Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dien Bien Phu

My day began with country music.  That's what The General told me he liked to listen to when I picked him up for an a.m. appointment.  I had met him before, but never got to know him.  Our rush-hour-traffic car ride to his Psych visit gave me the opportunity I'd previously lacked. 

He began by telling me that he paints nails - as in finger nails.  This is all well and fine, but not something you expect to hear from an unkempt, middle-aged man with a mustache and secondhand Redskin's sweat shirt.  This was to be one of many surprises.  I asked where he got this interest from.  He told me about some instance where he found himself in a salon surrounded by "thousands" of bottles of nail polish.  He saw these nails being painted.  He liked it.  He thought, "I could do that." and vowed to learn.  "I have 'Champagne Charade Pink' at home", He said without an inkling of femininity or humor to his voice.  
"Wow. I like dark colors a lot." I said.  (I often find I can self-indulge in conversations with the people I work with that I just can't have with anyone else, the same way I can sing completely uninhibited in the car with the people I work with.  This is much to their dismay. I'm sure.)  "I'll show you." I took off my gloves. "See? It's Purple.  It looks black, but it's actually purple." 
"You know one thing you are definitely doing wrong?" He rebuked.  I was concerned he noticed the  way I painted outside the lines.  "What?"
"Do you have the top coat on?" 
"Oh. Nevermind. I was thinking I might like to go to beautician school some day."
I imagined a 20-something trend setting woman coming to him for all her beauty needs. It seemed like my dream of training my pet frog to be a kung-fu master ninja that would rob a candy store, drive the get away car and give me the booty.  Improbable, but awesome.  Who am I to stifle dreams? Nobody.
"That sounds great." I said.
We continued on the ride to the appointment talking about this and that - things we liked and didn't like.  He sipped his small Dunkin Donuts coffee and I gulped my large Starbucks.  
"I've worked for the grocery store for 21 years. And next year I get 4 more vacation days."
"Wow. How many do you have now?"
"What do you like to do on those vacations."
"Oh, read and go to the Y."
"What do you read?"
"Right now? I'm reading 'The Great War: 1914-1918'"
I knew this was true.  I had seen it on the floor through the crack in his apartment door while he made me wait outside for him.  It was book marked mid-way through.  He shared with me about various battles and wars on our ride.

"I know one thing.  I don't believe we should be in Iraq."  He scoffed.  It is one thing to digest, retain and regurgitate mass volumes on history.  It is another to understand the complexities of current world affairs and tout observations.  I was intrigued.  "Why do you believe that?" I asked.  "I think we have to let the Iraqi's solve their own problems.  It'll be another Dien Bien Phu (For those of you not up on your history see the link for Wikipedia.). And if we keep having casualties over there, were not going to have an army."
"Dien Bien Phu?  Where was that fought?"  I embarrassingly asked.

By this point we'd made it back to his house from the appointment.  He had to go in, change his shirt and come back to the car so I could take him to work.  I made him promise me he'd tell me all about that battle when he came back.  He did.  He recited his knowledge with the poise of a grade school student. "Okay. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu.  The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was...", He began.

As he divulged his explanation I was awestruck at his insight.  Was his point debatable? Absolutely.  The point was not that it was fault proof or whether he was right or wrong, but that he had a well founded opinion.  No.  Furthermore, he had a well educated opinion based on the solid grounding of history itself.  He reached back in time for a reference that was not only applicable to the current situation, but strikingly intuitive to our future situation in Iraq.  In a world full of people who ignorantly scream, "I say 'Blow 'em all up'.", "No. We can't 'cut and run." or "We have to get out now.",  he connects a complex tie between two points in history to make an educated and informed decision.  Yet, society say he's the mentally challenged one.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Teeny Weeny Blue Bikini

I had just turned twenty when I became a social worker.  I knew nothing... about anything.  I had been hooked up with a family that really functioned well as a unit.  Mom and Dad were in the picture all the time.  During the summer they spent a great deal of time at the community pool.  I understood that part of what I was supposed to do was help out with the kids at the pool and the rest was helping out at their home.  

