The story of the author’s experiences of transformation in a famed mental hospital.
In the early 1960s, after a failed suicide attempt, Gaines (Fool’s Paradise: Players, Poseurs, and the Culture of Excess in South Beach, 2009, etc.), at 15, became a patient at the Payne Whitney in Manhattan, where Marilyn Monroe, Carson McCullers, William S. Burroughs, Robert Lowell, and other notables had been treated. In a candid, entertaining memoir, the author chronicles growing up gay and confused in Borough Park, “the cognac of Brooklyn, the potent and flavorful essence”; dealing with his father’s rage, teenage crushes, and strange compulsions; and landing at the storied hospital where fellow patients included producer Richard Halliday, husband of actress Mary Martin; a raunchy, eccentric contessa; and a woman who claimed to be John F. Kennedy’s spurned mistress. Gaines was put under the care of a psychiatrist to whom he finally confided the cause of his distress: “I THINK I AM A HOMOSEXUAL,” he wrote in a sealed note. “Homosexuality can be cured, like many other disorders,” his doctor told him, news that buoyed Gaines’ spirits. “I would jump through hoops of fire,” he thought, “if I could be normal.” Although the path to heterosexuality eluded him at Payne Whitney and through 12 years of Freudian therapy, Gaines changed radically. Under the mentorship of the moody Halliday, who imparted Broadway gossip; the spurned mistress, who prescribed for him new clothes from Brooks Brothers and a spiffy hairstyle; and Martin’s suggested reading list (including To Kill a Mockingbird and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Gaines left behind his provincial Brooklyn roots. “I felt like Eliza Doolittle at the psycho country club,” he writes. “Maybe it was a ship of crazies, but I had embarked on a voyage where almost anything was possible.” In this short memoir, the author vividly portrays the crazies both within and outside of the mental hospital.
A spirited narrative of a hard-won coming-of-age.