One hundred and seven dollars was credited to my New York State welfare card this morning. Finally, I can stop rolling my own Top brand, joint-like cigarettes and buy a pack of American Spirit menthols. I must have throat cancer by now!
I call the shiny, blue and white Medicaid card my ‘New York Express Card’ because it works just the same as an American Express—as long as one still has money left on it—and one can withdrawal cash from these cards using a four digit pin at any Chase location without facing outrageous ATM fees.
If it were not for my new friend, Ronald Whittaker, who I met in Goodwill Industry’s ‘Back-to-Work Program’, I would not have known how to access the cash that the state gives to those suffering most from the current recession. Ronald Whittaker—what a wealth of information the guy with the missing front tooth has been, although now, I fear for my life and regret leaving a copy of my resume lay out near one of the computers at Goodwill when he was around. Whittaker has my home address and phone number! How could I let that happen? What if he shows up one day and finds out I already got a thug lover?
The short, skinny thug with missing du rag tried to make me the class clown the day I was leaving the classroom on my way to Taylor-Hudson Personnel and accidently left some of my paperwork behind in the class at Goodwill. I nearly had to read him in front of all those Black people:–
“Mr. Taylor!” Ms. Taylor, the job developer yelled above the chatter of the room. “You left something here!”
“You better come back and get it,” Whittaker said in front of everyone as I re-entered the room—“Someone might show up at ya house, tie ya down and take all you got.”
The welfare people laughed. Yes, it was funny at the time, but I replied—“Ya can’t rape the willing!” I bet that shocked his ass. Only the women in the classroom laughed at my remark. The men didn’t seem to get it.
I should have never engaged Whittaker in conversation on my first day at Goodwill—perhaps he felt he knew me already and could say such a thing—trying to make me uncomfortable there. I needed to find out from one who knows how the welfare system works, and Whittaker appeared to have lived his entire life on the New York Express, so I took this chatty stranger up on his offer for casual conversation, never knowing that eventually I would find myself trying to bow out of his sweet, sincere offer for me to give him a blow job.
“Oh! You live right around the corner from the welfare office on DeKalb don’t ya?”
“How’d you know that?” I asked the day following my public humiliation by Whittaker.
“Yes—I’ve lived in that hood for more than seven years,” he said, ignoring my concern. “I’m surprised I never seen ya,” he noted.
“Why? You live there too?”
“Nah, but am always ‘round the way. Cool fade ya got.”
“Are you serious?” I asked. “I cut my own hair now—got a pair of those clippers. I like to keep the grays off the sides. It’s been this way ever since I was in the Army. It is even in the back, ain’t it?” I was shocked when he casually rubbed the back of my head—feeling the fuzziness—crackheads are so bold.
“I figured that,” Whittaker said. His eyes were as glossy like my New York Express Card. “I was in the Marines,” he claimed.
“Ain’t it something how we service men always spot one another out in a crowd? It’s like we are all connected or something. How long was ya in?”
“Cool,” I said.
Sure, Ronald Whittaker’s a crack head if I’ve ever seen one, but I’ve never been threatened by such substance users as most New Yorker’s are. They are somewhat high strung, and seem to tweak over the littlest of things, but Who am I to judge his habits and who else is there to talk to every morning sitting in the classroom at Goodwill, awaiting the call of one of three ‘job developers’ who give guys like Ronnie and me referrals to job leads or job fairs—our only way out of that dungeon classroom at 25 Elm Place.
Whittaker was the only one to explain to me that in addition to $200 in monthly food stamps, the state also hands out $75.50 to single men in Brooklyn—for ‘basic necessities’ according to Whittaker, but for guys like me and him, the stipend serves as addiction money.
He bummed a smoke from me one morning outside of Goodwill. That’s how we became familiar and the moment, I suppose, served as an opening for him—to invite himself into my business, as many crack heads are known to do.
Although I could not afford to give expensive cigarettes away, I gave Ronald one, for it is true that we should give to anyone who asks of us.
“Thank you for telling me how to access my cash,” I said to Whittaker. “Honest to God, they don’t tell ya anything when it comes to welfare in New York City. I thought this card was just for food.”
“Oh—there’s lots ya can do with it. Hey—I know a dentist that will pay ya $10 bucks if you stop by for an exam.”
“Do you mean we have dental insurance with these cards?”
“Boy—you don’t know noffin’ do ya. I’ll show ya the place when we get out of here. Can you do me a favor, Taylor? Find me another one of dem dare temp agencies on the computer so that I can get out of here. It don’t seem like they have a job fair to send us to today.”