Where have all the Larry's gone?
I've always wanted to write a book titled, "Everything I Ever Needed To Know About Life I Learned At A Mental Hospital." I think when supposedly well adjusted, normal people are forced to compare themselves with the local mental institution population, they have no choice but to realize that crazy is relative.
Once I met a man we'll call "Larry". Larry was brilliant in the most literal sense of the word. He was well spoken, and an avid reader of the kinds of books most of us don't really think people read. Although I never knew what it was Larry did before he made a career out of being crazy, I'm sure it was something that required lots of letters after his name on all his dinner invitations.
But sadly, Larry was nuts. Nutty as a fruit cake. When Larry wasn't reading Tolstoy or doing trigonometry in his head, his favorite way to pass time was to take things apart. Not small things like a remote or a telephone. Oh no. Larry liked to take apart big things, like furniture and hospital beds.
If you are at all familiar with the mental hospital setting, you would assume that taking things apart might be hard to do inside those walls. After all, you don't even get a real knife to cut your steak. And you have to sign twenty papers and agree to an audience just to get a razor as dull as my first boyfriend with which to shave your legs, or face, or back as the case may be.
None of that could deter Larry. He could disassemble every single thing in a room inside of thirty minutes... the time it took for the nurses to do their "have you hung yourself yet" checks. Not only was he fast, he could do it with absolutely no tools that anyone could ever find.
I thought about just asking him sometime how he did it. But, I was afraid he'd be nice to me and ask me to marry him and I'd say yes because it would be rude not to and then we'd wind up having little furniture disassembling, obsessive-compulsive children that would wash their hands 140 times after every refrigerator they took apart.
It just wasn't worth it to me.
Needless to say, the powers that be inside this lovely facility absolutely hated Larry. He drove them nuts, if you'll pardon the reference. They tried every single thing they could come up with to stop Larry from taking apart his entire room, screw by screw.
They tried bribing him.
"Larry, if you take apart your room today, we are going to take away all your books."
"Larry, open wide and swallow this horse tranquilizer."
He'd just take apart his furniture a little slower while yawning frequently.
"Larry, we'd like you to wear this lovely white I-love-me jacket."
He'd wear it for awhile, walking up and down the corridors stopping only occasionally to scratch his head on the wall. And then he'd promise most sincerely that his days as a furniture taker-aparter were over. He'd seen the light. He was a changed man. Never again under any circumstance would he ever take apart anything in his room again.
But no sooner would they turn him loose than good old Larry would be sitting in the middle of one-thousand furniture pieces with the same satisfied look you might see on a sailor that had been at sea for a year and was finally on shore leave. He couldn't help himself.
Personally, I never got what all the fuss was about. It wasn't like he was eating kittens or anything.
And then one day, one of the white-coat wearing, I went to school for thirty years to be a psychiatrist, pill pushing, doctors came up with a brilliant idea.
They put Larry in a padded room with nothing but a bed and told him to knock himself out. "You go get 'er, Larry. You just take that thing apart all you want."
And he did.
Curiosity got the better of me and I managed to tip toe over by Larry's room to peer through the little window into his soft-sided cell. Sure enough, he was pacing back and forth among the debris that was once his bed. Apparently just one bed was not enough. I think he was jones-ing for a dresser or a cabinet or something. When I slipped back by his room about an hour later, Larry was doing something I'd never seen him do before.
He was putting everything back together!
It sort of made me wonder if Larry was in the habit of always putting together again what he had taken apart, but because he was usually jumped by nurses as quickly as he'd done his thing, he never got the time to do it.
I decided if I ever got rich and opened my own mental hospital for fun and profit, I'd always let Larrys take apart and put back together whatever they wanted.
Sort of makes you wonder exactly how to define crazy, doesn't it? I mean, what if every time you took apart the toaster to try and fix it someone made you drink a Xanex smoothie and locked you in your room?
That actually might not be such a bad thing, now that I think about it.
I also knew a lady named Linda that I met when I was on one of my little "vacations". She was about forty with long, dark hair and a constant cigarette in her mouth. She wouldn't light it unless she was in the smoking room, but she wouldn't be without one in her mouth for even a moment. She had the voice of an older Lucille Ball from the years of smoking and a great big smile that made her nose crinkle.
Linda had apparently shown up at her job one day at a manufacturing plant and ran up and down the aisles turning on every machine in the joint laughing wildly. Apparently her boss kept the hospital's number on speed dial for just such an occasion and she was admitted the same day. Personally, I wondered what her employers must have done that caused her to react that way.
Linda was one happy woman. She was always in a good mood. She would walk up to me at least twenty times a day and say, "You're purty". That was it. That's all she ever said to me. Naturally I assumed she couldn't possibly be crazy.
I never quite got what the doctors thought was wrong with Linda, other than she turned on machines that evidently should not have been turned on. If that's how you define crazy, my son needs to be locked up for trying to turn on my computer. She just seemed to me like a pretty decent lady who liked cigarettes and purty people.
One day, the nurses decided that Linda smoked way more than she should and they needed to put the smack down on her. They told her that they were taking her cigarettes away and that they would dispense one to her every hour.
Sweet, decent Linda immediately turned into violent, threatening Linda and promised to do things to the nurses that would cause serial killers to get out of her way.
Obviously, I do not have a degree in psychology, but I'm thinking, "Hey, why not let the woman smoke?".
I've known lots of smokers in my life and quite frankly, if I were to tell any of them that I would be taking their smokes and only giving them one an hour, I'm betting most of them would go all Linda on me. Maybe she wasn't so out of the ordinary after all.
The thing is, we all have a little crazy on our faces. We need to just come out of our closets and admit it. It only becomes a problem, in my opinion, when we are surrounded by people that have it smeared all over but won't admit it. They take it upon themselves to define what is a hospital-worthy brand of crazy and what is just ordinary, every day, run of the mill crazy.
I think I'll always keep a little crazy on my face, if for no other reason than to simply prevent the boredom brought on by taking yourself too seriously.
I'm with you, Linda and Larry. Let's get together sometime soon. You bring the cigarettes and I'll get my screwdriver and a sofa.
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Copyright © 2004, Sherri Bailey
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