I had no vision primarily because I had little idea what I should be doing.    If someone told me what to do then I could do it.  I was smart and a quick learner, but innovative, I was not.  I also had no concept of how to present myself in a professional fashion.  This led to a major faux pa on my part.  This family was conservative and very devote in their beliefs.  Now, if I approached a family like this now I would have read that instantly and adjusted myself to accommodate.  I came from a background like this, so it would have been easy.  Yet, at the time I was self-absorbed in my newfound independence as an adult that I had little regard for sociological analysis of others.  

I wanted to do what I wanted to do and look the way I wanted to look.  Who cares what anyone else thinks?  Simultaneously, I wanted to look professional at my job.  Not because it was a way to convey competency through appearance, but because I had a new and important job and that was really cool.  So, naturally, in a family of rough-housing, busy kids with conservative parents what would a social worker wear, but the smallest bikini possible and perhaps a really nice pare of pants and shirt.  

At the pool I frolicked about in - no -not a sensible one-piece or even a modest two-piece, but a tiny, miniscule, blue bikini. I could barely stuff my ass in the bottoms and lacked enough goods to fill the top.  It was a spectacle for sure.  At the house I wore nice clothes not at all fitting to romp around with kids in.  

They liked to garden and one day I realized I didn't have the appropriate attire so I just decided to garden in my bikini.  Why not? Right?  The mom was gardening with us and a neighbor from church came over to chat with her.  On hands and knees (I was no stranger to weeding in my country upbringing) in some kinky southern boy's fantasy I heaved and hoed, pulled and tugged.  This was not what these northern, conservative mothers wanted to see.  

After that it wasn't long before I received a notice from my supervisor that this family didn't require my services anymore.  They just didn't feel like it was working out.  Thanks, but no thanks.  

This was my first of many lessons that ushered me into the foreign territory of an adult career.  Some were less painful than others.  Most were less painful than this one.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hot For Teacher

One of my jobs can be to help a person develop a great sense of hygiene.  In one particular case I had to help Julian shower comprehensively.  This meant I would just check in on him and direct him verbally to wash here or there, wash his hair, rinse thoroughly, etc.  I always had to remind him to dry off really well.  He was normally concentrating on something else, something far more important like the news, a memory or who knows what.  He would pace about his room, water dripping off.  I entered his room on one occasion and before I could say a word he exclaimed, "Kristen!". (Okay, let me interrupt myself to explain that this man has a library of music in his head and there is no telling when a music video or song will burst through.) 
"Yes Julian!" I exclaimed back.  I knew it must be important and awesome.  It normally was.
He was toweringly tall.  He expanded his arms as wide as possible gave me jazz fingers, a cheshire smile and there in all his naked, sopping wet glory exclaimed, "HOT FOR TEACHER!"  "Wow!" I said, told him to get dressed, left the room having no idea what just happened.  This also happened often.  
Later that night I went home to my husband.  I said, "Hun, you know what 'Hot for teacher' is?" "Yeah. Why?"
I explained to him the events that had transpired in the past few hours.  He lost it laughing.  He explained to me that Eddie Van Halen had a song by that title and at the very end of the music video he did that very same movement (mind you, with clothes on, but still, the very same movement).  Sometime in the future I saw this video with Julian and it all became clear, but I'll never forget the image of him naked in his room reenacting "HOT FOR TEACHER". 

Who I Am - What I Do

I am a social worker.  That's  a broad term.  I work one on one with individuals with special needs.  (Secretly, I think we all have special needs.)  I have six people I work with.  They all range tremendously.  Some use vocal chords and some don't.  Some can walk and some can't.  Some have a tremendous amount of physical needs and some have a tremendous amount of social needs.  

I am never bored and I am never quite sure what each day will bring.  I may have an idea only to have fate laugh in my face.  I normally laugh along.  It's about all one can do and most of the time it's hilarious anyway.  

Since I'm often asked to repeat what happens in my job to people I on a regular basis, I thought I'd start this blog.  I have changed the names.  I want to honor the people I work with and would never want to make light of them more than I would make light of my own self or situations.  We are all equals.  The comedy in these stories is not meant to entice a finger pointing laugh out loud reaction to the people I work with, but really to appreciate the hilarity of life itself and how we all have our own ways of dealing with its great comedies and tragedies.

I hope you enjoy these stories as much as i enjoy my work.