Lost Perspective

compass

Lifestyle

In working with people who spend the night on the streets or in a shelter and depend on food stamps and vouchers, it is easy to lose perspective. In fact, I may be writing from a lost perspective now.

I am in a world in which cigarettes hold more value than milk and employment is menial and miserable.  The kids are frequently reported for bruises and bed bugs.  There are no healthy relationships, it’s use or be used.  A survival of not the fittest, but the most street smart, the most savage and aware of the systems from which they must either decide to manipulate or leave for the unknown.

Those who stay breed the next generation who are certain to take up their parents’ torch.

It’s a dark realm, almost like an alternate reality that is better kept a secret, in the underground, or for movie settings from which an impoverished savant is able to rise from dregs of society to that of the rich and famous.

Only in that case, the fictional or the legendary-once- in a lifetime situation, is it an interesting place and the desperation is palatable for the rest of the world, knowing that there is a light to shine from the darkness, a ray of hope for those who have nothing other than plastic bag of raggedy clothes and a headful of lice.

The lost perspective.

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The Static Clinger

cling

We joked that she was a stage five clinger,

right up until they got married.

Now we say that she’s a great wife.

Cling

 

Boiled Peanuts

South
Earlier this year, I met a select group of people in Georgia who believe that the South will rise again. They shout things like “Roll Tide” and snarl with all of their teeth if you happen to mention the Obamas or women in power or healthcare.  They drink cheap beer and sing bad karaoke. They like to eat boiled peanuts and wear confederate flag t-shirts and camouflage pants.

Although my Yankee sensibilities were initially offended, I have to admit that there is very little difference between these folks and those special few of my hometown with Trump signs in their front yards, impatiently waiting for America to be great again. Just swap out “Roll Tide” for “Hoo-hoo-hoosiers” and there you have it, home away from home.

Sadly, I find myself a misfit at home and far away when in the midst of these conservatives.

Yet there is something that we can all agree upon, if given the chance. Something the South can share with the cooler states of the North, just as the conservatives can share with the liberals and we can all find a common ground on which to build a better future.

Boiled Peanuts.

They are whole peanuts boiled in various concoctions of salty liquid ranging from spicy to spiciest, scooped into a paper or Styrofoam cup, and sold at gas stations, stands in parking lots, and out of the trunks of cars.

Those hot and juicy little treats are so packed with sodium your fingers and lips start to swell almost immediately after messily removing the nut from its softened shell. They are not for the faint of heart or taste, but they might be the single best product of the South that the North would do well to adopt.

We can become a Nation strong again, unified through our love for goober peas, as they were first called, if we just give ourselves the chance.

bp

Taken

dark

A pair of gothic, teeny boppers knocked at the office door before trying the door handle. Finding it unlocked, they let themselves quietly inside.  They looked up in surprise to see someone sitting at the desk.

They were dressed up for the day in their good black clothes, like they were on their way to a funeral and had to make a quick stop in my office to pick up a condolence card. The slender one of the two wore a thick layer of black lipstick which created a black hole type of a situation on her face.  The other one had a long black trench coat over black pants and a black blouse and black platform shoes.

“Hi girls, guess what? The forecaster is calling for sunshine and temps in the 70’s.  It might be time to get your summer clothes out.”

“These are our summer clothes,” Trenchcoat responded and walked past me to the kitchenette area.

Trenchcoat poured day old coffee, turned sludge, into two Styrofoam cups. She spooned sugar into the cups until the liquid reached saturation and the sugar fell in a pile at the bottom. Still she spooned the sugar out of the plastic dish into the cups.

Small talk was not appreciated while she worked on emptying the sugar dish.

“We have good news,” Lipstick exclaimed in a flat voice.

I stared at the sugar dish as it was slowly emptied and listened to Lipstick at the same time.

“We will be moving soon,” Trenchcoat continued for her partner, looking up from the work at hand, with only slightly more animation.

“That is good news!” I said, beginning to think of who would replace the pair.

“We need bags and boxes.”

I turned to focus back on Trenchcoat and Lipstick shimmied past me as I stood, leaning on my desk.

Lipstick opened the refrigerator, in spite of the “Staff Only” sign.

“Where’s your creamer?” she asked from inside of the humming machine.  “Oh well, I found some old cookies. Anyone going to eat these?”

She pulled a bag of old wafers from the back, pulled a cookie out and took a bite.

“Nah, these are stale,” she said. She flipped the trash open and tossed the bag inside, letting the lid come back down with a bang.

They slowly walked through the office, each with a coffee in hand. Lipstick picked up a stapler and Trenchcoat peered over a report on my desk. They adjusted the blinds and picked through the lost and found bin.

“We better start packing,” Trenchcoat said with her usual glumness.

