In which we are easily distracted...
A few years back, I worked for the folks at Goodwill. Toward the end of my time there, I supervised the donations trailers that you see in many communities.
I supervised a fellow named Greg. Greg came to work for me through the Goodwill mission, which was to help those with disabilities and disadvantages get training to move into the workforce.
At first glance, Greg wasn't a bad guy. A smaller guy. He had a quick, easy laugh. He actually took instruction rather well, and occasionally he would exhibit a scary, wicked, almost savant-like intelligence. I've written before how Greg picked up a Rubik's Cube, not knowing what it was, and in the space of less than a half hour, had solved the thing, thus besting me by several minutes, hours, days and years in that particular regard.
However, Greg had all manner of problems. He could read on a first grade level, on a good day. He talked a lot. Never shut up, in fact. In further fact, there was never
air in a conversation with Greg...you were lucky if you were granted permission to be a second participant. Beyond that, Greg had a passing knowledge of personal hygiene, though he did not practice those habits regularly. And he had a paranoid streak brought on by years of abuse that occasionally manifested itself in violent behavior, which in other situations had included the wielding of knives and (what was called) a half-hearted attempt to choke a sister-in-law to death.
All in all, a sunshiney joy to work with, and exactly the person you'd want on a staff that works with the public.
Greg was a source of torment for a couple of months. I couldn't leave him alone at a donation site, for fear that he'd lock himself in the trailer somehow, or wander off into the wilds of Smyrna and become hopelessly lost. My worst fear was that a customer would set him off, and he go to stabbing.
I thought I'd found an answer when I paired him up with a gentleman named Larry. I liked Larry. Easy going. Never called in sick. Came in, did his job every day and never complained. Interesting note about Larry that is neither here nor there: He stopped shaving when he got out of the Army, and didn't shave for 25 years after that--he had a great, bushy beard that reached halfway down his chest....
Anyway, I paired Greg with Larry. Larry was amiable enough about it, and he was big enough to handle himself if Greg went bugshit on him or a customer.
I should mention now that having Greg on my staff, while part of the mission of Goodwill, was entirely frustrating--as a patron of the mission, I had my hands tied as to how I could discipline him, whether I could fire him, whether it would be called discrimination if I found tasks for him to do mainly to keep him out of my hair....
And hindsight being what it is, I realize that I was doing precisely that last thing...getting Greg out of my hair so I could do my job--I probably can't justify throwing that raging bonfire of mental illness onto polite society and Larry like that to some. But then, throwing him on a guy like me, who was getting at the time $8.00 an hour was probably not the wisest course of action, either. So I've never lost sleep over it.
Anyway, pairing Greg with Larry had worked well enough for a week until one particularly busy Saturday. I get a call, and it's Larry.
"Man, you better come down and get Greg."
"Why?" I ask.
"Because I'm going to kill him if you don't."
I asked why, and all I could figure from Larry's frustrated rambling was that Greg had simply come into work wound up, took offense when Larry tried to tell him to do something, and it had gone out of control after that.
I drove to their site, and I found Larry there alone. And I found that I'd missed by minutes the very thing that is the subject of this post. Larry was haggard-looking. Worn out completely. I asked where Greg went, afraid that Larry had ended up having to lay the smackdown.
"He went chasing after a firetruck," Larry said.
"A fire truck went by, and Greg went after it."
He'd done so on foot, but it hadn't deterred him. A firetruck had driven by, lights ablaze and sirens blaring, and Greg had taken chase. Larry and I finished working the site the last half-hour it was open. I was getting antsy, wondering what I'd have to do, who I'd have to explain to the fact that one of my guys, he who was a raging cauldron of mental illness, had ran screaming into the wilds of Smyrna, Tennessee, chasing after a firetruck. Just as we were closing the doors to the trailer, Greg, looking completely spent, wanders up to the trailer, and flops down onto the steps.
As he rested, I had to sit and explain to him why we don't leave work to chase firetrucks, but I realized as I did it, that I might as well explain to the trees that they ought not drop their leaves in the fall. I got the mighty feeling that I was fighting a force of nature, and there wasn't much I could do about it.
Except file another in the continual forms to request that they transfer Greg to another department.
After that, I had to work Greg at the store donation site, where he could get constant supervision. It was there that I was witness to the very same thing Larry had seen. Greg and I were unloading donations from a lady's van, when a firetruck goes whizzing by the donation site, sirens calling, winding it's way into the neighborhood behind the store.
Greg literally drops the lady's donation on the ground--thankfully it was only a bag of clothes and not something breakable, like dishes--and goes sprinting after the firetruck, giving no mind to man, traffic or any other possible dangers associated with "roads..."
Well, the store manager tracked him down, brought him back. It wasn't long after that they managed to transfer him to a position inside, where he could work without distraction. He actually proved himself to be quite adept at working with the toys and other wares inside. He worked out of the view of the public, and out of the way of just about everybody.
I've said all that, to say this: With all my personal annoyances and misgivings regarding Greg, when he went tearing off after the fire truck, I felt a twinge of jealousy.
Last night, I was sitting out on the porch at a friend's house down in Chattanooga, and we heard the fire department--several trucks, sounded like--down on the highway, a few blocks away. My attention was drawn away from the conversation for several minutes, and I listened, and looked (perhaps a little too wistfully) in the direction of Dayton Pike.
(I should note that my sister's attention was likewise drawn--it probably runs in the family.)
But there was a small but very tangible part of myself that wanted to run like mad into the night after the firetrucks...see where they're going to in such loud fashion.
I know it's not "polite," or even "civilized." But it's there. My own personal Greg screaming to be let free.
Yep. Maybe one day I'll do a post about my weird fascination with garbage trucks, too....