word salad world

Chronicles of Pathways Drop-In Center


I’ve been away for quite some time and I feel an explanation is in order. I’m still active with Pathways, but I haven’t taught beadwork to Pathways’ clients for two months. I’ve had some trouble with my health. Nelson (Pathways’ Founder and President} and I are also trying to get a short film made that I can use for crowdfunding and get a new website for Pathways. I’m calling the film and digital media departments of the schools where I got my degrees because I’m hoping my alumni status will help.

I’m also trying to get new tennis shoes and undergarments donated because Pathways’ clients desperately need them.

I’m not trying to impress anyone about what I’m trying to do because Nelson and I have limitations that make us have to take on all this piecemeal.

I plan to return to Pathways for beadwork next week. I don’t know when I’ll write another post. Hopefully soon, but for now I’d like you to see how wonderful and vital Pathways is for the Orlando, FL mental health community by showing the film below.




Everyone and no one


The candy lady stood outside near Pathways’ entrance on my way in, swearing at someone only she could hear.

“Goddamn motherfucker…” I didn’t stick around to hear the rest.

Bonnie and the others who sat around the patio table helped me carry four yard bags full of my husband’s unwanted clothes into the building. We set the bags on top of the pool table.

They were excited. It was Tuesday – donation day.

“Are we doing beads today?” Bonnie asked.

“No. I can only do it once a month so it will last for the rest of the year. We can do it every second Tuesday of the month. Plus it doesn’t make good blogging material.”

They get so absorbed in the beadwork they don’t say much and it only takes about 40 minutes for them to make the eight stretchy cord bracelets that I allow them to make. Now that Fire Mountain Gems and Beads, my favorite jewelry supply company, has graciously donated enough beads and findings to allow beading classes once each month, I feel certain I have enough supplies to last a year. I can offer a necklace and earring workshop once a quarter too.

I gave Pathways’ manager a red crystal and black faceted bead bracelet. She has bright red hair, like she uses the intense colors you get from the product Manic Panic. She seemed to really like what I gave her as she took it out of the plastic zip lock bag.

“That’s so sweet. It’s wonderful.” She put it on. The manager seems wary of me sometimes and I wanted to let her know that I appreciate her working there and keeping things running smoothly. She can be gruff towards Pathways’ clients, but I understand from when I worked there that if you’re not firm they will take advantage of you.

I spread out the art supplies on the dining room table. Magazines, markers, scissors, glue, neon poster board and a fat folder of pictures to color. No one came over while about six people picked through the donations. Two men sat indifferently at computers, which are in the same room as the pool table. When Pathways originally purchased computers with internet access ten years ago, everyone wanted to use them. There was a sign-up sheet and a time limit. There are seven computers and I rarely see more than two people use them while I’m at Pathways these days. It may be because fewer clients have been coming to Pathways since the TV room burned down. Many of the participants in my workshop don’t know how to use computers. They got left behind.

A man held up a pair of my husband’s khakis eyeing the size. The others slung the clothes they wanted over their shoulders.

The candy lady came in. She didn’t say anything. She had a hot pink bandana on her head. The candy lady makes me wary. The others seem to feel the same way. She’s at least 5’10” and two hundred pounds and always seems agitated.

Vonda came over. I’ve known her the whole twelve years of my involvement with Pathways.

“Did they hire you back?”

“No. I just volunteer. Here’s two new National Geographic’s.” That’s the magazine they like most. She wasn’t interested. She left through the side door that leads to the front patio.

Trisha sat down next to me. She looked through the animal pictures I had printed off the internet the night before.

The candy lady came over jabbering incoherently. She usually asks me for candy, but that day she ignored me.

Trisha said, “Can you please be quiet.”

The candy lady left the room without saying anything.

Trisha pointed to a picture of a deer. “Bambi,” she said.

I looked at the book shelf. It was nearly empty.

Trisha said, “Do you know who can really draw? Grace.”

“I know. I have one of her drawings and have taken pictures of her other drawings. She’s sweet too. I haven’t seen her in a while. Do you know where she’s been?”

“She’s at Florida South.”

“For her COPD?”

“I’m not sure. She’s in ICU.”

