Living… in a mental hospital. Johnny’s image of the mental hospital is always changing. He came in thinking he’d be “locked up in a looney bin,” and was almost unsettled to find the staff so accommodating and polite. In fact, they had to discourage him from using words like “looney bin” or “inmate.” To them, it’s a mental hospital concerned with mental hygiene. While the staff is more than willing to accommodate him, the other patients have their own ideas.
Profession… a journalist who deliberately committed himself to an asylum in order to solve a murder. Even if he doesn’t quite accomplish that, it should really help his career: “Every man wants to be at the top of his profession – mine is winning the Pulitzer Prize. If this story doesn’t do it, nothing will.” The role he’ll be playing will be something beyond his imagination. He’ll be facing the best psychiatrists in the country, constantly navigating between his sane and faux-insane mind.
Interests… getting to know the other patients, with the ultimate intention of interviewing them. There were three witnesses to the murder, all of them with their own unique mental illnesses. There’s Stuart, a POW from the Korean War who is a brainwashed Communist; Trent, an African-American who imagines himself as a member of the Ku Klux Klan; and Boden, an atomic scientist with the mental capacity of a 6-year-old. Needless to say, progress on the case has been slow.
Relationship Status… dating Cathy, a dancer in a nightclub. The false impetus for Johnny’s institutionalization was his sexual obsession for his sister. Johnny asked Cathy to pose as said sister, making the interim period as awkward as possible. She’s “fed up playing Greek chorus to his rehearsed nightmare.” She wishes he’d give up this psychoanalytical binge and write the memoirs of an astronaut. She signed up for dating a normal reporter with a normal assignment. She’s frustrated with her own job as a nightclub singer, which she only took so they’d have a bit of savings while he did his experiments. And now, she has to keep up the charade of being his sister.
Challenge… solving the murder. Clara is terrified that Johnny’s beginning to think she’s really his sister. He didn’t anticipate the effects the treatments would have on him. The investigation is taking longer than he’d expected, and in the meantime, the shock treatments are taking their toll on his ability to investigate. He’s losing his power of speech; his voice is changing; his brain chemistry is being altered to a point of crisis. For a year, Johnny’s been playing games with his mind and riding the crazy horse. Now, he very well may never get off the saddle.
Personality… ambitious to the point of hubris. He will stop at no lengths and sacrifice any part of himself to get the big scoop. He knows exactly what to say to make himself seem mentally ill. He knows the questions to be asked and the answers to give in order to keep up the illusion. But to his caretakers in the hospital, “His pattern of symptoms in a mental disease is familiar... Whenever he wants his sister physically, he is taking the form of a mental breakdown and acute schizophrenic episode.” This is one act that might become all too real – and permanent.
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