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Prologue: Caged










(February 19, 1969)
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Caged.

I was caged.

Then, I was driven.

Driven to Cherokee.

A hazy memory of riding caged in the back of a police car.



Two shadows in the front seat, the county sheriff and a female escort.

Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” buzzing from a tinny transistor radio.

Outside, the Iowa landscape bleak:



Cloudy and cold, condensation and frost riming the windows, piles of dirty snow dotting the countryside.

I, cargo.

Destination: Cherokee’s other place, the outline on the hill.

Shifting, crossing my legs…

Please, can we stop?

Hot and steamy inside.



Shivering, my teeth rattling.

Please…I have to go!

Hear something, George?

Naw, nothin’ important.


Laughter.

Cargo has no voice.

Madness has no voice.

Listen, crazy girl…

Two voices: We have come to take you away, ha, ha…

“I’m crazy, crazy…”

Fragments, crazy-quilt impressions, acid flashbacks…

I, crazy?



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From I, Driven: a memoir of involuntary commitment ("Prologue")


© 2008-2010, by Jennifer Semple Siegel

Excerpt may not be used or copied without author’s permission.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Excerpt--January 1969: What to Do With My Life?

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The Hewlett-Packard 9100A
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(Sioux City)


Mo’s been bugging me about finding a job.

Is she kidding? I’m not hanging around here long enough to find a regular job. I’ll have to work some day, but the time isn’t right yet.

Maybe I’ll hitch to East Berlin, Pennsylvania, and find a job there.

I agree to work some banquets--only because it’s temporary work, and I needn’t get in that hangup of having to quit again.

This banquet work is tiring, putting up with picky hungry people, unhappy with their food. Can’t they just not worry about it? It’s just one meal, for God’s sake. I could never do this kind of work for the rest of my life.

My job record is shot to hell as it is. I didn’t handle myself too well at the bank–I hated the job with a passion. Even so, I should have quit properly, given my two weeks notice, instead of just not showing up. I should have looked for a job in a head shop like The Crystal Ship, something groovy and fun, not boring, like checking credit histories.

A Credit Checker at Bank of America, Establishment extraordinaire.

For about the first month, the bank job was kind of fun--

Then Maggie left.

It was my job to call credit agencies, employers, mortgage companies, past lenders, and personal references and check the credit of applicants who wanted to borrow money for Toyotas and Fords. I was good at my job, quickly boiling down an applicant’s credit history to its bare essentials. I had been notified that I’d be getting a pay raise, though only a few cents per hour.

Last August--seems like forever ago. I hated that job, sitting on my butt all day and calling all those credit bureaus and references. I hated making phone calls to strangers, but, on my first day, Maggie said, “It’s gotta be done and done fast,” so I went into a zombie state and just did it. Early on, I discovered that it was best to use a pencil when dialing--saved your fingers from getting sore. Also went faster.

The job was okay when Maggie was still there, but a month after finishing up with my training, she left to marry some 30-year-old dude with six-year-old twin girls.

I don’t get it; she didn’t really want to marry him, but she, very attractive, statuesque and blonde with a sunny personality, was desperate to find a man. She kept talking about not wanting to die an old maid. An old maid? She was only 22–lots of time to find her dream man. But too late: they got married the weekend after she left the bank.

She admitted up front that she didn’t love the man.

“I like him, though,” she said.

But if the chemistry isn’t there, it’ll never be there. I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life living with a man who makes me feel dead inside. But she gave up a promotion to marry him; management was going to move her up to Collections after Gert handed in her resignation, who stayed on until they found Steph, her replacement. For the next month, I endured Gert screeching all day into the phone at deadbeat borrowers.

Now I endure Mr. Redmond barking orders at Mo, Aunt Doris, and me all evening as we schlep hot plates to the diners. He’s kind of mean, treating Mo like some stupid old woman. Mo may be a lot of things--irritating and bossy, mostly--but stupid she’s not.

I’m glad this job’s temporary--I just wish I knew what I want to do with my life. Get married and have kids. Maybe that’s enough. Maybe the bank job wasn’t all that bad, after all.

