I did not mean to harm anyone when I bought a Bachelor of Arts degree in Child Psychology for $100. I meant it to be a bitter joke on myself I was going to hang it up in my room, much as an important man might hang a Playboy cartoon on a wall in his home.

I had had a very unhappy childhood. Along its tortuous course, I fell in love, at 10 or 11, with a picture of Cinderella in a schoolbook. (A classmate drew a Stalin mustache across her face, and I hated him for many years.) At 14, in an institution for orphaned and unwanted children, I saw Cinderella again: golden-haired, green-eyed, slender, about 15. Live this time. The “home” was a tough place where boys fought over slices of bread. Boys and girls were kept strictly separated, in different buildings. But we found means to communicate. She took a sweater of hers apart to knit socks and mittens for me for Christmas and saved almost all her Christmas candies to give me on my birthday in February. But then she was moved to another place, and so was I; and of course we were not permitted to communicate any longer.

When I was 15, I was interviewed by a social worker. Plans had to be made for my future. What did I want to become? I understood well what I needed: a sense of identity, stability, a sense of belonging. Privacy. And I wanted to be my own boss. I told her, “I want to be a farmer.” I had visions of apple trees and of a frog pond, of quiet meadows and forested hills and cows and cats and a dog. But she laughed shrilly.

“A farmer? You are much too intelligent for that: You must become Something Better!” But I could not think of anything that I wanted more.

I ran away from an institution at 16 and became a drifter, working at all sorts of menial jobs. At 21, I was hired by a pulp mill in a place which seemed to me to be almost the far end of the world.

In that pulp mill town, I discovered another Cinderella. But she wanted to marry a college man who would take her away from that company town to a nice big city suburb. She was not very kind. After a while, I could see myself through her eyes: an ungainly, graceless fellow whose moderate habits made him even more dull, destined to work forever in mines and mills at the fringe of civilization, or else live in urban slums.

I happened to see an ad in a magazine: “Diplomas. Fast. Inexpensive.” I wrote. I paid $100. I passed 12 “courses” in three months by rephrasing all the gibberish about cosmic rays and such stuff that they contained, and I received my diploma, a lovely diploma with some gilded letters and an embossed coat of arms and a red seal and bold signatures.

I was going to hang it on the wall to remind myself of all that I was not, but then the devil got into me. Within a few weeks I decided to move to a city and try to get a job in my new profession. I was sure that I would be unmasked as an impostor within two weeks. I hoped I would be brought before a judge. I was a nobody who wanted to be heard, even though he had really nothing to say. I wanted to make an angry speech. I dreamed of getting into the news, of being famous for a few hours.

I had saved a bit of money. I rented a room in the city and went to the book department of a large downtown department store and bought a copy of every paperback book with the word “psychology” in the title. There were about 20.

In the mornings, I walked a lot and took bus rides and explored the city. In the evenings, till well after midnight, I read my psychology books in an allnight restaurant. After a week, I was through and felt ready to look for a job.

I telephoned the director of one social agency. He said that he could not receive me for an interview till the middle of the next month. I took a taxi and confronted him in his office. He yelled at me, waved papers in my face. He told me his whole itinerary for the next three weeks. He was hurrying to catch a plane. No, he could not talk to me till about a month from then. “And what if I starved to death by then?” He apologized, slightly. He gave me the name and address of the director of a subordinate agency.

I spent a whole afternoon in a stuffy office with a short, bald, drowsy man who kept on piling papers from one side of his desk to the other. He spoke of positions for which he would like to hire me, queried me about whether I felt I could fill them efficiently, let me get all excited, and then said that unfortunately the position did not yet exist because the agency didn’t have enough money. He played with me thus till closing time. Then he gave me the address of a director who was even lower on the feudal scale.

Mr. G. directed a boys’ home in a rundown part of the city. It was housed in a narrow, solid, three-story building of gray stone which belonged to a religious order. He could exude a wonderful air of paternal benevolence when it suited him but was more often childish and arbitrary. I found out before too long that the institution had had over 40 consecutive supervisors in about four years time. None of them lasted longer than two months.

My salary was to be about one-third of what I had earned in the pulp mill; but the cook at the place earned more than what I had earned. Mr. G. and his family liked to eat well, to eat very well; and for that reason the fare given to the boys was extremely plain. I had to eat with the boys. As the sole supervisor, responsible for 34 juvenile delinquents aged from eight to 16, I was on duty around the clock, except on Wednesday (which I had off from noon till midnight), Saturday, and every second Sunday.

