Henry lounging on the balcony of his 10th floor apartment in Queens, watching the parade of stiffs going to work below on the street, happy he didn’t work.
He had a mix of stale popcorn, ashes and peanut shells in a paper bag on his patio table. He started tossing handfuls of the mix into the air towards the stiffs on street level, chanting Vedic verse, blessing everything, feeling holy.
Henry out the door at 10 AM headed to the welfare office. He never went out in the day, but this was official business, things bureaucratic took the piss out of him.
The office was in downtown Queens, he had been there many times. Henry queued and sat down in a hard plastic chair, row 14.
He wore Ray-Bans because the florescent light irritated his eyes. Henry felt the gray unremarkable environment was doleful. Jails, schools, welfare offices— desolate and glum.
Number 103, his number flashing green in an electrified box on the wall. Henry smiles at and nods hello to a attractive black women at a small metal desk. She looks at him and verifies his name and case number, Henry Lucowski, #3459875. Then saying “Mr. Lucowski we have reason to believe that you have lied to the board about your mental health for financial gain. You know we have eyes everywhere and we have been watching you. Please go to the psychologist’s office, room 534.”
Henry nods and makes his way to the 5TH floor queuing again. 2 hours later Henry enters the psychologist’s office and sits down. The shrink a witchy women, middle aged, humorlessly goes to work, a bad sign he thought, serious business.
“Mr. Lucowski how is your mental health these days?” Henry says “Oh, deteriorating by the minute,” She then says, “Mr. Lucowski have you been taking your medication?” He nods yes, lying— he would give the medication to Ruby at Chaim’s Deli, he didn’t know why she wanted the stuff.
“Mr. Lucowski take this test and return it when you're finished.”
It was the usual, Rorschach test, the ink-blots and a series of multiple choice questions like—
Which does not belong?
Did your mother? (Choose answers or answer that apply)
A- Drink excessively
B- Make you wear a dress
C- Punish you harshly
D- Dance naked in the living room
Henry siting down in a plastic chair, the test pages on top of a hard bound book, on his lap, using a pencil, trying to be neat.
He knew he had to be careful not to test too crazy, the welfare cops could lock him up in Rikers Island. It was a delicate balance, He knew the drill.
Henry had been in the Queens Welfare Office all day, from 10 to 5. 7 hours in the comfortless world of the system, depressing, it felt like jail.
His SSI reinstated, corroborated by the shrinks at the welfare office.
Henry soldiered-on, still free in the world of the stiffs.