At the Bottom of the Ladder

September 2012. There’s no school for Nate, for the first time over 15 years, but we have a plan.

I was thinking after graduation how to fill Nate’s time, how to make him productive. We know he has the skills; the trick is implementing them in a constructive way. I settled on a three prong approach. There’s Alpha Folks, which is in motion. Once Lauber gets revamped graphics to us I can move forward on the business end. There’s also the strip mall art. We finally got almost all of Nate’s drawings back from the Leonard Tourne Gallery. They kept a few to sell, a very good sign. Today Nate and I will go through a big pile of unframed art he’s willing to part with. They need to be titled. Once that’s done, Karen will take pictures of our stock and we can start a website.

I also thought that it would be in Nate’s interest to not sit around the house all day although, let’s face it, Nate wouldn’t be the only 22-year-old college grad living at home with his parents, playing video games and raiding the refrigerator. Through Arc Otsego, a local organization that helps developmentally disabled people find jobs, Nate had worked at Bassett Hospital’s print shop doing computer work back when he was a high school senior. For all his distractions, he did very well. I figured that for 20 hours a week he could do something like that, employing his talents in a way he might enjoy.

We learned about ‘supported employment,” a program would help Nate get a job locally. I’ve always said that I don’t want Nate to be bagging groceries simply to be out in the community. That is fine for some; I don’t mean to be condescending. However, Nate is a college graduate with some exceptional ability. There must be a place for him in a job that can make the most of that.

Here’s the rub about qualifying for “supported employment.” To get to that end point, Nate has to go through an assessment and that evaluation means doing exactly what we don’t want, putting Nate in menial jobs as a way to gauge his ability. Last Tuesday I brought him to the nondescript Arc Otsego building on Chestnut St. in Oneonta for his first foray. From there he was to head to a SUNY-Oneonta dining hall, cleaning tables, filling napkin dispenser and sweeping the floors for 2 ½ hours. It’s a Catch-22. He’s in a job that holds little interest for him, yet he will be judged by how he performs at it.

In advance of last week’s first session, Nate freaked out. “What is my job going to be?” “Where am I going?” “How long will it take?” “When will I have lunch?” Karen called ahead and got as many details as she could. Nate needed to wear long pants (which goes against all his summer impulses, a solid colored t-shirt and a baseball cap. I drove him down for his appointment. He was ready to go now that he understood what was ahead. Advance planning still calms Nate.

First, I took him for lunch at Pizza Land, a little treat to assuage what, I’ll admit, felt something like guilt. We were certainly putting Nate into a situation he’d rather not be in. After dropping him off I headed to the Huntington Library with Nate’s laptop loaded with a book proposal I’m working on and a few GB of music on his iTunes (which has virtually nothing on it). It was good for me to have a lot of work to do, because I was haunted by thoughts of Nate wiping tables clean, probably talking to himself and earning the mumbled sarcastic comments of SUCO students. He wouldn’t care and probably wouldn’t notice, but I could picture the scene in my mind and it was upsetting.

When I picked him up he was happy and told me about his day. Turns out he has to go back to the same venue two more times; tomorrow he’ll be washing dishes. After two more weeks of the dining hall, I believe there are other similar places of employment he needs to visit. I’ve tried to explain that to Nate, but I’m not sure he gets it. I’ve told him that he won’t do these things forever as a job, but he needs to make the best of things when he’s working.

I do understand that in order to get to our desired end there’s a process, but that process is bumming me out. And while I think that being out of the house doing something productive is worth Nate’s time, I realize that if we achieve our desired goals, success with Alpha Folks and/or strip mall art, Nate will be hanging around drawing and living the same life he always has. So I’m confused. Why are we putting him through this?


About Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.
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One Response to At the Bottom of the Ladder

  1. Pingback: Making It Not Quite On Our Own | Mission of Complex: Our Journey Through Hyperlexia

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