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Poverty does not become me. I’m sure it doesn’t become anyone, but it really doesn’t become me. I was supposed to be somebody by now, and by that I mean somebody other than this woman who holds up grocery store lines with her WIC checks.

I used to suck my teeth and sigh in irritation at WIC-check users. I hated the way they popped their gum and had those slack looks on their faces, as if they didn’t give a damn that they were holding the rest of us up.

And then one day I was one of them.

That first time, before I learned to do my shopping during empty-store hours, the people behind me shook their heads and rolled their eyes in exasperation while the cashier ran my checks through the machine as slowly as she could. The people farther back craned their necks to see what idiot had stalled things. On top of it all, I was eight months pregnant and dressed for nothing more than comfort in sweats, flip-flops, and a bursting-at-the-seams T-shirt. In short, I looked like one of them.

Then, without so much as a look in my direction, the cashier stopped the conveyor belt and paused her slothlike movements to call over the intercom for someone to switch my block of cheese because (stupid me) I didn’t know Swiss was not an option when using a WIC check.

The cashier tapped her pen against the counter in a rhythmless beat, but judging by the relaxed look on her face, she enjoyed the break in monotony of scanning items, pushing buttons, and counting cash.

“Hey, Frank,” she called, as a manager type in a blue polo shirt walked past, jangling a set of keys. “Did Sonya come in today?”

Frank changed course and stopped to chat. Clearly, we were going to be here awhile. I attempted an apologetic smile at the woman behind me. She pursed her lips in a less-than-friendly grimace that read, “You should have come when the store was empty.”


My husband and I used to bitch about how broke we were while stuffing our faces with $50 platters of sushi or driving to Ojai for a weekend at a cozy bed-and-breakfast. Back then, I got my hair done at a fancy-schmancy place, and being broke meant having to settle for new highlights every 16 weeks instead of every 8. I now refer to those days as back when we were rich. These days, being broke means making the choice between putting the rent on credit and asking my mom to pay it. Both options are embarrassing.

Our downfall began in November 2008, when my husband was laid off from his job as a Teamster truck driver. This was just over a month before our daughter was born. It’s slightly more complicated than it sounds because he had been on what the Teamsters call “soft layoff” during the previous year. “Soft” because you’re still working on call, which was four or five days a week that year. At $22 per hour plus lots of overtime, it was a decent living, even on layoff. But then, as happens every year, the freight company he works for put him on “hard layoff” (which means no work at all) 15 days before the holidays — not just because business is slow in November and December but also because union rules state that if an employee works within 15 days of a holiday, he receives pay for said holiday. So to save themselves a few bucks, the company lays off a bunch of guys at the bottom of the seniority list. Then, when the holidays are over, the company calls them back, or at least takes them off hard layoff and lets them work on call.

Over the years, we’ve gotten accustomed to it. We stress a little, do what we can to make ends meet, and then breathe a sigh of relief when the holidays are over and he’s back at work. My job doesn’t help during these times because I work for a nonprofit at a public school. Holidays are always unpaid for me.

Our situation was further complicated by my pregnancy. The Teamster contract states that to receive health insurance, an employee must work at least 100 hours for full coverage or 60 hours for catastrophic coverage (hospitalization only). The hours worked count not for the month immediately following but for the one after that. Because my husband was laid off before he worked 60 hours in November, we wouldn’t have insurance in January or February. The baby was due January 10.

Having a baby with no insurance is a bad idea, and we were nervous. Plus, if work was slow in January, we’d be in trouble in March too.

Enter my mother, a 30-year veteran of the State of Idaho’s Health and Welfare Department, whose job as an eligibility examiner was to direct people toward the resources and services they needed to get through hard times. True to her pragmatic personality, she broke it down and laid it out.

“Unemployment. That’s first. It won’t be as much as you’re used to, but it’ll help. And you have to have insurance. Look into Medi-Cal. I’m sure at least the kids will qualify. Then you might as well try WIC too. If you can get it, it’s free food — milk, cheese, cereal, that kind of thing. Don’t worry, we’ll get you through this.”

Unemployment? That didn’t sound so terrible. But Medi-Cal and this WIC thing made me think of standing in long lines for day-old bread and one measly roll of toilet paper for the month.

We hemmed and hawed for a bit, embarrassed at the idea of being on public assistance (us?) and convinced that things couldn’t possibly be that bad. But my mother assured us that these services are there to help people through hard times, and if we’re qualified, we’re qualified. So we figured what the hell. It would be for only a couple of months, and it sounded relatively simple. We were wrong on both counts.


The County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency on 73rd Street is easy enough to find if you keep your eye out for a small crowd of people at the bus stop on the corner of El Cajon and 73rd. The block where the squat, yellow-brick building sits is, during business hours, the busiest in the area. The sidewalk between the building and the bus stop bustles with men, women, and families coming and going. My fingers are crossed that my visit today will be relatively painless, since all I have to do is drop off paperwork.

Obtaining Medi-Cal was a process that included so many phone calls, so much paperwork, and such great reserves of patience that I had to hand over the job to my husband. We both agreed that it wouldn’t do any good for me to freak out on our caseworker and/or break down in a heap of tears and hair pulling. He is much more even tempered and tolerant than I am, so he took over. All I remember about the process is that every time someone from the County called, it was a different person claiming to be our caseworker. We have an accordion file with a broken elastic band that snapped because the volume of Medi-Cal paperwork was too much for it to handle. We keep it as evidence of my husband’s strength — he did not snap. I’ve blocked out all other memories of that experience.

We recently received a thick packet of documents ominously titled “Medi-Cal Redetermination.” The packet seems to be a request for the same information we gave the County in 2008, when we first applied. Apparently, the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 says that Medi-Cal beneficiaries must provide proof of citizenship and identity to renew their benefits. I don’t get that. How would we have gotten coverage in the first place if our paperwork weren’t in order? But here I am, walking into the County office, redetermination packet in hand. Why didn’t I simply mail it? I could have and would have if not for two (unintentionally) hilarious lines in the letter: “We need the original citizenship and identity documents” and “The County will make copies and mail them back to you.”

Hilarious? Why? Because two weeks ago, a County worker called and left a message for us to call her back. We returned the call the next morning. Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: Hi. This is Elizabeth Salaam. I’m returning your call.

Her: Spell your last name, please.

Me: S-a-l-a-a-m.

Her: Okay. How can I help you?

Me: Um, I don’t know. I’m returning your call. I got a message yesterday asking me to call you back.

Her: And what was the call regarding?

Me: I don’t know. You didn’t say. You just asked me to call.

Her: I’m sorry, ma’am, but I can’t help you unless I know what this is regarding.

And these are the people I’m supposed to send original passports and birth certificates to? Um, no.

I’ve given myself a generous 20 minutes before I have to be back on the road for an appointment with a treadmill, and when I enter the building, I’m pleased to see that there’s no security line. I remember a crowd at the door when I came to get the application the first time. I smile big at the busty little security officer and tell her I’m just here to copy and turn in some documents.

“Put your bag down on the table and step forward, please.” She gestures toward the metal detector.

“Oh, no,” I say, smiling even bigger now. “I’m not applying. I’m just here to have some documents copied. Renewal papers.” I hold up my manila envelope.

She points toward the waiting room. “The line’s in there.”

Just past the metal detector are three large Plexiglas windows. Applicants stand at two of the windows, but the third is open. A County worker on the other side of the window sits staring at a computer screen.

I ask, “Can’t I just hand these to him?”

“It’s just one line,” she tells me. Her face is blank and her tone is weary. Clearly, she’s tired of saying the same thing over and over.

“No,” I say, more out of fear than defiance. My husband was gone all day when he came to apply. He told me about that line. It was long, long, long, and it never moved.

“Yep,” she says.

I turn around and walk out. There’s no way. That line is the kind of thing you have to be prepared for.


Of the three suggestions my mom made, unemployment was the simplest to obtain. The online application form on the Employment Development Department’s website was easy, the financial calculations were relatively simple, there was a ten-day waiting period, and, voilà!, my husband had a $900 check from the State of California every two weeks. At the end of February, a federal stimulus payment upped that amount by $25 per week. His original claim is for 52 weeks, unless he goes back to work full time. (In 2008, federal legislation extended unemployment insurance benefits twice, for a total of 20 extra weeks for all states, plus an additional 13 weeks for states, like California, saddled with high unemployment rates. So in addition to the 52 weeks, my husband can apply for 33 more.) Maternity leave doesn’t qualify as a reason for unemployment compensation, so $475 a week was the best we could do.

Despite the ease of attainment, problems arise when we have specific questions that are not addressed on the website. Of all the branches on the tree of public assistance, the Employment Development Department is the least accessible. You can spend days or weeks calling repeatedly without ever getting through the labyrinthine automated system to talk to an actual person.

We have questions because our circumstances are complicated. Being on soft layoff means my husband does get called in to work. It’s not nearly as frequent as it was last year — usually one or two days per week, if at all. With the 15 percent pay cut that employees at his company have recently taken and no overtime, two days’ work yields about $316. In that case, he completes the form that comes attached to the unemployment check and claims the amount he made. If his weekly earnings are $101 or more, the first 25 percent is not subtracted from his $450. So, in a week when he makes $316 at work, $237 (75 percent) is subtracted from the $450 unemployment allowance. Then, with the $25 federal stimulus, the total unemployment check is $238. My point is, if he works one or two days, he earns slightly more than he would have by staying home.

Every now and again, when several senior guys are on vacation or when a convention creates extra work, my husband might get called in enough that he makes more than $475 in one week. Which is where the problems begin. The first time, the employment department sent a letter that basically stated, “We’re not giving you any money for last week.”

No big deal. It’s to be expected.

The second time it happened, they sent the same letter but included a window of time and a day (a Sunday afternoon, believe it or not) that he was to be available for a phone interview. The letter also said that if he missed the call, his unemployment insurance payments would be terminated. The call came during the scheduled time, he explained everything, and the employment department was satisfied. Things went back to normal. But every time since then that he’s earned more than $450 in one week, he’s been dropped without notice. At first, we thought his paperwork had gotten delayed and we waited for it. In the meantime, he called the number on the department’s website, hoping to get someone who could inform him as to the problem. Every four out of five calls, the phone was busy. On the fifth, when he’d get through to the automated system, he’d be put on hold for sometimes as long as five minutes only to be told (by an automated voice), “Due to high call volume, we cannot take your call at this time. Please try back later. Good-bye.” And then, the dead click of a hang-up.

This, as far as we knew, was the only way to get in touch with the employment department. There is no address where you can go to wait in line to talk to someone directly.

After two weeks of zero income and no fewer than ten attempts per day to get through by phone, my husband decided to try something new. When asked if he was calling for a scheduled phone appointment, he pressed 1 for “yes.” His big lie paid off. Within minutes, his call was picked up by a female human being. She took his name, pulled his file, answered his questions, and reinstated his case. She was pleasant and friendly, and only once did she get under his skin — when she told him he should have called sooner. (Luckily for everyone involved, it was my husband she spoke to. He was quiet in his irritation. I would not have been.)


My husband says it’s my middle-class upbringing that causes me to expect indulgences like courtesy and respect. I don’t know if that’s true or not. What I do know is that after nearly a year on public assistance, I’m still tempted to dress up before I go to the County or WIC offices in hopes that my fashionable businesswear will help me look the part of the educated woman who’s going through hard times rather than one of the truly poor and uneducated for whom hard times are a way of life.

