Sunday, July 24, 2005

lunch thieves

I have to recruit at a specific location twice a week, and in my travels I pass the University and the sports fields. Every time I drive by, the University women's soccer team is practicing; I noticed that they practice in a field that is visible from the street, but closer to the school on a great field. There isn't much shade in the field; the only shade is from large oak trees bordering the field. The team puts their lunches in the grass, in the shade of the trees near the street. I've often thought that I could probably pull over and throw a bunch of igloo coolers and brown bags in to my car quicker than they could notice and get over to where I am to stop me. I imagine speeding away, and all of those tough girls chasing me down. I envision a team member pegging the soccer ball at my winshield, and I am sure I would react by driving off of tembankmentent. Asplummetett into the industrial metropolis below, brown bagged lunches, sport drinks, and igloo coolers strewn across factory roofs when my car hits a frozen food processor, and explodes. Of course, with my quick thinking I would bail before the car drives off the edge, only to get my clock cleaned by the hungry, angry,sweaty soccer team.

I used to work in a sheltered workshop of developmentally disabled adults, and some of the guys I worked with were severely disabled. The sheltered workshop primarily did basic assembly to teach work skills to disabled individuals with high needs, or job training needs. One guy I worked with, named Robert Klimehons, proved to be interesting and challenging to work with. Robert had the same birthday as me (different year, though, he was about 20 years older than me). When I first met him, the previous staff working there only told me that he makes hooting noises, and occasionally shits on the floor. I was introduced to the rest of my station, and I was responsible for working with 12 completely different individuals (including Robert) who were at a variety of functioning levels.

Robert was a lot smarter then he let on, and before long I figured out how he communicates. His main objective was to locate and eat food. He had a unique form of autism, which caused him to be outgoing, attention seeking, moody and obsessive compulsive. He was very smart, and could figure out how to open things and how to hide things. He was non-verbal, and only made noises, but each noise represented a response to something that was going on, or something he was thinking and verbalizing (like when he was figuring something out). I believe he could understand just about everything you told him, but he would play things off like he was out of it. I know this because I would trick him by saying specific directives and seeing how he responded--I would say stuff like "wow, does Rose have a chocolate cake?" and he would turn his head to where Rose is to check it out. He would also get me, and pull me over to something he wanted, such as locked cupboard he knew the snack time food was in. He had no interest in working, and earning money, and would spend 90% of the time tapping on a plastic or empty soda cup. He would occasionally shit of on the floor, but it seemed he did this when he was pissed off at another staff, if someone was watching my station or if I called in sick.

While he sat at his seat, tapping his cup, he was constantly scanning the workshop for food left unattended. He didn't care if the food was his or not, and would fight people for something especially desirable to him, such as chocolate or cheese. When he fought, he was quick, agile, and would pinch. Sometimes some of the bigger, pissed off clients would punch him. Robert had to be under constant arms-length supervision because of his food thievery. He would raid the cloakroom where some lunches were, the refrigerators for people who brought perishables, he would scavenge unfinished food from the trash, food from the floor, he would walk up to the weaker or cerebral palsy clients and take their food from them, he didn't care. He was particular about certain kinds of food, and knew who had to good lunches and who had the crappy lunches. He was aware of the right and wrong of what he did, because if he felt like staff were pursuing him, he would dive to the food goal, and put as much as he could in his mouth.



Robert's the skinny guy with the goatee. One year at the annual picnic, I saw him put a whole banana bread loaf in him mouth, then put in a whole hot dog right behind it! He looked like a snake that unhooked its jaw to eat a lame squirrel or something. It was amazing. I can't believe he didn't choke. Usually at the picnic, I would let Robert eat unlimited amounts of food. He would totally indulge and be in his glory. He would eat unlimited amounts of hot dogs, baked beans, cake, cookies, rolls, potato salad, cole slaw watermelon and soda until he sat unmoving, tranquilized and zombified. He also wouldn't steal anybody else's food.

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