i would ask people what they were in for. looking back, it probably was not polite. the answers were never good: i tried to kill myself. i tried to kill my husband and myself. voluntary. it was hard not to ask. we just sat and watched t.v. and read and sometimes played rummy. i kept up training for a longstanding card game i was involved in in ward six. they play differently there, and i wasn't going to argue with anyone. i'm no mcmurphy; i wanted out, and out now. i didn't even know how i got there. i know in prison you only get one phone call and the other big problems, but in ward six, you never go outside and you can never smoke. out! i did the art therapy and the group stretching with someone who wasn't a doctor, but could still keep me there for god only knows how long. kaysen stayed in for two years. fuck that. yes, ma'am, and thank you sir. i was sincere in my desire to get the hell out, and fast. it was only weeks later, when figuring my vacation time and i couldn't find an invoice, that i realized how many days my suicide adventure cost me.
          so, in looney-rummy, you can continue a straight from king to ace to two. it just wraps around. also, discard to go out seemed to be optional. holding cards for strategy purposes was severly frowned upon. scoring was haphazard. we played cards to kill time.
          that's when i would ask the questions. what else did i have to chat with these people about? did the guard get your smokes. (nope. only my dope.) meds? (i did like meds. i never tongued my pills; they were giving me drugs, the one thing that made sense. i lined up with the quickness whenever they called for meds. still, a double shot of serzone was all they gave me, and serzone made me clumsy, and had no euphoric effects, lots of forgetting, though.)
           what are you in for? my roommate was in voluntarily for depression; it was the most chilling answer i ever received. i couldn't imagine not bolting as soon as i had the chance. i was packed and waiting by the nurse's station for three hours before i finally got my ticket for a free subway token and freedom. i never asked him any further details. too scared. ward six was the most depressing place i've ever spent time. i got the creeps trying to imagine how bad his life must have felt if he went to that place to get peace. bad craziness.
           i never threw any games of rummy. i was tempted to when i started to win (without the card-holding strategy: fair and square.) i just talked. i was curious. in a way, it was sort of safe; everybody was fucked severely in one way or another, mildly or seriously. i might not have had the best etiquette inquiring about their problems, but i felt just the act of our being in there broke much protocol. maybe it really demanded more. i don't know.