The Smile of a Fat Baby

The sun over Indiana was bright and hot today.  It would have felt great if I was next to a pool with a Corona in my hand. This, however, was not the case.  I spent the day driving between home visits and made a special discovery about my car’s A/C. 

It is no longer the ice-making machine that it once was in days gone past.   

My last stop of the day brought me to check-in on a sick little guy.  I arrived with drops of sweat sliding down my back and my face was in a full state of glisten.  The little guy’s mom flicked her cigarette into the yard and let me inside, watching me the whole time with a dark pair of suspicious eyes.

Her answers were clipped and she kept her arms crossed, while on the ground, the sound of mucus gurgled from the trach of her baby.  He rested in a bouncy-bassinet-contraption with a monitor hooked up to his big toe, checking on his oxygen level.  In his chubby arms, he lovingly held onto a plastic sea-creature.  

After a few minutes, his mom picked him up in an almost obligatory show of affection.  It didn’t matter to the boy if it was real or forced, he was getting snuggles from his mama.  I watched as the baby reached up and grabbed the ring in his mother’s lip.  I gasped as the baby gave the ring a playful tug in fear that it was about to be yanked out. 

Much to my surprise, the woman laughed and the baby pulled his arm back.  He looked straight in my eyes and nodded with a gummy smile.

I don’t spend much time with infants but I got a feeling from that smile, deep in my gut.  It is the same feeling that tells me to double check my locks, look over my shoulder, to keep asking questions or to stop talking, and to trust the seemingly untrustworthy.  He might be a fat baby with a few medical problems and a young mother, but he’s also an old soul who is going to be ok, whatever that means.  

Monday’s Confession on Faking It

Plate-of-cookies

In my line of work, I see plenty of fakers. 

There are certain people who pretend to be sicker, weaker, or more helpless than they really are in the hopes of home delivered meals, lift chairs, housekeeping, and the list continues.  They want assistance with bills but manage to get new braids.  They struggle with timelines and returning paperwork, but are the first to remind me of holiday assistance programs and complete the required applications. Their words and actions rarely match and their lives are often chaotic from living in this state of disharmony.

I call these the professional fakers.  They do the best they can based on their environment, social supports, natural inclinations and the beauty of self-deception to get their essentials met.  They know exactly how to look and what to say to get what they need and desire.  These pros have spent a life time perfecting the art of deceit with a focus on various government programs and charitable organizations.

However, if doing whatever it takes to get one’s wants or needs met requires a bit of twisting, then aren’t we all fakers at some point in this life?  For example, who tells the complete truth in a job interview or first date? 

It’s hard to always stay true to one’s self, to follow one’s intuition and remain self-aware.  When our inner voice and better judgment are ignored and we break from striving for an authentic way of living, a second group of faker is introduced, the petty fakers.

I would guess that I’m not alone in this observation and human experience.  In fact, in the spirit of confession, I admit that I am an occasional member of the petty fakers

My most recent descent into that world started a few days ago.  Our neighbors dropped off a still-warm plate of brownies drizzled with a strawberry sauce.  (Yes, they were delicious and immediately eaten.)  My husband and I decided shortly after licking the plate clean to repay their kindness by not only returning the dish, but also to deliver a fresh batch of cookies.

However, time ran out this weekend and we were forced to make a tough decision: either we return the plate empty or do something despicable and nearly unmentionable.  Martha Stewart would cringe if she were to read what happened next.  

We bought a box of fancy caramel chocolate chip cookies, carefully arranged them on the dainty dessert plate, Saran-wrapped the entire thing and prepared for the delivery.  I secured a not-to-be-broken-even-on-death promise from my husband to never speak of the caramel chocolate chip cookies again and pushed through the door. 

As I trotted across the street with cookies in hand, I felt a twinge of guilt at the deception and the ease of returning their kindness.  When they asked for the recipe, I panicked and considered telling the truth.  Instead, I stuttered out a denial, claiming it was an old family secret and ran back across the street, leaving them wondering what kind of mental condition plagued this strange deliverer of cookies/returner of the plate. 

The point is that we all have needs and sometimes it involves finagling the truth and looking the other way to get them met.  In this case, it was harmless (unless the neighbors have some weird food allergy).  My husband and I wanted to express our appreciation and didn’t have the time to bake up that fresh batch of cookies that we envisioned.  We were willing to offset the cost of a box of gourmet cookies and a lapse in authentic living for the time and mess saved by being petty fakers for the day.   

