Still More True Tales of Human Interest

I had a very difficult childhood. Our microwave didn’t have a turntable, so I often had to turn the food once, twice, or even three times during the cooking process. It’s fortunate that I didn’t get some kind of disease from improperly cooked fragments in those food products.

My parents rarely grounded me, however, because I would just read books in my room. It was not much of a punishment. Instead, my mother would frequently lock me outside. My brother and I had no choice but to explore the vacant wooded lot behind the house, often risking life and limb in the pursuit of enjoyment. The owner of the lot was a dick, and always chastised us for being there. Many years later, we threw a jug of spoiled milk into his lot out of spite. It is still there.

Once, we took the hose and made a large mud pit in the middle of the yard. The dog joined us for several minutes of unadulterated happiness. When my mother found us, she was not as happy. The dog had to be hosed off thoroughly, while Mark and I had to be cleaned indoors. I still respect our creativity in having a fun time, though.

We have a half-assed basketball half-court by the side of our house. It is essentially four slabs of concrete and a hoop. At this point, due to root growth and plate tectonics, the playing surface is no longer level. Back in the day, we played a few games of HORSE and such, but I mostly used it for dribbling. I would go out there with a fully-inflated basketball and dribble for hours. I never shot the ball (I would have missed), but I dribbled like a pro. At one point, I dribbled with a kickball. I could dribble just about anything.

As a gifted student, I had many struggles. I could kick the ass of math any day, but when it came to all that other crap, I was no good. We were expected to do a presentation each year of some “creative” project or another. I always stumbled through one, but never had any creative ideas on presenting them. Like most elementary school projects, parental assistance was key. my topics included rocks and crystals, the lungs, lions, and electric motors. The motor was actually quite cool, and fortunately it worked once at home and once during the creative project fair, but never again. It is still here.

The other annual gifted project was a book. We were expected to write, illustrate, and bind a 24-page book. It could be about anything we wanted, but we had to do all the work. The end product was a white bookish thing covered in some kind of hardcore plastic wrap. For me, it was less of a creative project and more of romp through my twisted childish psyche. Whenever I tried to assemble coherent thoughts into book form, I always failed incredibly.

In my first year, I was probably 5 or 6. I wrote an alphabet book of all the stuffed animals in my bedroom. It was adorable. I remember another gifted student reading it to me sweetly, but I also remember being teased about it. Either way, it’s probably the most earnest thing I’ve ever written, and the pictures are decent, too. Once I started reading more complicated books, I tried to assemble a narrative. The results are frankly embarrassing. One was a blatant (horrible!) take on a book series I liked. One other has slipped my memory (thank god). The final book was written in fifth grade, and I labored over it for quite a while. My innovative story idea was this: take two natural disasters and combine them. It couldn’t fail!

After thinking for ages about which two disasters to combine, I decided on a tornado and a volcano. Naturally, the book was entitled “Torcano”. In my head, it was spectacular. A horrifying wind tunnel pulling boiling lava out of the mountain and into the sky, where it would partially harden and land, crushing humans, vehicles, and abodes with abandon. The concept did not translate so well to the 24-page plastic-wrapped mini-book form. I wrote the text and illustrated it, which consisted mostly of two triangles (one reddish-brown volcano and one gray, swirly cyclone) in various positions. I bound it and everything.

On presentation day, we were supposed to read the book to our gifted peers. I was already embarrassed. After all, my previous works had been met with derision and accusations of childishness. When it was my turn, I read the book aloud. When I finished, I remember looking up to about ten bewildered faces and absolute silence. The stunned silence lasted for several seconds before things moved on. It’s fair to say that a worse work of fiction has never been produced. Of course, all of my books from elementary school are still here.

When I was about 13, my brother started dating a girl. I didn’t like her very much, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. In any case, I lacked the emotional maturity to express those concerns, so at a church function, that frustration expressed itself. I threw a green gummi bear at the couple from across the room, and hit the girl directly in the right eye. My aim was spectacular. Her contact lens was knocked back over her eyeball and she had to go to the bathroom to remove it. She patted me on the shoulder in forgiveness, which was good, because Mark was pissed.

The next day she saw an optometrist and had to have her eyes dilated. I apologized profusely throughout the whole process. Later on, her dad said, “it would be fine had it just been an inch off the mark.” Months later, after the inevitable break-up, I felt a bit vindicated about the gummi bear situation. That’s what she got for dating my brother.

(I felt that I should at least present at least one true tale of human interest about my asylum experiences.)

When I was first committed to the Lancaster County Crisis Center, it was a brand new experience. My urine was still purple from the medication I’d been given, and I was checked on every 10 minutes “just in case.” There was not much to do, either. They had a library of about 30 books and a different library of about 80 VHS tapes. The patients could choose any of the films on tape, which the attendants would then play on the sealed-up TV/VCR. I did read one book, but most of the time, I had to watch the movies.

Because most patients stayed about 3 days (I was there for 30), every retinue of new ones wanted to watch the same damned films. Of all 80 films, I probably saw about 12. The two I saw the most were Happy Gilmore and Meet the Parents. The process worked as follows: a new patient would come in and read the list of tapes and say, “Oh, Happy Gilmore. I haven’t seen that movie in forever.” All of the other patients (except me) would then say, “Wow, I remember that from high school. Let’s watch that.” The process would continue a few days later. I probably saw that film 8 times that month, if not 10.

The most interesting patient there was Jeff, the psychotic. Most of us were just everyday insane, but Josh was actually certifiable. He shook and twitched and couldn’t quite converse properly. We talked once or twice, but each time he would spin off on very interesting topics of his own. We were both long-term patients, so we knew each other a bit, but after a week, Josh made an escape attempt.

There was a short, narrow hallway that ended in a door to the staircase. It was hard to see from the main desk. The ceiling was composed of the typical crumbly, white, rectangular panels. He thought that there was a way out over the doorway, so he climbed up the sides of the hallway (I didn’t get to see this, but I’m sure it was acrobatic) and got above the ceiling panels and light. Naturally, the whole thing collapsed. Not only that, the wall over the door extended past the ceiling panels to the real ceiling. The escape attempt failed, and they didn’t clean up the light and ceiling fragments for days. Josh was subsequently sent elsewhere.

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