Country of Birth:
Year of birth: 1962
Places of Residence:
Same country of birth
Same year of birth
Country of Birth:
Year of birth: 1962
Places of Residence:
maine, alaska, neworleans, sanfrancisco, chicago, mass.
drinking tea with an empty cup
a performance art piece.
Adrienne Cahill Warren
San Francisco Ca
San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco General Hospital Mental Health Rehabilitation Facility
There now that’s more than enough information for you to Google. What follows is what Paul Harvey would have called, the rest of the story.
A summer day in the park, the sun is shining the birds are singing, the air is sweet, San Francisco not exactly the summer of love.
“Have you given any thought as to how you want this to end? Burt asks me.
And with one stupid question reality comes crashing back in.
I open my eyes and sigh giving Burt a rolled eyed glance of annoyance. I am sitting in the patio of a mental institution, surrounded by the other residents, the shufflers the mumblers the droolers, the screamers are kept up on the third floor with heavier medication so it’s a mostly quiet bunch of wandering misfits here.
Burt is a slim man of comfortable middle years, with short sandy colored hair and a neatly trimmed beard (don’t know what it is with psychiatrists and beards really but so many in the field seem to sport them like it’s a uniform requirement for the degree.) He is dressed in docker office casual.
Burt is a very nice man. He seriously has the whole Alan Alda Sensitive guy thing down pat. He tries really really hard to be helpful. Not because it’s his job, he cares, he really really cares. He seriously has the whole Alan Alda sensitive guy thing down pat. I feel bad for him. There is no way he’ll be getting out of this unscarred. The evil side of my nature is quite looking forward to it. There was a time when I didn’t think this way, but I was much younger then. Now I must confess I am developing a taste for watching people suffer from self inflected wounds.
‘Have I thought of how I want this to end? Stupid question. Given the situation it would be odd if I hadn’t. He can’t help it; everyone in the psychology field is trained in the art of stupid questions.
I keep hoping that he will go off script and ask a question that isn’t in the book. But like most educated men he sticks to what he’s been taught with more lock step belief then a bible carrying minister. This is the part of the book that’s about getting the patient to feel like a participant in their therapy. Helping the patient to express their goals and to help them to set those goals in rational achievable steps. He thinks of it in terms of partnership.
“Yes.” I reply with a slightly exasperated sigh. Oh I know what’s coming next, stupid questions are like potato chips, you can never have just one.
“Well how do you want it to end?”
And there it is.
I roll my eyes and give him the thin lipped smile of annoyance.
“How do you think I want this to end? I want the superman ending of course.”
“The superman ending?”
“Yeh, you know.” I stand and take the classic poise, hands on hips, wide commanding stance, with square jawed determination I gaze out to the horizon and proclaim in Shakespearian tones,
“And the American way.” Burt joins in to finish the last line.
“There you go.” I flash him a grin a sit back down.
“Do you think that will happen?”
(Help the patient examine their goals irrational heights with reasons guiding light)
“Ahh well, let’s see. I’ve lost my apartment; all that remains of my worldly goods is stuffed into two suitcases. My former landlord Richard J. Boccie may still be trying to kill me.”
“Oh I’m sure he’s no longer trying to have killed.” He gives me a meant to be comforting smile.
“Yes well, as you believe the Boccie is nothing more than a legitimate Italian American business man, who has never ever been involved with organized crime, money laundering, drug smuggling, dealing, street gangs or contract murder, I must say that your opinion that he is no longer interested in my death is as surprising as it is useful. But thanks for playing.
“As for myself, I can’t help but wonder: When someone puts out a contract on one’s life does that contract have an expiration date? You know like a coupon? A reasonable person would have given up on me by now. But then Boccie hasn’t exactly been a reasonable person. So I can’t help but have some doubts on the matter.”
“Now to continue, I am currently committed to an insane asylum, excuse me, a mental health rehabilitation facility, because, of course, no one believes that my former land lord Richard Boccie is trying to kill me.”
“So to sum up gotta say it ant looking great for the home team Have to say that the most likely outcome right now is me winding up as another homeless bum adrift on the streets of San Francisco.” I lean back in my chair grinning.
“Oh I’m sure that won’t happen.” Burt the optimist avoids all ugly reality with outright denial. I have often wondered how he manages to stay so cheerful despite the world so consistently disappointing his fluffy kitten dreams.
“That’s nice of you to say but I have no reason to expect a more comfortable ending to the story.”
“Why are you smiling then, if it looks so bad?” (Cheerfulness, a sure sign of mental illness. Well he had me there. Cheerful people piss me off)
“Well Burt any time the facts of the matter begin to depress me I remind myself of the story of the Thief and the Flying horse.”
“The Thief and the Flying Horse?”
“Yes, it’s a cool little story; would you like to hear it?”
Of course he would. It’s his job to listen, and I am an entertaining nutter. I light one of my camels and begin the tale.
Once upon a time, in a kingdom no one remembers anymore. There lived a thief.
He was charming rouge who lived for the wit of the game.
Well, there came a day, as it comes to us all, when his wits failed him Caught red handed; he was hauled in chains before the King.
Now the King had lost some pretty baubles to the thief before and as Kings have long memories and short tempers there was no time lost in contemplating the thief’s sentence.
OFF WITH HIS HEAD the King roared.
You’re Majesty. The thief called out boldly to the king. Doffing his imaginary hat and bowing most extravagantly
I am a thief. A great thief.
He boasted with pride unrestrained by any hint of humility.
I have stolen much in my life, gold jewels, and more than a few kisses. He winked and the Kings old nurse near blushed to fainting.
I have also, as you know my lord King, stolen from you.
Strange plea for mercy, which brags of the offence, muttered the King.
In my travels, I have also stolen a secret or two.
The thief paused
Spare my life, my lord King, and in one year,,,,,,,
Teach your horse to fly.
Well Kings do like to put on a fashionable show.
Very well. The King agrees, “But, if in one year my horse does not fly, I will have your head for the royal spittoon.
Later that day the thief is in the stables getting g acquainted with the Kings favorite horse. When an old friend of the thief bribes his way into the stables to speak with his friend.
Ohh man you have really screwed yourself this time. Teach a horse to fly. Teach a horse to fly? I know you man, you can’t even ride a horse. Do you even know which end is the front?
The thief gives the horses head affectionate pet, smiles, and says
Well, you know, a lot can happen in a year. The King could die, there could be a war, a revolution, the King could convert to a religion that forbids execution. We could become best friends and he won’t want to part with me. I could escape.
Or if all else fails, maybe the god damn horse will fly.
Burt drops his pen and laughs.
“So like the thief you never give up hope?”
“Hope? Good lord no. Hope is a trap.”
“Yes. In hope your imagination stops. You spend your time hoping for a thing to happen or for a thing not to happen. Either way you’re trapped in that place. The thief is aware of what is and open to what could be. He isn’t hoping for anything, but is ready to respond. Like when he stood before the King and was condemned, he didn’t bother hoping that it would not happen, he took what did happen and created out of it a possibility. I don’t hope. Far from it, as I’ve said I have a very pessimistic view of how this will end for me.”
Then why do you smile?”
“Because I believe, as the thief believes that an open imagination can create possibilities out of even the worst of circumstances. I suppose that belief confirms that I am indeed delusional.”
He laughs again. His more guarded laugh. He feels uncomfortable when I laugh about my mental illness. He would be happier if I took my insanity with a greater sense of seriousness.
End chapter 1
“Ohh yes that’s it baby fuck me, fuck me hard.
(Shit I hate it when they want me to talk. Now I am quite talkative by nature. One of those annoying creatures who has vocal opinions about waaaay to many things. But sex talk? I am more than happy to spend hours discussing the sex habits of the bonobo chimpanzees. Of erotica I can talk Karma Sutra and Japanese pillow books. But , Fuck me hard? Oh oh yah like that baby do me now. Why ohh why do they want me to talk?
When he asked me to marry him he said he would die without me. I said I would be with him till the day he said he no longer wanted me.
I arrived in San Francisco having attended no funeral. Why San Francisco? I think it was the rice a roni adds I saw as a kid. San Francisco always looked so pretty in the ads. Starting your life over why not choose some place pretty? San Francisco is indeed very pretty though despite rice a roni being called the San Francisco treat I never actually saw anyone in San Francisco eating the stuff.
I hit the ground running and in a week I had an apartment. 430 O’Farrell st. Apartment 401 .Richard J. Boccie, the land lord. He was a short slim man with dark brown hair and eyes, He drove a bmw he wore an expensive suite, he had very soft hands. His smile was a near prefect imitation of open friendliness.
“If you have any problems just let me know.” He said.
“Ohh don’t worry I’m not the suffer in silence type. If I’m unhappy you’ll know. And if I’m really unhappy well I guess just about everyone will know.” I said.
It is an odd thing, when ever I tell someone exactly what I will do, thay always seem to think I’m telling a cute little joke. Meh, what ever dismissive mental shrug. Boccie: Classification: Mostly Harmless, and he lived in Daly city so I figured he wouldn’t be too great an irritation. Ok I was wrong about that, On a rather epic scale.
I set about decorating my little home. Damn the security deposit I wasn’t going to live with white walls and beige carpet. I rag painted the walls in several shads of pale blue and chalky white, the effect was of mottled turquoise stone, the ceiling in lighter shades of white and blue like blue sky and clouds, the kitchen I did in bright apple green and tomato red for the cabinets and trim the bathroom I treated with reactive copper paint to look like copper aged in the rain. At a flea Market I got a large old Indian capet to cover that ugly beige wall to wall ., from a thrift store I got an old wicker child’s sleigh style bed, it was just large enough for me to stretch out in, painted a hidiouse pepto bismale pink I set to work covering the bed in gold leaf, from the same store I got a wicker chair to match and gold leafed that as well. It was a very small apartment so other then the few odds and ends like bamboo shelves from china town and a round low coffee table in the center of the room I was all settled in.
So becoming a whore, that’s the part everyone wants to know about. After all everyone gets an apartment at some point or other in their lives and the details of such are of little interest. Even if you do rent an apartment from the devil. Becoming a whore that’s something the creates all kinds of interest.
I was bored
A year after moving in I had a perfectly normal job, office temp. Life had settled into a routine. I became frustrated with my own dullness. It seemed such a waste, move all the way to San Francisco just to do what could be done in any small town anywhere.
I went out one evening to an art show. The artist had inked up naked people and splatted them on the canvas. I wasn’t sure what to feel about the art. Was human ink splats good art? Just as I was trying to make up my mind at what to think of it when a tall lanky young man introduced himself to me and proudly pointed at the ink splat he had been the ‘model’ for.
“That’s me”. He points with pride to the ink splat of his cock.
That’s the moment I knew I was looking at art. Only art can flash its ink splatted cock at you and have social convention set so that I have to act coolly impressed.
For some reason he thought I was impressed with him.
I was very bored so I took him home. The sex was bad, counting the cracks on your ceiling and making out your grocery list bad.
Second date, yeh yeh I know why? I thought it might be like training a rather over eager puppy. It’s not like men were exactly lining up in front of my door. I don’t know maybe San Francisco was the wrong city for a straight gal to get a date. Anyway we went to dinner, which was a mistake. Food was good but it gave him time to talk. Well the food was good.
Back home he was all happy expectancy. I tried to go all Cosmo on him. Attempting to discuss matters of foreplay and other variations on a theme besides endless drilling.
He took it badly.
“I don’t understand why we can’t just do it like last time. We had a great time last time.” He was whining at me. Whining, with his beer perched on his lap like it was his ink splatted dick.
It was the whining that did it. In that moment he was every man I had known in my life. They behave like complete ass heads and then whine at me like it’s my fault they haven’t a brain in their skulls.
My hand snapped out palm up, I smiled and said.
“Tell ya what sport, you put two hundred dollars in my hand right now and you can have it any way you want it. I’ll even pretend to be enjoying it. Now how’s that for a deal?
He started to hyperventilate. Seriously. I had to go into the kitchen and get him a paper bag to breathe into. Had a moment’s internal debate regarding paper or plastic.
Him sitting on the couch breathing into a paper bag, me biting my tongue so hard I tasted blood. I must not laugh. If I laugh he’ll pass right the fuck out then what will I do with him? I had a vision of me dragging him down three flights of stairs by his feet. In my mind I could hear the thunk thunk thunk as his head hit each of the stairs on the way down. I almost bit my tongue in two. (Must not laugh, must not laugh.)
Once he had calmed down enough to shuffle out the door, still asking if maybe? I shut the door firmly in his bewildered face.
I sat down on my little gold wicker bed sipping a beer, mulling the thought over in my head.
Men bring you money, you have sex, and they go away. No stupid pick up lines, no dull conversations and all the lies they tell I get paid to listen to. When I thought about it, I really couldn’t see much of a down side.
Of course it was illegal, but I thought how illegal could something be that advertises in the yellow pages? Honestly.
So far as I could tell whores only get arrested in the following circumstances:
• Street walkers. Well there they are, all out in open. Any time politicians want to look tough on crime they are the easiest targets. Well there was no way I was doing that. I hate waiting around for the bus and walking up and down the street in high heels for hours at a time…are you kidding me?
• Madams, the way high end types and that’s just so the powers that be can a hold of the client list. Well no worries on that count, I wasn’t that ambitious’
• Whores who set up in nice neighborhoods. You know, places with kids around and people who worry about strange men popping in and out at odd hours. I lived in the tenderloin, the place marked out in tourist guide books with the notation Here there be dragons The entire second floor of my building was given over to the Empire Massage Parlor and there were no children in the building. The massage parlor being already there, well a few extra men coming into the building wouldn’t draw any attention.
There were other issues that came to mind such as age. Thirty three is old to start in the business as I understood it. And I not exactly what one would expect in looks for the job not busty not curvy not cute. But I look young for my age, and can manage to look passable when I bother to take the time to smarten myself up a bit.
Nothing ventured nothing gained, I took out a small add in the San Francisco weekly, one tiny little add in amongst just oodles and oodles of similar adds. Minimum allowed wording, I didn’t even include a pictures. I just never cared for cameras and isn’t that just Gods own irony considering what all happened. The day the paper came out my dang phone started ringing off the hook.
An excess of business was something I had not considered. Which just goes to show you, in America if you have something you can’t give away; put a high enough price tag on it and people will line up around the block for it.
End chapter 2
Bad girl, bad girl such a dirty bad girl beep beep
I wasn’t going to go into this at all. Wasn’t going to mention being a whore at all because it really doesn’t have anything to do with what happened. No more than being a waitress has anything to do with getting run over by a drunk driver. But in the end I decided that I couldn’t just tell part of the whole, and after all I’m insane, so what am I afraid of? That people will think badly of me? That’s the great thing about being insane; you no longer have to even try to live up to other people’s expectations.
And besides every story needs a little sex, right?
About six months after I started my new career I attended a street fair. Great place San Francisco, you turn a corner and there you are in the middle of a party. Music dancing, food, and standing at a table of counter culture books and Che’ Chevra t shirts a real live communist. She was bone thin and rather grubby looking, as one who had given up both eating and bathing as a show of solidarity with the great starving unwashed proletariat.
I had to get a closer look. A real live commy, in this day and age, it was like spotting an endangered species. Casually I slid over to the Che’ t shirts. Now there was a man who looked the part of a revolutionary. As I was fingering a tee shirt and debating the purchase a woman shouldered me aside to buy a book. She was, bulky dressed all in black and her hair, long greasy strands of black hair.
“So what do you do?” the skinny communist asked her new customer.
“I’m a dominatrix.” She said with pride.
“Oh good for you.” The commy smiled at her. “It’s great to see a woman empowering herself”
I stepped forward, holding the blood red tee shirt with its brooding revolutionary.
“And what do you do?” She asked me.
“I’m a whore.” I said with a bright cheerful smile. The more pc term I suppose is escort but really back when I was a house wife I didn’t go around calling myself a domestic engineer.
“Ohh ,” Her voice suddenly dripping pity. “How does it feel to be exploited by men?”
Huu? My brain skitters to a stop, my lips disappear inside my scrunched up face of complete annoyance.
I put down the tee shirt and leaned over and whispered into her grubby ear.
“You do know you’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.”
I turned and stalked off. Commys! no wonder they don’t get invited to parties any more.
Strange world isn’t it when whipping someone for money is perfectly ok but fucking for pay is so very very naughty? I personally think most of the laws regarding sex to be,,,odd.. This is supposed to be a capitalist society so why in only the area of sex does the amateur have more respect than the professional? You would think that ladies of my sort would be doing endorsements for condoms, but nooo. The law is I can be as big of a slut as I like giving it away to just anyone, but if I get paid for my, indulgence, suddenly I’m a criminal. As a woman I can sell my hair my eggs rent my womb there is even a market for breast milk. My fertility very much a free market item but the part of my body that fucks? Ohh noo we cant have that. I fail to understand the logic.
As to exploitation, well I guess I would rather be exploited for two hundred an hour then for ten.
Alrighty then hopping off the soap box on with the story.
A couple of months after I took out my little add I got a call from a gentleman who wanted the dominatrix thing. I told him that I had never done that sort of thing before but being an agreeable sort I said I’dd give it a go. I made sure he knew that I had no equipment for that sort of thing. I mean lord a good corset alone will run six hundred or more and then the boots and the cuffs and whips and gages. I tell you there are more props involved then a Hollywood b movie. I just dont have enough closet space for that much wardrobe.
He arrived. I, triying to be all stern and growly snapped “On Your Knees.”
Which he did, with amazing speed. Ploop.
And. My. Mind. Went Completely. Blank.
(Fuck, now what do I do with him? Shit I really have to read more dirty books.)
I had a beagle when I was a kid and had done a few dog shows with him, so.. I put him through the paces. Sit Beg Roll over,( A Dominatrix must not giggle) Heel. It was a very small apartment so heel took about ten seconds, and there we were back where we started.
“No you may not lick my shoes! These are my favorite shoes you think I want your spit all over them?”
Finally I had him sit in a corner and masturbate. Me with the heel of my shoes firmly planted in his thigh. I hit him over the head with a rolled up newspaper whenever he tried to lick my shoes. He seemed quite happy about it.
He called back wanting to be my house boy, do the dishes wash my laundry. As much as I hate doing laundry I just didn’t want to think of him pawing my panties,(Jezz just let my customers know about my real life granny panties and there goes the biz) so I politely declined and told him he really needed to find a lady with more experience in this sort of thing.
Not long after that I got a call from a man who wanted me to spank him. Well ok I thought I could do that with little trouble. Unfortunately, he had a ginormaouse ass. Took four whacks just to half cover one ass cheek, and he wanted it hard hard harder. My poor hand was swollen for two days.(note to self there is a reason dominatrixes use paddles) His requests for further appointments I had to politely decline.
Other than my difficulties pulling off the whole dom thing, I was, according to my reviews, actually pretty good at my new career. Nothing new under the sun but the form it takes. One day I open my door to my new mystery date, he looks at me suprised and says.
"Ohh my your better looking then your reviews lead me to belive."
"My reviews? and wait, you made an apointment to see the ugly whore? I shouldnt have dressed up."
So of course I had to check it out. www.redbook.com, a cyber version of the mens room wall. My reviews were effusive in their praise of my skills, especially my oral skills. I thought that too funny because the whole oral thing was just me trying to find ways to avoid stupid conversations. They were far less effusive in their praise of my looks. The angularity of my construction was not something men expected in a lady of my profession. This I thought of as no bad thing, don’t know about you, but I would far rather be noted for my skills then my looks any day. Several of my reviews noted how much they enjoyed my conversation. I ask you, how many whores get rave reviews about their conversational skills?
The thing that surprised me the most about being a whore was that most of the sex was pretty good. Actually it was unusual for the sex to be bad, my customers went way out of their way to insure I enjoyed myself. A few weeks after beginning my career I found myself pondering the matter.
(What the heck was going on here? When I was trying to give it away men were all one trick pony with the attention span of a four year old on cotton candy. Now that they are paying for my attention and time now they want me to enjoy myself, now they want to talk? And good lord now they want to cuddle? Seriously cuddling? Are men deliberately trying to be perverse?)
I came to the conclusion that for men, sex, is all about competing with other men. It’s one of two games, either football or pinball. You see in football it’s about reaching the goal as quickly as possible and in keeping other men from scoring on your goal. In pinball they know another guy is going to come play his quarter, in pinball they want to be the top scorer.
End chapter 3
I finished my cigarette and stubbed it out. I sighed and took out my bronze Zippo.
“Well time for me to be moving on.” I said looking up at the ceiling. They were watching, they were always watching, always listening, cameras and microphones in my ceiling. I dont like reality TV, I dont watch reality TV (except for project runway, huge fan of that one. Does that make me a bad person?) Yet here I am the star of my very own reality show. The lets murder the whore show. Me live 24/7. I tell ya I have killer ratings. Dealing with assassin paparazzi is a life skill I never had any reason to suspect that I would ever need. (I just knew I was wasting my time trying to learn geometry)
High school year book photo, a a girl with lifeless mouse brown hair crooked glassed, ghost white complexion which just serves to highlight each bright red pimple. Caption, girl least likely to become the fixated obsession of men.
Turning the lighter over in my hands, cool smooth weight in my hands. ( I don’t want to do this. I really don’t want to do this. )
They were silent now. For the past three months my irritating fan club has had people howling death at me. Every moment, night, day, sound, honking horns, screaming howling shouting, a symphony of murder They were silent now. All quiet, waiting, watching me turn my lighter over in my hand.
My grandmother had once said to me. “The trouble with you is you always burn your bridges behind you.”
To which I replied. “Of course I do cause when I cross a bridge I’m not going back.”
I flip the Zippo open and light it. Some things never change.
I set the flame to the garbage bag I had stuffed with crumpled paper and rages soaked in lighter fluid. I turn to the curtains, they give themselves to the fire, made to burn. I turn the gas of the stove on full. Flames and smoke curling around me I look up to the ceiling and smile.
“Well I’m off now so you all go ahead and call the fire department. Ohh and one more thing, a small piece of advice. Never start a war with some one who has a better sense of humor than your own.” I gave a cheerful little bye bye wave and shut the door behind me.
I walked across the street to paradise doughnuts and bought a peach Snapple with the last two dollars in my pocket. I sat at the white plastic table on the sidewalk and watched the fire consume my home. Flames curled out of my open windows most dramatically. The fire trucks arrived almost as soon as I sat down. My assassins must have had the fire department on speed dial. The situation well in hand I picked up my iced tea and walked off the hem of my yellow submarine coat swinging at my knees.
“Idle hands are the devils work.” My grandmother had always said. So in between fighting the stay alive I occupied my time embroidering a long denim coat with beads using the beetles yellow submarine as insperation., Yellow submarine, blue meanies, glovey, I had had a lot of time on my hands.
I walked down O’Farrell St. past the Hilton. I see a couple taking pictures of my fire with their expensive camera. I smile at them, they dont see me. Walking on I pass Macy’s and that god awful toy store fao shwartz and hear the horrible tinny music of children being tortured into happiness. ‘It’s a small world after all, it’s a small small world.’ At the end of Market street I reach the embarcadero, I walk along to a spot behing some very nice restaurants and find a park bench with a wonderful view of the bay bridge. I sit back with a tired sigh and spread my arms along the back of the bench.
An asian man is fishing off the pier, we smile and wave at each other. A young street kid approaches, kid well in his twenties wearing the torn and ragged clothes of street punk chic.
“Hey.” He says. “Can I sit down?”
It’s just a law of nature, where ever a woman sits alone, it wont be long before men start to gather.
“Nice day.” I say.
“So whatcha doing?”
“Me? I’m celebrating, I just torched my apartment. So I’m taking in the view of this beautiful day and celebrating.”
Gutter punks just love tales of wanton destruction.
“Wanta smoke?” He asks holding out a nicely rolled joint.
“Why thank you sir.”
We sit together on the bench smoking enjoying the day. A couple of older homeless men approach. We exchange pleasantries. They too are impressed with my act of arson. A friend of theirs had stolen a case of very nice wine from the back of a delivery truck. Being former boy scouts they came prepared with a bottle opener. We all passed the bottle around. All in all a fine celebration.
The afternoon was mnoving on. Me being a very fair skinned person with a decided aversion to sunlight, a few hours spent out in the open I could feel my skin crisping. It was time to be moving on. I said goodbye to my jolly friends and headed off.
Back up Market street a right on to Hyde, Hyde and Larkin the heart (if there is one) of the terderloin. The building on the corner used to be a bank in long days gone by, then it was converted into a police station,closed now an iron grate in front of its doors its wide marble steps serve the homeless now. They collect here like hermit crabs caught in a tide pool.
Not far from there I arrive at my destination, the public library. There is a woman standing out front wearing several layers of clothes. She is tearing at her wild hair screaming at one of the stone lions. “It’s love verses love ok? OK? It’s love verses love, so shut up, just shut up!!” Everyone going into the library gives the woman a wide berth.
I love libraries. They are my church, my sanctuary and most people seem to feel so, at least on an unconscious level. People are seldom rude in libraries. Hushed voices the golden gleam of polished wood, heads bowed, the gentle sound of pages being turned like fall leaves rustling along the ground.
That being said, I hate this library, loath it in fact.
The old library was everything a library should be, but it was old which was sin enough for the city to want it gone. So the city leaders decided that they absolutely needed a new library. One wired with all the shiny new toys of the electronic age.
Well the design board of directors apparently went to the architects and told them “We want a building that just screams modern artistic pretension, it’s got to be ugly as hell, impractical to use, and expensive to keep up. We are going to need it for political fund raisers, parties for foreign dignitaries and high fashion photo shoots. So the eager architects went to work. They put it all in there, every thing the board asked for and I guess about 10 minutes before they presented the design to the board some thoughtful person whispered in their ears “Oh by the way it’s supposed to be a library."
The building is twice the size of the old library and holds half as many books. The lions out front are relics from the old library. The design board didn’t want the lions. They didn’t fit in with the complete soullessness of the building. They are right the lions look out of place. The public out cry over the whole lack of books in the public library things was such that the board allowed the lions to be put out front. Why they thought this would mollify the public outrage over the books debacle I have no idea. Why it mostly worked I understand even less.
To get into the building you go past the lions and up the stairs to the second floor of the building. Once inside you walk around in a semi circle to the curving stairs which take you back down to the first floor. Looking up I feel rather like I am standing at the bottom of a Styrofoam cup. You walk around the bottom of the cup to another set of curving stairs that’s leads you back up to the second floor.’
By the time I reach the place where they have hidden the book shelves I’m dizzy and grasping at the white walls that seem to cant away from me at odd and uncomfortable angles. And that’s when I’m stone cold sober. Now a little high a little drunk, sunburned and every nerve stretched wire tight.
I reached the main book depository and in my best southern bell swoon, I collapsed to the floor.
End chapter 4
I NEVER COULD GET THE HANG OF THRUSDAYS
I was taken to Saint Frances Hospital
I mumbled out the basics, name former address, insurance none and babbled incoherently about a fire. That done I retired from further active participation with the world around me.
The nurses took my temp blood pressure, timed my heart beat. It was decided I was dehydrated and I was put on an iv. Dehydrated was I figured a nice way for the nurses to say I was drunk. After not too long a time a doctor came looked at me for a moment and he left. A nurse returned waving a set of papers.
The nurse informs me that there is nothing wrong with me and the doctor had signed my discharge papers. I could go.
I lay there meditating.
She flutters the discharge papers in front of my closed eyes. “The doctor has discharged you, you can go.”
I continued my meditation.
She shoved the examination bed upon which I lay, snapping the papers franticly in front of my closed eyes.
I lay there meditating.
They decided to leave me alone for a bit. Hoping I would gain enough sense to sign the discharge paperwork and get out of the way.
A nurse comes into the room, pretending to be putting away medical supplies. She is slamming cupboard doors open and closed like an angry house wife.
I feel bad for her I really do. There she is a busy woman with way to much to do and real sick people to care for and there was this perfectly healthy person laying there like a big old lump. How very irritating. I want to explain the situation to her, but it would take too long and she wouldn’t believe me anyway. So I lay there meditating, waiting for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn.
About an hour later a nurse returns and say they have decided to transfer me to the San Francisco General the Psyc ward.
I open one eye and say, “That would be fine, thank you.” I return to my mediation.
First stop, the three day hold. It’s a big room with uncomfortable reclining seat/beds I am given a tasteless turkey sandwich, and a sipping box of juice, (hmm, juice). I haven’t eaten in a couple of days, the sandwich goes down well.
The three day hold is mostly for allowing druggies and drunks to sober up enough to be not too great a nuisance to society at large upon being released. I eat my sandwich and listening to the mutterings and snoring of my fellow patients I pull up my thin blanket and sleep.
Day two I get pudding with my lunch,( hmmm, pudding.)
Then the interview. A very bored man begins asking me the standard questions, medications allergies, blah, blah, blah,
“Why are you here?” He asks me.
“Well, I set fire to my apartment because my landlord is trying to kill me.” I said.
He looks up from the form on his desk and blinks at me, twice.
“Excuse me, I’ll be right back.” And he scurries from the room.
He returns with a nervous shuffling of forms. You see I am now a problem for which a solution must be found. A danger to self and others. Now honestly society doesn’t really give a tinkers damn about the danger to self and very little about danger to others ahh but endanger property? Now that’s something that needs attention. They can’t just sober me up and send me on my merry way, just imagine the law suits if they released an admitted fire bug and she, one out sets another property to blaze.
I’m sent upstairs to the hospitals official pscy. Ward. This is intended to be a two to three week holding pen for the inconveniently unstable. Quite a few teenagers here.
Another interview, he’s a tired looking man in a suite that needs pressing. It’s a dull beige room, behind him silk plants that look wilted.
He sits, forms in front of him, pen in hand. Ahh yes let the games begin.
“Do you hear voices?”
I have been asked this many times and they always seem so disappointed when I say no.
“Who is president?”
“George Bush” (And they call me mad)
I pause thinking. I haven’t seen a newspaper in a while and it’s been a busy few days, counting back in my head, and then it comes to me. In my best English accent. “Thursday, it must be Thursday, never could get the hang of Thursdays.”
“Oh? Why is that?” He looks up pen pausing.
I laugh. “oh never mind, classical reference.” (The Hitchers guide to the galaxy)
He looks confused but decides to forge ahead.
“Could you count backward from a hundred by 7s?”
“Hu?, now what exactly does my mathematical ability have to do with my sanity?” I ask. “I mean the mathematically gifted among us have always been more than a bit twitchy on the sanity scale.”
“It’s just a question I have to ask.” He says looking down at the form on the table.
“Really?” I shrug. “Poor you. Well as the designated mad person in the room I am under no such obligation. How about we do prime numbers? Hmm lets see backward from a hundred 97,89,83,79,73,71,67,61,59,53,47,43,41,37,29,23,19,17,13,11,7,5,3,2
Or, I know how about a nice Fibonacci sequence, Hmmm backward from a hundred, 89,55,34,21,13,8,5,3,2,1,1.
“Ahh, what’s a Fibonacci sequence?”
“It’s the mathematical proportions of a spiral.” I smile and flutter my eyelashes at him. Always good to have a few clever things tucked away in your memory.
The preliminaries done with he brings out the big guns. A deck of cards. I groan inwardly and slink down in my chair. Roche cards.
“These are called Roche ink blot cards.” He explains to me. “Just look at them and say the first word that pops into your head.”
Bullshit is the first word that pops into my head but I don’t say it.
The idea here is that the images one sees in the ink blot will give the interviewer an insight into the interviewees state of mind. Only one small problem with that idea, There are no symbols that carry a universal meaning.
A persons internal symbology is unique to each individual to their history, their back ground, their experience. The Roch test? The meanings of the symbols are all set forth by a very uniform group of people, highly educated upper-class white males from a western background. They are so arrogant that they blithely assume the whole world sees things the same way as they do. Or at the very least should.
If one were to look at a card and see a sail boat, to the interviewer such a symbol might mean peacefulness, pleasure, calm. To a person wo say traps lobster for a living, such a thing might represent for him irritation (as at rich over fed tourists getting in the way of their business). To a person raised in a desert or to one who had almost drowned. Even symbols that are universally recognized such as a Christian cross, would it mean the same to a Jew? A Muslim to one who had been molested by a priest?
Ahh well, let him have his fun. Eene Meany Chilly Beany the id is about to speak. He turns the cards over, I barely glance at them. Giving him answers I read in books. Sailing boat two ballet dancers, a dove, violets ect. He turns one over I instantly recognize.
“Ohh, that’s the bat.” I laugh and wave my hand at it.
“Why do you say it’s a bat?” He looks up, his pen pausing, he thinks he’s hit on something significant here.
“Because, that particular ink blot was used as a prop in one of the Bat man movies. The female lead in the movie, playing a criminal psychologist, had this ink blot as an enloarged framed print on her wall. In walks Bat Man in his daily disguise as Bruce Wayne. He looks at the picture and says. ‘Ohh a bat.” She says, ‘ohh now why do you say it’s a bat?’
“Now if you ask me if I think I’m Bat man I shall be really annoyed.”
He looks slightly put out, but decides not to comment and he continues with the cards. I’m not even bothering to look at them any more.
A falling pot of petunias, a confused looking whale. He doesn’t ask why the whale is confused which is for the best he wouldn’t have understood the answer.
We reach the end of his cards and he takes a moment to tabulate the results.
“Well Doc, how’d I do?
“Well, it shows that you are mild to moderately depressed.”
Give me a set of tarot cards and I could do a cold reading of considerably more depth and accuracy.
Being officially diagnosed as somewhat depressed, I was promptly put on a course of anti psychotics and adivan Jolly good fun.
End chapter 5
THE CATCH 22 SOLUTION
About a week later I am asked if I wish to return to my old apartment building to pick through the remains of my life. I politely declined. Too much like stepping on my own grave thank you very much. I gave them a list of things they could bring if they wished to go to the trouble. My big yellow tackle box of art supplies, my paintings,my cd’s and movie collection and a suitcase of clothes.’ The suite case I had packed before the fire, and I had put it, and those other odds and ends stacked in the hall way. I had an idea that some of it would be catching up with me sooner or later.
I was most pleased to get my tackle box, ahh crayons and water color pens just what a mad woman needs to pass the time.The staff was pleased with my paints and collages, always good to have an artistic mad person in the house, gives the place a touch of class. Not feeling the muse I just spent my time scribbling doodles on paper. Hardly seemed worth the praise the staff heaped on me for scribbling. But if they wanted to pat me on the head, I wasn’t going to argue.
The whole art thing came about thusly. It was my thirty third birthday, which I thought a fine time to do the take stock of life thing. Where am I now? What have I accomplished sort of thing. Looking back I found that the only thing I had really accomplished in life was to fuck things up and piss people off.
Holy shit, I’m an artist.
Imagine my surprise. At the time I didn’t even own a box of crayons.
A doctor interrupts my doodling to ask if I would mind it if he brought in some interns to interview me.
I didn’t mind. Here I am all bored and they give me a room full of baby doctors to play with. Why I bet their just as cute as puppies.
And oh my weren’t they just, five of them, so eager,trying so hard to look all serious and learned. Three men, two women all in their crisp intern lab coats, clip boards up and pens ready.
“Do you know why you’r here?” The head doctor asks me.
“Here in the hospital or here in this room ?”
“Here in the hospital and here talking with us.” He smiles. He likes clever patients.
“Ahh well I would say that I am here in the hospital because of a difference of opinion.” I smile. “I would say that I am here because my former landlord Richard J Boccie is involved in the illegal drug business in a fairly large way and that I have gotten in his way so he has taken a contract out on my life. (if that really is the correct term, I don’t know maybe the people in the mob call it a hostile take over). And I am here because it is better than being killed.
“You on the other hand would say that I am a paranoid delusional nut burger who has been driven over the edge by certain unfortunate lifestyle choices and has, poor dear, become a danger to self and others.
“Hence the difference of opinion.
“I’m here talking with you all because I’m a fairly amusing nut burger and you thought it would be a nice change of pace for your students from the depressing run of mumblers and droolers they normally have to examine.
I smile, They laugh.
“Well let’s begin shall we?” I adjust my glasses
First question from the well groomed young man on the left. “Did you really set the fire in your apartment?”
