On his own

Developmentally disabled man finds measure of independence

Daily Republic ©
Published Aug. 15, 2004

NAPA -- Michael Lossing, a 39-year-old developmentally disabled man who carries a square clock in his pocket to tell time, knows he faces barriers in life.

He will never drive a car, nor will he ever travel on his own. He knows this and reluctantly accepts it.

Lossing also accepts the misgivings of others and their unfamiliarity with developmentally disabled persons.

"I was walking home and I heard two kids saying, 'You must be some retarded kid.' I kind of said to myself, 'If they only knew that that kind of thing could really bother people, calling people retarded.' But I've gotten to the point in my life where I say, 'ey, that's their opinion. People are going to speak what they want to nowadays,' " Lossing said with some pain in his eyes.

He catches his breath from this thought and stares directly into space. And for the second time within a minute, he pushes his metal glasses up his nose - only to have them slide immediately down to the tip again.

Lossing is a man with an IQ under 70 - the average is around 100. Yet he is employed, lives on his own, and is engaged to be married - achievements he's made with the help of the persons who surround him.

His network of friends

The tall man sporting a goatee is surrounded by supporters from Aldea Children and Family Services - a group of dedicated people who work with the developmentally disabled to support adults living independently in their own homes.

"Michael was diagnosed as developmentally disabled, and that qualified him to be a client of the NorthBay Regional Center system, which provides services for individuals who are developmentally disabled," said Christian McDonald, Lossing's community case manager at Aldea.

"NorthBay referred him to Aldea, which in turn placed him in a supportive living residence. There he lived with other individuals learning supportive living skills, such as grooming, male preparation, managing money and house cleaning," McDonald continued. "From there, he graduated into living on his own in the community."

They were skills that the average person learns in childhood. But for Lossing, it was something he learned much later in his life.

"I didn't know how to use a vacuum until I came to Napa," he said of Aldea, which he joined roughly six years ago. "And I didn't know how to groom myself until someone taught me."

At home

On the end of a quiet Napa street and nestled at the corner of a two-story complex is Lossing's apartment.

Trees whose leaves whisper with sounds of nature hang listlessly over his front door. Regardless, the sun manages to find the hollows through the menagerie of greenery.

Through a beam of light that hits the first landing of steps, Lossing scurries up. He trots into his apartment and begins to pick up several items from the floor.

He is expecting Luba Cole, his personal assistant from Aldea who helps him with household chores and laundry twice a week.

"I've got my laundry in," Lossing said to Cole as soon as she enters the apartment with her own key.

"Oh good," Cole said with a smile and begins her chores.

Lossing then sits across from a television, which is connected to a video game player with an array of wires, and discusses the origins of his disability.

"When I was born, there was something that happened," he said earnestly. "My brain was damaged, and, well, the other part took over. That's the way it was explained to me."

A narrow, dark hallway, which has his graduation picture from Hogan High School in Vallejo hanging on one of the walls, serves as a passage to his bedroom.

Inside a large closet, a collection of action figures placed strategically in several boxes can be found. And Lossing finds it necessary to play with them.

"Sometimes when I get out of work I get tired and grumpy," he said with all sincerity. "If I'm mad when I come home I take my anger out on the action figures. And I make him (points to one figure) take it out on the action figures."

Lossing selects a Star Trek Klingon figure from a box. Today, this Klingon represents Lossing's mood. Tomorrow, it might be Shrek. It depends on his mood.

At the supermarket

The day is warm when Lossing steps out of a car driven by Jeanette Tallart, his job supervisor. He waves good-bye and walks toward Raley's Supermarket. Two other developmentally disabled women in the car watch him as he walks away.

He grabs a cart and with a quick step, pushes it inside.

Once a week, Lossing goes food shopping in this Napa town center. He knows he cannot select items that will surpass a budget of $55. He also knows that McDonald will meet him within an hour to discuss his selections and provide a check for the purchases.

Lossing goes through the aisles quickly - soda? coffee? cereal? "Nah, not this time," he mumbles to himself.

