Sunday, July 24, 2011

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxvii)

No longer having the night clerical job at the Hunts Point Terminal Market wholesale firm in early June of 1971, however, did present me with an immediate economic survival problem: Where was I going to get the money I required to pay my unpaid $57 per month rent, my unpaid telephone company bills, my unpaid Con Ed electricity and gas stove bills and my food costs for June, July and August of 1971? So after I spent most of my paycheck from the week’s work on the night clerical job to pay for my next few weeks of groceries, I walked down to the local welfare department office, which was about 20 blocks south of my apartment near Fordham Road, and applied for home relief.

Before I had found my job as a special ed summer camp counselor the previous year, I had been rejected for home relief by the local welfare department’s long-haired and bearded, "liberal" white male caseworker/investigator, who seemed to be in his late 20’s. Apparently because New York City welfare department policy in the early 1970s was to pressure long-haired and bearded white able-bodied male hippies who were under 30 who applied for home relief to either move back to their parents’ apartments (even if they had been living on their own for years, as I had been)--by denying them home relief benefits—or to get haircuts, shave off their beards, start dressing up straight again and find some straight low-paying job in Manhattan.

But just over a year later in June of 1971, New York City was now in an economic recession, the Big Apple’s official unemployment rate was much higher than the previous year and I was now even more economically destitute than I had been in mid-May of 1970 when my first application for home relief had been rejected. In addition, since I had shaved off my beard and cut my hair shorter prior to being interviewed for the Hunts Point Terminal Market night clerical job from which I had been axed, I looked less like a white male hippie than I had looked when the welfare department caseworker/investigator had visited me in my slum apartment the previous year. So I thought that this time around my legal right for a home relief grant from the welfare department would not again be denied illegally.

But when a beardless, crew-cutted, white male, straight-looking welfare department caseworker/investigator in his late 20s or early 30s, with an Irish-American last name, appeared at my apartment door a few days after I had filled out my application for welfare at the local office, my heart sank. And after he interrogated me in a cop-like way for awhile and conversed with me about my current economic situation and anti-war ‘emancipated poverty” lifestyle philosophy, my impression was that he was resentful that the only job he was able to find after graduating from college was being a welfare department casework/investigator; and that he inwardly considered white male hippies under 30 (whether they had beards and long hair or not) who applied for welfare in New York City in the early 1970s to be just “lazy bums” who were trying to “cheat” the welfare department and avoid work—while “solid” right-wing white straight citizens like himself were stuck having to work 9-to-5 in jobs that they hated.

Yet he was still legally required to provide me with emergency assistance for at least one month, to prevent my possible eviction and possible starvation. So after he returned to his welfare department office following his investigation of my slum apartment (which was still much more sparsely furnished than the apartments of unemployed workers in New York City who were already on home relief in 1971), he did not stall on filling out the forms that were required to get the emergency food stamps and the emergency welfare check required to pay my rent and utility bills for June and July 1971 sent to me within a few days. But it was still unclear to me in early June 1971 whether or not my legal right to be placed on home relief on more than just an emergency, one-month, basis was going to be respected by the New York City welfare department.

However, when the emergency check from the welfare department and the emergency food stamps authorization letter arrived in my mailbox a few days later, I did feel a sense of economic relief. And I also felt so free of immediate economic survival worries once again that I started to again try to break into the New York City and Village music scene for a brief period in June 1971.