|Site Map and Tour Relocator Guide|
Before I could ask how this amazing man knew that the only girl in my Hebrew School class had nicknamed me Shmoses, Judy jogged into view, holding an inverted pyramid container - open at the base to serve as a curious bowl. Setting the gadget's wire cradle on the table, she plopped down beside her Granddad while I postured myself across from the mismatched twosome.
I poured coffee and Judy guzzled her giant Jolt cola while Ména patiently shelled pistachios, describing the laminated teakwood-and-balsam construction of the upside-down tetrahedron. As he explained its modus operandi, I couldn't help but scrutinize his impressive coiffure. Evenly cut about five inches long all around, his hair was pushed rearward as if caught up in a high-velocity headwind. It was very thick, streaked with now-horizontal bars of silver and black. His bushy eyebrows, too, were silvered and swiped rearward, with his weathered facial skin pulled taut toward the crown - as if he had many times peered upon that which most mortals never look even once. His awesome reaction to that supernatural vision, whatever it had been, was now cast into his timeless features. Surely, if I were destined to cast a cinematic allegory of Abraham's life, this man would be my chosen star, I thought.
end page 19
Ména handed me some walnuts. "David, your thoughts flatter me." Then, following a shallow swallow of decaf, he told Judy that too much sugar and caffeine was no good for her.
"What's an old popcorn fart like you know about what's good for a hip chic like me?" She hiccuped and gulped more carbonated caffiene.
Taking a sip of my own mountain-grown liquid, I told her that her grandfather happened to be right, that I didn't mean to interfere, but when I was her age I often wished I had an older person to teach me the many things I didn't have time to discover on my own.
Her rouge-caked brow wrinkled. "You got dumped in an orphanage, too?"
I took another, deeper drink of my semi-bitter beverage as Ména intervened. "No, David lived under his parents' roof. But their house wasn't a home. To our common disdain, his parents didn't realize he was flesh and blood. They treated him like a piece of dysfunctional furniture."
While I wondered how he knew the fundamentals of my childhood, the wise one sighed twice and said that it was most regrettable. "But it's all too typical of this century's flesh. Tell us of your school days, David."
When I said they wouldn't be interested, Judy screwed her young face to one side. "Sort of ashamed of it, huh?"
I told her that, no, I wasn't ashamed, that I did pretty good in grammar school (with less than best grammar). "As a matter of fact, at Old Bonhomme junior high, I was elected president of my class." Retaining some humility, I failed to tell the twosome that my class even changed their constitution so I could be re-elected.
end page 20
Prodding, Ména asked what happened then, and I said it was personal.
He sighed. "We know."
Judy pushed. "Ashamed of it, huh?"
"No, not at all, but by the time I got to high school, if you want to know the truth, the muscles in my hands and face started to shake. They were spastic, I guess you could say. But, Judy, I'm not ashamed of it - not now." I cleared my throat and said that I was ashamed, though, that my own family labelled me a skittish child. "When my parents were able to take enough time from their social functions to talk to me, that is."
Menachem claimed that it was my parents who were skittish. "If not downright sociopathic."
I said that I didn't want to be the judge of that and pulled a cigarette from Judy's deco-pack, but didn't light up. "I tried to keep my mind off the shakes and the isolation they caused by spending a lot of time on homework."
I paused to light the nicotine stick, but Menachem handed me a scoop of cashews instead. "Just for the sake of argument, David, when you informed your parents of these tremblings, why didn't they simply have a neurologist investigate the symptomatic possibility of some neuro-muscular affliction - like Multiple Sclerosis?"
Putting the cigarette down and popping a cashew into my mouth (almost missing), I said that my parents told me the shakes were teenage angst and I would outgrow them. "Life was already lonely. So I buried myself further in studies and hobbies."
end page 21
Licking what looked like a honey-coated walnut, Judy asked what sort of hobbies I had. I told her how I built things like motorbikes, gokarts, and rockets, that I also worked with electronics and experimented with chemicals. "But my muscles had gotten so clumsy by my senior year that I began wondering if there was any sense in pursuing a career which might involve social contact - which I knew they all did. As a result, my grades fell off some, but I still managed to graduate near the top of the class."
