Sunday, August 06, 2017

Did I Mention He's A Boy Scout Too?

This has been a long and interesting week.  Lots of stuff is happening, most of it good.  I've been acutely aware this week that I've got too much going on at work and I've been half-assing things as a way of coping.  This week I took a step back and concentrated on the people, not the paperwork.
That helped quiet the hamster wheel in my head a bit, allowing me to make some actual productive progress on the paperwork.

Of course, focusing on people has kept me entertained all week long.

My favorite part of the past week or so was spending a lot of time with friends.  That's never a bad thing.  All of that, plus all the people-ing I did at work, meant I spent this weekend talking to almost no one other than waitresses.  I needed to spend some time listening to myself think.

One of the things I thought about was meeting a friend's fiance for the first time.  He scared me.  Literally.

The entry way to her house is small and I was carrying something large.  I did not realize he'd opened the door and was standing behind it, flattened against the wall, giving me room to get inside.  Until he spoke.

Yikes.

They were having a quasi-engagement/birthday party that evening.  I was there early to - I kid you not - deliver several racks of ribs I'd smoked.  (I never cook.  But my bbq chef hit the road, so I had to learn to make ribs my own damn self.)  While my friend was getting dressed, the fiance and I sat down to get acquainted.  I asked him about the logo on his shirt and he told me his life's story.
In the short time that he talked, he told me three times, both explicitly and implicitly, how much he'd loved his first wife's mind.  Not her looks, not her job, or how she made him feel or anything else about her.  He talked about her intellect and how she thought and how skilled she was mentally.  She died a long, excruciating death from a brain tumor.  Cancer killed her mind and left her in a deteriorating shell.  He grieves the loss of her intelligence most of all.

Well, hell.

There are all sorts of good reasons that marriage could be doomed.  (Aren't there always?)  But I'd probably marry him too, if I were her.

Monday was the thirty-first, and I was hoping for a quiet day to start the week and end the month.  Mostly that's what I got.  That afternoon I had an appointment with Lucy.

Lucy waddled into my office, stomped over to the chair and dropped her body into it.  She said, "I think I need to talk to someone."

Lucy has needed to talk to someone for a very, very long time.  For an 18-year-old, she's got the body of a hard-living, long distance truck driver a few more miles from the next heart attack.  She's extremely over-weight, carrying most of it in an ever-increasing bubble around her middle.  Her blood pressure is dangerously high.  She had a sleep study a month ago and has started - and already quit - c-pap therapy.

This is not a case of just another obese American teenager.  This is different.  It's been my experience that 18-year-olds don't get to this point by accident.  They have to work at it.  My narrow experience also leads me to jump to the - possibly unwarranted - conclusion that the main reason for this is to build a wall in order to keep an abuser at bay.

This time she finally, after almost a year, started to open up a crack about her abusive homelife.  She assures me that she's safe.  Nothing physical or sexual is going on.  I don't buy that entirely, but I am respecting her boundaries for now.  The best part of our discussion was that she's finally to the point of being pissed off.  She's finally fed up and no longer willing to let the abuse continue.  She's going to get out of the house.

I loved seeing that anger animate her face.  I didn't think she had it in her, to be honest.

In May Lucy became the very first person in her family to graduate from high school.  A week later she ditched all her plans for community college and said she was going to go to work instead.
I lost it.  A bit.  I yelled about how there is exactly nothing she can do her to support herself.  Her only option, other than education, is to get pregnant and be destitute.  That's it.  That's all there is.  Regardless of the lack of employment opportunities here, I told her she would NOT sit around waiting for something to fall into her lap.  If she wasn't going to work at going to school, then she would WORK at finding a job.

I was a bit of a bitch about it.

And then I bullied her for a month; making her report every time she turned around, bringing me her job applications, pounding the pavement to apply at places that don't have openings and that would never hire her, even if they did need someone.

After about three weeks she came to my office, plopped into the chair, sighed deeply, and said she decided maybe she would go to school after all.  I was glad.  Truthfully, school may not be the best fit for her, but she will die if she doesn't do something.  Whatever is causing her emotional distress will keep her physical health in a downward spiral.