Lipstick and Trenchcoat left with their coffee, most of the contents of the sugar dish and a coat from the lost and found. I saw what they took.  Yet, I couldn’t help but to feel an uneasy certainty that something else was out of place and missing, taken by their sticky fingers, soon to travel to new places in one of their many black pockets.

Bon Voyage!

The Cat’s Meow

tear

Tears squeezed out from one eye.

Big, round, wet drops slid down the woman’s left cheek.
She called out in anguish and rubbed the crying eye.

The other eye remained dry, unconcerned with the activities of its sister.

My heart squeezed tight. I was responsible for this lopsided show of emotion.
Her pain had grown too great; it sought escape through the easiest portal, the left eye.

Then I realized, she wasn’t crying. Something was in her eye.

Almost certainly, the irritant’s source sat next to the woman, lazily looking around the room with crusty eyes. The cat yawned and blinked. It was big and lumpy, like an old pillow with cheap stuffing.

She patted its misshapen little head, not minding the lumps of matted, greasy fur.

“Just like mama, you’re old and fat.”

She forgot to mention hairy.

The woman laughed and lost her breath. Instantly, her face grew grim. She waited for the oxygen flowing into her nostrils to saturate her blood again.

Just like the respiratory therapist told her, she huffed and puffed and damn near blew the house down.

cat

Mail Call

mushrooms

The woman shuffled heavily in white socks from the worn chair to a polished table. She picked up a single envelope with a shredded top and pulled out the contents.

Shaking her head, “No, this isn’t it,” she declared and laid it back down.

She moved to the ceiling high bookcase that stood next to the television. It was sparsely decorated with knickknacks, pictures, tiny black dolls and a ragged Bible.

The woman reached up and pulled out a handful of opened mail that leaned up against the side of a shelf.
“Bills,” she said without looking up.

The bills were crisp white against yellow shelves. I didn’t notice them until the woman pulled out the stack. Then I noticed another stack of white against yellow on another shelf. Two more stacks were at the top of the book case, several inches thick.

The stacks of mail were everywhere. One was on the mantle wedged between two pictures; one was tucked under the table; and another one rested next to the woman’s purse on the floor.

Once I knew they were there, I sought them out. Stack after stack, I knew to look.

I couldn’t un-see the stacks.

It was like mushroom hunting; it’s more than knowing where to look, it’s knowing how to look.

Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

Ants

.ants

Ants

Thousands of small, red ants swarmed over a dish turning the white into a vibrating mass of red. Some left the main huddle to seek out more crumbs on their own, while others marched in lines over a newspaper from last week, onto a clear plastic box of dehydrated greenbeans, and around the edge of the table following an invisible path.

I was unsure where to put my paperwork with the table so very occupied. I considered smashing my binder down onto the table crushing the adventurous crew that dared to split from the main gang on the bowl and sweeping the bodies onto the dirty carpet. I could transport the bowl and its many passengers to the sink and rinse the entire thing with scalding hot water.

In a few strategic moves I could exterminate the entire colony.

Nah, I shook my head. Live and let live, I decided, especially when in a client’s home. I left my blood lust in the car with the windows cracked just a bit so it could properly breathe.

A woman sat across from me, watching me through sightless eyes with amusement.

The ants were no bother to her.

I completed the paperwork on my lap and did not mention her visitors.

There was no need.

“A pity beyond all telling is hid at the heart of love.” W.B. Yeats

The Path of Least Resistance

trailer

The severe weather warning sounded on my phone. I turned it off without looking down. Distractions were not appreciated as the sky turned dark and heavy rain started to pelt the windshield. I was heading to the safest place in Indiana under the predicted conditions; a trailer nestled in a park with many other trailers.

This was a visit that needed to be done before my vacation. I didn’t have time to wait out the storm or to reschedule for the next week. There was a quote about taking the path of least resistance that came to mind but I couldn’t remember the last part of it.

Anyways, if a tornado were to hit, there wouldn’t be any pesky foundation to stop us from going airborne. So taking the path of least resistance must be a good thing- I imagined if we were in the way of a tornado, we would be lifted up, swirled around and set back down. No bigs, right?

I arrived just as the sky turned an eerie green and the wind died leaving the trailer park silent. The tornado warning siren cut through the air, deafening all of the ears within hearing range.

On further consideration, this home visit was probably not going to have a great ending.

A ferocious honey colored dog greeted me at the screen door, snarling. Its teeth were barred and the fur between its shoulders stood straight up, stegosaurus style. My can of pepper spray was in the car where it could be most helpful to me in an attack/assault type of situation.  I sighed, this was really not going to end well.

