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The Essay
Show #180
The Ward of the Whorls
David Gunn

The North Wing of St. Salmon's Hospital on East 93rd Street was not always the repository of the most disturbed of the city's criminally insane. In the old days, it was home to patients suffering from Klondike's Disorder, strabismus, and rinderpest. The inauspicious nature of these diseases naturally created an ever-present danger to the doctors, and as a rule they set foot in there only when escorted by muscular orderlies trained in low-gravity martial arts. But in 1938 the Whorls came to town, bought the North Wing, and forever changed its direction -- to West. The Whorls were a family of physicians from Tuktoyatuk, a remote village in the northwesternmost corner of Northwest Territories, Canada. They were heirs to the fabulous Foodies Grocery Emporium fortune, and always seemed to have a piece of spare change to dole out to the legions of dwarfs who surfaced from subterranean living quarters at dusk to beg for arms. The Whorls renamed the hospital wing the Klegmore Mental Infirmary and promptly shifted the population exclusively to nutcases. The Whorls -- Emil, Dorodny, Blanche, Boise and Dagmar -- were all well schooled in the vagaries of insanity, for madness ran in the family like Mel Bailey's nose ran from pineapple pollen. While each had attended a different medical school in Saskatoon, they had all gravitated to studying derangement and "The Wacky Daft," as its minions were euphemistically called. Emil's forte was psychopathology, Dorodny specialized in clinical lunacism, Dagmar was a dementia non grata expert, Boise had a nose for psychotics, and Blanche had inherited the family curse and was as batty as a tokamak.

As life in the rest of St. Salmon's continued apace, with unexpected emergencies and abrupt personnel transmogrifications altering the daily regimen, life inside the infirmary gradually settled into a kind of screwball regularity: on Sundays and Wednesdays, the inmates acted out their wildest obsessions, as Dorodny recorded the often demented events on a tape recorder; on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Boise performed group lobotomies; Mondays were reserved for topical diazepam treatments; Fridays, due to a directive from Blanche, written in a tiny, boustrophedonic scrawl that resembled a disturbed Rorschach test, were omitted from the calendar; and Saturdays were open house at KMI, when the inmates were permitted to receive visitors, many of them no less mad than the patients. The most frighteningly distraught, in fact, seemed all to be on salary at the local daily newspaper, so it was particularly ironic when one pundit from that tabloid referred to the wing as "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Ward," or, le flambeau oriange.

Within four months, each KMI resident had been lobotomized at least twice, had had diazepam and other experimental tranquilizers applied externally to every inch of his body, and had acted out the most outlandish fantasies imaginable. Anticipating that his recordings of these chimerical jabberings might advance the cause of modern psychiatry, and thereby generate some good press for a change, Dorodny had pieced together an hour's worth of listenable snippets from those often alarming sessions and taken the recording tape to the annual Metropolitan Psychiatry Convention and Masked Ball, 60 years ago this weekend. But as Dorodny reached for a quarter to pay the cabbie, he accidentally dropped the tape in the taxicab. By coincidence, the next fare was a radio disk jockey from a precursor of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, this 180th episode, in particular. As such, the radio host knew a good acoustical event when he smelled one, and, upon exiting the cab -- a Hudson Wingback -- he quickly revamped his program and instead broadcast what he called the Best of the Bizarre. The recorded dementia of the infirmary patients was so disturbing that large numbers of listeners actually believed the city had been invaded by madmen. Even after the true nature of the recordings had been revealed and public anxiety had waned, the former West Wing of St. Salmon's Hospital became even more stigmatized, and was thereafter known as the "Ward of the Whorls."

While the next installment of our own Best of the Bazaar is still a week or two away from disturbing you, our listening audient, we hope you will be satisfied today with the equally feather-ruffling snippety remarks of Kalvos.