Monday, April 10, 2017

Day 12--Sleeping with Psychotics

“Now then, I have no time for folderol. I’m almost criminally busy with the vexing problem of Schubert. In fact, I am, as a coworker from the south side of Chicago once told me, busier than a cat covering up shit. So I have no time to put you into my blog today. Sorry, but that’s how it is!”

The ever-absent Lady, who is never and always around, recoiled in horror.

“No, I didn’t,” she said. “Anyway, why does it always have to be horror from which we recoil? Why can’t we recoil from sin? Or recoil in ecstasy? Anyway, that’s hardly the point. Where have you been?”

“Sleeping with psychotics,” I told her. “If you must know….”

“What! Marc, you’re a married man!”

“The circumstances were unusual,” I told her, “starting five days earlier, when I was strip-searched, and then bidden to squat with my butt touching my ankles. Then I had to stretch my arms out, close my eyes, and cough. Unremarkably, I performed this task superbly, though no videographic evidence exists to attest to the fact. True, it may not have been YouTube-worthy, but at least Instogram....”

“You know, Marc, you couldn’t be normal, because what would you write about?”

“I wonder about it, sometimes. I imagine that there is a huge bronze Buddha, somewhere hidden deep in the jungles of Southeast Asia. The lucky or accursed chosen who stumble upon it get to rub the Buddha’s stomach, and their wish is granted. Would I trek to find the Buddha? And would I wish to be normal?”

“Well, if it meant not having to sleep with psychotics….”

“True,” I said. “Though I was gently initiated into the whole affair. My first psychotic—sorry, but I do feel possessive towards them—was accompanied by a male orderly. So as I was lulled to sleep by the siren or sirens of two milligrams of Ativan—perhaps the most compelling reason to believe that God exists—the orderly quite courteously shepherded the lunatic away from me. (He tended to like hovering over my bed, being given to strange sights, things invisible to see….)”

“Ah, the majestic words of John Donne,” Lady remarked, “and did you ride ten thousand days and nights….”

“Sure felt like it,” I told her. “Anyway, when the orderly showed signs of fatiguing, and the madman showed signs of very much not fatiguing, I gently excused myself, and went to sleep in the seclusion room.”

“You slept in seclusion!”

“The best room in the hotel,” I told her. “It was quite secure and yet unlocked. It was sort of like having a pied-a-terre in Paris. Anyway, that only lasted a couple of nights, and then they kicked me out. So I had to go back to a regular room—nothing lasts forever, my dear—but fortunately, I didn’t have a roommate. Until the last night.”

“Marc, honey….”

“That’s when José Miguel arrived, fresh from another institution. So there he was, but where were the transfer papers? Where was his medical and especially psychiatric history? And what medicines was he disposed to take?”

“Don’t tell me nobody….”

“These little things happen,” I told her. “But fortunately, José Miguel stopped speaking Gibberish (the native tongue of Gibber) and pleaded, in clenched Spanish, for 40 milligrams of Haldol!”

“Why is it, Marc, that every statement of yours arouses at least three questions? In what way was his Spanish clenched?”

“There’s a kind of lockjaw that accompanies high doses of antipsychotics,” I told her. “I’ve forgotten the name of it, but I remember it from my old nursing days. Anyway, what I did remember was…”


“…that the normal dose of Haldol is 5 milligrams.”

“What! And he was on 40?”

“Yup! Oh, and he was also on mega-overdoses of an anti-depressive. So there I was, wondering which would manifest itself if he were to remain untreated. I was voting, of course, for the depression.”

“Rather uncharitable of you…”

“Would you have preferred psychosis?”

“Well, you do have a point….”

“Anyway, the nurse knew just what to do, and scurried off. And then she came back yielding a medicine cup, the contents of which were…”

“Sing it to me.”

“…two Benadryl! Yup, she was feeding the equivalent of Nyquil PM to a madman! Well, you could have cut the sense of relief with a machete!”

“And so you retired to the lure of seclusion?”

“Nah, by this time the madman and I had made friends. He had lived and worked for seven years in New Jersey, which may have been a worse fate than requiring 40 mgs of Haldol, and however much of the anti-depressive. Anyway, I was supposed to be de-institutionalized in the morning, so I decided to chance it. And indeed, the magic of Benadryl prevailed once again! I think of doing a little testimonial for them. Or perhaps it was just my soporific company. Anyway, the next morning did indeed come, and Mr. Fernández came and collected me. See? I’ve lived once again to hear mermaids singing…”

“You certainly are doing Donne today….”

“Did, doing, Donne,” I told her. “Whoever heard of a poet who was also a principal part? Anyway, that was so last week. Moving forward, as we used to say in corporate America, what’s to be done—or Donne—with Franz Schubert?”

“Must anything be…whatever?”

“Certainly,” I told her. “The failure to act on Schubert is a principal cause of the malaise—always like them Frenchie words—of cultural America.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Well, first of all, there’s an incredible amount of music that the guy wrote. Here I am, struggling along on day 12 of a book, but Schubert managed, in the course of fifteen or twenty productive years, to write over 800 songs, nine symphonies, two major song cycles, fourteen or fifteen string quartets, and I don’t know how many piano sonatas. Amazing, when you think of it….”

