East on St James
by Rick Beck
Boys Will Be Boys
"How do you feel about blue and pink neon around the roof of PV1?" Gary asked, dropping into the chair beside Dury's desk. "Carl can do it without much difficulty. He's worked with neon before."
"Where we care about you," Dury said.
"Pleasant Valley written not printed in neon. A nice swirl to the letters. Over the doors, in neon, 'Where we care about you, which should be print letters."
"I'm proud of you, Dury. I like it. I'll give it to Carl and let him create it. I like neon but I've never used it anywhere before."
"No end to the creativity in Pleasant Valley.
"No, there isn't."
"I've got to go, Gary. I don't want to rush you, but Joseph is reading To Kill a Mockingbird and I don't want to miss it," Dury said.
"You didn't have time to hear Joseph's reading today, Lisa?" Dury asked, stepping into her office for their afternoon talk before he left for the day.
"He was a lucky find. He just turned onto St. James while he was taking a drive. He saw the sign in front of the apartments and he found my office. His wife died recently and he had finding a smaller place on his mind. It was as if he was being guided to the right place. He is one energetic man.
"When he came to me and suggested a reading program, I told him to do what he liked. He spread the word on his own. For a man in a wheelchair he has no difficulty keeping up. He's on the paths when I walk in the morning. He stops to talk to everyone. I bet he was a gifted teacher. After dinner he's engaged with other residents playing games. He's a champion Bridge player, and not bad at ping pong, so the vets tell me. He's got the boys he plays with attending his readings. I'd not figured on an activity like that for our vets," Lisa said. "He is involved to say the least."
"I didn't expect to fill up one and two this quickly. I guess I'm surprised by a lot of things. The effectiveness of word of mouth for one and the quality of residents we've been able to place here for another," Dury said.
"We'll be placing folks in building three soon. I've never met nicer people myself, Dury. Pleasant Valley seems to attract pleasant people. I'm renting out the last available apartments to men who live in Charleston. They want to move here to be close to friends who are already living there. I don't need to do much but giving them the papers to sign and explain what's expected."
"We take everyone who applies?" Dury asked. "A funny time to be asking that, but you do such a good job, I've never felt like you needed instruction from me. I don't know anything about making sure we're taking people who are compatible with what we're doing here."
"I don't take everyone who comes for an interview. Some people have no interest in interacting with other residents. I stress the involvement of residents in the Pleasant Valley experience. If they are physically capable, we expect them to participate in an activity that makes PV a better place to live. For that we provide a prorated living unit.
"I never hear back from the more difficult people. I let them go home to think about their move. As a rule, they don't call back. I've spent years dealing with people in an official capacity and surly people aren't able to hide they're disagreeableness during a thorough interview. I offer them no encouragement," Lisa said.
"Sounds above board, Lisa. We certainly have some wonderful people. Whatever you're doing, keep doing it."
"Thank you, Dury. I will. I've never had more fun. I love being here, doing this."
"Neon! What say you about neon?"
"Not anything I've thought about. Neon in what context?"
"Picture it. You're driving down St. James and PV1 is directly ahead of you. Pink and blue neon outlining the top of the building. In white, Pleasant Valley is is done in a graceful handwriting. Over the main entrance, in neon, 'Where we care about you?"
"I love it," Lisa said. "It's so Pleasant Valley."
"I'm surprised by how well the vets get along with our seniors," Dury said.
"Many senior men are vets. They can relate to where our young vets are," Lisa said. "The vets respect the senior men and value their attention. While the vets like to eat together, and look after each other, I've noticed more than one eating with one of our senior men. They have developed a connection."
"It's the essence of what I hoped Pleasant Valley could become," Dury said.
"I expect there will be issues, clashes of personalities. We are dealing with people. We'll try to stay out in front of any feuds," Lisa said. "There will be people who can't get along but we'll dilute hostilities where we can."
"The apartments? I am getting the impression that the gay men want to be in the apartments. Do you think we should let them segregate themselves, Lisa? Shouldn't we try to get them spread evenly throughout PV? I have questions about one of our buildings being described as gay. We all know a building can't be gay?" Dury said.
"I've considered that question. Most of your older gay men haven't forgotten the animus of the past thirty years. Many of the gay men moving here express the desire to be in the apartments, close to their friends, because they feel safe being close to people they know."
"I can see why that would be," Dury said.