He chooses four Healthy Choice meals, but swiftly adds, "I do know how to cook one thing - macaroni and cheese with tuna." He then lifts his glasses to the bridge of his nose.

For the remainder of the time, he compares prices, selecting products with the best value. He returns to the coffee aisle and wonders out loud.

"I want to make sure I don't have to put this back at the cashier," he said. "They will put it back."

Lossing then checks his black clock - he used to carry a Palm Pilot but "apparently it got lost," he says with a sigh. "It just disappeared." He then makes his way to the caf/ in the market and waits, legs crossed and with both hands on his knees, for McDonald to arrive.

"He holds my checkbook because one time I held onto it and there was almost nothing left," he said about his money.

Some customers walk by and stare at this man sitting beside an empty table. Others ignore him. Lossing, however, continues to look around for McDonald.

"Got your groceries?" McDonald said with a smile. He then sits next to Lossing and removes a checkbook from his pocket.

"Oh, these four dinners were on sale - four for $5," Lossing claimed proudly.

"Good. Did you save money?" McDonald responded. He then proceeds to write a $55 check to Raley's.

One of the ways McDonald helps Lossing is financially.

"Michael was overdrawn in his account when I met him," McDonald said of the account. "So I put him on a very strict money diet, and for a long time he only had $5 a week to spend, but I made sure he had all the essentials - like rent, food, PG&E and I would keep reinforcing that when he'd get angry."

At the checkout stand, Lossing finds himself in a bind - he is over budget. Seventy-two cents to be exact.

"I can't go over $55," he said to the cashier, identified as Erica V. by her name tag.

"Well, what could you live without?" she said with concern.

"Um, take out the batteries, but add those crackers," he said. But the amount was still over. "How about the breakfast wrap with sausage? Um, can you add the crackers?"

After roughly five minutes of adding and removing items, the total came back to $55.72, of which Lossing found $.72 in his pocket to pay.

"I never go with him to the checkout stand," McDonald said outside the market. "It's up to him to decide what he can put back if he overspends. It's a part of learning responsibilities."

At work

Through a maze of cubicles and around two corners at Napa's NorthBay Regional Center is Lossing's work station. Weird Al's version of the song, "Complicated," is sounding from his boombox.

His job is quality control. That is, he looks to see if pictures taken by his coworker of various documents include the entire record that was supposed to be copied.

And as he sits and stares at a large screen, he begins to talk about his past.

"When I was younger, I didn't like me because I didn't like all the problems I had back then," he reminisces. "The way people were back then, compared to nowadays, people treated me differently, and I don't like it when someone treats me like that."

Perhaps Lossing is referring to the time when he was surrounded by a group of high school students who threw lit matches into his hair.

Or maybe he's recalling the time a woman treated him as though he "had the intelligence of a speck of dirt."

Either way, there are people who treat him differently because of his disabilities.

"Well, the way people treat developmentally disabled people depends on how ignorant people are," he said. "Some people may think that challenged people are OK, but other people may not, uh, treat us the same way because they think we can't handle this or that."

And after a serious moment, Lossing breaks out with a smile when the topic of his fiancee, Jackie Burnside, also developmentally disabled, comes up.

"Ah, this Oct. 5 will be exactly two years that we're dating. On and off," he said then puckers his lips timidly. "She is pretty much the center of my universe. We all have our arguments here and there, but who doesn't?"

As for kids, Lossing wants them, but is a bit apprehensive.

"I think it would be hard for her because she told me she almost died because of pregnancy," he said. "I think she doesn't want to go through that again, and I kind of agree. I wouldn't mind adopting."

Regardless of the derogatory comments or the several setbacks Lossing faces on a daily basis, his positive attitude keeps his best foot forward, and perhaps teaches the average person a lesson or two.

"The best thing in my life is the way it turned out so far," he says smiling. "One thing I think back at is if I had done something to me (referring to suicide) when I was little, all this, what I'm doing now, would not have happened. If I had done something to me."

Reach Andrea E. Garcia at 427-6935 or agarcia@dailyrepublic.net.