Reactions to Fate’s Janitors

Fate’s Janitors reached the final round of judging for this year’s Eric Hoffer Award and the Montaigne Medal.

The Eric Hoffer Award is given to highlight superior writing released by independent publishers.

The Montaigne Medal is awarded to the year’s most thought provoking books.

Other Reactions to Fate’s Janitors

“This debut author draws on his life experiences expertly in a work of fiction that often strikes too close to home. It is a folksy, witty and humorous blend of frustration, coming of age, depression, and despair all coming together in a portrayal of humanity at its most raw, most vulnerable and most endearing. There is just the right touch of vulgarity to underscore the essence of reality. And the ghost of Raymond Chandler has been channeled through clever descriptive phrases, such as, ‘tan and robust as a chicken just taken off a rotisserie’ and ‘shame and joy compounded like a credit card balance.’

“While this novel makes liberal, and sometimes specific, reference to the field of mental health, you do not have to be a mental health professional to enjoy and appreciate this peek into the bizarre lives and thoughts of people that you will ultimately feel you know.”

“A splendid description of life in the health care field. This is a refreshing look into the role of psychiatric care in a big medical center. I enjoyed the writing style and am looking forward to reading the next chapter.”

“Got my attention right away.”

“This one made me smile, almost giggle.”

“Great story. I really love it.”

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Chapter 5 – Craig

Izzy had just put his pens and post-it notes away in his new desk when he heard a heavy footfall in the corridor outside the office he was to share with his counseling supervisor, Craig Creek. He spun around in his chair to have a look at the man when he entered. The stranger didn’t see the intern set up behind the door. He went straight for the other desk, a motorcycle helmet, like a disembodied head, tucked under his arm. He placed the helmet on his desk and, with it, a saddlebag containing his appointment book and a brown lunch sack. A long, thin, graying ponytail hung between the Harley and the Davidson of his black leather jacket. In case the stranger was an escaped convict, and not his supervisor, Izzy resolved not to say a word, least he startle him. He was eager to see his face, but the man kept it averted while he took off the jacket, revealing he wore an incongruous business shirt and tie. He had a long, spiked beard and his hands bore crude, prison tattoos that had blurred beyond recognition. Izzy began to think that flight might be his best option, but the stranger was standing near the doorway, over six feet tall, and filled out his shirt better than most. The intern regretted spending so many days of his academic career in the library instead of the gym. He was terrified of the big man and could not find it in him to address him, nor did he know what he could say.

The stranger took his plastic employee badge out of the saddlebag and carefully affixed it to his shirt. So this is my supervisor, thought Izzy.

But then the giant did something so peculiar that it captured the intern’s attention and confirmed to him that the Iroquois Regional Medical Center had hired no man of science here. The supervisor sat in his chair and fumbled in the saddlebag for a well-worn devotional booklet. His thick fingers found the page and he took some time to read, his lips moving like a davening rabbi. At last, he put the booklet down and dug a large coin out of his pants pocket. He examined it for a minute, less like a coin collector and more like a priest holding the host in front of him at the altar. Then he kissed it and put it back in his pocket.

His worship completed, the giant then picked up his helmet and, to put it away, unconsciously reached for the drawer of his filing cabinet, except that the intern had moved it. He paused and began to scan the room, looking for the cabinet. The intern spent this interval deliberating on what to say, but he didn’t have enough time to work out an explanation to a pissed off biker, observed in an intimate moment. The man’s eyes passed right over the intern while looking for the cabinet, then, giving out a grunt of astonishment; the eyes returned right back to him.

The biker shouted, “Who the fuck are you and what the fuck are you doing in my office? Who put that desk here?”

Stammering out something about a college, the intern rose and stepped towards the door, but the man blocked his way and drew back the helmet as if to hit him with it.

The intern shrieked for the office manager, “Melvina, security, anyone, help,”

“Who are you and why are you sitting there watching me?”

At that moment, the door opened and Melvina stood there grinning. Behind her, the whole clinic: Lawrence, Pellegrino, the rappers, everyone, vied for a view of the intern’s mortification. “Tell him to put down that weapon,” he said to Melvina. She laughed and Craig, red faced, located the missing file cabinet, and stashed the helmet away.

