Thursday, April 14, 2016

# 99 Easy Street, Part Twenty-One. Louis Shalako.

Louis Shalako

Mornings were good. This was a distinct change in attitude.

The sheer joy that was Amy stood out all the more due to contrast with his previous life.

The last few years had been demeaning, degrading, demoralizing. Downright dehumanizing, at lot of the time, for one such as Mark Jones. She had made everything mostly all right again.

Not everything, though.

He had an unpleasant duty to perform, which meant going out into the rain in his shit-coat, getting increasingly heavy and increasingly onerous by the minute. Later on, he might stop in at the shit-store and see if they had a two-bit raincoat with bits of tobacco and tiny dead sticks in the pockets. Something with a bit of a ring around the collar and impenetrable sweat-stains in the armpits.

Once a month he was required to attend at his court-appointed psychiatrist’s office. Mark was extremely lucky to be a part of a pilot project. Otherwise he couldn’t have done it, not at the going rate of a hundred dollars an hour. The thing was, that psychiatric supervision was a condition of his release.

This was his first interview with Dr. Lischka since getting out of Bellevue. He’d never met the dude, but staff and social workers had set it all up in the hopes of making it work. The problem for them was that Mark’s home was listed as New York City on all their own internal documents.

Whenever they asked, he always insisted that he would like to go home—where the work was, not incidentally; and in the end they had come around. It was better than letting him go, only to see him wandering the streets of Rochester for the rest of his life and even the system could see that. They lived in Rochester for the most part and it wasn’t a huge town. 

Reluctance at seeing the results of a mistake right in front of them might have had something to do with it. Rochester was a small city, but like all American cities, they already had enough of a homeless problem without adding one more.

It was so easily avoidable. All they had to do was spend a few bucks and ship him out—case closed. He was now officially someone else’s problem.

For Mark, it was a case of sticking to your guns. It was a miracle that it had even worked.

It might even be worth it. Hell, it already had been.

The doctor was located halfway across Manhattan and he had to transfer from one bus to another. Going by all the marble, granite and bronze in the front lobby, and a very fashionable location it was, the doctor was making a living if nothing else.

All them government cheques, perhaps.

The place was what one might expect, with upscale but clearly commercial furnishings. There were some inoffensive artworks on the walls, including the standard Norman Rockwell fare, replete with grandfatherly GPs, bald heads, pince-nez, massive syringes and scampish-looking small boys with their bare buttocks exposed, in something that must have once passed for humour, possibly even art.

Leaving his coat, pockets carefully empty, (the Big Apple was the Big Apple after all) on the rack in the outer room, Mark was finally meeting the doctor. It was a nice, big room, all done in heavy oaken darkness, smelling masculine with stale pipe tobacco and lots of leather-bound books. In a nice, homely touch, the doctor had a few bits of ash on his vest and there was just the faintest hint of Aqua-Velva. Like many psychologists, the shoes were slightly scruffy, a mark of distinction much like a fighter-jock’s mustache.

Judging by the pictures on the wall and the desk, he was married with a couple of small boys. 

The doctor liked fishing and khaki vests with a lot of pockets when he wasn’t golfing.

There was an unspoken form of communication going on here.

They shook hands and sat.

“Ah, Mark, how are you.”

“Fine, Doctor.”

Freud was a neurotic.

Jung was a freak, man.

“Okay, Mark, just relax. There’s no need to be nervous. Basically we just need to verify your compliance with the outpatient treatment plan. Do you understand?” The doctor had to ask that, of course, being as much a bureaucrat as anyone else confronted with all the forms.

“Uh, yep.”

Picking up a pen, the doctor began to fill out the forms that were stacked in front of him.

It was an awesome responsibility.

More than anything, they were inclined to cover their own asses first and foremost. Any doubt would count against you in their minds.

They were trying to find out if he was a danger to the community. Was he a danger to himself or anyone else. If he said the wrong thing, he’d be tossed right back.

“Uh, yep.”

“Good. Very good. So. How have we been?”

“Uh, yeah, uh. Pretty good, really. I’ve only been out a few days—”

He was just getting back on his feet again, Mark concluded rather lamely.

Keep it short, keep it sweet and to the point…

Don’t give them nothing you don’t have to.

Don’t tell them Nietsche was impotent—they don’t want to know.

Doctor Lischka nodded sharply. The biggest part of his job was listening, really listening.

“I see, I see.” He glanced at his mimeographed case-notes. “Well, we might as well get right into it, then.”

