

It's no secret, I'm broke. Since I was robbed last year when my uhaul was stolen while I slept in a cosy hotel room, I've been fighting an uphill battle. I had to put gas in my car this morning, and that left me with a total of about $2 in the bank. It will actually get me by until I get paid again in another two weeks, but things are tight for now. I'm saving the freezer burned Lean Pockets and two Lean Cuisines for a special occasion at this point. I've challenged myself to see how long I can make my household items last.

I have plenty of soups, I have a couple of pita breads, a quarter loaf of stale wheat bread in the freezer, a can of chili, some frozen hot dogs, powdered creamer for my coffee (I just polished off the expired milk) and a box of unopened granola. I have plenty here to live off of for the next two weeks, no problem!

I know my cupboards sound a little bare to most of you out there, but at one time I was FAR worse off than I am now. At one time in my life, I lived off of a handful of Saltine crackers at every meal coupled with a glass of water, (if I was lucky) three times a day. That was living the good life!

I was 18 and had just escaped an abusive relationship with a 21 year old alcoholic man who never remembered the night before.

Things got bad... He made me give him every cent I made from work, or so he thought. He wanted me to just sign my checks over to him, but I told him that I could just get them cashed at work. My job actually did that for us. I would get them cashed each week and then take a single $20 out of my pocket. I trudged the stairs in the back hallway to the ladies room on the second floor of the Safeway on Bell Avenue in Scottsdale, AZ, and locked the door behind me when I went in. Then I would take the fake plant off of the top of the hand drier and set it on the bathroom counter. I had one particular spot in the plant I would pull on and Pop! the whole plant came out, attached to a square Styrofoam base. Then I would slide out the stick in the side that held the little trap door on the bottom in place. I stuck the $20 safely up inside the sticks of the fake plants, tucked safely into the hollowed out Styrofoam, placed the trap door back in place with the wicker sticks, put the Styrofoam base back in the pot, and placed the pot back on the hand drier. It took me a total of 4 weeks to find somewhere else to live. Since I got paid weekly, that was a whole $80 I had saved up!

The day I left, I went to work just as I always did, as though nothing in the world was wrong. I had been doing a good job at work and had even earned the right to move into the bakery from the bagging stations while they needed temporary help. I went to the ladies room at the top of the stairs, made a little withdrawal, and went back down to work. About a half an hour later I went on my lunch - and never returned.

They wondered where I had gone. I was always such a loyal and dependable employee. I had done so well, everyone liked me. I was eager to learn, willing to work hard and ready to take on the world. Then, POOF! I vanished. Nobody knew about the $80 I had saved up, even Phillip. It was guessed that I had just decided to quit, so nobody at work bothered to call anyone to ask where I was. When Phillip went to pick me up from work that night, I had a good 4 hour head start on him. There was no way he was ever going to find me... or so I thought. He was eventually my first stalker.

I searched and searched for work and couldn't find anything. I spent most of my money on interview clothes instead of wearing my shabby t-shirt and wranglers. The rest of it went towards food and my roommate for giving me a place to crash. I was staying with a Cerebral Palsy girl who needed help taking care of her companion dog, Scooter. I got to know the neighbors around us in the Superstition Apartments there in Tempe Arizona, and one of the guys in particular was a Supervisor at a place called QSM. Another neighbor who was looking for work decided that he would give me a ride down there as long as we could interview together. Away we went. My roommate had gone to visit her ailing father and there was no food left in the house. I needed money!

I didn't know what to think of Dan at first, but quickly grew to love him dearly. He and I were both hired right away, we didn't even care what the job was. We turned out to be telemarketers. What's the one thing people hate more than telemarketers? How about Door-to-door salesmen? I did that for a while a few years ago - but I digress.

I was young and eager, not yet jaded to the world. I attacked everything I did with fervor; a sense of urgency and purpose, constantly eager to do more. It just so happened that QSM didn't care how many hours an employee worked, just so long as they worked a minimum of 40 a week. I would OFTEN work 16 hour days, 7 days a week. At QSM we got paid twice a month, and when I was hired, a pay period had ended the day before. I was going to have a long wait for my first check.

Dan had borrowed the car from his girlfriend the day we went to interview. It wouldn't have done us any good to show up at the interview covered in sweat and red faced from heat exhaustion. QSM was only about 6 miles from the apartments, but in the Arizona summertime, that might as well have been 100 miles if a person were on foot. There were days it felt like that exact thing. Other than the interview, any time we traveled to QSM it was always on foot.

Dan, knowing how broke I was, sold plasma one day in order to buy me a box of Saltine crackers for the apartment and a bottle of Iced Tea to drink on the long, hot walk home. The sun was blazing overhead like a lighted torch, burning and scorching my flesh until each step would jar my skin into feeling like it would split open as a ripe melon would when struck with a hammer. I nursed that tea the entire 6 miles. By the time we got to the apartments, the tiny bit left was so hot I couldn't drink it anymore. I put the bottle in the fridge, waited for it to cool just enough, and finished the last 17 drops, one at a time.

