Out of My Mind: Living with Manic-depression
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This is the story of one man's journey through the hell of mental illness and out the other side.
From: Out of My Mind: Living with Manic-depression, by Ben Benjamin
My two-week trip to Sydney began with a detour to my father's grave in the Jewish part of Auckland's Waikumete Cemetery. I stood before the black granite headstone and prayed a little, thanking my father for the start he had given me in life. My father had arrived in New Zealand fifty years earlier with one hundred pounds in his pocket, rented a store and built from scratch a successful retail business, Benjamins. From the graveside I could see several kilometres away one of the firm's two stores. I remember thinking how clever my father was to be able to look at the business, even in death.
I deliberately waited at the graveside until midday, as though the morning belonged to my father. At twelve o'clock sharp I felt a sense of release, as though shackles had been lifted from me and my personal clock had been reset at zero hour. This was the start of a new phase in my life, and in the life of the family business. I had become increasingly involved in the running of the business in the decade of ill health which preceded my father's death. I had been running the business in my own right in the two years since his death. This was the first time I felt free to take myself and the business where I wanted us to go.
I experienced the same combination of gratitude and release when the wheels of Air New Zealand's flight TE5 lifted off the tarmac at Auckland's Mangere airport. I took the glass of champagne served free to first-class passengers and raised it in a salutatory toast to my father, again thanking him for everything he had done for me. I did not usually drink on aircraft, nor fly first-class, and certainly not on the occasions when my father and I had flown to Sydney together to visit the annual trade show.
This was different. I was off to Sydney not just as the managing director of a retail firm heading for the 1985 trade show, but as Ben Benjamin, the thirty-three-year-old head of a dynamic and expansive company heading overseas to look at international business opportunities. During my two-week stay, I thought I might also look up my ex-fiancee, Judith, who had moved to Sydney to set up a medical practice.
An overcast autumn Wednesday greeted me at Sydney airport. I caught a cab into the city, listening dumbfounded to the Australian accent which proceeded to mangle and distort that lovely thing called the English language. I picked up the rental car I had organised and headed for the Sydney suburb of Paddington, where I was to stay with an old friend, Johnny, and his flatmate, Peter. That evening the three of us went to a restaurant for dinner. Johnny, another friend Bernard and I had gone through the Jewish youth movement and university together in Auckland, and we had been planning to travel around Europe, then to Israel. Eventually, I had decided I could not go due to my family and business commitments. At Johnny's and Bernard's farewell party I had felt constrained, left out, and had become extremely upset and very tearful.
On our way home Johnny mentioned he thought Judith lived in the opposite apartment block. It was about four hundred metres away from Johnny's fourth floor apartment but, with the aid of his telephoto lens, I thought I could see her outline through a window on the top floor. I was intrigued.
The following day, Thursday, I met up with Benjamins' general manager, Bob, who had flown to Sydney to join me in visiting the trade show and looking at business opportunities. It was Anzac Day, a public holiday on both sides of the Tasman, and there was not much traffic about. Bob and I decided to check out the Sydney landscape. We drove all over the city and then out to Bankstown, about twenty kilometres away, to where Judith had her medical practice. I wanted to give her a book I had bought at Auckland airport to read on the flight over. It was a copy of The Magus by John Fowles in which the love of the two main characters was such that they could neither live with one another nor without one another. Inside the front cover I had inscribed that, in reading the book, Judith should substitute us for the two lovers. Her surgery was closed for the public holiday. To the inscription I added Johnny's telephone number and a time and date before which Judith should contact me. I then left the book with the retailer next door, asking him to deliver it to Judith when her surgery reopened the following morning.
Judith and I had first met in Auckland twelve years earlier. I was twenty-two. She was seventeen. She was my idea of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. It did not seem to matter that she was very Orthodox and that I had been brought up as a Liberal Jew. We had gone out together for about three years. Judith had then moved to London for several years to further her medical studies. On her return to Auckland we had become engaged to be married. The engagement lasted two weeks. Figuratively, I had got cold feet. Literally, I had developed stomach pains, back pains, neck pains. I had experienced problems eating, sleeping, going to the toilet. The moment I had called off the engagement, all the ailments had disappeared.
For the following eight weeks I had refused to communicate with Judith. I had then had a bout of guilt and a change of heart. I had made a pest of myself. I had telephoned her, sent her flowers and letters which she returned, asked a mutual friend to talk to her on my behalf, tried to see her at work, called at her home and tapped on her window at three o'clock in the morning, made repeated requests for her to come around to my place. She in turn had treated me like I was a lump of mouldy liver sitting in a fridge. Eventually she had written to my parents complaining about my behaviour. A year after our engagement ended she had moved to Sydney where she had been working for about two years.
