Walker Percy Wednesday 108


What’s going on? What do they have in common? Are they better or worse? Well, better in the sense that they do not have the old symptoms, as we shrinks called them, the ancient anxiety, guilt, obsessions, rage repressed, sex suppressed. Happy is better than unhappy, right? But—But what? They’re somehow—diminished. Diminished how?


Then there’s the loss of something. What? A certain sort of self-awareness? the old ache of self? Ella doesn’t even bother to look at her own photograph, doesn’t care.
Bad or good?
For another thing, a certain curious disinterest. Example: Take the current news item: Soviets invited to occupy Baluchistan, their client state in southern Iran to restore order, reported advancing on Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf. What to do? Let them have it? Confront them? Ultimatum? Two years ago people would be huddled around the tube listening to Rather and Brokaw. My patients? My acquaintances? No arguments, no fright, no rage, no cursing the Communists, no blaming the networks, no interest. Enrique doesn’t mention liberals anymore. Debbie does not revile Jerry Falwell anymore.


There’s a sameness here, a flatness of affect. There was more excitement in prison, more argument, more clash of ideology. In Alabama we were polarized every which way, into pro-nukes and anti-nukes, liberals and conservatives, atheists and believers, anti-Communists and anti-anti-Communists, born-again Christians, old-style relaxed Catholics, lapsed Catholics, Barbara Walters haters, Barbara Walters lovers.
Nothing like Alabama!
The warfare in that quonset hut at Fort Pelham!
We inmates, or rather detainees—assorted con men, politicians, ex-Presidential aides, white-collar crooks, impaired physicians pushing pills, mercy killers, EPA inspectors on the take from lumber and oil barons—criminals all, but on the whole engaging and nonmurderous. And next door, Hope Haven, a community of impaired priests, burned-out ministers and rabbis, none criminal, none detained, but all depressed, nutty, or alcoholic, generally all three, who had not run afoul of the law as we had but had just conked out, and so had great sympathy for us and made themselves available. One of them, my old pal and exparish priest, Rinaldo, Father Simon Rinaldo Smith, sojourned next door to me on the Alabama Gulf Coast for a year to recover from his solitary drinking. (I must call him. Has he gone nuts again?)
At Fort Pelham we had discussion groups, seminars, screaming political arguments over meals, fistfights. In prison, ideas are worth fighting for. One also gets paranoid. There is a tendency to suspect that So-and-so has it in for you, to read hostile meanings into the most casual glance.