But He’s an Army Man!

Simmy worked as a physical therapist at the warehouse. A few days before he started, while I lifted wall-mounted weights in the therapy room, I heard the department supervisor excitedly tell a coworker: “We’re finally getting a new guy. He’s an Army man!

The coworker asked, “Has he had any experience as a therapist?”

The supervisor frowned: “Well, Mr. Gold never said.” Quickly her smile returned: “But he’s an army man!

One morning I rolled into the therapy room and found the new guy sitting at one of six desks organized in the alcove. I slogged through my morning exercise ritual, anticipating my post-workout cigarette. (In retrospect, I realize the profound stupidity of smoking after exercising; my shitful luck had magnified a deep-rooted smoker’s rationalizaion.) When I finished working out, I wheeled to the ashtray positioned on a bookshelf next to the new guy’s desk.

He forced symmetry on a sloppy pile of papers by tapping a long edge on the blotter. Then he stood and walked the short distance to the supervisor’s desk, gently placed the tidy stack in front of her.

At more than six feet tall, his frame appeared gangly. On closer inspection I noticed reasonably developed muscles. But what really struck me was the tiny melon atop his man-child’s body: Like the head of a toy plastic army man grafted onto the body of a Barbie doll. And some bad-apple prankster had swiped his chin when he wasn’t looking.

He returned to his desk and sat down; I continued smoking. I took the notion to introduce myself. I figured, we’d be working together and I hoped to demonstrate mental competence by initiating civil contact. After I finished my cigarette, I wheeled up to his desk, smiled, gave my name while I offered my hand. His face contorted into a grimace of unbridled disgust as his stare swept from my empty hand up to my eyes. Then he looked down and continued with his paperwork. I waited a few seconds and asked if he didn’t also have a name. He looked up and arrogantly emphasized, “Mr. (whatever-the-fuck-his-last-name-is).” I urinate in fear when I remember how much he intimidated me.

The next morning, I heard him politely introduce himself as “Simmy” to Thelma, an older woman who trudged to the basement for therapy each morning around the same time I wheeled down. Thelma used a cane, but otherwise appeared normal and healthy. Purposefully within earshot of other therapy patients, he always referred to her as his “star pupil” though her performance was average. One morning the supervisor took him aside and they conversed in hushed tones. He abruptly stopped with the “star pupil” routine, but continued showering a parody of respect upon conventional warehouse residents while treating wheelchair users like shit.

One of his colleagues was a soft-spoken gentleman who innocently displayed effeminate mannerisms. One morning while strolling at my side as I practiced using a walker, Simmy blurted, “I think [he’s] ‘sweet.’ Know what I mean?” He held up his hand, limp at the wrist, and extended his pinky. (The colleague wasn’t on duty that morning.) Then he brayed of the time while in the army, he’d “single-handedly” orchestrated the transfer of an allegedly gay soldier out of his barracks. Apparently he’d complained to his commanding officer that sharing the barracks with a gay man was “unacceptable.” The C.O. had reminded Simmy that the barracks housed numerous soldiers, and he could easily avoid anybody whose personal lifestyle got his panties in a bunch. Simmy crowed, “So then I told him I would sue if I caught anything by using the same shower as that faggot. Besides, the army’s for men.” The story clearly tickled him; he guffawed way too long. He marveled at his “unique” character and predicted that I’d always remember him.

To be fair, Simmy possessed a single positive trait: While the clueless warehouse staff treated me like porcelain in order to dodge lawsuits, he recommended I use my walker each morning when coming to therapy and suggested I cover twice the distance practicing with the device during sessions.

A week later as I smoked, I vaguely realized that the supervisor and I were the only people in the therapy room. Out of the blue she admitted, “Paco, I’m disgusted.”

I responded that I was disgusted too, and asked why she felt that way.

She explained that she’d been excited at the prospect of a much-needed addition to the therapy staff, but Simmy was proving himself a major disappointment. Many of the usually gutless patients had complained of his brash manner, and he regularly mocked her Mediterranean accent. I observed that from my perspective, he acted like an ass-cadet brandishing a gold-plated chip on his shoulder. She smiled and shrugged her shoulders. I might be wrong, but her gestures seemed to echo my sentiment; maybe she regarded out-and-out verbal agreement an affront to professional decorum. Then she confirmed her talent for sharpening clichés by stating, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall!” She pleasantly grinned, but her voice dripped venom.

The warehouse often found itself understaffed. Therapists would sometimes be absent for days from their primary jobs, substituting for CNA’s¹ who’d called in “sick” or just hadn’t bothered to show up.² One afternoon the administration assigned Simmy to CNA duty on my floor. A superior of his must have lectured him on appropriate warehouse behavior. Contrary to the impression he tried to create, he betrayed himself as an ass-kisser who embraced criticism spewed by authority figures; he smiled, spoke to me in a nauseatingly polite tone, even shook my hand. I could see right through his act.

When Simmy had worked at the warehouse slightly more than a month, I heard him engaging in a muffled, very solemn conversation with a colleague (not the effeminate guy):

After some unintelligible mumbling the colleague asked, “Why?”

Simmy answered, “For personal reasons.”

The colleague wondered: “Have you told anyone here yet?”

Simmy replied, “No. I’m going to make my final decision Sunday night.”

“Well, you should go to P.T.A. [Physical Therapy Assistant] School. You’d probably get good marks.”

Two weeks later—well after the deadline he’d imposed on himself—Simmy quit. The therapy department supervisor revealed that Simmy’d told her he felt the warehouse “was holding him back.”

¹ CNA duties always took precedence over a therapist’s principal tasks. This made sense when you considered the administration routinely “promoted” untrained and amazingly stupid CNA’s, giving them jobs as therapists. Nobody seemed to notice.

² This is what happens when convalescent facilities hold prospective employees to phenomenally low standards.

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