Thursday, January 23, 2014

50) Callous Park.

To realize his cinematic obsessions, Arthur had to challenge the gods, perform the seven labors of Hercules and walk through the flames of Hell to put his inspired vision up on the silver screen. For a first feature, he’d need at least a million dollars and he knew no one who would give such a queer libertine as he this king’s ransom, he could trust only his artistic ingenuity to further his ambition. The powers-that-be in the Auz film bureaucracy mostly funded the famous, the connected, people from their own set; who they knew was all they knew, a gutter-snipe like him couldn’t even get seed money. Not that he didn’t try for he was outrageously determined and had punk attitude.

He confabulated a science fiction opera he tentatively called “No Love Lost”, a madcap, hospital drama involving nefarious heart-swaps and hallucinations of animated dolphins in a polluted water-world future and, with the script plus a few sketches, he approached the Features Production Fund at the Film Commissar with an application for pre-production development. To Arthur’s brattish fury his assessors told him he was full of shit, the script was overblown with disconnected nonsense and he should crawl away and forget about it. “We’re not into funding crazy punks who want to burn the world down!” sniffed a Yank, herself determined to crack the soft-cock Aussie film industry, her frizzy hair standing electrically on end as Arthur, rushing out the door, snarled back, “They knocked down the Eiffel Tower at the end of “The Great Race” and barns got burned in “The Long, Hot Summer”, does that make them prohibited?”

He was not one to give up his obsessions easily, especially on the advice of two dimwit hatchet wielders. He figured a smart way to garner the interest of the ‘powers that be’ would be to do the pre-production work off his own back, with scripted story board, shooting schedule, locations, prop lists and itemized budget all put together as a happening enterprise, and maybe ‘They” wouldn’t be able to resist the momentum he’d engendered. He knew he’d need to go into the hospital system to do research on procedures and props for his medical melodrama, so he decided to go back to nursing after fourteen years out of the field, and his wages would pay for his film’s pre-production needs. There was a huge hospital not far from Pyrmont Squats that seemed to be always desperate for nurses, the infamous Callous Park Mental Hospital and, almost crapping his pants, Arthur applied for part-time night duty inside its Gothic premises.

What he didn’t know was that he’d gotten quickly hired as a kind of cannon fodder to cop whatever mess was left behind by the regular night nurse who had fled the job temporarily, badly needing a break. Every week he was shunted to yet another devolving ward, seventy-seven doors on shock corridor, and in this way got to see up close all the variations on ‘horror-house’ that spread creepily across the vast harbor-side park-lands that was Callous Park Hospital. Half the reason he got moved on so often was that he didn’t get on with any of his fellow staff, they were either institutionalized, lazy crackpots or ambitious, sharp-faced ratshits, and Arthur in turn was considered an incompetent nincompoop and a smarmy wanker.

Nursing is a tough job, very few professional types are willing to deal with all the phlegm, blood and shit and psyche nursing is even more traumatic, the hapless nurse is expected to soak up endless bad behavior, insults, violence, all with a compassionate smile. They burn out quick, freeze over, chill out, and after many years in the field, give-up and don’t want to hear one more sob story. Though “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” really did it in for psyche nurses, as even cops had better reputations, in actuality it’s nurses who were copping most of the violence and sometimes they got turned into ice-cold ratshits in response, and it was Arthur’s queer kismet to find himself constantly paired off with the rattiest.

All fields in contemporary times are probably the same, cut throat competitive; fashion, music, film, finance, teaching, nursing, whatever, it’s a rat race with constant maneuvering for superior rank, cushy positions, overtime, more money, less work, power and kudos. As Arthur had discovered in his youth, a giant mental hospital can shelter many an idiosyncrasy yet he dared to venture within the treacherous labyrinth again, as if he had a talent for eternally slogging through muck.

He was started off in Admissions and, like any other deranged city-refugee, worked his way downwards through the many tiers of terror that were built into Callous Park. Admissions was where the city dumped its flipped out, broke down, torn apart unbeloved, those mad monsters whose families couldn’t cope, the smash-up stunt maestros the cops couldn’t deal with, the morose wrist slashers found by distraught strangers; there was nowhere else to take them and it was nurses who had to wear the worst of it. It had to be Arthur’s ongoing sour luck that his first boss nurse was a young, hefty lesbian with short, spiky blonde hair, one year out of grad school and inexperienced. She turned deaf ears and looked through him like painful glass no matter how much he warned her about the strange behavior of a new admission, a patient hanging out of his bed claiming he heard strange, scary sounds. Sure enough, this seven foot Polynesian went on the rampage, putting his fist through every window on the ward till his hands were minced to hamburger meat and it was left to Arthur to jump upon the maniac, wrench his arms from the shattered windows and shoot him in the arse with a tranquilizer.

