Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Chapter 2—Pinetree Road

One ninety-two Pinetree Road was in the middle of a swath of hay fields a mile north of Norway, Maine. Across the busy country road was a pine forest badly in need of thinning. For the most part Pinetree Road was a twisty country back road, but a mile or so before one ninety-two it straightened out and became a race track for the village speedsters. Pedestrians, beware! Most of the farms on the road had sold out to future development. The old farm houses, though neatly kept, some of them, were surrounded by collapsing outbuildings. Some of the houses were pre-built modulars which took on the years doubtfully. Others were stick-built, well kept and modern. Most were an incarnation of both: powerful steel roofs covered decades old trailers on gravel or cement pads. If kept in repair a house built on these lines might soldier on for fifty years, two generations or more before somebody died and nobody wanted to live in it anymore. Pinetree Road was rural and poor. Just up the street was a road named Poverty Lane. For most of the youngsters, having left their parents and starting out, the best they could hope for from life was a new trailer. Soon along the edges of the new trailer's driveway a museum of broken down mechanical devices began to collect rust. But no matter where you stood in this part of western Maine called “the foothills”, walk a mile and you'd come across a lovely scene of trees, pastures and hills. The lover of natural beauty instantly found home.
    The house at one ninety-two was a stick built salt-box with a gambrel roof. The front was ninety degrees sideways to the road, facing south so that the big front windows could collect warmth from the sun in winter. Though possibly the odd orientation reduced the resale value of the house, in Jimmy's opinion, the light that poured through the front windows in all seasons was far more important. In summer, when the sun was high, the gambrel roof dropped over the southern windows providing shade and a porch; in winter the low sun shone directly into the house. The upstairs was spacious with four bedrooms and a large bathroom. Downstairs was another large bedroom and a bathroom with a shower. A local contractor had built the house on speculation. But the market was slow at that time so he and his family moved in. Jimmy knew the sad story of this contractor. His wife was beautiful, and when they separated, she took the children with her. The contractor, alone and bankrupt, committed suicide.  The second owner of the house, Malcolm and Audrey Preston, did not fare well either.  They sold the house because he lost his job and they had no money. But Audrey Preston, though not good-looking, was loyal and kind and sweet. Nothing as tragic as what happened to the contractor would happen to the Prestons. Though broke, Audrey continued to re-produce. It was a mystery how they, who were both almost ugly, had together four pretty daughters. Though skinny, their smiling faces were lovely as the dawn, and mean thoughts unknown. But when Malcolm found another good job, he got caught with his hand in the till. He had friends, and although he did not have to go to jail, he departed Norway in a hurry. No great loss there, but he left with wife and beautiful daughters, which was a great loss, everyone thought.
    Audrey had been active with the elderly in the community. Her activities were often documented in the local newspaper. Audrey loved the old folks and she could not do enough for them. Unclear where such people as Audrey come from, but her presence amongst her gang of old folks was a sight to warm the most jaded heart. Each week she looked forward to Saturday. Before nine she'd have the family's mini-van full of the gang, and she'd devote the entire day to them, skittering here, there and everywhere, usually with her oldest daughter Nancy shoehorned betwixt, whom they liked to call Hot Stuff, giggling and making herself small. Audrey was a mover, she was always in the middle of old folks, and the community owed her a thousand favors. That's how Malcolm sold the house so quickly, and at a good price, too. Audrey, because of her activities with the elderly, knew a woman down Bangor who wanted to buy a house in the Norway area. This was around 1987. The court had reprimanded the State of Maine for its cruel and inadequate treatment of the inmates at the state mental health facility, Pineland Center. Actually in the '80s the state reformed Pineland, improving the “patients” lives. But what preceded the new regime had been ghastly. The words for the inmates were feeble-minded, retarded, idiots, and so on. The buildings were open barracks, twenty or thirty inmates to a floor. Staffing was minimal and brutal. Now was a good time to shut down Pineland and establish privately run facilities which had separate rooms and adequate staffing. Anybody with half a shred of simple humanity in their soul enthusiastically agreed. Reasonable men and women crowded to the cause. The Pineland Center campus was in the process of closing. The patients were looking for a place to live. The Bangor woman, who administered elderly housing, and who was for that reason friendly with Audrey, took one look at Audrey's house, noted the five bedrooms and spacious upstairs, a rarity in Maine, quickly bought the house and set it up as a home for mentally disabled consumers. Two came from Pineland and the other two came from the system which was at that time overwhelmed with petitioners.
