It’s gotten to the point of me having to Netflix 2, maybe 2-1/2, episodes of Shameless (currently in the middle of Season 4) every night before I can even think about going to sleep. That’s where the “half” in the 2-1/2 episodes comes in – when my eyelids just cannot stay even 2 mm above my lower eye line. When I binge a show – and I mean I gorge, scarf, pile down – it’s a religious experience and I won’t be distracted by anything else between 8:30 and 11:00 pm nightly.
The show is that good.
And it makes me think and wonder and ponder and kinda know. As much as someone watching art imitate life via the boob tube can possibly know.
How exactly those in poverty make it; I mean, really make it, from one day to the next, just to survive, just to have the roof with indoor plumbing and just enough hot water and Wonder Bread and pocket change to support a poor family of 6 whose parents are deadbeat drunks and drug addicts who live elsewhere and can barely fend for themselves, whose dad, still cashes social security checks of their deceased aunt for a good 10 years after her passing because the dad cannot even begin to try and get a job. Any job.
This show and what the characters go through – and what a lot of people in real life go through, people I’ve seen on the streets, people I’ve seen living in squalor – fascinates me because I’ve never had to do the things they have had to do just to live, to survive.
Here’s the perspective:
In the show, to pay for the annual property taxes and put food on the table and pay for gas and electricity before they are shut off by the city, again, the family of six ranging from age 2 to 22 have had to do the following: The eldest 3 kids take on 2-3 part time jobs and work at least 6 days a week; these jobs range from working as a waitress in a Hooters-like environment or as a cashier at the local sports arena during games, to the 17-year-old cheating the SATs by taking the tests on behalf of his classmates who then compensate him for getting “believably good enough” scores, to the 15-year-old working as a stocking clerk at a convenience mart, to pushing weed and other drugs to teens and young adults buying from their beat-up ice cream truck owned by their adult neighbor friend; the 11-year-old runs a summer daycare watching littler kids five days a week (it’s not lost on me that she’s still a kid herself); the 9-year-old allows himself to participate in con jobs with his deadbeat alcoholic father every so often with the money from the cons mostly going to the father anyway to be spent on cheap beer at the local bar.
I think about what these characters on TV and real people in real life have to do just to survive in order to not become homeless or have their minor children end up in the foster care system. I think about what it means to take on 2-3 jobs to have a roof over your head, sacrificing the “normal” amount of sleep because hey, how do you sleep when you are working so many jobs and taking care of your family of six; how you need to clip coupons to save 50 cents here and there or buy five frozen orange juice canisters to get one free at the grocery store; how for the eldest daughter – the 22-year-old –working as a janitor that she needed to steal big rolls of industrial toilet paper for her family from the bathroom in order not to spend $10 on TP at the store; how the family always need to scrounge for change in the couch, armchair, in the dirty clothes, and under the beds just to come up with enough money to pay the gas company in person so their gas can be turned back on because it’s the middle of winter in Chicago and it’s hella freezing.
I think about the determination and grit it takes to survive below the poverty line in this country, which “Shameless” has done a bang-up job in presenting in almost every episode; how even though I believe I have determination and grit too to get shit done, I’ve never had to do it just to survive and how that must be a hell of a lot of grit to get money and food however one can in order to keep on surviving.
And I am amazed at how many people do this, day in and day out, just to barely avoid being put out on the street. Then I am reminded once again, of the blessings I have which includes not having to worry about losing my home or my ability to earn enough money to help support myself and my family of four. But most of all, I am reminded that when there are families that live below the poverty line, who struggle every single day just to be able to live another day, can we still call this the greatest country in the world when the class divisions are so large and distinct? Can we still take first world problems with simply a grain of salt when neighbors in as just a block away are living from paycheck to paycheck and even that is not enough sometimes?