I was going to write a little bit about the background to my night in jail: to place it in context. But upon reviewing this chapter - probably the most important, and certainly the rawest chapter in my book Broken Whole: a California tale of Craziness, Creativity and Chaos, I realized that it more or less speaks for itself. And believe me, the night in jail was just the prelude to the longest four days of my life.
Once inside the jail, still cuffed, I was placed in a holding cell, and divested of all my personal belongings, except my commitment ring, which I refused to give up. The two cops who had arrested me were kind, but the paperwork seemed endless. Finally, I was led out to a booking room, containing some seats, and a window at which a different pair of cops were completing the paperwork for the seedy looking guy they’d arrested. Never having had any contact with the criminal justice system apart from what I’d seen on television and in movies (many of them, of course, involving the LAPD), it felt extremely odd to be about to participate in the ritual I was witnessing, which indeed looked familiar from TV. I was rather dazed. There seemed to be interminable complications to the process, with all the cops looking bored and restless (which is where the proceedings departed from the TV script).
As I sat waiting on the bench, one of the other cops, a beefy, spunky looking lesbian (I presumed), unknowingly brushed her boot back and forth over the metal leg of her stool. She was completely unconscious of what she was doing, but in my loneliness, the soft repetitive thud of her boot against the chair sounded to me like the heartbeat of humanity, and gave me hope. I even told her so, not that there was a hope she’d understand what I meant. Even now, my desire to connect was undiminished.
Before I was processed, I was allowed to make a phone call. The rules for using the phone were very complicated. I racked my brain for any number that wasn’t Ben’s. I still hoped to keep him out of this (his previous bipolar boyfriend had been jailed twice). But I finally realized tearfully there was no choice; Ben was the only person who could help me. I called him, and told him what had happened. Ben is somebody prone to emotional reactions, and occasional panic, and I was surprised by how calm he sounded. This was to be the only connection I was allowed to make to anybody I knew for another twenty-four hours.
Eventually it was my turn to be processed, and the paperwork was completed. I was photographed and finger-printed, and photographs were taken of the bruises caused by the fight. I was, by this time, so deeply fatigued that I could barely move. They gave me a piece of paper on which I managed to scrawl a semblance of my signature, and handed me a pink copy, but since I was too tired even to accept the paper in my hand, they stuffed it into one of my pockets. They took the handcuffs off me, and directed me towards what looked like an exit, where they said I'd be given my cell-phone. I tottered off there, all but dead on my feet.
The new room I'd been led into – more of a tiny corridor than a room – turned out to be locked at both ends, with an open grille looking back into the booking room where I'd just been photographed. I was not given my cell-phone. Although I felt as if I’d been tricked, I sat patiently for what seemed like an hour. Finally, I spoke to the officer nearest the grille.
‘I thought I was going to get my cell-phone?’ My voice sounded rather pathetic, I thought.
He mumbled something about needing the pink ticket, and I scrambled through my jeans and found it, and pushed it out through the bars.
‘Nobody told me I had to do anything with it,’ I complained.
This was when I realized that something was very wrong. The officer practically snarled at me. ‘I told you about the ticket, is it my fault you didn’t listen?’
I was a man who’d been pushed to the edge, as if I’d been in a war-zone; I started to cry, and, as I concluded days later, there is nothing more likely to aggravate an LAPD officer than a man crying.
‘Can’t you understand how tired I am? I’m sorry I didn’t hear what you said,’ I managed to get out.
What happened next is a bit of a blur, but I do know that they cleared out, not just a jail cell, but an entire jail block. They cuffed me to lead me to one of the freed up cells, which had presumably been holding several men just minutes earlier, took my handcuffs off again, and locked the door behind me.
It’s important, at this point, to step outside of my narrative for a few moments; otherwise the remaining events may not be easily understood. I was still (though I didn't recognize it) in the grip of the manic phase of my first bipolar swing. I’d been in a manic state since San Diego, and each day, I’d probably experienced hundreds of times more thoughts than I was used to experiencing. It was now mid-day Friday, and I hadn’t been to bed since Wednesday night. For several days previously, I’d had not much more than a couple of hours sleep each night, and each one of those days had been filled with feverish intellectual activity. I’d spent a good portion of Thursday shopping (which is, admittedly, not that intellectual but nonetheless exhausting), and that night there had been the incident at the Ramada, and then the long affair at the Omni Hotel, which had culminated in the fight that had gotten me arrested. At the moment they cleared out the cell block and locked me up again, I’d been awake about thirty hours, during which I’d been through some of the most intense experiences of my life. Because of the rapidity of my thought process, every minute spent in that cell seemed like an eternity.
My heart was racing. It was hot, and I took off my shirt and doused my body with water. Every now and then I'd hear the clinking of keys as a jailor approached, and my heart would leap, and then sink again as the sound dwindled. I wept and felt intolerably alone in the hot cell where nobody could hear me when I yelled, which I did frequently. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t been released.
