Kat Hudson

Kat Hudson
Location
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Birthday
May 16
Bio
Kathryn Hudson has been a writer for most of her life. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, she currently calls Baltimore, Md., her home. As an award-winning journalist, Ms. Hudson spent several years as a newspaper reporter. She is currently raising a beautiful daughter on her own as a single mother along with two obnoxious cats (they are probably both French-Canadian). In her free time she writes. In her regular life, she juggles a cute infant along with a job in sales, blogs, and short films about everything. She welcomes new friends and correspondence, especially from befuddled new parents like herself.

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JUNE 9, 2010 9:39PM

Held hostage at the unemployment office

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The Baltimore City Office of the DLLR/copyright Kat Hudson 2010
Like all bureaucratic offices, the Baltimore City offices for the unemployed are just as depressing inside as they look from the outside. (Image: Kat Hudson/copyright 2010)
 

This day was bound to come. I have been sort of waiting for it since getting approved for my unemployment benefits. I have been dreading it almost as much as I've welcomed it. Today I finally got to find out not what I could do for my local unemployment office, but what it could do for me. Should I be happy about this or not?

Visiting the local unemployment office in Baltimore City is actually a very depressing. Today was no exception. With overcast skies and a slight chill in the air, I left my apartment building with my turkey sausage breakfast sandwich in one hand and a Rubbermaid bottle of Coke in the other hand. I didn’t think I’d be late for the 9 a.m. start because the office is only few miles from my house. I didn’t count on the parking situation being so bad. After a few cruises around the block, I landed a space that wasn’t exactly close to the door. Since I’ve been sick for the past three weeks—the last week with pneumonia—the walk was excruciating. But I made it. By 9:10 a.m.

Entering the building, I forgot what heavy security presence most government offices need these days. When I set my beverage container down at the security desk, the guard gave me that look. The kind of look that says you shouldn’t have brought that in here. “I’m here for training,” I plea, “and I’m just getting over pneumonia.”

“All right then. You explain that to the information desk,” he says as I walk through the metal detector which goes off immediately. A hand scan reveals something in my shoes. I assure him, as I give him a peak of my cankles (that’s girl code for fat ankles), that I am no shoe bomber. More than likely it’s something in the construction of my Payless work shoes.

Subterranean blues

I get my visitor pass and hop on the elevator. As if the building’s lighting weren’t depressing enough, the training, it turns out, is in the basement. I’m wondering if the city morgue isn’t located right next to it. As dark and depressing as the halls are in this grey, institutional place, it seems a little appropriate. Instead, I discover, it’s next to the cafeteria. I still can’t smell anything since my cold, so I don’t care. Except had I known this information before, I’d have purchased a soda there. Oh well.

I am surprised to see such a full room of people. The workshop leader, a middle-aged African-American woman with a scraggily wig clipped up into a very messy bun doesn’t take much notice of me. I spy a perfect, empty corner seat in the back and grab it. The young black woman next to me sighs heavily as she removes her bag of stuff from my chair. I notice how pretty she is, but also how she is wearing very heavy fake eyelashes that have an odd sheen about them. There are markers and desk name tags in front of us. I ask to borrow the green marker in front of her and write my full name on my tag: Kathryn Hudson.

The workshop leader tells us she plans to power through the presentation so we can leave early. The session was supposed to run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a lunch break, but she thinks we can probably get out of there by 1 p.m. and the whole rooms seems happy to hear the good news. With only four hours of sleep, I am, too. The young woman next to me, whom I’ll call “Princess,” whispers to me, “I am leaving at twelve no matter what she says.”

I’m a survivor

I am sort of impressed to hear that our workshop leader has been on her job for 15 years. She shares her own story of toiling as a state temp for a few years before landing the job that would eventually lead to her standing before us today. She has a lot more energy than the average bureaucrat I’ve had to deal with over the years which is refreshing. Then she says, “Sometimes a job is a job and you have to take what’s available to survive.” That is how a majority of state workers have landed their jobs, I think to myself.