    Jimmy had done all kinds of work in his life. Rather than wait for the big, good paying job you could be proud of, as people do, he'd work at anything to get paid, sometimes against his better judgment, because he knew that these jobs would never add up to anything. He had prepared for the adjustment to rural life, still it surprised him how difficult it was. Being on unemployment was a disaster that he hated. In high school he had worked in restaurants and in a candy store, and then Mr Casey, the owner of the candy store, sent him especially in the summer to help his friend, Mike Bowers, make ice cream. A big part of work, Jimmy learned as a youngster, was managing to get along with everybody. Mike, for instance, was a niggling, picky, detail guy obsessed with cleanliness. But making the best ice cream anywhere allowed Mike to quit work and retire with wife and daughter to Florida before he was fifty. That he probably drank himself to death before he was sixty says nothing about the money he made. Mike used to tell Jimmy, “If I don't make the ice cream, who else will?”  In other words, how could he get fired, there was nobody to replace him with: Mike's idea of a good job. But that didn't explain why Mike's ice cream tasted so much better than everyone else's. Jimmy figured if he could get along with Mike he could get along with anyone. It also meant that he could do any kind of job he happened to fall into.
    Often in high school Jimmy had more money in his pocket than the rich kids. Although he made the money scrubbing pots and vats in Mike's ice cream factory, a job as Mike said nobody else wanted, and milk turning sour bathed Jimmy everyday, the money was generous and his own to save or spend. Later he worked on road construction. The construction of the inter-state system was a big employer in central Vermont back then. After high school and after leaving his foster family, he went first to live in Vermont. He wanted to live near where his mother and father and the other kids were buried. He did not know why this was so. He got hired working on the road. It was good money for a kid, laboring on the road—$3.50 an hour. Every week he had money to put in the bank. After a year, though unsure exactly why or for what reason, except that he felt homesick for the home he never had and lonesome, just him and a motorcycle in the wilds of western Vermont, his family all dead, he applied to the University of New Hampshire.  He was not afraid of the draft, he was never afraid of the draft. The letter he got back astonished him: they admitted him as a Freshman to the class of 1970. In his Sophomore year Haight-Ashberry happened; he could not resist going to take that in. After he got back from 'Frisco, he went to live in Boston, where he did day work for awhile, then worked at Best Building Supply, waiting for his name to come up in the draft. After the Army he went to work at Panco Rubber in Chelsea, and he married Michelle Bonney. Panco was nothing and nowhere. There was a strike the company broke up. Jimmy quit after that, and he bought a Ford van and got into the delivery business. He had plenty of work; he always showed up; he could follow all the roads all day. Soon he knew every back alley in Boston in darkness, in storm and in light. Sometimes Michelle would go with him. But Dawn and Mike were getting older, and they didn't want to drive here and there all day with their mother and Jimmy. Dawn had a bout of car sickness, she wanted to play with friends and read her books, and Mike was still a baby. Besides, Michelle wanted to go back to work baking. Michelle said, “Stop.”  He dusted off the van, sold it and started printing. Printing was good work, at that time at least, that provided enough money to raise a family on. Jimmy would work second shift, take care of the kids while Michelle worked mornings in the bakery. While he was printing, with the help of the GI bill, he managed to graduate from Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts, and he got a commercial pilots' license. So that much added up. During the last years of flying he and Michelle bought eleven acres in Maine. Though he was still flying when they first moved to Maine, that didn't last long, and then he was out of work. Following Mike Bowers' good job dictum, do what nobody else will do, he did trash removal with his pickup, cleared brush with his chainsaw, cut firewood, made himself a surprising living, though hard on his body. You need to get into shape for that kind of thing. He came home beat up, ravenously hungry, dead to the world. He couldn't keep his eyes open. Leisure time?  What leisure time?  He amused himself raising numerous farm animals. He put up fencing, raised beef critters, chickens, pigs, turkeys, and helped Michelle with the goats she had always dreamed about. But then he had to go back to steady work. He couldn't wait any longer. By now all his pilots' licenses had expired. For awhile he thought he might go back to flying. But if he had to move to get back into flying, that would be the end of his marriage, because Michelle had decided that she was not going anywhere ever. All the rhetoric that came out of her, well, maybe if we moved, I'd be happier or the neighbors would be nicer, or the kids would act better, all that ceased. And then a job came up nearby working with mentally disabled people.
