Clearer Daze

PROLOGUE
 
Fate's Amusing Little Plaything
 
 
Listen: I feel at home here and I shouldn't. 
A long time ago, yesterday morning in fact, I, Mickey Constant, staggered up Waianuenue Avenue to Hilo Medical and checked myself in.  The hospital staff, without undue fanfare, placed me exactly where I belong: the psychiatric ward.
To the accompaniment of melancholy accordion music playing in my head (sorry no Hawaiian steel guitar) comes the realization, too late, and for whatever relevance it's worth, that once again I've sought asylum in an asylum.
To a fifty-year old rock & roll burnout, a once-famous-nobody, a survivor by the most slender of threads, one who has whistled through the darkness of many a spontaneous act of dangerous absurdity, this act somehow seems less absurd than it should.  Maybe because I've done it before.  A lot.  The proverbial shine's definitely off the monkey.
But hey, the accordion music has transformed into a snappy polka, and across the dining room sits an interesting trio undoubtedly placed here for my entertainment!  Kid who calls himself Satan.  Another one, a female, they call Akua, which I’ve learned is Hawaiian for God.  And a third, an Elvis-impersonator—Jesus-Elvis.  Of course!  What charming little . . . blasphemers. 
But there's a hand on a rope somewhere near, waiting to raise a certain curtain, with orchestral accompaniment that will drown out the little accordion.  I sense it.  Feel it.  A foreboding so ominous that it grows scales and slithers slowly up my spine.  Cold scales.  Tongue flicking in my ear. 
  No, it's the edge of a Tarot card, I see from the periphery of my vision, held between grinning reptilian lips.  An old card.  With frayed edges.  A card that has been around.  The serpent spits the card at the side of my face.  Ricochets off and flutters to the tiled floor face down.  I sit, looking down at it, debating whether to turn it over.
  I know that if I turn the card over, a scene will develop.  And like scenes so often turn out, Mickey Constant’s anyway, it will be a scene with a script I’ll have absolutely no control of.  One composed in lizard's blood, via raven quill.
  My old friend, my mentor, the bluesman Coleman Jones will tell me to turn the card over.  He'll chime in, sounding anciently hip—growling something like a lyric off the B-side of some obscure Stax record, always trying to come off profound: "That what life about, man.  Turning the next goddamned card over."   
  Cole’s stink eye tells me that if I don't turn it over, there'll be no horror story, no love story, no tale of redemption, no blood spilled, no BIG SURPRISE, or most importantly, no finding out why Zippy, my one-and-only-ex-wife’s poodle, is currently sporting a flat-top.  In other words, no reason for either you or me to continue.  Okay Cole, I'll turn the card for you.  And for me.  Actually, I have no choice in the matter.  I am, after all, Mickey Constant, Fate’s Amusing Little Plaything.
     
 
 
Chapter One
 
Nothing Essential Happens In the Absence of Noise
 
  There Mickey Constant sits.  (I jab a finger at the sack of shit slumped in the metal, fold-up chair.)  Occasionally, I’m able to do that—pull away and view myself from a safe distance.
  Sits, still in that institutional dining room, swallowing gulps of institutional air, mute with relief, having recently, reluctantly, with the accompaniment of whatever sound a trickle of sweat dribbling down one’s back creates, turned over the Tarot card the serpent delivered and received a large dose of relief . . . for the card was the Ace of Wands.  Hand emerging from the clouds, offering the flowering wand. Something about that reminds him of “strength.”
   The eight leaves floating down (the number eight denoting material and spiritual progress and balance, of course.).  The castle on the hill stands like a promise of what the future may hold. 
  Gone was the accordion and the orchestra!  Somewhere in the background, unseen, a wooden flute was getting a gentle workout by a moist-eyed girl in a saffron robe.
  Whew!
  Wait a minute.  Castle on a hill?  Promise? Future?
  Like Mickey Constant deserved to be contemplating a future.  Like that was safe! 
   Slumped in this chair, ass pressed against cold metal, with zero expectations beyond what feeble little blurts of unconnected electricity my brain has to offer, and I notice:
  The sweet brown angel, the one they refer to as God, or rather, Akua sitting two tables away noiselessly scribbling something on a napkin with a nubbed pencil.  There’s lot’s of name changing going on with females here on the island -- a few “Spirits,” a few “Sunshines,” a “Smiley,” a “Paradise,” and a “Lindia” (adapted from Linda) to name a few -- none as ambitious as Akua, but . . .
         Akua looked up and appeared in serious reflection for a moment, then resumed her writing.  Her fingers moved urgently and quickly, as if writing were . . . well, necessary to life, like breathing.  I tried not to stare at her but she's beautiful, someone whom I would have swallowed whole back in my days of fame and debauchery.  Mixed blood, Eurasian maybe (those almond eyes!) and young, in her early twenties.  I looked away.  Past memories have delivered a few ruler whacks to keep me vigilant, make me not stare at beautiful women because. . . well, sometimes they misunderstand, sometimes they mistake it for something it's not.
  Jesus-Elvis sat at another table, across from hers, a slightly overweight equally young Elvis impersonator obviously taking himself far too seriously.  He was studying her too.  While he was doing that, Satan leaned over and snatched the carton of milk from the tray in front of Jesus-Elvis.
  "Look," Jesus-Elvis said, turning to Satan, missing the milk theft.  "She's doing it again." 
         Satan tore open the top of the carton.  "Shut the fuck up."  He drank with a flourish, then belched, and with the back of his hand, wiped his meticulously groomed pencil-thin mustache.
  He tossed the carton toward the waste paper basket.  It hit the wall, then bounced onto the floor, leaving a few drops of milk on the fuchsia-colored wallpaper.
  Jesus-Elvis stared at him.  Side-burned jowls quivered.  "That's three sins in less than ten seconds."
  Satan pushed the tray away.  "Two, but who's counting?"
  Jesus-Elvis shook his head.  Held up his hand.  "Cursing."  His index finger popped up, pointing heavenward.  "Littering."  Middle digit appeared, followed by a third.  "And stealing."
  Satan leaned forward, plucked a toothpick from the dispenser, inserted it between his lips, and leaned back in the chair at a dangerous angle.  “Get bent.”
  Jesus-Elvis smirked, trying for Elvis' famous one no doubt.  "You're going to be wearing that . . . what did Dr. Bobb call it?  That Terminally Cool Suit forever," he said, trying, and failing, to keep the smirk.  "Dr. Bobb will make you wear it till it falls apart."
  "Polyester's my fabric, man," Satan said, casting a loving gaze down at the horribly out-of-date, gaudy leisure suit he was wearing.  Waved expansively.  "Orange and green are my colors.  Hounds tooth's my pattern.  It's fucking perfection." 
  His eyes narrowed, mustached twitched; he glared at Jesus-Elvis.  "I can wear a fucking gunny sack wrong side out and look better than you, you piece of shit."  Punctuated the sentence with a sarcastic chuckle.  "Hell, Elvis was fat.  Pleasantly plump, but proportioned like fat people should be.  You ain't even fat right.  You drug your ugly ass up close to a mirror and focused lately?" 
         "I am not fat."  Jesus-Elvis, suddenly sullen, looking more like the real Elvis than I’m sure he realized.  
  Satan pointed the toothpick at him.  "You ever heard the term, 'cute as a sack of doorknobs'?  That's what you look like, man.  A fucking sack of doorknobs.  A tin-horn Bible thumper with a ridiculous fucking pompadour trying to be the King of . . . something."
  Jesus-Elvis came out of the chair.  He jabbed a quivering finger at Satan.  Stood, connected to the shaking finger, then pushed his chair out and hurried to the other table where Akua sat.  Plopped down across from Akua, folded his hands together, squeezed his eyes shut and began to mumble.  Akua looked up for a moment then resumed her writing.
  Satan whispered across the space that separated them, "Akua."  His voice, low-pitched and solicitous.  Akua continued her writing, ignoring him, the slender muscles of her writing hand fluttered.
  Satan cleared his throat.  "Watch him."  Nodded toward Jesus-Elvis.  "Looks real celestial sitting there praying, but if you look real close you can see he's got a little teensy-weensy hard on."  Rocked back again in his chair. "‘Bernard always had a few prayers in the hall and some whiskey afterwards as he was rather pious.‘“  Winked at Akua, who ignored him.         
“Daisy Ashford.  Written when she was nine years old.  Didn’t know I knew that kind of shit, huh?“
  Akua, still writing, still ignoring him.
   Jesus-Elvis looked up, eyes volatile.  "Shut up!  You can't even see me!"
  Satan snorted, then turned to me.  "Dumb shit thinks he can become invisible, too."
  The lips on my best poker face parted.  I asked innocently, "Who you talking about?  I don't see anybody."
  Slow-motion comprehension smeared his pencil mustache into something only vaguely mustache-like.  "Why, you old wino.  How would you like to burn in hell for eternity?”
 
