I would stand in the middle of the supermarket stripping my clothes off like banana peel, the center of the universe, screaming and writhing as terrified customers broke into chaotic swirls around me.
“In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images,
I went into the neon fruit supermarket”
Supermarket In California, Allen Ginsberg
The day I took off my clothes in the supermarket was hot and muggy, though that’s not my excuse.
I was sitting on my verandah with the view of red rooftops and the suburban skyline thinking about how heavy the silence felt in the heat, how much buzzing there was in the air. I had my little yellow pack of Champion Ruby. I was smoking cigarettes slowly, nervously savouring the nicotine. The ritual of picking the dry leaves, arranging them into a thin trail on the paper, flipping the lighter through my fingers, smoking and watching my smoke, was something to do. I felt still and frenzied at the same time. It was probably from sitting for hours doing nothing but smoking and feeling sick. I was sick in my stomach, and my head.
“Where do you keep your cutlery?” I asked a lady at the counter.
“Aisle 4” She said.
I wasn’t far from home, just a ten minute walk to the shops. The kids on the checkouts were familiar and so was the layout of the supermarket. I’d never bought a knife there before though, that’s why I had to ask, and when I asked I imagine I sounded normal, just like someone who needed to buy cutlery to eat with, to fill out the set for a dinner party or a BBQ. So I got a knife. A sharp looking black plastic handled utility knife. It was a scary looking knife if you imagined a crazy person waving it around. I walked to the frozen food aisle and waited until everyone had left. I waited so that I could take off my clothes and start going crazy when no-one was there, which didn’t make sense.
I hadn’t planned on being as scared as I was. In my head it was easy and dramatic. I wrote a poem when I was in high-school called “Supermarket In Lismore” where I clumsily referenced Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Supermarket In California”. The poems didn’t have much in common, except that they were both set in supermarkets. I don’t think I really understood his poem. His featured Walt Whitman and Fredrico Garcia Lorca, mine had me running naked up and down the aisles and pressing my erect penis into tubs of ice cream.
Now I was here I just felt scared. I had never thought why the fictional me had an erection with which to make imprints in ice cream. There was something virile and frenzied in the idea of it which suited my idea of insanity at the time. Now I was standing in the freezer aisle with toilet paper behind me and tall glass freezer in front of me, about to take off my clothes in public. The thought of sexual excitement seemed alien and abstract.
Quickly so I couldn’t think about what I was doing I lifted my jumper over my head from the back, lifting off my shirt with it. I dropped it on the floor and unbuckled my jeans pulling them down with my boxers. It felt very much like the endorphin rush of stripping off clothes to jump into a cold waterfall or creek. Rushing so that my body could jump in before my mind caught up with what it was doing.
It was exhilarating; exhilarating in the same way that blood is beautiful. I felt like I was high, or tipsy, and I felt embarrassed. So I sat down and smoked a cigarette from a bunch I’d rolled at home.
Everything felt crisp and static and I was aware of my body and the coldness of the floor. I got a tub of neapolitan ice cream from the freezer and carved myself a slice of the chocolate flavour with the knife. It was fun to eat ice cream and smoke in a supermarket. After I’d half finished the first cigarette I stubbed it on the floor and started a second.
Everything seemed really white as I smoked. I noticed the speckles on the floor, and the fluorescent lights and how the light was reflected off the plastic wrapped toilet paper.
I had been sitting there for five minutes and nothing had happened. I started to feel really nervous. The longer it took for people to notice me the more I worried. What if someone got angry and attacked me? What if an old lady saw me and had a heart attack? What if a kid saw me and it scarred them for life? Someone looked down the aisle and kept walking.
One guy tried to help me .
“Are you okay mate” he seemed caring. He had a caring tone to his voice.
“YOU'RE NOT MY SAVIOUR!!!” I screamed at him.
“all right mate, you’re alright” and he wandered off.
I started mumbling incoherently. The mumbling helped me. It was a good character detail. It said “I’m a crazy guy! I’m not in my right mind! I don’t know what I’m doing!” I suppose the nakedness and the smoking and the knife and the ice cream also said this but the mumbling helped me because it was soft and repetitive. It made me feel that I was someone else.