Ména split open a noisy pistachio, determined to hear my life story. "Then what?"
So I explained how I went to Washington University and made the Dean's list in engineering the first semester - to demonstrate to my father that I wasn't totally worthless. "Since he'd taken his first step toward the executive toilet as an engineer."
Judy pitched a naked walnut onto the tin roof. "So ya wanted to be another Einstein, huh?"
I told her that I may have, years before, but my hands had gotten so bad that I couldn't even take notes in class or eat in the cafeteria. "My feet were often so uncoordinated that I had to wait until class had already resumed and the stairs were empty to shuffle up them, late. I had no friends, other than three from high school who'd already gone their own ways."
Ména, after swallowing an overlarge filbert, began passionately rubbing the bowl of his empty pipe. "Did you tell your telluric parents of your degenerative symptoms?"
I told Ména that I periodically mentioned them, but my parents said it was all in my head - since the symptoms would come and go. "I didn't really believe they were in my head, but I pretended to. And when I came home to rest between classes, they told me I was sleeping my life away."
Between sucks on his still-barren calabash, Ména said it was lucky for so-called modern science that Albert Einstein's guardians weren't so cynical. "His wetware required at least 12 hours of sleep every day - and it wasn't yet compromised by heavy metal poisoning."
end page 22
I swallowed a few sunflower seeds and said that, like a lot of people, I was unhappy with things, but not depressed, that I still had hope, hope that my problems would someday go away. "In the mean time, I continued to mess with old cars and dream of fast motorcycles, confident God would eventually intervene and bring me some sort of happiness, or help me make some small contribution to the human experience, to give me some feeling of fulfillment - anything that would mean I hadn't lived for nothing. I knew I wasn't a bad person and I knew I'd tried as hard as I could, despite what my parents and their paraprofessional friends thought. But I needed to justify my existence, to somehow be sure I hadn't consumed 22 years of food, shelter, and education without contributing 22+ years." I emptied my cup of cold coffee, and while I refilled with steamy brew, I explained how my mother dragged me to see her continental, country club gynecologist. "He agreed with dad's diagnosis - lousy nerves."
Menachem, banging his pipe on the table, snarled that of course the syllogistic bastard agreed. "Not an unexpected diagnosis considering your parents' own prior neuroses."
When I dared wonder how Ména knew about their problems, the mind-maven riddled on about knowing many people. "And I could guess as much, David."
I paused to sort through the still laden bowl of mixed nuts, thinking I was finally about to recall who this likeable old soul actually was. Before I could, though, Judy said she wanted to know what the doctor did for me.
I explained that my mother's gynecologist, Rudie Capol, was also my father's golf pro. "He began to analyze (analize?) me on a routine basis."
end page 23
Judy asked if Capol was a shrink too, and I told her that he wasn't. "Not officially. But my father did say Rudie had learned the tools of the trade in the military."
Ména gasped. "Did your father say in who's chemical military Dr. Rudolph Capol III served?"
Little surprised at Ména's knowledge of Rudie's full nomenclature, I continued my medical bio. "So-called psychotropic drugs weren't yet a part of Capol's bag of tricks - except for intravenous injections of sodium amythal."
Judy's jaw cracked on a pecan. "So how come you let the quack shoot you up with truth serum?"
I answered that, after receiving one of Rudie's talk shots, my muscle spasms would get better for a couple hours. "So, convinced I really must be sick, I took my father's advice to continue the complimentary sessions." Nearly choking on Spanish peanuts, I explained that soon Capol's careless intrusions into my psyche only made me feel all the more a misfit. "None of my inventions were working out, either, so before long I completely lost interest in school and enlisted in the Marine Corps."
Judy, clapping, jumped to her feet and pointed toward the highway. "Hey Gramps, some driver's got his big old bus parked on our cul-de-sac facin' the wrong direction, so he can talk to Joe."
Picking peanut skins from my teeth, I said that it was the same bus that nearly rear-ended me.
Ména, snapping to attention, cupped his hands around his mouth and roared like a Topeka tornado. "Turn that damn bus around and get the hell away from Joe before I have you all arrested!! Right now!!!"