Choreography (to their noise)
 
  There’s this old Hawaiian proverb . . .   Sorry, I’m pulling your proverbial yang, I don’t know any Hawaiian proverbs, and I doubt if there is one relevant to what I’m experiencing.  People who can truly offer Hawaiian proverbs don’t run in my circles, although the few Hawaiian chants I’ve heard sound surprisingly similar to chants I heard as an Indian kid living in Oklahoma.  Interesting. 
   I‘d felt choreographed to fuck with Satan, felt the need to do or say something to put some distance between us.  Or at least, from him.  Jesus-Elvis & Akua?  Distance? The black-gloved finger of worry goosed me.
  Foggy flashback: nineteen-seventy-something  (approximately six months prior to the infamous “accident” and my “disappearance” from the face of the earth): I, Mickey Constant seated in court on the witness stand (I had a different name then).  The prosecutor:
  “Mr. Marten, would you please tell the jury what the defendant, Wallace Polk, your employee—”
  “Roadie,” I corrected.  We knew him as Animal, but I felt it prudent not to offer that bit of info to the court.
  The prosecutor waved away my interruption.  “—Mr. Polk, your “roadie,” did the night of July Third, Nineteen Seventy-one, to another of your employees, Thor Amonon.”
  “My bodyguard.”  I shifted in the hard chair.  Coughed.  Thor, of the team, Thor & Yar.  My midget bodyguards.
  “Mr. Marten?”  The prosecutor’s eyebrows creeping up his forehead.
  I exhaled; there was no way around the facts. “He bowled with him.” 
  Broken neck. 
  Wallace Polk, aka “Animal” went to Fulsom for ten to twenty for using Thor as a “bowling ball.”
  Both midgets stayed on, and Thor, looking even tinier and more pathetic in the wheelchair, made the original joke, or the novelty, or whatever it was -- of two midget bodyguards . . .  
  The past is not always a reflection of the future, is it?  What happened then held a thin connection to what was happening now.  There was little danger of Akua, or Jesus-Elvis becoming human bowling balls, but . . . then again? 
  Maybe they would be safer without me.  I should come with a warning label.
  Why was I even  considering their safety?  That was the fuckin’ sixty-four-thousand dollar question.
  Mr. Hardass?  Mr. Wiseguy?  Choreographed or not, I was bluffing with Satan.  Betting he was too.  In my fragile condition, mental and physical, he could take me.  A crippled midget in a wheelchair could take me.  Anyone could.    
  Confrontation was . . . not my quest.  I had one thing going for me though, I hoped, since my tongue was more or less in rebellion—the slim thread of the Ace of Wands.            
         Satan still glared at me.  Behind him, a wad of paper flew through the air.  It hit him in the back of the head and he blinked.  His gaze released me then.
  Jesus-Elvis snickered.
  Akua stood and wadded up another sheet.  She didn't speak; I didn't know at the time whether she could, but I realized she’d come to my rescue.  She targeted Satan with her smile as the paper crunched and rattled hopeless protest in her hand.  It was a threatening smile, her teeth florescently bright against her toffee-colored skin.
  "You slut," Satan said, rising from his seat.
  One of the big Samoan orderlies came in then.  Must have smelled the hostility brewing.  Akua glanced sideways at him, and slowly sat down, still glaring defiantly at Satan.
  "She's writing!" Satan said, jabbing a finger at the wadded ball in her hand. 
  "That was mine," Jesus-Elvis said.  Winked at Satan.  Donned his smirk.
  "You fucking liar!" Satan shouted.
  They argued back and forth until the orderly escorted Akua and Jesus-Elvis from the room. 
  "We go down to the solarium now," the orderly said in a deep, weary tone, one hinting that confrontation between them was a frequent occurrence.
  "They always protect each other," Satan mumbled after Akua and Jesus-Elvis were gone.  That statement, taken in the context of the aliases they’d chosen had a profound ring to it.
  After a minute or two Satan laughed, a hollow, eerie laugh and began loosening the caps on all the salt and pepper shakers.  He went to the silverware drawer, except the drawer contained only plastic ware, and licked several utensils, placing them back inside.  On his way out, he reached behind the refrigerator and unplugged it.
  A bad parody of the three leading deities of the western world?  A very bad parody.  And beyond what I felt was a vague sense of connection (I’ve already mentioned nagging, haven’t I?), very vague, they hardly seemed the vehicles of redemption the Ace of Wands promised.  Or that they ultimately became. 
 
 
Everything Is Really An Accident, Everything
 
  I broke into their counselor's office that night.  It was either purely accidental or some of Satan's pseudo-maliciousness was already infecting me.  I don't know which.  I found their files. Read them, reluctantly!
  It was after 1:00 AM and I’d gone to the nurses' station to ask for a foam egg crate.  A foam egg crate is a wavy foam mattress cover that makes a hospital bed reasonably comfortable. I awoke the nurse.  She’d nodded off in an office chair behind the counter.  The other two employees, psych techs, as they were referred to, were across the hallway in the break room.  Their voices indicated that they were male and female, and the inflection, rhythm, and content of their conversation implied they were flirting, trying hard to fuck each other without touching.  In light of the confrontation that might ensue, I didn't want to interrupt them.  Neither had I intended to awaken the nurse—it was all accidental.
         The sleepy nurse was obviously irritated that she had been caught napping by one of the patients.  "What do you want?" she barked, rearranging herself and trying to project an image of someone who had just been "resting her eyes."  I would have done the same thing. 
  "My back's bothering me," I said.  "Having trouble sleeping." 
  She considered my complaint, then her eyes narrowed.  "Go down to the kitchen and put some milk in the microwave."     
  "Pardon me?"  
  "Drink it," she said, enunciating each word slowly and louder than was necessary.
   "I was thinking more along the lines of one of those egg crate things," I said.  "The foam covers that go on top of the mattress.  I've used them before.  Besides, microwaves give me an erection."
  The perfect thing for her to have replied was: "Well, when you finish your milk, go masturbate."  But, of course, she didn't.  She stared back at me; her eyes widened.
  "Kimooooooo," she said, calling past me.  I had frightened her.  Not the jaded psyche nurse I’d thought.
  The muffled love conversation over my shoulder continued for a moment then stopped. 
  "What?" Kimo answered, a tinge of agitation in his voice. 
  "Come here," the nurse said.  She didn't look sleepy anymore.
  A chair squeaked.  Footsteps approached.  From the periphery of my vision I caught sight of Kimo, whom I had met yesterday morning when I was admitted.  Kimo was no burly, hulking orderly.  Physically not much larger than I am, a lot younger, and his manner . . . well, he's not at all intimidating.
  He wore glasses, no doubt using brain power to make unruly mental patients behave themselves.  I awaited waves of brain power as Kimo stood beside me, looking toward the formerly sleepy nurse.  I glanced at him from the corner of my eye.
  Confrontation! . . . hands mash minor keys on the piano!
  "What?" he asked her.
  The nurse nodded toward me.  Kimo confirmed my existence, awarded me dignity by acknowledging my presence—he looked at me.  I felt his gaze on the side of my face.  I had yet to acknowledge him, and because of the discomfort he exuded, I stared straight ahead.  Like Jesus-Elvis, I sometimes wish I could become invisible.  That was yet one more  reason for the wise-guy answer I had delivered to Satan earlier in the evening when he scorned Jesus-Elvis for thinking he was unseen.  If he could accomplish it, maybe he could teach me! 
  But Kimo had made me materialize, so out of respect and a sense of fair play, I turned to him and did the same.
  "What?" Kimo asked again, to me.
  It would have been easy for me to have repeated my previous request for a foam egg crate, and Kimo might have told me to put some milk in the microwave, and then I would have reported that microwaves give me an erection, et cetera.  But I'm not careless.
 
