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What we see when we don’t let ourselves turn around.

Cornfields look different before daybreak.

This is something you learn when you work at a locked, inpatient psychiatric hospital — that sits across the parking lot from a cornfield, that is. If you work at one that doesn’t, well, don’t worry — you’ll learn other things.

I worked there for five years. When I started I was thirty and, on my last day, I was ninety-four. And the cornfield that teased and mocked (“I’m MOCKING YOU, GABRIEL!” a particularly unpleasant patient would seethe in my face, from two inches away, just in case I was unsure about the sincerity of his Heil Hitler gestures) from across the way, like a flaxen-haired siren whose breasts heaved gently on the surface of the ocean, swayed and bent and beckoned and whispered my name in the twinkling, swirling, bluish breeze. …


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One man in ten.

With all of the urgent, timely, passionate essays coming out now about COVID-19, the election, and racial upheaval and the imminent need for the re-imagining of American law enforcement, I thought now would be a pretty good time for a piece about a white guy and his lawn.

This morning, I was sitting on my front porch drinking a cup of coffee because I pay my taxes and tuck my shirt inside my trousers and I call them “trousers” and I cross my legs inside my trousers and I don’t cross myself on Sundays because I’m Jewish and a lawn service pick-up truck with a trailer pulled up across the street and up one house. …


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If a black policeman falls in Harlem, does his body make a sound?

“Mr. Nathan, my name is Essie Jones,” the email to me began, “I’m Waverly Jones’s daughter. I’m writing to you about my father’s tree.”

— — —

On May 21, 1971, two young patrolmen had just answered a call for help at the Colonial Park Apartments in Harlem. It was a distress call — a domestic. They were in the same academy class together, raising their white-gloved hands at their swearing-in ceremony in 1966. Over their short career, they answered hundreds of radio calls — thousands — passing thousands of hours on the springy, unforgiving vinyl bench seat of a green, white, and black patrol car — a Dodge Coronet, a Plymouth Fury; all horsepower and hubcaps. Some of those calls they’d answered together, other times paired with other partners. But tonight, on a beautiful spring evening, they were together. They would always be together, after that night. Spoken into microphones together. On the television screens together. In the New York Times together. …


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“Being a cop is a vocation, or it is nothing at all.” (NYPD Detective-Sergeant David Durk/AP File Photo)

You’ve heard about Frank Serpico, but chances are that you’ve never heard of David Durk.

In late sixties and early seventies, the New York City Police Department was awash in sea of corruption; soaking through polyester navy blue uniform shirts and permeating police culture in an insidious fashion. In those days, corruption was broken down into two main components — “grass-eaters” (e.g., the patrolman who would avoid giving tickets to double-parked cars outside of a Bronx bodega in exchange for free coffee and meals), and “meat-eaters” (e.g., …


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We can’t breathe. (Photo: Julio Cortez/AP)

I used to be a cop — not in the traditional sense, of course. My uniform was a short-sleeved collared shirt — an ID badge clipped to one collar-point — tucked neatly into a pair of Dockers, with a silver-colored Parker pen in my breast pocket, and my beat was the cinder-block walls and flecked floors of a locked, inpatient psychiatric hospital. Those floors were polished a couple days before inspectors would arrive to give us a look-over. We knew when they were coming. Plant the flowers outside. Clean the windows. Put on airs.

Make sure “Jerry Springer” wasn’t playing on the TV in the Activities Room. …


Jews are funny in cemeteries.

Some people think that Jews are funny wherever; but we’re not. Maybe it’s something about the eons of persecution — I don’t know — but our innate predisposition toward macabre, sardonic humor seems to flower when surrounded by soundless granite and harmless blades of grass.

Two Jews were wandering around in a cemetery today; sometimes, they were funny. They both wore masks which, in any circumstance other than COVID-19, would have been funny, too. She was clad in a soft black and gray dress, the mask’s straps holding down the back of her frizzy reddish hair. I hadn’t noticed that her hair was reddish until today — maybe it isn’t, maybe it was just the generous sunlight. I was the other Jew; hands perpetually in my pockets, as if aimlessly, casually searching for the scraps of paper on which I used to write down notes to myself to remember things — “pay the car insurance”, “call electrician”, “text Tom” — a habit I had long ago forsaken when I acquired a phone capable of reminding me to do things. …


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Me, in 2009, probably demanding to see the doctor because I’m fucking dying.

Though it sounds like an odd thing to say in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, I miss the days of my quaint, eccentric, good ol’ fashioned hypochondria. I miss bothering my octogenarian GP for an HIV test (at age 25) because I had unprotected sex in college and I had convinced myself that the warts on my feet were some kind of indicator that I had acquired the HIV.

He pursed his lips as he tied the rubber strip around my gaunt left arm and rubbed my non-bicep with an alcohol swab.

“You understand that I’m only doing this because I know you won’t leave me alone until I do it, right?” …


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Time for some father-son bonding in a rented van loaded with bras.

Picture this one: a hairy, Israeli man is behind the wheel of a metallic green Ford Aerostar minivan. Seated beside him is his eleven-year-old son, dressed in a navy-blue, wool three-piece suit.

They are on a business trip. Together.

The van, rented from a local Ford dealership that the hairy, Israeli father regularly leases cars from, is rocketing down I-95 toward Virginia. The speed-hungry hairy, Israeli father, who learned how to drive tanks and camels in the Sinai desert, guns the engine, squeezing every last drop of combustion out of the Aerostar’s probably very confused 145 horses. …


Fathers, sons, and the anger simmering inside the men’s room

A photo of a woman looking at a man through a pothole window.
A photo of a woman looking at a man through a pothole window.
Photo: Francesco Mosca/Flickr

After a recent mental health awareness event, I made the mistake of using the bathroom.

I used to try my hardest to avoid public restrooms. In middle and high school, I feared getting beaten up in a bathroom. I was convinced bad things happen in bathrooms. When you’re an underweight, bespectacled, religious minority tween, those are the factors you take into consideration when evaluating whether or not to pee in public. On many days, I would be this close to pissing or shitting myself (or both!) on the bus on the way home because of this neurotic, obsessive fear.

Today, decades later, more adjusted in my wiring, I was sitting on the toilet behind the stall door with my trousers and boxer shorts around my ankles when I heard an old man ask a question. …


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This little car and I made a little film. It has a big heart.

The day after the Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s mental health counseling center took his own life, I found myself on the platform of a SEPTA station in East Falls, passing out suicide prevention literature to morning commuters. I wasn’t there because the Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s mental health counseling center took his life the previous day, I was there because it was World Suicide Prevention Day, and I was part of a county taskforce partnership with our regional rail service to pass out educational material related to suicide prevention.

Warning signs and such.

People arriving on the platform that morning were reading about the suicide at Penn on their phones, and some commuters were surprised that here was this guy, the very next morning, handing them a card with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number on it. I remember people stopping to talk to me that September morning, expressing shock and disbelief over this very high-profile suicide, a suicide of someone in charge of helping struggling college students with their mental health. Some of the people I spoke to were outright and downright angry. …

About

Gabriel Nathan

Gabe is Editor in Chief of OC87 Recovery Diaries, an online mental health publication. He owns far too many ties.

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