I couldn't believe the volume of his voice. After the bus headed west on the eastbound side of the interstate, Ména sat back down and I told him that I'd never heard such a loud, unamplified human voice. He attributed the vocal tenacity to a highly focusable larynx.
end page 24
When the worker up on the shoulder went back to swinging away at his sentence, I told Ména that the alcoholic joker said his name was Jay, not Joe, and that he wanted more wine.
Ména explained that Joe's kind were only given their previous first initial. "J, in his case. We'll see about his wine later. For now, go on with your military record."
Judy sparred. "Yeah, hotshot. Thought you were a real John Wayne, huh?"
I told her that, no, I didn't. "But I knew I'd be drafted when I finished college, so, unlike an Arkansas Governor I've recently read about, I figured I'd just go ahead and get it over with. The shortest enlistment the Army had was three years. You had to join the Navy and Air Force for four years. The Marines had a special two year program; so I signed up. I knew they had a tough reputation, but I figured it was only Hollywood hype. I thought that surely all branches of the American Armed Services had to be the same. But I'd made an unfortunate mistake. The Crotch was rougher than I could have ever imagined."
Licking cashew salt from my lips, I said that it was nevertheless a good chance to meet my military obligation and show my parents that I wasn't really lazy. "I'd been a member of the Air Force ROTC drill squad and rifle team at Washington University, to get out of gym, and I was still in pretty good shape from high school wrestling and weight-lifting - a made-to-order, if not completely gung-ho, Marine. My muscles seemed to be behaving themselves too."
end page 25
I went on to describe how, though I hated the harshness of the day-to-day lifestyle, I grew to be proud of the Corps, of myself, and my country. "But, after less than a year, I began having horrible muscle cramps and spasms again - especially when we force marched."
Ména rubbed his pipe with both hands now. "Another allusive symptom of MS's demyelination."
I told him that I didn't know what he meant, but that the Corps did give me an Honorable, if somewhat premature, Discharge when I admitted having seen a doctor about the muscle problem before enlistment. "Contrary to what I'd sworn to on my application."
Ména said that I served a single year, but that I served well. "Not all our heroes fight their battles on the beaches of hard-to-pronounce islands, David."
I told him that I didn't fight anywhere.
He tapped his pipe on his walking stick. "Didn't you?"
Judy grumbled that the pipe tapping was getting on her nerves. "If you're uptight, Gramps, why not get your magic egg out and play with it for awhile."
Ména, smiling, said that he would, later. "I'm saving it for David."
Judy snatched her grandfather's pipe and coaxed me on.
Wiping more cold coffee from my lips, anxious to eliminate certain events from my cranial colon, I explained how I returned to engineering school and began to date a nice southern girl. "Her name was really Angie and she was really from Georgia, but she always introduced herself as 'Angina, an engineering student from South Carolina.' When I discovered Angina, my so-called steady, was shacking-up with an Irish soccer star behind my back, I quizzed her about it in the dining room of her uncle's St. Louis mansion. I lost my temper and ended up kicking over a crystal lamp. I fixed the thing perfectly, but when I mentioned the incident to my paranoid parents, they relayed the information to Arzt Capol and he put me on medication. First it was tranquilizers, then, to counteract their drowsiness, stimulants. I didn't know any better; I didn't realize I'd begun a nightmare of life with no hope, sans soul, destined to last twenty long years."
end page 26
Judy spit a bullet-shaped almond toward the metal siding. "Soooo," she sighed, as it travelled over twenty feet and pinged sharply, "why didn't you just stop the drugs yourself like I did when I ran away from the orphanage?"
With a gasp. I guzzled the rest of my coffee and explained that I did stop the drugs a couple times - even though everybody had me convinced I was sick and needed to be medicated. "But I started to vomit and have convulsions both times I quit. No one ever told me about drug withdrawal, so I figured there really must be something bad wrong with my brain. Voluntarily, I went on with the drugs, even when I got so depressed I wanted to die. Eventually, I became nearly catatonic and unable to even feed myself - or so my parents told me much later."
Picking up the unlit cigarette, I explained how Capol claimed the hospital wouldn't let him take the next necessary step, so he increased my medication further. "Then he turned my case over to his med school sweetheart, Dr. Lizabeth Lump, a bona fide Viennese psychiatress. She told my parents that she needed to diagnose me without medication and bolted me in a padded penthouse hospital room. Through her ovular one-way mirror which didn't work very well, she watched me flail about in wild withdrawal convulsions. Avidly, she dictated notes to several female students."
