it should be noted that my criminal case has hereby been transferred to a Probation Officer for the Mentally Ill™.  when my old probation officer called me in from the waiting room, she sounded impatient and insensitive.  it was a nice change from her usual impatient, insensitive and venomous–more of an “Alison Headley!” and less of an “ALISON HEADLEY!!!”  my old probation officer is one of the most genuinely unfriendly people i’ve ever known.  she’s never introduced herself or said hello or goodbye to me.  if she saw me crossing the street, i bet she’d run over me with her car.  in my estimation, at least 85% of the things she’s said to me have started with, “do you understand that it is a condition of your probation that you” or “MISS HEADLEY you are required to” or “your next appointment will be scheduled at my convenience.”

this time she was different.  when i came in she said, “have a seat,” and if i’d had a seat already, i would have fallen out of my chair from shock.  she said other things, too, like “the bad news is that you’ll have to report again this month” and “don’t worry about your UA today” and “you can pay here or at your next appointment if you like.”  she ended our meeting with an utterly shocking “good luck, miss headley.”  apparently the feeble-minded warrant the pity.

at the new place the routine is the same.  i fill out the paperwork, sign in at the desk, and wait my turn to see the Probation Officer for the Mentally Ill™.  while i wait i read my art history book and try to look at the other probationers without making eye contact with any of them.  lots of people are here in groups of two: parents and babies, couples, pairs of friends.  a few people come in alone and sit down next to other probationers they know, talking and laughing like the best of acquaintances.  i’m the only probationer i know.

a fat man on crutches hobbles in, a dirty white sock covering the brace on his right ankle.  he comes over and leans against the table right next to me, adjusting his metal crutches and muttering to himself.  i can’t hear what he’s saying, but i can certainly smell him, and it’s awful.  i can smell him so badly it’s staining my nostrils, making me sick.  i try breathing through my mouth, but then i’m tasting his smell, sucking it down into my stomach, absorbing it into my bloodstream.  when i turn away from him in disgust, i can still taste the smell.

the smell’s name is called, and he stands up and clacks his way across the room on the crutches.  “HERE i come to save the DAAAAY!” he sings as he crutches to the door.  everyone in the waiting room giggles.  i vomit inside my head.

was he doing mighty mouse or andy kaufman? i wonder as i return to my book.  i can’t concentrate on art history anymore, so i turn to the blank page in the back of the book (the only paper i have) and start making a list of everyone there.

woman in skirt slit to upper thigh
man who can’t read his own SPN number
longhaired boy in hendrix shirt
southern bubblegum eyeliner girl
small child with ugly doll
gold-toothed tattoo-chested woman
extremely fat guy with blue and orange shoes
high-waisted pantswomen
polo shirt
work coveralls
orlando magic t-shirt
inexplicable thug in t-shirt advertising burberry plaid

my name is called and i go in and talk to a few people, each of whom calls up some other people on the phone, each of whom calls up some more other people, because they don’t know who i am or what i’m doing there.  my files, they say, were not transferred.  i am sent to talk to a man who, they also say, may or may not be my probation officer.  “how you doin’ today, miss headley?” he asks as i come in, without a trace of bold typeface or caps lock anywhere in his voice.  i’m too shocked to answer him, too taken aback to explain that i’m used to dealing with the Probation Officer for the Mentally Sound, Who Don’t Care if They Get Yelled At™.

(miss headley you are required to) “so whaddaya do, miss headley?  you in school?”

yes, at u of h.

(do you understand that it is a condition of your probation that you) “oh yeah?  what’s your major?”

creative writing.  i graduate next month.

“really?  that’s great!  what, you gonna be a novelist?”

something like that.

(your next appointment will be scheduled at my convenience) “so let’s get you back in here next week.  what time’s good for you?”

the Best Probation Officer in the Universe™ writes my appointment in his calendar, and then sends me to another room to sit down and wait for my UA.  a few other people are waiting, too, slumped over in plastic chairs.  i’m the only girl.

one guy keeps a running conversation with the room in general.  “they best hurry up in there.  i gots to drain the weasel, knowhutimsayin?  three mountain dews mumble mumble knowhutimsayin?”  the guy across from him laughs.  “it rough in here, y’all.  they took my car but i don’t give a fuuuck.  i just jumps on the bike, you know, you know, i get where i’m goin.  knowhutimsayin?  man, i gots to drain the weasel.”

he turns and looks at me.  “you not gone hafta wait much mumble mumble you a woman knowhutimsayin?  no offense.”  i suppose the mumble mumble is what was offensive.

next wednesday
my actual new probation officer has a calendar on the wall behind him.  the month of november features joan miró.  “is that a miró calendar or just an art one?” i ask.

he turns around to look at it.  “no, it’s not just miró.  it’s surrealism.”

“i like surrealism,” i say.

“me, too. i really like what they have at the menil.”

“oh, i know.  all the magritte and dechirico.”

“yes, magritte.  he’s my favorite artist.”

“mine, too.”