Tuesday, September 13, 2016
She arrived with cash.
She paid off everything she owes me. It took a trip to the convenience store to cash a small check, plus a couple of handfuls of quarters, but she paid all the money she owes. In full.
Her probation will end successfully. Provided she doesn't do anything crazy between now and Christmas Eve. (Really. Christmas Eve. The sentence ends on freakin' Christmas Eve. HA!)
Wednesday, September 07, 2016
I've transferred her case to that jurisdiction once before and it did not end well. The poor guy working those counties is also a one man dog and pony show, just like me. However, he has to do both adult and juvenile probation. There is not enough tea in China to pay me to do that. No ma'am! Therefore, I try to be a little more understanding of him than I might otherwise be.
The problem is his method of coping is to be a sticker for detail and a fanatic devotee of rules. All rules. Any rules. Liz doesn't work well inside strict parameters. Her existence is more lateral than logical.
To be perfectly honest, I didn't get along with the guy any better than Liz did. I'd rather keep her case and not be paid for it than to have to deal with him again. But that's not the story I'm gonna tell you.
Last time I saw Liz, we finally got busy and completed the state's newest, shiniest assessment tool for her case. I was months late doing it, but we'd had other more pressing concerns on her previous visits. The state won't like this, but that's ok. It'll give them something to pad their reports with and we'll all go home feeling fulfilled. (Perhaps you can see why Mr. Rule Book and I didn't get along so well?)
The assessment tool is as fabulously un-useful as any such mandated instrument, but it is a great interview starter. It helps to aggregate information into a single interview that might take me months to cover without it's guided questioning.
We spent a lot of the interview talking about the depression that Liz suffers from to a debilitating degree. Today she looked better than she has in a long time. Her hair and her clothes were clean. Her eyes had not a spark, but at least a dull gleam. And she sort of ghosted a smile as she came in the door. It was a good day to talk about why she's depressed.
Liz is an educated woman. Not liberal arts, but she's had a Certified Nurse's Aide license and completed a 2-year associate's degree in office management, with a minor in accounting. She's worked in several offices as well as a lengthy stint doing purchasing for a state prison.
Despite her education, Liz is desperately poor. And she married a poor man, in pretty much every sense of the word. She knows he's worthless, but they stick it out. They've been together a long time.
Their first child was a son. He was born without any major incident and pronounced acceptably viable before being sent home for cuddling and coddling.
Once safely ensconced, he promptly stopped breathing. Luckily Liz's mom was there and knew just what to do. She remembered Liz had done the same thing as a baby. It was sleep apnea. The doctor confirmed Grandma's diagnosis and told Liz all her children would need to be monitored for it when born. She was never to have a baby sent home from the hospital without a breathing monitor.
Liz had a second child, also born healthy and normal. The breathing monitor showed no signs of apnea and all was well.
Liz had third child, a daughter.
You know where this is going.
Liz did all the right things, the things that my chronically poor people are seldom able to do. She got prenatal care. She kept the same doctor who'd treated her other two babies. She was ready to have this baby.
The baby was ready, too. Her daughter was born while the doctor was away on vacation. A teenager in scrubs delivered her, according to Liz.
All went well and they were both released from the hospital at the earliest possible opportunity. Except there was no breathing monitor. Liz told the teenager the baby was supposed to have the monitor - just in case.
Dr. Howser assured Liz that she was just being an over-protective, overly-worried new mother. God had given her the gift of a perfectly healthy baby girl and she needed to take the baby home and enjoy her. He wouldn't listen to Liz's protestations, probably dubious of what a Medicaid mother could possibly have to tell him about medical care.
When Liz got home she still tried to do the right things. She called her doctor's office and made an appointment for as soon as he got back into town.
Things went well and there were no problems with the baby. On the morning of the appointment, Liz went into the bedroom to awaken her daughter and get her dressed for the trip to the doctor.
You know what happened.
