The Land of God, Guns, and Guts
There was a machine gun knock at the door. I whipped my head from the laptop perched upon my dining area table toward the front door some twelve feet directly behind me. My heart was beating faster than the knocks that had given me a start.
My mind raced through several scenarios- something is wrong with my girlfriend; someone needs help; it’s robbers giving me fair warning that they are about to come in, hold me at gunpoint, and ransack the place; the president just happened to be driving by with his motorcade and he really needs to borrow the bathroom.
The door swung open. In jumped Bobby. I was relieved.
“Bobby, baby!! Welcome my gentle fried friend!” I gurgled as my heart and the slight shaking of my limbs settled.
Bobby had arrived unannounced, a habit of his.
“I’m not fried yet,” Bobby shot back.
I’d been concentrating on my journal, trying to remember my dreams from the night before, realizing that if I truly wanted to write them down, I really should do it first thing in the morning rather than wait until the evening.
Bobby had arrived, bottle of Merlot in hand. I couldn’t turn him away, no matter how rude his imposition or how urgent my present project. Of course, thanks to my failing memory, the current project was pretty much a wash at this point. I happily set it aside.
I grabbed the bottle opener out of a kitchen drawer, one of those heavy turbo editions with the two arms that slowly lift upward, signaling “touchdown” as the corkscrew winds into the cork. It makes quick work of its quarry when you press the arms back down. I’d absconded with it from an old roommate more than a decade ago. I’m too cheap to buy something so nice.
“Welcome Bobby. Sit down. Sit down. Please.” I plead with him, grabbing the bottle from his hand, jamming the metal end of the touchdown corkscrew into the cork before slamming the bottle down onto the table right next to my laptop and going to work, vigorously rotating the corkscrew into the cork.
Bobby sat down in my chair at the laptop and looked at me with a grimace.
“You know,” he moaned, “I hate Sundays.”
The statement took me aback as though a bee had just buzzed my head. It was the last thing I expected to hear from his mouth.
“Why the fuck are you talking about Sunday?” I asked. “It’s not even Sunday for a couple of days yet.”
“There’s something psychotic about them,” he continued his thought, tossing my query aside like so much chaff, “They’re too quiet. It’s like there’s something sinister lurking behind it, ready to jump out and strangle you with piano wire,” he said, squeezing his chin, furrowing his brow as his brown eyes pierced the air.
His eye sockets were inlaid with a dark ring. Like his unannounced arrivals, his lack of sleep was habitual. No, he didn’t do speed or anything like that. He had a disdain for illegal substances because he didn’t like the type of folks you had to deal with in order to get such stimulants. He preferred buzzing all night on wine, whisky, and the occasional dose of fear. He once shot out a window in his house at four a.m. because he thought the ghost of Jack Ruby was stalking him. I don’t know what good it does to shoot at a ghost. He was a Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorist of the highest order. Maybe he had magic bullets. Bobby was a living, breathing poster child for gun control. He was never allowed to bring weapons into my house.
He turned to me and looked right into my eyes with an expression that sought a response.
“I have never thought of it in quite that way, Bobby,” I replied, as the corkscrew arms reached their uppermost position, “But, yes, I know that sinister feeling. It’s an uneasy peace that could shatter at any second. I’m always ragged and fagged on Sunday from working all week, and I don’t want to do anything, and I’m afraid that if I go out, and some asshole wants to get into a scrap, I won’t be able to handle it.”
“Yeah, only an asshole would be so ornery on a Sunday.”
We both laughed.
I just stood there, forgetting the wine.
“Jesus himself was a bit ornery,” he said. “He sure as shit pissed off the Pharisees somethin’ fierce.”
I shook my head in fervid agreement, chuckling a bit.
“Do you think that maybe it has something to do with religion,” I asked him, realizing that, like me, Bobby had been raised in a conservative Southern Protestant household, the type where you prayed before every meal, prayed before bedtime, prayed when you got up in morning, prayed at church 3 times a week, and prayed almost every waking moment that Jesus didn’t suddenly come back and kick your ass for some minor indiscretion that had slipped your mind and had forgotten to seek forgiveness for.
“Maybe,” he hummed, rubbing his chin,“I’d never really thought of it that way, though.”
