Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Release From the Institution: Denise's Tips

April 1969

(Sioux City, Iowa)

(Note: upon my conditional release from Cherokee, I was required to find a job--or return to the institution. I accepted a job at Denise's Diner, a greasy spoon on West 7th Street.)
Denise*, the owner of Denise’s Diner*, is about the hardest, wrinkliest woman I’ve ever met, a nervous, bird-like chain smoker. She’s old, probably in her late 50's, maybe early 60's, and all skin and bones. Her hair, red with purple highlights, is teased into a rather large bouffant, overshadowing her tiny body, and her teeth are yellow with dark specks between them. Her voice is deep and raspy, like a man’s--she could out-cuss a sailor.

“You’re gonna work your goddamn ass off around here, for shit wages,” she said when she interviewed me. “But you can earn some good tips.” She took a drag on her cigarette. “Just play along with the guys--they like giving the girls a hard time--and don’t get all fuckin’ women’s lib on ‘em.”

I can do that, at least for a few weeks.

“And get your ass in gear, and don’t poke. I do most of my business at lunch--these men gotta get fed fast and back to work.”

I’m glad this job’s temporary. A shitty buck an hour, plus tips, to start. But I’m just interested in staying out of Cherokee and splitting this town. Soon, I’ll be getting that $116.00 refund from the government, and I’ll save every spare penny.

“Lazy bitches don’t last here,” Denise said as I headed out the door. “Be here, at 7:00 sharp, or don’t bother comin’ at all.”


I can’t wait to quit this job. Denise is such a two-faced bitch, jabbering about working hard, but she lounges around, chewing the fat with the guys, and chain-smoking those god-awful Camels without filters. If there was ever a reason to quit smoking, she’s it. I don’t want to grow old looking like a dried up prune.

Even when it’s super busy, she doesn’t hustle her butt any--she just barks at the help to move faster. What kind of an example is that?

The guys talk dirty to her, she thinks it’s hilarious, but it’s just gross. Customers or not, I’m not taking that kind of crap. After one creep pinched my butt, I told him off.

“You better watch your step, honey,” Denise said.

I’d like to tell her to go to hell, but I need this job, at least for a few days. But, damn it, no old fart had better touch me, unless I give him express permission.


Denise is not only a bitch, but also a crook.

I was about to clear the counter in my station--it was a mess because lunch had been busier than usual, so I was behind in my cleanup--when Denise said, almost too sweetly, “Honey, you take a short break.”

I got a bad feeling--it just didn’t fit; usually, she’s yelling at me to get my ass in gear. Still, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I got myself a Coke and sat in a booth.

You can tell Denise has been at this job a long time: she had that counter cleared and cleaned in five minutes, but she wasn’t quite fast enough with her sleight of hand: from the counter she slipped a dollar bill, my dollar bill, into her pocket.

A measly one buck an hour, and your fucking boss rips you off. If this is the Establishment, then you can have it. “You took my dollar,” I said.

“What dollar?”

The gall. “My tip.”

“Lazy girls don’t get tips.”

I wanted to strangle that woman, but if I confronted her, she’d deny it, and then fire me for false accusations and insubordination.

Call the police? Right.

I’m going to quit as soon as possible and split this godforsaken town.

Where is that tax refund, anyway?

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Memoir Madness Excerpts: Table of Contents


Before the Institution

Prologue: Caged

Chapter One: The Crystal Ship

Chapter One: Blue Moons

Chapter Two: Dark Side

Chapter Two: Flying Solo

Chapter Two: Weed and Seeds

Chapter Two: Funny Little Naked Clowns

Chapter Two: Decision Time

Chapter Two: Thirteen Tabs

Chapter Three: Wallich's Music City and Eleanor's Radio

Chapters Four and Six: New Year's Eve, 1968--Fire

Chapter Eight: Rudy

Chapter Ten: Cops

Chapter Eleven: The Luckiest Hand

Chapter Twelve: Downers

Chapter Twenty Three: Sioux City Blues

Chapter Twenty Four: ..."While I Kiss the Sky"

Chapter Twenty six: The Miracle of Google

Chapter Thirty: There Must be Some Way Outta Here

Chapter Thirty Eight: What to Do With My Life?

Chapter Forty One: My Country 'Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Tyranny

Chapter Fifty One: Nabbed at the Bus Station

Chapter Fifty Three: "Let's See What the Police Have to Say"

Chapter Fifty Four: A Possible Scenario at the Police Station

Chapter Fifty Six: Driven

Chapter Fifty Eight: Driven 2

Memoir Madness Excerpts: The Institution

The First Five Days

The Other Patients: Perky Penny

The Other Patients: Carrie the Cutter

The Other Patients: Joyce

The Other Patients: D.J., The Mighty Sage

The Other Patients: Anna on the Lam

Proving My Sanity

Memoir Madness Excerpts: After the Institution

Denise's Tips

Leaving Sioux City: Dee Dee

Epilogue: A Short History of the Cherokee Mental Health Institute

Memoir Madness Excerpts: Flashbacks (Fall 1968)

October 1968: Rev. Arthur Blessitt and His Place

October 12, 1968: A Mother's Warning

October 12, 1968: The Birthday Party

October 1968: Wild Man Fischer's Merry-go-round

A media-rich version of these excerpts (with photos, artwork, videos, out takes, essays, etc.,) can be accessed here.


About Memoir Madness...

Memoir Madness: Driven to Involuntary Commitment (Amazon)

About Memoir Madness: Driven to Involuntary Commitment...

Christmas Eve, 1968: history is made as Apollo 8 astronauts deliver their Christmas message from orbit around the moon.

On earth, at The Crystal Ship, a rock and head shop near Hollywood, California, Jennifer Semple listens to the iconic broadcast and, through the fog of drugs, ponders the future.

In the ensuing days, the 18-year-old girl experiments with LSD and other drugs; juggles a crumbling relationship with a notorious drug dealer; and tries to make sense of life at 2001 Ivar Street, a Hollywood, California, apartment complex where hippies, drug dealers, freaks, strippers, groupies, college students, Jesus Freaks, counterculture gurus, drag queens, rock stars and wannabe rocksters, svengalis, and con artists converge during one of the most volatile periods in history.

Then her grandfather finds the girl and coaxes her into returning to her Iowa hometown, where, unknown to her, she is still considered a minor.

After a series of events and blowups with her grandparents, she is dragged into the Iowa court system and involuntarily committed to the Cherokee Mental Institute in Cherokee, Iowa.

While incarcerated, she corresponds with Jeff, a new boyfriend, and also interacts with other patients: Wolfie, a psychopath who preys on other patients; Penny, a 17-year-old unwed mother; Carrie, a teen cutter with strange obsessions about rats; Joyce, a young married mother enthralled with “10 ways of suicide”; Drew, a young man facing a stiff prison sentence for possession of marijuana; and D.J., a 42-year-old mentally challenged man and 25-year resident of Cherokee, among others.

Finally released from the institution, Jennifer flees Iowa and settles in Pennsylvania, where she still lives today.

As young Jennifer narrates her late 1960’s memoir, how will the older and wiser Jennifer, now voluntarily returning to Cherokee as a visitor, reconcile that painful time in her history with her current ordinary life as a wife, mother, grandmother, and teacher?