Harvey Wallbanger and the Voice of Silence

By
Updated: February 1, 2017

A season of PEBA flies by in a twinkling, if you’re a patient at the Camarillo State Mental Hospital. Time is as  fluid as the tobacco drool dripping from the mouths of the ballplayer’s on the bench, spitting and chewing to fill the endless afternoons. An old man in the hospital sits in his room, wondering why he’s been imprisoned in a hospital full of loonies and how he lost his job as the GM of the Yuma Bulldozers. How many years ago? He can’t remember. Who’s GM now? He has no idea. He sits and chews and spits while time slips through his hands like rosin through a pitcher’s fingers.

 

“So,” the orderly said as he wheeled the chair into the old man’s room, “you heard the one about the patient at the mental hospital who lost his mind, right?”

“I did?”

“Sure, but did you hear the one about the Alzheimer patient who forgot it?”

“Forgot what?”

“His mind!” The orderly looked at the old man. “It’s a joke.”

“It is?”

“Arggh, matey, if you don’t get my jokes, you’ll be taking the long walk on the plank to therapy.”

“That isn’t funny.”

“No? Why, ain’t you a scurvy dog. And a yardarm short of bein’ cured, to boot!”

“What’s with the pirate talk?”

“Each day a new lexicon.”

The old man looked puzzled. “You mean all that legal mumbo jumbo you spouted the other day, that was just a put-on, for that day only?”

“Aye, me hearty, now you’re loaded to the gunwales. No more spittin’ in the wind for you.”

“Well, yo ho ho and I’ll take a bottle of rum.”

“Shiver me timbers!” the orderly said laughing, “you’ve got a callin’ for the Buccaneer brogue.”

The old man frowned. “I think I preferred the legalese.”

“Latin it was, if you’re going to insult me. I can put away the Jolly Roger for a lily-livered landlubber like you.”

“Then set your sails for the kitchen, Captain,” the old man said as he bent to sit in the wheelchair, “there’s pirate booty in them thar’ freezers.”

The orderly pulled the chair away before the old man could sit in it. “Wait. You can’t ask me to refrain from a little swashbucklin’ palaver and then swagger me with the same.” He looked the old man in the eye. “Play fair … or I take my marbles home.”

“Marbles?” the old man said.

The orderly tapped his fingers against his head. “You’ve lost a few of yours.”

The old man laughed at that. “Think we’ll find them in the seventh freezer?”

“Who knows what we’ll find,” the orderly said, helping the old man slide into the wheelchair.

And off they rolled, up the long incline of the central hallway of the hospital toward the kitchen where seven mysterious freezers awaited them, past the women’s wing, past the room marked “Therapy,” past the nurse’s station and into the empty expanse of the TV Room, where the orderly and the chair came to a halt.

“Where is everyone?” the orderly asked.

“Nurse Peters must have gotten her revenge on the lot of them. Maybe we’ll find their corpses stacked inside the seventh freezer.”

“You have a morbid imagination,” said the orderly. “I like it.”

“The closer you get to death, the easier it is to imagine.”

“Usually patients imagine their own deaths, not the brutal murder of their fellow patients.”

“A lifetime spent reading Agatha Christie.”

The orderly shook his finger at the old man. “Oh no, you don’t. You can’t blame your perversity on Dame Christie. Bodies don’t get chopped up and stored in freezers in her stories. She’s way too polite for that.”

The old man snorted. “Yeah, okay, so … would you believe Henning Mankell?”

“The Swedish writer? Oh yeah, that I’d believe. He was one gruesome dude.”

“What was his detective’s name?”

“Wallender. Kurt Wallender.”

“Oh yeah,” the old man remembered, “Wall-ender, the detective who runs into walls and dead ends. Such a name! Where do writers come up with that stuff?”

“Who knows, they’re all a bit daffy, if you ask me, which you haven’t. The whole lot of ‘em would fit in around here just fine.”

The old man laughed.

