It's weird, actually I was born and raised here. My body is *adapted* to temperatures above ninety. I don't even sweat at below one hundred anymore unless there's physical activity, which only happens when I see the trampoline and think I'm actually ten and could pull off that somersault if I really, really, *really* try. Which isn't often.
But outside, while I smoke between nine-fifty and ten-fifteen--my nicotine window of sanity, if you will. It's *hot*. It's freakishly hot. But it's not unbearable by any means. But--and it hit me halfway through a chat with Dan about experimenting with pavement and fried eggs--this is what people call *small talk*.
And wow, so *that's* what people mean.
It's rote. I can easily think about porn while mouthing temperature-related obscenities and never notice. It's *common ground*. I have, in fact, finally come to the place in my life where I can carry on a normal conversation and not panic halfway through wondering if I've said something that has no reference point in the conversation whatsoever. I can do this with *groups* of people. Legions, even.
I've been given the honor of blitzing--that means, fourteen interviews a day, two per hour, with the four o'clock hour off to finish cases. If you've read here enough, you know this is also called *suicide*. But creative suicide--I volunteered for it. My current schedule is eight a day total, or thirty-four a week. Monday and Tuesday, I'll see and finish a total of twenty-eight cases. This is how we cope with the hiring freeze and the way people are quitting right and left.
I have two types of clients--those that really like me, to the point of asking for me specifically, either because they've interviewed with me before or because my reputation has been bandied about during dinner conversation, and those that hate me, for the same reason.
I learned, pretty fast, that turnover in the state offices mean that most clients not only never see the same caseworker twice, they also don't see *experienced* caseworkers twice. It's hard to build a reputation of any kind when your tenure is a year. At least, not a good one. I also learned, though this isn't particularly new information, that those that receive beneifts are, for the most part, a community unto themselves. They've been doing this for generations. They are broken up by ethnic groups, but for the most part, interviewing one person in one of these means that for good or bad, your name is known throughout. My most treasured memory is calling a client to tell her about her benefits, and talking to *three other clients I interviewed* that were over at her house for lunch. I'd interviewed them all in the last two week period. Very cool.
They know me, even when they don't. During interviews, we talk about my son, their kids, absent fathers, no child support, the problems with daycare, transportation issues, and the rising cost of housing in Austin. They tell me about the ex that beat them, that left them, that keeps coming back, that's in jail, the abusive mother, the abusive girlfriend, strung-out and missing daughters, battles with alcohol, the way they can't get medical care for themselves, lost jobs, bad bosses, and what they like for dinner. I know less about my best friend. They aren't tragic. They're--resigned. That's the right word.
Somehow, I find that the most painful to deal with. The hysterics, the crying, the temper tantrums, the anger--it's uncomfortable, but also fascinating, because there's something in them that's still fighting. It hurts, because it burns out eventually--you can only keep up that amount of rage for so long before you give up--but it's still there. They want more. And they'll burn out themselves trying to get to it. God help you if you get in their way. Some of them get out. Most don't. It's very random, not something predictible.
There's always talk about people who manipulate the system to get what they don't, theoretically, deserve, and if there's one subject that liberals and conservatives come down together on is the entire whether they deserve it issue. No matter the politics of the public figures in question, the most powerful fights are always waged over making sure that people *don't* get what they don't deserve, what they don't need. And some Democrats start sounding like Pat Buchanan after a few hours of that. It's like talking about the weather. It's the equivalent of a discussion of ninety-four degrees outside. They're used to it, and they don't really believe what they're saying, but they say it anyway.
It's kind of bullshit.
When this job end, I'm going to walk away from this and forget a lot of it. If I have my way, most of it. And one day, I might even start saying those things, though I know better. And one day, I may even start believing it. It's easy to talk about the choices that lead them there, how it all comes down to how well a sixteen year old girl is really capable of seeing the future when she has sex for the first time with the first useless asshole that tells her she's pretty. It's harder to wonder if you can possibly call it a choice when it's all they know. I've said that my job is a world of women in the fact that my coworkers are mostly women, but it applies to my clients as well.
Most of my women will never own a new car, their own house, have a good paying job, have a stable relationship with a man worth the effort of breathing the same air they do, never move outside the community of family and friends that live the same way and have for the length of their lives, their mothers' lives, their grandmothers'. They won't hold public office, shop at the Arboreteum, own a computer, vote in elections, worry about such luxuries as the environment, equal rights, organic versus genetically engineered vegetables, be able to choose a life based off a philosophy instead of necessity of survival.