Saturday, February 9, 2008

Chapter Nine

Six weeks turns into two months and as the pandemic continues to rage, the realities of SIP life sets in for Scott, Sissy and the kids. No one ever said that SIP would be easy; just that it was the best alternative for families with children.

Attack rates and CFRs remain steady in and around Tampa, mostly as a direct result of successful mitigation strategy compliance. By contrast, areas that did not implement mitigation strategies or had low compliance rates are seeing spikes in infections and increased mortality both because of the pandemic flu strain and because of infrastructure failures and violence.

Even knowing how important it is, the kids are at the end of their patience with staying home. Having just made up themselves, Scott and Sissy know how important it is to try and maintain good relations in the house. They encourage their children to get outside in the backyard several times each day. The family plays together and does their chores together. They work on lots of home projects to stay busy. Of course the kids also have their schoolwork to keep up with and they participate in chat groups on the Internet when possible. Scott and Sissy also try and ensure everyone gets at least an hour of privacy every day. But, the kids still feel hemmed in and are beginning to ask in louder and more strident tones "when will things get back to normal?!" They want to know what has happened to their friends that they've lost contact with. They want go some place other than their backyard.

It used to be all Scott and Sissy had to do is make them listen to the news, but lately the kids say, "but that isn't around here. All of that really bad stuff is happening in other places." How do you impress on children that it isn't happening here because all of the kids stay home and are not congregating in groups? Sissy doesn’t mind when the kids are asking questions and showing their frustrations. That’s natural. Even some surliness is to be expected. What bothers her is when the kids get silent and uncommunicative, both potentially indicative of other problems like depression.

Sissy has her off days and struggles too. She is the designated adult to stay SIP with the kids. She misses being able to hop in the car and go to the grocery, to the bank, to the library, to the park. She even misses cleaning apartments for their business. But she is also aware of the necessity of what they are doing and how important it is for the safety of their children. She is sure Scott hasn't told her everything he has seen. There have been a few times when he has returned home that his eyes held a particularly haunted look. She realizes that he is trying to protect her, but she wonders at what cost to himself. Part of her wishes that she and Scott could act out and blow off some steam, but they have to be the adults; although they might not have the energy to pitch a fit. All of their time and energy – both physical and mental – is taken up with putting their longer-term strategies in place as well as security issues. And now that they’ve put the nasty bickering behind them, they are both very careful to avoid anything that might start it back up.

One of the scariest situations they’ve had to deal with to date was when one of the guys that they used to hire for casual day labor showed up on their doorstep. It was late at night during one of the first blackout cycles. Worse, the guy was stoned or drunk … and obviously sick.

It was the dead of one of the dark, dark nights, when the power first went off. A pounding on their door ripped Scott and Sissy from an uneasy sleep. Even during prepandemic times being woken in the middle of the night in that manner would have been startling, but in these uncertain times it causes more than a moment of shock and panic. It doesn’t help that they have to navigate through all the mess in the house in the pitch black dark to get to the front door.

They hear a vaguely familiar voice calling Scott's name. Scott calls back, "Who is it?" The voice says, "Its me man, I need to talk to you." Then Scott and Sissy recognize the voice ... and the behavior ... of the person on the other side of the their door. It was Perry. They had been dreading the possibility of this happening – someone showing up at the home unannounced – and only had a vague idea of exactly how they were going to handle it. Now that the time had arrived, they wished they had planned things out better.

When they first started working with Perry, he had troubles but he was more reliable than not. He had a lot of skills that were useful such as carpentry and roofing, he just had a lousy upbringing and some tough breaks in life. But over time he went from having troubles to being troubled. He went from being troubled to being part of the problem. He went from being part of the problem to actually being the problem. At the beginning they had absolutely no qualms about Perry knowing where they lived and doing odd projects with Scott around the house; hanging fence, leveling a shed that was settling on one end, replacing drywall after a plumbing problem. Eventually however, they stopped having him over to the house. Perry's behavior and language became unpredictable. With kids around, you avoid those kinds of situations. Now, to say they were sorry he knew where they lived would be an understatement.

The problem was that both Scott and Sissy knew that "I need to talk to you" was a euphemism for "I need money." Scott said, "Are you crazy?! It is the middle of the night man. Come back when its light." But Perry wouldn't be put off. He said, "man let me in, I need to talk to you." Scott responded, "No, it’s the middle of the night. You are not coming in. You know we've got kids. What's wrong with you? You've heard the news they're blaring all over about keeping away from kids. I even talked to you about it. I repeat, you are not coming in this house."

Perry just was not going to let it go. "Man, I need money for groceries. I need to go to the grocery store. I need to get some food."

Hearing that, Sissy started to get one of the care packages of rice and beans she had made up for friends and family who were in need, but Scott stopped her with a grim look and shake of his head. Scott repeated, "Perry, be reasonable. It is the middle of the night. The stores aren't open. It’s not safe to have money out at this time of night. I'll come by your place in the morning and you can work a couple of hours with me and I'll drop you off at the store with your pay."

