CW: themes of mental health and sexual violence
Each street sign had originally read the words, “No Turn On Red.” But, after I had finished with these signs, each one of them then read the words, “No Turn On Fred.” However, after a full year of my getting away with painting the letter “F” upon hundreds of street signs, a police officer had finally caught me right in the act.
One week following my arrest, while in court, the judge had asked me, “Why would a thirty-eight year old man do such a childish thing?”
Well, truthfully speaking, I honestly couldn’t think of a rational answer, so I just said, “I don’t know, it just seemed like a fun thing to do at the time.”
Thus, as a result, the judge had sentenced me to a week under psychiatric observation inside the Happy-dale Sanitarium. However, if found mentally stable, I’d have to return to court to pay a fine, and I could also face some additional sentencing, possibly jail time.
Upon my arrival at the Happy-dale Sanitarium, a Doctor Schwartz had quickly evaluated me. Afterwards, he continued addressing me with unfailing concentration, yet I muttered not a word. I figured the slightest show of resistance could work against me; therefore, I behaved as submissively and compliantly as possible, cooperating fully. Down the hall we went, passing a recreation room, a TV lounge, a closed kitchen and a laundry room. Once we reached our destination, “The Men’s Dormitory,” after looking me dead in the eye, Security Officer Jeffries began badgering me:
“Okay, sweet cheeks, welcome to God’s world. I call it God’s world because once you inside, you in God’s hands. Ah-ha-ha… Your pajamas are on the shelf to your left…… Hey man, don’t just stand there lookin’ stupid, yuh dumb shit, get your ass inside!”
From the moment I crossed the threshold, I felt like a sitting duck. One by one the majority of the mental patients began chanting away in sync, sounding to me more like a choir than that of a men’s dormitory:
“Fresh Meat! – Fresh Meat! – Fresh Meat! – Fresh Meat…!”
“Okay now, psychos, simmer down,” ordered Security Officer Jeffries, “quiet!”
“Fresh Meat! – Fresh Meat! – Fresh Meat! – Fresh Meat…!”
“Hey, shut the Hell up!” again Security Officer Jeffries hollered. “Be quiet…! Good! Now gimme your goddamn attention… Okay, this here be Mr. Williams, and I expect you be makin’ Mr. Williams feel at home.” “Now go ahead, Mr. Williams, dig in. You be the new fruit in the fruit salad. Ha-ha-ha….” “Goodnight y’all, and pleasant dreams. Oh, and listen here you fruitcakes, there be a jar of petroleum jelly underneath your bathroom sink, yous may need it when breaking in Mr. Williams’ virgin ass. Ah-ha-ha…”
Security Officer Jeffries then left the room, slamming and locking the door behind him. The room became immediately filled with a deadly silence. Talk about feeling “The Eyes” upon me. If they stared any harder they might have burned holes into my clothing. A moment later I walked over and sat upon an empty bed, my feet planted firmly upon the floor. After about a minute or so, the first mental patient approached me. He appeared to be around the age of forty-five. He was tall and slender, had a goatee, was missing his two front teeth, had on a pair of plaid flannel pajamas, and wore a baseball cap backwards upon his head. Without hesitation he spoke:
“A skeleton walked into a bar, he ordered a beer and a mop.”
His facial expression was frozen solid. I didn’t know if he was serious or joking. Indecisively, I forced myself to smile and halfheartedly laugh, while also praising him:
“Oh, um, uh-ha-ha… Jeeze, that was very funny.”
“Ah-hee-hee… You get it?” the mental patient asked.
“Uh, yeah, like I said, that was very funny.”
“Eight days till Christmas, but I don’t eat spaghetti.”
“Huh? I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean. Was that another joke?”
“For Christmas I asked Santa Claus to get me a darkroom for my older brother.”
“Oh, a darkroom, ay? Is your older brother a photographer?” I asked.
“No, we’re ashamed of him! And so, who was the first man to milk a cow, and why?”
Oh my God, this guy was way too rambunctious. I didn’t know if I should continue answering him, or whether I should dare ignore him. I chose the former:
“Uh, I don’t know. Tell me, who was the first man to milk a cow?”