For Judith my latest attempt at reconciliation must have been déjà vu. Four months earlier I had gone to her Bankstown surgery during a brief stop-over in Sydney on a trip to visit relatives in Perth. We sat on a park bench for a five-minute chat sandwiched between her appointments. I had told her I was still very fond of her and asked her if there was any future for us. She said there was not, and had walked away.
With the book left in the care of the retailer, Bob and I drove back into the city. We talked about business. In the morning newspaper I had read a comment by Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke on the existence of wire-tapping in Australia. I remarked to my colleague that rental cars did not have ears. That evening I went with Johnny to the Israel Day celebrations put on by the Sydney Jewish community, all the time hoping to see Judith there.
Bob and I were due to visit the trade show the following day. On my way to pick him up at his Kings Cross hotel, I passed the newly constructed Eastpoint Tower apartment block in the suburb of Edgecliff. There were 'for sale' and 'open to the public' signs on display and I went in for a casual look around a fully furnished demonstration apartment on the fourteenth floor. The price tag was $395,000. The sales representative at the temporary office on the ground floor told me the deposit on a unit was only $3000. Most of the apartments appeared to have already been sold, yet none were occupied. To me this was strange, because most people are keen to occupy an apartment once they have bought it. The sales representative told me there was a technical hitch with the release of the property titles and he expected the problem to be sorted out within six weeks.
Bob and I spent the morning looking around the exhibits at the trade show and called into a few retail stores on our way back into the city. The Sydney retail market was wide open. There was opportunity at every corner. This was El Dorado. I took Bob to see the demonstration apartment I had been looking at. We agreed it would make an ideal beach-head for our Sydney operations and we made a commitment to buy it.
I imagined myself living in the Hilton Hotel and making the apartment available to Benjamins' executives from Auckland, who would stay there while on business in Sydney. I left a two dollar deposit with the sales representative, to be replaced by a $3000 deposit the following Tuesday. While Bob and I drove away, we enthused about our plans. Apartments, businesses, you name it, we were capable of putting it all together. I was becoming aware of my commercial invincibility.
That weekend, after taking Bob to the airport I dropped in to see some old family friends, Jack and Miriam Rosen, at the harbour-side suburb of Darling Point. The apartment next door was coming up for auction. I mentioned to Miriam I might be interested in buying it and asked her if she would do the bidding for me. She said she remembered my father as a go-getter, and I was just like him, always talking in business terms and the millions to be made.
Back at Johnny's apartment I mentioned to him about my book-dropping escapade. I told him I expected to hear from Judith by the following Wednesday, the deadline I had written in the book. We bet fifty dollars on it. Meantime, my attention was constantly being directed to the top floor window of the distant apartment block where Johnny thought Judith lived. I wanted to catch another glimpse of the woman whose outline I had seen that first night, to find out if it really was her.
On Monday morning I had an appointment to see a lawyer who had been recommended by Jack Rosen. The lawyer was to help me set up a paper company, which I felt was important, even though I had no idea what its purpose would be. Instead of driving all the way, I left my rental car at the Eastpoint Tower apartment complex and continued into the centre of the city by train. I thought how convenient the apartment would be for me and for Judith. I imagined us living there after our reconciliation, Judith catching the train to work at Bankstown each day.
After seeing the lawyer I picked up my rental car from the apartment complex and returned to Johnny's place, buying some cleaning products on the way. My intention was to clean Johnny's apartment to pay my way in lieu of rent. I set to work scrubbing the floors and walls in the flat. I arranged for a carpet cleaner to come the following morning to clean the floor coverings and lounge suites. The cleaner was a South African who had recently emigrated to Australia. I talked to him at length about the tremendous opportunities in Australia and the possibility of doing some business together some time.
I had more immediate business to take care of in the form of a meeting with a bank manager who had been recommended by Miriam Rosen. At the bank I set up accounts for myself in anticipation of a permanent move to Sydney. I also saw the lawyer again, before returning to the apartment complex to pay the $3000 deposit on the unit, as arranged the previous Friday. The sales representative was not there. Instead I paid the deposit to a man who introduced himself as the sales manager, but said he was unable to give me a business card, because he did not believe in them.
I had been in Sydney a week. It was now Wednesday, the cutoff day for hearing from Judith. In my mind, I had already bought an apartment, set up a business and shifted to Sydney. That night at Johnny's apartment I became preoccupied with the distant window, while wishing the phone would ring and it would be Judith. My sleep was fitful. I was getting up every five to ten minutes from the mattress on the floor to look out across to that window.
About half past five in the morning I turned on the radio to the sounds of an alternative music station, 102.5FM. It sounded like a guru chanting to strange music. Some of what he was saying sounded like secret coded messages personally addressed to me. My eyes fixed on a cockroach on the floor. I was taken with the idea that beings from outer space had invested in cockroaches the collective intelligence of the universe, because cockroaches were the oldest species on earth and they alone could survive a nuclear holocaust.
