So I sat there in Gracie’s living room with two social workers. One was so big and heavy that she had trouble moving around, made little grunts when her body shifted. She sat down on Gracie’s couch, unpacked her briefcase, marked her turf. She was there for the duration. She had freckles, a pinched nose, and a strong voice. Great diction, despite the southern accent. This woman was a lover of the words that came out of her own mouth. She was a pissed-off woman, had the ol’ bitterness down pat. A divorced mom, no doubt. Had put on a little weight. Taken herself out of the matchmaking contest. Concerned herself now with the warped matches of others. Whoooom! You wake up one day, and you’re in this crazy tangle with another person. All closed-up. Like nothing else existed; there was no world beyond this four-by-four aura. The human experiment gone funny. And who cared? This woman did. You wouldn’t want to mess with her.
Her companion, the apprentice, was a little guy with a beard. He was dressed sharp, in bad, old clothes – lousy striped tie; wrinkled, used-up yellow shirt, wrinkled brown pants. They were quite the couple, a pair of bad asses from downtown, in the business of helping people, defenders of the youth, child advocates. My kind of folks.
The big woman did all the talking. She read me some bullshit on a piece of paper, explained what she was doing, talked to me like I was a dope, too stupid to understand such intelligent concepts.
“These papers are not necessary,” I said. “We can work this out, just like you say, without papers.”
“Excuse me, sir,” she said. “But the papers are very necessary. This is a court order, signed by the judge.”
“But I’ll do this anyway,” I said. “I don’t need to be ordered. Really,” I said. “This would have been a better arrangement in the first place. I don’t know why her mother didn’t set things up this way to begin with. I guess she was trying to find a way for Rachel to stay here, thought that I was her father, you know. Really, her mother has complete custody. I have a mental illness, but the treatment is going well, she just thought, you know, this was more of an experiment, really. Let the kid be in her own home while she’s away.”
“Just sign it, sir. Right here.”
I signed the paper. No skin off my back.
“That’s all,” she said. “Now you can get your things and leave. Best that you do so quietly. We’ll handle the child’s things.”
“Her things? She’s just going across the street.”
The bottom line was this: The Wimp was going to stay with Margie until Gracie got back. Complicated, huh?
“Do you understand the order?” she asked.
“Of course I do.”
“You will not have further contact with her until after her mother returns and a date for a hearing is set.”
“Yeah, yeah. So I’ve hardly seen her over the past ten years and I still won’t,” I said.
“That’s up to the court.”
“Yeah, yeah. So I need to leave here, huh?”
“Sir, you will leave here, immediately. If not, there’s a spot in the county jail awaiting your arrival. And that’s minutes away. The judge was extremely clear about this.”
“I’m going,” I said. “But I’m not a criminal. I haven’t done anything criminal.”
“Excuse me, but your interpretation of North Carolina law is not under consideration here.”
“Law?” I said. “What law? I thought this was about guardianship of said minor. When did I break a law? Is fucking the band teacher against the law?”
“Call the Sheriff’s Department,” she said to the little guy.
“Don’t!” I said. “I’m gone.”
I went to the door. The apprentice hopped up and grabbed the phone.
“Hold on,” she told him. And to me, “I told you you could have a minute to pack your things.”
“Pack? Pack what? Fuck packing,” I said. None of the nice things in this house were mine. I was the visitor, trying to help out.
I left, started hoofing it down the street again.
So much for house sitting at Gracie’s.
This whole business was cramping my style anyway. The Wimp was a frustrating child to be a parent to. She was a smart kid, nice, but too goddamn confident. She knew a lot about her own life, here in the neighborhood, but she didn’t know shit about life in the real world, human beingness as a whole. That’s where all that sophistication came from: ignorance. Pretty soon, she would become a brilliant young adult with a bright, bright future, and she wouldn’t know anything.
I thought, hey, that’s a nice theory, even though it’s probably not mine. These eleven year olds, like The Wimp and her friend Margie – they can act just like adults if they want to. And they do a damn good job of it. Yet, at those moments, they represent a new phase in the evolution of the human species; they are the stupidest eleven year olds to ever live on the planet. Is there a such thing as evolutionary regression? Talk about bi-polar disorder!
I thought, I ought to go back to Gracie’s house, share these thoughts with the social workers, see if these problems come up in their line of work. They would probably know the real name for it. Then, they would not be receptive. That woman would just want to talk about the sheriff some more. I ought to go have a few beers, go downtown and have a conversation with her there, in her office. Not about The Wimp, of course. You understand, a purely theoretical conversation. All theory. Just theory.
It started to rain. It was cold and hard. No theory to it. I had to walk beside the road, not to get run over, and there was no goddamn way to avoid stepping in the puddles. What kind of fucking roads do they have around here anyway? Everything favors the car. No consideration for the pedestrian in places like this. I was, you see, not in Gracie’s neighborhood anymore. Nor was I in town. She lived in a little development that’s a half mile out, connected by a little highway. It was a marvel, really; these little paths of pavement that connect everywhere on the east coast to everywhere else. We complain about them, but look at what they do! Look at what it took to put them all down! Try to pave a two by two spot in your yard, get it level, and you’ll find out that it’s not easy. This one, nevertheless, was a bungle. Those fucking cars spraying me like I was a damn stick on the side of the road. You walk down the middle of the road, like you’re a hobo; when the cars come, you get off the road (unless you want to get smashed), and walk on the grass, get ankle deep in that little flood belt.
Ah, but how unsophisticated can you get? Out there in the winter rain, drenched – off the road, on the road, off the road, on the road – watching warm sophisticates in cars go by. Shed all that sophistication, and there’s a kind of wisdom there. This was worth sharing with the social workers of the world. Then again, they didn’t like to listen. As a matter of fact, they didn’t like me – period. They didn’t even like to pick me up, give me a ride, soon after a highly personal conversation. Not a wet, shaggy guy like me. They preferred to whiz by, give me a honk, a little wave, a little head turn and a little smile.