Tavin McPhearson gets a call on the HOT line. It’s one of the social workers from St. Pats calling about a discharge.
“Is this Tavin?”
“Yep, what can I do for you?”
“I have a young man brought in two weeks ago with brain trauma from a bicycle accident. He is cleared to discharge, but has no place to go, at least nowhere we have been able to determine.”
“He hasn’t given us much. Actually, the only thing he has said is Jim Morrison is not Jim Morrison, over and over again.”
“I’ll check to see if we have a medical respite bed available.” Tavin replies cordially. In his head, though, Tavin thinks great, another mentally ill patient the hospital doesn’t want to deal with.
“What’s his name?”
“William. William Skink.”
“Ok, I’m checking the database and it looks like we do have a room available. Does he have all his follow up appointments set up?”
“Yes, could you pick him up at 4pm today?”
“Thanks Tavin, you’re the best!”
Only two weeks left, Tavin says to himself before walking into the hospital. After seven years of working at the homeless shelter in Zula, Tavin knows he has reached his expiration date.
Before entering the hospital room, Tavin checks for any pre-entry requirements—like gowning-and-gloving-up to protect the feeble—before opening the door and announcing himself. After a few respectful seconds pass, Tavin enters the room, pulling open the papery partition like removing a veil.
William is asleep. Tavin looks him over. William appears skinny, almost emaciated. His long, brown hair is dirty and matted. There are some personal items on the tray near the hospital bed. Tavin sees an ID and takes a look. There’s an address, an apartment on 5th street, near campus.
Tavin jots down the address in his notebook. Then the social worker walks in.
“Thanks for coming, Tavin.”
“Sure…Deborah is it?”
“Yeah, I just started last week.”
“Ah, that makes sense.” Tavin makes a mental note to tell the guy taking over his position to always be weary of new hospital social workers because they have difficulty standing up to the hospital machine that considers cost over everything else.
“Hey Deborah, did you see his ID? It has his address on it.” William points a helpful finger in the direction of the tray.
“Yeah, I totally saw that after I called you. And we would be able to get some home-healthcare follow up at his apartment, if he had paid his student health care fee and stayed enrolled as a full time student, but he didn’t, so…”
“…so you want to dump an uninsured college kid on our over-crowded homeless shelter so we can do your job getting him hooked up to Medicaid, or, if he’s lucky, on Mommy and Daddy’s bennies, is that about right?”
Deborah opens her mouth to say something, then closes it, like a fish out of water.
“Hey, no sweat Deb, I get what you’re up against with admin. You just happen to be catching me in a moment of not giving a fuck what I say because I’m done with this job in two weeks.”
Deborah flashes a burst of indignation across her face, then turns around and leaves the room. Tavin turns back to William, who is now awake and looking intently at Tavin from his crumpled position on the bulky hospital bed.
“I’m usually much more charming than that.” Tavin says.
“No shel, no shel” William sputters.
“No shelter? I had a hunch you could say more than Jim Morrison is not Jim Morrison. I don’t have to take you to the shelter. Do you want to go back to your apartment?”
William nods his head.
“Well ok then, let’s get you out of here.”
Orange (technically, Mango Tango) is the color of the van. Neon orange is the color of the shirt. Tavin loads William into the Mango Tango colored van while wearing his uniform, the neon orange shirt.
The hospital complex—expansive and ever-growing—recedes in the rear view mirror. Tavin shoots the gap left on Broadway then takes the Orange Street bridge to 6th street.
“Hey, I’m assuming you’re a student who maybe isn’t up on the all his bills, because the hospital back there can’t find a financial blood-sac on which to suckle.” Tavin glances at William to see if this clear demonstration of wit has the desired effect. It does not. William stays fixed on watching the road.
“Also, full disclosure, if I find any corpses or other evidence criminal activity, as a mandatory reporter, I am compelled to report my findings to the authorities.”
Going over the top usually gets some kind of response, but from William Skink, nothing. Tavin decides to just shut up and deliver the semi-broken college kid to his apartment.
Tavin pulls up to the curb. The building looks old; the unit, dilapidated.
“Here we are.”
Tavin gets out and goes around to the passenger side out of habit. Usually he’s transporting some sorry human being with seriously diminished capacity, either physiological, psychological, or, too often, both. Tavin opens the passenger door, offering William a helpful hand.
“Jim Morrison is not Jim Morrison.” William says, matter of factly. Tavin just nods.
“Of course. Now, just take my hand and let’s get you situated.”
They walk up the concrete path. On a thin slice of front porch, a nice bike sits with multiple locks securing it to what looks like a gas-line.
“Do you have a key?” William nods, fumbles in his right pocket, and produces a key. William opens the door and goes inside. Tavin remains on the front porch. “William, if you ever do happen to find yourself without shelter and without any other options, here is a number you can call.” Tavin hands William an orange card. William takes it, standing near the doorway for a few more seconds, then he turns and shuffles into the dark apartment.
“Well ok then.” Tavin says. “I guess my job here is done.”
Tavin has no way of knowing how wrong he is.
Back at the van, Tavin sees he has a voicemail on his work phone. In flagrant disregard of local ordinances, Tavin listens to the message while tooling down the two-lane, one-way street. Fuck ordinances, Tavin thinks, and fuck the neoliberal gentrification that demands nanny-state laws to protect its capital investments.
The message is from the social worker at the hospital. Apparently the ambulance service (a costly, privatized “health care” service) discovered William Skink’s backpack and dumped it on the hospital. Considering these were the little transactional connections Tavin had built the outreach program to deliver on, he returns the social worker’s call and accepts the responsibility to deliver the backpack.
Tavin checks the time. Picking up the pack now is no problem, but delivering it? That can wait until tomorrow.
After a quick pick-up, Tavin returns to the shelter. The line for the evening meal is already forming. Tavin spies a particularly frustrating client who takes immense pleasure in pointing out every inconsistency or deviation from stated shelter policy. The client is at the front desk, launching into another diatribe that sucks in staff’s attention like a black hole, so instead of going in, Tavin decides to head straight for his truck.
Tavin is almost at his truck when he thinks of the pack. I shouldn’t leave it in the van, Tavin thinks, so he goes back to retrieve it. Satisfied that the pack will be safer in his truck, Tavin hops in and drives home.
The clamor of kid noise is painfully audible once the garage door shuts and Tavin cuts the engine. Loud enough that they didn’t hear the garage door so Tavin can take a few minutes to prepare himself? Tavin waits. The door doesn’t fling open. Just more shrieks and the pounding of feet that seem to produce a sound disproportionately louder than the weight of the bodies making them.
Tavin glances at the pack. To look or not to look, that is the question. Considering portable meth labs can be stashed in back packs, Tavin decides to look. Cautious hands slowly unzip the main pouch. Protein bars, a first aid kit, a small pump, nothing stands out as dangerous contraband. Tavin checks the smaller compartment.
Tavin finds two objects: a moleskin journal and a long, smooth, black stone. Tavin leaves the stone and takes the journal, carefully undoing the elastic band keeping it shut.
All it takes is a few casual flips. Holy shit, Tavin thinks, this guy is insane. Taped-together collages of strange images and intricate ink doodles decorate the pages. And poems. Tavin gets sucked into one poem, an introduction of sorts, then Tavin closes the journal. Not now, Tavin thinks, not here. Later. Tavin zips up the pack and makes the plunge into home life.