The biker slammed the drawer shut and snarled, “What is this, a college kid? I didn’t say I’d work with a college kid. Who the hell are you? And what’re you doing in my office?”

© Keith R Wilson – 2010

This will be the last chapter posted for free.There are, of course, many more chapters to go in the story. It’s really just getting started. The entire novel is available now in print from Amazon.com and from Kindle. It is also available on line from Bookmato.com

Chapter 4 – The Fates

The way Izzy imagined, it was like this:      

It was the type of house that most would avoid. The lawn grown wild, paint chipped off, shutters falling loose, and inhabited by three elderly sisters.  The thunder god, Zeus climbed up to the porch, avoiding a broken step, and rang the bell. It didn’t work, of course, so he knocked. He could see the piles of yarn heaped against the inside of the windows, shutting out the world. At last, he could hear one of the sisters make her way to him from within. The door creaked open.

He had more to fear from the sisters than most, but the time had come when he couldn’t avoid seeing them any longer. There were too many protests and he was expected, as president of the Mt Olympus Neighborhood Association, to confront issues, such as they had with them. Being president was not all parades and beauty pageants; you should know. He’s always understood that, which accounts for his long reign, going on, what, three thousand years. 

The thunder god’s heart tripped a little when he saw a callused hand reach by the jam. Yet, when the door swung open it revealed, not an old crone, but a young woman, pregnant about nine months.

“By Jove, it’s you,” she said, forcing as warm a smile as she could manage. They had a long and close association, and rivalry, back in the old days. They’d fallen out of touch, however. She hadn’t heard that he preferred again to go by Zeus.

“I’m here on official business of the neighborhood association,” he boomed, loud enough to substitute bombast for genuine supremacy.

“Come in then. My sisters are in the back.” She extinguished her smile with a callous scowl.       

“I hope you don’t mind the mess,” she said.

 “As a matter of fact, Chloe, I do mind the mess,” he rumbled. “That’s why I’m here. There’ve been many complaints.”  

She didn’t say a word in reply, but led him down a narrow channel between piles of yarn to the back of the house where the sisters had a workshop. The breeze from their passage and Zeus’ rumbling stirred up clouds of dust that set him to sneezing. Great hurricanes hurried out of his nose, only to stir up more dust, resulting in more sneezing. The god’s mighty blasts might’ve brought the whole house down, solving the neighborhood’s problem, only the piles of yarn must’ve held it up.

“Excuse me,” he sniffed. “Do you have a tissue?”

“No, but you can blow your nose on this,” she said as she handed him a skein of yarn.

He emptied his nose and Chloe took a seat by an old spinning wheel and got it turning. As she produced a fiber, a second sister cut it at varying, arbitrary lengths and a third gathered up each strand into a skein and threw it on a pile

“Chloe, Morticia, Moira,” he declared. “I’m here on official …”

“Yes, we heard. Haven’t we paid our dues?”

“It’s not about that. There’ve been complaints.”

“There are always complaints,” said Morticia as she snipped with her scissors. “We’ve learned to ignore them and do what we think best.”

“Yes, well, there have been complaints, and I happen to agree with them.”

“Go on.”

“Well, for one, you’re violating a zoning ordinance by having a, eh, factory in the middle of a residential area.”

Moira exclaimed, “Everyone agrees they need our services, but no one wants us in their backyard. Well, we’ve got to be somewhere.”

Chloe added, “We’ve been doing this for an eternity and we’ve been doing it right here. While you’re retired, we still have work to do. More work than ever, in fact. There are more people than ever and someone has to do what we do.”

“You don’t have to tell me,” The Cloud Gatherer conceded, “there’s still a need for fate.”

They had agreed, when mortals entered the scene, that someone had to decide when a life should end. Each mortal couldn’t do it for his or her self, they’d all want their lives to go on forever, like the gods’, and there wouldn’t be any room for new people. So Morticia decides. Then, every woman wants a baby, but not everyone can have one. Furthermore, each baby can’t decide what his or her temperament is going to be like because they’re born with their temperament, so Chloe decides. Moira is needed because not everyone can be born in the best places, to the best parents, so she decides their lot in life.

“So, you see,” Chloe continued. “This factory, as you call it, is necessary, whereas your retirement community is not.”

It stung, being superfluous. It seemed that everyone, except for some right-wingers and terrorists, had turned away from the gods. It bothered all the divine on Mt Olympus that they were forced into an early retirement and they knew that The Fate Sisters were behind it.