“Why, Stretch Mulligan, that’s who. Ah-hee-hee… You get it?”
“Oh, yeah, for sure, I get it alright, ‘Stretch Mulligan,’ yeah, that’s very funny.”
The next thing I knew, a second mental patient approached me. This guy was almost as wide as he was tall. He stood close to seven feet in height, weighed at least four hundred and fifty pounds, and wore a pair of patched blue jean overalls. He quickly spoke his mind:
“My name is Stretch Mulligan, and I doesn’t be thinkin’ dat dare joke be very funny. Now what you gonna does ‘bout it?”
“Oh-uh, I’m, I’m so-so-sorry. I-I, I don’t wa-wa-want any tr-tr-trouble, I-I…”
“What for you jive my turkey?”
“Excuse me?” I wondered if the guy was going to hit me. “Wh-wh-what?”
“What for you jive my turkey?”
At this point I was so nervous, I almost felt like I was going to faint. Fortunately, as the room continued spinning, Stretch Mulligan suddenly changed his tune:
“Ah-ho-ho… I’m only playing with yuh, partner. Here, put ‘er’ dare.”
He stuck out his giant hand, offering me to shake it, which naturally I complied:
“Pl-pl-pleased to me-meet you, Ja-James is the name. Sheese, I almost wet my pants.”
“Ah-ho-ho… Howdy, James, I’m pleased to meet you, too. As you already know, I’m Stretch Mulligan, although my real name is actually Albert Mulligan. Yet, as far as our ‘Fresh Meat’ chant goes, we does that to most of the newcomers. Now, let me introduce yuh to the boys. Well, you done already met Renfield, here, but now yuh see that guy seated over yonder, he’s from Italy, and we done calls him, Neil Parmesan.” “Neil, dire ciao.” (Say hello.)
“A chicken ain’t nothing but a bird,” replied Neil Parmesan.
“I done learn him to say that. He only know a few words of English, ‘cept he done thinks he just said, ‘hello how are you?’ Ah-ho-ho… Now, yuh see dat guy over there, a squattin’ ‘pon the floor, we done calls him, ‘One Night Stan.’ ” “Say somethin’, Stan.”
“Security Officer Jeffries raped me, making me a victim of circumcises.”
“Oh my God, Stretch,” while scratching my head, I asked, “is that true?”
“Never you mind, James,” Stretch replied, “you just keeps a walkin’ with me. I’ll tells yuh who they be as we goes along. Now this here be Mr. Boobelinski. We done calls ‘im ‘The Polish Rooster.’ He don’t never say a nothin’, he just keep a crowin’ every now and then. Here now, listen:”
“Cock-a-doodle-do-ski! Cock-a-doodle-do-ski! Cock-a-doodle-do-ski!”
Stretch Mulligan continued, “Now, let me introduce yuh to a Mr. Dan Druff. We done calls him Mr. Dan Druff, because, as the shrinks done put it, he obsessively-compulsively keep a scratchin’ his head all the time.” “Hey, Mr. Dan Druff, who are you, and how’s your love life?”
“I’m nobody, and nobody’s perfect. As for my love life, well, the last girl I asked for a date, handed me a fig. I was totally housebroken.”
“Ah-ho-ho… He says that almost every time,” remarked Stretch Mulligan, “course, I believe he done means to say that he was totally heartbroken, not housebroken.”
“Oh, I see,” I replied.
“Now dis here be ‘Eduardo the Jesus Freak.’ ” “Praise the Lord, Eduardo, and while you be a worshipin’ Jesus, I be a worshipin’ The Great Pumpkin,” Stretch uttered in jest.
The religious fanatic (known as The Jesus Freak) then instantly looked directly at me, and asked, “My friend, have you asked Jesus into your heart?”
“Oh, for Christ sake, go away,” I responded.
“That is not the Christian way, my friend, and we do not take thy Lord’s name in vain, but I will pray for you to open your heart.”
“Why don’t you pray for me to win the lottery instead?” I asked.
“ ‘Money is the root of all evil,’ my friend.”