 
I May Be Crazy, But I Am Hardly Careless
 
  If I were careless, I would have repeated myself.  And careless people (crazy or not) oftentimes wind up embarrassed, or prosecuted, or worse, restrained, wrestled into unfashionable and uncomfortable canvasware and locked in padded rooms.  Or, worse yet, dead.
  I remember never to repeat myself.  Never!  Under any circumstances.  I’ll tell you how to get away with murder, verbally.
         I’ve occasionally felt an uncontrollable compulsion to issue a statement or two regarding my fellow brother or sister’s behavior,  (patience, as someone has said, being a minor form of despair disguised as a virtue).
   I’ve queried family members directly and to their faces in regards to their single digit IQs.  I’ve questioned the moral fabric of important and influential business acquaintances in the music biz.  I’ve simply spoken up .  .  . and gotten away with it. 
How?  By never repeating myself. 
Another nineteen-seventy-something-flashback: At great financial and career peril, while attending a celebration dinner for the Grammy nomination I‘d received (I didn’t win), I became a virtue-less man at the hands of my host, the President of Columbia Records, gloating over his equally obnoxious, perky little airhead of a girlfriend who was doing everything in her power to capture an unfair share of attention at our table.  She‘d tried several tactics and having had only limited success, I envisioned her next one: exhibiting her obscenely large, obscenely counterfeit, breast.  Desperately trying not to lunge at her with a shish-ka-bob spear and insert it slowly but forcefully into her ear, I winked, grinned benevolently, leaned close to the Prez and his display of proud possession, and said, “Word around town is . . . she swallows.” 
  His eyebrows furrowed.   Bald, shiny head wrinkled. 
  “Pardon?”
  I let my brows furrow.  Cleared my throat.  “After the Grammy, what follows?”
  So, as Kimo stood waiting for my response, I knew better than to repeat what I had said to the nurse earlier.  I said instead, "There's a spider in my room.  It frightened me."
  I knew that I would obtain no foam egg crate tonight.  I knew an expedition would have to descend into the bowels of the hospital and retrieve one.  I knew that Kimo and the nurse had other agendas.  I didn't feel like standing around arguing about it either; that might involve confrontation.   Again, a loud piano chord (in f-minor) rang out.  New plan.
  I would get a sleeping pill.  The sleeping pill would make me think  I had obtained a foam egg crate, or forget about it all together.  Sleeping pills were better than egg crates anyway.  I don't know why that had slipped my mind.
         "You having trouble sleeping?"
         I nodded.  Blinked.
         Kimo, to the nurse,  "Give him something to sleep?"
  She nodded, looking a little dazed.
  See?  She was now wondering if she had heard me right, earlier.  She was questioning my lips, the building's acoustics, her ears, her brain, logic!  
  Unsteadily, she rose from the chair and retrieved a pill from the small room behind the nurses' station.  Kimo drummed his fingers on the counter top while we waited.  She handed me the pill, then poured a small paper cup of water.  I took the water, palmed the pill, and acted as if I‘d swallowed it. 
  "Mahalo," I said, handing her the cup.  I turned and walked back down the corridor.
  I slipped the pill into my pocket.  The moment she‘d handed it to me, Cole had leaned close and whispered in my ear, "Don't take the pill, Micky.  Save it.  You be needing it later."
 
 
Shine Man
 
  Cole walked with me down the hallway.       
  "Why didn't you want me to take the pill?" 
         Cole shook his large dark head.  "Cause you going to need it later." 
  I shrugged.
  Cole, of course, is imaginary.  I am not insane.  Well, maybe I am, but I’m not careless.  I never discuss Cole with anyone.  Never speak to him in the presence of others. 
  Him?  Once real enough, now a memory in present tense.  My musical mentor from years ago – taught me the vocal phrasing that I was once famous for.  Taught me some good shit on guitar, too.  Someone from my blurred past who fulfills several roles I guess—adviser, friend, adversary, sometimes my conscience, he says.  Calls me his Imaginary Playmate.  Son-of-a-bitch.  As if I haven’t enough to deal with.
   Lately, he's been stuck on this Lazarus thing; keeps spouting bullshit about, ‘bringing me back,’ or ‘returning me.’  I don't exactly know where he's talking about bringing me back from, or, do I particularly care.  
  Whether it was Cole, or, as I mentioned earlier, Satan's influence, or vindication for not getting my foam rubber egg crate, or simply boredom, I found myself testing the doorknobs of the rooms on each side of the hallway.  I knew that Kimo was already back in the break room,  flirting, and the nurse, resting her eyes again.  They wouldn't bother me.
  One of the knobs turned.  I cast a quick glance up and down the corridor, pushed the door open and stepped in.  Closed it, found a light switch and turned it on.  It was a counselor's office.  A therapist's.
  "What do you think, Cole?" I asked, walking slowly to the middle of the room.
  "Well," he said.  "Don't start throwing shit out the window.  I know that's what you done thought of.  Only get you ass locked up for a few days."
  I sighed.  Sometimes Cole gave me more credit than I deserved.  I didn't think I had thought of that yet.  I knew what he was referring to, though: I had options.  I could take the sleeping pill, and under its influence, I could forget who I am now (whoever that is) and relive my distant past (which I do all too frequently, without chemical prodding): imagine that I’m once again a neurotic drugged-out  rock and roll legend inhabiting an expensive hotel room on an extended tour across the country.  I could pretend that I had already screwed a couple of beautiful little groupies and become bored.  Seeking thrills (or something), I could throw a chair through the window, followed closely by the computer monitor, the framed pictures on the desk, the file cabinet and the files.
  "Read the files," Cole said, nodding toward some files on the desk.  The seriousness of his tone startled me. 
  "Read them files," he repeated.  "Read them files or I’ll have to jerk a half-hitch in your ass."
  So, I did.  Threw up my hands, whispered, “Fuck it,” picked up the files from the desk, and read.   
 
 
Cole Whistles Between His Teeth
 
  I read and kind of blanked-out.  I do that with material I can’t comprehend.  Or shit I’m not interested in. 
  Every once and a while Cole would interrupt, saying things like: "Mama.  Holy smokes!" and "Jesus!" A real Drama King.  A thinly veiled act to get my attention, no doubt—indicate the significance of what I was reading.
  But to me, the jargon in the files was as boring as an IRS tax form, or a Nahuatlan version of the Theory of Relativity.  But Cole prodded me  on.  I hadn't seen him this excited since the old days.  Still not comprehending, simply mouthing psychiatric mumbo-jumbo mostly, I read until my eyes felt like glowing cigarette tips, then let my mind drift again to Flying Furniture Diversion.   Dig it—straight-forward, no nonsense recreation, even if I hadn't taken the sleeping pill, even though I was as sober as a judge.
  I remembered the sense of release I used to experience when I did that sort of thing.  The sound of a nineteen-inch Zenith crashing into a sidewalk below produced a therapeutic sound, to me as calming as the tide lapping against the sand, as calming as the sound of clouds floating overhead.  
  "What the fuck do they mean?" I asked finally, rubbing my eyes with balled fists.
  Cole whistled between his teeth. 
 
 
The Reluctant Author
 
  The author.  I will henceforth sometimes refer to myself as "the author" because at that point Cole suggested I write—start a journal about Satan, Jesus-Elvis, Akua, and the information in those files. 
  "Me, write?" the future author protested, mentally sizing the file cabinet, comparing it to the size of the window opening.  "I don't know what they mean.  I didn’t understand shit." 
   “You read all the time, man.  Always reading something.  Check into some cheap motel with a sack of books and a bottle of hootch.”
  I shook my head.  “Not medical . . . material.”
  Cole didn't speak for a minute, then he did. "I tell you what they mean when you write."
  The future author shrugged once again.  Screw him.  Cole sometimes comes up with crazy shit only to forget it in the morning.  He would probably forget, the future author remembered thinking as he closed the file cabinet, nudging it covertly with his knee, calculating its weight.
  "Cut the shit, son," Cole said.
 