She goes around the room and has each of us say our name and tell what we did at our last job and what we are looking to do with our future. One woman tells of her layoff from the last mayor’s office (Sheila Dixon was forced to resign in disgrace for allegedly stealing gift cards meant for the city’s poor). Another woman was down-sized out of the financial industry. A lot of people just say they are unemployed and looking—I don’t understand why they don’t want to discuss what they do or want to do. Then again, I would rather people think of me as a writer than my last job as a branch manager of a staffing company. It was never who I was, anyway.

One woman, an older black lady I’ll call “Tina” spends practically five minutes discussing her work history. Sitting next to me, Princess sighs again. “If that woman don’t shut up, we’ll never get out of here.” Princess conveniently slips out of the room for 10 minutes and therefore skips having to introduce herself. I’m dying to know what she’s no longer employed from for some reason.

As soon as the introductions are done, our fearless state employee turns off the lights and props some highly boring and not-so-useful slides onto the projector. Somebody needs to hire a graphic designer to jazz things up. Half of the class eventually slips into a coma at this point and it’s not even 10 a.m. Princess shamelessly puts her head down for a little nap. She’s clearly not into this whole finding-out-how-to-get-another-job thing.

Pop goes the Kat

I am glad when the lights are turned back on. I wish I could remember much of what was discussed, but I can’t. I am eagerly anticipating the promised 11 a.m. guest who is coming to discuss training opportunities. In the meantime, I reach into my purse to take out a couple of Aleve’s for the lack of sleep headache brewing in my skull. Princess takes an interest in what I’m about to pop into my mouth.

“Are they Tylenol P.M.s?” she lights up. “My back is killing me.”

Since it is now barely 10 a.m. and we are forced to be awake for this, I wonder why anybody would take anything to make them drowsy. “No, they are regular, but I’ll give you some if you’d like,” I offer. She doesn’t want anything that won’t make her sleepy.

I reach for my warmed-up Coke forgetting the loud POP sound it will make when I open the flip-top of my Rubbermaid container. Two seconds later, the whole room is roused awake when the sound, like a champagne cork or a gun (this is Baltimore city and it’s either one or the other) jolts everyone. I sheepishly mouth “I’m sorry.”

Another hour passes and Princess is dying to meet our guest speaker. Or at least she’s looking for something to break up the monotony. Tina, the little old lady in the front, is really working Princess’ last nerve. She sighs and swivels and in her chair every time Tina opens her mouth. Admittedly, Tina is getting on my nerves, too. For someone who seems to have all the answers to every question, she also has a lot of questions, too. When our 11 a.m. guest speaker arrives, Tina pounces on him. I am waiting for Princess to pounce on her.

The “Lost” portion of the day

As if the whole morning wasn’t already starting to feel like some bureaucratic episode of “Lost,” the appearance of our guest speaker puts the final nail into the coffin. He looks just like John Locke, the skinny bald man and sometime Smoke Monster from the show. He has a bit of pep in his step as he tells us of the wonderful offerings available to us his first floor office known as “Baltimore Works.”

His constant reference to us as “dislocated workers” is a little off-putting. Once upon a time, I dislocated my knee cap. It was one of the most painful experiences of my life until the same thing happened to my ankle/cankle. It took several types of painkillers to stop the pain after my surgery. Too bad they weren't offering drugs here to get through this workshop. My brain is starting to feel dislocated.

Princess is squirming pretty much all the time by now. I make her another offer of my non-drowsy pain meds. “I go to a pain clinic. I forget to grab my Percosets this morning.” Now I can see why she has such a short fuse. Still, I am surprised to see her raise her hand when the mention of nursing assistant training comes up. She is the last person in this room I would want helping anyone get well.

Living in a material world and I am a material girl

John Locke departs from the room around noon. I figure Princess is leaving for good as she grabs her purse and other materials and disappears. She says to me, “I don’t want to find a job; I can live just fine on unemployment.”

I’m glad someone can. While I don’t exactly live in Buckingham Palace, my rent and utilities alone come to almost $1,000 a month. Car payments, car insurance, cell phone bill and Internet bills add up to another $500. That leaves me less than $200 to eat, drive and feed my cats for the rest of the month. And I’ve opted to pay taxes later; right now, I need every penny I get just to survive.