“No, love of money is the root of all evil,” I replied. “Better yet, lack of money is the root of all evil, which is probably why most of these guys are in here.”
“We never pray for material gain, my friend, for ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ ”
“You mean, where there’s a will, there’s a lawyer. And also, maybe if you’re in a will, there’s a way.”
After walking over to the opposite side of this huge room, I squatted myself a seat on one of the three wall-length benches. My back now firmly pressed up against the solid, chipped and faded, pale gray, concrete block wall. As if the weirdos so far weren’t enough, within another minute or so, another one approached me:
“Bob O’Life is the name, pleased to make your acquaintance.”
He offered me his hand, expecting me to shake it. The only thing I shook was my head, gesturing for him to get lost. Of course he didn’t take the hint, instead he commenced blabbing:
“Hey, I bet you think you’re the only one in here with problems? Well, that just isn’t so, buddy, in fact, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Truth be told, you’ll no longer have to worry about your problems ever again, because I’m the kind of guy who can make your problems disappear. That’s right, you heard right. But first, you must give me your undivided attention. Right now, I want you to just sit back, relax, and listen. Now, to me, you look like a smart guy, the kind of guy who knows a good deal when he hears one. Well, let me tell you, today is your lucky day. Although, just between you and me, now I usually don’t do this for many people, but nevertheless, just for today, I’m going to let you in on the deal of a lifetime. Oh, did I say the deal of a lifetime? Whoops, I let that slip out again. Well, let’s say we just cut right to the chase. I got to tell you, buddy, the secret to making it in today’s economy is in having good life insurance. Yes sirree, you can never have enough life insurance. It might be difficult, or maybe even impossible for you to believe, but I was once a guy with little confidence and low self-esteem. But then, miraculously, after discovering life insurance, I rapidly became this ultra-confident, self-assured, successful businessman, that you now see before you, which, believe it or not, you can also now become.”
“Good Lord! What, did you work at Coney Island freak show or something, say fifty years ago? Man, your rap is so flimsy, out of step and obsolete, that to me, you sound more like a parody of a salesman, than that of a real salesman. You’re like everybody’s best friend for five minutes. Albeit, ‘a friend to everyone is a friend to no one.’ Yeah, I’ve learned to stay far away from your type. You’re the kind of guy who falls at people’s feet, but only because you’re looking for the corners of the rug. With that said, can you do me a great big ol’ favor? I don’t mean you have to do it right away, but when you find the time, can you go take yourself a flying fornication on a rolling doughnut?”
Following this, I picked myself up and walked over to another area of the large room. With nothing better to do, I decided to read some of the graffiti scrawled upon the wall. One of the scribblings made me laugh aloud:
“For a good time call Arnold Ziffel’s sister, Arnolda Ziffel, she’s a real pig!”
Now, with three of the room’s corners down and one corner left to go, I really hoped that was my last confrontation with these weirdos. But no, now came the crème de la crème:
“Yo, man, let me get a cigarette.”
I replied, “I don’t smoke.”
“I ain’t ask you if you smoke, bitch, I asked you to let me get a cigarette.”
“Sorry, but I don’t have any cigarettes.”
I again replied, “Because I don’t smoke.”
“I said, I ain’t ask you if you smoke, bitch, I asked you to let me get a cigarette.”
“Yeah, but like I said, I don’t have any cigarettes.”
“Because I don’t smoke.”
“I ain’t ask you if you smoke, bitch, I asked you to let me get a cigarette.”
Finally I didn’t answer him. The guy eventually walked away, still mumbling to himself:
“I only be wantin’ me but a cigarette and shit, man. Homey be talkin’ all sorts of bullshit and shit, man. Straight up, square biz, word is bond.”
A few minutes later, again the main door opened, allowing yet another alleged mentally ill patient to enter. Along with wearing a medium-long, blonde ladies’ wig, our new tall and lean roommate also wore multiple shades of makeup. As a rule, I avoid making eye contact with drag queens, especially in environments such as this, no way. Fortunately, he approached the religious fanatic:
The religious fanatic turned away, pretending not to notice the drag queen.