“Yes, yes I did.”
“Umm, why did you set your apartment on fire?” This from the woman in the middle in carefully bland makeup.
“The short answer is because my landlord was trying to kill me. The slightly longer answer is because it would send me here.”
“You wanted to come here? Why?” They all lean forward in their seats. This was as answer they were not expecting. Which is odd I think, after all haven’t they gone into massive amounts of debts and years of schooling to get here? All I had to do was start one little fire.
“I call it the catch 22 solution.” I tell them.
“The situation I am dealing with, whether you believe it or not, and I take it as a give that you don’t. Boccie wants me dead. He is offering a hundred thousand dollars to see me dead. As ego flattering as that is in a twisted sort of way. It is a bit of a problem. I cant get anyone like the police to believe me about this, and I cant be sure that simply leaving San Francisco would be enough to insure my continued breathing. There is no such thing as anonymity anymore, anywhere I go I will leave a trace that can be found by anyone with even a modicum of computer skills.
Since I cant get anyone to believe me, well disbelief has its uses.
“First, being in a locked mental ward, I figured that it puts me out of reach of Boccie’s hired guns. They arnt all that cleaver and perhaps with me out of the picture it will give them a chance to calm the fuck down.
Second, one of the reasons Boccie wants me dead, other then the fact that there is just something about me that really pisses him off, is he is afraid that I just may get someone to believe me. Well now that I am officially a nut case my credibility is completely shot. Thus removing one of Boccie’s major motivations for wanting me dead.
Third, being now officially a paranoid delusional nut burger I have some small protection from being killed once I move on out of the system. So long as I’m alive I’m just a delusional nut who thinks her former landlord is trying to kill her. If however I end up dead in some no doubt messy fashion people might just begin to wonder if my paranoia might not be entirely mad.”
While I admit it’s not an ideal solution, it’s the best I could come up with under the circumstances And it does appeal to my sense of humor.
“Why do you think your landlord is trying to kill you.?”
“That is a long story.”
End chapter 6
AND THIS WAS SUCH A NICE QUIET NEIGBORHOOD
One night some time after midnight I am woken up by a god awful hallabaloo coming from the street below my windows. I am normally pretty good at ignoring city noises, O’Farrell is a busy street the traffic never sleeps on O’Farrell street, buses, cabs, people going to the theaters to hotels going shopping, just going, people. My building is right in what I call the tidal delta zone. The place where the worlds of the tourist hotels, the shopping the theaters and restaurants, meet and mix with the tenderloin world of the broken, the used and the forgotten. My apartment looks out over it all. I would sit at my windows working on some beading project and watch the endlessly entertaining theater of the streets. So I am used to the sounds of the streets and find the sounds of the city breathing actually comfort my sleep. But even so hearing people screaming out my name with death threats attached kinda got my attention
I pull open my window and lean out looking down to the street below.
Queeny and her crack head court were down below my window, screaming up death threats, to me.
Queeny is a needle thin African American woman who could be an aged thirty or a preserved sixty. Her court is an ever changing collection of the hopelessly lost. Her tribe occupies the sidewalk in front of the Christian science church half a block from my building. The sidewalk there is wide and open, catching the warming sun for most of the day and there is an alley between the church building and the building next to mine perfect for the clandestine deals necessary for survival on the streets. Every now and then I toss the tribe a few bucks for coffee or crack, what ever gets you through the day.
I leaned out the window a bit to get a better look at the commotion. Spotting me Queeny screams up at me shaking her boney first.
“Ya you, you bitch, we going ta KILL you!”
“Really? Have I done something in particular to piss you off?”
They all shook their fists at me and screamed up a chorus of murder. This is the first time in my life I have been serenaded and I must say I imagined such an event in my life quite differently.
I shrug my shoulders and close the window. What ever drugs their on, will no doubt wear off in a day or two. I thought and vowed that I would never again buy those idiots another cup of coffee. I go back to sleep, fading the calls for my death into the steady back ground of the street. I slept.
5am I woke as I did every morning except that this morning the crack heads were still under my window screaming up the endless creative means of my demise they could come up with. I pull on my torn jeans a clean enough t shirt and my doc martins and head out the door.
Once I was out on the sidewalk Queeny and her court fall silent, watching me with weary eyes. I smile and wave at them and skip across the street to paradise doughnuts for my breakfast.
“Long time no see.” Hussen greets me as he does every morning. Hussen has the whitest teeth I have ever seen outside of a tooth paste add.
I pour myself a cup of coffee and grab a doughnut, hmm boston cream. I say my good morning to Hussan and to Alan who is there as he is every morning puttering about fixing the coffee.
Alan is the sort of man you could see teaching Irish poetry in some exclusive boys school. He sixtyish with a neatly trimmed beard and hawkish nose. He tries very hard to project roguish charm. He runs errands of an unspecified sorts for paradise doughnuts and for the quick copy store that is owned by an Indian gentleman named Mr. Repinder. Alan is also a small time loan shark loaning 10 for 15 kinda thing. Alan and I are friends, with in boundaries. That is we go out to lunch from time to time, and take little trips out and about to places in San Fran and the bay area. I don’t talk about his busness, he doesn’t talk about mine. He enjoys having someone to tell stories about the old days to, I enjoy listening to stories so it all works out fine.
I get a newspaper and a pack of camels pay for my breakfast and skip back across the street. I smile and wave as I pass the court. They give me the squint eye. As soon as I got back inside my apartment they began yowling up at my windows again. ( Oh for heavens sake.)
They seemed quite determined to continue their annoyance of my peace so I shrugged my shoulders, put on a movie and turned to my bead work. I had just started on a large project, a large denim coat that I was beading with designs from the beetles movie the yellow submarine.
They continued all that day and night. Working in shifts. I was impressed. I never would thought that that crew was capable of such well organized behavior or of being capable of holding a single thought or plan of action for such a long stretch of time.
Day two, repeat day one. A week. I was no less confused about the cause of this nonsense but was seriously impressed with their sticktiuvness.
You would think that that many people making that much noise at literally all hours of the day and night would attract some attention, but apparently not in my neighborhood. Now of course you wonder why didn’t I immediately call the police? For what exactly? Making noise? And of course when the cops show up they won’t be making nose, will they? Hell the cops won’t even see them, as like cockroaches when the light snaps on, they would disappear into the shadows.
I continued with my beading, ordered the occasional pizza. I kept the window open a bit and looked out every now and then, trying to puzzle out the cause for all this ruckus. I noticed a man hanging out with the crack head crew. He seemed to be the one directing the crew.
I knew him, calls himself John. Very original. He was tall blond and muscle bound and very very sure of his attractiveness to women. It is one of the true wonder of the world that the men most sure of themselves are so often the ones with the least reason to be. He had shown up in the neighborhood about two weeks before the ruckus started.
He had been just standing there on the street corner. When I passed on by he started trying to chat me up. Trying to do everything in his power to attract my attention, if there had been a puddle in the street he would have thrown his jacket on it for me to step on.
Unfortunatly for him, I pretty much considered him a puddle I was trying to avoid steping in.
One day I went out to the dinner just up the ally from my place for a bit of breakfast. He invited himself to join me. I couldn’t bring myself to object. It was like having my very own performing monkey amusing me at breakfast.
Ohhh and how he did go, telling me all about his numerous girl friends his prowess is bed his size,
“Jezz dude, I’m on my first cup of coffee here.”
He continued on, going on and on about my hotness.
Yawning widly. Sipping at my coffee. (I havent finished my first cup of coffee yet, I refuse to believe that I am currently anyone's hottness.)
He wants me to take him home with me.
“What ever for? “
So he can have sex with me.
Well direct enough. I laugh.
“Why would I do that?”
Because he wants it.
“Really? So I should have sex with you, just because you want it?”
He looks at me so convinced of his attractiveness that my agreement is a forgone conclusion.
I laugh so hard I have to push the plate out of the way. My head down on the table, pounding the table with my fists.
He frowns and with out another word stalks off from the table and out the door. My wild peals of laughter following him.
Looking out my window watching him talking to the crack heads, I figured that the blow to his ego was more then he could handle gracefully and this foolishness with the crack head crew was his little way of acting out. Well sooner or later he’ll get over it and the crack heads will find another game.
The end of the second week, I am becoming annoyed. ( Fun is fun but really this has gone on quite long enough.) From under the kitchen sink I take out my can of raid. ‘Kill roaches from 10 feet away’ nice. I put on my torn jeans a clean enough t shirt and my doc martins and the yellow submarine coat I am still working on. In one pocket I stuff the can of raid in the other a bic lighter and I head out the door.
Out on the side walk I stand across the alley from the crowd of crack heads. I take out the can of raid and the lighter. I smile and point the can. It works better than I expected. A fifteen foot jet of flames lights up the predawn darkness. I catch the shocked startled looks on the faces of Queeny and her court, frozen for a moment like in the flash of a camera.
I put the can and the lighter back in my pockets and smile at their frozen faces.
“You all may bay at the moon if you wish.
“But,,,,quit,,,,Fucking with Me.”
I smile pleasantly and skip across the street to paradise doughnuts.
End chapter 7
CURISIOUSIER AND CURIOUSIER SAID ALICE
I drank my coffee and read my newspaper in blessed peace. For the first time in two weeks my irritating little fan club was silent. The morning continued quiet so I thought it would be a good time to take a quick trip out to get supplies.
I locked the deadbolt and the lock on the door handle as I was making out my mental shopping list. Paint, some super glue, beads, some cleaning supplies hmm and monofilament fishing line I think.
Twenty minutes to walk to Pearl art and craft store, twenty minutes back, five minutes to get what I needed, fifteen to wait for someone to man the cash register (Pearl hires art students so it takes awhile to get anything useful done). I would be home in an hour. Typically when I leave the house I am gone for some hours, shopping, a bit of lunch, some afternoon bar hopping, so those seeing me leave will have the expectation that I will be gone for some time. I cant help but feel that this quiet is only a temporary reprieve.
My trip out isn’t so much to replenish my supplies as to test to see if I’m perhaps over reacting to a bit of noise, or if there is something a tad more serious going on. Give people a vulnerability an opening and see if anyone goes for it. It's a good way to test your enemy's intentions and capabilities.
I give Queeny’s nervous court a jaunty wave and head out walking quickly. Pearl art store is on Market street straight down Tyler street, I don’t see anyone following me, but unless someone were being like totally inspector Clouseau about it, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t notice if someone were following me or not.
Shopping done I head home. I wave at Queeny’s court as a reach my building. They don’t seem happy to see me. I unlock the buildings door and pause in the lobby before calling the elevator.
“Oh shit she’s here.” I hear a man’s voice trying to whisper floating down to me from the stairwell. I hear a sound like tools being shoved into a bag and foot steps heading up. A door opens, from the cold metal snick sound it was the door to the roof. The door closes.
I take the elevator up to my floor, stepping out cautiously . The hall way is empty. I go to my door, hmm, scratches around my deadbolt and its unlocked. The second lock I have on my door apparently they didn’t have time to get to. Jezz, they had the better part of an hour and they couldn’t pick two simple locks? And I would have had lookouts posted with a cell phone to alert the burglars of my return. Stupid and sloppy, but why where they trying to break into my apartment in the first place?
I go inside and lock the door behind me. I set my, ‘groceries’ down. Ok then time to upgrade home security. I go to my closet and get a length of 2x4 I had tucked away as a useful thing for something someday . I braced the 2x4 against the door and wedged it against the facing wall. Primitive but effective, even if they picked the locks they wouldn’t be able to open the door.
I sat on my bed thinking. ‘Shit she’s here’, footsteps, the door. Two men, the speaker, white I think, he didn’t speak with the same accent as the members of queeny’s court who are all African American. They went up to the roof, but not down. My apartment faced the stairwell and the elevator, if anyone went up or down I would know of it. If the door to the roof opened I would hear it, that cold snick sound, I would hear it.
The roof, the only other way down was by the fire escape that went right by my window. The roof. I thought of the empty building next door. The building next door, you can get to it from the roof of my building. The two buildings so close together you can step from one roof top to the other. They went up but not down.
Curiousier and curiousier said Alice.
The day continued quiet. At sunset John returned. I was beading my coat listening to him yell at Queeny and her court for their dereliction of their duty to be a pain in my ass. They weren’t all that interested in continuing since I apparently had a flame thrower that they hadn’t been warned about.
“Are you Fucking kidding me?” He screamed at them “That bitch is worth fifty thousand bucks.”
And the big cartoon question mark popped into existence above my head.
TV, dvd player, stereo. Fifty thousand? I’m worth fifty thousand? Something wasnt adding up here, the stereo wasnt even a BOSE. Did they think I was one of those odd eccentrics who lived like paupers with gold bars stuffed under their bed? Is that why they tried to break into my apartment ? to steal my secrete stash of gold?
For a moment I considered the idea that someone was offering to pay fifty thousand to actually kill me. And dismissed the idea as more nuts then the idea of me with gold bars under my bed. truly nuts. Sure I’m an annoying person but I couldn’t think of anyone I had pissed off enough to shell out that kind of cash.
I figured that ‘John’ was spinning a whopper to the crew to get them motivated. Still worrisome, people get stupid for a lot less than that. I sighed and put away my bead work.
Before I went to bed I took some pieces of ply wood I had in my closet and tacked them up, covering the window that the fire escape went past, and over the two bay windows that faced out over the street. Fifty thousand is a lot of motivation and a rifle with a decent scope isn’t that big of an investment.
I went to bed.
Car horns and people screaming up at me, in Spanish. I understand just enough Spanish to know that nothing they were shouting up at me was at all nice.
There were three cars involved in a bizarre little parade. Spaced about three car lengths apart they circled the block and every time they passed my building they began laying on their horns and screaming rude things up at me. That they were screaming in Spanish struck me as a bit off. The population of the tenderloin is African American and Asian.
“What? Their importing assholes from the mission now?”
I was beginning to feel like the last defender of the Alamo. Considering how well that worked out for the Alamo, it wasn’t a good feeling.
I recognized the cars.
The sounds of the city are not random noise. There is a pattern to it. Like the beat of your heart or the breath in your lungs. Car, buses, taxi’s, people come people going, I know the rhythm. I noticed the cars a couple of months before the ruckus.
The honking of a car horn, what sound could be more normal more common than the sound of a car horn in the city? Commonly, normally a car horn is used to impart one of two basic messages; either I’m here get your ass in gear or fuck you asshole. There is also the watch out but it is always watch out asshole so I put that in the same category as fuck you asshole.
A car parked in the alley beeps three times, a car driving by honks three times in answer.
The car in the alley pulls out and drives off.
A new car parks in the alley.
It honks twice.
A car driving by honks twice in response.
The car in the alley pulls out and drives off.
A new car parks in the alley.
It is a pattern that is repeated often. Day after day. The same three cars. The same three cars that are now circling my building and honking their horns at me.
Being under siege, isn’t as interesting as one might think. It goes on and on and I occupied my time with my beading. The coat was coming along really well. I ate, I slept, I drank tea, I watched movies (I have an extensive collection), I read books and I wait. Sooner or later they will get bored with this. Sooner or later these yo yos will figure out that idiot ‘John’ hasn’t got 50 anything let alone fifty thousand. They would most likely beat him to death when they finally figure out that they had been had. I was quite looking forward to watching that.
A week goes by, I got quite a bit done on my coat. The crack heads screamed under my windows, the cars circled the block honking and screaming every time they passed my building.
Couple of times that week someone tried to job the lock. They weren’t very good at it, or maybe they weren’t trying to be subtle.
The sound of power tools coming from the upstairs apartment. I groan and roll out of bed. I was doing really well at ignoring the constant clamor coming from outside but power tools are hard to ignore. Why always midnight I grouse and fix myself a cup of tea.
I sat sipping my tea listening as someone upstairs drilled into their floor, my ceiling.
The apartment upstairs was currently vacant. As were most of the apartments in the building, now that I thought about it. Upstairs only one apartment was currently occupied by a young woman who is a niece of Mr. Ripinder of the copy shop. She moved in about four months ago. And on my floor, other than me there was only one tenant, a beefy young man who told me he was a cook and who once offered to pick my lock for me when I miss placed my keys for about five minutes. I’m not a suspicious person by nature, but , hmmm.
The apartment directly above me has had a series of odd tenants, who never stayed for long, a week or two mostly.
There were the unpleasant Mongolians. One night I was woken to the sounds of a woman screaming that she had been raped by the Mongolians in the apartment upstairs. She screamed rape, she screamed for help. I heard her running up the stairs, I heard the cold snick sound of the roof door being opened. She disappeared. I complained to Boccie, the Mongolians moved out.
There was the elder Yemenis man in full robes. He was the father of the owner of the coffee shop on the corner of O’Farrell and Larken. He didn’t speak a word of English and I met him because of his lack of understanding of indoor plumbing. He had to call his son to explain why a crazed American woman with wet hair was screaming at him.
There was the Alaskan Airlines steward and his new Chinese bride. They stayed a couple of months.
The last I swear looked exactly like a gangster from some movie from the 50’s. He was a square shaped man from head to toe, in a double breasted suite and smoking a stogie. He had introduced himself to me as a retired district attorney from some city near by I cant rember. He gave me his card. Told me he was trying to track a man stalking the woman in new York who owned the apartment.
(Yeh right, what ever,)
I threw the card away. He stayed two weeks.
There was the asian gang banger. He was about 5’ 8’’ a wightlifters body and a bald head with the letters VIN tattooed across his forehead I assumed that the tattoo had to be some sort of gang thing. You don’t have something like that plastered on your skull to show off your arty aesthetics. I figured he had some connection with the Empire Massage. He stayed a couple of weeks.
The drilling upstairs stops and I hear something being snaked into my ceiling and laughter.
I have my suspicions, but not wanting to give in to paranoia and there was nothing I could do about it any so I want back to bed. The next day was the same as the others except for a couple of things. There were people in the upstairs apartment, coming and going with heavy feet. The other difference was the people outside were now commenting on my every move.
“Going to the kitchen for more tea?”
I was. There was no way to see into my apartment from the street, especially with my street fronting windows were now blocked off with plywood. I looked up at my ceiling and thought of the drilling. Hmm.
That night I decided to test the matter. You want to know if men are watching? Nothing easier.
I drew a bath. Lots of bubbles. I put on some music, Mozart, a little night music. I lite a few candles lowered the lights and…
I had a cat once who loved nothing more then to tease the German Shepard next door. She knew exactly how long the dogs chain was, to the inch. She would saunter over to his yard tail high in the air and she would sit, just outside the reach of his chain. And bath herself. She took her time at it, lifting her leg high in the air licking her fur clean with long extravagant strokes, smiling her cat smile at the dog barking and howling at the end of his chain. You can lean a lot from cats.
There was no doubt. They were watching. The detailed discriptions of my body right down to the cute little mole on my ass were at least complimentary. Much to the displeasure of a couple of women in the group, shrieking at their ‘boyfriends?’ to “Quit watching her.”
I quite enjoyed that. Though I did wonder at the thought process behind bringing ones girl friend out on a job like this. “Hey instead of going out to dinner and seeing a movie lets go to a group murder party.” Maybe I am just too old fashioned in my thinking.
Ok they were watching. Were they also listening? It seemed logical that they would be, still might as well be sure. I toweled off and threw on a robe.
I have a rather odd collection of music. I tend to buy cd’s not so much because I know I will like it or ever heard of the band or what ever. I buy things that make me go Hu? If I have no idea what something is or what it will sound like my eyes light up. So I have a collection of things that would make any normal person cringe.
I go through my collection and find just the thing. Sound Chambers, by Mary Archer, ahh yes. This woman went into cathedrals with her sound equipment and recorded an experiment. She would bounce a high electronic tone off one wall and another off another wall and record it. When you play it you hear the first tone, then the second tone in your other ear then in the middle of your head the two sounds collide and a third tone chimes inside your head.
I had a friend who once had trouble with squirrels in the walls of his house. I gave him this cd and told him to play it loud next to the walls where the squirrels were. He did and in a minute he ran out of the house terrified as the squirrels were screaming and beating their little heads against the walls. Ever since that day he has had a fear of squirrels, convinced that they are plotting bloody vengeance.
Just the thing.
I take Mozart off the stereo and put in Sound Chambers. I crank the volume, pause a moment, then hit play.
I hear screaming.
I go to the one window I haven’t blocked off because it is away from the fire escape and it has the Empire Massage sign blocking any view into my apartment. I look down to the street and wow just like in the movies, two men come barreling out of a white van parked near to my building. They were tearing head phones off their heads and shrieking just like the squirrels.
I take up my bead work. Time to do some serious thinking
End chapter 8
And the west wind blew; Or; Well for heavens sake why didn’t you just ask?
I sat cross legged on the floor, my coat in my lap, needle and thread in my hand. Letting my mind wander as I sewed beads onto the coat. Yellow bead, yellow bead, yellow bead, white bead.
“That bitch is worth fifty thousand dollars.” At the time I had dismissed the words as foolish piffle, but now I felt it time to reevaluate that premise. The siege had been going on for so long now and the addition of the cameras and listening devices, this was no small matter. There was defiantly money involved here and organization. Fifty thousand.
I thought briefly that I was trapped in one of those sadistic reality shows. I can see the little marketing geek jumping all over an idea like this.
“You see chief we just pick some schmuck at random out of the phone book and pay a bunch of wanna be Soprano’s bit actors to try and kill the target. I tell ya chief the ratings will go through the roof.
I rejected the idea only because admitted whores only get to show up in reality TV in Cops.
Yellow bead, yellow bead, I let my fingers do their work and let my mind wander.
I rummage through my mental file cabinet pulling out the files marked odd. Looking for a pattern in the puzzle. When exactly did everything go so horribly horribly wrong? What impossibly improbable sequence of events has resulted in this bizarre moment in my life?
Odd file; A few months before all heck broke lose the San Francisco Bay Guardian a free weekly newspaper in town had a long article about gang involvement with massage parlors in the city. Accompanying the article was a picture of my apartment window right next to the Empire Massage sign.
Odd file; Not long after one of my neighbors had a nasty death. I came home late one rainy night to find the fire department, cops and emts all around my building. Never a good thing. One of my neighbors had apparently leapt to his death. He was found on top of the buildings Garbage container inside the inner court of the building. A broken doll lying atop discarded pizza boxes and shattered glass. It was ruled a suicide.
There were a couple of things about his death that struck me as off at the time. Mind you I didn’t go all Mrs. Marple over it, but still. He didn’t leave a suicide note, well nothing odd about that, most suicides don’t bother with such nice detail. Why that is so I can’t imagine, if one is going to stalk off and leave the party in such a dramatic way you would think you would put some thought into your exit lines. What struck me as off was the manner and location of his death.
Jumping to your death. Why jump off a five story tall building when we have a perfectly good bridge for that sort of thing? Most suicides are solitary affairs, in our culture any way. Like a wounded animal they crawl off into the solitary shadows to die. Jumpers, however are the exception. Jumpers are suicides with a flare for the dramatic and they want an audience for their big scene. He didn’t ‘jump’ off the street side of the building where he would have been seen. He ‘jumped’ to his death to the inner court of the building, a place always in the shadows, a place no one but the garbage man ever goes into.
The part that really struck me as off was the fact that he landed on top of the buildings garbage container. The top of the garbage container was a good 12 or 15 foot off the ground.
All jumpers look down first. Bungee jumpers, parachutists, suicides, they all look before they leap. Why would a suicide leap from the building from the one spot least likely to be immediately fatal? Jumpers think, SPLAT, lights out, they don’t think, ‘ writhing in agony atop a pile of rotting garbage yeh that’s the ticket. ‘
Odd file; The empty building next door. Emptiness, it’s not a quality you notice at first. It is a growing sense of, wrongness, a sense of something, missing. The two buildings were close together cheek to jowl, you can step from one roof top to the next with no disturbing daylight between your shoes.
I passed this building everyday and didn’t give it any thought, but over time this sense of something missing begins nagging at me.
The building was empty, not abandoned, not ill kept, just empty. It was empty when I moved into my apartment. It was still empty. San Francisco has some of the highest rents and lowest vacancy rates of any city in the world and here sits an empty apartment building in the center of the city. Who leaves a cash cow unmilked? For four years?
Halloween night a couple of months before my neighbor had his unfortunate encounter with gravity, he and some of his friends from the CIA (cook school not spy school) were having a party up on the roof. A gathering of aspiring chiefs want to share their beer and brownies, sure I’m in.
Young men + beer= mischief.
They wanted to go exploring.
The two buildings were cheek by jowl.
And wouldn’t you know the empty buildings roof top door was unlocked?
Abandoned is the element of things left behind. Empty is a thing waiting to be filled.
The building was empty. Every room was perfect, new carpet, shinny new sinks, no dust. Four years at least four years empty, shinny sinks, no dust. I left after a few minutes. A haunted house I can handle but this was just creepy.
About a week after my neighbors death some workmen arrived to the empty building and took out all the brand new carpeting I had seen in those empty rooms, in big ragged rolls.
Odd file; The cars now involved in my siege had arrived in the neighborhood right about the same time as the work men removed the carpeting next door. Parking in the alley with their get smart codes of honking horns.
Bead by bead the pattern on my coat grew under my hands. I moved the puzzle pieces around in my mind.
Odd file; The succession of decidedly unusual short term tenants in the apartment above me.
Odd file; The fact that so many of the apartments in my building were now vacant. This in a time when any vacancy is filled before the ink on the paper advertising the fact dries.
Bead by bead the pattern on my coat grew under my hands. I moved the puzzle pieces around in my mind.
Then snap the pieces fell into place and my stomach clenched around a fist of ice. Like the moment when you see the mac truck barreling down at you going a hundred miles an hour and the only thought going through your head is: (“Shit, this is really going to suck.”)
And then I laughed.
Clutching my coat rocking with laughter.
It was drugs, of course, in a big way, and Boccie was in it, in it, right up to his sharks toothed grin. The kicker, it wasn’t about me. It was my apartment they were after. Just like they say in real estate, Location, Location, Location.
The apartment above me the one below me and mine shared one thing, all three apartments were the ones that had windows facing out onto O’Farrell street and were the ones that inside the building faced the only stairwell and elevator in the building. With those apartments, one would know everyone who entered or left the building.
I thought about the building next door, could that be where they are either storing and or manufacturing their drugs? Distribute through the Massage Palor but keep the main supplies off sight. If the cops searched the Massage pallor all they would find would be small quantities they could blame on the whores working the place.
The fifty thousand wasn’t for my death so much as simply to scare me enough to move out of my apartment. An old folk tale came to my mind.
The tale of the sun and the west wind.
Once upon a time in the misty days when the world was young the sun and the west wind got into a pissing match over which of them had more influence over the actions of men.
Just then quite coincidently a young man appears walking on the road below the arguing sun and west wind. He is walking with the loose limbed carefree stride of a youth not quite totally misspent. His long duster coat open and flapping free about his knees.
The sun proposes a contest. Which ever of us can get the man below to remove his coat is the winner. The wind accepted the challenge and took the first go.
The wind blew upon the young man, the man buttoned up his coat. The wind blew harder, the man belted his coat. The wind blew upon the man til the wind was quite purple with the effort. The man gripped his coat tight in both hands and leaned into the stubborn wind.
Then the sun took his turn and he shone bright and warm down upon the man.
I guess we all know who went to the celestial bar with bragging rights that night.
I don’t think Boccie read many fairy tales growing up.
I set aside the coat and went to the kitchen for some tea. I sat myself comfortably into my gold leafed wicker chair and looked up at the ceiling. Time to have a little talk.
“All righty then.” I began “First off, Mr. Boccie, you’ve been a very bad landlord and I am decidedly not happy.” I lift my teacup to the ceiling with a wry smile and continued.
“You are involved in the drug business. The building next door the massage pallor, you, I don’t need to know all the details to see the picture. All this noise and foolishness,” I gesture to the window. “You all want my apartment.”
“First point, I do not care about your business. Hell I like drugs. If I had known a drup warehouse was right next door all I would have done was become a customer. Would have been soo convenient.
“Second point, you want my apartment, well for heaven’s sake why didn’t you just ask?. I mean really now I am not an unreasonable woman and I would think that my , , profession would tell you that I really no qualms over being bought off. If you had come to me and simply offered me a different apartment at the same rent in another or your buildings and a bit of money for moving costs. I would have gone, simple as that No muss no fuss no questions.”
But nooo.. You all decided to get all up in my grill.”
“While I have no trouble with you ‘little’ drug business. I don’t like bullies. Mr. Boccie you have been a bad landlord and that is going to cost you. You hired the nit wit gang to harass me, to frighten me into running away from My apartment. That is just down right rude.”
“So here’s the deal. You offered them fifty grand to get me out of my apartment. As investments go I think you will have to admit that you really are not getting your monies worth. In fact things have gone from bad to worse. Your victim hasn’t run away and has now figured out a lot of things I am sure you would rather she had not. So cut your losses. Pay me the money you offered the nit wit gang and I will go. No muss, no fuss, no questions. I will turn my back on you, this apartment and even California. All your problems here solved.”
“Now honestly I don’t expect you to do this. I have found that once a person starts a foolish course of action their ego insists they keep going no matter how foolish. Some part of you convinced that you can prove folly wise by dedication.”
“But I do like to give people a chance to make a better choice. Consider carefully, continue down a path that hasn’t worked and has in fact resulted in the exact opposite of your desires, or be reasonable and make a deal”
“Of course you think to your self that you have the men, the money, the guns, terrible to give into a mere woman, and a whore at that. I’m sure you find that a bit galling.”
“Still, you think I’ve been an annoying pain in the ass so far?”
I smile around the lip of my tea cup.
“Well I’m going to bed. You all think it over.”
I rinsed the cup ot in the sink and went to bed. Drifting off to sleep to a lullaby of death threats.
End chapter 9
How to annoy people
I woke at 5am and threw on my torn jeans clean enough t shirt and my doc martins and skipped out the door. I gave a cheerful wave to my dedicated fan club and went across the street for my coffee, doughnut newspaper and cigs.
You might think that I was taking quite a risk in so exposing myself each day, not owning a bullet proof vest and all. But my building was basically right across from the Hilton hotel and next door to the Hotel California, statistically people almost never get shot near major hotels. Sombody gets shot right in front of major tourist centers, next thing you know the press is there, then calls for the politicos to do something about the rampant crime in the city. Then the cops hit the streets with a vengeance. Its bad for business. So my going out each morning wasn’t as risky as it seemed and it gave me a chance to smile and wave. And I want my coffee and cigs, no bunch of addlepatted gang bangers are keeping me from my coffee and cigs.
I get my morning supplies and skip back across the street giving a cheerful wave to one and all.
Back home I sit sipping my coffee smoking my morning camel reading the paper. The news, a lesbian lacrosse coach was eaten by her neo Nazi neighbors dogs. I do love this city.
I finish my coffee and stand stretching. I feel a little tingle of pleasure down my spine. It’s not often you have complete license to annoy people. They had spent some weeks annoying the shit out of me and now,, it was my turn.
I put on my cd of rock music. That is every sound on the cd is rocks, banging rocks, rolling rocks, rocks scraping, falling dropping rocks,. You see why I just had to have it, an honest to god rock album.
I pull a book off my groaning book shelves put on my glasses, poured a glass of ice tea and sat down in my golden wicker chair.
“Have you ever read the Illiad?”
On and on I went in a dull droning cadence that would have made any dusty college professor proud. Every once in a while I would change the music to the squirrel maddening cd.
By the second hour of my reading, they were complaining more about my choice of reading material, then they were my music. Apparently gang bangers, crack heads and mobster hit men wanta be’s hate the classics.
I took a break from my reading to watch a series of John Cless sketches called how to annoy people. I took notes.
While I was relaxing on my bed I used a long bamboo pole to tap on the ceiling, right about where I figured they had installed the microphone. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Before the first hour of that they were screaming for me to stop.
By the end of the second day I was really starting to enjoy myself.
The dremile, a tool of a thousand and one uses. I used mine to drill onto the brick wall near the location of their mics. ARRRRRRGGGGGGG.
A week passed, each morning I went out for my coffee and cigs. Each morning I smiled and waved at my demented fan club. I sent each day in a series of creative annoyances.
I finished reading the Iliad and moved on to Plato. I played my cd of Japanese classical flute, it’s rather like listening to three cats involved in an orgy. I introduced them to my cd of Liposuction set to a dance track (not kidding). Himalayan throat singers, Norwegian yodelers. I of course do have a cd of bagpipes, a musical instrument that was created to be a weapon of war.
Sunday afternoon, men are in the down stairs apartment using power tools. They seem to be cutting, drilling into the ceiling of the apartment, under my floor.
Well what ever their doing I’m sure it’s not installing cable.
I consider the problem. I think of medieval castles and sieges. Defenders of castles used molten lead to discourage unwanted visitors . I didn’t have any molten lead, but one good thing about my apartment was the tubs never ending supply of scalding hot water.
I take my largest stock pot and fill it with hot hot water and set it on the stove to boil. When it’s all nice and hot I add some bleach and glue and ohh why not some red paint? I carry the pot to a set of pipes that run straight down to the apartment below. I sigh, this is going to ruin my carpet. Ahh well, never did like the beige wall to wall carpet. I begin pouring the water.
An idea strikes me. I rummage around under my kitchen sink. A spray can of super glue, great stuff. I take up my garbage bag and head out the door. I drop the garbage down the garbage shoot on my way down stairs. In my stocking feet I tip toe to the door of the down stairs apartment. I spray the glue over the peep hole of the door and then into the door lock and around the handle of the door, Whistling a merry little tune I skip back upstairs.
I return to filling my stock pot with scalding water and various cleaning supplies. The third pot of water I poured down the apartment below the shouting begins.
I pick up my can of raid and spray it into the gaps in the floor where the pipes lead down.
The men down stairs are shouting and coughing, loudly.
They head for the door.
Ooops. The door is quite detrimentally glued shut.
I spray more raid. I pour more of my scalding pots of witches brew.
Shouting and coughing they thow open the windows.
“Who the Fuck is this Bitch? Rambo’s sister?”
(no man, just a pissed off whore with a can of super glue)
It was a busy afternoon. In the end they got what ever it was installed in the space between the ceiling of the apartment down stairs and my floor.
A locksmith is called to free the men down stairs. Somebody thought is was funny.
I rest on my bed my feet off the now sodden carpet.
I hear something moving under my floor and laughter coming from upstairs.
End chapter 10
ET TU BRUTE?
Monday, everything stopped. I woke up that morning to silence. No screaming crack heads no blaring horns, just normal everyday traffic.
I go out for my morning coffee. The cars are gone, Queeny and her court have retuned to their usual corner by the alley in front of the Christian sceince church. They watched, silent and weary, as I crossed the street to paradise doughnuts.
I returned home and read my newspaper in the blissful quiet. The day continued quiet. I took advantage of the respite to sleep most of the day.
Tuesday, the odd quiet continues. It’s like that eerie calm center of the hurricane. Well while the calm lasted I decided to make a quick shopping trip. I was out of tea and I needed some more raid and cleaning supplies, ohh and more glue mustn’t forget the glue.
Before I head out I take a large heavy pane of glass that used to be a table top (I had kept it in the back of my closet as a might be useful someday object. I had at the time been thinking of using it to make some shelves). I used the pane of glass and some monofilament fishing line to rig a dead fall trap over my door. Just in case the lock picks in the group had gained any skill. My door was set off from the main room of the apartment, a little alcove that I had tacked a blanket over the door way of. The door was there for the one place in the apartment where the cameras were blind. Once the trap was set, open the door the wrong way and somebody has an unpleasant surprise.
I return from my quick run for supplies to find a new tenant moving into the building. I met him as I was waiting for the elevator. He was about six foot, pale skinned dark brown hair in an expensive hair cut, designer glasses and very nice shoes.
“Hi.” He said, friendly like. “I’m just moving into apartment 501.” He extended his hand.
He had soft hands. Everything about him screamed ‘computer geek chic.’ The building wasn’t even wired for cable and people wearing a least a thousand dollars worth of clothing from his designer glasses to his envy me shoes, they don’t live in the slums, not even in San Francisco.
