December, 1978: The story’s written. I'm tired. Why can't I sleep? Notebook, pen, Back to the kitchen table. And: I'm afraid - - Locked doors are opened To psychiatric ward in Building 55.
"I'm here," says my big friend, The tallest guy in the Elks Club.
Tremendous room, decorated, Christmas wreaths and tree. Pretty girl strums on banjo. The daughter of an Elk. Willie, a patient, Plays saxophone out of tune. Forty men sit on wooden chairs, Or walk aimlessly around the room. Some oblivious, Some stare, Others smile. Band plays. Santa Claus enters. Merry Christmas! "Why did the man faint?"
"He just tripped, it's okay." They carry him out of the Snake Pit.
I am no longer alone. Three pairs of eyes stare into mine. "Hi," I say, "I'm a reporter, "Want to talk to me?"
Little fellow, five-foot-two, Thin, blonde hair, Some wisps growing out of his chin.
"Sure I do," he says. "Well," he begins, "There once was a young man of twenty, Who loved it here at the hospital, And Couldn't wait for his soul to split."
Great story. The band is playing louder now. I'm making friends in Building 55.
"This young man was in the Army. He was raped by a bunch of guys. Nobody believed him. "Do you believe? Will you write about him?"
Two more men --. Two more stories. Bits and pieces put together To make my story. White lies are better than black lies. Something's wrong. People in my story sound normal. Normal people in a crazy house. *** Another door unlocks for the Elks and me. "Chronic care, geriatric, psychiatric, VEGETABLES! Band plays, Santa Claus grins, Christmas music blasts! Vegetables stare into empty space.
No story here. Who cares.
Another door, another room, more men More material for my notebook. "I've been here for twenty-eight years. I'm sixty years old, and saving my money. When I get out, I will find a pretty girl, Get married, and buy a house."
"He said he wants to marry YOU," Whispers my friend, the big Elk. Proposal in a mental institution.
And then I meet the heartbreaker. We talk for a long time About his life, my life, His dreams, my dreams.
"Are you married?" he asks.
"Yes, I am."
"Do you have kids?" he asks.
"Yes, I do."
"Take this candy for them," he says.
"I can't take your candy."
"Please," he pleads. "Thank you. "Are you sure you're married?" he asks again.
"Yes, I'm sure." He gives me the candy, Looks into my eyes, And kisses my hand.
*** The band is playing "White Christmas. It is time to go home and write my stilted story. Who's insane? . . . Wonder if I'll sleep tonight? I saved this piece in a private notebook and wrote a colorless story which was published in The Elizabeth (New Jersey) Daily Journal.
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