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Thursday, June 26, 2008
Recently, I was having a discussion with another comedian about Tookie Williams.
Stanley "Tookie" Williams, if you don't know, was the founder of the Crips who was put to death in San Quentin a few years ago. In the late 70s, he killed a convenience store employee and then, a few days later, killed a Korean family of three. In the weeks before he was humanely put to sleep at the expense of non-murdering taxpayers, Tookie blamed "white people" and the "white man" and the "racist system" and the "racist prison guards" and the "racist jury" (which actually had three blacks on it), and the "racist judge" and "systemic racism" for his unfortunate predicament as a guilty man on death row.
Wisely, Governor Schwarzenegger denied him clemency and the world was rid of this opportunistic pig who only succeeded in selling the ghetto back to itself.
In the discussion with my comedian friend, I was following up on some statements I had made earlier from the stage on my theory regarding the "fork in the road" of the civil rights movement.
In a nutshell, the "fork in the road" of the civil rights movement is as follows:
Martin Luther King: Southern, Christian, nonviolent, integrationist. He had it right.
Malcolm X: Northern, Islamic, violent, separationist. He had it wrong.
Martin Luther King: killed by a white man. A martyr for freedom.
Malcolm X: killed by black people. A martyr for what?
Sadly, though lip-service is paid to Martin Luther King from all corners of our globalized world, the civil rights legacy that survives and thrives in the streets to this day is Malcolm X's. And before him, Elijah Muhammad's. Without Elijah Muhammad, you don't get Malcolm X. Without Malcolm X, you don't get Farrakhan, the million-man march, Nation of Islam, black separatism (read "black segregation"), gangsta hip-hop, Black Panthers, Stokely Carmichael, Huey P. Newton, Angela Davis, H. Rap Brown, the Soledad Brothers, communal groupthink, white guilt, black opportunism, censorship of free speech, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Rev. Jeremiah, unfair and unrepresentative racial quotas, affirmative action, lowered cultural standards, the proliferation of the welfare state, the cult of Mumia Abu-Jamal, and, of course, Tookie Williams.
The tragedy of Martin Luther King's legacy is that it's very difficult to witness as a sociological phenomenon because it is a legacy of integration. When blacks integrate into mainstream society--as was the thrust of the civil rights movement before being hijacked by X and his clan--blacks cease to be "black" and become individuals. That is the magic of integration. You transcend race to become an enlightened individual.
Since X's legacy, on the other hand, is rooted in grievance and presented as de facto ideology for the community, it is much more publicly visible and therefore much more dangerous to the preservation and maintenance of an enlightened culture.
That is the fork in the road. One is reminded of Robert Frost here. The road less traveled, and more spiritually rewarding, was, and will forever be, the domain of Martin Luther King. The wider and easier path was paved by Malcolm X and has been carefully gardened for over forty years by a chaingang of guilty whites and opportunistic blacks.
So my comedian friend asked of me, "But do you know why Tookie killed those Koreans?"
"Cause he was a thug," I said.
"No," he responded, "do you know what his motive was?"
"I don't know," I said, "I think he took around $150 from them." (Tookie had been robbing the Koreans' family-owned motel at the time of the murders)
"No, no, no," insisted my comedian friend, "He did it because he was angry at all these Koreans who come into the ghetto and buy up businesses and take money out of the African-American community."
By now, my jaw has stopped falling open when I hear ridiculous (and racist) assertions like this. I understand this is the world in which we live. But I still argue about it. It is not only my right to argue these erroneous suppositions. It is my moral duty.
Immediately, others who had not been directly involved in the conversation jumped in to aid the comedian (who, incidentally, was black), "He's not saying that justifies the killings. He's just saying that explains them."
The problem is, sometimes an explanation IS a justification.
LIBERAL (Jeffersonian liberal, not postmodern)
If I were a businessman--which I'm not, I just play one in small coffee houses for tips--but if I were a businessman and I was looking for a cheap place to set up a business, the first place I would look to would be the Ghetto.
Because Ghettos always look alike: They look like nobody is using them for anything.
Can you fault a Korean family for looking at all the broken glass, the vacant lots and the crackheads; listening to the endless whining about victimhood; hearing all the piteous rants of not being able to stand on one's own feet, and NOT come to the independent conclusion that no one is going to complain if you should waltz right in and set up your own small business in the barren wasteland known by all mankind as the Ghetto?
(Notwithstanding the simple moral notion that Korean families shouldn't be shot in the back with a sawed-off shotgun for simply owning a motel in the first place. A lot of black people don't do this sort of thing. Let's stop making academic excuses for those who do.)
But this is how the racket works and why it flies contrary to FDR, Jeffersonian, and Rousseauian liberalism. In X's legacy, man is never free. He is always a victim of outside circumstances beyond his control.
It's the Koreans' fault. It's white America's fault. Or, according to the Nation of Islam, it's all the fault of the Jews. Those grubby little Zionists that are forcing you to spend your welfare check on Superlotto and 40-dawgs.
It's amazing how much sympathy you can get by lying around in your own shitty diapers and pointing upwards at some convenient racial stereotype perched in the white, white clouds above.
Gentrification is decried by the Left. I decry gentrification as well, which puts me in cahoots with the Left. I like nothing more than to see communities, municipalities, states and countries retain their identities. But in the case of Harlem, for example, I do NOT think that Harlem's identity is broken bottles, street gangs, and Nation of Islam indoctrination centers. I think Harlem's identity is the Cotton Club, the Apollo Theatre, and the other vestiges of the faded Harlem Renaissance.
But if a community makes zero effort to better themselves--not as a "community" per se, but as a gathering of enlightened, motivated, and transcendent individuals--gentrification is going to happen whether its citizens like it or not. That is one of the basic domestic laws of post-60s economics. The aftershocks of Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society", if you will. (Old-school liberalism officially died on Nov. 22nd, 1963 when an old-school leader was killed by a new-school loser.)
"Oh, you're not going to do anything with this area right here? Well, how about we get the government to get the taxpayers to build you another stark complex of ugly-looking projects over there and me and my wife--the lovely Mrs. Yang--will set up a little motel over here. Hey, we've all got to eat, right?"
Wrong. Boom! Boom! Boom!
Or so goes the general academic line of illiberal thought. "Yes, murder is bad. But so is owning a motel." Jesus. I know we're not THIS stupid.
Actually, I'm not so sure anymore.
One of the major items decried by modern liberalism is big business. We all hate big business. Big business is bland. Big business is sameness multiplying into sameness. Big business is globalization. Big business is sanitized nihilism. Big business is Starbucks and all the rest. Big business is culture acting as call-girl to economic trade.
If outside gentrification is going to happen to a community because of the ongoing neglect of its citizens inside, it is preferable that the gentrification at least come from individuals; small business owners who, like it or not, may be Korean, or Jewish, or even white. But that's tricky (and dangerous) because it's easier to point a finger at an individual and individual business than it is a nameless, faceless corporate conglomerate.
"Mr. and Mrs. Yang are racist slant-eyed Korean Chinks who came to rob us of our money! Rufus, get my sawed-off shotgun!"
So, if native blacks have abandoned perfecting the ghetto out of grievance and victimhood, and small-business owners of different ethnicities have done likewise out of fear and sanity--only one option remains:
Big business comes in to do the work of individuals. And the convenient thing for big business is that there's nothing you can do about it. You can't really shoot four McDonald's employees in the back and assume that that's going to rectify the "stolen money from the community" issue. There's nobody at the top. Big business is an unfeeling, uncaring monolith. There's nobody to point a finger at. And even if you did find out who was running the show--they wouldn't stop anyway. That's the power of big business. It makes all your decisions for you with absolute impunity.
This is not to say that native communities will no longer stand up as one and shout with preening self-righteousness at big business: "STOP GENTRIFICATION!" But these are hollow shouts. There's nobody to kill. Business will proceed as usual. You lose.
So problem solved, right?
I went to McDonald's last night. They know me so well over there. There's a real cute black girl who always smiles and flashes me two fingers to signify that she knows I'll be wanting my usual--two Angus Mushrooms and Swiss. A few times, she's even let me skip to the front of the line--much to the chagrin of the other assembled blacks and Latinos. She makes me feel special. I know her name, but that's my secret.
Usually her and I chat for a little bit as she takes my money. She's very nice. I often find myself wondering how old she is and what it would be like to have sex with a black girl, for I have never done so. I usually have to wait a little bit for my sandwiches--I think it has something to do with letting the mushrooms simmer or some preparations they have to take with the 1/3 pound of Angus beef--the fundamental layer of an Angus Mushroom and Swiss. But talking with my delectable ebony friend at the front line (fast food slang for register) helps me kill the time.
However, last night she wasn't there and I found myself impatiently waiting in silence as my sandwiches were being slowly prepared.
"Am I the only one who orders these things?" I asked the manager, another black woman who is also familiar with my order, but does not offer special treatment and polite conversation like my frontline friend. The manager is not unkind, however. I think she's just busier, being a manager and all. She wears the yellow buttoned top of higher office. My absent friend wears the infantry color of the red shirts.
But it was near closing and the store was empty, so the manager had time to answer, "It's just cause we can't keep the meat out cause we end up wasting it."
"You should keep it out for me," I said jokingly.
"Seriously, I'm in here all the time," I said, "Just have two of them, ready and waiting, lined up to go."
She laughed, "But sometimes you don't come."
"Most of the time I do. I'm here about 5 times a week."
"But on the days you don't come, we waste it."
"That's all right," I reassured her with a wink, trying to soft-sell my idea, "You'd only be hurting McDonald's."
She gave me what I would later describe in this sentence as a coy look and reiterated patiently, "But we would waste the meat if you didn't come."
"I know. But you're only hurting McDonald's. So nobody gets hurt. You can't hurt McDonald's. It's just another big business."
By that point, my sandwiches were ready. I said my obligatory thank-yous and reminded the manager that it was okay to hurt McDonald's every now and then.
On the way home, I thought about how fun it had been making oblique references to a class struggle in the presence of a black woman. For it is moments like these wherein I feel unity.
Race divides. Class unites.
Posted by Will Franken at 8:13 PM
Monday, June 23, 2008
George Carlin, in case you haven't heard, has passed away from heart failure at the age of 71.