Zeus admitted, “We’re all probably a little jealous of you, but seeing as though you have so much work, couldn’t you at least relocate? It’s clear you’re running out of room in this facility. You could move to larger, more modern quarters.”

“We can’t afford to,” said Moira. “We have a lot of work, but no one pays us anything anymore. No one believes in The Fates and we don’t get any bribes or reverence. Everyone believes in Free Will, Economic Determinism, Karma, or Grace. They collect the tributes, but we still have to do the work. Go see Genetics; they have more than enough money to fund our expansion. Then we’ll leave your retirement community.”

Being the supreme father of the gods, he knew he wouldn’t get anywhere with Genetics.

He said, “If you have to stay here, at least clean it up. I’ll grant that you don’t make much noise and you don’t pollute the environment, but this place is a firetrap. Look at the mess you make.”

“Fate is messy,” said Chloe. “We can’t help that.”

Fate was messy and had created untold suffering, for which people then blamed the gods. The neighborhood association wouldn’t let Zeus rest until he went to persuade the sisters to take care of the suffering so they could go back to enjoying their retirement.

“Just clean it up as you go. Go through these piles, sort it all out, and make some order out of it. Take up knitting.”

“It wouldn’t be good for us to get too close to our work,” she explained. “We can do what we do only because we are impersonal and don’t know these people.”

The Fate Sisters have never been like the other Olympic gods. Inhuman, impersonal, inaccessible, and compassionless, they’ve been more a machine than spirit, more a bureaucracy than deity. They’ve often been tempted, but they’ve never been worshipped. They never could be worshipped, for they are heartless officials, unmindful of the consequences of their actions.

“In that case, get someone else to do it. Hire a janitor,” Zeus looked around at the mess, “or a whole crew of janitors.”

“I know what we can do,” said Moira. “I’ve been wondering what to do with this pile; none of them seem to fit in anywhere.” She pulled a fragile length of fiber from that pile and held it up. “This one will be a janitor.”

“That piece of string?” he asked. “What can that do?”

“It doesn’t matter what he or she is made of. A person will do anything, put in the right circumstances.”

And so, thought Izzy, the Fates appointed janitors to take care of people and their suffering and get the gods off the hook. Maybe he’d be one of them.

© Keith R Wilson – 2010

Chapter 3 – The Office

At the end of a long trek through the Iroquois Regional Medical Center, the new intern arrived at last at the Behavioral Health wing and called an elevator for the nether world of drug addicts, pushers, and alcoholics. A group of young black men assembled with him, erupting in greetings and handclasps whenever a new one arrived. Izzy shrank away lest he be struck by flying elbows and chucks of gold swinging from their necks. Like most white guys, he had seldom experienced being a minority and, now that the tables were turned, he studied these men and wondered if his awkward limbs could ever move with their grace. Suddenly, it seemed important, when it never seemed important before. At last, the elevator arrived and they stepped in, Izzy among them.

The group quieted in that confined space as they all turned to the door and posed, like actors waiting for the curtain to open. Out of their individual headsets pulsed beats far heavier than any elevator music he’d ever heard. At last, they reached the basement and the door released them. The group bopped out into the waiting area of the outpatient clinic, necks craning and heads bobbing to their beats.

A disapproving, rotund office manager received them as they emerged from the elevator. She ordered the men into the smoking room. “Get a smoke and wait there till your group starts. And hitch up your pants and don’t cause no trouble.” As for Izzy, when he told her he was the new intern, she peered over her glasses and sighed. “You gunna be working with Craig Creek. He not in now. We don’t got no office for you, so I’m gunna have to be squeezing you in with him. You wait a minute, now. I’ll get maintenance to move a desk.”

“No, don’t do that. I’ll wait for him,” said Izzy. No one likes to share an office, he thought, especially when he’s had one to himself. Even married couples that’ve shared a bed, a bathroom, and a supper table, will fight only when they have to share their home office. And people like to be private when they’re counseling. The clients certainly do. No one would want to pour out their troubles with this Craig Creek, or whatever his name was, listening in a few feet away. And, what’s more, any intern would be terribly self-conscious, knowing his nascent attempts at counseling were being monitored by another. Furthermore, it would seem presumptuous to move right into his office on the questionable authority of this office manager. What if he thought it was all Izzy’s idea? That would hardly be a good foot to step off on when introducing himself to a new supervisor.