I sometimes imagine that showing up in a cute-shirt/smart-slacks combo with a pair of downtown-office heels will earn me respect with the County workers or the WIC employees. Usually, however, it serves only to make me stand out as either (a) someone who is poaching resources from those who really need them or (b) someone who thinks she’s someone, which she obviously isn’t.

So on my second trip to the County building to turn in our Medi-Cal redetermination packet, I’ve decided to go with a simple jersey knit skirt, an old T-shirt, and cheap sandals. My hair is a rat’s nest (because why bother?), and by the time I pass through security and take my place as 22nd in line, I realize I’ve made a mistake.

Today’s crowd is — save for a couple of young girls in hoochified jeans and midriff-baring T-shirts — made up of the dignified sort of people who press their shirts and shine their shoes. None of their clothing looks expensive, but at least half of them have chosen to dress from the side of their closets where the special stuff hangs. Beside them, I look sloppy and in need of a pedicure. Hopefully, my babbling nine-month-old daughter will draw everyone’s attention away from me and my hideous toes.

I can hear my husband’s voice in my ear: “Please. Nobody’s thinking about you. They’re starving and trying to figure out how they’re going to pay next month’s rent.”

Oh. Of course.

But if anyone does look my way, they’ll see me reading a book of Chekhov’s short stories, and it will be apparent that I’m smart and educated and just passing through. Right?

The line snakes through the far side of the waiting room in three distinct sections. The first section consists of six to eight people standing between a wall and one of those flat nylon dividers that slip into the slots of two plastic poles. Above the first section’s heads, Stuart Little is playing on an old television that sits inside a grubby cubbyhole behind a dirty slab of acrylic.

While the people in section one would be the most obvious targets of envy (due to their proximity to service), my envy is for those in the second section, which runs along a wall lined with benches. To sit would make the wait less excruciating.

After seven minutes of waiting, with no line movement whatsoever, the first person in line (a tall girl probably just into her 20s, toting a barefoot toddler and wearing shiny silver earrings that dangle to her shoulders) is finally called to a window, and everyone takes a step forward. I watch along with the rest of section three as a large woman in a floral sundress transitions from our section to section two. When she sits, the bench creaks. Her sigh of relief is audible; her smile just a bit smug.

After that, there’s a wave of movement, and in less than half an hour, a young man sporting cornrows, a behooded Muslim woman behind me, and I are all among the envied. We pass smiles back and forth, aware of our shared fortune, as we take our places on the bench. As I sit, I notice that the line behind us now stretches into a fourth section. People are now waiting along the wall on the opposite side of the room where the bathroom doors are located.

By this time, my up-until-now quiet and patient daughter is alternately mashing little bits of sweet-potato snacks into her mouth and shrieking for more. Another 20 minutes pass. I sigh heavily and tell Cornrows to keep his fingers crossed that I don’t run out of snacks for the baby before it’s my turn at the window. He says this is nothing, that mornings are way worse, a hell of a lot more crowded. Then he tells me a story about how the last time he was here, an argument broke out because one lady refused to get up and stand in section one when the line moved.

“Everyone in the back of the line was yelling, like, ‘Get up, b—h!’ ” he says. “I was, like,

‘Dang!’ ”

This slow-moving line is where you go no matter what. If you have to turn in a form, you stand in this line. If you want to ask a question, you stand in this line. If you’re applying for the first time, you stand in this line. If you have several complicated and time-consuming issues to take care of, yes, you stand in this line. You wait and you wait, and when you’re finally called, if the people behind the glass partitions can’t help you, you’re sent back into the waiting room until you’re called by name. Here, you wait just to be told you’ll have to wait some more.

“What you really want,” Cornrows tells me, indicating a set of doors back through the entrance area and past the glass windows, “is to get through those double doors. That’s when you know you’re almost done.”

Interesting. I hadn’t noticed them. But, apparently, that’s where I want to be.

Finally, after more than an hour and a half of standing, sitting, and then standing again, I’m called to one of the blessed windows. There I find a middle-aged woman in a sparkly turquoise T-shirt and matching sparkly turquoise headband. Her bright-red lipstick calls attention to an already prominent mouth. As I hand her the paperwork, I explain that I’m here to turn in my redetermination documents and the reason I’ve included my marriage certificate is because my passport (which is proof of my citizenship) has my maiden name while all the other documents have my married name. I am using my happiest, friendliest voice, trying to be helpful and maybe establish rapport.

“Everybody back here has at least a high school diploma,” she answers. “I’m sure they’ll figure it out.” She doesn’t so much as look up.

I’m too stunned to be insulted.

She takes the neatly stacked and clipped pile of check stubs, passports, Social Security cards, birth certificates, and other papers and leaves her post to photocopy the documents. While she’s gone, I look to the left, toward those double doors. Every now and again, someone comes out from behind them and heads straight outside. They look exhausted but satisfied, as if they’ve accomplished a mission, maybe. Each time the doors swing open, I try to peek behind them. I never do see anything, but I imagine a clean, spacious hallway leading to sunlit offices populated by friendly, customer-oriented employees who offer coffee or cookies as they inquire, “What can I do to help you today?” Yes, Cornrows was right. That is where I want to be.

Red Lips returns with my documents and slides them under the window. They’re now in such a mess that it takes me a couple of minutes to make sure nothing is missing. While I’m in the process of checking and rearranging my documents and paperwork, she slides another piece of paper under the window and says, “Do you need to fill this out?”

I see that the top of the form refers to children with no proof of identity.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Do I?” I’m starting to hate her.

“I don’t know either,” she says, and waits.

She has to be kidding. I try to look past the thick lipstick and big whitish teeth to see what I can read in her eyes. But there’s nothing there to see. She stares back at me expressionless.

“So you can’t tell me if this is something I need or not?”

“Nope,” she says.

My daughter squirming on my hip, I take a deep breath, dig into my bag for a pen, and fill out the paper as quickly as I can. Just in case. When I’m done, I ask if there’s any way for me to talk to my caseworker today. “I have some complications with my Medi-Cal,” I tell her. “I’d like to clear them up.”

With a look of disinterest, she tells me I no longer have a worker assigned to my case.

I feel my heart rate speeding up and my blood pressure beginning to rise. What does that mean? That I don’t have a case? And if so, what’s the problem and why wasn’t I informed? It’s never-ending, and I’m fed up. I’m about to let her have it when she adds that no one gets individual caseworkers anymore. They’ve switched to “task groups,” which means, it’s safe to assume, that there is now even less of a chance that any one person will assume responsibility in the not-unlikely event that the County loses an important document, makes a mistake, or gives me incorrect information.

“Okay, so who can I talk to? I need to talk to someone about my case.”

She hands me a yellow card. It reads “Access Center.” Below that, there’s a phone number. “Call this number,” she says, “and they’ll answer your questions.”

“No,” I tell her. And I’d like to stop there. No, no, no. No more phone calls, no more paperwork, no more lines. No, no, no!

Before I came, my husband warned me to keep my sense of entitlement in check. “Be easy,” he said. “Even if they’re being mean, you have to act friendly.” This must be the moment he was talking about.

But I’ve had it. I’m tired, and I want to talk to someone about the particulars of my case. I believe I’m entitled to that. I suddenly have an image of myself speaking up, demanding to have my questions answered. I imagine doing so in such a passionate tone that the people in line and in the waiting room will erupt into cheers and applause because I’m speaking not just for myself but for all who suffer the never-endingness of this time-sucking, energy-leeching quagmire.

“I’ve called that number,” I say in a raised but slightly squeaky voice. “Now I want to talk to someone in person.” And then I add, trying to keep the peace, “If that’s at all possible.” Smile.

It’s a weak attempt at demanding justice, and no one — least of all Red Lips — seems to notice. Not a head turns. Except for my daughter’s, but she’s looking up at me for another sweet-potato snack.

Red Lips is predictably unmoved. “Give it a week or so,” she says. “You need to give them a chance to look over your case. This is hot off the press.”

Hot off the press?

“Fine,” I say. “Next week, then. When’s the best time?”

“First thing in the morning,” she says. “Eight-thirty a.m.”

Of course. This, according to Cornrows, is the worst time, the busiest hour. But come, I will. And I promise myself, I won’t leave until I get beyond those double doors. I’ll take my coffee black. Two cookies, please.


“WIC” is a partial acronym and the common name for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, a federal program that’s been around since 1972. But until this time last year, all I knew was that it was some welfare program that made the long, slow lines at grocery stores even slower. According to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service website, the “target population” for WIC is “low-income, nutritionally at risk” women (pregnant or postpartum; breast-feeding or not), infants, and children under five years old. The program offers supplemental foods, nutrition classes, and health screenings and referrals. The program serves 45 percent of all infants in the United States.

The closest WIC office to our apartment in City Heights is near the corner of Wightman and Highland, right in the middle of what city planners call an “urban village.” It’s a pedestrian-friendly area where public services (library, schools, clinics, post office, police station, etc.) and commonly used commercial services (grocery stores, banks, fast-food locations, and such) are located within close walking distance. Until my first time going inside the WIC office, I only used its mirrored-glass door as a vanity check on my way to Blockbuster or Albertsons. As I passed, I’d slow down to check my hair for frizz or to see if my stomach looked as flat as I hoped it did.

Inside the tiny waiting room of the WIC office, beneath posters extolling the virtues of breast-feeding, five or six hard plastic chairs line one wall. The chairs are occupied by pregnant women, new mothers (sometimes accompanied by their older children), and the occasional father. A few square feet in one corner have been designated as a play area for the more active children.

Both the size of the waiting room and the structure of the WIC program make it a decidedly more intimate experience than filling out Employment Development Department paperwork online or visiting the County Health and Human Services building. Each time I go in, I’m guaranteed a chance to speak with someone who will do his or her best to answer my questions. Granted, it’s not always done with the best attitude, but I do appreciate the human contact.

That first time I went to the WIC office, I walked right in and, without having to wait, sat down in the low chair in front of the Plexiglas window (why is there always Plexiglas?) and presented my paperwork to a real live person. She was about my age, with a gentle face and shiny black hair. She wore a purple-print shirt that looked like something I would wear. I felt a kind of kindred spirit in her. Maybe under different circumstances she was a nicer person, but her cold, businesslike answers to my questions changed my mind about her face. Her jowls made her look mean. And besides her mean-looking face, she told me that my husband’s year-to-date income (as per his check stub, which I’d been instructed to bring) put us significantly above the income eligibility cutoff.

But, I protested, he was laid off! This was November, and he’d worked all year; of course his year-to-date earning would disqualify us. Didn’t it also count for something that the $49,000 was good and gone, and at the moment, until his unemployment kicked in, his income was exactly zero? I thought so. She didn’t. She told me to come back with proof that he was on unemployment. But he wasn’t on unemployment yet! We were waiting for the first check. She said I should come back when I could show her an unemployment check stub.

Eventually, I did. She then calculated my husband’s $475 weekly unemployment check along with the $300 a week I made from my part-time job. Which, not incidentally, I would be losing the following week when I started maternity leave. Of course, $775 per week put us above the limit as well. She didn’t seem to understand that we weren’t trying to cheat on the income requirements; we were trying to plan ahead. Regardless, we had to wait until we were dead broke (and trying to pay $1350 for rent, a $285 car payment, approximately $500 in other monthly bills, and to feed three people — one of whom was massively pregnant — all on $1900 a month) to go back and ask for a recalculation.

When I returned a week later, the WIC worker happened to mention that if I had Medi-Cal, I automatically qualified for WIC benefits. Now, why didn’t she say that before? By then, my husband’s patience and attention to detail had paid off; we were on Medi-Cal.

