by Donald Zagardo
Writing for the first time Dear Diary an account, perhaps a psychological appraisal/assessment/condemnation of self, a certifiable madman who has committed serious crimes that have bought him to this tiny window overlooking a city park known as Solarmere Gardens. What a lovely name, Solarmere Gardens: for pretty-young adults, for very senior citizens, for little children and their moms, but not for psychopaths like self.
The bars on the windows that I have been staring from for twenty months are painted a sad yellow, chipped in a thousand places, sun bleached and tired: they keep me in and lesser madmen out. John Carpenter is caretaker of G Ward, Adamsdale Psychiatric Hospital, Manhattan, NYC where my life is being cared for or controlled at this very moment. He is called Mechanic Jack by all dozen inmates of G Ward, who live together in what I believe to be a 1940s era brick building of considerable size that I have seen only once from the outside when entering, one dark and very unfortunate afternoon. I have been probed and documented for nearly two years without a civilized meal, without a bottle of beer, wine or whiskey, but quenched only with child's-fare: milk, chocolate milk, orange juice and fruit punch. Twenty months, one week and two days, to be exact, without any love, lust or salutations. Sad, sad, very sad.
Books are not hard to find on G Ward: Good books, well…. The light blue and green corridors have shiny floors and wooden shelves that hold hundreds of worn 1960s style literary losers. Reading them exclusively could drive anyone mad, self-included: Pastely, Morrow, Marooned, Waxman, Wellesley, and Wankered. Oh God!
Sofia is a friend who occasionally at night roams the corridors beside me. She likes to hold hands and she laughs out-loud for no apparent reason. Sofia has killed three of her five brothers: I do not know why. She said goodbye/farewell/adieu to the real-world many years ago, so I am told. She now inhabits a world to which she alone has entrée. I call it Sofia's World. She has named it Inferno. Sophia smells like vanilla pudding. Poor sweet, sweet, mad vanilla smelling Sofia.
My friend Omar imagines the human-world around him dying, he alone maintaining life. He says that he is all of existence; earth, sun and shit. Omar is a true madman, who has kidnapped and raped countless teenage boys, but does not even like boys. He never washes on his own. He is sometimes dragged into the shower room by male attendants, when he stinks too much of earth and shit and has become repulsive to all other patients, even to me. Omar yells and screams in protest during his laundering, but in the end, when all is said and done, he smiles for hours in joyous cleanliness.
Sharon does not eat anything at all. Her weight is less than eighty pounds. Her bones poke through her pale skin. She repeatedly mutters, "Skinny is Holy, Skinny is Holy" but I am not convinced. Sharon will soon be fed intravenously. I do not know her transgressions, but perhaps her doctor does. She speaks only to herself.
Down the long dark hall, I hear Dilbert and Francis arguing about which one of them is the real Jesus Christ – the other being a false Christ I assume. They do this every day. It is their ritual, but today I intercede. "Could you both be Jesus? Could I be the real Lord and Savior?" My efforts seem wasted at first, but eventually the inmates nod in agreement. Insignificant criminals and madmen both: How silly, but they like me now. Yeah!
Cliff is a true monster. He once told a laundry-room full of lunatics that he had thrown his mother-in-law from her Manhattan ninth story bedroom window. I wonder what his charming spouse Maggie thought about that. That glorious/deviant/sick infraction of behavioral standards delivered him to The Ward – too crazy for real prison, too dangerous for freedom. What he was doing in his mother-in-law's bedroom remains a mystery. I regard Cliff as an honest man for his numerous confessions. He is my chum, but unruly in every way. I should select my friends more carefully, don't you think?
My story is not so very different from Cliff's. Sad, sad, mad me. It was a bright Monday afternoon nearly two year ago, while walking/strolling/drifting through this city's heart my troubles began. I will avoid an overly graphic description of the events in question. I was standing/resting/loitering in front of The New York City Public Library, conversing/socializing/mingling with four charming, collegiate females on Spring Break. Young and beautiful, tall and short, fat and thin, all of them. One meets fascinating people at the Public Library. The ladies were named Deborah, Eve, Barbara, Wendy and Aubrey, names, names, names, never mind.
Their boyfriends, who were waiting in the wings to support, protect or waylay had names too: Animal, Beast, Toad, Dog and Snake. But again, never mind. After a very short conversation with Aubrey and Eve, interrupted by one of their boy-chums, I smashed the discourteous lad with a borrowed gray-color, industrial quality lunch bucket, another with the handy-pair of binoculars that I normally carry. Blood flowed down the forty clean cement steps of The New York City Public Library. And off I ran, smooth and laughing, tall and sturdy, dancing down the street and neighboring park, but unfortunately not fast or far enough.
While resting in Bryant Park, waiting, hiding and reading one book or another, I was grabbed/attacked/abused by two of the city's finest overweight gorillas, transported to and held for a week at The Manhattan Detention Center way downtown, given a court date then released on moderate, nearly affordable bail. I should have run and kept running.
