Readings — From the February 2016 issue

The Odd Couple

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From West of Eden: An American Place, an oral history of Hollywood and Los Angeles by Jean Stein, published this month by Random House. Stein is the author of Edie: An American Girl (1982) and American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy (1970). These recollections are by Ed Moses, a painter.

In 1957, I was a graduate student at UCLA and I needed a gig to pick up some living money, so I went over to the job office for students. They had these little card files you’d pick through. I always looked in the medical section, in the crazy section, trying to find something intriguing.

There was one job that looked interesting. You had to report to the neuropsychiatric ward at UCLA and talk to a Dr. Judd Marmor, tell him your credentials and capabilities. I arranged to meet this guy and he explained the situation. There was a woman who had been in and out of mental institutions, but it was not a crisis situation and it was time for her to get out of the hospital. I would be paid two dollars an hour or something like that, which was a good sum at the time. He said, “This girl is very disturbed. Do you think you can handle taking her out to restaurants and staying at the family’s place in Malibu at night and on the weekends?” At that time they were experimenting with schizophrenics — instead of putting them into a lockup cell, they just let them out so they could socialize, go dancing, interact with the so-called real world. The theory was that if they were introduced to a “normal” or natural family structure by people who were paid to serve in that role, and who didn’t make a big deal about it and just did what the patients wanted to do, little by little they would hook up and move back into our reality.

When I was in the navy during World War II, I was trained as a surgical technician, and as part of the training I had to go through various medical areas — psychiatry, urology, general surgery, cranial surgery. I thought I was hot shit. I could scrub in with any of these guys and know what they were doing before they knew it themselves. I thought I knew a lot about everybody — who better to take care of the crazies and the weirdos that everybody else was scared of than me? I said, “Oh, sure, this is right up my alley.” Judd Marmor knew a sucker when he saw one.

When I first met Jane Garland, she was still in the lockup. I would pick her up around eleven-thirty in the morning to take her out to lunch and then bring her back around four. They’d bring her out and she’d see me coming and she’d say, “Hi,” and have her hair all twisted and sort of standing up. She could have been a redhead, but I think she was a brunette. I suspect she was no more than twenty-four or twenty-five. She had a vocabulary of behavior and a lot of body language. She had different walks for different things: she took tiny little quick steps; she walked on the toes of her feet, slightly tilted forward, and at other times with a kind of stumpiness. She wasn’t hideous, not at all, but she didn’t take care of herself, either. There were a lot of pore openings around her nose. She had very coarse skin and a ruddy, slightly blotchy complexion, but with a little primping she’d have been okay. She was a little bit thick in the ankles, but she was slender, robust, and strong. She didn’t like to bathe. Her mother would take her to a salon and get ’em ripped open and waxed. Jane would come back and her legs would be riddled with little teeny red dots.

Later on, she was permitted to stay at her mother’s house in Malibu on weekends. I’d stay out there every other weekend on Friday and Saturday night and come home on Sunday. At first it was fun. Sometimes we’d go someplace and dance. Sometimes we’d go to the movies. Sometimes I’d take her by to see certain friends. I’d warn them ahead of time. I would bring different guys in to sort of mix it up a little bit. I explicitly said what was going on, but I was slightly embarrassed by it. These guys just didn’t know how I could do anything like that. They said, “Man, you are out there — taking care of that girl!”

A couple of months after I started the job I picked Jane up and she didn’t have any shoes on, so I took her to a shoe store down in Santa Monica. Salesmen walked up to her at first just like she was a normal person, and then they’d have to sort of step back to reorient themselves. I’d help them along as much as I could by talking to Jane in a fashion to obliquely convey that we’re dealing with a mental patient here. They didn’t always get it at first. Since Jane never wore underpants, she’d be sitting there with her legs apart and the guy would be down there and she’d go back and forth with her feet. There was some energy that she had to defuse somehow, so she made these strange motions. I saw these little boots and pointed them out to her. She just sort of nodded her head and twisted around. I thought they were nice little boots. They were very soft and they were plum red. They came up just above her ankles in a sort of scallop and made her look like a little elf. In hindsight I don’t know why I got those boots for her, I just thought it was a cute idea — I thought it might brighten her up a little bit. Whenever I was at her home she’d always have them on. She’d wear those fucking red boots to bed. She wore those things until they were falling off her feet — ’cause I bought them for her. It’s excruciating when you get to know someone whose behavior from the outside just seems goofy but after a while you can feel what’s twisting and turning inside.