As a comedian, I suppose I am required to say something. But I must be honest. I was never really that big a fan; especially in comparison to my favorite comedic icons of that era, Richard Pryor and Steve Martin. To be sure, Carlin had good delivery and a lot of his routines were extremely clever, although I don't consider him as groundbreaking and revolutionary a figure as many current comedy historians do.
Basically, I consider the most remarkable aspect of Carlin's career to be his good luck. Since he was essentially the torchbearer for Lenny Bruce, Carlin's greatest fortune was the luxury of delivering what amounted to the same type of "shocking" and highly literate material in a much more permissive (and therefore safe) society than the one which ultimately destroyed Bruce and simultaneously enshrined him as America's quintessential martyr for the cause of free speech.
In fact, Carlin was such an admirer of Bruce that he was actually arrested in Chicago after mouthing off to one of the cops who were busy arresting Lenny for obscenity. According to the story, Carlin even found himself sitting side-by-side with his idol in the police van outside the club. One could make the argument here that it was this fortuitous incident that provided Carlin with the necessary "street cred" to advance his career in the postmodern standup comedy world.
In Bruce's lexicon, free speech meant free speech unilaterally. Since then, free speech, as applied to the current crop of American comedy, has been redefined to mean sanctimonious, overdone, and unoriginal criticisms of presidential administrations (a la Jon Stewart); selective and communally-approved outbursts of "political incorrectness", often delivered by an attractive young female (a la Sarah Silverman); or profanity for the mere sake of profanity (a la Bob Saget).
Though Carlin unquestionably began his career by carrying on the legacy of Lenny Bruce (a role which both comedy history and the overall popular culture of the 1970s dictated somebody must fill), it nonetheless would be a mistake to suggest that, in his later years, Carlin did not play a significant factor in the current, watered-down redefinition of free speech as applied by Stewart, Silverman, and Saget.
This, however, could be attributed to Carlin's longevity (and possible senility) in his role as elder statesman of the standup comedy/social commentary scenes and not to any innate mediocrity on his part, either as a writer or as a performer. For despite his flaws, Carlin was anything but mediocre. That being said, his titles as innovator and revolutionary deserve much more academic scrutiny than they have hitherto received.
In sum, George Carlin was a man of his times. And unlike Lenny Bruce, Carlin's times were ready for him. This advantageous synchronicity was undoubtedly Carlin's greatest strength.
His early targets were valid and, in many ways, profound in their exploration--in particular, his damning critiques on crass consumerism and the retardation that money, marketing, and media had embedded into the average American consciousness by the advent of the 1970s. Here, one thinks specifically of Carlin's famous analyses of the words "shit" and "stuff" in relation to material possessions.
My favorite routine of George Carlin's, however, is his relatively innocent linguistic compare/contrast study of the games of football and baseball.
"In football, the object is for the quarterback, otherwise known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy--in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use the shotgun. With short, bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack which punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line. . .In baseball, the object is to go home. And to be safe! I hope I'll be safe at home! Safe at home!"
George Carlin, may he rest in peace.
(Trieste, Zurich, Paris, 1914-1921)
Posted by Will Franken at 4:43 PM
Saturday, June 21, 2008
But would you like to know what's scary to me?
Maybe if you guys can see that I'm scared of something also, you wouldn't be so scared of me! What do you think?
Yeah? Okay then, light a candle and join me in my parlour on this dark, stormy night and I'll tell you a frightful fear that'll bring out the goosebumps in your hair and send a chill down your teeth. . .
I'm afraid of flying!
Not all of flying. I really enjoy it when we reach cruising altitude and there's no turbulence. I also enjoy initial descent, glide pattern, final approach, and landing.
But here's what I don't like: Boarding, takeoff, ascent, flying through zero visibility, and, of course, turbulence.
So when I say that I have a fear of flying, I only mean that I have a fear of boarding, takeoff, ascent, flying through zero visibility and, of course, t-t-tT-T TuRBuLenCE.!!!..>!!..!>!!!
Goddamn turbulence, I hate that shit!
For a boy who was born in the middle of Missouri, I've flown a good deal in my life. And I have to admit that I've improved quite a lot over the years when it comes to this particular fear. For example, up until initial descent, I used to remain terrified throughout the entire flight--regardless of whether there was any turbulence at cruising altitude or not.
Even cruising without any bumps, I couldn't stop thinking about how death never sends an invitation. Or how I would only have a good ten minutes as we dropped from the sky to regret every bad thing I've ever done. Or how when people say that airplanes are safer than automobiles they never acknowledge the much greater likelihood of actually SURVIVING an automobile crash. And about how much more romantic it would be to limp across a desert road from the wreckage of a 1970 Nova with your best gal by your side, blotting your bleeding forehead with love and tenderness than it would be to freefall from the sky in an overpriced steel tube with total strangers, many of them obese and foreign.
One morning, about seven or eight years ago, I had to fly out of JFK airport. I was going back to Missouri for Christmas. We had to wait forever before leaving the gate in order for the plane to be sufficiently de-iced. It had been heavily snowing earlier. There wasn't a blue patch in the sky. I knew it wasn't going to be a good flight. I didn't need a navigator to see that we were going to be flying through zero visibility all the way up.
OH NO! Z-z-z-zero ViSiBILitY!!!!
My mind goes really corkscrewy when I fly through zero visibility. This is why I always insist on having a window seat. I go really insane on a flight, especially during turbulence, when I'm sitting in an aisle seat. It comforts me to be able to consistently look down at the earth's surface and know that I am spiritually--if not physically--tethered to the sphere below. And when I can't see that sphere, either by seating arrangement or because of zero visibility, I go a little cUKoO!
Don't get me wrong, I don't mind clouds--as long as I'm above them and I can see the sun; or the moon and the stars. Or if there's a sufficient gap between them for me to spot a few scattered patches of the earth below. But when I'm right in the thick of them and it's all white or grey or even pitch black, deep and troubling questions of faith begin to emerge. . .
Like they did right before takeoff that cold December morning on the runway at JFK.
"i hope the air traffic controllers are being paid well. how historically reliable has radar been? i wonder if everybody turned off their cell phones just like the captain said. how little of a warning would we get if another plane should happen to smash into this one? very little. very little. there'd probably be a big "whoosh!" of no more than five seconds and then-BANG! i'm dead. and what have i done? what have i done? what have i done? nothing. nothing. nothingnothingnothingnothing. nihil-nothing-nihil-nihil-nothingnothingnothing. . .!>! .$!Nnothngnihilnnnnn-nnn-n-n-n-nothing-nihil-nihil-no-no-no-non-nononono"
I started to hyperventilate profusely the moment the plane left the ground. In a matter of seconds, a stewardess brought out an oxygen tank and slipped a mask over my face.
Later, after we had reached cruising altitude and I had settled down sufficiently enough for the stewardess to remove the mask and tend to the other passengers, I found myself embarrassed--for there had been many pretty girls sitting near me in the back of the plane. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans and smiled nervously at all the beautiful and calm faces who had tried politely not to stare. "I'm just eccentric," I had wanted my awkward image to radiate, "NOT afraid of flying."
Yes, there was zero visibility and a lot of turbulence all the way out to Kansas City. Although, unquestionably, I did manage to survive that flight. For I would not be here today to tell you all of this, my little droogs.
But then there was the time that your humble narrator had to fly to Dallas from New York--and then back--in ONE DAY!
This was about four months after my "oxygen ascent" flight. I was scheduled to fly out to Dallas for a one-hour meeting with an ad agency over a company mascot I had been hired to play. The character's name was The Question Marquis, an 18th-Century French aristocrat with a question-mark for a goatee. He was the spokescharacter for a website called questia that was supposed to help college students write better research papers. . .faster!!!!
My character answered questions, but he did so as an 18th-Century French aristocrat. That's why they called him The Question Marquis. Pretty stupid, huh? Still, they paid me $30,000 and I didn't have to write any of the godawful ad copy. I was only required to speak in a hammy French accent and wear a $16,000 costume and a $4,000 wig/goatee combination. We did TV spots, radio spots--hell, they even put my picture on coffee sleeves!
Then they flew me all around the country to colleges like Northwestern, UCLA, even Texas Christian, just so I could stand outside in the quad at noon, wearing the full costume, passing out brochures featuring my picture and little innuendo-laced slogans like "I think you'll like what's in my pamphlets!"
They had wanted the character to be cultured, yet debauched; the style of "Dangerous Liaisons" with the voice of Inspector Clousseau delivered in the tempo of the lazy dotcom era.
Here's a taste of me in action as this guy.
I don't think the company or the ad agency would really want it to be known that I had been working for them. We sort of had an ugly falling out. The character was eventually thrown onto the very large scrap heap of very expensive stillborn advertising ideas. (I started to write in more detail about it just now, but I think that chapter in my life is better suited for another entry entirely.)
At any rate, the flight from New York to Dallas that morning was terrifying. Turbulence, turbulence, and more turbulence. And the worst part of it was--there was perfect visibility throughout the entire flight! I know I said earlier that I hate zero visibility, but perfect visibility in conjunction with turbulence can be a bit confusing to me. When turbulence happens with zero visibility conditions, I can explain away the turbulence--at least to myself--as having something to do with the clouds outside the window. However, when there is PERFECT visibility and turbulence, like it was on the way to Dallas that morning, I start to wonder if something might actually be wrong with the plane.
Every fresh bump in the air that morning seemed to confirm this. The turbulence never let up. Clear blue skies, but the fucking plane wouldn't stop sh-sh-sh-shaking. Even more terrifying, every five minutes, the aircraft kept dipping a little bit lower. By now, I knew that leveling off at a lower altitude was common procedure for pilots trying to avoid heavy turbulence, but it still freaked me out considerably on that fateful day.
At one point, the captain's voice came over the intercom. It was very crackly. All I remember hearing at the time was: "Folks. . .little lower. . .apologize. . .electrical. . ."
I rang for the stewardess.
"Yes?" she asked.
"Wh-wh-what did he say?"
"The captain," I swallowed, "He said. . .it was something about electrical. Did you hear it? Did you hear what he said?"
"I'm not sure," she mused, looking slightly concerned, "The captain said something about 'electrical'?"
