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Paso Robles, California, United States
Novelist, poet, songwriter, and journalist, I bring over four decades of experience to the written page. I just finished Mental Hygiene, a coming of age novel set in Fort Jackson, SC circa 1967-68.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

MENTAL HYGIENE - a novel by Timothy Dean Martin (Chapter Two)


"So, I understand that you're from Los Angeles which means that Sergeant
Gonzales won’t like you."

"I'm very likeable, Major Green,” Murphy answered.

Major Bert Green, who arrived back from lunch before Sergeant Gonzalez,
immediately ushered Murphy into
his office and made him feel totally at ease. “Sergeant Gonzales can wait to
chew on you,” Green said as he sat down.

Green possessed the humor and sophistication that comes from living in an
urban center all of one’s life. A New York City native, he had the air about
him of someone who was used to telling the truth, regardless of the political
fallout. Murphy wondered how that worked in the Army, but supposed that
truth and politics worked more easily for Majors than Privates.

"Well,” Green continued, "the fact that Gonzales doesn't like Californians is of
no special consequence. I suspect that he doesn't like New Yorkers either, but
my rank keeps him from saying that. I like that about being a Major."

Murphy smiled at Green’s candor.  Looking around the office, he noticed the
usual framed degrees and certificates, a photo of Green’s wife in a silver frame,
and a basketball carelessly tossed on a side chair.  Not much else, all very
temporary.  "Thanks for the encouragement, Major. I really try to not get on
anyone's nerves at first meeting.”

"What about later?" 
"I'm a draftee, sir.” Murphy wondered if a wisecrack was really necessary this
early in their relationship.  He made a mental note to watch his mouth for the
rest of the meeting.
Murphy’s comment didn’t seem to be ill taken by the Major. "Good point,
Murphy, but I’m curious.  How did you manage to get yourself drafted?”
“It was purely situational, and I doubt that I will ever make a similar mistake
again. Suffice it to say that I found myself without a student deferment at the
wrong time.” 
“Do you like basketball, Murphy? I really need you to like basketball." Green's
eyes slid to the ball on the side chair.
“Yes, I do. I love basketball,” Murphy lied. “Why do you ask?"
"Some of the enlisted men and officers play almost every day at the gym. We are
one player short since Conroy mustered out. You may take his place.”
"I just love basketball, Major," Murphy reiterated with as much enthusiasm as a
veteran player.  The truth was that he could hold his own in most sports, and
noon basketball with officers sounded like a way to add advantage to his
overall situation.   
Green rose from behind the desk and began to pace around his office slowly, at
one point pausing to pick up the basketball.  The Major tossed the ball smartly in
Murphy’s direction and smiled at his one-handed catch.
“Let me say that what I offer is a privilege, Murphy,” said Green.  “You see,
Gonzales has a strict rule about lunches. He insists that no enlisted man may
take more than an hour, but we play ball for more than an hour. Then there is the
mandatory steam bath afterwards, and finally a casual bite to eat. I like a more
civilized approach to lunch, not unlike what I was used to in my private practice in
New York.” 
The Major sat down at his desk and put his feet up. “Anyway, Gonzales cannot
touch anyone who is with me at lunch. It's a way for you to get exercise and stick
it up Gonzales' ass as the same time. By the way, I didn't just say that." Green
put a finger up to his pursed lips.
“And I didn’t hear it,” Murphy replied with a straight face, secretly loving
everything he was hearing.
“I’ll give you three weeks.  Get your feet wet with the patients, and then I’ll expect
to see you on the court every weekday at 12 noon.   Don’t schedule interviews
that’ll make you late."

"Yes, sir."

"Now, down to the dirty business of shrinking, military style. The object of this
Clinic is to evaluate referred inpatients and outpatients, concentrating on their
ability to function in the military. That doesn’t necessarily mean sane or insane.
Are you following me?" asked Green.
"I think so. You mean, if they can point the gun at the right guy, then they're
"Well, more or less.” Green fidgeted in his chair, uncomfortable with what
he was about to say.

