The Gym, Part Four

11/19/2006


 


THE GYM, PART FOUR


 


I managed 20 minutes on the elliptical yesterday, not much for most people, but for some reason I struggle with that machine more than the average athlete.  Most elliptical machines are built for people taller than me, for one thing; the stride is way too long and too deep for me.   But check out these nice ellipticals made by Precor: http://www.precor.com/comm/efx/, and definitely take a peek if you’re wondering what the heck an elliptical machine is.


 


My current gym, Boston Sports Clubs, (http://www.mysportsclubs.com/regions/BSC.htm), has seven or eight different types of elliptical machines, while my old gym, Planet Fitness (www.planetfitness.com)–of which I am still a member, as it only costs me $10 a month, less than I spend on coffee, but should I drop it will cost considerably more–has two types, both made by Stairmaster http://www.nautilusinc.com/consumer_catalog_primary/opl_brands/stairmaster/ellipticalsandtreadmills/prdcdovr~SM51
0053/StairMaster+ClubStride+5100+Elliptical+Trainer.jsp
) and neither feels like a natural stride to me.


 


You get what you pay for, I suppose.


 


Now that you’ve clicked on the links, and wished you had $5,000 to spend, just like that, though I am not certain you’d spend it on an elliptical, let me get on with the story:


 


The real reason I spent a full 20 minutes on the elliptical yesterday was because I was watching a particularly mesmerizing TV show about medics in Iraq.  Yes, for the uninformed: we have TV’s we can watch while we work out.  At BSC we have individual TV’s at each machine, each with a little “remote” where we can plug in a set of headphones.  There is a selection of about 15 stations, of which I prefer CNN.


 


I’m not going to go into the gory details of the show.  You’ve all seen blood guts and gore in movies and on TV; it’s not pleasant.  But for some reason, pumping away at the machine, surrounded by others working out, running on treadmills, flipping pages of magazines, bopping to music, with sweat as the only common denominator–this was the solitary activity, while the folks in the war were more connected, more in synch, more loving and caring than we at the gym could ever be. 


 


After the elliptical, I went on to strength training.  Since I had a couple of sessions with a trainer, I’ve been doing exercises using a stability ball.  (OMG! Here’s a cheap one: http://www.buy.com/prod/nautilus-65cm-stability-ball/q/loc/17250/202526351.html?dcaid=17379 $15.55 incl shipping for 65 cm.)  These exercises look simple but are incredible core strengtheners.  People assume postures similar to those that children take on while making snowmen; stability balls don’t melt, though, they lose air and get soft, and I wouldn’t suggest sticking a carrot into one. 


 


I then continued my strength training on Nautilus weight machines. (http://www.nautilus.com/nautilus_brand_commercial_equipment/productcategories/strength.jsp?lid=Strength)   I don’t do many of these machines.   I liked the ones at the old gym better; even though they clunked and clattered, they were well organized and easy to understand.


 


Stretching exercises were next, most of which I learned at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education’s Huron Ave Studio (http://www.ccae.org/catalog/courses/?id=13&PHPSESSID=ea9dc31d92d08d4cbcd0103f68c6b376).  I spend a good half hour stretching.  It’s interesting that we spend so much time contracting our muscles and now we must in turn pull them in the opposite direction to keep them balanced and happy. 


 


Working out is the most selfish thing I do, and that includes blogging.  At least when I’m blogging I’m reaching out.  Maybe even helping people.  When I work out, I’m building my body, my muscles.  Does anyone else really care?  Probably not.  Or, rather, I may write about working out, and you may see what I write, and even click on the links, but no one truly wants to read this shit, right?


 

The Death of QB

11/13/2006


 


THE DEATH OF QB


 


The apartment seemed cold when I arrived home from the veterinary hospital.  Cold and dark.  Music was still playing on the bathroom radio.  QB always preferred it way.  Now, it didn’t matter.


 


I felt like punching something, trashing my apartment, throwing a chair, anything, but it wasn’t anger that drove these impulses; it was an ethereal streak of sadness.  That and the shame foisted on me at the animal hospital.


 


I had left my apartment that evening by taxi with an apparently healthy three-year-old Sheltie.  I returned at 1:30am, alone, also by taxi.  When the driver asked, “What happened to your dog?” I mumbled something vague, and pretended instead to be interested in his computerized navigation system.


