I’ve made little secret of the many strange and bizarre things that seem to happen to me. Or sometimes just near me! Two of these have been rather momentous events in my life. One being the fallout with GEB (which has a draft post I’ve been meaning to finish for about a year now) and the other being the entire experience with LWSB. Honestly, I haven’t thought much on either of these for quite some time. Until yesterday afternoon, that is.
While I was continuing my on-going battle with UPS, I got another call from an unfamiliar number. I tried to finish up with the UPS person to answer the call, but they got my voicemail instead. Adding to my curiosity, the message was blank, so I phoned back the number.
“Lions World Services for the Blind,” a pleasant voice answered, “how may I help you?”
“Well,” I said, “apparently someone there phoned me. And I’m at a complete loss as to why.” She asked if I’d been a student there and I replied that yes, in fact, I had several years ago. And then she transferred me to someone else, whom I repeated much the same conversation with. This second woman told me that probably her boss called me and she explained that they’ve been calling past students and “checking on things.” She asked how I’d been, and before I could think better of it I said, quite rudely, “Well, since you quite literally tossed me out of the school — and very nearly threw me out of the state of Arkansas — I’ve been great.” Then I hung up on her.
Afterwards I spent a good twenty minutes laughing about the whole thing, during which I tweeted and updated my Facebook status. Subsequently, a not small number of people have inquired exactly what happened. I must admit that there are several reasons I’ve yet to blog about the whole thing. At first it was just too fresh in my mind and writing about it was just too emotional for me. I was also dealing with the aftermath of the ordeal and as such this was hardly a good venue to discuss the events. But mostly it was because I had to verbally explain everything to so many people and I was just tired of reliving it again and again.
Now, that’s not to say that every aspect of my five months in Arkansas was suckage beyond the telling of. In fact, aside from the acne1 and frizzy hair2 I was constantly plagued with, quite the oppositie is true. I actually had a rather lovely time and I made a great many very good friends. Also, of note, I found the master’s program that I’m currently pursuing with much enjoyment. However, that’s hardly the interesting part of the story, so following be the sordid details you all crave.
I first heard about Lions World in March 2006. They had an IRS raining program that sounded like a great opportunity. Though, I wasn’t without a good many qualms. Most notably, I’d just been laid off from a position with the IRS the month before. (I worked from home taking orders for forms and publications and yes, it was even more boring than it sounds.) I was also locked into a lease until the end of May and I knew I’d be retiring Dolly around then as well. But I was also pretty desperate for a job.
Every program at Lions World begins with a one-month “independent living skills” training. (I forget now the exact terminology they use.) The idea behind this is to validate that each student is capable of these important life skills before the more advanced training begins. However, this training is, in my opinion, a load of horse dung since (a.) the qualifications to get into the “more advanced training” should be enough to validate these needs and (b.) a good portion of the mandatory skills they require one to learn and perform are absolutely unnecessary. For instance, to fully complete this month of training I had to complete or test out of classes that taught such vastly important skills such as shining a pair of shoes, using a calculator for simple math problems, adequately read at a specified speed, and navigate basic commands with JAWS and ZoomText.
Aside from the ludicrous nature of my classes, life at the school was hardly a vacation. Being away from home is isolating enough, but there was little to do at the school and not much opportunity to leave the campus. The school itself is filthy. My roommate and I were convinced the housekeeping staff never touched our room with soup and complained about this a fair number of times. To this day I’m still horrified at the morning I was joined in the shower by a cockroach the size of my fist. When I complained about that, I was told that “waterbugs are very common” and I should just learn to expect such a possibility. The windows were barred, leaving them only able to be opened a tiny bit, which left the room sweltering since there wasn’t air conditioning in the doorms — and our room was across the hall from the washers and dryers. It was later explained to me the bars were to prevent anyone falling from the windows. Yet, my room was on the first floor and happened to have a bush right below it. Also, of interest, are the very numerous rules that methodically made everything make even less sense and more complicated. Take, for instance, the cafeteria. Here students lined up by trailing the outer wall so as to remain out of the middle walkway. One would get their food on a tray and then meander through said middle walkway to find an empty seat. Now, that might sound like it makes sense, but I for one have extensive experience dropping and/or wearing my food because of carrying it on a tray — couple that with a number of blind people using canes and guide dogs and you can envision the chaos EVERY meal was. The one saving grace was that the staff would get your drink for you, but ONLY if you had no residual vision because, I guess, the idea was if you could see you probably wouldn’t walk into anyone else. Add to that how much I’m not a fan of fried food, you can imagine how much I loved mealtimes. Oh, and they didn’t have cream for coffee — only powdered milk. I started drinking my coffee black while I was there. Anyway, there were rules about everything and many of them were unspoken and unofficial, but still expected to be followed without question. I complained at length to everyone back home who would hear me, but resigned myself to all of this as a temporary inconvenience.