“If someone wrote about you,” the orderly continued, “they’d call you the Wallman.”

“I only ran into one wall, and that was what’shisname’s fault. The other orderly.”

“Brad.”

“Yeah, Brad. I don’t see him around much.”

“I don’t see anyone around here,” the orderly said, swinging the wheelchair in a circle as he surveyed the empty room.

“I meant lately, not right now.”

“He quit.”

“Quit?”

“Nurse Peters chewed him out for running you into that wall and then put him on bedpan duty at night, so he quit.”

“Wow. I didn’t know.”

“I admire him for getting out.”

The old man nodded in agreement. “But staying out, that’s a whole other ballgame.”

The orderly said, “Yup,” and started pushing the wheelchair through the empty TV Room when someone burst through the swinging doors at the other end.

“Time! Time!” shouted a short man in a black-and-white striped shirt as he ran into the empty room.

“Heh there, Ref!” the orderly called out to the short man, who was now waving his arms in some strange semblance of a semaphore flagman.

“Time out! Out of bounds! You two,” he said to the orderly and the old man, “get off the playing field. Can’t you see we’re in the middle of the game.”

The old man looked at the swinging doors, expecting others to come pouring into the room. The doors didn’t move.

“What time is it, Ref?” the orderly asked.

“Does anyone really wanna know?” the man in stripes crooned. “Does anybody really care?”

“We all got time enough to die,” the old man added, but where that song lyric had come from he had no idea.

The little man in black stripes looked at the old man in the wheel chair. “Big Chicago fan, right?” the referee said.

“Chicago?” the old man replied. “You mean like the Cubs or the Sox?”

“No, Chicago, man, the rock group. I’ll bet you seen every one of their concerts.”

“Sorry,” the old man said, “not a one.”

“But …” the referee said, then stopped. He took a close look at the old man and his wheel chair. “Who the hell are you and what are you doing on my playing field?”

“We’re big fans,” the orderly said. “Come to see the game. How much time’s left on the clock?”

“Time, time, time, see what’s become of —” the ref stopped short and stared out the windows of the TV Room. He pulled a whistle from his pocket and blew on it like the Second Coming was at hand. “Penalty! Time out!” He ran out of the room whistling and shouting to someone outside.

“Too bad he had to leave,” the orderly said. “If you catch him before game time, he can recite every song ever written about time.”

“Time?”

“He’s got 24 clocks in his room.”

“Twenty-four?”

“One for each hour,” the orderly said and smiled. “None of them work, but each of them is on time once a day.”

“Twice a day.”

“What? Oh,” the orderly’s face lit up, “you’re right. Twice a day.”

“Why’s he need 24?”

“Huh?”

“Wouldn’t 12 do just as well?”

The orderly thought about that, then said, “For you and me, maybe, but not for the Ref.”

The old man grimaced, “He’s not well.”

“He sure as hell ain’t here ‘cause we got great sports teams.”

The referee was running about the quad waving and whistling as if he were preventing a crowd of angry fans from storming the field. It was exhausting to watch.

“I think that’s the craziest thing I’ve seen since I got here.”

“Really?” the orderly said. “He’s no crazier than you.”

“What? I don’t run around like that—not that I can anymore—and I sure as hell don’t see imaginary football players everywhere.”

“Soccer.”

“Soccer?”

“I think so.”

The old man thought about it. “What gives you that idea?”

The orderly pointed out the windows toward the referee. He was running back and forth from one side of the quad to the other, but every once in a while he would stop and place something on the grass.

“See,” the orderly said, “he’s putting the ball back in play.”

“Could be a football.”

“Referees toss the football to each other, than put it down and hold it in place. He’s rolling it towards the kicking team. Watch.”

The old man rolled the wheel chair closer to the window to study the referee. Sure enough, when the referee stopped he seemed to roll something along the grass, then spring away across the lawn.

“Soccer, huh?” the old man said.

“Football to the rest of the world.”

“Weird, huh?”

