A Day in the Life

Notorious

Two men stood outside of the brick building, smoking cigarettes. The taller of the two kicked at a clump of weeds and inhaled at his Marlboro, while the other worked an orange, plastic lighter through his nicotine stained fingers.

“Did they install your A/C yet?” the taller man asked.

“Nah, they told me there was something going on with maintenance. You think we’ll have them by August?” the man said with a laugh and continued to practice with the lighter like an unlikely baton twirler before a high school football game.

“I put a fan in my window, but it’s just blowing the hot air around. It’s like the desert in there.”

Beads of perspiration popped out on the taller man’s forehead, he wiped it with the back of his hand.

“Whew, it’s hot,” he declared. “But its cooler out here than it is up there,” he gestured with his eyes in the direction of his apartment, too drained from the heat to lift his arm to point.

A woman emerged from the door of the house next to the apartment building. She wore a neon swimsuit top with white washed, cut-off jean shorts that were pulled up over her belly button. Perhaps most noticeable was the mean looking, black and purple bruise around her left eye.

“Hey boys,” she rasped to the men with a grimace that was as close to a smile as possible.

She fished out a lighter from her high-waisted pocket and uncurled her fingers from around a Pall Mall.

“How’s your old lady?” she asked the taller man.

Sensing a follow up question, the man answered with a reserved, “She’s ok,” and waited.

His companion interrupted the pause with a snort, “She’s been cooking again. I smelled the burned food all the way over in my place,” he chortled.

The woman lit her cigarette and took a deep drag with no small amount of pleasure.

Exhaling a dragon-like stream of smoke through her mouth and nose, she continued, “Does she smoke? You tell her to come over and visit anytime she gets sick of you. We can garden and smoke a little herb.”

A shadow darkened the doorway from which the woman had previously emerged and a man with strands of long gray hair appeared.

“Theresa,” he barked with a tone that threatened of another bruise, this time to her right eye.

The men outside stopped smoking and looked at each other; the reputation of this neighbor preceded him via the frequent bruises of his partner.

“That’s just my ol’ man, you know how he gets.”

Theresa took another long drag of her cigarette before dropping it onto the grass and walking away with a wave. Smoke curled from the end of the abandoned cigarette, briefly burning before it extinguished itself.

c

Oh, the humanity

heads

Circling the parking lot outside of a doc’s office, I grumbled at all of the sick people. Still no legit spots in sight after two loops so I parked in a handicap spot and ran inside. I considered adopting a temporary limp but felt that would be even worse. I had to pick up a packet of paperwork from a nurse; I expected to be in and out. A limp would take extra time.

Please, I begged the universe, don’t let me get towed or a ticket although I clearly deserve it.

The waiting room was filled the sick people who owned the bothersome vehicles. A man in a dirty white t-shirt had crutches leaned against his chair, another man wheezed as he ate a sandwich in his wheelchair, a woman with a tiny bun of thinning hair was surrounded by bags and coughed into a ball of ragged Kleenex. Briefly, one woman looked up from her cell phone when I rushed in and returned to the tiny screen with complete disinterest.

The room was filled with people and their problems. If I had a little mask, the kind with an elastic string, I would have put it on with great haste in hopes of preventing the spread of desperation.

I tried to remind myself that I am not a bad person.

These were the people who needed the handicap parking spot in the front of the building. They were here to find answers to what was wrong with them. I wanted to clue them in that it’s everything. Life can be wrong and unfair but it goes on. I wanted to help them to reframe the situation. Let’s not think about what’s wrong with your aching joints or lower back, why you have that cough, or distended belly.

Let’s focus on what’s right with your life.

You are at a doc’s office, so that’s a start. The sun is shining. We have fresh water and clean air. The streets are paved. Education is free and so are we, for the most part excluding freedom from debt and government rule.

Leaving the office with papers in hand, I let out a great sigh of relief. I had been holding my breath without realizing it as I traveled across the waiting room. The germs, my sensibilities screamed. The bugs, my unfounded fears yelled. The desperation of living on the fringes of never having enough, my inner voice quieted down overcome with reason, truth, perspective, and finally gratitude.

The humanity, oh the humanity.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Morrison_(announcer)

http://www.humanity.org/

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.

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.

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