The last hour of the class goes by a little faster. We are doing role-playing scenarios in front of everyone, but most people are afraid to participate. Not Tina, however. She volunteers but quickly forgets which part she’s playing, the employer or the jobseeker. The whole class is sighing at this point. It feels like she’s holding us hostage. Eventually, another role playing opportunity comes up. I stick up my hand and I’m picked. I plan to make it quick and painless so we can leave.

The exercise I volunteer for is to be the jobseeker in an interview situation. Our leader, who is looking a bit tired at this point, gamely asks me to follow along with the handout she provides us that teaches us how to talk about what we do. I do such a good job, she says, “I’d hire you.” I draw a round of applause from the class. That one silly exercise makes me feel a little better for spending four hours withering under fluorescent lights with a group of people who clearly wish they were elsewhere.

Death becomes her

Before we leave, Princess returns. She’s been gone for about 45 minutes and I suspect she has been enjoying a nice cafeteria lunch where she could bide her time. I risk being nosy and ask her, “What was it you did when you were working?”

“Mortician,” she says wiping the corner of her mouth. “I can get a job anytime, but I like sitting around doing nothing.”

I don’t know whether to be angry that she doesn't want to work when she can, or relieved that she isn’t working with the living. I decide on the latter. 
 
 

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I really felt as though I were with you...and salivated at the pop of the Diet Coke (my personal addiction). Wonderful.R
This is a hoot. I've been through a couple of training sessions like that, and also taught one. You make it seem a lot better than it is.
This reminds me why I never want to go through unemployment again. I've had two bouts of it and that's enough. Good luck on finding something. It's despairing to think that there must be a bunch of Princesses out there.
I guess there are benefits to living in a large city -- reading this, I'm not sure what those might be. Funny, yes. Because you are a talented writer. But really really sad. Because you are a talented writer. I hope things improve.
If you've ever spent any time walking the unemployment line, you quickly learn that you'd rather be anywhere else. I would have gladly done a root canal today instead. But I went here and made the best of it.

I didn't put it into the story, but there was a guy who basically slept through the whole thing. Then he woke himself up from snoring a few times! The woman who was sitting next to him got so indignant and jumped up to move. That was pretty funny. He looked like a fat version of Al Roker. Had I been sitting next to him, I would have nudged him the whole time!
Perfect; Isn't it special to spend time with a "slice of humanity?"
An enjoyable read.

R~
Ain't unemployment grand? I feel for you but at least you aren't Princess! You'll be employed soon!
Is that a Baltimore thing? Making you go to an all-day class? When I was unemployed in Seattle, I had to go into the unemployment office once, and then could do literally everything else online. I almost felt they made it TOO easy to stay on unemployment... but I'm like you... living on that small amount of money was next to impossible.

Good luck on your next reincarnation!
Ain't bureaucracygreat??
Princess worked as a mortician and can get a job? This makes me so angry. I know many people that are unemployed, mostly because of failed free trade agreements, that would gladly work for anything that is just a small amount above minimum wage.
I was right there with you and thought I was going to scream. Your depiction of the experience is really quite funny, but being unemployed is no joke. Hope you find something soon, unless you're like the mortician. :)
My wish for you is a job, in the meantime, keep your chin up and write. This was a great piece. R
Here in Chicago, I've been able to do everything for unemployment online or by phone so far. I'm grateful that I haven't needed to go to my local unemployment office, which is a depressing hole in the wall in a ghetto strip mall.

I hope that you and I can both find jobs soon.
The last time I drew unemployment - in the mid 70s - I was in a very rural area. Once every two weeks the county office would send out an avuncular older gentleman to run the handful of us through the paces. This consisted of asking everyone four questions, a task accomplished quickly enough for us all to retire to the air conditioned comfort of the one local bar for refreshment for R & R. That was the only "training" component of the process.