" I don't argue with a man who asks to be in the apartments. They don't want to risk moving in next door to a bigot. They've endured bigots for long enough. I think we need to let them live where they are comfortable. I show everyone the same units. They decide where they want to live. We'll likely have better luck with integrating the younger LGBT people. They don't have a memory of the dark days. The older men aren't likely to forget them."
"In Britain, while parliament argued gay marriage, one of the MPs said, 'Considering the abominable way we've treated our gay brothers and sisters in the past, voting for gay marriage is the least we can do.' Equality means we all have the right to marry the person we love. You can bet the people arguing against gay marriage are married to the person they love."
"Even with the permission of their mistresses," Lisa observed.
"Yes, and we get back to hypocrisy. Men wanting to tell everyone else how to live, but not thinking such restrictions apply to them," Dury said.
"And so we get a glimpse into the heart of the hater."
"Speaking glimpses, Lisa, what do you know about our chef feeding the boys who have come to live in our forest? Isn't that asking for trouble?"
"They're hungry. Keith feeds them. Who can object to that?" Lisa asked, waiting for the objection she sensed was on the way.
"Well the state of South Carolina might argue they have a responsibility to get them off their streets," Dury said.
"I'm surprised at that attitude coming from you, Mr. Lane," Lisa said.
"That's why I put it in those terms. I want your opinion not agreement."
"While your supposition is correct, the state would like those boys put somewhere that they don't show or get noticed. I was in social work for years before I came home to take care of my mother. States, the federal government, even charities, claim not to have money to take care of the people who should be cared for. What the government would do in the case of the boys in the woods, they'd lock them up with all the other kids unable to live at home or who ran away from the homes they were born into."
"Not much supervision on the street," Dury said.
"That's very true," Lisa said. "They do have each other and most kids watch each other's back. Once you're locked up, the weaker kids are brutalized by the tougher kids. There is less and less money for education and supervision. Locked doors are what keeps order, and then, once a door is locked, the kids live by the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest. There isn't enough money to furnish adequate protection for kids. There isn't enough money to properly prepare such kids to become a productive member of society. These kids are held in custody because they are delinquent by virtue of not living at home," Lisa said. "It doesn't matter what kind of hell they've lived at home."
"You know this how?" Dury asked.
"Kids like these boys were my full time job. They trust no one and that's a good thing too, because all they have going for them is their own tenacity. They're held until they are eighteen, behind locked doors. Then the head jailer comes and puts an arm around them and says, "You're eighteen. You've earned your freedom. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out."
"The statistics say, one third of kids, like these boys, will be in state custody for the rest of their lives," Lisa said.
"Prison?" Dury said.
"Or worse. There is good news. One third of kids who age out while in state custody...."
"Age out?" Dury asked.
"Reach the age of eighteen. One third find a way to make it. They strong enough or smart enough to ride off into the sunset and stay out of the hands of the man," Lisa said.
"Aren't there three thirds?" Dury asked.
"One third of kids held in state custody, and who age out, never live to see age thirty. In effect they fail at creating a life that will sustain them."
"That's harsh, Lisa. You aren't over stating your opinion?"
"I'm giving you the version from fifteen years ago when I was in the profession. There is even less money and even less attention paid to homeless kids. You get caught by the cops, and you're going to be locked up as delinquent. You will stay locked up until you're eighteen. As tight as money is, I see no way they are spending more than when I was tasked with assisting kids like that."
"I'm going to ask you a question you won't like, but I know you have the answer. I'm told there are ten boys. How many of them are gay?"
"It was four in ten homeless kids were LGBT. Most of them were told to get out and not to come back by their parents. Others are forced to leave for their own protection. I'd say the odds are, four to five of the boys Keith is feeding are gay. It's a guess. It might be three and it could be six. I haven't sat down and spoken with any of them but David. He seems to be the boy the other boys follow. He is the one that got Keith to feed them all."
"Yes, I've head his name. I don't know what to do, Lisa. I don't mind telling you. Calling the cops and putting them in the justice system isn't going to happen. I spent years defending men in New York City. The system was rigged. Most of my clients were black or brown and they were going down. For every dollar I had to defend my clients, the state had twenty to convict them. By and by one of the assistant D. A.s came around with a deal. The guys been locked up a year by this time and I've seen him three times. There's delay after delay after delay, and then here's the D.A. 'OK, this is your lucky day. I have ten minutes to talk you into taking the deal I have for you. A year in prison and the time you've already served goes against the sentence. All you have to do is plead guilty and you'll be on the street within 30 to 60 days. You want to go to court on it, I'll ask ten years hard time and five more on parole. I'll own your ass for the rest of your natural life,'" Dury lamented. "What am I going to do? Tell him not to take the deal and put his faith in a guy that has four hundred dollars to spend on proving he isn't guilty. They always took the deal and I always nodded my approval."