“Welcome to the neighborhood.” I said.
“Nice to meet you. If I’ too noisy or anything just let me know.” He said.
“Oh don’t worry, if I’m not happy, you’ll know.” I said.
They always laugh.
I head upstairs, carefully unhooking the booby trap before I enter. I put away my ‘groceries’ and set on my little bed thinking. Was it over? Had they decided on a live and let live policy? Nothing about their behavior over the past few weeks had lead me to think them capable of such reasonable behavior. But as things were quiet I might as well enjoy it. I caught up on my sleep.
Thursday, I go out for my morning coffee. It is one of the oddities of inner city living that people are quite capable of ignoring anything. So the coffee shop people I meet and greet each day, the shop owner and his many brothers, Alan puttering around fixing the coffee the old men who gather around the coffee pot each morning as if sharing communion, I smile, they smile, we exchange ritual morning greetings. ‘Long time no see’ good morning, going to be a beautiful day. We keep a careful distance. I never talk about what is going on, they never ask. I have never talked about what is going on because by doing so I would be either a. Exposing myself to the risk of talking to some one involved in this whole hallaballo and nothing good would come of that or b. I would be involving some innocent shumck who just came in for his morning coffee in something that could get him killed. And that is just not a nice thing to do to anyone.
Cops, I suppose people may wonder why I wasn’t yammering for the cops.
I gave up believing in officer friendly before I gave up believing in Santa Clause. (Actually in the matter of Santa Clause the jury is still out).
When I was nine I was in a car accident. It was a beautiful summer day and I was out on a shopping trip with my grandmother. My grandmother waited for the light. My grandmother checked both ways. My grandmother pulled out of the shopping center parking lot and we got broadsided by a cop going ninety miles an hour. The cop had been chasing a speeder. The cop had been running neither lights nor siren. The speeder managed to get away without crashing into anyone.
My grandmother was thrown from the car and left most of her knee on the road. I go off light with an ugly scar of stitches running down my leg.
The cop got off without so much as a black eye, which just seemed unfair as all get out to me. What really got me steamed was that the cop never stopped by to say sorry. Didn’t even send a dime store Hallmark. Not that Hallmark makes ‘Sorry I squished your Grandmother’ cards but still it’s the thought that counts.
This was the first time I ever met a cop and it left a life long distrust for the uniform. But I do always use my seatbelt.
When I was twenty I was raped. The cops wired me up to a polygraph and enquired about the state of my virginity and what sort of kinky sex I was into. At least the rapist never asked if I got off on having the crap beat out of me.
One day, my husband (at that time I was still reasonably happy to be married) and I are driving home when we are pulled over by two cop cars. Four cops, guns drawn screaming at us to “Hands up, Exit Car, Don’t Make any Sudden Moves, On Your Knees.” (four screaming men with guns, this could end badly)
Just then the real kidnaper drives by a woman sticks her head out the window as the car speeds by and screams for the cops to help her.
I worked for a short time in a hotel where the owner of the hotel let cops have free use of the rooms for an hours time in exchange for the cops ignoring his taste for chicken.
One day (I wasn’t living in San Francisco at this time) I bought a light bulb. Just that, a light bulb for my kitchen. I get home, put in the new light bulb and there is a loud rude knock on my door. I open my door and what do I find? Six cops, three cop cars lights all aflashing in my driveway. They accuse me of stealing a ratchet set from the hardware store where I had bought the light bulb.
They demand to see my receipt for the light bulb. Now it occurs to me that I had paid for the light bulb with a credit card which is of course how they got my address. Still they want to see the receipt ok fine.
First thing I had done when I got home, even before changing the light bulb was, clean the cat box using the bag from the hardware store. I hand them the bag.
“It’s in there officer.” Yeh ok that was a bit mean but it made me feel good for the first time in my life to be able to give the police shit.
The police accuse me of using the ratchet set to change the light bulb.
“Excuse me? What sort of men are you that would use a ratchet set to change a light bulb?”
The owner of the store who I guess came along for the ride, peeps up. He tells the cops it wasn’t me that took the ratchet set. It’s on tape, me., the light bulb, my complete lack of ratchet setness. Still the cops tell me to just confess. Tell us you did it or we’ll be back with a summons
How many cops does it take to change a light bulb?
Honestly there is a point where you can’t help but take it all kinda personal.
Cynic that I am, I want to believe. I think that’s what Fox Mulder says about UFO’s . I want to believe
I want to believe in Matt Dillion and Aadam 12, I want to believe in. Starsky and Hutch, I want to believe in ‘The Good Guys’. If wishes were fishes my what fine fat fellows we would be, as my grandmother would say.
According to statistics kept by the FBI, San Franciso has the most corrupt and or incompetent police force in the entire country, with the lowest arrest and conviction rates for violent crimes like murder and rape, of any police force in any major metropolitan city in the entire country. Congratulations San Fran your number one, a hard fought battle, I didn’t think it possible to beat out New Orleans.
Not long after I moved into my apartment the politicians were suddenly shocked to discover that there was crime in the city. There was lots of chest thumping morality and the obligatory confessions of perhaps less the perfect actions though of course never less then angelic intentions. The practical upshot was that the street walkers were cleared off O’Farrell street. Since that time my neighborhood has had beat cops patrolling the street on a pretty regular basis.
I haven’t seen a beat cop on the street since the murder rave started under my window. Its possible they have been there but I haven’t seen them. I don’t spend much time looking out my windows. The view never changes.
If the cops are walking the beat and they don’t see a mob of crack heads screaming bloody murder, hour after hour day after day, well then I guess they aren’t going to be smart enough to be of any help.
If the cops aren’t there, why? Have the cops been deliberately shifted away? Then again Einstein was wrong, God does play dice with the universe, all the time. The cops not being around could all be just chance.
/Bottom line, I don’t feel that involving the police will in any way be helpful.
“Long time no see “ Hussein says.
“Long time no see and good morning.” I answer.
Allen is there, this morning he is being extra special friendly, his Irish bard/humbug persona.
He, from time to time, has worked as an extra in movies shot in San Francisco. He is most proud of his role as one of the pirates in hell in that Robin Williams film ‘What dreams may come.”
He comments on how nice it’s been the past few days. “ Much calmer” He says.
This is the first time he has even obliquely mentioned ‘the troubles’.
“Well yes it’s been nice. But it’s going to take more than a couple of sunny days before I step down the threat level.”
He wants me to go with him to Tiboron on a picnic.
(Picnic? People have been trying to kill me for the past few weeks and he wants to go on a picnic? There are times you have to wonder about men you really do.)
He was at his most,’ trying to charm the lass from the improve class,’ best.
“It’s going to take more than a couple of quiet days before I go wandering out anywhere.” I tried to beg off. “I seriously have to do some grocery shopping and laundry? A weeks worth of doing nothing but laundry before I even begin to get that mountain chipped away.” People trying to kill me verses the desire for clean sheets, weigh it. My laundry hamper over flowed. “If I’m going anywhere it’s to the laundry mat.”
He kept insisting, extolling the beauties of Tiberon. It would be good for me to get out. He wouldn’t let it go. Finally I relented.
“If it’s still quite by Thursday, I’ll consider it.” He took it as a promise that I would go and looked as pleased as a puppy that had just been given his favorite wooly ball.
Later that day, I lay on my bed in the blessed quiet. Just the soothing sounds of city traffic. Laying there in the warm afternoon drinking in the peace.
My new upstairs neighbor is pacing the floor above my head. His cell phone rings.
Unintended consequences, ever since they had installed the mics and camera’s, sound from the upstairs apartment had become easy to hear. Like listening to voices in another room with the door ajar.
“Yeh.” He said.
“Ok, Tiburone, Thursday. Got it.”
He wasn’t the only one who ‘got it’.
End chapter 11
Why you’re nothing but a bunch of playing cards!
The next morning Allan is all good cheer. He asks if I am looking forward to our trip to Tiburon
“Oh well as it turns out I won’t be able to go after all.” I tell him.
“Why not?” He asks me.
“Because your people have really loud voices.”
“What? I don’t understand?” He feigns puzzlement. He is the kind of ham actor you can always see ‘acting.’
“Yes, you do understand. And I expect the quiet around here to be ending pretty soon. Don’t you?”
I pay for my morning supplies and leave him there looking lost and sad. Ok this is a fucked up world where a ‘friend’ plots to kill you and you feel sorry for him.
Before I finished reading my morning paper my fan club had returned in all their demented determination. The car horns blared the crack head screamed.
“yeh guys I missed you too.” I take up my bamboo pole and begin once more tapping on the ceiling.
There are people in the world who are afraid of enclosed spaces, other people are fearful of open spaces. To each insanity there is usually an opposite insanity To balance it all out. Paranoia is the feeling that the whole world is plotting against you. Is there an opposite madness to this I wonder? Refusing to believe that there is a plot to get you even when there is?
The mob or a franchise of the mob is trying to kill me.
No matter how many times I run this thought through my head it always ends up with a big cartoon question mark over my head. Huu?
The mob is trying to kill me.
No really. Huu?
No matter how many days I have woken up to screaming death threats, it just can’t quite jell as real.
I am a girl from small town Maine. (In Maine their all small towns). I can weed a garden without pulling the beets or carrots. I have milked cows and goats. Hunted deer, skinned rabbits and trapped beaver. Ok it was one beaver. It was during my Jack London call of the wild period that I experimented with a few traps. Usually I caught rabbits, or weasels so that big ol’ pissed off beaver was a bit of a surprise. After that I moved on to the foxfire books and began collecting wild herbs and mushrooms. I have tramped through springs crusty rotting snow to tap maple trees and can tell you it takes a lot of sweet sap to make enough syrup for your pancakes.
The Mob? They are a part of my world in the same way as Hobbits. Though to be sure I know I great deal more about Hobbits. I have never watched any of the Godfather movies or even seen an episode of the Sopranos.
I am Alice stomping her feet at the Red Queen’s army.
(why you'r nothing but a bunch of playing cards!!)
Second verse same as the first. You wouldn’t think that fighting to stay alive would become boring. Day after wearing day the battle continued. Even finding new and interesting ways to annoy my noisy neighbors was beginning to become a dull hobby.
The thing they had installed under the floor was moving. I like to do my bead work sitting cross leged on a cushion on the floor. I would be sitting on my cushion beading my coat when I would feel that thing what ever it was, moving under the floor till it was right under my ass. It vibrated, very annoying.
I got up moved my cushion and sat back down with my bead work. The thing under the floor moved till it was vibrating under my ass.
Once more I moved, it followed.
Growling in irritation I go to the kitchen for some ice tea. I sit in my gold leafed wicker chair sipping my tea. (What the hell is that thing and why was it following me?)
My upstairs neighbor has had his girlfriend visiting today. I passed her once in the hall before this new round of insanity had begun. She was a busty bleached blond with the hard edged eyes of a stripper and the voice of a natural born fish wife.
I sip my tea listening to the two of them upstairs.
“Shoot her. Go on shoot her now. The woman has a very loud voice I sit sipping my tea listening to the two of them arguing about shooting me. (How were they planning on shooting me? Through the ceiling? It seemed a less than ideal firing position to me. The computer geek hadn’t looked like he had even ever held a gun. I could be wrong of course but, very soft hand, no shooters calluses . )
“Now!” She yelled. “Do it now. Shoot the bitch!.”
Now really, I thought, a back seat driver is bad enough but a back seat assassin? Honestly there are limits.
I look up at the ceiling and frown.
“Alright now girl, that will be quite enough of that. Unless your willing to pull the trigger yourself, your nothing but a tourist here. So be a good little girl and sit down and shut the hell up.” I said.
The woman screeches. “Shoot her, God dammed it shoot her now!”
“Shoot her now, shoot her now.” I mocked her fish wife tones.
“Good god man, I bet she’s one of those demanding bitches in bed huh? Up, down, faster, slower, not like this like that. Ohh do I have to do everything myself?” The fish wife reached explosive levels of out rage, while my dedicated zoo crew outside responded with raucous laughter.
“Hey tell ya what, call a temporary truce and send your girl on down here. I’ll teach her how to use her mouth for something other than bitching at you with.”
Ohh my she had a large vocabulary of for special occasion words.
His girl screaming at him. His crew laughing at him, his victim sipping her ice tea and giggling. The computer geek is finding that being an assassin is not working out as glamorously as he might have imagined.
I popped some jiffy pop popcorn (forget those microwave baggies, Jiffy pop rules. As much fun to make as it is to eat.)
After a couple of hours the argument upstairs runs down and once more that annoying thing under the floor was vibrating under my ass.
I got up and moved my seat.
“Ok enough. I don’t know what that thing under the floor is but it’s annoying me. So enough. I want it off and I want it off now.”
It moved under my feet.
“I mean it. Off. If you don’t cut it out right now I’m going to make it very hard for you two to breath up there.”
It continued vibrating under me. And I hear laughter coming from upstairs.
They always laugh.
“Ok then.” I turn to my kitchen muttering crossly to myself. “No one ever believes me.”
From under the sink I take out a large plastic jack-o-lantern I had been using to store odd bits and bobs of this and that. I dump everything out and took from under the sink a gallon jug of bleach and another jug of ammonia. I grab my garbage and head out the door. Whistling a merry little tune.
Half way up the stairs I drop the garbage down the garbage shoot then tip toe up to my bad neighbors door. I quickly place the grinning jack in front of their door. It’s grinning face toward the door. Then holding my breath I add the bleach and ammonia.
It worked better than I had expected. The Jack-o-lantern overflowed and the poisonous white foam began seeping under the door.
I ran back down stairs. Then lay on my bed, waiting.
A minute goes by, two.
“What’s that smell?” The fish wife.
I lay on my back a slow evil smile spreading on my face.
“Oh God! What is that? It’s coming from the door.”
I hear the upstairs door open.
“Ohh God.” She screams.
(Now, if they are half way intelligent they will pick up the jock-o-lantern and dump the mess down the garbage shoot. If they’re really stupid. …….)
I hear the toilet flush. I curl around my laughter.
Over my gales of merriment I hear the windows upstairs being thrown open the two of them screaming at each other and gasping for breath.
Figuring they will be too busy trying to breath for a while to try and shoot me. (how ever they were planning on doing that) I lay peaceful on my little bed and drifted off into a light nap.
Number one rule of war. Sleep whenever you get the chance.
I am woken by the sound of the elevator going upstairs.
My assassin has a visitor.
Allan, always the actor his voice projects well.
“The price has gone up to a hundred thousand.”
One eye opens the eyebrow lifts. I feel an astonishing range of emotions.
The robin hood moment. One hundred thousand? For little ol’ me? A part of me feels oddly flattered.
Then the head shaking wonder at the stupidity of men. One Hundred thousand? You fucking kidding me? For less than ten (before they became a pain in my ass) I would have left California and not looked back. But noooo. After they annoyed me I still would have left for fifty. (ten for moving costs forty for pain in the ass tax) . But noooo. They were determined to ignore all good sense and pour good money after bad. Yankee trader to my roots, people trying to kill me and I sat there completely disgusted with the bad bargain they were making of it.
Then the sinking feeling I really might not get out of this alive. Even stupid people get lucky.
A taste of bitter salt that it was my friend up there plotting my death. There would be some dark poetic magic in this if the situation were not so completely idiotic.
Was it SunTszu of Captain Kirks nemesis Kahn, who said that you can judge the quality of a man by the quality of his enemies? Either way, my enemies are a Mel Brooksian dance troop composed of the descendants of the three stooges.
I am having such a difficult time finding the correct sort of emotional response to all this.
I opened my eyes and rolled out of bed. Time to give Allen a little demonstration of just how greatly peeved I was.
I took up my can of super glue and while they were distracted discussing my profitable murder I tip toed up stairs.
I hate to repeat a trick but ohh well. I spray the peep hole the lock the handle and the hinges and skip back down stairs, whistling a merry little tune.
“Shit, what’s she done now?”
“Fuck, she’s glued the dammed door shut.”
“That’s right.” I say and smile slow and evil.
“Now dear me, your door is glued shut and the only exit is the fire escape, which goes right by my window. Come one guys, not afraid of a woman are you?”
I take my handy dandy ginsu knife from the kitchen and stand in the living room, flipping the knife from hand to hand practicing a few strikes and blows. It’s been a few years since my army days when I used to spend my weekends with men who joined the Army because it was where they could blow shit up and not get arrested. I used to spar with them in the backyard. I’m good with a blade, fast. The ginsue isn’t the Gerber Guardian Boot knife I used to prefer but you can’t go wrong with a ginsu can you?
I am not a fan of rap. Well lets face it I’m a small town white girl. But to every rule there is an exception. I put on the one rap song I love and play it loud. Background music for my work out.
It’s gonin’ down. Yo the girl got a gun
Best run. Because she’s quick to flip and empty out the clip,
And make a man understand where she’s comin’ from.
The hard core’s connected to the base of her fate.
She just breaks and brings drama to the situation,
Ejaculation of my projectile, she’s buck wild.
Better recognize when she comes she comes correct.
Collects respect and if not, you catch a broken neck.
Buddy look down and your shirts all bloody,
Looks like she caught you with a bad one for messin with the mad one.
Told you about this girl before, you didn’t listen to me
As I talk, now you’re stalked by the hunter of the frontier,
Who’s size five and sexy
Quick, they catch your body and another one next week.
Huh it doesn’t matter cuz the girl stays strapped.
She says she had enough of men and she’s lookin for payback
And there’s no way you can fade her son.
She walks softly but she carries a big gun.
The most venomous feminist, homie she ant soft
You give her trouble she might cut your head off.
Or something that you like to think’s the best
She’ll blow big holes in your chest.
She says she gotta cuz she says a lotta ladies won’t
She says she gotta cuz she says a lotta ladies don’t
She says she gotta cuz she says a lotta ladies can’t
She says she gotta cuz she knows a lotta ladies
Romance the thoughts of gving men their own medicine
Electrocute ‘em light em up like Con Edison.
She got no fear, five rings in her ears
Holes in her nose, way out clothes
Living life to the fullest buck shot and bullets
Triggers she’ll pull it. Earth she wanna rule it
Maybe she will cuz she’s quick to kill
The city lights make her dresses tight, yes she bites
You never know where she’ll come from
She walks softly but carries a big gun.
You got no time to trip or argue, you’re through.
I’ll bet she gets ya. Homeboy you’ll catch a stretcher like so many before.
She’s on a body count tour. But not rock, she’s putting sucker punks in cops
You say she’s nothing but a woman then you come up shot
You say why you want to kill me? And she says Why not?
Pop she got a body that’ll make you cry.
Pop she got a shotty that’ll make you die.
Don’t bring drama to her homie cuz you’ll wind up flat.
She’ll put your ass horizontal then she’ll peal your cap
She got no loving, love is something that she never had
She loved her mother but hate her muther fuckn dad
So stay the hell out her way, cuz the girl don’t play
She walks softly but she carries a big gun
I finished my work out and laid the ginsue on the floor next to my bed as I lay down to rest while my assassins debated what to do about the glued door.
They decided not to take the fire escape and called Boccie. I would have loved seeing his face while his hired guns explained that the woman they had been hired to kill had trapped them with a can of super glue and threaten to turn them all into bad grade sushi. Boccie sent a locksmith. He thought it was funny.
End chapter 12
Now I lay me down to sleep
They wanted me dead and now that there was a hundred thousand down on the deal they redoubled their efforts. The screaming the honking people trying my door, the traveling thing under the floor, it never stopped never paused, never let up. I was wearing down. I am a stubborn woman which is fortunate stubborn was all I had left to keep me going. I was operating in pure zombie mode.
Day after day after day.
It was Sunday. My last Sunday. I knew it like you know when a thunder storm is coming. You feel it over every nerve in your skin. They were so certain so certain, like hungry animals gathered around the prey run to ground. Waiting, hungry. Sunday, my last Sunday. Today I would die.
I sewed the last bead onto my coat and snipped off the thread. It was beautiful, the big cheerful yellow submarine, the blue meanies, glovey a rainbow across the back. I put it on and admired it. No matter what, despite it all, I had made something beautiful and that was a victory. I hung the coat up on a hook on the wall with a smile of satisfaction.
Nightfall, death was coming for me.
I lit some candles and drew a steaming hot bath pouring into the water bathoils of sweet grass and jasmine. I turned off the lights, in the candle light and in the flashing red neon of the Emprie Massage sign I began to strip.
I hear them, my screaming hooting fan club and ohh my aren’t they enjoying the striptease. Much to the growing displeasure of angry girl friends.
“Stop watching her.” Shrill angry voices in both English and Spanish. (Again I wonder about the dating habits of urban gang members. )
I sank under the warm water. It was so nice, so quiet, I could still hear them, but muffled, like a world away. Quiet, peaceful, but I had to breathe so I sat up and started washing my hair.
I rose from the bath and towled dry. I take my bath oils and sitting on my bed I massage the oil over my skin. I am enjoying the feel of my foot in my hand. The scent of sweet grass and jasmine, the feel of my foot in my hand, soft candle light and the flashing red neon of the Empire Massage sign that somehow inside my apartment by some weird alchemy of light, is transformed from garish red neon to a muted warm rose glow.
I put on a long black silk night gown, it settles over my skin like a dark enchantment.
Tired, I was so tired, so ready for sleep, or death. I didn’t care anymore. At least dead I would get some rest.
Mind you, I do believe in some sort of after life. On the premise that either there is an ‘after life’, or there isn’t, if there isn’t then I won’t be around to listen to anyone say I told you so. So I figure I might as well go with believing in an ‘after life.’ That being said, one thing is for dang sure. If they did kill me I wasn’t’ going on to the ‘happy hunting grounds’ ohh no. I would be using my ‘afterlife’ to plan one hell of a reception party for when my killers eventually ‘cross over.’ And maybe I’ll check out that whole poltergeist thing, that sounded like a career with the potential for a few laughs.
I lay down. A childhood prayer ran through my mind. ‘now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my soul to keep, If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.’ I pulled my blankets up and lay there waiting for sleep or death which ever, what ever, I didn’t care any more. Too tired to care.
My demented fan club screaming up at me, the car horns honking. No don’t care. Won’t care. Sleep need sleep.
Upstairs, the computer geek the fish wife and Allen begin yet another loud argument about the timing of my death. The fish wife as always urging them to ‘shoot her now, now god dame it!”
I sighed. (Honestly, just fucking do it. It seemed to me that having to listen to them argue about killing me was just unreasonable)
Oh great, the thing under the floor was moving again. One more irritation. No, no, I don’t care, scream honk your horns, argue, the thing under the floor, I was just going to ignore it all. I was going to sleep.
“Now, now, God dame it shoot her now! The fish wife screamed.
The thing under the floor was now right beneath me. I could feel it vibrating the spot right between my shoulder blades.
My eyes flew open and I snapped out of bed falling to the floor in a tangle of flailing limbs and blankets snarling like a feral cat.
It was a gun. The thing under the floor. I could see it in my mind some radio shack remote control atv packing heat. That’s what the computer geek was here for. Murder by video game.
God dame I was so stupid, so fucking dumb. Why didn’t I figure it out before? Fuck!
I tried not to be too mad at myself, after all lack of sleep and stress will slow anyone’s brain down. ( And really who kills people like this? This, this, Rube Goldberg, Mission Impossible bullshit. Fuck. Who did these people think they were the fucking Mossad?)
I untangled myself from my blankets and stood hands on hips glaring up at the ceiling.
“ You know. “ I yelled up at them. “I am quite sure that there are in fact more cowardly acts in the world then shooting an unarmed woman in the back while she sleeps. But I would be hard pressed to name even three.”
“You want me dead? Well come on then, quit the dumb shit. You come on down here and Fucking Kill Me! And since I know not one of you has the stones to take me on your own, Well, go ahead, make a party of it! Open Fucking House. Surely two dozen to one odds are high enough for you! Come on and Fucking get me!”
For once there was silence from them.
“Well now an’t that just something. The whore is the only one here who isn’t a fucking pussy?”
Still raging, using all my ‘for special occasion words’, I set to work tearing my bed apart. The bedding hit the floor in a pile, then I threw the mattress off and tore apart the pine board slats. Still cursing a blue streak I began to rebuild my bed.
I took the hard bound books from my shelves, my books of art, history, philosophy, all big heavy books and I lay them out on the floor under my bed. I went to my kitchen and took my cast iron skillets, steel wok, other assorted pots and pans and I piled them under the bed. I replaced the pine board slats adding on top another layer of hard bound books, then replaced my mattress and remade my bed.
I smoothed out the sheets and blankets fluffed my pillow and went to bed.
I am drifting off. All the shouting, honking, all the calls for my death. Sweet sweet lullaby.
Upstairs Allen says something, for once his actors voice fails to carry, a soft rumble without meaning.
“You’re in love with the bitch.” Shouts the fish wife.
(Yeh it’s a warped old world some times)
Just before the soft welcoming darkness took me to a place not even dreams are allowed to intrude on, I thought of my least favorite fairy tale. The Princess and the pea. Stupid whiney princess whinging on about how poor her couldn’t sleep on top of a hundred feather beds because of one dried pea at the bottom of all those mattresses.
End chapter 13
Would you like to play a game?
I slept until noon.
My fan club outside were still screaming their fool heads off. The thing under the floor was still vibrating in seeming frustration. The computer geek the fish wife and Allen were still arguing.
I yawned and got out of bed. For once I didn’t go out to paradise doughnuts. I changed out of my night gown into jeans and t shirt and fixed myself a cup of tea.
The thing under the floor tried to follow me. (Oh please! Their little toy couldn’t catch me before I knew what it was) I made a bit of a game of it for a while. Standing still, letting it almost catch up to me then moving away and waiting.
I finished my cup of tea and sat on my bed, thinking.
Now that I had blown their nifty keen booby trap how much longer before they cut the dumb shit and just cap me in the back of the head next time I leave the apartment. I’m not fucking bullet proof and I can’t stay inside my apartment forever. I’ll run out of tea eventually.
I settled back on the bed and crossed my legs in a comfortable half lotus. Breathing in a few cleansing breaths. Out goes the bad air in goes the good.
I began to meditate.
I have never been able to do the whole free your mind of all thought thing, (I think it’s a failing of my puritan upbringing. A mind not thinking feels like sloth which is The deadly Sin.) That’s not what I need right now. Enlightenment can wait, I need a way out.
The mind free not from thought but emotion, from need, from desire. Past, present, future, possibilities, probabilities. Like a four dimensional chess game I move the pieces around in my mind seeing how the games play out.
Hour after hour I sat. Getting up every once in a while to fix a cup of tea and go to the bathroom.
“What the hell is she doing?” I hear one ask. “Just fucking sitting there. She hasn’t moved all fucking day.”
Watching someone mediate is about as much fun as watching grass grow.
The day past.
My fans were getting restless.
A plan was taking shape.
I sighed and curled into sleep. Hugging my familiar pillow to my face for the last time.
And now we rejoin our story back in the room with my rapt audience of baby doctors.
I finish my story and smile at the faces of the baby doctors.
“Ok, now I have a question for all of you.” I lean back in my chair. “How do you know I’m insane?”
“People see what they expect to see. You are brought here into a mental hospital, you are introduced to a woman you are told is, ‘unbalanced’. Well, your expectations have been pretty well set haven’t they? Can any of you honestly say you have even once looked at me and wondered about anything other than finding as many multisyllabic words from your overly expensive medical education you can use to make your agreement with your teacher sound as original as you feel you can get away with?”
They shift in their seats uncomfortably and chuckle self consciously
“I don’t want an answer, after all our time is almost up here isn’t it?” I glance up at the clock on the wall. “I leave you with that one question to ask yourselves. How do you know that I am in fact delusional?”
“You all are in training to be doctors, so at some point you all are going to have to step out from the comforting shelter of books and teachers and make your own decisions, reach your own conclusions. As a student the most important thing for you are the answers. When you are out of school you will find that questions are far more important than answers and more interesting.”
I rose from my seat, smiled to all and went back to my coloring books.
End chapter 14
The powers of bureaucracy had a hard time figuring out how to fit me into their paperwork, but the wheels turn, if but slowly. I was called into the small bland office of paper shuffling so a boring little man in a dull brown suite could tell me my fate.
I sit, he shuffles the papers in front of him, stacking them neatly he takes out his blue bic pen.
“Well good news, we have found a place for you at the MHRF.
At first I thought he had said that they were sending me to the Smurfs. Which confused me a bit as I didn’t know that San Francisco had any Smurfs. For a moment I had a vision of myself the lone white smurfett in a town of little blue men who all lived in magic mushrooms.
So yeh, that sounded pretty cool.
He hands me a nice little booklet:
The MHRF is located on the grounds of the San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center campus.
Our Mission is to provide long term care services to the sub-acute psychiatric population of San Francisco. While you are residing at the MHRF, you will receive culturally and spiritually competent services which include evaluation, diagnoses and treatment. The intent of our program and services is to help you become more independent and to help you to achieve your personal goals.
It is my hope and that of the MHRF staff that your stay here is beneficial and helps you move closer to fulfilling your personal goals and dreams.
Well isn’t that nice?
I am bundled into a small van and transported to the building next door. It is the sort of building that was designed to look good in a miniature model sitting on the architects table. Which is to say completely non offensive in its every carefully bland line. It’s only original feature was the statue of a whales tail out front.
Why a whale’s tale? I puzzled it. It must be supposed to represent the dive into the subconscious, I thought. It seemed to me that the whale was flipping me the bird. Inside above the reception desk another example of money spent on art intended to be soothingly cute. A ten foot long tile collage of kindergarten art in all it’s crayola glory.
I find myself thinking of a funeral I attended as a child. I was about eight or nine and one of the kids in my class had broken one of the cardinal rules of Maine living. Never, ever, try to cross the rural roads of Maine without checking twice for speeding trucks.
My grandmother had been concerned that the open casket funeral would give me nightmares. It wasn’t that, it was the music. They played the theme song from sesame street. The idea that grownups went to heaven or hell but children went to Sesame Street, well I never looked at a Muppets the same way ever again.
When Burt came down and introduced himself to me I almost started giggling. Smurfs and Muppets dancing in my head I enter the home of the mad.
First stop physical. Height, weight, blood pressure, a peek into my eyes and then the nurse shoves that ear o scope thingy into my ear.
Ohh my,you don’t have any ear wax at all.” The nurse says. Her tone is so complementary I expected her to pat me on my head.
“Thank you. I have always prided myself on the cleanliness of my ears.”
I took note of the event as the first and probably the only time in my life anyone would complement me on the condition of my ear wax.
The physical done I am moved over to the next event, the filling out of paperwork/ The nurse filling out the papers was Chinese and she had a bit of an accent.
She takes my basic medical history, medications, allergies, do I hear voices?
Again with the voices. I think about inventing a voice just to make them all happy. I shall call my voice Bob and he will be the old and cranky ghost of an Appalachian sin eater. He will be full of wonderful old hillbilly shaman wisdom and will be bothering me constantly to build him a moonshine still.
She asks me if I intend on engaging in any special activities while I was there?
Special activities? That sounded promising, but mustn’t seem too eager.
“Well I suppose that depends on what kind of special activities you have here.”
Now at this point I am imagining her passing me a colorful little brochure. Something like the learning annex for the mad kind of thing and I am already checking off things to try. (Basket weaving, yeh that has to be there and I’m defiantly signing up for that. How cool would that be learning basket weaving inside an actual mad house? Perhaps I would take up crochet again, make myself a crocheted straight jacket.)
Look up and notice that there was no brochure in front of me. Instead the little Chinese nurse seemed to be blushing.
“ well first you have to take a class on,, hmmm, safe hmm, practices.”
(right right, don’t run with the scissors, don’t eat the glue. As interesting as the how the use a seatbelt demonstration on an airplane but ok everyone has their useless little rituals.)
“Ok fine.” Now where was that brochure? She really was blushing, how odd.
“Then you have to ask the staff for the hmmm, errr, hmm, condoms.”
“Well hun, honestly, I was thinking more along the lines of crochet.”
We look at each other blinking in a moment of perfect cross cultural misunderstanding. Then the light dawns.
“OH you meant sexual activities.”
And I was really disappointed. Apparently there would be no basket weaving.
Just then I noticed a couple of male heads turning in my direction and the full horrifying implications of what was going on hit me.
This was a co- educational facility. Co-ed mad house + condoms= Ohh My God.
My hand slaps down on the table. The little nurse jumps back in her seat.
“NO! no! there will be no sexual activities of any kind. I’m not even going to be playing with myself while I am here, thank you very much.”
She shuffles the papers in front of her.
“If you should change your mind.” She says, almost hopefully.
“I’ll be sure and let you know.”
She looked disappointed; I think she really wanted to know what this strange perversion called crochet was. Something to write home to her mother about.
End chapter 15
The girl from someplace else
I get a room equipped with a bed, locker, and roommate. The room is bland enough, like a college dorm room except for the plastic covering on the mattress. This I understood the reason for, easier cleaning for the incontinent. I tried very hard not to think of how many people had pebbled on my bed in the past.
My roommate was Laura. She was a little Asian girl about five foot three with thick owl glasses and the squashed face of one born dinged in the head. She was hyperactive and unfortunately she was one who went from hyper to an upward spiral of super charged hyper.
There are assumptions regarding the mad that I had that I quickly had to change. The first of which was in the matter of sleep. I was looking forward to getting some sleep. Lots and lots of sleep. I had assumed that the mad, especially those in a hospital mad house with enough drugs in their systems to fell a rhino, would have no trouble in the sleep department.
Yes, well, come to find out, the mad, by and large don’t sleep. During the day they might seem zombiefied but night charges them with a disjointed restlessness that just won’t quit. They fight sleep with every fiber of their being, tossing in their beds as if the sheets were attempting to strangle them. They mutter moan and take up long conversations with the voices they hear. (why those voices never seem to say anything interesting is what I want to know)
Laura was a squirrel. A busy hyperactive squirrel.
I lay in bed trying very hard not to move. Every time I turn over, the plastic sheeting on the mattress crinkles like Christmas wrapping paper which wakes me up. Having a bed that wakes you up every time you move in bed is I think rather defeating the purpose of having a bed in the first place. I learned to sleep with corpse like rigidity.
Laura was a squirrel. A busy hyperactive squirrel. Laura would lay down. Twist, moan, fight the sheets, then turn on the light and go digging in her locker. Her locker was packed with paper bags. Somewhere in the bottom of all the paper bags was her squirrel cache of snacks. Bags of Cheetos extra crunchy.
That was another assumption blown all to hell. I thought mad people liked pudding. Nice quite pudding. Not so, turns out mad people like crunchy snacks. Cheetos extra crunchy was a particular favorite of many.
Laura would rustle the bags finally finding the cheetos, spend a goodly amount of time snapping the bag around like she was subduing it, then finally she would dig in with much enthusiastic cheeto chomping. Snacking urge satisfied she would mangle the dead carcass of the empty bag and bury it in the bottom of her locker.
She lay back down and turned out the lights.
And half an hour later repeat.
And half an hour later repeat.
All night long.
Morning arrived and I stumbled from my bed, not in the best of moods. (Why ohh why has the world turned against me? Ok so people are trying to kill me. Ok so I’m stuck in a mad house. But is a single nights sleep too much to ask? )
I shuffle my way to the outside patio and sit lighting one of my camels. I stare out through the chain link feeling a bit like a monkey in a zoo. A cross sleepy monkey who needs a cup of coffee.
The only other person out on the patio is Wilson. Wilson is a elderly black man with silver hair and a dignified posture. He wears a walkman its headphones permanently attached to his ears. I don’t know what he is listening to. I imagine an endless ball game.
We sit smoking in companionable silence for a few minutes, then he turns and looks curiously at me.
“What are you doing here?” He asks me.
(Ohh lord, what mad house rule have I broken? No girls on the smoking patio before breakfast?)
Seeing my confusion he takes his ear phones off (A huge gesture. It was the one and only time I ever saw him take off his walkman earphones) He leans toward me looking at me with concern.
“What are you doing here? There an’t nothing wrong with you baby girl. Why are you here?”
I had no idea what to say.