A pall went through me. I was going to ask Trisha for Grace’s last name, but felt like I might cry in front of her and decided to say nothing. Trisha seemed unfazed. I don’t think she was callous. So many bad things happen to Pathways’ homeless clients that they’ve come to expect it. Grace continues to smoke even though she’s been in and out of the hospital for her COPD.

Trisha picked up a piece of green construction paper and a silver Crayola pencil. She chose two pictures. A kitten running in the grass and a dolphin jumping out of the water. She picked up the colored pencils then put them down. Then she took a National Geographic. I was afraid of asking Trisha if she had visited Grace.

The apathy there was palpable. Most had already spent their Social Security and didn’t have any cigarettes left. It was the third week of the month.

Trisha wrote in cursive on the kitten picture, “Looks playful.” I never know what they’re going to do with my supplies.

I noticed she had a digital watch and its face was blank. Why would she wear a broken watch? “As soon as she finishes I’ll leave,” I thought. She gave up on the pencils because they didn’t show up and picked up a gray fine line marker.

Jesus, the guy who made up games on scraps of cardboard the week before, sat down. I have a few notes about some of what we talked about, but I stopped taking notes in order to listen to him.

“Did you put my game on your computer?” he asked.

“Yes, but I haven’t posted it on my blog yet. I’m way behind. Do you want me to? You seemed unsure the last time I saw you.”

“Go right ahead. Use my name.”

“I can’t. I have to use a pseudonym.”

He pulled out some of the butterfly pictures he took the last time I saw him. He had colored one picture of two butterflies pink and blue. He left the flower in the picture uncolored.

I offered him neon poster board. “Could you use this for one of your games?”

“No, not unless you have white. Can you bring some next week?”

“I can’t come next week and I never show up the first week of the month. There’s no one here then so I don’t bother. The second Tuesday of the month I offer beading classes. The following two weeks of the month I offer what I have today.”

He wrinkled his nose. “I don’t want to bead.”

“You should try it. Even the guys do it. You get to keep what you make. If you do a good enough job, you can sell it. So think about it. I’ll be here the second Tuesday of next month. I hope I see you.”

“Maybe,” he said, staring at the book shelf.

Trisha wrote, “I Love dolphins.” on the picture of a leaping dolphin.

I heard the piano that’s in the foyer when you walk in the main entrance. I heard laughter.

Jesus showed me a book of sheet music. “I play guitar. I try to sing too. I love hymns. They used to pick us up for church but they don’t anymore. Now I have nothing.”

The candy lady returned, swearing incessantly.

“Stop, you fat motherfucker! Motherfucker stop!”

”Hey, hey, hey!” the manager said to make her stop. She did. The staff at Pathways is pretty tolerant. Some of the clients are like that and as long as they don’t directly threaten anyone they can stay.

“Talking to everyone and no one that’s how she is,” Jesus said.





Jesus' game

“I shouldn’t have stayed away so long,” I thought as soon as I got to Pathways. On my way in I gave Bonnie some old nail polish I found while cleaning out my vanity that morning.

Bonnie came over to the table as I set up and sat down. She showed me her painted nails.

“I just put it on over my old polish. I was too lazy to take it off.”

I didn’t bring any remover.

“I’m not up to coloring today. When are you offering jewelry?” she asked.

“Maybe next month. I don’t have enough beads to do it once a month.” I had decided earlier that month to buy cheap painted glass beads and stretchy cord in order to have beadwork once in a while. They’d been clamoring about it for months.

“Can’t you use the plastic ones in the back?”

“If you don’t mind plastic I’ll do it once a month. How’s the second Tuesday sound?”

“Great. Thank you so much. I bought 2 stretchy bracelets from Dollar Tree.” They were pretty. They had cobalt blue crystals. It doesn’t take much to make them happy.

A man of about sixty came over to the table. “I want to draw. My brother in Kissimmee paints, but he’s too far away.”

He lifted a piece of folded card board and said, “I’m Jesus. I design games.” Jesus’ game was folded card board that must have come from a side of a box. At first I thought it would say, “Hungry. Please help.” It had crude concentric circles in each corner with the phrase “Galactic warriors” in each corner and a larger circle in the center whose outer circle was a compass and multiple ellipses in the center of that circle.

“What are the ellipses for?” I asked.

“The galaxy.” He said it as if I should know. “I have a dozen more at home.”

