Friday, August 30, 2013

My Life as a "Poor" Person

I feel like I'm living in the middle of an experiment.  I have heard of writers "embedding" with their subjects.  I have read "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America," by Barbara Ehrenreich and recently started to read (had to return to the library before I was done; I hate that!) "The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table" by Tracie McMillan. But these are authors who took on their embedding by choice.  I'm in it and I didn't choose to be.  

I only wish it was experiment.  The truth is, like 11.8 million people, or 7.6 percent of the American labor force (as of 8/1/13) we are part of the capable but unemployed ( U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics just released its monthly Employment Situation Report which includes the headline unemployment rate. Headline, or U-3, unemployment is a measure of how many members of the workforce— defined by the BLS as the set of Americans who are both eligible and willing to work — are actively seeking employment).

Actually, that is not entirely true.  Having a small business, we do bring in a paltry bit of money which technically puts us in the category of  U-6 "which counts not just those job seekers included in the U-3 (headline) rate, but also those who are marginally attached to the workforce (underemployed) and people working part-time for economic reasons. This measure of unemployment hit 14.3 percent in June, half a percentage point increase from May but down from a peak of 17.1 percent in April 2010." ( My boldface emphasis included.  So, we're really like 22.2 million people.  But that's just one statistic.

There are more grim ones.  According to the Huffington Post, economists estimate that on average, just 35 percent of the jobless have collected benefits over the past 22 years. We are now a part of the 65%.   Politicians like to make headlines by spouting off about ES fraud and claim that many unemployed workers choose just to stay on unemployment benefits rather than look for work but the real truth is that if you can qualify for and receive unemployment income you are still limited as to how long you can receive it.  And, based on the stats, that's a big "if."

"No wonder people turn to crime." 
"I don't know what you mean by 'turn to crime.' It seems to me that this is a crime and you are in the middle of it."
European starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Sleeping with the Enemy

Okay, I know.  European starlings, as a species, are much maligned, at least by Americans.  Starlings were purposely introduced to the country in the late 19th century for, get this, literary reasons!  That's right, some homesick Europeans wanted to bring the bird species of none other than Shakespeare to Central Park in New York.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Turns out that European starlings took to America like, well, any species would who arrived in a place where they had no natural predators.  They flourished.  A bit too well.  Now, as the Washington Dept of Wildlife's "Living with Wildlife" Web site puts it, they are ubiquitous.  Probably ranked somewhere between pigeons in the city and gulls at the coast.  The good news is that, although they were brought here under quite false pretenses, it turns out that one of their favorite snacks is the larva of the leatherjacket or marsh crane fly, which is also a non-native (and for that very reason deserve to be eaten!).

So why do we hate the beloved bird of Shakespeare?  Why indeed.  I mean, just because they tend to crowd out other song birds, including stealing their already occupied nests for starling eggs.  Just because they are messy housekeepers and small flocks can desiccate fruit and young veggie crops.  Just because older, more established roosts are breeding grounds for diseases unkind to humans.  What's not to love?

In spite of all that I know about starlings I must confess that all that is dimmed by their voices.  I love the starling calls, described by "Birds of the Puget Sound" as a "continuous series  squeaks, squawks, including mimicry of other species."  But this limited characterization doesn't begin to do justice to the artful array of sounds of which these birds are capable.

I know this because I sleep with them.  Well, I mean, not literally.  They are more like "roommates."  You see, there's a nest of them under the eaves of our famous cupola and during the summer months, since we keep our windows open up there, we can hear everything our roomies are saying--in the early morning hours when they are getting ready for the work day and in the evening when they come home from work and are settling in.  I know it amounts to eavesdropping (I'm talking more about what I do, listening to them not what they do, making quite a mess of their room) but I can't help but smile to hear them twitter, caw, chortle, cluck, click, chatter, chuckle, tweet, and guffaw.  Sometimes we'll mute the TV so as to hear their bantering all the better.
 Listen,  I know they’re a nuisance; I know we need to get someone up there after this second batch of chicks is gone to get rid of the nest and debris but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy the free concert for a while.