You see people in jail all the time: in movies and on television. They’re not crying, you’re probably thinking. It’s a question I’ve posed myself. Why was I so distraught that I’d cry more violently than at any time in my adult life, and yell, even beg for help if I heard anybody passing by? It’s one of many things I did during my manic episode that I can’t readily explain. Just as when you’re in the trough of a depression, you’re too low beneath the crests of the waves to see the normal horizon, when you’re in a level mood, it’s almost impossible to recognize in yourself that person who did those crazy things when manic. I literally thought I was going to die in that cell.
Not knowing police procedures, and still clinging to the promise made by the arresting cops that I’d be out quickly, I couldn't comprehend why Ben wasn't here to bail me out. After all, it all looked so easy – and relatively inconsequential – on Beverly Hills 90210 when somebody got bailed out. I'm ashamed to say I felt some very bitter thoughts about Ben’s seeming absence.
The phone in the cell didn't seem to work according to the same system as the one I’d used earlier to call Ben. A passing, obviously psychopathic cop told me I hadn't listened to them, because the code to use the phone, although different than for the other phone, had been explained to me. I begged him to explain it to me - couldn't he see I'd been too tired to understand? He had not an ounce of anything but contempt for what he saw as my weakness.
I did eventually learn the supposedly correct code, but also learned it could not be used to call cell-phones. There wasn't a single land-line in my memory. Nonetheless, although I was so tired I had to hold myself up by leaning against the phone, I stood at the phone many long minutes, randomly dialing numbers in the hope of reaching somebody, anybody who could help me, such was my loneliness and desperation. All I got was the busy signal. I don’t think that phone worked at all.
Despite my fatigue, my mind was still running so hot that I felt I'd been eight hours in that cell, when in fact it may well have been as few as two. I felt that, for no reason I could understand, I'd been locked up, and the key effectively thrown away.
I wept many times, groaned and roared with frustration, rattled the bars, trying to make a ruckus. Once, a cleaning woman went past, and I again faked having a heart attack. I swear she didn't miss a single mote of dust. Later, when a female cop passed, I managed to persuade her I was close to having a heart attack, which, after all the fake ones, this time seemed to me to be true. She brought back the psychopathic cop who’d poured scorn on me earlier. He looked at me in disgust. ‘Be a man’, he said, and walked away.
Somehow though – perhaps because of the female cop – my medical condition was finally taken seriously, and I was cuffed again. This time the cuffs were behind my back, and cruelly tight for my large wrists. I was led back to the holding cell next to the booking room; then taken into a medical room to see two nurses who took my blood pressure, which must have been very high – especially since, before they’d taken it, I’d deliberately excited myself internally in the hope of increasing it.
But the nurses gave me no information; nor did they prescribe any type of medication. I was moved back to my original holding cell, in the same cuffed posture. This cell was at least an improvement over the distant cell-room I’d just come from, and I felt, since it was next to the processing room, that it was likely to be closer to where Ben was. It was furnished only with a wooden bench. I was completely depleted of all strength, barely able to walk; my only opportunity to rest was to lower myself carefully backwards onto the bench. But in that position, the cuffs bit into my lower back cruelly, leaving bruises and pain that lasted for weeks afterwards. The cuffs were so tight that my hands were turning blue. The irony would not have been lost on me – had I had the energy to think of it – that it had been painful decades of hatred of my physical being, precipitated by my dad’s comment on my skinny wrists, that had contributed to depression, and had possibly led directly to this moment where I thought I was in danger of dying because my wrists were too large for the hand-cuffs.
I tried, really tried, to be patient, but hours seemed to pass. They told me that Ben was just next door, and, not knowing the layout of the place, I thought he was maybe just through the far door that the cops used to exit the booking room. Each time that door opened, I'd yell Ben's name through the grille of the holding cell’s door, hoping he’d hear me.
From time to time, I'd sink to the floor and weep again, feeling hopeless and wretched. I had no idea how things had come to this, nor what to do about it, nor how it would end, if ever. I thought I might not make it. It seemed endless. I slammed my cuffs against the grille, careless that I might further damage my wrists and my back, trying to wear out the patience of the cops in the booking room. My heart-rate began to accelerate again, and once more I felt in fear of having a heart attack, with the cuffs cutting off my circulation. I demanded medical attention, and they kept saying I'd seen the doctor thirty minutes ago, which, by then, was clearly a lie. I faked another Oscar-worthy heart attack, my third of the evening, which was ignored as the first two had been. I began to feel they wanted me to either die, or commit suicide: anything to release them from responsibility over me.