"I heard. . ." I began, rubbing my sweaty palms together, glancing out the window and then back to her, "I h-h-heard him say something about. . .ele-ele-electrical."
"So you want to know if the captain said something about 'electrical'?" she asked.
"I just--I just didn't get the wh-whole announcement. It was something, something, something, 'electrical'. Like maybe h-h-he--he was going lower because of something electrical? Do you know--do you have any idea what that means? About electrical?"
She gave me a pathetic, quasi-motherly smile, "Let me see if I can find out." From my position near the front of the plane, I saw her open the door to the cockpit and step inside. (Obviously, this was before 9-11) A few moments later, she and a clean-looking, slightly-rotund, middle-aged white guy in a pilot's uniform stepped into the aisle. He approached me.
The flight hadn't been a full one, so I had a lot of room to stretch out and panic, just in case things got REALLY bad. I was sitting alone at the window with two empty seats at my side. The middle-aged guy in the necktie, who I could only assume at that time was either a pilot, copilot, or navigator, sat down in the aisle seat and smiled across at me.
"What's the matter, big guy?" he asked.
"Did you say something about 'electrical'?"
He chuckled, "Did I say something about 'electrical'? Noooo, I don't think so."
He was lying to me, I knew it. Something had been said from that goddamned cabin about 'electrical' and now they were trying to make me look crazy. It must get boring flying to Dallas all the time, I thought, which is why the crew decided to fuck with the one guy on the flight who actually cares enough to listen to the captain's announcements! It was all one big conspiracy, I was sure of it.
I ran my sweaty hands through my hair and tried again, "I sure, it was sure--I'm saw, sure--I'm sure I saw you heard, I saw--heard you say--I'm sure I heard you say s-s-s-something about 'electrical'."
"No, I didn't say anything about 'electrical'."
"S-s-s-so there's nothing wrong with this plane electrically? You really didn't s-s-say 'electrical'?"
He grinned again and reached into his pants pocket to pull out a wallet. "Let me show you something, big guy." From his wallet, he produced a picture of two sleeping, newborn babies lying together in a hospital crib. He handed it to me. I studied the photo carefully for some connection to a shaking plane and the word 'electrical', but found none. Presently, the man offered one, "My wife just had twins this week!" he exclaimed, "There ain't NOTHING gonna happen to THIS plane, I'll make sure of that!"
I found his statement utterly ludicrous. "But. . .people with kids die all the time."
He dropped his smile, took his picture back, stood up and, with a slight grimace, tersely said, "I think you're going to be all right." And then he went back to the cockpit and shut the door and that was the last I saw of him until the flight was over.
I hadn't wanted to be rude. Or make it appear as if I was trivializing him and his wife's remarkable achievement. But I really didn't see how him having twins was any guarantee of my survival.
So despite the heavy turbulance and the captain saying something about 'electrical' and then lying about it in a cover-up story about newborn babies and their power to thwart plane crashes--I actually survived THAT flight as well.
But more than that. More than mere physical survival. A miracle of spiritual survival also happened once the plane had landed in Dallas. I had been worried all morning about having to take TWO flights in one day. My logic had been that if the first plane didn't kill me, the second one would. Yet once we hit the tarmac in Dallas, sometime around noon, my mood lightened considerably. All my fears about the second flight, which I would have to take in less than three hours, suddenly disappeared. At that point, I felt that the odds of having an equally bad flight on the very same day would have to be astronomical.
But astronomical is the story of my life.
As it turned out, the second flight was even worse. In three short hours, the skies over Dallas had darkened to a sludgy indigo. I flew back this time not only with turbulence, but zero visibility as well. And oh, what t-t-t-turbulence it was! Overhead compartment doors springing open, once-calm passengers nervously crunching ice and squeezing in-flight magazines with a death grip, stewardesses being told by the captain to put away their drink carts and buckle up. I swear I saw one of them with tears in her eyes!
Misery may love company, but I don't think the same holds true for fear. On the flight TO Dallas, I had been the only one afraid. On the flight FROM Dallas, everyone had been afraid. And that was REALLY FrIGHTEnING!!!!!
BUT u KNOW WhAT? I suRvIVED THat FLIGHT too!! !!!!! Ha! HA! HAHAHAHA!! Hhahahahahhaha!
Around midnight, by the time I finally got back to my apartment in Harlem, I was emotionally numb. I fell down on my bed and, slowly, a deep sense of gratitude at having survived both flights began to infliltrate my lucid consciousness.
I fell asleep, thinking about how advanced we as a people have become when you can literally wake up in your bed in New York in the morning, go to Texas in the afternoon, and get back in the very same bed in New York that night.
Though I was impressed at this major accomplishment of mankind, I was also poetically confused. "Was Texas just a dream?" I muttered to myself softly, before drifting off to dream of other things. . .
Since the terrible "oxygen ascent" flight and the "devil-twin" flights to and from Dallas, I've improved a lot in regards to my fear of flying. Sometimes, like I say, I even enjoy being up in the air. Although, as I hope I have demonstrated here today, I used to be pretty bad.
One time, on a flight from Houston to Los Angeles, I had a stewardess upon landing confide to me that she "used to do a lot of cocaine, too", but that she had "gotten help through a 12-step program."
"I'm not a cokehead," I told her, "I'm just a nervous flier."
"I'm just saying," she huffed, "addiction is a disease and there's help for it."
Those days of continuous terror are long gone. Now, instead of being terrified throughout the entire duration of the flight until initial descent, I am only afraid of boarding, takeoff, ascent, flying through zero visibility and, as always, T-Ttt_TTURBULLLENCE!!
I hope all of you who might have been scared of me can now see that I'm just like you!
I'm afraid of things also!
Let's be friends!
Posted by Will Franken at 10:24 PM
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
This is not to say that there is no interconnectivity between these thoughts or topics. There may very well be, although at the present--having not yet conceived or written them--it is too early to tell.
Also, I have been spending an exorbitant amount of time on grammar and sentence structure lately. For this entry, I am making these concerns secondary in the interest of speed, for I want to capture these thoughts and topics in as embryonic a state as possible.
There is no more right wing. There are two left wings: A moderate left wing (Republicans) and a radical left wing (Democrats).
2. CLIMATE CHANGE/GLOBAL WARMING
Unbeknownst to many, there is considerable scientific debate on the topic of climate change/global warming.
Some scientists believe global warming is real. Some scientists believe global warming is not real.
Of those who believe global warming is real, some scientists believe that man is directly responsible. Some scientists do not believe that man is directly responsible.
Of those who believe global warming is real and that man is directly responsible, some scientists believe that something can be done to reverse the effects of climate change. Some scientists do not believe that something can be done to reverse the effects of climate change.
There is much diversity on the topic of global warming. But you're not allowed to see this. Because it helps to have something dire to advance a political agenda. Higher taxes, new automobiles for the upper middle-classes, voting for the most "green" candidate, trivialization of the realities of radical Islam and the ongoing retardation of our inner-city educational system.
George Bush was heavily criticized by the media for using the TANGIBLE events of 9-11 as a political agenda. At times, I agree, it could be a bit embarrassing. But remember, we all saw the footage. We all saw the planes. That shit was real. Never forget. A cliché, but true--never forget. Never forget. Only cowards forget. Only globalists forget. Only money forgets.
Only money FORGIVES. . .
Where is the criticism for Al Gore and his devotees who rely heavily on INTANGIBLES to advance a platform of ignoring the TANGIBLES?
There is real environmentalism. And then there is the modern-day green movement.
3. WE CAN SOLVE IT
There are some new ads that are being aired on a lot of TV stations--even on FOX--that show people from the opposite ends of the political spectrum sitting together and agreeing on the dangers of climate change. One features Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich.
"We don't always see eye-to-eye, do we, Newt?" Says Nancy with pearls and pantsuit and botoxed smile.
"No. But we do agree, our country must take action to address climate change." says Newt with a corncob up his ass.
After a few more lines of emasculating bullshit from both mouths, the black-and-white shot is suddenly endowed with a green circle. In the circle is the word "WE".
Then there's a link to a website: wecansolveit.org
Mmmm. That's nice. No conflict. Healing. Unity. Togetherness.
Anybody else suspicious about bullshit like this?
I don't want any WE shit. I want to see people taking clear sides on issues and fighting it out, not to the death--but to the TRUTH.
Only one side benefits from this WE shit.
There is no right wing. There are two left wings. We're flying in circles now. Endlessly orbiting the earth--so blissfully ignorant of the harsh realities below the stratosphere.
In another ad, black opportunist preacher Al Sharpton and whitebread myopic evangelist Pat Robertson sit down and also agree. Here's an exact transcript.
PAT: Al, let's face it. We're polar opposites.
AL : We couldn't be further apart. I'm on the left.
PAT: And I'm usually on the right. And we strongly disagree.
AL: Except on one issue. Tell 'em what it is, Reverend Pat.
PAT: (BIG SANCTIMONIOUS SMILE) That would be our planet. Taking care of it is extremely important.
AL: (UNNECESSARY HAND MOVEMENTS) We aaaaall need to work together. Liberals AND conservatives.
PAT: So get involved. It's the RIGHT thing to do.
AL: (WAGGING FINGER) Now there you go again!
PAT CHUCKLES GiRLISHLY
yuk. . .yuk.
Then an unnamed male narrator says in a depressing, globalized monotone.
NARRATOR: Join us. Together we can solve the climate crisis. Go to wecansolveit.org
If you've ever auditioned for voiceover work for this type of commercial, you'll know the ad agency and the company people always agree on one direction: WRY.
Say it WRY. We're looking for something WRY. I don't know how many times, back when I used to do voiceovers, I was told by ad agency executives and company representatives to deliver the tagline WRY. (yes, I know it should be "wryly". Not according to them. It was always, "Say it wry. . .")
"Wry, okay," I nod my head nervously at the mike because I really need the money. I clear my throat and speak carefully: "Join us. Together we can solve the climate crisis."
"Will, that's good," says some 25-year old trust fund brat in horn-rimmed frames that he doesn't even need, "but try not to put anything INTO it."
"Oh, I see. Sort of real deadpan?"
So I strip away all of my emotions and summon forth my spirit animal: a zombie.
"Join us. . .together. . .we can solve the climate. . .crisis."