 
 
 
 
Chapter Two
 
A Tribe of Souls
 
  In my past “vacation” spots there were plastic flowers in plastic pots placed in strategic areas around the ward to convey a sense of pleasantness . . . but in some of them the leaves, the flowers, the silk and plastic leaves had teeth marks in them!  Pillow cases chewed to shreds.  Clawmarks on the walls in interesting designs and textures.
  This place was tame in comparison.  A smiley-faced psyche ward with sit-com patients.  It took another incident to wipe the smile off the ward’s face.    And to offer another chance for me to distance myself from two of my three young attractees.
  Last night, after reading Satan's, Akua's, and Jesus-Elvis' files in the therapist's office, the author walked wearily back toward his room.  One of the patient's doors was open a crack.  He heard muffled voices inside.  Mangled but stupid cat that he is, the author stepped to the door and peeked in. 
         The light from the open bathroom door illuminated Satan, who stood on the other side of the bed.  He spoke to the bed's occupant; his voice oozed like it had at one time earlier this afternoon, in tones reminiscent of a car salesman's, or a card shark's.
  On the bed lay a woman, an attractive woman with a dazed expression on her face, staring back at him.  Satan held her gown up with one hand; the other hand held an unlit cigarette.  He spoke to her:
  "See, we're just going to slip your gown up a minute, then I'll give you your cigarette."
  Then I saw Jesus-Elvis, sitting in a chair next to the window.  He was watching.  Masturbating.
  I blinked.
  "You just spread those legs for Dr. Satan, there, honey. Give ol' Jesus-Elvis a peek."
  "Uncover her breast too," Jesus-Elvis said, in a strained squeak-toy tone.
  Satan wrestled with the woman's gown for a moment.  "I can't."  He stepped back.  "That's good enough." Stood behind Jesus-Elvis, grinning, then glanced toward the door. 
         The author backed away, slipped down the hall and hid in a small alcove.  After a moment he heard something and peered around the corner.  Satan had exited the room and was walking up the corridor away from him, toward the nurses' station. 
  When the sound of his footsteps faded, the author walked back toward his room.  He needed help, not more confusion; he didn't need to decipher what he’d had just seen.  It was pathetic, even by his standards.  Just slimy—he couldn’t figure out who was more pathetic, Satan, or Jesus-Elvis.
 
 
The Grin of the Tiger Digesting the Swami
 
  The author walked with his head down, thinking.  Heard something.  Looked up.  Akua stood in the doorway of her room.  She motioned him toward her.
  In the doorway, dressed in a black robe she gave the word "silhouette" an ominous definition.   He couldn't decipher the expression on her face, but somehow she gave him the willies, a reverent brand of the willies.
    She motioned again and then he found himself stepping tentatively toward her.  He stopped in the middle of the corridor.  She motioned again.  He shook his head, hoping that this distance would entice her to speak.  He wanted to know what she sounded like, what God, or rather, Akua sounded like.  She stepped forward, squeezed a note into his hand, winked, backed up and closed the door. 
 
 
Dumb Shit
 
         A few minutes later as he lay on the bed staring at the ceiling, the author heard a commotion.  Opening the door, he peered out into the corridor.  Satan stood in front of the open doorway where he and Jesus-Elvis had been.  Through the doorway Kimo, the tech, led Jesus-Elvis out into the hall past Satan.  Even in the diminished light of the corridor the author caught the pallor in Jesus-Elvis's skin, and the expression on his face—someone who’d been caught doing something shameful.  Jesus-Elvis stared at the floor.  Zipped his pants.
  Kimo led him down the hall and into his room.  The author stood in the doorway watching Satan as he watched Kimo and Jesus-Elvis.  When they disappeared, Satan turned around.  He was smiling triumphantly. Satan walked toward him, and as he passed he muttered, "Dumb shit."
  The author didn't know if he was referring to Jesus-Elvis, or to him.  “Fuck you, you lunatic.” the author said.  Satan kept walking.
 
 
Message From Akua, Er, God
 
  A distant scream from somewhere down the hallway slid through the crack under the door, unfolded like some kind of Chinese puzzle encompassing the entire room, and reminded me, in none too subtle terms, that I was on a psychiatric ward.  I often forget where I am. The light of the quarter-moon through the window cast low wattage as I eased onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. The sleeping pill I had obtained via my trip to the nurses' station was hidden, and the note from Akua lay beside me on the table, unread.
  I had been waiting for Cole; sometimes he's not there when I want him.  He had gone, (wherever it is he goes) after we finished reading the files, or rather, after I read the files to him. 
  "Should I read it, Cole?" I said, referring to the note.  I waited. 
         "Cole."
  Still no answer.
  That’s when I decided, remembering act two with Jesus-Elvis, Satan, and the woman in that room, that what I’d witnessed might have been a dream.   Even the note from Akua could have been a dream.  Even if I turned my head and saw the note lying there, it could still be a dream.  Sometimes reality is a pretty slippery notion.
  I wanted it to be a dream so badly.  I found myself wanting the attraction portion of the attraction/repulsion to Satan, Akua, and Jesus-Elvis to outweigh the other handily. Pitifully, I realized I was hanging onto the Ace of Wands, and its promise.
  But, I deduced, if I awoke in the morning and Akua’s note was there bathed in morning sunlight as it was now in the moonlight, then the scene in the woman's room would be undeniably real.
  Open it now?  No.  That's an easy request for someone, anyone, to  make. Anyone having not just been handed a secret note from God, I mean, Akua, whose present address is not Nutsville, USA.  Anyone whose sanity is fairly intact . . . or who can at least accurately guess where they will be when they arise in the morning.  In my state, flippant curiosity’s a luxury with possibilities that span the extremes.  And this little developing drama, whose consequences I couldn't then predict, could be much more than I’m bargaining for.  If I truly believed in the Tarot, what The Ace of Wands was predicting (something very alluring — a new beginning) and if I weren’t superstitious enough to imagine that the presence of those three lunatic blasphemers was not somehow relevant, then I would have probably unfolded the note as casually as one might open a gum wrapper, or, simply tossed it into the trash can, mere inches away. 
  But there’s this certain glow the note’s giving off, certain chickenskin-inducing vibrations of anticipation and dread.  I can’t explain it other than that, and that somehow, the stakes of this visit, this particular flight from . . . The Real World, might offer something different from my previous ones.  At fifty-going-on-ninety, it had better.   And I had better, at least, make an effort.
 
 
No Big Deal?
 
  Morning light was playing show biz in my room.  The note was gone!  Maybe I should have read it last night. I wonder what Cole would have suggested?
  Anyway, it's gone. 
  So Satan enticing some comatose fruitcake into exposing herself while Jesus-Elvis masturbated was just my imagination, right?  And Satan snitching Jesus-Elvis to Kimo was too?  Is there some latent religious symbolism here that’s lost on me?  
  I don't know.  Or care.  There's not even any proof now.  It's so easy to forget that we're in nut house, bulging at the seams, so to speak, with schizophrenics, sociopaths, borderlines, multi-personalities, psychopaths perhaps, and surely a kleptomaniac or two.  And Satan, who, if he aspires to his name, is certainly all of the above and more.  Any of them could have sneaked in and stolen the note.  There are no locks on the doors.  The note was the only tangible part of last night, something I could hold in my hand and substantiate if necessary.  But it was on the table.  Now it's not.  I was asleep. It's all very confusing.
  Why am I making such a deal out of the note?  It was my proof.  And, as I mentioned already, it was a message from Akua.  Who takes such things lightly? 
  Besides, Cole wasn't here to tell me that it was no big deal.             
 
