Monday, November 13, 2006


1. I find my life to be unfulfilling. Now what?

2. There are things I used to love being involved in and am trying to get back into. I have applied to volunteer in a hospital to read bedtime stories to kids and to do projects and play games with kids who cannot leave their beds. I was very excited about this position and had been looking forward to being involved in it for some time. Finally, this past week I had one of those state holidays that's not a holiday for anyone else in the private sector, and went in for an interview.

I knew the hospital was in an undesirable part of town, but nothing prepared me for the reality of it. The neighborhood is one of the most dangerous in the city, which makes it no doubt one of the most dangerous in the country. Making my way to the hospital in broad daylight felt rather unsafe. When I got to the hospital, I was put in a glorified storage closet and told to wait. I waited. and waited. When the volunteer coordinator arrived, she asked why I hadn't filled out the forms I was supposed to fill out and said, "Didn't you tell anyone you were here?" I was not only put off by the location of the hospital and the location of my wait, I was quite put off by the implication that I just decided to wander into the broom closet and was content to stay there without alerting anyone to my presence.

In the hour it took me to get to the hospital (much longer than I thought it would be, which is one strike against this), and in the additional 20 minutes I waited in the broom closet, I had pretty much decided that this wasn't going to be the opportunity for me. Once I sat down with the coordinator in her office, I started to soften a bit. There was a large library of books in great condition, and many of the books had several copies so we can give them to kids who particularly enjoy them. The programs seem to be very well coordinated, and there are many programs available just in the pediatric ward alone. Hmmm, I thought, too bad I don't think I'll ever make it back here without a gunshot wound.

Then the coordinator asked how I heard about the opportunity. When I told her that I heard about it from a volunteer website, she exclaimed, "Wow, that's great. You know, no one ever follows through with that website. We get hundreds of inquiries and some people even come in for interviews but no one ever ends up working here. No one ever follows through." My reaction, instead of being a rational "Why the hell don't you think people want to come out here?!?!" was to bristle defensively and become more steadfast in my desire to volunteer there. I almost felt like I had to prove that I really was interested in the work. I considered her statement a challenge, and I don't back down from challenges.

So now I'm signed up for an orientation and have some medical paperwork that I have to take to my own GP (which I do not have, I only go to a gyno, so now I have to find my own doctor in my own hospital and make an appointment). And now I can't decide what to do. Absolutely everyone has told me to steer clear and not to even think about wandering back and forth, via public transportation and walking, at night, by myself, to do this. I would never, ever, ever recommend that someone else do it either. Part of me wants to never go back to that hospital, and part of me invokes idealistic forgetfulness in order to consider going back. I'm conflicted about what I should do. Perhaps I'll just go back for the orientation and decide from there. Perhaps I'll start packin' a piece. (Just kidding. Hugs not guns.)

I just don't know what to do. I hate to walk away from this opportunity, particularly since I think these communities are precisely the ones that need good volunteers. On the other hand, I think there is a very good chance that I will be at least mugged repeatedly, if not raped / stabbed / shot. However, I REALLY don't like to admit fear or defeat in the face of socio-economically plagued communities. I like to delude myself into thinking that I'm somehow above that, that somehow my good spirit will protect me from harm.

3. I recently received a mysterious phone message from corrections. When I returned the call, the captain informed me that a client of mine, who I didn't have a lot of contact with but whom I remembered, died in custody. He was doing a jail bid on the plea he had taken while I represented him and died in jail. He was in his early to mid 40s. The cause of death was a brain aneurysm. He had no next of kin. I tapped my connections in programs that I knew he had been in to see if they had any info about family members. Nothing. He had no family, just a prior address of a homeless shelter. He will be disposed of, courtesy of the government, in some anonymous manner if no one comes forward in 6 weeks.

I've had clients die before, but I've never had clients die so anonymously. I'm trying to figure out what to do. I was thinking about making a food donation to the homeless shelter in his name, but the bureaucracy involved in this process seems prohibitive. I was thinking of trying to put flowers on his grave, but it seems that's not quite how things work when the government's responsible for your body. I would really like to do something to make sure that he doesn't just disappear, forgotten forever. My newest thought was to get a plant for my office and put a little planter stick in it, bearing his name. I'm sure no one would like to be remembered via a plant in a public defender's office, but there's nowhere to plant trees around here. Does anyone have any other suggestions?

4. Happy Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it is a weekend dedicated solely to family (of origin, and of choice) and eating. Awesome.

this ain't the suburbs

Recently I was enduring my lengthy commute home, with a soundtrack courtesy of my iPod. A woman got on and sat in the seat next to me. There were a fair number of people, as it was on the later end of the rush hour. She looked like she was coming from work, as she appeared dressed for work and was carrying a work-related object with her.

Just a few minutes later, through my iPod, I hear this woman grumble loudly, "Where's the KKK when you need them?"

I looked around in alarm. Did she really say that? I must have been mistaken. She said nothing else. No one else was looking around or saying anything. There's no way she said that.

Further toward the back, a group of teenage girls (who happened to be African-American) were singing songs to pass the time. They were singing them loudly.

The woman plugs her ears dramatically and starts yelling, "Can I use your walkman? I need a walkman. Can I use yours? I need to move out of this fucking country. I can't stand this fucking country anymore. Too many blacks."

I continue to ignore her because I'm pretty sure she's about to get shivved, and I don't want to be stabbed as a potential supporter of this crazy woman. I am also now incredibly disgusted and angered by the fact that she probably did, indeed, say exactly what I thought she said earlier. Should I get up and walk away? Just a few more minutes home, and I have to climb over her to get out.

"Stop looking at me! Stop looking at me, you dirty Mexican! I don't date your kind! I only date whites!" she starts yelling to the harmless Latino guy minding his own business across the aisle. Another guy, who looks Latino, looks over at her and she says very politely, "No, I don't mean you. I'm talking to that guy. I need to get out of this country." He asks her, "What country are you from?" to which she responds, "I'm from Spain and Colombia. But everyone thinks I'm Puerto Rican," she snorted in disgust. [I seriously doubt that she's ever set foot in any of those countries, particularly since she has a pretty thick local accent.]

And then she continues. "Why do these black and Mexican guys always look at me? Is it because I'm ugly? Is that why the ugly guys stare at me and want to ask me out? Am I ugly?" The not-the-dirty-Mexican guy says very nicely back to her, "No. You're not ugly. You are very pretty." And by this time, I had vaulted out of my seat and got myself far, far away from this scene that everyone was listening to.

I still can't decide whether she was just a normal type of crazy - that is, a woman on her way home from work who is just fed up and can't deal with city living so she starts spewing her innermost racist beliefs... or if she was actually crazy, like schizophrenic and not racist.