Friday, September 26, 2008

The Poop House Chronicles (Part Two): SURPRISE!!!

After reading the Poop House Chronicles (Part One) you have the lay of the land. You now have at least a mild mental picture of the squalor with which we are dealing. I assure you that the descriptions contained in the last post were completely 100% tame (this post too, is tame, even tamer than the last post.) When compared with what lies ahead... In terms of nerdy references,** the hobbits haven't even gotten out of the Shire yet. They might have encountered a little bit of poop fertilizing a crop or something, but they have encountered nothing even resembling mortal danger just yet.

** Side note: Don't act like you didn't see that movie. I know you better than that. You might not have gone to the theater on opening weekend, or at all, but it found it's way into your netflix queue, or into your stack at blockbuster at some point. I don't care if you have to rationalize it in the "epic scope movie" way, or in the "impressive digital effects" way, or even the "well, it won all those awards, so I figured what the hell" way... The fact is that you saw it, JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE. As a result of seeing that movie, you understand that things only get uglier and uglier and more complicated up until the VERY END. You are only a nerd if, (like me,) you also read the book... possibly more than once. **

It gets FAR WORSE from there, so if that description bothered you, I encourage you to skip all of the Poop House Chronicles posts to come. I will not be held financially or otherwise responsible or in any way liable for any damage to your person, or possessions, (including, but not limited to, vomit on your keyboard, mental anguish, emotional distress, birth defects, heart palpitations, stroke, nausea, anal leakage, suicidal thoughts, self-inflicted wounds resulting from attempting to cleanse yourself by drinking bleach, or by gouging out your eyes with a pen, etc.)

So when we left off, Julie and I were in her car. I was contemplating the serious questions regarding what I was willing to put myself through in order to earn a paycheck and remain on the right side of the law. These were big questions to be sure.

Through the remainder of my training I encountered nothing worse than one house which was mildly cluttered and smelled like locker full of dirty gym socks. Julie again assured me that there was virtually no chance that I would end up with a case that bad, as that was the worst of the worst, and she was already on it, and she's been doing this job for years, so she isn't going anywhere.

I figured that my financial woes were bad enough that I needed to go ahead and see what I was going to get saddled with when I was handed my own case load and go from there. This, my first red flag, would pass by acknowledged but unheeded. I know that they say that hindsight is 20/20, but if I knew then what I know now, there is no way in hell that I'd have stayed on. Not even if they had offered to triple my salary. In retrospect, it really is amazing how long I stayed once the red flags went back up and I got so used to encountering them on a daily basis that I began to suspect I was part of some secret government relocation plan which landed me in China, Albania, the USSR, or some other unpleasant country with a predominantly red national flag.

So my training wore on, and I did so well with everything that I was actually handed cases after only eight days of training rather than the standard ten. While I was ahead of the game, I was behind the proverbial eight ball. Things only went downhill from here.

In the interest of full disclosure, the standard case load for a person in my position is usually something on the order of five to ten cases. Some case workers have as many as eighteen to twenty-five, but that includes cases which are "on hold," which as you may have guessed, means that nobody is doing anything on them, but you're still assigned the case if it should suddenly become active again. The goal of the person in my position is to bill 30 or more hours per week. (Keep in mind that this is BILLABLE time, not necessarily the actual time you will spend dealing with your ne'er do well clients.) In the simplest terms, when you have 10 cases, you obviously spend an average of 3 hours per week on any given case. When you have five cases you average 6 hours per case. Trust me when I tell you that when dealing with any of these clients, spending 6 hours with them becomes QUITE the chore.

My initial case load was most likely designed as a "trial by fire" because my superiors decided that my case load would consist of TWO, count them, TWO cases. This means that if I was merely working the absolute minimum, I would average FIFTEEN hours a week working with each of the TWO families. And the requests of the state case managers had me working closer to 45 billable hours per week to meet all the standards, (working closer to 60 hours weekly when all was said and done). That is ENTIRELY TOO MUCH time for me to be spending with anyone who I don't like, and with whom I wouldn't hang out with at the bar. I was in hell almost instantly.

