“One day when the clients were outside waiting for the buses, I found Leroy around the side of the building, pulling his zipper down. In front of him stood dull, compliant Ruthie, her pants dropped to her ankles.”
Trouble springs from certain families as naturally as a shadow, then follows them as inexorably. The Fletchers had six children, of whom Leroy was the second. The father left home while they were still young. Two of Leroy’s brothers went to Boulder; another went to the state mental institution in Warm Springs. One brother was murdered in 1978. Leroy himself went to Warm Springs at age five. He stayed there until he was nine, then spent the next twenty years in Boulder. In 1976 he came to Great Falls.
Leroy exuded an air of vanity and virility. He was about 5’10”, lean and athletic, with blue eyes and brown hair and handsome features. Often he had a mustache and a heavy two-day growth.
In the two years that I knew him, Leroy sent three clients to the doctor for pregnancy tests, all of which proved negative. Two of the women weren’t bright enough to stay away from him, while the third, Brenda Sue, was an imp, a little Down syndrome seductress. We discovered them in the bathroom one morning with their pants pulled down. Leroy was sitting on the toilet, Brenda Sue was sitting on his lap, and both were wearing big grins. Another time, when the clients were outside waiting for the buses, I found Leroy around the side of the building, pulling his zipper down. In front of him stood dull, compliant Ruthie, her pants dropped to her ankles.
Letting Leroy out of your sight was always risky. Twice at his group home he set fire to some toilet paper in the basement, and because he sometimes masturbated in front of an open window, the one in his bedroom had to be covered. In Boulder he occasionally sneaked away from the institution and into town. He did this in Great Falls as well until his group home installed an alarm system. Nobody wanted Leroy prowling around the neighborhood schoolyards.
At the Center and at his group home, Leroy was caught innumerable times stealing food, clothing, and money from other clients. Yet he jealously guarded his own possessions and became furious if anyone touched them. What’s mine is mine—he was adamant about that—but what’s yours should be mine as well.
After lunch or break or morning meeting, the clients who worked in the basement would pass through the lobby on their way to the ramp. If Leroy saw a visitor in the lobby, and no staff were nearby, he’d walk up, shake hands, point to himself, and say, “Luh-luh-luh-luh—Lewoy!” Then he’d pet the person’s shoulder, or if she was an attractive woman, he might stroke her shoulder with his head. Guests from a nearby military base didn’t fare much better. Leroy would clack his heels together, stand at attention, and salute, then laugh as though they were all sharing a joke.*
Once he reached the ramp, Leroy would linger there, in no hurry to get to the workfloor. If a supervisor told him to get moving, Leroy would slap his hands on his hips, look down at the ground, and remain where he was. When told again, he’d flick his hand angrily at the supervisor—buzz off!—but ever so slowly he’d start walking. Every few steps he’d turn back halfway and shake his fist at his antagonist.
Leroy balked and squawked a lot but rarely became violent; and when he did, it was short-lived. Unlike Grant or Leon, whose attacks could be fierce and sustained, Leroy would throw one punch at the offending supervisor, then run the other way.
Sometimes on the ramp there would be clients close behind him. Leroy would stand aside and, with an annoyed look, wave his hand rapidly, meaning, “Come on, come on, I haven’t got all day.” He’d wait until they passed, then prod them the rest of the way like an impatient cattle driver.
One time he tried waving Charles ahead, but Charles refused; he was always agitated enough without the additional strain of someone breathing down his neck. Deciding he’d rather not tangle with Charles, Leroy went ahead, but he kept looking back, clenching his teeth and shaking his fist at this guy who had defied his authority. When they reached the doorway to the Spanish/Florentine room, Leroy again stepped aside, pointing angrily into the room. By this time Charles had had enough, and he kicked Leroy in the shin. Leroy yelped and scampered away.
During work time, too, he dished out orders. In the Spanish/Florentine room, his job was to apply antique paint to the Craft Steel, which served as decorative trim on these glasses. Leroy wanted to get the paint on and be done with it, so he worked in a rapid, haphazard manner. He was constantly putting his glass on the table, as though it were finished, then capping the jar of paint and setting it aside. He’d ease back in his chair, his arms folded, in order to catch all the action around him. If any clients looked his way, he’d give them the sign for work. If they continued looking at him, he’d say “Go work!” or spin his finger in circles, meaning, “Turn around and watch what you’re doing.”
When clients got tired of him, they’d repeat what they sometimes heard supervisors say: “Be quiet and get to work, Leroy.”
“Shhhhhh!” he’d snap back, letting them know that he didn’t take orders, he gave them. If they said something in response, he’d shake his fist or point at them furiously or scream in outrage.
Any time a visitor stepped onto the workfloor, Leroy would stop whatever he was doing. “Who zat? Who zat?” If the person got close, Leroy would extend his hand. “Guh-guh-guh-guh—g’morning!” he’d say, no matter what time of day it was.
“Good morning,” the visitor would reply, and they’d shake hands.
