I have often written that seniors have become the "disposable generation," referencing the way we are generally treated by government agencies and such. However most of the seniors close to me, lucky to still have one, or both of their parents alive, have a special relationship with them. Dan makes sure to call his mother, who lives in Florida every Sunday and never fails to visit her on her birthday and mother's day.
My own mother lived with me for the last three years of her life and it would never have occurred to me to have it any other way. For this reason, when I received the following story, my heart broke for these people and I knew we had to publish it.
As Mr. Eaton said, if it makes one "child" look at the way they treat their aging parent, it will be worth publishing.
I barely knew my apartment neighbors in the small quad living apartment. But one of the newcomers asked me if I wanted to join them for a buffet at a smaller casino on Tuesday.
I didn’t get out much and had few friends here in Las Vegas, but a diversion would be good I thought. So on the day of the special discount buffet, I showered and put on my best clothes, including an old light brown suit jacket and drove to the casino. I was actually dreading this meal in a way. You would think that doing something pleasant would make you feel good, but it doesn’t. It only reminds you of what you don’t have and that you are alone for all the holidays. I would be dining with people I barely knew, standing in line with dozens of strangers, and then try to make conversation during and after dinner. But I went anyway, for lack of anything else to do I suppose. I like people and I wasn't being swamped with invitations to anything.
I asked the newest person who invited us to this buffet how she came to Vegas. She explained she was a nurse’s aid and had been living in Oregon. She had adult children that were on their own and she went there to be with them after a divorce. Her children did not offer to let her stay at their homes and the rent was so high she found herself living in her car, even though she had a job. She would park at a Walmart at night and use their rest rooms to clean up before going to work. She noticed other cars were parked there at night as well, with older people like her living out of their cars.
Another reason she stayed in the area was because her son was in prison and she promised to be there for him when he got out. She dedicated 6 months of her time to make sure she was there for him, and then got him a place to live afterwards. But once that happened, and she asked if she could stay with him, he said, “We don’t have anything in common”, and turned and walked away. That line hit me hard since it was the exact words my last ex-wife said to me.
The other child of hers had not invited her to stay at her home either. So she got in her car and drove south and after a couple days ended up Las Vegas. She was in her late 50s, which is too soon to retire but too old to start a new career, or even be hired by a lot of companies. It was a sad story and all of us shook our heads in sympathy to what she went through, and was amazed at the cruelty that children show towards their parents.
Each one of us shared our stories, abbreviated as they were, as if they were confessions. It wasn't pleasant, but we seemed to be compelled to do it.
Then it came my turn and all eyes were fixed towards me. I dreaded this because I wasn’t sure I could get through it without breaking down in tears or perhaps I would say too much, be too dramatic or show too much anger. But I spoke up anyway. I came here over 2 years ago, I began. I saved up money to retire in the form of a coin collection the last 8 years that amounted to $25,000. It was just enough to buy a small trailer and be able to live on social security and get by one month at a time. But when I retired from my truck driving job and went to the storage area to get my coin collection it had been stolen.
I wasn't able to afford the rentals in my area and heard the more affordable apartments in Vegas so I moved here. I had two daughters that had places, but neither one would let me stay with them. Never once in the 8 years I was driving truck did they offer to let me stay the 3 days I would be off duty. This did not make sense because I didn’t smoke or drink and was known to be easy going.
A couple times when I was off work and needed a place to stay one of my daughters was leaving on a week vacation and refused to let me stay at her place. It cost me a total of $500 to rent a room during those times. This was after I helped her get settled into an apartment, bought her a big screen TV, and $300 worth of things she needed in the apartment, and then paid her car repair bill of $400.
Then I stopped for a second and said to them “Do you realize we have been thrown away like last weeks garbage? We are single, older, have no homes and are barely making ends meet. We have had to sleep in our cars at times, barely have enough money to buy food and clothing, and to make matters worse the government is replacing us with illegal immigrants that cant speak English. We have been thrown away and replaced.” Then I stopped before I made a scene – and was silent, took a sip of water and stared at the table. How many people were like us I thought. Where do we go? Who cares if we die alone in our one room apartments? In the city of the throwaways.
We had all shared our confessions of broken dreams, ungrateful children, hard times and even regrets. Then we got up and slowly walked away from the cheap buffet to leave the casino. I told them I was going to walk around for a while, and we said our good byes. I then made the rounds through rows of slot machine in the dimly lit rooms. I saw the older people sitting mindlessly at the machines pushing the buttons, time after time as they watched the screen light up with spinning reels, until their money was gone. They had no smiles, no emotions, and they did not look up as I walked by. They appeared like zombies out of a horror movie. Some smoked cigarettes, others were sipping on the free drinks. What was their story, I thought. Is each one them a lonely, beaten person of broken dreams? Is each one them harboring regrets, sadness and stories of being thrown away? Is this the city where people go when they're at the end of their rope, to the city of the throwaways?
Perhaps every city has them. Was this the result of a modern society where people were trained to be occupied with their jobs and their lives and they have an excuse not to care for their parents and the older citizen? Who would speak up for the throwaways?
The lady that was a nurse’s aid shared how she cared for the homeless men that came into the hospitals. She told us, “Take care of yourself, especially your fingers and toes, that is the first thing to go, they start to lose them. So, make sure you stay healthy or else you will get sick and die.”
America is not what it used to be. The modern American dream has failed many segments of society. People are falling through the cracks in our system and no one is speaking up for them. Why? Because apparently some people are more equal than others. People are too busy being addicted to their selfish lives to help others. The government is too busy with power and greed to help the throwaways. Thousands of people are living on the streets of our cities, and an unknown amount of people living in their cars that even have full time jobs. This is not the American dream.
Like me, many of the retired make so little they can’t even afford the so called Obamacare. They qualify as exempt from any payments or penalties at tax time, and if they get sick they cannot get normal care to even save their lives. If they have problems with their teeth, they fall out or break off, they can’t afford to even go to a dentist. But, no one cares anyway because they are the throwaways.
They don’t have decent housing or their own specific racial case workers to give them things. They’re not a minority, they aren’t an illegal alien. They speak English, many are veterans that fought in foreign wars for this country, they line the streets with cardboard signs asking for handouts. But no one marches in Washington for them or has petitions to help them. No politician speaks for the throwaways, and whoever is elected in local, state or national elections, the throwaways see no changes to their circumstances.
As I left the small casino I looked down on the ground and saw one of the memberships cards for the casino, with crows and pigeons pecking around it. Was that membership card thrown there by another person like me, that knew they would not be back? Did they only get the card to be able to get that special Tuesday buffet for $4.70, then leave alone? I had no answers. I stood there for a few seconds as I watched the birds. I felt the cold wind on my face. I buttoned my old suit coat, put my hands in my pants pockets to keep them warm, then turned and walked away alone, to my throwaway car – in the city of the throwaways.