(Well you see it was all a big misunderstanding. I thought paranoia was like totally in this season. My bad)
That look of deep concern on his face and in his voice. I almost started crying. (Concern, Fuck, who could have seen that coming? )
“My landlord is trying to kill me because I got in the way of his drug business. No one believes me, so I’m here. Which is better than being killed I suppose.” I shrug.
He nods and grunts and puts his ear phones back on.
(How odd. What does it mean when a mad person thinks your sane?)
As it turned out he wasn’t the only one with doubts about my insanity. Not the staff of course, they were perfectly content with the diagnosis as given. My fello mad people however, simply refused to believe that I was one of them.
At first they thought I was one of the Doctors, or an intern. “Or maybe a nurse?” Oddly I was more often asked if I were a Doctor then if I were a Nurse.
After awhile the majority seemed to come to the conclusion that I was a spy of some sort. They just didn’t know who I was spying for. Some thought I was spying on them, either for the staff or for some journalistic endeavor or research. Some thought I was spying on the staff, even that I had some strange power over the staff.
Every once in a while I would get some tug on my arm and someone would ask in a furtive stage whisper “Tell them I’m ok to go out on pass. I’ll be good, really I just want to go out for a walk.” Or “Tell them to please cut down on my medication? I know it’s good for me but it makes me feel so bad if they could just cut it down a little?”
To each request I had to reply that “Hey I’m just a patient here, they won’t listen to me.”
Then they would give me that look, that ‘you could if you wanted to but you’re just being mean’ look and walk away, totally unconvinced.
A few days into my enrollment at Nutter’s U I was sitting on one of the day room couches, the furniture all look like they had been extruded by a playdough fun factory, when Mike stepped up for his try at the ‘figgure out why she’s here. Thing.
Mike is a beautiful boy, looks like a Calvin Kline model except for eyes that peer out at you too brightly. He introduces himself to me by telling me he used to be friends with leather head, “The real leather head, you know from that movie the Texas Chain Saw Massacre was about.” He asks me what I thought about that.
“I think you should chose your friends with a bit more care.” I said.
After that we got into the “No really I am a patient here. I don’t work here.” (I have one group of people constantly asking me if I hear voices and the other group of people who hear voices are constantly asking me if I am a Doctor. What the hell has gone wrong with my life?).
Then he asks me where I was from originally. San Francisco is a city of transplants.
“Maine.” I said.
“No you’re not.” He says.
“Yes I am. Really I’m from Maine originally. Grew up there till I joined the army at eighteen.”
“You’re not.” He insists emphatically. “You don’t sound anything like a person from Maine.”
Which is true, people usually seem to think I’m an Americanized Brit. I don’t know why, too much BBC radio as a kid maybe.
“I know you., I know where you’re from.” He proclaims as though he has uncovered my secret identity.
“You’re the girl from someplace else.”
A part of me feels a high school sense of rejection over it all. (What kind of fucked up shit is this even the mad people don’t want me as part of their group? ) My fate in life, to be forever sitting at the rejects lunch table.
My second night with Laura was a repeat of the first. I couldn’t figure out how she kept going, even batteries run down eventually.
My third night two am, My roommate Rocky the busy squirrel is digging through her piles of paper bags for her secret stash of crunchy munchy cheetos.
The Elmer Fudd in me is coming out. (Be verwe, verwe, qwiet, we are hunting sqwuiwells, he, he, he, he)
“Laura, please,” I groan. “ If you need to eat will you please take your cheetoes out to the day room?”
She paused in her busy digging. She peered out at me through her owl eyed glasses. She raised an accusing finger at me.
“I know you.” She whispered at me, half in horror half in fear. “I know you, You’re evil.”
This was the wrong thing to say.
I get cranky when I don’t get any sleep. (For heaven’s sake, why doesn’t anyone want me to get any sleep?)
I smiled at her, slow and evil my eyes going cat feral. I began to sing. A little lullaby my grandmother used to sing to me.
“The worms crawl in the worms crawl out when you’re dead they’ll crawl in your mouth. They will dance on your elbows and over your toes. They will have a little party inside your nose.”
Trust me, people from Maine do have a certain morbid strain in their genes, it’s not just Stephen King.
She stared at me, her eyes going wide behind her owl glasses.
“You, you, you’re a witch.”
“Yes that’s right I am.”
(Close enough, I’m an American free market pantheist: That is I accept the idea that the gods exist on the grounds that that which can neither be proven nor disproven I chose to operate on which ever idea is the more colorful. Having gods is more interesting then not having them. And all art has its beginnings in a church of some sort.
Being that the Gods exist I like any good American am always looking to cut a deal.)
She leapt up and went rumplestiltskin spinning around like wild a top, screaming. She threw her empty plastic cup at me.
I bopped it out of the air one handed, not raising from my bed. (Bed=Sleep= I’m not fucking moving from this bed)
She launched herself at me. The flying fists of munchkin fury. I fended her off one handed. My other hand had decided enough was enough and was trying to pull the blankets up over my head.
She was trying to slap me on my fore head open handed and she was screaming at me.
“Spirits of evil come out.! Satan come out! “
2am and a mad person is trying to perform an exorcism on me.
The staff finally alerted to the commotion arrived and dragged the girl off to the third floor for heavier meds and a more calming atmosphere.
I felt a little bad about it. Teasing the mad isn’t nice. But as I said, I get cranky when I don’t get my sleep.
I snuggled into my blanket and slept.
End chapter 16
Of Barbie dolls and quilts
For the first week I am restricted to the ward. They want to make sure I don’t go rabbit and jump the fence.
I am bored, bored, bored, bored. I rather thought being in a mad house would be more interesting. I am still put out by the whole no basket weaving thing. I tell you when Chinese Karaoke night begins to look good to you, you know your life has taken a wrong turn somewhere. Imagine being trapped in a doctors waiting room 24/7 without even the old national geographic to browse through and you have it.
There is a TV, but over half the residents are Asian and they camp out in the TV room, making sure the station stays forever on the Asian language channel. I became a fan of the crime fighting noodle chief.
After the first week I am allowed to explore the rest of the facility. Down stairs there is an activity room a computer room and a small store where the residents are taught how to run a cash register,. The store has coffee, real coffee. It costs a dollar. We residents are given a ten dollar a week allowance. I am thinking I may have to switch from my camels to hand rolled, ten bucks, it don’t go far.
Activities room that sounded promising, still considering my last encounter with ‘activities’ I approached the room with some trepidation.
First thought, ( So this is what happens when the roomer toom kids forget to put away their toys.) The activities room is a bright sunny room with several long tables, a couple of sewing machines, a sitting area with a round coffee table covered with magazines. Every table top,every semi flat surface is covered with things, odd bits and bobs, material, plastic toys, a few old and war scarred GI Joes.
Even though there was much evidence of activity laying about the only one in the room doing anything was one little Asian woman bent over a sewing machine. The other people in the room were all sitting around the coffee table thumbing through magazines, or playing with dolls.
This is Rose’s domain. Rose is five foot two with eyes of corn flower blue a mass of long tangles of white hair with a large purple silk flower stuck in it. She struck me as a Pekinese sort of woman, short, fluffy, cute, and rather over excitable.
“Hi there,” I introduced myself to her.”New here, just need a corner to set up in so I can do a bit of painting.”
“Ohh ohhhh, oh, hummm., well, we really don’t have a lot of paint.” She tells me, practically vibrating in place with nerves.
“Not to worry I have my own.” I hold up my yellow tackle box. “Even have my own canvases, so not to worry.” I smile.
I had brought down some of my collages and she seemed impressed. But then I figure people are overly impressed when mad people do anything creative, their judgment standards are lowered.
“Ohh your so creative.”. She croons.
“Where can I set up?” I ask.
“Ohh hum ohh, have you ever made dolls?”
“Dolls? No I don’t make dolls, I paint, make beaded jewelry.”
“Ohh there are so many wonderfully creative people making dolls these days.”
She turns andflutters off returning with doll magazine, which she shoves into my hands. On the cover a leering Rhett Butler
I try to hand the magazine back but nothing doing, she flutters off to fetch more doll magazine.
“I so love creative people.” She says. “ You know, I tap dance. There’s a group of us, the post menopausal women’s tap dancing group. And I walk on stilts at charity events.”
I can’t help the image in my head. This fluffy little white haired woman tap dancing on stilts and then I imagined her tap dancing on stilts with a group of short older women, all tap dancing on stilts, line dancing on stilts. I imagine her doing the can can on stilts.
“oh now the dolls, let me show you so many lovely dolls being made these days.”
I try again to hand the magazines back. Being as nice as I can about it. She hands me more doll magazines.
“Yes, I know, many people doing wonderful things with soft sculpture. But I paint, do collages, sometimes I make beaded jewelry. Can I set up in a corner of that table over there?” I look over to a table that looks a bit less cluttered then the others.
Once more I try to hand the magazines back to her, juggling to keep hold of my tackle box.
“I really don’t care for dolls. I paint. Thank you but I really don’t have any interest in dolls.”
I am being very very nice. I hate dolls.
You can use the sewing machines and I have lots of scrap cloth. I bet you had lots of dolls and made all their clothes didn’t you?”
Ohh yes I had dolls. Lots of them. My grandmother imagined having a granddaughter who was cute and giggly in pretty dresses and hair ribbons, cooing over dolls and running from spiders. She did everything in her power to make me that girl. Her efforts in this regard did nothing but annoy us both.
I got dolls, lots and ,lots of dolls. Every birthday, Christmas, even Easter. I got dolls. I wanted Lincoln logs, I got dolls. I wanted an erector set, I got dolls. I wanted a bow and arrow set I wasn’t surprised I got dolls. One memorable Christmas I got a doll you actually fed Imation baby food to and it crapped it’s diapers. I held that doll wondering exactly how you are supposed to feel when your grandmother gives you a present that is supposed to shit on you.
I turn to her and really this doll thing is starting to work my nerves.
“Actually the only thing I ever did with my Barbies was strip them naked shave their heads and throw them at passing cars.”
“Ohh but why oh why would you do such a thing?” She puts her hand to her face her corn flower blue eyes wide with horror. All conversation in the room stops and everyone turns and looks at me with shock.
“Why would you do such a thing?” She repeats her voice trembling.
I look around the room at all the horrified faces and I can’t help but think that being in a mad house the standard of shocking behavior should be set somewhat higher than a little prepubescent Barbie mayhem.
Look at her and completely deadpan I tell her.
“It was one of my first performance art pieces.”
“Performance art?” He hand still to her cheek her voice still trembling.
“Yes, I called it. ‘Plastic women never know when to stop smiling.
“Well they are made of plastic aren’t they? They can’t stop smiling.” She said.
Finally convinced of my unsuitable nature for dolls she finally allows me to hand back the doll magazines.
“If you should change your mind.”
“I’ll be sure to let you know. Now if I could just set up over there? I’ll just clear off a little space shall I?”
“Ohhh oihh, hmm, ohh yes now over here.”
She leads me to the sewing machines where an Asian woman is busy sewing bits of cloth together.
“This is Carol, she is working on a really wonderful quilting project.”
“I don’t quilt.”
“Ohh quilts these days are soo creative. I attended a modern quilt exhibit and I was just blown away.”
“Yes, yes I know, many people have been doing great things in modern quilting. But I don’t quilt, thank you.”
Ohh lord she is handing me quilting magazines.
“And this project we are working on is soo wonderful We are making quilted sleeping bags for the homeless.”
“Yes, I’m sure it’s a wonderful project but I don’t…”
She hands me a little brochure about this quilting project. On the cover of the brochure a drawing of what looks like an unkempt, bearded, very sad giant patchwork caterpillar. (Poor sad caterpillar who has lost his hookah).
“Ive been involved with this project for three years. You see we make the top quilt here then send it off to a woman’s shelter where they do the top quilting and the zipper. Then they get handed out free to the homeless.”
(Three years? She’s been doing this for three years. Why is it that I have never seen a single homeless person wearing one? If a giant patchwork caterpillar were inching it’s way down the streets of San Francisco, I’m pretty sure that I would have noticed.)
Carol is busy sewing scraps of cloth, Rose is busy talking and as she is more than capable of handling both sides of the conversation my mind wanders off contemplating the question.
Three years she’s been working on these things and I’ve never seen one actually in use.
I know what she thinks she is doing. Her good intentions surrounds her like an overly sweet perfume. Quilts to her mean home and family. I can see her imagining the women in the shelter all gathering around and quilting together in a lovely picture out of some dull chick flick. Empowering themselves with shared stories of life’s miseries over the warm quilt. And she sees the homeless person receiving the quilt as some colorful warm reminder of home and care. All good things, why haven’t I ever seen one?
First problem the colorful nature of the gift. The homeless by and large have the same survival instincts as pigeons. They want to blend in with the surroundings, not stand out. You stand out you get noticed most often by people you don’t want to be noticed by. Also dark drab colors don’t show dirt as much.
I lightly finger the fabric Carol is so busy sewing. It’s the lightest cheapest summer dress material. That would last all of five minutes on the street.
It is made with a very long zipper. Zippers get jammed with hard use and a broken zipper must be replaced, this would be difficult for a homeless person to do.
The most popular blanket on the streets is the army green wool felt blankets. They are made for hard use, can air dry, and best of all even when damp will still keep a body warm.
Quilts on the other hand take in moisture like a sponge. When wet a quilt is nothing but a heavy heat sapping mess. Air dry a quilt and you have a damp quilt. Laundry I would think is not high on the homeless what do I do with this dollar list.
Three years, she has been doing this for three years and in three years she hasn’t once thought if what she is doing is in anyway useful. So wrapped up in her good intentions all reality is blissfully ignored. There are times I really hate liberals. Honestly sometimes they seem to think that if you have good intentions you need never bother about using your head.
(Be nice, be nice, be nice, be nice) The thought running through my head like a mantra. (Be nice be nice, be nice, she means well be nice)
“I’m sure it’s a wonderful project but I don’t quilt.”
She hands me a video tape.
“You can watch this it will tell you all about it. People are doing this in cities all over the country.”
(Ohh my God. ) I imagine all the wasted effort going on all over the country. People churning out thses ugly useless things, feeling very very good about themselves. (A Fucking video tape. People all over doing this and not one actually taking even a minute to think about the homeless as other than a sad abstraction a thing to work out the personal karma on.)
(Be nice, be nice, be nice)
“Really it’s nice, but I just don’t quilt.”
She finally gives up and allows me to clean off a space on a table. She flutters around worriedly as I move things.
“Please be careful.” She mumbers something about a project. I am being careful, I swear.
I lay out my brushes, I take out a couple of tubes of paint.
“Be careful please don’t make a mess.”
I’m being careful, I’m not making a mess. I am not taking my bright yellow tackle box and bashing nervous annoying little yattering munchkin over the head with it.
“No no bad mental patient, eat your own crayons.” I wrestle one of my water color pens out of mouth of a man who looks like an Evil Buddha.
I give up. Pack away my brushes and paints and take my yellow tackle box and go back up stairs.
End chapter 17
Three months in life has settled into the dull routine of never ending eternal boredom. Honestly I was having more fun when people were trying to kill me.
I have gone through two more roommates in rather quick order.
First Lila. She is 50ish Asian woman, fat, overly dressed for the occasion and make up applied with a kabuki actors attention to exaggerated detail.
Lila is attending a dinner party where great matters of art are being discussed. She talks on and on in Mandarin her hands giving dramatic flourishes to her every pronouncement.
The party never ends.
2am the second night.
“Lila, if you and your dinner guests wish to continue discussing the finer points of Chinese opera could you all go out to the day room to do it? I need some sleep.”
She gave me that look.
The help should know their place and not interrupt
And the party went on with increased volume.
So I began to sing.
“ninety nine bottles of beer on the wall ninety nine bottles of beer.”
She was not amused.
Next roommate was Agnes. Agnes was a zombie. She was all over one color from hair to toe nails, a ghastly yellow brown, like a cigarette butt left in a mud puddle. She had suffered a stroke at some point in her life and so was left with little in the way of movement or expression in her face. She smoked. And that was all she did. She would lift a cigarette to her drooping gray mouth, light it, and suck it down. She never took it out of her mouth till it was completely ash. She never said a word except for a mumbled “Have you got a cigarette?”
Rooming with a zombie other than being kinda creepy would at least be quiet so I felt pretty good about it. Until nightfall. It’s true, zombies really do come alive at night.
Her bed was trying to kill her, and she fought back with a fierce energy I had no idea she possessed. She beat her pillow, wrestled with her blankets and sheets. She rose from the bed and began tearing it apart. Off with the blankets and sheets and pillow, tossed to the floor. Then the mattress likewise thrown to the floor.
She wrestled with the mattress for a bit, beating it into submission. Then she carefully remade her bed. My grandmother would have been pleased; she used hospital corners when she tucked in her sheets.
She lay down. But the bed was only fooling it’s submission. The battle once more commenced.
“Hey you want a cigarette?”
I knew that would get her attention. Her yellow brown eyes swung to me alight with greedy fire. I hold the cigarette up, swinging it back and forth, her eyes following the cigarette. Gave me the shivers the woman was just creepy.
“I need some sleep and your making that impossible sooo. Here’s the deal. I give you a cigarette and you go out and smoke it and no more bed making. If you let me sleep I will give you a cigarette every night. No sleep, no cigarettes.
She shuffled over and grabbed the cigarette and left for the smoking patio. She came back and..
Well, I hadn’t really believed that the bribe would work.
There were two patients on the floor who had their own rooms. I eyed them enviously.
The next day I stopped Burt on his rounds.
“Hey Burt, I know space is limited and you are not set up for privet suites but Patricia and Lula have their own rooms. So I was just wondering, what do I have to do to qualify for some sleep?
“Yes,mmm, well. We don’t really have privet rooms. It’s just that, Patrica and Lula, well, they have been known to bite people.
Patrica and Anna. Patrica was a tiny little woman in her later middle years. Every inch of her a lady, (Every inch she was like 4’9’’, I swear I have never felt so tall before at 5 6’, A height that is usually neither tall nor short. Around here I am the giant in munchkin land) Patrica when she was patrica was the sweetest little thing ever. But watch out when she starts giggling, Evil Pat comes out in the giggles. Evil Pat is a foul mouthed demon tempered little dwarf.
Lula is a former crack ho’ dying of AID’s. She is an African American woman shrunk down to a diaper clad toothpick in a wheelchair.
Evil Pat and Lula hate eachother. Course Lula do love to fight. Lula would know before anyone else when Patrica was about to flip to evil Pat and she would wheel herself over toward Patrica. Circling around in her orbit till Evil Pat made her appearance and battle would commence.
Evil Pat screaming the foulest racial insults, hands clenched into tiny little fists at her sides lipstick colored spittle foaming at her mouth, and Lula in her wheelchair screaming racial insults of her own brandishing her empty water bottle and threatening to bob Evil Pat over the head with it. I found it most entertaining.
“Soo..” I smile toothily at Burt. “All I have to do to get my own room is bite someone? Do I have to bite a patient or can it be one of the staff? I mean biting the mentally ill just seems wrong but there are a couple of staff members I wouldn’t mind sharpening my teeth for.”
Burt looked decidedly uncomfortable.
They decided to try me with one more roommate. MaryAnn, from a west Virginia trailer park, has impulse control, and anger management issues. First night she would insist on playing Jerry Fallwell on her little tv all night. I resonded by playing my cd of Alster Crawlies greatest hits. Having established each other’s limits we settled in and got along. She had a sense of humor anyway.
I have been in the hospital for about three months when I get a very bad cold. I have held out for two days not wanting to break down and ask the merry pill pushers for cold medication but there is a limit of misery I’m willing to put up with.
I dragged my weary self to the desk of the night nurse.
“Could I have a Sudafed please?”
Odd, risperidone, quetiapine, colozapine, adivan, all roll of hher tounge easy enough but su-da-fed, like some strange language being tasted for the first time.
“Yes a Sudafed or a benadril, nyquill would be great but I don’t want to be greedy. What ever you have will be fine, thank you.”
He frowns at me. “Why do you want a Sudafed?”
(Why? Well I heard ity is a hallucinogen if inserted anally and I want to test it out) (no be nice, be nice, be nice. She just wants to make sure I don’t intend on using the Sudafed anally),
“I have a very bad cold and I want to get some sleep with out drowning.” It’s one of those breathing is a serious issue, kind of colds. Ewww.
She frowns at me, pursing her lips together. "No I don’t think so.” She said.
My brain shudders to a stop. (HU? They have been shoveling pills down my throat since the day I got here. Handing out multi colored pills like pez and now I’m being refused a Sudafed?)
“There’s nothing really wrong with you. You just have a cold. Few days rest and you will be fine. And Sudafed doesn’t really help, just relieves some of the symptoms.” She lectured me.
(And what do you think a Sudafed is for ya daffy bitch?)
(Be nice, be nice, be nice)
“Excuse me but relieving some of the symptoms is what I need a Sudafed for. As for that now honestly you give me pills every day not one of which actually cure anything. The best you can say for any of them is they relieve some of the symptoms for some of the people some of the time. Sudafed on the other hand relieves some of the symptoms for most of the people most of the time. So on that scale Sudafed is a far more effective medication. Not to mention the pills you all give me every day have possible side effects ranging from weight gain (thank you all so very much for that one) and constipation, to sleep disorders to possible liver damage. As to any long term effects of the drugs you ‘give’ me (I have some trouble with the word give but people who are forcing you to do things rarely like the word force to be used) You can’t really say most of the pills you all handout haven’t been around long enough for even ten years worth of study. Sudafed on the other hand has far fewer and less troublesome side effects”
“No there’s nothing wrong with you. You just have a cold go to bed.”
And once more my innocent faith in the persuasive power of logic has been completely misplaced.
(Think, think, must think, need Sudafed, can’t think)
I take out my sodden handkerchief and blow my nose. Trying to clear some space in my brain for a thought.
She looks up and frowns at me again. “Ohh and you shouldn’t blow your nose. It doesn’t really help and can damage delicate mucus membranes.”
(MUCUS MEMBRANES……..Ohh that did it.)
I took two steps forward and sneezed explosively right into nurse mercy’s frowning face. Nurses have certain preprogrammed responses to external stimuli. Case in point, health lecture 101.3a.
“You should always cover your mouth when you sneeze you can spread germs that way.”
“That’s right.” I said and stood there giving her my best slow and evil Grinch who stole Christmas grin. “And if I don’t get a Sudafed . Right. Now. That, is, exactly , what, I, am ,going, to, do.”
Her brain shuddered to full stop.
I took a step toward her waving my sodden hankie. She pushed back rolling her chair as far away from me as her desk would allow.
“I am going to drag my feverish bleary eyed self from floor to floor, ward to ward, room to room, seeking out each and every one of you sanctimonious sadists, every doctor, every nurse and orderly in this hospital. And don’t you worry hun.” I snuffle wetly into my hankie. “My mucus membranes are producing more than enough to go around.”
I snuggle into bed sighing happily as the Sudafed begins to take effect. Forget the Adivan, give me the Sudafed every time.
End chapter 18
THE LIBRARIAN IS IN
Bored, bored, bored.
Opportunities for amusement are few and far between.
The activities room, I mostly avoided. I did drop in once a day or so to smile and exchange pleasantries. I thought if Rose got used to seeing me around in a friendly sort of way she might not flutter about so.
One day when I popped in the say hi she was grousing that she could never find anything she was looking for. This was just the opening I was looking for.
“You know, I could organize things for you.” I offered, trying to be ohh so casual.
“Organize?” She said, never had the word seemed so threatening.
“Yes, just you know straighten out your closets, not throw out anything I know I know you don’t get much to buy art supplies with.” (Only 10 bucks a month) “Wouldn’t it be nice to know what you have on hand and to be able to find what you want? I promise I wont throw anything out or make a mess. I just want to help you do your job. You’re expected to fill out so much paperwork there’s hardly anytime for you to do such housekeeping as straightening out your closets.”
She fluttered and twittered nervously.
I comforted and cajoled
Finally she relented.
(How desperate for amusement am I? Reduced to begging to clean someone’s closets that’s how desperate)
I set to work with a will. The first day was the toughest.
“Look I know it’s looks bad, but in order to organize your supplies I have to take them out of the closets.”
She fluttered, she twittered, but with everything dumped out of the closets like a tornado had ripped through them, she couldn’t very well stop me at that point.
The day I had it all done I did the ceremonial revel. Even spoke the magic words “TA DA” As I opened the closet doors. ( The closet lined one wall, in three main sections so a goodly amount of space.
“Ok now over here in this section you have all your soft supplies, scrap material, sewing supplies that sort of thing. Here in the middle section are your ‘hard’ supplies, blocks of wood, dolls (lots and lots of dolls, a large bin overflowing with dolls, I imagine Roses home stuffed with Barbie dolls, and teddy bears. I think of all those beady little eyes staring soullessly at me and I shudder) The used cd,’s (Used cd’s. so many crafty people trying so hard to find some interesting use for those fucking things and they all come up with the same ugly ass mobile. If you can’t find anything useful to do with something, hang it on a string. ) your bits and bobs and thingamajigs and whatnots. This section here,” I throw open the last door. “Is for your basic art supplies, paints, glues, brushes scissors and such like. “
To cap it all off, she had some mini plastic baskets, I created little collage kits out of them, a selection of glue paint scraps of paper and cloth, glitter, feathers and such other little things.
“See you can sit a patient down with this and some paper and just let them play with things.”
She seemed very happy with it all.
I came in the next morning. I can only assume she stayed the entire night disorganizing. Everything was back where it was before I had done anything. Down to the last broken gi joe laying like some battlefield casualty on one cluttered table. It was one of those reality stuttering events as I stood in the door way wondering if the past couple of days had actually happened or if I just dreamed of organizing closets. I really didn’t want to think that I was wasting good dreaming time with closet organizing.
The computer room is next to activities room. There are about a dozen computers with internet access in the small room.
The computers are wildly popular among the mad. From the moment the room opens every computer is occupied. There is a time limit on how long you can use the computer and due to demand a waiting list. I never bother to put my name on the list. It seemed unfair to take computer time from someone who really needed it. These people so removed from the outside world, so removed from normal human contact the computer gives them a chance to connect to people without them shrinking away. On line you don’t know you’re talking to a mad person.
Down the hall from the computer room is the gym. It has so far been opened only once. A couple of yogi teachers dropped by to teach a class. I must say it wasn’t a rousing success. I and two other patients showed up for the class. The others had some trouble with their balance, a not uncommon side effect of many of the medications mental patients are given. The poor lost yogi’s finally resorted to resting stone position. Lay down on the mat flat on your back palms down on the matt and breath, just breath. Two minutes later loud snoring filled the gym as the other patients fell sound asleep.
(Jeeze,I wonder if they would come and teach a class at night?)
The yogis didn’t come back the gym stayed locked.
Between the computer room and the gym was a door that held promise for me. It had a sign on the door, LIBRARY. Frustratingly the door was never open.
Nancy Drew and the mystery of the locked door.
First I interviewed Charles, the gentleman in charge of the computer room. As the Locked Door was right next to the computer room, it was a natural place to start.
Charles looks like George Foreman gone to fat, has a high girly voice and the mincing manner of a lullaby league munchkin. I seem to annoy the guy as he always shoots me the hairy eyeball whenever I pass him in the hall. Like I once kicked his puppy or something.
“I was wondering why the library is never open.” I ask him.
“Library? I didn’t know we had a library?”
I went to Rose and asked her the same question.
And got exactly the same answer.
“Library? I didn’t know we had a library.”
(A door that only I can see. How enticing)
It took me the better part of the morning to find someone who knew the hospital had a library. Anna a little Asian American nurse who runs the little store and other occupational therapies for the patients.
“Why is the library never open?” I ask her.
“Well we don’t have any volunteers to run it.” She tells me.
It was nice to have one problem in my life so easily solved
I got the key from her and entered the library. A little 12 by 15 foot closet with shelves linning two walls, two small couches and a desk and chair.
For two days I unpacked boxes of paperbacks and got everything set up. Westerns, mysteries, romance novels, horror, (there were quite a number of Ann Rice books) I set them all in order, dusted down the furniture then pulled out the chair and sat down at the desk. The Librarian is in.
End chapter 19
And who is this God person anyway?
If the people in my high school had been told I would end up as a mad house Librarian, no one would have been a bit surprised. I felt pretty pleased stuck in a mad house and I manage to get my own office and I didn’t have to bite anyone for it.
I had a nice trickle of people coming in to check out the new library. I’m pretty good at picking out the right book for the right person so everyone left with a book and a smile. By the second week people began asking if they could volunteer to work in the library.
“Why sure.” I say and soon had my little library staffed with four assistants. It wasn’t long at all before I had the library running exactly as I wanted. That is my assistants did all the actual work, scheduling everyone setting the library hours keeping track of who had what book. I popped in and sat at my desk and read books and broke the no coffee in the library rule whenever the mood struck me.
“Mind if I come in?” Burt looks in the library door way waiting for me to invite him in.
From the moment I unlocked the library door this has been a staff free zone. It’s not like I ever told them they weren’t invited. They just don’t come in. I mean ever. Some boxes of used books were donated. The boxes were left for me in the activity room. I had never thought about it till seeing Burt standing there in the door way asking my permission to come in. In the midst of the MHRF it would seem I had created a small fiefdom of smurfs, and somehow entrance to the kingdom required my permission
“Why sure, come on in.” (Open borders here no visa required)
“I had some time and thought we could talk.”
“Why sure. Grab a seat.”
And so me at seated at my desk and the therapist on one of the library’s small couches we begin a conversation.
We get the ordinary pleasantries out of the way, how are you doing? Nice day, that sort of thing. Then the ritual of friendly greeting talk out of the way he dives in.
“Do you know what fixated delusions are?
“Ohh that’s a tricky one. After all there have been whole huge long books written about the subject. But I guess I would say, very broadly speaking, that a delusion is any internalized system of subjective belief that is inconsistent with external objective observable reality
Delusions would be called pathological when the internalized subjective reality is so divergent from external observable, objective, reality that it is harmful to the individual holding that belief and potentially harmful to others around them.
A delusion would be called fixated when that internalized subjective belief is held completely apart from any contravening external reality.
Does that about cover it?” I give him my very best innocent eyelash batting cute little girl expression.
He blinks at me, twice.
“Is that something you’ve read somewhere?”
“Ho, do you mean have I been nicking down to you office to take crib notes from the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders; just so I could impress you with a level of erudition that I do not in fact posses?”
I think he decided to grow a beard because he blushes too easily.
“That’s not what I meant.”
It was, but heck it’s not like he’s the first to assume that I read books just for the pictures.
“You;ve seen the DSM?”
(Just the pop up version)
“Yes there was a copy of it in my high school library. I spent a few very amusing study periods diagnosing my class mates and teachers. Not a sane one in the bunch if the book is to be believed. Course as I recall, sanity was the first word I tried to look up and was surprised to find it wasn’t in there. Odd isn’t it? Every other medical text book will define what a healthy organ looks like and how it functions before listing all the things that can go wrong.
I guess for you psychiatrics sanity is like pornography.”
“Pornography?” He replies in scandalized tones.
“Yes. You may not be able to define it. But you know it when you see it.”
He laughs, a little nervously. A person unteathered from their expectations are never made comfortable by the experience.
“So Burt, would you like to hear about the time I met God?”
I smile with a merry little glimmer in my eyes, which of course Burt completely misinterprets as the manic glint of madness. He leans back in his chair and crosses his legs, tilting his clipboard up a bit shield like.
“Hmm yes that would be fine.”
Yeh he’s been expecting this. I’ve been luring him in with all seeming rationality then the mask slips and the madness peaks through.
I take a sip from my coffee and begin the tale.
“I was at a party. Now as a rule I don’t enjoy parties. I find that the more people you stuff into a room the lower the overall IQ becomes. People seem to gather together to play loud horrible music just so they can join together in celebration of mutual stupidity. But I was bored so I went to a party.
This was a party attended by art students and others similarly afflicted with very high opinions of themselves. I took my drink and settled into a quiet corner of the room. A life time as the party’s cranky wall flower I always know where the quiet corner of the room is. I have an unfailing homing instinct.
I stood in my corner sipping my drink when a young man slid into my corner of solitude. He was playing with his brand new palm pilot. He pauses from his busy thumb twiddling and looked over to me with a cocky grin.
“I’m God you know.” He said with all the seriousness of a first year philosophy major.”
“Ohh really?” I said and smiled. I have met many men who thought they were God of course but he was the first one to say so.
“Yes,” He said.
He explained to me that he was indeed God the all mighty everlasting the alpha and omega. He was just pretending to be human and mortal with all mortalities pains and ill’s as a divergence from the shear desperate boredom of it all.
Apparently omniscient eternity has it’s draw backs’
He further explained to me that he as God the big G hadn’t actually created anything or anyone. It was all just an amusing dream he was indulging in.
“Hmm so, I am nothing more than a dream your having? I don’t really exist?” I said and smiled my Cheser Cat smile.
“That’s right.” He said, completely confident in his own cleverness.
I thought about that for a heart beat or two. Then I slapped his face.
When I reach this point in the tale I leaned forward and slapped the palms of my hands together dramatizing the event. Burt jerked back in his chair looking startled, as if I had just slapped his face.
“Why did you do that?” Burt asked me.
“You know, that is exactly what god asked me.
“Why did you do that?” His hand massaging his offended cheek.
“What did you tell him?” Burt asks
“I said. Because apparently God, is a masochist.”
Burt blinks twice and leans further back on the couch and try’s to laugh. Poor dear isn’t sure if I just told a joke or revealed my insanity.
“Umm, I thought you were going to say that the pain proved that he wasn’t God.”
“No Burt, remember he said he was dreaming that he was mortal. So any pain he ‘felt’ was just part of his amusing daydream.”
“You see Burt, if I don’t exist, if I am just a projection of his mind, a part of his dream, then any action ‘I’ take is nothing but his own responsibility. The dream doesn’t dream the dreamer.”
“So, hmmm, do you think you really met God?”
“Well Burt the existence of God or gods is a matter for which there is no empirical proof. I would like to think that if God the big G were to appear to me that he would be something a bit more impressive. On the other hand I rather like the idea that I slapped the face of God. Jacob wrestled with an angel but I slapped the face of God. Yeh I like it.”
“We started this discussion with the definition of delusion. A definition that relies on the idea that an objective view of reality exists. For there to be an objective view there must be an objective viewer. The tree cannot have an objective view of the forest. In order to view the forest one must be standing outside of the forest. We are each of us an individual subjective consciousness existing within the structures of Einstein’s E=Mc2 space time. So the very idea that there is such a thing as an objective view of reality presupposes the idea of an observer that has to exist outside of space/time. For lack of a better term, God.”
“So you do believe in God?”
“I’m equally comfortable with the scientific view, that all appearances to the contrariety nothing is real.”
“Nothing is real is the scientific view?”
“Ohh yes quite so. Everything we think of as real is in fact real only if we don’t look too closely. The closer you look at anything the less real it becomes.
I place the palm of my hand flat down on the table.
“You see my hand on the table, you see the hand and the table as two distinct solid objects. On the atomic level solid disappears as a useful definition of anything. Atoms are not solid. There is so little actual stuff in an atom that if our solar system were an atom it would be considerably denser than an atom of lead.
On the atomic level separate like solid no longer means anything. My hand and the table are even now exchanging atoms, I am a little bit more table than I was and the table is a little bit more me. You cannot on that scale draw a line between any two objects, nothing is separate.
On the sub atomic scale things get even stranger, with bits of matter becoming real only when you look at them then you look away and poof it’s gone.. Which as a rational man you know is no way for any real thing to behave.
While your trying to get the very teeniest of things to behave properly you are going to have to scold the universe at the macro level for also disregarding all reason. Black holes are fun and wonderfully dramatic but you really want to start a food fight at a convention of physicists ask them, ‘So what’s this dark matter and where did it go?’ You see in order for our universe to be the shape it is, traveling at the speed it is, at the age it is, our universe needs to be bigger than it is..’Honey our universe is missing’,. Some estimates have gone as high as ninety percent. Imagine that, ninty percent of our universe isn’t there,, and no one knows where it all went.
So you see most of everything that should be here isn’t and of that little bit that is here, is here only some of the time. Like a grand joke, everything is playing peek-a-boo with us.
