Copyright is held by the author.
AS WE often hear, it’s not the job that matters, it’s the people you work with who make all the difference. Well, the people I worked with, or rather worked for, were like a breath of fresh air to me. Crazy as hell they might have been, but they didn’t wear masks.
Let me explain. We all wear masks, don’t we? A false veil of normality meant to hide our quirks and peculiarities. A daily masquerade of serpent smiles and crocodile tears, which when we’re alone at night is shed to the sound of real laughter or crying. Who knows what disturbing trait may be lurking behind each mask? Normal people worry me.
I guess you could call me a nonconformist. I was also a personal support worker, before I was fired. Anyway, my clients were genuine and unpretentious, undeniably not normal, a little wacky in fact. In a world where the new normal seemed to change from day to day, I tried to keep my head above all that crap. Sincerity is never more palpable than from those in need, and my clients’ honesty definitely helped me from sinking into a quagmire of societal shit.
As a personal support worker, I couldn’t wait to start my day. It was a humbling yet rewarding experience to help in the daily routine of such open and real people. They were like family to me, and I found them to be fascinating and often quite funny.
I’ll never forget my last day on the job.
My first call of that day was to a hermit named Malcolm. He never left his house and had a home service that delivered his meals and other essentials. He’d complain that the ‘bastards’ never brought enough food, and so he’d often ask me if I’d bring him a snack when I came to call. A quick stop at Subway was required, but it was on the way, so no biggie.
Malcolm would always eat and talk at the same time. His meal of choice was a tuna sub with extra mayonnaise, a sandwich he’d eat with great voracity. More often than not, a small dollop of mayonnaise would end up hanging off the end of his chin. It would just sit there, unwilling to drop. I was never sure what I found more distracting, the awful smell of tuna fish or that gravity-defying glob of mayonnaise. If I had to choose I’d say it was that oily bead of white goo. I’d stare at it in awe, wondering if that greasy glob would ever fall off Malcolm’s chin. Rarely did I hear a single word he said, all because of that small drip of mayonnaise.
My next stop was to visit a fellow named Jude. Waving a tattered old bible, he would insist that his actual name was Judas, and therefore that was how he should be addressed. Failure to do so, whether calling him by his real name or something derogatory as the neighbourhood kids often did — “crazy old fuck” was their name of choice — would incite him into fits of inconsolable rage. His medical file that I’d review and update from time to time showed a severe case of anxiety disorder, among other psychoses.
However, he was basically harmless and wanted nothing more than someone to share spirited conversation, or more accurately, someone to listen to him while he did all the talking. There were no bounds to what he’d talk about, a million thoughts travelling a million miles an hour. I felt I could hear the underlying madness that prowled just beneath the surface of every conversation. I played it cool. A warm smile and frequent nods of approval worked wonders, far better than the shitload of pills sitting on his kitchen table.
Linda was next. She was a lovely woman whose features refuted her age. Dignified and elegant, she just happened to have an insatiable thirst for alcohol. She drank frequently, despite her diabetes and the warnings from her doctor, and always had an emergency bottle or two hidden about her house. I felt it was an act of endearment when she’d confide in me the hiding places of her hooch. The dear woman, I was only too happy to oblige when asked to retrieve a particular vintage.
With a fresh bottle firmly in hand, Linda would always insist that I join her for afternoon cocktails, to which I would routinely say, “Hey, I thought you’d quit drinking.”
“I only say that when I’m loaded,” she’d reply. “When I’m sober, I come to my senses.” It was hard not to raise a glass to such logic.
Then it was off to see Gus, my last visit of the day. Now Gus was my favourite, even though he cost me my job. He had preferred me to the previous two support workers. Too bossy by far they were, and each of them only lasted until they removed Gus’s hash pipe and lighter from the side of his bed. The second one, a woman, even did so with the objection that they were dangerous to her health.
Needless to say, Gus and I hit it off with the first puff. What a great way to end my shift. What wasn’t so great was the surprise spot visit by my supervisor that day. If she had listened when I explained that Gus had a prescription for such home remedies and sometimes needed help in verifying the correct dosage and potency, then I still might have my job. Anyway, the bitch reported me and I became history.
I was told I could re-apply for my old job if I agreed to a stint of rehab in a drug clinic. I might just do it, you know, try on a few masks and pretend to be normal, whatever that is. But maybe I won’t. Normal people worry me.