“Do you want poster board to draw more of your games?”


I don’t know why preferred a cardboard box to a piece of poster board in order to make his games look more pleasing. I should’ve asked, but he might have interpreted it as criticism, so I didn’t.

He leafed through pictures I always brought for coloring. “My sister would love this Mayan Aztec picture.”

He effused about how beautiful the coloring pictures were, but he didn’t see that the poster board would make it easier to see his games.

“Can I take a picture of your game so I can put it on my blog?”

“What’s a blog?”

“It’s like an online essay. I write one about Pathways.”

“If I let you take a picture someone might steal my idea.”

“They won’t. By the way, what are the rules of your game?”

“It’s about the forces of good and evil.”

“Can you tell me a little more?”

“No. I don’t want anyone stealing my ideas when you put it in that essay.”

“Fine. If I show only the picture of your game without writing about the rules then no one will be able to steal your idea.” I handed him a release. “If I show a picture of your game I have to have you sign a release. It says that the image is your property and you’re only allowing me to show it. It protects you by having a statement that it’s your work with your name on it.”

“If I sign it, will you give me a copy and write the address of your whatever so my brother can show me? My brother’s a retired systems engineer.”

“I can’t get to the copy machine in the office. I don’t want to bother the staff. How about you sign another one and you’ll have your own copy. I’ll write the address of my blog on it.”


I took a few pictures.

“I just want other people to see how creative you are,” I told him.

“So where are the board pieces?” I asked.

“I don’t have any. I could use checkers.”

Some people with what’s euphemistically called “thought disorders” – people who experience delusions and hallucinations – have the same space alien theme in their psychosis. Maybe since Jesus was making games he wasn’t delusional. The CIA theme is another one that I hear about. It’s never the NSA and always the CIA. That may change since Edward Snowden’s release of information about the NSA, but I doubt it. Many of them don’t pay attention to the news. Only the ones who think the TV is transmitting personal messages to them would get delusions about the NSA. I’ve never had that kind of delusion, but I’ve had ones about being a muse. I’ve heard voices when psychotic so I understand how hard it is for some of them to function with substandard care. Poverty makes it worse. It adds stress, which triggers episodes. Many studies have found this to be true. I’ve seen it myself. The difference is huge between Pathways’ clients and the more economically stable members of my bipolar support group.

Jesus picked up National Geographic and Smithsonian magazines.

“Can I take these home and bring them next week?” he asked.

“I won’t be here next week. You have to bring it back today.”

He returned to looking through the coloring pictures.

“Can I have some of these to take home?”

“Sure. As much as you want. I can replace them.”

Theo came over and grabbed “Wired” magazine and a piece of neon orange poster board. He cut out words and pictures from the magazine and contemplated where to put them.

I never noticed that he is balding. He always seemed young to me. He must be my age and I never noticed the deep furrow on his forehead.

I never looked close enough because I was so busy writing notes about what they do.

A thirty something black woman stitched her own light purple seed beads into a bracelet. She had one of those plastic boxes with compartments for hardware or crafts.

She stopped working on her bracelet and picked out a yellow neon board and wrote the name “Monique” in huge blue letters. The combination of ink and board made the letters dark green. She decorated the letters and said nothing.

Theo rummaged through my supplies and took a pair of reading glasses. There were only two pairs left. I needed to get more of them.

Jesus took a bunch of butterfly pictures.

Theo looked through “Cat Fancy.”

“I have animal pictures in this folder so take a look at these,” I told him.

He looked through the folder. He started on another neon orange collage and cut out a picture of two kittens sleeping. “I love cats. These are so cute.”

I never critique their work. I thank them for participating, but I noticed that Theo needed another image at the top of his first collage.

Eunice asked, “Can I color this?” It was a butterfly picture.

“That’s what they’re there for.”

“Jody I’m so glad you’re back. I missed you.” Her comment made me feel good. She was talking about when I worked for Pathways nine years ago.

“I missed you too.”

Theo added the words, “Love all living things” to his first collage. It made it look much more balanced.


After I finished up, I spoke to Nelson, Pathways’ founder.

“Is there was any way to vary the menu?”

