What you have to do to get in here: set fire to
your family while they sleep; lock a small child in an old
refrigerator abandoned to the earth by its owners; lay wooden
posts in the path of an Amtrak Sunset Limited; remove the stop
signs at an intersection near a grade school; dump hydrochloric
acid in a public pool; lure neighborhood boys and girls into your
house for cookies and movies and store their body parts according
to size in a reach-in freezer; order a Big Mac at a McDonald’s
and open fire on its patrons—all of these things will get you
sent to the Arizona State Hospital, usually for life. Where I
thought I would spend at least six months, I ended up lasting only
a day, the most bizarre day in my then eighteen-year-old life
because by the end of that day Lindy had no sooner introduced
himself than he was dead.
Of the number of venues for
serving your mandatory Christian service, a graduation requirement
heartily endorsed by the priests and laypeople of Brophy College
Preparatory, there were two: the children’s crisis center or the
state mental hospital. And on the authority of generations of
graduates before—an authority based on tales of crazy women
shedding their clothes while walking down the hall, men who tried
to shove eating utensils in various orifices, human beings acting
like animals, performing for the benefit of craven teenagers whose
hair was, at all times, cut above the collar—the hospital was
the place to volunteer.
My assignment that first and
last day, a day which seemed forever in coming as I waded through
a series of checks (fingerprint, background, etc., as well as
various interviews with doctors whose peculiarities paralleled
their patients’) was a large man with a stone face who looked
about forty, his dull gray crew cut meticulously maintained.
Thomas Major Hill, his chart read, along with an ominous
instruction to "keep the patient out of the vicinity of any
"Call me Lindy,"
Thomas Major Hill said. "My friends call me Lindy."
"Is that a nickname?"
"Sort of. I’m Charles A.
Lindbergh, Jr.," he said. "I’m the baby
Lindy seemed exceptional in his
incarceration. He hadn’t violated someone else and become a
criminal; his brain just wouldn’t unhinge itself from an
assembly of facts: that he was born in 1930 to Anne Morrow and
Charles A. Lindbergh, that he spent the first year or so of his
life at Next Day Hill, the Morrow estate in Englewood, New Jersey
("That’s Englewood," Lindy said. "Not
Inglewood, as in California. I’ve never been to California. I
hate California"), that his real nickname was "Hi"
because of something cute he once said, that he missed his nurse,
Betty Gow, that his father was a great pilot. Lindy said he’d
been separated from his family since he was young—when I asked
him what separated them he nodded vaguely, saying "Yep,
exactly"—but that he’d tried several times to reunite
with his sister, who lived in Hawaii. Apparently it was these
reunions that wound Lindy up in the loony bin.
"My sister has a
magnificent house," Lindy said. "She has three children
with her husband Tom, who is a lawyer. They have a maid their
house is so big. I had a picture of them, but it got taken
I told Lindy I once lived in
Hawaii and his stone face softened with a big smile. "How did
you like it?" he wanted to know.
"I loved it," I said.
I wondered where Lindy was from.
When you meet someone it’s interesting to guess at who their
parents were, what their childhood was like, etc. I figured it
wouldn’t do any good to point out that mathematically Lindy wasn’t
old enough to be the Lindbergh child. Plus to do so might enrage
him, a feeling substantiated by something I learned later from
Stillwell, Lindy’s doctor.
Stillwell told me about another
patient who came to the hospital claiming to be the son of Charles
Lindbergh. Lindy was understandably irate. He publicly challenged
this Lindbergh to prove his claim. This Lindbergh told a
long-winded tale in the cafeteria one lunch about how Bruno
Hauptmann snatched him from his crib, handing him off to Al
Capone, who changed his name from Lindbergh to Salvatore. This
Lindbergh—now Salvatore—grew up under Capone’s wing,
managing several casinos in Las Vegas under the name Bugsy Siegel.
