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“You need to take this tour just like I did. Just show up. Tell them you’re in another class at the college. They don’t ask for school ID.”

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My mom was pretty adamant.

She had drawn the longer straw in which college she had chosen to attend after my dad’s death. Phoenix College (or Xavier Grad School or Feenicks Kollidge) always had taken itself more seriously as an institution. Give $10 million to Glendale Community (which I had chosen if only because it was closer to home) and they’d build another parking lot. Give the same $10 million to Phoenix College and they’d build a new science lab or auditorium and hire more PhD’s to take junior college people on field trips. That’s just how it was.

So my mom and I were in the same-level abnormal psych class: mine taught at GCC, and hers taught at FK . . . errr. . . Phoenix College. Her instructor had set up a field trip to the Flamenco Wing of the Arizona State Hospital, where they kept people deemed too risky for the streets even in the age of deinstitutionalization. Mine had not.

And my only resistance to the offer was because it was my mom suggesting it.

I had heard about one certain guy during a lecture. My instructor (a class act named Dr. Carl Samuels) delighted in detailing case histories that could keep us awake and alert during 3-hour night classes. This certain one caught everyone’s attention. It was about the guy who ate his mother. The story had come and gone like the wind. It elicited a few nervous laughs, a few “whoo-hoo!’s” but mainly just “eeewww”. I had set it aside in my mind.

I showed up that night at the Flamenco wing not knowing what to expect, and feeling a little ill at ease. What I was doing felt an awful lot like “slumming” in the way favored by yuppies of the 19th century. What was my real motivation in coming there? Just to see people acting crazy? Poor, lost, souls tearing their hearts out in agony? Would it be entertainment for me? It appeared to be that way for my mother.

After walking past the concertina wire and going through the metal detectors and three or four locking compartments, I entered the main floor of the Flamenco wing with 12 or so other students. Most seemed a bit on-edge. It didn’t help that a guard hid to the side of the final opening and slammed the door shut behind us, cutting loose with a hideous laugh. It was all in fun.

The employees needed to do something to stay sane, one supposes.

So we walked among the denizens of Flamenco. Most shuffled about in scrubs and surgical outfits, looking as though they were projections of themselves transmitted from a different planet. We didn’t see the legendary (and possibly framed) Winnie Ruth Judd, who was still alive at the time.

“The psychologists start off at $32K,” said the teacher, “and the psychiatrists are more like $65K or so.” That was fairly serious money in 1990 or so. I looked around and thought that it would never be enough to compensate for 12 hour shifts in a fluorescent-lit hall of the lost. Some of the students were interested in psychology as a career –God bless them.

“And here we have a famous resident,” he said, finally. I looked down at a long table where a staff psychologist played checkers with a sandy-haired man in his 40s or so. The man looked deeply calm. He slowly moved the game pieces, then looked up at me and smiled. I nodded. We walked away.

In the next section, the instructor started in a low voice: “That’s Earl. He hated his mother so much that he wanted to make sure he didn’t meet up with her in heaven after he died. So after he killed her, he ripped out her liver and fried it up in a cast-iron skillet. He was eating it when the police arrived. Nowadays he’s on enough Thorazine and Haldol to take down an elephant. So we’re perfectly safe.”

It was the guy. The guy who ate his mother.

And say what one will about his obvious psychosis and delusions — I, for one, am always the first to say that there are two sides to every story.

I’ve often thought back on Earl’s story and wondered about the events leading up to his fatal act. Was there abuse? Was he smothered and indulged or shunned and abandoned? Was he neglected or loved too much?

I also think about the integrity of his world. His actions were entirely reasonable if one granted him his premises. It wasn’t as though he hated his mother so he blew up a post office.  Hate mother? Kill her. But make sure you never, ever, ever have to see her again.

That’s foresight.

I invested a lot of time and money in psych classes in junior college, and almost none of the credits transferred to my 4-year institution. I remember sitting in Dr. Glenn’s upstairs office at Thomas More College and trying to convince him of how 16 credits of psychology had given me extra insight into the human condition. I think he spotted me 4 of them. Psych wasn’t the preferred lexicon for that institution. I don’t really blame him.

But in the years that followed, I can’t think of many classes that affected me more than those in psych, nor experiences that shook me as much as the time I met the guy who ate his mother.