He studied the man before him, blinking very slowly and Mark tried not to squirm under the gaze.

“Okay. Here we go. Have you been hearing voices?”

“Ah, no.”

“Hmn. Do you feel that you might want to harm anyone?”

“Ah, no. Not really.”

“Not really?”

Mark cursed himself. Never qualify with these guys—you have to be sure, and very sincere when you answer. There can be no doubts at all.

“Nope. Not at all.” Out of nowhere a smile came, and it must have been just the right response.

Stick to your guns.

It is the truth, after all.

The doctor smiled.

The doctor wasn’t such a bad guy.

He was human too.


“Okay. Do you think, feel or otherwise believe, or have any reason to think, feel, believe, or otherwise apprehend, ah, that someone might want to harm you?”

“Ah, no.” He shook his head and tried a smile. “I mean, it’s a rough neighbourhood and everything, but nothing like in the way you mean.”

“Okay, very good. So. Uh, what’s been happening?” The doctor was uncertain.

This was a good time to keep it simple. What the doc didn’t know wouldn’t hurt Mark.

The doctor was nervous, the doctor was insecure.

The doctor was an asshole.

“Ah, I got an apartment. I got a bed. I got a couple of chairs and some stuff for the kitchen. I got a job, which is fantastic…really.”

“Oh, wonderful. That was quick. Where are you working?” The doctor’s voice was calm, soothing, reassuring, and Mark had no idea of how he was doing but it seemed okay.

“Ah, the Flamingo.”

“Oh, really.” The doctor was already flipping through his forms and notes, possibly wondering if Mark was restricted from alcohol consumption or entering the sort of premises where it was sold.

He knew the place, all right. The doctor would have all the best lifestyle magazines, some of them were in the waiting room. He might even read them once in a while, and as jazz clubs went, the Flamingo was definitely known.

“Jeez, that’s all right, eh?”

“Yeah. Ah, yes, sir. I mean, doc.” Mark grinned from ear to ear. “Yeah. It’s a miracle, really.”

The doc laughed, the tone must have been just right.

That’s the way you do it.

You can lick them by smiling.

Mark had carefully read his own release documents and couldn’t find any mention of the prohibition of alcohol. That was no guarantee, once he’d studied the obscure language and archaisms of the text. It was like they didn’t want the patient to understand it. They wanted you to slip up and go back inside. They wanted to load you up with a bunch of shit.

There was no way you could read a doctor’s handwriting upside-down, and you probably couldn’t read it right side-up either. Somewhere in there they must have Mark’s profession down in one of their little bureaucratic boxes. The doctor would be more concerned with catching up with his medical history and getting an impression of his newest patient. The doctor let the silence continue.

It was all part of the test, probably.

“Well. Good for you.” The doctor didn’t ask what Mark would be doing there and sometimes it was best not to volunteer information.

Lischka’s eyes were skimming across a page.

“I got a girlfriend.” Mark heaved a deep sigh. “At least I think I do. There are things I want to tell her, you know?”

The doctor, eyes on his notes, picked up his pen and scribbled away and Mark flushed.

He took in some air, let it out with a rush. He settled more comfortable in the chair.

Fuck doctors, anyways.

“There are things I wouldn’t mind asking her.”

“Hmn. Yeah. Women—can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”

Mark laughed.

“That’s not exactly what I meant. But women these days are different. I mean, times have changed, and they really do have minds of their own.”

“What’s her name?”

“Amy. She’s an anthropologist—” She was the kind of girl who would burn her bra on the front steps of City Hall, that sort of thing.

“Oh, really.” The doctor sat up straighter, impressed.

There were plenty of mentally-ill people in the world, but so few of them were intelligent, well-spoken and able to articulate. Most of them didn’t do very well in school, and opportunities to broaden the mind were few at the lowest levels of the social fabric.

The American social fabric was being ripped apart, and Mark had been isolated, very isolated.

Coming out into the community was fraught with challenges. It was early in the relationship. A certain type of psychopath came across as erudite and extremely intelligent. It would be slow going at first, as Lischka assessed his patient. There was the history of serious violence—against a police officer, no less. Right in police headquarters, which was not that unusual in his experience.

“Okay. Just to clarify, approximately how many personalities have manifested themselves so far? And, have any new ones identified themselves, or disrupted your equilibrium in any way, shape or form, ah, recently?” He was intently reading the third page now, eyebrows raising and his mouth moved in a quirky fashion more than once. “I mean, it must be a bit, ah, scary, finding yourself all on your own, out in the world again after so long…right?”

