Freudian Slips: You the Man

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

March 16, 2006

You the Man

About a month after Harold’s admission to the psychiatric hospital, I picked him up. I found him wearing a bow tie, black loafers, black socks, denim cutoffs, and a coffee stained shirt with a floral print. He looked like the groom in a last minute Hawaiian wedding. Harold’s depressive episode required hospitalization. After he stabilized, Harold had no home to return to so he stayed there involuntary on discharge pending placement status. The hospital administration, however, shook enough olive branches with my employer to subsidize Harold’s move to a supervised apartment. The spoken word is often the spoke in the squeaky wheel. Harold looked like loneliness was his only friend. He has had no visits from family. He has had no money and no Medicaid card in his possession. The traveling carnival he worked for has fired him and left town. All he has to his name is me and my name signed him out. On our way to the car, I caught Harold looking over his shoulder as if his official discharge was a mirage.
Inside the car, Harold’s showed his first smile. “Thanks for bailing me outta dare, Joe.”
“You were in a hospital not a prison.”
Harold remarked, “When you can’t leave when ya want to it ain’t a hospital.”
“Point well taken. The prosecution rests.”
Harold watched me buckle my seatbelt then did the same.
“So the hospital told me ya got me an apartment. Ugh, how much is the rent?”
“You don’t pay rent, you follow rules. The rent is paid for.”
“I’m not good at following rules.”
“You have to follow certain rules where I am taking you. Do you understand?”
He exhaled violently as if allergic to parameters. “I don’t need rules.” he repeated.
I asked him to face the hospital. I pointed back to where we came from. “Harold, you have three choices. We march back into that hospital that you consider a prison, and you will go before a Judge. Without a placement, a crotchety Judge may send you to a mental institute which you will like less than that hospital. Or, you can follow simple rules in a supervised apartment. I can explain the rules. You be the judge. No pun intended.”
Harold was quiet for a moment contemplating choices.
“What are the rules?” he asked.
I read him the riot act about house rules. I explained why they are in place for all clients. I reassured him they are reasonable demands. By the end of the conversation, Harold understood that he can be evicted for elopement, fighting, or criminal activity. Anything he does in between will offer margin for error. I still needed Harold to buy into a training component.
I further explained, “Staff will teach you how to cook, food shop, do laundry, etc.”
“I am a man. I don’t need no help doing that crud.”
“Ya just go to McDonalds, no need to food shop or cook.”
I asked, “You want staff to just super size you until your arteries clog?”
“Yeah, and not many people know this but if you hang your dirty laundry on a hangar, no need to wash the clothes but once a year. Damn skippy.”
I reacted, “I think you’re right. Not many people do know that. These ought to be some sweet smelling clothes we are picking up today. Are you okay with the house rules?”
“I will try.”
“Thank you, Harold. I guess we really can leave now. Let’s go pick up your belongings.”
We traveled across South Jersey picking up belongings like gypsies before a great pilgrimage. I flashed my badge along the way to facilitate the recovery operation. We extracted a leather jacket from a leaky shed, a raincoat from a house, the left sneaker from a niece, the right sneaker from a cousin. I picked up his Medicaid card from his brother, whom I did not know he had. Since eloping from a previous living arrangement when he was a teenager, Harold has lived with countless friends, family members, and strangers over the last five years. Harold dangles his monthly check like a carrot for a hot and a cot and the gamble has resulted in financial exploitation by multiple takers. He is now an adult with growing pains.
Harold then directed me to a dilapidated house in Mount Royal, New Jersey. It was located next to an all night gas station and a motel known for its seedy crime. I rolled the car to a stop on a gravel bed. A Rotweiller chained to a post emerged from a dog house. The dog charged forward and showed his teeth. To get to the second story apartment, we climbed some rickety stairs that needed replacing before Hurricane Hugo. Discussion ensued. I whittled down the family album to two relatives, each pointing the finger at the other for having possession of his disability check. A few minutes later, I heard cars pulling up in the driveway. His adoptive mother entered the Hobbit house. She waved Harold’s disability income check at me. The money tree had arrived.
Through the door now, Mrs. Fedorkztly addressed me. “What do you need this money for?”
“I don’t need it.” I deflect. “Harold wants it. It is his.”
“Why do you want you’re money, Harold?”
It seemed a silly question. Speechless, I turned to Harold for help.
“Because I’m getting my own place, mom.” He explained. “Today, I become my own man.”
“What are we going to live off of?” his mother asked rhetorically.
“Not my problem, mom. Find a social worker.”
I interrupted, “Salvaging his clothes is appreciated but the check is what we came for Mrs. Fedorkztly. I mentioned that on the phone.”
She gave it up. Harold put it in the front pocket of his hand-me-down shorts. The mother watched the check go into Harold’s pocket in the manner a sly pickpocket would. The mother excused herself to the kitchen while we hauled garbage bags of clothing from a closet reeking of mothballs and spilled beer. I asked for directions to our next stop. The family spilled outside after we got everything into the car. Four family members emerged from the small apartment where I had met only three. Everybody kind of stood in place but nobody really said goodbye. We left. A few minutes down the road, I noticed a trail of cars. Four cars totaled. Two cars were from the house we just left.
“Who is following us?” I wondered out loud.
Harold is slow on the mark but he gives the trail a closer look. “Ugh, that would be the folks I owe money to.”
“You are kidding me, right?”
“No.” Harold squirmed in his seat. “Joe, I forgot to tell you. I owe them all a little money here and there.”
“Where are they coming from?”
“Mom must have called them on her cell phone.”
“I don’t blame them for wanting their money." I remarked. "Hey, will there be anyone else joining us?”
“I think that just about does it.”
“Should I turn on my headlights and drive slower? It feels like a funeral procession.”
Harold takes me seriously. “Nah.”
Never before had I become the lead car in a caravan to a Check Cashing store but Harold wasn’t free to leave town without squaring his debts. He owed money for cable, money to another for unpaid long distance calls, this one money for food, this one for copping rides into town. Harold admitted to all of the outstanding debts, which saved me aggravation and possibly a call to the police. Harold has survived because he has great panhandling skills. This was just the flip side of artistry.
He knew the clerk in the pharmacy where we picked up his medications. He recognized the people waiting in the doctor’s office too, where we stopped for his physical exam. He even claimed that the counter girl at the Check Cashing Harold was his aunt. Despite his notoriety, I do not know whether to believe him. Harold has always persisted that he has fathered five kids. He has fathered none. Nobody has come around for child support, no paternity suits, no pictures with toddlers, no phone calls from women period.
“I want my own place, Joe. Anyone who has five children, should have their own pad. I am my own man. I can take care of myself.”
“We are about two miles from your new apartment. Is there anything about the house rules that you don’t understand or that I didn’t make clear?”
“I want my own apartment so bad. As long as they don’t baby me about chores, I’ll get used to them.”
“Good. Can you think of anything that you're forgetting?”
“Joe, I ain’t got no problem living by myself. I am my own man.”
I kept at him. “You still need help in certain areas.”
Before Harold could disagree, a look of terror shot across his face.
“What’s the matter?”
“Joe, can you stop at the drug store for D batteries? They are the fat ones.”
“Why?”
“It will be dark in a few hours.” He worried extemporaneously.
“I’m no good at riddles. What does batteries have to do with nightfall?”
Harold whispered, “My flashlight needs new batteries. I'm still afraid of da dark.”
“Yeah, Harold. Sure.”
Harold said, “You the man.”
I replied, “No, you the man.