All the doctor could do for Liz at that point was to help dull the pain. "The drugs turned me into a potato," she said. Her emotions were so flattened she couldn't even cry at her daughter's funeral. She tried to read a poem during the service but could only stand and stare bleakly out over the audience until someone helped her down off the stage.
Liz stayed medicated for months, but could never function on the meds. She wasn't interested in the "vegetable lifestyle". She had two other children who needed a mother, not a potato. So she stopped taking the drugs.
The legal ones, anyway.
Now Liz cycles back and forth from deep depression to exhausting mania. She has waking nightmares of finding that bloated purple face staring up a her from the crib.
Her living situation has not improved. She's been practically homeless twice in the short time I've known her. She can't find a job - there are none to be had in the community of 150 people where she lives. She has no transportation of her own, so she can't get a job out of town. The minor support she receives from family members would evaporate if she moved somewhere else. She at least has a roof over her head where she is. Her husband just got felony probation in another county due to a dumb mistake. She owes me all kinds of money.
Liz recognizes that she probably needs treatment for bipolar disorder, at the very least, but her husband's aunt was diagnosed with that disorder after the aunt tried to kill their grandmother while searching for some sort of imaginary treasure she was sure the grandmother had hidden from her. Liz thinks she cannot afford to get the same diagnosis, given the complicated family dynamics and the fact that she is dependent on that family for food and shelter.
And there I sit, behind my desk, staring at the next question on the assessment form.
"Do you belong to any groups or clubs?"
She just snorted.
Next question: "Do you belong to a church?"
My face probably betrayed my skepticism about that question because Liz laughed. "No," she said. "I didn't think it would really help me to have a bunch of people telling me that this was God's will and part of his plan. I always assumed God wasn't that much of a shit."
It was my turn to laugh. "Ohh, you are so smart," I said. "Yeah, God is not a dick."
I don't like to follow rules, just for the sake of following rules. I need reasons for rules. Otherwise, I tend to ignore them. Sometimes that gets me in trouble. Sometimes it doesn't. When I was young I was quite complaint and conscientious but the older I got, the more I realized that everyone else is making it up as they go along, just like me. Experience has taught me a lot and I do have some hard and fast rules that I've set for myself.
I never ride a motorcycle without a helmet.
I turn my socks right side out before putting them in the hamper.
I don't complain about paying my taxes.
I don't wear anything pink.
And I never start discussions of religion or spiritual beliefs in my official capacity.
Despite my adherence to that last rule, there is seldom a work day that doesn't involve some sort of spiritual discussion with one or more of my people. They bring it up, not me. There were many times, when I worked in a larger department, that I and the other officers would marvel at the frequency and occasional depth of these discussions.
Some people who want to talk 'bout Jeezus do it in a smarmy attempt at manipulation. 'Look - I go to church. We cool. I'm a good person, so you can't treat me like all those other people.'
The majority though, are seeking. They want comfort and answers. And they want to talk. Sadly, many of these conversations end up being an attempt on my part to push back against the prosperity gospel bullshit.
The poor and the magical thinkers among us are prime targets for that type of teaching. The rich person is not only going to stay out of needle eyes and other places, they're not going to 'buy' into the practice of 'blessing' the pastor/prophet/teacher, either directly or indirectly, with money and expensive gifts as a means to securing a financial blessing of their own.
The poor person is going to think it's worth a shot and they will give all they've got left to the church. All they've got left after picking up a few scratch-offs, that is.
Liz is not a victim of the prosperity gospel. Neither does she have patience for the sort of theology that tries to force encouragement by assuring her that tragedy is God's horrible, horrible will. Unfortunately, her experience has been that those are her only two choices when it comes to religion. Given where she lives, there aren't any other options, really.
And yet, even with all the stuff she deals with, she could still make jokes about how thoroughly unhelpful sanitized, white-bread religion is to her down and dirty daily life.