 


I remembered wryly the imagined headlines that had floated around in my mind only days before: “Killer Sheltie Mauls Mentally Ill Woman.”  Or, “Mentally Ill Woman Kills Own Sheltie.”


 


I wasn’t going to argue with myself the fairness of the situation.  Life had already taught me that it wasn’t going to do me any favors.  Death can be beautiful but often isn’t, and life is damned ugly when you think about it.


 


I switched on the desk lamp that served as a makeshift living room light, then turned up the heat some, until I heard the hot air blower click and then rumble.  My computer had run a virus scan that night.  No threat(s) found.  How nice.  No messages on the machine. 


 


I tossed my knapsack on the floor near my bicycle.   In it were QB’s collar, his leash, and his treats bag that I kept hanging on my key lanyard.  Also I had a stash of QB’s favorite junk food treats that I fed to him only a minute before he was injected with poison, while he struggled to remove the IV from his left front leg.


 


I sat in my swivel chair and cried for a while, putting my tissues in a little pile that QB would surely have raided, shredded, and eaten if he had been with me. 


 


I remembered the smell of feces at the moment of death.


 


Euthanasia for a dog who is old or sick is a difficult decision, but to put a dog to sleep whose behavior is aggressive and incurable but who is otherwise healthy and well is a decision ten times tougher. 


 


People close to me supported my decision, but I went to the veterinary emergency hospital on my own, just me there by myself, for the purpose of killing my best friend.


 


I went to bed at 3am, and awoke at 7:30 or so Saturday morning.  I put on some coffee, and didn’t bother getting dressed.  What was the point?  No dog to walk.  I needed a shower, to wash off of me the stinking filth of the deed done the night before.  But I waited, and made some phone calls instead, wrote some e-mail, and changed the light bulbs in the living room.  I waited, because when I walked into the bathroom I thought I saw QB laying on the cool linoleum floor by the toilet, where he liked to hang out.  I waited, because I wanted to live with that filth, repugnant as it was, for just a little while longer.

Prozac Puppy’s Progress

11/5/2006


 


PROZAC PUPPY’S PROGRESS


 


QB bit me again today, after a long period of improved behavior.  I had been hoping that the Prozac was finally starting to take effect, but QB’s extreme behavior today told me otherwise, that he is still unable to maintain self-control under certain circumstances and therefore cannot be externally controlled.  When conditions he considers scary or threatening are present, he cannot stop himself from being aggressive.


 


Today, as we were finishing our jaunt, rounding Lexington Street, QB spotted a stimulus, and began to bark and pull on the leash.  I assumed he was barking at the middle-aged gentleman ambling toward us on the sidewalk, dressed in a white t-shirt and painter’s pants, but it was not this man, it was something further along.  Was it a squirrel?  A Halloween decoration in someone’s yard?  Neither of the above.  Today’s big bad threat was an Evil Orange Traffic Cone.  There seems no rhyme or reason to what QB considers The Enemy, but traffic cones are among the most Evil of them. 


 


QB snarled, jumped, snapped at the cone, and jumped around some more.  I considered turning away down a side street, but there were none that led to my building.  I assumed that once QB had the opportunity to sniff the traffic cone he’d see that it was harmless.  We moved closer.  QB growled and barked; the foam leapt from his mouth onto the pavement.  I tried to get him into a “sit” position but he was too tensed up to listen.  He snarled and jumped, twirled, and snapped his teeth into my thigh.


 


It was a sharp bite that felt like a needle prick, but it wasn’t deep; it barely broke the skin.  Nothing was hurt, I knew, except my spirit.  I knew I should get QB away from there as fast as possible, and as we passed the Evil Cone I knew in my heart that if this Evil Cone were an infant, or a child, or a person of any age, and QB felt for that person the way he felt for the Evil Cone, that person would no longer be alive.


 


As a dog owner and adult citizen I know I am responsible for my dog’s actions.  What if he hurts someone?  I mean, what if he seriously hurts someone?  Can I truly say that any disaster is one hundred percent preventable?  Whereas before I would worry about QB jumping on an elderly person and knocking her over, now I worry about QB tearing that person to bits.  Of course he’s always on leash, always with me, but what if–


 


You hear stories about Pit Bulls, kept as attack dogs, that kill people.  These dogs are put to sleep.  Sometimes you hear about a house pet that kills a newborn baby out of jealousy.  The fate of such dogs varies but generally they are spared.