“It’s a big office and you’ll have lots of room, but suit yourself. He be a minute. Just get some coffee and settle down a bit.”

A call came in then and she answered it, so Izzy looked around for the coffee pot. He figured it would be in the smoking room, so he headed for the door that the jive patrol had passed through. A stinging cloud engulfed him when he opened it. Did the room catch fire from some stray ash? He glanced around for an extinguisher and considered the exit, but the other inhabitants didn’t seem alarmed. One of the black men was chanting hip hop, pants still drooping, while the others draped themselves across chairs and held cigarettes in front of their grins. Overhead, an air purifier ran for dear life.

He found the coffee urn. Sitting near it, a lone ruminating man rolled cigarettes from a yellow pouch he kept on his lap. His fingers were stained the same color as the pouch. Stacked next to him was already a cord or so of rollups and one balanced on his lips.

Izzy was intrigued by the idea of drug addicts and alcoholics. He was a ditherer, he was all about dithering. He spent his whole life orbiting earth, looking for a place to land, whereas these folks shot for the stars. They missed, of course, and many burned up on re-entry, but he admired the addicts’ chutzpah. He, like many, was drawn to wild and mysterious marvels. He thought, the man who wakes up every morning, sick, homeless, and broke and, somehow, finds a way to raise hundreds of dollars for smack should be teaching MBAs at Harvard. While so many others cringe at imagined, never-materializing dangers, the crack whore, against all reason, braves the hazards of the street for a moment of pleasure. Medal of Honor winners should be saluting her. Like many, Izzy loved the very thing that he couldn’t do. Whatever was most unreachable was most desirable. Many would counsel that we accept things as they are. Indeed, recovering addicts make a career out of that saying; abandoning their true nature just as West Indians brought to Spain by Columbus affected Spanish airs.

“How’s the coffee?” Izzy asked the cigarette-rolling man, trying to be sociable, although the man didn’t have a cup.

“It’ll give you nightmares,” he said. Izzy drew a cup anyway, thinking the man looked like he hadn’t slept for a week, and couldn’t know anything about nightmares. With his first sip, he knew the man was right. He clenched his teeth at him to show his agreement. “You come here often?” Izzy asked.

“I have group three days a week, three hours a day.” After a pause, he sniggered, “And I got my three month coin the other day; three days ago. I’m Lawrence.”

It might have been the most beat up room in the medical center, that smoking room. The chairs were battered; the tables rickety and ornamented with coffee rings. Yellowed posters thumb tacked to the wall proclaimed sayings as ill used as the room.

A DRUG IS A DRUG IS A DRUG

YOU CAN’T SAVE YOUR FACE AND YOUR ASS AT THE SAME TIME

EASY DOES IT

ONE DAY AT A TIME

FIRST THINGS FIRST

LET GO AND LET GOD

 A man with a plastic badge and a face full of wrinkles came in, pumped some nicotine into his lungs, snuffed out his cigarette, and called the hip-hop club to group. Izzy asked, “Is that Craig Creek?

“No, that’s Pellegrino. Craig’s got a shit load of tattoos.”

Izzy went out with them and returned to the office manager. He was beginning to feel suspicious of this Craig Creek with a shit load of tattoos. When was he going to be in?

“He be here any minute,” said the office manager. “He called this morning and said he’d be late. He was picking his bike up from repairs.”

His supervisor was a tattooed biker tooling around on his machine in the autumn cold. Izzy thought, he might be prone to hocking up loogies and spitting them in the wastebasket, Izzy could get his head smashed in with a tire iron if his chair squeaked too much.

This was no place for him, he thought. Many drug and alcohol counselors were former addicts themselves, coming in as full-fledged professionals with far less education than he, with ten years of college, already had as an intern. Most chemical dependency clinics preferred to hire their recent graduates, transferring from Hard Knocks University, majors in pill popping, bottle tipping, and stem sucking; to those from more conventional institutions. Izzy was a mere dilettante when it came to fucking himself up.

“Do you have a phone? I’d like to call my professor,” he said to the office manager.

