She found one.

The day started with a light drizzle of rain and progressed into a full-on deluge by the time I arrived at my first appointment of the day.  A streak of yellow lightening split the sky in front of me as I popped my umbrella into shape.  Fortunately, when it rains like the world is coming to a certain end, the punks of the street take cover.  Plus, it was too early in the day for most of them to be up.

So I sloshed happily down the cracked sidewalk into the front yard of my client’s ramshackle house, unmolested by the usual people of the street.

My client sat at the table picking at a microwaveable meal of gelatinous meat with a side of green mush that was representative of vegetables.

We went through the usual list of questions and finished pretty quickly.  As I stashed the paperwork into my bag, I asked, “Anything else going on?”

She slyly looked at me and confirmed that my pen and paperwork were safely tucked away.

“Don’t write this down, but the prostitutes have taken over this block.”

I egged her on, “Oh yeah?”

Nodding with a grim expression, she said, “I don’t even go out to my back porch anymore.  I’m afraid of what I’ll see now that it’s covered with condoms.”

She was stone-cold serious while I tried to figure out if this was a dementia thing or a little joke to get a reaction from me.

Not waiting for my comment, she continued, “In fact, my granddaughter took the trash out there last week and found one.”

I asked, “A condom?”

Disgusted that I wasn’t following the story, she shook her head, “No, a prostitute.”

“My granddaughter screamed at her because she’s got a real nasty attitude, she always has. I heard her in here and thought something happened.  She came back in here and told me, the prostitutes thought this was an empty house.”

“But your lights are always on and the grass is mowed and your front door is open and…” I tried to make sense of how the prostitutes could have made this mistake.

“Don’t worry.  My granddaughter set them straight, but I’m still not going out there.”

She shrugged her shoulders and returned to her meal, now cold, and started picking at it again.

“That’s just how it is,” she said, as though to comfort me.

I left certain that it might be that way today, but it doesn’t have to be that way tomorrow.   Yet, I was uncertain as to what should change: the neighborhood, her living situation, or my attitude towards the whole thing.

trapped

A pick-up truck full of hay
driving through the middle of the city
seems as out of place
as the temperature controlled farm of cubicles
in which I am trapped
until 5:00PM
tonight

Clearly

The only empty spot in the parking lot was at the far end, underneath of a shaggy scrub tree, from which juicy berries dropped. It was here that Laura was forced to reluctantly park, aware of the certain purple splatters to greet her at the end of the work day. Trudging inside, she dropped her lunch off in the break room fridge. It was filled to the point of bursting with brown paper bags, soda pops, and colorful mesh bags filled with leftovers and sandwiches. Clearly, it was a Wednesday, the only day that the entire office staff was required to come into the office.

Suddenly, there were so many unfamiliar faces with mouths that wanted to talk. The mouths of these unfamiliar faces talked about the week, their work, family, friends and events. They knew about her family and even asked about her dog. She saw the expectation in their faces continually replaced with disappointment. Over what, she couldn’t be certain.

“I don’t know you and I’m not going to pretend like I do,” she calmly explained when a fat woman in a billowy denim dress asked about her Labor Day as she shoved her lunch bag into the fridge.

The woman’s fat mouth fell open in shock.

Strange reaction for a stranger, Laura mused and shrugged her shoulders.

A man with a headset met her as she left the break room, “Hi Laura, how did things turn out with the Johnson’s?”

Laura looked at him with disdain at his lack of formality for someone he had never met before. An introduction might be nice, she snickered to herself. That’s just how these people are, I must remember that.

“I assume the Johnsons are friends of yours?”

The man looked puzzled, “No, they’re your clients. I referred them to you last week. Remember, they were the pack a day smokers who need the smoke alarms?”

“I have no such memory of that because it clearly did not happen.”

She had no time for such gossip. She bustled past the man, leaving him to question his reality. He felt certain that they just laughed about the irony of the situation on Friday.

Laura wandered around the office, avoiding eye contact with her co-workers. She was searching for something which was part of the reason she came into the office. What was the reason? Remembering that might help to find whatever it is I’m looking for, she thought in frustration. What was it? she berated herself and started to lose her breathe.

Calm down, just think. Think. Think.

Taking a deep breath, she walked down a row of cubicles.

I suppose this will do, she thought as she stepped into an empty cubicle with neatly stacked piles of paperwork. It looks clean enough but what about all of these papers. What a mess.

Scooping the piles into one armful, she dragged a trash can to the edge of the desk. With a fierce swipe, she pushed the entire pile into the trash with a swoosh.

“Hey, Laura. What are you doing over there?” a young girl with a long pony tail, pretty enough to get a better job, asked her with concern. “Those look like Jane’s annual client reviews that you just threw away.”

Laura narrowed her eyes, how did all of these people know her name. They seemed friendly and well-intending, but how was one to really know. She knew for a fact there are work place scams taking place every day, she saw it on the news. Or maybe she read about it? In any case, this could definitely be some kind of a information gathering conspiracy with all of the questions and watching.

“Mind your own business, Ms. Ponytail,” she retorted.

