Category Archives: memoir

chapter 34 the end again


 This is the ending the final summation of a performance art piece, if not of the highest artistic merit ever performed in San Francisco, it was I would argue, one of the most effective. The article came out in the Saturday edition of the San Francisco chronicle and by Monday the funding was restored to the MHRF.

I haven’t been keeping up on San Francisco Politics but so far as I know the matter of selling live frogs in china town is still being debated. Animal cruelty or cultural insensitivity? After a few years debate the city decided to ban the use of plastic shopping bags. Restoring several millions in funding to a hospital the city wasn’t even really aware it had? :Less than 48 hours. Yah dear San Fran that’s what you get for fucking with me.

Politics is mostly a game of trades. of this for that, all bound up in a most careful cotillion of manners scripted in its smallest nuance. All this for the same basic reason the ancient Roman empire did such a spanking business in wild lions and invented so many interesting uses for religious extremists.

Keep the People Amused.

Otherwise they get all cranky and start causing trouble.

Now if you want to get people all cranky and causing trouble here’s a few tips.

  1. Have a very clear objective. I really can’t stress this enough. Have a very clear objective. One thing, one issue, one objective. The People is a beast with millions of voices, if you unleash that beast with no clear objective it will argue with its self into infinity.

  2. Have a strong emotional hook. Getting the People to go from ‘Ohh that’s so sad’ to ‘ Ohh hell no you don’t.’ Is all about the right emotional hook. That poke in a tender place that makes the whole body politic wince in shared pain. That emotional hook need not have much if anything to do with the issue.

  3. Be stubborn. You have to be stubborn past your own fears, stubborn past your ability to suffer, stubborn past all certainty of failure. In the end it could and probably will be all for nothing. You’re an idiot, you’re a fool, you’re the fucking walrus coo coo cachou.

  4. Have a sense of humor. Which is a bit of advice that works in every situation.

  5. When trying to rouse the People to action it actually helps to have a shortly upcoming Armageddon deadline. Give the People too long to think about anything and it gets all confused.

The issue here was clear, keep the MHRH open.

The emotional hook, that was the tricky part. People are different, cities are different, San Francisco is,, and I pause while you dear reader snigger knowingly. San Francisco is different.

San Francisco is Americas gay city. That’s not to say that the majority of people in San Francisco are gay, but I would say it has a higher percentage of gay people in the general population then in most places in the US. If your gay at some point in your youth you dream of moving to the land of OZ. San Francisco is a city that attracts people who are on the lefty liberal end of the socio-political scale. Lets face it being a republican in San Francisco is rather like being a member of the Jamaican bob sled team. Good or bad you cheer them on cause gosh darn it they are so darn cute. San Francisco’s gay culture defines the city its art its politics its bars, its tourist dollars. You want to stay in power in San Francisco you don’t piss off the gay.

Here is where I had a bit of a problem. Now of course the natural reaction of the gay community overall would be one of sympathy for the poor mad people so rudely shuffled off and away from family and things known. But sympathy is in the ‘ohh that;s too bad’ and falls far short of the ‘oh hell no you don’t.’

Only very recently has the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders delisted homosexuality as a mental disorder. Even so there are still doctors in the field trying to cure the gay with electrodes to the genitals. All those years of trying to separate themselves from the label of being mentally ill, it makes it difficult for them to identify with the mentally ill.

Over all most people have a natural aversion to the mentally ill. The mentally ill scare us, we don’t understand them. They are the other, the forever outsider, the I don’t know what the heck to do with them and I wish they would go somewhere,,,,else.

The People can only be roused to outrage when they feel an intimate personal emotional connection with an event, a person, a story.

What is the single biggest emotional trauma suffered in the gay community?

Survey says..

If you had answered AIDS,, you wouldn’t even be close.

Family rejection.

This is something that is completely universal in the gay community. Even those whose families didn’t reject them suffered the fear that it could happen. The whole process of coming out is preceded by months even years of wrestling with that fear.

This that resonates so strongly in the gay community is also a commonality in the population over all. Freud wasn’t all bollacks. A baby is born and it cries and instinctively it reaches out. Our first and primary fear is there is our first moments of life. We reach out and there is no one there to catch us.

I felt bad about using my uncle as a pawn in a game he had nothing to do with. But ahh well I did tell him he needed to listen to the whole story.

All righty then lets see now to sum up. I lost my apartment and my life sucked ass for waayy too long. Boccie is doing well, people still want to rent from him so I’m guessing that he doesn’t try to kill all his tenants. But on the other hand a hospital was saved and some truly needful people have a safe warm place to sleep. You may see it differently but I count that as a win.

One final thing remains. When I rented the apartment from Boccie I told him if I were unhappy with him I would let him know, if I were really unhappy I promised just about everyone would know. So here it is.

Mr. Richard J. Boccie is a bad landlord.

So now you know.

To the best of my ability all promises kept.

Unextinguished laughter shakes the skies

Homer, the Illiad


chapter 32 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.

Chapter 33

CooCoo cachoo

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. Seuss 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.

chapter 31 as you wish


 5am the coo coo clock announces, enter my uncle stage left, right on cue.

“Hello Wally.”

“ 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.

chapter 30 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 fated 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 leaped 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 honor-less 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 come out 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 quite 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. Seuss 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 console TV on the porch, busted pickup on the hard mud grass-less 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 chauffeur 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 suite case 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 Boris Karloff 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 emphysema, 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, Boris Karloff 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 programmed politeness 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.

“I can’t.”

“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?”

And failed.

“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.



 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 are

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 explain 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 doubt 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 doubt 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.




 “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?”

“Pandora’s box?”

“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.”

“Cultural filters?”

“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 life’s 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 philosophy.

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.

Christmas 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 waited 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.

I laugh.

“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’re not?”

“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 Paladin 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 is 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.”

“What 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 evidence of 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 non compliant 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 Pulitzer 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 asks.

“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.

  1. Get out alive

  2. Get out with as few irritating complications to my life as possible

  3. 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.”


chapter 27 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.”

“What happened?”

“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 carefully 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 really 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 Wednesday. 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.