They don't look happy. "Hmm, Will, it still sounds like you believe what you say."
"I think I'm just nervous," I confess, "You see, I really need the money. . ."
Yeah, everybody's going green. Even Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson; Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich can see "eye-to-eye" on this. Going green in more ways than one. What else is green, I wonder. . .
I also wonder if people in the Midwest still talk back to the television like they did when I was a kid. I can imagine my father now:
"First off, unnamed voice, who in the fuck are you? Second off, I don't believe in no goddamned climate crisis and if I did, I've got other shit to worry about. Like am I gonna have enough money left over from the check for that roofing work I did for Donny Rodgers last week on his goddamn solar house? Especially after they take out these new goddamned green taxes? I mean, how in the fuck am I supposed to get a new transmission for the Malibu so I can drive up and look for some better paying work in Kansas City?. There ain't shit for good-paying jobs here since the Mexicans undersold me and now I'm supposed to solve a goddamned climate crisis?"
My mother cautions him:
"Bill, you're scaring the children!"
He's not, actually, I'm rather enjoying his old-time religion. My little sister might have been scared, though.
This is wild. I feel like I'm back home again after all these years. We always used to watch TV at suppertime!
"Goddamnit, Pat," (my mother's name) "it's the goddamned truth! Kids need to hear it!"
"I know, Bill, I know," says my mother. And then she continues cautiously, "But that IS Pat Robertson."
"Jesus Christ, woman" thunders my father, "I don't give a shit if it's Jesus Christ, woman! You think I give a shit that's Pat Robertson? Fuck Pat Robertson, Pat!"
I giggle. Like I always did when pappa made fun of the preacher man.
"Please, Bill--the children, your language--"
"Fuck the children! Fuck the language! Fuck Pat Robertson! Pat Robertson don't work--"
"I know, Bill," my mother sighs--not for the first time.
"Pat Robertson don't pay our fucking taxes, Pat! Pat Robertson don't put food on this fucking table!"
"By the way, are you going to eat that food or are you just going to rant all night?" my mother asks in a sudden, and rare, shift to deadpan. She could be wry herself when she wanted to, although nervous was her regular tempo.
"Pat Robertson can care about the motherfucking planet all he wants!"
"Bill--"cautions my mother again.
('Motherfucker' wasn't as common, but it still happened a lot in our family. My precious little ears received many scars that would affect me profoundly for years to come. Please see my one-man show for more details.)
My father takes his half-eaten Pillsbury biscuit and sops up some po-boy* "All I'm saying Pat, is right now I CAN'T really care about the fucking planet--"
"Nobody's asking you to care about the planet, Bill."
"I only care about keeping this goddamn roof over our heads!"
Righteous. That's the word I keep thinking when I hear him now. Righteous.
"I know, Bill. You work hard. And we're all grateful, aren't we kids?"
"Thanks, dad," my little sister Crystal and I say in unison. Man, I haven't eaten po-boy* in a long time! Mmm!
Then Crystal says with the innocence of a child (for she is a child in this Hallmark recollection) "I think it'd be cool to save the planet!"
My dad sets down his fork. "You want to save the planet? All right, in nine years, you'll be 16. Get a job, earn some money, and go save the planet. Right now we got enough to worry about with saving our savings account!"
Right about now, my mother arrives at a solution. Perhaps seeing Pat Robertson (whom she is familiar with from watching The 700 Club with her grandmother whenever we go to visit) and Al Sharpton (whom she knows nothing about other than that he is a large black man with long greasy hair) agree on the important issue of climate change makes her own mind start turning. . .churning . .thinking of a solution to a growing DOMESTIC crisis. . .
Lightbulb! (Incandescent of course.) She has an idea! We CAN solve it!
She picks up the remote and changes the channel. "Why don't we watch 'M*A*S*H'?"
By the time the theme song to "M*A*S*H" is over, my dad finally--like our planet hopefully will one day--cools down. Before you know it, the family is dining to the gentle arias of Hawkeye and Colonel Potter. The old man sure did love watching"M*A*S*H". I never asked him why he liked the show so much. I think it had something to do with the fact that he served in Vietnam. (And yes, I know 'M*A*S*H' takes place in Korea. But even Robert Altman, who directed the much superior film version on which the series was based, admitted that the work was supposed to be a satire of Vietnam.)
* PO-BOY (FROM ABOVE)
There are many recipes for regional dishes that go by the name of Po-Boy. Perhaps you might be familiar with the Po-Boy sandwich. That is not what I'm describing.
The Po-Boy that my family is eating in the above scene is a midwestern variant of the chuckwagon style cooking of the Wild West wherein the cook (usually called "Cookie"; in this case, "Mother") would throw a bunch of stuff into a large pot, heat it up, stir it a little, and serve it on a plate with some biscuits.
Ingredients for Sedalia, MO Po-Boy:
Throw all that into a large pot, heat it up, stir it a little, and serve it on a plate with some biscuits. It's very cheap to make and it probably has a lot of transfats.
MCCAIN IS GOING TO LOSE THE ELECTION UNLESS
McCain is talking about global warming. McCain probably doesn't believe anything he's saying about the topic. It is apparent that his campaign managers are suffering from the delusion that if he talks about global warming--(a seemingly innocuous issue compared to radical Islam)-- he will somehow convert a lot of Barack Obama's people over to his side.
In other words, it almost sounds as if he wants to lose.
Because he's not going to convert anybody. What he will succeed in doing is isolating his commonsense, working class base--which is all that he really has to work with at this point.
Barack Obama has the MTV generation. Barack Obama has the mainstream media. Barack Obama has the majority of minorities. Barack Obama has the environmentalists. Barack Obama has the academics. Barack Obama has Hollywood. Barack Obama has millions of dollars at his disposal and if you criticize his candidacy or himself as a person or the people he associates with, you're liable to suffer charges of racism, or at the very least another tedious discussion on how black people have suffered long and hard in this country and it's time for a CHANGE.
Some Republican advertising agency put out a political ad unbeknownst to McCain a few months ago. In the ad, they quote from Jeremiah Wright and mention his connection to Barack Obama.
John McCain denounced the ad for being divisive.
Even he's scared to fight.
Don't try and be something you're not. Don't be a Nancy Pelosi or a Newt Gingrich or an Al Sharpton or a Pat Robertson.
You're a Republican, John McCain. You're like Israel. They're going to hate you no matter what you say.
So draw a line in the sand and let's have a fight.
You can start by asking Obama what political motive he had in mind when he lied to veterans about an uncle who liberated Auschwitz. Or how Jeremiah Wright's black nationalist bullshit could go unnoticed for 26 years by a man who titled his book after one of the sermons. Ask him why he lies so much and how his ignorance of recent American history keeps going unquestioned by the mainstream media.
But for Christ's sake, McCain, give up this idea of converting anyone. Find your choir and preach to it already.
UNORTHODOX SOLUTIONS TO THE OIL CRISIS:
Well, nobody wants to drill in Alaska. Even though that would cut down some on foreign oil.
So how about this--let's seize Iran's oil fields. All of them.
Let's take out that government once and for all and make Iran an outpost of America. After all, we'll probably do a better job of distributing our newfound oil wealth to the Iranians than the Iranian government did when they had the chance.
With Ahmadenijad out of the way and the Islamic revolution in that country deader than a doornail, Iran can grow and prosper as a Western colony and the Holocaust denier now at the helm won't get his nuclear weapon after all and Israel can survive. What are we waiting for? If we really do have to go global, why not go global in a really cool way?
I'm not being facetious here--just romantic.
Unless, that is, nobody approves of the idea of late-night tranny nightclubs in Iran.
Or is that TOO liberal?
Maybe it is. I guess we'll just have to wait until these magic cars that run on corn become available to people of lower income brackets--like the farmers that'll be growing the corn to run those cars.
Posted by Will Franken at 10:49 PM
Monday, June 16, 2008
Today is June 16th, which means it's Bloomsday.
In honor of my favorite novel of all time--Ulysses--I will keep this short.
My favorite episode in Ulysses is Episode 17: Ithaca.
This is where James Joyce ingeniously splits the narrative voice into a question and answer catechism, comically using as many words as possible--in a style that would undoubtedly have made even St. Erasmus jealous--to describe the simplest of actions.
I leave you with these three exchanges from the Ithaca section of Ulysses in which Joyce describes Leopold Bloom filling a teakettle with water, demonstrates the infinite capacity of language, and consequently puts a nail in the limiting literary coffins of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell:
"Q: What did Bloom do at the range?
"A: He removed the saucepan to the left hob, rose and carried the iron kettle to the sink in order to tap the current by turning the faucet to let it flow.
"Q: Did it flow?
"A: Yes. From Roundwood reservoir in county Wicklow of a cubic capacity of 2,400 million gallons, percolating through a subterranean aqueduct of filter mains of single and double pipeage constructed at an initial plant cost of 5 per linear yard by way of the Dargle, Rathdown, Glen of the Downs and Callowhill to the 26 acre reservoir at Stillorgan, a distance of 22 statute miles, and thence, through a system of relieving tanks, by a gradient of 250 feet to the city boundary at Eustace bridge, upper Leeson street, though from prolonged summer drouth and daily supply of 12 1/2 million gallons the water had fallen below the sill of the overflow weir for which reason the borough surveyor and waterworks engineer, Mr Spencer Harty, C.E., on the instructions of the waterworks committee, had prohibited the use of municipal water for purposes other than those of consumption (envisaging the possibility of recourse being had to the importable water of the Grand and Royal canals as in 1893) particularly as the South Dublin Guardians, notwithstanding their ration of 15 gallons per day per pauper supplied through a 6 inch meter, had been convicted of a wastage of 20,000 gallons per night by a reading of their meter on the affirmation of the law agent of the corporation, Mr Ignatius Rice, solicitor, thereby acting to the detriment of another section of the public, selfsupporting taxpayers, solvent, sound.
"Q: What in water did Bloom, waterlover, drawer of water, watercarrier returning to the range, admire?
