Thank you, Mister Speaker. Tomorrow, newspapers across America will reproduce the words of my Learned Colleague as conclusive evidence that the people of our Great State are a passel of inbred morons. Now I don’t know about you, but to me, this state of affairs seems — well, it strikes me as unfortunate, Ladies and Gentlemen — and Honored Members of the Opposition Party. I submit to my Colleague that his recent comments cast the Members of this August Body — no, I see my Colleague rising in objection, and let me anticipate him by withdrawing that — rather let me say that his recent comments cast the members of his own unfortunate Party specifically in an unfortunate light. Now, in all justice, I will grant that the vast majority of the Members of the Loyal Opposition are, by any fair and honest appraisal, indeed a passel of inbred morons. But fairness — no, let me finish — fairness demands that I put the question: how often, in a barrel of rotten apples, do we find one sweet, unspoiled, non-rotten apple? So let us not tar every apple with the foul taint of corruption, manifest indecency, and insanity. Basic mathematics tells us that there are always exceptions to every rule, so it is possible that my Learned Colleague, despite recent evidence to the contrary, is that Magic Apple. Let us hope so.
Getting ready for dinner. Time to…
Do the checklist.
Everybody has their checklist of things they have to do to get ready for dinner.
I don’t mean cooking, although that’s one. I mean things like getting the kids to wash their hands.
Don’t have any kids, so I can’t quite imagine that one. Except that I was that kid, and, oddly, I do remember that detail.
Mom always had to tell me to wash my hands, but it got gradually more complex as I got dirtier. She kept adding items that I had to wash. My face was the second item. I distinctly remember when she got to the fifth item. She saw me coming toward the kitchen and told me, “Doc, wash you hands and face and neck and ears and ARMS.”
I was called Doc back then.
When I was in college studying psychology, I spent one summer in a mental institution.
It was a work-study class and the mental institution was the Indiana State loony bin—and I use the term in the technically accurate sense—Norman Beatty Memorial Hospital in Westville, Indiana. Google it now and you’ll come across posts like this:
“Does anyone have any stories to share about the ‘notorious’ Norman Beatty Hospital, which was converted to a co-ed prison in the late 1970’s?
“A former patient I once knew refers to the hospital as the ‘Westville Hilton’ because all the patients got were board, care and Thorazine shots, in no particular order of importance.”
Wikipedia will tell you that:
“Dr. Norman Beatty Memorial Hospital… built in 1945… was the largest employer of Westville residents. Beatty Memorial, consisting of 50 main buildings and 16 residence units for staff members’ families once housed 1750 patients in the civil section and around 500 patients in the maximum-security portion.”
I worked there before the conversion, in the maximum-security portion.
I commuted an hour each way on the Indiana East-West Tollway and spent eight hours a day locked in there, five days a week. I got to come up for air on the weekends. The inmates, of course, were there 24/7.
I spent most of my time with the inmates, or patients. The terminology is a little complicated because Beatty was a dumping ground for State prison inmates who couldn’t make it in prison. Some of them because they were what was known then as CSPs (criminal sexual psychopaths), some of them because they just didn’t fit in (the hebephrenics, especially, were a little too cheerful for day-to-day prison life), some because they were unquestionably going to be killed imminently if they stayed, and some just because they were smart. All of them went to the Maximum Security portion at Beatty, where I worked.
The result was that I spent the bulk of my days in the company of a very confusing mixture of dangerous convicts playing crazy and genuinely crazy people. One minute I’d be listening to the retired Kentucky judge and racing horse owner whose delusions were glorious and cinematic and the next minute I’d be playing chess with a perfectly sane con artist who was, I knew, having read his record, a remorseless murderer.
Every morning when I showed up for work, it seemed, I’d hear about one of them freaking out the night before and doing something horrific. Par for the course in the staff briefing.
Because my time with the inmates/patients was not all my time in bedlam, even if it was the best. For a couple of house each day I’d have to interact with the hapless social workers, cynical doctors, Thorazine-dispensing nurses, and the guards drawn from the otherwise unemployable ranks of the citizenry of Westville, Indiana. Sorry, guards, but that was pretty clear at the time.
Halfway through the term they had us take, and self-grade, a Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Back then the MMPI consisted of something like 400 questions, and when you graded it you ranked the subject on a number of scales of craziness. One of the scales looked for clues to attempts to beat the test itself: it was called the Lie Scale.
When I took the test in this environment and scored it, I came out borderline schizophrenic.
I didn’t like that.
So I took the test again.
I didn’t try to beat the test. I simply took it in a different frame of mind.
Naturally, I came out perfectly normal. The Lie scale didn’t blink.
The people who lived in that environment 24/7 had much more opportunity to figure out the game than I did, and I beat it on the second try. My cynicism about the science of psychology dates from that time.
But the test stays with me, too, or rather, the two tests and the two results.
The question is there in the back of my mind forty years later: was I a sane person in a crazy place adjusting a silly test for the obvious bias, or am I even now a borderline schizophrenic who has figured out how to beat the game every single day?
And finally, does it matter?
Sitting on the grass on the hillside above the river with the dog wedged between us offering her toy, for throwing, first to Nancy and then to me in strict alternation, we watch two ducks who appear to be in the same mood we are, paddling leisurely upstream and then drifting down again.
My friend Alan Nadon died today. I hadn’t seen him since the 70s, from the Partly Dave Coffeehouse days, but we’d corresponded off and on. Mostly off, I’m sorry to say.
Scattered memories, probably inaccurate:
He came to Elkhart, Indiana from Chicago and always seemed to be wired tighter than the rest of us. There was a toughness about him, in his speech and taunting humor and his kinky hair and rough complexion, that belied the sweetness that was obviousness to anyone who knew him.
He was political, as we all were, but in a more pragmatic way. His mother worked for Representative Brademas, I think. When it looked like a Democrat could be elected Mayor and a half-dozen candidates ran for the nomination, Alan invited them all to his house to be interviewed. The idea was that it was a meeting of the Young Democrats of Elkhart, but that pretty meant Alan and any of us who wanted to show up. The candidates came.
He painted. I bought one of his paintings. I remember it being surreal and apocalyptic. I don’t know what happened to it. I have the impression that he did a comic strip for my underground paper under the name Tokal Harum.
Alan was a mensch. His love for Reenie was so apparent, back then and even more later, when she died. And his work as an electrical inspector he clearly took very seriously and obviously took real pride in. Real work with real human value. He belonged to professional organizations and worked to improve the profession itself. When he retired, I read that he was given a big sendoff. I know it had to have been emotional for those who had worked with him.
I sought his approval. I remember being ridiculously pleased when a bunch of us were eating at that place, what was it called, and he told me I had a lot of guts and I asked why and he said to be eating a chili cheese dog with a beard.
I can still hear him saying my name with indulgent humor, and I’m grateful for the memory.