Additional resources on authentic living:                    
http://life.gaiam.com/article/5-ways-live-authentic-life
http://psychcentral.com/lib/ways-of-living-an-authentic-life/00016477
http://authenticliving.com/

Leftover Monster

When I opened the fridge door this morning, the song War started to play in my head. Sub out the word war with leftovers for the following question and answer part of the lyrics and you will be in the same place that I was at 7:45am.

Leftovers, what are they good for? Absolutely nothin’, say it again y’all… especially if your husband always gets to them before you do.

There is no point to only eating half of a BLT or saving a slice of pizza or slice of cheesecake if it always magically disappears by the next day. The only way to prevent the leftovers from going missing is to involve mushrooms. It seems mushrooms have an amazing repelling power to the Leftover Monster (L.M. for short) who pillages the fridge late at night and early in the morning.

I have encountered multiple L.M.s in my life. The first one looked scarily similar to my brother, hairy palms and all. (Sorry, Bro, but it’s true). He stalked the kitchen late at night for anything edible; cereal, pasta, pickles, cookies, the list continues. Once I left home, the white styro-foam boxes filled with half-eaten sandwiches, cold fries and other entrees were left unmolested along with peanuts, chips, casseroles, and other random food previously decimated at the hands of the L.M.

Like the Loch Ness or Bigfoot, the Leftover Monster (L.M. for short) is rarely sighted and often leaves clues to his activities and whereabouts. The L.M. who has taken up residency in our home creeps through in the early morning, leaves crumbs on the counter, and disappears without a sound. This morning, for example, I knew the fridge had been plundered by the L.M. when I saw the empty pizza box leaned up against the trash can.

If L.M. doesn’t get the leftovers he is after, he might start in on my granola, fancy peanut butter or dark chocolate pieces. So after a little thought, I’ve decided to continue to pacify the L.M. with my leftovers in hopes that he leaves my favorite snacks alone for PMS Monster to ravage later.

The Short Tale of Ony

Image search: Beutiful Blue Nose Pit bull

A complex woman went out for a walk one fine summer day. Trouble found her whether she looked for it or not, which she admittedly, intentionally sought out at times. On this fine day, she had only good intentions for the world as she pumped her arms with each stride. She took great pride in her long legs and fast pace.
2000 more steps, she noted as she glanced down at her pedometer. Sweat dripped from the side of her face and down her neck. Enthusiastically, she sped forward only aware of the power in her legs.
The walking woman did not think of her pesky daughter who begged her to “try and be aware of your surroundings”, the self-defense class she always meant to take, or that she might make a tasty victim for a bad man or animal, alike. Instead, she focused on the swing of her hips and legs when she caught something in her peripheral vision.
She turned to see a muscular dog with white foam flecking from the sides of a mouth filled with sharp, white teeth charging towards her. The woman froze with a pounding heart. She had just enough time to think defensively, you are not getting my bad leg.
She stepped back with her bum leg and braced herself, when the dog abruptly stopped in front of her and started wiggling its bobbed tail. The dog inched closer and nudged the woman’s hand. She couldn’t stop herself from petting the dog’s head. The dog stared up in gratitude with a pair of golden eyes that understood and accepted.
“Ony. You stupid mutt, get back here!” a shirtless man covered in tattoos yelled in an evil voice. He threw down a glowing cigarette into the uncut grass and slowly walked towards the woman and dog.
“She likes you,” the man sneered at the woman. “You are lucky, the last time she got out, it didn’t go so well.”
The woman felt her throat with her free hand, relieved it was still intact, and willed her beating heart to slow itself. She rubbed the dog’s ears with the other hand and the dog leaned against her bad leg.
“She’s a sweet dog. Did you say her name was Oni?” the woman asked.
“Yeah, short for Fel-Ony. Get it?”
The man leered at the woman with blood shot eyes and searched her face for judgment. He took a step closer and the dog cowered while the woman quivered in fear. Once again, her heart pounded in her chest and she froze.
“Felony, what a unique name,” she laughed nervously as he continued to stare suspiciously at her.
The man grabbed Ony by the scruff of her neck and she whimpered. He nodded to the woman and dragged the whimpering dog across the uncut grass and disappeared behind a tall, wooden fence.
The whimpering changed to cries which faded as the woman resumed her walk, still in need of 1800 steps.

Tough Enough

I have never been much of a risk taker. I assume it is somehow related to having an impulsive mother. Growing up, when other kids hopped stones to cross a creek, I built a bridge for a safer crossing. If the water was too deep or fast for an impromptu bridge, I traveled along the muddy bank in search of a less potentially harmful way. I found that there is almost always a better way if you take the time to look for it.