Speaking of reality, Burt, How do I know that you are real?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well as you knowI am perversely convinced that Boccie and his merry band of drug dealing nitwits spent an unreasonable amount of time making a total nuisance of themselves. I base this belief on information I received from my senses. That which I see, that which I hear and feel, I didn’t get much in the way of useful information from my sense of smell in this case. Other than the fact that Boccie uses Polo, which is information though not I think in anyway useful.
You are ‘real’ to me in the same way that Boccie is ‘real’. I can see you, I can hear you, I can reach out my hand and touch you.
You tell me that I have apparently lost my ability to correctly interpret information I receive from my senses. That being so, logically than I have no way of knowing if you are in fact ‘real’ or not. If I can dream up Boccie and his merry men than I certainly have imagination enough to dream you up.”
“I assure you that I am real.” He smiles.
“Yes, well, that’s no proof. It is the nature of a delusion to insist on it’s own reality is it not?” Burt is looking a bit punch drunk. This is not at all the way he imagined things going.
“It is an interesting problem. How do you prove your own existence? I think there for I am but does that mean that you are too? Maybe I just think you do.”
“Don’t look so worried Burt, my current theory of reality includes you as ‘real’. As real as anything can be in a universe where nothing is real anyway. If you should take it into your head to rudely poof out of existence I will of course have to re-evaluate my theory.”
“Speaking of re-evaluating theories,” Burt pauses, “ Do you ever consider the idea that you may be wrong about what happened?”
“Ohh all the time. I think I have most definitely been uncertain about everything up to now.”
“Except that you have said that your are sure Boccie has been trying to kill you.”
“That is definitely my theory. The definition of a theory is; This is the best explanation we can come up with to fit the facts as we know them. Now you want to go changing a theory, you don’t do it cause some yogurt tells you to. Every theory is subject to change, given a new explanation that better fits the facts or new facts.
In this case we have two competing theories. For simplicity sake we can call theory A the Boccie is an Ass theory; and theory B; The I am a crazy person theory. Of course there is also the possibility that both theories are true. Though that would hopelessly complicate everything wouldn’t it?
We both have a problem in that there is no way to either prove nor disprove theory A. Of course I can’t help but feel I do have more in the way of information for proving theory A then you do for disproving theory A. after all I actually did live in the apartment building that quite verifiably belongs to Boccie. You, on the other hand haven’t even driven by the building in question nor ever met boccie. So for theory A I have some verifiable facts, I was there you wernt, so my default position here is to go with the theory that I have some evidence for. However imperfect.
You, on the other hand have no evidence what so ever either for or against theory A. Your default position here is for you to disbelieve any theory you have no evidence for.
Since theory A can neither be proven nor disproven that leaves us with theory B. Here I would say we have a bit of a logic problem The theory that I am a crazy person is largely dependent upon the idea that theory A is not true and that I am a crazy person because I believe that theory A is true.
You ever hear of this guy David Ickk?” I ask him.
“Oh man I love this guy. He was an English sports tv and radio talking head. Then one day he wakes up and has a revelation.
The world is secretly being controlled by shape shifting lizards from another dimension. Apparently we are a sort of cattle ranch for the lizards, and they have a taste for veal. Prominent member of this carnivorous shape shifting community include the Queen of England and all her big eared progeny, George Bush and all the little shrubs and Ross Perot. (Now me I always imagined Ross Perot as the Amazing chicken man.)
I would call his beliefs delusional. His books have sold in the millions world wide. Go figure. I don’t like George Bush but I’m almost one hundred percent sure he isn’t a lizard.
While it isn’t possible to either prove or disprove that George Bush is a shape shifting lizard, we can say that in order for George Bush to be an interdimensional carnivorous shape shifting lizard just about everything we think we know about the way things are is pretty much completely wrong.
Call this the not all theories are created equal theory. A theory is that which is unproved, but not all unproved things are equally improbable. Some things are more improbable than others.”
“How probable than is it that all these people were trying to kill you? Why you?” He asks me.
“Why me? Well now isn’t that just about the most common and most useless question a therapist is ever asked.” I laugh.
“What do you mean?”
“Why me? Everytime someone stubbes their toe it’s all, why me? Why me? I’m a nice person, I treat people good, I don’t cheat steal or break any of the major commandments/ Why me? Like we made some kind of deal with God. I’ll be a good person and God will be nice to me, or at least not really really crappy. How anyone could read the bible and come to that conclusion is beyond me.
“Why hast thou forsaken me?” The dyeing words of his own son, nailed to a cross in a bone yard. Why hast thou forsaken me? Which is just fancy bible talk for ‘Why me God?”
You know I think the only one in the entire bible who didn’t whine why me was Job. And boy did that guy have reason to bitch.
Job is a good and righteous man. He is a pillar of the community, business leader, rich, devoted family man with several wives and ten kids and he is devoted to God.
One day God and the Devil are out shooting the breeze when God decides to do a bit of bragging on his boy Job. So he goes on and on extolling the virtues of his boy Job, Kind, thrifty, generous reverent, blah, blah, blah.
The Devil has about had it with the endless recitation of a boring man’s virtues, yawns and says.
“Yeh well it’s no wonder he is such a good guy and loves the shit out of you. You give the guy everything his heart desires don’t you? Six years old and he is the only kid in the village who actually got a pony for his birthday. I tell you what, the first time things don’t go his way he’ll turn on you so fast it will make your head spin.
Your on says God.
The first thing they did was destroy the guys businesses. His crops withered in the fields, his herds die, his cargo ships sink, his caravans get swallowed by the desert. From the richest guy in town to the guy begging the beggars for a place to sit, overnight..
Did he curse God? Did he whine why me? No he did not.
God has given me the blessings of my family what man could want more. He told any who wanted to hear.
Yeh so you know what came next. Big family gathering around the dinner table and while Job is out back praising God for the blessings of his family, down came this big ol’ tornado and thwack all his family gone at one blow.
Did he curse God? Did he whine why me?
Nor sir he did not.
‘What God has given is his right to take away. It is not mine to question the mind or will of God.’
By this time of course his friends and neighbors leapt to his aid, with a never ending stream of neighborly advice.
‘You must have done something to really piss off God.’ Someone said and they all exchanged speculative glances. And rite put out they were too when Job refused to flatter their speculations with some terrible confession.
I always got the idea that Job’s neighbors had always thought of him something of a smug git and were not all that unhappy to see him brought so low.
No matter how bad it gets it can always get worse. Job is affected with boils. Puss filled stinking painful itching boils.
‘Well its not all bad’ says Job. ‘ I stink so bad now my friends have stopped dropping by with advice.’
The Devil finally concedes defeat.
Job the man who frustrated the Devil by never asking why me.
“So umm, you think God did this to you?” Burt asks.
“No, I think I rented an apartment from a complete Dick. A not entirely unique occurrence in the world.”
“Having your landlord trying to kill you is unusual.” He says.
“Excessive, I would say. Look I do see where your coming from here. I mean really, drug dealers, hired killers, microphones, carmeras, booby traps ohhh my. And all of them all these people focusing all that time and attention on me, ,me, me, me, mememememe. It does seem more then just a tad self aggrandizing.
Why did all those people so completely lose their sense of perspective in regards to me? Honestly, I don’t know. I guess they take it badly when a woman tells them to fuck off.
I almost got myself killed because I just couldn’t believe thatt hese people were serious. I mean come on guys, I’m a flibertegibbit a clown a fool, for anyone to take me as any kind of threat.. Well the world just reversed course and the sun is rising in the west.
A better question in my opinion would be : Why not me?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why not me? It’s a perfectly simple question. Why is it impossible for the things I have talked about in theory A, Boccie is an Ass., to have happened to me?”
“There is a woman in England who went out for a walk one day and had her toe looped off by a small meteorite. Now go ahead and figure the odds of that. Losing ones toe to a bit of falling space rock is pretty statistically unlikely. But just because that something is improbable does not make it impossible.
Christopher Columbus did’t think the world was round while everyone else though it flat. Christopher Columbus thought the world was considerably smaller than it is. Till the end of his days he was convinced that he had landed on some obstructing island or chain of islands between Europe and his goal of India. Believing a thing to be true that turns out to be false, does not necessarily mean your delusional. You could just be really bad at geometry.
Ok, lets say that you are talking on the phone to a woman in England who claims that her toe was lopped off by a meteorite. There is no way for you to confirm that the woman is telling the truth. What we can say is that in the world we know, humans females most often do have toes, women with toes do go out for walks, we can also say that meteorites do fall out of the sky. As unlikely as it is for a bit of space rock to lop off someone’s toe it is possible for such a thing to have happened without doing any damage to our view of the way things are.
Now lets look at the theory that George Bush is a shape changing lizard. First off, shape changing, there has so far been no evidence that such a thing is possible, and that whole conservation of mass and energy thing would have to be completely rethought. Intelligent lizards from an alternate dimension, we have no evidence for so much as an extraterrestrial protozoa, heck at this point scientists would be thrilled to find so much as a gleam in a complex chain of sugars and proteins eye. As to alternate dimensions where intelligent where intelligent life exists and have the desire and ablility to travel, there is not a single shred of evidence for.
Therefor the theory that George Bush is a shape shifting lizard is a theory completely unsupported by any evidence. If the theory were true then much of our understanding of the world that we as a species have built up over the past few thousand years of thought and testing is false or at least so wildly inaccurate that I would have a hard time believing that people so disconnected from the way things actually are could survive much longer than a week or two.
So while the theory that George Bush is a lizard can neither be proved nor disproved one can say that the theory is so dependant on so many improbabilities, so much unending of our understanding of the world and how it works, I feel quite safe discounting that particular theory as delusional.
Now looking at my Theory that Boccie is an Ass.
In the world we know do mobsters and organized crime exist? Well I would have to say yes. Or every newspaper in the country has been making up shit for years just to sell papers. Hmm maybe that’s a bad example.”
Burt laughs, but agrees to the premise that the mafia does indeed exist.
“Do people involved in organized crime indulge in violently antisocial behavior? Do they actually kill people? I would have to say that the evidence is that they do. The other things I spoke about, hidden mics, cameras, even the idiotic bobby trap under my floor, all of it entirely possible. We know that such things do exist.”
“People are killed with remote controlled guns under floors?” He asks me.
“There are robots that seek out and defuse landmines, there is even a new sport for tech geeks. Battle ‘bots. The geeks gettogether and build combate robots then fight them together in the gladiatorial ring. It is no great feat of techno legerdemain to rig a gun to a remote controlled ATV. As to planting the fool thing under my floor to kill me in bed, well the Mossad once killed a guy by blowing up his bed. The CIA tried to poison Castros cigars. I should be happy they didn’t try to poison my everyday cigarettes. Now that would have been half way smart. I bought my ciggs in the same place and there are poisons one can use that would appear like a heart attack and lets face it, my death in anything other than circumstances of head line grabbing uniqueness would not have occasioned enough interest for a full autopsy.
It isn’t possible to prove what did happen, but we can say that no part of the Boccie is an ass theory violates our understanding of the world and the things in it. Add to that the fact that the building I lived in, specifically the empire massage business that occupied the entire second floor, was featured in a lengthy article in the San Francisco Bay Guardian regarding the connection between drugs, street gangs, organized crime and massage parlors. While not in any way proof that anything I say happened there actually happened I would say that it certainly pushes the entire theory out of the completely improbable category and into the merely unlikely. People are not often bitten by sharks but it does happen. Such a thing is more likely to happen to someone scuba diving off the great barrier reef then to someone panning for gold in death valley.”
Before Burt headed off to fill out forms and paperwork he asked if I would like to attend the weekly patient’s council.
“It’s where the patients can bring up issues and discuss things that would make the hospital better for them.”
“Ohh lord,” I sigh and roll my eyes. Politics.”
And then I reconsider.
“Well now that I think of it, I do have a thing or two to bring up. Fine I’ll be there.”
(How politics could be viewed as a therapeutically beneficial activity for the mentally ill I really can’t say.)
End chapter 20
The Politics of q-tips
So at the appointed time I arrived in the activity room at take my place at the council table.
Rose is more or less in charge, something between a moderator and secretary. Diane is there, she is a very quiet Asian woman who drools, one of the side effects of her medication. Seems terrible unfair, there she is a nice polite woman drooling all over the place. It is considered a minor side effect.
Carl is a thin scruffy man who has the distinction of having the most annoying human voice I have ever heard, a high buzz saw nasal whine that just cuts right through your skull. First time I saw him was shortly after arriving in the mad house. He was in the day room trying to learn Spanish by memorizing the dictionary. Fork cucheria, fork, cucheria,. As it seems that people with truly annoying voices are attracted to politics he is there.
Bob is there playing with his dolls. Bob is exactly what one would imagine a mad house patient to look like, a fifty year old man who looks like a toothless beardless bald garden gnome with a four year olds dress sense. Today pink tights, purple tutte and star spangled sneakers. He thinks he is the Lindbergh baby.
Other then that the event is atteneded by people who were just hanging out in the activity room so were drafted.
And let the games begin. First the reading of the notes of last week. Which is of no interest to me. Then the floor opens to new business.
Carl takes the floor.
It is a well known political tactic to allow the biggest blow hard in the room to go first, let him suck all the air out of the room so when you finally get there with your proposal people are so tired and ready to leave that they will happily agree to just about anything.
Carl is perfect, he has a file folder stuffed with charts legal paperwork forms and all. He wants the MHRF to become a patient run co op with an open door policy were they could come and go as they like, get jobs, have control of their medications ect ect ect. His buzz saw whine goes on and on. Till finally Rose steps in with the time nearly up. She says she will take all this down and send it on to the hospital administers,, or ,, somebody.
“Is there anything else?” She looks around the table.
"Well, yes.” I speak up. “I would like soy sauce and Tabasco sauce added to the table condiments. The meals are, to say the least, bland and the soy sauce and Tabasco would be a help. Also salads, I must say that six ounces of salad divided up between an averages of six to ten residents, can’t really be called salad. It barley qualifies as garnish. So more salad please.”
She says she will speak to the dietitian as she is in control of the kitchen menus.
This is of course code, for ‘I will forget this and hope you do to.”
So next week a repeat of the first. Carl goes on and on till the time is nearly done. Then I ask Rose has spoken with the dietitian yet.
She hasn’t gotten a chance to see her yet but will this week.
Next week. “Have you spoken with the dietitian yet?”
The next stall will be the pick some small part of the over all proposal as a reason to reject the entire thing.
“Yes, well, the dietitian feels that soy sauce will be too high in salt for the sodium restricted patients.”
I smile, (wonderful if the objection had been money that would have taken months of work to get around. This was easy.
“Soy sauce while high in sodium is certainly no higher in sodium then the table salt already provided, and Tobasco is a low sodium product that is often recommended to people with sodium restricted diets. Now as to the salad. Due to the medications you all hand out, most of your residents have constipation not to mention weight gain, so I would expect that you would be encouraging the consumption of salads as much as possible.
Now is the time to add something to the proposal that the powers that be can reject so they feel they have some control over it all. It makes them feel good.
“I would also like to see more than just lettuce and shredded carrots in the salad, tomatoes would be nice, the occasional cucumber, some sprouts.”
“Ohh and one more thing about the soy sauce. You know over half the residents of the MHRF are Asian. It would seem to me that not providing soy sauce is pretty culturally insensitive.”
This was San Francisco after all, I figured I had them with that one. Then Diane, who has never said a word for weeks, peeps up.
“I’m Asian and I don’t care if we have soy sauce or not.”
(Ohh lord there is always one)
Diane is one who just cant handle any sort of confrontation. I guess she felt that I was putting her in the middle of an argument. Knowing her fear of confrontation I knew exactly what to do.
I kicked her under the table. Then I leaned over and hissed into her ear.
“Hush up you. You may not care if we have soy sauce or not but I do.. and I’m just a white girl from the backwoods of Maine I can’t exactly claim soy sauce as part of my cultural heritage now can I? So don’t screw this up for me.”
She ducked her head and slunk down in her seat.
The motion passed and next week I sat down and put Tabasco sauce on my omelet at breakfast and for lunch I put soy sauce on some chicken mess And crunched into a nice pile of salad, no tomatoes, but hell I never thought I would get that.
Having achieved my goals I promptly retired from politics.
After a couple of weeks without my attendance at the council meetings Burt pops into the library. He is wearing his ‘I’m concerned for you and reaching out face.’
“I notice you haven’t been to the consul meetings.”
“Nope.” I prop my feet up on the desk leaning back comfortable in my chair. “I achieved what I set out to do so I have now retired from politics.”
Brave words too soon spoken as it turned out.
“I’m sure you have other issues you could address.”
I thought briefly of q-tips. It is an odd thing to me that one can get a razor but not a q-tip. When you take a shower you can get a plastic safety razor from the staff nurse. You have to sign for it and turn it back in when done with your shower. I can understand wanting some controls when handing mad people razors. What confuses me is that while one may have a razor one may not have a q-tip. Why is a mad person trusted with a razor but not a q-tip? I run the mental calculations in my head. Mad person + razor+ a half hour alone in the shower= potential trouble factor X. Then I run the calculation Mad person + q-tip. I just couldn’t see a q-tip resulting in a higher potential trouble factor than a razor.
Not having a q-tip, it’s a small irritation. You don’t notice not having a q-tip at first. Maybe it was just my obsession with clean ears, but it was really starting to bug me. So one day when the nurses back was turned I swiped a bunch of throat swabs, thus solving my q-tip dilemma.
So when Burt mentioned other issues and I naturally thought of q-tips. Who would I have to take on in order to get q-tips? That would be the nursing staff and possibly housekeeping. I did a quick cost benefit analyses, the amount of effort I would have to expand in order to get the q-tip reward.
“No, sorry Burt, there isn’t anything else I can think of that the consul can address.”
“But I’m certain you have other issues you could address, you have some ideas about the way the hospital is run.” Poor Burt is confused and a bit worried, to find me suddenly a woman without issues.
“Issues? Ideas? “ I let out a tea pot hiss and roll my eyes. “Where do I begin? Ok the two biggest issues for the patients is they all want more input and more control over their medications. A pretty sane thing to want in my opinion. They also want more freedom, more passes to the outside. Again a very sane thing to want and one I think should be encouraged with added guided field trips to encourage and facilitate interaction with the outside world.
One of the mission statements of the MHRF is ‘to help the patients acquire independent living skill sets.’ What you have is supervised patients running the cash register at your little playtime convenience store and a once a month ‘how to cook spaghetti’ class.
The activity room. Rose is a sweet person but has no ability to organize activity. On the other hand that she is given only ten bucks a month to buy art supplies with could be a reason she is so loath to do anything. That just boggles me, I mean really? Ten bucks a month? Here we are in San Francisco and buying crayons for mad people is something you can only get ten bucks a month for?”
Your patients need physical activity. You have a gym that is locked and completely empty of any equipment and there is no physical therapist on staff.
Other than the anti drug and alcohol group meeting sing alongs, there is no attempt at therapy of any other sort. Having mad people chant just say no while you hand them their daily meds is the sort of heavy hand irony that would be considered over the top in a student movie.
So yes Burt I have issues and ideas, but none of them that the patient council would have any power to address.”
“You don’t know that, after all you got soy sauce and more salad.”
“I got Tabasco sauce too Burt.”
"Exactly, then why not come back to the council and put your ideas forward.?”
I sigh and do the eye roll.
“Because Burt trying to dig the Holland tunnel with a tooth pick is not my idea of a good time.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Yes you do. Look the council is set us to give the patients the feeling that they have impute into their treatment. Some illusion of control over their lives. And to ‘ facilitate their integration into the larger society by giving them the experience of working together’. It however has exactly no actual power and is in no way set up to be an instrument of change.”
“But you effected changes through the council.”
“Yes Burt, I got what I wanted. I chose a small and inconsequential issue that would only be an inconvenience to the food service workers. And lab rats have more political pull then the food service workers union. It was perfect, an issue you could give on and then say in your annual reports how the council actually has some impute in the running of the hospital. Win, win, everybody is happy and I get to put Tabasco sauce on my omelet.”
“Think of how much more you could accomplish.”
“It is believed that Archimedes once said, something along the lines of “give me a fulcrum and lever large enough and I can move the world” Well without leverage your not Archimedes your sis aphis. “
Burt gets that slightly embarrassed, slightly bemused look on his face that he gets when I make some classical reference he totally doesn’t get. To be honest it bugs me. How can one go all the way through all those years of advanced education and not brush shoulders with at least one illustrated classic comic book?
“Burt, everything I just mentioned involves movement of money, changes in regulations in rules in procedures even in laws. To believe that a bunch of mad people sitting around a table playing with dolls would have any power to accomplish anything I just spoke about is, delusional”
Burt finally gives up and leaves looking a bit crest fallen. Reality is always such an unpleasant surprise for Burt.
End chapter 21
A discourse on the absence of barking dogs
I am sitting at a table in the day room just doodling. Using my water color pens just doodling. Filling one piece of paper after another with pointless chaos of colors. Andrew comes up and stands behind me watching me doodle.
Andrew is a nurse from England and very English in the manly man kind of way. I could totally see him leading a Sherpa up the side of a mountain with a cup of Earl Gray tea in one hand.
The paper I’ve been doodling is full so I crumple it up and toss it in the trash.
“Why did you do that?” He frowns at me.
(people do seem to ask me that question a lot these days)
“Do what?” I ask, This once I really don’t know what I’ve done to raise the question.
“Throw that away?” He pointed to the crumpled doodle paper in the trash.
“Hmm, because the paper is full.” I already have a new blank page in front of me and have begun filling it with randomness.
“You spent so much time on it.”
“So?” I shrug and continue doodling.
“You spent so much time on it, but you treat it like its nothing and has no value.”
“It is nothing and has no value.”
“But what Andrew? Really its nothing, just doodling, nothing. If the word doodling offends ones puritanical need to always be involved in profitable labor you can say I am completing work sheets on a self directed course on color theory.”
“I can’t believe you would put so much time into something you don’t value.”
“Oh for heavens sake Andrew its just doodling. And as far as time. Well I have nothing but right now. Doodling seems as fine a way to spend my time as anything right now.”
“if it’s important to you your welcome to it.” I hand him a page of my time wasting doodles.
“That’s not the point.” Andrew snaps.
(well what is the point? How hath doodles offended thee?)
“You have no values at all.” He says with a very English frown of disapproval.
This seemed a bit of a stretch to me. From throwing away a page of random doodles to a total lack of moral values. I wasn’t even littering.
“Ohh no I certainly do. I have a very firm set of values, thank you very much. Now granted, my values are perhaps a bit outside my cultural norms.”
“To say the least.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing. Genocide, rape, murder, slavery, skinning people alive and eating their hearts, all these have been accepted, even promoted as moral even righteous action by one human culture or another throughout history. Having a certain amount of skepticism towards ones own cultural paradigms is I think healthy.”
“When you set that fire did you even think about the other people in the building?”
(Jeeze you set one little fire and that’s all anyone can talk about)
“I did. The fire I set was just large enough to look bad without actually being all that dangerous. I knew the fire department would be called as soon as I set foot outside the apartment/ After all they had my apartment wired with cameras and mics so it’s not like the fire was in anyway a surprise.”
“People could have been hurt. There is no excuse for that.”
Now I can’t help but feel pleased by his accusations and amused. After all you don’t go around calling mad people immoral and irresponsible. He is judging me by the measures of sanity, something he doesn’t do with any other patient here.
“I was fighting for my life after all, and the only people in the building at the time were those directly involved in the attempts to kill me. So I can’t say I wasted much time worrying about their health. But even so as I said they were warned, they watched me set the fire, they had access to the fire escape and the fire department had been called. So the danger even to them was minimal.”
“You put people’s lives at risk, there is no excuse for that.”
(Ohh dear someone is channeling Mrs. Bucket.)
“You ever had to fight for your life Andrew?”
“Well no, but even so I would never do that.”
“Thank you Monday morning quarterback, your opinion is duly noted.”
That tweaked his manhood a bit.
“You could have ended up in prison. You didn’t even stop to think of that.”
“Now that is an interesting question. Why is it do you suppose that I’m not in prison?”
A mirror held up to his assumptions left him a little stunned at the view.
“Arson is after all against the law and due to San Francisco’s rather incendiary history a crime that is normally treated with some degree of seriousness. I certainly left no doubt as to the nature of the fire. Hell I did everything but sign my name in lighter fluid. Nor can there be any doubt as to my guilt. I set the fire, I said I set the fire with the clear intent to cause damage to the place. Yet for all that I’m not in prison am I? I haven’t even been charged. Not arrested, not questioned, phhffft nothing. Odd don’t you think?
Ohh and don’t think for a minute that as a person of dubious mental balance I am immune from prosecution. Jeffery Dhalmer couldn’t get off on an insanity defense, and he ate people. And being a crazy person won’t keep you from being charged with a crime.
“Why am I here?” I committed arson and no charges? None? Not even a single cop dropping by with a question?”
“Now let’s take a look at what else I have said I have done. Prior to setting the fire I vandalized two apartments. Boccie had to have locks replaced on two doors. I dumped a couple a thousand gallons of water down on the apartment below me. Ohh and I don’t know the exact legal term for using caustic chemicals to gas your neighbors but I’m pretty sure it’s assault of some sort.
Either I did all those other things or I didn’t.
If I didn’t do those things that I claim to have done what then are you to believe? That basically for three months I was so lost in delusional psychosis that I sat in my closet completely unaware of my own actions?
The three months when I thought I was fighting for my life I was really doing nothing but having a long very bad dream? Yet so insensate of my actual actions I somehow still managed to rouse myself enough from this dream to keep myself feed and bathed? After all if I had not eaten or bathed in three months I would have been in far worse physical shape upon my arrival at the hospital then I was, would I not? So a person locked in a near catatonic delusional psychosis for three months, wakes one morning fixes a cup of tea, neatly packs a couple of suite cases then sets fire to her apartment.
If you believe that then you are certainly giving me credit for possessing a most singular madness.
Another possibility is that I set the fire, I said I set the fire but I am lying about everything else I claim to have done. If that were so what would be my motivation for it? There are people in the world who confess to crimes they haven’t done but it is usual practice for such people to confess to crimes that have actually been done. People who invent their own guilt seldom go to all the trouble of inventing the crime.
On the other hand lets say I actually did all those other things. Ok Andrew imagine you own a building and a tennet in that building quite suddenly and without reason or warning starts vandalizing your building. You have to have locks replaced, carpets replaced, a few thousand dollars worth of water damage. Yet for all of that, you never call the police? Not about any of that?
Why isn’t the dog barking my dear Watson?”
“I don’t understand why you didn’t ask for help.” He says with a school marms prim disapproval.
“Yess, well, I have to say that the police were not all that helpful.”
“No I mean a doctor.”
“A doctor? What did I need a doctor for? other than people trying to kill me I was perfectly healthy..”
He gives me the ‘you know perfectly well what I mean’ look.
“Ohh, you ment a shrink.”
“So he could give me some of those lovely pills?”
“Yes of course.”
I give myself the ‘I coulda hada v-8’ head slap.
“Of course why didn’t I think of that? Ohh yes I could see it now. I throw open my window and call out to the gang banger and crack heads all screaming death up to me and I yell out”
“Hey ya all cant shoot me today….I took a pill.”
I crack up. Just huge barrels of monkey laughter rolling over me. The absurdity of it all hitting me hard. Tears in my eyes I lower my head to the table and pound on it with my fist.
“I took a pill.” Ohh my ohh dear.
Andrew stiffens and walks away outraged English pride in every step.
Ohh dear he is upset with me. Then I think I really must stop this laughing or soon a kindly nurse , will, will, oh my god, give me a a pill.) And sure enough a small phillipina nurse clutching a clip board walks up and asks me if I’m alright.
I sit up straight hands in my lap, biting my tongue cause I must not laugh, I must not laugh. Cause if I laugh they will, will, ohh dear give me a pill.
End chapter 22
THE EVIL DR. CHIN
I am an evil snarky bitch. That being so, let me clear the air just a little. Despite my snarky comments about, well most everyone, most of the people working in the MHRF are very good people. They are doing a hard job with little support, no clear mandate, no clear objective, trying to care for people most people would just as soon never see at all. In short they care about the people in their care.
And then there is the evil Dr. Chin.
About three months after joining Nutters U, it was time for my check up. A nurse checks my blood pressure uses that ear-o-scope thing on me, due to the fact that I had stolen some throat swabs for q-tips, I still didn’t have any ear wax. Then I step on the scale.
I had gained fifty pounds in three months.
What The FUCK??!
Sure I knew I had been getting a bit fluffier but fifty pounds? In three months?
I had never in my life had to even think about my weight. I know, I know, really annoying of me but there you go. No wonder they don’t have any full length mirrors in the place.
“Oh dear.” Says the Nurse. “You’ve gained some weight. You should go on a diet.”
(Ok let me get this straight, you all feed me, have a locked gym, give me the meds that have me packing on the pounds like a gerbil facing the ice age. And Now I have to go on a diet? Like this is my fucking fault?)
Well that didn’t put me in the best of moods.
Time for my meeting with Dr. Chin. She is the Dr. in charge. Or so I gather. Ohh I’ve seen her around walking the halls from one office to another. She is a small ( I am in munchkin land, I am even taller than some of the male nurses from the Philippines) Chinese woman, the kind of woman who is thin because it makes her elbows sharper. I have never seen her stop to talk to a patient, never in the three months I’ve been there seen her smile. I saw her flash her teeth at someone once but I don’t think it was a smile.
I’ve seen the effect meeting with Dr. Chin has had on the other patients. They line up in front of her office, head down eyes lowered, hunched shoulder, looking for all the world as though there were a sign above her door “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.’. And danged if they don’t come out of her office looking for all the world as if that is exactly what they have done. Strange sort of therapy, where the patients leave thinking about suicide.
I sit facing her, the evil Dr. Chin, I am already not in the best of moods. She has the look of one who very much resents having to use her degree to be a cockroach wrangler. She glances at me then turns her attention to the far more interesting forms on the table in front of her.
She asks me the questions the form requires. In this we are perfectly matched in total lack of interest. I don’t care about the questions; She doesn’t care about the answers.
“If there is nothing else.”
I have been dismissed Dr. Chin has a few more people to ignore on her busy schedule
“Just this.” I hand her a few sheets of typed paper. “Please include this with my medical records.”
“What is this?” She reaches for the papers with nose wrinkling irritation, as though I had just tossed her my very snotty hankie.
“It’s the nice and accurate account of my delusion. The truth the whole truth and nothing but as they say.”
“I don’t care if it’s the truth or not. It doesn’t need to be in your medical records.”
“I see.” I say and I lean back in my chair smiling pleasantly.
I believe that it is pretty clear by now that I don’t believe that I am delusional. ( Which is of course not proof that I am not delusional as it is the very definition of delusional to believe that one is sane.) That’s not to say that I don’t have my charming little quirks.
One of those quirks is in the matter of violence. Violent action is something most people really have to work themselves up to. Blood pressure goes up respiration increases, they get all red in the face and inevitably there is yelling involved. Me? I can go from smiling pleasantly to ass kicking faster than my face can change expression. If I’m going to kick someone’s ass I don’t want them to know about it, till their picking their ass up off the floor. Or in this case Jaw.
The thought process goes something like this:
(There is a motion before the board, break this cunts jaw, yes or no?
We will now hear a report from the morality and ethics board. Is such an action warranted?
Bullies are to me what cobras are to the mongoose. All bullies offend my sense of right and proper, but not all bullies are equally offensive. Boccie was one type of bully and I know this will seem off to you but I considered him one of the lest personally offensive sort. A bad guy yes, a pointless annoying bug on the backside of humanities ass, but at least he never took an oath to be one of the good guys. A crooked cop is far more morally offensive then the Boccie type. They took an oath to uphold the law, to be one of the good guys. Lower in my estimation than the crooked cop is the bent Doctor.
A doctor swore an oath to put their patients first in their care. Not the law, which doesn’t bleed, not the insurance companies that do not suffer, not to the hospital administrators or board of directors that do not need.
Imagine a Doctor telling you ‘I don’t care if you have cancer or not I’m putting you on chemo.” Or “I don’t care if your gall bladder is working just fine I’m ripping that puppy out.”
“I don’t care.” Three words a Doctor has no right to speak to a patient.
It’s one thing to say that in your best professional opinion a particular diagnoses is correct and a certain course of treatment is called for. I may disagree with your conclusion, you may be wrong, but that’s not offensive. Heck everyone makes mistakes. But to not care if what your doing is hurting someone or not, yeh, your waaaay over the line on that one.
I have seen the effect this woman has had on her patients. She is hurting people. She is hurting the most vulnerable the most helpless people I can imagine. Hurting those she is supposed to be helping, and doing so from behind the safety of her medical degree.
Conclusion from the morality and ethics committee’; Breaking the cunt’s jaw is fully warranted. At least if she is sipping ensure through a straw for the next few weeks she will have fewer chances to hurt people.
Report from the feasibility study: I sit there smiling pleasantly, my mind busy measuring it all out like a complicated pool shot, the chairs we are sitting on, the table between us, the precise spot on her jaw to strike for best effect. Conclusion from the feasibility study. Doable to a high degree of certainty.
Finally we have the report from the long range goals committee. The long range goals committee reluctantly and with much regret comes to the conclusion that breaking the cunts jaw would be detrimental to long range goals and create too many possible undesirable complications. I would most defiantly end up with heavier meds under more watchful supervision
Sometimes you just have to pick your battles.
The account of my delusion was put in with my records as arguing with me was more trouble than stuffing a few pieces of paper into a file.
My attitude toward the drugs I was being given was the same as my attitude toward any other drug I’ve run across, curiosity. “Well now let’s see what this one does?”
Sometimes drugs do bad things.
The drugs they were giving me had turned me into a lard ass. Not only had I gained fifty pounds but I was always tired and I couldn’t sleep and I was constipated, (Which since I had gained fifty pounds lead my mind into uncomfortable areas of thought. ‘just how full of shit was I?)
When drugs do bad things stop taking them.
Up to now I’ve been taking my medications like a good girl. A history of easy compliance builds expectations of continued compliance. After my meeting with the evil Dr. Chin, I lined up for my meds like always and I spit them out in the toilet, though as a rule I don’t approve of spitting.
I had a major headache for a few days, cold turkey is never fun. But I after that I could sleep again and the weight began coming off. (fifty pounds it don’t come off as easy as it piled on)
A couple of days after my meeting with the evil Dr. Chin I was heading to the library. On the first floor there is a lovely inner courtyard, the best feature of the hospital in my opinion. It’s a nice little place to sit on the grass and listen to the breeze dance in the silvered leaves of a semi circle of young birch trees.
This morning I notice Merideth sitting on one of the benches in the courtyard. She looked a perfect picture of hunched shouldered misery. Merideth, is a retired school teacher origonaly from Norway and boy howdy does she look like she stepped directly out of some ole’ Viking legend, steel gray hair cut off sharp and practival at her jaw line a face handsome in its unforgiving planes. She has been crying.
I sit on the bench next to her.
“Hey you want some coffee? I just got this from the store, cream and sugar I hope you don’t mind.”
I hand her the warm cup of coffee. We sit in silence for a couple of minutes while the coffee does its work of calming the tide of tears.
“I just had a meeting with Dr.Chin.” She says.
“Ahh.” I say.
“She wouldn’t listen to me. She wouldn’t even look at this.” She holds up a file folder stuffed with paperwork and forms that she has been clutching like a drowning victim would clutch at a rope. I don’t know what all the forms and what not are but Merideth is a former school teacher so I know that what ever paperwork she has there it has all been filled out correctly with all the right signatures on all the right lines. As a former school teacher she has spent her life playing by the rules, people listened to her. That now none of that matters and no one will even look at her homework, is a huge blow to her sense of self.
“try not to take it personal. It’s not you, Dr, Chin doesn’t listen to anybody.”
(I hate Dr. Chin)
She takes a sip from her coffee and sighs.
“I like coming here, the birch trees remind me of home. I’m from Norway originally, there are lots of birch trees in Norway”
“Yeh I know. I’m from Maine, once upon a time. We have birch trees there too.” I pause for a moment.