"It was the best you could do with what you had to work with," Lisa said.
"Yeah it was. I couldn't do anything. I had no power. That assistant D.A. Who saw my client once for five minutes, he had the power. He had the deal, and no one with half a brain is going to take a chance on serving ten years if by signing their name they can be out in a month or two. I quit. I came here to practice nice safe civil law, where the stakes didn't amount to, 'You bet your life.'"
"Don't blame yourself, Dury. You did the best you could do. The system is a system. It was there long before you got there and it's still there. My breaking point was Jimmy Simmons. He was one of those emergency cases that came in over night from one of the juvenile facilities. Jimmy had gone to the emergency room and before he could go back to luvvie an intake worker needed to interview him to say he was able to return.
"I'd talked to the doctor once I saw his file. The doctor told me the boys story and he didn't believe a word the kid said, but he stayed with his story and the doctor was unable to restrain him from being returned to the facility. So now I had the case and had to mark OK on his return. He gave me the same stupid story and that's all he'd say."
"What was his story?"
"He fell in the shower and a mop handle went up his anus."
"He was raped. That's what the doctor told you?" Dury asked.
"Exactly. I told him if he told me the truth I'd keep him from going back there. He said, 'You going to protect me in the next place they send me, lady?'"
"No, you weren't. You had no power to do anything," Dury said.
"I talked to the doctor, and he said if Jimmy came to the emergency room again, they'd call him in on the case. It was the best he could do. I couldn't do anything but write what he told me and send him back to where the bigger boys could do whatever they wanted to him."
"You told me this for a reason?" Dury asked.
"No. It's the way it was and my mother getting cancer was my get out of jail free card. I never forgot Jimmy. I don't know if they moved on to another boy and left him alone, or if they kept on once the lights went out at night."
"I'll tell you what you told me, you did the best you could. You had no power to yank him out of whatever it is they call it when they lock those kids up. Our biggest problem is, we can't forget the victims we can't save from the system," Dury said. "We know the system is broken, but we can't do anything about it."
"No, we can't," Lisa admitted. "But I never forgot Jimmy. So, what are you going to be about our kids?"
"They are ours, aren't they?" Dury said. "I'll talk to Gary about making a temporary shelter to keep them out of the elements. They're already being helpful to Pleasant Valley residents. I trust we can do something to offer them some kind of future. Some education. I really don't know, but I haven't had a lot of time to think about it. Pleasant Valley is more than a place where people live. We're a family and we've got kids. Don't ask me how to sell this to the people living here, but we aren't turning them over to the state without a fight."
"The people in Pleasant Valley may surprise you," Lisa said.
"One would hope," Dury said.
On Thursday night Keith brought dinner in containers that kept the food hot for longer than it took Gary to drive the eight miles to Dury's. This was a routine that gave the three men a chance to compare notes.
"Are there more thighs?" Dury asked. "I'm not much of a wing man."
"You've always been a fine wing man as far as I'm concerned," Gary said.
"More cornbread with the thighs, Dury?"
"Yes, more cornbread."
"What are you planning to do about television?" Gary asked. "The buildings are wired for cable. I've put a sufficient antenna on each roof to pick up the networks inside each unit. That gives them a half dozen choices."
"I myself plan to do what I've done most of my life, ignore it," Dury said.
"Do we go cable or satellite?" Gary asked. "You can't rob the people of an opportunity to zone out in front of the tube, Dury."
"We provide endless opportunity for our residents to be productive and interact with one another. Now you want me to provide them with a reason to avoid contact. They'll want meals in their unit so they can stare into the abyss."
Dury looked across the table at Gary as he thought over the question at hand. The seriousness on his face told the entire story. How do they avoid piping television into Pleasant Valley?
"I don't want either," Dury said firmly. "I don't know how to answer you. I'll need time on this one. I have principles. I won't subsidize propaganda and advertisers who are more swindlers than good faith merchants. I'm suborning their behavior if I expose Pleasant Valley to their propensity to fudge on facts." "That's not going to be an easy sell, Dury. Most people spend a lot of time with their television sets," Gary said. "I have been known to watch an NFL game every now and again, but only Thursday thru Monday, during the season."
"Pray tell whatever do you do after the Super Bowl?" Dury asked.