However, avoiding risks is very time consuming. It’s a constant task to assess the amount of risk in day to day decisions and pick what is least likely to cause harm, injury, or death. For example, I rarely take left turns on two way streets, speed, or forget to wear sunscreen on cloudy days.

Yesterday, I decided that I have lived in fear of the unknown long enough and threw caution to the wind.

I went where no woman should willingly go. If you don’t already know to where I’m referring – it’s to the same dentist who just cracked my husband’s tooth the previous day when filling a small cavity. To the same person who caused the love of my life incredible pain and suffering? Yes, I guiltily admit, that is just where I went less than 24 hours after the incident.

It was described to me like this; my husband was leaned back in the chair, relaxed in the safe hands of the dentist. His mouth and half of his face was numb as he stared out the window. The dentist was casually drilling and chatting about the upcoming World Cup game when she suddenly stopped with an “Uh-oh.”

Generally, this is not a good thing for a dentist to say.

The dentist peered into his mouth through a tiny pair of magnified glasses. Her lashes, thick with mascara, batted up and down, as she assessed the situation. A pair of pursed lips and increased heart beats told him the news before she announced very matter-of-factly, “Your tooth has cracked in half.”

She said it in a way like she wasn’t the one holding a drill that had just been running inside of his mouth. It was as though the tooth had a mind of its own and decided to split from its current place of residency and to make a break from its brothers.

It was just a few hours later that my husband shuffled out of the office, with a newly rebuilt tooth and an aching jaw. The secretary stood up as he reached the door, and called after him, “Don’t forget to remind your wife she has an appointment tomorrow.”

Fearlessly, I arrived ten minutes early to have a cavity of my own drilled.

Welcome back, Eagle Joe

There was no rush to get to the hospital but the driver, Gary, still flicked on the siren and lights.  Gary glanced at his watch; it was running five minutes slow again.  The watch was a gift from his brother last Christmas.

“You’ll never need another battery,” his brother promised.

The watch was supposed to last forever, but it had started to lose a few minutes each month.  Within a year, it would be an hour behind.  Thanks a lot, Bruce, Gary thought, but even a broken watch is right twice a day.  Gary gloated; he got the last laugh on this one.

A few minutes wouldn’t make a difference, he decided, as he slowed for a red light.  He twisted his head and looked at his passenger.  The man lay motionless on a stretcher, destined to either be a corpse or just another beat up homeless guy.  In either case, the outlook was not great for the dirty man. 

The ambulance squealed as it took a sharp turn.  It jostled the passenger and brought him back into the living world.  The man groaned as he slowly opened his blood shot eyes.  He lifted his head and let his eyes lazily scan his surroundings.  With another groan, the man dropped his head back against the stretcher and squeezed his eyes shut.  His head pounded and his body was starting to ache. 

Suddenly, he thought of the treasures he usually carried in his pockets.  He felt for the bulge of the knife he always carried and panicked.  He felt for the plastic purple lighter, the smooth rock that he considered very lucky, and the five bucks that someone had just given to him.  The man strained to sit up, but discovered he was strapped to the stretcher.  He dropped his head against the hard surface again, it was all gone.  His pockets were flat and empty against his skinny, bowed legs.

When the man woke up again, it was in a clean, white room.  He gazed around and tugged at the tube from his wrist to a bag hanging on a rack near his head.  A monitor beeped and digital numbers flashed on a black screen.  He saw two nurses talking in the doorway of his room. The words of the larger woman easily carried across the room as she took no effort to lower her voice.

“This is Eagle Joe- he came in without an id.  He got jumped and beat pretty badly.  No one’s looking for him and there’s no one to call.  He’s just another homeless guy to stabilize and send back to the streets.”

The smaller woman said something softly and Big Red laughed.

“No, we call him that because of the evil looking bird on his shoulder.  Looks like a prison tat.  Take a look when you check his stats.”

Big Red noticed that he was awake and came over towards his bed.

“Welcome back, Eagle Joe.” 

The man groggily nodded his head and muttered something incomprehensible through his broken teeth. 

Big Red laughed again, “Ok, whatever you say Eagle Joe. Tonya is going to take care of you for the rest of the night.”

He kept mumbling as the women left and he tried to clear his head when suddenly he remembered something important.

“My name is Frank, my name is Frank, my name is Frank,” he repeated to an empty room.

For the Love of Money

I don’t really love money, but I need it to live. I like the way dollars smell and the weight of coins in my pocket. When dollars and cents are regularly deposited into my bank account, bills get paid, food fills the refrigerator, and I might get a new pair of shoes.