“Yoo-hoo, I’m addressing you, sugar shorts, although my eyes are undressing you. Ah-ha-ha… Hey, why not let me see if my imagination’s correct? Ah-ha-ha…”
The religious fanatic attempted to evade the drag queen by walking away, nevertheless the drag queen followed right behind him:
“So tell me, lover boy,” the drag queen asked, “what brand cologne are you wearing? Oooou-wee, you smell scrumptious.”
“You’ll have to excuse me,” the religious fanatic protested, “I prefer to refrain from conversation, thank you.”
When I heard the religious fanatic attempting to brush somebody off, I just had to intervene:
“ ‘That is not the Christian way, my friend,” I squawked, “but I will pray for you.’ Ah-ha-ha…”
“Why that’s blasphemy,” proclaimed the religious fanatic. “We do not poke fun at thy Lord!”
And now the cigarette mooch chimed in, addressing the drag queen:
“Yo man, or ma’am, can you let me get a cigarette?”
“Oh, I’m sincerely sorry, mon amour (my love),” remarked the drag queen, “I do not engage in smoking. Tisk – tisk – tisk!”
“I ain’t ask you if you smoke, bitch,” the mooch was now agitated, “I asked you to let me get a cigarette!”
“And as I said,” replied the drag queen, “sorry, but I’m vacuously void of cigarettes.”
“What you mean? You saying you ain’t got no butts, man, or ma’am,” the mooch now arrogantly interrogating the queen, “why not?”
“I believe we’ve already adequately addressed this issue, for I’ve clearly informed you that I do not smoke. Therefore, I unequivocally, thus incontrovertibly, henceforth veraciously, hereby most undeniably, whereas tobacco deficiently, have stated that I am eternally devoid of cigarettes.”
“What you talkin’ ‘bout? I’ll put my foot up your ass, bitch! Now give me a goddamn cigarette!”
“It seems to me that you have a highly endowed oral fixation. Perhaps we have more in common than what meets the eye,” the drag queen smiled, “mon amour? Although, I bet you were born on a highway, because that’s where most accidents occur.”
The drag queen then began winking and blowing kisses at the cigarette mooch, fueling the mooch’s anger:
“Screw you, bitch!” shouted the high-strung cigarette mooch.
“Oooou-wee, I’m a working girl, is that a proposition?” the drag queen commented.
Now the life insurance agent (Bob O’Life) approached the two of them. He leaned over, placing his face within close proximity of both their faces:
“Perhaps I could interest you two in some promotional rate, premium life insurance?”
“Piss off, yuppie,” hollered the cigarette mooch, “but, yo man, can you let me get a cigarette?”
“Praise thy Lord,” inserted the religious fanatic, “for thy Lord maketh thee to beareth thy cross, and just remember, James, for He and thou shall lyeth down upon green pastures in thy kingdom of Heaven.”
“Hey now, James, I hope yuh doesn’t be buyin’ into Edweirdo’s Jesus malarkey, does yuh?”
“I don’t know, Stretch, I don’t know what I believe in anymore. To tell you the truth, right now I’m feeling a bit confused.”
“Well then, a welcome to the club, James, in here we’s all ‘a bit confused,’ that’s why we’s in here. ‘Cept, the two in this here sanitarium who I believes to be the most confused be Doctor Schwartz and Security Officer Jeffries. Actually, it be a known fact that in addition to being sociopathic, Security Officer Jeffries also be afflicted with an acute case of rubblephobia.”
“ ‘Rubblephobia,’ what’s that, Stretch?”
“Fear of Barney and Betty.”
Stretch Mulligan chuckled, “I hope that’s only your leg I’m a pullin’, James? But now, hey, you see that? The lights just flickered. That means it’s 11:05pm, lights out in ten minutes. You best be findin’ yourself an empty bed for the night, James. Most of the patients here be already in bed, and some be already a snoozin’. We’ll talk more tomorrow. Goodnight, James.”
I didn’t bother putting on any hospital pajamas. After finding myself an empty bed, I simply crawled right in while still wearing my street clothes. Even though I was very tired, I had way too much on my mind to soon fall asleep. I mean, what was wrong with me? Why would a thirty-eight year old man go around painting the letter “F” upon street signs, converting the word “Red” into the name “Fred”? Perhaps it’s God’s fault for allowing me to ever be born?