The bitch boss blamed Arthur for the fiasco, somehow he’d brought it on with his brash, macho ways, and he got shoved next door to the acute flip-out ward. Most of the night's duty was spent sitting around gossiping, waiting for something to happen, Arthur always on his toes for when the mental furor exploded, putting in extra effort to calm down the distraught soul, mumbling continuous soothing monologues about “ Forget your troubles and breathe slow and easy”, with drugs as a last resort. Otherwise he was sketching away at his movie storyboard, blabbing about his Communications studies at the University of Technology and his hopes for an artist’s colorlful career, much to the annoyance of his fellow psyche nurses who were stuck in their jobs, going nowhere but the madhouse.

He soon found himself ensconced in the gloomy chronic schizos' ward with a charge nurse who’d been in the job for thirty years. He was earning a fortune in long service perks, ran a shop in the burbs during the day and liked to sleep all night at the hospital as his patients were mostly harmless simple-schizos who looked after themselves. Arthur, being an insomniac, stayed dead awake the entire night, squeaking in his chair, clattering dishes at the tea trolley, trundling back and forth restlessly, keeping his grouchy boss awake and getting on his nerves, the opposite of the deadhead dozing partner the old nut required. 

Thus he was moved deeper into the Gothic labyrinth, into the chronic, chronic psychos' section, the architecture like something out of a Dracula movie, a turreted sandstone fortress with creepy, silent bell tower from which a tribe of bats flapped deep into the night. While the mentally demolished slept like beasts of burden, Arthur kept watch with a young nurse who jumped at every sigh of the wind in the windows. Arthur couldn’t resist mentioning that the building felt haunted, it was all too eerie, to which the placid woman turned pale and whispered that the ward above them was indeed reputed to be haunted by some tortured ghost and for this very reason was left empty as nobody could bear to stay there for long.

At that moment they both looked up with fright and in chilled silence listened as a door above them creaked open and footsteps lightly thumped across the floor the entire length of the ward, another door scratched open and a desolate sigh wailed again at the windows. His sensitive companion turned white, eyes wide in alarm as Arthur pointed up and whispered, “There goes the ghost now, hear it, there’s not supposed to be anybody up there, this hellhole is really haunted!” The poor woman stopped breathing as she listened to more doors creak open and more footsteps shuffle from the shadows above her, and she looked like she was about to have a heart attack. “It’s a fucking ghost from all the years of abysmal pain this dump has handed out!” croaked Arthur, to which the young nurse collapsed back into her chair, giving him a grim look that said, “Don’t say another fucking word!” and she sat frozen and incommunicado for the rest of the interminable shift, waiting tensely for the warmth of dawn.

Deeper into the lair of the worm went Arthur and he found himself in the next ward along, for the chronic, chronic, chronic mentally challenged, virtual talking, walking vegetables who thankfully were all tucked in and asleep by the time he came on duty. Squeezed into an armchair in the tiny nursing station, he was sized up as possible permanent shotgun on the ‘dementia express', partner and companion for a stern, old matron who’d mothered the roomful of Quasimotos for many years. Sitting facing him, she asked Arthur many questions about his politics, religion and attitudes while clicking away at her knitting needles and nailing him with pinhead eyes, him blathering away about all his high-falutin opinions, trying to bullshit the old bag. It was kind of a cushy position, just sitting awake all night, the patients all snoring like white rhinos, if it wasn’t for her with her needling queries and beady eyes piercing him constantly.

After three nights he was on edge and uptight with the old gal, desperate to get out from under her gaze. At about two in the morning she seemed to be dozing over her knitting so he crept out to the back of the ward, to the toilets, to blow a joint and calm down from the anxiety of being stuck in a swamp of deranged flesh. He got very stoned, his mindset turned paranoid and hysterical, the very universe seemed to shift to another level, and as he tried to tip-toe back through the ward the sleeping cretins awoke, one by one, and called out in alarm, shouting imprecations, wailing misery and woe, the whole room waking and heaving out of bed in a maniacal hubbub. Arthur staggered around in their midst, trying to shoosh them, calm them down, placate their wrath, quieten the dump before the old hag of a charge nurse came out. All his flapping about was fruitless, they were having none of him, he was an alien caught trespassing in their midst and he felt like an alien, zonked in from another dimension, he just didn’t know how to deal with them and the uproar increased.