So I worked my two cases and carried on about my business, trying my best to tough it out until something changed. Mind you, within a month of my first day of training I got called to court to testify against the mother on one of my cases, and I was expected to continue working with her after that testimony shot all kinds of holes in what little rapport I'd established with her. So I did my time, like a good little prisoner, and was constantly cursed at, berated, and belittled for merely doing my job, and six months later she got her children back and I was rid of her... Of course when you're working so heavily on TWO cases, when one closes, you've got to pick up new cases to make up for those lost hours.

I picked up a couple of relatively easy cases, especially when compared to the mega-bitch with whom I'd just finished. I'd still managed to make my hourly quota by dealing with suicide threats and being constantly on call for a woman who seemed to think that just because she had my direct line (which we are unfortunately required to give them) that she was to use it at all hours to let me know at three AM that she'd gotten new shoes, or that she was feeling hopeless and wanted to start self-mutilating again. So at three in the morning I would either have to explain that new shoe news could wait until our appointment the next day at the more civilized hour of nine AM, or haul my ass out of bed, go downtown, and talk her out of filleting her arm. She always refused to go get a mental health evaluation at a hospital, so it was always on me to take care of this mess. Eventually this nut job calmed the fuck down, and my hours began to stabilize at a reasonable level.

For whatever reason, right about this same time, hiring had slowed to a crawl. (This is highly uncommon, as you might have guessed with a job like this, turnover is ridiculous, and with this firm it was PARTICULARLY obscene.) But there was nobody to take on new cases. And in case you didn't already know, people don't stop abusing their kids just because hiring is down. So it wasn't uncommon to get phone calls from the office staff requesting that people with already-full schedules start taking on additional cases. Julie the magnanimous, often gets these calls before anyone else because she loves what she does and doesn't mind working a 60 hour week. Julie got a phone call begging her to take a case which would significantly add to her already over-full schedule. Julie took it. Julie then called the office a few days later stating that she would keep her new case, but that she would need to dump a few of her other, slightly less time-consuming cases in order to fulfill the requests of the state case worker on her new case.

(Most of you see where this is going.)

Not wanting to upset Julie, a highly valued and diligent worker, her wish was granted, and some of her smaller cases were taken off of her service. Of course, this all happened in a back door, cloak and dagger transaction, and one of the cases she dumped (pun only slightly intended) was THE POOP HOUSE.

A short while later, my phone rings. It's the office.


"LIIIIIIIIIZ! How nice to talk to you!"

"What do you want from me?"

"Well, we see that your hours have dropped off from 45 to around 35, and if you want the extra money, we've got some easy cases!"

"You're selling this a little too much, what's on the table?"

"Oh, nothing too terrible! Just a parent aide which shouldn't take more than a couple hours a week, really easy, in and out really!"

"Is it a new case?"

"No, it's a transfer case, so people have already laid the ground work for you!"

"What's going on with them?"

"Well, let's see... There's a little girl. She's five. She was taken out of the home because her dad molested her from the time she was three, she's been in foster care, and now they have put her back in the home with her mom and step-dad and they just want someone to go in and make sure that things are going ok... You might have to help them with finding some resources like food on occasion, but mom has a job, so nothing too terribly involved."

"Let me think about it and get back to you."

"PLEASE take it! I don't have any trainees to give it to, and everyone else is full at this point!"

"Well if you look at my hours, I'm full too!"

"Yeah, but you're not as full as you were! And this is just extra money in the bank!"

"I'll think about it."


"We'll talk about it when I get to the office."

A short while later I got to the office. Again I got pathetic pleading. And I got the repeat of the "easy case, easy money" line. Under false pretenses, I was suckered into taking the case. At this point I am figuring that it can't be that bad. And then I am handed the case information sheet. I see the address. It looks familiar, but I can't quite place it. I look up the address on mapquest and as my jaw hits the desk I develop a stutter. I know this neighborhood. I KNOW THIS HOUSE!


"You lied to me! You told me this was an EASY case that was not heavily involved at all! It might not be heavily involved if I had a hazmat suit, a gas mask, and a bulldozer! I'm NOT taking this case!"

"It's already on your sheet! Take it up with your supervisor!"

RED FLAG!! I was lied to, and conned into taking THE POOP HOUSE! And THE POOP HOUSE itself raised about 9.3 MILLION RED FLAGS!

I should have quit on the spot.

I still needed the paycheck too desperately.

I didn't quit.

I knew what was out there... I just didn't know how bad it was all about to get.

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