   
My Tribe
 
  My feet felt as if they’d been filled with concrete. I drug them under me to the dining room.  Removing my tray from a stainless steel cart, I picked a spot a safe distance from two of the three leading (and confusing) fake deities of western civilization and sat down.  Akua wasn’t here yet.  Jesus-Elvis and Satan sat at the same table, across from each other.  To add to my confusion, their proximity and demeanor shed no light on whether the incident last night actually occurred.  
         Across the table sat an old man they called Sikes.  He seemed safe, and reasonably non-confusing.  His voice was similar to the cartoon character Popeye‘s, it sounded like an electric razor, but otherwise, he seemed all right.  Sikes squinted across the table and buzzed, "You want both those biscuits, matey?"
         "You can have one," I said, scooting my plate toward him. 
  “Arr.”  He winked at me and when he did, he even looked like Popeye.  Later, he would show me a picture of his wife and I swear to God, (not Akua) that she looked just like Olive Oyl. "She looks just like Olive Oyl!" I would say in amazement, examining the worn, faded photograph.
  "I know," Sikes would say proudly.
  But that's jumping ahead in the story.  Right now, Sikes took the biscuit and I pulled my plate back and began to eat.
  The dining room was typical of the psychiatric dining rooms in which I’ve had the fortune of dining previously—institutional.  Windows along one wall, view down into the hospital parking lot. Cabinet and sink on another wall.  Fuchsia-colored wallpaper (now that was daring!) on another.  Seven or eight round, Formica-covered tables sat in random order around the room. Florescent lights, whose illumination does little flattery to the sallow, gray skin of most of the room’s occupants.
  The table next to mine and Sikes' was occupied by two older women.  I had them categorized already: "Dead Batteries."  Anyone who has spent as much time in mental institutions as I have will have seen scores of their type.  Their faces reflect what one of my psychiatrists once said in describing mine: "a flat affect." With children gone from the nest, husband either dead, gone, or emotionally checked out, they plod on through lives of lonely uselessness.  Those who don't become rabidly religious or find some purpose in their lives more often than not wind up here.  Depression is the usual diagnosis.
  Ah, Depression!  My one true friend — friend being defined as one who sticks with you through think and thin.  And I’m not talking no namby-pamby spell of melancholy companionship, I'm talking months, and years of choking, debilitating funk-filled union.  Funk that holds you, weighs you to the bed each morning, clings to your every move like a large, sweaty wrestler — your thoughts are so poisoned with negativism.  Every event carries the same negative emotional weight, from the Holocaust to a hangnail.   And the brain turns on itself, examining, criticizing, examining, criticizing.
  “The second most grandiose manifestation of self-centeredness,” a shrink had once declared.  “Suicide, being number one.” He went on: “I mean, you, with your depression and narcissism, walk into a room and think everyone’s attention falls on you.” He smirked.  “As if anyone really cares . . . “
  I‘d heard the words, memorized them, but it didn’t change Depression‘s grip one ounce, or the degree to which I often felt negatively observed. 
  And see how much power I give Depression, like an old familiar adversary, who through numerous battles, I've gained much respect.  I've been told to write about it, when in Depression's hold to write, write, write.  So now I am, am, am.  Finally.  Thanks again, Cole.
         The two Dead Batteries are engaged in dialogue about crocheting, or quilting, or something to do with patterns and fabrics.  They seem cheerful enough this morning.  Energized.
 
 
Guilt, Pound for Pound, the Greatest . . .
 
  At another table sits Samuel Kekuewa III, the sumo wrestler.  He's chowing down on his rice.  Eats like he's still in training.
  Samuel killed a guy in the ring, or what ever they call it in Sumo, five or six years ago. That's why he's here, so I’ve heard.  A gentle giant whose guilt is shoving him around now, worse than any opponent ever did. 
  I met Samuel yesterday afternoon after witnessing Jesus-Elvis, Satan and Akua and their little opening scene here in the dining room.  Samuel showed me a photo of his wife and little daughter.  Then he started crying.  
  That happened in the recreation room.  Satan mimicked him, bawling in a high-pitched voice but staying far enough away and close to the door.  Samuel is the only one who Satan seems frightened of.  I've noticed that already, the look in Satan's eyes when Samuel walks into the room; it's a very subtle look, just a flicker in the eyes.  But it's there.
  Jesus-Elvis, on the other hand, sat beside Samuel when I moved, laid an arm across Samuel’s huge shoulder, cried with him, and said things like, "It'll get better," and "The meek shall inherit the earth," and so on.  Samuel eventually looked up miserably and gave him the finger.
  Then something weird happened — more evidence that Akua might be — I don’t know, something more than some mute with an ambitious alias.  She sat on the sofa on the other side of Sikes and Jesus-Elvis.  She stopped writing and stared at Samuel for a moment.  The fact that she had stopped writing, I had learned already, (because she rarely stops) meant something meaningful or exciting was bound to happen.
  I noted that Sikes and Jesus-Elvis were watching her.  Then, I realized that I too, along with the other patients, were watching her, transfixed.   She closed her eyes as if going into a trance.
  The TV set grew louder in the silence, and Satan got up and turned it off.  We all sat quietly watching Akua and listening to the sobbing man.  Then, Jesus-Elvis spoke to the giant, a surprised look on his face, as if the words coming from him were not his own.  His eyes were fixed on Akua, but he spoke to Samuel.  "Go ahead and cry, Samuel.  Get it out." 
  Samuel's wails filled the room; they rose and then gradually began to subside.  Soon they faded into quiet, moist sounds, then, into nothingness.  He laid his huge head on the table and stared into space.          Somehow I got the impression that Akua had intervened, given Samuel permission, through Jesus-Elvis, to feel his grief instead of hide it.  Experience it.  But, she hadn't spoken a word!
 
 
Head Injuries/A Must For Dull Parties
 
  Next to Samuel sits the woman in whose room I saw Satan and Jesus-Elvis last night.  Or thought I saw.  Her name is Darlene and I can tell she's a Head Injury.  She says things that don't make sense, like the words in her dictionary have become scrambled.  For instance, just now she motioned for Samuel to pass the salt, and said: "Thank you for letting us consider your work." 
  Samuel touched various items on the table until he came to the salt shaker.
  "Cut to the fucking chase!" she shouted, nodding enthusiastically.  She has a very Mona Lisa air about her, her eyes, her smile — the psychological equivalent of an instrumental arrangement — supply your own lyrics.  
 
Man, Can God, Sorry, Akua Smile
 
         So Akua walks into the dining room and everything changes. Items in the room seem to come to attention.  Not visibly, of course, but one can sense molecules becoming instantly more ordered.  One can imagine small frolicking animals inexplicably “straightening up” in her presence, birds reconsidering formerly frivolous compositions.     
         She’s striking, in that aloof way, that almost-but-not-quite-arrogant way that truly beautiful young women are.  Awe and discomfort is what she makes me feel.  But all too soon, because I‘m partially successful in my attempt not to focus on her, the familiar feelings of being in an unfamiliar room with a new batch of unstable human beings returns.  Ah, the comforts of familiarity!
  She scans the room slowly, and I watch her from the corner of my eye; see that Satan and Jesus-Elvis are watching her too.  Her eyes widen when her gaze meets mine.  Her eyes third-degree me.
         The note? they demand. What about the note?
  I can only look back, embarrassed.  Was there really a note?
         "Cole," I say, unaware that I've said anything until Sikes, across the table, says:
  "What?" 
  I pull my gaze from Akua and look at him.  He's staring at me the same way I imagine I was staring at Akua.  There's a daub of oatmeal caught in the stubble on his chin.  I look away, then back at Akua.  She's walking past Jolei and Malina now, the Siamese twins.  
  Samuel jumps up and rushes to the table that Akua is walking toward.  He’s surprising quick for such a big man.  Pulls the chair out and grins sheepishly at her.  She sits down and looks up at him, then smiles. 
  Man, can God, sorry, Akua smile.   
  It's a smile that elicits conflicting images: fairy Godmother and carnival barker, a smile that would make you undress, but hold onto your wallet.  It surprises me, the contradictions of her smile. 
  Even though it's the briefest of smiles, it seems to make time slow, fidget, then stop.  Before it's gone I realize that I've spooned another scoop of oatmeal and it's poised in midair between the bowl and my mouth.  I feel it dripping into my lap. I don't care — the warmth and flash, the magic flash in her eyes is more important.
  Then it's gone.  I lean forward and squint, trying to make Akua's smile come back.  Feel like a small child, pleading for nourishment.  Smile, Akua.  Please.
 