My attorney thought that an insanity plea would lead to a speedy and acceptable outcome, and that some psychiatric care-time would be advantageous for me, as he put it, and would be the only penalty/punishment required of this poor mad man, if the court agreed. It did but sentenced me to a high-security psychiatric care facility for an undetermined measure of time. It's where the real crazies go and stay for years: The Adamsdale Psychiatric Facility. Attorneys have no sense of justice or fair play, but dress very well….
Around here I am employed (one of the very few patients allowed to work) in the Hospital Laundry as an ironer. I find tranquility in this menial task. Most of the other inhabitance of G Ward are too dangerous or drugged-up to be trusted with any real responsibility. I, for some unknown reason, have been granted permission to iron, wielding a heavy, hot and conceivably dangerous object – admittedly the iron is chained to the floor of the laundry room and has a very limited range of motion, but still. Un-wrinkling the world one shirt at a time, well that's something. Lucky me!
Portraits of important men and women who have captained the great-ship Adamsdale line its main corridor in dark-brown wooden frames. These likenesses are often defaced by madmen and women, all artists at heart. Cigarette Jim, bank-robber/killer/rapist/long-term tenant is assigned the task of keeping the portraits free of ad hoc mustaches, beards and tattoos. Cigarette Jim, not his real name of course, which I honestly do not know, smokes excessively, but rarely owns a pack of cigarettes. He is religious about his smoking nevertheless and is rarely without a distasteful fag. Jim must have what Jim must have.
"No Jim, I don't want to wrestle with you on the cafeteria floor. No Jim, I didn't say that you were a fag."
Ironing the day away is pleasant enough, but I would love to get back to my real life: author of great books yet to be written, follower of pretty girls and boys, client/passenger/occupier of trains, busses and cabs, consumer of whiskey and wine, destroyer of virtue, peace and hope, payer of taxes, dreamer of dreams, watcher of television, teacher of History at a special High School that will remain anonymous, and waster of time.
History is the sport of excuse-makers, propagandists, rationalists, liars, pretenders and counterfeiters, so it is therefore, in every-way-shape and form, my true calling. Fools and bleeding-hearts, mothers and sisters who care passionately about the past, find it impossible to understand its meaninglessness, its irrelevance. Who was it who said, "If it's in the rearview mirror, it doesn't matter"? I agree whole-heartedly with that observation, but nevertheless enjoyed the money and office space granted at my special High School. Our school is filled with beautiful, exciting, very annoying young women, and stinky smartass boys, and lots of crazy teachers like me. Most employees of my special High School are far crazier than I. They're all just one step ahead of the men in the white – I unfortunately, am one step behind.
At night, at Adamsdale, in the yellow and pink activities room, we watch British Football on TV. I have no idea why. There is one Brit on staff, Billy Brit, William Brit to those who pretend to know and respect him. Maybe William holds the answer. Silly little boys in shorts and mud: "Look at me mommy, look at me mommy, I'm playing football." Nonsense!
Naked Margo wanders at night wearing flip-flops and an old Yankee cap. She tries to give away bars of soap to her fellow inmates/patients/fans as she flip-flops down the hall. She aims to make fellow convicts look at her nakedness, but most avert their eyes. Margo glows in the evening light, her hair the color of mercurochrome. She is plump, but not un-pretty. I do not know Margo's sin. She enjoys being naked - this she has confessed to me. Naked Margo, abortionist or bank robber perhaps. "Look at me mommy, look at me!"
Joey Diamond thinks/pretends/dreams that he's a Catholic Priest. He sprinkles Holy Water on G-mates each morning. He seems harmless enough, but I have heard that he once engineered the sacrifice of someone's kid to rid the world of sin. He cut the little boy in half with a machete or some such thing. Little Joey Diamond – you never know.
We sleep in two large rooms: men in one, ladies in the other. Beds are separated by only a few feet. One can hear one's fellows breathing, laughing or crying all through the night.
Friday afternoon is a good time for the crazies at Adamsdale. Weekends bring a new group of attendants who are much less experienced and more sensitive to our needs as people. They are caring, and fun to fool.
I sometimes tiptoe myself into the hallway closet and rummage through old clothes left for the unclothed and borrow an occasional shirt or pant. Today I discovered a discarded pair of Nikes: running flats from the late 1970s, blueberry shoes with red Nike swooshes. I will run away from Adamsdale Psychiatric Hospital someday in my new/used/old/trusty Nikes.
"Who are you? What do you want? Do I know you? Why are you looking at me like that?" I screeched to a polished steel mirror hanging in the G corridor next to a picture of Gandhi, to win the attention of pretty Nurse Nichole. I gained her attention alright, but three large male attendants dragged me from my mirror into one of G's two treatment rooms for the night. Nurse Nicky is fresh to the job. I wonder if she misses me. She is lovely, means well, has no clue and is therefore fair game.
Her face is like that of a pretty doll. Her eyes clear blue, her auburn hair short and straight, her body long, curvy and alive. When she half-smiles at me, I want to lovingly kiss her mouth.
"Take the soap boys," Naked Margo demands.
Saturday is an international holiday set aside from the rest of the week for watching television and eating potato chips.