"A: Its universality: its democratic equality and constancy to its nature in seeking its own level: its vastness in the ocean of Mercator's projection: its umplumbed profundity in the Sundam trench of the Pacific exceeding 8,000 fathoms: the restlessness of its waves and surface particles visiting in turn all points of its seaboard: the independence of its units: the variability of states of sea: its hydrostatic quiescence in calm: its hydrokinetic turgidity in neap and spring tides: its subsidence after devastation: its sterility in the circumpolar icecaps, arctic and antarctic: its climatic and commercial significance: its preponderance of 3 to 1 over the dry land of the globe: its indisputable hegemony extending in square leagues over all the region below the subequatorial tropic of Capricorn: the multisecular stability of its primeval basin: its luteofulvous bed: Its capacity to dissolve and hold in solution all soluble substances including billions of tons of the most precious metals: its slow erosions of peninsulas and downwardtending promontories: its alluvial deposits: its weight and volume and density: its imperturbability in lagoons and highland tarns: its gradation of colours in the torrid and temperate and frigid zones: its vehicular ramifications in continental lakecontained streams and confluent oceanflowing rivers with their tributaries and transoceanic currents: gulfstream, north and south equatorial courses: its violence in seaquakes, waterspouts, artesian wells, eruptions, torrents, eddies, freshets, spates, groundswells, watersheds, waterpartings, geysers, cataracts, whirlpools, maelstroms, inundations, deluges, cloudbursts: its vast circumterrestrial ahorizontal curve: its secrecy in springs, and latent humidity, revealed by rhabdomantic or hygrometric instruments and exemplified by the hole in the wall at Ashtown gate, saturation of air, distillation of dew: the simplicity of its composition, two constituent parts of hydrogen with one constituent part of oxygen: its healing virtues: its buoyancy in the waters of the Dead Sea: its persevering penetrativeness in runnels, gullies, inadequate dams, leaks on shipboard: its properties for cleansing, quenching thirst and fire, nourishing vegetation: its infallibility as paradigm and paragon: its metamorphoses as vapour, mist, cloud, rain, sleet, snow, hail: its strength in rigid hydrants: its variety of forms in loughs and bays and gulfs and bights and guts and lagoons and atolls and archipelagos and sounds and fjords and minches and tidal estuaries and arms of sea: its solidity in glaciers, icebergs, icefloes: its docility in working hydraulic millwheels, turbines, dynamos, electric power stations, bleachworks, tanneries, scutchmills: its utility in canals, rivers, if navigable, floating and graving docks: its potentiality derivable from harnessed tides or watercourses falling from level to level: its submarine fauna and flora (anacoustic, photophobe) numerically, if not literally, the inhabitants of the globe: its ubiquity as constituting 90% of the human body: the noxiousness of its effluvia in lacustrine marshes, pestilential fens, faded flowerwater, stagnant pools in the waning moon."
Posted by Will Franken at 2:11 PM
Saturday, June 07, 2008
BELLEVUE PSYCHIATRIC WARD VERSUS ST. VINCENT'S OUTPATIENT BEHAVIORAL HEALTH SERVICES:
A CONSUMER ADVOCATE'S COMPARE AND CONTRAST STUDY
VOLUME 1: BELLEVUE
Let's face it, a crazy person without health insurance who is contemplating suicide has very little in the way of real options when it comes to finding a good doctor at a good price!
But if you can just use your nutty noggin, there are a few unconventional methods which might, at the very least, delay the purchase of the razor blades for a few more hours. And sometimes, that brief window of opportunity is all that you need to convince yourself that life is worth living--if only long enough to die of natural causes!
One of the more unconventional of these unconventional methods is to check yourself into the emergency room of the psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital in beautiful east-side Manhattan.
This was not the first time in my many years of freelance work in the field of consumer advocacy for the insane that I had attempted to check myself into the emergency room of the Bellevue Psychiatric Ward. In fact, it was the third. All three times were quite miserable experiences. (The first two times, they even tried to involuntarily commit me!) However, if any of you are familiar with the lexicon of new age spirituality: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results! The way I saw it, by going back a third time, I was only following the protocol of my own madness!
I had tried to check myself into the Bellevue Psychiatric Ward twice when I was living in New York for the first time--once in 1999 and again in 2000. As I mentioned before, both experiences were quite a bummer and I'm not sure why I thought the third time would be any different other than, once again, I am insane!
Since all three experiences are so similar in overall substance, I will only be discussing the details of the third visit, reminding the educated consumer that the differences between this visit and the first two visits consist only of the variations of clothing worn at the time by myself and others, the doctors and patients appearing herein, and the fact that this time I was not alone, but accompanied by two close friends: my personal secretary, Steve Cleary, (aka "Stealth Johnson") and my spiritual secretary, Mary Magdalene.
Bellevue is a very large and well-known hospital. It has been referenced in many motion pictures as the premier insane asylum of New York City, most notably in one of my all-time favorite movies, Dog Day Afternoon in which the audience discovers midway through the film that Al Pacino's transsexual lover has been a patient there. I have often referred to Bellevue as the 18th-Century Bedlam of 20th-Century Mental Health Americana--a testament to its colorfully insane historical position in postmodern lunatic folklore.
Newcomers might be awestruck at the size of the main lobby at Bellevue and--if they're really crazy--think that they might have accidentally wandered into the corporate headquarters for Citibank. Do not be worried. Bellevue is not a bank. It is a hospital. Although the large Doric columns and spacious marble floors reveal to the consumer that Bellevue, not unlike Citibank, was also built with money.
It's a short jaunt from the main lobby to the first in a series of two waiting rooms. The first waiting room is a place to catch your breath for a moment and marvel at the vastness of the line in which you must wait. Obese Filipino women are on hand to answer any questions you might have in a language you do not understand.
As you take your place in line, you are given a white sticker with your "patient I.D. number" scrawled upon it in black ballpoint ink.
On the night I went to Bellevue, I was feeling surprisingly chipper (despite being on the verge of suicide only an hour before) and decided to entertain the other patients by reciting a few lines from Winston Churchill's "Finest Hour" speech as I slowly applied the adhesive label to the breast pocket of my tattered sports coat.
In fact, as a former comedian turned consumer rights advocate for the insane, I was pleasantly surprised by how well my maniacal brand of humour seemed to go over in this newfound community of fellow psychos. I will go even further and say--as I often did in my former line of work--that I "killed" and that the first waiting room at Bellevue was a very "good room" with a very "hip" crowd.
To give but a few examples to illustrate the remarkable reception I received and how I was misled into believing that this long night ahead would be more magical than it otherwise turned out to be, I recall with fondness the bald and obese white man shuffling slowly around the waiting area, lugging two heavily-filled Duane Reade shopping bags.
His perambulations seemed void of direction or purpose. Sidestepping the line, he sat down in a cushioned chair, away from the group of the other future patients to which I proudly belonged, and complained to a random nurse in a slow and measured monotone: "I hear. . .two voices. . .two of them. . .I hear two voices. . .in my head."
The nurse explained to him that he would have to wait in line with the rest of us, but the man continued flatly, "There are two voices. . .two of them. . .in two different languages. . .two languages. . ."
Taking my cue, I mustered up my best female telephone greeting: "To listen to your voices in English, press one!" The line of patients, along with a sizable portion of the family members and friends sitting in the waiting area, smiled and laughed. I was encouraged. I was reminded of the cliché, "laughter is the best psychotropic mood-stabilizing medication."
The man was unable to stay still and seemed restless even though his movements, when he did make them, were decidedly slow. Eventually, he got up and wandered to the front of the line. When the rest of the patients complained to him that he needed to get to the back of the line, he said defensively: "I hear TWO voices. . .I hear TWO of them!"
So I shouted from the back: "Hey man, I hear SEVEN!" That got an even bigger laugh than my first joke. A young Latino guy in a Yankees cap turned around and gave me a thumbs-up. I saw a black family of four doubled-over in hysterics. For the time being, I didn't feel like killing myself anymore. I was having too much fun killing from the stage.
"I mean, we're all crazy motherfuckers here, right?" I added as a follow-up, basking in the narcissistic glow of my luminescent wit. These were my people, all right. Man, what a crowd!
Most of my thirty-minute set in the first waiting area was improvised and so the riffs might lose some of their original sparkle in this current narrative, so I'll briefly tell you about the hyperventilating young brunette who tried to upstage me before we proceed onwards with our consumer advocate study of the Bellevue Psychiatric Ward.
By now, I had the room in the palm of my hand, you dig? They were all mine. Patients, family members, friends, nurses--hell, even the security guards were into me! Seriously, I could have stayed in that line for two hours! I was burning up the joint, I tell ya!
Then the hyperventilating young brunette made her entrance. She didn't say anything at first. She just sort of zigzagged her way towards the nurses' station, panting heavily and hysterically. My first thought was how sexy she looked for a lunatic. Like an average 20-something NYU chick, but without the keffiyeh. However, I wasn't in the hospital to get laid. I was there to do a comedy show. So I waited to see what she was going to say or do to keep my jokes fresh and flowing.
She stumbled drunkenly toward the reception window and started pounding on the Plexiglas, "Help me! Help me! I'm having palpitations! Nurse? I'm having palpitations! Somebody help me!"
Call me a cynic, but I just didn't believe her. As an actor and a student of human behavior, I felt I had spotted something inauthentic in her delivery. Perhaps it was all the fake-sounding breathless sobs she was using to punctuate each of her sentences. Kind of like the fake coughs I have to endure all the time from uptight nonsmokers. This was textbook drama queen shit, I thought. Diagnosis: Diva!
Putting my hand to my forehead in a campy swoon, I started riffing as an impromptu composite of all of Tennessee Williams' major female characters: "Why, Blanche, I do declare! My heart is a-palpitatin'! Big Daddy don't like it when I gets the palpitations so! Whatever is a modern girl to do with a secondhand palpitatin' heart?"
She might have been oblivious to my crudeness, but the audience wasn't. I'm not sure if they understood the literary references or if they had just liked the characterization, but man, were they ever loyal! I was killing, I tell ya, killing! (And not myself, either!)
Two smiling and slightly snickering nurses wheeled out a gurney. The girl laid down upon it, fumbling at the same time for her cell phone which had been constantly ringing ever since she had made her grand entrance a few seconds earlier. "Hello?" she answered, "Yes! Yes! I'm having palpitations!"