And that's the point. (You knew there had to be one somewhere, didn't you?) Despite the cesspool of her existence, she can still make a joke. She can still smile. Liz is not some Norman Vincent Peale success story. She's just human. And humans are fantastically resilient. That's why we have to take an interest in one another. That's why we have to listen to one another. It doesn't take much to make someone's life a little better.
Will Liz find a job? Get her mental illness under control? Pay the water bill and the electric bill both in the same month? Nope, not anytime soon. Possibly not ever. She's not going to join a church or the PTA or the athletic booster club.
But she will survive. And she'll keep a roof over her family's heads. And she won't join those groups or churches, but she also won't join the KKK or whatever passes for a gang in these parts. And maybe her kids will get an education and have a better life. I'll do whatever I can to keep her out of jail. That's about it.
Too bad there is not a cool punchline here. The truth is life is pretty precarious for a lot of people. Do whatever you can to help them move away from the precipice. Sometimes there's not much you can do.
Sometimes, it doesn't take much.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
Now I'm back to hosting people like I did, lo, these many years ago. I vacuum and try to get the worst of the dog hair off the seldom used furniture. And that's it. People know to come bearing food or prepared to go hungry. I don't cook or try to have the perfect setting or guest list or anything else. I just open the door and enjoy the laughter.
57. It takes me a really long time to get to the point of asking for help. Personally, professionally, metaphorically, any other "ly"s I can think of. Lots of different reasons for that, I guess. Most of the time I can fake my way through just about anything. I'm a pretty capable person. But here and there life would be much easier if I would just say "Hey! I could use a hand here." This is not some sort of vague facebook-esque post where I'm hoping you will all jump up with your hands out and offer to pull me from the depths of my as yet undeclared despair. Not at all - I truly (see what I did there?) do not need help at the moment. It's just something I'm becoming aware of - a character flaw, a flake in my personality. Something to work on.
58. It's been almost exactly one year since my marriage ended with a single ten-minute conversation. When I think about it, it feels like it's only been a matter of weeks. Most of the time, I don't think about it. (Contrary to what you might think from reading these lists. ha!) I've got better things to do and lots more books to read.
59. I am going to have to give in and pay someone to give me a back rub.
60. I don't know what this has to do with divorce, but I need to buy a new pair of cowboy boots.
Friday, August 19, 2016
Thursday, August 11, 2016
Monday, August 08, 2016
Sitting by a fire and staring at the stars while listening to the coyotes kinda camping. It's good to be still and quiet and know. It's even better with a good friend who knows good stories.
It's also good to hike and kayak and play in the water.
It hit 112 degrees in the state park the day before our camping trip, and we are in Texas, in August, which by anyone's standards is a dumb-ass time to go camping, so we went with more of the relaxing recitals and the contemplation of flames than the more active and participatory camping occupations.
The "we" being the priest with the pot in her car and myself.
I've been camping in this park since I was in college. It's less than an hour from my house. It used to be visited by me and about six other people, but since they reintroduced bison to the habitat, and then let them roam the park freely, it's popularity has sky-rocketed. You've actually got to make an advanced reservation to get a campsite.
The bison are fabulous.
But, I get ahead of myself. Before you can commune with the canyon and the buffalo spirits, you gotta get there.
To get there from my house, you have to drive down forty-four minutes of flat, straight, rural, West Texas road. One mile of that length is spent on FM 207. Perhaps you remember that I've mentioned recently that this road is my nemesis?
This time it was really out to get me. Even though I only had to drive on it for a single mile, that mile was hideous. We sat at a stop sign for a long time, waiting to turn onto the road. A farmer pulling a load of liquid fertilizer sat in front of us. We waited and waited and waited. We couldn't proceed because of the second sign. That sign said "Wait Here for Pilot Car". The only driveable part of the road was a single skinny caliche lane, so traffic had to drive from first one direction, then the other, taking turns. You couldn't see any movement of any kind for miles in either direction. The farmer was getting antsy. He got out of the truck, leaned on the bed and stared accusingly first in one direction, then the other.
