“Don’t Steal Our Magazines”

By Rothwell C. (Bud) Polk, Jr.

The sign in the waiting room hangs over the magazine rack. It is carefully printed out, laminated and precisely trimmed and mounted. It greets the consumer, the visitor, the guest and, I suppose, the would-be thief: “DON’T STEAL OUR MAGAZINES!”

The magazines in question are ancient and tattered collections of Popular Mechanics, Good Housekeeping, Reader’s Digest and news magazines not one of which is less than a year old. My every third-month foray for a meds check begins with that sign and those ratty magazines to remind me of my status here and of just who has the power. I am, you see, a low-income consumer at the county-operated community mental health center.

The staff sit in a glassed rectangle with sliding windows. Their smiles are hung on their faces like the features of a Mr. Potato Head. They gossip and sip coffee and shuffle piles of paper. Ah, how good the coffee smells to the gathered consumers. One day I ask for a cup and am told that “it is against agency policy.”

I ask which policy.

“The policy which prohibits giving coffee to a consumer.”

“So you are saying to me, “It is is against the agency policy which prohibits giving coffee to a consumer to give coffee to a consumer?” I was only slowly repeating her exact words back to her because this is what a Mental Health Professional does and I am a very observant and compliant consumer as I try to imitate a Mental Health Professional’s behavior.

“If you are beginning to feel agitated, one of the on-call staff can get you an escort to the Emergency Room.”

Confronted with this impeccable logic, I say I would get a Starbuck’s after the appointment if she would loan me ten bucks for a cab and the coffee.

But it is “against policy” to give money to a consumer.

I mutter, “Which policy?” as I turn my back and walk away.