“As you may know, they're drafting anything that's still warm nowadays.
There’ll be people you meet, not even patients, who’ll scare you to death.
We're not interested in finding more subjects. There’ll be patients who are
in dire need of long-term therapy, with excellent prospects of recovery.
Forget that fact. We are in the processing business here.”  He sighed. “If
we can patch them together or medicate them to health long enough to ship
them to the next stop, good."
“With all due respect sir, that sounds cruel and unusual,” Murphy blurted,
and immediately wondered why he had volunteered his opinion without
being asked. 
"Look, Murphy, I'm not saying that I approve of this. I'm just a Jew put
in the unfortunate, ironic position of following orders. I try to play a lot of
basketball and fuck my wife regularly. That’ll work for me for two years and
four months more. Then I'll be back in New York being incredibly pious
about having served my country. Now, let's assign you a caseload. Each of
the Psych Techs is assigned to a number of Basic Training Companies. The
Companies refer patientsto us on a form that will be placed in your in-box up
front by Lang. You've met her, right?"
Murphy nodded, remembering Denise Lang's enormous boobs and that little
wiggle of hers all too well.
"You call the Company that sent the referral and set up an appointment with
the FirstSergeant to see the trainee. At your appointment with the trainee, you
take a psychosocial history using this multi-page form." He handed Murphy a
six-page sample so he could follow, then pointed to the first page. "You see
that it has the salient points on it. It will help guide you to one of three basic
courses. First is to do nothing. The guy is faking or the company wants to get
rid of him for some other reason. Second, you think that with a little medication
the guy will calm down and thus be sent on his way to wherever, no shrink
appointment needed.”  Green's grin had disappeared. “If that's the case, see
one of the shrinks and get him to write an appropriate prescription. Understand?" 
Murphy was amazed, a little intimidated.  “You mean, give a guy meds without
him seeing a doctor?"        
"Yes, Murphy. Don't look so shocked. Wait until you’ve seen how many
patients we run through here per week. We would never have the time to see
all the marginal guys." 
Green continued talking, without enthusiasm. “The third course of action is to
set up an appointment so a shrink can evaluate your trainee." He sighed. "This
can be done through Lang. The shrinks see patients two mornings a week.
Follow-ups are scheduled between the shrink and Lang so make yourself
available to do so."
Major Green rose from behind his desk and walked over to Murphy, placing
his hand on Murphy’s shoulder like a father. "It is both easier and harder to do
your job here than I can possibly explain to you,” he said softly. “Feel free to
ask questions, sometimes you’ll need to ask more than one person. Keep your
cool. If you start to think everybody is out to get you, you'll probably be right,"
Green said, as he lifted his hand and laughed. "Any immediate questions?"
"No, Sir." Why ask the obvious?
• • •
Murphy stood in front of Sergeant Gonzales' desk at attention. Gonzalez cast a
wary eye, and took an unusually long time before saying, "At ease, Murphy. Sit
Gonzales reminded him of a pudgy bullfighter. You don't really have to be very
smart to stab bulls, Murphy mused.  But then again, if you fuck with the bull, you
can get the horn.
"Where are you from?" Gonzales asked.
"Los Angeles, Sergeant."          

