Category Archives: From the field

Weird Monday

Asbury Park has what I think is the nicest stretch of boardwalk here on the northern shore of NJ – too bad most everyone is too afraid to walk it. It’s empty like this even in the summer, except for the homeless people who sleep below it and then sit around leering at passerby during the day.

I’m caught deciding whether today felt more like an episode of The Twilight Zone or Candid Camera… ever have one of those days? Today’s field visits were going fine until I ran over a gull – that jinxed me, I think. Silly gulls were fighting over a bit of bagel or something along Ocean Ave. and this one decides to drop down and grab it just as I was accelerating at the green light… I think it tried to fly underneath, but didn’t make it. I hate killing things with my car!

I went by some of the local ponds to look for ducks at lunch time and every one of the good ponds is frozen. I was wandering around with my big lens looking for some open water and one of last week’s redheads or hoodies when this lady in a car stopped me and asked if mine was a good camera. I started to explain to her that it was reasonably ok for the type of photos I’m capable of and blah-blah-blah when I realized that she was trying to take pics of the Canada Geese with one of those cardboard throw-away cameras from Walmart. Pfft! Shut me up quick.

My next visit was with a lady who was off-her-rocker-crazy. Before I even got in the door I knew I was in for something interesting. I’ll just say it was a very short visit and I kept the door in clear view at all times.


This evening I went to the Y for a yoga class and then tortured myself for a bit with the weight machines afterwards. There’s this guy that I see there pretty often, old with a really bad dye-job and he wears those ridiculous spandex exercise things that show every possible … nevermind … you know what I mean. He really works himself hard and wears earphones the whole time, so I guess he can’t hear all the grunting and moaning he does with the strain of it, but the rest of the weight room hears it all. I sat there on the leg press listening to the obscene sounds he was making, trying to keep a straight face myself, and watching all the women in the room doing the same. At one point, all us girls were laughing openly at him, but every single guy in the room was staring straight ahead pretending not to notice. That just made it funnier to me!

What a weird, weird day.

Please use back door

I added pit bulls to my list of occupational hazards today, as if the possibility of random shootings, gang violence, or being kidnapped by crackheads weren’t entertaining enough.


(Please note that I write this not for your sympathy, but so that my coworker Deb from my old cozy unit will stop insisting that my promotion to this field position is some kind of *racket* as she likes to call it.)

I still have all of my limbs, but barely. A sign on the front of the house directed me to the back door where I found, a little too late and a little too close for comfort, a friendly (not!) brindle pit bull. With a very strong-looking neck and a tie out which was considerably weaker-looking than anything I would think to use with my Lab puppy. And about a foot of space between the end of that lead and my pathway to the back door. Ahem.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why my client who has a beautiful house and who is a truly nice person, would have a pit tied out in her yard. Other than, maybe, to protect herself and her home from the neighbors.

At any rate, I’m a dog lover and reserve most of my fear for little yappy dogs or the occasional golden retriever. Illogical, I know, but a golden snapped at me once and now I’m afraid of most of them. My sister-in-law rescued an abused pit in a cruelty case from a neighborhood such as the one I visited today. Sweet dog and good-natured as pits go, but I don’t trust it. Once it had me afraid to move when it cornered me alone in my SIL’s living room and wouldn’t give way for me to walk past him. Silly, really, because I know the dog to be sweet, but always there’s that reputation to contend with.

Oftentimes, I guess the reputation is warranted, but I wonder if others have had a positive experience with pits or other *dangerous* dog breeds. I know lots of lovable Rotties and German Shepherds and wouldn’t think of fearing them as a breed the way I might pit bulls (or golden retrievers!)

Image from the HSUS.

The public’s business

I remember fifteen years or so ago when first offered a job with social services being asked, rather snidely, “You don’t intend to stay there very long, do you? Who wants to work with those people?” I really had no clue what I was getting myself into and was just interested in a paycheck and the chance to put all those years of studying Spanish to good use.

I remember being bothered, to begin with, mostly by the lack of any similarity of values with my clients. It seemed like everyone was having kids with just anyone with no concern for how they were to be supported. Fourteen-year-olds having babies really bothered me. Women staying with the same abusive guy for years. Teenagers having abortion after abortion.

For most of these fifteen years, it’s all been stories on paper or over the phone, with very little direct face-to-face contact. Other than an occasional visit to a little old ladies’ home to complete paperwork, it’s all remained very abstract and I’ve been able to pretend a certain distance from the people I work with.

Not so anymore.

If anything, in all these years, I’ve learned that there’s really very little that separates me from my clients; us from them. Values and chance are what I think it comes down to. Big factors, but easy to explain away by circumstance or luck.

