And Jimmy will go to sleep in his own little room again

“Jimmy,” they asked. Doctors and nurses never used last names, sitting erect in their metal folding chairs in a semi-circle around him in the conservatory, the latter so named because of the two dead ficus plants drooping in opposite corners. The shatterproof-glass of the conservatory’s windows that shaded the light into drops of rainbows overlooked the patchwork gardens where the lifers harvested their string beans and cucumbers.

It was his twelfth week of captivity and Jimmy had his act together. There were no outbursts, no violence, no retreating into opera melodies, and no threats. Arias sung to the irritable commuters in the crowded subway train never win friends. Dr. Krueger, the chief psychiatrist, and Jimmy laughed together at some of the absurdities. Actually being J.D. Salinger, became enjoying the writings of J.D. And bananafish were fictional things—not likely to be the weekly special, de-boned at the tableside, and smothered in hollandaise.

His job, straightening the shelves at the pharmacy superstore remained open. Who else would work for those despicable wages and at the same time entertain the customers with songs from the heart? If he could pass this final “staffing” with the panel of so-called experts, he would be free to continue his life.

“Tell us about current events and what’s happening in the world,” the authorities ordered with impassive faces.

“Doctors, nurses and other members of this august panel, the continuing Afghanistan war is depressing,” Jimmy answered, slowly nodding his head. “I agree with several Senators who said we should declare victory and leave. Surely the populace would be no worse if we weren’t there. At least they’d be alive. Democracy is not a viable concept for those people. As for our Social Security under-funding, the high unemployment rate and the global warming…”

Watching the expressions of the panel members, he realized he’d said enough.

“Sorry to be so longwinded,” he said, directing his five plus smile at Ms. Rhiner, the head nurse, who blushed with the attention. Maybe she had been watching him do his private stuff on the overhead monitors.

“Jimmy, how would you spend your day, if you were home?” Dr. Wettzel asked. He was the psychologist with the eating problem. Belly a size 48 at a minimum, and not an ounce of it muscle. Jimmy worried about the doctor’s inner workings.

“Dr. Wettzel, employment at the pharmacy allows access to the candy section aisles with the cornucopia of bite-sized Baby Ruth bars that I would deliver to you by the bagful, so you could satisfy your munchies.” They all laughed. Some uncomfortably.

“Having a sense of a humor is a healthy thing, isn’t it?” Jimmy asked, making a mental note to delete the jokes.

“Dr. Wettzel,” he continued, “I’ve prepared a schedule for myself when I return home that I’ve jotted down for this esteemed panel. The alarm-clock will go off at 7.30 am; I’ll eat a healthy breakfast of high fiber cereal with skimmed milk and down a full glass of OJ. By the way, everyone should partake of orange juice’s life-sustaining gifts: potassium, vitamin C, and natural sugar,” pointing to the panel members with a bobbing index finger and carefully including everyone. “Then it’s off to the library and the post office before returning home for a nap and reading. Oh, I almost forgot to tell you, I rent movies. The classic ones with Hope and Crosby, Abbott and Costello, Danny Kaye—I know, I know, I love the silly humor, I can’t help it.”

He noticed their suppressed smiles. At least this Jimmy fool had a plan and enjoyed smut and violence-free old movies, so unlike the other inmates. He was certain that Ms. Rhiner was thinking maybe she could stop by dressed as Virginia Mayo or Hedy Lamar.

Ms. Passcott, the flighty social worker, appeared skeptical. He must remember to stop calling her Madama Butterfly, and use her real name, Cio-Cio San.

Dr. Krueger asked him about his love for baseball. They both kept track of the scores. The city had two teams and both were enjoying success. Jimmy was more sophisticated about baseball than Doctor Krueger, but he let the doctor prognosticate first. Of course, if Dr. K knew that Coaches Roberts and Dominguez, the respective team managers, discussed strategy with Jimmy every weekday morning, the doctor might be less impressed with his prescient commentary.

“What is it about baseball that piques your pleasure?” the doctor asked.

“Dr. Krueger, the science that determines the motion of the ball as it floats toward the batter at 90 plus miles an hour is exquisite. The velocity and the spin of the sphere cue the batter’s optic neurons, telling him how and when he should swing his bat. It requires the most split second coordination known to man. And a well-stroked baseball sounds as sweet as Paul Desmond’s saxophone joining the background bass and piano refrain.”

It was wonderful how his mind and body could take divergent paths while he answered the baseball question so eloquently and at the same time ride in an enclosed motorized scooter exploring the backside of Neptune, the home of the Amazons and the ancient Greeks, seeking refuge from the hostile Earth world. Agamemnon, muscular, fair haired and strong, holding his daughter Iphigenia, or was it Ipanema up to the arriving vehicle.

Quick, he must abandon his reverie and smile and pay attention to his captors here on the blue planet.

“Jimmy,” Dr. Krueger continued, “I know there are times that thoughts run through your mind that don’t make sense to us, but we think you’re able to suppress them and keep them in their place and in the right perspective, so to speak. The drugs we’re prescribing accomplish that and you’ll need to promise to take them daily. We’ll test your blood and urine to verify their presence. You understand that, don’t you?”

He nodded yes, not telling Dr. Krueger that soon the priests of Neptune, vengeance in their heart, would come and take the Doctor’s brain.

“So Jimmy,” Dr. Krueger continued, “we’ve decided to let you try staying at home, sleeping in your own bed. You must be very pleased. Do you have any questions for us?”

“Yes I do, Dr. Krueger. I’ve been so busy preparing for this interview, you know, straightening up, getting a haircut, etc., that I’ve been out of touch with the sports news. Who won the World Series?”

“Why the Yankees,” Dr. K said, eyebrows lifted high in surprise. “Jimmy, you know that. Don’t you remember? We talked about their win with that clever, squeeze bunt play you explained to me.”

“No,” he shouted, his face turning red, almost magenta, his breath coming short and hard. “You dumb head! Who won the World Series, Mars or Uranus?”

He just couldn’t put up with the ignorance in this place anymore and maybe the best thing was to take up opera again. The music was so goddamn soothing, and he started to hum, first softly and then louder and louder, the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s Nabucco, one of his favorites.

From the song, The White Cliffs of Dover — Nat Benton-Walter Kent.


About Michael Ellman

Michael Ellman is a retired physician (rheumatologist) from the University of Chicago and a writer. His great Great American Novel about fun and scary medicine in the 1960s is ready to find a publisher.

>> Michael Ellman's author page

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