“We’re already doing it. Albert quit because he got too old and now our cook goes to Second Harvest. She bought 50 pounds of ground beef and 50 pounds of chicken for .15 a pound. Munchie has an ability to improvise, but since Albert was doing the shopping she didn’t have control over what to buy.”

When I first arrived, Nelson had stocked the volunteer closet. Members who volunteer to help clean up get canned and boxed food after they finish. We did the same when I worked there.

“They told me today they don’t mind using the plastic beads so I’ll let them bead once a month. I got cheap beads from Fire Mountain Gems a few days ago. I keep meaning to write an email to Fire Mountain Gems asking for a donation, but it’s hard to make myself do what I want to do sometimes.”

“I have that problem every day,” Nelson concurred.

“I know. It’s like that myth Sisyphus rolling a boulder uphill,”

“Exactly. I didn’t know how to pronounce Sisyphus until you just said it. I read a lot, I know what the words mean, but I don’t know how to pronounce them. I know the myth. He pissed off the gods and was punished by having to roll the boulder uphill every day. Are you sure that’s how it’s pronounced?”

“I think so. You can always Google ‘pronounce…’ and the word.”

“That’s way too much work.”

I noticed Nelson’s office still had the Freud action figure on the wall. I can’t imagine where he found it. I should’ve asked him. He often wears funny t-shirts that joke about mental illness. These shirts are meant to caricature mentally ill people, but they reflect Nelson’s and Pathways’ clients’ reality – as well as my own. He didn’t wear one of his “The voices tell me…” shirts that day, but when I worked there he wore them all the time. Today, as usual, he had his ratty sport coat draped over the office chair he was sitting in. He’s had that thing ever since I met him 12 years ago.

“Your blog is like a newsletter for Pathways,” he told me.

It sort of is. I would spend more time there, but I never knew if it was going to make me feel better or worse. Earlier that day I didn’t want to go there, but I did and it was a great day.

“Listen, since the TV room burned down I’ve seen people with blankets pulled over their heads so you can’t see who they are. A picture of that would drive home how hard it is for them.”

“I think you have to ask their permission.”

“Then I won’t bother taking a picture. I don’t want to disturb them.”

“Tell you what, send me an email that I can forward to our lawyer Mike and see what he says.”

“Ok. Great. Well, I better go. I have to go home and write some notes about today.” I took a picture of all the stuff Nelson had taped to his office door on my way out. It’s always been there.

