UNDERGROUND VOICES: NON-FICTION
FLIP CITY WALKABOUTS
Cartwheels down the hallway. My life, dreams, hopes spin round and round as I spring from hands to feet. One, two, three ... whee! So much fun. Cartwheels down the hallway.
How did I end up here? Lockdown ... 51/50. I liked the sound of that ... Fifty One Fifty. Sounded important. Well it must have been ... it was the code they referred to me by. Oh ... there's Jonathan ... He's Fifty One Fifty. He's manic.
That's me! Just one small vowel short of complete maniac. How did this happen? I don't remember flying over the cuckoo's nest.
They ... those people ... insidious. All they wanted me to do was to swallow pills. Pink pills, white pills, big pills, and small ones too. And when I wouldn't ... then came the needle. Why is that damn needle so long anyway? It's just a shot of Thorazine ... not an epidural.
The needle was fun times. I saw that thing coming and reared up like an opossum hissing at the beam of a flashlight. It took three of those men to pin me down. I wasn't going to give in easy. This boy had had a rough upbringing on the mean streets of Dublin and wasn't about to let some delicate male nurses get the better of him. Or so I thought at the time anyway.
When I came to I was in a bit of a daze. Wondering: 'Where the hell ... ? Where are my clothes? And why does my ass hurt?' Sounds like a bad hangover after a freaky party. Well I don't swing that way so there had to be another explanation.
As I attempted to piece the puzzle together I became more and more confused. I tried to play the nightmare back but kept forgetting some key parts. Train tracks were vivid ... and so was the train. Was that a close one or what? But why was I there? Oh yeah ... I was taking a shortcut from the jail to the seven eleven?
Well that opens up a whole new can of worms. Why was I in jail? I toyed with that question for awhile as the drugs started to wear off. Ah yes ... the fight, or rather, the assault. I had knocked a guy out in the federal building at the border crossing. That's right. I had been wandering through the streets of Mexico for the past couple of days ... giving my manic head a taste of Tijuana.
It seemed so logical at the time. I went to Mexico to convince the local government that I could help them set up a community for recovering alcoholics. I was going to solve their social problems single handedly. I recall driving to the auxiliary border crossing in southeast San Diego. It was closed due to the late hour. There was no one in sight and nothing but a metal bracket sticking out of the road to prevent passage. Well this wasn’t going to stop me. I had urgent business to attend to. I hit that thing at full speed and it gave under the force of impact. It bent forward to an angle and converted itself from a barricade to a ramp. I must have sailed twenty feet through the air before bashing back down onto the road. I continued on into Mexico completely unimpeded feeling pretty proud of myself.
You would expect a hot pursuit after a stunt like that but there were no police cars in sight. Until, that is, I skidded down a steep hill deep inside Tijuana and ended up in a ditch at the bottom. These cops didn’t know what to make of me. Some crazy gringo speaking nonsense about a mission from God. They were impressed by my Spanish skills though and so weren’t too harsh on me. They had my vehicle impounded and threw me into a stinky dungeon. If you're fortunate enough to have never visited a Mexican jail let me tell you something. That place makes any U.S. Jail seem like the Four Seasons … with complimentary room service.
When I was released I just walked out of there and wandered aimlessly for about eight hours through the streets and back yards of eastern TJ. When I finally made it to the U.S. border I asked for help from some of the federal border agents. I thought they would be nice enough to drive me to the Tijuana impound and help me retrieve my truck.
Just then, a drunken college kid waving his arms approached us yelling some gibberish about losing his ID, and being annoyed by this intrusion I decided to deliver some quick justice and punched him square in the face. I don't remember if I thought he was coming at me or if I was just agitated by his expression. Well I've never seen such a commotion in my life before. I may as well have screamed "Bomb!" I had ten feds on top of me like a mob of linebackers crashing down on a loose football.
But none of this explains the cartwheels. Why was I here? The border seemed so long ago. What happened after? I remember going to another jail for the train tracks incident. I thought I would be cute and speak only in Spanish. This annoyed the guards tremendously. "I know you speak English whiteboy. Stop pissing me off!" And my poor cellmate … I must have freaked him out something awful. I think I explained to him the entire Bible and where it had gone wrong. See, I had all the answers. I knew everything. Do you know how frustrating it is to finally acquire the last morsel of knowable intelligence and not get the credit and respect you deserve for such awesome omniscience? Let me tell you … it's quite upsetting. My brother must have been so stressed out. Another phone call from his whacked out kid bro.