Unfortunately she's not getting far enough away from home for school.  I wish she could move to a different town and live in a dorm somewhere, but that's not going to happen.  Instead, she will take cosmetology classes at a branch campus, 30 miles away, driving back and forth from home.  On the plus side she's gong to move out; maybe stay with a friend or temporarily with her grandmother.  Her mother is going to leave the home as well.

Lucy is angry.  Wonderfully, purposefully angry.  And for the first time since I've known her, she's not eating her anger.  She's letting it motivate her to act.  I've never been happier to see someone pissed off at the world.

Later that afternoon I had a call from Lonnie.  He was in tears.

Lonnie is a Gulf War vet.  He's in his 50's, tall and lanky.  Looks a lot like Chuck Connors in The Rifleman from 1960's TV.  He also has that character's quiet, unyielding, manly-man personality.
Lonnie got into trouble - felony trouble - due to his drinking.  He's always appreciated a beer here and there, but about ten years ago things got bad when his wife and his mother died within months of each other.  He was the definition of bereft.

Instead of grieving, he drank.  The more he drank, the more he needed to grieve.  Eventually he got to the point where he was sentenced to a long term therapeutic community substance abuse program administered by your friendly neighborhood Texas prison system.

That damn well dried him out.

In order to survive a prison-based treatment program populated with a lot of young punks, he had to pretty much wall himself off.  He learned the right words to say to fill the boxes of his counselor's expectations.  He picked up some valuable skills and information along the way.  But he was still very closed off.

For a couple of months after his release he was in aftercare meetings once a week.  He would grudgingly show up, sit in the chair and listen to what the counselor or I told him.  He made very little input to the sessions.

Then one day, for no apparent reason, he opened up.  There was no dramatic scene, no gut-wrenching sobs, he just started talking.

And now he won't shut up.

It's sort of charming, really.  He has restored his relationships with his brothers and is making use of the tools he learned in treatment to recognize some of the problems and understand some of the decisions his brothers have made along the way.

He's back in the good graces of his aunts, caring for them and letting them care for him.  He's even building community in his very isolated existence outside a tiny dust-bowl town in a forgotten corner of this forgotten county.

Now he's dealing with physical pain caused by years of neglect of his body, as well as a years long dose of hard work.  The knees on his lanky, bow-legged cowboy's body are shot.  He's had one replaced at the VA a couple of years ago.

That did not go well.

He was still a drunk when he had the knee replacement surgery.  There was no one available or even aware of the situation that could help him out.  He drove himself to the hospital, over an hour and a half away, for the surgery.  Two days later, a couple of orderlies wheeled him out to the parking lot, loaded him into his truck and let him drive his drugged-up body an hour and a half back home.
He has no memory of that drive.  None.

Once he got home, he had no help, no physical therapy and survived on canned soup and bottled bourbon.  This time his aunt came seven hours from home to drive him the hour and a half to the VA hospital for the second knee replacement.  She was there when he awoke from surgery and stayed there with him every day until he was discharged.  When he left, he went to his brother's house and stayed there for a few days.

Now he's home alone again.

And the big, burly cowboy called me, crying real tears.

He has an infection which he's been on medication for.  Now he's broken out in a rash all over his body.  He needs to see the doctor.  He's got other health problems that are exacerbated by the infection.  His pain is intense and the rash has him scared.

His family would help, but the closest lives an hour away.  Besides, in an unusual late summer occurrence, we've had rain all week.

When you live on dirt roads, miles from the nearest highway, you can't get in or out when it rains.  Lonnie was frightened and lonely.  His neighbor ladies, elderly women he's been helping in the last few months, had been bringing him food while he's laid up.  It's going to be days before they can get to him.  He's running low on canned soup.  I didn't ask him whether there was a bottle of bourbon in the house.  I didn't want to know.

We talked for a bit and discussed some options.  We made a plan for him to call a neighboring farm and ask the farmer to come out with his tractor and give Lonnie a ride to the highway.  He will call his brother to meet him at the highway.  Lonnie will stay with the brother at least until the roads dry out.