Then Leroy would laugh and bounce in his seat and repeat, “Guh-guh-guh-guh—g’morning!” The visitor might smile a little uneasily then, not sure how to respond; he might offer a little wave or say hi. Leroy would continue laughing and bouncing and saying good morning until the person left the area.
Leroy’s behavior was the opposite of what we tried to instill in the clients. When people visit an ordinary manufacturing plant, employees continue working, and we wanted ours to do the same. To the extent that it was possible, we tried to live up to our billing as an Adult Training Center by encouraging the kind of behavior that’s expected in the workplace.
Leroy hated being stuck on one job, hour after hour and day after day, so whenever I could, I varied the routine. “Aw-aw-aw—awright, awright,” he’d say, when asked to help move some boxes in the Glass Department or take a note upstairs. He ran such errands quickly and enthusiastically because they allowed him the freedom of movement he cherished.
Sometimes the Center itself became too confining. One afternoon he and some other clients were carrying trash out to the dumpster. Seeing a city bus, Leroy ran out to the street and flagged it down. Fortunately, he didn’t have any money, or he would have climbed aboard. As the bus pulled away, Leroy stood on the curb and directed traffic.
The work area where he was most productive was the campground. Leroy had plenty of energy, he kept pace with the group, and he picked up a lot of garbage. But what really set him apart on this crew was that he was as strong as a typical adult male. Any time we had to clear a field, he was the one I trusted to help me move heavy rocks or branches or timbers.
But Leroy could be a pain. Whenever we got within fifty yards of our van, he thought it was time for a break. When, instead, we started down yet another path that had to be cleaned, he’d shake his fist and point angrily toward the parking lot.
He wanted to say hello to everyone at the campground, so I had to keep him close to me. Often he’d be busy watching people, and would become irritated when I interrupted to steer him toward some cigarette butts. He was especially distracted by slender women and little kids, and any time we got near a dog he couldn’t refrain from dropping to his knees and petting it profusely.
Leroy worked at the campground for two summers—the first with me, the second with another supervisor. But one day he spotted a young woman wearing only a halter top and shorts. Twice he walked up and greeted her, but the third time he became bolder, saying, “Cute, cyooooote!” then patting her rear end. After that he was taken off the campground crew.
For several months he worked in the grouting area. Usually he’d remove his gloves and mask twenty minutes before lunch or break, then snarl and gesticulate when he had to put them back on. Like most clients in the Glass Department, Leroy went to second lunch; but every day he clamored to go with the early group, and every day he got mad when informed he’d have to wait. That half hour was the longest of the day for him. He was antsy as could be, until he sensed the magic moment had almost arrived, and he could restrain himself no more. Sitting on the edge of his chair, with one hand braced against the table and the other poised on his knee, he looked like a runner in the starting blocks.
The instant he was dismissed he’d shoot up the ramp, slithering and elbowing past the other clients. If he beat everyone, including the teachers, to the lunch cabinet, he’d try to swipe an extra treat from another client’s lunch sack. If that didn’t work, he might badger someone at his lunch table into giving him some food. Whenever he got caught, Leroy would shake his finger at that client and scold him—“No! Bad!”—for not keeping his food.
After bolting down his lunch, Leroy would grab a couple of magazines from the lunchroom shelves. If he ran across a picture he liked, he’d hold it up so everyone could see. One day he waved me over to show me a two-page spread of a girl in a bikini—the sexiest shot you’d be likely to find in our collection of magazines. “Guh-guh-guh-guh—girl!” he said. Whether he was looking at magazines or eyeing the scene at the campground, Leroy focused on three things—dogs, children, and scantily clad women—and always his comment was the same: “Cute, cyooooote!”
That was one of his favorite words, but the word he used most was me. He’d jab his chest with his index finger when he said it. One day quiet, unassuming Henry proudly showed me his new watch. Leroy, pointing vehemently at himself, protested: “Noooooo! Muh-muh-muh-muh—meeeeee!” He thought he was forever being deprived of what was rightfully his. In the grouting area, when George, at 6’4”, was given a tall pair of coveralls, Leroy shook his fist furiously, feeling he should get them instead. When it was Barry’s day to go to the campground, Leroy exploded with resentment: “Noooooo! Muh-muh-muh-muh—meeeeee!” He begrudged others their pleasures, wanting them all reserved in his name.
One day when we had a mailing contract, a supervisor was helping Dave with his envelopes. Leroy snapped his fingers at her. “Muh-muh-muh-muh—meeee! Muh-muh-muh-muh—meeeeee!” When she told him he’d have to wait his turn, he yelled, jumped up from his seat, and punched her. Leroy wouldn’t settle for some measly share, and he wasn’t about to wait in some line. He regarded the world with arrogant and envious eyes: he felt he always deserved more and received less.
*For this book, I selected names, like Leroy, that would allow me to replicate the way clients said their own names or the names of others. In order to reproduce the sound of the names as they were actually spoken, I chose names that were amenable to the kinds of elongations, truncations, pronunciations, and nicknames that the clients’ real names generated.