Freudian Slips: The Double Swallow of Hard Candy

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

August 13, 2006

The Double Swallow of Hard Candy

- Charles Carroll with New Jersey Govenor Robert Meyner in 1954
I believe that the truth is often stranger than fiction and fiction is no stranger to the truth. Freudian Slips is no stranger to irony but what you are about to read is not only strangely ironic and true but born entirely fictitious and ending up largely factual. The odds and reasons of how it turned out that way is incalculable, unfathomable and beyond my words.
In the 1980’s, I accepted employment at New Lisbon Developmental Center, an antiquated institution for the developmentally disabled carved out of the wilderness. For a twenty-four year old man, the work environment proved quite startling to my sheltered psyche. I never knew human beings so different from the normal populous existed tucked away from the front pages of mainstream society.
Holding a lifelong interest in writing, I started to pen a fictional novel about a morality driven psychologist who accepts a post at a similar institution for the mentally retarded. In creating characters within a storyline, my rich imagination intersected with only marginal writing skills. I devoted the next six years of my life inventing and writing, devising and revising. I titled the byproduct of my imagination Of Might and Manacle, a spin-off of the classic Of Mice and Men. In 1992, I copyrighted the manuscript where it has sat unpublished and untouched on a dusty shelf for the last fourteen years.
To properly tell this story I need to revert back in time to 1987, when my manuscript needed script. I took a group of clients for a nature walk in the neighboring Pine Barrens of New Lisbon Developmental Center. As a breeze jostled through the towering pine trees, something quite unusual came over me. Beneath the very ground that I walked and toiled for a living, I internally sensed an additional subplot for Of Might and Manacle. To escape the depicted injustices of institutionalization, I imagined a runaway attempt by two young brothers from the house of the unholy. During my invigorating and inspiring walk with nature, a picture book materialized in my head of what later became chapter eleven.
I invented two inseparable characters, uncommonly handsome twin brothers named Akeem and Kareem McNair originally from Atlantic City, New Jersey. Bonded by the same blood and bound by the same institution, I imagined the early life of the borderline mentally retarded incorrigible brothers. After a disastrous home life and a series of failed foster care arrangements, the McNairs became wards of the state and sent to dwell in a flawed institution. I sketched out one brother to be a gifted Special Olympics track and field champion. At the risk of rehashing Hollywood movie formula, I concocted Akeem shaking hands with the Governor of New Jersey months before this runaway attempt. Contrastingly, I fashioned the other brother as a juvenile delinquent, who often resorted to slashing his wrists in attempted suicides.
Convinced they would rather die then languish in an institution, the McNair brothers join forces to make a daring daylight escape. On a warm day, they take advantage of a lapse in supervision by indifferent staff members, including a fictitious staffer named Westly. Running across the white sands of the backyard courtyard, the brothers scale the perimeter fence then dart for the Pine Barrens. Reaching the sanctuary of the woods, the runaways “hide motionless and scared in the camouflaged brush.” looking back at the institution that held them captive. Under the threat of hound dogs, they trudge on. By nightfall, they scale a tree to sleep in a deer hunter’s tree fort, where they eat all of their provisions including candy. The brothers “marvel at the natural beauty of the celestial sky”. “Shortly after dawn the twins awake to chirping birds.” They sojourn miles on foot and even take up a cross-country run during which one brother is not able to keep pace with the other. Along the way, they celebrate their newfound freedom by disrobing their institutionalized garb to swim and frolic in a murky creek. Mother Nature reveals itself with the hooting of an owl, the indiscernible sounds of wild animals, and the odd broad daylight sighting of a white-tailed deer. Hunger sets in. The dense woods eventually thin. They share brotherly camaraderie and rival banter along their journey. While the love they have for one another is all they have in this world, it has never been enough. So they steal a hillbilly’s pickup in an attempt to return to Atlantic City, NJ where they last saw their father. My copyrighted version has the brothers caught by police after a couple of days on the lamb. After the brothers accusingly argue over whose idea it was to elope, they return to the same hellish nightmare they risked their life for to escape. End of chapter.
Enter the theater of the absurd with the world just a stage. On the very day, I decide to take my manuscript off its sedentary perch on the library shelf to endure another round of circumspect editing, I learn from a close friend of a 2005 published non-fiction book entitled Hard Candy by Charles A. Carroll. The subtitle Nobody Flies Over a Cuckoo’s Nest, is a spin-off on the movie classic. The author and his brother are former patients of New Lisbon Developmental Center. I Google search the book online. I find the listed book, book excerpts, and the author’s email address. Wasting no time, I email him with envy. As if the author is on the other side of a parallel dimension, Charles A. Carroll emails me right back. A flurry of emails follow back and forth across the country with all roads turning to New Lisbon Devleopmental Center. Irony fuels my car to the bookstore to purchase a copy of Hard Candy. I can take a hint with a hammer blow.
Hard Candy chronicles the aborted foster care placements of a handsome featured Charles and his behaviorally involved brother Robert, who became wards of the state and institutionalized. Of normal intelligence, Charles Carroll wrote Hard Candy years after my copyright arrived for Of Might and Manacle, a decade after my walk in the woods. I learn that what the wind placed on my pores for me to breathe during that leisurely stroll in 1986 actually happened. I somehow absorbed glimpses of real events and put them into prose through what I cannot explain other than osmosis. Whatever the case may be, it mysteriously inspired two authors to include mirror chapters in their novels. So excuse me if the following true account sounds redundantly like my work of fiction.
An entire chapter in Hard Candy details a 1954 summertime elopement by brothers from a cottage on the same campus grounds where I worked. In their escape, the brothers scoot by a sleeping staff member by the name, Mr. Westly. They advance outside the building to the sandy terrain of the backyard where they run with “the speed of Olympians” in a scramble for the Pine Barrens. They scale a perimeter fence separating the institution from the woods then hide “under a bed of golden leaves” where they “looked back at New Lisbon” As if art imitated life, the Carrolls stare back at the institution I used to work, from the woods in which I embodied their pangs of freedom. Unsure of what lies ahead of them but not deluding their chances for escape, the Carroll brothers are certain that they would rather die in the wilderness then return to their previous existence. At “the onslaught of daybreak the birds were giving us a throaty warning.” They walk for miles through the dense woods but wading through the underbrush poses challenges until the woods thin. By their lively dialogue, you can sense the profound sadness that each other is their only sense of family in the world. The brothers “stared at the stars high above us through the trees.” As their AWOL status eclipses the night, they have consumed all of their meager provisions. During their hiatus, the brothers climb a tree, listen for wild animals, talk about hound dogs, hear the hoot of an owl, watch a deer give the birth to a fawn, argue over incidental stuff, and while traveling through the woods the physically stronger brother urges the other to keep up. They even remove their clothes to swim in a swamp. Police capture the boys a couple of days later. After blaming the other for whose idea it was to runaway, the police return the boys to the same institution I worked at thirty-two years later.
The published words bore uncanny parallels to my printed manuscript. I canvassed Carroll’s non-fiction book to gain a broader perspective of the ironies from my fiction. Throughout my transfixed reading of Hard Candy, I was thunderstruck by the graphic descriptive similarities of two wordsmiths. While mere words were enough to frighten me in living color, the photographs included in Hard Candy convinced me unexplainable forces were at play. I stared incredulously at the wide smiles of the Carroll boys in a picture as they frolic in a lake realizing that this snapshot of freedom was the backdrop scenery embedded in my brain that fateful walk in the woods. I stared in disbelief at the 1954 picture of ward of the state Charles Carroll meeting Robert B. Meyner, the Governor of New Jersey, at a publicized athletic event several months before his ill-fated elopement. I could not help but recall my main character, Dr. Dex Margold, as I stared wildy at Charles Carroll pictured beside the staff psychologist who befriended him. The element of surprise was gone by the time I read of Robert Carroll’s homicidal tendencies to slash his wrists, behavior that led to his transfer to a mental hospital. So I only stoically read the epilogue citing Charles Carroll’s remorse about never reuniting with his biological father and of his 1959 institutional discharge, which led him to choose no other place in the world to live than Atlantic City, NJ, the hometown of my fictional set of brothers.
I closed the book at that point. The truth about Hard Candy remains difficult to swallow and I might not ever digest its content. So I ended another ironic chapter in my life realizing that I am never really out of the woods with coincidence.