Nelson's office door

Nelson’s office door

Donations Day

Grace's drawing

Grace’s drawing

I returned to Pathways after a three week absence because a friend of mine died from cancer. I needed a break. I’m way behind on this blog.
Grace cleaned the table we always use with a rag and I wiped it dry with napkins. It took a few minutes for the smell of bleach to dissipate.
“I’ve been in the hospital for the past few weeks again,” Grace told me.
“I’ve been away too. COPD again?”
I spread the contents of my bags onto the table for my weekly arts and crafts workshop.
I noticed Pathways served hot dogs again. When I worked at Pathways ten years ago, Friday was hot dog day. We served it with sauerkraut, beans and sometimes coleslaw. Now everyone gets two hot dogs and beans. I used to love hot dog day. It was easy to prepare and everyone loved it. I don’t see that sort of excitement over hot dogs these days. I don’t know why. No one asks for my meal and in the past I’m sure they would have.
Two other women sat down at the table. Each searched through magazines and pictures I’d cut out from art magazines. I also brought animal pictures from National Geographic’s website. I had seen these women around, but usually they didn’t participate.
“What’s your name?” I asked a chubby, dark haired woman.
“Pretty name. I take it you know what you want to do.”
“Yeah,” she answered as she looked through the poster board in order to make a collage. Although I offer contents of adult coloring books, I always hope my art workshop participants will make collages because it reflects what they think and feel.
I gave Grace a 2B drawing pencil I once bought for a drawing class. “I can’t stay clean living here,” she told me when I gave her the pencil. She said, “I’d love a drawing pad, but it’d probably get wet.” In a matter of minutes a drawing of a butterfly flowed out of her. She held up her drawing to show everyone.
“Beautiful,” a short, dark-skinned man commented as he came up to the table. He grabbed a National Geographic magazine and sat down to read.
The man who sleeps on three dining room chairs was there again. “He must be exhausted to be able to sleep with all this noise,” I thought. As soon as I had the thought, the man got up, gathered his white hospital blanket and backpack and left.
Luella made two collages on both sides of a neon orange poster board. “I want to hang it by string,” she told me. On one side it had a picture of a woman from some kind of make-up ad and the other side had pictures of a red fox, a white-tailed deer and a brown bear. I didn’t get a chance to take a picture.
Grace finished her drawing.
“Can I have it?” Luella asked.
“Sure. It’ll just get wet if I keep it.”
Someone dumped bags of donations onto the pool table. A group of about a dozen people gathered around the table. They shouted at each other and shoved one another as they grabbed whatever they could whether it would fit or not. After all the donations were gone I saw several people hold up their bounty to see if it would fit. “Does anyone wear an 8?” A woman asked while holding up a pair of shorts I donated. All of this happened in about five minutes.
The scene of desperation over the donations disturbed me. I decided to leave and call Nelson, Pathways’ Founder, and tell him what happened.
“Who dumped the donations and who was shoving?” Nelson demanded.
“I don’t know. There were so many people around the table I couldn’t see.”
“Are you trying to protect someone? I’m not going to tell anyone it was you who told me. Just tell me what the ones shoving looked like,” Nelson said. Most people at Pathways, including me, have an understanding that you don’t rat on a client. Otherwise you might receive retaliation. I need them to trust me.
“No, I’m not. I really couldn’t see. I don’t know how your staff could prevent it from happening anyway. I mean, I guess you could ban the ones who were shoving.” I guess when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose, but they do have something to lose. Aggression at Pathways sometimes results in a permanent ban.
The next week, when donations were handed out, clients quietly picked through the donations. Pathways’ manager stood next to the table. Nelson must’ve told the manager to remind Pathways’ clients that shoving could result in a loss of services. Problem solved.
The folks who regularly participate in my art workshop share with one another. They ask each other to watch their things while they go outside for a smoke or go get their laundry. They trust one another. They ask me if I brought reading glasses or clothing every time I go to Pathways, but they don’t demand these things. I bring donations every week because they have very few possessions. They are focused on their immediate needs because there is a lack of services in the community to provide for their basic needs. That’s why the aggression I witnessed bothered me. It shows that they are really hurting. No one from my workshop participated in the melee over donations.
According to the book, “The Meritocracy Myth,” there is a popular theory that “poor people are ‘present-oriented’ and are unable to ‘defer gratification’… However, the present orientation of the poor can be an “effect” of poverty rather than a “cause.” That is, if you are desperately poor, you may be forced to be present oriented. If you do not know where your next meal is coming from, you essentially have no choice but to be focused on immediate needs first and foremost. By contrast, the rich and middle class can ‘afford’ to be more future oriented since their immediate needs are secure. Similarly, the poor may report more modest ambitions than the affluent, not because they are unmotivated, but because of a realistic assessment of limited life chances. In this sense, observed differences in outlooks between the poor and the more affluent are more likely a reflection of fundamentally different life circumstances than fundamentally different attitudes or values.” (2009, p.32)
That sums it up. It’s not their fault.


Two members of my bipolar disorder support group helped Pathways. They contacted Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel (Pathways is located in Orlando, FL) and told her about the fire that destroyed half of Pathways six months ago. The story ran March 7, 2014. The Sentinel also included a short video online describing what kind of organization Pathways is and shows the fire’s damage.

My bipolar group has been extremely helpful to Pathways even though they’ve never been there. I talk about Pathways a lot during our weekly meetings. My group has donated food, clothing, arts and crafts supplies and money.

Nelson, Pathways’ founder and director, discovered that the foundation of the area that burned down was not up to code and will need to be replaced. This adds a lot more expense. Pathways has a shortfall in their operating budget because of cuts in their county government grant. Pathways could end up closing an additional day a week if they don’t get help with their operating expenses. Pathways needs to serve an average of at least 35 mental health consumers a day in order to hold on to their county grant. Pathways is open six days a week. If they drop down to five days a week, their average of consumers served will drop and they may lose their county grant as a result. Pathways’ clients are suffering enough. If Pathways ceases to exist, they will lose services that they cannot get anywhere else.