I had a late morning appointment with the bank manager. By this time I was in the habit of driving my rental car to the apartment complex and catching a train downtown. To fill in time I went up to what by then I regarded as my fourteenth floor apartment, to sit and read a newspaper. It included a story about the United States star wars programme. Looking out into Sydney harbour, I saw a submarine leaving in a rain squall. I knew it was heading out to take part in a nuclear war which was about to be unleashed in the Southern Hemisphere. Australia would be safe, because the nuclear fall-out would be blown away to the east with the prevailing weather pattern. New Zealand, on the other hand, would receive the radioactive rain and would be doomed. This revelation gave urgency to my intended move to Sydney.
After seeing the bank manager I returned to the apartment complex to pick up my rental car. I went up to my apartment, number 1403, which was still on public display, to find a prospective neighbour walking around. She had bought another apartment in the complex, number 1304, which in turn we went to visit. The painters were still at work. They were painting the apartment the same pink as my house in Auckland, and I began to feel I was destined to have this apartment rather than the one I had agreed to buy. I ended up with a small drop of pink paint on my dark blue suit. It was an omen. The apartment would be mine.
It was not just the colour which made her apartment so attractive. It was also the number. On an earlier visit to Perth, I had begun to study Jewish mysticism, or cabbala. I was particularly interested in a branch of cabbala called gematra, part of which places great store on number associations. The individual digits in the number of my apartment, 1403, added up to eight, a number associated with rebirth, regeneration, the start of a new life. To me this meant the start of a new relationship with Judith. The digits in the number of the other apartment, 1304, also added up to eight, but started with the important number of thirteen, which was the highest number in gematra before the attainment of knowledge of God. I was beginning to assume the status of a great mystic.
For the time being, this mystic had an appointment to keep in the temporal world. I had seen an advertisement in a magazine at Johnny's apartment for an aerobatic flying school based at Bankstown aerodrome, and I had arranged to go for a one-hour demonstration flight that afternoon. Aircraft and flying had always held a fascination for me. From an early age I had built and flown model aeroplanes. Earlier in the year I had started to fulfil a lifelong ambition by working towards my private pilot's licence. This was too good an opportunity to let pass by.
On arrival at the aerodrome I was met by the flying instructor, whose appearance reminded me of the fictional flying hero, Biggies, complete with handlebar moustache and flying jacket. The flight was fantastic, with the small Robin aircraft performing loop-the-loops, rolls, wingovers. I imagined having my own flying school and promoting it as Captain Biggies and the Force. I was on an incredible high. I felt as though I could do it all over again, this time without the plane.
I felt sure that during the flight we had flown directly over Judith's Bankstown surgery. This seemed to take on a special significance. With me I carried a diamond I had bought in Israel in my early twenties. It was the diamond I had given to Judith as an engagement diamond. She had returned it when I had broken off the engagement. That night I sealed the diamond in an envelope and placed it in the letter-box of the apartment where I thought she lived. On the outside of the envelope I wrote the address of the apartment on which I had paid the deposit. I assumed this would entice her to the apartment, and there I would confront her, saying the diamond, the apartment and I went together.
The enveloped diamond was subsequently returned to me, after it was posted to the apartment by the people who actually lived at what I thought was Judith's address.
Later I was also to leave messages for Judith on the dressing table in the apartment, believing she would come and pick them up. They were cryptic messages such as 'Jewish law will apply'. When I returned to find one of the envelopes with her name on the outside had been opened, I felt sure she had been there and read the contents. It did not occur to me one of the real estate sales people might have opened the envelope.
Back at Johnny's apartment I raved to Johnny and Peter about the aerobatic flight. I also told them I was suspicious and mistrustful of what was going on at the Eastpoint Tower apartment complex. It occurred to me the makeshift sales office at the complex was a front operated by a bogus property company. It was headed by the man without a business card. The claim of delays with the release of titles was part of the scam. The legitimate property company which owned the complex did not know the apartments were being sold, and not just once. The sales representatives appeared to be selling the same units over and over to different buyers. I later learnt that in Sydney this is an accepted business practice called gazumping, under which the payment of a deposit does not prevent a seller from accepting a better offer, with deposits from other prospective buyers being refunded. In my mind, the con men were going to take all the deposit money, including my $3000, and disappear. I told Johnny and Peter I intended checking out the company in the morning. I was beginning to see myself as the Scarlet Pimpernel, one of my favourite characters from childhood reading.
In the morning I again woke early and tuned the radio to the station where I had heard the chanting guru. This time I heard strange noises like wild beasts and demons. To my horror they were trying to get me. Thankfully they disappeared with the coming of the dawn, as though they were the forces of darkness being overcome by the forces of light.