I was now the recipient of a little friendly mocking. I thought about mentioning that Jack Ruby was a bit of an ornery bastard, but thought better of it. It was a sore subject, naturally, Still, I got the feeling that Bobby was downplaying the role of religion in his upbringing. He wasn’t about to fool a bird of a feather.
“I know I hated coming home from church on Sunday when I was a kid,” I told him, “and being all scared and shit that I was gonna go to hell because I hadn’t been good enough, and then you’re expected to sit down and eat a big fried chicken and gooey vegetable lunch that your mom had spent more than an hour cooking up. I’d just sit there, picking at the chicken, afraid that I’d be a glutton if I ate it, and my mom would give me shit for not eating it and she never realized and I never told her that I wasn’t eating because she’d drug me off to church that morning to hear a bunch of upsetting crap, and then my friends would come over after lunch and want me to play, but I couldn’t because I was too scared that Jesus was gonna come back and condemn me to hell, so I just went and hid in my room all afternoon thinking about all the bad shit I’d done during the week. Talk about ornery. The preachers were ornery making Jesus out to be so ornery toward us frail folks tryin’ to follow in his footsteps.”
“I never did that on Sunday,” Bobby right hissed like the heavy in spaghetti western right before he blasts some poor son of a bitch off his horse. “Sunday was just boring to me.”
I raised an incredulous eyebrow to this statement. I knew Bobby, and I also knew that no kid with half a mind could be impervious to tales of a wrathful lord. He was being a little too Eastwood.
“We’d go to church,” Bobby continued, “And listen to all the fire and brimstone from the preacher then come home and laze around. The whole sermon never hit me until sometime later, usually late at night when I couldn’t sleep. ‘He’ll come like a thief in the night’, the preacher would scream on Sundays, so if I ever woke up in the middle of the night I was always wondering if Jesus was gonna come back that instant and send me to hell, and then I worried about not seeing my brother again if I got sent to heaven because he’d killed one of our cats for the hell of it the previous year. Heck, he was always doin’ crazy shit like that. I knew he was gonna go to hell for all that shit he did and I’d never see him again. It made me wanna go to hell. I was fucked either way, man. I finally figured out when I was about 10 years old that it was all bullshit. The preacher and religion were just there to control ya, and I wasn’t about to give-in to those fuckers anymore. I just said ‘fuck’em’.”
“Damn, religion is fucked up,” I snorted, finally getting back to the wine bottle, plunging the corkscrew arms down until a pleasant “pop” released the dark aroma of the Merlot. “I think the wine will make it better.”
Bobby pulled a swig straight out of the bottle as I retrieved a couple of glasses, jars in fact, from the kitchen.
“Blood of the lamb,” he sighed, plunking the bottle back on the table.
“Blood of the fucking lamb,” I echoed, taking a big whiff of the bottle. “Damn. Still yeasty. Needs to air out a bit.”
“Fuck it, drink up,” Bobby snorted.
“So your parents made you go to church, too?” I asked, returning to a seat across from Bobby.
Bobby shook his head in the affirmative, leaning back in the chair he’d stolen from me, looking off in the distance, a pensive look on this face, rubbing his darkened eye sockets.
“Yup,” he said. “I got all the guilt and all that shit if I didn’t wanna go. They’d damn near condemned me to hellfire if I was feelin’ a little sick. It was nuts. Hell, my mom would be at that damn church every time the doors opened. Like I said, I gave it all up when I was ten years old. I refused to go anymore.”
“Did they condemn you to hell?”
“At first. They eventually gave up.”
“Baptist?” I asked.
“Yup, Southern Baptist, the worst.”
“No man. That’s Church of Christ.”
“Okay, man. Maybe you’re right, but I’m glad to be far away from that crap and in a town full of agnostics, secular humanists, and folks who think organized religion is for the birds just like me.”
“Me, too. A lot of Southerners are bat shit crazy because of organized religion,” I announced, pouring wine into the jars. They were old Ball jars I’d bought more than a decade ago. I bought a box of twelve, and they were the only thing I’d drank out of since. It was a helluva lot cheaper than buying proper drinking glasses. They served the same purpose just as well. “Don’t get me wrong. There is a God, some big abstract thing I’ll never understand, but organized religion takes you away from God rather than toward God.”