Moments of Clarity

Brenda small-1I arrived at Pathways at 1 pm. I figured people would still be eating at 12:30 so I wanted it to clear out before starting. I gave away the shampoo, conditioner and lotion I collected during my vacation. I also brought paperback novels, which disappeared in about 10 minutes. I’m going to wait awhile before buying more books because most took two or three books. I spied an L. Ron Hubbard book that was already there when I put the books on the shelf. “What the hell is that doing there?” I thought. L. Ron Hubbard founded Scientology, an organization that is profusely anti-psychiatry.

“Did you bring me jeans?” Bonnie asked as I began putting Crayola markers on the table.

“I’m sorry. I forgot,” I said.

“Do you have something I can draw on?” asked a short, chubby woman I’d never seen before.

“Yes.” I gave her a sketch pad and 2B drawing pencil.

“What’s your name?” I asked.


A short, stumpy man asked, “What is this?”

Arts and crafts. I usually come by every Tuesday. You can color, draw or make a collage,” I said.

“What’s a collage?”

“You glue magazine pictures onto card board,” I told him.

“I love art, but I’m more musical.”

“Yeah. I love it when he plays piano. I could listen to him all day,” Grace commented. Pathways has an old piano in the foyer.

“Were you here for the re-opening?” I asked Grace.

“No. I was in the hospital for COPD when the TV room burned down. I had stashed my stuff there before I went in and now I’ve lost everything. Do you have clothes?”

“What size do you want?”

“Ten or twelve.”

“I have some, but they’re up in my attic. I don’t know when I can get to them, but I’ll try.”

Grace drew two doves. It was impressive.

“Do you mind if I take a picture of that and put it in a blog I write about Pathways?” I asked, hoping she’d let me do it.


“After you finish with the pencil, can you go over some of it with a marker so I can get a better shot?”

“Sure, baby,”

I gave Grace a box of Skittles.

“Do you want some?” Grace asked a man reading a National Geographic.

“No, that’s ok. I don’t like them,” he answered.

“I’m looking for a one man tent. Do you have that?” Grace asked me.


A large, imposing woman confronted Bonnie. “You cut in front of me. It’s my turn to use the phone.”

“Go home. I got here before you and you cut in front of me.”

“I did not. I was here before you.” The large woman stomped off.

“Bitch. Go home.” Bonnie said after the woman was out of ear shot.

”I’ll make a cat collage in 20 minutes after I use the phone and smoke a cigarette,” Bonnie told me while leafing through a “Cat Fancy” magazine. “This looks just like Goldie. He was run over 2 weeks ago,” she told me and pointed to a tabby. She put the magazine down and stood up.

After Bonnie left, the large woman came back to the table and asked Grace, “What’s going on?”

“I’m drawing. You did good by walking away.”

“Yeah.” The large woman said as she walked back toward the kitchen. I wondered if she intended to complain to the manager about Bonnie.

A man brought his meal over at the head of the table. He had curly hair. “There’s something I want to say but I won’t say it,” he said.

“Then don’t say it,” Grace said.

“What’s your name?” I asked the man.

“Kevin.” He pushed his plate of tuna casserole aside and picked up a National Geographic. He held up an ad for Rosetta Stone.

“This is awesome. The library had this. They cut funding so it messed me up.”

“I tried to learn Spanish with it when they had it,” I said.

“Yeah, so was I. I was hoping to be speaking Spanish in a month. It messed me up, funding cuts.”

“I’m gonna go out and smoke me a cigarette.” Grace said after finishing her drawing.

Bonnie returned. “My second husband died 2 days ago.”

“I’m sorry about that,” I said.

“He was in prison. I saw it coming. No one has the money to cremate him.”

“My son Jason’s going to jail for lack of child support,” Bonnie continued. “I have no pity for him. Now all 4 of my husbands have died in the past 4 years. Drugs and alcohol. Black widow. I’m not because I was with none of them.”

A man with a baseball cap and a piece of synthetic purple hair hanging over his left ear who sat by one of Pathways’ computers turned up the volume of Van Halen’s cover of “Dancing in the Street.”

“Turn the music down,” Bonnie said, raising her voice. “I can’t stand loud music.”

“I hate it too except when I’m drunk,” Grace said as she sat down and started a second drawing.