“You know, the birch trees remind me of a funny story. Would you like to hear it?”
She gives me the suspicious squint eye but decides she might not mind listening to a little story.
“Well as I said I’m from Maine. In fact my people have been Maine before there was a Maine. They had been digging the rocky ground and planting potatoes back when Maine was still part of Mass.
Way back in the misty dims of past times a branch of the family broke off from it’s Maine roots and transplanted themselves in Kansas.
You know about Kansas?” I ask her.
“No trees there.” She says.
“Yes, exactly, no trees, all flat. How anyone could want to settle in a place so monotonous and dull I have no clue.” Merideth chuckles, we two women from the ice bound north lands have a shared sense of proper aesthetics.
“Anyway, one day around the time of the depression, a Kansas cousin decided to pay a visit to her Maine relatives.
My grandmother, much pleased by the visit went all out to show her long lost cousin all the best of the place. Day after day my grandmother took her cousin out, showing her one beautiful spot after another. But despite my grandmothers best efforts, day after day her cousin looked more and more unhappy. In fact she got this look pretty much permanently attaced to her face like she had been doing nothing the whole trip but sucking on sour pickles.
The last day of her visit came and my grandmother took her to the most beautiful spot she knew of for a picnic. It was a lovely rolling valley with the mountains blue shadows in the distance, a spring fed lake and at the end of the lak a stand of birch trees silver leaves shimmering in the breeze.
The cousin was not impressed. Finally she could take it no longer and she screwed up her face into her most sour pickle expression and points an accusing finger toward the birch trees and says.
‘What’s the matter with you people? Don’t you all have anything better to do then to go around painting your trees white?’
I concluded my little story and Merideth sat there with a stunned look on her face and than her face broke apart like ice calving off from a glacier and she laughed as only a Viking can, with thigh slapping joy. She goes wandering off sipping her coffee, she passes a birch tree and chuckles as she runs her hands over its white bark.
“Hey there Darla, good to see you. Haven’t seen you in a while and I was beginning to wonder if you had gone rabbit and jumped the fence.” I greet Darla with a merry smile as she shuffles into the Library. Darla used to work in city hall, a speech writer. She always looks like she is off on her way to the office, hair always perfectly primed, make up carefully applied (office neutral in rose tones), dressed in lady like office fashion with a string of pearls. Ok no pearls but she is the sort who should always be wearing a string of pearls.
Today she is in her pink bathrobe and hospital slippers and, she hasn’t brushed her hair.
“I’ve been in a coma.”
(Dear Abby? No. Emily Post? No. The MadHatters guide to hosting a tea party, index, ahh yes comma, you’re in a comma: no, that’s not it, The dormouse is in a comma: no, Guest, recovering from a comma: ahh yes there we go, Proper response, offer seat and refreshments. Tea and cucumber sandwiches are well thought of.)
“Would you like a doughnut?”
Darla takes the doughnut and settles down on the couch with a tired sigh.
“I thought we’re not supposed to have food in the library? “ She says in a dispirited voice without volume.
Rules are very important to Darla. She is a Good Girl. She always sits in the front row, raising her hand to every question. Her dog never once ate her homework. I had an Irish Wolfhound with a prodigious appetite.
“Ohh today is doughnut day. Everyone who takes a book has to have a doughnut today So you will have to take a book. Now coffee, your quite right we’re not supposed to have coffee at all.” I take a sip from my coffee and prop my feet up on the desk.
Darla’s arrival at the MHRF had been a very well ordered affair. She had very systematically liquidated her life. She had given away everything she owned, from furniture to pots and pans, then did the same to bank accounts. Then she had gone to the beach, stripped down and swam out for the sunset. The water was colder than she had expected. The whole process of drowning became a far more uncomfortable a process than she could whole heartedly embrace so she swam back to shore.
When she had told me her story I responded as only someone with a deeply compassionate soul could respond.
“Ok, OK, let me see if I got this right. You gave away all your stuff to your friends, your furniture, your antiques, jewelry, pots pans and down comforters then you start handing out checks to all your friends like your Ed McMahon on a bender. Not one of your friends ask you why? And after your swim for the sunset and your arrival here not one of those friends that you’ve given all this good shit too has dropped by to see how you’re doing?
No wonder you tried to commit suicide, your friends suck.”
She sits on the couch a lump of misery. She’s not even interested in the doughnut and it’s the good kind with powdered sugar.
“So.” I prompted, “You were in a comma?”
“She changed my medication. I told her it was making me feel bad. I couldn’t wake up. She didn’t care. I woke up in the hospital. Why did they have to wake me up? I just want to be dead.”
(I should have broken that cunts jaw)
“I tried drowning, but the water was too cold and I got scared.”
“Probably the best thing really. Drowning isn’t a particularly pleasant death.” I tell her. “Freezing to death I’ve heard is not too bad a way to go. Sure the process of getting that cold isn’t all that great but once you actually start freezing I understand you get all warm feeling and just drop off to sleep. Course freezing to death in San Francisco is a bit of a challenge.”
“I could never do that, I don’t like the cold.” Darla gives a lady like shudder.
“Personally I like the roman way of suicide. You invite your friends over for a big dinner party and you sit in a big tub of warm water slit your wrists and sit there bleeding to death, drinking wine and talking politics and philosophy with your friends.”
“I couldn’t do that. Cut myself, I’m afraid of knives and I don’t like blood. I just want to sleep and not wake up. If I could just take some pills and die in my sleep.”
“Unfortunately, most of the shit you take that can kill you upsets your stomach so much you end up drowning in a pool of your own vomit.” Darla shudders at the thought of such an unlady like ending.
“I’ve thought about jumping off a building.” She says.
“Sounds good. Splat,,, lights out. Unfortunately, falling isn’t as sure a death as one would think. You get one guy the trips over a crack in the sidewalk and in falling snaps his neck, another guy jumps out of an airplane his chute fails but he lands in a mud puddle in the middle of a corn field and just breaks a few ribs. Just imagine if you don’t die but just end up paralyzed, than there you are still alive and you can’t even move your arms. Talk about sucks to be you.
Jumping to your death now that reminds me of a funny story I read in the paper a while back. There was the homeless guy. He used to hang out near the tennis courts of nob hill reading poetry. He kept hearing voices, these voices kept telling him that he was chosen to deliver to the world a very important message from God. The Voices kept on telling him this but as to the exact message he was to deliver it was all ‘please stand by.’ The entire situation was becoming annoying so one day the man goes to the bridge.
And he tells his voices’ ‘ok here’s the deal. I’m going to jump off this bridge and if I live I will believe you, that I’m God’s messenger and I’ll just have to wait for the message. If I die, well I guess you all can just shut the hell up.
And with that he jumped off the bridge.
What happened? Did he live?” It’s amazing the power of a story to bring a person out of apathy.
“Yep. Just broke his ankle. I’ve always wanted to meet that guy. See if God has gotten around to giving him a message to deliver yet.’
“You think he really is God’s messenger?” Darla asks.
“Well as to that I cant say. I can say he certainly has better proof of God’s grace than Jerry Fallwell. Which gave me a wizzy cool idea. We take all the self proclaimed voices for the almighty and one by one we check them off the bridge. The ones that live we let them go on TV and talk about God till their blue in the face.”
Darla laughs, the heavy weight of misery lifts just a little. I give her a book to read as she heads off. A cool little story about an English guy who went on holiday paddling his dingy from the canals of Oxford to the Blue Danube in Budapest.
End chapter 23
GLOOM DISPAIR AND AGONY ON ME
It is a gray day, gray clouds covering the sun, there is that damp mist in the air, not enough to inconvenience a cigarette but heavier than dew. I am sitting in the smoking patio with a few other dedicated smokers. We are all sitting silently smoking staring out through the chain link fence into the gray mist.
“Hey you all ever watch that old TV show Hee Haw?” I ask.
“I wasn’t allowed to watch TV when I was growing up.” Says my roommate Mary Ann blowing a smoke ring as she speaks. She is very good at blowing smoke rings, a trick I’ve never mastered.
“Well that explains why you’re here.” I quip. “How about the rest of you?”
No one had.
“You didn’t miss much. I hated that show. I’m not a fan of country music and all that cutsie, fakie hay seed hillbilly shit works on my nerves like a dull dentist drill. My grandparents watched that show every week. There was one bit in that show that I liked, the gloom and despair song. Would you all like to hear it?”
No one objected.
So in my very best down home country twang I began to sing.
Gloom despair and misery on me. Deep dark depression excessive misery, If it weren’t for bad luck I’dd have no luck at all. Gloom despair and misery on me.”
I ran it through a couple more times.
“Ok now you all join in. A Onea and A Twoa..
And they did. The Gloom and despair song rang out. Everyone really got into it, grinning and rocking back and forth in their chairs. Until a helpful nurse looked in on us with a worried frown. Laughter makes the staff nervous. As soon as she popped her head in everyone dummied up. But after that from time to time I would hear the song being softly sung from patients through out the hospital.
End chapter 24
Do you even know what you’re doing?
“Do you even know what you’re doing? Charles demands in the high pitched outrage of a dedicated queen who has found his straight roommate putting his favorite angora sweater in the washing machine. I have always considered it a most unfortunate mismatch for overly bulky men to have high pitched girly voices.
Do I even know what I’m doing? I am sitting at a table in the activity room painting. My now months long campaign to sooth Rose’s twitterpatted nerves had succeeded somewhat. She still slyly edged any Barbies lying about out of my reach. Today I had actually been able to clear off a table for a painting project without inducing Rose to more than nervous knuckle chewing.
I had rescued a painting sized piece of plywood from the trash and had painted it thick wavy lavers of black paint. Then I even got Rose to allow me to use some of the blank wooden tiles she had in a big mayo jar in the supplies closet for my project. The tiles were a little larger then a scrabble tile, the tiles I was painting black, except for around the thin edge this I was paint a deep blood red. The idea was to glue the black tiles on the black board so when you look on it straight on all you see is black, approach it from an angle and you see the red edges in all that black. Just something to pass the time.
So I’m painting little tiles black when Diana walks over watching me curiously.
“What are you doing?” She asks.
I tell her describing the project.
“Can I help?”
I set her up with a paint brush, some paint and some tiles to paint. Before you know it I have two more assistants. Move over Andy Whorhol, and my assistants are actual mad people not just spoiled little rich brats looking for attention.
So there we all are sitting around the table painting little tiles black when I feel a large unfriendly bulk filling the air behind me. Charles is one of those annoying people who looks into the library door (never more than looking through the open door, Burt is the only staff member who enters the library.) only to tell me I can’t be drinking coffee in the library.
“Do you even know what you’re doing?” He demands again with lip pursed ill temper.
I glance over my shoulder at him and smile.
“Why yes, yes I do.” I turn back to my painting.
“Well?” He demands.
“Well what?” I flash him the wide eyed smile of the merry child and flash Carol the quirked eyebrow of shared mischief. She ducks her head to hide her surprised grin. A sly grin shared by my entire crew who are all caught between trying to be very small so the big scary man won’t see them, and giggling as they all catch on to my little bear baiting fun.
“Well, what are you doing?"
“Ooooh, well see we’re painting all these little wooden tiles black.” I hold up the tile I’m working on, giving him the wide eyed blinking innocence of the pig tailed five year old.
“I can see that.” He snaps. Everyone around the table is trying very hard to look very busy painting little tiles black.
“Ohh, well than.” I smile and shrug and turn back to my painting.
I feel his tongue chewing anger filling the air behind me.
“What’s is going to be when you’re done?” He finally asks me.
I turn back to him and pause for a moment before answering with one word.
He flushes red, purses his lips, huffs arms crossed trying to find some thing to vent his temper on. Failing to find even any fantasy reason for his ill temper he snarls and stomps off to the computer room.
“Why is he angry at you?” Diana whispers to me, “You weren’t doing anything wrong.”
“I have no idea. I never even go into the computer room. So far as I know I’ve never once pissed in his Wheaties.”
Everyone cracks up
We finished the painting project and it was interesting.
A couple of weeks later Anna, the nurse in charge of the occupational therapies, asks me if I could help her organize the thrift closet for the patients. It’s a room where donated clothing is available for the patients.
( A room of used clothes?)
Thrift stores and flea markets are a particular passion of mine. Organizing a room of donated clothes sounded like fun to me so off we went, Anna and I and Diana came along to help shift boxes.
The room was about the same size as my library closet, and it was a trash heap. Two over loaded and broken racks leaned against each other in weary surrender, a beaten down rack of miss matched shoes crouched in one corner all buried in boxes of used clothes that people have been apparently dumping in this room for a year.
Anna stands in the middle of the room and spreads her hands in a gesture of helplessness.
“I just have no idea where to begin.”
I look around the room and quickly made an assessment and made a mental plan for making the space work for its purpose.
“Ok than first lets clear the clothes off the broken racks, then I’ll see if I can fix them enough for use. There are too many clothes to lay it all out so I think the best thing would be to use these two racks, if I can fix them. We can pack away the seasonal clothes and put out a rotating selection of clothes the patients can ‘shop’ through. Once its set up we can go in once a day and put out new things and organize any new donations. That way the patients always having something new to look at.
The plan proposed and accepted I turned to the broken rack closest to the door.
“I’ll lift up the rack and you two can take the clothes off. Then I’ll see if I can fix it.”
“What do you think you're doing?”
From out on nowhere Charles appears and grabs the other end of the rack I am lifting up and yanks on it. I have the rack about half way up and the only thing keeping the thing and all the clothes from crashing back to the floor is me. I stumble forward and somehow manage to keep hold of the teetering rack.
Once second I am helping a nice occupational nurse organize some used clothing then, bang. This screaming queen is playing tug of war with me over a broken rack of donated clothes. My brain was taking a moment to catch up.
“Anna asked me to help her organize the clothes closet.” I gasp out as I manage to get my shoulder under the sagging rack.
“Well, not alone you’re not. Not without supervision you’re not.” He snaps out and danged if he didn’t give another great tug on the stupid rack that was at this point about to crush me.
I glanced over to Anna who was herself jaw dropped flummoxed and poor Diana would have fled from the room in terror if Charles had not been so completely blocking the only door.
“She’s not alone.” Anna had gotten over her mental???? “Diana is here and I am here to supervise. I asked her to help me.”
A look flashed across his face, you know I really think that until Anna spoke up he honestly hadn’t seen her or Diana. Considering that this was a small cube of a room with no exits, not seeing them took some real dedicated focus.
“Well,, you’re not in charge around here, you don’t tell people what to do.”
(I swear if he says ‘you’re not the boss of me’ I’m going to have to give him a wedgy)
“If you want to help fine.” He said as though he were extending a great favor toward me. “You can help me set this rack up over there.” And danged if he didn’t give the rack another tug. Everything is teetering, the rack is groaning in protest as are my weary shoulders.
Through gritted teeth I hissed out. “I was asked to help out here. I am in fact a vol-un-teer.” I pronounce the words very slowly as he clearly has just crash landed here from bizzaro world. “If I’m not wanted, I don’t have to be here.”
“Well I guess you don’t.” He snapped.
“Ok fine.” I say pleasantly, I smile and atlas shrugged.
Large men with very bad backs shouldn’t play tug of war I thought as I stepped over him and the fallen rack.
I left more puzzled than pissed. Why he was trying so hard to become my nemesis I had no idea. The real pity of it for him is that I just didn’t have enough interest in him to hold up my end of the conflict.
A bout half anhour later Anna finds me reading in the day room and asks me if I would come back and organize the closet.
“If you’re sure it’s ok?”
“There will be no trouble I promise.”
“Ok then sure.” I tuck away the book and follow Anna back to the closet.
“You handled that really well.” Anna sighs and bites her lips. “Thank you”
“Any idea whats got his panties all in a bunch?” I ask Anna.
She ducks her head to hide her smile and demurs answering. The staff/patient line you just don’t cross, I don’t press.
We get back to the closet.
“I’m sorry but if you don’t mind,, can I leave you here alone? I’m backed up on paperwork.. I know it’s a lot to ask.”
“No worries, it will take me a couple of days to get this all sorted out.” She gives me the key.
Pretty soon I had a couple of patients asking if they can help.
“Why sure.” I say and in no time at all I am setting up the racks and directing my crew in the packing and unpacking of boxes.
Three days later the clothes closet opened for business and the patients lined up for their chance to shop. Mad they may be but at least their well dressed.
End chapter 25
Librarians do more than dust books
“Are Cheetoes bad for you?”
Librarians are asked many unusual questions.
Tommy walks into the library clutching a little open bag of cheetoes to his emaciated chest. Tommy is an old testament prophet who dresses like an extra from the fiddler on the roof. Other than his conviction that bathing is an insult to God, he is a very sweet person. Rather like a severely OCD Christopher Robin. Due to the fact that the cafeteria offers neither locusts nor wild honey he pretty much lives on a diet of white rice and lettuce.
“Well I guess that Cheetoes aren’t exactly health food.” I venture cautiously.
“It has preservatives doesn’t it?” He asks.
“Yes it does.” A librarian must never lie.
“Then it’s bad for you.” He sighs sadly. “I shouldn’t eat them than.” His shoulders slump as he closes the little bag of cheetoes.
(Ahh hell, the guy eats almost nothing as it is and I have just removed a source of needed calories not to mention a small pleasure from his life)
“Hold on a sec. I thought you told me that you are going to live forever?” I ask him.
“Ohh Yes that’s true.” He tells me a sweet smile on his face. “I’m going to live forever and ever and never die.” He assures me in his lost little boy sing song voice.
“Well than I guess a little ol’ bag of Cheetoes wont hurt you none.”
“ohh yes that’s right.” He says, and goes wandering off happily munching his cheetoes.
Mad people are by in large intensely logical. It’s just logic base eight.
An election was coming up so of course I had to ask. One of the functions of a librarian is to be a pillar of support for democracy.
“Voting? I’m not sure you can vote from here.” I probably shouldn’t have started my inquires with Charles.
“Ohh of course I can. Insanity is no impediment to democracy, that’s one of it’s great beauties.”
So I turned to Burt with the question. And we started the mad house get out the vote drive. I helped patients puzzle out the absentee ballots. Biggest challenge was using the English version of the ballot to explain the Chinese version of the ballot to someone who only mostly understood English.
It was a mad house republican landslide. I felt that deep satisfaction one gets when something you always thought about the world gets confirmed as fact. I went for Ralph Nader, I felt he totally deserved the mad house vote.
Tax time and Andrew is out on the smoking patio grousing about American taxes. There is just something about America. Take an American plant him in any country and fifty years later that man is still talking acting and thinking like an American. Take someone from any other country plant them in America and before they have eaten their first cheese burger they are talking like a native.
“Yeh they can hit hard. But fortunately in the nursing field you can use all sorts of deductions and that helps.” I tell him as I light one of my camels.
“Yes deductions. You have to take continuing education courses right?”
“Well right there all kinds of deduction. The cost of the course, books and materials, food lodging even transportation, all that shits deductable. Why do you think Americans fight over the receipts for everything, some sort of national paper fetish?”
Librarians are often called upon for taxation information.
And so I ended up giving a few foreign nurses an informal talk/ Q & A on American taxes. I can handle helping other people fill out paperwork It’s just any official form with my name attached anywhere that shuts my brain down.
In the modern library some computer skills are called for and it helps if you can hook up the vcr.
Movie night. This is a special event. Rose has a new toy a ten thousand dollar projection system that apparently was purchased just so us poor mad people could watch Spiderman. I couldn’t work out the thought process behind spending only ten dollars a month for crayons but blowing ten thousand on a jumped up dvd player was just fine. But ok what ever, I wanted to see Spiderman (one of my favorite super heros, geek makes good)so I wasn’t going to bitch about priorities.
Unfortunately the new toy was of sufficient, size complexity not to mention the expense that it scared the crap out of Rose. She dithered she fluttered she popped pop corn, she made sure everyone had a seat. And she tried to start the movie. The movie played the first ten seconds, big music spiderman whooshes by on his web ….. and repeat,,,,,,,, and repeat. The first ten seconds of the movie kept playing and playing and playing. And Rose couldn’t make it stop, or move on from the first ten seconds.
Rose is fluttering and dithering about something awful.
“Hey Rose would you like me to see what I can do to fix it?” I ask.
The staff at the MHRF are people who are very smart about a lot of things, but they are all complete ninnies when it comes to hooking up vcrs or getting the karoke machine to run. I am not hugely mechanically inclined but I can hook up the vcrs and got the karoke machine running so any time there was something that needed a good kick I was called in.
“Ohh Hmm OOhhh ohh, hmm, It it cost ten thousand dollars you know. I , I, well, if it were broken. I’m responsible you see..” And she dithered and she fluttered and spiderman whooshes by. She wont let me fix it. She is terrified that I might break it. Or issue the norad launch codes for which she would be blamed.
Half an hour later, watching spiderman whoosh by and Rose flutter about had become dull so I wandered upstairs to read. An hour later I popped back down out of curiosity. The only thing that had changed was everyone was now out of pop corn and getting restless. Rose was practically in tears.
“I promise I wont break anything, I swear. Let me see what I can do.. or “ I look over at the restless audience of popcornless mad people. “I think they are going to eat you.”
She finaly relents and allows me to approach the ten thousand dollar toy. It looked like doc. Octopuses corpse with cables and what all tangling around the floor. I stepped gingerly over the cables toward the brain of the thing, a lap top. Oh for heavens sake is that all? I was totally expecting something much more monumentally challenging.
Rose Dithered, Rose fluttered. “Ohh please be careful.”
Three clicks of the mouse later spiderman finally landed on the roof top. (I should have made it look so much harder, maybe then I would have gotten real butter on my popcorn)
End chapter 26
Ladies don’t’ fight
“Have you ever had any instances of missing time?” Burt fishing for a UFO abduction? Surely not UFO abductions sooo 70’s. Satanic ritual in some clown themed day care, very 80’s but still a very popular item in some circles. ‘Course some evil clown waving his willy at me is just that sort of thing that would defiantly stick in my mind.
“Once, when I was ten.”
“I was ten. It was fall, the start of a new school year in a new school.
School bullies are nothing if not predictable. The first few weeks of school its all about establishing dominance and pecking order. And its about finding the victim or victims that give the most pleasurable tear filled surrender.
I had been watching these two boys make their rounds and I knew it would only be a matter of time before they got around to me.
So it was no surprise when their shadows blocked out the sun. I was sitting on a big tree stump with my back leaning against the school yard fence, reading.’
“You’re sitting in our spot.”
First thing a bully does, attempt to establish their ‘right’ of ownership over territory.
“It’s not ‘your’ spot. It’s a tree stump in the school yard. But, its plenty big enough, you want to sit down, I don’t mind sharing.
They didn’t want to share.
They smirked and said they were going to stomp me to the ground, and stuff dirt in my mouth.
I had seen them do this to others so it was a credible threat.
I remember sighing and carfuly setting the book aside. It was a library book and I didn’t want to damage it.
Then I was sitting in one of the little blue plastic chairs outside of the principal’s office. Like a cut in a movie. Scene one, school yard, scene two hallway outside of the principal’s office. There was no dizziness no disorientation like waking from a dream. I wasn’t scared or worried just puzzled.
(How did I get here?)
I remembered the two bullies and since I was now outside the principal’s office I concluded that there had been a fight. I did a quick check of myself and I seemed undamaged. Nothing bleeding, sore or swollen, my dress wasn’t torn or even dirty enough to cause my grandmother to scold.
I could hear the two boys yarping in the office, which meant I was the one in trouble here. They always take the bad kid in last.
Normally after a fight when you are sitting around waiting for the principle of the school to lay down the heavy weight of adult disapproval you would feel a bit upset over it all. I wasn’t upset, not worried, not even interested truth be told. I was resigned to tedium. Like I was sitting through some dumb TV show I had seen about a hundred times and would be forced to watch a hundred more.
Things were winding down in the office. The door opened.
(Now) I thought to myself (The two boys will come out and act all cool like they don’t care. Til the door closes then as they walk by me they will threaten to ‘get’ me after school.)
The two boys came out. If I had gotten out of the fight without a scratch the same could certainly not be said of the two boys. One had a black eye, the other a bloody nose, both had torn shirts and one appeared to have been crying.
(wow, I did that?) and I realy regretted not remembering the fight.
The door closed and the two boys sauntered by me hissing under their breath how they will get me after school. Of course threats are more effective when your not pinching your bloody nose and trying not to cry.
(They will come after me. Not today, not till next week I think, Tuesday probably maybe wensday. They will bring a few friends with them just to make things more fair)
(Now the door will open and the principle will say: “Miss Warren would you come in please)
The door opened and the Principle said “Miss Warren would you come in please.
It was strange but reality had become a book I had already read.
(now he will say “well Miss Warren what do you have to say for yourself?”)
“Well Miss Warren what do you have to say for yourself?” He said.
“I had been sitting with my back against the fence when the boys came up and said they were going to stomp on me and shove dirt in my mouth.” I paused not sure how to continue as I didn’t remember what had happened after that. “I stopped them from doing that,” Which seemed to be what had happened as far as I could tell.
“Girls don’t fight.” He said and frowned at me in stern disapproval.
“If someone hits them they do.” I said.
“Why didn’t you run away?”
“Because, as I said, my back was against the fence and they were in front of me. There was no place to run to.” Not that I would have run. Even as a child I considered running from bullies as an option to be taken only as a means to achieve a better fighting position. Running away only encourages bullies gives them the joy of the chase and gives them the idea that pushing people around is fun and easy which only makes it more likely that bullies will push other people around.
“Why didn’t you call for help?”
“Why would I do that when it wouldn’t do any good?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean those two boys beat up some kid just about every day. And no matter how loud the kid getting beat up yells, no ever stops those boys, no one comes to help. So since calling for help doesn’t bring help why would I do that?”
“Ladies don’t fight.” He said like it was the eleventh commandment then added with grim disapproval. “Only a low class kind of girl would even think to make a fist.”
Up until now I had been in a strange emotionless space. It was all a TV show I had seen before and just didn’t care about. But when he said that my emotions came back in a red flare.
(How dare he? How dare he? There he sits a full grown man telling a little girl she’s bad for not laying down and letting her ass get kicked? One of those boys is half again my weight let alone two older bigger boys, you can just bet if one of those boys laid so much as a finger on him, he’dd have something to say about it. A low class kind of girl because I’m not bleeding and broken? How dare he?) If I’dd been a grown up I would have slapped his face.
And then all the anger and outrage just, went away. And that strange quite in my head returned.
(What he thinks of you doesn’t really matter now does it?) And it really didn’t.
“I’dd rather be a low class kind of girl with a nice clean face, than a lady with two black eyes and a mouthful of dirt.”
He blushed and became very interested in straightening the papers on his desk.
“I’ll let you go with a warning this time.” He said as though imparting a favor. But don’t let it happen again.”
I gathered up my books and before I closed the office door behind me I said.
“If no one hits me it wont.”
The next week, Tuesday, the two boys did try to ‘get’ me after school. They had indeed brought friends with them to even out the odds. Three of them. I led them a merry chase. I had had a few days to ready the obstacle course.
After that I became a kind of school yard gun slinger. Every once in a while a boy wanting to move up in the pack would call me out. If any one was successful in bringing on my beat down their leadership in the pack would be assured. No one ever did. The boys responded by making getting your but kicked by me an initiation rite into their little group of puppy hooligans.
I just wanted to read my library books in peace. Which I would guess is pretty much the attitude of all gun slingers.
End chapter 27
HOPE, PARDOX AND REASON WENT INTO A BAR….
“How will you feel if people never believe you?” Burt asks me.
“People don’t believe me now do they?”
“Hmm well , no.” He leans back on the couch and crosses his legs, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
“Do I look like I am all that upset over people not believing me now?”
“Well, no I guess not.”
“Then why should tomorrow’s disbelief upset me more than today’s?”
“I don’t know I guess it shouldn’t but..”
He pauses unsure how to go on.
“Burt your question is bases on the premise of hope. That is I am hoping that people will believe me. That I am no existing in a state of hope and there for will feel upset or angry should such hope not become reality at some point in the future.
I have told you before that I do not hope but I don’t think that’s really gotten through to you. You know the story of Pandora?”
“Yes, Pandora and the box. Once upon a time the Gods were bored so they created men. The Men were happy, too happy. It was making the Gods cranky. Naturaly, happy people are dull sport and the Gods were bored. So the Gods decided it was time to make men unhappy. Ohh of course they didn’t do that directly ohh no. They love the set up so in the end they can sit back and say, ‘There now, see what you made me do?”
They created the worlds first dumb blond. Pandora, cute, sweet, curious and dumb as dirt. The Gods sent her into the world of men and they gave her a box to take care of. ‘Have fun Pandora ohh and by the way, don’t open the box.’.
Men were happy Pandora was happy, everyone was happy. But of course thoughts of the box kept tickling at her. Well of course it would, the Gods had created her to be curious. Finally she could take it no longer she had to know what was inside the box. ‘Just a peek, that’s all just a little peek.’ That’s what she told herself as she tiptoed over to the maddening box.
She opened the box and screamed in horror as wave after wave of demons flew out of the box. Plague, famine, war, anger, each more horrifying in visage than the last, black winged red eyed, scales and fangs and claws and whip like tails, nightmares that flew and slithered and crawled. She slammed the box closed. But it was too late the box was empty the horrors all escaped.
All but one.
“Let me out.” A small sweet voice called out from inside the box. “Let me out, Please let me out. I can help, I will help, please, please, let me out.”
Pandora creeps up to the box. The little voice keeps pleading with her keeps promising to help if only she will open the box and let him out.
She opens the box.
Out flew hope. Beautiful hope his every gossamer feather shinning with brilliant light. Hope gives Pandora a sweet little kiss and flies away.
So Burt, what do you suppose the ancient Greeks believed about hope?”
“Well it’s a good thing. Isn’t it? The Gods put all the evil demons in the box but also gave them hope so not all was lost.”
“Cultural filters are tricky things.”
“Yes we all have them. We grow up in a particular culture and that culture influences the way we view the world. The problem with cultural filter is that it sometimes makes understanding other cultures tricky. The biggest mistake people tend to make in viewing the past isn’t over the exotic aspects of a culture. These things we don’t have internal cultural maps for and we become more aware of our own cultural filters, are more able to step outside of our normal frame of reference.
The real trouble for people comes from the ordinary the everyday things. The things we have in our own culture that we see in the ancients. These things slip past our cultural filters. Its easy to assume that similar things in one culture are the same in the other. We assume that people are people and feel the same way about similar things. A rose is a rose as the play write says.
Hope is an excellent example of this.
Our culture is the most hope filled in all of human history. We argue about religion, about which god is the true god about whether there is a god. Ahh but hope, we have an almost completely universal view that hope is sweet desirable, needful, that to be happy one must have hope. When some horrible thing happens, breaking ones neck and becoming a quadriplegic to having your child kidnapped by a pedophile cannibal we are admonished by everyone we know, family , friends, stranger on the street; “Well you mustn’t loss hope”. As if hope were a protection from having the very worst thing from happening. Even in death a priest intones over our grave that we rest in the sure and certain hope of resurrection.
Given that, when we look back at the story of Pandora and the box we see the ending as kinda nice. Yeh the Gods sent us a big box of crap just cause they thought it would be amusing, but they also gave us hope sweet hope as some sort of prize in the bottom of the crap pile.
The Greeks, being a somewhat more cynical lot, the inventors of the cynic school of philosophy after all, had a slightly different view of the matter. To them hope was the final demon in the box sent to torment mankind. In some ways they considered hope the worst of the lot. The others were ugly and fearsome in their visage, you see them coming a mile off and all good sense says run the other way. Ahh but hope is beautiful and hope is sweet, hope lures you in. You lean on hope, cling to hope, depend on it and then it leaves.
Hope, it doesn’t prevent any bad thing from happening. Living in hope, doesn’t bring good things into your life. The only thing hope does is leave you. And in it’s leaving you suffer, you suffer not only the pain of lifes ill’s but you suffer the loss of hope as well. You even feel cheated. You hoped and thought that your faith in hope would protect you. You believed that your faith in hope would protect you, you would be rewarded by your determination to hold on to hope no matter what.
If the Greeks cursed Pandora for opening the box in the first place, it was beyond redemption to be so fooled twice.
For the Greeks hope was a false promise at best to be indulged like story teller over dinner or a dream at night. For us, well it’s practically un-American to be a cynic.
My grandmother was a great believer in the power of positive thinking. My cynic philosophy already well established before I had collected by first tooth fairy quarter, drove my grandmother to distraction. One night before bed she told me a little story a parable to instruct the peculiar bent of my philiosophy.
The story of Negative Nancy and positive Polly.
Once upon a time there lived two sisters, Negative Nancy and Positive Polly. Each sister possessing personalities of perfect alignment with their names.
Christmass was coming and the two sisters were united with a single desire, they wanted a pony. In the weeks leading up to Christmas they did everything they could to insure that their parents were aware of their desire for a pony. They begged, whined, sang songs about ponies, left books about ponies on the kitchen table next to the plate of cinnamon toast they had made for their parents. They did all their chores without complaint and when the two sisters argued they did so very, very quietly. For a pony they would pretend to get along.
Christmas finally arrived and before the dawn the two sisters jumped out of bed and ran down to the Christmas tree.
There was no pony. Instead they found nothing under the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree but a big pile of pony poo.
Confronted by this all too fragrant evidence of parental insanity Negative Nancy begins to cry.
Positive Polly claps her hand and squeals in delight then runs to the pile of pony poo and digs in with both hands.
“What the hell are you doing?” ((Mind you my grandmother most certainly did not say that line when she first told the story to me)) Demands Negative Nancy. Since there was no pony Negative Nancy no long felt any need to pretend to get along.
Positive Polly pauses in her digging and grins up at her sister and says. “With all this poo there has to be a pony in here somewhere.”
My grandmother concluded the story and waitied for the parable to light the dark corners of my soul.
A girl covered in shit grinning from ear to ear was an image my grandmother thought of as perfectly illustrative to the point of the compelling value of positive thinking as a life'.
I was horrified.
I looked at my grandmother and said. “Well now I tell you what, come Christmas dinner, you get to sit next to Positive Polly.”
I prefer to deal with the world as it is not as I hope it to be. At least that way I don’t have to sit next to the girl with the shit eating grin.
“I guess your right I don’t understand. You say you don’t hope but aren’t you trying to convince me that, hmm, the events that brought you here happened and that your not delusional? Trying to get me to help you? To convince others? Isn’t that hope?” Burt asks.
“If that were what I was trying to do it would be hope. But nothing of that is true. I am not trying to convince you that I’m not delusional and I definitely am not trying to get you to, help, me.”
“You sound disappointed.”
“Not disappointed but confused. Isn’t that what we’ve been talking about?”
“It’s what you have been talking about. I will admit when we first started talking I was attempting to convince you of if not my sanity than my rationality. After all its rather difficult to have an intelligent discussion with someone who thinks you completely mad.
But as to that, the point of belief has long since past. Ohh you give yourself wiggle room, in that you think I have been mistaken on some things, connected the dots incorrectly here and there. But you don’t think me delusional.”
“What makes you say that?”
“A small bit of advice Burt. Don’t ever take up the game of poker. You are basically a very honest person. So much so anytime you say something you don’t believe in your heart is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, you react to it very strongly. You cross your legs, shift back on the couch, drop your eyes and tilt your chin away, you lift your clip board up from your lap and lip your lips. Hell Burt you do everything but jump up and slap yourself in the face whenever you say anything you don’t completely believe in. I bet you never got a single cookie out of your mom’s cookie jar without her knowing allll about it.”
Poor Burt looks very uncomfortable. Well he’s just found out he’s been sitting there basically naked.
“If I did believe you,” He pauses and sighs, “What could I do?”
“Do? Well I don’t know Burt. I suppose you could speak up. You could go on record as saying what you believe to be true. That you a health care professional believes that a patient in your care is being, at the very least incorrectly medicated.”
“You overestimate my power. That wouldn’t do anything.”
“No Burt I really don’t. You are confusing what you can do with what you can accomplish. The only thing we have any control over in life is what we do. As to what we accomplish.” I shrug. “That is something we can never really know.”