"Can you pick me up please?"
"Where are you?"
"Again? What the hell is wrong with you?"
"They just won't listen!"
"All of them. None of them. Why won't they just listen to me?"
My brother is my saving grace. No matter what insanity was spewing from my chattering lips he stood by and helped me try to pick up the pieces.
He drove me to my parents' house. They were at wits end with me. I had been in this state for about three weeks by now and they honestly thought I was on speed. Everyone did. I was so spun out of control junkies were approaching me on the street to see if I could help them score some "good shit."
Welcome at the house soon wore thin. My father took a hold of me and tried to shake some sense into me. All that did was send me back out on the streets, literally. I sat down on in the middle of the main road as traffic whizzed by me on both sides. People were honking and I responded by chasing them down and kicking the cars that had slowed enough to see what I was up to. How dare they interrupt my meditation? I was trying to figure out when the President was going to send for me. See, I knew that he had faith in me. He must realize by now that my infinite wisdom was of great value to national security. It was just a matter of time before his boys would pull up in a sleek black car and let me in on the secret. All this incarceration and punishment was just a test of my wits -- just a little exercise to see if I was cut out for their operation.
The car that finally pulled up wasn't quite all black. It had some white too. And there was only one guy. The officer that got out to greet me must have been in on the game I thought. Another test? He played coy ... wondering what the heck I was doing. I asked him if he was there to bring me in finally. He said "Sure! I'll bring you in.”
I was giddy. Finally, some salvation. He had gotten wise to my delusions though, and like any other caring officer of the law, he decided to have a little fun with it and play along. He got on the radio and called in to "base operations." I was in the back of the squad car wondering what I was going to say when they brought me in. It's a big deal meeting the President you know. He asked the voice on the other end of the radio if the big boss Clinton was available to give further instructions. A chuckling southern accent came over the speaker and instructed him to bring me down to the special ops headquarters. Said I was going to get a hero's welcome.
The President was going to greet me himself? Well the excitement was almost too much. I was beside myself. Just a few more minutes and my nightmare would be all over with … or just beginning.
Headquarters wasn't quite what I had expected it to be. And President Clinton? Not a nice man … but very adept with a Billy stick.
I was admitted to county mental health by the officer with a southern accent. He sat with me in the admission room and had me keep my head down between my legs. I was not to move. After about five minutes I had accumulated a bit of saliva in my mouth and decided to spit it on the ground between my feet. Little did I know that this was a capital offense, punishable by a swift blow to the head.
When I came to I was locked in a cubicle on a gurney. I laid there awake all night staring at the light, wondering when it was all going to end. It had stopped being fun now. I just wanted to go home. But my mind wouldn't get out of the fast lane. There were parallel thoughts. I was thinking about two or more separate things simultaneously. I didn't know it was possible and wondered who had slipped what into my drink.
My three day stay at county mental was an interesting getaway to say the least. I met all sorts of colorful characters in there. It was rather short lived though. It seems that when they are low on beds or funds, it's quite easy to convince them that it was all just a big misunderstanding. I was released and went back home to continue the very precise work of unraveling my life and leaving my finances and social network in complete disarray.
During this particular walkabout I managed to convince a friend to drive me down to Mexico so that I could retrieve my truck. It takes a true friend to drive you into another country when you are telling him that you are on a divine mission. He put up with my ranting and got me to where I needed to be. A few hundred bucks later and I was back in my truck at last. I was quite amazed that it still ran after all the punishment I had put it through. The front was crumpled though from the express border crossing. Not surprisingly, it had been stripped clean of the stereo and anything not welded or glued down. I drove it back to the US and tried to figure out my next move.
Because San Diego and Mexico proved to be very uncooperative I decided to take my genius northward to Los Angeles. I'm not sure what I was planning ... I think I was going to hunt down a movie producer and let him in on my ideas for the next big blockbuster. All I had to do was to find a hotel and begin my search for Steven Spielberg.
Halfway through my first night at the hotel the management discovered that my funds weren't solid and so had me removed from the premises. How insulting.
I decided to return to San Diego to sort out my money problems and sped off down the interstate with a fierce sense of urgency. The speedometer on my truck only goes to 105 mph so I was quite impressed later on when I read the police report. The officer wrote that they were having trouble keeping up with me at 130 mph. It was three in the morning and I was cruising southward at full clip. I didn't even notice the lights in my rear view mirror until about five minutes into the pursuit. When I realized I was being chased, I took the nearest exit to pull over and comply. I wasn't in a criminal state of mind ... just plain crazy.
