PRISM, Volume 1, Part 4
PRISM, Volume 1, Part 4
Dangerous Dwarf Proudly Presents
George C. Chesbro's
PRISM: A Memoir as Fiction
Volume One: "Dark Engine"

Published by Apache Beach Publications

Click here to purchase Prism

Copyright © 2001 by George C. Chesbro. All rights reserved.
Reprinted here with by permission of the author.

Installment #4

Ah, yes. My class. My News of the Day. My prism.

I arrived at the hospital at 7:30 this morning, and at 8:20 1 hear the harsh click of the lock on the door at the end of the corridor running outside this classroom and the adjacent "activities room" connected to it. I step out into the "bullpen" to see who is first up from the cottages. It is Roy, my baby-faced, blue-eyed, blond, infantile, horribly sexually abused, homicidal 14-year-old. Roy breaks free from his female aide and comes running toward me; Roy spends a good part of his day running from one place to another, and getting nowhere. I stop him just outside the door to the classroom and point to a poster I have taped to the wall. The poster depicts 64 cartoon faces displaying various emotions that are labeled. I ask him to point to the face that shows how he is feeling at that moment. Roy grins broadly and points to the "aggressive" face. I ask him what else he is feeling. Still grinning, he points to the "angry" face. I instruct him to take out his green, level C sheet, and I award him 50 points for "expressing his feelings"---Roy's Target Skill for the day.

Helma, my pudgy, very bright, suicidal "eater" who is now perilously close to the age of 18, when, unless she makes some serious alterations in her behavior patterns, she will be transferred to Big Ark, is next up. I am particularly pleased that Helma has been allowed, and is willing, to come to class on this first day of the summer session, because her record indicates that she has spent the last two weeks "on the cottage," most of the time in isolation and under constant observation, because of persistent self-abuse. However, she is now off Special Precautions and carries a white, level A PEM sheet. I ask her to point to the face or faces on the poster that mirror her feelings, and she indicates "sad" and "anxious." I award her 50 points for "expressing her feelings," also Helma's Target Skill for the day.

Lance and Adam, my two most explosive and dangerous students, arrive next, accompanied by "Mr. G," a six-foot, six-inch Therapy Aide who once played semi-pro basketball and who has worked at Little Ark for 30 years. I am not at all displeased that the looming, good-natured but very tough Mr. G is one of the two Therapy Aides assigned to my class that morning.

Both Lance and Adam indicate that they are feeling "angry." I ask them if they know why they are feeling angry, but neither is able---or unwilling---to explain. Lance refuses to carry a PEM sheet, one of several reasons he is usually on Special Precautions, but I award Adam 50 points to mark on his green sheet.

When Jessica fails to show up, I call her residence and am told that she is being kept on the cottage, under Special Precautions, after being up all night banging on walls and screaming at the other girls and the night staff.

At 8:30, Ken Goldstein, the Social Studies teacher, arrives to teach the first formal class of the day. I know Ken from my previous stints of substitute teaching here in Little Ark, and I consider him a friend. I also consider him the best teacher of severely disturbed children I have ever met, a master of misdirection ("What's that green stuff running out of your ears?" he once calmly and with great sincerity inquired of a patient who was threatening him with a knife smuggled into the hospital), and the man who taught me the difference between neurotics and psychotics: Neurotics merely talk to trees, while psychotics receive lengthy answers and detailed instructions for behavior. Ken is a talented folk singer and photographer, and it is his portrait of me that adorns the dust jackets of my last five novels. Ken is emotionally troubled himself, and frequently masks his pain with an acerbic manner, acid wit, and cruel practical jokes on his co-workers. He has been in therapy for years. He is in his mid-40's, into his second marriage, and has no children of his own. He once remarked to me that he would never bring children into this miserable world.

With my Alternate School Program students, Ken teaches from the tabloids, primarily the New York Post. He gathers the children around him, then goes through the bizarre and blaring headline stories of the day, expertly using them to make points about everything from basic life survival skills to personal hygiene to sex education. The last ten minutes are devoted to a "Mr. Know-It-All" session, with Ken, who has a broad grasp of a great many subjects, seriously addressing any question, whether about making babies or bowel gas, a student may have. The class goes very well, with Ken weaving his usual spell that keeps all four students attentive and participating. When he is finished he awards each child 100 PEM points for successful participation, and I award them an extra 50 for courtesy and good behavior.

The next class, English, is taught by Kelly Henson, an attractive young woman in her 20's who has an unfortunate history of relationships with abusive men. Like Ken, Kelly is an exceptional teacher. This class also goes well, and Kelly even gets Lance, who is at best usually sullenly reclusive when he is not exploding in rage, to read aloud. Again, PEM points are generously awarded.

The class before lunch is the responsibility of the Occupational Education staff. The OE therapist and two burly male aides arrive and take the students into the adjacent room. I remain at my desk and try to work in my journal, but I find myself thinking of the dirty books I had been hired to write after answering an ad for "writers of adult novels" in the newspaper.

