I buy a soda from a vending machine in the staff area, return to Shangri
La, and then let myself out of the hospital through locked double doors
at the far end of the bullpen that open onto a patio with a stone bench
and a pleasant view of a meadow where a flock of wild geese have taken
up residence. 1 light a cigarette, try to clear my mind to think about
just what I want to write about when I summon up enough energy to start
writing. I must, of course, describe the children's hospital and its
patient population as well as the Alternate School Program and my role
as its head, but all that comes to mind is Dora.
The problem with writing about Dora, our meeting and our marriage, is
to find words to capture the experience without making myself and the
situation appear totally ridiculous. I suppose I could begin by
describing her as the strongest and healthiest of the bunch that was her
hopelessly dysfunctional family. Or I could approach a description of
that time of my life from a more oblique angle, writing about her older
brother, Andy, and his self-destructive efforts to free himself from
that family. The black hole he'd created around himself had finally
sucked my son into its maw, and Alan had never found his way back. A
link between past and present is that I have spent so much of my life,
sometimes earning a living as I am now, swimming in strong, treacherous
currents of madness.
I don't recall how or why Andy and I became friends, but it probably
had something to do with the fact that we both detested Bertha, his
mother. Also, for some unfathomable reason, I was simply not afraid of
him, as most people who knew him were. That may have led to a mutual
respect and the fact that we enjoyed each other's company. After Dora
and I moved to Rockland County, Andy often came to visit.
Unlike Dora's younger brother, who'd once fired a rifle in the house
and narrowly missed our infant son, Andy was intelligent, perhaps highly
so. He was also artistic, but the only way he was able to express his
talent was by copying other people's work, usually calendar art. Had
Andy been sent to a facility like Little Ark when he was a child he
would probably have been diagnosed and coded as displaying Oppositional
Defiant Disorder. He was most certainly a sociopath, with no conscience
but with the ability to con just about anyone, from the women he
persuaded to pose for the pornography that got him in trouble with the
law at an early age to the succession of employers who gave him
high-paying jobs based upon the false resumes and manufactured degrees
and other documents he was so good at producing. Andy, who used a number
of aliases, was fearless, dangerous and reckless, routinely driving at
speeds approaching a hundred miles an hour no matter where he was going.
I recall the period when Andy, using a pseudonym and one of his
fictional resumes, was working as a top designer for Jantzen Sportswear
in New York, and he would visit his sister and me on weekends. As often
as not, he, my oldest friend Will Nichols and I would go out drinking on
Friday or Saturday night, and sometimes both.
In one bar on a Friday night at closing time Andy was in a foul mood,
having failed to go home to bed with a woman for whom he had been buying
drinks all evening and who had slipped out a rear exit after telling
Andy she was going to the toilet. Earlier in the evening a fight had
broken out between a drunk who looked to weigh upwards of 300 pounds and
a lighter, quicker man. The drunk had first been decked, breaking a
table in two as he had fallen backward over it, and then ejected from
the bar by two bouncers. When we left we found the drunk in the parking
lot, determinedly waiting to begin round two. The man had torn the
passenger's side door off a car, presumably one belonging to the man he
had fought earlier, and was sitting sideways on the front seat, his face
illuminated by the car's interior light, his feet resting in a mud
puddle. He glared at us as we passed by, squinting in the dimly lighted
parking lot to try to determine if one of us might be his intended
We were using Andy's car, and as we approached the parking lot exit the
drunk suddenly lurched into our path, shielding his eyes against the
glare of the headlights as he tried to see who was inside. It would have
been a simple matter for Andy to back up, then pull around the man, but
instead Andy rolled down his window and said something I couldn't hear
as the drunk stumbled around the side of the car. The man's hammy fist
shot through the open window and glanced off the side of Andy's head.
Instantly Andy, who was half his opponent's size, was out of the car and
all over the man who had hit him, punching and kicking the man,
screaming, "My drill sergeant taught me to kill! My drill sergeant
taught me to kill!"
The drunk buckled to his knees under the rain of blows and kicks, and
then toppled face forward into a mud puddle. Andy, still screaming that
his drill sergeant had taught him to kill, proceeded to try to kill the
man, jumping on his back and pressing his face into the mud. I finally
managed to pull him off and drag him back to the car, and we drove off.
Andy gradually calmed down, and after about ten minutes I exchanged
worried glances with the ashen-faced Will. I asked Andy if perhaps we
shouldn't go back; we had left an unconscious man face down in a mud
puddle, and he could be dead. Andy's response was to laugh and ask who
cared, but I insisted. We passed no ambulances or police cars on the way
back, and I felt a considerable sense of relief when we found the bar's
parking lot where we had left the man dark and empty.
On another occasion, in a crowded bar, Will and I had lost contact with
Andy as he pursued various women in one room and we drifted off into
another. When we went looking for him two hours later, our bellies
bloated with beer and our heads swimming, we learned he'd been arrested
a half hour earlier when Andy had told the cop who had come into the bar
looking for the owner of the red Thunderbird parked by the fireplug
outside that it was his car and the cop could go fuck himself.
Will and I had walked the streets for an hour, trying to sober up
enough to present a respectable appearance and not slur our speech when
we went to the local police station to try to arrange for Andy's bail.
When we did finally enter the station house, Andy was not there; we
learned he'd been released with a warning after he had identified
himself as a New York City detective and flashed a very
authentic-looking gold NYPD badge.