"I don't like L.A.", Gonzales growled. "Queers and Mexicans that don't deserve
to be in the U.S." 
"I'll never mention it again, Sergeant." 
Gonzales seemed to almost levitate. His flat-topped, short-legged body shot
straight into the air. Suddenly, he was right in Murphy’s face.  Murphy could
smell the onions Gonzales had for lunch.
"I don't need any smart assed LA comments from you, boy! I'll get your ass
shipped to Nam and you can tell jokes to the Viet Cong," Gonzales yelled.
A smile crossed Gonzales' face, the kind of smile Murphy hated. Silence
prevailed. That smile signaled a certainty that anything Murphy said would be
chewed up and spit back at him. Just as Murphy was wondering if the oxygen
supply was going to run out between them, Gonzales took a step back and sat
down in a starched heap. Murphy was finally able to relax, and he struck the
best toreador-at-ease pose he could muster.
"That little asshole Leary has told me that he’s gotten approval from Major
Green for you to bunk in the Clinic conference room instead of at the
Headquarters Company barracks,” Gonzales snarled.
This was news to Murphy.  “I’ll be keeping an eye on the both of you.  You
are still in the Army, despite views to the contrary,” Gonzales continued. 
“You’ll have a desk in the third office on the left with Leary and Bloom. You
report tomorrow at 0800.  Specialist Lang will assign your duties at that time.”
Murphy turned to go, having taken about as much as a grown man could take
He'd walked only two steps when Gonzales said, "I don't like you, Murphy."
It occurred to Murphy that Gonzales was the first person to say that to him
since he'd been drafted.
• • •
Murphy was sweating through his khakis. It was only 10:00 AM, but the
temperature was already in the mid-nineties, humid, and he was captive to the
moment in the dayroom of Company B-5-3.
A skinny Private Davies sat across from Murphy at a card table.  They had
finished the preliminaries: where are you from, mother, father, and the rest of the
domestic details. Davies said he was from Mississippi. Murphy thought about
how good a beer would taste.  Davies was raised in the Nazarene Church and
was brimming with religious guilt and temperance.  Murphy tried to conjure up
a sea breeze.  Davies’ latest sin had landed him in front of an unlikely confessor,
and he was finally about to reveal this sin. Murphy was oh so glad.
God knew the company commander didn't want to deal with Davies. The
Request for Psychiatric Evaluation stated only "Sexual Deviate", and was neatly
signed at the bottom by First Lieutenant Brown.  When Murphy arrived at the
company, the lieutenant had refused to see him. The first sergeant had giggled
and ordered the troop to be brought to the dayroom. Davies arrived in a very
depressed and painful looking condition.
"So, Davies, why don't you talk about why you’re here?  Nobody else wants to
talk about it, so I guess it's up to you," Murphy said, broaching the subject at
Davies fidgeted. "Like I said 'afore, I was raised a Nazarene. We was taught a
very strong right and wrong about 'most everything, especially sex things,"
Davies said in a mountain singsong quiet voice. “Well, I got me a girl back home
that I'mgonna marry after I get outta Basic. We neva’ done nuthin' on account
'a she's Nazarene like me an' we knew we could only kiss 'till we was married.”
"It's my sixth week 'a Basic now an' I was gettin' pretty excited about what's comin'
up an' everything,” Davies continued. “We was out on the camouflage range, you
know, where some of us go out and hide in the weeds and then pop up every
once in awhile, an' the others try t'see us.
“Anyway, I was layin' there in the weeds an' I was thinkin' about my girl an'..." he
paused and looked down at the floor.   
"So, what happened then, Davies?” Murphy asked.
"Well, I never done it before, an' I started doin' it there in the deep weeds," he
"What's that?"  
"Well, I started playin' with myself." Tears started rolling down Davies cheeks.
"I never, never done it before. It's a sin an' I know I got caught because it's
wrong. An' now I'm prob'ly goin' ta hell." Now he was sobbing.
"Calm down, Davies.” Murphy kept a straight face. “Let me get this straight.
You got caught the first time that you ever masturbated?"
Davies nodded, still sobbing.
Leary would love hearing this story.  "How did you get caught, exactly?" 
"Well, I was just sorta' swept up in it, you know, an' I didn't hear 'em call my
number ta pop up. So the Sergeant out there in the field came a lookin' for
me.... an’ he tripped right over me!"
There are a few ways that a person can keep from laughing. Murphy tried to
hold his breath. It didn't work. When he finally couldn’t stand it, the laughter
came out in great guffaws, Murphy doubling up, his own tears running now.
Davies sat in amazement, wondering at that moment if Murphy was the Devil.
After Murphy began to calm down, he asked, "What happened next?"
Davies eyed him cautiously and said, "Well, the Sergeant picked me up by
the back of the shirt an’ dragged me back to where the company was standin’,
with my pants all open an’ everything, screamin' that I was some kinda'
faggot or somethin'. Then he dragged me back ta the Company area an’ had
me waitin the First Sergeant’s office ta see Lieutenant Brown. Lieutenant
Brown wouldn't see me. He just told the First Sergeant ta get me outta ‘His
Army’ as soon as possible.  
“Since then I've been confined ta the company area. What's gonna happen ta
me? Are they gonna tell my girl and my folks?" Davies began to moan.
Murphy made his best effort to compose himself. "Davies, everything is going
to be OK. First of all, although I don't want to argue about religion with you,
what you did out there in the grass is not thought of as a sin by most of the
world's male population. Maybe your timing and the location can be
questioned, but that's about it. Could you wait right here? I've got to go talk
to somebody and I'll be right back.” 
He walked outside, took a couple of deep breaths and made a beeline for
the Company Commander's office. The First Sergeant was sitting at his