Two hundred dollars a book. Each book was to be two hundred pages, no more and no less, triple-spaced. It didn't much matter what the subject was, as long as it was sufficiently pornographic. That was fine with me, since it didn't much matter to me what I wrote as long as I got paid for it. I found the work amusing. I constructed each manuscript as a psychiatrist's "case book"---ten cases, each twenty pages long, equaled two hundred pages. Voila. I wrote books with themes of straight sex, bestiality, and various other fetishes. My publisher was most pleased with my output, and he specifically asked me to write my next book on the theme of sex with children. That did not amuse me, so I quit.

In the meantime, it appeared that, at long last, my first novel would be published. It was an "experimental novel" titled Potpourri in Mixed Media, and consisted of sections written as a screenplay, straight narrative, a stage play, "live dialogue" among patrons in a theater lobby between acts of the work, and various other literary devices. I considered it all devilishly clever, and was most pleased that my writing genius was about to be recognized. The publishing house was a small company that called itself Abyss. There was to be no advance against royalties, but I didn't really care; it was enough that I was about to become a published novelist. Indeed, I was so elated and confident that I gave my only copy to another pornographer for whom I had been ghostwriting "marriage manuals" which were supposedly written by doctors who were marriage experts, and who were paid fifty dollars for the use of their picture and name. It had been my hope that the man might be able to find financing for a film or stage play based on the novel after it was published.

Four months after Potpourri had been accepted for publication, and three months after I had stopped writing "marriage manuals," I received a letter from the Editor-in-Chief of Abyss.

Dear Garth Fugue,

There have been a few changes with Abyss and I just want to make sure you are aware of them. Lionel Campbell is no longer with us. He has left Abyss for other interests. He did provoke one major catastrophe which involves you and the catastrophe was an accident. Lionel had the copy of your manuscript and one day he went out and bought a German Shepherd puppy . . . he kept the puppy locked in his study whenever he had to go to work and as a result the damn dog literally ate the entire manuscript of Potpourri, leaving only a small portion of the outer cover as evidence of his defiant act.

Secondly, our finances have been dwindling since we made this move and I'll have to reconsider Potpourri from this perspective if you wish to entrust me with another copy of the manuscript. Will then await word from you on these matters.

My parents live near you, and if I'm in the area (I may be there within the next month) I'll try and look you up.


Gerard Blaine


The first thing I did was pour myself half a tumbler of Scotch, which I drained in two gulps. The second thing I did was pick up the phone and dial the number of the man to whom I had given the only copy of my precious manuscript.

"We are sorry," a recorded voice announced. "This number has been changed, and the current number is unlisted."

If he's in the area he'll try and look me up?

Jesus Christ.

I downed another half tumbler of Scotch and dialed the Operator. "Hello," I said. "I'm an author, and a dog ate my manuscript. The person who has the only copy now has an unlisted number. Can you give it to me?"

No, he couldn't, but he was sympathetic to my plight and would connect me to his supervisor.

I finished the bottle of Scotch while I waited to be connected to the Operator's supervisor. A fucking dog ate my fucking manuscript. His fucking finances were dwindling, and he'd have to fucking reconsider publishing my fucking novel if I wanted to send him another fucking copy.

Jesus H. fucking Christ.

"Hello," I said to the supervisor when she came on the line. "I'm an author and a dog ate my fu... my manuscript. The person who has the only copy now has an unlisted number. Could you give it to me?"

No, she couldn't give me the number either, but she was also sympathetic to my plight and would connect me to her supervisor.

And so it went, with my speech becoming increasingly slurred, on up the chain of supervisors until finally the Supervisor of All Supervisors did give me the phone number of one of the man's neighbors. I called the neighbor and somehow managed to drunkenly explain my problem. The neighbor contacted the man, who eventually sent back the manuscript. Potpourri in Mixed Media was never published, which was a blessing since, many years later when I finally learned how to write, I came to realize how bad it was and what a horrible embarrassment it would have been to me when I did start to publish novels, and would still be even now as I sit here in Little Ark trying to make some sense of my life and think of something to write about.

At lunchtime my students are escorted back to their cottages by the aides. I skim my New York Time, then lie down on a table in the back of the room, close my eyes and try to sleep. It is only the middle of the day, but I am exhausted. I know I should be continuing to try to write something, anything, down, but I cannot. I marvel when I think of how once I could force myself to write four hours a day while holding down a steady teaching job, but those days and that energy level---and perhaps the fire---are long gone. I was in my 20's then, and now I'm approaching 60.

I hear the door at the end of the bullpen open, and then the familiar, and always exciting, click of high heels on the tile. I sit up as Dorothy, my ex-lover and now my boss, enters the room. Dorothy is my age, with dark eyes and dark hair liberally streaked with gray. Dorothy perhaps understands me and my demons best. She loved me once, and perhaps still does. I once told her, and she understood, that my main challenge in life was to finally become free---by which I meant that I would one day have the power and clear-headedness to make decisions that were plainly in my self interest, and not just rationalizations for going ahead and doing what I wanted to do, despite the consequences. If I had been free when I was in college, I never would have become involved with Dora. I will be free when I no longer need to write in order to feel whole and at one with the world. I don't believe that time has arrived yet.