I was stuck in the dinky WIC office for two hours that day. After a lecture on nutrition, a video about how to use the WIC checks, and a test to make sure I’d been paying attention to the movie, I left with a brand-new folder and a wad of WIC checks for milk, cheese, juice, and more milk and more cheese and more juice.

Stores won’t take WIC checks if you don’t carry the folder. It’s the law. My husband, who grew up in a neighborhood where WIC checks are common currency, says he’s always kept an eye out for the telltale purple-and-green folders when he’s choosing his line at the grocery store. If he sees the folder, he knows to pick a different line.

In order to delay humiliation as long as I can, I make it a point to keep my WIC folder out of sight until the last possible moment. This is a bit of a problem for me because of my obsession with tiny purses. Unless I choose to carry a large purse (which I do not) or to carry the folder out in the open while I wander up and down the aisles (which I most certainly do not), I have to fold the folder into thirds and then jam it into one of the tiny purses. Hiding the folder isn’t fair to those in line behind me, but so be it. This whole thing isn’t fair.

When I came home from my first shopping-with-WIC-checks experience and related it all to my husband, he just nodded and said, “Every little bit helps.”

“But this isn’t the way it was supposed to be,” I complained, gingerly lowering my big fat pregnant butt onto the couch. “I have a master’s degree. Where’s my maid and my masseuse and my flat in Paris?”


I’m sure there are plenty of people reading this who would like to stone me for complaining at all. I’m sure there are others who would like to beat me for usurping precious taxpayer-provided resources while maintaining my biweekly date with my husband, when we treat ourselves to pizza and hot dogs. (That, plus two drinks and a shared sundae cost less than seven bucks! God bless Costco.) To the former, I say, “You’re absolutely right.” To the latter, I have no excuse but my own middle-class upbringing and any number of self-help books I’ve read that claim joy as a right, not a privilege. A life with no dates is a life without joy.

My mom told me that in all her years working in the realm of public assistance, it was the educated middle class who came in with the most expectations and therefore the most complaints. I must say, though, that as much as I complain about the quality of service and the lines and the other crap I’ve had to endure for the sake of public assistance, I am grateful it’s out there. Cheese is expensive, and health insurance is too. And where else can you ask for money just because you don’t have any?

But.…

That said, during my bimonthly visits to the WIC office, I still go with the hope that the workers on the other side of the Plexiglas will see me as one of their own kind — an educated woman with hopes and dreams and aspirations who might be fun to have drinks with. And when it becomes clear that the woman who calls me to the window sees me as an other, I make it a point to gesticulate with my left hand so she can see how much bigger my engagement ring is than hers. Petty, I know, but this is what I’ve been reduced to.


On my third visit to the County building, I don’t make it quite by 8:30. It’s more like 8:45, and I’m surprised to see not only is the security line not winding around the building as I’d expected, there isn’t a security line at all. Honestly, I’m a tiny bit disappointed because I wanted Cornrows to be right so I could hate Red Lips even more. At the same time, I’m grateful it’s not as bad as I’d expected.

Inside, the line is about the same as it was last time, but the waiting room is more crowded, and nearly all the benches are full. The end of the line is crowded into the corner just past section two, and then it flubs out into the waiting room. It’s not five minutes, though, before (lo and behold!) I’m sitting on the bench in section two. And not five minutes after that, two women appear from beyond the double doors and start pulling people out of line.

I’ve decided my mantra will be “I need to see a worker about my redetermination status,” and no matter what I’m asked, I’ll keep repeating myself until it happens. I’ve come with snacks for myself and the baby, diapers galore, a book to read, and enough water for days. I’m prepared to wait as long as I must to get my questions answered.

The first of the two women calling people out of line is wearing a long blue rayon dress printed with giant green flowers. She stands at the front of the line and announces that those with new applications should let themselves be known. She also says something about a QR7, and even though I don’t know what that is or even if I’ve heard her correctly, I’m tempted to claim QR7 status so she’ll take me back beyond the double doors. I figure once I’m in her office, she’ll have no choice but to listen to my story. Of course, I chicken out.

The second woman (who’s wearing a tank top and jeans — really? at work?) starts at the beginning of the line and one by one asks people the reason for their visit. By the time she gets to me, she’s pulled so many people out of the line that I’m only three away from the front.

“What do you need, hon?” Her voice is smoky and her expression one of permanent impatience. I’m desperate to get beyond the double doors, but I’m not so sure I want to go there with her. She has a mean vibe.

“I need to see a worker about my redetermin—”

She cuts me off. “Go to the double doors.” And then, “What do you need?” She’s already on to the next person.

Four other people (not counting a toddler in tight red pants and a gurgling baby in an infant carrier) stand outside the double doors waiting to be told to go through. After another minute or two, Smoky arrives (with two more people in tow), looks at the small crowd of us, and says, “Oh, boy. I sure pulled a lot of you, didn’t I?”

Some of us smile. Some of us don’t.

She pushes open the doors and walks through. We shuffle through behind her. It’s reasonably well lit, I suppose, but not the utopia I’d imagined. Just a long hallway, the eight of us (not counting the babies), and four chairs lined up against the wall. I choose to stand. So much for coffee and cookies.

As it turns out, the chairs are lined up directly across from Smoky’s office. She calls in an older Asian woman, tells her to sit, and neglects to close the door. From where I’m standing, I can’t see the woman anymore, but I can see Smoky. She looks like the kind of woman who could drink any man under the table. Her voice is loud enough for all to hear (isn’t that a breach of confidentiality? Do we really need to hear about each other’s cases?), but I try not to pay attention to what she’s saying. Instead, I watch the little red-pants toddler make faces at my baby. I coo and talk to them both in a too-loud voice meant to drown out the conversation in the office.

A couple of minutes later, the Asian lady leaves and Smoky calls in whoever’s next. The two women (mom and grandma?) who brought the toddler scoop her up and head into the office. Within seconds, Smoky’s voice rings out.

“Is that in pencil?” she bellows.

I look up in time to see her slam down a pen on the desk and shove it toward whichever of the two women has just handed her a form filled out, apparently, in pencil.

“Julia,” Smoky admonishes loudly, “legal papers cannot be done in pencil! Use eyeliner if you have to. Even Crayola would work. But you can’t ever use a pencil!”

The lady on the seat next to me smiles. I smile back. The eyeliner bit is funny, and filling out a form in pencil isn’t the smartest idea in the world, but Smoky’s words come off as mean. I start preparing myself for a confrontation. Smoky had better not speak to me that way.

When the little family finishes, Smoky calls for the next person, who doesn’t get up fast enough. “Come on, come on!” she urges, throwing a conspiratorial wink out at the rest of us. She doesn’t seem to understand that as much as the rest of us would like to be done with our business as quickly as possible, we’re not going to wink back. Our sympathies lie with whoever sits on the other side of the desk.

Finally, it’s my turn. I sit down in the one chair across the desk from Smoky and situate my daughter’s stroller beside me. My lonely chair is backed up against a blank wall. No posters, no pictures, no color. The office looks like an interrogation room. I’m guessing you’re not supposed to get comfortable here.

I speak as if I’ve rehearsed, which I have. “There are some complications with my Medi-Cal, and I want to make sure everything is in order with my redetermination documents.”

She asks for my Social Security number and my name. I watch as she types in the information. Strangely enough, though her dress and mannerisms are sloppy and crude, her fake nails are long and tipped with sparkly silver and purple polish. Not at all what you’d expect from such an otherwise mannish woman.

“Okay, well, it looks like your case hasn’t been processed yet, but…let me see here. Yep, the paperwork has been received. By mail it looks like. Did you send it by mail?”

“No, I brought it in last week.”

“Oh, all right, well, it’s been received. You should get something in the mail before too long. They’ll let you know if anything’s missing or if it’s been denied for some reason.”

“Right,” I say, not having gotten this far in my rehearsals. I suppose I’d assumed that getting beyond the double doors would mean I’d talk to someone who’d know something. “Is there any way to talk to someone about that? Because, like I said, there are some complications that might not be clear on paper. I’d like to avoid the automatic denial if I can.”

“Well, if it’s denied—”

Suddenly, the sound of loud but poorly amplified country music fills the office.

“Excuse me,” she says, reaching under her desk and pulling a pocketbook up from the floor. The music is her ringtone. As she digs around inside the purse, she mumbles, “I guess I forgot to turn that off.”

Then she pulls out her cell phone and answers it.

I sit, appalled, while she has a brief conversation with someone and then hangs up. She does not apologize.

“So, I was saying that if it’s denied, the back of the letter will tell you how to go about requesting a fair hearing.”

“Yeah,” I say. “I was kind of hoping to avoid all that and maybe talk to someone who might be able to help—”

She interrupts to tell me that’s not going to happen because so far no one has been assigned to my case. And when I tell her I thought there were no longer workers assigned to cases at all, she says that’s true. The task group currently has my case, but eventually someone specific will have to process it, and if that person has any questions, he or she will contact me.

“Okay, so then once that happens, I’ll have someone to talk to?”

“No. It just means that’s the person who will process your paperwork.”

“And that’s the person who makes the decision about whether I’m denied or approved?”

She nods yes.

“But I can’t talk to them? Now or ever. Is that what you’re saying?”

For a second, Smoky looks at me as if she’s just now seeing a person in the chair across from her, as if until now I was just a blur, a number, not even a reason not to answer the phone. For one tiny moment, she looks as if it has dawned on her how ridiculous this set of circumstances must sound.

But rather than offering an alternative, a suggestion, a moment with her supervisor, or something I can use to get through this bleeping mess, all she says is “It wasn’t our idea.”

And then she laughs. That’s right, she laughs. It’s a throaty smoker’s laugh, and like her voice, it’s too loud. But unlike a normal laugh, it carries with it no joy. I feel defeated. Despite having no desire to join in on the joke (whatever it might be), I smile back.

One day I’ll laugh about all this too. I’ll giggle and guffaw about the WIC cheese and the lines (the lines, the lines!) and the surprise of suddenly finding my expectations of a life of luxury dashed to smithereens on the side of a County welfare building.

Smoky is still chuckling as I gather my belongings, unbrake the stroller, thank her for her time, and walk out. Just before the doors swing shut behind me, I hear her call out, “Come on, people. Who’s next?”

At the time of printing, the writer is still waiting for the County letter stating whether her Medi-Cal has been renewed or denied.

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Comments

lenny Jan. 6, 2010 @ 8:13 p.m.

TIP: Buy yourself a folding wheelchair at a thrift store. Stock it with drinks, snacks and lots of reading materials. I came up with this years ago to deal with lines at the DMV. Loan it to friends.

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Fred Williams Jan. 6, 2010 @ 11:48 p.m.

Our local government is bending over backwards to give away hundreds of millions of dollars to football teams, baseball teams, hotel moguls, over-paid city staffers, and expensive consultants...

But when it comes to mothers and children at risk, they have nothing but contempt.

Primarily this is a result of having a county board of supervisors that has made specific policies to thwart the poor at every step. It's not an accident. It's intentional. When they stop people like you from getting what you deserve, they brag to their republican friends about how frugal they are.

The unemployment situation is unlikely to improve much this year, so you and your husband will be stuck with unwelcome free time.

Please use it to get involved, volunteer on a campaign for one of the candidates running against the incumbent supervisors. Ron Roberts is especially vulnerable this year, and judging from your writing you live in his district. Spending just a few hours a week calling voters, stuffing envelopes, and helping around the campaign office (they would probably welcome your toddler) can make an enormous difference.

With a new board of supervisors, San Diego could change its priorities, and start putting residents in need ahead of sports moguls when it comes to spending public money.

