Flophouses, the NYC Men's Shelter and Insanity
> 11/7/2005 8:54:41 AM

    To my TOL friends:and others:

Today is overcast and misty.  I live on the 28th floor of a highrise of many high rises in a part of NYC that is an hour and a halffrom midtown and it's called Co-op City.  There are 35,000 of ushere in subsidized affordable housing. I have a one bedroom for alittle less than $600 a month with free utilities including airconditioning and heat. I live with two cats (my second set of twofemales to keep me and each other company).

It is 2005.  I wonder what a day would have been like in 1980 beddingdown in flophouses (large room with beds in them for about $10?? anight) and eating three meals a day at the then men's homeless shelteron East 3rd Street. and at night this resource would send us out tovarious sites in the outer boroughs to sleep for the night if youcouldn't afford a flophouse.  There were and are homeless peoplewho refuse to stay in shelters because they feel they are too dangerousfor violence and theft, theft of, say, a raggity pair ofsneakers.  How does one manage in the Bowery downtown of Manhattanwithout shoes? 

Yes, there were drunks and drugaddicts on the bowery, but there were also people who were mentally illand in that state unemployable and others who were simply down on theirluck (e.g., a man who was burned out of his apartment). Most of thehomeless I was with were black, which must have/does say somethingabout the city's economy and affordable housing stock for the rightcolor skin.  I was one of the mentally ill ones (of course I feltI was completely sane and had come upon the secret of life) and gettingcrazier by the day with no medication and no idea that there wasmedication that would help and having no idea that I needed help; Ifelt that the world needed help, not me (I still feel that way except Inow include myself in the equation of the living things that neededhelp and saving).

The NYC Men's Shelter was right off theBowery on Third Street. It was, perhaps, five stories high and after afew weeks wandering around lower Manhattan during the day between mealsI found out that the top floor of the shelter had a pool table, a placefor gang showers at night and a library. The library was a favoritebecause if one had a book on the desk in front of  oneself youcould sit down for about a half hour before other people got a chancefor a chair since there was no other place to sit in the shelter exceptthe first floor folding chairs and they were usually already claimed.There was the floor to sit on, and off the central room was a littleroom where about three police officers were stationed. It was almostlike the shelter came with it's own police station,  It needed it.I remember standing on a  slowly shuffling line for dinner and theman in front of me was starting an argument with someone else. Inbetween the fingers of his fist was a one-sided razor. No fight ensued.

    Of course it wasn't always like that. I hadgraduated college, was married for nine years and held menial jobs tosupport a desire to be a fiction writer. My wife was an artist. In the late 70's friends told me I was getting quieter andquieter.  Where had I gone? I lost some waiting jobs and and endedup selling fruits and nuts on the street, which were popular then./Eventually I lost my apartment and someone I worked with told me abouta shelter in Brooklyn which I went to for one night and wouldn't leaveafter breakfast, which was required. They called the cops and I hadinsane interviews with two psychiatrists and that was all it took thenand I was put into a mental hospital from which I escaped at the firstopportunity. I wasn't the only one who thought they were a politicalprisoner, for in the then Soviet Union they put dissenters in themental hospital and of course, I considered myself a bigdissenter.  And there I was going in the front door of the NYCmen's shelter with voices booming down the street after me.  Imean when you talk to horses and they talk back to you in English,you're pretty far gone. But I knew there was nothing wrong with me: Ihad just come upon the secret life of the world and was sworn by thevoices to tell no one. There are mentally ill people who KNOW whenthey're hearing voices. I KNEW the voices were real.  The onlything I couldn't explain was war. It's the same now when I have apsychotic episode: when the rustling of my pants legs talk to me, orthe breeze talks to me, I know I'm bad off. The difference is this timeI KNOW I'm getting nuts again and I can talk about it. Amen

    After  few weeks of hanging around, standing,freezing, eating and a different bed every night, I took the busprovided at Third Street to the Laguardia Mens' Camp about an hour'sride upstate. It was totally the opposite of the urban setting and waspredominantly for drying out from alcohol. It was on the grounds of anold women's prison with the addition of about five barracks. You wereallowed to stay there for as long as you wanted, even until death. Itwas quiet and beautiful there and my mind was quiet but I knew that thevoices would catch up to me and in a few days up they came on thesuperhighway, I figured. I wasn't at the camp very long, just longenough to get lice again and stop eating. The authorities thought thenot eating was depression and claimed they were unable to treat it soback to Third Street and by this time I was autistic, on the advice ofthe voices to talk to no one. In a fit of sobbing Third Street decidedto send me to Bellevue, hand cuffed behind my back and accompanied bytwo of the police at the shelter. I thought Bellevue was going to belike "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", but it turned out to be thebeginning of my membership  in the Mental Health System and somesemblance of sanity.

 The first drug they gave me wasHaldol and the inmates would joke with one another about doing theHaldol Shuffle, for that was the only way you could walk with thatmedication. It worked but you lost cognitive ability, you couldn'tthink which seemed close to death.  I remember a young women onthe ward coming into my room with some others and she was  crying,"They're killing me! They're killing me!." Yes, they were killing themind (and the body had a tendency to curl like a pretzel) to stop thepsychosis. Later medications in my "career" worked almost as well asHaldol and let the mind be cognitive again. I can still remember whenRespiradol was given me and in a week or so, a cloud was lifted from mybrain (I could feel it) and I could think again. There was a price:some voices and feelings again. It was well worth it to be able tothink again.

I find I am unable to continue with this "saga",but I leave with myself in good hands and good fortune from this pointon. I end where I begin. I look out my 28th floor window and today thesun is finally beaming over the salt marshes of Pelham Bay after eightdays of rain and I am arranging to get help cleaning up my apartment asperhaps my mind is getting a good dusting out within the pain ofremembrance.  Amen. As the late Mother Teresa is quoted as saying= In the end, it is between you and God. Best of luck. Amen.



A beautiful, moving remembrance. Thank you.
Posted by: 8/31/2007 9:36:40 AM

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