“Damn straight,” Bobby blurted. “Religion is fuuuucked up!”
“Here’s to crazy Southernitude,” I said as we clinked our jars.
“Here! Here!” Bobby agreed. “Here’s to Faulkner, Capote and his gay ass, Tenne-fuckin’-ssee Williams and his gay ass, REM…”
I thought about chiming in about Michael Stipe’s sexual predilections, but didn’t.
“…Pylon, and all the other great twisted literary figures and poets of our much derided region.”
“Here! Here!” I returned as we clinked our jars again.
“Can I get an ‘Amen’?” Bobby crowed.
“Amen!” I cried.
“The land of God, Guns, and Guts,” Bobby blurted.
We each took a gulp of Merlot.
“Speaking of literary shit, whatcha writin’ there on that there laptop,” Bobby inquired, craning his neck toward the screen.
Blood Under the Bridge
“Nothin’,” I said, jumping up and shutting the laptop, depositing it on the floor beside the table, tilting it up against the wall so no one could step on it.
“You writin’ about that dumb bat shit crazy California bitch again?” he sneered, his eyes slicing my face.
“Ah, hell no. I’m just journalin’ and shit, tryin’ to remember my dreams, tryin’ to be all Jungian and shit.”
“Ahhhh.. the Jung at heart,” sang Bobby, trying to remember the Sinatra song, but winding up just muttering some random syllables to the tune of it.
I just shook my head at his punnery.
“Damn, J,” he said, “What the fuck did you move to California for in the first place?”
“Because I wanted to live closer to the Nixon Library,” I shot back.
“I dunno. The dream, I guess. Sunny beaches, hot bitches, money, fame, mountains, blue skies, and all that shit you see in movies and on tv. You, know. That shit.”
“Damn near killed ya?”
“Yup, damn near killed me”
“That’ll teach ya about believin’ what you see on tv and the movies.”
I took a nervous sip of my wine, remembering all the shit a Southern boy had to go through adjusting to another culture just a short 1,500 or so miles away.
I didn’t even get to go to the Nixon Library, nor the Reagan.
“Folks ain’t friendly, at all,” I said.
I thought for a second.
“No, that’s wrong,” I retracted. “There were lots of cool friendly folks I met out there, especially in LA. They all seemed a helluva lot more open and friendly down in Southern California than in Northern California.”
I put my right index finger to my lip, rubbed it a little, then took a quick drag that finished off jar one of my impending Merlot binge.
“Yeah. It’s really two states out there,” I said, pouring myself the second jar. “They don’t really like each other that much, Northern and Southern California, and they blame each other for all the state’s problems. It’s weird. Urrr, well, the Northern folks blame the Southern folks. The Southern Californians are too blasé to blame anybody.”
“Now, you did meet some fine folks in San Francisco, didn’t ya?”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “Lots of ‘em. They had brains, ambition, and there were some writers I met out there writin’ up a storm. Yeah, this one guy I met out there lived on food stamps and did nothin’ but write all day. He’d written 6 fiction books and 3 books of poetry in less than two years. The man was a machine. Nothin’ published though.”
“Damn,” said Bobby, “Pile of rejection slips, huh?”
“Shit no, publishers didn’t even bother to reply.”
“Fuckers,” I agreed, “Probably didn’t even read the shit.”
“Did you read any of his stuff?”
“Yeah, he let me thumb through a couple of manuscripts. I read about half of a teen fic book he wrote about a girl detective - slash- literary critic named Paige Turner.”
Bobby paused, took his last sip of his first jar, and looked me straight in the eyes. They nearly decapitated me.
“Paige Turner? And you give me shit about puns? Fuck you.”
“Fuck you, too,” I returned.
“Was it good?”
“Yeah, I guess. As good as teen fiction can be, I guess.”
“Would you have bought such a book?”
“Nah. What the fuck would I want with a book written for teenage girls?”
“I dunno, maybe to pickup teenage girls.”
Bobby poured his second jar. We weren’t filling up the jars, just pouring a couple of inches in the bottom, about the equivalent of a proper wine glass, something I’d be damned if I spent money on. Hell, I never even bought wine. That was always someone else’s job.