 


I must say, I’m very frightened.


 


 

GUESS WHAT I WASN’T DOING ON THE 23rd?

11/4/2006


 


A SPEAKING ENGAGEMENT


 


I had a speaking engagement at a NAMI meeting that never happened because the fools that set it up invited the wrong Julie Greene.  No kidding.  I guess they had her all lined up to speak on my book, Breakdown Lane, Traveled (www.breakdownlanetraveled.com), which of course she didn’t write and most likely had never heard of, and about writing–Lord knows if she ever wrote a word–and healing.


 


I first heard of this from my friend Brooke Katz, who is quite a celebrity herself, having been featured on all sorts of TV specials and written a book about her recovery from schizophrenia.  She does plenty of public speaking about her illness and is well known in NAMI circles and McLean-type places, and she wrote to me saying, “I hear you’re speaking at a NAMI meeting.”


 


“Huh?” was my reply.  “Must be the other Julie Green.”  Note: No E.


 


She wrote back: “She’s talking about writing.”


 


I began to get worried.


 


I phoned my mother and left a message.  You have to understand a few things about my mother.  For one thing, she’s losing her mind.  For another, she doesn’t give a flying fuck about me.  Her way of pretending to have a bleeding heart is to be very, very active in NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, an advocacy organization made up of patients, parents, caregivers, etc that works on legislation, research, and so on.  She knows NAMI but she doesn’t know shit about me.  She doesn’t know how I spend my time, who my friends are, what I care about, what makes me happy, and when I told her I was returning to graduate school and had been accepted back into the program, she changed the subject.  But at any rate, the message I left said something like, “If I’m the Julie Greene that’s supposed to speak at that NAMI meeting on the 23rd, you can tell the NAMI people I was never contacted at all and cannot speak at their meeting anyway because I have a class that night.


 


A few days later I received a message on my answering machine that went something like this:  “Hi, my name is so-and-so, and I’m, er, from NAMI, and your mother gave me the wrong e-mail address, and we called the wrong Julie Greene and asked her to speak at a NAMI meeting, and I know this is short notice but would you speak on Monday, we’d like you to speak about your book and about writing and healing, please call to confirm tomorrow, I’ll be at the dentist tomorrow, my work phone is–“  I turned the answering machine off.  “Sorry, maybe next time,” I told her the following morning.  “I’ve got a class, and I’m being workshopped that night.”  (Granted, she probably didn’t know what “workshopped” meant, not to mention that spell-check won’t accept the word, either.)


 


I think the last time I spoke publicly was in 1981 or so, when my illness hadn’t quite taken me into a downward turn yet; I could still tread water.  I spoke about music composition and creativity.  I used tape recordings of my pieces and displayed musical scores on the overhead projector that everyone could see and follow.  I also performed my pieces both on trumpet and voice.  I showed the audience how a composer puts together a composition, how intervals work in melody and harmony, how themes intertwine.  I did a damned good job of that presentation.


 


It wasn’t until after the 23rd, after the date of my class and the speaking engagement that never happened that I thought up a topic for my little talk on my book, Breakdown Lane, Traveled, writing, and healing.  First of all, I wouldn’t talk about healing.  I don’t like the word.  It sounds so passive.  I would talk about form and content.  I would talk about how form and content interrelate in any work of art, and how the concept of form and content relates to creativity and personhood.  Then I would bring in mental illness.  I don’t totally have the ideas formulated yet.


 


Yes, it is true: a piece has form and content.  Then you slap a title on it, so there will be no mistaking what work we’re talking about: “Julie Greene.”

Prozac Puppy’s Progress

11/3/2006


 


PROZAC PUPPY’S PROGRESS


 


For several days, QB has had enough self-control to calm himself with the sound of my voice alone.  Treats are helpful in extreme situations but when QB is presented with ordinary stimuli such as Halloween decorations or newspapers wrapped in plastic, I can calm him by speaking to him in a soothing tone and turning away from the stimulus.  I have even been able to “convince” him to lose interest in other dogs using the soothing technique.  When it comes to pedestrians I generally use treats because I don’t want to take any chances on QB biting, but it seems that the biting stage is over at last!  I also use treats when trucks pass, because QB can’t seem to stay in control around them.  Like a soft voice, treats have a calming effect, especially when used repeatedly.

