20 August 2008

PLAYING THE SLOTS

Trish is always hesitant to use the in-house mail at Hamilton County JFS, because her case manager at Greater Cincinnati Behavioral has cautioned her: For some reason, in-house mail at JFS has been known to disappear. Trish suspects this is an urban myth, a rationale used by JFS clients when they forget to mail something. But today she has some information release forms to submit to her JFS worker, and the deadline is tomorrow. No way the Post Office can get the forms there in time. Trish decides to risk the in-house mail. How bad can it possibly be? She places her charity clinic bridgework, her room keys, and her Army surplus watch in the holding basket before teetering through through the metal detector with her wooden cane. As usual, the metal plate in her head, and the metal pin in her leg set the detector off. The Sheriff's deputy passes the wand over her, but does not ask for an explanation. Apparently Trish is not the only JFS client this deputy has scanned with metal repair parts in her body. She gathers up her stuff and finds an in-house mail drop at the information desk. There are two slots cut into the counter. The one on the right is marked "Support Checks," and the one on the left is marked "All Other Mail." She chooses the one on the left, and feels momentarily reassured that JFS apparently has at least a rudimentary sorting system. Except, there is something about the way the woman posted behind the information desk gazes at Trish. The woman sips coffee from a styrofoam cup. Her look seems to veil a mixture of pity and amusement. When Trish looks up from the slots, the woman makes eye contact for a second, then looks away. What's that about? Trish wonders. Then the woman takes a phone call. Trish indulges her curiosity and leans over the counter in order to see what's under the in-house mail slots. What she spies is a single wastebasket, lined with a dark brown plastic trash bag. All the mail is actually falling into one container. The sorting slots offer only false hope! And that plastic trash bag looks exactly like, well, a bag of trash. Trish thinks about asking for her envelope back. And about what her case manager warned her about. The mail probably does get lost with very little effort. How many times has this led to a janitor mistakenly sky-hookedan entire day's in-house mail into the dumpster behind the building? No, there are no homeless people living in the abandoned subway tunnels under Central Parkway. There are no alligators residing in the sewers. And the in-house mail at JFS doesn't mysteriously disappear the way case managers and their clients have been swearing it has for years. We retell these urban myths because they entertain us. They comfort us by articulating our fears. Our belief in them is mostly whimsy, because we know that's why they're called urban myths. They cannot be true. Probably.

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All original text (C) 2007, 2008 David J. Carney. All rights reserved.

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