When Lindy pressed this reputed mobster for details verifying his
birth, this Lindbergh admitted he wasn’t in fact the baby
Lindbergh but Colonel Lindbergh himself. The Colonel hinted that
little Lindy was the bastard child of Mrs. Lindbergh and one of
the construction workers building the Lindbergh estate in
Hopewell. Further, he hinted that he and Mrs. Lindbergh conspired
to have Hauptmann abduct the bastard child and kill him. This sent
Lindy into a fit and luckily he was restrained after cutting the
impostor with a sharpened toothbrush Lindy carried in his sock. By
the time Lindy came out of isolation, a long hall of dank rooms in
the windowless basement, the Lindbergh impostor was gone,
transferred to a facility in Georgia.
I told Lindy about when I was
sixteen, how I spent the summer with my aunt in Macon. Bobby
Haynes lived next door. Bobby Haynes and his girlfriend Beth took
me out to the lake with them on those hot summer nights. I kicked
rocks around the lake while Bobby and Beth listened to the radio.
After a while I got to where I could time when I could come back
to the car. The three of us would go to the Dairy Queen if it wasn’t
too late. There was an even calm to those nights, a calm shattered
when they found Beth face down at the lakeshore, her lungs clogged
with red mud. Everyone including my aunt thought Bobby did it,
that he probably got her pregnant. They were satisfied in this
when Bobby’s mother found Bobby hanging from his closet by his
rhinestone belt. He’d removed the silver buckle with the
engraving of a cowboy lassoing a bull and put it on his dresser.
My aunt sent me home shortly after that.
I didn’t actually tell Lindy
the part about them finding Beth and Bobby. Lindy spent the rest
of that day playing chess with Old Sam Strumm, who claimed to be
the greatest chess player in the history of institutionalization.
The cause of the riot that day, the riot in which Lindy would end
up dead, wasn’t a disagreement of any kind over the chess match.
The riot started because Martha Easton jumped on the piano when it
was quiet time in the common area. I was still learning the rules
of quiet time myself so I wasn’t sure that piano playing wasn’t
allowed, but the orderlies said, Now Martha, and flipped the lid
down. Martha flipped it up and started playing, and one of the
orderlies slammed the lid down on Martha’s fingers. Martha
yelped and jumped up, the top of her head catching one of the
orderlies on the chin so hard he opened his mouth and spat blood.
As you can guess, in a minute everyone was up and screaming.
Orderlies from other halls flooded the common area. For my part, I
tried to pull the orderlies off Martha, who was cowering near the
pedals of the piano, but I was so new I wasn’t sure what to do.
The sound of glass breaking hushed the room and when an orderly
stuck his head through the broken window, a shard of glass hanging
like a guillotine blade, he looked down and saw Lindy crumpled on
the sidewalk, ten floors down.
Or something like that. Who
could reenact that melee? With all the flailing arms and screaming
it’s a miracle more people didn’t get hurt. It’s all true,
though. Everything I said happened did happen. Well, except the
part about me being an eighteen-year-old volunteer. That part was
a fib. I wish I had the luxury of being an eighteen-year-old
buttfuck volunteer, laughing at all the crazies while leaning
against a new sportscar Daddy bought me, worrying about whether or
not I was going to get blown Saturday night after the dance.
Eighteen for me was graduating from high school and being drafted
into the Army. Eighteen for me was worrying that I might not live
to do the things these punk volunteers take as their holy
God-given. Eighteen for me was being in the jungle.
The jungle was a bad place for a
war was the first thought I had on Vietnamese soil. The jungle is
really all I see when I remember back. I can’t remember anything
I ate, or the places I slept, or anyone’s face except Renshaw
and Kim Li. And of course what happened.
Private Renshaw was my shadow on
my first tour. Everywhere I went, he went. He was from somewhere
in Kansas and whenever we came upon a rice paddy he’d shield his
eyes and peer into the distance and say, "This ain’t no
wheat field." That sounds like a sweet, innocent thing to say
but that was just part of Renshaw’s shtick. He might’ve looked
like a corn-fed dope, but he had hellfire in him. At night in the
foxholes, the sound of monkeys and who-knows-what echoing all
around us, he’d tell about what he and his buddies would do back
home after the Friday football games. Renshaw was a defensive
lineman, which he had us understand wasn’t a glory position
necessarily, but he was also the quarterback’s best friend, and
to hear him tell it, boy, those cheerleaders couldn’t line up
fast enough. He amazed everyone in our platoon—Riker, Macdonald,
Seeley, and Sergeant Roberts—with his tales of conquests. All
his storytelling sort of backfired on him, though. He opened his
mouth so much the others used to kid him. "Watch Renshaw
around that grenade launcher," they joked. "Don’t get
too close to that beer bottle," was another one. Or:
"Lock up your pets." Renshaw grew to hate the kidding,
but he never let on. I sort of kept my distance from him in the
foxhole, too. I knew the fag jokes wouldn’t be far behind.