Mr. G. ate all the sweets that were donated to the institution. But baseball equipment had also been donated, and when the weather permitted it, the boys had to play baseball every evening and all day Saturday and Sunday afternoon—a bit much even for boys.

The boys not selected to a team had to study or go to bed. Mr. G. had also given me all sorts of other ludicrous instructions, among them that the boys could go to the bathroom only before meals and at bedtime. I was supposed to make sure that the boys in bed did not talk, that the boys in the basement room did, in fact, study, and that the boys in the yard kept on playing. When Mr. G. discovered a boy sneaking to the bathroom, he would smile benignly at the child and then come out and chastise me.

But I am stubborn. I stayed for six months, until Mr. G., who happened to be a Catholic, got into an argument with the priest of a nearby church about which one of them was more of a saint. The priest had the religious order cancel the lease on our building.

Not long after I started my job with Mr. G., I got a very pleasant telephone call from a psychologist employed by the agency under whose aegis the boys’ home was operated. He invited me to lunch. We went to an Italian restaurant, where the waiters snickered at him behind his back. He was 30ish and balding. He told me that we young professionals must assert ourselves against the old fogies in the agency. He wanted me to spy on Mr. G. and report to him anything that was to his detriment, no matter how small.

I was not ready to do that. I asked Mr. G. about the psychologist and was told that that man had had a key to the institution and had been in the habit of letting himself in long after bedtime and sitting on the beds of boys till after midnight because children “relate better” at night. Mr. G. had the locks changed and refused to give the psychologist a key.

I worked for 12 years in jobs obtained on the basis of my alleged university education, and my competence was never questioned. I had one particularly good job with the municipal department of welfare and housing, but I left there after three years. Perhaps I wanted to be found out because I wanted to believe that a university education means more than the learning contained in 20 paperbacks. I felt compelled to expose myself to new job situations which might be too demanding for me.

In the Special Psychiatric Annex of the city’s world-renowned children’s hospital, I presumed that I would be really tested. At the same time, I was excited because I was told that the Special Psychiatric Annex was a sort of pinnacle in our profession, “one of the best of its kind in the world.”

The place was four or five city blocks from the hospital proper. It was an elderly three-story brownstone house, ill kept, surrounded by weeds and bare ground (alternately, dust or mud), by nettles and unattractive shrubs and, on three sides, a high picket fence.

Thirteen boys and girls, between six and 15, were taken care of there by a staff of 44. We had a Psychiatrist-in-Charge, a Psychiatrist-Director, two to five other psychiatrists, two psychologists, a social worker, an Inservice Instructor, three nurses, two teachers, and 12 child-care workers, of which I was among the best paid.

After a while I realized that the children in the institution were really incidental, that their main function was to justify the salaries of the “highly qualified personnel.” The psychiatrists and psychologists worked only during regular weekday working hours, when the children were at school. The two women teachers managed not only to cope with the children but also to instruct them. On the other hand, I saw three psychiatrists literally run from a child that was rolling on the floor in a temper tantrum.

Careers were not made with the children but at the daily meetings between 10:00 to II;30 and 2:00 to 3:30. There, it was decidedly advisable to question a lot during the first hour and indeed to disagree a bit with the psychiatrist, so that he could pretend he was an open-minded person. Anyone who remained silent got a message from him through the Charge Nurse: Perhaps Mr. X. did not have anything to contribute to the great work at the institution; perhaps Mr. X. would be happier somewhere else.

The fifth quarter-hour was the time to say to the psychiatrist, “Oh, now I understand”; and “I never thought about that aspect,” which gave the psychiatrist the last quarter of an hour to sum up what we had learned.

And what did we learn? On weekends, assigned careworkers usually showed up late or not at all or drunk; there were occasions when I took care of all our charges. In the evenings, careworkers put their charges to bed as soon as possible and then rushed to the Staff Room to make personal phone calls and drink coffee and smoke and read and talk about how sick sick sick the children were—because if the children were sick sick sick, then the work of the “highly qualified personnel” was all that much more dramatic and important and wonderful.

I did not catch on quick enough. I thought that my job was to reconcile the children with a world which had often treated them badly, to teach them how to get along with people and have a good time. I was proud when I could write in the daily report: “Had a good day. Was cooperative and cheerful. Got along well with other children.” Finally a psychiatrist snarled at me: “That is not the way to write reports”; but he didn’t tell me how to write reports. I had to find out for myself.

