About Me

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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.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

MENTAL HYGIENE - Excerpt Chapter Seven


            As with most things, emotional edges fray with wear. Murphy kept his 
personal mending to himself, but epiphanies were coming between his self-
serving nature and his circumstances. The specter of maturity was beginning 
to get in the way of avoidance, and there seemed to be nothing he could do 
to stop it.  He could no longer ignore the person he was becoming, his 
conscious part in the scheme of things, the fact that he was now the very 
pawn he despised.  
            Those thoughts lay in his head as he shared a cheap motel bed with 
a fresh WAC. What was her name?  
            When he dreamed, they only seemed to concern companies of men 
ordered to certain death.  The worst part?  He was happy he wasn’t one of 
them.  He was starting to understand who and what he was. Why couldn't he 
just hold up his end? A tiny voice in his head answered:  "It isn't really necessary."
  Or was it?
            The woman next to Murphy stirred, turning toward him. "Good mornin' 
darlin'," she muttered.  Gin, Murphy thought. Then he remembered she was 
Laura from the base pharmacy, not great, but available. He’d become a real 
            "They need more motels in Columbia," he muttered. "All the soap is 
starting to smell the same."
            "You are a very strange guy, and did I mention good morning?" she 
asked, her tone salty.
            She hopped out of bed to use the can. He knew that he should 
apologize. After all, they were naked and he might actually pull himself 
together for some morning sex. She came back from the bathroom pouting,
and sat down on the edge of the bed with him.
            "Look, I know there's nothing really serious goin' on here, so no 
pressure,” Laura said calmly. “I just like to pretend a little in the morning, 
like I have a real life. So let's sit here, have some of that shitty instant coffee
they gave us, and take a little moment."
            They sat, drinking terrible coffee that only seemed to worsen their 
hangovers and looking out the window at a drizzling South Carolina Sunday 
morning. "Did you hear about that Jewish doctor that they are court-martialing?" 
she asked.
            "Yep. They asked him to train Green Beret medics and he claims that 
it’s against the Hippocratic oath. Go figure."
            Murphy raised his eyebrows. “No kidding? Is there someone actually 
out there in the military that objects?”
            “I guess, if that’s what you want to call it, cutie."
            "So I guess you don't go for pacifist doctors. Or is it Jews? I gotta take 
a piss and get back to the base."
            Murphy slammed the bathroom door.
• • •
            Murphy found a sullen Leary in the PX bar. "Where were you off to 
last night?” Leary slurred.  “I thought we were supposed to meet up."
            "I ended up picking up on Laura from the base pharmacy and did more 
of the usual."
            Leary smiled. "You know, she's got herpes. Never mind. That's not even 
funny to me."
            "Did you hear about the doctor who's being court-martialed?" 
            "No. Who cares about fucking doctors?" 
            “Jesus Christ, Leary!  Don’t you give a shit about anything?  Is it all just 
some kind of game to you?” Murphy shouted.
            "Why are you so down, pal?  You never gave a shit up until now.  Did 
you take up religion or something?" 
            Murphy's disgust rushed through his voice. "That kid who shot the noisy 
black troops is going to Leavenworth for life. None of the shrink testimony meant
one thing to the cocksuckers at the court-martial. Why the fuck do they even 
have a Mental Hygiene department? We don't mean shit, Leary." 
            "Murphy, we're alive and escaping with our ass,” Leary said. “I personally 
have no intention of letting that reality get lost for anything. This doctor who 
wants to trash his career is a total asshole. People who shoot annoying people, 
no matter what color they are, deserve what they get. And you need a beer." 
            "Maybe, but have you ever heard the joke about ‘it's your turn in the 
            "Yeah, but I'm way at the back of the line." 
• • •
            On Monday, Murphy asked around the Clinic about the mystery doctor 
and found out his name was Howard Shore, but nothing else. Nobody seemed 
to know whether Mental Hygiene had seen Shore. Specialist Lang overheard 
Murphy and quietly motioned for him to come over to her desk.  He hesitated 
since he hadn’t been with her since their trip to the Bluebird Motel. She motioned 
to him again and he finally relented.
            “Specialist Teesman and Major Green did the psych evaluation,” Lang 
whispered in his ear.             Now I owe you again, he thought. He thanked her 
and searched for Joey Teesman, whom he didn’t know very well.  He’d heard 
that Teesman came into the Clinic as a patient and that Major Green had 
“adopted” him. Murphy never had the opportunity to ask either man to elaborate.
            Murphy found Joey Teesman hunched over his desk in the farthest back 
office on the right. He looked like a giant ape-monk scribbling out instructions for 
the Dark Ages Survival Kit. When erect, he stood 6’7” and weighed over three 
hundred pounds, but he preferred sitting whenever he got the chance.