Something else I’ve discovered recently is that nothing shocks me anymore. This hasn’t been a sudden thing, I don’t think, but the accumulated weight of years of sad and twisted stories. I do wonder that I’ve not become cynical or jaded. Maybe my own values have just slipped along the way; who knows.

Two days a week now I’m out there snooping around in people’s homes and poking into their private lives, all in the guise of making sure that their living situations are safe and sanitary because you and I are paying a portion of their living expenses each month. Most live just like you and I do; others, well… it’s not anything that is really polite to discuss in mixed company.


But discuss it we do; usually late in the afternoon when any sort of productive work is well beyond possible. It’s a good sort of release and a good time to laugh at ourselves, mostly, and the things that still bother us. Not shock us, just bother us, or make us afraid. Child abuse, bed bugs, gang shootings, cockroaches, sex offenders.

This afternoon after I sent a letter along to notify a client that I would be visitng in the next two weeks, I took a minute to look through the case file. Oh boy! Do I really mean to go there alone? Safe-enough neighborhood, but the client has a history of drug use (not just that, really, more like a history of running crack houses) oh and look there! – a police report about prostitution and confining women in the home against their will, and just last month an arrest for crack possession (again) and buying alcohol for minors.

So I went to the big boss and asked if we shouldn’t just terminate any sort of assistance to this guy and do I really need to go into his house… please? Well, the fact is, he hasn’t been convicted of anything yet, so I need to make the visit.

I think I must have sat at my desk for an hour trying to come up with a way to sell this visit to any one of my more experienced coworkers – a trade maybe? Fresh-baked muffins everyday for a month, perhaps? In the end I just asked if anyone had the time to accompany me on a visit to a crack house and dear sweet Susan, who sits across the way and is totally overburdered with her own work, volunteered to go along with me. How two blonde German-Irish girls are to make each other feel safe I’m not sure, but she assured me she’s not fazed by it. She’s sat across the kitchen table with the mothers of murderers and knows that these people, our clients, the ones we mean to help on their way to self-sufficiency, really like us and mean us no harm and are glad for the intrusion into their lives.

I’m not convinced of that yet, but wonder if I shouldn’t have offered fresh-baked muffins everday for two months instead, or just taken that job on Wall Street so many years ago.


You might want to pack that bikini

It’s warm here at the Jersey Shore! I snapped this pic around 10 am this morning at Ocean Grove (that’s Asbury Park in the distance) – this lady had the perfect spot on the beach for her workout. The locals all know that September is THE month for perfect beach weather without the crowds, but late October?
The sky is that perfect shade of blue and it’s just warm enough for a nice nap in the sun. One nice thing about my new job is that I have *field days* when I have to make home visits. I don’t much enjoy poking around in client’s homes, but I do really like the chance to be out of the office a few days a week. In between appointments this morning I took a walk on the boardwalk and enjoyed the warm breezes with Monarchs floating along the dunes. What a beautiful day it was.
The rugosa roses are still blooming and I was tempted to pick a bag of rose hips for jelly. Ocean Grove has a long history as a religious camp town and Sunday services are still held in a little pavilion on the beach with a view of the dunes and the sea.

Play date?

I’ve overheard parents setting up *play dates* for their kids for the last few years and have to hide the smirk on my face, but when a stranger tried to arrange a playdate for their pup with Luka I didn’t know what to think! I feel like it’s bad enough that we need to schedule playtime into our kids already overscheduled lives, but are we to do the same for our pets? Whatever happened to turning the kids (or dogs) loose in the neighborhood to amuse themselves?


Truthfully, I don’t believe it’s wise to do either. Mostly I think we go too far to pamper and shelter our kids as much as we do. Granted, I don’t have kids, so what do I know, but we all survived our childhoods, didn’t we? Do we need to do the same to our pets? Can you believe that I had a stranger chastise me for having Luka at a street fair a few weeks ago because it was warm and “his feet must be burning up on that hot pavement!” Well gosh – get the animal cruelty people after me!

These same people would likely turn a blind eye to the homeless person they see each morning at the train station or the elderly relative struggling to maintain their independence. Do you realize that Americans spend 40 billion a year on our pets – to pamper them and send them to doggy day care and to feed them premium holistic food? Yet we have no sympathy for the underemployed, the children who live in poverty, or the elderly. Is it just me, or are our priorities fouled up?

I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to spoiling my pets, but at least I think I recognize it for what it is. The NY Times article points out the hypocrisy in the choices we make – spending money to buy Halloween costumes for our pampered pets while countless other abandoned or unlovable pets are euthanised in shelters each year. Shouldn’t we extend our concern to members of our own species just as willingly? Or perhaps more so?

Maybe it’s only the (newly minted) social worker in me coming out. What do you think?