A final thought:

You have NOTHING to be ashamed of. All those years you and your husband worked you PAID for these benefits. It's not a "gift" from the government, it's them paying off what they promised when they took your tax money in the first place.

Hold your head high.

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ltrue Jan. 7, 2010 @ 12:24 p.m.

Wow, great article!

We in the California WIC provider community are glad that your experience at a local WIC clinic was a LITTLE better than at some of the other programs. But not good enough, by far!

Would you be willing to share your experience directly with us? We want you to speak at our Annual Meeting in May, it's in San Diego and the theme is: Participant-Centered Service!! We have a long ways to go to get to the point where every WIC participant feels welcomed, accepted as a partner in learning, and confident!

Your articulate and unvarnished description of what it's like to be "on the other side of the Plexiglass" would be an excellent wakeup call for our frontline WIC staff. Please contact me at [email protected]

Thanks again for your brave piece!

Laurie True, Executive Director, California WIC Association

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Lisa_Pederson Jan. 7, 2010 @ 3:56 p.m.

Mr. Williams- I would like to clarify a portion of what you wrote. A majority of the welfare benefits issued locally are not county funds and the Board of Supervisors have no real say on how they are paid. Cash aid for families, Medi-Cal and Food Stamps are either funded by the State of California or the Feds. The only real involvement the board has is on the number of employees hired to handle all the cases, new and old. The number of cases are increasing and the staff handling them is decreasing because of the economy and hiring freezes.

I do agree that the members of the board need to be replaced because they've been in office too long and have become very narrow minded in their decision making. This impacts all residents of our fine county.

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CuddleFish Jan. 7, 2010 @ 8:04 p.m.

Your tax dollars pays Ghd1234's salary. Frightening, ain't it?

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Jay Allen Sanford Jan. 7, 2010 @ 8:28 p.m.

Great article, and yet more proof that anybody could someday find themselves in the same position. Thanks for sharing your experiences with such candor and flair -

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girlfrend Jan. 7, 2010 @ 8:54 p.m.

After reading this article, I was a little disappointed. I'm pretty sure that no one would like to become a "Welfare Queen" but you are far from one. Your income at 1900/month is way more then half the people that come into the office. 1350/month rent please most please in that office couldn't afford that. Be thankful you can. Just like the your husband getting laid off, it has happened to some many more people. You should have taken that into consideration when you went to the office. But by your statement when you walked through the door that you didn't need to go through the metal detector because you just needed to drop off paper, shows that your expectations were unrealistic. Pretty sure most people in the office needed to drop of papers. You sound ungrateful for what you do have. The WIC cheese can't be that bad, can it? Maybe you won't be so quick to judge people when you get on your feet and see someone in line with the WIC vouchers since you've been on the other side. Be thankful for income that you have and the little trouble you have to go through one a year. FYI if you call the ACCESS center they can probably answer your questions as they are workers. They people at the window are not. You may be on hold a while but I would think it bets standing the line and complaining and dealing with the likes of people like "cornrows" cause they are clearly beneath you. Good Luck hopefully your situation will change soon as do others.

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shizzyfinn Jan. 7, 2010 @ 9:54 p.m.

Great article, indeed. Gives all of us a first hand look at the shoddiness of the social safety nets here in San Diego. There but for the grace of God go all of us.

Ghd1234 is right, though. The author's negativity is misplaced, and the name-calling makes her seem less a good person in bad circumstances and more a spoiled brat.

I wish the author would better recognize that the employees of the agencies like HHSA tend to be overworked, underpaid, and forced by lack of funding to deliver bad news to desperate people all day. It's unfortunate that the author wasn't treated with the utmost respect at each stop on her way, but if her husband can see her sense of entitlement, I'm not surprised that agency employees can, too - nor that they recoil from it.

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shizzyfinn Jan. 7, 2010 @ 9:56 p.m.

Lenny, would you be willing to pay more in auto registration fees if it would make DMV waiting time shorter? Freedom from DMV lines isn't free.

Lisa Pederson, you're letting the County Board of Supervisors off too easy. Last year, it came out that San Diego is the worst big city in the nation when it comes to the percentage of eligible people who actually receive food stamps. A responsible Board would be shamed by that fact and would be bending over backwards to fix it. If "The only real involvement the board has is on the number of employees hired to handle all the cases" then the Board should be doing its damnedest to boost the number of employees.

Cuddlefish, it's unclear what set off your mean-spirited reply to Gh1234's legitimate comment. I'm with you on a lot of your comments; for example, your healthy skepticism regarding Obama. But I can't figure you out here.

Speaking of President Obama, can anyone help me figure out why he and the other Dems in charge in DC haven't directed some stimulus funds to staffing the public assistance agencies that are so swamped with clients these days? What better way to put people on hard times to work than helping other people on hard times?

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Fred Williams Jan. 7, 2010 @ 10:04 p.m.

Ghd1234, you are hilarious! Thanks for the laugh.

The way you parody a semi-literate "gubmunt werker" who can't handle criticism is just spot on.

...oh wait.

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CuddleFish Jan. 7, 2010 @ 11:09 p.m.

Oh, whew, thank goodness you set me straight, Fred, Ghd1234 is actually a genius just pretending to be a County of San Diego employee.

oh wait ...

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rickeysays Jan. 8, 2010 @ 4:08 a.m.

I suspect the long lines and shoddy service is actually a strategic decision by policymakers. They don't want to make it too easy to get freebies, or everybody'll want some.

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Duhbya Jan. 8, 2010 @ 5:35 a.m.

Does anyone recall the case regarding employees at 73rd St. who were arrested in the mid to late 80's? I'm unsure of the actual charges, but I recall that they were approving cases in exchange for a cut of the action. Quite substantially, I might add. I used to live at the end of 73rd St., and invariably, when I left my house to go anywhere, I would observe folks in late-model vehicles park as far as 3 blocks away and walk to their appointments. Entitlement is one thing, legitimacy quite another.

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shizzyfinn Jan. 8, 2010 @ 9 a.m.

Rickeysays, if you're right, then the policymakers would be even more negligent than they are now.

BTW, "freebies" is a blatant misrepresentation of what these benefits are. We're not talking about free tickets to Padres games here. We're talking about small, survival-enabling amounts of food, medical care, and money that people on hard times are entitled to by law.

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shizzyfinn Jan. 8, 2010 @ 9:12 a.m.

Duhbya, a hazy recollection of someone committing a crime in the mid-1980s? Are you serious? How does that apply here?

As for your late model cars theory, it could be that, like the author of this article, the folks you observed were doing all right before the bottom dropped out from under them. And like the author of this article, they might be embarrassed about asking for help, hence parking "as far as 3 blocks away" (are you sure it wasn't 4?).

But you're implying, of course, that people are gaming the system. Which is an assertion that requires much more proof than 25-year-old personal anecdotes.

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lucyblue Jan. 8, 2010 @ 10:14 a.m.

Wow, where do I even begin to start???? Let me just say that I have sat in the seat from all aspects. I have owned my own car & house as a single parent with no help from the state much less child support. Later in life, I lost it all and had to go on welfare 100% for one whole year.

Let me tell you, it was a blow to my entire way of thinking, my perspective on life drastically changed. Although, it took along time for my benefits to kick in I so appreciated that the help was there when I so desperately needed it. I was able to get back on my feet and can honeslty say I used welfare for what it was originally intended for; temporary assistance.

Now, as for what the writer of this article has written, not sure where to start. You should have been taught that degrading people will get you no where, then to put it out on a publication like this makes one wonder what kind of person you are. You even indicated how you once viewed welfare recipients, now you are one... KARMA maybe???

I can tell you this much, our government system is not perfect, far from it. Will anything ever be???? As far as the fraudulent incident back in the 80's goes, those people where brought up on charges. How in the world can you shake your finger at an incident that takes place everywhere everyday?? People are going to continue to break the law, take the easy road, do things out of desperation or just plain greed, that is just the way our sinful world is, its all around us. The US government is most likely the best example of how not to do things; but it is what it is. Sometimes justice does NOT prevail that is just the plain facts.

Lastly, social workers and county people who work on the front lines are so under paid and over worked. Dont get me wrong, you will find some lazy, uncompassionate, arrogant workers, but guess what, you will find that EVERYWHERE. You will also be glad to know there are some workers who really do care about the client in their time of need. They give of their OWN time voluntarily, yes this is true. The new system with ACCESS has possibly been the hardest time of adjustments, trust me very few people are happy with the way this whole system is playing out; but like all new things time will tell.

No one is happy going on welfare while others make it a way of life, once you have opened your eyes to the truth that nothing in this life is perfect or without flaw then maybe you will see past your own world.

Do your duty as an american citizen and complain to your elected officials, write letters, email, speak out to a more reputable publication. You know what they say about the squeeky wheel?? Be proactive with all this new time you have on your hands and use the right channels to complain. Its your right make good use of it.

Thank you

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David Dodd Jan. 8, 2010 @ 10:57 a.m.

To the author: Great article, but I can't say that I completely disagree with the comments that find you a tad elitist with the delivery. I've made six figures in Los Angeles and minimum wage in San Diego, and in both instances I was glad to have the job. My family here has had Christmases in which there were no gifts, and to this day my wife and myself do not exchange them, they're for the kids and the grandkids. In good times I bought my wife nice jewelry, only to have to pawn it when things got tough, and only after I pawned everything I could of my own. Seventeen years later, we both see life as a wonderful rollercoaster.

In essence, wealth is subjective. You are wealthy if you are alive and have something to live for. Above all, I hope you can teach that to your children.

To anyone having problems getting through to the CA EDD by phone to talk to a representative (it took me 2 1/2 weeks to figure this out):

When you call, you will hear one of two recorded voices. The most likely one will be a pleasant sounding girl, I forget what she says, but she isn't the voice you want. Try dialing again until you get a lower, more serious woman's voice that begins,"Welcome..."

Upon hearing "welcome", dial 1-3-0 and 75% of the time you will get a representative. Avoid calling on Mondays. For Baja residents, you can pay 50 cents per minute by dialing 880 instead of 800 (800 will not work from Baja via telephone), or better yet, get a Skype account and invest 10 dollars (the minimum) to make outgoing calls (use 800 not 880) and it costs neither yourself nor the State of California a cent. And, in advance, you're welcome.

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Altius Jan. 8, 2010 @ 11:04 a.m.

First of all, GHD, disturbing that a person in charge of distributing tax dollars spells grateful as greatfull.

Shizzy, we all pay plenty of money to stand in shorter lines at the DMV. The problem is our state government is controlled by the worst bunch of hacks ever elected to office. These people are addicted to spending other people's money. Even when times were good, these hacks were bankrupting our once-great state with their spending.

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Duhbya Jan. 8, 2010 @ 11:20 a.m.

"Duhbya, a hazy recollection of someone committing a crime in the mid-1980s? Are you serious? How does that apply here?"

Gee, let's see....ummm, it applies as an indicator that the system has been flawed for many years? Hazy or not, it's real. Sorry I didn't save the clippings for you from the U-T.

Trust me on this one, the folks I observed were most certainly not on the rebound, and the connector street I always took to 70th St. to gain access to I-8 was, let's see, 73rd minus 70th, uh, THREE blocks! (not 4)

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shizzyfinn Jan. 8, 2010 @ 12:29 p.m.

Dubs, are you now saying that whatever happened 25 years ago wasn't fixed? That doesn't jibe with your original comment, where you said the perpetrators were arrested and charged.