“If San Francisco was so great, and had such great people, what the hell were you doing in Sacramento?”
“Ya got me. It was cheaper. I found a job there.”
“Poor excuse,” Bobby groaned.
“Yeah. I figured that out, and it’s nowhere near the Nixon Library.”
“What about that chick that drove you insane? How the fuck did you meet her?”
“Co-worker,” I said.
“I think your co-worker owes you an explanation, or money, or his soul.”
“Nah,” I said. “It’s all blood under the bridge now.”
“Blood under the bridge!” Bobby blurted. “Several years on and you still talk about the bitch and write about her. Don’t tell me that’s blood under the bridge! The damn woman drove you into a psyche ward! Blood under the bridge! ”
I couldn’t respond. Bobby knew too much. I just took another sip of Merlot, trying not to think about the imbroglio, but the mind is a truly unruly bastard at times.
This was one of those times.
The Den of the Savage Kitten
I could see the blinding hot sun. It was 101 degrees Fahrenheit on April 1. April Fools, you’re going into a psyche ward because your damn girlfriend won’t stop the constant barrage of insults and accusations, and, on top of it all, like an idiot, you stopped taking the fluoxetine you’d been on for some 15 years, and started taking 5 HTP at the behest of some new age quack you’d fallen in with. Not only did you lose 20 pounds and become so depressed that you lost your job, but the little soldier went AWOL. That is scary. Scary fucking times.
The wardens and the denizens of the ward were friendly enough, and well-behaved, overall.
I wanted peace. It was so much better than being at home.
I’d always gone into San Francisco for some peace, only to return to “You have a girlfriend in the City. I know it. You’re sleeping around on me with some wiccan musician folkie type who sucks your cock between lines of poetry.”
All that crap from the girlfriend, and the most daring thing I’d done the entire day was walk from Coit Tower all the way down to Aardvark books in the Castro, stopping once to give some Irish tourists directions to North Beach. They were looking for City Lights and Vesuvio.
On other occasions, it would be “You’re sleeping with your female co-workers, I know it!” or “You’re having sex with your therapist, I know it!”
That’s what I had to contend with. The psyche ward was the logical alternative. Despite the occasional cries of psychic agony, the droning of the television, the random coughing fits, the persistent staring into the abyss of my own existence-- My God, this is what it has come to!- it was, comparatively, like a country church on Monday morning.
Who knew that a 5 feet 5 inch woman could cause so much grief for a man over 6 feet 3? She was savvy in the art of psychic warfare. I needed neutral ground upon which to rest my war-weary psyche. My past had come back to bite me on the ass. Even though I was perfectly honest with the girl, a perfectly faithful boyfriend, for some reason, I knew I was paying penance for dalliances past. It was a heavy price, indeed. God, why did I have to pay it all at once? Doesn’t karma have an installment plan?
It was weird, this relationship with this harridan. So many times when I finally got tired of her pernicious insults and broke up with her, she’d come crawling back on her hands and knees, begging me to stay, declaring just how much she loved me and needed me. I guess being with an “evolutionary mistake”, as she had often referred to me, was not as bad as she had originally thought.
“Oh, you’ll have to do,” she’d say a few days after coming back on her hands and knees. “I guess I’ll have to settle for an ignorant, parochial, lousy lay.” And everything would be back to normal.
For some reason, I was too stupid, or too p-whipped, or something to disentangle myself from the mess I was in with this chick.
A ward for the insane seemed the only way I’d get through the next few days with some semblance of my life and dignity intact. Something deep down inside told me that if I didn’t get any peace, and get it right now, someone was gonna wind up dead, either me or her. I didn’t want to be dead, and I sure as hell didn’t want to go down on murder charges, joining the ranks of thousands of other men who’d fallen down the rabbit hole because they couldn’t walk away from a game of Sid and Nancy.
The young black woman at the desk was warm and empathetic. She could tell I was haggard and had dragged myself in like something the cat had found in the neighbor’s yard. The atmosphere of the waiting area where I filled out my paperwork was more like a luxury day spa than some state run hospital. It was sunny and colorful, with flowers in big vases everywhere. I guess they wanted to lull you into a false sense of security before they threw you to the lions. Of course, it was all a downhill coast for me no matter what. I’d already been chewed up and spit out by the lions, or at least one very savage kitten. It was sunshine and lollipops from here on out. The angry feline would be waiting for me when I got out.