Well I took that exit without slowing any and when I saw the red traffic signal coming toward me at warp speed I locked up the brakes. I must have skidded two entire blocks before coming to a stop. The high rpm’s were generating quite a bit of voltage through my alternator and this overload caused a short in my fuse box. It caught fire briefly and filled the cabin of my truck with a pungent, acrid smoke.
I just sat there confused for about two minutes. When the smoke began to dissipate I looked out the window and down the barrel of a gun. In fact there were more than five guns pointed at my head at that particular moment.
Before the onset of this illness I had always maintained a high regard and admiration for officers of the law. This sentiment was eroded rapidly through my numerous encounters with them within such a short period. I'm not sure if I can blame them, however. They didn't know about my condition and probably assumed I was just another drug addict wreaking havoc on the roads. Nevertheless, it's hard to push aside the memories of their behavior. After the second field sobriety test they decided to book me on reckless driving charges and suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance. They admitted me into jail and impounded my truck. I was getting used to this by now. Upon arrival at the jail I was searched forcefully for the third time. These guys really do enjoy their position of authority. I was pushed against the wall and frisked. The officer conducting the search either thought I was cute or just enjoyed groping my groin area. I pushed backward and protested the molestation.
"What are you doing that for?" I complained.
"Checking you for drugs. You could be hiding something in there," he sneered.
"Well you're quite thorough. I hope you're having fun," I fired back. With that he slammed my face back into the wall. He began frisking the back side of my legs and when he reached my buttocks area he poked me hard where most men don't like to be poked. At that point my reflexes took over, and with a mind of its own my elbow swung back with full force and found its target instinctually. I heard him yelp as it bashed him hard in the mouth. That was the only gratifying moment I was going to experience for a long time to come. If you've ever wondered about stories of police using excessive force let me confirm them for you. Don't ever allow yourself to become a scapegoat for their frustration and aggression. You will ache for quite some time.
After my "assault" on the officer I was hog tied and carried down the hallway of the jail by three or four men. Either they were drunk or very careless because my head seemed to bounce off every corner and fixture during the long journey to my cell.
I wasn't placed with the general population. No, there was going to be no interaction for me. I was given a blanket and a paper gown, stripped of all my clothes and placed in a solitary cell. It was a holiday weekend I think, and for some reason it was going to be five days until I was to get a hearing before a judge. Now in the grand scheme of things, five days doesn't seem like a long time. But when your brain is working on hyper drive and you have the energy of a nuclear reactor fueling you, five days of solitary confinement makes eternal damnation seem like a mild punishment.
This time it was my mother who came to my rescue. Even though her patience had worn thin she drove up to L.A. and spoke on my behalf in front of the judge. I was released to her custody with an order to seek proper help and to stay out of trouble.
On our way out of there I wanted to stop by the impound lot and pick up my truck. She wouldn't hear of it and drove me back to San Diego. She had me see a therapist who was the first to utter the words "bipolar disorder." How dare he label me? Who does he think he is? He doesn't know me.
I stayed at my parents' place for a short while and finally became restless and went home to my apartment. A few days of confusing and worrying my neighbors and I decided to hop on a train. I went back to L.A. to retrieve my truck. When I finally reached the impound I realized I was short on funds. They were being highly uncooperative as one would expect and wouldn't give me a break on the twenty or so bucks that I was short. Back to San Diego I went to round up more money. I scraped up enough to pay the bill and made my way back to the impound. Of course I reached them fifteen minutes after their daily billing cycle had ended and was now responsible for an extra fifty dollars. I was becoming very upset. I asked if they would let me into the truck to get my checkbook so I could at least go to a check cashing store and get some more money.
At that I lost my temper and made a scene. I even banged my head against the glass to make myself heard. I must have really looked the part for I had shaved my head with a Bic razor the night before. The bulletproof glass should have hurt, but it didn't. Of course you can guess what happened next. I was given another free ride ... back to jail. Trespassing charges this time. How creative cops can be when they feel the need.
Three days later I found myself free again and back on the phone to my parents. They were having none of it this time. I can't say I blame them. Their patience up to this point had been ample. After some brainstorming I decided to go the nearest branch of my bank and convince them to give me some funds against a credit card I had opened with them in the past. I was determined to retrieve my truck.
