0450H., 11 November Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment Front Office, Ennet House D.A.R.H., Enfield MA. Someone is telling Joelle a story about watching a woman shoot a man in a bar in Lowell. The person telling the story asks about Joelle’s veil, and she jokes that it is a “bridal thing” and that she is an “aspiring Muslim.” Eventually she explains that she’s a member of the Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed, and mentions the similarities between U.H.I.D. and AA. It is revealed that the person Joelle is talking to is Don Gately. She tells him about the different steps of membership in U.H.I.D. Don says that he used to be on his high school’s football team, and Joelle shares that she used to twirl baton.
This passage confirms the novel’s message that society is essentially a collection of many different institutions. Not only U.H.I.D. and AA, but high school football and baton twirling are all institutions. While submitting to the ideology and practices of AA may feel strange to some addicts newly in recovery, it is actually less unfamiliar to most people than we might assume, as everyone has a history of membership in institutions.
Joelle points out that Don has a tendency to hide behind his own (metaphorical) mask. Don begins to get irritated and defensive, indicating that he was just minding his own business before Joelle sat down beside him. Joelle responds by saying that she is so beautiful she can drive anyone insane, before adding: “I am so beautiful I am deformed.” Don remains annoyed.
While it is still not clear how (or if) Joelle is actually deformed, this passage illustrates a well-known cliché: that there is a thin line between extreme beauty and ugliness. Indeed, this is true of Joelle considering that her beauty made her repellent to other people.
Randy Lenz, who is still in his first months of sobriety, always walks back to Ennet House from AA meetings, despite the fact that he has a car and could easily catch a ride with someone else. Any resident who spends time alone like this is flagged at Ennet House staff meetings, so Lenz is subject to extra scrutiny; yet his urine tests always end up clean. On his night walks Lenz began collecting stray rodents and cats in a garbage bag. Since coming to Ennet House he has secretly taken “organic cocaine” from his emergency stash perhaps six times.
One of the things that makes the early stages of recovery so challenging is the surveillance and scrutiny inflicted on newcomers. Even something as seemingly innocuous as spending time alone is treated with suspicion. Yet as the story of Randy Lenz shows, such suspicion is often actually warranted.
One night after a White Flag meeting, Bruce Green asks Lenz if he can join him on his walk home. Green then starts doing this regularly, which Lenz finds annoying, though in a way he also enjoys Green’s company. One Saturday, Lenz manages to grab a bird that had fallen out of a nest without Green noticing, and shoves it down the garbage disposal. After this he still feels “impotent and unresolved.”
Disturbingly, Lenz seems to be coping with the struggle of recovery by inflicting violence on animals. Perhaps the “high” of committing these extreme acts of violence on vulnerable creatures helps diffuse his cravings for cocaine.