Sample L01 from Winfred Van Atta, Shock Treatment. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961. Pp. 24-31. A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,000 words 820 (41.0%) quotesL01

Used by permission of Winfred L. Van Atta.0010-1690

Winfred Van Atta, Shock Treatment. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961. Pp. 24-31.

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There were thirty-eight patients on the bus the morning I left for Hanover , most of them disturbed and hallucinating . An interne , a nurse and two attendants were in charge of us .

I felt lonely and depressed as I stared out the bus window at Chicago's grim , dirty West Side . It seemed incredible , as I listened to the monotonous drone of voices and smelled the fetid odors coming from the patients , that technically I was a ward of the state of Illinois , going to a hospital for the mentally ill .

I suddenly thought of Mary Jane Brennan , the way her pretty eyes could flash with anger , her quiet competence , the gentleness and sweetness that lay just beneath the surface of her defenses .

We had become good friends during my stay at Cook County Hospital . I had told her enough about myself to offset somewhat the damaging stories that had appeared in local newspapers after my little adventure in Marshall Field & Co. . She knew that I lived at a good address on the Gold Coast , that I had once been a medical student and was thinking of returning to the university to finish my medical studies . She knew also that I was unmarried and without a single known relative . She wasn't quite sure that I felt enough remorse about my drinking , or that I would not return to it once I was out and on my own again . This had worried her .

`` I read those newspaper stories about you '' , she had said . `` You must have loved that girl very much , but you couldn't have meant it when you said that you wanted to kill her '' .

`` Why do you say that '' ? ? I asked . `` I was full of booze and , well , a drunk is apt to do anything he says he'll do '' .

Nonsense ! ! I grew up in an Irish neighborhood on Chicago's West Side . Don't tell me about drunks . You're not the kind to go violent . Were you in love with that girl '' ? ?

`` Would it make any difference to you if I were , Mary Jane '' ? ?

She met my eyes , suddenly angry . `` I wouldn't have gone into nursing if I didn't care about people . I'm interested in every patient I've helped take care of . When I think of people like you , well , I '' --

`` You what , Mary Jane '' ? ?

`` You are young , intelligent , have a whole lifetime before you to make something worth while of yourself , but you mess it up with whiskey , indifference , self-destructive attitudes . I don't blame that girl for breaking her engagement with you . Was she pretty '' ? ?

`` Oh , yes '' , I said , feeling annoyed , `` she was very pretty . You don't believe that I'm going back to medical school and finish , do you '' ? ?

`` Why should I ? ? I've worked this ward for three months now . We keep getting the same ones back again and again . They all mean well , have great promises to make when they are about to go home , but drinking is their sickness . You've not seemed like them , but maybe you are . You've treated your stay here like a big joke . It's not a joke to be sent to a place like this or to Hanover . I wanted to go to college , too '' --

`` Why didn't you '' ? ? I asked . `` Chicago has some of the best '' --

Her eyes flashed angrily . `` That's what I mean about you , Anderson '' , she said . `` You don't seem to know much about reality . I'll tell you why I didn't go to college ; ; I'm the oldest of six children . My father's a policeman and makes less than seven thousand dollars a year . There was no money for tuition , for clothes , for all the things you apparently take for granted . Nurses' training here doesn't cost anything . They even pay me six dollars a month . I think it's a good deal . I'm going to become a good nurse , and I've got two baby brothers that are going to have college if I have to work at my profession until I'm an old maid to give it to them '' .

`` Do you have a boy friend '' ? ? I asked .

`` That's none of your business '' , she said , then changed the subject . `` What about your father and mother , don't you think of them when you're in a place like this '' ? ?

`` My father and mother died when I was two years old '' , I said . `` My aunt raised me . Aunt Mary died when I was doing my military service . I have no one but myself to worry about '' .

Something in my voice must have touched her deeply because her anger passed quickly , and she turned away to keep me from seeing her face .

`` I'm sorry '' , she said . `` I don't know what I'd do without my family . We've always been so close '' .

`` Tell me more about them '' .

Her eyes became bright as she talked about her father and mother , aunts and uncles , cousins . Listening , I felt cheated and lonely as only an orphan can . When she had finished I said :

`` Your dad sounds like a good father and a good policeman . I'll bet he wouldn't be pleased if a rumdum like me were to ask his daughter for a date -- I mean , after I'm out of the hospital , a month or so from now '' .

`` My father is a sergeant of detectives and has been attached to Homicide for five years . He's a pretty good judge of character , Anderson . I don't think he'd mind too much if he were sure you'd decided not to be a rumdum in the future '' .

`` What about you ? ? How would you feel about it if I were to ask you for a date when I get through at Hanover '' ? ?

`` If I thought you were serious about going back to school , that you'd learned something from your experiences here and at Hanover -- well , I might consider such an offer . What about your that girl you were going to kill '' ? ?