“As it happens Burt, I completely agree with you. It doesn’t matter what ever you say, or don’t say. It doesn’t matter what you do, or don’t do. You won’t accomplish anything. Nothing you do or don’t do will help me in anyway, or for that matter hurt me. I will go even further and project that the most direct results of you speaking up would all be hard and unpleasant complications to your life. Your peers will be unhappy, your bosses will write you up, heck you could even lose your job. You start believing the inmates of a nut house and I can just about guarantee that no one will be happy with you.”
“Then why do you want me to say anything?”
“ I didn’t say I wanted you to speak up. You asked me what you could do. And you could speak up, you could speak the truth about what you believe. You could also go fishing. Fishing is fun. I like fishing, very relaxing.”
“But if speaking up won’t accomplish anything why do you want me to do it?”
“Again Burt I didn’t say I wanted you to speak about what you believe to be true. However as a philosophical question. Is speaking the truth something one should do only if doing so would result in predictable positive outcomes for you? Is speaking the truth a thing one shouldn’t do if doing so would result in predictable negative outcomes for you?
Take me out of the equation entirely. Be assured that as far as I am concerned, speak, don’t speak, do, don’t do. It won’t help me, it won’t hurt me, it won’t as far as my life goes, have any impact. It won’t change anything.
Burt you’re in the helping field. That is a very large part of your own view of yourself. You help people or at the very least try to. So it is natural for you to look at your actions as to how those actions relate to others. How an action of yours helps people. You look at me as the damsel in distress and all your white knight instincts want to come to my rescue. Sweet really but as nothing I have done am doing or will do is based on hope neither is it based on rescue. I am not looking for a Palladian to take up my cause. I don’t need a white knight. Be assured Burt I am alright, I will be alright and what is going to happen si going to happen and nothing you do or don’t do is going to change anything for me. Look at your actions not in how they relate to me but how they relate to you.”
“But you said my speaking up would have negative results for me.”
“Yes most likely it would. Almost certainly it would. Then on the other hand not speaking the truth of what you believe to be the truth also carries a cost.. That’s the way of things, every choice has its price. If I’m trying to get to get you to do anything Burt its to examine what your choices are and their costs.”
“I don’t understand what you mean?”
“To thine own self be true. For if your not true to yourself you will be false to everyone.”
“What do you mean?”
“Our actions are a statement of our values. No matter what we may say, its what we do that is the true testament of what we value.”
“What do you value Burt?
“What do you fear Burt?”
“Are your actions based on your values or on your fears? If all choices were equally free of all consequence would your choice of action be any different? “
“You’re over simplifying things.” He sighs tiredly. You tend to lay everything out so black and white, its all one thing or the other.”
“Is there no room for compromise in my philosophy?” I laugh.
“Yes exactly.” He says.
“I believe in compromise, I really do. What I don’t believe in is the idea that compromise is possible or even desirable is every situation.
There is a popular myth in our culture that there is a win win solution to every problem Compromise is seen as a goal not a tool and that I object to. You want to talk about what the tax rate should be, that is a compromise able situation and best so. In that situation you have people talking about basically the same thing with differing ideas on the proper means and methods.
On the other hand for example; Boccie wanted me dead, I did not desire my own murder. What compromise could be achieved in such a situation? Perhaps you could kill me just a little bit? Or I could offer to have a hand cut off instead of full on murder?
There are ideas that are anti ethical to each other, like matter and anti matter they can not compromise together. One plus one equals two, one plus one equals not two, any compromise between those two statements and you have one plus one equals not two.
Outside of the realms of murder and mathematics let us visit the ideas of moral compromises and the resulting costs and consequences. I can think of no better example than the founding words of our nation. All men are created equal endowed by their creator with the rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The very man that penned those words owned slaves. Less than a hundred years later this country had the bloodiest war in all our history to date as a direct result of trying to hold together two opposing moral anti ethical values.
As soon as those words were on paper began the attempts to fit the institution of slavery into the idea of universal equality. An interesting thing, every justification for hypocrisy is in its self hypocritical to its own argument. There is no way to argue a moral paradox without using paradoxical thinking.”
“I’m not sure what you mean by that.” He says.
“I know, it’s a difficult concept. One plus one equals two; one plus one equals not two; To try to prove that both statements are true at some point you are going to have to prove that one plus one equals not two and if one plus one equals not two than one plus one equals two is false, but then you have to argue that one plus one equals two than proving that one plus one equals not two is false. There is no way to prove an illogical paradox mathematically or morally without using illogical paradox as proof. You can not logically prove an illogical statement.
Let me illustrate, In order to prove that the ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery was morally consistent with the founding statement that all men were created equal several arguments were put forward.
One was the biblical argument. Slavery of the Negro was justified because they were descended from Cain or the son of Noah, they and their descendants were cursed by God for their sins to be slaves.
Well than if that is true than the statement that all men are created equal is false, for God created some to be unequal. This is one example of what I mean. The only way to argue paradox is to use paradox as proof.
Another popular argument was the :’They are better off’, line of reasoning. Its ok to make them slaves because we saved their souls from paganism and their lives sucked so bad in Africa slavery in America is really doing them a favor, and the Africans enslave other Africans so its ok that we do to.
This is argument by misdirection. The founding statement of all men are created equal is not even brought up. Instead it justifies slavery on the grounds of kindness which in the end as a religious argument boils down to ; God created all men equal with rights to life liberty and all that,, and boy is he a big ole’ meany.
There was the attempt to make the argument that the Negro isn’t human and there fore not covered by the All men are created equal thing.
“Yeh and those colonial farmers wasted soo much time trying to breed sheep with horses. Religiously speaking in the bible it is stated outright that God gave man and only man language. Funny but it was just by such argument that Eve was tempted by the snake. ‘See,’ says the snake, ‘God said that only you people can talk but here I am a lowly snake chatting away a mile a minute. I guess that makes God a big fat liar now don’t it?’ Which is a statement every slave owner pretty much agreed with.
One of the most common way people deal with moral paradox is paralysis. Presented with two opposing anti-ethical values the mind goes passive. People in those situations tend to default to outside authority. The ‘I was only following order defense.
You or course know about the Milgram study?”
The Milgram study?”
Sanley Milgram, Yale university professor in the early 1960’s found himself thinking about the Nuremburg trials and how many of the people accused of heinous crimes against humanity used the ‘I was only following orders’, defense.
He set up an experiment to test if ordinary people would do bad things if they were told to by someone in authority.
He recruited ordinary people to participate in an experiment of using ‘negative reinforcement in learning’. He paid actors to play the part of the learners in the experiment. In this experiment the ‘teacher’ (that was the ordinary joe duped into being Dr. Milgrms straight man) was to ask the ‘learner’ (paid actor) questions, for every question the learner got wrong the teacher was to administer an electric shock. With every wrong answer the shocks were to increase in power and pain, up to the strongest shock of 45o volts. The actor was to play the part of one in extreme pain, begging and pleading not to be shocked again. They would even pretend to either faint, have convulsions even die.
Milgram thought that only the true sadist would go all the way. He estimated about 2 to 5 percent of the people in his study would go to the maximum presumably fatal shock. He thought most would stop and refuse to go on past the point of giving serious pain to another person who had never done anything to them/
What he found was that over two thirds of the people in his study went all the way to the end with hardly a quibble. The study has been repeated more than a few times over the years with the same result. All it takes to turn an ordinary person into a killer is a guy in a lab coat with a clip board saying do it.
Personally I would love to see a follow up study where they give mild electric shocks to people every time they refuse to zap the other guy or don’t zap he enough. After all in the real world when ever you tell the guys with the clip boards no bad things tend to happen to you. If they did that I bet compliance would be over ninety percent.
What I find most interesting was that the people in the study who told the guys with the clip boards to stuff it I’m not doing this’, were the very people Milgram thought would be most likely to administer the maximum voltage, people with criminal records, public drunkenness, petty theft, breaking and entering, assault that sort of thing. Milgram found this part of his study so outside his expectations he almost doesn’t mention the people who said no at all. Why he found it so surprising that people with a history of bucking authority would tell his lab coated pranksters to get stuffed it’s hard to say.
So anyway taking a wild stab in the dark, I would say your own feelings of powerlessness of paralysis stem from your own internal unresolved moral paradox.”
“The first philosophical principle of the medical profession is ‘First, do no harm’ and than there is that bit about putting the needs of your patients before all else and administer no medication that is unneeded and or not beneficial.’
If you believe in your best professional opinion that I am not delusional, not psychotic, than the fact that I am being given medication that is not needed and in fact carries with it several very unhealthy side effects and the added possibility of addiction, is in direct violation of Your first principals.”
“Even if that were true, there is nothing I could do about it.” He sighs heavily and shifts back on the couch, “I have no power, I am completely impotent in this situation.”
“You know Burt I do believe that, that is the first time a man has ever said that to me.” (Freudians, the penis always has to come in there somewhere)
“You keep repeating the point of your own powerlessness to effect my situation when I have already repeatedly conceded that point. What do I have to do? Beat you over the head with a copy of psychology today?”
The question you should be asking is, “Why are you powerless?” All that time, money and effort you put into getting your education so your opinion would have some weight in the world and here you sit in a windowless closet confessing to a mad woman that you don’t even have the constitutionally guaranteed right to speak.”
“It isn’t that simple.”
“I have found that people most often say ‘It isn’t that simple.” When it is that simple and they simply don’t want to deal with it.”
“Paranoid delusions, a diagnosis of more than moderate severity, based on zero hard evidentiary fact. There is no blood test, no brain scan, no abnormality or urine or stool to examine, no flawed gene to test for. As in so much of psychiatry what you have is opinion. Not your opinion of course, you only have the right to repeat the opinions given to you by others. Your opinion not only doesn’t matter in the slightest you don’t even dare speak your own opinion.
Even the supreme court has a mechanism for dissenting opinions. Personally I find any system that demands such uniformity of opinion to be highly suspect.”
“I know why you’re really here Burt. I know why you started our little chats. You were the one elected to bell Schrodgier’s cat.” Before he can ask me who Schrogier is and what on earth cats and bells have to do with anything I hurry on. “ From the moment I arrived here I have been the contentious focal point for more than a few staff meetings, have I not?”
He blushes and crosses his legs. I swear I have never met a more naked man.
“It’s like that song in sesame street ‘One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong.” I sing the familiar tune.
I am the pebble in your shoes, the square peg in the round hole. You are not the only one who feels trapped and powerless are you? That pretty much describes the feelings of everyone at the staff meetings in regards to me does it not? I am a problem you all can neither solve nor get rid of.
There is one path open to you, one solution to your problem. You all need me to agree with my insanity. Or at least say I do. The first step to sanity being ones capacity for self hypocrisy.”
“What do you mean? I’ve never asked you to lie.”
“No you haven’t, and I am quite sure the fact that you have spent so much time talking to me yet have not come one step closer to your goal has been the cause of more than one or two uncomfortable comments at your staff meetings.”
Poor man is twisting around on the couch like a virgin on prom night. ((My date for the prom was as it turned out gay so all my twisting was for naught.))
“Let me lay it out for you. In the normal course of things a patient as ‘high functioning’ and emotionally stable as myself would be moved out of your care into a halfway house or some other transitional situation. There are a lot of crazy people in the world and I guess the waiting list for beds here are your little nutters club med is about a mile long .
However you all have a problem, I am not just a crazy person, I am a danger to self and others crazy person. I am a paranoid delusional crazy person who has stated quite clearly that if I perceive myself to be attacked I will defend my life with any and all means necessary. While my sanity is a matter of some debate, you all have incendiary proof that I mean what I say.
You all want me gone. You all need me gone. However you can’t get rid of me because no one wants a paranoid delusional pyromaniac as an indigent border.
I take my red bic lighter out of my pants pocket and lay it on the table.
“In order to shave my legs I have to ask for a razor, sign for it and return it after my shower. You don’t permit your patients to have q tips, yet no one has ever asked to confiscate my lighter. When I light my cigarettes I get the obligatory health lectures about the dangers of smoking but no one ever tells me I shouldn’t be playing with matches.
You are allowing a paranoid delusional pyromaniac to run around unsupervised with a lighter in her pocket. What is that? Are you that careless? Or are you hoping that by such means a resolution to your dilemma might be found?
Realistically a person armed only with a lighter would have a very hard time creating a fire in this building that would be anything but slightly annoying. But if I were to go all pyo on you then you could move me to a more secure facility, one used to dealing with violently anti social mad people. On the other hand, every day I have a lighter but use it for nothing more socially obnoxious than adding second hand smoke to the environment, you hope to build a case for a single instance of a psychotic break not a life long addiction to the pretty pretty colors of the flickering flame and thus be able to move me on to a less secure facility, like a half way house.
The problem is that my not setting a trash can on fire isn’t enough. In order to make a case for a single instance of psychosis the patient must accept that they are, or at least have been psychotic. Otherwise what you have is a person outside of a specific controlled environment is A; Very likely to be medically noncompliant and B’ a person who in a more open more uncontrolled environment may run into a situation that she perceives to be threatening and…..
This being the situation, at one of your staff meetings a while back is was decided that the thing to do was to try the ‘talking cure’, You volunteered for the assignment. A case of curiosity once more trumping wisdom/
Such a nice arrangement of paradoxical forces creating a perfect balance of bureaucratic gridlock that in effect leaves the mad woman as the only one who has the power to change the balance.
What if this were not by accident but by design? Not Alice but the Chesiere Cat, not lost little Dorothy but the sly hidden hand of the Wizard OZ , not the victim of caprice fate but it’s most exacting architect.”
“I don’t understand.”
“CYA Burt, CYA, Check Your Assumptions.
Why am I here Burt? What am I doing? If I am not as you assume trying to get you to ‘help’ me what am I doing? Really Burt, what do you think I have in mind here? That I set a fire, go to a mad house, where I will convince a crusading young doctor of the righteousness of my cause and then the two of us team up with an ambitious cub reporter and one pullieter prize later I end up on the cover of people magazine, Boccie does the perp walk and Kevin Newsom himself is my escort to the black and white ball?
Come now, how delusional do you think I am?”
Burt laughs self consciously, he finds jokes about my insanity uncomfortable.
“Think of the fire I set not as an act of desperation but one of deliberation.”
“I understand how afraid you must have been when you set the fire.”
I roll my eyes and let out a tea pot hiss, ( I tell him to check his assumptions and there he goes,,,,,men.)
“I wish you would quit doing that. It is after all a thing you are warned against in your won professional texts not to mention it’s also really annoying.”
“Projecting presumed emotional states onto your patients.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Fear Burt, you keep using the word. You keep telling me I was afraid, that I am afraid or heaven help me that I will be afraid. Yet Burt think, exactly how many times have you heard me use the word fear to describe my emotional state, past present or future?”
He gets that look, the ‘oh, oh, pop quiz and I didn’t study’ look, then his face lights up with the ‘aha got ya’ look.
“Well you said that you set the fire in order to come here because you were afraid you would be killed.” He said.
“No Burt, that is not what I said.” I snap at him. I shouldn’t be so annoyed with him it is human nature after all, people by in large don’t really hear what you actually say, they hear what they think you will say. But Burt did go to college in order to be trained in the art of listening so my standards with him are somewhat higher.
“What I said and have said repeatedly is that I set the fire in order to be sent here because I didn’t want to be killed.”
“Isn’t that the same thing?”
“I don’t know what dictionary you have been using but no they are not the same. I think I do understand your conceptual difficulty here. Look at it this way. Lets say you and I go out for a walk to the local coffee shop for an over priced latte, and lets say that on that day it was raining, coming down just buckets. In that situation I might ask you for an umbrella.
Now Burt, just because I don’t want to get wet, it doesn’t therefore mean that I am afraid of the rain”
I’m not afraid of death. Everyone dies sooner or later. I am going to die, you are going to die, everyone dies, it’s just a fact of life. However just because I’m going to die doesn’t mean I have any desire to be murdered by a bunch of drug dealing half wits.”
“Your not feeling suicidal are you?” He askes.
“Oh for heavens sake Burt. First you think I am afraid of death and the next minute you would have me afraid of life. How ever do I manage to get out of bed in the morning. Perhaps I am also afraid of beds? Or sleep? Perhaps I sit in a chair because I fear couches?”
“Setting the fire was just such an extreme action.” He says.
“Well people were trying to kill me. Every action creates an equal but opposite reaction.”
“Thinking that people are trying to kill you, well it seems a situation in which you would feel afraid. You never felt afraid?”
“I’m not saying that. I am human after all. Just that listening to you fear is not only my primary emotion but apparently the only emotion I am capable of feeling as it’s the only emotion you ever mention in connection to me. I must confess that I always imagined myself as a slightly more emotionally complex creature than that.
Did I ever feel fear? Ohh yes, like in that first moment when I finally put it all together and knew just how big a shit storm was barreling down on me. Yes I felt fear, like a bolt of lightning in the night, searing bright sharp burning fire in every nerve. Bur fear for me is like lightning, brief and passing, it’s just not an emotion I can hang to for any length of time. Now pissed? I can be pissed off for years.”
If I were to attribute any single emotional motivator for my actions I would have to say anger.”
“Anger?” He says surprised.
“Yes, come on now Burt if a bunch of useless wingnuts were to try and kill you, wouldn’t that piss you off a little bit?”
“I guess so but I would think I would feel very afraid also.”
I also laughed quite a bit.”
“Laughed? You thought people trying to kill you funny?” He asked incredulously.
“I thought those people trying to kill me funny. Once a person goes past a certain point of stupid I have a very hard time taking them at all seriously. Honestly they really did make it easy to laugh, the entire situation was and is farcical.
Humor is also a well known copping mechanism is situations of high stress. You should spend some time talking to combat vets. Or watch a couple of episodes of MASH.
‘I am curious, thinking that people are trying to kill you, why you didn’t, hmm,,,,.” He pauses, not sure how to safely go on. After all asking a potentially psycho patient why she didn’t do something even more violent than setting a fire is dangerous ground. Like bringing it up could incite me to such action.
“Why didn’t I do all Charles Bronson on their asses? Get myself a sawed off shot gun, kick in the door blasting away?”
“Umm, yes, I guess so.”
“Well Burt, there’s a reason his movies are called death wish.”
“From the beginning I had three main goals.
• Get out alive
• Get out with as few irritating complications to my life as possible
• And thirdly well I do have to admit a desire for payback. But this whole eye for an eye thing,, so not my style. Too simple minded.
So keeping my three goals in mind let us examine the likely results of a Charles Bronson course of action.
First off the choice of targets is more than somewhat problematic. Who should I kill? How many would I have to kill in order to stop the attempts on my life? The crack heads screaming under my windows? There are over a half dozen of those. The gang bangers in their cars honking and howling for my ugly demise, another half dozen. The computer geek assassin and his fish wife upstairs, then of course Allen and Boccie.
Even if I took out all those people there is no guarantee I got everyone involved in the attempts on my life. Is that man Ripender the owner of the copy shop involved? I don’t know but it’s possible. The Yemenis owner of the coffee shop may be involved, shipping drugs in his coffee but I don’t know. I don’t know if Boccie is the top guy, he seems more the middle management type to me, but I don’t know.
Hell I’ve never even seen an episode of the Sopranos or watched any of the Godfather movies. What do I know about the mafia? Not a dammed thing. I can’t even say for sure that Boccie is Mafia. He is of Italian decent and is involved in the illegal drug trade and he certainly had a mob of people going after me. But was it all a mob or The Mob? I am almost certain that not every Italian American Son Of A Bitch is Mafia.
So if I did kill all those people there is no certainty that it would secure my life. All most certainly it wouldn’t. All those people have family and friends, business associates. If they are willing to shell out a hundred thousand bucks and all those man hours and effort to get rid of one skinny little wise ass, how much more determined would they be to get one who has become actively dangerous?
So the Charles Bronson option would most likely not result in my making my first goal, getting out alive. Now as to my second goal; getting out with as few complications as possible, which if I don’t meet my first goal the second is just pointless.
As I already explained, I would most likely have to off over a dozen people. I knida that to think that a body count like that would attract some sort of official attention….Even in San Francisco. The best I could hope for would be to spend the rest of my life on the run from both sides of the law.
While the Charles Bronson course of action may met my desire for retribution, I don’t know maybe killing the bastards would be emotionally satisfying in the short term, it wouldn’t meet my desire for a life without irritating complications.”
“You don’t consider this. Being here, an irritating complication?” He asks me.
“Well yes, but as the constipated man says; ‘This too shall pass.” As annoying as this current situation is it is in the end one that will met my two primary goals and gives me my best chance of meeting my third goal.”
“Your third goal? You intend retribution?” He looks worried and I understand the reason, the threat of violence hangs a heavy weight in his imagination.
My imagination is otherwise engaged.
“I do, but let me be clear. I do not intend any sort of violence now or at any time in the future. I use violence for defense. If I am attacked I will use any and all means possible of protect my life and limb. However violent retribution? Unimaginative and as I have already explained would not met my first two goals.”
“Then how do you intend to meet your third goal?”
“The same way I have met my first two. By having a really great sense of humor.”
End chapter 28
THE ART OF POLITICS
And so the days past. Sun rises, sun sets, the world turns, I read some books, made some bead jewelry, painted a little, puttered about the library and the clothes closet and I waited. Great thing about time, sooner or later something almost always happens.
And something happened.
In a time of budget cuts and health care cost cutting, mad people are easy targets. We don’t see the mad, we try very very hard not to see them. We try very very hard not to think about them. It is the wonderful American conceit that ignored people will politely and properly disappear.
So the politicians decided that closing the hospital would save the city some money. It is a strange genius of our culture that spending money to care for the weak and helpless becomes morally the same as spending money to buy a spiffy new hat.
Back before I was officially mad, ( I do take a certain pride in that I have graduated from amateur madness to officially recognized professional) I enjoyed walking the early dawn streets of San Francisco. It is a city made for the dawn. At dawn it is all soft mists and hues of pink pearl a moment of pause a calming intake of breath, the change of tides, the night people curling into their beds, the day people fixing their coffee. Walking down the middle of the street is a homeless person in the orange vest of community service. In order to get the great sum of some 200 to 400 hundred a month in aid they must perform such service as picking up trash. And there is the result, walking down the middle of the street dragging his broken trash bag littering a trail of used condoms and cigarettes behind him, and he is scratching his half naked hairy ass.
The conservative view is that somehow if we were just crappier to him his life would become so bad he would learn better. Teach a man to fish not feed a man a fish ( though as I recall Jesus handed out loaves and fishes not fishing poles). Aid creates dependency goes the thinking ( do wheelchairs create broken legs I wonder?) so you force them to work for everything you ‘give’ them.
Look at that man weaving his way down the middle of the street dragging his broken trash bag and ask yourself this; How much crappier do I have to make his life in order to make him behave? And do I really want to spend any of my time in life thinking up ways to make crappy lives crappier?
My philosophy here is this; The Fucked Up are Always With Us.
It seems to me as a purely practical matter that GIVING Fucked UP people food and shelter at a minimum keeps them from cluttering up the streets and getting in the way of societies more useful and attractive members.
One of the union reps is in the activity room chatting on his cell phone about the hospital closure. The call ends and he snaps the phone shut.
“You trying to stop this hospital from closing? I ask him.
“Yes.” He says. The sort of yes that says yes, I want to keep the tide from coming in.
“I can tell you how to do that.” I give him a sly cynical smile. It’s the smile of one who knows perfectly well nothing she says will be thought of as anything but the ramblings of a mad woman.
“Ohh yes?” The polite humor the mad person tones.
“You have to get the closure of the hospital off the back pages, the pity the mad letters to the editor, pointless whining. You need to get this right up in their faces on the front page of the paper.”
“And how would you do that?”
(and for my next trick I explain how to take candy from a baby.)
“Ohh that’s easy. Do a reverse strike.”
“A reverse strike?”
“Yes. Look they want the hospital closed. Don’t do it. Don’t transfer the patients out, don’t leave your jobs. Hell keep all the doctors and nurses in the hospital and barricade the doors. Make them send in the cops to drag the doctors away from their patients. Now that is a picture that will not only reach the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle but will be on CNN. That one picture would be seen around the world in less than one hours time.”
“mmm, yes.” (back away from the mental patient, she may bite) than the cell phone rings and he returns to his safe little world of forms and procedures.
There was a time when unions had balls. There was a time when they knew how to fight for something important. Now the leadership of unions are lawyers with cell phones so without balls I don’t even think main lining Viagra would give them a hard on. Unions these days are like a kid who comes to school wearing a t shirt that says UNCLE.
This is San Francisco for gosh sakes and the union cant think of a way to save a hospital of poor mental patients from being shut down? The closure date of the hospital just a few scant weeks away and so far the best publicity they have been able to manage is a ‘ohh dear me isn’t this sad’ opinion letter to the editor written by somebody’s mother. That shop owners in china town sold live frogs for slaughter got more press and comment. Fucking frogs.
Public speaking is one of the most common fears and why is that? People are afraid of being seen as a crazy person. So there I was stepping forward to give a little speech to Kevin Newsom in all his Ken doll perfection and rest of city halls talking heads, without a tremor of nerves. Starting out as a crazy person all I had to do to exceed expectations was to avoid a full of torrettes episode.
Burt had asked me if I could perhaps contribute to the public comment phase of the hospital closure. If I would feel ‘safe’, leaving the hospital grounds and speaking in city hall.
“Burt, I hardly think Boccie has people posted outside the hospital just in case I should gopher like pop my head out, and to do a Harvey Milk on me right on the steps of city hall? Yeh that wouldn’t cause any notice or comment at all. (eye rolling sarcasm).
Actually by this time I would guess that Boccie has all but given up the idea of killing me. He got what he wanted, me out of the apartment and after all this time without any official interest in the ramblings of a mad woman. Yeh, I would say he feels all nice and safe and secure by now. Course I can’t be one hundred percent sure, but that’s just one of those weird things I shall have to live with. Never being sure if the sword of Damocles is or is not hanging over hmy head. But then how is that different from anybody else?
Carl goes first, its politics, it’s city hall, it’s a microphone, he is in heaven. On and on he goes and I must say amplification does not improve the quality of his voice. Then Bob, he doesn’t have much to say except ‘don’t take away my home’. He does a little twirl, he loves his pink tutu and sits.
Then it was my turn. I am the worlds greatest procrastinator. I had written the speech on the back of an envelope while Carl had been speaking. I knew I could depend on him to be long winded.
I step to the mic. And pull the envelope out of one of the pocket of my yellow submarine coat.
Even a Lunatic deserves respect
When most people think about severe mental illness they tend to think of it in the context of movies they have seen: ‘one flew over the coo coos nest’, ‘Girl Interrupted, ‘K-pax, ‘ Rain man, People walk away from those movies with the feeling the the severely mentally ill are , quirky but kinda cute and sweet with a childlike innocence.
Reality is a far cry from such sentimental portraiture.
The severely mentally ill arre
Extremely Annoying People.
(This is the point when every single person on the board including the perfectly groomed Mr. Newsom sit up in their seats expressions of polite boredom replaced with shock. Like I had just reached up and slapped them all in the face. Nothing is more shocking to a politician than someone speaking the truth.)
Many fo the residents of the MHFR are not able to master the minimum skill sets necessary to function independently in society. Skills such as bathing, laundry, dressing themselves, some are completely illiterate, can not add 2 and 2 without extreme mental gymnastics. Some even have difficulty speaking their own name.
On top of all those difficulties, the mentally ill have an inability to understand or to conform to societies norms of behavior. The laugh for no reason, scream with no warning, they stumble, they drool.
In short, it’s hard to want to help these people. We want to draw away, to avoid to step around them.
Think for a moment how many you stepped around as you came to work this morning. How many grubby outstretched hands you pretended not to see.
We feel angry with those laying on the street in their filthy rags. Angry at them for so nakedly displaying their helpless misery.
Issues are nearly always complex, but choices nearly always simple.
What is to be done with the mentally ill? Will we as a society do the hard thing and extend to them care and safety? Or will we ignore their outstretched hands, close our eyes to their pain and need? Shall we step over the ragged man with a wrinkle of disgust and a sanctimoniously intoned
“Why doesn’t somebody do something?”
The speech came off pretty well. Some nice reporter lady talked to me for a bit and that was fun. She wanted to know how I got to the MHRF.
“Well you see it all started when my landlord tried to have me killed.”
My my how quickly the careful face, the ‘don’t scare the mad woman and back away slowly or she may bite, face comes into play.
The predictability of people if both amusing and depressing. In a world of information people have forgotten how to ask questions.
The speech went over so well that Burt asked me to print up some copies of the speech for the families and others trying to get people to care.
As the thing was written on the back of an envelope and that my handwriting is resentfully bad my spelling, well the less said about that the better, Burt gave me the key to the computer room so I could spin the speech through a word processor and print up a few copies.
“What do you think your doing?”
(Yeh like I didn’t see this coming. Charles, I never he wouldn’t be best pleased to find me in his computer room)
Not even glancing up I expain that Burt had asked me to write up the speech I had given.
“You can’t be in here alone.”
“Well I’m not in here alone am I? You’re here.”
“I can’t stay in here just to watch you.”
“Ok then, I’ll lock up when I’m done.”
(spell check, spell check. Spell check)
“You can’t be in here alone. You have to leave.
(Oh honestly there I am trying to help save his stupid job, you would think he might give this ‘I hate that fucking bitch,’ thing a rest for that.)
“I will as soon as I get these copies of the speech printed up.” Spell check done, send to printer number of copies and there you go.
“How many copies are you making?”
“Ohh I figure 25 aught to be enough. People need more they can use a copy machine I guess.”
“Your only allowed to print 10 pieces of paper a day.”
“That’s for personal use, this isn’t personal, this is to help save the MHRF.”
The last of the 25 copies spits out of the printer I gather them all up and smile to poor seething Charles.
“All done, you want me to lock up or are you going to be staying to work for a bit.”
Another day another board or bored people putting in the necessary time to listen to the mild whimpers of helpless people before they can get back to the important business of counting costs is drops of blood.;
Another speech scribbled on the back of an envelope.
The Cost of Care
A few years back when the Soviet Empire broke apart signaling the official end of an unofficial war, the US Military looked into the idea of closing a number of its smaller military bases in order to save money. What they found was that in most cases closing the base would in the long run cost more than keeping the bases open. We have only to look at the money pit the Presidio has become to remind us of that.
(And the board sat up straighter in their seats. The Presidio was a poke in a tender place. The former Army base sitting on some of the most valued real estate in the world and no one could figure out what to do with it. So it sits mostly empty paying no taxes and sucking up money for maintenance while the lawyers argue over competing claims and costs)
Closing the MHRF will likewise cost San Francisco more than it will save.
There are over one hundred forty patients at the MHRF where shall they go in the event of closure?
Psychiatry patients do not ‘get better’ just because there is no funding for their care.
Some will no doupt end up in acute care facilities. Such facilities are all ready over burdened and under funded. Acute care is also more expensive per patient than comparable care done at the MHRF.
Some will go to board and care, even though some are unable to care for themselves in even the most basic aspects of independent living.
Some will no doupt end up wandering the streets, homeless and confused.
Some will routinely be seen in overwhelmed emergency rooms.
Some will fail to take their meds that hold their demons in check and end up acting out violently to a world gone mad. For those, a jail cell may well be their future fate.
The MHRF is currently the most cost effective answer to a difficult problem. How do we as a society care for those who can not care for themselves.
Things proceeded on the expected course the closure of the hospital a done deal all that remained was paper work and the shuffling off the patients to,, well somewhere.
I am called into the conference room . The time had come for them to sort out my fate.
Burt is there and the evil Dr. Chin and a couple of nervous looking social workers.
“So as you may know the hospital is scheduled to be closed.” Begins one of the social workers.
“Yes,I’ve heard that rumor.”
“So, hmm , we, hmm, have to decide where you will be placed.”
“Yes, I agree.”
And they all sit there giving me the dumb look.
I sit there.
They sit there.
I sit there.
They sit there giving me the dumb look.
“Ok people, let us say that you go into a new restaurant what’s the first thing you do, place your order or look at the menu?” I prompt them.
“Ohh look at the menu.” Peeps up one of the social workers, thinking of lunch no doubt.
“Just so.” I respond and I sit there.
And they sit there giving me the dumb look.
“Well?” I prompt them.
“Well what?” asks the evil Dr. Chin.
And they sit there giving me the dumb look.
“Oh for heavens sake people.” My hand slaps down on the table and they jump back in their seats. (If I ever get money on day I am going to retire to the country and raise a herd of those fainting goats just so I can go out once a day and scare them) “What’s on the God Dammed menu here?” I snap out.
“ahhh, well, hmmm.”
The menu was pretty limited. They might be able to transfer me to another hospital, but it would be a ,, umm,,, well. More acute care. Burt looked kinda squimish at the suggestion. Me locked up with a bunch of screamingly anti social mad people dosed with heavy meds and absolutely nothing to do. The very thought would make anyone with a lick of sense nervous. And the thing was, I wasn’t entirely fucked up enough to qualify for admittance to a hospital for the truly obnoxiously fucked up. Which on reflection is probably a good thing but I couldn’t help feel a tad bit like the ugly girl at a sorority rush.
“The other option is possibly a half way house, but,,, ummmm.”
“No one wants a pyromaniac as a room mate, particularly one who smokes.” I finish for them and smile.
And that was it. That was all they had, so they sat there giving me the dumb look.
Burt had tried to get me qualified for SSI. I was not entirely cooperative with the process. I have this thing about paperwork. I finally decided to let Burt do what made him happy and fill out all the useless paperwork his little heart desired. If one part of the government wants to declare me insane and another branch of government wanted to give me money for being insane who was I to argue? Personally I figured that the odds of the government actually giving me money for making me nuts was pretty low. After all imagine the size of government debt if it had to go round giving money to everyone it drove nuts?
As I expected I was refused. Some lawyer lady called me to inform me that I didn’t qualify for SSI.
“Ok fine, hadn’t expected it but I am curious. I am inside a locked mental hospital as a danger to self and others. Have been here for several months now. So I just got to ask. Just how fucked up do you have to be to qualify? Does it necessarily involve drooling?”
She said I should reapply, which of course involved massive amounts of paperwork which she just had to describe to me in fetish detail. On and on she went, some form number that and this form in triplicate and that form signed by the seven dwarfs in order of height. My brain pretty much shut down in self defense as soon as she mentioned forms/ I have this thing about paperwork.
She was prattling on about forms and procedures and I was humming a merry little tune inside my happy place. I check in now and then with the expected, “Yes, I see, ok, yes, I’m writing this down.”
I found myself thinking, would a real mad person have any idea what this nonsense woman was sputtering on about? I didn’t think it likely. So if a mad person wouldn’t possibly know what the heck this woman was babbling on about, this must be a test. If I can understand all this fis bin paperwork and fill it out correctly with all the correct signatures in all the correct places, wouldn’t that prove that I’m not disabled?
Having come to that quite logical conclusion I shouted into the phone,
“I am queen of the monkey people!”
“What? I’m sorry what was that?”
I had found a way to stop all this form and paperwork blather, ohh goody.
“I am queen of the monkey people! And you, you, shall kneel at my feet and eat kumquats from my hairy fist.” I gave her my very best wicked witch cackle then hung up the phone. Being insane can be so much fun.
So anyway there they all say giving me the dumb look.
“Ok I just have to point out here that you, the supposed sane people in the room are all sitting there looking for me, me, the official insane person, me the danger to self and others paranoid delusional pyromaniac nut burger, to come up with a solution to your problem.”
There is much head ducking foot shuffling and the nervous shuffling of paper.
“Well,” I sigh and pause as though reluctant to go on. The bait most eagerly taken is the one most reluctantly offered. “ I may be able to stay with my grandmother.”
Every face lights up.
“She’s in her nineties and senile, hell, she may not even remember me.”
“Oh you could be such a help to her.” Ahh Burt ever the chirpy optimist.
Timing is almost everything. A phone call. I need to catch my grandmother in the house alone, and she needs to be just the right amount of senile. Enough to semi recognize me and enough to tell the doctors yes about me coming there, sounding coherent enough to not raise any warning bells. Everyone on my end is so desperate to get rid of me they will jump at any hope without too many questions. Timing and luck and I roll the dice.