            Later, Murphy found out that Teesman had one of those histories that 
novelists never used. Readers generally found the fantastic truth unbelievable. 
Teesman had attended the University of Michigan, where he founded the 
Byzantine Anarchist Club. The fact its membership consisted of one 
person — him — did nothing to dampen his zeal. Joey claimed to have made 
several plans to bomb banks, although he never got around to executing his 
detailed strategies. He was mocked over the monk’s robe he wore to class, 
but it didn’t stop him from earning his degree in pre-law. With honors.
            Joey moved to Greenwich Village, where he met many a kindred 
spirit and became a professional panhandler. He begged during the day and 
ate out of the trashcans of some of New York’s finest restaurants at night. 
He left his intentions of applying to law school on the backburner.
            During an infrequent call home, Joey learned from his mother that he 
received a draft notice. With a most non-sociopolitical voice, Teesman 
declared his joy at winning free bed and board for two years! Off he went to 
Fort Jackson for Basic Training.
            Murphy cleared his throat at the doorway. “Hi, Joey. Mind if I 
interrupt you for a moment?”
            “No problem, kid. What can I do for ya?”
            Murphy leaned against the door. What's with this 'kid'? Maybe he 
had a habit of calling people that. “I was talking to a friend of mine over 
at the pharmacy, and she told me about a doctor who’s being court-martialed 
for refusing to train Green Beret medics. Do you know anything about it?” 
            “First of all, who told you I might know anything?” Teesman was 
annoyed.  “I’m not sure I know you well enough to talk about this. Have you 
talked to Major Green?”
            “Look, Joey,” Murphy said without answering his question. “Never 
mind who told me. What’s the big deal? This guy didn’t sell state secrets to 
the Viet Cong. I’m just interested.”
            “If you were really interested, you would already know what’s going 
on with Shore.” Teesman shifted his mammoth frame around in his desk chair 
and leaned forward in a heap. “Don’t you read the fucking papers, kid?”
            Murphy really wished that Teesman would stop with the kid shit, but 
he tried once more to engage him.  “You’re right. I probably should read the 
news more.  I’m just fascinated by why this guy would blow up his life. I’m 
asking you because you seem to be more of an intellectual than most of the 
guys in the Clinic. I thought I might be able to ask a few questions without 
looking like some kind of asshole.”
            Teesman paused a few seconds. “If you want to find out about 
Howard Shore, then go and visit him,” Teesman's voice was soft enough so
it wouldn’t carry beyond the office. “They have him detained over in one of 
the empty hospital barracks. One visit with him will explain more than anything 
I can tell you about the guy. Besides, I am bound by secrecy and by orders 
from Green not to talk about it. They might call both him and me as witnesses 
in the case.
            “I will tell you a story about me, though, if you have a minute. It might 
throw a little light on the subject.”
            Murphy sat down in the side chair.  “When I came into the Army I 
thought it would be a big laugh,” Teesman began.  “I had the mistaken opinion 
that everyone in the entire world thought I was in the Army to entertain them. I 
found out that was wrong. So I decided to discipline myself. That was 
something that a big mouth like me found very trying. I became at least a 
marginal trainee.”
            The big man shifted in his seat again, leaned back and crossed his hands
behind his head. “Near the end of Basic Training, we had a mock war game. 
During the maneuver, the Battalion Commander ran up to me and ordered me to 
‘jump in that deuce and a half truck and drive it up the road a hundred yards’. I 
froze and tried to stammer out an answer to him. The Battalion Commander went 
crazy and threatened to court-martial me if I didn’t follow his command 
immediately and screamed that questioning orders kills people.” Teesman smiled. 
“I jumped into the truck in a complete panic and drove it right into a tree. The 
Battalion Commander went totally nuts! He ran over to me and pulled me out of 
the truck by my fatigue collar and demanded to know what kind of idiot would do 
such a thing. There on my knees in front of him I replied that I didn’t know how to 
drive. I’d never bothered to learn and had no drivers’ license. He walked away in 
disgust and told my Company Commander to get rid of me.
            “That’s how I ended up at the Mental Hygiene Clinic as a patient. My 
Company Commander didn’t know how else to dispose of the problem. Major 
Green worked out a transfer to another company for me, and then pulled some 
strings to get me assigned to the Clinic permanently. All of those gyrations were 
because I followed orders instead of refusing for good reason. Go see Shore.”
            Murphy sat for a moment, silent, wondering if he looked as confused 
as he felt. “Thanks for the advice, Joey. Maybe we can hang out together 
sometime. I will go see Shore.”
            Teesman laughed. “See ya around, kid.” 
• • •

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I have to say man, you had my interest while reading the whole way through. Thanks for sharing, and keep up the excellent works! Peace, poeticweaver~