"NASCAR. I want NASCAR. Their season starts the week after the NFL season ends."
"Thank heavens. I was worried there for a minute," Dury said.
"I never had that habit myself," Keith said. "I do remember a lot of conversation around Dynasty and Dallas when I was working in diners, after I left Henrietta's."
"I can have signs made with a television and a red line drawn through it to make this a no television valley," Gary said. "I somehow doubt its effectiveness."
"I was at my doctor last Tuesday. Television is on in the waiting room to distract the patients from the three hour wait. The doctor was dealing with an emergency and it created a long wait for many people. Since he usually takes me immediately, I not anticipating the wait, I didn't have a book with me. I found myself staring into the television," Dury explained.
"They use a bug to sell insurance. Maybe it's a frog. It's a cartoon. One of the richest insurance companies sells insurance by using a green bug with an impeccable English accent. I ask you, what the hell does a talking bug have to do with selling insurance? What kind of salesmanship is that?" Dury said.
"It's a lizard, Dury. It's supposed to be humorous," Gary explained. "A lizard speaking better English than their clients."
"A lizard? It's a cartoon, Gary. What does it have to do with insurance?"
"Actually it's a gecko," Gary corrected.
"You seem to know all about this. You find that ethical? Shouldn't a company selling a product need to tell you something about that product?"
"I've never thought about it being ethical or not. A lizard walking on his hind legs, speaking perfect English is funny. That's what they're selling."
"Gecko. Why does that ring a bell?" Dury asked, looking at Keith. "The greed is good guy was a lizard? That was his name, right?"
"Gordon Gekko wasn't a lizard but he was a snake," Gary said.
"He's taller too. Naturally he'd have an extra k in his name," Dury calculated. "Greed is Good? It wasn't so much his creed as it was a prediction."
"That's him," Gary said. "He started a trend. Now the world is about money. Gordon merely preceded the trend."
"Don't you see that as a little suspect? A little like an insurance company poking a finger in the consumer's eye and laughing all the way to the bank. Subtle, using a gecko to not talk about insurance. It's almost genius. The kind of gimmick arrogant salesmen use to take advantage of their customers."
"And speaking of television, you've got two idiots selling a chopper or hopper, who babble like morons, and I mean no disrespect to morons. Who buys products from people with a combined I.Q. that doesn't reach double digits? Isn't that a bit insulting to to viewers?"
"I never thought about it," Gary said. "They're advertisers. They have no respect for anyone. You're a potential pigeon to them. They don't need to make sense as long as you dial that number, Now!"
"Yes, you've got to act immediately to get the deal. It's the same ads I heard the last time I saw television years ago, but you still must call now."
"I don't know an alternative," Gary said. "People aren't going to give up television."
"Do it ourselves. Carl is as good looking as you can get. He's a charmer. Put him in front of a camera reading news and such. Have a weather girl and Gary would love to do sports. Make a deal with someone to play uninterrupted movies. Have information shows on the activities in Pleasant Valley, using the residents to tell each story."
"I like that, Keith. We make television fit Pleasant Valley. If we can get enough interest, no one will notice they aren't watching mindless programming."
"We could throw some of that in from time to time to let them know how lucky they are not to be watching that crap," Gary said. "Soldiers could tell their stories."
"We could have recipes and talk about each day's menu."
"Joseph!" Dury said. "He could read from great literature."
"He is a master at telling a tale," Keith said. "Maybe make it a production and have different people reading different parts. Get everyone involved. Like a play."
"There's always one more thing to discuss over dessert. I've been saving this for when we sat down with the Lemon meringue pie. Might I say it is fabulous," Dury said. "What about the boys."
"Don't compliment my pie and then try to wiggle out of our responsibility to those boys," Keith said as firmly as he'd said anything to Dury.
"Ouch! Don't hit me no mo!" Gary yelped.
"What kind of temporary structure can you build me yesterday and how long for a permanent structure?"
"Thank you," Keith said, blushing slightly.
"I can put a wood structure up in two or three days. We have the materials on hand. We'll need to discuss what we want for a more permanent structure. How many rooms? What kind of common spaces? Plumbing might take a bit longer. It won't be the Ritz but I can have them out of the elements early next week," Gary said.
"I'll start working on a way to break the news to the Pleasant Valley residents. While I don't want to step on anyone's toes, those boys need someone to see that they are safe and have some sort of shot at life," Dury said. "All of us have had our shot."
"Thank you," Keith said again.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]