Jen Zoon and I went to the Carlisle House today (Tuesday November 29, 2005) for our first visit to the House since our orientation there. When we got inside we told Stephanie that we were there, and then we started to mingle. All the members I saw there today were people who I had not met before, so I introduced myself to a dozen or so people and then went into the television room to watch some TV with the members. I started talking to a member named Mark, and after a smoke break, he came into the game room with me and taught me how to play pool. Since I had never played pool before I just let him take the reigns and tell me how to play. He taught me how to set up the billiard balls in the triangle, how the game works in that one must get a high or low ball in a pocket and then stick to that variety of ball, that as long as you continue to get your balls in the pockets without scratching the cue you get to continue shooting, and that the objective is to get all your balls in and then the eight ball, but not the eight ball before all of your other balls are off the table or you lose. We played three games of pool, two of which he won and one that I won (only because he accidentally put the eight ball in before he cleared all his balls). Then it was time for the community forum meeting, which was a meeting where the staff and the members sit down together and talk out any grievances anyone has. Stephanie did a large amount of talking, since she seemed to have the most grievances of anyone there. They were apparently having problems with people cleaning up after themselves in the bathroom and kitchen, and they needed more help with chores from the members. The forum meeting lasted for roughly forty-five minutes to an hour, mostly having discussion about the responsibilities that the members have and who wants to do what on what day and things people needed to start doing so everyone could enjoy the House, and then they concluded with announcements about their upcoming Christmas events. After that I asked Mark if he wanted to play another game of pool, but he said he did not want to right now, so I thanked him for teaching me to play, told Stephanie that I was leaving, had a conversation with her about the community forum, and then Jen and I were on our way.
Mark and Jon, one of Mark’s friends who is also a member of Carlisle House, were just real, normal people. While I was learning to play pool there was no subtext of any kind, it was just learning to play pool without any “phony” business going on behind the scenes, which was quite refreshing. I would have expected the members to attempt to keep more of a distance from me, and there were some who did not especially want to engage, however Mark was totally willing to just shoot some pool and talk a little. It just felt like I was hanging out with someone having a little conversation and playing a game, no politics, no hostility, no social dominance. While we were watching television it was the same. It was just a group of people watching Star Trek and making small talk. During the community meeting was when things got antsy. I’m sure that some of the members felt like they were being talked down to, and in a few cases I would not disagree. Stephanie said that once in a while she has to have a talk with them in that tone, and I cannot tell her she is wrong since this was only my first real visit there and she is the expert, but some of the members began to walk around while she was talking, or roll their eyes when she said something about not letting members come as much if they refused to be involved. Mostly, though, they stayed silent, looked at the floor and waited for the meeting to be over. Two members offered their feelings on certain subjects, one of whom was adamant about others pitching in to help, but for the most part the mood stagnated and then dropped as a result of the nearly maternal “lecture.” Overall the visit was fun, and I learned a new skill, and I am looking forward to my next visit. Hopefully there will not be any more uneasy meetings.
While I was at Carlisle House I was reminded of Motherless Brooklyn. The people at Carlisle House are there because it has been determined that they have some kind of mental, emotional or learning disability that keeps them from working, and the goal is to rehabilitate the members so they can work. Everyone there is at a different level of recovery, but there were numerous members there who, if I had met them on the street or at the grocery store, I would have had no idea that they had any disability at all. They seemed to be totally normal, totally functional members of society. The only possible implications that Mark gave of having any disability was that he repeated one or two of the rules to me and he fanned himself a lot, but it was relatively hot in there anyway. Just like Lionel, who was a very smart man that was constantly aware of his surroundings and marginalized for his Tourette’s, many of the people there were engaged, talkative, sensible people who knew what they were talking about and were either very far along with their recovery, or their label was simply superficial. Mark knew what he was doing with that pool stick, and could play a mean game. He even got two balls in at once shooting from behind his back. He played me under the table, and I got the feeling that he had probably done it to others before. The people there were people just like everyone else, and although some of them may have larger obstacles to overcome than others, it was obvious to me that many of them were just as “with it” as I was, and just like Lionel, they were functional people who thought for themselves with obstacles much smaller than others made them out to be.