“Me too except now that I’m sober it gives me a headache.” Bonnie turned to me. “My daughter makes good money. She has a 2 year old son. She’ll talk to me, but I’ve never seen my grandson. I did too much damage when I drank. It’ll take a while. My son is in jail because he didn’t pay child support,” she repeated. “I have no sympathy for him. Don’t take it out on your kid even if he hates his ex. My daughter makes her son number one. She makes good money because she manages at a life insurance company.”

Bonnie once told me she has Bipolar Disorder. I wondered if she was taking her medications. A symptom of mania is jumping from subject to subject.

“My hand is having a spasm,” Grace said.

“Do you need water?” asked Kevin.

“No. I’ll be fine after a cigarette. Watch this for me Bonnie.”

Bonnie showed me a collage filled with pictures of both wild and domestic cats. She asked if she could keep an article on the seasons of grief. I told her she could, but I wasn’t sure what magazine she got it from. All I bring in is “National Geographic”, “Wired” and “In Style.” I brought in the “Cat Fancy” magazine because a few weeks before she asked for it.Then I noticed a bunch of “Ladies Home Journal” magazines perched on top of the board games piled up in the corner.

“One day vegetables will come from the sea, not dirt,” Kevin said, “We only know about one percent of the sea.”

“I’ve heard that before,” I said.

“The swimmer who swam from Cuba to Florida wore a dark suit to keep sharks away. They like bright colors.” Bonnie told him.

Grace gave her dove drawing to a skinny black girl. “Can you sharpen this for me?” she asked me as she held out a green colored pencil.

I sharpened it for her.

“Thank you baby.”

Theo, who had been silently working on a collage, held up his work to scrutinize it. I couldn’t recall when he joined us. I looked at Theo closely. I had always thought he was in his late twenties or early thirties, but after looking at him I realized he is balding and has deep furrows in his brow and around his eyes. Why didn’t I look closer at him before? I look closely at the women all the time. I can tell from looking at Bonnie that she was once beautiful. Her four husbands and all the drinking and smoking she did took a toll on her looks. Her teeth are stained and almost black around the edges of her front teeth. Beyond that, I can’t say more. I’ve probably said too much. I describe Pathways’ clients vaguely on purpose. I have to hide their identities.

Grace is chubby, wrinkled and has coarse brown hair that’s turning gray. Several people asked for her dove drawing before she gave it to the skinny black girl. Her second drawing depicted a butterfly sitting on a flower. I liked the doves. There was another woman who came in a few times before the fire that brought her own pencils. She usually came in right before I had to leave. She drew well too, but her style was different from Grace’s. She drew realistically and was formally trained to draw. Grace has natural talent, but very little training. Her drawings are simpler and more stylized. I know this because when I first went to college I majored in Fine Art until my junior year. I wonder why the other woman never drew what she saw at Pathways, but drew pictures from fashion magazines. You would think she could make quick, gestural drawings of Pathways’ surroundings. It would have been a better use of her talent, but now that I think of it, it’s probably against the rules.

Grace went outside for a smoke several times. Smoking helps mentally ill people think better for a short time. Smoking gives them a concentrated rush of nicotine. Many of Pathways’ clients smoke. They can’t afford it, but they buy it anyway. They can’t afford rent and there’s a three year wait on subsidized housing so why not smoke and think more clearly for a few minutes? I don’t think Grace has made the connection that a lot of her COPD is exacerbated by smoking, but maybe those few precious minutes of relief make it worthwhile. It’s hard to tell.

According to a New York Times article and several studies I looked at, smoking can increase concentration and attention for a short time, but mentally ill people who quit smoking often need lower doses of their medication after they quit. The mentally ill may be more genetically susceptible to addiction. Smokers with serious mental illnesses smoke more than mentally healthy smokers. I considered the fact that being exposed to others in their peer group who smoke may provide incentive to join in order to fit in. Up until a few years ago, patients in hospitals were given smoking breaks to reward compliance. There are plenty of environmental and cognitive incentives for mentally ill people to smoke. Smoking is higher in poor populations. That’s why the mentally ill who use the public mental health system die an average of 25 years earlier than the general population. For people at Pathways like Grace, who is homeless, mentally ill and has COPD, the short term reward of satisfying cravings and fleeting cognitive benefits outweighs the expense and destruction of her physical health.


You can’t make this up.