“Our Ref or the language?” the orderly asked.

“Weirdness everywhere you look,” the old man said, pushing back from the window and turning to the orderly. “You don’t really think I’m as crazy as he is, do you?”

“What, you and your pillow full of baseball cards and your ‘mission’ to find the four gospel cards, that’s not as crazy as a referee?”

“I don’t run around whistling at imaginary players,” the old man protested.

“No, your obsession is quieter.”

“That’s the only difference you see?”

“Your game is more in your head. The Ref’s is, well, more visceral. He sees it, he plays it, it’s 3-D for him. Full-on stereo sound. So it’s more obvious to others. And a whole lot easier to deal with too.”

“He’s easier to deal with than me?”

“Your hallucinations are more insidious.”

“I don’t hallucinate!”

“Really? Whatta you call those phone calls you make to managers of made-up baseball teams?”

“They’re not made up!”

“Got any proof of that?”

“Sure, there’s …” the old man stopped. He couldn’t think of a single piece of concrete evidence he could produce. Not a scrap of paper or crumpled photo. “You took all that away from me when I was admitted.”

“Right, and when you started making phone calls, we went through it all to try to figure out who you were calling.”

“And?”

“‘Tweren’t nothin’ there, matey. You gone bonkers in your zonker. Sailed over the edge, Cap’n. Done walked the plank.”

“Nothing?”

“Not so much as a doubloon from your former life.”

The old man looked out the window at the referee, huddled with the imaginary soccer teams. For a moment, the ref was still, then in a sudden flurry of motion he blew his whistle and ran down field waving his arms about like … well, like a madman.

“So you think I’m making it all up,” the old man said to the orderly, “just like him.” He gestured toward where the referee was sprinting across the quad.

“It’s a possibility.”

“Not to me it isn’t,” the old man said angrily. He dug in his pockets until he found what he was looking for, then pulled his phone out and handed it to the orderly. “Here,” he said, “dial the last number I called. Ask whoever answers whether I was the Yuma GM or not.”

The orderly refused to take the phone.

“Do it,” the old man insisted. “You’ll see.”

The orderly took a deep breath, then turned his back on the old man in the wheel chair and looked out the window. The referee was calling for time out again. With his back turned to the old man, the orderly explained what he thought should have been obvious to the old man.

“You see, you couldn’t possibly have a phone for me to make a call on. Right? Patients don’t have phones. And the public phones in the lobby don’t remember your last call. So … I’d put away whatever that is in your hand, which in your state you’ve confused with a cell phone, before someone has to confiscate it.”

The old man looked at his precious phone. “You wouldn’t.”

“Aye, matey, I would. And you’d walk the bloody plank for it.”

The old man stuffed the phone back in his pocket. For a minute, nobody said anything, then, just as the orderly was turning back to look at the old man, a nurse burst through the swinging doors.

“You seen Harvey?”

“Avast, me hearty wench, ain’t put me spyglass on the likes o’ that son of a biscuit eater in nearly two day. Has he shipped out on the account?”

“Dunno,” the nurse said as she crossed the TV Room briskly, “cain’t find the boy. Must be Tuesday, huh, Sean?”

“Likely, lass, likely—but what’s the hurry?”

“Been banging his head again,” she said as she exited through the other doors.

“Poor lad,” the orderly said, then leaned down to explain to the old man. “We call him Harvey on account of he came to us banging his head.” He waited for a response from the old man. When none was forthcoming, he added, “Like a Harvey Wallbanger? Get it?”

“Oh,” said the old man, trying to remember who this Harvey Wallbanger fellow was and why he should know him. “Did he play ball somewhere?”

“Play ball?” said the orderly. “Not that I know of. Why?”

“Just wondered.”

“Sounds like he’s up to his old tricks. I may have to postpone our solving the Case of the Mysterious Freezers. If we don’t find this guy, he can do real damage.”

“Why’d she ask if it was Tuesday?”