It suddenly seemed very important to me that Mary Jane Brennan should know the truth about me -- that I was not the confused , sick , irresponsible person she believed me to be .

`` There are things about me that I can't tell you now , Mary Jane '' , I said , `` but if you'll go out to dinner with me when I get out of Hanover , I'd like to tell you the whole story . I can say this : I'm dead serious about going back to school . As for that other girl , let's just say that I never want to see her again . You will get to come home on long weekends from Hanover , won't you '' ? ?

`` Yes , I'll get one overnight a month '' .

`` We'll go up to the Edgewater Beach Hotel for dinner '' , I said . `` Do you like to dance ? ? They always have a good orchestra '' .

`` I like to dance '' , she said , then turned and walked away .

There hadn't been anything really personal in her interest in me . I knew that . It was just that she felt deeply about every patient on the ward and wanted to believe that they might benefit from their treatment there .

Now , riding this hospital bus , feeling isolated and utterly alone , I knew that she was genuine and unique , quite unlike any girl I had known before . It seemed the most important thing in my life at this moment that she should know the real truth about me .

It was a fantastic story . Only two people in the state of Illinois knew that I was entering Hanover State Hospital under an assumed name , or why . It was unlikely that any girl as sharp as Mary Jane Brennan would believe it without proof . But I had the proof , all documented in a legal agreement which I would show her the moment I was free to do so .

As the bus turned into the main highway and headed toward Hanover I settled back in my seat and closed my eyes , thinking over the events of the past two weeks , trying to put the pieces in order . I wondered suddenly as I listened to the disconnected jabberings coming from the patient behind me , if I had not perhaps imagined it all . Perhaps this was reality and Dale Nelson , the actor , was delusion ; ; a figment of Carl Anderson's imagination .

Four I had come to Chicago from New York early in September with a dramatic production called Ask Tony . It was a bad play , real grade-A turkey , which only a prevalence of angels with grandiose dreams of capital gain and tax money to burn could have put into rehearsal . No one , not even the producer , had any real hope of getting it back to Broadway . But because it was a suspense gangster story of the Capone era , many of us felt that it might catch on for a run in Chicago , continue as a road company , and eventually become a movie .

Such optimism was completely unjustified . The critics literally screamed their indignation . Ask Tony was doomed from the moment Kupcinet leveled on it in his Sun-Times column . We opened on Friday and closed the following Monday . Out of the entire cast I alone received good notices for my portrayal of a psychopathic killer . This let me in for a lot of kidding from the rest of the company , two members of which were native Chicagoans .

We were paid off Tuesday morning and given tickets back to New York .

I felt lonely and depressed as I packed my bags at the Croydon Hotel . It seemed to me that my life was destined to be one brilliant failure after another . I had been among the top third in my class at N.Y.U. , had wanted desperately to go to medical school , but I'd run out of money and energy at the same time . Then later I had quit my safe , secure five-a-week spot on a network soap opera to take a part in this play . It seemed to me that I was not only unlucky but quite stupid as well . I knew that I'd soon be back working as an orderly at the hospital or as a counterman at Union News or Schraffts while waiting for another acting job to open . It suddenly occurred to me that I did not particularly like acting , that I was at some sort of crossroads and would have to decide soon what I was going to do with my life .

I closed the last bag and stood all three at the door for the bellboy to pick up , then went to the bathroom for a drink of water . The telephone rang . When I answered it a voice too dignified and British to be real said , `` Is this Mr. Dale Nelson , the actor '' ? ?

`` All right '' , I said . `` Why don't you bastards lay off for a while '' ? ?

`` I beg your pardon , sir '' ? ?

`` All right . This is Dale Nelson the actor '' .

`` Good . I'm calling you , Mr. Nelson , at the request of Mr. Phillip Wycoff . Could you possibly have lunch with him today ? ? His car could pick you up at your hotel at twelve '' .

I smiled . `` You'll send the Rolls-Royce , of course '' ? ?

`` Yes , of course , Mr. Nelson '' .

I started to say something else appropriate , but the man had hung up .

I finally went downstairs to the bar off the main lobby where most of the cast were drowning their sorrows over the untimely passing of Ask Tony . They all bowed low as I approached them .

`` All right , you bastards '' , I said , `` the great actor is about to buy a drink '' .

I laid a tenspot on the bar and motioned to the bartender to serve a round . He had just returned my change when the doorman came in off the street to page me . I walked over to him .

`` You Mr. Nelson '' ? ? He asked .

`` That's right '' .

`` Mr. Wycoff's car is waiting for you at the east entrance '' .

I followed him out through the lobby to the street .

An ancient Rolls-Royce , as shiningly impressive as the day it came off the ship , was parked at the curb . The elderly chauffeur , immaculate in a dark uniform , stood stiffly at attention holding open the door of the town car .