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10 Comments:

Anonymous et said...

Joe, you really are, “the man!” In this wonderful narrative, you’ve captured the core of this client’s existence. The only thing that "frightened" him was being left, at the end of the day, without a light to guide him.

9:06 AM  
Anonymous Catherine Mary said...

Joe, there aren't many people in this world who could do the job you do with compassion, love and humor. While I was reading my heart went out to this gentleman and tears came to my eyes. In this blog I see the person you really are. The side of you I never knew. You are my special "meatball" and I am so proud of you. Love, CM

2:26 PM  
Blogger PaxRomano said...

Wow, everything but the hounds nipping' at his heels...

Ain't social work a joy and a half?

4:59 PM  
Blogger justrose said...

wow, this is really well done. i could see all of it. what a poignant story. and you managed this situation with perfect aplomb.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Et,
in many ways, we all need a flashlight.

Catheirne Mary,
Welcome to my world.

Pax,
joy and a quarter, except rolling out of bed on Monday mornings.

Justrose,
aplomb or plumb out of luck.

10:49 PM  
Blogger DarlingNikki said...

Wow....this is my first time here and I am glad I popped in. I'll be a regular from now on....

10:46 AM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Nikki,
Thanks. I post every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. I hope to see you again.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Maja said...

Yeah, you da man, Joe :)

1:27 AM  
Blogger Maidink said...

Terrific and sad story, Joe.

Terrific in that is was wonderfully written.

Harold reminds me of the kids my late husband used to teach at Woods Services in PA. That's the sadness part.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

maja,
A stash of batteries help.

Maidink,
Right you are. I have visited the place you mentioned.

7:35 PM  

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