I wore my light blue blazer that morning because I had to take my dark blue suit to the dry cleaners to have the spot of pink paint removed. While I was driving past a bus stop near the dry cleaners, I thought I saw Judith board a bus. I was convinced she was on her way to the Eastpoint Tower apartment in response to the clever plot I had laid out the previous evening. I drove to the apartment block, where I arrived before the sales people, and went up to my apartment to wait for her. When she did not show, I took the precaution of leaving by the service lift, because I was convinced the thugs connected with the apartment scam were after me. I had an advantage over them, however, in that they would be looking for a man in a dark blue suit, not a light blue blazer.
On the train downtown I noticed a man sitting opposite me. He appeared to have been following me. It must have been my coloured umbrella which was giving me away. I discreetly left it on the train. Everywhere I went, there appeared to be men standing on street corners waiting for me. I cannot recall exactly when, but at some stage I went into Rushcutters Bay Park and hid behind a tree. A woman in a yellow raincoat was walking towards me. I offered her $100 for the coat. She accepted. I put on the coat, with the hood up, hoping the thugs would not be able to recognise me in this disguise.
My next call was to the American Express building, where I withdrew $5000 from my Amex account. Next door to the Amex office I bought $200 worth of scratch lotto tickets, convinced I was going to win the grand prize. I got back about $100.
I strolled past a vacant area in the building and decided it would become the office for my Sydney business operations.
I went into a lift. It stopped several floors up the building. The door opened. A Chinese man entered. The door closed behind him. I knew he was a member of a Chinese triad which had been contracted to kill me. I darted out of the lift at the next floor and walked up the emergency stairs to the following floor, where I stumbled across a futures dealer. We talked highbrow economics for half an hour. I placed $5000 on a United States-Australian futures contract, knowing that as a result of a telephone call I was about to make to a radio station, the Australian dollar would take a tumble and I would make a fortune.
In the months before coming to Sydney I had not been sleeping too well and had fallen into the habit of ringing up an all-night talkback programme on an Auckland radio station, Radio Pacific. I had called myself Mr Economist and had pontificated on the world economy. The rest of the night I would spend waiting to hear the reaction from other callers. I believed I had established such a reputation that one call from me from Sydney, in which I would give a rundown on the plight of the Australian economy, would be enough to destroy all confidence in the Australian dollar. I was confident it would also result in a run on the funds of the Australian-based Westpac bank and cause it to go bankrupt. I had a vested interest here as well. Westpac was the bank with which Benjamins did business and I had recently been involved in an argument with the bank concerning the firm's overdraft. I would teach them not to mess with me. The telephone call to Radio Pacific was never made and I ended up losing money on my foray into the futures market.
From the American Express building I decided to walk back to the rental car at the apartment complex. On the way, I wandered into a car auction premises and inquired about a Porsche 944. The salesman told me it belonged to a judge who had been convicted of taking bribes in drug trials. I began to feel like the only honest person in Sydney, adrift in a sea of corruption. When I went to leave, there was a man standing outside facing away from me. I knew he was with them, and I deliberately scurried away in the opposite direction to avoid being seen.
At the apartment complex I called into the sales office, where I cunningly completed some paper work which I felt would somehow result in both getting my deposit back and ending up with the coveted pink apartment. In my mind I had gazumped the gazumpers. I posted the papers to my address in New Zealand, with copies to my Sydney lawyer, just in case I was caught.
I collected the rental car and headed for Johnny's apartment. Suddenly I sensed Judith was in danger. I had to warn her the forces of evil were going to capture her and hold her to ransom. I raced out to Bankstown, where I dashed into a public toilet opposite Judith's surgery and changed into some spare clothes I happened to have in the rental car. The change was necessary to ensure the forces of evil would not be able to recognise me. Fearing I would not be able to say anything to her, I wrote her a note. It read, 'You must come with me immediately.' I was too late. She had already left for the day. I kept the note and returned to Johnny's apartment, where I finished cleaning the windows. The apartment now felt clean and spiritually cleansed. That night Johnny and I had a difference of opinion over something, but we seemed to patch it up and I went to bed.
It was the weekend again, my second in Sydney. In the morning I again turned on the radio, this time to hear a violent battle raging between the forces of good and the forces of evil. The phrase 'thank you for being perfect' was being repeated over and over. It was the forces of good thanking me for being perfect. Perfection, however, was no guarantee of protection. I was becoming convinced my pursuers were at the windows of the opposite apartment blocks. They had high-powered rifles and they were trying to kill me. Earlier in the week I had witnessed what appeared to be a break-in at one of apartments, and I had called the police, who had said it was a false alarm. It was obvious to me now. The person I had mistaken for a burglar had really been after me, but had gone to the wrong apartment block. The police were part of the conspiracy.