It went perfectly. Better than I had hoped. My grandmother did need a bit of prompting to remember who I was but after that somewhat iffy start it went perfectly. Hell the social worker talked with my grandmother for less than five minutes. Really nothing more than asking her name and if it would be ok for her granddaughter to come for a visit home. I would have expected a somewhat more lengthy interview process before shipping a paranoid pyro into the care of a senile 90 year old.
End chapter 29
There’s no place like home
A few days later Burt is seeing me off at the airport, we stop at a café for a last cup of coffee.
“You must be looking forward to seeing your grandmother again.” Burt says.
“No Burt,” I sigh tiredly. “I’m really not.” I am tired. The future hasn’t even happened yet and I am already exhausted by it. I glance at the one way ticket to Maine in my hand. It cost almost exactly the same amount of money I had arrived in San Francisco with.
“Tell ya what Burt, you cash in this ticket and just give me the money and it can all be over with right now. I’ll just be on my merry way and that will be that.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Yeah, I know, ahh well it was worth a shot.”
“I know you’re concerned about seeing your family but I’m sure this will work out just fine. You’ll have a chance to reconnect.”
“The prodigal returns, the fatted calf and a big wizzy party? Ahh no Burt, that’s not going to happen. This is going to be horrible, ugly, and painful. Yeah I know you don’t believe that. I should just change my name to Cassandra.”
“You don’t know who she was? Really Burt you do need to do some work on your reading list. Ok one last story before I go.”
“You know the story of the fall of Troy and the Trojan horse.”
“Yeah, everyone knows that bit, about that stupid horse. And Helen of course, the face that launched a thousand ships. Cassandra slips by in the story nearly unseen, barely remembered. Which is too bad really, in a war that started with the breaking of oaths and the theft of a wife and ended with a blasphemous lie (The horse was scared to the God Poseidon who was one of the main Gods of the city. The people of Troy would have seen the big ole’ horse as a tribute to the God of the city and perhaps also a bit of a bribe to the God of the sea for a safe trip home. That people would use a tribute to God as a means of deceit would not have occurred to them. There was a reason Odysseus had such a long and difficult journey home, you don’t spit in the face of a God.) Cassandra alone in all the story kept her oaths and told the truth.
Cassandra was a daughter of the King of Troy and high priestess in the temple of Apollo. Helen is known for her beauty but Cassandra must have been some pretty hot piece of ass herself for she caught Apollo’s eye.
He came to her a wooing, in his best robes, his eyebrows freshly plucked, his hair neatly tied. He offered her a ride in his polished chariot.
‘Come with me and our love will be the colors of the dawn as my chariot rides over the clouds.” He purred.
She wanted to keep their relationship on a professional basis. The heart wants what the heart wants and her heart leapt for a prince of the attacking Greeks.
This didn’t sit well with Apollo. HE was a GOD! To be spurned for a mortal human and one of the attacking Greeks no less and to be so dissed by his own high priestess? (It is a wonder to me how many Gods seem to have this absolute mania for locking up young virgins)
Apollo as you know (I hope) was the God of the sun but also a God of music, poetry,and prophecy.
He cursed her. She would see perfectly the shape of things to come,. To always speak the truth and never to be believed.
Ten long years the war lasted. Imagine poor Cassandra all those long years, walking the wide steps of the palace seeing it as it would be, in flames at her feet. Hugging her father and seeing his blood covering her hands as it one day would.
Is it any wonder all thought her mad?
So she stood on the walls in wild hared grief watching as her brothers lead in the agent of their doom like a pet pony on a rope.
You would think that would be enough to sooth a God’s wounded pride, but there was more. Gods are masters of imaginative cruelty.
She was taken prisoner by the prince of the Greeks that she had spurned a God for.
Some small measure of happiness in the bitterness of war? The prince loved her as she him.
He tried to give balm to her grief torn heart. He held her and promised better days of joy ahead. She would be no honorless slave, but wife and mother to their children.
His words had the opposite effect adding new tears and fresh horrors.
She tried to warn him
You see he had a wife back home in Greece and she was waiting with her husband’s own ax to give the newly weds greetings.
She had her reasons. Her husband had gone off to war and she was the one to pay the price. Two children she had had, a son and a daughter. The son lost to war and her daughter? Her daughter her husband had made of her bloody handed sacrifice to a God for his victory in war. Which at the time even the Greeks thought a bit outré. Now he comes home with a young war bride and a princess no less.
She saw the years in front of her drawn black with pain. She would be a servant in her own home giving tender care to her husband’s new children with his fresh new bride. Ohh yes she had reason to give herself into the fury’s embrace.
And so he came home, his new bride weeping ignored warnings into his ears. He carried her across the threshold. And so ends Cassandra’s tale.
“Well I better be off, wouldn’t want the plane to leave without me.” We shook hands and parted. Poor Burt never did learn how to listen. I feel a little sorry for him but really now sending off a paranoid delusional pyro into the care of a senile 90 year old woman and to expect this to comeout with a happy ending? There is a level of willful stupid I have a hard time being all that sympathetic to.
Spring in Maine, dog turd time. All winter long the dogs crap on frozen snow covered ground. In the spring the snow melts and dog turds appear like fragrant mushy rocks uncovered by a receding tide.
Two am. Maine, dog turd time, the cab pulls up in front of a place I once called home.
One day I am sitting in a bar sipping a gin and tonic when I hear a man declare to his companion.
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing. That’s the way I was raised.”
“Don’t you agree?” He turns to me to add weight to his argument with my agreement.
“Ohh yes qujte so, that’s the way I was raised.” I pause and take a sip from my drink. “Which is of course why I don’t talk to my family.” And everyone in the bar laughed.
I close the door of the cab and it pulls away. I stand for a moment, a tourist taking in the view.
All children have nightmares and I had mine, but in all my childhood I only had one nightmare I woke up screaming from. It wasn’t a dream of chasing monsters nor of falling off a cliff, it was a dream of my home exactly as it was now.
Every line of the house seemed to sag with age and despair. The chimneys on the roof hold together the idea of a chimney with the remaining whole bricks, some of the vinyl siding had pulled away like scabs. I had fought my grandmother tooth and nail over installing that siding.
It was practical she had said it would save money and the house would never have to be painted again. Practical, for my grandmother, it was the word that trumps all other argument. Even so I made the effort. It was the sort of argument I would engage in purely as an exercise in translation. To get my grandmother to hear a word like beauty and not hear the word frivolous was a nearly insurmountable challenge. It was the feel of wood I argued and she actually heard that, the feel of it, wood. There is something warm about wood, alive, it responds to your touch like an old friend. Vinyl siding may look all well and good but it’s cold to the touch, in the heat of summer in the dead of winter it’s cold to the touch. ‘In order to save heat you will sacrifice warmth’. She heard me and agreed and put in the siding.
The roof of the barn was sagging and bowed. The house had been built in the time when even city people used horses to get around, so the house had a barn attached to it, in the manner of a two car garage in these days. I had spent much time playing in the old barn. How many kids have a secret club house that’s two stories tall with a workshop on the second floor complete with electricity running water and discarded old tools?
The lawn is littered with my Uncles artwork. My Uncle was a real artist. He went to college and got the art degree, had done art shows and even had some of his art bought by the Bangor International Air port. He’s work was mainly in found objects and wood. Was he a good artist? I wouldn’t know, hell I still haven’t figured out why the Mona Lisa is given such high regard, it’s just a portrait of a rather plane woman with bad teeth to me.
The important thing was that it was art.
My grandmother had dreamed of going to college. But she was the youngest of twelve children and it was the depression and she was a girl so she got married. She had two sons who each in turn went to college. One to be an artist and the other runs off to be of all things a writer. Clown College would have insulted my grandmother’s dedication to the practical less. At least circus clowns get regular paychecks.
My Uncles art of broken things lay littered about the lawn in the rotting snow of dog turd time, the house bowed with age and sadness. This was the dream I had as a child, the one nightmare I woke screaming from. It is a strange thing, you have a dream as a child and for some reason that dream stays with you in your memory and years later you find yourself walking into the very landscape of that nightmare. The rational mind shakes this off, the world is built of coincidence, but the shadow side of the mind from whence dreams come, ponders questions of fate.
“I don’t want to do this, I really don’t want to do this.” But I do. I pick up my dr. Suisse suite case and walk the path in front of me.
The house had shrunk considerably. I was a giant Dorothy trying not to bump into any munchkin furniture. I drag my suit case into the living room and settle on the couch to wait.
My grandmother is asleep in what was once my old room, a kitten sized rumple of sheets. The room is still decorated with the wall paper I had picked out when I was eleven, a rolling farm scene of contented horses and prancing ponies. Everything in the house is exactly the same as when I left so many years ago, the wall paper the furniture the carpets in the rooms. Most people expect that home will remain the same, everything just stopped in time awaiting their return, I found such fossilization, disconcerting as if I had taken some vital force of change with me in my suite case when I left home to join the army.
3am and the coo coo clock I had given my grandmother for the Christmas of my eighteenth year does his thing three times. 3am the past crowds close.
Burt and I spent almost no time talking about my past, my family. When they did come up it was always at my instigation and only as part of another discussion, they were never the focus of discussion. An odd omission for a psychologist, like a farmer not talking about the weather. It was as if for Burt I was born phoenix like from the fire of my own creation.
I hear my grandmother in the bedroom turn over in her sleep.
Once upon a time on a potato farm in the little town of Winn there lived a little girl named Shirley Leathers. Shirley was the youngest of twelve brothers and sisters. Her mother died when little Shirley was four years old. She bled to death in the marriage bed trying to give live birth to unlucky thirteen.
In the town of Winn at that time there existed a single automobile. The Morticians hearse, little Shirley Leathers being the baby of the family was given the privilege of ridding with her dead mother and still born brother to the cemetery and then back home sitting tall in her fathers lap.
They arrive home and her father lifts her down from the hearse. Shirley takes her father’s hand then says.
“Well, at least we got a good ride out of it.”
My grandmother fell in love once. It was at a dance. Was my grandfather the drummer at the dance? He may have been but I don’t know. Actually I don’t know at all how my grandparents met. I assume they met at a dance but I have no story of that meeting. My grandparents got married by a Justice of the Peace. My grandmother had once shown me the dress she had gotten married in, a plane blue wool suite even for the time remarkable in its aggressive rejection of style.
My grandmother fell in love once. It was at a dance. He had dark hair. Such detailed description leaves little for the imagination to fill in. I imagine him as a Rehett Butler sort dashing, a bit too cocky of his own charm. He entered the dance hall and my grandmothers heart fluttered. She actually used the word fluttered.
He asked her to dance.
She said yes.
He asked her to marry him. Not, I presume at the conclusion of the dance, but that’s all I have. They danced and later he asked her to marry him.
She said no.
I gather her father hadn’t approved of the man.
“My father was proved right, as the man became a drunk.”
I thought perhaps he had turned to drink after being spurned by the woman he loved. My romantic streak struggled hard to find some reason to hope for a hint of passions spark in my grandmothers heart that had fluttered once.
My grandmother fell in love twice.
She was married with two small sons. She owned a little truck stop dinner. He was a trucker from the south. I imagine a muscled Alabama man with that sweet buttery southern accent and extravagant courtly manners.
She thought about divorce.
“I stayed because of how leaving their father would hurt the children.”
Considering how well that all worked out I couldn’t help in a way admire my grandmothers ability to say that with a completely straight face.
It’s love verses love the mad woman had screamed at the indifferent lions, Its love verses love. But then she was mad so what does she know.
My Uncle met his bride during his Stienbeckien exploration of blue berry picking. Serena was Marlo Thomas pretty with dark hair and an emotionally expressive nature. She was a berry picker, not as working class cool means of earning collage pocket money but as a way of life. She was a berry picker descended from a family of French berry pickers, and potato pickers and apple pickers. Her family lived in a house that was an Appalachian cliché complete with dead consol tv on the porch, busted pickup on the hard mud grassless lawn, too many children with too few clothes running around. I’m sure my grandmother contented herself with the thought that at least she wasn’t a carnie.
Serena had told me of my Uncles proposal of marriage (Old Duke white wine, the foulest stuff in the world but it does loosen tongues) . After a day of berry picking they had gone off into the hot summer night with a bottle of wine. It was the first time, for him. ‘I guess we have to get married now.’ He said.
My father met his bride when he was in the army stationed in Baltimore. Why my mother would go to a dance with a Major and end up married to the chauffer I have no clue. It wasn’t love. That’s all I was ever able to find out. No she didn’t love him, she liked him but it wasn’t love. What it was, not even Old Duke could discover.
I first met my grandmother when I was nine months old. My grandmother couldn’t wait to hold her first grandchild. My mother took me from the car seat and handed me to my grandmother.
“Be careful,” my mother had cautioned my grandmother. “She’s mean.”
“Ohh nonsense,” my grandmother said. “You’re not the least bit mean are you?” and she leaned in close doing that coochi coochi thing.
I punched her in the nose.
Four am the coo coo clock announces. Four am, a dark and quite hour when ghosts draw near to whisper. This house is full of ghosts.
My grandmother had bought the house as a wedding gift for my parents. A real estate transaction completed apparently without inspection, (the house was bought for its location, near to my grandmothers boarding house). My mother was the first one to enter the house. A Baltimore raised debutante with a degree in French literature, one can only imagine her thoughts as she steps across the threshold of her new home to encounter rooms strung with crosses and ropes of garlic.
The first order of business for every new bride is redecorating the new home, My mother gathered up all the crosses and garlic and tossed them out with the trash. The last bag carted out she returns to the house and a cold wind rushes though the house and the chandeliers in every room begin swinging. (The chandeliers were relics from the houses gas light days, converted to electric use. They were bloated metal spiders hanging from the middle of the ceiling in every room.) The crosses, the garlic the weird wind and ceilings of dancing spiders well, it’s no wonder my mother waited out on the porch for my father to get home .
What I always wondered about was, why didn’t they put the crosses back and why was there never any garlic in the house?
Amelia was the name of a woman who had lived and died in the house and as it sounded a goodish name for a ghost it stuck. Amelia was an active ghost. Even people who just slept over for a night or two left with an Amelia story to tell. Voices whispering in the dark, footsteps on the stairs, the invisible yet heard rocking chair, a chandelier suddenly swinging in unseen wind.
Amelia solidified her place as our own personal mythic figure the night Mr. Peeve did a naughty thing.
Mr. and Mrs. Peeve rented an apartment upstairs. Mrs. Peeve was a large woman, (women in those days weren’t fat, they had thyroid problems). She collected elephants. She had Jade elephants, ivory elephants, wood elephants, she had a huge terrarium fully tricked out as a miniature elephant habitat, with little trees little bridges little houses and lakes, and elephants elephants everywhere. She had an elephant carved out of a grain of rice, she kept it in a test tube and you had to look really close.
Mr. Peeve was a small thin man who looked like a particularly unsuccessful used car salesman. Which apparently wasn’t the dating impediment you would think it would be. Mr. Peeve came home late one night. He showered he shaved he brushed his teeth then crawled into bed. Mrs. Peeve awoke to a most dreadful sight. Two pair of ghostly hands clutching at Mr. Peeves throat. Mr. Peeve thrashing around in eye bulging terror choking for stolen breath. Mrs. Peeve turned on the lights and the ghostly hands disappeared and Mr. Peeve could breath again.
Mr. Peeve moved out the next day never to return. Mrs. Peeve stayed on and never had a lick of trouble from Amelia.
There was dinner table discussion over the two pair of hands Mr. and Mrs. Peeve had seen. Were there possibly two ghosts? Or was Amelia dating?
My father was another ghost but unlike Amelia my father was a spirit never spoken of.
It was spring, past the ugly dog turd time into the warm promise of budding lilac time, I was almost five years old when my father disappeared. Being only nearly five I possibly missed some subtle clue that such an event was in the works. All I remember of the event is my father tucking me into bed one night and when I woke up he was gone. Just gone, just not there. Not only was there no explanation there was no comment at all. My father had vanished and I seemingly was the only one who noticed he was gone.
My sister and brother born close enough together that they could be irish twins, they looked enough alike to actually be twins, blonde hair blue eyed Bobsi twin cute, each born with an innate ability to be utterly charming to adults that I could only admire. were both still young enough that the sun rising each morning was still a surprise so of course they don’t notice a missing father. That my mother didn’t notice seemed a bit odd to me.
I asked her were my father was. At first she got this puzzled look on her face like she were trying to remember who it was I could be talking about. Then she told me he had gone on a fishing trip.
It was the first time I remember knowing I was being lied to. My grandparents (his parents) repeated the lie.
He fishing trip turned into a job hunt turned into just stop asking. Everyone was acting as though I was the weird one for finding this all a bit odd. It was the lack of explanation I found so disturbing.
‘Sorry kid your father was a secret ax murder and had to run for the hills so he doesn’t get the chair.’
‘oh,, well ok then.’
But nothing just gone, like a picture on an etch a sketch? If a father can be so easily erased what about the rest of the people in your life? Or of yourself?
And then my mother disappeared. There was a packed suitecase and if no explanation at least a destination. She was going to New Orleans, for a week maybe two. Mrs. Peeve took over our care. I think she understood the arrangement as an extended babysitting job. By the time Halloween comes around and she’s picking out our costumes she came to the conclusion that her understanding may have been wrong. By Christmas we were living with our grandparents.
My grandparents owned a big boarding house on the edge of the fashionable end of Broadway Street where lumber barons had lined the street with their extravagant homes. I believe Stephen King lives in a house on that street. We weren’t cup-of-sugar neighbors or anything but I walked past his house more than a time or two.
The house on Essex Street had its ghosts the Boarding house on Broadway was likewise accessorized but the ghosts in the boarding house were all living ones.
My grandmother liked to rent to retired people. Old people kept regular hours didn’t have wild parties, except for that one who set herself ablaze with her cigarette, didn’t cause trouble. and their social security checks came in on time every month so rent wasn’t late.
Floyd was one of her older borders. Floyd looked like Borascarlof on a particularly bad morning before his first cup of coffee. Floyd was a chain smoker, before the cigarette in his mouth was out he had another one fired up and ready to go. As a result of which he had emphazemia, his breath coming out in horror movie death rattles.
Another group of people my grandmother liked to rent to was student nurses. My grandmothers secret heart fantasized about being a nurse.
One night a new student nurse tenant came home from the midnight shift and met Floyd for the first time. One am in a rambling Victorian boarding house out of the shadowed hallway on the third floor, Boriscarlof in a plaid bathrobe comes shuffling toward her as she exit’s the bathroom.
Boy I tell you what she screamed louder than that old gal who set herself on fire.
After that my grandmother moved Floyd down to the first floor and made sure he was introduced to new tenants in the day light.
My grandfather was another of the living ghosts. He had at some point decided that life was something to be watched rather than participated in. He would sit in his chair reading the paper, chewing the soggy ends of his cigars (My grandmother who smoked cigarettes, didn’t like the smell of cigar smoke so my grandfather for the most part chewed his cigars). He spoke little and then mainly only with the preprogrammed poltinesses that spare one from actual conversation.
In his youth he had been the drummer in a band. He had been a young man with his own car, and he was defying his mother by being a drummer in a band playing that jig-a-boo jazz. My grandmother once used the word bitch when she was talking about her former mother-in-law. My grandmother said the word very softly and she hoped I hadn’t heard her say it. Whenever my grandfather would be standing for more than a minute he would begin tapping out drum riffs on his thighs, using his pocket change as cymbals. Males of the family seem to have this odd fixation with pocket change. Every time the men get together they all stand around talking sports and weather and all of them jingling the change in their pockets constantly.
The only time my grandfather could be roused to conversation was whenever anyone said anything mean about Nixon. Even if I had liked Nixon I still would have said mean things about him just so I could watch my grandfather get all red in the face and spit out bits of chewed cigar as he jumped out of his passivity to his president’s defense.
For my first day of school my grandmother had gone all out. I had every crayon every pencil, colored paper, glue all the recommended supplies. I was wearing a plaid dress with matching plaid hair ribbons and a matching plaid pencil box. I drew the line at the matching plaid lunch box, insisting on a Jose and Pussy cats lunch box but my thermos was plaid.
My grandmother had spent much time filling my ears with tales of her one room school house. Apparently the outhouse was a location of great humor for our ancestors. I heard of wicked boys who dipped girls pigtails into inkwells. And of course of how she had to walk five miles in the snow sharing a pair of boots with her sister, cause it was the depression you know.
With visions of inkwells dancing in her head she filled my thermos with chocolate milk and sent me off to school.
I came home with a tear in my dress, my hair ribbons lost, my knee was scraped and there was a dent in my lunch box and my thermos was broken ( the greatest invention of my youth, the unbreakable plastic thermos) .
“How had I gotten into such a state?” She demanded. “It’s just pointless giving you nice things you just destroy everything.” Sighing in exasperation she holds up my now bedraggled Barbie and waves her in the air. In the course of the day Barbie and lost her shoes and had sand in her bride of Frankenstein hair. “What happened?”
I had been looking forward to going to school. It was my first adventure into the wide world. I would learn to read (an activity I was already looking forward to) and I would be spending time with kids my own age. What were people under sixty five like?
Mrs. Briar was looking forward to her first day of school too. Young and pretty and this was her first teaching job. You could almost hear her humming the getting to know you song from Anna and the King. ‘getting to know you, getting to know all about you, getting to like you and hope you like me.’
With that inspiration she went around the room asking each of the children in her charge their names and what their parents did for a living. This being the late 60’s the question came out, ‘what does your father do for a living and does your mother work? Everything was going along well until she got to me.
I got past my name without trouble.
“What does your father do for a living?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well you will have to ask him.” She said brightly.
“Oh? Why not?” Mrs. Briar believed that there were no stupid questions but I am sure from that moment on she knew that there were questions that you wish you hadn’t asked.
“I don’t know where he is.” I shrug. The foot shuffling and half smothered giggles that traveled around the room were my first indication that not knowing where your father had taken off to was not considered normal. Though I had had my suspicions.
Mrs. Briar tried to recover to safe ground.
“So what does your mother do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ha, I bet she doesn’t even know where her mother is.” My very first class room heckler.
Mrs. Briar shushed him and got a trapped ‘oh how do I get out of this’ look in her eye.
“She’s in New Orleans.” I answered back quickly. Feeling a need to assure my classmates that I hadn’t quite totally misplaced both parents. “Though I don’t know what work she is doing there.”
Mrs. Briar moved on to the little girl sitting next to me (who was already looking around for a new seat)
“I’m Bethany Libby and My Father drives a garbage truck.”
And everybody cheered.
Well a garbage truck that is pretty cool.
Then we got to free play time. Mrs. Briar said we could play with any toy we liked. The room has on offer two options, either the side with the baby dolls the play ironing boards and toy kitchen or the Sand box built on a big sturdy table with toy shovels, building blocks and toy construction equipment.
The boys all rushed to the sand box the girls to the play house. I paused for a moment considering my options.
The girls very quickly were organizing the play. Who would be mommy who would be daddy, one had started the ironing another was setting out the tea set and three were discussing which of their baby dolls had poopie diapers.
ICK. To me ironing, washing dishes not to mention poopie diapers were all things a normal person deals with when they have to, but only some kind of twisted weirdo would call any of that fun.
I moved over to the sand box.
I picked up a pail and shovel and began building a sand castle.
“Hey, you can’t do that. This is the boys area, you’re a girl. The girls play with dolls.”
While the girls had been organizing the house hold shores the boys had been sorting out pack dominance. To their leaders proclamation all the boys voiced enthusiastic agreement.
“Mrs. Briar said we could play with any toy we liked and I don’t want to play with dolls. I am going to build a sand castle. You want to dig a moat for my sand castle with your bulldozer?”
The boys appealed to Mrs. Briar to eject me from the boys area. Unfortunately for the boys Mrs. Briar was on my side.
There was an enemy invader in their territory. The boys gathered together in a football huddle at the other end of the table to plan their battle strategy. They break apart and take up their places on either side of the table. They take up their toy bulldozers and toy dump trucks and making those obscene put put motor mouth noises that boys are so fond of, they advance on my castle.
“Road crew coming through.”
Shoulders squashing me on either side, pushing me away from the table as they bull doze my sand castle.
Their forces now fully committed to the assault I took two steps back from the table then flanked them, taking up new position in their undefended rear. I was now in control of their army’s supply depot, the cubby with all the sandbox toys was on my side of the table.
Mrs. Briar gave me a battle field commission, I was now captain of the sand box. It was my duty to see that all the toys got put back when play time was over, and to see that every one played nice and shared.
One of the boys asked me for a toy crane. I run to my cubby and grab the Barbie my grandmother had insisted that I bring. I jammed Barbie’s feet into the top tower of my sand castle.
“You want a crane? Ask Barbie.”
“So you’re the little bastard.” My classroom heckler has an older brother, a fifth grader. I am surrounded by a circle of it would seem almost every kid in the playground all pushing for a place to get the best view of the first official beat down of the school year. The word bastard is picked up and passed around the circle in scandalized giggles.
“What’s a bastard?”
“It means you don’t know who your father is.” He smirked and the circle laughed.
“Oh, well than I’m not a bastard. I know who my father is just not where he is.” Needless to say neither the older boy nor the gathered circle were at all impressed with hair splitting semantics.
The older boy said something about my mother and sailors which everyone thought very funny. My uncle was in the Merchant Marines at the time, but what this had to do with my mother I had no idea.
I was pushed from behind. Not expecting it, I stumbled and fell scraping my knee.
“Oh look the baby’s going to cry.”
I stood facing the older boy, the ring leader. I was pushed from behind. This time I was expecting it.
I stepped into the force of the push and with both hands gripping the handle of my Jose and the pussy cats lunch box I swung.
My lunch box connected with the older boys temple with a loud thunk. In a move reminiscent of cartoon pratfalls he spun halfway round and fell to the ground.
There was a collective intake of breath at this surprising turn of events. I stood there clutching my lunch box.
“Does anyone else want to push me?”
My grandmother was not pleased with any part of my story. She felt that if someone hit me, I should immediately apologize for annoying them so much. That I refused to be the least bit apologetic got me sent to bed without supper.
All the adults around me were totally convinced that I was an absolute monster of noise, chaos incarnate. According to them I never spoke when I could shout, never walked when I could run, I knocked over furniture, bounced off walls. ‘Even when she tries to be quiet and tip toes I can hear the floors shake,’ I heard Mrs. Peeve tell my grandmother one day. ‘She just can’t sit still for a moment.’ My grandmother replied.
This belief that I was incapable of either stillness nor quite was so ingrained the association of me with noise and restless chaos so complete that if I sat still and quiet I would, after a remarkably short period of time become invisible.
Since there was no way of knowing when a grownup might take it into their head to run off to never never land I used my new power of invisibility to keep a wary eye on my grandparents.
One day I am sitting behind the living room couch practicing invisibility when my grandparents have a very long discussion about sending me to the orphanage
Three young children were just too much for them to handle at their age. Two they thought they could handle but three was one too many. My sister and brother were so sweet natured and easy to get along with while I was too loud too rough, to destructive, I was a bad influence on my sister and brother.
“And she might not even be our real granddaughter.” Said my grandmother.
My sister and brother they were sure of as they had both been born in Maine but I was born in Baltimore too soon after their marriage to suite my grandmother. And I didn’t look a thing like either my sister or brother.
In the end they decided to keep me. While they couldn’t be certain of my parentage, they were certain that if they got rid of the ugly puppy in the litter, people would talk. There had already been too much talk already as far as my grandmother was concerned any further cause for gossip was to be avoided.
“Well if it proves to be too much for us we can call the lawyer back.” My grandmother said and packed the papers for surrendering me to the state neatly away in the big file folder of household receipts.
Much of the discussion confused me a great deal. Just the week before my grandmother had told me of the whole baby’s being found in the cabbage patch thing. Which even at the time I had thought it a badly worked out system. What happens if you pick the wrong baby out of the cabbage patch? Can you return it like damaged fruit? If my grandparents weren’t my grandparents than my father wasn’t my father. What do we call someone who doesn’t know who their father is?
I was actually disappointed not to be going to the orphanage. At least there I figured all the kids would be equally unwanted or unlucky. Little Orphan Annie started out in an orphanage and look how well things worked out for her.
End chapter 30
As you wish
5am the coo coo clock announces, enter my uncle stage left, right on cue.
“ What the Fuck are you doing here?”
“That is a very long story. But first things first, coffee.”
We settle around the kitchen table coffee mugs in hand. We take the first couple of silent ritual sips.
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
“As I said it’s a long story. It’s funny, if you listen to the whole thing, even if you don’t believe a word of it. And you won’t. But before you start screaming and calling me the worst sort of bad liar, listen to the whole story.”
So I told him what had happened. “It all began when I rented an apartment from a very bad man.” I only got through the highlights of the first part, Boccie, mobsters, drugs, murder and arson, when he snarled Bullshit and stalked off with his coffee. I never got to the part about me being a recently released mental patient or the explanation as to why I was there.
I sit alone in the kitchen sipping my coffee. In my head I hear the soft muted clack of pool balls colliding in another tricky bank shot neatly sunk. I am the pool shark perfectly in the zone running the table from the break.
My grandmother soon woke up. She has reached the age where liner time no longer exists. The that was then this is now past and present all collide together in a misty water colored dream. So my presence at the kitchen table caused her no alarm.
I found a ball of yarn and an old crochet hook and spent the day crocheting a scarf watching tv with my grandmother.
I kissed my grandmother goodnight and wished her good dreams and she shuffled off to bed. I settled on the couch and waited for my uncle.
My uncle has spent the day rehearsing the argument he was going to have with me.
“You don’t have any money do you?”
I almost laughed. I have told him of mobsters and murder most foul and the not so small matter of arson and his first order of business is to insure I am not going to scrounge him for money.
“Not much.” I confess. (Just enough for the cab to the bus station and a bus ticket to San Francisco)
“Well you can stay the night but in the morning you clear the fuck out.” He took a breath and waited, the lightening pausing for the thunder.
“As you wish.”
He blinked at me, twice.
No thunder clap no raging storm just three small soft words like pebbles dropped in a still pool. As you wish.
As so often happens when someone has spent all day working up to a grand temper tantrum he continued on with the argument without my participation. I was in a theater watching a grand drama as my uncle threw himself into playing both parts with spittle flying gusto.
We argued for quite some time. Life time of disappointed romanticism had left him with a deep well of rage from with to draw. A never ending Ginsburgien howl of family pain that I was if not the originator of all I was their inheritor.
The performance took on the aspect of a religious service. He would rant and rave his moral outrage over some past ill or slight form someone then conclude with the , “ In the morning you get the fuck out.”
Then he would pause in his howl awaiting the benediction,
“As you wish.”
“Quit it, quit it, quit saying that.” He screams at me after it seems the hundredth reparation of the pattern.
“You told me to leave, I have said I would. I really have nothing more that needs to be said. You however do. So please go ahead I’m listening.” I sit hands folded in my lap looking up with a face of bland polite interest. He is a ball of fist clenching rage.
He wanted to stop but he couldn’t. He felt like he was walking into a trap, knew it, but couldn’t stop. His howl continued. He tried to stop himself. He wanted to slap his hands over his mouth to keep the words from escaping. But they do.
“In the morning you get the fuck out.”
“As you wish.”
He screamed like a lost soul facing the gates of damnation and fled from the room.
As anyone who has ever read a fairy tale will tell you, be careful what you wish for.
End chapter 31
Being in the now
I didn’t wait til dawns early light before calling a cab. Far be it from me to stay in a place I am so clearly not wanted. The coo coo clock says goodbye twice as I drag my suite case out the door to the waiting cab.
Of course if I had known that the bus station didn’t even open its doors till 5am I might have risked my uncle waking in a more reasonable mood and delayed my leave taking till dawn. My beaded coat was not a weather appropriate wardrobe decision.
I counted out the money for the bus ticket with blue fingers. I had just enough for the ticket to San Francisco, to the penny.
It was night when I boarded the bus in New York for the journey west. Time no longer moves in its linear tact. It is night, always night, eternal night.
I push into the over crowded bus and take the last open seat in the back of the bus.
I am enveloped in the reeking abattoir stink of shit. The bath room, it hasn’t been emptied out let alone cleaned in over six thousand miles.
I am in New York, I am going to California.
That final scene in Rosemary’s baby, that look on Rosemary’s face when she realizes that she is on the bus to hell.
Yah, just like that.
Be in the now. It’s one of those things people so like to intone in yoga classes and trendy meditation classes where people sit on hand woven rugs wearing organically grown cotton hand stitched by indigenous native women with rustically calloused hands and authentically bad teeth.
Be in the now. It is night always night eternal night, wrapped in the gagging reeking stink of shit. I sit forehead pressed to the window looking into the reflected shadows of my own eyes. I am in the now. Completely in the now. And now completely sucks ass.
One of my fellow travelers in misery sprays the air with a drug store imitation of Channel number 5 adding a new level of cloying horror to the reek of shit. She meant well.
End chapter 32
The sun is shining the birds are singing the air is sweet, spring morning in San Francisco and I am one hundred and fifty years old.
Ten steps, I will walk ten steps I promise myself. And I do, ten steps, ten steps counting each one out. I set my suite case down and feel a small flush of success as I manage to sit without actually whimpering in pain. How many days sitting in that bus? How long since I slept? My hip is grinding angry glass, every step weary agony, but I don’t whimper. Ahh so there that’s something.
I am wearing my beaded yellow submarine coat dragging my Dr. Suses suite case. I wish I had some balloons to carry.
I am the court jester, I am the fool, I am the walrus and I can walk ten more steps. And so it goes then steps at a time the mad woman inches her way to the mad house. Whispering softly through thrust dry lips mad little songs from long ago soft springs of childhood.
“Eat nor drink nor money we have none yet we will be marrryyy.”
Ten steps at a time whispering nursery rhymes the mad woman staggers by invisible to eager tourists snapping pictures of a beautiful city.
With a hiss of pain through tightly clenched teeth I sit down on the stone bench in the little garden shrine to Mary to the left of the front doors of the MHRF. I close my eyes for a moment.
“What are you doing here? I thought you went to your..”
“My uncle didn’t want me.”
One of the nurses brings me a bland turkey sandwich and a little sippy box of juice. Hmm juice. Some of the world comes back into focus.
Someone in Authority is called.
“I’m sorry for what happened, I am, but, ,,,, you’ve been discharged, ,, you can’t come back here.”
“I know.” I smile pleasantly, finish my sandwich and lean back on the bench, closing my eyes for a nap. (Sleep, ohh yes, when this is over I think I shall sleep for at least ten years)
“You can’t stay here.” He repeats helplessly. He reaches out his hand toward me and pulls back nervously rubbing his hands together.
“I’m sorry, but you have to go.” He says apologetically.
I open one eye, smile pleasantly. “Where?” I shrug and close my eye.
“I’m sorry, but your trespassing and we will have to call the police.”
I open one eye, smile pleasantly. “As you wish.” I shrug and close my eye.
The police are called.
Police officers are by nature creatures who do not deal well with ambiguity.
They had been called to arrest a mad woman for trespassing the grounds of a mad house.
This took a bit of explaining.
Explanation did not bring clarity.
It was decided that the thing to do was to get me admitted to the hospital. Then I would be a patient not a trespasser, problem solved.
The police drive me and my suitcase up the hill where they point me at an admitting nurse behind six inches of bullet proof glass. The police then promptly disappear.
The admitting nurse informs me that they have all the indigent mad people they need right now and tells me to go away.
I smile, I shrug, I pick up my suite case and ten steps at a time stagger back to the mad house.
I sit down on the stone bench in front of the shrine to Mary and close my eyes.
“The Hospital didn’t want me.” I smile pleasantly I shrug and close my eyes.
The mad house doesn’t want me, the hospital doesn’t want me, the police don’t want me, my uncle didn’t want me, Boccie wanted me gone so bad he hired people to kill me. Yah, a girl could develop of complex or something.
The police are called again.
They still don’t want me.
Finally the call is put out to the fourth estate. Enter stage left, the press.
I was beginning to think I was going to have to do everything myself.
End chapter 33