My goal was to get the scrip for my meds, hightail it out of there, then lie low for a couple of days at my apartment, leaving the harridan with the impression that I was still in the hospital. That way I’d have some extra time to recover in the safety of my own home- a little bit of space and time before the onslaught started up again.
So, why was I on Prozac/ Fluoxetine? I’d been on it for some twelve years, and had been fine for that time. A psychiatrist put me on the stuff after a suicide attempt in early 1991. I was severely depressed at the time, and you guessed it, all the problems resulted from a woman. Karma again. I won’t go into the details, but I’ll say that the bitch was sleeping around on me. I got angry at first at her, then the other guys, but then I turned it inward, and it all went downhill from there. It wasn’t pretty, trying to overdose on ibuprofen and getting the ‘ol stomach pumped. Of course, I said that I’d spare you the details. Yes, the stupidity of being in your 20s.
I had made the mistake of listening to the crazy new age psychologist that I was seeing. She claimed that her crystals and UV light therapy would make me better. Of course, there was at least no harm in light and rocks. But listening to her suggestion that I drop Prozac and start taking the herbal 5 HTP was an unmitigated disaster. Poor little soldier. It was all the more ammunition for the little harridan who said she loved me so much. She had prima facie evidence now that I certainly was not “a man.”
So here I was, ready and willing to make an overnight stay in a state-run mental ward just so I could see a doc in the morning for a Prozac scrip, hoping the whole while that the medication would bring everything back to its normal functioning state.
A nurse, a woman, came out to the waiting room after about fifteen minutes and escorted me through a secure door and down a hallway, and through a second secure door, and led me into a room surrounded by blackened glass which I presumed was a two-way mirror for safety reasons- the staff’s, not mine. I was asked a series of questions about mental illness and my family’s history of mental illness, and why I was there that day. I gave her the party line story which was, “Oh, I am depressed despite my wonderful girlfriend, and I have no job, and I really need to get back on Prozac so I can function again.” Or something like that.
In response to my responses, she returned nothing but professional, expressionless nods, even during the parts where I went on and on about how I could not get it up any more. To that, she just scribbled something on her paper. She didn’t even nod.
We weren’t in an examining room, but more like a conference room, or police interrogation room. Unlike the waiting area, it was cold and barren. There were no pictures of any sort or any kind of decoration on the walls which were painted a stark white. The table at which the nurse and I sat was a dark gray metal, and must have weighed a ton. The chairs were also metal, were very heavy, and reminded me of some Bauhaus furniture I’d seen on exhibition somewhere. I think it was in Houston at the Museum of Modern Art or Contemporary Arts Museum or some such place with a name that basically means “the shit on display is gonna be a bit weird.” My mind was presently a haze and could not remember much beyond the previous 5 minutes much less some art exhibit from many years ago. My one over-arching thought was my need to get my body chemistry straight and get far, far away from the harridan. Anything else meant squat.
The nurse then went through a laundry list- allergies, sexually transmitted diseases, if I’d ever put myself in a mental ward before, had I had any sort of surgery in the last 10 years, if I was gay or straight- I guess she was impervious to my story about the girlfriend, whether I was abused as a child - does Christianity count as abuse?, what medications I was currently on, did I ever ingest any illegal substances such as cocaine, amphetamines – very popular in the California Central Valley at the time and still to this day, marijuana, and a whole list of things I’d never even heard of. My answer, of course was no, no, no, no, except for the one about allergies which I had to answer as affirmative in regards to penicillin. The nurse scratched down my answers on her form without looking up. After about 20 minutes of questions she announced that she would have the attending nurse come in and see me.
I waited in the conference/interrogation room, reading my book, something that would be taken away from me once I was admitted. It would be nothing but very old- at least a year old- Time and Newsweek from that point forward. It would be awful. Can’t a mental ward at least let the patients have something decent to read? I didn’t want to read old magazines about 9/11 or the anthrax scare, or tightened airline security or any of that crap two years after the fact. I’d hated planes even before 9/11. When you are over 6 feet 3 inches, it is a bit on the difficult side to get your legs in and out of that tiny space between your seat and the back of the seat in front of you. I now had the perfect excuse to drive everywhere, and I wouldn’t have to go through lines and be subjected to the kabuki theatre of airport security. They’d already hit the airports. They’d certainly move on to something else.