Johnny became upset and reprimanded me when I insisted we keep the blinds drawn, and Peter and he crawl on the floor while they were in the exposed kitchen. I had to get out of there but I knew I would be spotted if I walked or took my rental car. I pleaded with Johnny to drive me in his car to a safe house where I could spend the day. As an extra precaution I made Johnny swap clothes with me.
While Johnny was driving me towards the Rosens', I heard a voice on the car radio say, 'Someone is running around spreading rumours and they should be stopped.' It sounded like the manager of what I had mistakenly assumed to be the bogus property company. It confirmed I was being hunted. I made Johnny drop me off before we reached the Rosens' and I walked the final few hundred metres. With me I was carrying a bag which contained my three cameras. Feeling the need to hide the cameras, I secreted them among some rubbish bags in a downstairs cupboard. It was the last time I saw the cameras. When I went to collect them that evening, they and the rubbish bags had already been collected.
At the Rosens' apartment, Jack cooked me a breakfast of scrambled eggs, while I told him about my discovery of the Eastpoint Tower scam. Jack said he knew the owner of the complex and gave me his telephone number, which I duly called. The owner told me I was talking nonsense, which to me meant he was part of the rip off. I also told Jack about my plans to operate an international trading company. Looking down from the apartment window, I could see a twenty-metre launch anchored in one of Sydney's bays. I boasted to Jack it would become my private yacht once the company was up and running.
In the afternoon I decided to go for a walk. It was to become a habit. During the walk I bumped into a police car parked across my path. I hid my face while I passed, escaping from what I thought was an obviously prepared net. My walk continued around the promenade, along the beach and onto a jetty, where I again had to cover my face while a police helicopter hovered overhead. I walked up to some apartment blocks and asked a resident for directions back to the road. Once there, I saw a man standing with his back to me. I knew if he saw me, he would get me, so I sneaked through some rose bushes and took shelter in a four-bay garage.
From outside came the sounds of people talking and moving about, and powerful vehicles roaring along the road. I was convinced it was part of the police manhunt for me. I decided to place my faith in God to look after me, and I felt God's hand cover me and protect me. Each time someone collected or returned their car, I rolled from one bay to the other to avoid being seen. I ended up being accidentally locked inside the garage for several hours, eventually making my escape by climbing up onto a roof beam and prising away some of the roof tiles.
I was filthy from rolling around in the muck on the garage floor, and must have looked a sorry sight in Johnny's too-tight jeans and too-small shirt when I arrived back at the Rosens'. I told them I had been accidentally locked in a garage during a police exercise, not knowing at the time that there really had been a police exercise in the neighbourhood that afternoon. I had a shower and Johnny came around with a change of clothes and took me back to his place, where there was a Saturday night party under way.
I entered the party like a conquering hero, wearing my suit, which I went straight away to change, before going to the bathroom. While I was washing my hands, Peter came in, shut the door, walked over and gave me a big hug and a kiss on my cheek. I extracted myself from what I mistakenly took for his homosexual overtures and went into the party, where I had a conversation with Johnny's non-Jewish girlfriend. I told her about Jewish spiritual philosophy. She asked me if I was a Master. I told her I was.
Several women at the party appeared to be attracted to me, including Maxine, to whom I had been introduced at a party the previous Saturday night. I was more interested in another party guest, Joy, whom I had first met on my previous visit to Sydney. Joy was Judith's best friend and looked remarkably like her.
She was the last to leave the party and we ended the evening with a little slap and tickle. When I tickled, she slapped.
As soon as she left, I felt the need to clean and rearrange the apartment. Everything had to be in its right place and I was the only one who knew what was the right place. Johnny had taken the precaution of pulling down the window blinds to prevent me from staring over to what I thought was Judith's apartment. Before I went to bed I put up the blinds and looked out the window in vain to see if I could catch a glimpse of her in the dim distance.
About half past two in the morning I woke to my favourite radio station. The voices on the radio sounded priestly, although I could not make out what they were saying. I stared across at the window in the apartment block in the distance. I thought I saw Judith standing in the window staring back. Her nightgown was a priestly white. After she left the window I saw in the sky flashing lights which I was convinced were coming from space ships.
Suddenly one of the voices on the radio was telling me to get out. Quickly I gathered up my personal effects and escaped from the apartment block and over the back fence, barefoot, like a cat burglar. I made sure I avoided the taxis in the area, by jumping into hedges or hiding behind power poles each time a taxi came by because I knew the taxi drivers were looking for me and communicating with each other as to my whereabouts. Fearing I would be caught, I went into a school and hid my wallet, credit cards and passport under a rubbish bin, to protect my identity.
My next stop was a derelict warehouse, where I went inside and sat down. Rays from the early morning sun started to cross the building. They were rays of light from heaven and they were imbuing me with the Holy Spirit and the love of Jesus. I knew I would become a latter day Jesus, who would carry the messianic message to the people of Sydney. I would have a tribe made up of women who would enter the tribe by having sex with me. According to the voices, my tribe and I would leave earth from Sydney in space ships in the year 2010.