At long last, a glint on the southern horizon.
It move closer, incrementally, at an excruciating pace.
The glint became an dusty red pickup. None of the banners or flashing lights that identify a pilot car were visible. As it got closer, you could see the driver, hunched over the wheel, barely able to see over the top of the dash. He was wearing a greasy straw cowboy hat and thick glasses. He looked like a turtle, driving a truck. He was about 113 years old
Obviously, he was not the pilot car, but he'd either (a.) not been able to see/read the warning signs about not venturing out into the road construction zone without a proper guide or (b.) he didn't give a shit.
The farmer in front of us got back in his truck, turned on the ignition and shrugged his shoulders. As soon as the turtle-looking guy passed us, at a stately 17 miles an hour, the farmer pulled out behind him. I followed suit. I figure the farmer and I were thinking the same thing. The red truck turtle man had obviously lived a long, and hopefully happy, life and if he got creamed by on-coming traffic or construction trucks, he'd serve as a warning and the rest of us would have time to swerve out of the way.
We drove our mile and turned off on yet another road, headed for the canyon.
Almost immediately, my tire pressure warning light came on. That was followed quickly by smoke and a thud. I had a blow-out.
It was noon. In August. On the asphalt.
And I'd never changed a tire before in my entire life.
I'd never even bothered to find out if there was a jack in my truck. Thankfully there was. So, with Jay holding the dogs and occasionally the owner's manual, I changed the damn tire.
I felt completely bad ass.
But of course the spare tire was flat.
Once again however, bad-assery prevailed because, even though I'd never learned to change a tire, I had purchased one of those electric tire pumps at the Ye Olde Auto Parts Store. Best twenty bucks I ever spent. 10 minutes of airing and the wimpy donut was more or less ready to go. We got back on the road.
We managed to drive all the way to Quitaque without any further incident. Upon arrival I pulled into the same garage that my friend Cyn went to for help the last time I took someone(s) to the canyon with me. A flying rock from a lawnmower shattered her driver's side window. While she was driving. Not fun. Maybe it's bad luck to hang out with me at the canyon?
The old guy manning the garage, looking lonely and doing nothing but fly swatting, was more than happy to air up my spare. He gave me a lecture about not driving over 45 miles an hour or for more than 35 miles on the tiny tire. And then he lectured both of us about hiking in the heat and how much water to carry and when to turn back. He was nice enough about it, but did grumble about how he'd rather lecture us than go hunt for our bodies.
I suspect he wouldn't really mind either option. It would be something to do, and it's not like he'd have to be the one to drag our bloated carcasses out of the canyon.
When we got to the ranger station, we took turns going inside to purchase our passes and staying outside with the dogs. Jay left and returned in about five minutes.
It took me nearer fifteen.
I got stuck with the shiny new park ranger who very much reminded me of a young Miss Ballbricker. She gave me a lengthy lecture, elucidating ALL the rules. I guess I appeared not to be taking it seriously enough because about halfway through she stood up to try and stare me down.
It didn't work. I am taller and I've been staring for way longer. But I tried to smile and even paid attention.
Perhaps we should take it as a compliment that either of us looked capable and even willing enough to engage in mid-afternoon hiking in August in Texas. In reality, I am much, much lazier than that.
We found our site and went about setting up the camp. I discovered I forgot the tent stakes, but that was not a big deal as we are weighty enough to hold the tent to the ground without them. Luckily, it wasn't windy.
Note to self: buy tent stakes.
I learned some things on this camping trip. I learned my dogs are not good campers. I have faith that they will improve, but so far they are real bad at it. I learned that the traveling communion kit does not contain a corkscrew. Sure, the holy water comes in handy for keeping the vampires at bay and all, but sometimes you just need a damn corkscrew. Wouldn't you think there would be one in the kit? How else are you gonna open the communion wine? I learned that buffalo footprints are very deep in lake mud. Sink right up to your knees before you even know you stepped in one. I learned that it's a good idea to leave the top off of the tent, not only for viewing the 'stars at night' that are 'big and bright'...(You fill in the rest, native Texans, and don't forget to do the clapping.) but also because Jay didn't want to sleep in a "big old Ziploc bag". She made an excellent point.
