A stroke had jumbled Larry’s speech and gifted him with a shuffling limp. The ever-present unlit cigar lodged in his mouth left the charge nurses and CNA’s disgruntled. I knew that he pissed most of his days away in the basement cafeteria/smoking area, gossiping with his moth-eaten clique. When he moved into my room, I considered that he might prove himself a good fellow inmate by virtue of his almost constant absence. I later found out that I’d guessed right about the “constant absence” part, but even the brief periods I interacted with Larry made me want to go through a carwash.
As soon as he’d thrown the last of his scant possessions into an empty drawer, he allowed his stocky body to collapse into a chair next to the dresser. Unprompted by anyone visible, he proudly announced, “I’m a thousand-and-one percent prejudiced! I hate goddamned niggers and fucking Mexicans!”
I didn’t respond. Oblivious to the lack of reaction, he bellyached that the administration had thrown him out of the warehouse a few months previously for indulging in sexual intercourse with a severely brain-damaged wheelchair-bound resident on the third floor. He indignantly questioned the integrity of an administration that dared impose such an injustice. As he pointed out: “All the niggers were screwing her.” I asked why the administration had allowed him back. He answered, “That Jew Gold wanted the money.”
Usually, Mr. Gold exiled patients who wouldn’t “play ball” to the third floor—home of profoundly retarded/brain-damaged residents, people suffering from advanced dementia, and the terminally ill. Because Larry’s “indiscretion” occurred on the third floor, the administration assigned him to the first floor as a condition of his readmission. The victim still lived on the third floor. (The administration later transferred her to another facility; I heard Mr. Gold refer to her as a “problem.”) When I asked Mr. Gold about Larry’s behavior and subsequent acquittal, he glanced at the ceiling, and after a beat of silence said, “Well, he’s [Larry] just crazy and angry.” His eyes met mine; he smirked and went on to warn me, in so many words, that his version of the story would override mine in the opinion of any “authorities.”
“Speaking of that lousy Jew,” Larry continued. He whined that Mr. Gold had confiscated a loaded gun he’d initially brought with him to the warehouse and kept hidden in his dresser drawer. Larry again expressed outrage and questioned the integrity of the administration.
Then he asked me how I used the toilet. I started to describe a routine that involved a team of nurses, several greased-up bodybuilders wearing loincloths, and a crane. When I noticed his intent gaze and thoughtful nods, I stopped short—Bugs Bunny would’ve marveled: “This is too easy.” I conceded that I sat on the toilet like everybody else when I did big business, then looked both ways, cupped my mouth and mock-whispered, “I have to sit down when I pee, too, but it’s no big deal—I hear women have been doing it for years.”
Most CNA’s who knew him from his stint on the third floor were scared to venture alone into our room. When a black CNA ambled in one morning to make his bed, Larry called her a “goddamn nigger bitch” to her face. He regularly referred to black CNA’s as “monkeys” loudly enough that they were sure to hear. He chuckled while he recalled that a staff member had reported him to Mr. Gold for using abusive language toward a CNA. With disturbing umbrage and innocence he defended himself: “All I called her was a goddamn fat-assed nigger.” He genuinely couldn’t understand why his words would offend anyone.
I woke late one morning to find Larry gone. I assumed he’d already sauntered down to the basement, as was his daily custom. A hefty CNA had lumbered into the room, stripped Larry’s bed down to its cracked vinyl mattress and began tossing the contents of his dresser drawers into a trash bag. I asked her if the administration had discharged my roommate. She stopped jettisoning his stuff, turned to me and sighed: “Well, Larry insists on leaving but the nurse be tryin’ to discourage him.” At that moment I heard him viciously yelling at the charge nurse stationed twenty feet from the closed door. The CNA mentioned that Larry had ordered a cab and the staff sent it away. She also revealed that some CNA’s had stolen his personal phonebook. (While on the job, many CNA’s employed by the warehouse practiced utilitarian skills they’d learned as pedestrians.) To cover her ass, the charge nurse documented on his chart that if he walked out of the warehouse, he did so A.M.A.—Against Medical Advice.
Larry managed to leave the following day. Nobody missed him.
* I’d momentarily forgotten the first thing I learned at the warehouse: Never ask other residents how they’re doing. If you politely ask, say, a co-worker about their health or mood, they usually answer “fine” and that’s that. Inmates at the warehouse responded to such casual inquiry by grousing about their aches, pains, and recent hospital stays; they described in detail the frequency and quality of their bowel movements, the ungratefulness of their children, and ultimately the hardships of securing government handouts. Chirpy do-gooders who took pity i.e. felt superior to elderly and lonely residents reinforced this irritating behavior under the guise of encouraging self-expression.