Jane was never a danger to you, only to herself. And there was danger. The scary part was that she would come creeping in in the middle of the night. I slept very lightly. I was in this little room way up at the top of the house and her bedroom was down below. She’d wander up in the middle of the night and stand over me, shuffling from one foot to the other. She’d be wearing a nightgown or something like that. I’d realize this presence and I’d look up and she’d be looking down at me. I’d say, “Oh, hi, Jane. Are you just looking for something to eat? A drink of water? Or can I direct you back to your sleeping quarters?”

Jane had stepped out of the territory where most of us travel. She spoke in tongues: it was a jumble of irrational connections of words and images, but after a while you understood. It was like listening to someone speaking Spanish, and every once in a while a word comes out and you say, “Oh yeah.” She reminded me of the sculptor John Chamberlain, who liked the sound and the look of words but didn’t care about the meaning of them. It was something like that — like words put together for how they sound together. Every once in a while she’d say these incredibly succinct things that cut through everything, and the rest of the time there was this talking in tongues, this weird kind of chattering and clattering about. There were certain things she’d say when things had gotten out of hand. One of her famous phrases was, “There is a rat in the refrigerator.” That meant some bad shit was about to happen, some real bad shit. I don’t know if there ever actually was a rat that she’d found and put in the refrigerator or what, but she’d say that phrase and I’d think, “Holy shit, what’s going to come down now?”

For a while I didn’t know what Jane’s game was. She was so smart, the way she played with you. Really smart but really angry. She always made funny comments, but they were so oblique. It wasn’t until I got to know her over a period of time that I could play back and forth with her. I couldn’t figure out if her insanity came about from a heavy-duty life situation or if there was some genetic factor. Was she really blocked up and inside out, or had she gone through some heavy shit and had a low threshold for the shit? Or maybe the shit was so high that no matter what your threshold was, you might have flipped out. She didn’t seem like a straight schizophrenic to me. She was like this creature who had been mortally hurt.

And then Judd Marmor dropped out of the picture. He suddenly realized it was a little too sticky. Marmor said, “I’m going to give somebody else this case. I’m overbooked right now and I can’t really give it the kind of attention that it needs, and besides, she’s a schizophrenic and they’re very difficult.” Judd couldn’t deal with her. He would talk to her and there was no connection made. He was this rationalist who really didn’t know how to deal with an insane person. Sometimes I would go to his sessions with her. I’d stand on the side and he would talk down to Jane, like she was a little child. She hated him — oh yes, she really didn’t like him at all.

Later on, in the Seventies, I would see Marmor around. Once, I said, “Judd, don’t you remember me?” He said, “I do, but I’d rather not discuss it.” I tried to talk to him about Jane but he wouldn’t participate, he said he never talked about his patients. He let me know that it wasn’t cricket for me to be asking, and he gave me the sly. I said, “Hey! Don’t give me the sly, let’s talk about it.” I said, “It’s long, long overdue, what the fuck do you care? Do you care about your reputation at this point in your life?” Uh-uh, he didn’t want to be cornered. He said it was a very painful and tragic situation, and it was very difficult for him because there was nothing that could really be done.