Bad News: It seems that one of the beast/lads attacked by me so very long ago has finally succumbed to his injuries. And what I believed to have been a grey-color lunch bucket was indeed a blue granite building block. He, from what I am told, hung-in-there comatose for almost two years. How brave! I am consequently being charged with manslaughter and will, according to letters from my useless attorney, be once again tried for assault with an added count of second degree murder. At least I'll be out of Adamsdale for a while.
I recall from long ago, running to Bryant Park from the Public Library steps after drumming that big lug with what I thought was a lunch bucket. He did go down easily and bled profusely. What a heavy lunch bucket I thought to myself at the time. I wisely ran away, then unwisely sat to rest. I may have fallen asleep for a moment or two. The police had me surrounded when I awoke.
"Stand up straight," I repeated to self.
"Sir, we need to talk with you." That's what they said before tackling me and introducing handcuffs to my soon-to-be bruised wrists.
"Surely this must be some kind of mistake," I pleaded in my best TV Police Drama voice, but they would have none of it.
"Sir, sir, sir, blah, blah, blah; blah, blah, blah…"
Monday is usually the quietest day at Adamsdale. Lunatics are tired from tormenting the weekend staff and each other. The food is fresh but the menu stale. Save us all from Monday Dear Lord.
Back to court, but this time...
My incompetent lawyer made our case and the prosecuting attorney made the state's.
Our jury was out to lunch or deliberating when I begged my caretaker for a visit to the toilet. After a uniquely graphic description of my unusual urination ritual, the burly Officer Burly agreed to let me enter the lavatory on my own. The fool in blue.
A breeze from an open window rustled my hair and got me thinking. It awakened a state of mind that dreamt and moved simultaneously. It was not an easy task pushing my tall, thick yet agile body through the tiny bathroom window. I probably should have been in handcuffs, don't you think? Perhaps the lack of restraints had something to do with the significant amount of medication administered to poor self before trial, with the hope of keeping me docile, but alas self has become immune, after so-many months of tranquility.
I am out and dropping two flights to the soft dirty city-earth. Painful but not unpleasant. Away, away, away! Nikes on, along with borrowed court clothes, less conspicuous than hospital pajamas. It's so nice to be free of Adamsdale, of Mechanic Jack and the other staff fools who keep me so very well cared for. This member of The Adamsdale Family is now running south on Lexington Avenue, at full speed like a real Olympian/Marathoner/fugitive avoiding traffic snarls and baby carriages.
Missing one then another, running as fast I can away from the Psychiatric Hospital and Mechanic Jack, Cliff, Omar, Margo, Sofia and Dilbert. I am a ballerina in Nikes, so fast and smooth, but I can hear sirens screaming from the direction of the court-house. I now run even faster. I am a bird, a fox, a gazelle. Taxi drivers think they own the road.
"Road Hog - Where did you learn to drive?" I yell. First to one then another. Some kind of rusty old Japanese thing right in front of me. "Get out of my way a-hole!" I avoid one collision but find another. Oh no! I'm laying on the payment probably with a broken leg and shoulder.
"Mother…." I realize immediately that playing in traffic is dangerous. How do kids do it? I'm frigid: the air is cold as is the pavement I lay upon. It smells of grease and Jack Daniel's. I'm not really in pain, more anesthetized, but cannot move either. Nice crowd of helpful inquisitors. "Oh, I'm fine people, just fine!"
After a good twenty minutes, I really don't know how long, the bright lights of an ambulance turn Lexington Avenue into a light-show/disco/amusement park. The EMTs surrounding me are helpful and friendly as they load me into an ambulance. It is from Adamsdale Psychiatric Emergency and is filled with EMTs and two cops. Is that Mechanic Jack? No, he's not a doctor, is he? And is that pretty Nurse Nicky with her hand on my bleeding shoulder? It is, and the police are watching over me as if a bleeding, paralyzed man might cause trouble.
Sirens cut the city air as my veins are gushed with morphine that stills the thundering numbness in my shoulder and leg. Pretty Nurse Nicky appears fragile in the turbulent light, angelic. Her mid-length skirt lifts slightly as she bends over me. Mechanic Jack! What the hell are you doing here?
Harmless - Isolated
I was allowed to keep my Nikes once they got me back, my once bloodied shirt and pants, my diary, but not much else. Books and magazines, G Ward friends and freedom are gone forever. The price of being me has greatly increased. I sit in my solitary room at Adamsdale Psychiatric, mad and guilty. I know that now but it's not so bad. The food is better than on G Ward and pretty Nurse Nicky comes to visit occasionally, in my dreams. She brings me cookies and herself. My cell has a view of a city street that congests every morning and evening, and through the bars I can see three tall trees and a shallow lake in the distance.
I once wrote poems and paragraphs filled with virtuous escapade, violence, greed, religion, love, monsters and saviors. My focus in recent time has changed, away from adventurist notions toward the long shapely legs and tight blouses of Nurse Nicky, my lovely angel, forever with me, young and beautiful. My visitor and vision.
Donald Zagardo is a former Professor of Modern History at St. John's University. He lives and writes in New York City.