When we ended the conversation, Lonnie was ok.  He had his breath back and his feet under him again, metaphorically at least.  The fact that he made the call at all says a lot for how far he's come.  He has a long ways still to go.  And chances are he won't make that entire journey sober.  But I'm hopeful he will be all right in the long run.

Humans are resilient.  And brilliant  And strong.  And righteously pissed off.  We love, we grieve, we make amends.  Y'all all amaze me.  Keep it up.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Don't Read This

This is just a big ol' test.

Blogger is screwing up my formatting and I'm trying to find out if it's my problem or theirs.  Why the hell can they not accept a simple copy and paste job?  I do NOT want to have to rewrite that whole post.

But maybe that's what I've got to do.  This is how you find out.  You blather on and on for several paragraphs so you can see if it posts correctly or if you're going to have to stab someone, namely yourself.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Spooky's Not So Short Movie Review

I've waited a long, long, long time.  

It wasn't the greatest movie ever, but it was a very good movie. It was so much better than anything I'd expected. And it was most definitely a religious experience.

I arrived early, worried it might be a sell-out on opening night.  The crowd grew as I purchased my ticket and handed over a small fortune for a large Dr. Pepper.  Within moments I was settling into the best seat in the house - halfway between the front row and the mid-point of the theater.  Far enough away that you don't have to hold your head at an odd angle, but close enough that the rest of the world is dwarfed into inconsequence.

The theater filled while I watched the people around me.  A group of college guys parked on the seats in front of mine, debating the minutia of the DC universe like students at pretentious comic book seminary.  Families packed the middle of the rows, their daughters and sons asking questions during the pre-previews-preview-show.  The parents seemed to do an adequate job of answering; espousing nothing heinously heretical.   This time of year, a lot of my clergy friends are discussing the Holy Trinity and the pitfalls of heresy surrounding it.  In my world, the DC Trinity of Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman is cussed, discussed, and the heresies of recent cinematic adaptations are railed against.  (As well as the not so recent - anyone else remember that Cathy Lee Crosby made-for-TV movie?)

As the lights started to dim, one other unaccompanied woman made her way down the side aisle of the theater.  Her footsteps were careful as she dragged an oxygen tank half as tall as she behind her.  She chose the seat at the end of my row, sitting gingerly then arranging the oxygen tube into a coil on her lap.  

Our eyes met briefly just as I realized I was staring.  

I couldn't help it.

She'd waited longer than me.  

Monday, May 29, 2017

If I Had A Bucket List, It Would Be Shorter Now

Spooky's Fairly Useless Advice for Single People


Since discovering that I have to work at being single, just like being married, I've been making an effort to experience life outside my own head.  We tend to think our circumstances are so much more difficult than those of anyone else.   I'm no exception to that.  I think I have it tough because I live in a small town with apparently zero prospects for intellectually stimulating conversation.  And all the men I meet are in trouble with the law.  

That is an oversimplification of course, but still it feels real.  And it leaves me with a choice.  I can either accept that as true and park myself in front of Netflix with ice cream and a side of pizza or I can get out of my house and my head and engage with the real world.  

Obviously the second choice is the right one, but damn, y'all.  It's a lot of work.  

When I first was getting used to the idea of my change of status, I asked some friends for help.  (Advice I should heed more often:  Ask for help.  It doesn't mean you're weak.  It means you are smart.)   "Don't let me become a hermit," I told them. "You know that's my default mode."  And thus began the Tour of Commiseration, 2015.  For three or four months I traveled from friend to friend, spending at least one weekend a month with people I like. It helped.

Unfortunately, none of those friends live nearby.

Digital life is a fabulous thing, especially for introverts like me, but I knew I needed to work harder at building some local friendships.  I need people I can hang out with in a coffee shop on an otherwise average Thursday.  I started with Mindy - renewing a contact we'd allowed to become casual.  I stumbled - almost literally - into Lynette, which proved fortuitous for us both.  And I stepped WAY out of my comfort zone and decided I wasn't going to lose contact with Jay when she moved on to another church.  A friend from college posted on Facebook about reaching out, lamenting missed opportunities and lapsed friendships.  We reconnected through the book club she was starting for geek girls.

