The greedy, hostile world of a for-profit Chicago ""bughouse,"" as first-novelist Horan describes it, is no place for a young white male college graduate to serve as a nurse's aide, even if he does have a mandate from his barber and Henry David Thoreau. Footloose and full of Thoreau's ideals, Richard set out to walk from Boston to Alaska but ran out of steam in Chicago. A chance encounter with Nick the barber, who wraps his own ideals in a tough layer of worldly wisdom, convinces Richard to begin work at the Rainbow Home, a full-care facility recently turned from being state-funded to privately financed. There, he learns the tricks and terrors of his charges, from legless Cap'n John, who lives only to smoke, and paranoid Fred, a somnolent hulk who becomes ambulatory only when enraged, a state induced by deliberate physical and verbal abuse, to ex-boxer Megs, at 80 still ready to punch the moment anyone gets in his face. With coworkers Kelvin and Dorothy, Richard expands the daily ritual of care for such wards of the state to include protection against profit-hungry nurses and administrators, who are keen to ship them all to a county lock-up in order to make room for private, better-paying customers. The anti-administrator cause is hopeless, however, and the old residents are ultimately removed, Kelvin loses his job, and Richard is demoted to serving the very clients whose presence he resents. After a close encounter with a nymphomaniac, he bonds with young Teddy, a mechanic who was brain-damaged in a motorcycle accident, and when Teddy's family decides that his own home is healthier than the Rainbow Home, Richard accepts the job offered him as Teddy's live-in attendant. Episodic in the extreme, but the individual insights and human touches are frank and well-presented, making this more a harbinger of good things to come than an unqualified success.