desk and looked up when he entered.
"First Sergeant, is the CO in and may I see him?" Murphy asked.
"Let me check." The First Sergeant stuck his head around the doorway
for a second, paused, and then announced that the CO could see him now.
Murphy walked in to First Lieutenant Brown's office and started by saying,
"Hi. I just saw..."
The lieutenant screamed, "Hi? What do you think you are doing walking in
here like you're back on the block and addressing an officer in this manner?
First Sergeant, remove this man from my office. Find out who his OIC is
and get him on the phone!"
"But, Sir..." Murphy stammered.  The First Sergeant was already at Murphy’s
side, pointing his finger at the way out. So he left.
All the way back to the Clinic Murphy alternated between worrying about
Davies and himself. When he left the Company area Davies was looking out
of the dayroom window with a horrified expression on his face. Murphy’s
only chance was that Major Green, not Sergeant Gonzales, got the call
regarding his military gaffe.
He pulled his car into the Clinic parking lot and hurried inside, getting about
three steps before he heard Gonzales' voice.
"Lang, is that Murphy?"
Specialist Lang looked up and smiled, licking her red painted lips. She
answered, "It most certainly is, Sergeant Gonzales."
"Murphy, get in here," barked Gonzales from his office.  Lang winked as
Murphy walked by.
"Murphy, I thought you were going to try to get along with me, but
obviously you had other plans," Gonzales growled, as he stood and
started circling him.
"I'm really trying, Sergeant Gonzales,” Murphy answered stammering.
“But I'm just having trouble with some of the formalities, and I never
Gonzales interrupted him, shouting, "Murphy, leaving your bedding out on
the couch in the back meeting room is not a formality! It's careless,
unmilitary, and won't be tolerated again! I let you and that other Californian,
Leary, sleep here because my superior officer says it’s OK, but that privilege
will have to end if you can't keep a military barracks back there. Understood?"
Gonzales asked.
"Yes, Sergeant. Is there anything else, Sergeant?" Murphy asked in his most
military voice.
"No! Get out and go play basketball with the Major," Gonzales said, with
sarcasm in his voice.  “He told me this morning that this is your first day at
his little gym party.”
As Murphy passed Specialist Lang's desk she handed him a folded piece
of paper and said in her sweetest voice, "Have a nice lunch, Murphy. I
wish I could go along," and gave him another wink.
Outside, he looked at the note. It read:
"The 1st Sgt. From B-5-3 called and I could hear some officer 
screaming in the background. They asked for Major Green or
Gonzales if Green wasn't in. I told them that both of them were
out and I'd give the note to Major Green to call when he gets 
back. Did I do right?
Let's have that lunch. – Denise"
Murphy folded the note and put it in his pants pocket. He’d be having
lunch with Lang one of these days. Until then, he needed to get over
to the gym and make some time to talk to Major Green.

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