“Oh well, all I can say is, thank you God. Thanks an awful lot!”
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Joseph, You have serious skills in character development. Thanks for the fun read. -Ron
Thanks much, Ron.
This reminded me about my friend's plan to go on a road trip and remove the 'L' from all signs that say 'public'. I think Department of Pubic Safety was my favorite. The characters are Monty Python style off-the-walls bonkers. I liked how it came around to James kinda getting religion. The Jesus guy would have been so happy.
Thanks Lin, and if your friend would have actually gone through with removing the "L" from the word "public" on "The Department of Pubic Safety" signs, that would have been a comical source of entertainment to many, LOL, while unfortunately an insult to others, but definitely something original, and something to always remember with a smile .
Very sardonically funny! Made me laugh in quite a few places. Reminded me of a whacky old Looney tunes cartoon. I'd say that you may also have a talent for the big screen. Well done!
Thanks a lot, Chris. Yes, I actually do remember a Daffy Duck cartoon where he went around painting mustaches everywhere. LOL...
:) I like this.
Thanks much, Tommy.
Wow. What a great read. I laughed out loud throughout the story. Colorful characters, great setting, not to mention the hilarious lines :D :D I love how well defined your characters were, each speaking their own unique way. I know how hard it is to find distinct voices for each character. Takes a lot of work. My favorite character was the drag queen. Authentic and funny and sarcastic, clearly smart, quite educated for a street worker. I love his/her over use of adverbs in a sentence. The whole gang and setting and scene and lines were just...
My pleasure, Gabriela, and I thank you very much too.
You mean, where there’s a will, there’s a lawyer. And also, maybe if you’re in a will, there’s a way.- my favourite line in this whole thing.
I agree, Graham. Clever lines indeed. Great pun (Double entendre).
Thank you, Gabriela.
Thanks a lot, Graham.
Full of awesome cheesy wisecracks I love it! Reminds me of one flew over the cuckoos nest. My favorite one was Rubblephobia😂
I thank you so very much for your support, Sharon.
Hey, Joseph. I loved the premise of the story and laughed out loud from the line, "Why would a thirty-eight year old man do such a childish thing?” Wasn't expecting an adult to do this. As for the sanitarium, there were a lot of characters to keep track of. I would focus on just a few of them in greater detail and leave the others in the background. I liked Stretch Mulligan the most.
Joseph, don't leave anybody in the background. They were all funny as hell. Especially the drag queen.
Thanks again, Gabriela.
True descriptions...saw similar on the streets of Dublin.
Thanks, Mc Campbell Molly
This was entertaining, reminding me of the time I was reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest ages ago! Love all the different voices you managed to give to the characters.
Thanks so very much, Riel, I'm pleased to entertain you, and I'm very happy to read that you loved all the different character's voices.
Entertaining read. You kept the main character in tact while moving from one nut case to the next. Good job. Thanks for sharing and keep writing!
Thanks so very much, Chandler, and your description was right on target.
Nice. It's as if all the misfits I've ever known converged on me in the psych ward. Funny stuff...
Ha-ha-ha... Well put, Kevin, and thanks much. I'm pleased that you found it funny.
I really like the way each character has a truly distinct voice. It's difficult to pull off but so effective when you can.
Thanks much, Katharine.
Wow this story was different! Thanks for reading my stories. I wrote one with this same ending as well.
I thank you for reading my story, as well, Kathryn.
Thanks, I enjoyed the clever humour.
I thank you very much, Vadasz, I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Hi Joseph, My gosh! Where did all those characters come from? What an imagination, and you kept them straight. Hilarious. Thanks for the read.
Thanks again, John.
I just got finished reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and the dialogue here was whackier and more humorous than many of the conversations the patients have in Kesey's classic. Exchanges such as the ones depicted here do on occasion happen, folks. Trust me. I've experienced it first hand. The psychiatric technicians, however, are generally much more professional than Security Officer Jeffries. : D
Thanks again, Mike.