What about George?

Thanks to Bill Forman for bringing this article to my attention. This NY Times article would be a good basis for an instructive exercise on valued and devalued roles, imagery, language, competency or heightened vulnerability, for example. It could be used as an exercise in an SRV workshop, an agency staff meeting, a college class, and so on.

In my experience, it is good to separate (as we do in a PASSING workshop) information gathering from information analysis. You might ask people to read the article, circle or highlight relevant words and phrases (i.e., information gathering) and then analyze what the article says in light of valued and devalued roles, or in light of valued and devalued images, etc. (i.e., information analysis).

A few excerpts from the article:

Mr. Kramer — George to me — is my second cousin, and he has worked at Kramer’s Hardware, in Flatbush, Brooklyn, for 58 years. He has a developmental disability, which is obvious to people who meet him, but he also has a rare and less apparent ability: Like the late Kim Peek, the inspiration for the film “Rain Man,” George, 71, has a powerful memory for dates and numbers and facts. If you tell him your birthday, he can tell you what day it will fall on two years in the future. He studies phone directories and atlases in his spare time. As one relative recently put it to me, “If you drop him in Oshkosh or anywhere, he’ll find his way home.”

On the surface, a run-down hardware shop in Flatbush might seem an odd place for a person like George to thrive. But if you set aside the sheets of pegboard and the metal cabinets and the key-making machine, what is left are hundreds and hundreds of small, obscure utilitarian objects, many almost identical to the casual observer. George can identify each nut and bolt and screw on sight, as Mr. Abraham’s test was intended to show, and he knows where, exactly, in the store it is kept. He can tell you its cost. And he can tell you the name — and often the phone number — of the company that made it.

His command of the inventory is such that Mr. Abraham has never had to invest in a computer to track it. “My reliance on him is mind-boggling,” Mr. Abraham said.


“I saw that George was an asset,” Mr. Abraham said. “In the medical terminology they might call him autistic, but I immediately called him a genius.”

Mr. Abraham promised David that he would never need to worry about his son, and he says he repeated the promise 12 years later, when David, on his deathbed, asked about George one last time.

“If I shine shoes on Broadway,” Mr. Abraham said he told him, “he’ll be shining shoes next to me.”


When I brought up the prospect of retirement with George, he told me that he, too, had been giving it some thought. But when I asked what he might do with his time, all he said was, “I don’t know yet.”

He was facing away as he spoke, toward the store window, with its charmless view of Coney Island Avenue and the auto-body shops and apartment buildings beyond. As usual, it was impossible to know what he was thinking. Nevertheless, it seems likely that, someday soon, he will wake in the morning and have no gates to open, no customers to greet, no shovels or wrenches or Gerber faucets to sell. All of it will be gone.

But not forgotten.

Posted on April 27, 2010 at 9:00 am by MTumeinski · Permalink
In: Uncategorized · Tagged with: , , ,

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