The Juice was loose in California the day Pressure got his brain fried.
His name wasn’t really Pressure, it was Roosevelt, but Roosevelt sounded too soft and distinguished on the streets of Brooklyn.
The night before, we were all on the medication line and Pressure took a swing at a nurse named Matthew for looking at him strange. Matthew got off on hovering over the bulimic girls during breakfast, clucking in a thick Jamaican accent about how many Mini-Wheats they still had left in their bowls. Pressure’s haymaker missed Matthew’s ear by a good six inches, but the emergency buzzer still got pressed and all the fat-necked orderlies from other units rumbled down the stairs. We ran back to our rooms and listened to Pressure scream about “bringin’ this shit back to Bed Stuy” while he got pinned down, restrained, and shot full of Haldol. Around sunup, the orderlies rolled an ECT cart into Pressure’s room and shocked him straight.
I waited for Pressure in the TV room all day and listened to the play-by-play of OJ Simpson’s Bronco do its slow crawl down the 405. The light from a June sunset blasted through the white colonial windows with the reinforced metal bars. There was too much glare to see any of the action on the screen.
“What happened to the Knicks game?” somebody said. Shuffle. Shuffle. Drool. Shuffle.
“Motherfucker got a gun to his head! He’s gonna kill himself,” somebody else said. Shuffle. Shuffle. Drool. Shuffle.
I picked a dried ice cream sprinkle off my t-shirt. On Fridays they let anyone who was classified as “low risk” get sundaes at a little stand run by the adult schizophrenics who had no hope of ever getting out.
My grandpa from Boston who taught himself the bagpipes called sprinkles “jimmies.” Since the hospital was about halfway to Boston, I started calling them jimmies too. I picked one of these dried jimmies off my t-shirt and scanned the room all paranoid like I needed permission to stick it in my mouth. That’s what this place did to you after a couple of months.
It had finally gotten dark. OJ was in cuffs and Pressure stumbled into the TV room wearing Air Jordans without any laces. He was always big on jabbering about gamma rays beamed down by the government to control our minds, but now he was just another shuffle, shuffle, drool, shuffle. His eyes were half closed and his lower jaw was clicking from side to side.
“Yo, where you been? OJ’s been getting chased all over LA by the cops and they finally caught him.”
“I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout that. Who are you? Where am I?” Pressure started crying confused tears and picking at his skin like he had invisible bugs crawling all over him.
My eighth-grade teachers had been shipping my schoolwork up to me, Xeroxed packets about Appomattox Courthouse and photosynthesis and the Pythagorean Theorem. “Keeping up with the curriculum,” they called it.
But there was nothing in those packets about how to make a Brooklyn kid whose head had gotten turned to mush remember your name.