Intake Specialist : What do you mean when you say you ‘didn’t have much going for you?
Client: Just that. Not much of a future. I was plankton. Just drifting.
Intake Specialist : So late teens, early twenties… a bad time.
Client: Right. I left home early. I didn’t know how to do anything. I could turn on a microwave and smoke. That was about it.
Intake Specialist : So, you left home. And then what did you do?
Client: I worked at a lot of very shitty jobs. A call center, Target, washing dishes. These are terrible jobs, but they’re easy to quit, which I did all the time. I’d just stop showing up. This was before cell-phones were everywhere, so I’d just unplug the answering machine when I decided to stop going. (Laughs)
Intake Specialist : Why not just give notice?
Client: Because I thought that not being able to suffer indefinitely was weak. And because at the point that I needed to quit I couldn’t have stayed if I wanted to. I was embarrassed.
Intake Specialist : Do you still think that being able to suffer makes a person weak?
Client: Not on purpose, but yeah.
Intake Specialist : So you had a lot of jobs. You didn’t find anything you liked to do?
Client: God no. Half of what I did was mopping and the other half was moving shit from one place to another. But I think I had a Cinderella thing going on.
Intake Specialist : I’m sorry, what does that mean?
Client: That I thought I was going to start working somewhere and someone would see that I was a diamond in the rough, and they’d teach me all the secrets of a trade. Which is why I tried to find weird, niche things where I’d learn how to do something that requires schooling without needing to go to school.
Intake Specialist : Can you give me an example?
Client: Animals. I wanted to work with animals. So there was a veterinarian’s office.
Intake Specialist : And it wasn’t a good experience?
Client: Definitely not. The guy was a ‘holistic’ vet, which is bullshit, but there are a ton of suckers in the world and it worked out really well for him. I was in the kennel, not in a cage, and it was almost exclusively about cleaning shit. It always smelled shit in there. Now, I think about how compost is supposed to make you happier when you smell it-
Intake Specialist : Because of the microorganisms.
Client: Right. So, I wonder what smelling dog shit all day does to a brain. One of the people I worked with rented an apartment over the kennel and was very open about the fact that he was smoking crack up there, all the time. Every day, smoking crack and listening to the misery of dogs. He loved to lie. I’ve known many outrageous liars, and the troubling thing about them is that they do slip an implausible truth into the narrative sometimes. It makes you have to wonder about whether they’re telling the truth. He told me tons of stories, and it was such a terrible place to be that they were plausible. The worst of these was that the vet tech there had grown up at the clinic, raised by the prior owners, and that they’d kept him locked in the basement as a child-
Intake Specialist : And you believed him?
Client: I didn’t not believe him. Because horrible things happen, right under our noses all the time. And horrible things happened there. Richie, the crackhead, he told me that a dog had bitten the tech once and that he’d beaten it to death.
Intake Specialist : That’s horrible.
Client: Of course it is. (Laughs) One time, a driver brought in a swan that she’d hit with her car. One of its wings had been ripped off. There were three of us trying to hold it down, shooting it up with pentobarbital to euthanize it, and for whatever reason it wasn’t working, so Richie the crackhead broke its neck.
Intake Specialist : (Two seconds of silence)
Client: It was really dark, and at the time I just thought that was every second of everyone’s life. I remember cleaning the cages of cats and puppies in the basement. There was a pit bull puppy, very new, and I wanted to bring it home. It was… precious. And then one day there were worms in its shit and then the day following it died. (Pause) Here’s an observation: There’s a class difference in the euthanization of animals. Poor people can’t afford to have surgeries for their pets, to fix whatever’s wrong. Even if they’re not terminally ill they can’t afford it. But wealthy people will throw money at that kind of thing. So, if you make your money off of sick animals, you play to this. Poor people will be relieved when they get told that there’s nothing left to do, and rich people will be grateful that they got scammed.
Intake Specialist : You quit at some point. Because of that?
Client: Oh, no. It got way darker than that. They cremated the animals on-site. Which wasn’t true. We were supposed to cremate them, but the incinerator was broken so we just parked the animals in a freezer and shoved old ashes into bags to give to the owners. (chuckles) And then one day the freezer broke. I was told to grab a shovel and take care of it.
Intake Specialist : Did you?
