Vegetables at the Funny Farm

By John Saleeby
Nov 1st, 2002

Like the classic movie drama, "The Snake Pit," John exposes the hellish atrocities of our nation's loony bins.

I work the night shift at a psychiatric hospital. That's right, I work at The Crazy House, The Funny Farm, The Looney Bin, The Laughing Academy . . . I can't identify the hospital I work at by name, of course, so let's just call it "The Crazy House", "The Funny Farm", "The Looney Bin", "The Laughing  Academy" or any other funny name for a psychiatric hospital you may like. Call it anything you want to call it, although take it from me, if you call a psychiatric hospital "work" as in "I gotta go to work" your life has gone horribly awry.

I have been interested in psychiatry ever since becoming aware of the fact that I was completely out of my mind at age seventeen. While not enough to prevent my dropping out of college and becoming a stand up comic, this realization did dampen my interest in learning to play the electric guitar which, considering that this was in the late seventies, at least spared untold thousands, perhaps millions of innocent people unimaginable pain and suffering.

I guess I could have become a psychiatrist myself, but that would have required me to stay in college and NO WAY was that gonna happen, man - Those people were crazy! So then I joined the Army, became a stand up comic, and went just as crazy as those people I had to get away from in college. I'm not crazy anymore, but undergoing psychiatric care myself rekindled my interest in the whole sack o' clams all over again so, here I am - Sitting in the dayroom of The Laughing Academy  drinking coffee and writing this article at three fifteen in the morning as the patients snooze and the nurses have a knock down drag out fight in the office. I know that was a really long sentence but it will be another four hours and fifteen minutes until I get to go home, so I'm in no hurry.

The ward I work in is an evaluative kind of deal - Most of our patients are young black guys who have spent the past few years running around on the street drinking and smoking anything they can get their hands on and now that they are supposed to settle down and be an adult - KABLOOEY!!! Generally speaking, they fall into five categories - 1) Alcoholics/Drug Addicts, 2) Schizophrenics, 3) The Mentally Retarded, 4) The Clinically Depressed, and 5) People who believe The Strokes and The White Stripes constitute some kind of rock and roll "comeback."

For example, a while ago we had an eighteen year old kid in here who had stolen one of those stupid three wheel wreckreational vehicles and then spent the next week smoking pot and riding around in the woods all day and all night without stopping to eat or sleep. After about five or six days of that it occurred to someone that it was a little peculiar and he finally wound up in here with me every morning telling him to wake up, make his bed, get dressed, brush his teeth, and come on down to the dayroom to listen to me crack jokes about whatever they are talking about on "The Today Show". After a couple of weeks without marijuana and access to motor vehicles it was determined that our boy was indeed a schizophrenic and sent off to receive treatment or something, I dunno - I'm so sick of these characters by the time they finally get out of here that they can ship 'em to Hershey, Pennsylvania to work in the chocolate mines for all I care. But seriously, some patients will be sent to drug rehabilitation centers, others will go home to receive outpatient therapy, others will be permanently institutionalized, and others will just get to go home - HURRAY!!! Sometimes they can't cut the mustard (Excuse me while I use a little professional psychiatric lingo there) and have to come back. That's a drag, but it's better than one poor fool who got out and threw a little kid off of a bridge - Good job, Doc! Way to go!

A Word About Night Work - "ZZZZZ". Oh, that doesn't count as a word? When the kind of people who care about those kinds of rules find themselves up at four o 'clock in the morning after seven cups of coffee for reasons not having anything to do with The Big History Mid Term you will find "ZZZZZ" in Websters' with my picture next to it. No, wait - My picture is already in "Z" for "Zero."

Finally, Six AM shows up and it's time to make the doughnuts. I mean, it's time to wake up the patients and, brother, with the medications some of these kids are on it would be easier to wake up the doughnuts. Some of those psychotropic drugs can really slow the ol' metabolism down and it took a while for me to learn the difference between a guy who is too lazy to get out of bed and a guy so full of thorazine and valium he couldn't "Rise And Shine" if you put him on a hydraulic lift in a C3PO Robot suit. Guys will quite often say "Yeah . . . Yeah . . . I'll be right up!" with every intention of getting a move on, but when I come back to check up on 'em a few minutes later, there they are still in bed snoozin' away in complete defiance of my authority as The 'Going Around Waking Up Patients Guy'! It used to really make my blood boil but now I have it changed every three thousand miles at the same Swiss clinic Keith Richards goes to so I'm runnin' Cool and Clean - I am The 'Going Around Waking Up Patients' Guy, kneel in awe before my mighty power! I used to go home and march around the apartment in a Napoleon uniform until I started to remind myself of John McCain and it wasn't cool anymore.

