Monday, June 02, 2014

Mike's Story Part 38: Blowing That Joint

By Jenna Orkin    

   January 2, 2007
   9:30 a.m.

   Mike calls. 

   "Have you got [his outpatient psychiatrist's] number? Please tell me you have her number. I don't have it and they won't let me have a pen; this is a psych ward. But if I have a psychiatrist, they'll let me out today. Otherwise I have to stay here.  I just want to get out of here."

I have the number.  "Is there someone I can call with it so I don't have to sit here all day waiting for them to call?"  (The reception on my cell phone is elusive.) 

"Hold on a second." He goes off. In the distance I hear him tell everyone around, "Don't hang up the phone; don't hang up the phone."

He comes back. "Are you still there?"


"OK. Hold on."

Somehow he's gotten a hold of a pen with which he takes the number.

11:30 AM

"They're keeping me 'til tomorrow. They want to make sure the lithium is working. There's this woman who's been chanting for four hours and she's parked right outside my room. Oh God."

"What would happen if you just asked her nicely to stop?"


"Do you want me to come at one?"

"No, come at six like you did yesterday."

"I'm allowed to bring you food. Do you have any special requests?"
He thinks... "A Snickers bar."

   8 p.m.

I've learned the hard way why they tell you to call half an hour before coming to visit; I wasn't allowed in as the ward was too crowded.

At least Officer A. took the Snickers bar, promising to give it to Mike.

Ray's going to call around 8:30, after I was supposed to have left. Mike can't call him because Ray’s cell phone has a forbidden exchange.
   January 3, 2007 
   11:00 a.m.

   "I'm getting out! They're letting me out at twelve fifteen, twelve thirty."
   "Do you want me to come get you?"
   "If you can, that would be great. Bring the knapsack so I can put this stuff in it.

I've got to get out of here. I've seen things.... It's like a Freddy Krueger movie. I'm never coming back here...."  I imagined he was alluding to people being put in restraints, his greatest fear.

"Last night a woman spread feces on the walls of my room."

   I left for Bellevue where I headed for the Information desk. They called the Emergency Psych Ward who said that Mike had left.
"Damn," I thought. "He probably had had enough and went home, knowing I would figure it out."  I went home too, stopping to shop on the way. If he was going to act on whim, so was I.

   Three messages on my answering machine: "It's 12:15, I'm out front...." "It's 1:00; I'm going to wait 'til hell freezes over."  "It's 1:30; I've been sitting here two hours."
  We sorted out the snafu - he'd waited so I could pay for his prescription (his inheritance still hadn't come in and we weren't sure it would) -  and forty-five minutes later he showed up, bearing a shopping bag full of clothes that Bellevue provides to inmates when they leave.
"Are they usable?" I asked.

"Yes; these are keepers."

His cheek was covered in three days' stubble. He was tired, shaken.

"I guess if I've taken the subway in grungy sweats, no shave, carrying a brown paper bag, that makes me a New Yorker, huh?

I saw things... You ate as quickly as possible; one man was doing his bulimic thing next to me as I had breakfast. Then there was the woman taking a dump on the stretcher. I don't know how people stand to work there.

I'm never going back there. It's Skinnerian treatment, the way they do with dogs and it works. There were some people.... they ain't never comin' back. The nurse said to me, 'You never left.'

And I had to listen to fifteen hours of The Honeymooners. You couldn't change the channel. They had hours of game shows, infotainment; one of the Olsen twins weighs 85 pounds.
But I managed to help an eighteen-year-old black boy. I gave him hope.

And this morning's rounds were cool. The head doctor - I forget her name - asked me, 'Would you mind giving us twenty minutes of your time? I want these people to understand what the government can do to journalists.'

I said, 'If I can help someone.'

All those doctors knew who I was. Some of them had looked me up on Google but they all knew how good a journalist I was.

They knew about the sexual harassment stuff too. One guy said, 'Yeah, I saw that; it was bullshit.'

And they understood when I said I wanted to go out in a Valkyrie blaze of glory."

   I wondered what, exactly, they understood:  Did the desire fit on one of their checklists for "danger to self or others?"  For surely, their "understanding" did not merely indicate a sympathetic viewpoint.   If it did, God help their patients.
And they knew Gary Webb. They asked me if I knew him.