Or are you condemning any system in which some bad behavior once took place? I could bring up any number of cliches to point out your error there: don't let bad apples spoil the bunch, don't throw babies out out with the bathwater, don't let the perfect be the enemy of good, et cetera. Or I could just say give me a break.

BTW, you seem to think that by mere observation, as you drive by people on your way to the freeway, you can identify who is on the rebound and who isn't. If so, they could use your special powers at HHSA...you could save them a bundle on verifying people's eligibility.

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shizzyfinn Jan. 8, 2010 @ 12:38 p.m.

Altius, kudos on your spelling acumen. But a person's spelling skills are irrelevant in 95%, maybe 99%, of jobs, are they not? In fact, as George W demonstrated, a person can be President of the USA without even knowing how to pronounce words correctly, let alone spell them. Did you vote for him?

As for your summation of the real problem here - political hacks addicted to spending other people's money - what's the solution?

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Duhbya Jan. 8, 2010 @ 1:07 p.m.

Ok, I'll give you a break, then. Shizz down a bit. I stand by my comments, your predilection for reading more into them than what was intended notwithstanding.

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EvaRevenant Jan. 8, 2010 @ 9:14 p.m.

It is a difficult place to be in--that place of seeming dependence. Being on the dole is not most people's idea of a dream come true. Being a worker whose hands are tied by varying levels of rules, laws and regulations is not every person's idea of how to help others out. But it is what it is and many of those underpaid workers truly do the best they can with what they have. Those workers hear a lot of stories so much more heartbreaking than the writer’s. They develop a thick skin to deal with it. Some will use humor, perhaps sometimes ill placed, to deal with their own feelings of what they see and hear around them. With this reading it would sound as if one particular worker was trying to put people at ease in an otherwise uncomfortable situation. This article smacks of a certain bitterness. Name calling of those individuals is indicative of a lack of respect.. What's to gain by calling the worker mannish? Who cares if she is? Smoky and Red Lips have names. Did you bother to ask them what they were? Did you even care? Perhaps they sensed your mean vibe.

San Diego is one of the lowest paying in terms of county employment. But the people needing help keep on coming and the economy ensures that they do. Bureaucracies have been lampooned, cartooned and just plain harpooned in the public culture for decades. The never ending red tape is an unfortunate part of doing business with any government entity. Those bureaucracies are required to make sure that laws are followed. And in the County's case there are folks out there who like to sue. Say the wrong thing and a lawsuit can wind up costing the taxpayers still more money. And all those other people waiting in those unfortunately long lines pay the price. There are people who will try to cheat the system and get assistance they do not deserve. There are people with money in the bank who will hide it to avoid using it for their own care. These people are the ones who ruin it for the good, honest people who need help. They ruin it for the workers who would like it to be simpler for the honest people coming for help. Those workers are unfortunately assigned the job of trying to weed these individuals out and are assigned the Herculean task of knowing and following pages of processes, rules, directives and forms---all designed to protect the taxpayers money. It takes a certain talent and focused level of intelligence to wrap the mind around all that the workers must know. And I can guarantee you that all most of them ever really wanted to do was to help others in need.

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Apple575 Jan. 9, 2010 @ 8:57 a.m.

Ms. Salaam, What readers must realize is that your article is just your opinion; nothing more & nothing less. Visiting the welfare office on a few occasions does not qualify you as a welfare queen. Sounds like you are hoping to be awarded a crown or some other prestigious title. Good luck with that.

I am a County of San Diego employee & let me be the first to tell you that we do not lead glorious lives. We're all trying to make a living just like everyone else. We are not paid on commission based upon how many clients we serve or grant benefits to. What you must understand is that we have very specific rules when it comes to giving out benefits. Yes, the system is not easy & it's not intended to be by any stretch of the imagination. Heck, if the system was that easy, everyone would be applying for benefits.

What disturbs me the most are the nicknames & assuming comments that you make in reference to my co-workers. Your comment that Smoky "could drink any man under that table" has no relevance to your situation. Try not to be so superficial & maybe that will open your eyes to the fact that we are all human beings. What makes us all beautiful in our own way is our differences. If you see someone on the street who is bald, do you refer them as 'Baldy'? How do you know that person isn't undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment? One of these days your name calling is going to get you in trouble.

I am grateful for my job. I enjoy what I do for the County & for the thousands of people who come through our doors every month, you have no sense of decency or humility. Most of our clients would prefer to work, but there are those individuals who only know how to receive assistance because that is how they were raised. I can tell you first hand that for every bitter & self-centered applicant, such as yourself, there are hundreds of clients who are grateful, respectful & humble for the services we provide.

I will apologize for one thing - I'm sorry our lobby doesn't meet your high expectations. Your comment about our "old television that sits inside a grubby cubbyhole behind a dirty slab of acrylic" should be replaced. Could you imagine if we had a 42" Plasma with Direct TV & a Playstation 3 in our lobby? You would be ripping us for spending taxpayer dollars on unnecessary items like that. What I have come to realize is that nothing will satisfy you. Either way, we can't win in your eyes, but I'm going to let you in on a little secret - we are not trying to.

Here's some free advice, Ms. Salaam. Having your article published labels you as a freelance writer. The last time I checked, freelance writers receive income from having their articles published. I'm also aware that this is not your first article to be published. I advise you to make sure you claim that income otherwise that could be a determining factor in the amount of assistance you receive. Keep in mind; you do have a choice in the matter - you don't have to apply for benefits.

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shizzyfinn Jan. 9, 2010 @ 8:58 a.m.

Mindy, your comment is offensive beyond belief.

My wife's mother was on welfare for a few years in the 1980s after her husband left her with four young children. Without child care available for her toddlers, and no one else to ask for help, there was no other option. The welfare payments weren't much - just enough to eke out an existence in a L.A. ghetto. But without that support, she and her four kids would have been on the street.

Overall, Mindy's whole comment sounds just like the BS that Ronald Reagan and Co. spread in the 1980s...images of people on welfare driving Cadillacs and laughing all the way to the bank. Of course, the real-life examples of welfare queens are few and far between (if you have any proof besides personal anecdotes and recollections, please share). In the absence of legitimate proof (news articles, case studies, census data, etc) these types of accusations add nothing to the debate, though they do give us insight into the accusers.

There is validity in the assertion that welfare can create a cycle of dependence, which is a problem. But not one to be solved with sweeping generalizations like Mindy's.

As for "A welfare investigator once went out to a house to find the client had three mint-condition, classic cars on the property." So the investigator promptly noted that the person was not eligible for welfare, right? Sounds to me like the system worked in that example.

If the example is even real. More likely, it's as phony as your fantasies of romancing Michael Jackson.

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EvaRevenant Jan. 9, 2010 @ 10:09 a.m.

Shizzyfinn, If Mindy were to respond to your goading for examples the county could be sued for violating the privacy of the people involved.

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AndreasAE Jan. 9, 2010 @ 10:34 a.m.

It's sad to see how brainwashed this mother in dire circumstances finds herself, HEALTHCARE is YOUR RIGHT IF YOU PAID TAXES--don't ever feel ashamed about medi-cal. WIC is your entitlement if you always paid taxes.

What really get's to me though is the fact that Social services employees, like medical employees or government workers, get private health insurance benefits yet it is our tax dollars that pay their salaries--if they made them wait in line like the rest of the medical recipients than they might change their attitude and we might save on government expenditures.

But that's not so much the problem as the recognition that you are now aware of "those others" because you are like them. You wrote with a very condescending attitude towards the working poor and those less fortunate--you acted like a snobby La Jollean, even though you live in City Freights, you acted rather high and mighty for someone whose husband is a trucker, nothing wrong with that, it's a dignified well paying profession, but it's not management and it doesn't require a master's degree--in fact since you have the master's degree you should be making more money so that your husband can take time off and improve his education obtain a better job that isn't subject to such brusque supply and demand changes--let's face it it was not once a secure job, just like construction and plumbing, good money but rarely stable income.

Hopefully when your circumstances improve you won't hold the same condescending view you once had towards your less fortunate constituents. As someone who is a minority you of all people should never look down on anyone else.

I opted to omit discussing the amount and time length of your unemployment benefits, most people on minimum wage barely make that--you are very disconnected from reality, but you are even more disconnected to pay 1350 in CITY FREIGHTS, a really bad area.

When I use my WICs I make sure I separate eligible items per check to make it easy on the clerk, believe me they appreciate it more than you think and people don't stare at you for holding the lines. My wife and child are on medical, I'm not embarrassed because I pay taxes. We can't work much because my wife is finishing her master's degree on a full scholarship at a local renowned school by the college area. Maybe I don't feel embarrassed because I used to live in CANADA where health care is a right, and now I have citizenship in SPAIN where health-care is also a right.

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shizzyfinn Jan. 9, 2010 @ 10:50 a.m.

Eva, as I explained in my post, I'm not looking for any kind of example on the personal anecdote level. Those anecdotes are useless.

What these welfare critics need to provide to make their case are things like studies, news reports, demographic data. The fact that the critics can't point to anything suggests their viewpoints are driven by animosity, not facts.

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babyblue Jan. 9, 2010 @ 10:56 a.m.

First, let me fully admit that I am a County HHSA employee. I am one of “those” people. I do not have long fake nails or bright red lipstick or consider myself mannish so I guess that makes me a more qualified employee. If it had been I who had met you at the security checkpoint I would surely have rolled out the red carpet (usually reserved for the employee’s) and led you back to a room filled with all the coffee and cookies you could imagine. Why should you have to go through the checkpoint? I mean when you’re flying they usually let you go right around right? Maybe you just didn’t flash your enormous engagement ring enough, next time try flapping it around a lot and I’ll make sure to greet you at the door and escort you to the front of the line but don’t expect the “behooded Muslim woman” or “cornrows” to congratulate you, I mean they are obviously so beneath you anyway so who cares. It’s not any secret that the County of San Diego has consistently had the reputation for having the most underpaid staff but then again we have not yet had to have the luxury of every other Friday off without pay so I guess we should be thankful for that. The underpayment I can deal with it’s the underemployment, which is detrimental to both clients and employees. We are each being asked to do the work of at least 2 people; due to budget cuts we are on a hiring freeze with no end in sight. We haven’t had a cost of living increase in 2 years and paid overtime is something archaic to us, paid overtime what’s that? But we should be thankful we have a job, right? I mean we are on the right side of the window? What the writer might not also be aware of is that HHSA has recently decided to undergo a complete change in business practice which in writing promised a more equal workload for the employee’s and a more customer friendly system. In practice neither of this is happening. Again we are returned to the understaffing. I know this means nothing to the people applying for aid but it directly affects their experience in our office. Imagine if you were checking out at a grocery store and the clerk had to ring your order, answer the phone and ring a second checkout all at once, this is equitable to what County employees are being asked to daily. In a time when applications for aid are increasing does it make sense that the employees being asked to process them is going down?
The only thing I would apologize to the writer for is the lack of customer service, although I do question how much of this was blown out of proportion. Even with the everyday stress of a never ending workload I still try to manage a smile and speak to each person with respect, after all my only satisfaction is when I can manage to help someone really in need. No matter how horrible that one day was out of your entire life let’s not forget that you are insured which is more than can be said for a large percentage of Americans.

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SDaniels Jan. 9, 2010 @ 5:26 p.m.