The money appears silently with the magic of technology. I go to sleep broke on Wednesday and awake rich on Thursday, all without ever touching a single cent. I especially love to wake up on Thursday morning, flick open my banking app, and confirm the magic happened overnight, again. The experience is kind of tooth-fairy-ish in the way I expectantly go to sleep the night before, almost certain what awaits me in the morning.

The ease and convenience are incredible but there is a trade-off for satisfaction. There was sense of completion after working for a week or two and then picking up a check or tidy little pile of bills. A paycheck was something to hold and tuck away until it could be cashed or saved. I used to take a special trip just to drive to the bank with my paycheck, gossip with the banker, and make my deposit. I could leave with a few crisp bills in my hand and save the rest for a rainy day.

Now, I work all day at a job with nothing to show at the end of the day, aside from a pile of papers and a gaggle of needy clients. At the end of the week, the money appears electronically, and still I have nothing to show. There isn’t even the option to receive a paper check at my current work place. My well-being is based on the communication of machines, sending numbers from one imaginary place to another. I could go to the bank for cash, but what’s the point when I can pay for everything with a debit or credit card?

What used to be tangible is now locked away in a digital world without much of a chance to return. I’m not complaining about the convenience of the e-transfers, but I can’t say that I have wisely used any time saved from the elimination of physical banking. Instead, I find more ways to save time with technology and further withdraw from the real world and find myself deeper in the digital abyss.

That’s it for today. Good-bye WordPress, hello Facebook. We’ve got some newsfeed to review.

Editing life

Life is just a story we tell ourselves and the world. 
 
It’s based on our own perceptions and convenient omissions. Each experience should be liberally coated in sugar in its retelling.  Why not, it’s your story.  Every day, the story gets revised and edited.  Words and sentences change and sometimes entire chapters get cut.  Hopefully, at the end of the process, a beautiful body of work is left with smooth transitions, strong characters, and a logical plot with just enough twists to keep it exciting. 
 
Right now, I’m in the process of a major revision in the chapter of how I came to social work.  I started as a bleeding heart in the wrong industry- wanting to save the poor and sick and to give hope to the hopeless.  I did what I set out to do but now I’m cynical and jaded. 
 
I question most clients’ stories because, after all, we each are the author and story-teller of our life’s story.  I feel resentment towards clients who claim to be too sick to work but manage to mow the grass, clean the gutters, and host a Memorial Day cookout for their many friends and family members.  I want to scream when clients ask for help with the heat bill but won’t sacrifice cable or smoking, eating out or getting their nails done.  When I see widespread abuse of the systems meant to ease suffering and improve quality of life, I wonder if the real answer is to stop providing the answer.  Let people decide how to improve their own lives.  If they don’t want more in life, so be it, but let’s stop trying so hard to help.  Let the resources dry up that are being misused and redirect them where a difference can be made like education and research. 
 
I want my clients and clients’ families to need more out of life than to just survive on hand-outs and government programs.  I wish there was a way to instill a work ethic, honesty, dignity and pride in their hearts and brains.  More than that, I want to see the good in people again.   Scratch that, I need to see the good in people again in order to keep adding to my story to keep it beautiful and living, rather than covered in the soot from a slowly burning society.
 
That’s just the story of my life today. 
 
By tomorrow, I’m sure the same story will have been revised and rewritten with a fresh voice and new hope inspired by a good night’s rest and the promise of weekend libations.
 
photo: http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/objects?exhibitionId=%7b36D81705-241D-4934-AB02-FD7C8DBBB3E5%7d&pg=2&rpp=20
A Pair of Hungry Pike, Unknown (Canadian), Date: 1911, Accession Number: 2007.460.2

Keeping Cool in the Ghetto

When social work doesn’t work…

It starts when an old woman’s daughter calls to beg for an A/C unit for her mother. 

“Please, it is so hot in her house.” 

I heard her break to take a drag on her cigarette.  

“We just don’t have the extra money for anything like that,” she continued.

Their very understanding social worker, nodded on the other end of the phone, “Yes, that is a problem.” 

I filled with a sense of false self-importance and knew the exactly what to do.  I quickly completed an application for the program without the need to exaggerate the situation.  The truth of this woman’s life was desperate enough to garner the sympathy and thereby assistance requested. 

Surprisingly soon after the app was submitted, the woman was approved for cool air.  As a privilege and a right to decent living conditions as a human, or out of pity for her poverty and poor health doesn’t really matter, right?

In any case, I mustered the strength to get the A/C into my car, with the help of a co-worker, and headed off into the heart of darkness to make my special delivery. 