My social calendar is burgeoning, indeed.  But only because I'm working on it.  It's not perfect. I miss having snarky co-workers just outside my office door. (Have I mentioned lately how much I miss Sushi?  I miss her a lot.)  I'd love to live next door to someone hilarious.  Who wouldn't?  But what I have now is tremendously better than it was before.

My church has played a big part in helping me branch out.  Who would have thought? Church has permeated my life since birth, but more in a 'watching them make the sausage' sort of a way rather than an 'I love me some Jeezus' sort of a way.  I am not a churchy person as a general rule.

Joining the Episcopal church has paid huge dividends for me. (Without the dreaded Singles Group, I might add.) It's helping me step over a few self-imposed barriers to being who I really am.  (That makes it sound like I'm about to come out of the closet, doesn't it?  Nope, not gay.)  I live in a place where it's easier to keep my progressive opinions under wraps than to be honest about what I believe.  I'm still not shouting my beliefs from the rooftops, but I'm stating them more forcefully here and there.  And poking a few people with pointed sticks now and then.

Being part of a group that accepts those opinions, even if the majority disagrees, is a new experience. This church amazes me.  And they have extended some crazy hospitality to me in the last year or two.
The very first sermon I ever heard in the Episcopal church was on the topic of hospitality, actually.

After my first encounter with the Episcopal Church, I again rode my bike west the next Sunday morning.  The characters I'd met the week before assured me repeatedly that I needed to meet their priest.  The word gregarious was kicked around a lot when they described her.

Once again, I got to the church and circled the building.  Three cars this time.  I stopped my bike and texted my friend Cyn, who was following my progress from South Texas.  I gave her the car count, noting that a white Prius had been added to the parking lot this week.

"At least the priest is there," she said.

"What makes you so sure?" I asked.

"What else would a female Episcopal priest drive?"

I conceded that point, parked my bike and went inside.

I don't remember anything else about that morning, other than the sermon.  Which is odd because I never remember sermons.  Ever.

The Syrian refugee crisis was beginning to make the news and Jay was incensed by the reaction, or lack thereof, of America and our allies.  She started with the big picture and brought it down to a local, personal level.  Hospitality is our calling, our duty, as Christians, she said.  And finally, her incredulity evident, she uttered the line that has stuck with me for much longer than it should:

"Hospitality is not that hard, people.  Just give them a fuhhhhhh------fricking glass of water!"

Yep.  She came thisclose to saying fuck in her sermon.  At which exact point I realized I was in exactly the right place.

This past week, I was the recipient of more hospitality when I went on a motorcycle trip to Arizona to ride one of the most dangerous highways in the United States with a group of Jay's current parishioners - all of them strangers.  I still cannot believe I did that, to be honest.  When I bemoaned the insanity of it to Jay, she pointed out that they may be strangers, but they were Episcopalian strangers and those are the best kind.

She was right.  Even though they were pretty much all old enough to be my parents, I had bucket loads of fun.

At church this morning, the four people who made up our congregation asked all about my trip.  I had fun regaling them of the details.  The really raunchy part of the ride is only 68 miles, but has more than 1000 curves and, since we did it downhill, drops from 9,000 to 3,000 feet.  You have to ride so slowly to make the curves that it took us about four hours to do those 68 miles.

When we finished the ride and made it to our motel, I was exhausted, but just about bursting with pride.  I not only did it, I nailed it.  I'd never have attempted that ride on my own.  I wouldn't have believed I could do it without the blind faith - honestly, what were they thinking?! - of a group of people I'd never met before.



The moral of this story is add to your tribe.  When you're single, especially single and childless, you are gonna need a tribe.  Hell, join several tribes.  They all have things to teach you.  And they probably need you just as much as you need them.

