We Call It Slum Court

We call it Slum Court. It’s less than two blocks up from a brand-new Lutheran church and right in the middle of a prosperous suburb.

Back in 2009, as a new member of the proletariat, I bumbled around in a series of (what to me) were low echelon jobs. Eventually, I took one driving a small bus for a senior center hereabouts. Each day I’m dispatched to various addresses around the county to schlep my charges to and from the doctors, the shrinks, the physical therapists and day-care centers. My little bus is equipped with a hydraulic lift for hoisting my disabled passengers.

One day, when I’d been on the job for a few weeks, I was sent to pick up Henry at (you guessed it) Slum Court, an old diseased apartment complex. Ten years ago, a real estate developer bought the place, evicted all the tenants and converted the whole shebang to what’s called an “adult home.”  Other drivers told me about Slum Court but said I’d have to see it for myself as no description could do it justice. Well, this was to be the day.  At the appointed hour, I backed into a parking lot squeezed-in between two shabby three-story buildings, both painted a faded purple — Slum Court.

The inmates of Slum Court are ensconced on the ground floors while the live-in minders dwell upstairs. The ground floor housing units are graced with Lanai doors above which unit-numbers are painted. Henry, my passenger, was in a wheelchair so I deployed the lift and went across the lot to unit 309; Henry’s home.

The sidewalk was a muddy path meandering from the blacktop through thin grass and assorted debris up to Henry’s unit. As I climbed onto the concrete “patio”, a thin, cracked slab of composite, I noticed that all the windows in all the units were shut tight and obscured by thick, heavy drapes and blinds. It had to be as dark as a cave in those places.

Dodging some clods of mud, I banged on the Lanai and announced my presence. A few moments passed then a finger hooked the Lanai’s drape and pulled it back maybe an inch and an eye peered out. “Hello, I’m Merlin, from the center,” I called out. “I’m here for Henry.” The eye blinked, then went away. Another few minutes passed and a hand pulled back the drape a few feet and the Lanai slid partly opened. A gust of foul air blew out. In the dank and sepulchral gloom of the unit I saw the dim form of someone seated in a wheelchair; Henry, no doubt. With that, another minder gave Henry’s chair a shove out onto the patio and the Lanai slammed shut.

Henry had an oddly shaped head with three peg-like teeth jutting from an undershot jaw. Henry’s skin was a splotchy pink-and-white and his hair was matted with grease. He was dressed in ill-fitting clothes that hadn’t been washed in an age and his shoes were nasty looking flip-flops. Henry didn’t smell so good either.

It is our custom to make chit-chat with passengers, letting them know we don’t regard them simply as cargo so, going up on the lift, I took a stab at some small talk. I might as well have been talking to a post.

Once in the bus, I had to secure Henry’s wheelchair to a series of lugs in the floor. This meant I had to kneel on the floor to work the straps, which meant my nose was level with the wheelchair’s seat where I smelled BM and urine, plus a taint of corruption (probably an ulcer from diaper rash, or perhaps a festering bed sore). The wheelchair’s frame was liberally encrusted with god only knows what and it stank too.

While I was hooking up Henry, he let out with a sneeze, it being flu season and all. As I stood to examine my strapping job, I saw Henry with an enormous stalactite of snot and boogers hanging out his nose. We drivers are supposed to minister to passenger needs, such as wiping Henry’s nose, but I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. I decided to pretend I hadn’t seen it and deliver Henry to the clinic. Let the doctors and nurses deal with it.

Henry’s on Medicaid.

Comes now the election of 2012. Both parties are preoccupied with the deficit and, by extension, government spending. They posture and bray, trying to outdo each other in finding ways to cut those damned entitlements! Specifically, entitlements like Medicaid.

As for Henry, let his family take care of him. Or, he can turn to the churches. Better yet, give Henry Medicaid vouchers so the free market can work its magic and provide optimum services at minimum cost.

Surely you realize people like Henry come from families as poor as church mice. Does anyone honestly think that if Henry’s people had any money, they’d have him living on Medicaid in Slum Court? Of course not. So where would Henry, and tens of thousands like him, be without the Medicaid? Dead, most likely. Or dying in filth and squalor and pain.

But if not Medicaid, then what? Philanthropy? Can you imagine a swell from Gross Pointe pulling up to Slum Court in his Escalade saying, “Let me take poor Henry home to live with us. I’ll hire a full-time staff to minister to him 24/7/52 and make Henry a part of my family”?

Yeah, right.

If what I told you about Henry hasn’t softened your heart and given you pause to reconsider the Medicaid issue, then come with me for a week. See the sights. Gape at the defectives. Listen to them. Smell them. And take a good look at Slum Court. You probably won’t be eating lunch for a few days, but neither did I.

In the Bible, it says you can judge a man’s character by how he treats his animals. I think we can say its possible to judge men’s characters by how they treat their Henrys.

Like the song says:

Out there in the storm,
Not everyone is safe
And warm.


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