When Trump was elected I was locked in a mental institution, collecting oranges in my pillowcase. Outside in the common room, people were in shock he got elected. A bipolar patient said, “I’m glad we’re in here, they are crazier out there.”
As a chef I didn’t like the cafeteria food so I stole oranges from the cafeteria. You weren’t allowed to keep anything in your room—no sharp objects obviously—and before shaving your face, you had to take off most of your clothes while being monitored by a male nurse. All the windows were barred and smash resistant.
An inspector would come in and check the rooms at night. They would lift up any books or magazines you kept, go through your clothes to see what was wrapped in your socks, and if need be they would wake you up and turn over your mattress. There was nowhere to hide anything but everyone tried and reported what they had gotten away with in the morning.
After a few nights of getting caught with oranges behind books or apples under blankets, I figured out that the chair of the desk, which was bolted to a track, annoying to pull out and impossible to pick up and hurl at one of the windows, rarely got pulled out in these checks. It was so obvious, plain sight. No one assumed an object like a bright piece of fruit could be placed on the seat, pushed in, and no one would be the wiser. You would have to be crazy to hide something there.
Eventually even the cafeteria workers caught on with discrepancies in their inventory and ordering. They would tell me, “You can only take two of them at a time.” So around the ward people saw my struggle, and they started collecting oranges or apples in their pockets. After the single-file march back to the ward, they would come to my room, and one by one, as if it were a game of mafia, they’d make polite conversation and take a piece of fruit out of their pocket for my stockpile.
“Orange you glad to see me?” my friend Mike said with four oranges in his hands.
I made lots of friends this way. It was surprising to me how much more camaraderie there was among people deemed mentally ill compared to the world outside. The nurses started to wonder how I was eating fruit all day, where was it coming from. It was driving some of them…mad.
For about a week, after people had come to know me and enjoyed my mild manner, they started to wonder whether there might be something to these oranges. Why did I find them so apeeling? Almost overnight the fruit, which never got eaten, people started to eat it in the cafeteria as a kind of panacea or internet cure-all they didn’t know existed.
He is one of the least crazy ones here, there must be something to it…
My room was filled with people who’d brought me fruit and now they were drinking my “fruit punch” too? Akin to “Tulip Mania” for the Dutch, I had turned the ward into citrus maniacs. All hell had broken juice…
The cafeteria workers complained to the administrators that no one was eating their lunches, and they couldn’t order enough bags of oranges. Luckily the patients started to realize that they didn’t like fruit as much as I did, and things went back to normal…
I was still driving the nurses mad because I would wake up in the middle of the night after heavy doses of trazodone, and I’d watch the news to see how the madding crowds were developing outside the walls of this institution, under a President I am certain is more mentally unstable than I am…while eating six or seven of my oranges. The night nurse would interrogate me; he or she would ask, “Where did you get those?!”
“I…don’t…know,” I’d say, raising both my hands as if I didn’t know how the magic trick worked either, as if the orange had simply appeared out of thin air. Frustrated by my harvest miracle, the nurse searched my room again but found nothing.. no fruits of his labor.
Near the end of my three months there a nurse pulled out the chair in the middle of the night so she could sit on it to deliver a shot, and oranges scattered everywhere, blanketing the floor like blood orange juice spilling from the elevator of The Shining.
The patients, we all laughed about it the next day. People hollered they couldn’t believe we had gotten away with it for so long. They cursed the institution for confiscating my oranges, and then they asked me sincerely, “How are we going to hide them next?”
It has been four years since I was hospitalized for that brain injury. Occasionally, during the holidays, my mom asks what we should send people. I always say fruit because I know within it is a power…like friendship.
Jory Pomeranz is a chef who changed his career midstream and decided to go into medicine following a debilitating bus accident. He currently works as a counsellor to others who have suffered Neurological trauma.