from within the asylum

As I walk around this place I’m reminded of the advice and mentorship given by my friend: Just realize that I’m surrounded by mental patients, and my only role is really that of the orderly. At first this seems like an odd model for one on a university campus, but quickly — almost immediately — I realize that it’s exactly fitting. There are some examples that are small:

  • the colleague who wanders around the halls, making conversation while flossing his teeth
  • the woman at the counter of the credit union on campus looks like Joan Cusack, similar to the role in Grosse Point Blank. For some reason I have an image of her pouring gasoline all over the place as she’s getting ready to close up the shop for good.
  • the work-study student who came by last week to pick up some books for some faculty. This information I got from him only after asking a series of challenging questions, such as “how many?” and “for whom?” He was mostly at a loss, and could only look at a piece of paper and scratch his head, and then look back up at me, mute. His department? Communications.
  • In the hallway outside my office there is a ladder that has been leaning on the wall for over a week now. The ladder was actually an improvement, the sure sign of progress being made on an overhead door and some valves and tubes within. Previous to this there was a garden hose hanging from the innards, extended into a waste paper can. Was this someone’s idea of a backup plan, or was it meant to be the repair itself? At any rate, we’re always nervous to suggest too much action from facilities management people, because of that one time that resulted in the Great Flood of 2006. I’ll take the ladder and the garden hose any day.

But then there are those bigger instances, and they hit my funny bone at the most salient moments. Today, in a one-on-one meeting, I began wondering why we were having this discussion in the first place. Then, it crossed my mind that the person across the desk from me might be fun to diagnose. The thought came completely on its own, but it triggered the mental ward imagery. This calmed and entertained me, and I hoped that my grin was interpreted as thoughtful rather than personal, impolite amusement. As certain rhetorical phrasings were repeated, specific hand gestures reinvoked, I began to view myself as the caring attendant, nodding pleasantly with a knowing smile. This entry just serves as the notes I, the orderly, can leave on the patient’s clipboard. “Waves hands and leans back in chair while staring into the distance and repeating phrase ‘suffice it to say’. Friendly and non-threatening; no need for restraints.”


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