A couple of months ago, Mindy and I have started monthly(ish) meetups in the park.  We throw out an invitation on Facebook - no agendas, no topics, no potlucks.  Adults in our society need more friendships and more opportunities to sit and talk with those friends without pressure or programs.  Friends, not PTA members or soccer parents or youth group sponsors, but people we like outside of the sphere of the collective progeny.

We don't do anything special on those evenings in the park.  We simply ask folks to show up.  And they do.

That's the big the secret.  Show up.

And maybe give people a fuckin' glass of water. 

Monday, May 08, 2017

100 Things Divorce Has Taught Me: The Last Bit

62. - 100.  It really isn't that bad.

I was visiting a friend a few months back and we were discussing this list.  She remarked that I ought to just write "It's not all that bad." and be done with it.  She was right.  

Earlier this week I had dinner with someone who is also going through a divorce they didn't want.  Without being preachy, I tried to encourage them that being on your own is not a bad thing.  Sometimes it's a frustrating thing.  Sometimes you'd like to set fire to someone or run them down with your car. And of course sometimes it can be a lonely thing. That's just life. That doesn't mean you aren't capable of a fantastically meaningful existence on your own. You are stronger for the experience and you can do whatever you need to do.  Or you can hire someone to do it for you.  Or you can discover that it doesn't matter much whether it gets done or not.

You have to work at being single, just like you do being married.  At first I was perplexed about why being single in my mid-forties seems more difficult than it did in my mid-twenties, age differences not withstanding.  That feeling was somewhat undermining my independence.  Not a lot, but enough that I noticed.  Then one day I realized the obvious difference.

In my mid-twenties, most of my friends were also single and childless.  Now I am pretty much the only single, childless person I know. My friends are either in a relationship, parents, or grandparents or some combination of the three.

We don't attend the same types of events.  We don't have the same sort of schedules or the same demands on our time.  Our interests are often very divergent.  

And that's ok.

This is where you have to work at being single.  I've tried to step out of my comfort zone.  They have only been little steps, but at least my feet are moving.  I've made a few new friends.  I'm having some new adventures.  I talk to people at stoplights.

It really isn't that bad.



So, that being said, I'm on to newer and better ventures, including, but not limited to:


Spooky's Fairly Useless Advice for Single People


Today's bit of wisdom:  When you need to buy groceries, ride your motorcycle to the supermarket.  This will prevent you from buying bulky junk food items.  For the most part. (Maybe those three bottles of Lime and Cucumber Gatorade were not a great idea.  You could've used that space for cantaloupes or something.)

Full size frozen pizzas are not going to fit in your saddlebags, so maybe this is your chance to branch out, culinarily speaking.  Or maybe you just buy a smaller size pizza.  Either way. 

Buy as many of the individual cans of Fancy Feast cat food as you want.  Those little suckers will fit into all sort of nooks and saddlebag crannies.  Just be aware that a single woman purchasing more cat food cans that ordinary comestibles conveys a certain sort of...lifestyle... for which you may not want to become known.  (Two cats is pretty normal right?  That's not too many.  And one cat just wouldn't be enough.  I mean, I used to have three but one died and now there are just two and that's not weird.)

Also, don't bungee cord the English muffins to the luggage rack.  Just saying.  It's better than securing the loaf of bread with a big rubber band, but not a lot better. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

In Which There Is No Socially Redeeming Value *as per usual



This persistent little red-headed bastard?  He has nothing to do with this blog post.  I just wanted you to know that he is determined to perforate the aluminum housing on the security light just outside my back fence.  Morning, noon and night, he works on it.  

Go ahead, count the holes he's made.  Count 'em.

Yeah.  None.

I hate this bird.  And, yet...


*************


We are back in court, people!  

Court hearings screw with my productivity.  I don't have time to traipse all over the country-side to sit for three or four hours in a sparsely populated courtroom,  and/or barn, to do my bit for the traveling dog and pony show that is Provincial Jurisprudence.  

However, it is also my favorite part of the job, so I don't actually complain. 

Court hearings were few and far between for the last six months or so because the retiring District Attorney was winding down her cases and not starting much of anything new so as to give the new guy a fresh start.  