Out came the wise old matron and she took in the scene at a glance, Arthur cringing before a mob of irate Morlocks and, speaking only a few terse words, she got them all to quickly shuffle back to bed and instant sleep, as if she had a witch-doctor’s powers of persuasion. Arthur tried to shrug the debacle off as the usual antics of crazy loonies but the crafty old matron grilled him under her laser eyes, she read his aura and knew him for the fool he was and he was soon ejected from the cushy armchair, and he didn’t mind. He was delegated to possibly the lowest level of the Mental Underworld when he was stationed at the AIDS Cottage while the regular night gronk went on holiday. Here was incarcerated only one patient, a zombie like schizophrenic who had previously escaped out into the wider community and got himself screwed by some awful monster who gave him the AIDS virus and now he had to be guarded by a nurse twenty-four hours in a two-room bungalow to protect the public.

It seemed like the easiest of jobs; while the spooky geek slept in the bedroom, Arthur sat up all night in the living room reading books and writing hack reports. Only the walking-dead guy didn’t sleep, he got up every five minutes and wandered the cottage, urinating on everything, taking not a jot of notice of Arthur squawking directions in his ear. When the guy shuffled back to bed, Arthur would try to relax, flipping through the latest hot text, or dreamily sketching out his sci-fi opera, but suddenly he would look up and there would be the madman, hovering in a dark corner, staring vacantly at him, like some ancient curse returned from the grave. Arthur resorted to locking the door between the two rooms and only putting his head in every half hour to make sure the guy hadn’t hung himself, he was always creeping up and down, piddling all the way, and Arthur gave up herding him into the toilet.

The crunch came when he fell into a doze late one night and astrally tripped out, or whatever, because he suddenly found himself standing in the next room, the schizo’s bedroom, only he was in the schizo’s world, his mind-scape, another universe, empty, silent, chilling, like the deep void of outer space and inhabited entirely by one dark soul, who yearned for a caring soul-mate. Arthur freaked out and snapped back into his body, sitting dazed in the armchair in the living room. He jumped up in fright, hair like pinpricks, aghast at the alien entity that had seemed to seep into his mind. He saw that the door was locked yet still felt a compelling mental force dragging him asunder, to be swallowed up and lost in the void of the other room. He fought sleep all night, terrified to be whisked back into that desolate soul-scape, of biting winds and bleak shades of grey, empty hopes and no spark of lucid thoughts. His relief nurse arrived at dawn and discovered him chattering mindlessly in an armchair, piss dripping off all the furniture, the zombie sleeping in the bathtub, and he was disqualified from working any further shifts in the AIDS Cottage as he didn’t have the mettle for it.

Then he went from the brain surgery ward to the alcoholics co-operative house, from the returned soldiers hostel to the McKinnon drug rehabilitation clinic, and everywhere was a nightmare for him, the berserk, shit-covered patients the lighter part of the job. He couldn’t relate to the permanent staff, their maneuvering for more money, their gossip about family and staff, the new furniture they bought for their lounge-room, the barbeques they had on his days off which they expected him to attend and which he resolutely refused. He didn’t fit into the normal mating set-up, he didn’t fuck the female nurses and he was not man enough for the men, and he had delusions about being a movie star to boot. They all complained about him to the superviser, they didn’t want him back stuck in their tiny nursing station with them, he showed them up for the psycho drudges they were, always saying something that got their gall-bladder spitting, he was such a smart arse. There was an actual rock bottom to the pit of Callous Park, the geriatric wards down by the harbor where the poor and abandoned were sent to die, and that’s where Arthur made his last stand at nursing, for the dying are easier than the living to deal with.

There is possibly no worse place in the civilized world than a government run geriatric ward: with little money to make them habitable and few relatives to make complaints, they were purgatorial no-god’s waiting rooms for the half-alive and brainless, the spew-green/shit-brown d├ęcor grunged down to match the decrepit deaths, the burnt-out staff melding well with the broken furniture. On his first stint he was paired with a haggard old punkette named Annie, happily languishing in the dump for several years, who looked like she’d been getting into the morphine tincture, a huge bottle of the illicit liquid in the drug cabinet and ever so easy to top up with saline solution. She fussed about, pretending to be efficiently in control, but was actually at her wit’s end handling the needs of the demented patients and, mid-winter, Arthur found one old lady locked out on the icy verandah in her skimpy nightie because Annie the punk queen was furious with her repetitive wanderings. 

Arthur brought the poor old sod in from the cold but half an hour later found her locked outside again, dear get-your-gun Annie considering it Pavlovian therapy for obstinate waywardness. Arthur tried to humor the harridan and explain pleasantly that it just wasn’t on to torture the aged because they were senile but her face screwed up tighter with every word until he snapped and told her bluntly to lay off with the freezer treatment. For sure she complained about him and he was moved on, leaving her to quaff the morphine instead of giving it to the needy.