I learned a lot about good ol' boy storytelling and creative time wasting that summer. Probably more than I ever would have from any dozen "seminars" as described in this excellent post. Those "networking" skills have served me well enough that I've never had to draw unemployment since.
Great writing. Somehow you managed to convey the boredom with boring me. Keep writing, get a cheaper apartment, but just keep writing.
I haven't read all your posts, so I don't know what it is you were unemployed FROM -- did your Dirty Girl sex blog go bankrupt or something? From where I live, $1700 a month unemployment is a fortune. The last time I got unemployment, it was maybe $800 a month (less than half of what I was making at the time), and they DID take taxes out (it was mandatory). Furthermore, in the olden times (pre-economic meltdown), you could only get 26 weeks MAXIMUM. Now I think it is 18 MONTHS.

So -- you need to think ahead and plan. Using up all your benefits on your current (i.e., with a job) lifestyle is STUPID and it is the number one thing that foolish people do -- try to continue the old lifestyle, because they can't give anything up (cough cough) and they are "sure" they will find a new job "anytime now".

This is a bad recession and you might NOT find a job before your benefits expire. So you want to be sure you do NOT spend every dime; if you are very frugal, you can end your benefit period with a small surplus to carry through the "dark days" ahead (I hope not, but I am one who plans for the worst and hopes for the best).

Number #1: Get rid of your cell phone and internet service. It is probably costing you well over $100 a month. I know you are used to it, and it makes you feel "connected" but it is bankrupting you in your present state. At the MOST, you should have a land line plus basic dialup internet (just enough to retrieve and answer your email). Some people can't even manage THAT, in which case I tell them to scout out the local libraries (which have free internet, though you may have to wait in line to use it -- go early!) and look around for coffee shops or internet cafeterias that offer free terminals or free wi-fi.

There are some cases where a person can't live without a cell phone because of lack of access to a phone; in that case, you can get a BASIC disposable phone where you purchase minutes.

I know you will say "but the cancellation fees!" No matter how much they are, they will be less than 18 months of yacking your face off on your phone. A cell phone is a LUXURY, not a necessity. People lived with out them for all of human history up until about 7 years ago. GET RID OF IT.

Number #2: I don't know if you have cable TV. GET RID OF IT. Today. Do not wait. Get some rabbit ears and a digital converter box. No, they do not work as well, but they are free. Having fewer channels and worse reception will keep you from spending all day watching soap operas or reruns of Law & Order. You will suddenly find a lot of time to read books and take walks; healthy for the body and mind. Also, missing cable will be an incentive to get moving on your job search.

Number #3: This sucks, but if your rent is $1000 a month, you need a roommate. If you already have a roommate, you need ANOTHER roommate. This is just too much rent for your income currently. You should not be paying more than maybe $600 and even that is high.

Number #4: You CAN cut down on utilities. Turn lights out...DO NOT USE AIR CONDITIONING THIS SUMMER, no matter what (get a box fan at a thrift store, if you don't already have one)...watch less TV. Turn your heat down in the winter. There are good books on energy saving in the home (it applies mostly to apartments too) -- get them at the library and read them.

Number #5: You can cut your food budget down EVEN MORE if you really plan -- eat simple homecooked foods -- NEVER eat out (unless someone feels sorry enough for you to treat) -- NEVER buy stuff like Starbucks coffee (or similar), fast food, breakfast sandwiches etc...these are expensive and the money adds up fast for the convenience. If you drink a lot of soda pop, and you STOP RIGHT NOW, you will be shocked how much this item ALONE is costing you each month. Watch WHERE you shop too: if you are addicted to fancy grocery stores like Whole Foods, STOP RIGHT NOW. You need to find the bargain grocery store in town, the place that double coupons. AND CLICK COUPONS; they help!

Unless your cats are elderly or sickly, they can live JUST FINE on the cheapest cat chow, supplemented by some leftover meat scraps or leftover milk or dairy products. Also try mixing a little cooked plain rice into their kibble; most cats will eat this and it stretches the kibble. Canned cat food is very expensive; if they are "addicted to it", try mixing it with kibble in little bits until it is all or mostly kibble. (Thinking: "I won't deprive MY KITTIES!"? Well, it won't be so funny when one of them gets sick, and you can't afford to take them to the vet, because you spent $40 a month on fancy canned food.)