Some Californians told me that 9/11 was no big deal to them, that it was a distant event on the other side of the country. Now, if it’d had happened in San Francisco or Los Angeles, they said, it would have been a different story, but New York, not so much. Somehow, guiltily, I agreed with them. It was an event far, far away on the east coast, so far away from my life on the west coast. Being a Southerner, I figured no one in New York would give a shit if they hit Houston or Atlanta, so why should I get so bent out of shape about New York? Still, I felt so damn unpatriotic. I kept those thoughts to myself.
The attending nurse gave her final blessings, and I was stripped of my clothes and all my possessions which were duly tagged, bagged, and placed on a shelf in a locked room somewhere behind what looked like a nurses station, but I don’t think the people at the desks were nurses, but more like mission control operators, managing the coming and goings of crazy people. I was their newest ward and they called ahead to warn of my arrival.
“New patient comin’ in,” one of them announced over her headset.
“You’re not gonna cause any trouble, are you?” the plump black lady with the mission control headset asked. I merely smiled and shook my head to signify, “no.”
I was now in nothing but a gown, my blue boxers underneath, and a pair of hospital booties, little ankle socks with rubber soles to keep you from sliding around on the assiduously polished floor. It seemed that the whole time I was there, somewhere within sight or earshot there was a guy polishing that damn floor with one of those big rotary machines. I thanked God and goodness for my rubber-soled booties.
“Goddamn nigger! Get your hands off me!”
These were the first words I heard in the ward. I’d been reading an old Time magazine article about Alpha, Beta, and Gamma girls, when this big crazy blonde woman, maybe 21 years old on a good day, blurted these words.
My first reaction was, “Holy shit!! What is this, Louisiana in 1965?” Then I came to realize, this was no day spa. This was a bona fide freakin’ psyche ward. Motherfuckers in here were crazy. The shit could get heavy.
There were 20 of us strewn about the day room on couches and in chairs, all of which were of course too damn heavy to move. You could’ve driven a truck into the furniture and it wouldn’t have budged. Some inane movie was playing on the television since live television was not allowed. It was just like the prisoners in that Vonnegut novel, Hocus Pocus. Live television with current news would be too distressing for the inmates in the asylum. So all we got were silly G-rated movies all day long, interspersed with episodes of Different Strokes which creeped me out to no end considering the eventually outcome of Dana Plato’s life, and the less than savory futures of Todd Bridges and Gary Coleman. Some higher up at the ward must have been one twisted fuck.
I think Steve Martin was in the movie we were watching when the blonde woman went crazy and started screaming at the orderlies who were trying to escort her to the nurses’ station for her afternoon meds. Cheaper by the Dozen, I think it was. I figured she may have really been enjoying the movie and did not want to be interrupted. Somehow, everyone had been quiet for at least 20 minutes, if not more. Maybe they were all sedated, and soon the orderlies would come to sedate me.
I could not wait. I was ready to become a walking Ramones song.
I went back to reading the article where Kirsten Dunst, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, and Julia Stiles were all archetypes for some pop psychologist’s moist fantasy. It was complete fluff, something that would be gone and forgotten from the collective cultural memory in a few months, if not sooner. Reading that crap beat reading nothing, though.
How I longed for a good dose of Bukowski. Hadn’t he been psyche-warded in California, too? Surely, someone that on edge had to have been committed at one time or another. He could’ve really livened things up here in the mental ward. I was hoping that they’d bring him in to yell and scream at us and dance pirouettes.
It was a fantasy. One helluva of a beautiful fantasy. I’d be sittin’ there all bored with my Time magazine, and in would come Bukowski, being dragged in by the orderlies. Bukowski’d go on and on and on about God forsaking us all here in this ol’ ward and all his drinking bouts with famous folks over the years, and we’d all be entertained, and the morning that would seem an eternity to arrive would arrive in the twinkle of an eye. I really wanted to ask him about his meeting with Jean-Luc Godard, the one he talked about in Hollywood. Hell, I wanted to talk about everything with him. Crazy old fuck was probably the sanest person who ever lived.