Like her mother, Dorothy is a chronic depressive. She went through most of her life in a state of despair that she thought was normal. She once explained to me that the only reason she had not killed herself years ago was because of her three children. Dorothy, always reluctant to take so much as an aspirin, was finally persuaded by her internist to try Prozac, which she now swears by. She says she no longer wakes up each morning knowing that her day will be a forced march into deepening darkness. But for 56 years she survived that daily march. Dorothy is the most courageous woman I have ever met.

She has stopped by to see how the morning went, and I tell her I'm doing---or at least think I'm doing---fine. Any tension or bitterness that existed between us after I broke off our relationship has passed, and now we are the best of friends. If it were not for Dorothy, who hired me, I would probably be spending this summer sweeping floors, perhaps tending bar if I got lucky, washing dishes, or working as a night watchman again. We chat easily until my students are brought back up from the cottages.

After lunch on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays it is my responsibility to teach a class on "conflict resolution." There is a prescribed procedure in the Boys Town PEM for doing this, but I have decided I will use this time for my own purposes, mainly to focus each student's attention on the terms of his or her contract and discuss what progress, if any, is being made toward fulfilling the terms of that contract. Neither of the two aides permanently assigned to my class have shown up, but I am not particularly concerned that I may need help; after the morning session, I feel as if I am in control of the class.

I begin by drawing concentric circles on the blackboard, a small one inside a much larger one. The small circle I label Shangri La, and the large one Little Ark. Outside both circles, in capital letters, I write, A WHOPPER AND FRIES TO GO. I tell my students that I have no idea what crises and pressures brought them to the hospital, but I know precisely why they've landed with me in Shangri La. I explain why I consider mine the easiest job in the facility; it is the responsibility of the other teachers, doctors, nurses and therapists to prepare them to leave Little Ark and return to their lives outside, a very complex task, while all I have to do is help them to follow the terms of their contracts so that they can return to the regular program and regain the privileges, status and pride they may have lost when they were sent here. I then proceed to review the terms of each child's contract.

The session goes well, and I am pleased. I reward them by ending class fifteen minutes early and giving them time on the class computer, which is kept in a locked anteroom. Lots are drawn to see who will go first, and Helma wins. While I am unlocking the door to the computer room, Roy says something to Adam which I do not hear. Instantly, Adam, who outweighs the hapless Roy by at least 50 pounds, is on his feet, thrusting out his chest like an enraged gorilla and balling his fists as he advances on his tormentor. I jump between them and try to calm Adam as Roy scurries behind my back. Adam picks up a desk and hurls it across the room, bouncing it off one of the classroom's supposedly unbreakable Plexiglas windows. I immediately call a "5-second drill," meaning the other students will automatically earn 200 points if they leave the scene immediately. The other 3 children rush out into the bullpen as Adam throws another desk, narrowly missing the television set in the room. I rush to one of the two phones in the area, dial the 2-digit number activating the PA system throughout the hospital, and call for a Crisis Intervention Team. A little less than two minutes later, with Adam continuing to throw desks as he lumbers around the room, I hear the door at the end of the bullpen slam open. A moment later the CIT---two burly Therapy Aides and a male nurse---burst into the room and immediately head for Adam, surrounding him. One man wraps his arms around Adam, pinning the boy's arms to his sides, while another presses both hands to Adam's chest. Adam immediately protests to the nurse, who is preparing a hypodermic needle with Thorazine, that he is all right now and will stop throwing desks. The nurse nods, and tells Adam that he will not be taken down and given a shot if he can indeed calm down on his own. Adam closes his eyes and takes a series of deep breaths, and the tension in him seems to ease. He is asked if he would like to walk back to the cottage on his own and take extra meds orally to help keep himself under control. Adam indicates that he would prefer that option, and he is escorted out of the room, down the bullpen, and out of Shangri La. A short time later, fifteen minutes before the school day ends in the regular program, I help the other three children record their 200 bonus points, then escort them back to their cottages. Then I head back to my room to try to dredge up enough energy to write something about the day before it is time to walk up to Big Ark to catch my bus.

As a matter of fact, despite his violent outburst I am encouraged by what happened with Adam. To me, the significance of the event is not that Adam erupted---after all, that's the reason he's in Shangri La in the first place. What matters to me is that Adam was able to bring himself back under control; in the past, almost invariably, his explosive rage would have been uncontrollable, and would of necessity have led to his being wrestled to the floor and restrained while he was given a shot of Thorazine in the buttocks before being strapped to a stretcher and carried back to his cottage. In addition, Lance went through the entire day without incident, and I believe I have established good rapport with Helma, reminding this very bright girl during the course of the day that she must not eat any "non-FDA-approved material", and getting a hearty laugh in response. Roy had obviously provoked Adam, but that is Roy's modus operandi. Roy is going to need a lot of work, but all in all I consider my first day a successful one, with a number of good omens.

Read the next installment.

Copyright © 2018, Hunter Goatley. All rights reserved.
Last updated 25-MAR-2018 21:42:39.80.