“Ah, no, doctor. Nothing like that.”

“And you’ve been taking your meds?”

Upon his release, he’d been provided with a week’s supply of medications. It was still in his suitcase. He hadn’t been taking it, and sooner or later the doc was going to ask where his pharmacy was, or come up with some question that he really couldn’t answer without thinking about it. That was the thing with a lie, you couldn’t think. You just didn’t have the time. It had to come naturally. The key was to have those answers all prepared and ready to go. All of a sudden he was praying that the doctor wouldn’t ask to see the bottle, or fucking well want to count the pills or something God-awful like that.

“Ah, yes, sir.” Mark impulsively sat up a little straighter. “Yeah, I’ve been feeling pretty good. Ha. I haven’t even had a cold in a while.”

The doctor nodded, pausing the pen on the page.

Mark was definitely sweating under the arms, hopefully it wasn’t beading up on his forehead.

The thing was to sort of mirror the doctor’s own body-language, all of that professional confidence, practicing oozing out of his pores as it were.

Mark resisted the urge to stroke his chin or touch his face in any way. Let the doctor do it all he wants.

Stroke that beard, asshole…

Mark sat there, open and confident, sitting up fairly straight and looking as calm as he could manage. No fidgeting, hands clasped in his lap.

Breathe, deeply and calmly…

Crazy Old Bill might have been right.

It was all about body control—and the key to body control was resting posture and breath-control.

It was all about being centred, and calm, and knowing your own worth, and that they were wrong—just plain wrong.

It was all about justice.

It was all about thinking crazy thoughts, and looking out for number one, and staying out of trouble.

For a couple of seconds, he put himself back in the square, playing his horn for a little girl.

Anything for you, my dear—


It was enough.

Back to the present.

“Do you ever feel that people can read your thoughts or that your thoughts might be leaking out somehow, Mark?” Those ingenuous blue eyes fixated on him.

The thing was to drop your own eyes and really think about the question—(after all, no one ever looks up their own symptoms and so therefore I couldn’t have anticipated this in advance). For this he had to thank Bill, who had found him a book on detecting liars and the like. Mark never would have thought of it, that one was all Bill. Poor Bill—they’d pulled all his rotten old teeth and put him away a long time ago.

There were a million books out there. When you got right down to it, they had a hell of an influence.

Mark had sat there in the library and studied his alleged (and developing!) illness thoroughly, preparing for just such a day.

Mark’s eyes came up and he answered.

“Uh—no.” He laughed nervously.

It was, of course, exactly what he was thinking. It was exactly what he was afraid of, and yet self-reporting was an important part of this supervisory process. You just had to stick to your story, perhaps even believe in it…do your best, anyways.

This shit-head unfortunately had lot of power over his life—then there was the parole officer, with an appointment there coming up next week. That one was scary too, but the first questions they asked were bound to be similar—and they’d be looking for a certain type of answers. This was good practice. They wouldn’t toss him back for no reason. They had a stake of some kind in all of this—his big success. He would tell the parole officer all about Doctor Lischka. He would tell them he had a job, an apartment and a girlfriend and let them draw their own conclusions…

Mark appears to be successfully reintegrating into the community.

We should encourage him and give him all the support the system can mustard.

Mark sat there with a half-smile on his face.

“Good. Good for you. Just one or two more questions and then we’ll cut you loose. You seem to be doing very well.”

“Ah. Thank you...doc.” Something let go in his guts, but he ignored it as best he could.

“Okay. Let’s see here. Seven or eight personalities, eh. Are any of them with us here today?”

Again, those freaky eyes had him nailed.

Mark grinned, this time it wasn’t so easy to fake.

Cut you loose…eh.

“Nope. They’ve all been pretty quiet lately.” He took a long breath and threw himself into the role. “Yeah, I have to admit. Them pills seem to work, doc. A miracle of modern science, really. Things are going great and I’ve been feeling a lot better. It’s good to be out of the hospital. I’ll tell you that much!”

“Hmn.” The doctor hit him with a trick question. “So. What sort of side effects are you having from the meds?”

That one was easy. Mark launched into some minor complaints, feeling a bit dozy for a while after the morning dose, being constipated sometimes. Sometimes he was trembly in the knees, weak in the legs, wonky head, eyes unable to focus on fine print, and all that sort of thing.

The key thing was to stick to a routine. Don’t get all stressed out over shit.

To sleep properly, to eat properly, and not hide out from the world. The doctor nodded at all of this, seemingly impressed.