Number #6: However much you are driving, it's too much. You CAN cut down, especially if you do not have to commute to work. Can you plan trips, to get several errands done in one trip? Can you walk to a grocery store or bank? The library? Treat your car keys as if they were red hot; driving is expensive. Like internet or a cell phone or cable, it is more of a privilege than a necessity (unless you live somewhere very rural, which YOU do not). Each time you find yourself headed to the car -- especially for a non-essential errand or grab a snack -- ask yourself IS THIS NECESSARY? Can I walk? Can I ride a bike? Can I LIVE WITHOUT IT?

Number #7: Really go over your bills. What can you get rid of? Most people are spending money on stuff without thinking about it -- that's a privilege of having a good job and no money worries. Being careful and frugal will not only SAVE YOUR ASS through this downturn, but when things are better, you will have good habits and money in the bank. What sounds like misery and deprivation will make you tough and practical in the long run.

In your story, Kat, you are eating an egg McMuffin (or similar) and drinking a Coke. That sounds like nothing, but actually eating junk food is expensive. You could have had breakfast at home for pennies.

I don't want to be unkind, and I believe obesity is as much genetic as it is personal behavior. But that doesn't mean we have to make things WORSE for ourselves. You can be drinking Diet Coke or diet iced tea. (If you hate the taste of aspartame, then learn to enjoy drinking water or unsweetened ice tea.)

I have to be honest with you and tell you that obesity IS a serious aggravater of osteoarthritis, and it is making your knee and ankle problems vastly worse. It's a vicious cycle, because a painful joint means it hurts to walk...so you walk less, and drive more...take elevators instead of stairs, etc. And things get worse. Go see a good orthopedic surgeon, if you still have health insurance -- it's worth spending the money. If you don't have coverage, try to find a "free clinic" or hospital-based clinic that offers care on a sliding scale.

Lastly, let me leave you with my family motto: USE IT UP...WEAR IT OUT...MAKE IT DO.

These are good things to live by even in prosperous times. In tough times, they are the difference between the survivors and the ones who go down in flames.

Good luck to you.
Laurel:

You raise lots of valid points and have great ideas. But let me tell you, very kindly, that I have done pretty much all you've suggested and more. I will address your points one by one.

1. You suggest I get rid of my cell phone. Darling, I pay $30 a month for unlimited service on a cheapo phone. It's Cricket and it has unlimited texting and voice mail for that price, too. The wireless Internet connection is something I've debated, but it's cheaper at $40 a month to keep than driving around to coffee shops and libraries when I need to do research. A landline, as you suggested, was costing me more than $70 a month. I figured that if I got rid of my DSL (which was $40 a month), I'd be better off. My cell phone is with me at all times which makes me REACHABLE for job interviews.

2. I don't have cable. I watch some television online and still receive an analog signal through the cable I cancelled, so I get basic broadcast stations which allows me to watch some television, though I only really watch about an hour a day, anyway.

3. Rent is NOT $1,000 a month. I live in Baltimore and for where I live, my rent is cheap! It's $795 a month and that includes a free gym in the building and a pool. I also managed to wrangle a free parking spot in the garage when I negotiated my rent last year (I got them to take almost $100 a month off). Utilities are not included, but are lumped in since we don't have individually-metered apartments.

Also, I have a one-bedroom unit. No way am I going to share my apartment with anyone I'm not sleeping with, but my boyfriend and I aren't there yet in our relationship. I can't just break my lease to move out because it would cost me $1800 to do so. I re-signed this lease when I was gainfully employed with no expectation of job loss. I have no choice but to stay until it's up.

4. Utilities...see above. But also note I'm pretty conservative with my energy consumption. I believe in leaving a smaller carbon footprint, so I do everything I can to save energy. I am charged by apartment square footage.

5. The only time I eat out is when someone else is buying. Trust me, I can cook and shop at the cheapest stores I can for food. There are dollar stores that sell eggs and some fresh items as well as frozen veggies. Guess where I shop a lot?

As for my kitties, they didn't sign up for a recession, either, but they do have delicate stomachs. I've tried switching foods with very bad results. They aren't getting the top-of-the-line food, but Purina makes fine food and they have no problems with what I feed them.

6. My driving is completely out of necessity. I drive a Toyota Yaris (2007 model) which is super gas efficient. I spent less than $20 a month on gas right now because I really don't drive anywhere unless I have to drive. Driving is often cheaper than public transportation because most of my driving is within 5 to 10 miles from home. I have a handicap tag which allows me to park for free at any city meter.