I continued, "No, no, I'm only hearing ONE voice! A palpitatin' voice!" I got the biggest laugh of the night for that particular callback. Then, referencing her new privileged position at the front of the line, reclined on a comfortable gurney with two fluffy pillows underneath her dainty head, I tapped the guy standing in front of me and said loudly enough for the rest of the room to hear, "Fuckin' Cleopatra over there! What happens now, they feed her grapes?"
That one fell flat, but I wasn't too concerned. They can't all be gems. As I saw it, I was still batting a thousand.
Especially later on when her cell phone rang for the umpteenth time (Apparently, word had spread like syphilis among her friends about these palpitations!) By then, I had memorized her ringtone well enough to play a perfectly synched air guitar to it. The blacks in the room (of which there were many) seemed to really enjoy the physical humor of this rather Chaplinesque routine. The nurses also liked it, for every time it rang they had to remind the girl yet again that cell phones weren't allowed in the waiting area. (By the way, I also found the fact that she always had enough breath to answer the phone every time it rang to say "I'm having palpitations!" as further evidence that she wasn't really having palpitations.)
At this point, my friend Steve, either legitimately feeling bad for the girl or perhaps embarrassed at being part of my unexpected and insensitive performance, gingerly approached the gurney and asked, "Miss, would you like a bottle of water?"
"Yes," the girl said, "I'm having palpitations!"
"Oh, Steve," I cooed, "Always the romantic!" I'm not sure why this one got such a big laugh. Maybe it was because Mary Magdalene, who was also there at the time and knows of Steve's reputation as a ladies' man, kicked off the laughter with a mighty and infectious guffaw.
I was actually surprised that Steve didn't take the opportunity, as so many of my other friends have done in the past when I've fucked around in a public setting, to say something wry and deflating like, "Don't mind Will, everybody! They just let him out of the hospital today!"
But that would have been beneath him. Steve is an excellent and professional straight man. In fact, the funniest point of the night, as I saw it, was when Steve left on his chivalrous quest to the soda machine only to return to the gurney a few minutes later with his head hung sheepishly low and his eyes sweetly apologetic. "I'm sorry, Miss. . .the soda machine's out of water."
"Oh nooooo! But I'm having palpitations!"
Ha! Holy shit! I thought I was going to bust a gut! I remembered the scene in Schindler's List when Liam Neeson is spraying the boxcars with fire hoses so the Jews inside won't die of thirst. Ralph Fiennes laughs and says, "You're cruel, Oskar. You're giving them hope!"
Er. . .I'm sorry. . .
I don't mean that Schindler's List was funny. I mean. . .well, I guess you just have to know Steve. He has a lot of unintentional funny expressions of his own.
His apologies are the best, though. They're really adorable. There's a brief second or two of silence, he swallows once or twice, then with his chin tucked downwards he moves his eyes upwards to meet yours and says with a hangdog expression something cute like: "I'm sorry, Miss. . .the soda machine's out of water!"
Jack fucking Benny! Priceless! How could you NOT forgive the guy?
Or at the very least thank him for making an effort?
Apparently, this girl could. "I'm having palpitations!" she whined again, without a word of thanks. The whole earth revolved around her and her goddamn palpitations. Ungrateful bitch, I thought--but had the tact not to say out loud!
That would have been crossing the line. I didn't want to bring the room down with any personal attacks. Cruelty is okay, but it has to be funny. Especially in a mental hospital.
Eventually the girl was wheeled away down the antiseptic hallway, her crocodile sobs fading in the distance. At that point, I was invited by one of the nurses to step into a small office for my brief intake interview. (I had been so caught up with performing, that I hadn't noticed moving to the front of the line! Time flies, eh?)
I turned to the crowd and with a sincere wave shouted, "That's my time everybody! Thanks for coming out!"
In the office, a black nurse attached a blood pressure cuff to my arm as a Latina woman sat at a computer and asked me some questions. "So your name is Will. . .Franklin?"
"Franken," I said, correcting her, "So what'd you think of that girl with the palpitations? She was faking it, wasn't she?"
Both ladies smiled. "She was a little dramatic," the Latina said in agreement. Then she asked a few more questions about my birthday, my social security number, whether or not I was currently taking any medication--all of the usual small-talk.
The black woman removed the blood pressure cuff from my arm and reported that I was "normal".
Mary Magdalene, who had come into the office with me, expressed shock: "How can it be normal? You smoke two and half packs of cigarettes a day!"
I smiled, "That's the key to my health. I just don't care."
"So what brings you here today, William?" asked the Latina.
"Well, I don't have any health insurance so I wanted to go to the psych ward to see if I could get a cheap psychiatrist so I could get on some medication again."
"Okay, and why do you feel that you need medication?" she asked.
"Oh. . .you know. . .I'm just sort of sad a lot of the time. . ."
"And suicidal," said Mary Magdalene.
"Shut up, Mary Magdalene!" I hissed through clenched teeth. Having once before been committed by court order to a mental hospital back in Missouri, I was familiar with some basic ground rules. If you don't want to be committed involuntarily--which I didn't. I just wanted a cheap doctor so I could get back on some pills--the two things you NEVER tell anybody in a hospital are a) you want to kill yourself or b) you want to kill somebody else.
"So you're feeling suicidal?" asked the Latina woman.
"No, no, no. She doesn't know what she's talking about. I'm just kind of down in the dumps, really. Kind of going through a blue spell, you know? Nothing serious. Just a little sad, that's all."
"And you need to go to the psych ward?"
"Yes?" I said as a question, suddenly apprehending that I might have fucked up again. Suddenly, this all seemed eerily familiar.
A wristband with my name was slapped on my left wrist and I was led down the long, antiseptic hallway and beyond the double doors through which the hyperventilating young brunette had just passed. I waved goodbye to Steve, but he didn't see me.
It's an extremely long walk from the first waiting area to the second waiting area. There are quite a few unexpected twists and turns, more sets of double doors, and more long expanses of hallway that seem to never end. Bellevue is a sterilized labyrinth that seems to mirror the confusing din of my waking mind.
I sighed and thought, "Oh, shit. Here we go again." I knew I was in for a bad time. What had I done? Why did Mary Magdalene have to say I was suicidal? I had even warned her about the rules beforehand! I know I'm suicidal, but I didn't want THEM to know that! It was going to be a very long night indeed.
The second waiting area, unlike the first, is a very tough-looking room. There is a row of twelve brown plastic bucket seats facing a large Plexiglas window. Beyond the window lies the psych ward. Through it, you can see mumbling old lunatics, shuffling around in backless gowns; men and women with shaved heads lying on urine-stained gurneys and crying out in supplication to unseen voices; burly, but condescendingly-kind orderlies sweeping the floor or playing at cards as harried doctors of either gender sit at older-model computers and shuffle papers.
At the door, there is a black female police officer who welcomes you. Somehow, she knows your name.
"Hi, Mr. Franken. Go ahead and have a seat. It'll be just a few minutes."
So I sat down. There weren't too many people sitting in the second waiting area when I arrived other than a squat and chisel-jawed male NYPD officer babysitting a drooling middle-aged man handcuffed to a wheelchair. He was on my right.
To my left, there was a tall and hyperactive Latino man--probably about my height--who looked a bit like John Turturro. In fact, his manic energy and above-average height made me wonder for a second if he was not my Latino alter-ego.
I decided that this was probably not a good room to try out any comedy. And not only because the audience was so small; I mostly didn't want to run the risk of being misinterpreted and possibly committed to the hospital against my will. I just wanted to talk to a doctor, get some medicine, stop fantasizing about killing myself, and get back to being funny again. But I knew that the cards were now stacked against me since Mary Magdalene had made her faux pas. So I simply sat quietly in my plastic seat and tried to be polite, well-behaved--and, above all else, normal.
But that didn't last long. After thirty minutes of sitting in silence, I started to feel the oncoming nicotine withdrawals. My thoughts were racing. I felt the walls closing in on me. It became impossible to remain still and silent, so I turned to the police officer on my right, "Hey man, I got kicked out of Shea Stadium the other day for smoking. Can you believe that shit?"
"They kicked you out for smoking?" said the cop. He was cool. I liked him right off the bat. But then again, I've always liked the NYPD. They've got one hell of a job. When I talk to an NYPD officer, I always feel like I'm talking to something quintessentially American. It can be a very comforting and calming experience, even in times of nicotine withdrawal.
"Yeah, man. I mean fucking Shea Stadium of all places, you know what I mean?"
The wild-eyed Latino suddenly jumped in from my left, "Bloomberg, ees a fucking asshole!"
"Fuckin' A," I agreed. "I mean, what the fuck has he done to this city? You can't smoke anywhere, they took the transfats out of the food--"
"Whassa transfat?" asked the Latino.
"Some shit they used to put in food but they took out cause the government wants us to be little babies so they can raise us," I said, with probably too much speed in my delivery, "I mean, keep your laws off my body, you know what I mean?" I turned back to the police officer, "No offense, man."
"It's all right," said the cop, "Yeah, a lot's changed. So they actually kicked you out of Shea for smoking? Were you in your seat or--"
"No! I was on the fucking concourse, hanging my hand over the railing--"
"Little babies they want us to be!" shouted the Latino gleefully, "Little babies! Little babies!"
Uh-oh, I thought. I've uncorked something here with this nut-job. I'm probably the first person he's talked to in a long time. I turned to my left, "Yeah, man, you got it. Little babies. No freedom of choice. That's their platform." Then I turned to my right, "Cause you guys got a serious job. Like where's your beat?"
The cop grimaced, "Bronx."
"Shit," I said, "pretty fucked-up neighborhoods, I bet."
"Oh yeah. It can get nasty up there."
"That's what I'm saying, man. You guys got serious work to do and then on top of all the murders and the rapes, they're going to start sending you out to crack down on smokers and transfat-eaters. What is that shit?"
"Like the little babies!" shouted the Latino again.
Shit, I thought, I work better without a sidekick.
"It's ridiculous," said the cop, "When they got rid of smoking in bars out here, I couldn't believe it."
"Fuckin' A," I agreed, "I mean, that's a West Coast thing. I never expected New York would go for that sort of shit."
"Ga-ga! Little babies! Bloomberg babies!" laughed the Latino.