C'mon, everyone. It's a common literary device to call persons who shall remain nameless in stories by something that marks their personal appearance, i.e. "Cornrows," (noticeable hairstyle) or "Smoky," (husky smoker's voice) etc. These are the kinds of details that make for interesting reading, and probably helped to keep you as readers on track, despite the depressing, and potentially boring content of the story (much of which concerns the frustration of waiting in lines and on phone calls). I think the story was brave and timely, and feel the author was honestly soul-searching her own preconceptions and biases, and treated them with an irony tinged with understandable bitterness in the face of such a turnaround--a bitterness that many of you misread as an adherence to some myth of entitlement. Can't you see that the writer is being pretty brutally honest in her attempt to write the truth of what she saw, therefore revealing and narrating herself as much as a character as anyone else in the story? (refried, I’m surprised at your reaction, too—what you accept in some people’s writings, and not a whiff of in others) How would you feel in her place? For those who have said she should have looked for the good or the kindness, or asked the names of people 'interviewing' her, do ya think she was in an environment encouraging her to do so? I come away from a careful reading of the story with the impression that sadly, she would have been viewed with even more suspicion.

What would you write, and how much self-flagellation, or honesty about your perceptions would you reveal? I’d ask this of those who have written in to say that they are government or county workers, because the immediate attitude here on this blog, interestingly enough, seems to be one of willful misunderstanding and suspicion. Perhaps you'd feel you were more honest, or more careful about your perceptions of people of a race or ethnicity, or class perceived to be different from yours? Or would your story about "a man sitting next to me on the bench" and "a woman who may have been Muslim" (oops--that is too much: "a woman standing nearby," then), and all of the nameless government workers on the other side of the desk, who have no identifying features, such as color in their lips or details of manicure or hair—would your story about these important issues really carry the reader’s attention? Probably not.

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SDaniels Jan. 9, 2010 @ 5:41 p.m.

Let's take a look at some of what two self-identified government workers have revealed in this blog, as a reaction to this story:

"What you must understand is that we have very specific rules when it comes to giving out benefits. Yes, the system is not easy & it's not intended to be by any stretch of the imagination. Heck, if the system was that easy, everyone would be applying for benefits.

What disturbs me the most are the nicknames & assuming comments that you make in reference to my co-workers. Your comment that Smoky "could drink any man under that table" has no relevance to your situation. Try not to be so superficial & maybe that will open your eyes to the fact that we are all human beings."

By Apple575

Try not to be so superficial? Let's be honest, Apple. How do you classify "clients" from the other side of the window? How has your attitude hardened and uglified after years of bristling at what you perceive to be self-entitlement, coming from "clients?" Your comments from the other side of the window sound just as frustrated as those of the writer of this story as a client. Why don't you write your story, from your point of view, on this subject, with as much honesty as you can muster? At the least, you might get the attention of a Laurie True--see comment #3, and at the most, you might be left with a lifting of the burden of bad feeling on your soul, after enduring the unkindnesses this job has forced people to perpetrate upon each other day after day.

And here's babyblue, with a similar perspective:

"We are each being asked to do the work of at least 2 people; due to budget cuts we are on a hiring freeze with no end in sight. We haven’t had a cost of living increase in 2 years and paid overtime is something archaic to us, paid overtime what’s that? But we should be thankful we have a job, right? I mean we are on the right side of the window?

I know this means nothing to the people applying for aid but it directly affects their experience in our office."

By babyblue

This is also a great start, and could be a fantastic followup to the author's take. It sounds like too much is being asked of you on the job, babyblue, but how do you know it means nothing to people on the other side of the window? Perhaps they are caught in their own misery, and expecting you to prejudge them and be impatient and mean (and you just might be, because you are so very frustrated, too. Miserable government jobs in public assistance, and a miserable public trapped in the machine. But seeing some of the exchanges here as a result of one person's breaking the silence leads me to wish for more like this story--from your point of view as well.

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SDaniels Jan. 9, 2010 @ 6:32 p.m.

Oh PS: Did anyone else catch that in the cover photo, the woman is entering via the back door of the bus? A big no no, and only happens when schoolkids sneak in while the driver is distracted by their cohorts at the front ;)

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EvaRevenant Jan. 9, 2010 @ 9:51 p.m.

I do believe that unless the County's PR department wrote it, or approved of it, that you may never see such an article. Could you imagine a County employee describing clients in the terms that Ms. Salaam described County workers? And I'd hedge my bets that someone would sue. Yes. It is a literary device. However, even a non-employee found that her writing style came off as mean spirited. Can you truly blame anyone for coming forward to defend their co-workers or are we expected to stand by and twiddle our thumbs?

Oh, by the way...I think she's entering the trolley. When you look at the photo there is a door on the other side of where she is entering. ;)

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Fred Williams Jan. 9, 2010 @ 11:06 p.m.

Apple reveals the attitude of the County employees toward their "clients":

All those who apply for the services they've PAID FOR IN TAXES must be "grateful, respectful & humble for the services we provide."

See?

You can get the help you need. But you must grovel first.

Don't you dare be proud, or think that maybe you deserve some respect from those whose job it is to process the paperwork, but instead act as if they are your superiors.

It's not a benefit you've paid for. Nope. It's a "service" provided by these generous public employees who condescend to help you, even though you are worthless scum who should be living on the street. Grovel. Beg. Shut up. Do as you're told. If we don't like you, we can make your life miserable.

This is the problem. The County of San Diego, by deliberate policy, treats all those who use the system as potential fraudsters to be detected and denied, rather than as citizens who have been put out of work by forces beyond their control. In the eyes of the county, nobody is worthy of assistance. In their eyes, this is a gift generously bestowed on the unworthy.

Few seem to remember that in the late '90s the County put a lot of effort into "rooting out fraud". There were over the top stories about how everyone abused the system, and the politically popular reaction was to make it as difficult as humanly possible to actually receive benefits. The focus was turned from finding ways to help people to finding ways to deny people benefits.

Now that the economic system has tanked, due in large part to the same hyper-wealthy elites who scorn those who actually work for a living, the average person who encounters the system finds that they are treated with contempt instead of compassion.

This is the real problem. Government is happy to collect taxes at the point of a gun while you are working, claiming it's for your own good.

But just you try to collect on those promises. Better get on your knees and beg, be "grateful, respectful & humble for the services we provide."

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shizzyfinn Jan. 9, 2010 @ 11:16 p.m.

SDaniels, you're right about the honesty of this piece, and the author's ability to turn a phrase - both are engaging. Perhaps would be admirable in fiction.

But this isn't fiction, it's real-life, featuring real people right here in San Diego. People who work in public service. It's fair for the author to critique their on-the-job performance and to describe the surroundings accurately, but the personal digs are tacky and tasteless.

Perhaps this beef's not so much with the author as with her editor. The author's ethical lens may be fogged by what she's going through. But I wish her editor would have done some more editing.

In any case, after another read of the article, I have a new appreciation for its ending. Do you get why Smoky is laughing? The author says she doesn't know what the joke is, but her article communicates it well.

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girlfrend Jan. 9, 2010 @ 11:23 p.m.

Fred.. Question? You think it's ok for anyone to come into the office and tell lies in order to be eligible? When you apply for anything, usually guidelines need to be followed. Were you denied and felt that it was wrong?

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Fred Williams Jan. 9, 2010 @ 11:47 p.m.

"Girlfrend", do you work for the county by any chance?

Genuine fraud ought to be resisted, but I'd far rather see a few undeserving get a few hundred bucks than to see a LOT of genuinely needy people automatically denied because they can't jump through all the hoops that have been put up by self-righteous "public servants".

That you would snidely imply that I'm somehow a welfare cheat, or was denied services, proves that you are deeply ignorant.

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Fred Williams Jan. 9, 2010 @ 11:53 p.m.

Shizzy, can I take a stab at the reason behind the laugh?

Smokey is laughing because, yes it was not the employee's idea to do this to people.

It was a direct result of decisions made by the county board of supervisors, and these decisions to "crack down on fraud" were highly popular at the time.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost. When times were good, we demeaned those who were on public assistance. When the economy goes in the toilet, and WE the voters might need some help, the laugh is on us.

We voted these cynical heartless vultures onto the board of supervisors, and they've perched there for more than fifteen years. Now that the true effects of their decisions are becoming known, the worker at the welfare office is laughing.

She saw it coming. It's a shadenfreude laugh, filled with bitterness and irony, a sad commentary on what we've done to ourselves in America.

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PistolPete Jan. 10, 2010 @ 12:05 a.m.

Bingo!

As conceited and egotistical the author might appear to be, her story is why I love my country but absolutely cannot stand my government.

The only people in this country that are beneath me are the illegal aliens and even I sympathize with them sometimes.

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PistolPete Jan. 10, 2010 @ 12:14 a.m.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcnVIjwjMF4

An American Eulogy

Hauntingly beautiful song and story told through said song. WAKE UP SHEEPLE! If you don't, it'll be guys like me saving your stupid asses from the black boot Storm Troopers.

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Visduh Jan. 10, 2010 @ 10:26 a.m.

This cover story has elicited comments like no cover story since the Bersin story in November. Before that, no story brought comments in more than the "open carry" story in July. So, this touched many a nerve on both sides of the controversy.

I don't want to come across as utterly unsympathetic, but the author could have made this entire process much more tolerable if she and her husband had some savings to tide them over. When they get back to work, I'd be surprised if they don't make that a priority, that is if she still has some self-respect left after her sojourn in bureaucratic hell.

She mentions that applying for unemployment is a simple on-line process. There was a time when it required going to EDD office and waiting in line. One or two tastes of that made me very grateful that I didn't have to do it as a regular thing. Yet, those offices were nothing compared to her description of these other county-run offices.

Taking an infant or toddler along on those trips sure didn't help the process either. Was there nobody who could have kept the child while Mom went to grovel?

Posts #7, #25 and #30 all appear to be from present or former staffers in these offices. All three show an attitude that they are giving something to people who don't deserve it, or to folks who should be endlessly grateful. (Take a good look at their writing, too.) "Jaded" doesn't begin to describe them. I'd call it burned out. I can't say I blame them, but on the other hand, can't blame the author for expressing these sentiments. And she used most of the space just describing the offices, the lines, the interaction with employees, the communications she received, and so on. If the intention of government is to make these benefits hard to get and demeaning to request, the system is doing just as intended. But there is also the old economic adage that there is infinite demand for free goods. What the author is experiencing is just about the same rationing mechanism as was used in the Soviet Union, which was to stand in line for hours, then buy a little something with your otherwise-worthless money. Only here the money doled out really will buy something worth having. And so it is in great demand.

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PistolPete Jan. 10, 2010 @ 10:02 p.m.

Mindy-I know you and I haven't exactly gotten along the 6 months I've called this site home but you have to admit that Shizzy has a slight point. Correct me if I'm wrong(and I'll gladly shut the f*** up and go about my business) but don't you post under Mindy1114 AND thestoryteller? If you do, there's nothing wrong with writing non-fiction under one name and fiction under the other. However, it's hard for people to take you serious when you do this.

For example, I also don't get along with CuddleFish or SDaniels but I have enough respect for both of them to not push too hard. I let it be. In the article on City Beat written by Dave Maass regarding Josh Board, there is a certain poster who admits to contributing to both websites that goes under the name ReaderfansagainstBoard. That person MAY be SDaniels or CuddleFish posting under a pseudonym. They have every right to do that IF it is in fact them. Because it's someone in hiding, I don't take that name or anything posted from it serious.

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PistolPete Jan. 11, 2010 @ 12:19 a.m.

Well, for starters, my point was simple, and don't take this the wrong way because I don't really give a s*** if you use two names or not. Because you use two SNs, you MAY not get taken seriously by some of the other posters. I'm not throwing barbs against anyone when I say that either. It is what it is and life goes on.