I had other fantasies of famous people coming in- Jack Nicholson to regale us with his character from one Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Jean-Luc Godard- there’s that motherfucker again- to show us his latest filmic experiment he was working on down in Los Angeles with a couple of UCLA students, Francois Truffaut back from the dead to talk about working with Spielberg in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Serge Gainsbourg, maybe the President would drop by and tell us to all cheer up and to get better so we could get out, get back to work, and shop America right back to greatness.
Wait. Wasn’t Bukowski dead, too?
Shit!! He died that long ago? 1994, huh?
To some of us, he’ll never die. God bless the bastard.
Long live the bastard.
None of this ever happened though, not even in my mind. I only imagined imagining it. I was too self-conscious and scared of my fellow inmates to keep the fantasy going. I was afraid I’d get in too deeply then one of my friends would bludgeon me to death while I screamed, “Bukowski, you asshole! What the fuck are you doing!” The blonde lady was the only external excitement we got. It was up to us, all 20 or so of us to keep up our spirits until we could get out of here, all as we sat quietly, keeping suspicious eyes on one another.
It was the most peace I’d had in six months.
I think I read 2 Times and 1 Newsweek back to back to back before dinner, another Time before animal crackers and juice, and finally, bedtime. It was like overnight pre-school.
The reading was interrupted by a call to the harridan that I made on one of the pay phones just outside the day room, collect since I’d been stripped of all my possessions and had no money. I don’t know if any of the pay phones actually accepted money since no one had any. She went on about how proud she was of me, and all that. I just grunted, and somehow, despite hating her guts, and wishing she were dead, or as far away from me as possible, perhaps Mars for starters, I told her I loved her. It hurt like hell to say that. I was a bloody fool. A bloody damn fool, a people pleaser. Where was the inner-direction when I needed it? She was the very reason that I was now insane and locked up tight with a couple of dozen other insane people who needed protection from themselves, and the outside world which had somehow become, for some of them at least, populated by demons, gremlins, and all sorts of other projections of internal madness. It made me very tired to think just how hideous this entire situation was. It was little consolation that my demon was real, 5 foot 5 and very alive.
‘Lights out’ came, and I was placed in a room with some other guy in a bed not more than five feet from mine. He was sound asleep. I had trouble sleeping. I could not get the voice and insults of the harridan that had accumulated over the treacherously long past half-year out of my head. It took a couple of hours, but I finally got to sleep. I must have heard, “You don’t know how to be a man,” roll through my head at least 100 times during that time.
I wanted to write when the morning came. Nobody would give me any paper, and they certainly weren’t going to give me any instrument which could potentially do harm to myself, the other patients, or horrors, the orderlies and the staff of the hospital. So I wrote things in my head about how beautiful the morning was, how it had been 100 degrees the day before, in April no less, how crazy all the patients were, and how I must have been that crazy too since I was locked up with them. I did not miss the harridan one bit. I managed to go an entire 30 minutes without thinking about her. But when she came back to my head, it was utterly terrifying.
I told her I’d be in here for at least a week.
They’d told me that I would be seeing the doctor at 10 am, and that’d he give me a ‘scrip, and he’d release me if he thought I was okay. The sheer terror of going back into the world and having to face the harridan sent a shockwave through my body. I hyperventilated, but got control of myself, realizing that she’d have no idea where I was if I went straight home, and kept a low profile for a few hours, or even a few days. I’d give myself a week, even. That’s right. I could hide from her as long as I wanted, leading her to believe the whole time that I was still in here.
But then another shock came over me.
What if I really got stuck here?
What if the doctor deemed me too much of a danger to myself and others to release me? Six of one, half dozen of the other. It would be no worse than being subjected to the harridan. It would be the preferable alternative. The ideal would be to go home and hide. Staying here would be second. Going to see the harridan was the worst option. I think I could be okay if I could avoid that last one.
I stopped, took a breath, then took another sip of wine.
“Well, I can’t judge an entire city by one crazy bitch,” I said. “I met some nice folks in Sacramento. I think they were all in the psyche ward with me.”
“To the psyche ward,” said Bobby, and we clinked our jars together.
“To Jack Ruby,” I said.