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 co-workers 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.