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Good Manners & the Golden Rule in the Office & Workplace, Part 1 (1950)



rosaryfilms

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Carol, my co-worker, was cool.

She worked the Insurance Desk, figuring out ways to finagle homeowner’s and car insurance for borrowers with iffy credit. She was good at her job, all efficiency and courtesy. But once five o’clock rolled around, she sloughed off the job and became Carol the wild woman--not wild like loose. Just fun wild. She rode a big Harley to and from work, but she was tiny and delicate, with porcelain features, milky skin, and perfectly aquiline nose. Just 23 and married, she had long carrot red hair and big brown eyes. She was the mother of two boys, three and five, both with the same carrot hair.

“I like having fun,” she said. “I dig my job, but when the day is done, I leave it behind.”

I don’t know how she separated the two--I found it hard to think like those bankers without wanting to puke.

Carol and I often went shopping on our lunch hour. She loved trying on sexy mini-dresses--and she looked good in them–but she rarely bought anything. “We’re saving for a house,” she once said.

“I don’t think I’ll ever buy a house.”

“When you have kids, you obsess about the future.” She sighed. “You’ll see.”

I don’t quite see it. I want to have kids some day, but I don’t want to live a regular life.

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“Dude gave me this,” Mo says, shoving a magazine in my face. “Read this.”

An ad in Science News, advertising a new kind of computer: “The new Hewlett-Packard 9100A personal computer is ready, willing, and able...to relieve you of waiting to get on the big computer.” It costs $4,900 and is designed to sit on top of a desk top, weighing 40 pounds and equipped with magnetic cards.

Uncle Dude, Mom’s oldest brother, is always tinkering with one gadget or another.

“You should get into computers,” Mo says. “Data processing’s the future. That’s where the money’ll be.”

Yeah, right: women, all women, sitting at their keypunch machines, grinding out punch cards all day, while men make all the important decisions.

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Good Manners & the Golden Rule in the Office & Workplace, Part 2 (1950)



rosaryfilms

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My job at the bank stunk, but it was a piece of cake compared to what the keypunchers at the credit bureaus had to do. When I called them up and dictated all customer information, they had to get it right the first time; otherwise, they had to start a new punch card and retype the information from scratch. If they made too many mistakes, they got fired, because time is money. Though keypunchers are paid well, the pressure would get to me--they can have their big salaries. Callers have to speak clearly, spell out names and addresses carefully and slowly, “A as in apple, B as in boy...,” etc. I’d hate to listen to that crap all day, day after day. The fast keypunchers get all pissy if you do each letter like that; by the time I quit, I was beginning to figure out who liked it slow and easy and who wanted it fast.

Keypunchers are not fun women to be around--they can have their jobs.

Mo has no idea what “getting into computers” really means.

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HAL 9000 from 2001 A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)



Mission to the Infinite - Music video by DJ Mindsnare.
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I’m going to split in exactly one week--where, I don’t know, but I’m definitely going somewhere, anywhere but here. I haven’t heard from Jeff yet. Maybe I scared him, and he doesn’t want me coming to Pennsylvania. I sent him my awful school pic from freshman year--Beatle haircut and white blouse--Mo and Dee Dee hadn’t yet bought my navy blazer with school insignia. Probably grossed him out. Maybe he’s mad at me for coming onto him. Maybe he just wants to be friends, and I blew it for getting all gushy and lovey-dovey.

Haven’t heard from Pam, either.

I’ve got enough money to get to Pennsylvania, but I would have to hitch back, and the more I think about it, the less I dig that idea. It’s one thing to hitch with a guy, but alone...that’s crazy. You never know who’s behind the wheel–maybe a psychopath, like The Boston Strangler.

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Cynthia and I are on speaking terms, sort of. I don’t feel the same about her anymore, not since she snitched and showed Mo that letter. Also, her mom is so annoying and naggy--she hates my guts! Thinks Cyn is still five years old. But we still hang out, sometimes.

This afternoon, Cynthia and I hitched downtown; it was three degrees, so we got a ride right away, but I it’s taboo here for girls to hitch alone, the looks we got. Gotta be careful; hitching’s illegal here.

Strange.

In Hollywood, I did it all the time.

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Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.


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