Vietnam wasn’t anything like
boot camp, let me tell you. In South Carolina the sky was quiet
and filled with the colors of the rainbow at sunset. When you
looked up in Nam—if you looked up—you didn’t see the
sky, but the helicopter patrols that buzzed day and night in your
ear. And the screaming. Everyone screams. I got so I was afraid to
take a step forward.
Renshaw knew of a place to
unwind. A couple hooches near our post housed ten or more girls
and one girl’s mother ran a shine bar out of a third, adjoining
hooch. The thatched roof was so low Renshaw couldn’t stand
upright, which was okay because we never stood around for very
This one particular night, the
night in question, Renshaw grabbed a girl and headed for what he
called "The Renshaw Suite." It didn’t matter which
girl you chose; they all knew us and they all knew we went back
into the dirt-floor rooms and either gazed over the mud
windowsills or closed our eyes and thought of girls back home.
Still, we got to know all the girls and some of the guys could
even talk about them by name.
Maybe Renshaw was getting Dear
John letters from home or, more likely, he couldn’t stomach
another day of the smell of killing. The best way to explain what
happened is to figure he just snapped. No one heard the girl’s
screams but me. I knocked on the wall of The Renshaw Suite to make
sure everything was okay. You always checked on your buddy. The
screams stopped as I reached the burlap bag splayed and hung in
the doorway. I peered around it and saw the girl, her wrists tied
behind her back. Renshaw’d stuffed one of his socks in the girl’s
mouth and was forcing her head down while he sodomized her. I
could smell his sweat. Renshaw pulled the sock out of her mouth,
but before she could scream he shoved her head down on him so hard
she gagged. He held a gun to her head and told her to take it nice
I stood watching. I realized
that, through the tears, I recognized the girl. Kim Li Phan.
Renshaw rolled his eyes in his head and nodded forward, relaxing
his grip on the gun. He jerked up when Kim Li accidentally bit him
and he slapped her hard, knocking her into the corner. Renshaw
stuffed the sock back into Kim Li’s mouth and turned around,
seeing me in the doorway. "This gook bitch bit me,"
Renshaw seethed. He yanked Kim Li out of the corner and asked me
to help him get her out of the hooch. I followed them down the
noisy hall, Kim Li moaning and sobbing. "Don’t fuckin
follow me," Renshaw warned, pointing his gun at me.
"Just stay where you are." I stared at Kim Li
helplessly, and her sobs faded into the dark as Renshaw dragged
her into the jungle.
Things happened quickly after
that. I was reassigned to a desk in a supply camp. The government
needed me alive because I was the only witness. They never found
Kim Li’s body. Renshaw swore his innocence at the trial, telling
everyone I was making the whole thing up, but when you have the
sort of reputation Renshaw had, it was easy for people to believe
how he got from A to B. In the tradition of military justice,
Renshaw was convicted of rape, but, because there was no body, not
murder. He got eight years and was hauled off to Leavenworth. I
never saw him again. The war ended, and I came home to North
Dakota, got married, and settled down. Maybe you saw the movie Casualties
of War—that was based on me, partly.
Well, tried to settle down. Not
in North Dakota, though. I don’t know why I said that. I did
come home to North Dakota, that part is true. Got a job as a night
manager for Pete’s Fish and Chips. You never saw a bigger bunch
of morons than the guys who worked there. My main responsibility
was to count the receipts and make sure the money matched and
deposit the blue bag with the locking zipper in the night deposit
slot at the bank.