So far, his start has been pretty good.  I've enjoyed getting to know Ford, the new guy, and I was thrilled to learn that he's got an extremely dry sense of humor.  He's one of those people that will quietly slip a perfectly worded verbal stiletto between the ribs of conversation, then twist ever so slightly. That's my favorite kind of humor.

Of course being in court more often means more fun stuff going on.  This week's round of motions and pleas had it's fair share.  

Monday was our scheduled court day.  Various lawyers, deputies, and questionable characters filtered through the doors into the cavernous courtroom.  

One of the defense attorneys corralled the DA and I as we settled into our seats.   "Since you're both here," he said, "can we talk about the Morris case?"  He pulled the motion asking to have Morris' probation revoked from his briefcase.  

"I know you're wanting him to go to prison," he told me, "But you don't really have anything on him since he got out of that long-term treatment other than his drug use that one time," he said, ignoring the other allegations in the motion - failure to do lots of things, like attending counseling and after-care meetings.  

"He used a LOT of drugs that one time," I said.  

"Well, yeah," the attorney agreed, "but he tells me he wasn't using just for recreation, he was trying to kill himself."

"He almost made a success of that!" 

"Let's just wait and see how this all plays out," Ford said. "The hearing is scheduled for next month. We'll present the evidence then and see what the Judge wants to do."

The lawyer stuffed the motion back in his briefcase and moved on.  Ford shook his head.  "He wasn't using for fun?!  Only a defense attorney would try to turn a suicide attempt into a positive!"

The first several hearings that morning were pretrial motions, continuances and guilty pleas for prison time - things that I did not have any direct interest in.  When court is in session, a probation officer sits at the prosecution table with the District Attorney in most jurisdictions.  The officer keeps a written record of and is witness to the proceedings so that we are available to testify, if needed, to details like whether the defendant in a future hearing is "one and the same" person that participated in this hearing.  We also answer questions that the Court or the attorneys may have about probation or Interstate Compact regulations or some other area of [perceived] expertise.  

So, for the first half of the day, I didn't have much to do except listen to the hearings and banter with people in between.  Naturally, I doodled on my docket sheet while court was in session.

I noticed Ford kept glancing over at my drawing.  He chuckled once or twice.  Eventually the Judge called a recess to allow a defense attorney to confer with his client.

As soon as the defendant was out of the courtroom, the DA addressed the court:  "I just don't know what to think about her," he said, jabbing an accusatory thumb in my direction.  The Judge cocked an eyebrow at him. "She's over here all smiling and acting nice and then I look down and she's drawing skulls and crossbones all over everything!"  He looked over at me, "Where did that come from?"

I grinned.

"I know what you mean," the Judge said with a heavy sigh.  "I keep expecting her to come in here with black hair and fingernails.  She's just the happiest goth you've ever seen."

I pointed out that I had, in fact, come to work with black nails once and no one noticed.  Or, at least, no one commented.  We all agreed that although my skin tone was sufficiently Wednesday Addams, we didn't think the coal black hair thing would really work for me.  Because freckles.

This lead to the inevitable discussion of Munsters Vs. Addams Family. The Judge and DA were both in the Munsters camp.  The court reporter and I were Team Addams.  The 27 year old deputy/bailiff stood silent at his post, looking confused. This was followed by Bewitched vs. Jeannie.  We were all agreed I Dream of Jeannie was the better show.  Darren and the nose-twitching on Bewitched were just plain irritating.

Just as things were getting interesting and the Judge was warming up a diatribe about how both Darren and Major Whatshisname on Jeannie were two of the most stupid people ever, the defense attorney re-entered the courtroom, client in tow.

This particular plea bargain was for probation, so I straightened in my chair and put what I hoped was a more professional expression on my face.  I had my paperwork lined up in front of me so I could accurately record the Court's orders during the hearing, and maybe surreptitiously add bit of shading to my skull drawing.

The hearing started innocently and progressed smoothly.  The laughter lingered in the air and we were all smiles.  The defendant made his plea of guilty. The Judge questioned him briefly and his attorney attested to his competency.  The DA presented the terms of the plea bargain.

