In the Men’s Room, not the Psych Ward

by tobias crabtree

There’s this one drawing I wanna do, I just can’t seem to drag it out of my head and get it to lay down on paper. It’s a common occurrence. It’s when I’m swimming a few hundred feet off-shore that I think of something I just absolutely must write down. Or I’ll wake up in the night, when drawing utensils are hidden away, and think of a thing that I’d love to draw. Whenever I’m tired, there almost always seems to be a parade of pretty pictures floating through my gourd — things to be written or drawn. There they are flaunting around, winking at me and grinning. There is a fickle nature to anything creative. So many flitty, pretty things dancing on tiny feet and then disappearing, leaving just enough behind to remind you that you’ve forgotten something special. And in the midst of my tantrum — and it is a silly tantrum — I’ll hear the bell of privilege ring. To have the time to draw and write is to be privileged. All my lovely pens and pencils. My sleek and silver computer with the glowing fruit on the lid. My eyes that see and my nimble fingers and opposable thumb. My tripping-and-tumbling-stuttering-mumbling brain. Yep, uh, now that I think about it, let’s just move on to something else.

Yesterday I went to see my shrink. I have a favorite restroom in the VA hospital. It might be pavlovian, and I might not should write about restrooms and what we need them for, you know, it’s not really for resting. There’s a reason it’s called a “toil-ette”. Don’t worry, I won’t go into any detail about the toiling part, although my little buddy, Cannon (he’s 3) loves to talk about pooping. (He checks everything for poop. Every plastic dinosaur gets checked for poop thoroughly, without fail. I guess their poop would be plastic too, and so it wouldn’t really stink. He asks me if I’m going to poop every time I get even remotely near the bathroom. He also takes it upon himself to check up on me if he notices that I’m in the bathroom. And lately, he seems to be the bathroom monitor. So good luck trying to sneak in for a peaceful little poop, you’re going to have a series of questions to answer through the door that you sure as hell better have locked. “Are you pooping? Why are you pooping? Is it ok?” and then often some instruction, just in case you haven’t learned how to manage pooping after all these years, “just relax. take your time. breathe.” Not that I mind, personally. I’d have no trouble sitting right next to another pooper and chatting them eye to eye — thank you for that, Marine Corps! Yer the best! It’s just nice that Cannon is making sure I stay up to snuff on all my training, which brings me back to the VA.) If I could choose, I would not use the restroom at the VA hospital. (If I had my druthers, I’d not go there at all. I’m not writing about my “druthers.”) But I had to poop when I got to the hospital a while back, and now, just like Pavlov’s dog (although I think Pavlov’s dog was trained on the opposite end, with food…but whatev’s, I ain’t a scientist) I walk in and, bling, I gotta go. Foster showed me his favorite restroom the last time we were there and I was impressed, it’s kinda tucked away and quiet and clean. I’m not going to tell you where it is because I don’t want you in it when I wanna use it, but I’ll give you a hint, it’s not in the psych ward. Anywho, I went on into my private pooper and sat down. There was a dispenser on the wall directly in front of me that unintentionally looked like a face with the eyes averted to the left, as if the face couldn’t look me in the eyes. I said, “why you looking to the side?” quietly. Then I remembered I was there to see my shrink and I started to be nervous that I was sitting on the toilette in the hospital talking to a dispenser, telling it to look me in the eyes. After that, I quietly looked around and found 4 more faces in things that are not intended to be faces — at least, I hope it’s that way! Maybe they have cameras in the restrooms that monitor whether or not veterans see the faces or not. Maybe it’s just a big experiment! Uh, nope. I won’t allow it.

And up the stairs to the Doc’s office. The waiting room. My favorite.

The upper 50’s lower 60’s couple was sitting in the decent size waiting room. My Doc deals mostly with retired folks. I don’t quite fit into his demographic and I’ve always wondered why I got put with him. I like him. But the couple in the waiting room. Yeah, I can’t get them out of my head. It looked like she wasn’t really ready to completely give up on her hair dye job, but maybe. The grey was creeping in at the roots and her hair was long, down to mid back. Her husband, Joe (she called him by name several times), sat to her right. She had pulled a chair in front of her and had her foot propped up out of it’s shoe. As she read the hospital supplied reading material, Joe quietly mumbled incessantly. He was saying things at a level where I would just hear a word or two out of every sentence. It was like he was having a quiet conversation with himself. The blonde lady read her magazine. I heard Joe finish a sentence with, “what about that?” Blonde lady didn’t look up. Now and then, Joe would look at me timidly but not with a look that seemed to be ready for a response. He reminded me of a dog on a leash under the table at a restaurant, nervously looking around but avoiding eye contact. For 15 minutes Joe never stopped his droning conversation. Finally the woman sighed heavily and stood to walk. Joe stood and she firmly said, “Joe, sit.” He sat and looked at me and I politely looked away. In that quiet space I could hear the lady talking to the receptionist. Words about appointment time. Words about sensitivity to hospitals. Words about not understanding. I looked at Joe and he was digging in the blonde lady’s purse with both hands. Digging and digging. She came back and didn’t seem at all surprised that ol’ Joe was elbow deep in her enormous red purse. He pulled back and began to talk quietly. A few minutes passed and the young doctor came into the room. “Mr. Brown?” Joe looked up with wide-eyed surprise, then he moved the same look over to his wife. She stood and looked at me for the first time. There were tears streaming down her face over the make-up, across the set wrinkles in the corner of her mouth. She never looked back to see if Joe was coming. He was. They got to the door where the doctor waited and she turned to Joe. He was 10 feet from the door and peering in, his head way out in front of his shoulders, afraid. “Come On, Joe…go in. Go in there, Joe, it’s ok.” Joe glanced out at me and the blonde lady followed his gaze. I smiled a little. Joe led, and the door closed. I sat and stared at the big table, I’d never seen a waiting room with a full size table, and the puzzle box that sat upright against the wall. It was Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night. I thought about Vinny as he sat in his room at the asylum and stared east between the bars out into the stars. I remembered that he had admitted himself into the hospital. I’ve read that he had 20 different paintings and even more sketches from out of that second story window that looked out over the wheat fields. I wonder if he felt his brain skating away as the stars flickered and the moon crossed the sky. I guess it’s kind of ironic that the puzzle they chose to help occupy people trying to get mentally stable is a painting by a fella in an asylum after he ripped his ear off.

My thoughts return to Joe Brown. Such a common name, you’d think I was making it up. And maybe I am.