11 October 2008

MA'AM, WOULD YOU COME WITH US, PLEASE?

This morning at JFS, second floor, several dozen people waited to see case workers. Somebody in the crowd moaned, "Oh my God," stood up, and approached the desk. He scribbled a note and slid it to one of the gatekeepers. The gatekeeper opened his mouth, probably with the intention of telling the man that he had to wait in line behind the partition. But the man placed the note next to the gatekeeper's computer, nodded, and withdrew.
The gatekeeper, somewhat annoyed by the interuption, sighed and read the note. Then he said, "Oh my God." He looked at the crowd in the waiting area --- some sitting, some standing --- and picked out the woman described in the note. The gatekeeper picked up the in house phone.
Three minutes later two security guards wearing latex gloves lumbered off the elevator. They looked at the service counter. All three on-duty gatekeepers pointed. The security guards looked at the woman sitting in the waiting area. One of the security guards said, "Oh my God." The woman at whom all index fingers were directed had been referred by an intake worker at the Drop Inn Center. The Drop worker had taken pains to instruct the woman to go to Magdelene House first, get deloused, then and only then, proceed to JFS. This woman had failed or forgotten to follow those instructions. Bedbugs perused her clothing, looking for exposed skin. Head lice crawled in her hair, eyebrows, and most maddenly, her eyelashes. One of her eyes had become infected as a result of this bad company, the cornea blooming red and yellow, her tear ducts swollen like an Orleans Parish levee. When the guards approached her, she asked them why they were wearing gloves. "For both your protection and ours, ma'am. Are you aware you have an infestation?" Groans arose all around the room. "What are you talking about?" the woman wondered. "Haven't you noticed those bites, ma'am? You have what appear to be bedbugs." "And lice," his partner added. "Bedbugs and lice. We have to escort you out, ma'am." The woman, probably already traumatized by becoming homeless, was in denial to the point of dissociating. "What bugs?" she asked. "They have bugs here?" "They do now, honey," somebody shouted. More groans mixed with laughter and scattered applause. The security guards coaxed the lady from her chair, and, while keeping her at arm's length, walked her to the elevator. Once downstairs, they directed her to the Mary Magdelene Center, and even went to the trouble of calling to make sure the place was open. Nobody from maintenance or janitorial appeared to clean or delouse the chair where she sat, or the carpet around it. One of the workers at the counter sprayed his own work area, presumably as a preventive measure, but none of the spray was used in the waiting area. If you were a betting person, you might offer odds on how many of the people that crowded JFS that day would carry passengers away with them, if not home, then to shelters and soup kitchens, to alleys and park benches, to all the tenuous crannies of Marginopolis. Perhaps there is a nightowl shift at JFS that sprays and delouses the empty waiting rooms and cubicles. But today at least, none of the staffers could say with certainty.
All original text (C) 2007, 2008 David J. Carney. All rights reserved.

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