When I pulled up in front of the shanty house, it occurred to me that they might not have the electrical wiring to support the efficient energy burning machine in my backseat.  It appeared that they didn’t have window screens, collars for their dogs or a mower to cut the grass.  I guessed that a good socket might be a stretch.  Nonetheless, I continued with my mission as I had an old lady to save.

Three women sat heavily on a sagging wooden porch.  They stared dumbly ahead until I hopped out of my car.  Then their looks turned to that of suspicion even though I called to confirm the delivery just 24 hours earlier.   

“Hey there, ladies. I’ve brought you something to cool off.  I just need a little help getting it inside.”

The woman I was there to save continued to stare ahead, uninterested in my business of her rescue.  Her silver braids shone in the sun as she looked over the cracked and empty parking lot across the street.  Weeds and broken bottles were more interesting than the possibility of a room cooled to 72 degrees.

A massive woman sat next to her and yelled out, “Well, what you waiting for? Bring it in already.”

She looked like she was about to drown in the sweat as it pooled in the roll around her neck.  Her face and arms were slick with sweat, yet she sat amazingly motionless.  She was a mound of melting human, forgettable as she was unhelpful. 

 “Listen, I need some help. Can someone come down here and give me a hand?”  I directed the question to the only capable body, the third woman who sat on an upturned paint bucket.  

She picked up the hint and was the only one to respond.

“Why you axin’?  Is it heavy or somethin’?”

No, I just want you to experience the good feelings generated from team work, I thought.

“Yes it’s heavy, and I can’t lift it alone.”

 Begrudgingly, the youngest woman shuffled down to help.  We managed to get the A/C inside once we cautiously stepped over the old woman’s swollen feet.  She couldn’t see the need to move her feet for our safe passage.  After all, she was there first. 

The woman led me inside towards the nearest open window and dropped her end of the box. 

“There, you can set it up here,” she declared and turned to go back outside.

So I showed myself to the door after her and left. 

Nothing was said when I left.  The massive woman looked disappointed that I didn’t set up the unit and the youngest woman was dismayed that she may be tasked with the difficult chore of reading directions and setting the A/C up herself.  Meanwhile, the woman with the silver braids stared straight ahead, indifferent to world around her.  She didn’t mind the heat and never asked for the A/C.   Why should she be grateful for something that she never wanted? 

I’d like to make the excuse for her that she was tired of accepting charity and even more tired of living in poverty.   Her soul was worn and weary from never having enough or any way to get it aside from the kindness of strangers.  

My only regret is that I didn’t drag the A/C back out of that disgusting house that smelled of wet dog and flea killing powder, around the old woman’s legs, over the broken boards of the porch and back to my car for someone who does want it and would appreciate it. 

What is gratitude in the face of charity?  What is anything in the face of charity, other than a sad state of affairs, to everyone but the giver?  In spite of this, I’m still secretly holding out for a little thank you card in the mail.  Its a silly and selfish wish, but what can I say, I’m just a little human?   

 

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” 
― Hélder CâmaraDom Helder Camara: Essential Writings

“While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.” 
― Chinua AchebeAnthills of the Savannah

 

 

So you bought a house…

Dear Fellow Bloggers,
There’s so much I want to share with you. Over the past few weeks, my husband and I have found ourselves with a pair of kittens, a house, and a new set of mad skills involving the sewer. Skills like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you might ask.

Yes, these skills are similar in their versatility, but not quite as glamorous.

It all started when we noticed sludge water shooting from the sewer pressure valve into the front yard. Or was it when the bathtub and toileting starting backing up, end of the world, can’t-nothing-stop-what’s-about-to-happen style? In any case, that started and by the time it finished, my courageous spouse was ankle deep and most unhappy with the situation. He went to take a quick rinse off in the shower, only to discover the water was ice cold. We then learned all about where the pilot light should be lit from underneath of our water heater.

Over the course of a few days, we’ve met local plumbers, electrician and our neighbors. Most have offered the same helpful advice, “You should have had this checked out before you moved-in,” which we really appreciate.

It’s been a journey filled with dangerous perils, like raw sewage and cold showers, but we persevered. Now, we have rejoined the rest of the civilized world with heated water and flushing toilets. We might be bringing down the neighborhood with our wild cats and sewer issues, but we are loving every minute of being out of an apartment and finally in a home of our own.

Any other home-buying/owning disasters out there amongst you, fellow bloggers?? I’d love to hear a few if you’ve got the time.

Thanks for stopping by-
J.R.

Previous Older Entries

Blog Stats

  • 1,803 hits
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 175 other followers