Right about now, I started to worry that the Latino was going to get me into trouble. I wasn't sure if there was a penalty for uncorking another patient's mania, but I wasn't in any hurry to find out. I suppose it could have been worse. At least he was in agreement with me. Either that, or he was a political parrot.
"You ever been out to Seattle?" the cop asked me.
"A few times."
"You liked it?"
"Yeah, it was pretty cool. I like it cause it's always raining there. I hate the fucking sunshine. I got out of the subway at Union Square this afternoon and I saw all the happy people in the park and I wanted to blow my fucking brains out," Fuck! I hope he doesn't go tell a doctor what I just said. "Why do you ask? Are you thinking of taking a trip?"
"Actually, I may be transferring out there."
"No shit, huh? That's cool. Seattle's got a great aquarium. I hate to say it, but I think it's even better than the one at Coney Island--"
"Roller coaster! Cyclone!" shrieked the Latino.
I turned to my left again, "You like roller coasters, huh?" and then I turned back to the cop and made circular movements with my index finger around my right ear. He smiled knowingly as I picked up where we had left off: "Yeah, Seattle's pretty cool. You can get good borscht out there. Lots of Russians."
"Oh yeah? Never really ate a lot of borscht."
"Borscht is good, but I LOVE Russian women," I said, "They have those really depressed eyes. Sexy, you know? I hate blond happy people, you know what I'm saying? Sunshine people? I like moody and depressed Slavic-looking girls. That's my thing. So, yeah, Seattle's pretty cool."
"I'm just worried it's going to be boring."
"Well, it's probably quite a different pace from the Bronx!" I said in my small-town Missouri way. He agreed and we politely shared one of those quaint small-talk laughs that you can hear only once in a blue moon in the second waiting area of the Bellevue Psych Ward.
The Latino tugged impatiently at my shirt sleeve, "I like ALL women. That's the kind of woman I like! Good for making babies!"
"I hear you there!" I nodded. And then suddenly I decided to shut up. I figured it was better to stop talking completely than to be interrupted any further. Out of fear that the guy on my left was going to wet himself with excitement, I was willing to sacrifice my conversation with the police officer. I'm sure the cop understood.
We sat in silence for another thirty minutes until a doctor came to lead the Latino man through the door and into the psych ward proper. As he was leaving, he turned around to say goodbye, "Watch out for the little babies!"
"I will," I smiled, "you too, man. Have fun in there."
I thought about reading a little bit from my copy of William Manchester's The Glory And The Dream, A Narrative History of America: 1932-1972, which I had remembered to bring along with me to the hospital in case I needed to kill time, but I was afraid doing so would make me look crazy. So I continued to sit passively and watch the clock.
It did occur to me, once the Latino man was gone from my left, that I might continue my conversation with the police officer on my right, but I knew that the nicotine withdrawals were too strong at this point and that everything I might say to him would come out jumbled and frantic.
Another hour passed. And then another. I had entered Bellevue hospital at around 7:30pm. The clock on the wall was now approaching 10:30pm. It was right around this time that my cell phone rang.
I knew that phones weren't allowed in here either, but I saw that it was my best friend Jonah calling from Berkeley. So I answered.
"Hey," I said in a whisper.
"Hey," said Jonah.
"I have to call you back a little later. I'm in the psych ward right now."
"What? What are you talking about?"
"It's a long story."
Then a voice came to me from the other end of the waiting area, "Mr. Franken, you can't talk on your cell phone in here." It was a new black female police officer. Unlike the one who had welcomed me in the beginning, this one was older, more austere, looking a bit like an ebony version of Teddy Roosevelt's Mt. Rushmore image--sans the mustache and glasses, of course.
"I know, I know. It's my friend. I'm just going to tell him goodbye," I told her.
Jonah sounded concerned, "What do you mean you're in the psych ward?"
"I'm in Bellevue. It's kind of a funny story--"
"Mr. Franken," she started again.
"Let me just say goodbye! I'll be off in a second," I turned from her and back to the phone, "Hey man, are you still there?"
"Yeah," said Jonah, "What do you mean you're in Bellevue?"
That's when I noticed the two large black orderlies coming towards me. One of them, sporting long, grey, ponytailed dreadlocks, said, "Okay, Mr. Franken, you're going to have to put away the cell phone--"
"All right, man, I got to go," I said to Jonah. I hung up and put the phone back in my pocket. "There. Are you happy? I'm off."
I had reached my breaking point. It had been over three hours now since I came to Bellevue. I wanted to talk to Jonah and I needed a cigarette. Large black men were looming over me. I figured it was time to leave, regroup, and then plot out another strategy to obtain a doctor and medication without health insurance. Better to be free and suicidal than imprisoned and happy.
"All right," I said to the pair of orderlies, slapping my hands on my knees and standing up "I think I'm going to go outside and have a cigarette."
I put on my sports coat and grabbed my bag. At this point, the dreadlocked orderly walked over to the female police officer while the other one stayed behind, watching me with a curious grin.
As I walked towards the exit, I heard the dreadlocked orderly whispering to the female cop. I could not catch all of it, but I did hear the following phrases which sent me into a slight panic:
"Mr. Franken. . .wants to go out. . .a cigarette. . .personal items. . .watch him. . ."
Before I could reach the door, two additional police officers and a security guard had joined the orderlies. It didn't look like I was going to be leaving any time soon. "Oh come on," I pleaded, "I just wanted to go outside for a cigarette. I'm a grown man. Please?"
But they weren't going to budge. They just looked at me in stony silence--all of them; the guard, the orderlies, the cops; all except for my friend who was transferring to Seattle, still sitting over there against the far right wall, babysitting the drooling man in the wheelchair. I thought for a minute about turning to him for help, but I knew that as a police officer, he was bound to stay impartial, no matter to what extent we had bonded earlier. I was fucked, all right. My mania overtook me and I started to ramble a mile a minute.
"I'm not even--I'm--I'm a grown-man. I'm just sad, you know? But I don't have health insurance, you know, cause it's like--you know? But you guys got me by the balls now cause I smoke and then when you don't let me go outside for a smoke, that makes me seem crazier, right? But I'm not crazy, I'm just sad. And freedom is important to me. Personal choice, you know what I mean? If you take away a smoker's cigarettes, then he's not normal anymore, you see? That's--but that's--that's just my personal choice, you know? My personal choice? You know that term? See, I'm not a dangerous person. I just can't live without freedom. I have to have freedom of choice!"
The door connecting the waiting area to the psych ward opened and a young white female doctor with shoulder-length brunette hair approached me. "What's the matter here?"
"Are you a doctor?" I asked.
"Yes, what's the matter?"
Good, I thought. She's a doctor. She'll be smart enough to understand all of this. "Okay, here's the deal," I said gathering my breath and continuing as slowly and as rationally as I could, "This is all about money. I don't have any health insurance. I don't have a personal doctor. But I wanted to get set up with some kind of mental health professional so I could get back on some medication. So I came in through the emergency room here to see if could get 'into the system', if you know what I mean? But I didn't know that I wouldn't be able to leave here of my own accord. All I want to do now is just go outside and have a cigarette because I'm a smoker. And you probably know, as a medical professional, what happens when a smoker can't have a cigarette. They get a little crazy. So that's what this is all about. It's a mental and physical reaction at having my personal freedoms taken away. Nothing against you or your profession."
I let that sink in and then waited patiently for her response.
"Okay," she said, "you're just going to have to wait."
You fucking cunt, I thought. "Well, how long do you think it's going to be before I can get out of here?"
"I don't know. You're just going to have to wait," she said and then disappeared back through the door.
You fucking cunt, I thought again. In fact, for the next ten to fifteen minutes, as I was instructed by the orderlies to place all of my personal possessions into a manila envelope and put on some ill-fitting hospital booties, my mind was stuck on a rage-filled loop: You fucking cunt, you fucking cunt, you fucking cunt, you fucking cunt, you fucking cunt.
I didn't voice my anger out loud to anybody--not even my police officer friend. I just sat down, bit my tongue and watched the clock again. I was boiling on the inside. On the outside, I didn't move a muscle. They want a catatonic? I'll give them a catatonic.
Once it seemed that I was going to be amenable after all, the other orderly--the one without the dreadlocks--approached me. He was a tall, muscular, soft-spoken black man with glasses. In all fairness, even though I was in a miserable situation, after talking with him, I found myself rather liking the guy.
"Hey," he said, "I know it's rough, but that's the way it is."
"I know, man. I don't blame you. You're just doing your job."
"But see, you can't let them be knowing you're upset."
"Yeah, I hear you, man." I dug him all right. It was something in his voice. Very calm. Very understanding. He knew the score and wasn't afraid to let me know he knew it. Though I never asked directly, I could tell that he, too, was a smoker. Or at least sympathetic to the cause. I started to think of him as a black older brother that I had always wanted but never had.
"Cause if they see you getting upset, they just gonna keep you here longer," he said.
"I know. That's always the game. I have to sit here now and pretend that I'm not really fucking pissed."
He smiled, "That's the way this shit works."
"As long as YOU know that I'm really fucking pissed, maybe I can hold back from letting THEM know."
"It'll be our secret."
"Well," I said, "In that case, I'm really fucking pissed right now."
"Cool," he confirmed and then walked over to a nearby supply closet. "You want something to eat? Drink?"
"Got any coffee?"
"I'll give you some from my personal stash." He disappeared and returned a few minutes later with a styrofoam cup of hot water and two packets of instant coffee.
I winced. Instant? Oh well, it's the thought that counts. "Thanks, man."
"You're welcome. I gotta make my rounds now, but if you start feeling really fucking pissed again, let me know."
"I'll be keeping an eye out for you," I smiled.
I drank my coffee and watched the clock some more. Another hour passed. And then another. It was after midnight now. I had been at Bellevue for over five hours. My metaphorical tongue was metaphorically bloody from all the metaphorical biting. I was going to crack again soon. I knew it.
As time continued to pass, the waiting room became crowded with an alarming number of semi-comatose drunk men handcuffed to wheelchairs and the police officers who had been assigned to babysit them. That's right. It was after hours on a Friday night in New York City. Rush hour for the Bellevue Psych Ward.