    He thought of it as something to do, a simple job to fill in until he finally found substantial work. What actually happened surprised him: he liked the job, and he stuck to it. In fact, after awhile, he didn't want to do anything else. The consumers, the official name for them, nobody could think of a name that was exactly right, were complicated. Though they couldn't pass any IQ test with a reasonable or rational number, that did not make them any less interesting. People who had been in the business a long time laughed at the thought of putting a number on intelligence. Jimmy amused himself for hours thinking about these people he was responsible for. He often wondered who put him in charge. Although helpless, or at least the ones on Pinetree Road were helpless, (if left alone in the real world they would not survive very long), they loved to amuse themselves by outsmarting and testing staff. Jimmy wondered in seriousness: if they are so dumb, how do they get plain, normal, ordinary folks so riled up and confused at times?  Jimmy thought they were funny; and he felt that he had to grow up to get along with them. And the more he had to do with them, the more they demanded from him the same qualities that he had been looking for in himself. He found that he tended to be more sympathetic and patient; and his impulsive temper ceased disturbing his life so embarrassingly often. He had to go back again to the beginning while he was working in high school when he had tried hard to get along with everyone. That, come to think of it, was what he missed most when he wasn't working. He would remind himself on the way to work: shut up and get along. Get into the flow! Nobody wanted to do anything illegal, in fact, Jimmy saw little of that vague gray area, but they each, whether staff or consumer, had crotchets, habits. When he actually did pass over a maddening thing that happened, he'd stop and think for a minute that he had improved himself in a deep way. Was that possible?  On the other hand, certain people were not cut out for the job. They didn't like the consumers. They got into the job for the same reason that Jimmy did, but since they could not find anything interesting or amusing about the people, they tended to treat them badly, sometimes without even knowing it, the same as they treated themselves badly without knowing it, and their own families. But they were soon returned to their former jobs sometimes after a few months or weeks when the down economy turned upward again. Jimmy made a point of getting along with them also, who were soon gone. Others were soon gone whom Jimmy was fond of because the starvation wages and no possibility of advancement compelled them elsewhere.
    So Jimmy stayed because he never got sick of the work. Many of the people in the business were sweet and kindhearted. Mean spirited people soon departed from boredom. The idea of responding meanly to a person who was ripping her hair out of her skull in handfuls was ridiculous. On occasion a staff may be unkind from stress. Some were quiet drinkers, and even when sober there was the residual irritability on Saturday morning, for instance, to be put up with. Psychotic or schizophrenic people seem capable of passing on their traits. The trick was to leave the job at work and to leave home at home. Sometimes situations came up when that was hard to do. You could lose track of reason in a bad moment and become as unreasonable as the ill person. The study of how this happened in his fellow staff was as interesting to Jimmy as the disabilities of the consumers. There was something cryptic and mysterious in what went on in actual fact in front of Jimmy: could God be that cruel?  Explain to me, if this be true, God's cruelty?

    Michelle rarely made noise about what she was intending to do. Once she had decided, her independent-mindedness took over. That made her both easy and hard to deal with. On the one hand, he always knew her mind, but also when she was on her way, she was as good as gone, whether he liked it or not. That night, while Jimmy slept to get ready for the night shift, she prepared to go to Florida. She had the plane ticket, bags packed and put away in the closet. She had not intended to be sly, she was naturally orderly, hated leaving anything out, hated clutter. Now that they had a lot of “stuff” she tended to be even more orderly than when they had nothing. One of her pet peeves about Jimmy was the litter of books and tools, nuts and bolts, screws and nails, that followed him around. She naturally assumed that Jimmy had been paying attention and had arranged his shift so that he'd be home at 6 instead of 7a in order to take her to the airport in Portland. The drive was about an hour, the flight departed at 9, and the weather was good all along the east coast, so she didn't expect delays. Michelle didn't mind flying, Jimmy had often taken her up in light planes, so she was not nervous about the flight, rather excited to see her mother, whom she had not seen in almost two years. She went to bed early, and she was asleep instantly. No matter what was going on, Michelle always slept in a baby's peace. Jimmy admired her quiet, calm sleep. When Jimmy awoke at 10p, he wondered about seeing her in bed so early; it occurred to him that something must be up, but he didn't think much of it. Michelle always slept dead to the world. When she was tired, she went to bed. Jimmy was already thinking about the upcoming shift and Tuck. He had Tuck on his mind.