She sat down with her purse on her lap. She stared straight ahead, feeling unsettled and sensing that something had happened. Something was different, of that she was certain. It was not with her, of that she was also certain. The world had somehow changed.

It’s so hot in here, she thought and wiped the sweat from her forehead. I can barely breathe, she gasped.

She blinked and black stars started to appear, one by one. She blinked again, hard this time, as though to force the stars and specks out of her vision. Yet, they remained, winking and blinking in and out of her mind’s eye like a meteor shower in the night’s sky.

Just one minute

A warm breeze blew around my face as I walked into work today.  It pushed a heavy strand of dark hair out of place from behind my unusually small ear.  The air carried the smell of a grassy field of wildflowers.  It must have gusted and rolled along for many miles through the dirty city to reach my finely attuned nostrils.   As I pushed through the silver doors, I imagined I was barefoot and swinging on the front porch.  Higher and higher, the wooden bench creaked and the springs squeaked.  Only briefly did I worry about going to high when it felt like the sky was the limit.

Bad Social Work

What is good social work?

Let me start by explaining what is NOT good social work.

Good social work is not finding problems and reporting the information back to an insurance company for research purposes. It’s not giving people resources that are tapped out or difficult to access. It’s not black and white with clear solutions and easy answers. Most of all, good social work is not business, it’s life.

Clients are real people with real problems that were there before the involvement of a social worker and likely will still exist long afterwards . The problems associated with poverty may appear to be easy to overcome on paper. They can be next to impossible to overcome in the real world, where the rubber meets the road, so to say.

Take for example a family who has no income and are living exclusively on food bought with SNAP (food stamps) or obtained from food pantries and soup kitchens. The kids in this fictional family get targeted at school for whatever reason and a referral is made to a social worker to get some eyes on the situation. The obvious solution for the adult(s) of the family is… do I even need to write it? Get a job, right?

Not so fast. What if there is only one parent involved and she doesn’t have her GED? She doesn’t have transportation to get to the library to finish the courses or the money to pay for the test. She doesn’t have any marketable skills or she has a disability. She doesn’t have the confidence required to apply because she’s never had a job or known anyone to hold one for an extended amount of time. There are a million reasons for her to get a job and a million and one barriers to her doing so.

It would be easy to refer this woman to a job search assistance program or GED classes to take at home and call it a day. Check the box that the assessment was completed, referrals given, and follow up with be done in a week or two. Realistically, what would happen? Maybe she would follow up on one of the referrals, find that it was a dead end, and continue trying to survive with her children in a mean world.

What is really needed to stop the cycle of poverty, to end the violence, struggles with addiction, and sense of hopelessness that keep people trapped and spinning in place?

I clearly don’t have any of the answers. I don’t even know what is good social work compared with successful meddling and good report writing. What I do know is that the problems of the poor don’t need more bad social work.

I’ll figure the rest out from there.

Cookie Quarrel of July

There’s a story that I want to share- but it isn’t mine to tell.

It’s about the most raucous fight between two demented residents of a nursing home over a box of cookies.
I want to go into the gory details of the residents springing up out of their wheelchairs to attack one another, much to the surprise of their aides.
Its killing me not to be able to describe the fight scene in which the normally sterile and lame setting of a nursing home transformed into a place much like the Wild West, sub out the tumble weeds for catheter bags and fast women in bodices for aides in scrubs and crocs.
Each resident was out for himself in the great cookie quarrel of July.
The story even has a tragic ending with the eviction of two residents to the unfriendly streets of the city.

Perhaps the worst part about not being able to share this story is that no one will ever learn what became of the box of gourmet cookies.

Mother Wit

“Listen carefully to what country people call mother wit. In those homely sayings are couched the collective wisdom of generations.” – Maya Angelou 

Thanks, Maya.  Now I’m really listening.    

Night Noises

Good night, sleep tight, and may the fleas you plenty bite!

Sharing a hotel room with another couple

Can be a challenge

Especially if one person

Has gastrointestinal difficulties    

And the other one snores  

literal fires.

frayed wires under blankets 

lay still in a silent threat

like a snake in the grass 

 patiently waiting

to strike   

On Love

Dear Readers,

Today I have a gift for you from one of my clients. 

It’s not much, just a little piece of relationship advice.

 

When you start sticking and stabbing your partner

and you know the day is coming

when you’re going to cut him too deep and he won’t stop bleeding

then it’s time to go.

 

She was married for 54 good years.

The secret?

They lived in different states.

 

Her separated husband told her one day that he had a dream.

The Lord came to him and said, “Hang on, Georgie, she’s gonna come back to you.”

She laughed and said, “That’s funny, ‘cuz I’ve been praying to the same Lord to never see you again.”

 

He passed away a few years ago on July 15. Lord rest his soul. 

 

As I opened the door to leave, a tiny cross-eyed man arrived at the door.  He peeked over my shoulder from the doorway.  The woman spotted him and yelled out, “Oooh-wee, you ain’t brought nothing for me to eat, but get in here anyways.” 

He shuffled in past me and jumped into her outstretched arms. 

I left with the woman’s sage advice and knowing that In the end, love prevails or something close enough to it. 

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