*revision of ‘the jelly donut’*
Many years ago I heard a story; the subject had come by many tangents and asides (like most subjects eventually do in the course of conversation) to that of craziness. Not insanity, particularly, but craziness. What happens when a man goes nuts. Interestingly enough, no one in the gathering of people involved in this discussion (at what event, function or affair I can’t remember the specifics) had thought twice about venturing into this territory. It was assumed between us all (myself not included) that no crazy people were present at the time, and so the subject was presumed ‘safe territory’, socially speaking. Only years later had I thought twice about it, and, fittingly, it was only in these passing years that the story that had originally been told had begun to leave some lasting impression on me. So, at group one day, I found it completely appropriate to repeat this story, and in my present company, it was oddly enough still ‘safe territory’ to penetrate. Only now, it was not a question of who in the group might possibly be offended or put off by it, because we all quite understood exactly the intentions of the story, some had lived it in their own ways, and it was in this situation relevant to all of us. I had just taken my Valium, so I was especially loose. And when the circle had come back round to me, I took the opportunity to repeat what I had originally heard so many years ago; originally told in the sharp, fast tongue of a man who hadn’t understood the moral, I began to tell the story in a slower fashion…partly the Valium, but also part sympathy, my version followed as such:
“I knew a man named Bill” (here I had assumed the role of the original storyteller…I hadn’t actually known the man whose name may or may not have been Bill…if there ever was a “Bill” to begin with). “Bill worked construction, up on those steel beams…you know the ones…he worked way up high on steal beams, building skyscrapers. I never understood how that works. How you can build something as big as a skyscraper. You know, because you have to build UP…so far UP…I can’t imagine.” I digressed. “Anyway, Bill worked construction, building skyscrapers, way up high on those metal beams…” my mind began to wander, “…I mean, you could just lose your balance and fall right off of one of those things at any moment. I don’t understand how you could manage to build anything that high up, and with the danger of falling right off at any moment. Anyway, Bill. I guess he had been working way up there on the building one day, had just come back down to use the Port-O-John, and while he was down there, on the ground I mean, the foreman had come over to him and was busting his balls about something. I don’t know what. His buddy Rick—Rick is who told me the story—(lying) was having lunch down there next to the Port-O-John. Bill sits down next to Rick and Rick is eating a sandwich his wife packed for his lunch. Rick asks Bill, “what was that all about?” Bill doesn’t say. Maybe he wasn’t working fast enough, maybe he was shitting when he shouldn’t have been shitting, Rick didn’t know, and he couldn’t get it out of Bill. Still, Bill, according to Rick, didn’t seem too bothered by it. Said he seemed to be acting normal. Nothing weird about him, nothing off kilter.
“What’s the point of this story,” one of the group interrupted me. I tried to go on but he got up and started pacing, really fast, pacing, in a tight circle around us all. He was going like a machine, pacing in a tight circle, making sharp, mechanical turns and muttering something under his breath none of us could understand. The group moderator got out of his seat after he had made a few laps, placed a firm hand on his shoulder and walked him out of the day-room.
“Go on,” the old lady with the coffee cake hair urged me.
“As I was saying,” I continued, “nothing was particularly off kilter about Bill. He seemed normal.”
“According to Rick,” the middle-aged man in the corner interrupted. He looked like a goat, this man.
“Yes,” I said, “according to Rick.”
“His buddy Rick,” the goat man added, very enthusiastically. He was leaned forward in his chair, his elbow on his knee and his chin in his palm, like a little schoolboy full of wonderment.
“Let ___ finish,” the group moderator/handler said as he reentered the activity room, closing the door behind him.
“Thanks,” I said. “…So, Bill seemed pretty normal, right? Nothing off about him. According to Rick (in my head amending the names and tenses of the story as I went, as I was not actually the person to hear this story in the first place). That’s the thing about…” I hesitated, looked around surreptitiously, for a moment taken back to that place where I had first heard this story third or fourth hand myself. The company here, I decided, was indeed mixed, but all the same homogenous. What had brought the goat man here, for example, was certainly different from what had brought me, and from what had brought the old coffee cake-haired lady. But, here we all were. So I went on, “…that’s the thing about illness. Craziness, right? Call it what you want. I seemed normal, just like Bill. Up until that moment. There’s a ‘snap’. Like a twig. Other people, they hear that snap, but I don’t know…I never heard it. I don’t think Bill heard it. But Rick, he heard it. And it sounded like this: Bill, sitting there, next to Rick, not eating—just sitting—began to reach under his ass, in his back pocket. Rick tells me he pulled out this crumpled old manila envelope. It had something in it. “What’s that, Bill,” he says, and Bill doesn’t say anything. He just kind of tears the envelope open at the top and reaches in. There’s some kind of sticky stuff all inside. “Ain’tcha got lunch, Bill? You gonna eat?” Bill, calm as anything, pulls out what looks like a mashed up, smashed jelly donut. Now, here’s the snap: Bill takes that deformed, mashed up jelly donut, kind of kneads it in his hands, rubs it all around, like he’s making a pizza pie, and then takes his hands to his face……he rubs his hands, just covered in red raspberry jelly, all over his face. I mean, he really rubs it in, puts some elbow grease into it, makes sure to get every nook and cranny—under his eyes, around his nostrils, behind his ears—until his face is completely red with raspberry filling. He sat there, his face covered in jelly, looking cool and calm and collected and normal as anything. Didn’t say a word. Got up, picked up his toolbox, got in his pickup truck and drove away. No one ever saw him again…according to Rick.”
“Snap,” the goat man said, pantomiming the action of breaking a twig in half with his hands.
“Interesting story, anyways,” the goat man said offhand, now up on his feet and disinterestedly arranging and rearranging the day-room furniture. His handler had wandered off. He was wearing a lampshade on his head, trying it on like a hat, while I sat and watched. Just the two of us now. The group had at this point—one by one—wandered off to rearrange furniture.
“Thanks,” I said. “It was interesting. At least.” The interesting stories are never your own, I supposed, now alone and unenthusiastic.
Several short hours later was lunchtime, then jigsaw puzzles, art therapy, dinner and lights out. That night I couldn’t sleep. My meds weighed heavy in my gut. I thought about Bill and whether the story was true, and if so, what ever happened to him. More importantly, what led to that jelly donut in the face. The only interesting part of the story, really. If it hadn’t been for that apocryphal jelly donut, I supposed no one would have ever retold that story to begin with. Without the jelly donut, I supposed Bill’s story would not be much different from my own. What I was missing was that ‘snap’. I couldn’t put a finger on what exactly had brought me here. Nothing interesting, in any case. I was a song without a hook. A fine enough melody, but no chorus. Regardless, I live by this simple rule: no matter what’s on, the TV is always more interesting than real life. And as far as I (or for that matter, anyone) knew, Bill’s story was all TV.
The next morning, I spoke to the doctor. We agreed I should stay seven more days. Either that or they may commit me. Never one to risk walking that high beam, I stayed the extra seven, smiling. After that, I left.
Released back into the wild, still with no hook.
…It was all voluntary.