In May, I began my formal IRS training, which in and of itself was almost as pointless as the first month. The position we were training for was a collections job which required the person to be on the phone the entire work day. Yet, we never trained on phones. When I asked about this I was told that we’d have mock/roleplaying calls towards the end of the five-month training, but that we wouldn’t take any calls until we’d started our training at the IRS site. Come to find out, after our five months of training, we’d have, at most, another two months of training (like any other person hired outside of this program) at our job site. All that aside, I busied myself with getting through the training and acing my way through all of our tests.
The one thorn in my side, though, was a fellow classmate. The lone male in our class, a former corrections officer who’d recently become legally blind. I have a few theories about why he seemed to loathe everything about me, but the point of it all is that he was an absolute asshole to me. On a daily basis he’d make lude and derrogatory comments to and about me. When they were said loud enough for others to hear, everyone seemed to think this was the funniest thing ever. I’m still not sure what’s up with that, but suffice it to say he was well liked by pretty much everyone and as such I just didn’t feel a need to stir up trouble. For four months I did my best to ignore him, regardless of how dirty or nasty a thing he’d say to me under his breath. Then one day, much to my own annoyance, we were partnered together to work on an assignment in class. I’ve long since forgotten exactly what he said to me when he’d pulled his chair over, but whatever it was just made me snap and I cuffed him upside the head. In turn, he not only jumped out of his chair and yelled at me, but then reported me for assaulting him. I was called into a counselor’s office and explained what happened. The counselor felt that the student had overreacted, which I’m sure had everything to do with him being 250+ lbs and a former corrections office and me being all of 125 lbs. The matter was deamed resolved and I was told pointedly to “keep myself out of trouble” as any further negative reports would get me dismissed from the program. I will say I felt a bit uncomfortable about the possibility of being removed from the program on the mere eventuality of a future negative when clearly I’d been a stellar student and this one matter was (a.) resolved and (b.) just as much the other student’s fault, if not more so. But given what follows, you’ll understand why I didn’t make a fuss.
The next week I was pulled out of class and taken to the director of admissions, who told me and I quote, “You’re being released. Your behavior is unacceptable and you can’t stay here.” She whisked me off to my classroom to clear off my desk and then to my room, along with a member each of maintanence and housekeeping, where the three of them packed all of my belongings into my suitcases. “Packed” here meaning, they physically tossed all my stuff into my suitcases with complete disregard to what they were. Clean clothes, dirty laundry, a freshy dry-cleaned suit, a pair of leather boots, a muddy sneaker, my toothbrush along with (and not in) its case, and an open lotion bottle (which ruined several articles of clothing and the aforementioned boots) were among the items in one suitcase.
After that they brought me out and stuffed me in a van and sped me off to the airport. During which I called nearly every person I know and left what I’m sure were some incredibly confusing and tearful messages. At the airport, after speaking with a local friend, I’d staunchly refused to go inside. To which the director of admissions began to make such a scene yelling at me and trying to tug me along that the nearby police patrolling the airport came over to inquire what was going on. In the end they told her that as a US citizen I had every right to not take a flight I didn’t want to, and so long as I wasn’t planning to camp out at the airport I didn’t have to leave with them either.
In the end, I stayed with friends for a few days before heading back to NYS. I reittereated the above story countless times to friends in both AR and NY, my family and my counselor at CBVH. And well, nothing much really came of it. Several months went by before CBVH received an official letter from LWSB about my dismissal and it claimed the reason was I had “talked to a student after a test.” Mind you, it didn’t say I’d talked to the student during a test or even about the test. In a very long letter, I outlined all the events of my five months in AR and sent it to CBVH, and in turn they sent it to LWSB and threatened to never send another consumer there. (But I know there is currently someone in a program there right now from the Albany office.) Oh, I also filed a police report for harassment and assault against the director of admissions and sent a copy of that to LWSB.
1. Caused, my best guess is, by the massive grease I consumed in all that southern cooking. Seriously, I’d never eaten so much fried food before in my life . . . or since!
2. For as humid as it is in NYS, AR is probably 20 times worse. Such that, for the first time in my life I was religiously using gel in my hair and blowdrying it to tame the frizz. I’m happy that I’ve since gone back to my very occassional use of mousse and even less often use of a blowdryer.