Second, I thought that your Mindy SN was for non-fiction and your thestoryteller SN was for fiction. Clearly I was wrong and I apologize. I was mistaken.

Third, I'm sure SDaniels and CuddleFish will see this and understand what I was trying to say. The reason I brought them up was explained. Or at least I thought it was. Basically, in a nutshell, I'm letting whoever it is that uses the SN ReaderfansagainstBoard on the City Beat website that until I know who it is, no truce will be called. The reason I have my suspicions that RfaB MIGHT(emphasis on might) be CuddleFish or SDaniels is because of their hatred of Josh. I'm ONLY guessing. I've left CF and SD alone for the most part and things will continue.

I guess it's too complicated to fully explain without you being in front of me.

"Why you would stick up for them and say that I'm the one who pushes too hard defies explanation."

When typing what I typed earlier, I didn't mean you in any way, shape or form when bringing up CF or SD. I was refering to myself. I was just using that as an example.

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Duhbya Jan. 11, 2010 @ 7:35 a.m.

Pete - tell me that you're kidding when you intimate that SDaniels would stoop so low as to call out ANYone, much less Josh, on another venue, in the sophomoric way that is demonstrated on CityBeat. Come on, man! She ain't constructed that way and you know it. You typed all this AFTER that game in Phoenix, didn't you?

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David Dodd Jan. 11, 2010 @ 8:41 a.m.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that SDaniels has nothing to do with any of this.

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CuddleFish Jan. 11, 2010 @ 9:18 a.m.

Just curious -- what does all of this have to do with the cover story?

(By the way, fascinated by the way gentlemen have been framing the argument as to how a lady would conduct herself.)

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PistolPete Jan. 11, 2010 @ 11:14 a.m.

Remember guys, I'm a keyboard warrior and a hacker to boot. I trust NOBODY online 100%. I seriously doubt SD or CF is RfaB on City Beat but until I know who the "double agent" is, that suspicion will always be in the back of my mind. I like to know who I'm dealing with whether online or off. I too use other SNs on other sites as well. The thing with that is, those sites will never be connected to the sites you know me from(Reader,City Beat,YouTube,Myspace,etc,etc).

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ABC_123 Jan. 11, 2010 @ 12:49 p.m.

I'm going to stay away from the fact that the author truly expected a red carpet experience which probably made her experience seem way worse than it actually was.

But let me say this- people who use WIC are fine- I have no problem getting behind them in a line. What irritates me is when people don't read their coupons and select the correct item which then delays me because of their stupidity.

I would assume that someone with a Masters degree can read, right? Because I only have a high school diploma and I know if I go into a store with a coupon that says get a free box of Post cereal, for example, I do not pick up a box of Kellogg’s and expect to get it for free just because the coupon didn't say specifically that I could not get Kellogg’s.

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AndreasAE Jan. 12, 2010 @ 8:40 p.m.

As previously mentioned, Elizabeth Salaam acts rather high and mighty for a resident of City Freights--I'm not putting the area down, but let's be honest it is an underdeveloped urban center, or in layman's terms...a GHETTO. The worst part is that being a member of an underprivileged constituency, she of all people should never have snubbed on those less fortunate than her.

I hope she reads this and remembers where she came from after her situation ameliorates itself, but until she learns humility and integrity, she deserves the hole she finds herself in.

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Fred Williams Jan. 12, 2010 @ 8:48 p.m.

Andreas, are you seriously saying that one's level of humility is dictated by their address?

So if you're born poor, you should just bow your head and take whatever you get with gratitude?

But if you're born rich, it's perfectly okay to sneer at whoever you like?

You also seem to be saying that the rich have more integrity than the poor. I'm sure this explains why the Wall Street crowd deserves fat bonuses this year, and the University Avenue crowd deserve...what? Kicks in the head?

So, Andreas, in summary your position is that those who live in "ghettos" ought to be humble...otherwise they'll never get out of the hole their in. Just accept the fact that they're poor and useless to society...it's the only way out, huh?

Andreas, do you think before you write?

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towelheadedcameljockey Jan. 13, 2010 @ 9:41 a.m.

Pete, I agree with Refried when saying that there is no way SD had anything to do with this, I’d bet my life savings on it (wait..if I had a life savings then I would). It’s obvious from how she expresses herself on here that just isn’t how she roles. That girl can debate herself blue without putting down the other person or needing to do something behind the scenes. To me it is obvious who the person on the CB posts is – but hell, I see no point in posting it up here. They’ve hated Josh here, and hated Josh there (although at one point they were gushing over him – to extreme levels so basically they just go from one extreme to another which is bizarre) - so who cares if they use different screen names on each site, they don’t use their real name on either one so it’s all behind the screen anyhow. Mindy, I’ve never understood why you always play the victim with whatever it is you rant on and on about with SD. You write well, you contribute good things to the site, but sometimes you get on these kicks about how you feel your situation with her went or about her in general. Not that I’ve caught everything but I’ve seen quite a few posts where you’ve been the one attacking her. SD doesn’t just get angry, name call, or stalk out like you’re trying to imply so really how about checking what you’re saying or making yourself believe. I’m not saying everyone has to get along but you are far from the victim in this case. I imagine this entire site will suffer a loss of hits if Josh is actually gone. I've disagreed with him on several things in the past and I've also voiced my discontent at how he has expressed his anger when it's there. However there were a lot of entertaining, funny and interesting things he provided many of us with for reading. I'm still hoping that the rumors aren't true and maybe he's just checking his own issues and will be back on here soon. We all have issues and that sometimes need a little (or a lot) of tweaking.

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PistolPete Jan. 13, 2010 @ 10 a.m.

Mindy-I totally understand your explanation and now I'm wiser for it.

towelheadedcameljockey-I too don't think RfaB is SDaniels. At least not anymore. The reason I thought it might be her is because whoever is posting under the SN JoshBoardIsAnIdiot sounds alot like CuddleFish and I just assumed she may have talked SDaniels into taking another SN herself. Obviously I have no proof who is who over there but the writing style and words used look awfully familiar...

I've been online the better part of 2 decades. I've seen it all. I too have a unique writing style that can't be missed to the observant person no matter what SN I use.

Just for the record, I'm not accusing anyone of anything. I'm just simply remarking that the coincidences from one site to the other by certain posters is AMAZING.

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CuddleFish Jan. 13, 2010 @ 10:44 a.m.

And again, what does any of this have to do with the cover story???

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MsGrant Jan. 13, 2010 @ 11:05 a.m.

Just for the record, towel, it wasn't me. I had it out with Josh Board, and I chose to stop reading/commenting on his blog, except the rare occasions something caught my eye in the comments. I know about his beef with Aaryn Belfer because they hashed it out here on this website, first in the blog about cops, and then in the one called "Sexting". But rest assured, I have neither the time nor the interest to log onto CityBeat under a pseudonym to further damage that guy's character. He did a bang-up job of that himself. And just for the record, I did not expect him to lose his job, if that is indeed what happened. I was as shocked as the next guy when I started seeing the posts about his blog being removed. This has become a soap opera and I am following it with a mixture of glee and ick. But rest assured, being a humanitarian, I have no interest in seeing anyone lose their job, no matter how much I disagree with them.

Now, can we go back to the cover story?

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AndreasAE Jan. 13, 2010 @ 11:23 a.m.

To Fred_Williams:

You misunderstood, what I wrote. If you read my prior postings, then analyze that in conjunction to what is written in Mrs. Salaams article you ought to see the sarcasm I was implying:

In the article, the author acts as if she is too good for any type of social assistance--it's ok to feel that way if you have standards, however, she would couple it with contempt for those less fortunate and it seems that now that she is in their shoes she still lacks empathy.

If you live in the ghetto, there is no shame in that--the shame is in not working hard to get out of that socioeconomic sphere; but the greater shame is when you do get out of it and you look down on those below you as if you had not been in such circumstances your self.

The author claimed to hate waiting in line because of some welfare queen using her WIC vouchers when buying groceries--don't you find that a bit condescending yourself. I mean there are people who take public assistance for what it's for: a temporary aid until one fixes or ameliorates his or her situation.

I'll tell a few things about me, and yes I do think before I write (in 4 languages mind you): I was a single parents for 2 yrs, but in order to get custody of my 2 yo I had to give up barbacking and work in a kitchen on the weekends so they would thin I was responsible, even though I made more money working in a bar; my 80 yo father helped me being my roommate and watching my daughter while I worked weekend nights, then I had to ask for WIC just to be able to save a few dollars. I also got Medical for my daughter--although Health-care should be your right like in any other developed country(if you have ever been outside of the U.S. you would know)--and I never felt embarrassed about it.

Then I met a wonderful person and now we live in North Park, not the greatest but a hell of a lot better than Logan Heights. I still use WIC, we need to save so my wife can finish graduate school and so I can finish my last year at UCSD.

So next time YOU write, analyze, not just think. Read my prior comments or those by anyone else criticizing this article or any other one before you post your opinion, it's not a bloody dissertation you know.

In plain words, I was stressing that someone who come from an underprivileged background ought never look down on anyone else because he or she has been there in some way or manner as well,in fact when such said person improves his or her situation they ought to try an empathize and aid those less fortunate and perhaps try and enlighten those in their new higher socioeconomic spectrum--read the Alleghory of the Cave by Plato. Perhaps the reason someone on wall street can't empathize is because they have no opportunity to interact with those they perceive beneath them; but no one should look down on anyone.

Does that help you Fred_Williams?

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AndreasAE Jan. 13, 2010 @ 11:25 a.m.

Mindy114 kudos to you, hope Elizabeth Salaam a reader staff employee according to google get's the benefits she deserves.

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CuddleFish Jan. 13, 2010 @ 12:05 p.m.

Sort of a downer if Salaam is staff here. She is an awesome writer, and with this story at least, she meets the criteria of the Reader, which is to "engage" the audience. The candid musings of an elitist welfare queen may be precious enough for some readers to enjoy, and I'm sure she'll provide plenty of fodder for the trolls.

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Fred Williams Jan. 13, 2010 @ 6:59 p.m.

Andreas, congratulations on "escaping" from "City Frights".

You write in 4 languages? Wow! I can speak a few languages myself, with varying degrees of fluency, but I only claim to write in English, my mother tongue.

What I've learned over the years of living and working in Europe and Asia is that speaking a lot of languages doesn't make you smart. It just means you've taken time to learn other languages. No matter how many tongues are used to express an opinion, it's the opinion itself that has to be examined.

I thought your opinion was clear, if unexamined. I pointed out the absurdity of what you wrote. Sorry if I misunderstood you, but that's how online discussions go. I have absolutely no way of knowing anything about your experience, as you clearly have no clue about my own. I only responded to what you wrote.

As you point out, it's clear that the author considers all this below her dignity. To have to mix with the unwashed masses is clearly distressing to her. And to be addressed in such a manner..."Oh, I think I have the vapors. Someone catch me!"

Yet I appreciated the candor of her revealing her ugly inner thoughts. She does a good job of capturing what it's like to confront the reality of being in need, after a lifetime of thinking one is above all that. She also showed how the "public servants" act more like "masters" of the unfortunates who are expected to beg for their benefits.

I took the opportunity to expose that mentality by dissecting the comments of those who attack the messenger, unpleasant though you and I may find her, instead of thinking about how we got into this mess where the very benefits you and I pay for are then capriciously granted or denied according to arcane and confusing procedures created by those who have been motivated out of callous disregard rather than compassion...our County Board of Supervisors.

I honestly think that accepting public benefits, money that you've already paid into the system for just such an emergency, is NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF.