ANOTHER WORLD

11/3/2006


 


ANOTHER WORLD


 


For a week, I was a number in a Sudoku world.  I was not consistently the same number; I changed according to the whims of the Big Game itself.  One was not the loneliest number because it was always flanked by Five and Six and the like, and Three was never the problem it tended to be in the world you and I know here on Earth; Nine was plenty and never too many; Eight was enough but always beckoned for the others.  If I were in a romantic mood, any would be fine even if I couldn’t find Two.  Let it be known, then, that Sudoku was as seductive as mushroom-soft chocolate.  I couldn’t go wrong–or should I say, if I did go wrong, it meant this program would close immediately; Fatal Error.


 


I have a favorite Sudoku puzzle, and it was my undoing.  I’ll get to that, but let’s back up for a moment.  When I go to see Dr. R every Thursday at 11, I run into at least 15 homeless people on my way down Mass Ave.  I must admit it’s getting rather tiring, after five years of walking down that same few blocks, getting bombarded with requests for funds, while I make about $750 a month in Social Security and SSI combined.  But I oblige, sometimes shelling out three or four bucks between the subway station and Dr. R’s office.  I vowed that I would only give to Spare Change vendors.  Spare Change is the local homeless paper. (www.homelessempowerment.org)


 


Somewhere near the “Poetry” section (I’m getting to my point here) is the “Puzzles” section, and when Spare Change started with a new format, included a Sudoku puzzle.  These puzzles, by Pappocom (at the time I had no clue who this was) were Sudoku heaven!  They were symmetrical, as every Sudoku puzzle should be for the most part, had personality, were challenging, and made the puzzles in the Metro look like they’d been through the wash and wrung out a few times.  (I’ve found countless errors in Metro puzzles, which I’ve verified using the “draw” feature at www.dailysudoku.com/draw )  I believe it was one of the Spare Change issues from last summer that contained the best Sudoku puzzle I’ve ever done.  The Favorite contained no Threes.  I had to figure out where the first Three was, and then work from there.  The puzzle was pleasing to look at and just the right difficulty.  It took me a satisfying two hours to complete.


 


After playing a number of these Spare Change puzzles, I had to find out who this Pappocom was.  I Googled him and found him at www.sudoku.com.  He isn’t a person.  Or maybe he is.  He’s a program, or a producer or company that produces a downloadable Sudoku program.


 


It was 5am on Saturday morning and I was breaking into a sweat.  To insure that this program didn’t contain a virus, I downloaded it onto a CD and ran a scan on it.  Fine.  The program was up and running in minutes.


 


I didn’t get dressed all day.


 


You can work the program with the mouse or with the keyboard.  I’ve only tried the mouse method.  Sound effects add to the drama, including clicks, pops, and “applause” when you finish a puzzle.  You can place “pencil marks” in a square using the right mouse button and then replace it with a larger number when you’re sure of the answer.  The program can produce puzzles ranging from “very easy” to “very hard.”  The Favorite, the one without Threes, was graded “hard.”  The fact that the program can generate literally an infinite number of puzzles–well, that spells trouble, a Bottomless Pit, doesn’t it?  


 


You’d think a Bottomless Pit would be cold; I didn’t find it so.  On my way down I plucked single digits of all sorts from the moist walls of the Pit; these I saved. You never know when a number may come in handy.


 


I gave my dog, QB, two walks that day by throwing a jacket over my pajamas–don’t laugh; this scenario is familiar to many a dog owner, especially those who have had puppies.  Around 7:30, after I’d taken my bedtime meds (4 mgs Rispedal, 300 mgs Thorazine, 150 mgs Topamax, enough to put a horse in his grave) and given QB his (peanut butter laced with 25 mgs Benadryl, enough to make him sleepy for about four hours) I decided to tackle The Favorite.


 


Please forgive me for this.  A really, really good Sudoku puzzle progresses like traditional narrative structure–sorry, writers!–there is the central dramatic question, which the player generally finds presented in the first plays (where to find that confounded Three?) then things get complicated and further developed, stuck, unstuck, stuck, unstuck, more and more tense, and finally all the pencil marks are drawn in and it seems that this is the Final Impasse!  But something gives and the tension oh the tension and we topple down the mountain path and everything falls together so fast, oh so fast that we get a little “rush,” don’t we?