7. I have gone over my bills. I am down to the bare minimums on everything. I am not some over-privileged princess; I am a realistic person who has made significant changes to her lifestyle. I need new clothes for my job hunt as well as new shoes, but I am getting by with thread-bare slacks and shoes with holes in the bottom. I am not sure where you got the idea that I wear Prada suits or Ferragamo shoes. I don't. It's Payless, Target and Wal-Mart, even in less lean times.

I wasn't eating an Egg McMuffin (which are only a $1 if you just by the sandwich). I made my own sandwich. I allow myself one Coke a day and I buy them buy the 2-liter bottles and put them into plastic containers which are greener than individual bottles of Coke and also cheaper.

I think you were trying to be nice to me, which I appreciate, but I still feel a little attacked. It's like these senators who think everyone is like "Princess" in my story. Not everyone wants to stay unemployed for the "fat" paychecks. As I've mentioned, I'm scraping by.

I am looking at jobs I never would have done before, including selling cars. I need not to just survive, but get out of this hole. I am trying to go back to school to finish my undergrad degree (and hopefully go onto grad school later).

Maryland is one of the most-educated states in the nation. It makes competition for jobs even tougher if you don't have your bachelor's degree, even for the $10-$12 per hour jobs. I was earning almost $20 an hour at my last job and believe me, I wasn't flying to Paris three times a year on that. I was still barely scraping by, but at least I could buy clothes when I needed them and afford to have dinner out once in a while without worrying about how it would affect me.

I appreciate your advice, but I'm no dummy and wasn't born yesterday. I am doing everything I can, including reaching out to my community for resources I've spent years paying taxes to contribute to them.
Kat, you can make the most unbearable and grim situations funny and transformative. You are right, thank God Princess doesn't work on the living! R
A mortician, hah! I can see where she would bore easily. Great Post!
Wow. What a great post, I could feel your pain. I hope you get a job soon.
I've been through Unemployment more than once when I lived in Jersey. It's never less than demeaning but the money is not especially if you were a top earner. Mortician work sounds not nice but remunerative even if the smells can probably destroy you. At least your customers can't say much.

In 2006 NJ Unemployment put me in a school for therapeutic massage. "I asked for it." Massage therapy saved my brain and soul after 9/11 and I figured to give something back. But the school...hmm. No interest in qualifications, just in who's paying. I had no qualifications. No anatomic background and no memory. It was badly taught and humiliating, especially when a smart guy with a Ph.D. flunked out with a 29 average in human anatomy. Boring memorization, and I can't memorize even if can conceptualize. Also, I discovered the chances of making a living doing massage work are about as good as me becoming Sir Edmund Hillary and scaling a rather large mountain. It wasn't funny: at the end of a horror-year I had a suicidal breakdown and would up in the psycho ward for almost a week.

Unemployment didn't screen, they did not counsel, they just collected tax money and spread it around like semen in a whorehouse.
Funny post, again. Seems there's a Tina at every meeting; someone should invent a lockjaw laser. About Princess; are they outsourcing?
good writing again, kat, and a piece that's funny and sad mixed well with interesting. i'm sorry you had to be in that place but kudos for sticking it through.

and you've got a whole lot more patience, answering that long-winded comment point by point, than i would have had. i'd have just deleted it. what a bunch of crap.
This was marvelous. Thanks so much for the laughs.
if talent were horses you would be riding a bunch,
or whatever, you got a lot of it.
funny and sad, what Bellwether said.
Excellent post. Having been unemployed for some time, I empathize completely.
Laurel962 - I thought I'd read the piece thoroughly, yet could not figure out what inspired your rant about obesity. I looked back through the article and could only find a reference to cankles. Perhaps you have some inside information about Kat Hudson that I don't have here, but I must tell you: fat ankles do not always occur on fat women. Hilary Clinton - do you think she's fat? She has fat ankles. I've known women who always wore boots, because their ankles were out of proportion to the rest of themselves - kinda fat, but they aren't fat women.