The stigma of poverty in the country I love is unjustified. Frankly, you and I both know the system is rigged. The wallstreet fraudsters strut about, proud of their "accomplishments", while sneering at those who never had a chance in life.

You and I are not so unusual after all. Lots of people make the jump from poverty to middle class. And when we've done so, we have a duty to remember where we came from.

But not with shame...with deep pride at what we've done.

If things out of our control cause us to slip back down that ladder, we shouldn't have to endure the additional indignity of enduring the scorn of those who are hired by the public to administer public benefits.

I think the author brought to light how it feels to slip like this. The critics, especially those who are "public servants" who then wrote so inarticulately about how she ought to be contrite deserve all the contempt we can offer.

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shizzyfinn Jan. 13, 2010 @ 9:52 p.m.

Mindy, I apologize for overreacting and flaming you.

It was fair of me to object to what I see as inaccurate stereotypes that serve to justify making it harder for people in need to get help. It was not fair of me to go beyond that and get snippy.

Not sure where that angst came from, perhaps childhood, like you say. In any case, I regret it.

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SDaniels Jan. 14, 2010 @ 1:57 a.m.

re: #40: Pete, people here illegally are not "beneath" you.

re: #41: If "guys like you" are all we have between us and losing a ground war, then I am quaking in my own non-military boots. Unless you are telling us you are going to put down the 40-ouncer, and the kraut dogs and the smokes, and start doing massive boot camp workouts (not with your WII Fit! Doesn't count!) for the next two years, along with learning the requisite rules and operations necessary for any troop going into military warfare. Oh, and of course the psychiatric workup, too. Let's not be too hasty about putting a gun in an ex-con's hands, right? Ok, then ;)

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SDaniels Jan. 14, 2010 @ 2:11 a.m.

re: #60: "And, she lied about being a literary critic when in fact she's an online teacher. Are you aware that she emailed Josh to admonish him about each and every misplaced period and comma?"

Mindy, you are such a fool--that is why I ignore you. The only reason I am responding to you here is because you are engaging in untruth. I have never lied about who I am or what I do, and have used my full name on this site, always. As for emailing Josh to do what you say--that is also absurd and stupid, aaaannd...bah dump duh! ...also untrue. Were someone to take up such a herculean task, they would deserve a medal. Go back and look at your blog where you promise refried and myself that you will "spew" more venom at us until we "stop" doing something to you, when in fact, we just ignore you. Now: Take your own advice about meditation and anger, and stop being such a hypocrite.

As for the controversy about my identity here or somewhere else--pretty amusing, and I think I'm enjoying the attention! ;) Pete--why don't you start a blog where you can post some side by side comparisons of these postings to some of mine. You say that as a longtime blogger you are good at discerning similarities, so why not? I have nothing to hide, and I LOVE this identity cloak-and-dagger stuff.

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SDaniels Jan. 14, 2010 @ 2:13 a.m.

Oh, and re: #60: Michael Jackson AND Ron Jeremy AND various shady music producers? Damn, you were busy in the 80s, Mindy! Sad that such an illustrious career came to end with craigslist and Motel 6, eh? Anyway, is there a Ron Jeremy blog forthcoming? Pretty pretty please? ;)

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CuddleFish Jan. 14, 2010 @ 9:27 a.m.

Dang it, Daniels, I been trying to keep this thread on topic!!!

Fair's fair, you deserved an opportunity to clear your name, though why anybody would respond to the trolls on this site is beyond me, just a waste of time.

Since Little PeePee is so interested in this topic, you're right, he ought to start a thread and keep this thread free for those people who wish to discuss the article. IMHO.

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PistolPete Jan. 14, 2010 @ 12:25 p.m.

First off SDaniels, ILLEGAL aliens are in fact beneath me. I've payed my dues. They haven't.

Second, I thought you were smart SD. I wasn't talking about another country invading ours. What's that old saying...Oh yeah! "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns!"

I no longer think that you are ReaderfansagainstBoard and I've said that. Maybe Josh has pissed off more people than I first thought...

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AndreasAE Jan. 14, 2010 @ 3:07 p.m.

PistolPete: You are a bigoted racist.

This country is not yours, unless you happen to be native american or of any such derivative ancestry. The U.S. is not a real country, it is a "legitimized" settler-nation state.

If you want to talk about dues, pay up to the Native Americans, and reparations to those who are descended from former slaves, and to all those who were oppressed at one point by your ancestors.

Your opinion is of no consequence, be proud as you are...YOUR COUNTRY IS NOW CHINA'S GIRLFRIEND AND YOU KNOW IT, WHY ELSE WOULD THE SECRETARY OF COMMERCE GO TO CHINA TO ASSURE THEM THAT THERE HOLDINGS ARE SAFE.

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AndreasAE Jan. 14, 2010 @ 3:09 p.m.

SDaniels, I like your style of writing, hope to read more from your blogg when I get the chance.

If you know of any bloggs that deal with literature please post. I check this post everynow and then.

Perhaps because this post is the first time I saw my wife as inflamed as I was.

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PistolPete Jan. 14, 2010 @ 3:48 p.m.

First off, we are a nation of laws. Illegal aliens break those laws everytime they cross MY border.

Second, it's been proven time and time again that Native Americans weren't originally from this land so stick that argument up your ass.

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SDaniels Jan. 14, 2010 @ 3:49 p.m.

Pete, you're right. I didn't click on your link, and "the black boot Storm Troopers" could be anything--I'm sorta tired of your paranoid conspiracy theories (though don't worry, I get them! I get them!), and just preferred to take the analogy to the ground, as it were. Sorry you didn't enjoy it ;(

re: #34: Thanks for the correction on the bus/trolley controversy, Eva--right, the trolley! :)

re: #71: Thanks Andreas! In a week or so I'm going to start on a blog, but there are a few in Banker's Hill if you'd like to see a few back ones. Also check out my friend FullFlavorPike in Normal Heights for some serious belly laughs. He'd better come back and write more in the new year, that slippery fish...

re: #55: Towelhead, measured and eloquent as always. I hope Mindy takes your words to heart, along with the meditation she seems to have gotten interested in--a great direction for shedding meaningless anger and grudges. Believe it or not, I have no grudge against Mindy, and am bemused to see that she never seems to let one go against me, for what? Because she likes my retorts? Nah. For a misunderstood reference about seven months ago? In that case: Let's sing that happy New Year's carol: Let it go, let it go, let it go... :)

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PistolPete Jan. 14, 2010 @ 3:56 p.m.

Paranoid? Nope. Can't be scared of the truth.

Conspiracies? You betcha! It's called the NEW WORLD ORDER.

Theories? Can't be a theory when I have proof... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7a9Syi...

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PistolPete Jan. 14, 2010 @ 4 p.m.

Oh, SDaniels? I'll bet you also think that it was just a convienent coincidence that President Bush's speech in which he first stated the term, "New World Order", came EXACTLY one decade before the fall of the Trade Towers too, right?

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jmtrudeau Jan. 30, 2010 @ 11:50 a.m.

Found several apartments on Craigslist for under $800. That makes up most of your deficit. Sucks, but live with in your means.

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nan shartel March 24, 2010 @ 4:21 p.m.

i got lucky and the government paid for my further education to become a nurse and still stay on welfare for 10 years at a lesser amount

and i certainly enjoyed the Welfare Dept coming every three months to wake me up looking for a man in my apt or mens clothes to relieve me of any financial assistance at all

Welfare is never fun..keep your chin up Chickie...and my best to ya for a less financially deprived future

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sandibeach51 June 9, 2010 @ 7:10 p.m.

Wow, Wow, Wow,....I have just discovered internet hell...you are intense..love it..first off..having been on all sides of these comments, welfare, wic, unemployment, in my life, i also have lived in a million dollar house in Del Mar, owned homes, fancy cars, raised a family and been hungry. The system is rough, and I concur with Elizabeths pain. It is really rough to have to be in a welfare line for any purpose. If you are an intelligent person, well educated and wise, you see clearly where we are at this time. Life as we know it has changed in every aspect. If you have time to write these long comments, your life has changed. There was no time, between work and play. Now there is time to comment. This shows we have no where to go, nothing to do, but bash each other. Surely, with all the great writings I have just read..take them on the road, become and advocate for something that could make a change in our lives. Let Liz know that her life will get better and to hang in there. This day will pass, and the sun will rise..tomorrow...delight in the fact you have a place to live, food on the table, (no matter where it came from) you are healthy and your children are still thriving. My best to all of you..

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capitalistpig87 June 20, 2010 @ 12:59 a.m.

Oh GIVE me a BREAK. IF YOU HAVE TIME TO WRITE SOME CRAP LIKE THIS, QUIT YOUR BITCHING AND MOANING AND FIND A WAY TO MAKE A JOB. quit blaming everyone else. quit complaining. it's called life. when I was a kid, I wasn't given jack ****. my neighbors were millionaires and there lawns were landscaped by professionals for hours a day. I was 8 and I wanted money. I rode my bike around to every million dollar home (around 100 or so of them with immaculate yards ) and offered my lawn mowing or raking services. I got one reply. one lady was kind enough to hire this kid to pick up a branch in her yard. I was ecstatic. I knew nothing in life was free. by the time I was 12, I had built up my little business by references to a good 6 clients. by then, riding my bicycle everywhere had given me enough opportunities to learn to fix the problems I had with it. I started talking to everyone I knew, asking them to assist me with finding any bikes anyone was possibly getting rid of or throwing in the trash. I started my own bicycle repair shop and had over 20 bikes at all times, swapping parts, repairing, and selling, and many times donating to charity. when I was 14, I needed more money. my cousin and I started looking for work in construction. knowing little about any of it, I was ready to try any job from digging up a trench, to framing a house to roofing, to painting. over 400 hours would be a realistic guestimation of the time I dedicated FOR FREE just to learn. by the time I was 16, we had a solid roofing business going on. I was going to high school maintaining a 3.8 while working between 40-50 hours a week. I have been on pole barn roofs in snowstorms with temperatures below 10 degrees F, using a gas heater and a tarp to heat the ice on the shingles enough to thaw them out, lay them and tack four nails in before it froze again. I then joined the military to serve my country and defend it from enemies abroad. I moved to CA and discovered how many citizens (and illegals) we have within our own borders, undermining the fundamental principals we were founded on and thrived under. until you can accept responsibility for your predicament, stop passing judgment to others because you think your freaking college degree makes you something special, or at least just freaking get off your lazy welfare ass and try something new and different, you should keep your lips sealed and step back. I hope the lines at every single welfare office in the U.S. get harder and more frustrating to be at, and the requirements get tougher than ever. maybe then, America will be able to support itself, get out of this trench created by socialists-in-disguise, and get back on track- maybe not even go bankrupt by the current crazy white houses administration. until then, go read Rich Dad, Poor Dad or The Richest Man In Babylon.

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Pastorofplur March 10, 2011 @ 9:14 p.m.

I have been musing modern society's problem of middle/lower-class women whose formal educations have given them unrealistic, grossly inflated expectations of self-worth and future value. It almost seems like women were better off when they believed that the only way to jump up the social ladder was by marrying rich. Belated thanks for this insightful, extremely detailed look into this growing neuroses/disease.

P.S. - It would make no sense whatsoever if a welfare office (meant for the people who are just one small step away from standing in line at the soup kitchen or homeless shelter) met the standards of a priviliged person. You don't go to McDonalds and expect Morton's. I wasn't surprised that the author continued to expect the poor to be treated exactly like the wealthy, but I was surprised that she hadn't figured it out before she published the article.

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