 


At 10pm I decided to go back for seconds. 


 


Around 1am I realized this weekend, specifically tonight, was supposed to be the switchover to Standard Time, i.e. Fall Back.  There would be two 2am’s.  It meant one extra hour of Sudoku to enjoy–or hate. 


 


I think every addiction has elements of both intense love and hatred in it.   I can’t say I feel either for Sudoku, though.  I’m not sure I’m addicted.  I see Sudoku as a hobby and mind-strengthening tool–in the case of last weekend gone totally awry.  Instead of being a mind-strengthening tool it was a mind-bending monster, but that is only because my perceptions have a tendency to get themselves twisted due to my mental illness.  One thing I can say for certain is that I was totally ready for an escape.


 


My escape lasted nearly a week.  Once I was in this other world, I couldn’t get out of it.  There was no light in the Other World.  There was no warmth.  There were only Evil Numbers, Evil 9×9 Grids, Evil Pops and Noises, Halloweens of all sorts and dammit I’m fucking scared.  I’m sitting here in the library with a near-empty bottle of water beside me, pens and pencils and the like, my laptop, a sandwich, a handkerchief, my watch, some CD’s, I’ve got music playing, I can feel my heart beating to the music–oh God help me if those Evil Numbers ever, ever arouse hope in me again.

Prozac Puppy’s Progress

PROZAC PUPPY’S PROGRESS 10/27/2006


 


Today is QB’s 18th day on Prozac.  Last night I saw what I could say was the first indication that the Prozac was influencing his outdoors behavior.  Normally, when I took QB out at night, he barked ferociously at three trees in the front yard of our building.  He did this every time, and the neighbors found his outbursts scary to watch and listen to.  Someone even asked me, after seeing QB in action, if he was an attack dog!  But last night all that changed.


 


After I bundled up, I attached QB’s head harness (here is the Halti harness at PetSmart: http://www.petsmart.com/global/product_detail.jsp?PRODUCT%3C%3Eprd_id=845524441775200&FOLDER%3C%3Efolder_id=2534374302025643), I made sure I had a plastic bag, my gloves, my headlamp (here is a good cheap one at batteries.com: http://www.batteries.com/productprofile.asp?appid=315672 ) for seeing what I’m picking up, and a hat, and we were all set.  QB was his usual self in the hall, eager to get into the elevator and outdoors.  It was around 6:30 and dark out.  I always get nervous that someone will approach us out of the shadows and scare QB.  I worry about a confrontation but everyone assures me that that will never happen.


 


Tree #1 is a large pine tree surrounded by–yep, you got it–pinecones.  When QB was a puppy he got a kick out of those very same pinecones and used to play with them and try to pick them up; nowadays he “plays” with the tree by trying to scare the hell out of it.  Last night I braced myself for the worst.  I took off one glove and grabbed a few treats to “bribe” QB with, should he become unmanageable, but QB totally ignored Tree #1!  I let out a deep breath.  So we went on to Tree #2, also a pine, but smaller.  QB slowed his pace.  No barkie!  I was beginning to wonder if perhaps QB had something hidden up his little doggie sleeve until I realized that QB doesn’t have sleeves, and we progressed across the circular driveway to Tree #3, a maple near the flagpole that sits in the middle of the driveway.


 


This had to be some kind of joke.  Surely, someone had switched dogs on me.  But we sailed past Tree #3 as easily as if it were merely a tuft of grass.


 


Could it be the Prozac?  This morning, again, QB’s behavior amazed me.  He was able to quickly recover when a large, aggressive-sounding dog barked at him from behind a fence.  I pulled QB along and encouraged him, and very quickly we were on our way.


 


Perhaps it is too soon to come to any conclusions.  In order to have a fair scientific experiment, there should be two QBs, one “control” that takes a placebo (that QB will be anything but in control) and the other that takes the real thing.  Neither QB would know what he is taking.  They would then be compared.  Needless to say, one QB is all I can handle and all I need and want and can afford.  God bless the little guy, he’s a handful!