Even if Kat addresses this in her rebuttal, I don't care one way or another what her ankles look like, whether or not she eats McDonalds or if she has cable TV. Personally, I'm so thrifty and tight that my food benefits can last me for 2 months, and that's with a 21 yr old son in the house. I use the excess to stock up, but that's not what was intended in determining food benefit amounts. I hear from other people how hard it is and how they can't afford anything extra and can barely afford fresh fruit. I get by just fine and that's with an auto immune disorder that can be very expensive if I don't cook my own gluten free food. I can do that, because I have time - I'm disabled and retired. I'd never dream of telling others how to do this without being asked first and recognize that working people have an extra obstacle to overcome if they want to avoid packaged food.

You mean well, but I think you're primarily interested in demonstrating how Spartan you can be and maybe, just perhaps you find it fun to castrate others, even if you have to make a lot of weird assumptions about them.
Kat - your lifestyle sounds familiar. I would have just ignored the letter writer who started this, but it really pisses me off that most of American doesn't have a clue about living on the edge, including some of those who think they've done that, been there. From experience, I can tell you - you're doing better than most at curbing your expenses.

I live in a "trailer" park, own my manufactured home, but have to pay $500 a month rent on the space. My son occupies the extra bedrooms (yes, he deserves both tiny rooms - he's an artist and needs studio space). I can't sell it because it needs repairs and if I had to move without selling it, I'd be living in my car, because my social security isn't even big enough to cover moving expenses, first-last rent payments, etc. My son is autistic and has ADD, and has been looking for a job, between classes, for the past 3 months without a single offer. I manage to support him with very little help from his father (who does cover college expenses for him) on my disability payments that, really, are barely enough to take care of myself.

MY home and cell phone together are about $30 a month, because I have just basic service with no extras, not even voice mail (don't need it) and Virgin Mobile is pay as you go, with as little as $10 needed to keep it topped off every 2-3 months. You don't lose minutes with VM. It's necessary to have, to stay in touch with my son when I'm away from home.

I HAVE to have cable, because there is no other way to connect to the internet where I live and I supplement my income with some small online business and artwork. It takes so long to get to the library, that, for me, it would not be worth any money saved, and besides, if I got caught running a small business online, the librarian would probably kick me out.
My heat has only been turned on twice since last winter, because the local electric company is outrageous and my bill is still high - $195 for the coldest month in the winter and $111 for May AND that's without using the heat. I leave things unplugged as much as I can and turn out lights around the house. We pile quilts on our beds and wear extra clothes to stay warm. I had to get public assistance to pay the bill in January when it hit $500 and the only thing keeping it from being shut off was a letter from my doctor.

Cats? I can't afford them, but they earn their keep by providing me with that stress reliever they're famous for. I'd be sicker and suicidal without them. The oldest one has been prone to UTIs since I got her at 1 yr and I went through every brand of food in the store until I found the one that kept her well - a little higher priced than the cheap stuff. Hell of a lot cheaper than frequent visits to the vet and paying for antibiotics. If I fed her cheap food (which I did when she was sick) I'd have a sick cat and a vet bill.

Amazingly, I actually have a car, which I drive only when necessary. My last tank of gas lasted over 4 months, but I have to admit that I spent 4 weeks of that in the hospital. I only take public transportation when I am certain that it's cheaper than my Miracle Mazda.

Sorry to bore people with this when we've had more than enough in these comments - but I have a point for people like what'shername. Don't assume that you know how other people live, or that you know best or that the average Salon reader is that stupid or that you think you know anything about their lives.
Hang in there, Kat. It really is as bad as it seems, but we'll survive.
BTW - rereading my last post, I cracked up when I read the word "castrate" - not what I meant, but I'll be damned if I can remember what word I was looking for. It stands as it is. It's funny to me.
geez, everyone sick of me by now??? I just thought of something that illustrates my financial situation. Last week I qualified for a program that fixes up houses and yards for people who can't do it themselves. To qualify, my income has to be under 20K. After doing the math, they found that my income is about $9,000. I know all about the great American way of life.
Gotta love the Princesses of the world. The second you meet one, you know exactly where they're coming from. B'more -- the best place for a writer with something to say. Great read!