Demarcus Holmesdoesn't have to work. He lives in a nice house with his mother, older sister, and two brothers, all of whom dote on 21-year-old Demarcus. He spends his days with his grandmother, often joining her friends for morning walks at the mall, where everybody seems happy to see Demarcus. And he doesn't even need money. Every month, Demarcus gets a disability check, an official acknowledgement that anyone plagued by poor eyesight, learning disabilities, and cerebral palsy is going to need some financial support.
But Demarcus isn't happy staying at home, just watching the television or listening to music. He wants his days to be like those of everybody else in his house -- rise early, get dressed, and go to work. Grandmother Mary Pinn says Demarcus has been pestering her so much about wanting to work, she decided to do something drastic.
Pinn created a flier about her grandson and mailed it to government agencies, the media, anybody she could think of. Under the title "Christmas Wish List" is a picture of Demarcus wearing his nicest slacks and a tie, standing in front of a festive backdrop and flanked by a few balloons. "It's his prom picture," Pinn says, taken at a dance given for Springfield High School's special-education graduates.
Under the picture is a bold caption: "All I Want for Christmas is a Job."
The flier mentions that Demarcus is handicapped and able to work only about four hours a day but emphasizes that United Cerebral Palsy and Sparc will send a "job coach" to help Demarcus at whatever duty he's assigned.
The last paragraph contains his brief work history: maintenance aide during a church summer camp, where he wiped off tables and chairs and emptied the trash; french-fry cook for more than two years.
"He was really good at his McDonald's job," says Demarcus' older sister, Chiquista. "If you give him a repetitive task, once he learns something, he's really good at it."
Demarcus' mom, Deborah Holmes, says Demarcus was fired because "his french fries were cold, supposedly." She believes he was actually part of a general layoff.
This flier isn't the first one to feature Demarcus. Years ago, he was pictured on another poster promoting adoption. He was just 4 at the time, and that poster described how Demarcus had been born prematurely and oxygen-deprived.
"They said he'd be a vegetable," Deborah recalls, with a glint in her eye that implies "and just look at him now!"
Demarcus was 8 months old when Deborah brought him home from the hospital as a foster child. She adopted him as soon as he became eligible, several years later.
Far from being a vegetable, Demarcus gave up his leg braces years ago. His cerebral palsy has been classified as mild. He is blind in one eye and has glaucoma in the other, and he has trouble speaking clearly.
But he sings in the choir at Second Timothy Baptist Church, reads and writes on a first-grade level, and has an amazing memory.
"If you tell him something, he doesn't forget it. He remembers phone numbers especially," his grandmother says.
His favorite pastime is listening to "the Music Choice people," who stream radio over cable channel 910. In his head, Demarcus tracks the songs that are played and how many times he hears each tune.
"He doesn't like it if they play the same song too often," Deborah says.
And he loves Chuck E. Cheese. Not the pizza, although he'll eat it if he's hungry. And not the games, although he may play one token's worth of air hockey. No, what he loves is Chuck E. Cheese, the character -- the costume containing the employee who drew the short straw and had to put on a big furry suit and walk around the restaurant posing for snapshots with kids. When Demarcus goes to Chuck E. Cheese's, he prefers to sit by the dressing-room door to wait for the character to emerge. After getting a hug from the big rat, Demarcus follows him around.
That's his dream -- being the guy in the costume himself.
So far, no one has offered Demarcus a job. But then again, as I write this, it's not Christmas yet.
"He's a very lovable young man," Pinn says. "He feels like everybody else can go do something -- he should have a job. Money is not what we're looking for. It's more about getting him something to do."