Notes From a Walkman Junkie: The Wayward Walk
If left with few other alternatives, would I be able to return to social work? This is something I have been pondering recently as a result of a possible shake-up in my current job position. I have been sulking around today, absorbing the morose tunes of Lisa Germano and contemplating my future employment prospects. When Lisa’s A Beautiful Schizophrenic began to play, my thoughts turned to my stint as a social worker and all the ‘good times’ that accompanied it.
I was fresh out of college and working at a residential facility for the mentally ill. One of my numerous responsibilities at this facility was to hold an exercise group with the residents three times a week, which would generally entail my leading the residents on a walk through the surrounding neighborhood streets. These strolls tended to be on the draggy side, mainly due to my heavily sedated walking companions as well as other various distractions: cars, bikes, inner voices, rituals, UFO’s, etc… There was always, however, a distinct point during each promenade that a specific resident would begin to get antsy, and would start to frantically voice her concerns about missing the beginning of Wheel Of Fortune. She would then break into a trot and try to hustle the other staggering parties along, but much to her dismay, her efforts were continuously in vain.
Two of the residents who were referred to as ‘lifers’ (a term given to residents with an inevitably long stay at the facility ahead of them) never missed my exercise groups. Mark, an autistic resident, had several rituals that he incessantly conducted and completed throughout each of our ambles. These rituals involved chanting a series of numbers and repeating the same words over and over for what he deemed a satisfactory amount of time, which coincidentally, was for the entire excursion. Sandy, the other lifer and exercise group devotee, was a paranoid schizophrenic and had a, shall we say, strikingly noticeable appearance. She wore a seriously tall beehive wig every day, and as an attempt to shield her signature wig from the elements when outside, would pull a plastic grocery bag over it and attach the handles around her ears. She boasted that this was a splendid use of these bags and was always thoughtful enough to bring extras should any of we fellow walkers care to protect our hair as well.
Sandy would always stay close by me during our group outings and share with me the endless woes of being famous, often lamenting “See how everyone is staring at me? Sometimes I wish I had never gotten all of this publicity.” As you may have guessed, Sandy was not in fact actually famous, though her delusions of fame were only intensified by the fact that people were indeed constantly staring at her because, well… she was wearing a two-foot tall wig with a plastic bag over it.
Most of my memories of those group jaunts have blended together into a mere haze, though there is one particular exercise group that will forever be remembered by me with fond regard. It was a day like many others. I was at the helm of the pack, treading along on our usual path, when I spotted an attractive young man approaching me (us) from the opposite direction. Of course, I soon discovered that this was not just some random young man. He was a boy with whom I had shared many classes, and unbeknownst to him, was the object of many of my longing glances for I was quite sweet on the cute lad. As he approached me (us), I (we) stopped to say hello. I was a bit caught off guard by the lovely chance meeting at first and it was only after noting the hesitance and confusion in his eyes as he gazed beyond my shoulder that my temporarily forgotten situation was once again realized. There I stood, with fifteen tottering glassy-eyed individuals behind me, trying to have a flirty/casual conversation with the cute boy. This was naturally impossible over the endless seas of number/word chanting, Wheel Of Fortune panic shrieks, and a steady plaint of nonexistent fame. Once I came to my senses and contemplated what the young man had been witnessing, I did a slight head nod in the direction of my idiosyncratic following and softly uttered, “I’m working.”
So, to answer the question, could I go back to social work? I suppose I could, but my inner voices are saying, “No, no… dear god, please no.” I am attaching a brilliant live version of Ambulance by T.V. On The Radio. It seems befitting, as in this line of work I was often put in the position of calling one… OK, only once and that one was for me.