But all in all, Mark figured he was doing pretty well and he had no real complaints…

“Yeah, I got to be honest with you, doc. Sometimes the voices were telling me stupid shit. Even knowing it was bullshit, knowing it was just the illness, all irrational stuff and holy, fuck, you even knew it at the time. But, uh, well, it was still pretty tough. Imagine all those voices talking. All at once, all telling you to do something…stupid. Those meds are a real fuckin’ lifesaver, doc.”

The doctor nodded, eyes down, listening intently, hopefully hearing exactly what he wanted to hear.

That was the key, according to Bill. Give them what they needed to do their jobs.

It seemed to have worked, and that was the important thing.


It was a funny thing about the meds. Mark had been taking the meds and fighting off their effects for four years. The things knocked you on your ass, especially at first, and made a zombie of you for most of the day. They had their God-damned routine too—waking you up at five a.m. with a glass of juice, and breakfast wasn’t until eight. At Bellevue, they brought you your pills morning, noon and night. They stood there and watched you take them. The more anal-retentive staffers would sometimes make you open your mouth and show them that you weren’t just hiding the thing under your tongue, only to spit it out as soon as their backs were turned. But Mark was the perfect patient. Mark understood that he had a problem, an illness. Mark wanted so very badly to get well. Mark was sweetness personified for the staffers. Carefully, using a little human psychology, a bond of trust had been built, and after a while, they weren’t watching you nearly so closely. Problem patients made themselves known quickly enough and the staff tended to focus their angst on the bad ones.

Mark knew all about angst, he’d read up on it extensively.

With blood tests once a month, you had to take at least some of the meds, or they wouldn’t show up in your blood at all. Since body chemistry varied by individual, the key thing was to turn in consistent results, hopefully normal results, but results nevertheless. If they read consistently low or high, that could be explained away by the doctors themselves as the medications were so-called first generation. It was a pioneering field insofar as fine pharmaceuticals went (Bill’s input here). Gobbling a whole bunch of them the day before the test would show an abnormally high level. But Mark’s routine at Bellevue had evolved over time, and he knew as much about it as anyone. The trouble was. He hadn’t had such a long break without the meds in quite a while, and that would require some thinking. He’d also been feeling pretty good physically, and would have preferred to stay that way.

The shrinks at Bellevue had started him off with the lowest possible dose. By carefully managing what he told them, he’d managed to stave them off from the inevitable escalation. 

This escalation would happen in most cases. But Mark Jones was lucky. He had only a mild case of insanity.

Just a little touch of it. Just enough to keep him out of the big house. One of the neat things about the library at Bellevue was the sections on psychiatry and mental illnesses. It had probably been envisaged, originally, as a resource for staff and parents, guardians, spouses, to understand the nature of the illnesses the patients, loved ones or family members, were suffering from. Not actually having anything particularly wrong with him except a natural dislike of jail, plus some documented episodes of depression, he’d had to fake it every inch of the way. He couldn’t relax for one minute, or he’d slip up and then he’d be in a shit-load of trouble.

The whole mental-illness thing had been a bit of an inspiration.

What a rat I am—desperately trying to survive and nothing more sometimes.

That was a humbling discovery. He’d been forced to confront that. All of this was just a sidebar.

The real problem was that he hadn’t been thinking and now the doctor wanted him to take a blood test.

Short of cash as he was, and busy (and incarcerated for much of the time since his release), Mark hadn’t actually filled the prescriptions provided by thoughtful staff at Bellevue prior to his release into the wilds of urban reality.

Doctor Lischka had given him a form and the address of a walk-in lab. All he had to do was to beat their test and make sure the proper results were in before next month’s appointment. 

The doctor had been a bit vague, decidedly casual about when he might go in. Mark knew enough not to push that much more than a few days. Get in there and get it done. Start thinking about a cover story—tell him you didn’t get the scrip filled for a few days, because you were waiting for payday. Sell him a big sob story.

More importantly, all of that could wait until next time.

Sorry, doc, I accidentally dropped my pills in a puddle in the rain. I shall try to do better in the future—

Do whatever it takes to stay outside.

And maybe there really were little voices in his head.

This looked like a job for Duke. Other than that, he would have to do the research. Thank God and Andrew Carnegie for the library system.

There was just no way he was going back.

Not to jail and not to Bellevue, either.

According to Bill, any system could be defeated by using its own rules against it. It was good advice if you could take it.

In order to do that, you had to stay cool.

(End of Part Twenty-One.)

Thanks for reading. Louis has a few books and stories on Amazon, some of which are free.

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