 
A New Muse
 
         That moment was the moment I realized that I did have to write . . . something.  Not for Cole.  Not even for me, or to chase away my old battle-worn adversary, Depression.  I had to write it for Akua.  I knew writing would be important to her, that it would impress her.  I had to see that smile again, whatever it took.  Samuel could seat her, but I could write for her.  
  I knew also, from my days in the music biz, and as a . . . composer, that any of my artistic endeavors that hoped to succeed beyond mediocrity had to be written with an audience of one in mind.  Akua would be my muse.
  What did she write?  Now I cursed myself for not reading the note last night — if there was a note. 
  "Help me, Cole," I whispered under my breath.   
Seeking distraction, I seized the opportunity to study Jolei and Malina, the Siamese twins, in case they worked themselves into the “story” at a later date. They were joined together at the hip, and because of that, and their obesity, they always sat in three chairs, pulled together.  Happy faces as round as a soccer balls; they had dark straight hair, wispy and fine, painted cheeks, button noses and they smiled a lot. 
  "They could have been in the freak show circuit," Sikes said to me from across the table, detecting my interest.  "Like me."
         "As what?" I had asked incredulously, he didn't seem like freak show material.
  "As Popeye!" he said in his raspy Popeye voice, with more than a hint of exasperation.  "The real Popeye.  The original."
  "But you have both your eyes," I said, trying to remember if that was why "Popeye" was called "Popeye."
  "Arr," he commented.
  Sikes went on to explain some stuff about the freak show circuit.   There was a loose-knit brother and sisterhood of freak show artists, he said.  Everyone knew each other, just like show biz folks.  They had a freak show get-togethers every winter in Ft. Meyers, Florida.  Or maybe it was Sarasota, I can’t remember.  
  I suddenly didn't care.  The whole atmosphere became cumbersome with . . . strangeness.  Freak show artists.  Bogus religious figures.  Me, a fugitive from another freak show — Rock and Roll.
  Usually, your average mental patient was . . . normal.  Boring, at least when they weren’t in an “episode.”  I always felt like the odd man out.  Or at least the one with the past possessing the least potential for a mini-series.
  Sikes had obviously noted my confusion, my lapse in attention, and resumed eating.  He reached for the salt shaker to salt his eggs and before I could stop him (recalling Satan’s malicious exit yesterday afternoon), he shook and the cap came off.  His eggs were covered in a mound of salt.  Calmly, and with meticulous exaggeration, Sikes replaced the cap.  Then he stood. 
         I knew he was angry.  Something in him radiated the vibrations.  I almost suspected that he might reach inside his shirt and produce a can of spinach.  And I had a strong suspicion what he would do with the muscles and the power the spinach would give him.  Should I try to intervene?
  He aimed himself at Satan's table, and walked between the two Dead Batteries and the table where Akua sat.  Akua stopped him as he passed, shook her head, as if to discourage him from what he had intended, then offered him her bowl of oatmeal.
  Unceremoniously, Sikes took two more steps and dumped the bowl on top of Satan's head.  Jesus-Elvis had seen Sikes coming, obviously knew what would happen.  He didn't give Sikes' approach away.
  Satan scooted his chair back and stood slowly.  He remained still for a moment, his back toward me, the ooze dripping from his head to the ridiculous leisure suit the counselor made him wear.  His tremors grew, and as he stood shaking, little globs of oatmeal fell to the floor.
  Jesus-Elvis's expression changed as he looked up at Satan. His face drew my attention. -- a twisting geometry of trepidation.  "Uh oh," he said.
  Satan fell backward.  Sikes stepped out of the way. 
  Satan landed with a thud and began shaking.  It took me a minute to realize that he was having a seizure. 
  "Get something to put in his mouth!" Jesus-Elvis shouted.  "He'll swallow his tongue!"
  Across the way Jolei tried to stand, but found herself unable to because Malina refused to stop eating.
  Jesus-Elvis grabbed a plastic spoon and dropped to his knees beside Satan.  He began to force the spoon into Satan's mouth.
  "Punctuation!" Darlene shouted, holding a limp piece of bacon.
  Sikes stood above Jesus-Elvis and Satan, shifting from one foot to the other, looking anguished.
  Cole sat down beside me, startling me.  He does that all the time.  Sometimes I suspect he waits until I'm in an agitated state and suddenly materializes.  I'll pay him back yet. 
  "Tell that fool to back up and give him room," Cole said.
  "What?" I said, glancing sideways at him.
  "That jerkoff’s going to choke him with that spoon.  Tell ’em to back away and give him room, get everything out of the way."
  "Give him some room!" I shouted.  I stood.  "Get away from him and give him some room."
  Jesus-Elvis and Sikes turned toward me.  I repeated myself (forgetting my creed), and stepped forward, wiping my mouth with a paper napkin.
  Out of the corner of my eye I saw Akua staring at me.  When I made eye contact, she winked.  Or, I thought she winked; it happened so quickly (that sounds very redundant, since a wink always happens quickly) and, the fact that looking into her eyes, at least at that point, was like looking into the barrel of a loaded gun.  I wasn't sure if she‘d winked. 
  I'm still not sure.  I asked Cole about it and he just gave me stink eye.  There's something up his sleeve, I'll tell you that.
 
 
Inconsequences
 
  I won't go on with any details of what happened after that because it was inconsequential.  A couple of the orderlies came in and herded Sikes and Jesus-Elvis away from Satan.  Apparently what Cole told me to say was correct.  They removed the spoon from Satan's mouth, stood over him until the seizure was over then helped him up.  He had urinated in his leisure suit trousers.
 
 
So Much For Silver Linings
 
  Before I go on with “the story” I would like to relay what Cole told me.  Relay it simply to illustrate how much fun he sometimes has at my expense.  His disclosure dealt with the occupants of that dining room that morning, some of them anyway.  And it went like this:
Upon their release, some time in the future, Jolei and Malina will start a cosmetic and clothing line for overweight women along the lines of  "Ruben's Classics" with money they will win in a Native-American bingo hall on the mainland.  Coincidentally, at the same time, the diet fad in America will wane. Women will decide that the starved look is no longer sexy.
  Jolei and Malina will become fabulously wealthy, with an army of plump employees, purchase a fleet of lavender Cadillacs and eventually a forty-story office building in Las Vegas.  Later they will expand their business globally.  Yes, they will have an operation that will separate them, but after a brief period of incapacitating loneliness and depression, they will have another to rejoin each other.  The first conjoined twin rejoining operation in history!
  Jolei Twigg will marry a small engine repairman named Lester, and Malina Twigg will land a fairly well-known TV evangelist turned conservative radio talk-show host.  They will both be as happy as little lambs, as the saying goes.  “Cept they'll never be little,” Cole added.
  Sikes will become famous too — for a time.  During a press conference following another major oil spill and petroleum price hike, he will attempt to assassinate the CEO of BP with a harpoon.  Another stay in a mental institution will follow and then later still, after his release, "Popeye" will host a local childrens’ cartoon show in Spokane, Washington.  He too will be happy as a little lamb.  His wife, "Olive Oyl" will make guest appearances from time to time.
      Since my tight-lipped conscience (or whatever he is), Cole, has disclosed nothing more concerning the rest of the occupants in the room, most notably, no prophecies concerning yours truly, I will have to sum up my reaction to the information offered at this point.  Five words.  So much for silver linings . . .  
  Does that convey my sense of dread adequately? 
 