The next ward was even nastier, the in-charge nurse a burly, red-headed neo-Nazi brought out from England to fill in for the nursing shortage; they must’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel in their desperation to cover the lowest level of Purgatory in Oz. For the first few hours Arthur thought he got on with the guy magnificently, the two of them bullshitting each other about all their likes and dislikes, they had much in common and blabbed up a storm laughing about it all, and he thought maybe they’d bonded and he’d found a bearable, regular gig, for the oldies were manageable in their mad dying. It was towards dawn, when the Pommie thought he was sleeping, that Arthur sauntered out into the ward to eyeball that all was well with the sleeping gerries and inadvertently stumbled upon the thug nurse dragging an octogenarian down the corridor by his grey hair, really dragging hard as if the old Aussie was a bag of garbage. 

The brute had a twisted, ogrish snarl on his ruddy face and his piggy eyes popped when he saw that Arthur had witnessed it all, letting go of the old man’s hair, a few strands of it falling to the floor. When they sat back in the nursing station, Arthur quietly, firmly said, “If I ever see you do something like that again, you know I’ll have to report it and you’ll be up for assault. Please cool it!” The rest of the shift was spent in furious, creaky silence, though they sat knee to knee, Arthur couldn’t look the guy in the face again, and the pig must’ve rang in a complaint to the head nurse about his lax behavior as Arthur never saw that ward again and he was glad of it.

He did a tour of many more gerrie wards, there being a legion of dying, destitute Aussies with nowhere else to lay down their worn out bodies, and thankfully most of them were managed by sweet, caring old biddies who, though nattering endlessly about their home furnishings, Arthur found it a pleasure to work with. Still he managed to get on the wrong side of these mother hens, they would bleat on about how awful it was to die in a government hospital and asked Arthur if he didn’t feel terribly sorry for the oldies. “No, I don’t feel sorry for them, they’ve had their lives, death is a natural part of life’s cycle, I accept it. Sorrow is such a demeaning emotion, it belittles them, I’d rather feel compassion and give proper, objective nursing care.” “Yes, but you don’t feel sorry for them?” they prattled back, not getting his point. “No, I don’t feel sorry for them! I respect them!” grumped Arthur and from then on he was viewed as a heartless, cold fish.

Throughout all these ordeals of endless night duty in mental hell Arthur drew up the storyboard for his grand medical opera, wrote the proposal and prepared the budget, researching the nursing procedures required for surgery and looting the bins of hospital detritus for his props. When driving around the vast grounds he picked up heaps of discarded equipment for his sets and scouted the various klunky buildings for his external hospital shots and, over a year, was able to put together much of his pre-production package, using his hard-earned wages as finance. He did all this in the long hours of sitting about, between tranquilizing the rampaging nutters and wiping old shitty arses, and in general being an attentive, compassionate nurse full of common sense for most eventualities. But his compatriots would’ve preferred it if he’d slept and kept his mouth shut, for Arthur let all and sundry know he was not going to be stuck being a lousy nurse forever, he would one day be a movie star, and of course they thought he was mad as a hatter.

At last there came the day when he was called up to the Nursing Supervisor’s office to face a weedy, rash-faced gay guy who informed him that he was an incompetent nurse, just about every ward he’d worked on had made some objection to him, and his services were no longer required, they no longer needed cannon fodder such as he. Arthur breathed a sigh of relief and laughed in the pipsqueak’s uptight face, “You’re doing me a favor sacking me from this shit-hole! The dump is still back in medieval times when it comes to healing the sick, it’s more like a dungeon of torture, and those nice nurses who complained were just covering up for their own sadism and carelessness. I think I’ll take the lot of you to the Human Rights Commission, I kept a detailed journal of all the horrors! Oh, and you should hear what they say about you. They think you’re a spineless, useless, dickhead fag and they laugh about you in every nursing station right across Callous Park. Once again, thanks for saving my sanity and my soul, I’m out of here!”

He’d achieved what he’d set out to do and no longer needed them either, and years later was bemused to hear that the institutionalized torture palace was being dismantled to save the government money, the staff forced to scrape by in the real world and the poor lunatics dumped on the streets, many of them at Northcott Housing estate where Arthur lived. He carried on with his grand movie project, took his pre-production package back to the Film Commissar for consideration and, as if all the Bodhisatvas wanted to bless Arthur for his hard slog in Hell, ‘They’ gave him a small amount of money to begin his film, now titled “Virgin Beasts”.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.