    When Merrill Tucker was eight years old he caught meningitis. His illness became a tragedy and disaster. Though the handsomest child you could imagine, the meningitis left him with a basic in the sense of minimal intelligence, and he became mute. His parents dropped him off one day on the doorstep of Pineland, where he lived most of his life. It so happened that Tuck's parents were about that time born again. Tuck's brother became a prominent minister nearby. None of Tuck's people ever had anything to do with him. Jimmy speculated about the wages of sin. The event of Tuck must be the wages of sin, though mysterious. Then Tuck moved to Pinetree Road. Tuck knew that when he was hungry, he should eat and since he was always hungry he wanted to eat all the time. But Tuck did not know much else about himself. He did not know when he should visit the bathroom, for instance, so a staff would lead him in and insist with numerous gestures what he might do since he was there. Sometimes Tuck did not sit on the toilet for two or three days, but he violently refused the treatment. In fact, there was so much downside to the treatment that nobody wanted to go through it. These anomalies, which were common in Pinetree Road house, fascinated Jimmy. What would Tuck think was so repugnant about a pill inserted up his butt?  It was over in a second, and relief from his constipation on the way. Jimmy deduced that for some reason Tuck intentionally saved it. But how could there be a reason for anything in a mind incapable of reasoning?  Tuck's sexual history was unknown. Jimmy Freeman was the encyclopedia of deductions, most of which amused only himself. But Tuck was a lively, happy guy, otherwise. There was plenty of yard space around the house, and Tuck would find branches and small trees fallen over and drag them to a place near the back porch and build a pile. In the summer staff would get ambitious and light a bonfire which always thrilled the consumers. Tuck loved to walk. Jimmy could talk him into going for a walk anytime. Tuck was always quiet and well behaved during those times. Other times Tuck liked to raise a big commotion. Laughing, he'd run away, or he might tip over a chair or a table, mouth making a big, round O in the hilarity of the disorder. Jimmy would say, “Mr Tucker, what are you doing?”  Jimmy would pick up the chair, straighten it out, and Tuck would tip it over again.
    Lately Tuck had been carrying on out of character. He had been acting bitterly violent. The theory was that his teeth hurt. One night Jimmy had surveyed the two cardboard boxes of written shift notes in the office closet. There were numerous instances of playful mischief. Tuck ran away, Tuck peed his pants at breakfast, Tuck walked around the house all night, Tuck stole staff's pocketbook and wouldn't give it back. But Jimmy found no evidence of dark edgy violence, such as now, rather than simple mischievousness, the word that was always used in the records: Tuck was mischievous today. The hypothesis was that his teeth had gone bad. Jimmy had never had trouble with his own teeth, though other staff had, and they assured Jimmy that a bad mouth would do it. On one especially hard day, they had taken Tuck to the emergency room at Memorial. Some of the emergency staff had been kind to Tuck in the past and the doctors knew him. Tuck had stayed overnight. He had been so active that he had become dehydrated. They also gave him a sedative, so that night at least Tuck got a good sleep. But back at it the next day.
    The doctors agreed with the teeth theory. But first, you had to find a dentist who would work on him. Then you had to arrange an appointment. Of course, there had to be adequate staffing so that Tuck wouldn't grab some high priced piece of equipment and throw it through the doctor's high priced office window. And anyway the house supervisor, Laura Randall, was not convinced about the teeth. If you looked in Tuck's mouth, there were rows of little, clean white teeth. Tuck habitually ground his teeth, so they looked worn down but where was the decay?, the broken edges? Still she had been trying to find a dentist to see Tuck. If he got to the office and Tuck was banging around as he had been, the dentists that she had talked to would send him home. But finally she found a dentist in Lewiston who would not be too set off by a bad actor. He did mental patients and convicts and street people, though in Tuck's case send him with a couple of staff who could keep him quiet till he was out. What he meant by that was clear to Laura as perhaps it would not be to someone else, for after all the years with Tuck and others, Laura was wise and experienced. It was not so much Tuck's mental incapacity as the “putting out” that made all the other dentists nervous. You cannot “do” a person who is “putting out”. If belligerent, whether child or adult, they were putting out and should be sent home unseen. Finding a dentist to treat Tuck took awhile. The routine sedative before might react differently in Tuck than normal, instead making him even more edgy.
    Laura was careful whom she sent Tuck with. The previous weeks had been riotous, to put it mildly. Tuck bit himself as a way of coping with the pain, so his face and mouth were often covered with blood while he was running around in a fit. Tuck would grab any nearby unattached object, including feces, and throw it. Throwing feces was Tuck's personal way of establishing control over a situation, and it was often found in the documents associated with mischief. But now he was throwing other stuff, dangerous stuff. He had narrowly missed Jimmy's head with a heavy coffee mug. Staff locked up kitchen tools. Nobody liked being chased around with a steak knife. So that was the chaos Jimmy walked into that night. Danny, the evening staff Jimmy was relieving, warned him that Tuck had been “a pain in the ass”. Danny said, “I've had enough for one night.”  This had been a big weight of responsibility on everybody. “I'm outta here,” he announced. “Laura left you a note in the everyday book. He's in bed now. Good luck.”  Danny in his tricked out 4wd Toyota pickup turned out the driveway in a hurry.