Getting there was half the problem. I had no money on me. My wallet had mysteriously disappeared between the impound lot and the jail. I decided to call a taxi and figured I'd pay him when I got there. When we arrived I told him to wait for me. I went into the bank and began trying to persuade them to see it my way. Since I had no ID or any way to prove my identity there was no way they were going to talk to me. This presented me with an obvious problem. How was I going to pay the taxi driver? I went outside and explained to him my predicament and offered up my watch as payment in lieu of the seven dollar fare. Well he was having none of this and decided to add another chapter to my chronicles as a jailbird. This time it was petty theft. The charge sure was petty all right. Some cops really do have too much time on their hands.
I was really getting a good feel for the Southern California penal system. It was like a crash course in criminal law.
After three more days I ended up back in front of the judge. I was convicted of the charges against me and was sentenced to time served and to pay the taxi driver his fare. Somehow by this time his fare had grown from seven dollars to over a hundred. Another stipulation of the sentence was that I was to be admitted into a psychiatric hospital. Again my mother was there, and again she brought me home. This time, instead of going to the shrink's office I was brought straight to Mercy Hospital.
This was the first time I heard the term 51/50. I was on the secure ward and stripped of shoelaces and my belt. I wasn’t allowed to hang myself on their shift. No way! Funny though ... They gave me a gown with a long and sturdy tie string. I thought I'd have a little fun with them and form a noose with it. I put it around my neck and walked down the hall to look for a fixture to tie the other end to. They weren't amused. Solitary confinement and more meds. Jeez ... What happened to their sense of humor? I was far from suicidal. This buzz I was feeling was way too cool to punctuate with death. No sir ... I was on top of the world. If I could just put this experience in pill form and sell it on the street. I'd put every drug lord and two bit pusher out of business. You can't create a high this clean and long lasting.
I was becoming quite annoyed with confinement at this point. I just wanted to be free to roam and enjoy myself. I formulated a plot to escape. After I was released from the solitary room I began to put my plan into effect. Every time we were allowed into the courtyard for a smoke break they left the heavy security door wide open for us to go back and forth freely. I stuffed some newspaper into the slot that the door latch would pop into when shut. It worked. When they closed the door the latch couldn't slide home and so was easily opened by a simple push. I waited patiently until well into the night and emerged from my room. The nurse on duty was reading his book in the hallway. He asked what I was doing up and I told him I couldn't get any rest and would like some sleeping pills. He obliged and disappeared into the medication room. I stole my chance and made my way through the security door and into the courtyard. I was halfway up the chain link fence when the bright lights flashed on and a siren started to wail. Back to solitary holding I went.
Two days later and I was returned to the main ward. My mind was still in top gear and sleep seemed like a distant memory. I was getting more and more agitated and just wanted a change of scenery. I pleaded for them to let me into the other ward, the unlocked ward. I told them I would behave. That place was much nicer. There was a piano. How I longed for my fingers to dance along those keys. There was a lounge with plush couches and loveseats. “Just let me out of here!”
They wouldn't listen to me. Why wouldn't they just listen? I wanted to jump out of my skin ... just break free and leave it all behind. I had to get away.
The next time they announced a smoke break I told the nurse that I was going to skip it and take a shower instead. I went into my bathroom and turned on the faucet. Instead of getting undressed though, I slipped back out of the room and made it past the security door and into the arts and crafts room that separated my ward from the courtyard. The sliding glass door between that room and the outside was never closed. I looked out at the troop of patients roaming around in circles, pulling on their hair, or antagonizing their counterparts for giggles. No one noticed me. I scanned the room for a place to hide and decided on an oversized reclining chair in the corner. I turned it around to face the wall and slouched down into it. Ten minutes passed when finally the end of the break was announced. They all filed back into the ward behind me without one of them noticing the juxtaposition of the furniture. The door slammed shut, the latch slid home, I was alone at last.
I wasted no time now. It would be a matter of minutes before they noticed my extended shower. I sprang across the courtyard, and scrambled over the twenty foot fence. I was strutting down the road with an almighty purpose less than two minutes later. Free at last. I had been cooped up in there for almost two weeks now and I wanted to get as far away as possible. I made it to the bus stop and convinced the driver that I had lost my wallet. He took pity and allowed me to hop on for free. I was tickled by my seemingly never ending ingenuity and cunning.
