"It's always juggling," she says. "You know who you can pay late, and who you absolutely can't."   Something as small as school pictures or a broken washing machine can keep her "You worry and you wake up and ... I will literally take out Lipliner Pencil Packaging and paper and go, 'What's flexible in the budget? Food is flexible. Food is one of the only things that is flexible.'

But everything changed when her husband suddenly walked out, and Spencer ended up on public assistance.   "I went from helping my clients apply to Medicaid to being there as a parent, applying for my kids and experiencing the woman on the other side of the glass not even looking up going, 'Take a seat. We'll be with you.' [It was] brutal," she says.   Her rock bottom came one day when her two girls — Katie and Gaelyn, who were 9 and 4 years old — saw their mom in tears.  

Spencer nods. "That's just how it is," she says. "We hustle to it, we step up to the plate, we do everything we can, and the rest of it is out of our hands — just like it always is — and then we just sort of hope and pray for the best."   Spencer says the point is driven home to her every day she goes to work with her elderly clients. Seeing folks trying to live on $500 a month from Social Security makes her more appreciative of what she has. But it also makes her more worried.  

With basically nothing in the bank for her own retirement, Spencer says, "I see my future every day." Despite his stated fondness for steak, Ellroy orders a chicken Caesar salad with extra anchovies. He's been sober now for years, so it's just a coffee to drink. Over their food, Ellroy tells Rath about the appeal of history and the rewards of giving up technology.