The first time I saw Bailey, I was walking through the atrium of the Robin Hood learning centre, a kind of school, employment placement service, and sheltered workshop serving a population with developmental disabilities. Bailey was the embodiment of poise as he leaned back in his chair with the casual confidence of a crime boss holding court at the back table of a greasy spoon joint. He’s bald on top and has a belly, combined with an air of self-possession; he’s a miniature Down Syndrome version of Tony Soprano.
He eyed me, assessing me as I walked toward him, measuring me. His red beret bobbed up and down as he nodded to me, “Hello, my friend. How are you today?”
“Not bad,” I replied. “And how are you?”
“Oh, not much.” I came to learn that this was a quirk of his. If ever asked how he was doing, he would answer, “Not much.”
He may have been the coolest guy I’d ever met. He was smoky jazz, an after hours club, a red convertible on a hot day. I said to myself, “I gotta work with this fucking guy.” From one of the other staff I found out where he lived and I set myself up to do an orientation at his residence. He made me laugh out loud on that first day. Bailey is a brittle diabetic and requires insulin four times a day. The injection location changes and is regularly rotated, and the staff doing the orientation, a very pregnant Filipino woman, asked, “Okay, Mr. Bailey, where do we stick this?” as she held up the needle. She was sitting at the kitchen table and Bailey stood beside her. He pulled up his top and squeezed a portion of his sizeable belly, pointing it toward her and saying, “Right here baby! That’s the juice!” The staff laughed and pointed to his belly: “Who’s the pregnant one around here? You or me?” Bailey laughed his wheezy laugh and shook his head, clearly enjoying the banter, and summed it all up with an “Oh, Jethuth Chwiste.”
This was the beginning of a 17-year friendship.