Mr. Foley had arrived at the warehouse dependent on an oversized wheelchair. After many weeks of therapy he found himself able to slowly lumber while leaning on a cane. The simple-minded therapists and staff didn’t pay the gargantuan Mr. Foley much attention when he used the chair, but eagerly allowed themselves to be charmed by his dumbed-down sardonic-with-a-heart-of-gold personality when they noticed him walking. I often speculated that Mr. Foley’s brains were in his ass, though that would’ve certified him a genius.
When the administration discharged one of my roommates and I learned that they had dumped Mr. Foley into the bed next to mine, I briefly relaxed—relaxation at the warehouse always wound up marginal and short-lived. The prospect of a new roommate poked at my threadbare psyche, but Mr. Foley appeared as though he bathed at least once a week and possessed a quality that vaguely resembled wit.
People rarely visited me in the warehouse. Most didn’t have the guts to venture into a convalescent home and many of my “friends” had, at the time both formerly and recently, embraced malicious gossip that grossly misrepresented me. An old friend of mine unexpectedly showed up on Mr. Foley’s first Saturday afternoon in the room.
Mr. Foley frittered the days away staring at his old black and white television. He gawked at the box while he ate and took hurried breaks to use the bathroom. My friend and I were finding it difficult to converse; the ridiculously high volume of the TV forced us to raise our voices well above average conversation level. (Mr. Foley was not hard of hearing.) I got sick of asking my friend to repeat herself and had to holler several times to break his trance. I finally managed to hijack his attention and politely ask him to turn down the volume. He assured me that he would. Thirty seconds passed without diminished volume, then it became clear that he had no intention of lifting his sausage fingers.
I decided I would on Monday again ask Mr. Foley to turn the volume down. If he still ignored me, I would go to Mr. Gold. The wildly blaring television compelled the CNA’s to shout in my ear; it quickly became apparent that they didn’t squander their paychecks on toothpaste or mouthwash. Reporting my roommate to the impotent elfin administrator loomed as a distasteful last resort, but the majority of residents interpreted his shameless manipulation of the infirm as rugged authority. He knew exactly what strings to tug in order to command obedience from garden-variety rabble.
On Monday afternoon the sonic typhoon continued to wail from Mr. Foley’s television. While I lie on my bed unsuccessfully trying to read, I again politely asked him to turn the sound down. He must’ve been losing the game show with which he played along. He snapped:
“No crippled-up retard is gonna tell me what to do in my room. Stupid cripple, you can’t even walk. I oughta beat the shit outchyou. And I’ll do it too—just ax Mr. Gold. He had to change my room a couple times ‘cause I had beat up all my roommates.” Then he claimed affiliation with a violent urban organization known for it’s older associates.
I silently transferred into my chair and wheeled to the door. As I went out he called after me: “Go on, get out of my room you dumb cripple.” I suddenly didn’t feel like Little Lord Fauntleroy whining to his mama. There’s nothing quite as unreasonable and dangerous as a pissed-off and ignorant burly lowlife. Though I detested involving myself with the administration, I genuinely feared for my safety.
Mr. Gold surprised me by not claiming I deserved the threats. He marched into my room and confronted Mr. Foley, confident that his own arrogance would trump Mr. Foley’s bravado. The spectacle of the condescending administrator scolding my bully roommate reminded me of a nun from my Catholic grade school days browbeating a mischievous child. Mr. Foley stared at the floor while Mr. Gold expressed disappointment at his repeated antisocial behavior and threatened to send him to a psych hospital. Mr. Foley turned the TV down and never said another word to me.