Then a woman emerged from within the dwelling with a lit cigarette dangling from her thin lips. She grabbed the dog’s metal choke collar and pulled back with a yank.

She said, “Queenie, this is a good friend. Stop it.”

We had somehow completely skipped the acquaintance stage and gone straight to friends.  At that rate, we would be family by next week and the holidays were about to get very complicated.

“C’mon in and don’t mind our mess.”

Whenever someone says that, I know it means the home is either immaculate or a disaster zone. There is never a happy medium type of situation to back up that statement.

Once again, this proved to be true. I walked in cautiously and looked for a clear space to sit. We had paperwork to complete but the table was covered with Arby’s roastbeef sandwiches, foil, fries, and stacks of papers.

“You caught us in the middle of lunch,” she said stubbing out her smoke.

She picked up a half eaten sandwich to resume where she had last left off. Queenie growled at me from a rug by the door.

“Don’t worry about her. She takes a while to warm up to strangers,” the woman explained which did little to reassure me that Queenie wasn’t about to lunge for my throat.

The possibilities of this visit were endless, a dog bite, tornado ride, COPD/lung cancer, and then a new threat ran at top speed into the living room.

A small, dirty, shirtless boy with spikey hair charged out from a backroom with plastic Hulk hands on yelling, “Hulk smash!” as he ran towards a dozing woman sitting on a stained plaid couch.

He jumped onto the cushion next to the woman and started punching her with the gloves.  Surprisingly enough, the woman did not resist the Hulk inspired blows.  In a flat voice, she said, “No, don’t,” and weakly tried to defend herself.

What strange reality is this, I wondered.

An hour later, I left with the paperwork finished and about six Marlboro Red cigarettes smoked secondhand, completely unsure of the number of people who were there as different faces continued to appear and disappear from the backroom.

I was a cloud of smoke as I made my way back to my car, never so grateful for the fresh air.

In the meantime, the storm cleared and I remembered the rest of the quote.

The path of least resistance leads to crooked rivers and crooked men.

Or in this case, just a trailer full of smoke.

The April Fool

chains

Freedom doesn’t mean much until it’s gone.

Deb never knew about the danger of healthcare until she started to really use it. Her diabetes got out of control, so she started going to the ER. She became what is called a “frequent flier” and got tagged as a high cost patient. A team was quickly dispatched to figure out what was driving these frequent visits and put a fix to things before the costs rose any higher.

The team sent her for testing and to specialists for this and that, they reviewed her medications and medical records and came to a conclusion. She was a slow learner with a poor memory and should no longer work, live by herself, handle her own medications or finances.

Wow, what an amazing conclusion made by the team. She should be made an inmate in someone’s home, better yet, maybe have her arrested and taken to prison for being too much trouble, medically speaking.
The team looked around the office once they reached their conclusion for someone to give Deb the good news. Her problems were over. The team had figured everything out.

“There’s really no point in explaining the tests to her, it’s not like she’ll remember.” One team member said to the uproarious laughter of his colleagues.

“You are always good for a laugh,” one woman in scrubs said, red in the face from the funny joke.

They put their heads together in a huddle, like a team preparing to take the field, and came out of it with a plan.

They chanted, “Send in the social worker, send in the social worker, send in the social worker.”

I nodded and straightened up my shoulders, stood a little taller and prepared to take the invisible chains of future bondage into Deb. The team lined up and patted my backside as I walked past them and said encouraging things, like “Go get ‘em” and “Keep your head up.”

There was no time for stretching or to run a few plays first, I had to get to Deb before they did.

I knew what to do.

I walked into the room and closed the door. Deb sat on a chair with a massive purse overflowing with Kleenex’s and crumpled papers on the chair next to her. I stood in front of her and put my hands on her shoulders.

In my most serious voice, I whispered, “You need to leave right now and never come back. Go as far as you can and then keep going. Don’t answer any calls or sign paperwork from these people; they want to take your freedom from you. They want to take your life.”

She cocked her head to one side and looked blankly at me for a minute. Then she started laughing showing her strong white teeth. It was a big, hearty laugh that surprised the team, waiting outside, listening with a cup to the door.

“You people are always joking in here. April’s Fool’s Day, I get it. How much longer is the wait?”

I shook my head, “For you, not much longer. Your troubles are just about to be over.”

Working from home

lightning
Each time I hear a roll of thunder, I hold out hope that a bolt of lightning will strike the bulldozer outside of my window.

I whisper a secret prayer that it kills the machine dead in its destructive tracks at it tears up the road in front of our house. The noise is growing close to insufferable with the grinding of gears, the scooping and dumping, and the voices of the men in charge of the operation.

Now, the storm has passed.

The thunder stopped, lightning never struck, and the road work continues.

I curse the sky.

There is no justice in this world.

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