Client: No. I just left, drove home, and slept for two days. I could have said something about it to someone. It was an obvious scandal. But places like that hire you because they see the cloud floating over your head. They know that you don’t expect justice, for yourself or anyone else.
Intake Specialist : What did you do after that?
Client: Exactly the same shit. A construction site where I was considered to be too stupid to teach anything to; a steakhouse where cops would sit around singing about the KKK to the tune of that Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places”-
Intake Specialist : So, “I’ve got friends with white faces”…
Client: Exactly. I wouldn’t try to figure out the rest. After that a fishing boat. Just pin-balling around. One of my friend’s moms worked at a research facility and she got me in. Janitorial. There were a lot of background checks and then a lot of training. They were very concerned about animal rights people.
Intake Specialist : So, they were experimenting on animals.
Intake Specialist : How was that for you?
Client: Hard. They look like people, monkeys. The macaques were always dying. They’d go from screaming all day, so pissed off and running back and forth, to panting on the floor of a run, as far from the entrance of the enclosure as they could get. When they died I’d remove them, bag them, and set them up to be transported to an incinerator, one that ran this time. There was a colony of capuchins that lived outdoors. Captive monkeys see-saw between hating each other and hating being alone. One time, one of the younger males had escaped and he climbed a tree a few hundred yards away from the enclosure then came back on his own a week later.
Intake Specialist : That’s almost poetic.
Client: Oh yeah, I know how loaded that is. (Pause) There were babies in the enclosure. For the females, an infant would save them from all the bullying and jockeying for position. One of them gave birth on a Saturday, and I watched her giving birth. There weren’t any supervisors working on weekends, and so I stood there for an hour, hoping to see the newborn, but when she was finished she threw the infant to the ground, about a thirty foot fall. It was stillborn. One of the younger monkeys picked it up and threw it through the bars. Then they all went about their business. (Rueful laugh)
Intake Specialist : You laughed a bit there. Do you know why?
Client: Because it seems like proof.
Intake Specialist : Of?
Client: A lot of bad things. (Pause) Part of my job was to clean offices. They were in their own building, away from all the screaming. I did it very slowly, because it was air-conditioned and quiet. I would look at the books on the shelves, and I got a real sense for what a shaky foundation all of it was resting on, behavioral studies in particular. The monkeys were supposed to be a blank slate pre-human, and that you could figure important things out about people if you could only torture them.
Intake Specialist : But they didn’t torture them.
Client: Oh? They don’t speak English, but they can scream. Here’s my… case study, about torture: Harold Osgood was a famous researcher. Academic royalty. He worked at the facility for part of the year, mostly absent even when he was in town. He had a big office, well-furnished, without any of the cheaper-than-Ikea crap, and I cleaned it every evening, whether he was present or not. I’d sit in his chair for fifteen minutes, every day, until I noticed a thing on his shelf. It was an object the size of an adult capuchin. It looked like a sock-monkey. It was knitted, with a gray body, dark eyes and a red mouth. Someone definitely made it by hand. But there were holes in the fabric, and under the holes there were prongs that were retracted into the metal body, obviously intended to protrude. It had a timer key, and this was obviously linked to the prongs. They would emerge, then they would retract. It looked maniacal. Have you ever been very, very afraid of an object?
Intake Specialist : Yes. A doorstop.
Client: How did you feel about it?
Intake Specialist : That it was alive. But not quite.
Client: Right. Some objects have life in them, and this one had less than nothing. Once I’d seen it there was no sitting in his chair or reading dust jackets. I stopped cleaning it altogether. And when he was out of town flying to conferences or lecturing it didn’t matter. I was usually floating a mop around the floor at ten after five, and that was generally early enough to avoid the research assistants and post-docs. But one of the one’s tied to Osgood (laughs)-
Intake Specialist : What’s funny?
Client: They were doing addiction studies with the macaques, getting them hooked on nicotine and then taking it away. What do you learn from that?
Intake Specialist : What do you learn from that?
Client: That if something’s life sucks that it will take what it’s given. (Pause) So, one afternoon, one of the research assistants walked past me. I’d put a sign down. I didn’t need to tell her that. She stopped and considered. There was another exit nearby. I never said anything to these people, but that day I asked about that figure because it was terrible. Was it a joke, a reminder of something, history? She told me that it was a piece of history, what’s called a Rejecting Mother. It had been used to learn about parental neglect. An infant monkey would be separated from its mother and placed in an enclosure with the doll. When the infant tried to hold onto it, it would be forced away by the prongs. This would happen every time the baby looked for comfort. It would be fed, and watered, and cleaned, but never comforted, and one of two things would happen: The infant died, or it grew up to be a miserable adult, unable to function alone or in a group. She said these experiments were over with. It was just a museum piece.