Among the careworkers was a girl whom I will call Mallory. In the evenings and on weekends, she generally hid away from her charges, in the Staff Room, talked about her latest abortion, and made literally hour-long private phone calls, drank coffee, smoked. She was usually assigned to two boys, Joe and Tony. Tony was only six, but a clever and assertive fellow. He would knock on the Staff Room door: “Come out, Mallory, and do things with us, like you’re supposed to.” Mallory would get hysterical: “I hate that little f—n’ bastard! Drop dead! Leave me alone!” She not only had a degree in psychology, she was also a psychiatric outpatient, at another hospital, for many years. She knew what psychology is all about. One evening, after a summer storm, she asked Tony: “Listen, Tony! Who is the big warm sun that makes the clouds in you go away?” She pressed and prompted him for a long time. Finally, she wrested from him a dubious “You?”

A few days later, at a meeting, the Psychiatrist-in-Charge read a 500word romance purporting to be a report on how Tony had shyly confided to Mallory that “Something very important is happening here! Miss evidently has a special relationship with Tony!” Yes, indeed! Mallory had by that time phoned at least on 12 separate occasions, during weekends and evenings, to the main hospital complex, claiming that Tony was “unmanageable,” and had a nurse come to give the boy an injection of sedatives. No other careworker did so.

Special relationships became a sort of in-house knighthood. One noontime, when lunch was late, a boy whiled the time away by scratching dirt out of a crack in the table. His astute careworker asked: “Into whose heart are you sticking this knife?” He worked on that, and got his special relationship a few days later.

Tony got into many fights, mainly because Mallory neglected her charges. Joe and Tony wanted to join up with other groups and were rejected, and Tony would hit and shove. In a meeting, with all the psychiatrists et al., it was deduced that Tony fought because an older boy in another group was instigating him. Neither the motivation of the older boy nor the mechanics of his instigating were even discussed. The P-in-C ordered that when Tony would fight thenceforth, his careworker was to find Kevin and sit on him.

Apparently nobody noticed that Mallory was very clumsy and, weighing close to 200 pounds, might well cause grievous harm to Kevin if she were to try to sit on him. I gasped: “You mean if I am with Tony and he fights in our dirty backyard, I leave him there and run downtown to Woolworth’s and sit on Kevin there, if he’s there?”

The psychiatrist did not deign to answer. But later I got the message: Perhaps I had nothing positive to contribute to the great work at the Institution. Perhaps I would be a lot happier somewhere else.

There was a file in the Staff Room on each child; we were supposed to read the files. But I didn’t want to. I was afraid that if I read of disturbed behavior, I might expect it and subconsciously provoke it. I wanted to see the problems first. Actually, I never had any problems with the children, who all seemed to be astonishingly normal. Bob in particular. He was such a pleasant, sensible, reliable fellow that I went to his file in sheer perplexity. It contained three items: a statement by his mother that he had been conceived while his father was drunk and that she had known from the first that he would be retarded; second, a statement from a school principal that Bob had done a lot of daydreaming at school; last, an admission form on which it was stated that he had an I.Q. of below 80. There was nothing about any disturbed or delinquent behavior. There was no indication that he had been seen by a psychiatrist in the three years since his admission.

Worse: In the ensuing weeks and months I became convinced that Bob was actually quite intelligent. I asked to have his I.Q. tested again and was threatened with dismissal because only psychiatrists could make such requests. But the boy was retested. This time they came up with a 130/ Borderline Genius.

And then? Nothing happened. A report with the new figure was entered in the file after a few weeks. That was all. Bob was the perfect patient. He justified a lot of salaries without making any demands. They wanted to keep him.

An aquarium had been donated. Because Bob was the only one who took care of it, it was moved into his room and spoken of as Bob’s aquarium. He wanted to buy more fish and an air pump. I told him that if he would save five dollars out of his allowance, I would pay the rest. He saved half of his allowance every week. And then we had a Case Conference on Bob.

“Saving is not normal in a boy. He will explode!” said careworker T.D.—who bragged about having left three girls pregnant, who admitted to being an alcoholic, and who expressed his leftist politics by taking his charges on stealing raids in stores. None of the psychiatrists questioned the notion that saving is abnormal and causes children to explode.

“And he doesn’t relate!” said careworker M.R.—one must not blame her for being a lesbian and for having had “a crush” on Bob when he entered puberty. But she did turn the boy in because he would not allow her to kiss and fondle him.

“He is hard to handle,” said careworker P.R.—a flabby, malodorous fellow who bragged about beating up “queers” and then when very drunk made a homosexual pass at me.

On the basis of the above, and nothing else, the Psychiatrist-in-Charge, in the presence of psychiatrists and psychologists, ordered that Bob be immediately put on heavy sedation and that arrangements be made to have him transferred to a correctional institution!