Sitting there I also realised that with faith I had nothing to fear. I could go out into the street to meet my pursuers, protected by God and his messianic angel. With this knowledge I confidently strolled outside and wandered around, expecting to be arrested and taken to a prison, where I would save all the prisoners by converting them to the love of Jesus. Taxis were no longer to be avoided. Each time one went by I thought the driver would radio the police and tell them where I was so they could come and pick me up.
Eventually I ended up at Bondi Beach, where I sat reading a newspaper for about half an hour. Police vans kept coming along the road, but they would not stop, so I returned to Johnny's apartment and went back to the school to recover my belongings.
The rest of the day was spent with friends at a beach north of Sydney. Mostly I talked to Judith's friend Joy, weighing her up as a wife. My conclusion was she would make a good wife. Judith would be my mistress. A woman I had gone out with in Auckland, Sandra, would be the mother of my children. Joy and I would live in the soon-to-be auctioned apartment next to the Rosens'. Judith would live in my new apartment in the Eastpoint Tower complex, where I would visit her every Friday night, just as I had when we both lived in Auckland. I had not worked out where Sandra and the children would live.
That night I had another argument with Johnny and left his apartment in a hurry, packing all of my belongings into a suitcase and leaving by the stairs, because I knew my pursuers would be waiting in the lift. I piled my suitcase into the rental car, feeling I had just managed to get away.
Unexpectedly, I ended up at Maxine's flat and we went to bed together. After a couple of hours Johnny phoned and we argued further. I hung up on him, feeling he had betrayed my whereabouts, just as Judas had betrayed Jesus. By this time, every phone was tapped, every person was to be treated with suspicion.
They now knew I was at Maxine's flat. I had to get out of there in a hurry. I phoned another friend, Andrea, whom I had also first met on my previous trip to Sydney. I asked her if she would put me up for the night, on the pretext I had just flown in from London and did not have a place to stay. I was beginning to feel like the Scarlet Pimpernel again. I left the rental car with Maxine, with instructions for her to call the rental car company and have them collect it, because I knew my pursuers could identify the car. Andrea duly collected me and my luggage at a prearranged street corner. While I was climbing into her car, a van drove up behind and did a U-turn. It was them. While we drove away, I knew the latter day spy had once more beaten his pursuers. At Andrea's house I went to bed wearing my white cotton underpants, and luxuriated in the clean white cotton sheets. I felt good and natural and spiritually pure. This was my temple. This was where I was meant to be.
The peace did not last. In the morning I woke early, again feeling they were after me. I tried to ring Radio Pacific in Auckland, but was not able to get through direct dialling. I had been in Sydney for twelve days. I tried to place a call via the operator, but another voice came on the line. They had tapped all of the phone lines and knew where I was. I grabbed my still-packed suitcase and disappeared into the early morning fog.
I walked the streets, feeling compelled to follow a set path, as though I were a train on a railway line. My imaginary train took me to the suburb of Randwick, where I deposited my wallet, passport and credit cards in a letter-box, in the hope someone would hand them in to a police station, which would alert the police that I needed their assistance. I hitched a ride with a man who was only going a short distance and I was soon back on the street. I went into a bookstore and asked to use the telephone. The Chinese bookseller was most unpleasant and I thought what an ugly man he was. From the bookstore I went into a factory and used the phone there to call the American Express office, to cancel my now discarded Amex card and request a replacement. I made a second call to Andrea and asked her to come and pick me up. She said she would, although I must have missed her and I made my own way back to the beach suburb of Coogee, where she lived.
Realising they would be watching Andrea's house, I wandered around until I came across a playground. A vehicle appeared to be circling the ground. It was them and they were going to get me unless I made myself invisible by finding a neutral place. I rolled over and over until eventually I found the right place. There I lay for several hours in the sun. When it became dark, I forced a window into my newly found temple in Andrea's house. I had to enter through the window because I knew they would be watching the door. After catching up on a few hours' sleep I went outside into the darkness, leaving by the same window.
I was back out on the exposed streets. I was frightened. I needed shelter. It came in the form of a hospital which I stumbled upon. I went into one of the wards, posing as a visiting doctor. I imagined myself as a doctor of business. I spent the night curled up in a spare bed, with the curtains pulled around me. I felt at peace again. I was spiritually in harmony with the whiteness of the ward. That peace was also not to last. In Andrea's house was a robe with a dragon and a tiger embroidered on the back. All through the night I kept hearing the sounds of a roaring dragon and a growling tiger. I was born in the Chinese year of the rabbit and I pictured myself as a rabbit running underneath the dragon and the tiger, while they fought above me. I knew that if I stepped outside into the darkness, I would be devoured.