Intake Specialist : And why do you think he had it?
Client: I know why he had it. So, he came back from the field, or wherever, and he realized that I wasn’t cleaning his office regularly and complained. My friend’s mother took me aside. I really liked her, and I think she liked me. She’s not around anymore, for about ten years now. She pulled me aside and rolled her eyes. She laughed, because nothing stays clean, it doesn’t even get clean, but to shut him up I should linger in the office. “Make it look like something happened,” she said, and so I nodded, and went back to work. That day he walked past me, didn’t so much as glance in my direction, and when I went into his office I saw that he’d poured an entire cup of coffee on the ground. I mopped, and changed the water, and the rejecting mother sat there on the shelf.
Intake Specialist : And you think he did it on purpose?
Client: If you spill a cup of coffee on the floor, do you call a maid service to clean it that afternoon, or do you grab some paper towels and do it yourself right away?
Intake Specialist : Fair.
Client: After that, intermittently, he would deliberately spill something. Sometimes it would be a ketchup packet that he’d stomp on, or a half of a peanut butter sandwich that he would scrape on the floor. There was no pattern, which was also on purpose. It was to teach me a lesson and keep me from learning a pattern. And it could have just been petty, but the doll made it frightening. And he saw me every day and didn’t say a word. Remember what I said about dog shit, and how maybe it’s doing something bad to a person’s brain? I wondered if that was happening with the doll. Like, how much misery was baked into it? And it started to go missing.
Intake Specialist : What do you mean?
Client: That someone was taking it down and bringing it somewhere else.
Intake Specialist : Were you relieved when it was gone?
Client: Not at all. Because if it wasn’t there then it was somewhere else, still being itself. (Pause) In the capuchin enclosure, there were monkeys hated by other monkeys, and their lives were miserable. Just constant, vicious harassment. Not even a baby could save them, and so when Lucille –
Intake Specialist : Who’s Lucille?
Client: A monkey. When she gave birth she had her baby stolen by the other monkeys and died of an infection from bite wounds. I removed her from the enclosure, refrigerated her, and then went back into the enclosure to spend two hours maneuvering the monkeys to catch her baby. He would die without milk, and so he lived in a cage, with formula in one of those gerbil bottles. I tried not to think about him. Because I knew what happened to baby monkeys who aren’t loved. One day, cleaning Osgood’s office, with the rejecting mother gone, I was called on my little walkie talkie. Osgood’s RA wanted me to remove a body from where the macaques and the other disposable monkeys lived. It was late. It was cleaning time. The only cars left were mine, Osgood’s, and his research assistant’s. She walked past me on my way down the hall. She didn’t look at me. That happened regularly, getting ignored. She walked out of the building, toward the parking lot. And I saw the hem of Osgood’s lab coat disappear into the bathroom. I did not want to be alone with him.
Intake Specialist : Did you think something was going to happen to you?
Client: Not really. I just couldn’t stand the thought. It might have been painful silence, or he might have said something. And I didn’t want to hear what he had to say. I rushed into where they’d been working with my two trash bags and my labels and the baby monkey was there, lying on a stainless steel table. I stopped feeling so frantic. He fit in my hand. It looked like some… the painting, where Mary’s holding Jesus?
Intake Specialist : The Pieta?
Client: Right. But with different proportions. I could still feel warmth. And he wasn’t stiff. And next to him, the rejecting mother. He was covered in bruises, like he’s been throwing himself onto the metal prongs. Osgood didn’t return. I’ve wondered what he was doing, whether it was such a routine thing for him that he was just sitting on the toilet, or if it was a compulsion and he was staring at himself in the mirror, or if he was thrilled sexually. I have no idea. I left the baby there, hoping that he’d communicate something, and I took the mother. I didn’t say anything, or complain to anyone. I just walked out with it under my arm. I took her apart with a screwdriver and threw the pieces off of a bridge and threw the knitted cover in the road so that it would just turn into uncomplicated garbage.
Intake Specialist : (Pause) Do you think that there’s anything you could have done differently?
Client: Back then? No. Not back then.