The Judge then began his ruling:

"The Court, finding nothing in bar as to why sentence should not now be pronounced, hereby sentences you to a term of six years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, probated for a term of eight years -"

Both attorneys leapt to their feet.    Ford spoke first.  "Uh, Your Honor, the plea bargain was for six years of probation, not eight."

The Judge glanced down at the file, "I'm sorry.  You're right."  He looked back at the defendant.  "I'm sentencing you to six years of probation."  A pause.  "Unless you want another two years."  He gestured vaguely in my direction.  "I mean, look at her.  Don't you want a chance to come see the probation officer for another two years?"

The air sucked out of the room.

Eyes widened en mass as we were all - the Judge included - struck by the blatant sexism of that comment.  I wasn't particularly offended, just surprised.  The Judge vacillated momentarily between out-right apology and/or mute shock at his poor choice of words.  For a moment, a long tense moment, the entire room paused, intent on his next utterance.

It was then that an as yet unheard voice spoke timidly from the far side of the defense table.

"Uh, I'm legally blind, Your Honor.  I can't see her."

**************

He's only gonna do six years.  



Friday, February 17, 2017

Those Aren't Bees You're Hearing

First thing Monday morning --

(Has anything good ever come from a story that begins that way?  Probably not.)

First thing Monday morning, I got a text message from my boss.

(Again.  Nothing good ever comes of this. Nothing.)

The message was as follows:

"What is the highest criminogenic domain for each of our counties?"

See what I mean?  Not good.

I work for a state district judge.  Sort of.  He's technically only the boss in that he can hire or fire me. Other than that, I am the boss of me.

(A bit of trivia for you:  District Judges used to have day to day oversight of probation departments.  Until one day when one of them got named in a law suit against a department.  The Judge pleaded Judicial Immunity, but the Court said it didn't apply when it comes to oversight of the probation department operations.  At their next policy meeting, they immediately drafted legislation resigning all control over their probation departments, other than hiring the directors.)

Like all government agencies, probation loves jargon.  Loves it.  We feast on buzzwords and live and die by acronyms.  I hate jargon, yet there is no way to escape it and my conversation is often sprinkled with terms that make no sense to anyone else.  For example, we don't call it probation any longer.  Too self-explanatory, I guess.  The correct term is Community Supervision and Corrections Departments, which is always shortened to CSCD.  See what I mean?

Criminogenic is the latest buzzword in probation circles.  Most especially "criminogenic risk factors".  I'm sure there's an acronym for that, too.  It means "reasons people do bad stuff".  Your tax dollars are being funneled into research on identifying and treating these factors.  That's not a bad thing.

It's also not a new thing.  Buzzwords come and go. Policy changes and stratagems are devised.  When I took over this department, five(ish) years ago, I had a part-time officer.  She was older than my mother.  By at least one decade.  During a discussion of the buzzword of the week and it's accompanying requirements, she told me something she'd heard from another veteran officer years earlier.

"All you need to be an effective probation officer is a legal pad and a good pen."

It's absolutely true.  Good probation officers are about people.  Learning about people, educating people, understanding people's situations.  You need to be able to listen.  And then point people in the right direction.  It's really very simple.

But we have to justify our funding.  So we rock along with the latest research, the latest scheme for reducing recidivism and -- oh, sorry.  See?  I can't help it!

I'm not opposed to research.  Or new ideas.  And I could certainly stand to learn a few new tricks along the way.  But when the Judge texts you first thing Monday morning to ask about how the current state policy-speak applies to our local jurisdiction you know that means more work, more data collection, more strategic planning and more, more, more documentation.

I looked at my phone and sighed before typing a reply:

"Anecdotally speaking, employment, or the lack thereof, is probably our highest risk factor locally."

I was staring accusingly at the huge binder labeled "2017-18 Strategic Plan and Grant Application" when he texted me back.

"Oh.  I'm in a class.  I have no idea what the instructor is saying.  Just threw that question out there to show that I'm obviously in class."

My reply was swift:

"You SUCK!"

He laughed.  I'm still employed.  And I have plenty of legal pads and one very good pen.