I may be crazy, but I’m no fool. Having lost my job during this time of economic ruin and finding myself in a legal battle with my former employer for unemployment insurance benefits, I had not choice but to apply for public welfare. I marched my ass into the food stamp office here in Bed-Stuy. In less than two weeks, I was awarded what is just like a credit card. My secret code is 2473. The state of New York awarded me $199 for food and has offered to pay my utility bills this month.
With the exception of extraordinary long lines of Hasidic Jews in the welfare office, I was the only white guy.
“What are you applying for,” a black African sista with hair twisted and tied in a black cloth asked.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to work again– I have schizophrenia. I would also like to start the process for disability benefits.”
“You’ll need to sign this release so that we can obtain all your mental health records. I’m going to give you three appointments. One is with me, next Friday. I’ll need a letter from your landlord and a copy of a birth certificate. If you miss any of these appointments, your benefits will be terminated and you will have to start the application process all over again.”
With copies of my birth records formally on file and all other important documentation furnished, I proceeded yesterday to a Health and Hospitals Corporation facility in downtown Brooklyn, just off the Brooklyn Bridge.
I tried my best to remain calm while admitting to my medical condition to a non-licensed intake worker– a blonde Jew, wearing a doily to the best of my ability:-
“We’ll it’s what they diagnosed me with at Trinitas Hospital in New Jersey. You better write that down.”
“But bi-polar disorder seems a more appropriate diagnosis. An individual with schizophrenia would not appear so cognizant. Are you sure what you experienced was not simply a manic episode.”
I was angry that he did not look away from his computer screen when addressing me. Schizophrenics are supposed to be the ones with difficulty making eye contact.
“Let me ask you somethin’. You ever been washed clean by the Holy Spirt? Have you invited Christ into your heart? I didn’t think so. You say tomato, I say tomatto. I’m tellin’ you, I suffered from religious delusions when I was in the hospital. How many bi-polar people do you know who know they are God? I’m telling you, I gave schizophrenia. They kept me for almost two months. Thank you very much!”
“Do you drink?”
“Yep. Have one beer a night. A Corona.”
“What drugs have you tried in the last six years.”
“Marijuana and ecstacy.”
“Come with me. You must be screened for substance abuse.”
An obese Latino– either Mexican or light Puerto Rican was much nicer during her interview.
“Pardon my allergies,” she said.
“Are you allergic to cats? I got two of ‘em. I’m so sorry. Baby Girl was all over me this morning.”
“We’ll make this fast. I don’t see evidence of substance abuse. Come with me…”
Moments later, I was pissing in a cup and blood was drawn from my right arm by a pretty, young black woman who also tested my heart rate–
“That’s a little high. Have you ever experienced problems with high blood pressure?”
“No,” I explained, knowing that it was only my nerves. All this for $200? I asked myself.
Another black face– this one older– Anita Bakerish. She was the physician.
“I just love it when my knee jerks like that. Try it myself all the time, never works like that.”
“It has something to do with concentrating on it. Expecting it. Great reflexes, though. I’m going to ask a series of questions relating to your ability to work– here, you can read from the computer screen as I read the questions. Answer either 0 hours, 1-3 hours, 1-6 hours, or 1-8 hours….How long can you lift items?”
“Reach above shoulder level?”
“Work while bending down and kneeling on knees.”
I looked at her, wondering if that was a real question. Who would want to work for 8 hours on one’s knees?
“Hell I can do that on a twelve hour shift.”
The doctor lost her professional demeanor immediately and burst into laughter, obviously aware that I’m a big cock sucker.
I was then escorted down the hallway to an office without windows for my psychiatric assessment. Another Latino medical professional was there. We fought for more than an hour over my diagnosis–
“I’m going to ask you to remember three things– Apple, Desk, Penny. Repeat those back to me when I ask.”
“How long at your permanent address?”
“Count backwards from 100 in sevens.”
“Christ almighty. Who do you think I am– that dude from ‘A Beautiful Mind’. You should not assume that all schizophrenics are blessed in math.”
She smiled as I used my fingers to carefully obtain the sequence. A cell phone in her bag rang. S
“Sorry. I’ll have to take this if it’s the hospital calling.”
“What is the name of this facility?”
“Arbor,” I said.
“What’s the address?”
I thought long a hard and remembered– “One Hundred Portland Street. North Portland, no?”
“Are you sensitive to light, bright objects or sounds?”
“No, but I’ll tell you this much about what I know,” adding an accent to the word know, “One must be careful with what he shares with a shrink, but I’ll do my best not to sound too crazy to you. Cell phones. I sense those damned things. I swear, I can feel someone around the corner on one when I walk down the street. Call that crazy if you want, but now I hear that they may cause cancer. When everyone starts dropping dead from head cancer, I’ll do nothing but laugh. I refuse to have one.”
She seemed a little angry and went on–
“What were the three objects?”
“Apple, penny, desk.”
“I knew it!” She said— “It is bi-polar II. Sensitivities to light or bright objects.”
“Do you want to work?”
“Of course, but do you have a pill that will help me swallow corporate slavery?”
“Can’t help you with that,” she said, signing my paper, writing off my schizophrenia.
“You want to know something? I know things. Remember when I informed you that I was sleeping well at night– how I told you that I use a form of self hypnosis to fall asleep– putting my self in a large hand– Gods hand– and how he sweeps me away at night, despite my restless body? Well, I’ve been having these dreams that have come true. I predicted the housing market crash long before anyone. Ya wanna know the cool thing about it– I wrote about it before it all happened. It’s like proof or something.”
“Oh, I’ve heard lots from self-professed prophets– the real schizophrenics– people on the streets who I’ve worked with…go ahead and tell me. Nothing would surprise me. What was your dream that you’re not telling me.”
“They are going to blow this town to smithereens. Nothing left but ash. I saw it in that vision that led me to the hospital for two months. Was walking around New York with no shoes on. My feet were bleeding. The smells… Could smell death all around me but no one else could.”
“Oh…I heard that one before,” she said.
I passed the Anita Baker physician on my way down the hallway. She smiled at me, remembering my offer to work on my knees all day.