“Noted,” said Lady, busy not being there.

“And then there’s the fact that we tend to think of him as a cheerful, filled-with-sunshine composer. Maybe because he could certainly write a pretty tune. But really, Schubert is dark, dark. Beethoven could be sobbing away, at times, but he was always essentially normal. And when he wasn’t sobbing, he was shaking his fist, or raising his finger, or doing something healthy. And even Schumann—who is probably our next problem, dammit—is healthier than Schubert. And given that Schumann had his mind rotted out with syphilis, threw himself into the Rhine, and then begged to be taken to the madhouse….”

“Marc, dear, have you considered that, well, it may be just a bit unhealthy to listen to all this stuff? Have you thought of heavy metal?”

“A serious point. Anyway, Schumann’s later works can be a little extreme, to say the least. But Schubert, to me at least, goes from being absolutely paradisiacal to…well, omnicidal.”


“You know, homicidal / suicidal / fratricidal / genocidal….”

“That violent?”

“At times, yes,” I told her. “I recently listened to the slow movement of his next to last piano sonata—your Internet is sloughing off today, so I can’t tell you which—and the middle section reminded of nothing so much as an autistic child banging away at an open piano. It was completely wild, weird, and unsettling. I listened to it with my jaw sweeping the floor and thought, ‘and this is the guy who wrote the Unfinished Symphony?’”

“I don’t suppose it was syphilis?”

“It almost certainly was, and by the way, has anybody ever written a treatise of the relationship between syphilis and creativity? Damn, I wish your Internet would come back!”

“Now, now,” said Lady.

“Then, then,” I responded, “so here we have this pudgy little Viennese guy, who was never married but deeply loved by his friends. Which leads to the speculation, of course…”

“Of course.”

“Well, probably only his hairdresser knew. Anyway, his work is as amazing as it is unfathomable. Sorry, but that’s just me….”

“So how did you come across Schubert?”

“Well, I was young, fifteen or so, and had already begun my war with the cello.”

“You had a war with the cello?”

“For decades,” I told her. “It was a witch’s cauldron, boiling and spewing, that got poured down onto me and the cello. I was gay and didn’t know it. Or perhaps I did know it, but couldn’t believe it was happening to me. Or rather, it was never going to happen to me. Am I making sense?”

“Utterly not.”

“That’s how it was in those days.  Well, and then I had a cello teacher whose train was substantially larger than mine, and was coming down the track at considerable speed. And right toward me….”


“He emphasized technique, emotional restraint, and an intellectual approach to playing. And of course I had NO technique, and wanted to play pieces that were way beyond me. He was a great teacher for young, female cellists who wanted to be music teachers. But for a young, gay-male, hyper-confused kid who wanted to be the next Rostropovich? He came down hard, and suggested that if I ever shaped up, I might get into a grade B orchestra. You know, something like the Dade County Symphony….”

“Dade County has a symphony?”

“No—so that’s how bad I was. Or he thought I was. Or I thought he thought I was. Did I mention that it was a rather confused time of my life?”

“Might that be why you sleep so well with psychotics?”

“Very likely so. Anyway, I was sent off to a music camp, and part of that was chamber music. Meaning music played by two to ten other musicians. So there I was, with four other guys, and there the music was: Schubert Quintet in C Major. Do you know, there may be a god after all? Because I thought it would be the simplest, easiest affair—nothing more than doing plink plunk plunk, plink plunk plunk for forty minutes or so. But it was nothing like that at all….”

“Do you plink plunk plunk well?”

“All cellists do,” I said. “Anyway, we tottered off at the beginning, stumbled—most of us—to letter A…”

“What’s all that about?”

“Well, in the likely event that all of the musician are not gods, at some point you’re going to have to stop and regroup. So sheet music comes sectioned off into A / B / C, etc. Anyway, we lurched onto letter B, which is when the clouds parted, and the beaming, benevolent face of god appeared, sending his choirs of angels to caress benisons upon us all.”

“Letter B was that good?”

“Letter B was unimaginatively good. And the rest of the movement was as well. And then the second movement? Well, Arthur Rubenstein wanted it played at his funeral, and he was a pianist, dammit. So he passed over the entire piano repertoire and chose this piece. Anyway, at a certain point, a man who became a second father to me—well, one of my many second fathers: I’m lucky that way—strolled into the room. And he told us that the quintet was from that last, amazing year, and he told us the story of—I think—Dame Myra Hess. And she had said about Schubert and that horrible / heavenly year, ‘he knew he was sick, he knew he was dying, and I know he knew what heaven was….’”

“That beautiful?”

“Shall we?” I said, and the great C Major quintet filled the air….


(The actual music starts eight minutes into this clip. But Joel Krosnick's introduction is superb. In fact, had I heard it before writing the post, it could have saved me a morning's work....)