 
 
 
Chapter Three
 
Extemporanea, A Medley
 
         “As chill’en, they was forced into they present religious roles.“         Cole said this off-handedly at the conclusion of the bullshit story he’d concocted about The Twiggy Twins (as they were called) and Sikes’ future.   He sat across from me in the dining room and stared up at the ceiling.  We were alone.
  It took me a moment to realize his tone had changed.  He was serious.
  “Who?”
  He rolled his eyes.  Sighed.  “Now who is it that’s walkin’ ’round here telling folks they names is Satan, Akua, and Jesus-Elvis?  The files, Mikey.”
  “Oh.”  The gravity and implications that had momentarily escaped me began gripping my attention.  “By whom?” 
  I realized, one notch above an unconscious level, that I would need background for the characters I would be “writing“ about.  On a more selfish level: I wanted more information about Akua.
  "That's all you gets," Cole said.  "’Cept this."  He winked at me.  "When you go into group tell the doctor you know the secret to darkness."
  "Darkness?"
         "Night time, ding-a-ling."
         "I do know the secret," I said, "I mean, it's no secret. The section of the planet we're on turns away from the sun."
  Cole snickered and shook his head.  His face became almost comically serious.  "Black air," he said, nodding slowly.  "Tell the man dat."  He dematerialized again.
  I sat in the dining room pondering the information he’d offered.  The black air?  He was jerking my chain.  Having more fun.  Fancies himself some kind of Voodoo Witch Doctor sometimes.  Or else it's his way of making me say something that will keep me in here a while longer.  And there'll be a reason for that, too.
  My mind staggered back to what he’d said about Akua, Jesus-Elvis and Satan.  A little information is a dangerous thing.  As that thought rang in my head, from the periphery of my vision, I noticed something on the floor, its corner sticking out from beneath the sofa.   Something white.  Reluctantly I reached down and pulled it from its hiding place.  Another card!  The Ace of Cups.  Five streams of water spring from a cup and fall into a pond.  I searched my memory for its meaning.  Something to do with a beginning of good things.  A breakthrough.  I looked at the card a moment, then bent, and pushed it back under the sofa.  “Not for me,” I said.  “You got the wrong . . . guy.  I’m not getting involved.“  
 
 
Diversions/From the Manufacturer of Madness
 
  Half-hidden Tarot cards offering a promising future were small ransom for the information Cole had supplied regarding Satan, Akua, and Jesus-Elvis.  In spite of not wanting to think about them, a scene formed in my mind, its ingredients: religious sects, haunting ceremonies performed by mean-hearted religious zealots.  Small doe-eyed children forced into the roles of pseudo-Messiahs and devils. Blood sacrifices.  The scene grew uglier.
  A morning squall blew up as I sat looking out the window.  It inspired an even darker mood as my imagination played tag with various scenarios. 
  Cole was pulling my yang.  That was the thought that I finally clung to as time for group approached.  I didn't want to go into group thinking what I was thinking.  I was already drawn too closely to them, in spite of what I thought I saw last night in the room, with Satan and Jesus-Elvis.  I didn’t need the accompanying tug of sympathy.  If anything, I needed something revolting, disgusting, something to put some distance between us.  Especially from Akua. 
  "Yeah, you're bullshitting me, Cole, old buddy."
  Outside, the squall transformed into a downpour.   That famous Hilo rain.
 
 
The Role of the Dedicated Absurdist
 
  The future is not always a logical extension of the past.  I said this to myself as we sat down for group, trying to invalidate what Cole had reported—this amid the sound of chairs being dragged across carpet, throats being cleared, hands folded across one another —Main Street, Crazyville, USA. 
  The rain beyond the window had blown past.  The sun peeked through thinning clouds and below, through the large window, I could see the roof of another wing of the hospital.  Everyone was here, even Satan, although he appeared pale and listless, the aftereffects of his seizure, I assumed.  He’d changed from the suit he was wearing this morning, the one he‘d urinated in, and now was simply adorned in a pair of green hospital scrubs.
  Jesus-Elvis sat beside me; on the other side: Sikes, then Samuel, Malina and Jolei, Akua (who I was trying not to make eye contact with) Darlene, one of the two Dead Batteries, Satan, the other Dead Battery, and an empty chair, the therapist's, I imagined.
         Group therapy was old hat to me.  I’ve been in countless institutions over the years.   In order to detach myself from the proceedings and distance myself from the participants, three of them in particular, I grasped, not for the romantic view of humanity's possibilities, or even the entertainment potential of the goings-on, but for something to separate us.  But the therapist walked in and interrupted my escape attempt.
   He looked too much like a therapist to be a real therapist.  Once again I felt as if I were involved in some kind of joke—some event staged just for me.  But the psychiatrist’s words (not this one, who I was sure would have more) rang in my ears—how narcissistic could I be to believe that this was all done for my benefit?  That I’m important enough for this elaboration?
  Bald, this model was, with a goatee and wire-rimmed glasses.  A smaller version of Freud, perhaps.  But he was smiling.  I don't remember ever seeing a picture of Freud smiling. 
  Sat in the swivel chair, turned around and retrieved a small notebook from the desk behind him.  When he turned back, he looked at me.  "How do you do," he said.  "I'm Dr. Edmondson." Leaned forward and offered his hand.
  "Aleister Crowley," I said, shaking it.
  “Who is your favorite Beatle?”
  “What?”
  “Who is your favorite Beatle?  And why?”
  Surprised, I had to think about it a minute.  “John, because . . . he’s talented and so troubled . . .  I guess.”
  "My real name is Dr. Bobb," he said after he released my hand.  "How does it feel to be deceived?  And by picking John you’ve already told me more about yourself than you’ll ever know."
  The jig was up.  Obviously he had read my file, or rather, my admission papers.  I shrugged. "I don't know what you're talking about."
  "Would you like to tell the group your real name?"
  "I did," I said, "Mickey Constant." Of course, that wasn’t even my real name.
  "Which name would you prefer?" he asked.  "You may use any name you like."
  It dawned on me that he might know my real name . . . no way, that change occurred over twenty years ago.
  Forced, as it were, out of the role of the dedicated absurdist, I said, "I still don't know what you're talking about, but call me Mick, I guess."
  He leaned back.  "Okay, Mick, first we need to establish some ground rules.  Number one: you must be honest.  This won’t work if you’re dishonest.  You will not be punished for anything you say, except, let me forewarn you, I am required by law to pass on to the proper authorities any information you divulge concerning and including threats of violence toward someone else, or child abuse.  Do you understand?"
  "Yes." 
  "Your fly is unzipped."
  I reached for it quickly.  It wasn't unzipped.
  Sikes‘ electric razor laugh buzzed in my ear.  As if in chorus, came the higher-pitched ones of the two Dead Batteries.  They both blushed. 
  Darlene spoke happily, "Earn-out!"
         "Stupid shit," Satan said, shifting in his chair.
  "There he goes again," Jesus-Elvis said, coming to attention.  He pulled a small notebook from his shirt pocket, leafed through it and held up his hand.  "Forty-six 'F' words since group yesterday."  He glanced sideways at Satan.  "Twelve 'MF' words."  A satisfied smile spread across his face.  He leaned back.
  "Sack of fuckin' doorknobs," Satan spat at him, smirking.
  "Forty-seven," Dr. Bobb said.  "What was your goal?" 
  Satan rolled his eyes.  "Get this hillbilly Messiah off my case, would you Doc?  How can I cut down with him over my shoulder every minute?"
  "I thought we agreed that nobody controls anybody in this group.  Look at me, please."
  Satan had been glaring at Jesus-Elvis; his mustache quivered.  He turned to Dr. Bobb.  “Bob on this, motherfucker,” he said, indicating his crotch.
  Dr. Bobb disregarded him, turning slightly toward Samuel, “Okay, Samuel, would you like to tell Satan what you've learned about anger?"
  Samuel cleared his throat.  "It starts with an A." He aimed his grin at Satan.
  A moment of silence followed, then Satan looked at Samuel and snickered.  "Fucking A, man."
  "Fucking egg?" Darlene asked, her brow furrowed.
 
 
Slight Aside
   
  Samuel is obviously not wallowing in guilt and grief this morning, as per usual.  He's enamored with Akua . . . as is the author.  Love makes you forget everything.  I know, because all morning  I've felt my memory slipping away.  Why had I purposely been trying not to make eye contact with Akua earlier, when we walked in?  I needed a little memory; I knew the therapist would ask me a few questions to get the ball rolling.  I didn't want to seem like a blank-o; I've had electric shock treatments?  Never again!
  Dr. Bobb's present problems in group control were initiated by me; I created the disharmony, or at least set the stage.  I started out with a lie.  I know: lies contaminate everything.  And I'm not attempting to moralize.  I lie as a defense.  I don't have to deal with deeper, more painful issues, I’m told.  It's survival, baby.
 