“She did?” The old man nodded. “Oh,” the orderly laughed aloud, “it’s a kind of inside joke. She thinks I have a regular schedule to the voices I do. You know, Latin on Monday, Pirates on Tuesday, like that.”

“You don’t?”

“Not unless it’s subconscious. Thar’ ain’t no plan,” the orderly switched to his piratical voice, “to the life of a Jolly Roger man. Yo ho ho!”

The orderly began staggering about the room as if he were on the deck of storm-tossed ship, cursing and singing aloud like a drunken sailor.

Whadda ya do with a drunken sailor,
Whadda ya do with a drunken sailer,
Whadda ya do

“Is your name Sean?”

The disorderly orderly paused. He studied the old man, no sign of drunkenness now. “Ah,” he said after a moment, “it’s Old Sherlock making his mystical deductions. What gave me away?”

“She called you Sean.”

“She did?”

The old man nodded.

“Damn, my cover’s blown. But if ye be blabbin’ it all aboot, laddy, thar’ll be nothin’ but hardtack fer ya to chew on. Ya hear me?”

The old man looked into the eyes of the younger orderly. What he saw, a sort of twinkle swaddled between the subtle lines surrounding the orderly’s eyes, gave the younger man away.

“Everyone knows your name already,” the old man said.

“‘Cept you,” the orderly said. “So don’t be telling.”

The old man grinned. “That makes no sense at all.”

“It makes perfect sense,” the orderly said with a straight face, “in a loony bin.”

The old man snorted. He knew the staff were never to call the hospital by the same derisive terms the patients used.

“I better go,” the orderly said. “Harvey could be doing some real wall banging. Okay if I leave you here?”

“I can push this chair without you, if I have to go somewhere.”

“Right,” the orderly said and headed out the same doors he and the old man had entered through. “We’ll get to those freezers later.”

“If I live that long,” the old man said to no one. He sat and waited. For what? he wondered. For death, a voice in his head told him. What we’re all waiting for, all the time.

He shook his head as if to toss off such thoughts. “No reason to get morbid,” he said aloud. And then, answering himself, he said, “An old man in a madhouse claims thoughts of death are inappropriate. That’s choice.”

Not really, the voice said. Nothing could be more mundane.

“No,” the old man spoke aloud, arguing with himself, “what’s mundane is thoughts of death in a place like this. To say such mundane thoughts are inappropriate, that’s ironic.”

In a madhouse, the voice continued, the inappropriate is appropriate, the ironic merely mundane.

That made the old man laugh aloud.

What’s so funny? the voice asked.

“Me! Arguing with you—with me! Over appropriate behavior in a madhouse!”

Who better to argue with than a mind that knows your mind as well as you do yourself?

“Oh, this is some slippery slope, isn’t it? Shit, I could go mad doing this!” And the old man laughed again.

What alternative do you have? the voice asked.

That stopped the old man. He looked around the empty room, then wheeled himself over close to the windows again, but he couldn’t see anyone in the yard. Where had everyone gone? The Ref, the orderly named Sean, the head banging Harvey and his nurse? Nothing to see, nothing to hear, except the voice of silence.

All alone, it said, now and forever, just you and me, amen.

“I prefer not,” said the old man.

You know that quoting Bartleby is an act of desperation, the voice said. He dies, all alone, in a mad house.

“But he chose not to act, didn’t he? Bad decision, Bartleby. As for me, well, I … have … wheels!” And with that the old man spun the wheelchair around and began pumping with his arms, accelerating the wheelchair across the empty room toward the double doors.

You can’t out run me, you know that.

“But I can shut you up!”

How?

As he crashed feet first through the double doors, the old man smirked, and thought to himself, “By burying your voice in a cacophony of voices!” He wheeled himself as fast as he could toward the kitchen.

He huffed and puffed with the strain on his arms, and as the wheelchair tires squeaked across the cement hallway, the last distant words he heard from the voice inside his head were …

Don’t go there.