And I learned that the raccoons are still bastards.
I've had a few run-ins with the sneaky little thumb-havers before. I thought I knew how to deal with them and their little switchblade-fueled thievery. I was wrong.
Deep in the night, I awoke to a sound that I immediately recognized. Raccoons scavenging across the top of the picnic table. My valiant four-footed protectors never even stirred. I listen for a moment, then shined a light out in their direction. I heard them scurry off, taking the Styrofoam cooler with them. They headed for the non-existent hills, their ill-gotten gain in tow.
I scoffed at them, knowing the cooler, which had recently housed some bad-ass smoked ribs, was now totally empty. It might smell fantastic, but that Styrofoam was gonna taste like nothing. With a sneer at their ignoble retreat, I turned over and went back to sleep.
At some point, I was awakened a second time. I could have sworn I heard the lid to the second cooler - the big plastic one - close. I flashed the light towards it, quick as a thief myself. Nothing there. Nothing about. No noises.
I went back to sleep.
The next morning, we perused our campsite, but nothing was amiss. Jay saw the empty cooler lying abandoned a few feet into the brush. We laughed at having outsmarted the little demons. Then we started searching for the tea.
I gotta have tea. And my preference is the aforementioned loose leaf Earl Grey. I was desperate. Almost as desperate as Jay who is sadly addicted to coffee, a beverage I refuse to even entertain the thought of. She was steeling herself to survive the impending daylight with just tea. Only now we didn't have any tea. We couldn't find it.
That pissed me right off. It was a brand new tin and it was the good stuff, which doesn't come cheap. I was working on all sorts of creative epithets to hurl at the wildlife, while stomping around the picnic table. But just as I was getting really wound up, Jay yelled triumphantly from the depths of the provisions bin. She'd found the tea, right where I'd hid it the night before so as to thwart any five-furry-fingered skulduggery.
We were saved.
I was saved, that is. She was still going to have to make do with a different type of warm caffeine than what she really wanted.
Jay made a fire. I made the tea. We kicked back in our chairs and watched the sun creep higher into the sky. Until we got hungry.
We had a choice between cinnamon rolls to be cooked on a skewer like an over-sized marshmallow or bacon, egg, cheese and potato burritos, already made and just waiting to be warmed on the fire. We decided on burritos, but knew eventually we'd eat the cinnamon rolls too. 'Cause camping is hard work, right?
I opened the cooler and stared down at the busted can of cinnamon rolls.
Those greasy little pilfering pelt monkeys! They had gotten into the cooler and whacked the rolls, leaving them lying ruined in the icy water. They did it on purpose, just to get back at us for messing them up with the Styrofoam decoy cooler. We grumbled and cursed a bit, but our hearts weren't really in it because: breakfast burritos. Yay!
Jay sloshed through the murky melty ice to retrieve the package of burritos and salsa.
And sloshed some more. And began to look concerned.
The raccoons took them. Took the whole damn bag. Left no sign of it behind. It was G-O-N-gone! And then they shut the cooler behind them.
We were bereft. And more than a little chagrined at being so handily outsmarted.
In the end we survived on a few pieces of watermelon, some kick ass tea and the knowledge that if we could limp along for an hour of driving at a slow enough speed for the donut tire to survive, we'd be in a town where Kay at the Something Special Restaurant makes a damn fine breakfast and some absolutely stellar fried pies.
We packed up our camp and hit the road at a grandmotherly pace.
Just as we rolled into Ore City, my tire pressure gauge came on. Again.
But first, breakfast, which was well worth the wait.
When we left the restaurant, each of us clutching a white paper sack with a fried pie inside, I told Jay I was going back to the tire shop we passed on the way into town. It was one of the very few viable businesses in this very small town and they'd been open when we passed by.