"No man! I need it now!!!" Sissy finally picked up on what Scott had suspected all along. Perry wasn't hungry, he was "thirsty" and needed a fix. His addictions had a hold of him and he was just trying to get by on pity. And then he started coughing. After he caught his breath, Perry started cursing and pitching a fit. He started kicking the door and looking for something to throw. One bit of work that Scott and James had done started paying off right there. They had moved the vehicles to the backyard and brought in everything that wasn't nailed down from the front. There were simply no loose objects for Perry to throw.

They were fortunate that Perry hadn't thought to try and kick the windows in or put his fist through them. Scott hadn’t gotten around to securing the front windows yet. Perry stopped to have another coughing fit and then he started crying and saying no one loved him or understood him. That Scott just didn’t understand and that he was sure that he was owed some money. He threatened to call the cops to get what he believed was his. He was in the terrible throws of withdrawal and would probably become incapacitated by DT’s shortly. Scott repeated his offer to come by in the morning but Perry screamed, "#@$% YOU!!!!" in a roar and stumbled off coughing and cursing, heading who knows where to try who knows what.

Afterwards, under the circumstances, Scott and Sissy didn't know whether they could have handled it any better, but they weren't sure they could have handled it much worse either. And it may have been overkill, but Scott insisted on spraying the front door area with bleach to disinfect it. "Better safe than sorry," he muttered as he worked.

Scott decided to remain close to home for a few more days to make sure Perry didn’t come back. While he is home he secures the remaining windows and cuts back foliage that people could use to hide in. Better late than never, but it is still a lesson learned.

After Scott came back from the first run after the "night of the scary guy" as the kids had started calling it Sissy asks him, "Did you see Perry?"

"Nope. I drove by his house but his front windows were all busted and it looks like there was a fire in the upstairs apartment. I didn’t stop. It had a bad feel to it."

"Oh no. You don’t think … "

"I have no idea. I tried to call his neighbor Jay but no one answered. I called the authorities to report everything and they said they’d check it out, but who knows when. I’m not going back there unless I have company; maybe not even then. As far as I can remember, he doesn’t have any of my tools or equipment. And after that stunt he pulled the other night I just don’t trust him. For all I know he isn’t even alive any more. I couldn’t tell if that was his allergies acting up or whether he was getting sick."

"No way do I want you working with him anymore. I think he’s dangerous, even if he doesn’t turn out to be infected. He’s really addicted this time and without time in rehab I don’t think he is going to kick it. He’ll either be deranged or dead in short order."

"Yeah. I know you’re right. But even as bad as he had gotten he still had some good carpentry skills. I just couldn’t get him to stop drinking on the job, and then I caught him doing that other crap and that was the final straw."

"Have you found anyone to replace him?"

"Almost don’t need to. I’ve had to cut back on most repairs ‘cause I can’t get all the materials. Section 8 called a halt to all of their inspections. Code Enforcement is battling their own staffing problems. And I sure ain’t turning units. Carl helps me when I do need it. I’m beginning to think I may need someone to ride shotgun though."


"Oh, no reason. I’m just saying."

"Don’t give me that I’m just saying stuff. You said ride shotgun and that’s exactly what you meant isn’t it? Now I want to know why. Has something happened?"

"Look, don’t wig out on me. I was talking to Chuck and he said Randolph was shot day before yesterday."

"Is he OK?!"

"No. Apparently he hadn’t been taking his blood pressure medication. The shot was only a flesh wound but, well, he had a fatal heart attack. Chuck said he ex-wife has already moved into his house and her kids and they’ve boarded up the windows and put a big padlock on the driveway gate."

"Crap! When were you going to tell me this?!"

"Just calm down. I just found out this afternoon. You know Randolph could be a real jackass. He didn’t have a good relationship with any of his tenants."

"How do we know it was a tenant? He could have been … "

"It WAS one of his tenants. Randolph supposedly made one of his trademark off-color comments about the guy’s girlfriend when they didn’t have the rent. The guy is saying he didn’t even mean to shoot Randolph but that Randolph made some kind of move towards the guy’s girlfriend and when he went to help her the gun went off accidentally."

"Do you believe that?"

"Who knows? The guy was right on top of him, it would have been dang hard to miss at that range if he had really meant to shoot him. Randolph did have a history of inappropriate behavior and he could be damn stupid."

"Still … "

"No still. I’ve got a much better rapport with most of our tenants. I’m careful. And the few places I’m having problems I don’t go by myself. I’m home well before dusk. But I am thinking about getting someone to ride shotgun in case things get worse. I just don’t know who it could be."

"You’d tell me right? You’d tell me if things get that bad? Right?"

"Yeah, let’s just not talk about it anymore tonight. OK? I’m all done in. I gotta let things go for awhile."

"Sure hon. Just remember, you’re worth more to us than any amount of rent. You want me to fix you a toddy?"

"Yeah. Wait, no. Is there any hot cocoa?"

"Not cocoa, but I can make you some warm spiced milk."

"Fine. Anything that’ll help me unwind and get some sleep without leaving me hung over."

It wasn’t long before Scott had crashed and burned for the night. Sissy on the other hand was still wound tight. She knew she needed to get to bed and get some sleep herself. But this on top of battling with the kids over them wanting to go see their friends was a lot for Sissy to deal with.

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