The day finally came when I decided. No more. I can’t do this, this is getting too fucking scary for me. You can’t tamper in that territory — you can create an explosion that you can’t cope with. This was not the way it was supposed to be, you’re the male nurse in a sense, and you don’t fuck the nursee. But at the same time, the doctor would say, “Whatever you do is okay.” Not Judd Marmor, but the other guy he’d recommended to take his place. Judd kept it fairly strict and straight up, but this doctor was a sleazeball. He was absolutely willing to play ball. I think that doctor was just bought, because he would say shit to me and I’d want to say, “Come on, pal, I don’t know that much about it, but I know that’s full of shit.” But I never said anything. He was in his fifties or late forties, I would say, slightly overweight, puffy-faced, with a mustache and a syrupy manner. Slightly unctuous. I told him this was getting too heavy for me, and that’s when he approached me about marrying Jane. He said, “It would be very lucrative for you, and your children would be taken care of for the rest of their lives.” Our children? You go, “What?!” He says you’ll be taken care of handsomely, you just have to marry this mad girl and everything will be hunky-dory. Mrs. Garland was there, too — the three of us in his office in Westwood somewhere. She was all for it. I guess she thought that she could make some sort of alliance with me. I said, “Well, you know, that’s a very interesting suggestion and I doubt if I could do it, but let me think about it.” Of course I wasn’t about to do it, I was just trying to get off the hook with my life. Those people were scary. When millions of dollars are involved, people do weird things. They wanted to keep Jane out of the hospital because she was so unhappy there, and they worried that if she went too far over the edge there would be no way to extract any money out of this situation.

We were all being invited out to spend the weekend. The idea was that one of these dumb little guys would get her pregnant. I don’t know for sure, but I had that suspicion because of all the things that were offered. The mother would go to bed early and leave you with Jane, and she would start doing weird things. She kept getting weirder all the time. I was nervous. I knew I was gonna get fucked somewhere, but I didn’t know which orifice was gonna be penetrated, psychic or otherwise. And being the cheap moralist that I am, I just — well, it’s not that I’m righteous or anything like that, it’s just that I’m uncomfortable. Some things are just not my shtick. I like vanilla ice cream. It was a fun adventure, but it got too heavy. It became one of those things that go bump in the night.

On what would be my last day, Jane was standing at the head of the stairs that went down to the living room. It was about three flights down. She was wearing a little cotton dress, standing with her hands behind her back. Her feet were spread apart, she was going up and down, rocking from one foot to the other. With a sort of smile on her face, she looks at me and says, “There’s a rat in the refrigerator.” I look down and dripping between her feet are drops of blood. Drop, drop, drop, drop — making a little pool there, and of course I started thinking the worst: Holy shit. She’s jammed something up in her vagina. She couldn’t just be having her period, because she’d said there were rats in the refrigerator, right? She has both of her hands behind her back and I say, “What’s in your hand, Jane?” She puts out her left hand and then puts it back again. So I say, “Let’s see your other hand.” She puts the same hand out again. “Let’s see what’s in your other hand, Jane.” She smiles and she sticks it out. She had an ice pick pitted right down through the center of her wrist, straight through to the other side.

I have no idea what happened to Jane. But one day about ten or fifteen years after I’d quit I thought I saw her walking through the Third Street mall in Santa Monica. I swear to God, there she was, wearing the same pair of red boots I’d gotten her umpteen years earlier. She didn’t look whacked out, but she didn’t look right. I think she was with some guy. I thought it was her — maybe I wanted it to be her. She wasn’t doing the Jane Garland shuffle. She seemed functional in terms of getting from one side of the street to the other. I don’t recall if she was talking. She just walked by and I was going in the opposite direction and I turned to look and she kept walking. Her head was the same shape, but her hair was longer and she was walking normally. But she couldn’t have been normal if she still had those red boots on. I walked toward her and the person she was with to get a closer look, but they dodged into a building. I thought, Well, I hope that’s her, and I walked away. I didn’t want to generate any associations, particularly if she was with some guy, I didn’t want her to feel disturbed. I think it was her — there was a presence. You know how you get a presence about a particular person, even if he’s in disguise? I always wanted to have a gallery opening where everyone would wear paper bags with eyeholes so you could never recognize anybody by their faces. If a person walks up, does he have a presence that you can identify? With a painting, the presence is not what it means or what it looks like or what color it is or anything like that. The presence exists somewhere between the object in the painting and the person viewing it, and there’s a kind of energy field that goes back and forth. Some people pick it up and some people don’t. You see a Rembrandt and it just resonates, you know? It vibrates with that kind of energy. I felt Jane’s presence that day in Santa Monica, let’s put it that way. I thought it was her.

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