While mumbling and smoking and feeling crazy, the thought crossed my mind that it was strange no-one had taken me away yet. In my imagination it had all been very die-hard, block buster exploding pier, car chase through china town. I would stand in the middle of the supermarket stripping my clothes off like banana peel, the center of the universe, screaming and writhing as terrified customers broke into chaotic swirls around me. Maybe no-one cared, or maybe it was just too weird for people to process, sort of outside a certain threshold, like ultra violet light and dog whistles.
“Attention, would all shoppers and staff please proceed calmly to the nearest exit. We have a red alert. Please proceed to the nearest exit in an orderly fashion.”
I froze and smoked and waited. It happened very quickly. A black boot belonging to a policeman kicked my wrist hard, making a dull cracking sound, knocking the knife out of my hand. Then one of them was one my back, he was kneeling on me and twisting my other arm behind my back. He plucked the cigarette out of my hand and it disappeared. My back hurt and the floor was icy on my dick and my face. They were shouting above me and pushing me harder against the floor to emphasize what they were saying. Which was mostly variations on:
“Put your pants on mate”
Three cops led me out. They took me out through the checkouts, through the express lane, up past the bank and the butchers and the camera shop outside to their squad car which was parked next to the video shop and the Chinese takeaway.
The whole way to James Fletcher Psychiatric Hospital, I howled in the lock up of the paddy wagon. I banged my knees against the metal benches and I told myself stories in made-up words. After an hour of this howling and shivering and shrieking and ranting; after banging my face and hands and spittle against the floor, I started to feel as broken and brain-fried as I was acting. I knew I couldn’t hold it up for much longer. I wanted to get away from the police and to be in the hospital before I let up on the pseudo-psychosis. The hospital wouldn’t send me back to the cops. They might send me home. That would be the worst thing they’d do. The best would be let me have a bed, give me a dose of valium or some other drug that made me feel happy and soft in the head.
The waiting room wasn’t too bad for me. It was comfortable and clean and had the sort of pleasant sterility that I found soothing in hospitals. It was worse for others. A drug addict or someone crazy like me, a guy with big metho eyes was trying to explain something to a nurse.
“…like nex Wednesday but things like have been just all shit need to do the right thing and bring myself in cuz can’t sleep haven’t slept in 8 days really need to get some sleep I just need something to calm me down so I can get a proper nights sleep y’know its not right to go for 8 days and not to have any sleep y’know”
He was standing bent over so he could plead with the nurse through the holes in the plastic divide that protected her from us. He was a big guy with broad shoulders and muscles that twitched on his forearms when he was making a point. I could tell that what he really wanted to say was “give me some fucken valium. I’m going out of my fucken head” but you couldn’t say that in the waiting room because then you would sound like just any old junkie and not what you wanted to sound like.
Then he was raising his voice because the nurse kept shaking her head and saying something soft and kind that I couldn’t hear from my couch.
“hows that gonna fucken help me”
More head shaking.
“That’s why I’m here at the hospital. I’m sick and I’m asking you to help me because I’m sick. And you won’t fucken help me. What the FUCK AM I SUPPOSED TO DO!” He was slamming his fists against the plastic divide, making an animal yelping noise.
The nurse behind the plastic pressed the alarm and the black alert came over the intercom. Seconds later three security guards had the guy pinned to the ground, telling him to calm down and stop fighting. He was really freaking out, shouting and trying to grab the security guys.
“Do you wanna come outside for a smoke?” Another nurse, one who comes and takes patients from my waiting room to other waiting rooms was standing next to me pointing at the door. I followed her outside and tried to roll a cigarette. My hands were shaking and I was dropping tobacco and filters so the nurse whose name was Judy, gave me one of her cigarettes.
I looked at her Judy name badge and thought of how funny it was that people like her who gave us drugs and locked us up and shook their heads at us had names. People with names have their own lives. Under her grey James Fletcher vest she had breasts and nipples and a stomach. Maybe she had a tattoo or a scar. Some man or woman probably had sex with Judy. She might’ve been someone’s mum. She probably woke up in the middle of the night and regretted something or worried about something that hadn’t happened yet. We stood outside in the dark next to the square of light from the waiting room which was empty now. They’d taken away the screaming drug guy and there were only the women’s magazines and the television on without sound. We smoked our cigarettes and didn’t say anything, which was nice. Standing in the dark and smoking with Judy the nurse who’s really a person and not saying anything, I felt happy.