“Sure enough.” She picked up an old dial phone and placed it in front of him. The bell rang when she moved it. They weren’t big on privacy here, he could see.

It took some doing to get his professor on the phone. He had to call three places and they paged him out of class. Izzy said to the phone, “Are there any other internships…. Yeah, I already knew that…. I know, I didn’t make the deadline … It was all you could do to get me this placement…. Yeah, I know I was lucky they took me without having to go on an interview…No I don’t want to wait for next semester…I know; it isn’t too late to take an incomplete…Thank you very much. I’m sorry to, like, bother you. I won’t call again like this…. Yes, I know you have office hours…. I’m sorry I told them I was your son in the emergency room and you almost had a heart attack when they paged you out of class…. Do you have your pills on you?… I’m sure your son is just fine, he’ll, like, live a long life and you’ll have many grandchildren…. No, I didn’t know he just told you he was gay…. I’m sorry, I won’t bother you again, professor. That was totally uncool…. I’m sorry… Yes, I will…. I’m sorry, professor…. Goodbye.”

The office manager was trying to look as though she wasn’t listening when he hung up the phone. He said, “Don’t you have, like, a closet, or something, you could put me in?”

“You come back here with me. I got a room I can put you up in. It’s not big, but it be all yours. “

With that, the good woman went to a door down the hall and vigorously began to haul out reams of paper and boxes of pens while talking non-stop. The supplies, staked up in the hall outside, began to teeter and tumble across the hall. She came near slipping a disk trying to move a heavy shredding machine by herself. Izzy told her to quit, for heaven’s sake; he’d finish clearing it out. He didn’t want her to be hurting herself on his account. So, after grabbing a fistful of post-it notes, she returned, grinning, to her desk and left him imagining his floor plan.

After getting all the supplies out and piling them by the copier, Izzy found that the light was poor, but that could be mended by bringing a desk lamp from home. It could fit a small desk, but he had to put the chair up on the desk to shut the door. There was no room for someone else to sit with him, of course, but he figured he could always steal into an empty room somewhere for an interview or therapy session. However, there was no phone, no computer, and no air circulation to speak of, so he began to think he might be harboring unwarranted preconceptions against this Craig Creek. Consequently, Izzy abandoned the scheme and hauled the supplies back in.

“Ma’am,” he said to the office manager, “I’ve thought this over. I’d like to see Mr Creek’s office.” He had an idea that inspecting his space might give him an idea what to expect from him.

“I can do that. You just follow me, now; I’ll have you there in a minute. And don’t call me ma’am, my name’s Melvina. Craig’s not usually late. He comes right on time, every day, even when he’s sick or it’s snowing like crazy outside. The only time he ever misses work is for his bike. That’s his baby.” She ushered him into a large office, big enough for four biker counselors to fit in with their desks. “You see, it’s a big room. Craig won’t mind.” By the time Izzy turned around from scanning it, she had already disappeared.

There was nothing remarkable at all about the room, except for its unremarkableness. In fact it had the look of an inhabitant that lived so exclusively within his head that he seldom looked around to see where he was or how untidy it had become. Like a bachelor’s apartment that only needs a john to piss in, an armchair to watch the game in, and a refrigerator to keep the beer in, this space was nothing more than space: a spot to write charts and sit in. It’s true that Craig Creek counseled in this space, but the people he counseled were only one half step removed from the street. They slept on a mattress thrown on the floor without even a sheet to cover its loose buttons. They could feel at home in this office, a basement apartment of an office. The greenish desk bore the same coffee rings as the tables in the smoking room and Craig Creek’s desk chair had a missing screw that caused the arm to rotate out like a wing. A bookcase had no books, but was stuffed with papers and loose-leaf binders and a tall filing cabinet proved when they later moved it to make room for his desk, to contain nothing more than a can of coffee. Two dog-eared posters squared off on opposite walls: a twelve-step poster on one wall and Harley-Davidson on the other.

Izzy sat on a side chair in this dingy, windowless office for some time thinking about this bike riding chemical dependency counselor who was assigned to be his role model and his mentor. After thinking some time on that chair, he got up and took off his coat and thought some more. This room was a far cry from the glitz and forced cheerfulness of the medical center lobby, yet both were in the same building. In one wing of this medical center, cancerous tissue was cut out of patients in bright-lighted operating rooms. In another wing, patients were sent for a regular dose of carcinogens before therapy. In one wing, patents were matched with white coated, overeducated doctors. In another wing, the medical center let tattooed bikers have a go at them. How did he end up here? He had dithered, left it up to fate, and he went where they sent him, thinking it was all his idea in the first place.

