« Posts under Life & Times

“The Three Charlies”

Folly Magazine.

On a bitterly cold New England Monday in January 1978, I entered my third psychiatric hospital in less than six months. I would spend the next year of my life there, almost half of that time as a resident of Thompson 2, the Institute of Living’s most closely monitored, all-male, 24/7 locked-down unit.

I had been in such places before—New York’s Bellevue Hospital and the Carrier Clinic near Princeton in New Jersey—but my arrival to those “facilities” had been cushioned with substantial medication and no expectations. I arrived at Thompson 2 that January afternoon, expecting to step straight off a pampered country inns weekend and onto the idyllic rehab brochure that my Park Avenue shrink had shared with me in New York.

“Do it, Don.” He had implored. “A few months at the Institute is nothing compared to what almost happened last summer. You were lucky to survive a brush with death. Look at this as a fresh chance at life.”

His logic was sound, and persuasive, especially given that I knew I was sliding back into a very dark mental hole—a hole that had all too recently hurled me to suicidal depths and introduced me to handcuffs, straitjackets, padded rooms and electroconvulsive shock therapy.
»Read More

“Machiavelli and Me”

Palo Alto Review, Volume XIVPalo Alto Review, Volume XIV

There’s a paper-thin separation between the summer jobs of one’s college years and the career-starters in which we find ourselves immediately after college. One day you’re a lifeguard; the next day you’re a stockbroker. In my case, one day I was a construction site gofer and the next day I was a Manhattan ad agency rat packer.

The shift from my carefree summer strolls along life’s edge to the intense marathon that would consume the next thirty years was as abrupt as the crack of a starter’s pistol. Simple suddenly gave way to cunning. Direct was out, duplicitous in. Perception was truth. The summers of my youth were surely gone. Fortunately for this young marathoner, their memories lingered.
»Read More


The Awakenings Review, Volume 4The Awakenings Review, Volume 4

“Wilbert. Su madre.” It was like clockwork. Every Saturday. No exceptions. Even if the New England winter was chucking icicles instead of snowflakes, his mother came. Wilbert perked right up. He knew su madre meant a big hug from Mamma, the familiar sound of his native tongue, and chocolates. I’m pretty certain his enthusiasm was mostly about the chocolates. Not that I could understand their conversations, despite my ringside seat. Wilbert spoke only Spanish, when he spoke, which wasn’t much. He seemed to find his voice mostly in grunts and head nods. Even with his madre. That must have been hard on her. Then again, having a big American, too old to be her son but too young to be her husband, sitting in on her weekly visit with her baby boy must have been a bit of a drag, too. Plus, there was the ever-present aide. It was like a talk show, with Mamma in the host’s chair, Wilbert the guest of honor, me relegated to the far end of the couch, and the aide as off-camera director, watching the clock and cueing the commercial breaks. Only Mamma spoke.

Wilbert and I were patients in a psychiatric hospital. We were both under constant supervision. This meant that we were never without each other’s company and never without the company of a psychiatric aide. Privacy was nonexistent. At 31 years old, I found this difficult. Wilbert, on the other hand, was largely oblivious.
»Read More