To add to the hilarity of the situation, when we made a stop to pick up a little old lady, some kid whacked out on drugs (or more manic than me if that was possible) jumped on the bus and started raising hell. He pushed the lady out of her seat and onto the floor. This unleashed a rage from me that I had never experienced before. I may have been nuts but I still held a respect for my elders. Within a flash I pounced on him and had his head in the stair well of the mid-section door. I hit him again and again with all my fury. I shouted at the driver to open the door which he did. I kicked him out onto the street and the door shut on his face. He ran around to the front end of the bus and punched through the glass of the driver’s window, screamed some obscenity at the shocked driver and ran off down the street. The traumatized transit employee got on his radio and the police showed up after a short while.
Due to all the commotion I had completely forgotten that I was an escaped mental patient and I was first in line to tell the cops what had happened. After I finished giving my account and the other passengers had corroborated that my attack on him was in defense of the old lady, the cops thanked me for my help. They told me that someone had just escaped from Mercy hospital and this assailant was probably the same person. My heart almost stopped when I realized that it was me they were looking for. I turned away and scampered onto another bus. The driver of the first bus had given all of us transfers so that we could get on with our journey.
I thought I’d be smart and avoid my place for awhile so I decided on the beach instead. I hung out there for the day amusing passer bys with my antics. I convinced someone to give me a beer which helped me come down a bit. After what I thought was an appropriate delay, I decided to head home and take that shower after all. It felt so good to be home again. Everything was going to be okay. Or not.
As I came down the stairs someone knocked on my front door which I had left ajar. I noticed the end of a Billy stick protruding from a gun belt. I wasn’t going through that again … no way. The lump from my last encounter had just finished shrinking and I wasn’t keen on nursing another. When I made it down the last step and onto the landing I reached out, pushed the door shut, and made a dash for the back door. I scrambled over the decaying wooden fence so frantically that it came crashing down behind me as I sprinted into the alley.
Two blocks. That’s as far as I got. That guy had some legs on him. He took me down like a cheetah on a lame gazelle. We tussled in the front garden of a quaint house on the corner for a brief time and I was finally subdued. The occupant emerged to gaze at the spectacle. I recognized the man. He was a frequenter of my family’s bar. I was beginning to wonder just how many people I know had witnessed my recent struggles. Could they do nothing to help? Couldn’t they vouch for me? ‘Hey that’s Jonathan. He’s okay!’
I was handcuffed and put in the back of the car. I was beginning to get used to those hard plastic seats. They have a groove in them so your hands can fit behind you when bound. That didn’t really add to the comfort factor though. I did come out of that encounter without any serious bruising, however. This cop was all right in my book. He didn’t even take me to jail … just straight back to the hospital. As he was escorting me to the back entrance of the place he told me that it was a good thing he caught me when he did. Had it been an hour later my warrant would have expired. I had escaped on the very last day of my legal holding period. But because I was being re-admitted they could start the whole process over again.
Some of the staff members were amused and relieved to see me again and others were just plain upset that I had managed to slip by them and make them look bad. “I told you to let me on the other ward. Why wouldn’t you just listen to me?”
They took my last belt. I had lost four of those by this stage of the game. They insisted on my taking meds and threatened no television. I didn’t care. I had no patience for T.V. anyway. All I wanted to do was cartwheels. One … two … three straight down the hallway.
It has been six years since my flight from the real. I wish I had been more prepared for the crash that followed afterward. Unlike a practicing alcoholic, a bipolar victim gets to remember his misbehaving with crystal clarity. At least the drunk has an excuse. “Hey man, gimme a break. I was shitfaced!” No, I wasn’t allowed that luxury. I had to look people in the eye and try to explain to them why I had jumped off the roof of their house and crashed through the top of their tool shed … why I broke into their apartment and scribbled hieroglyphics on their wall with a magic marker. I had to try to come up with an explanation for my skydiving buddies as to why I thought it would be cool to throw my parachute out of the plane, jump out after it, and put it on while in freefall (I also had to thank them for not buying into it and for confiscating my jumping license.)
I’ve come a long way since then and have maintained relative stability. I was able to return to college and obtain my degree. It took more than three years to pay for the costs of my lunatic endeavors. The hospital bill alone was higher than I could have imagined. I resisted the temptation to flee this town rather than face those people again. So many people. I have rebuilt my life as best as one could expect.
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