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Hospitals

10/26/2006


 


A BIT ABOUT HOSPITALS


 


My early hospitalizations were on unlocked units, but in the mid-80’s all the units became locked, that is, no one could get on or off these psychiatric units without a key, and the only ones who had these keys were the STAFF.  Believe it or not, much of this had to do with insurance.  The insurance companies figured if you were sick enough to require hospitalization then you probably required a locked unit; conversely if you weren’t sick enough to need a locked unit, they weren’t going to waste their money on you.  One by one the units that didn’t convert closed down due to lack of funding, or became general medical or geriatric wards.  Psych units became scary places.  Patients’ belongings were routinely searched and all sharp objects, medications, valuables, cigarettes lighters and matches, belts, cash, and some toiletries were confiscated.  This was for everyone’s well being; a suicidal or homicidal patient could do considerable damage with these objects, something nobody felt comfortable discussing in the dinner table or the medication line, but now and then one heard snatches of the topic in the smoking room.


 


Ah, the smoking room!  Due to fire regulations and pure sadism on the part of most hospital administrations, smoking by patients on hospital grounds is forbidden; staff may smoke in certain areas so long as patients can’t see them.  The smoking room…those were the days…. Much therapy took place in the smoking room, and many nonsmoking patients came into the smoking room just for the conversation.  


 


Here is my chapter, “An Unlisted Guy,” from Breakdown Lane, Traveled.  (www.breakdownlanetraveled.com) The chapter describes how Joe and I met, in the smoking room of a hospital psychiatric unit.  I changed his name to Doug and I wish I hadn’t, but the chapter may give you a feel for what these smoking rooms, now part of history, were like:


 


 


NOVEMBER, 1986: AN UNLISTED GUY


 


            He smoked Merits, and he was cute.  Seated in the center of the smoking lounge, he confidently flicked his cigarette into one of the tuna cans the hospital had supplied for ashtrays, then leaned back and grinned at me.  I took my usual seat in the front corner behind a small empty bookcase, put my feet up on the shelf, and lit up.  I tried to eye him without his noticing, but he caught me at it, still grinning.


            “Wanna try one of mine?” he asked.


            I squinted, distrusting.  “Well, maybe.”


            He handed me two.  “Name’s Doug.  You’re Julie?”


            “Yeah.”  I fingered his cigarettes gently, then placed them on the book shelf, lined up with the edge.  “You’re nice,” I said, then wished I hadn’t.


            “I think you’re nice,” he replied.


            “You’re just saying that.  I’m actually a very evil person.”


            “I doubt that.”  He stubbed out his cigarette.  I watched him squash it until it was well-mangled.


            I offered him two of my Camel Lights.  “Where do you live?” I asked.


            “In an apartment.”


            “Naw, really — where?”


            “First floor.”  Doug grinned.


            “I’m looking for an apartment that will take my dog,” I said.


            “I hope you’re planning on moving in there, too,” said Doug.  I laughed.  He said, “Back in a sec.” 


            He deftly wheeled his manual wheelchair around the furniture in the smoking lounge and returned with a copy of the Boston Globe, that had been sitting untouched in the unit living room.  “Classifieds should be here.  Take a look.”


            I pretended to fuss with the paper and stole glances at this guy.  He was wearing short sleeves and his freckle-covered forearms were thick and masculine.  His hands, large and gentle, were stained at the fingertips from heavy smoking.  Hints of gray were scattered here and there in his dark hair.  He blushed.  I tried to stop myself from smiling.


            “Remember,” he said, “you want your utilities paid for.  A nice warm place with good hot water, a nice shower.”


            “What’s your place like?”  I turned to the Real Estate section.


            He shrugged.  “Just an apartment.  The Pad.”


            I read some ads out loud, and for each one, Doug had a comment.  To most listings, he replied, “Forget it — it’s probably a fuckin’ dive.”


            Another guy came in.  Doug and he started joking about a nurse they called “Nurse Ratched.”  I laughed.  Then they went on to note which nurses were attractive, concluding that physical therapists had the best bodies.  Although I considered myself a feminist, I smirked.


            Within days, Doug was discharged.  He handed me a tiny, folded piece of yellow paper with the name “Doug” and a phone number.  Could this be for real?  I had no idea Doug would want to keep in touch.  “Don’t lose this,” he said.  “My number’s unlisted.”


            I watched him wheel out of the smoking lounge and off the unit, without looking back.