Though the place was crawling with cops, I still entertained fantasies of a making a break for it. I studied the police presence at the doorway. If I sprinted fast enough, I thought, I just might make it through them. After all, I've got pretty long legs. But these hospital booties--what if I can't get any traction in them? And besides, look at all those haphazardly positioned wheelchairs. That's one hell of an obstacle course to zip through in a matter of seconds. Not to mention that I could no longer remember how I had gotten to the second waiting area from the first waiting area in the first place. I needed to be able to repeat the whole procedure backwards exactly at the point when every second would be crucial--when every second could mean the difference between success and failure. How many hallways did we go down to get here? How many sets of double-doors did we pass through? Did we turn left at the 'T' or right?
I've never been very spatially-oriented. Verbal, that's my thing.
That is to say, I could always write an eloquent speech urging the other inmates to break out with me in political solidarity for the cause of personal freedom, but the actual blueprints would have to be drawn up by somebody far more left-brained than I!
Before the idea for escape was completely shot down, however, another thought occurred to me: If I make a break for it, and fail in the process, chaos will ensue. In a great release of frustration, I might snap(!) and take a swing at the first face I see. I'll be shouting utter nonsense at the top of my lungs in a beautiful tidal-wave tirade of yawping madness(!) Flailing limbs madly assailing without rhyme nor reason(!) Set upon by NY's Finest in a life-or-death struggle for the preservation of physical and mental liberty(!!) All hail the conqu'ring hero(!!) Cu-koo(!!!) CU-koo(!!!)
But wait! The fantasy gets even better (*!*)
They take me back (!!) kicking and screaming (!!!) strap me to a gurney (!!!!) and then shoot me up with some really top-notch sedatives. . .
and i trip out by the surf of a lower-grade madness. windowless walls behind me, i watch the sun set on the urine-stained floors of the bellevue psych ward. . .my droopy eyelids are beach umbrellas now. . .
and i go to sleep and do not think anymore of cigarettes. or of cell phones. or of freedom. . .
Until I awake the next day and think, "Oh, fuck! That's right! I can't have a cigarette! LET ME OUT OF HERE!!!! LET ME OUT OF HERE!!!! LET ME OUT OF HERE!!!!"
No, no, no. I have to be good, I thought. It was too much of a gamble. Besides, I still had some hope that I would be allowed to leave before sunrise.
And besides, I did not want to fight with the NYPD. I have nothing against the NYPD. I like the NYPD. They're working class people, just trying to do their jobs. The rules may be bullshit, but it's not their fault. They don't want to babysit nut-cases and drunks. They want to track down murderers and rapists.
I turned to my police officer friend from earlier. The drooling man in his care had been taken into the ward a while ago, so he was on his own, strangely aloof from his police officer brethren on the other side of the room. "Hey man," I said, "I'll tell you another good thing about Seattle."
"What's that?" he asked.
"You won't have Al Sharpton out there busting your balls for doing a good job."
He laughed. That was cool. I stopped thinking about escape for a few minutes. Laughter can be such a pacifying sound sometimes. As the cliché goes, "Laughter is the best kidney dialysis machine."
I thought during the next hour about how I would no longer be able to tell the truth to any doctor in this hospital about what had really brought me to Bellevue. I didn't even want to tell them that I was sad anymore. In order to get out of here before sunrise, I needed to convince them that I was normal. And I also needed to convince myself that it was possible to convince THEM that convincing myself to check into the Bellevue Psych Ward was a normal thing to have done.
It was a rhetorical challenge, no doubt about it, but I was sure I could pull it off. After all, I am an accomplished writer and performer. But before I could convince a doctor that I was okay to be released, I first had to meet with a doctor. And after five hours in Bellevue, I was beginning to doubt that I would ever be given that opportunity.
For it was also during this hour that I noticed something very disturbing. A great number of the semicomatose drunk men that had been brought in, handcuffed to wheelchairs by police officers, had already gone back to be seen by a doctor--even though I had been waiting for much longer than they! Why, I wondered, were they getting preferential treatment?
That thought and the following one did not escape my brain for nearly half an hour:
I am the only patient here who was not brought in handcuffed to a wheelchair by a police officer.
I am the only patient here who was not brought in handcuffed to a wheelchair by a police officer.
I am the only patient here who was not brought in handcuffed to a wheelchair by a police officer.
After thirty consecutive minutes of mentally reciting this mantra, I noticed the young white female doctor from before come out to speak with one of the men handcuffed to a wheelchair by a police officer. After a few moments, I approached her. "Excuse me again."
I cleared my throat and presented my case, "I am the only patient here who was not brought in handcuffed to a wheelchair by a police officer."
"Well, you're just going to have to wait," she said, wheeling the semicomatose drunk man through the doors. With that, she was gone in a cloud of antiseptic dust. You fucking cunt, I thought once more.
And then, in a single instant, all of my emotions vanished. I was no longer angry. I was no longer depressed. I was rational. Coldly rational. It was then that I started to think like a bona fide, unfeeling psychopath.
i am going to find out her name. i am going to find out where she lives. if i get out of here tonight, tomorrow, next week, or even next year--i am going to go to her house in the middle of the night. i am going to sneak in through the back door and tippy-toe up the stairs. i won't make a sound. i'll be real quiet. i'll be real patient. i'll be a patient little patient. it might take all night getting to her bedroom, but that's okay. that's all i've got is time. she's not going to hear a thing. she won't even know what hit her. it'll all be over in an instant. and then come sunrise, i'll assume her identity. and i'll be the one with the medical degree. and i'll be the one to tell people that they'll just 'have to wait'. and i'll be the one--
Just then, I spotted through the Plexiglas window a kind-looking East Indian gentlemen in a blue jacket and pink silk tie coming out the door. I jumped up and rushed towards him.
"Excuse me, are YOU a doctor?"
"Yes I am!" he said with a slightly campy American accent.
A gay doctor, eh? Hmm, I might be able to work with this. "Cool, maybe you can help me out."
"Well, what seems to be the matter?" he asked brightly.
"You see, the thing is," I started, "I'm the only patient here who was not brought in handcuffed to a wheelchair by a police officer."
"And have you been here for a while?"
I sighed, "All fucking night, man."
"Well, that's no good," he sighed in sympathy.
"No, it's not," I agreed, "See, the thing is, I don't have any health insurance. But I was wanting to talk to a doctor about. . .being sad. . .sometimes. And to see about getting back on some medication. . .for my sad feelings, you know? So I came in through the emergency room. Pretty stupid, huh?"
"Well, I wouldn't call it stupid. Sounds like you were just feeling sad and didn't know what to do."
Sometimes it can help to open up to a real woman. He promised that he would take a look at my file and come back in a few minutes to talk with me and, for some reason, I trusted that he would do what he said. Maybe it was his pink silk tie. Maybe it was his perfect smile. Whatever it was, I started to feel that the storm would soon be over and before long I would see the rainbow again.
I'm not gay, by the way.
It was a few minutes later--a little after 2 a.m.--that the gay male East Indian doctor returned to lead me through the doors to a barren, yellow-walled office with nothing in it but an unused desk and two plastic chairs. He sat in one and I sat in the other (we had just met and I was only looking for friends anyway! Boo-yah!)
I had made it. After all this time, all this frustration, I was now officially IN the Bellevue Psych Ward! Cocktails and Playboy bunnies, here we come!
He asked me a bunch of questions about my feelings and what had brought to me Bellevue. I continued to respond vaguely that I just "felt sad" every now and then. I told him I was basically interested in getting back on Wellbutrin because I had really enjoyed the side effects. Then he asked some more questions about feelings and I reaffirmed my promise that I was fine and just "felt sad" every now and then.
"It says in your file that you mentioned feeling suicidal?"
"Oh that!" I said with a politely contrived chuckle, "I was just being hyperbolic there."
He squinted, "Hyper. . ?"
"Hyperbolic, you know. I was just speaking in hyperbole."
He put his hand to his chin, "I'm not sure. . ."
"Like I'm not really suicidal. I was just. . .you know. . .going a little over the top there."
"Oh!" he smiled, "I understand. You were being overly descriptive."
"Yes, exactly!" Jesus, is this guy really a doctor? "See, I'm a comedian. It's part of my job to go over the top."
"I see! I see!"
We continued for a few more minutes, exchanging pleasantries. Then I told him that I had been craving a cigarette for some time and anything that he could do as a medical professional to help speed along that process would be most welcome. He advised me at "some point in the future" to come up with "some sort of plan" to "stop smoking" (Apparently he really WAS a doctor). Stringing him along, I promised I would do just that very thing the first chance I got. Then he apologized for all the confusion and said that he would return in a few minutes with some release forms for me to sign.
A mere ten minutes later, I was back in the second waiting area, removing my hospital booties and gathering up my personal possessions from the large manila envelope with my last name scrawled upon it in black sharpie. Then I turned around to bid all the assembled police officers farewell, admonish them to keep up their good work, and encourage them to never let Mayor Bloomberg get them down. And with that, I was finally free.
Not quite. In my mad rush for a cigarette, I ended up heading out the wrong door and right into a construction site. I wandered around in confusion for a few more minutes among the steel girders and stacks of plywood in a mad search for a missing 1st Avenue. Before too long, I started to worry that I was going to get picked up by a police officer, taken in as a vagrant and sent right back to the psych ward.
Eventually, a security guard found me and pointed me in the right direction. When I finally got to 1st Avenue, I was covered in dirt and completely exhausted, but enjoying the best cigarette I had had in a very long time. It was a little after 2:30 in the morning and I was all alone. Steve had left a long time ago, catching the bus back to New Jersey. Mary Magdalene was nowhere to be found. I had spent a total of seven hours in Bellevue and--like the first two times before this--had accomplished nothing in the process.
As a customer rights advocate for the insane, I give the Bellevue Psych Ward a D-. Preventing it from being a straight F are the following positive factors: the receptiveness of the audience in the first waiting area; the hip jazz-era calmness evoked by the non-dreadlocked orderly; and the compassion and gullibility of the gay East Indian doctor with the pink silk tie.
Overall, however, I did NOT find Bellevue helpful in my search to find a good doctor at a good price.
In Volume II, we will look at the comparative benefits of St. Vincent's Outpatient Behavioral Health Services. Stay tuned.
Posted by Will Franken at 1:15 PM