I was in a dangerous condition of desperation, prepared to do almost anything to get out of that cell. When an officer temporarily opened the door to my cell, I thrust my foot through the opening to prevent him from closing it. Everybody tensed up. I knew I was endangering myself, but I had to get out of there, and get medical attention, or reach Ben. I asked them if I could see my doctor, Ben (who holds an M.D.) I watched with all my concentration to see if any of the cops were going for their guns, or night-sticks. The stand-off didn’t last long: I didn’t have the strength to hold the door open, and they were able to push my foot back inside. But the incident must have impressed upon them that I clearly believed I was medically at risk; so they offered me the opportunity of attention from the same nurses I’d seen earlier. I refused, saying I'd only see my own doctor (that is, my boyfriend). Naively, I thought they'd have no choice but to let me see Ben. But that just wasn't going to fly. Apparently the nurses then went to talk to Ben.
I wanted desperately to reach Ben, to let him know I was nearby, and that I knew he was near me. I struck up a conversation with a Hispanic cop, and, despite my intense fatigue, my mind was now working again at a furious pitch, and my eyes must have burned. I exerted every ounce of my ingenuity and strength, mustering a fierce, almost daemonic trance, which I exerted on this poor, not overly bright cop. He didn't stand a chance. By constant intellectual argument, and manic intensity, coupled with perfect body language, I had him convinced that I was capable of seeing his soul. I made him believe that he, alone of all the cops in the facility, had a shred of a soul left, and that he could rescue that soul from destruction. There was not an argument that he could muster that I couldn’t instantly contradict with a telling blow.
I’m aware that this story would sound so much more convincing if I could recall the conversation. But it’s of the nature of mania that a lot of what you say in extremis vanishes into a sort of black h*** never to be recalled. All you can remember is the glowing brilliance before it vanished past the event horizon.
Finally, once I had him in my hand, so to speak, I let slip my commitment-ceremony-ring so that it fell into his side of the room. I told him that he could save his soul from destruction by simply picking up my ring, stepping next door, and giving it to Ben.
But that would be breaking the rules, he said.
I knew that I could be really hurting this man; and he knew it too. He seemed to be good-hearted – indeed the only such cop I came into contact with that night. I didn't want to hurt him, but I felt an inconceivable urgency to get out of the cell, whatever it took. The poor man kept gripping his head, saying, ‘Oh man, you're messing with my head.’ Other people, mostly janitorial staff members were also watching, transfixed at the scene. I’d never, at any time in my life, been more focused and present than I was right then, intent on forcing this man to my will, even from my position of apparent helplessness.
I pulled his partner into the conversation, a German-American blond guy, surnamed Weh, primed with the bravado and cruelty that was written on his features . He tried to goad me, and humiliate me, but I wouldn’t be overridden. I told him that I could see right into his head.
‘What do you see,’ he asked.
‘Nothing,’ I replied. ‘You have no soul.’
After more exchanges like this, he tried to laugh me off, but wouldn’t meet my eyes.
‘Do you know any German,’ I asked him.
‘No,’ he said.
‘Do you know what your surname means?’
‘The word weh, means empty.’ (It doesn’t.)
A certain chill entered their eyes. My eyes and my relentless argument tore into them, for I was desperate. In the end, almost inconceivably, I had both of them convinced that I was the Anti-Christ, and that they had two choices: one was to hand the ring to Ben; the other was to suffer the extinguishment of their souls by placing it on my finger. I was in the grip of manic brilliance: these two cops were so scared that neither of them would put the ring on my finger
They were saved from eternal damnation when, eventually, the sergeant, realizing how dangerous my words were, reassigned the two cops.
My heart was racing again, and I was increasingly desperate. I knew I needed medical attention, or else I’d probably have a heart attack or a brain aneurysm, and there was only one trick left to pull. I announced at the top of my voice, that at the count of ten I would commit suicide. I counted down very loudly, increasingly slowly. At the count of ‘one’, I sought for a way to make it seem like I could do it. But I could find no way of making it look plausible. I was too weak to climb up onto anything to act as if I was going to plunge to the ground head first, and, besides, with my hands shackled behind my back, there was no way I could even climb. I collapsed on the floor and wept more bitterly than ever.
For the first time, the sergeant voluntarily spoke to me through the grille in the door. It seemed impossible, but suddenly I was about to be released, but to a medical facility, not to my partner and freedom. They’d evidently believed I was suicidal; my ploy had worked in so far as it did lead to my getting out of jail. However it had ended, wholly unexpectedly, with my being strapped into a gurney. As I was led by kindly medical orderlies to the ambulance, I realized it was a beautiful late summer evening, almost twenty-four hours after the first incident of the evening, at the Ramada. I was endlessly thankful that Ben was not there to witness me tied to a gurney as if I was a crazy person. It was completely beyond my comprehension, however, that I had only been in jail for eight hours: it had felt like more than twenty-four.
I suddenly remembered, with panic, my commitment ring, still on the floor of the processing room! But somebody else had had the same thought. The Hispanic cop who’d seemed the only cop to show me any heart – the same cop who’s head I'd messed with – came up to the gurney, and, without saying anything or making eye-contact, he slipped my ring into the pocket of my jeans.
I whispered to him urgently, ‘Find a new partner!’