After the administration transferred Mort to God knows where, a middle-aged schlub named Bob moved into my room. Clearly, Bob didn’t qualify as mentally disabled but demonstrated he possessed the mind of a witless child—which is a semi-polite way of saying he was stupid.* Whenever some nosy CNA asked why he’d landed at the warehouse, he‘d answer simply, “Heart condition.” (“Heart conditions” were extremely popular among male residents.)
One morning at around 6:30 Bob managed to foul up the flushing mechanism in the toilet. He and he alone would reproduce this blunder at least once a week—as a young child I’d figured out how to properly flush. Fortunately the water in the bowl never overflowed, like it routinely did when Mort flushed paper towels pulled from the dispenser on our bathroom wall. When not dispatched directly by Mr. Gold, the maintenance staff took 5 or 6 hours to trouble themselves with job-related requests; often they didn’t respond until the following day; they quit early on Saturdays and didn’t work on Sundays. So I sometimes had to roll down the hall and use the public john. A constant parade of shit-bred lowlifes would barge in without knocking while I sat with my pants bunched around my ankles. Nobody ever excused themselves; they invariably left the door open.
Bob fell asleep around 8:00 each night. He lay spread-eagled on top of his bedspread, barefoot and shirtless, unwashed and stinking, wearing headphones and gulping air through his chasmal mouth; like he’d been standing at the foot of the bed and someone had heaved a sandbag into his gut. I always kept the privacy curtain next to my bed drawn. Self-preservation—not necessarily arrogance—motivated me to distance myself from the societal rejects with whom the clueless state forced me to rub elbows.
I remember one late afternoon at dinnertime, when Bob stumbled into the room drunk. The expansive wet stain covering his package trumpeted that he’d pissed his pants. The new CNA handing out dinner trays took one look at Bob and, eyes bulging in horror, scurried out of the room. Less than a minute later the self-important charge nurse strode in. She lectured Bob as though she read from a script while helping him change into his other pair of pants: “Getting yourself in this condition is bad for your, you know, health.” She also warned him: “You’re putting yourself in danger and you could hurt yourself.”
Outfitted with dry pants, Bob collapsed onto his bed and broke into an unintelligible song punctuated by liquored up chortles. The nurse quickly strutted out of the room and almost immediately returned clutching a document and a pen. Hovering over his prostrate body, she politely ordered him to sign the document. He sat up, grabbed it and the pen, hastily scrawled his John Hancock, and then plopped back down and resumed singing.
A bit later a woman from the activities department named Kerri dropped by the room to check on Bob. She always wore pungent fart-smelling perfume and way too much makeup. Though she had reached her early 40’s, she favored clothes that a 19-year-old strumpet might choose to wear for her nocturnal escapades.
Kerri stood at the foot of his bed and regarded him while he lie there: “Howya doin’ sexy? I hear ya’all had a few drinks.”
He’d been drowsing: “Well I…no…I mean, yes..I mean…” He started to rant: “I’m an adult and it’s my goddamn Constitutional right to have a goddamn drink whenever I goddamn want!”
“I agree, baby.”
He repeated: “It’s my goddamn Constitutional right to have a goddamn drink whenever I goddamn want! Don’t believe me? Look it up!”
She assured him: “I believe you, baby.”
All of a sudden he spoke softly as if to himself: “Yeah, just look it up.” He alternately blinked and widened his eyes, gazed at his visitor: “Y’know Kerri…I-I think about you all the time. I got this here condom in my pocket and…”
She leered: “I bet you wanna use it with me.”
Bob wistfully answered: “Well…yeah.”
Early the next afternoon Bob shuffled into the room and threw himself onto his bed. I maintained silence and hoped he would do the same. No such luck. He angrily blurted that “that lousy bitch [the charge nurse]” had duped him into signing a form that authorized the administration to force him to wear a wandering bracelet. (“Wandering bracelet” is a folksy-sounding term for ankle bracelet—the kind worn by criminals that courts confine to their homes rather than hoosegows.) “That rotten Jew [Mr. Gold] says it’s for my own good.” Then Bob prattled for ten minutes, insisting the Constitution guarantees Americans the right to drink alcohol.
A little over a month later Bob moved out of the warehouse and into his own an apartment. He groused: “This place makes me crazy.” Little did I know that I would remember him as one of my better roommates.
* Ignorance and stupidity are entirely different from each other. Ignorance is imposed by an external source; stupidity is self-imposed.