I filled the glass bottle with horrible Phoenix tap water and popped that in the fridge. Then I opened my box of Saltines, took out about 10, and wolfed them down like I hadn't eaten in weeks. I grabbed 10 more and did the same with those. I picked the crumbs off of my shirt and licked them from my fingers. Anyone watching from the outside would have thought me to be a starved prisoner of war. Truly I had never known such hunger before that period of time in my life or since.

Smartly, I folded the cracker package and slid them back into the box. I stored the box in an empty desk drawer where I knew nobody would look. I resisted the temptation to eat more. I knew I had to make these last for another 3 weeks before I got paid. It wasn't going to be easy, but I knew I could do it.

I took a small sandwich bag of 10 crackers with me to work each day, tucked safely in my pocket. I ate 5 when I got there to keep up my strength and another 5 for lunch. Then I would walk home the 6 miles and eat the last 5 of the day. All day long I would drink water to give myself the false feeling of being full. Most of the time it worked, but sometimes I could feel the water slide all the way down my heated neck and make a massive knot when reaching my stomach. I learned in those few weeks not to drink cold water. Even now I'll ask for my water with no ice. The cold water not only hurts my teeth, but reminds me of the starvation I had to endure and the hard lumps that would take far too long to go away in the pit of my intestines.

Each day I walked that 6 miles to work, and each day I walked the 6 miles home. Each day I ate a total of 15 crackers (with a couple of exceptions on the days I would eat 20 or more) and drank close to two gallons of water. I went from being an already skinny 115 lbs to being a mere 88 lbs. Undressed, my ribs poked out, my knees wouldn't touch, my face looked tight and hollow, my fingers looked long and bony and my hair started to fall out in small putrid chunks. Sores began to develop on my scalp from malnourishment. My skin dried up, my freckles grew dark in contrast to my sunburned, scorched skin. Still I made that daily trek. Sometimes I would work 18 hour shifts just so I wouldn't have to walk home while the sun was still up. It didn't leave me much time to sleep, but back then I could survive on a little less than an hour, and often I did. Once in a while, on my days off, I would resist the driving force to walk to work anyway. I took two days off for that entire month.

At the end of three weeks, on the day the checks were supposed to arrive, I was a hollow shell of the person I had been when I arrived there a month before. They passed out the paychecks to everyone at work - except for me.

I welled up in tears. I had run out of Saltines the day before. I had nothing left to eat. I had carelessly dropped my iced tea bottle on my way to work, smashing the glass all over the road and loosing the precious water into the street. Without a check, there would be no replacement! There would be no rent or food. My roommate still wasn't back and Scooter was almost out of dog food. I went to the supervisors office and asked what had happened to my money.

"Are you on drugs," he asked me.

"What?! No!"

"I couldn't help but notice you've lost a lot of weight and you haven't been working here for very long. Are you in trouble?"

"No," I replied, "but I will be if I don't get paid!"

"Oh?" He asked, arching an eyebrow at me. "What kind of trouble are you in? Do you owe someone money?"

"I'm broke and I have no food. Please, I just need to get paid."

Seeing the desperation in my eyes, he pulled one last paycheck out of his desk drawer and held it across his desk, smiling with yellow jags that reminded me of a dirty picket fence. I reached for it and he yanked it back over his shoulder.

"How about this," he smiled a sinister grin, "I'll take you out for a good dinner and then I'll give you your paycheck."

"That's illegal" I said without hesitation. I knew exactly what he was doing, this 56 year old man... I wasn't going to have anything to do with it. I wasn't about to sacrifice my morals and my dignity for a quick meal and a one night stand. Instantly panic set in, though. What if he didn't care that it was illegal? What if my check 'accidentally' fell out of his hand and directly into the paper shredder behind him? What if I couldn't eat for another 3 weeks? I knew I would survive somehow, so I didn't bend. I took a breath and let my patience and clear mind kick in. I settled back in my chair, calling his bluff.

"I was just kiddin' Honey," he said in a snide, sarcastic manner. He held out the check again, I snatched it from his hand and walked out of his office.

"Hey," he called from behind me, "can I at least give you a lift?"

I liked him even less than I liked Saltines after that. Both had a way of leaving me with a dry mouth.

5 comments:

  1. Another great blog. I could almost feel the heat and hunger. But like everything you met and conquered this challenge.

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  2. i will never again eat another saltine. And I'd already vowed that before... but wow, you put me over the edge!! I'm so glad you got that check! AZ is a bad place to be without food/water!!!

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  3. Patric - it's going to be a bumpy road over the next couple of days. My blogs won't be for the faint of heart. I'm telling some stories that people in my life have NEVER heard.

    Vicki - HAPPY BIRTHDAY, first of all.
    Yes, I learned a very valuable lesson in that year I spent in Arizona. Miraculously, after loosing touch for too many years to count, Dan and I were able to find one another again. I have told people for years that he saved my life ...

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  4. you tell it very well and from the heart......

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  5. Thank you Richard.
    May I ask how you found my blog?

    ReplyDelete

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