Have I ever been in danger of getting killed by an outta control maniac? Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I have. But when you are as big an asshole as I am, someone wanting to beat the shit out of you is a way of life. The big problem with being an employee in a psychiatric hospital is that, no matter how much a threat a patient may pose, if I lay as much a finger on 'em I'm going to prison. Damn! After an entire lifetime of training and practice I've transformed myself into an internationally feared Black Belt Ninja Kung Fu killing machine only to find myself in a job where all I can do when danger rears its Leno head is turn around and run like a little sissy. I want you to know this is totally alien to my nature -  that whole "Turn Around And Run Like A Little Sissy" thing. Listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young on my car stereo while on my way in to work helps get me into the right frame of mind. That and PBS.

Like, this one time, a really big scary black guy got up in the middle of the night and decided he was going to kill any sleepy little white guys who might have been pacing around trying to stay awake. Well, as luck would have it, there was only one of those around, the role of which was being played by the beautiful and talented John Saleeby. Shelving more than thirty years' experience of two-fisted tough guy street fighting hand-to-hand combat, I attempted to talk a little sense into the misguided youth only to find myself backed up in a corner with no escape route! Now, being a Hairy Chested American, backed into a corner is where I do my best work, but as I rolled up my sleeves exposing the dragons burned into my skin as I lifted the red hot pot of corned beef and cabbage between my forearms on my way out of the Shao Lin Temple, I realized that I wasn't back on the Mean Streets that forged me into the solid steel man o' war I am today, I was in the goddam psychiatric hospital! And then - As if in a vision - the Spiritual Guru of America in the Twenty First Century, Former President Jimmy Carter appeared urging me to "Run, John! Run like a little sissy!!" And I ran, I ran so far away! That was totally alien to my nature, I just want you to know. Ooohh, look! "The Gilmore Girls" is on! I've gotta make Rice Krispies Treats before Forbis gets here with the Gummie Bears!

The very worst thing I've ever seen was this one poor bastard who got so violent and threatening that we strapped him down on his bed by both of his feet, both of his arms, and by his chest. Very unusual, and something that can only be done by Doctor's Orders. The nurses injected him with all kinds of sedatives but you can never predict how someone will react to a drug and, like a lot of people on a psychotic rampage, it only made him crazier and I spent the whole night sitting in a chair next to him going "There, there . . . It's all right . . . " while he screamed and yelled "WHAT ARE YOU MOTHERFUCKERS DOIN' TO ME!?! HEY!!! WHAT ARE YOU MOTHERFUCKERS DOIN' TO ME!?!" Damn! But, like I said, you don't just do something like that to a person any ol' way you want - We were constantly checking the straps to see that they weren't so tight they cut off the circulation, I brought him some water anytime he asked ("WHAT ARE YOU MOTHER- Can I have some water?"   "Sure!" "WHAT ARE YOU MOTHERFUCKERS DOIN' TO ME!?!" "Here's your water!" "Oh! Sip, sip, sip, sip, sip, sip . . . " "There!" "WHAT ARE YOU MOTHERFUCKERS DOIN' TO ME!?!"), and every two hours we let him up to go to the bathroom. Figure in all the paperwork involved and you're talking about as big a project as your average appendectomy. And to think just a few days earlier I was sitting around with that guy watching "The Today Show" and making dirty jokes about Katie Couric. And there we were a few days later doing the exact same thing as if nothing had happened at all - Although I did notice that Katie was wearing pants.

The very last thing I have to do is hand out the breakfast trays and watch the guys eat in case a food fight breaks out or somebody pukes. But half the time the breakfast trays don't show up before it's time for me to leave so, instead of worrying about food fights and puking I have to deal with being asked "When are we going to eat?" and "Where is my breakfast?" about three hundred times a minute until my eyebrows crawl into my ears to plug 'em up. Which is worse - Food fightin' and pukin' or "When are we going to eat?" "Where is my breakfast?"? Beats me! But either way - I sure am one happy hampster when quittin' time comes, oh yes, I sure am one happy hampster when a' quittin' time comes!

I'm sorry, I'm working on a blues song about my shitty job at the same time as an Acid Logic article about it. And, if it's hard to understand what I'm saying, it's because I'm wearing a rubber lizard suit from making a science fiction movie about it at the same time as writing the blues song, the article, and a comedy movie treatment with Chris Tucker as the "WHAT ARE YOU MOTHERFUCKERS DOIN' TO ME!?!" guy.

SHITTY JOB RATING - On a scale of * (Shitty) to **** (Really Fuckin' Goddam Shitty As All Hell), Working The Night Shift At A Psychiatric Hospital only rates *. It's shitty, but I have a lot of time to sit around drinking coffee and writing fun stuff for Acid Logic!


Yeah, I'm doing great, man. Just great. 


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John Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on medication now so he's probably a little nicer now than he was when you met him earlier.
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