Chapter 2 – Admissions

Let’s just call him Izzy.

After an eternity in college, changing his major countless times, and running out of money, Izzy had switched his major one final time, to psychology. A counseling internship was required, so he took himself to the Iroquois Regional Medical Center, and started his assignment at the outpatient chemical dependency clinic. 

He left the thin man and his warning and joined a crowd funneled towards an automatic sliding door. It swallowed great mouthfuls of humanity, and transformed them into workers, patients, and visitors. When he came to it, he took a deep breath and stepped inside with the rest. A blast of overheated air assaulted him and a tongue of a carpet runner captured the debris of autumn from his shoes.          

A tri-colored map of The Iroquois Regional Medical Center was fastened to the wall. The Center was a three-block-long Leviathan of interconnected buildings. Outpatient Behavioral Health was at the far end, including the Chemical Dependency Clinic in the basement, and Mental Health a floor above. He had a long walk ahead through a maze of hallways. They called it the behavioral health wing at the Medical Center, but it was really a tail, tacked on as an afterthought. The real business of the Medical Center was in the units leading directly off the lobby. Oncology, Gynecology, Dermatology, Radiology, and the rest were the true medical specialties, having to do with muscles, blood, nerves, and bone. But Izzy had finally made up his mind. He would work in nothing other than psychology. 

Izzy, like many blue-blooded Americans of a post boomer generation, was a natural at psychology. The good war had been won, Vietnam lost, and they put their little flag on the moon and never went back. On the TV news, between the famines and the wars, were advertisements for Prozac and Zoloft. In the courts, criminals who were once placed in the stocks were put in anger-management classes. Schools taught self-esteem alongside trigonometry and biology. As if there were no more churches and clergy, the troubled swarmed to AA meetings and therapists. There were no frontiers anymore except the one within. Instead of going westward, they went inward. Instead of butchering Indians and enslaving Blacks, they blamed their parents and called their shortcomings a disease. Instead of herding cattle across the Texas plains, Izzy, like his peers, kept a journal and rounded up every impulse in a two-toned composition book. It’s what he did for perspective. It was his substitute for the gas, noose, or gun. Just as a Samurai guts himself with his sword, Izzy eviscerated his psyche.

Of course, Izzy didn’t intend to go into therapy as a patient, but as a therapist. Patients have to wait for appointments and cram sixty minutes into a fifty-minute hour. They thumb old magazines in waiting rooms where they worry about who will see them there. They tell their secrets to strangers. They take strong drugs that don’t get them high. They have to pay, rather than be paid.

Therapists, on the other hand, get paid, not well most of the time, but comfortably. They wear nice clothes and sit out of the wind and cold. They give people the same advice that they need, but would not take; nonetheless, they work out all their issues vicariously through their clients. They get to prop up their names with letters after, and, if they’re the right letters, they get to prop the other end with doctor.

Izzy had to resign himself to starting his career as an un-paid intern. Of course, they’d give him the crap jobs and he’d have to make coffee and copies, as if Denny’s moved into Kinko’s and hired him to work the counter. An internship might affront his dignity, accustomed as he was to lording it over the night shift as a security guard, strutting around with a ring full of keys. The transition was particularly keen one, considering that internships were regarded as college courses and full tuition was charged. 

Change is hard, that’s for certain, but doesn’t everyone take a turn as an intern? Even if his nose were up someone’s butt, in time, someone else’s nose would be up his until they all form a long, hunched over train. There’s always some small satisfaction in that.

Izzy might’ve stopped at the gift shop to pick up a greeting card for his new supervisor to start things off on the right foot, but there were none appropriate, nor any suitable Mylar balloons to tie to his desk. There was a shortage of optimism at the medical center, and so he passed by the store, thinking the college cheerleaders should be on hand for the start of new internships.