 
Don’t Drool On Your Cool
 
  Jesus-Elvis scowled, at Samuel's wisecrack, I guessed. 
  Dr. Bobb spoke, "We're obviously feeling spunky this morning, aren't we, Samuel?"  The therapist's smile looked painted on.
  "No one can make you angry," Jesus-Elvis blurted, apparently trying to get the session on track.  He took a breath and turned to Satan.  "You choose to get angry."
  "Fuckin' A," Satan said.  He winked at Samuel.
  Jesus-Elvis' face reddened.  He looked to Dr. Bobb.
  Dr. Bobb said, "How do you feel, J.E.?"  I guess Jesus-Elvis was an easier target than Samuel.  Less threatening.
  Jesus-Elvis pointed an accusing finger at Akua.  "She's been writing again, too.“ 
  "Who has?"
  "Her."
  "Who's her?"
  "That . . . woman sitting right there."
  "Say her name."
  "No, it's blasphemous."
  "There is no 'her' in here, J.E., only people with names."
  I interrupted, "What about your name?  Jesus-Elvis?"  In my various "vacations" in mental institutions I had come across many Jesus Christs, once even a Jesus Jones, but never before a Jesus-Elvis.
  Jesus-Elvis shrugged, irritated at my intrusion.  "It's the two most popular men in western civilization, rolled into one."  He glared at me.  "I can preach and I can sing."
  I still didn't quite understand how that explained his blasphemy.
  He motioned toward Akua.  "She's been writing nearly all the time."
  "How do you feel about that?" Dr. Bobb repeated.  
  Now, Satan interrupted, "He feels like a fat turd.  I mean, look at him.  That's what he looks like.  I've seen cuter toads. Cuter larvae.  And I didn't even have to say fuck, once."
  "You're going to hell," Jesus-Elvis said, his lips pursed to the point of near invisibility.
  Satan snorted.  "I am in hell, motherfucker.  And so are you."
  Dr. Bobb broke in, "J.E., you seem to be avoiding the issue.  How do you feel?"
  Jesus-Elvis closed his eyes.
  "You're angry, aren't you?" Dr. Bobb said.  He hesitated a moment, tapping his pen on the note pad.  He added softly, "What would Jesus Christ do if he were angry?  What do you think he might do?"
  Jesus-Elvis' brow un-furrowed for a moment.  He twitched, his eyes were still squeezed shut.  "I know what he would do. I've been doing it!  You think I'm stupid or something?"
  Satan sighed and rolled his eyes.
  "What are you doing?" Dr. Bobb asked Jesus-Elvis.
  "I'm asking God to forgive me."
  From the corner of my eye I watched Akua scribble a note and hand it to Dr. Bobb.  She almost smiled that killer smile again; the corners of her mouth twitched.  Dr. Bobb read the note and chuckled.  "Akua says she forgives you."
  Jesus-Elvis' eyes popped open.  "Not her!  She's not God!"
  Dr. Bobb dismissed him with a wave of his hand.  "Okay, back to the subject.  Praying is okay.  But what if you really thought this through.  How would that work?  Let's investigate the logic."  He shifted in his chair.  "When Satan calls you a turd, do you feel like a turd?"
         Jesus-Elvis squeezed his eyes closed again, defiantly.  He looked like a small angry child.
  "The truth shall set you free," Satan said.
  Dr. Bobb shot a recriminating glance at Satan before continuing.  "You said you can preach and you can sing.  Can a turd preach and sing?"
  In response, Satan covered his mouth with his hands and rolled his eyes again.
  "Can it?"
  "No," Jesus-Elvis whispered.
  "Okay, then you're not a turd, even if Satan says you are?"
  Jesus-Elvis shook his head tentatively. 
  "If Satan said you were the Empire State Building or a duckbilled Platypus, would you be either one of them?"
  Jesus-Elvis shook his head.
  "Make a duckbilled Platypus sound?"
  Jesus-Elvis' brow furrowed again.  He shook his head.
  "Why not?  Come on, just one little quack."
  "Platypi don't quack," Darlene said, surprising everyone with a complete, relevant statement.
         Jesus-Elvis opened his eyes.
  "Close your eyes," Dr. Bobb said.
  Jesus-Elvis obeyed.
  "Make a turd sound.  Or a motherfucker sound.  Keep your eyes closed.  
  "And Akua won't do what you want her to?" Dr. Bobb continued after a moment.
  "No." Jesus Elvis said.
  "She won't be what you want her to be, either?"
  "No."
  "So that means that you can't control her, can't control another human being.  And Satan can’t control you.  So you're neither a god or a turd.  Is that correct?  You're somewhere in between?"
  Jesus-Elvis nodded.
  "Okay, J.E., your assignment for today is to wear this." He scribbled a note on his pad.  "Lillian, would you please hand me one of those safety pins from my desk?"
  Dr. Bobb addressed Jesus-Elvis again.  "Your assignment is to wear this the rest of the day and tonight.  It says, 'I'm not a turd, or a god, I am a human being.  I can only control myself.'"  He handed it to Jesus-Elvis; Jesus-Elvis pinned it on his shirt.
  "One other thing, J.  E.  You can be Jesus-Elvis . . . you can use that name, but if you use it out in society, you must do something to justify it."  With a serious expression, Dr. Bobb then said something very strange that endeared him to me instantly: "You must either start a new religion, or become a rock and roll singer."
  Nobody in that room could imagine that Jesus-Elvis would take that statement to heart.  And with such success!
 
 
Uh Oh
 
  Next, as I knew he would, the good doctor focused on me.  I went immediately for the group’s heartstrings:
  "There's a bag on my back filled with all the bad things I've ever done.  All my guilt weighs the bag.  It pulls me down.  Once I became so filled with pain that I unloaded my bag on someone.  Told them about all the things in the bag, all the things I had done."
  "And?" Dr. Bobb leaned forward.
  "I didn't unload everything.  I keep two secrets, two of the most shameful, most humiliating things I had done."  In spite of this being a ruse, I found myself inexplicably in the character I had created.  My voice broke.  "The bag is heavier now, heavier than even before I started emptying it." 
  I almost cried!  What a surprise! From pure fiction I created a story that almost moved me to tears!
 
 
Whew!
 
     All I can tell you is this:
     1. Maybe my story wasn't too far from truth.
     2. I’m crazy, and I almost got careless, too.
 
 
Yikes!
 
         Dr. Bobb didn't get around to everybody.  I didn't find out why Akua is God, or Satan is Satan.  Nor, did I find out why Sikes is Popeye, or Lillian and her still nameless friend are Dead Batteries, or why the Twiggy Twins are here.  I already know Samuel's story, and enough of Darlene's.
         This is only day two here.  One shouldn’t be impatient.  I'm sure, as they say to resistant but inquisitive newcomers in Alcoholics Anonymous, ‘More will be revealed.‘
Here's the most significant part of what happened, at least in my estimation: Satan and Jesus-Elvis' relationship began changing.  Right now, suffice it to say only that it began changing.  How quickly, and to what degree?  I don’t know; it’s complicated.
         The affirmation pinned to Jesus-Elvis’ chest seemed to give him something that wasn’t there before.  And conversely, his new degree of confidence seemed to make Satan all the more resentful and determined to squelch it.  But, on reflection, that’s not so different than what was going on before.  It’s confusing.
 
 
High Drama
 
  My assignment from Dr. Bobb is to write one secret, something I've always been afraid to tell, one of the two remaining secrets in my “bag”, and disclose it to the group tomorrow.  Ha ha!  The good doctor doesn't know that I've become a writer.  He doesn't know that my new hobby is making up stories.  High Drama has become my middle name!
 
 
Extemporanea/Finale
 
  Other questions.  I did not find out if what I reported earlier was a dream.  I did not find out if Akua had really given me a note.  Again, I did not come even one little bit closer to deciphering additional relative information regarding the contents in Jesus-Elvis, Satan and Akua's files, or how it will change me.  And not one opportunity arose for me to discuss Cole’s theory of “black air.”
  More cards, please.




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Michael@punatic.com

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