The bank parking lot wasn’t
that well-lit, and I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when
I got jumped. It was three or four guys at least who came out of
the bushes. One of them had a gun. I didn’t get a good look at
their faces because another of them conked me over the head with a
baseball bat. When I regained consciousness, the little blue bag
stuffed with three thousand dollars was gone. Mac, the day
manager, didn’t believe my story and fired me. Who knew the bank
had the parking lot under surveillance twenty-four hours a day? He
gave me the same look Bobby and Beth did when I said I really did
have sex with Mrs. Jones, the woman who cleaned my aunt’s house.
I had to say something. Who can take the kind of kidding Bobby and
Beth gave me when I came back to the car too soon and found them
naked in the backseat? I was just kidding when I said earlier that
Bobby and Beth are dead. They’re not. I wished they were when
Bobby told me he asked Mrs. Jones if what I said was true and Mrs.
Jones said she was going to have a talk with my aunt, who sent me
home right after that. Bobby and Beth still live in Macon. My aunt
told me they got married and had children.
I got married, too. In
Sacramento. North Dakota was too small for me anyway; and
California is a dreamer’s paradise. I dreamt of finding a woman
to love and to make a home with on the Pacific shore. When I met
Jill she was waitressing during the day and taking law school at
night. Not law school really, but criminal justice classes at the
community college towards a degree so she could go to law school.
You never saw so much ambition. It made me ambitious, too. I got a
job in the admissions office at the big state university. My
coworkers liked me, and we all got along fine. Jill started to
make plans to transfer to the state university. We were also
making plans to get married, which we did in a very low-key Vegas
ceremony. "We’ll do it big when we have lots of friends and
paid vacations," she said.
People always say you should
know someone inside and out before you marry them, but I found it
exciting to find out about Jill along the way, sweet discovery
after sweet discovery. The only discovery that wasn’t so sweet
was learning that Jill was in a secret competition with her best
friend Helen, who lived in New York. Helen was the fashion editor
for one of those big glossy Madison Avenue magazines. Jill and
Helen had grown up together outside of San Francisco, and Helen
went to college right away and moved to New York after that. Helen’s
husband was a literature professor at Columbia and had published a
big-to-do book on Shakespeare. Our autographed copy carefully
supported the towels and sheets in our linen closet. Some days,
Jill seemed impatient with our ascent.
Then, out of the blue, I started
to rise through the ranks at the university. One of the history
professors found out I was a Vietnam vet and asked me to give a
lecture in his class. I did and the professor was so impressed
that he recommended me for an adjunct job teaching a course on
military warfare. Of course I had to lie about being a college
graduate to get the job, but who wouldn’t? Jill was able to quit
her job at the restaurant and she transferred to the university as
a full-time pre-law student. I took on a couple more courses,
freshman western civ classes.
Jill talked about having
children. We talked about getting out of our useless apartment and
buying a house. Things were going well, but an uneasy feeling
settled around me. Helen and her husband continued to write with
fantastic details of their life in New York, about parties and
museums and openings—all the things that get shallow people so
excited they can’t talk. What those people know wouldn’t fill
half of Jill’s brain. She wouldn’t see it that way (if you saw
a picture of Helen you’d understand Jill’s agitation, though.
Jill wouldn’t admit that had anything to do with it). Jill grew
agitated by the sight of me.
Then fortune knocked. Jill and I
came home to a letter on embossed stationery. A big publisher in
New York wanted to publish my book on the history of the world.
"I didn’t know you wrote a book," Jill said, but she
was so happy she hugged me until I was blue. She called Helen
immediately. The story of me blowing up in my editor’s office
and throwing the only copy of my manuscript out the window reached
the status of legend with my immediate circle of friends. It still
makes me laugh.
The guards are good sorts, and
when there’s a lockdown they always give me the same room, the
one with the corner chipped away, which I did when I was eighteen.
You figure it worked for Clint Eastwood, why wouldn’t it work
for your average joe? Hey, Lindy, how are ya doin’, the guard
says and it reminds me of that show with what’s-his-name on it,
the one where he looks at the outside from the inside and wishes
he was on the outside. You know the one.