In the first corridor, instead of a row of short-skirted, pompomed lovelies, a gauntlet of grim portraits of the board of directors guarded the passageway. They looked as though they could use a greeting card or a Mylar balloon more than most. It was as if they proclaimed, as he passed by:

“The Iroquois Regional Medical Center is a 300-bed health care provider serving the four county Finger Lakes area of New York State. We are fully accredited by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals and Health Care Organizations. A wide range of specialty programs and services, both inpatient and outpatient, are available at the Medical Center.”

“The Iroquois Regional Medical Center was recently purchased, with five others in the state, by Medco, a for-profit medical service corporation, based in Scottsdale, Arizona. We will continue to operate as a physician-focused, comprehensive provider, striving to provide optimal satisfaction to an urban, suburban, and rural area. Our pledge is not only to continue to provide you with the service and support you’ve come to expect, but also to bring additional value-added opportunities for all.”

“We are pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Benjamin Ahern as Director of Behavioral Health. Dr. Ahern is a leading figure in the field of psychology and the author of many important books.”

Izzy hastened away from the stares of The Board. His eyes glazed over by their proclamations, he got lost, crashed through a set of swinging doors, and found himself in ICU.

ICU seemed like an electronics store for all the monitors mounted by the nurses’ station. Surrounding it, the patients slept in their rooms, crowded with machines that hovered around their beds like anxious visitors. Izzy stepped up to the counter, populated by a squad of preoccupied medics huddled around a chart. Each wore a stethoscope around her neck like a rubber and stainless steel scarf. The intern stood open-mouthed and studied a monitor. Portentous line graphs raced across the screen, jumping at intervals like a heat of Olympic hurdlers.

There was sublimity about those line graphs that froze him. They were clearly labeled blood oxygen, heart rate, and so forth, but he knew they signified much more. It was as if they’d drilled a hole and installed a peephole in the locker room of the Fate sisters and he was watching them undress in front of him.

He would’ve liked to stay there until he had captured the meaning of those line graphs. If he could not determine fate, then at least he could understand it, and, if he couldn’t understand it, then he could clean up after it. Go on, he said to himself, get out of ICU. You’re blocking the way with your humanities degree. They only want high GPAs working here. He turned, without needing to consult a map, down the darker, less urgent hallways, for there, without doubt, would he find the chemical dependency clinic.

Chapter 1 – The Forecast

“You with Behavioral Health?”       

The question came from a thin man lurking near the entrance of the Iroquois Regional Medical Center. He held a quivering a jumbo coffee cup of the same approximant diameter as his body.

“I said, you with Behavioral Health?” repeated the man, who, himself, clearly belonged in the upper floor of the Behavioral Health wing: the mental health unit. But he was no staff member. That was for sure. 

“I’m… I’m an intern. I’m supposed to start today.”

“Did they take away your soul yet?” he said as he quivered his cup to his lips.

“My soul?”

“Eh, maybe you don’t have one. It don’t matter; you can’t lose what you don’t have. Staff in Behavioral Health don’t have a soul. They’re better off without it. It’s useless, anyway. Especially when all you do is categorize and control people.” 

“I’m sorry, I’ve got to get going.”

“Wait,” he said, placing his bony free hand upon the intern. “Have you seen Dr Ahern?”

“Dr Ahern? What Dr Ahern?”

“Dr Ahern, the new Director of Behavioral Health; Dr Ahern, the famous psychologist; Dr Ahern, the former professor. Your new boss.”

“Oh, yeah, Dr Ahern. No, I haven’t met him, but I read his books in school. It’s pretty cool he’s here.”

“Oh, yeah, it’s cool, all right. But you know he’s touched? His university shit-canned his whole department. His wife dumped him. Then he tried to commit suicide, but the bullet missed. Now he’s coming to work for The Man.”

“I’m sure none of that matters. He’s a good doctor and he knows psychology; he can help a lot of people.”

“You pretty sure of that, aren’t you? He won’t be taking you down with him when he goes nuts?”

“No, I’m not worried about that.”

“Well, I guess you know what you’re doing. Lots of luck. I suppose someone’s got to go down with him, and if it’s not you, it’ll just be someone else like you.”

“Hey, you know, you can come with me, and we can, like, go over to Behavioral Health and, like, get your meds adjusted. I’m an intern there. I’m sure they’ll see you right away if I tell them what’s wrong.”

“You’re perfect for the job. You’re already talking just like them. Categorize and control, that’s what it’s all about,” he said as he turned away. “Go categorize and control.”