She got lost while trying to follow me.
(Those of you that have been to Ore City can keep on laughing. The rest of you might want to watch this documentary about the town. It includes footage of our breakfast spot and the tire shop.) ((Those pies, y'all...oh my gawd!))
Of course, in this town, getting lost was something easily remedied and we ended up standing on the periphery of the tire shop property with the dogs who wanted to sniff and pee with impunity. From there we had a nice view of the guy who was crawling in and out from under my truck putting on the new tire. He had really great...hair.
They got me fixed up with a fresh rubber in under fifteen minutes, on a Saturday morning, for an excellent price. Problem completely solved. Jay pointed her car in the direction of a distant interstate and headed off to buy green chilies and write a sermon. I took the back roads for home, glad to be able to drive the speed limit.
One and one half blocks from home Parish (the dog, brother to Chapel) expressed his opinion of the whole trip by throwing up all over passenger seat.
The whole thing was really a bit of a mess. But it was so much fun we've agreed to do it again in November. Just as soon as it gets good and cold!
Sunday, July 17, 2016
James Johnson was in court today.
James is a familiar character: The Old Hippie who decided to try to change the system from the inside, so he went to law school.
Most of his dirty blond hair has deserted the top of his head, but that hasn't deterred the rest of the long locks from hooking up for the perennial ponytail.
The poor man has lots of allergies to lots of things, evidently. He no longer seems to be aware of the volume of his snorting and harking. In between said same snorts and harks, he blinks violently as if trying to hold back a tide of water from his leaky, rheumy eyes.
James is a mess, but he's a good guy. Except maybe for that bit about the girlfriend. He manages to work the fact that he has a girlfriend into each and every conversation. I understand that he wants us to know he has someone to love, but Lord! It's been years! We are no longer impressed that he has a girlfriend(s). Mere existence of a relationship has been satisfactorily established. Time to move on!
Today he was in court to try to have his client's $1 million dollar bond reduced.
Granted, that's a pretty high bail bond amount, especially for our small county. But James' guy has a pending court case for bail jumping. And he's currently in jail for trying to murder a cop.
Prior to the hearing, James flopped down onto one of the spectator pews just behind the bar. We were going to have a probation revocation hearing before hearing his case. The defendant's family hadn't come, so James was the only body in the cheap seats.
Julie, the District Attorney, and I sat at the counsel table while she signed some last minute paperwork. The Judge was perusing the court files on the bench and the Court Reporter and I sat quietly, for once, waiting for the action to start. The defendant and his attorney held a whispered conversation at the other counsel table.
Charles gave a particularly loud and prolonged snort.
Having already broken the silence, he decided to throw out a conversational gambit.
"Julie - you and I were in law school together. How is it you're able to retire this year and I've got to keep working?"
Julie finished her signature with a flourish then walked to the bench to hand the Judge the paperwork before turning to James. "I can retire because I'm the DA, not a defense lawyer." She said 'defense lawyer' much like one might say 'sewer dweller' or 'child molester'.
Then she grinned. James smiled. And blinked.
Then he snorted the snot back up into his head.
"Judge," he said musingly. "Did you know Julie and I once tried a murder case right here in this very courtroom?"
"Did you now?" The Judge tried to sound interested.
"Yessir. First murder case y'all'd tried in 24 years!"
It was Julie's turn to snort. "What have you been smoking, James? That wasn't even close to our first murder in 24 years!"
"Really?" James was nonplussed.
"Huh." James appeared to ponder this.
"Well, did you win, James?" the Judge drawled.
"No sir. Well, sort of. My client didn't get life."
"He got sixty-six years!" Julie said, aggrieved.
"Well, yeah," James agreed. He grinned up at the Judge. "When it came out in testimony that my client went home to reload it sort of threw my self-defense strategy out the window!"
James' current client's bond still stands at $1 million.
Nobody beats Julie.
I'm gonna miss her.