1999 in technology and poor people struggles

In 1999, the Internet was still new and rudimentary. Email was a novelty. And computers started to become more mainstream. I had never owned a computer, and that was not unusual, but I had used computers at home and school. My parents bought their first computer – an IBM – around 1990; it had a big boxy monitor and used floppy disks. Mostly, we played games on it like Tetris, Paratrooper, Space Strike, and Snack Attack. At school, we used Macintosh computers, which were produced by Apple. I took a computer science class in the early 1990s, in which I learned about basic animation and links. In those early days of public technology dissemination, I was a budding techie and bonafide computer nerd.

With my paltry wages, I couldn’t afford a computer and really had no need for one. All of my business communications were hand-written and mailed via the U.S. Post Office. One day, in my mail, I received information about working from home. This was very appealing to me, as I was working long days and was away from my baby more than I was with her. It didn’t take much to be swayed to take a chance and sign up for a payment plan to enroll in a medical billing program. Perhaps many poor people fall for these offers. All of the curriculum would be mailed to my apartment and could be completed on my own time. But there was one problem: I needed a computer to do the training and eventually work from home.

Since there was no way I could afford it, I decided that I would ‘creatively’ finance a computer to use for my new entrepreneurial venture by writing a check for it that I would pay back, expecting that I would be in a position to pay it back in no time with my promising career. Whenever my bank account had gone in the red, as it often did, I paid the overdraft fee and repaid it as I could. Logically, I assumed that I could do the same thing to purchase a computer – just that it would take longer to replenish my account. Being 20 years old and desperate, I had no knowledge of any additional repercussions, like criminal charges. Vanessa came with me to Best Buy, where I wrote a bad check for a Sony VAIO desktop computer, which came with promotional AOL CD-ROMs with trial subscriptions to the Internet – a bonus to my questionable investment. I thought I was in business.

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Jeff

After living at my parents’ for about a year, and working at the Fingerhut factory and other factories in Saint Cloud, and then ‘upgrading’ to an office job as a staffer at Becklund Home Health Care, I met Jeff. It was a serendipitous meeting, like many significant connections often are. A personal care assistant (PCA) named Dave came into my office one day, saying that he worked with a man named Jeff who needed some hours filled. He said that he was ‘private pay,’ which meant a higher wage. When I found out that it was $15 per hour, I could not pass it up. Sometimes the timing is right because I was burning out on being in the office and I longed to work directly with people again, which was my passion. It did not take much convincing to arrange a meeting with Jeff – a weekend shift at the end of June, 2000. I was 21 years old and Imani was 2 years old.
My parents had company from Arizona the day I started with Jeff, and the house was buzzing with energy. With my hair slicked back with gel, my nose and many ear piercings, and jean shorts and a T-shirt, I made my exit and got into my mud-brown Lincoln Continental Mark 5, which was like a tank, or a boat without sails on the freeway. This was a new chance for me and I felt deeply honored to be asked to serve Jeff.
When I parked in Jeff’s guest spot at his townhome neighborhood, and put the car in park, the shifter fell into my lap. Luckily it was already in park. Not wanting to delay my new assignment and being dedicated to utmost professionalism, I ignored my broken car and walked confidently to Jeff’s front door, ready to work. As I made my way across Jeff’s front yard, his mother, who went by ‘Mimi,’ said, “Oh, Jeff, is she ever cute!” She would remind me of that for years to come. When I rang the doorbell, Mimi opened it immediately, dressed in a red, flowing dress. “You must be Bridget,” she smiled warmly, ushering me toward Jeff, who was lying in his hospital bed in the living room. “Hi, Jeff,” I said, “What would you like me to do first?” I asked him. Both Mimi and Jeff were so charming, and their home looked rich. It was enchanting and relaxing to be there, especially with all the chaos in my life. I told them that their back yard on the neighborhood pond looked like the French Riviera, and they were tickled.
And because of Jeff and his promise of a stable job, I once again moved into my own apartment with my daughter and re-enrolled in college.

Uptown Minneapolis Party Nights

Here is a little excerpt from my book, which is about my first weeks living on my own in Minneapolis, trying to find my way after being displaced by my family because I left their church. One of my college friends introduced me to a bar around this time, and I found a home there because I had nothing else.

Warmth flowed through my body as the humid air kissed my taut, tan skin. After a couple beers, my breathing relaxed and my thoughts slowed. It was all about the moment. My friends were laughing around the bar and I was smiling at everyone with my dark outlined lipstick, white teeth, and a sense that life was nearing perfection. Everyone seemed to be my friend who was there to talk to, confide in, and savor. When our favorite songs came on the jukebox, we shrieked in shared recognition and sang along – sometimes using our beer bottles as pretend microphones. Those were the days when you could still smoke inside, and a cloud of our collective and constant cigarette smoke hung around us as a byproduct of our good times. Into the early morning hours, we would carouse and feel on top of the world, as if nothing could touch us. “I love you all!!!” I thought. Surely, they felt the same way about me. 

The sun came up fast after these nights. Through heavy eyelids, I squinted at my alarm clock. It was after 10:00 a.m., and I had to be at work at Lenscrafters by 1:00 p.m., where I was still training as an apprentice optician. My cats, Freya and Venus, were in bed with me, playing with each other. They were my backup alarm clock. Rustling around in my king-sized pink comforter with large tulips, I stuck my feet out and closed my eyes. This was the best bed ever, and it took up much of my studio apartment. Friends laughed when they came over because it was so all-consuming and made me look like all I did was hang out in bed. But it was a bed that I had bought with my babysitting money several years before, from an ad in the newspaper. There was a lot of storage space: a giant headboard that spanned the bed, with an oval mirror in the middle and cubbies on each side, drawers along the base of it, and a long tunnel from the foot to the head. It was made of dark wood, maybe oak, possibly painted particle board, and it was adorned with rustic gold accessories and drawer handles that clinked when they dropped after use. I rolled over again and the cats jumped off. My head was spinning, but I had to get up.

Sitting up, I looked out my row of long windows out at Minneapolis, which was already well into the work day, stretching forward toward the chipped green polish on my toes. Today was a 1:00-7:00 shift, which meant that I would be at the bar by 8:00 p.m., with a beer in hand by 8:15. Unless I had a couple beers from my keg first. Leaning back, I looked in my headboard mirror at my makeup-smeared face. What time had I even gone to bed?