Tad's collage croppedIt was the end of the month, but not many people were at Pathways. Usually at the end of the month Pathways serves over fifty clients. It was an eighty degree sunny day so many of them probably left after they ate their meal to enjoy the weather.

That Tuesday Pathways served tuna mac with a salad, butter and bread.

“I’m all tuna and hotdogged out,” Bonnie told me as she searched for a picture to color. She chose one with a butterfly on a chrysanthemum and started coloring it with a fine tip marker.

Pathways has a $10,000 shortfall in operating funds this year. They can’t afford variety of meals right now.

I brought clothing donations for Patty, but she wasn’t there. Her boyfriend Hank was. Barb looked through my donations and took two shirts and a bra.

“I need size seven shoes and an eight in pants,” she said. She looks short enough to wear a petit, which is what I wear.

“I should’ve just stayed home,” Hank announced. “I’m depressed. I didn’t realize I’d be this way. I’ll catch the 1 o’clock bus and go home,” He grabbed the bag of donations for Patty and left.

When I offered Skittles to a woman who always asks for candy, she said, “I don’t want no Skittles. I want Starburst.” She sat down looked through fashion magazines – first In Style, then Vogue, then Harper’s Bazaar. She talked and laughed to herself nonstop. She had pressured speech, most of which seemed incoherent. But she could understand what I was saying about the candy and respond lucidly so maybe I’m wrong about her incoherence. She’s pretty loud when she laughs, but whispers when she talks to herself. She mostly ignores everyone. She’s in her own world. I can empathize. When I’m psychotic I have a hard time engaging with the world. I understand what people are saying to me, but I don’t make sense to them. I wonder why that is.

A man with a stoma sat at the head of the table. He had course brown hair and a gray Van Dyke.

“What’s your name?” I regretted asking him as soon as he answered.

“Wendell,” he rasped.

“My clothes aren’t dry yet. Is it ok to dry them with yours?” Bonnie asked him. He nodded.

“I’m done coloring today. At least I got started on the flower part. I used to color all the time when the kids were small but I’m all colored out. I think I’ll do a collage next week. I want to do one on cats,” Bonnie said.

“I’ll look for a cat magazine before the next time I come here.”

“I didn’t always like cats. I used to look after a baby that had to be fed through a tube in his stomach. His parents had a two bedroom apartment, but for some reason they kept two cats in a tiny bathroom with very little litter in their box so the cats pissed and shit all over the bathroom. Then they got a dog. They didn’t walk the dog so the dog did the same thing. Then they moved to a one bedroom apartment and got another dog. They didn’t walk it either and they let the cats wonder all over the apartment so there was piss and shit everywhere.”

“Sounds disgusting,” I said.

“It was. Cats have so much ammonia in their pee. Then one of the cats had 3 kittens. So that’s 7 animals in one apartment. One of the kittens died. The boy slept on the bed and there was piss and shit all over the bed. At that point I quit. I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t stand the sight of my own two cats or my nephew’s three cats. I just couldn’t deal with them.”

“Why didn’t you call child services?”

“I work at the paper with these people. They’d know it was me and so I didn’t want to get involved.”

“Then you’d have to watch your back.”

“Exactly. But now I’m ok with cats now and that’s why I want to make a collage about them.”

Theo looked thru a National Geographic. He cut out a picture of a polar bear. “These are beautiful,” he said.

“They may be beautiful, but they’ll kill you,” Bonnie told him. “There was a woman on Oprah who had her face torn off by a monkey – monkeys are dangerous too. She leaned in too close at the zoo feeding it. She wore a veil on Oprah.”

“Wasn’t that the woman who got a face transplant?” I asked.

“Yeah. She looked ok after that. She had some scars but at least she had a face. In 1969 when we moved to Florida my parents took me to Gatorland. There was no fence around the gator pool. A child could’ve fallen in and they’d all tear it to pieces.”

“I guess no one worried about liability back then,” I said.

“Guess not, but now they have a fence that comes up to my chest. I gotta go out and smoke.”

Theo finished a collage featuring animal pictures from National Geographic. They ask for National Geographic by a wide margin more than any other magazine.

I decided that as soon as Candy Lady put her In Style magazine away I’d leave. Then she grabbed a Vogue. I left her with it.