At dawn I left the hospital, secure in the knowledge that, provided I kept to the sunshine, the wild beasts of the previous night would not be able to get me. While I walked, the heel of one of my shoes made a clicking noise. It reminded me of the crocodile which swallowed the clock and cost Captain Hook a hand in the fairy tale, Peter Pan. I was the crocodile and the clicking noise was the ticking of the clock inside me.
I caught a bus downtown, picked up my replacement Amex card, withdrew some money and went to the Hilton Hotel. There I asked for a room on the thirteenth floor, insisting on that number because of its significance in gematra. I popped down to the neighbouring menswear shop and bought $1000 worth of clothes. Back in my hotel room I changed into my new clothes and read a magazine on the futures market, while imagining myself as a futures dealer. I sat in front of a mirror and watched myself smoke the hotel-supplied John Player cigarettes. In my university days I had smoked a pipe. In the late 1960s it went with the territory. This was the first time I had smoked cigarettes. I have been smoking them ever since.
While I was gazing at my smoking image in the mirror, it occurred to me that John Player must be the best cigarettes in the world, because they were the house cigarettes chosen by the Hilton, which was the world's best hotel.
My daydreaming was soon shattered by a sense of impending danger. I felt exposed. I was convinced my pursuers were going to hire a helicopter and shoot at me through the thirteenth floor hotel window. I was beginning to despair. I had not managed to get much sleep over the previous few days and I did not feel I could keep one step ahead of them for much longer.
The phone rang. It was my sister, Anne. She had flown over to Sydney from Auckland in response to worried calls from Johnny, and Jack and Miriam Rosen. They had told her my wallet, credit cards and passport had been handed into the Randwick police station and I had disappeared. Anne had first gone to the police station to collect my belongings and then booked a room in the Hilton, where she had met up with Maxine, who had traced me to the Hilton by telephoning around various Sydney hotels until she found me. She was lucky. Initially I had tried to book into the hotel under a false name, but my Amex card had given me away.
Anne came to my room. I pulled her into the bathroom, where I talked to her with the shower running, so they would not be able to hear what we were saying. I told her about the bugged hotel room, and the bugged telephone, and the voices, and the people who were trying to kill me. After a while Anne returned to her room, leaving me in mine. I turned on the radio to hear the sounds of breaking glass and running footsteps. I looked out into the hotel corridor and saw an Oriental-looking steward. I was sure he was part of the Chinese triad that was after me. Frantically I threw my belongings into my suitcase and rushed to Anne's room, telling her we had to get out of the place immediately.
Unbeknown to me, Maxine was hiding in Anne's bathroom, because they were worried I would think there was a conspiracy if I saw Maxine there. Anne convinced me we should go down to the hotel nightclub for a drink, which would give Maxine a chance to leave. When we returned to Anne's room I announced I wanted to go to Perth to visit relatives. Anne suggested instead we return home to New Zealand and I agreed, provided we did not have to travel to the airport by taxi, because every taxi in the city was after me.
I felt safe with Anne, who was eighteen months older than me. We had grown up as the only children in the family and there had always been a strong bond between us. In her company I knew I would be all right. Anne, on the other hand, was showing signs she was not all right. She doubled up in pain, and told me she was having a spastic bowel attack and needed urgent hospital attention. I telephoned the hotel manager and arranged for an ambulance, which took us to the Prince Albert Hospital.
I lay in the next cubicle to Anne, smoking a cigarette. I imagined the smoke I was inhaling was the poison which was making her unwell, and the exhaled smoke, which was the love of Jesus, was wafting across to where she lay, curing her. I recalled a quote from the Bible which went, 'We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak.' I imagined I was transferring Anne's illness to Joy, who was strong enough to bear it.
Anne convinced the doctor she had feigned the attack to get me to the hospital, and I was the one who was sick. The story I was told was they would have to treat Anne at another hospital. The following day, two weeks to the day since I had arrived in Sydney, we were taken by ambulance to Rozelle Hospital, a public psychiatric hospital. There was a policeman sitting in the front of the ambulance and a police van following behind. Anne and I held hands. I was terrified. I thought they were taking us to an abattoir.
At Rozelle we were taken through the back entrance of the ugly red brick Victorian style asylum and put in a waiting room. When I saw my misspelt surname on a form they were filling in, I protested my presence there was a case of mistaken identity. I refused to take medication. I calmed down after a while, telling my sister I felt safe in the room, because there were no tapped telephones and no windows through which to be spied on. My calmness fled when they locked me in a small seclusion room. I thought it was a gas chamber, and waited panic-stricken for the gas to start seeping through the peep hole in the door. I felt trapped. I needed to escape.