I gave the eulogy at his funeral,'" he quoted himself telling them.  He was crying.
  "I wish Gary could have known that."
   "If it ever crosses your mind to kill yourself again, I want you to remember this." 

I told them the one difference between me and Gary was, Gary thought he was going to get back into the mainstream, get a Pulitzer. The [LA] Times hated him. I don't want back in that game.

A lot of things became clear over the last three days. We have a lot to talk about. My priorities became clearer. My first priority is to take care of me. I deserve to live....  I deserve to live," he turned the phrase over in wonder, crying again.
  "I have to take care of myself even if the business suffers. I deserve to live a happy, Peak-Oil-ignorant life.
The first priority is me, the second is the business.  Only after those two things are taken care of can I address questions about Peak Oil.

Gary," (he looked up, as though to Heaven) "I'm going to see you one day, but it isn't going to be for a while."

I joined his crying.

"When I left, the staff hugged me. They call you 'Honey.' 'How's Honey?" Even some of the patients were cool.

   'Oh, I need dental floss. I asked the nurse, 'Who do I have to bribe to get some dental floss?'
She said, 'I've been working here ten years and ain't no one ever asked me for dental floss.'

"Can you hang yourself with it???"
   "No."  (One of my students later pointed out that you could use it to slit your wrists.)

"I wanted to bring you toothpicks the other day but they wouldn't have let me bring them in."

"No. They watched the way I brushed my teeth three times a day. All those things were points in my favor."

   "What did you talk about with the eighteen-year-old boy?" I asked.
   "We didn't have a lot of time; he wasn't a minor but there was something about his age that meant he couldn't stay.  He had taken some marijuana and his behavior afterwards indicated he had something wrong. But it wasn't serious enough to keep him. I told him, 'Whatever it is, deal with it now.  I've got stuff coming up now that I didn't deal with years ago because I didn't know it was there. Take care of it now.'

When he left we did the knock-fist handshake." He demonstrated.
   "'He said, 'Take care, Bro.' I could tell that something I said got through to him; somebody he met in the Psych Ward cared.

There was another girl, beautiful, fair-haired girl, C -, with cuts all the way up her forearm, worse than the woman the other night. That's text book self-mutilation and it almost always comes from sexual abuse."

   "Suicide is here," I agreed, indicating the inside of my wrist.
"Do you remember how they did it in Apocalypto?"
I shook my head.

"Here." He drew an imaginary line up his forearm rather than across it. "Veins run lengthwise. Tendons go across. I learned that as a policeman.

There was no privacy. You took a shower, the men's and women's bathrooms were the same, with no lock on the door."

"That's more problematic for the women than for the men. You mean the toilets also had no locks?"

"They had no doors. I guess they didn't want anyone to get too comfortable in there."

   "No one gets that comfortable in there."
   "You'd be surprised."

After dinner he said, "I was thinking, if I want to establish roots here, I'd like to pick out a picture to put on the wall so I can think, 'This is mine.' And we have to clear some space in the closets.  I could clear out half that closet over there."

"You probably want to throw out that lampshade, which is fine."
   "And matching sheets. The sheets there didn't match. I'll pay for them."

"No problem."

   We talked about the news.
"The Iranian oil bourse is a joke," I said.  The ever-looming, now-you-see-it-not-you-don't bourse which was going to follow in the footsteps of Saddam Hussein and accept non-dollar currencies for oil.  The exchange was an omnipresent threat which was about to open any day; then experienced delays, then disappeared for months, then popped up again, keeping the United States on tenterhooks for years.
   "And notice how they're playing it. Russia's also playing that game.

Now, say you were France," he warmed to the scenario.  "If you saw the way the dollar was going, you'd buy more euros and you'd only change back into dollars at the last minute when you wanted to buy oil. Because when the time came to buy oil, you'd be able to buy more."

"Say you were China. To what extent does it matter that you want the U.S. to be there to buy your plastic toys?"

"That market will become saturated. That's why there's something called the Shanghai Cooperation Council that's building up Malaysian, Cambodian and other markets."

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