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Blogger Zelda Parker said...

This is a stretch, maybe while you're surrounded by the beauty of nature your psychic abilites were once again at work?

12:24 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Deja vodoo!

12:34 PM  
Blogger Dr. Nazli said...

I see it as a testament to the richness of your imagination and the depth and skill of your writing talents ...

Joe hope you are well my friend!

Watched Miami Vice - very goos as long as you refuse to think about the plot logically ;-)


6:55 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Thanks for the compliment. It sounds like Miami Vice needed a better plot. lol

7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, so I knew you were psychic like your Mom...

I have a bone to pick with you - The Rolling Stones aren't your #1 all time favorite band anymore?? And what's with taking The Who and making them ahead of the Stones? The Who was MY BAND!! LOL!!

I love the list of bands/singers, songs, movies and t.v. shows. Did we see Ordinary People together? That is one of my all time favorite movies. I don't recall seeing "Glory" on your list, but if you've never seen that, you have to. It's about the first all black regiment to fight in the Civil War. EXCELLENT movie. Denzel Washington won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. My other favorite movies are "On Golden Pond" and "The Four Seasons".

Take care! :) Steph

8:47 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

the Rolling Stones have gathered a little moss.

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey I live near there....not in there thank goodness! Should I lock my doors at night?

Scared in Southampton NJ

10:41 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

You may have to work there to judge for yourself. thanks for visiting. I've been through southhampton.

12:06 AM  
Blogger sue said...


11:59 AM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

it makes Hard Candy a mouthful.

6:00 PM  

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