Once out of the seclusion room and into a general ward, I played along with my captors, waiting for my opportunity to be free. I fashioned a piece of tin foil, which I intended using to prevent the alarms ringing when I escaped through one of the fire doors. Allowed outside into the hospital grounds after a few days, I walked along a river bank, plotting how I was to get away without being seen by my escorting nurse. Throughout my stay at Rozelle I insisted on eating only kosher food, and wearing my pure cotton shirt. Orthodox Jews eat only kosher food and wear only pure garments. I even wore my shirt under my hospital-supplied polyester and cotton pyjama top. Pyjamas and dressing gown were the standard patient uniform. No one was allowed to wear day clothes.
The staff at Rozelle were friendly, but detached. The patients were my flock. I had been expecting the police to arrest me and take me to a prison, where I would convert my fellow prisoners to the love of Jesus. Instead I had been taken under police escort to a hospital to convert my fellow patients. This was where I was destined to be and this is what I was destined to do. To me the hospital grounds had been laid out by the Masons in mystical patterns, and this intensified my sense of belonging and purpose.
During my first two days in Rozelle I mostly slept in the sun, with my sister Anne reading a book nearby. On the third day I started writing poetry: one, two, three, sometimes four poems a day. They were all signed Ben Fleischer. In Hebrew, Ben means 'son'. I combined it with Fleischer, which was the surname of a woman I had met in Sydney and which in Hebrew means 'flesh'. In my mind I was the son of the flesh. I was Jesus incarnate.
Many of these poems were about my unrequited love for Judith. These included a poem called 'The Serpent and the Rose', which I wrote after seeing a serpent and a rose tattooed on the arm of a fellow patient, whom I named Bill The Messiah. Bill was an upholsterer who had been admitted after setting fire to the chair he was making. The poem read:
Love came the moment I saw your face,
And your eyes and smile tied me to my place,
Your body and face were so serene,
Quite the loveliest woman I had ever seen.
We touched our hands in a shy hello,
I knew it to follow you was where I go,
Together as one you and I should be,
Walking arm and arm by seashore sea.
Gulls wheeling overhead us fly,
Directionless drifting soaring sky,
Spirits entwined love surpasses all,
Careful, tread softly all cards may fall.
I love you, I love you, my heart would call,
Not yet, go back, time will call, too tall
From your height of love you view,
I love you for what you give, not for you.
Oh no! It's time my life is given free,
Unadulterated given no thought of me,
Just a moment a touch so tender,
Is enough for my soul, too little remembered.
The Serpent and the Rose are one and the same,
Love is only life's ultimate game,
The Serpent and the Rose you and I will be,
Don't you know, will you ever see?
Nobody knows where or when love grows,
And nobody knows where or when love goes,
But it's lost and forgotten and shows,
Somewhere between the Serpent and the Rose.
The serpent and the rose would come to represent hatred and love, evil and good, Satan and God, insanity and sanity, each being different sides of the same coin.
I wrote a further poem about my surroundings and my companions, and the strange ways in which their illnesses were making them behave. It was called The Theatre of the Absurd', and read:
How do you do! Pleased to meet you,
What a splendid time we've had,
Let me introduce you my friends
To the mad, the sad, and glad.
Friends! Come in! Sit a while partake enjoy the view,
You see what is absurd is really only a point of you.
A point of view is a point of you,
Bill the Messiah would say,
So sit here rest a while,
For time is all you'll pay.
The outside's in and the inside is out,
What makes you think a teapot is only a spout?
I'll test your senses and ask no pretenses,
I'm not the only voice to be heard,
Come in, sit down, and listen at,
The Theatre of the Absurd.
When you're in we begin to reconstruct your life,
Living is easy and may your mistress be your wife.
A friend you'll find won't mind the blind,
Of sanity and truth,
Come in and sit awhile my friends,
It's normal here! What's that you say? Struth!
Reality is what we see but folks don't listen to me,
Hear the voices and rejoices,
Of every man and beast.
The mind is a feast and not the least,
A morsel one two third,
Come in, sit down, and listen at,
The Theatre of the Absurd.
I spent ten days in Rozelle Hospital, where Anne visited me daily. When my mother arrived from Auckland, she took one look at the accommodation and the people, and arranged for me to be transferred to private care in the lush Northside Clinic, a private psychiatric hospital. Rozelle's cream walls, green linoleum and urine stink were replaced by walls of white, carpets of blue and an antiseptic aroma. I felt more comfortable there. I stopped asking for kosher food.
After about ten days and a few sessions with therapists, I was diagnosed as suffering from a mental illness called manic depression which can result in severe changes in mood, from the manic state I had just been in, to severe depression. I was told I would be put on lithium, which is a natural metallic substance used in the treatment of manic depression, and I would be free to go once a sufficient level of lithium had built up in my system, too little being ineffective and too much being toxic. After three weeks at Northside Clinic I was released to fly home to New Zealand. My two-week trip to the Sydney trade show had taken six weeks. My life would never be the same.