    Jimmy was not afraid of Tuck. There were consumers Jimmy was afraid of, but Tuck was not one of them. Jimmy and Tuck were well matched by size, and of course the meningitis that had ruined Tuck's intelligence also damaged his co-ordination, so Jimmy could stay out of reach while maneuvering Tuck into safe places. The job came with long hours of training; play acting was common; the powers wanted everybody doing the same thing. By now Jimmy had enough experience to keep Tuck and himself safe. He was alone at night most of the time; he did not want to take chances and have an ugly situation develop where he and another person, whether Tuck or anyone, another human being, were rolling around in the dark on the floor in such a way that somebody might get hurt. Michelle wouldn't put up with him coming home bruised and black eye, having caught a flying elbow, and anyway Jimmy would be too disgusted with himself and the world and the general situation to continue with it. The trick, Jimmy thought, was in the waiting. The high point of Tuck's rage lasted seconds, and within minutes if not aggravated it had wandered elsewhere to bother another somewhere. The bad teeth had intensified the process. But Jimmy was so confident of Tuck's soft heart that he never did anything physical to him any more. He rarely touched him and never restrained him on the floor. That was something a cop might do to a criminal in order to get the cuffs on. Tuck wasn't a criminal. Besides, with Tuck restraining never did any good. Jimmy might take something away from Tuck that he had found to throw. Jimmy didn't want to get clobbered with a pot, for instance, but by now there was nothing hanging around in the house for him to throw, so for those seconds Tuck continued acting badly, Jimmy stayed away. Within two minutes Tuck would breathe deep, sigh and flop on the couch.
    So forgetting everything else that had to do with home and family, he started work immediately while Tuck was sleeping or resting or upstairs in his room doing whatever. Sometimes, lately, Tuck got so exhausted from his strenuous, riotous days that he slept. But the house was in disorder, as the evening shift had not had spare time even to clear the supper table. Whatever furniture remained in the living room they had stacked into a corner. The company's maintenance staff, who loved small carpentry jobs, had built a cabinet with a Plexiglas door to lock the TV in, and lately he had screwed the cabinet to the wall. Jimmy caught up with housekeeping chores, and raced into the cellar to do laundry. After about two hours of relative peace, Jimmy had returned the house to normal. Ray, another consumer—there were four who lived at Pinetree house—got up to look around, then he went back to bed. Jimmy read the note Laura left for him in the everyday book. She wanted him to stay over till noon. Laura wanted him and another staff, Lucy Rice, who for some reason had a calming effect on Tuck, to take Tuck to Dr Boice in Lewiston. The appointment was at 9.
    Jimmy could figure out a way to work with anyone and enjoy it, but he didn't have to figure out a way to work with Lucy. Working with her was always a good time. She was an innately peaceful and uncomplicated woman. She was more worried about her fingernails than anything Tuck might do, and the consumers sensed that in her, releasing them from the need to show off. There was a fine line between acting up as an expression of pain and acting up to get attention. Usually, acting up was a jumble of both, and if you were able to get rid of the appeals for attention by seeming naturally non-attentive while being unusually attentive so that you missed nothing, then acting up as an everyday activity fizzled. Lucy sailed through a day of behaviors as if she was in town shopping. The difference between a houseful of experienced staff and a houseful of newbies was often almost unbelievable. Jimmy often thought of doing a scientific study: certain people walked in and the fireworks started fast, other people like Lucy walked in and nothing; what made one person different from the other?  Anyway, Lucy was dead weight on Tuck. She was a handsome woman, worried about her appearance, tall and into the health club scene. If she could apply the talent she possessed with the mentally ill to her ex-husbands, she might get somewhere. But she had not yet made the mistake of getting pregnant. She said, “A child needs both mother and father. I haven't been very successful in that area. My health coach says I should be myself.” She was always quoting her health coach. But Jimmy knew this detail to the dentist with her and Tuck would be an adventure, and Jimmy was already planning it out.
    Tuck got up at 4. He wound up for awhile and got started about an hour later, though most of his tricks remained mild till about 6, when he worked strenuously to pick up the kitchen table, a big outdoor picnic table, the only kitchen table that tended to stay in place and in one piece, as meals were often a great time to have a behavior: everybody was around and whatever points to be made could be made to everybody. Tuck's obvious objective was to shove the big table through the sliding glass door onto the porch. So Jimmy jumped on the table, which made it too heavy for Tuck to move at all, and then the phone rang. Only Michelle called him at this hour. So Jimmy was standing on the kitchen table, old Tuck sweating and groaning trying to lift both it and Jimmy and toss them through the door onto the porch when a sudden remembrance hit Jimmy like a thunderbolt. He was supposed to be doing something today.

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