Judy spoke somberly. "That's too bad."
Searching for smokehouse almonds in lieu of a match, I agreed. "To this day, I vividly remember beating my head against the wall to escape the agony, unsuccessfully. Days later, when the convulsions abated, Lizzie Lump attempted to analyze my childhood, firsthand. Dazed and bewildered; I couldn't understand why I'd been so brutally tortured. I could only guess I was being punished for some childhood sin I didn't even remember."
A tiny cloud slipped in front of the moon as I entertained the notion that I maybe bit my mother at birth, on the way out. Looking at Judy, I took a deep endorphic breath before pressing on, before telling them how I only wanted to be left alone, not subjected to Lump's freudian inquisition, but she unfortunately diagnosed my aversion to her professional advances as chronic paranoia and initiated the same therapy given my father years before by Rudie's father, Dr. Capol II. "Electric Shock Therapy was her ordre du jour."
end page 27
Ména sighed. "It appeared logical - if not rational."
I said that I supposed so. "But after two series of ten treatments each, I showed no improvement. I was worse, they tell me."
Ména asked if the medical marvels didn't realize my depression was caused by their own damn medication. Drilling his pole into a mudhole, Ména moaned and answered himself. "Of course the moronic masterminds did!"
But I said that I doubted whether it ever occured to the tunnel-visioned idiots. "I even woke up in the middle of a shock treatment one mournful morning, with my lungs paralyzed. I thought I was dying, the most horrifying experience of my life, up to that time."
Judy, plopping cashews into her soda pop, asked what went wrong.
Selecting another palm of smoked almonds from the pyramid, I told Ména they were the freshest, tastiest nuts I'd ever had and asked where he got them.
Ména cleared his throat impatiently. "Palooka sent them to me on the West Bank, for Freedom Day."
When I asked if Freedom Day was Israel's Fourth of July, the old wizard said that Freedom Day was the universal anniversary of our arrival from "On the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, two or four thousand years ago." He saw I was confused and explained how a d-a-e-z was roughly equivalent to two millennia.
end page 28
Before I could ask what he meant by our arrival from Freedom, Judy dropped more nuts into her bottle and prodded me on. "Tell Gramps and me what went wrong the time you woke up in the middle of a shock treatment."
I grimaced and said that the modern shock treatment wasn't as simple as getting plugged in. Cracking chestnuts on the edge of the pyramid, I gave my captive audience a thumbnail sketch of the quasi-modern medical procedure euphemistically known as
I offer you, especially the truly patient reader, a more detailed description of how, following a night of fasting, you are given a sunrise injection that dries out your mouth, numbing the nerve which could stop your heart when you're eventually electrified. Patiently, you wait in a row of cheap folding chairs with the rest of the EST candidates, and when they finally call you into the specially prepared ward, you lay on a wobbly cart which reeks from fresh formaldehyde and stale urine. The perfectly pressed nurse loads her sparkling syringe with a milky fluid while exchanging climatic pleasantries with you. Eventually, a well-drilled cadre of professionals, semi-professionals, and awfully rank amateurs, emerge from the silky white curtains beside you, wheeling the dastardly device on a stainless steel cart. Draped with a cheap Hawaiian beach towel and swirled with a scorched rayon extension cord, is just barely visible - resembling a J.C. Whitney discount battery charger, an old and poorly maintained one at that. Everybody smiles white-toothed as the nurse tells you to count backwards from 100 and jabs you in the arm.
After describing to Ména and Judy how one's brain usually goes black at about 96, I paused for a second to shovel a pile of shells into a water-filled coffee can. "The so-called candidate is supposed to wake up an hour later, all worn out and confused, feast on an oatmeal lunch, then go back to sleep for the rest of the day."
end page 29
Judy shook her peanuts and pop, inadvertantly interrupting my narrative when the concoction erupted, dousing her coiffure with sticky foam.
While Menachem handed her a damp towel for the gooey hair, I explained what happened one particular morning. "They never told me that after you're under they give you a second shot in the spine to paralyze your body so no bones'll break when you get jolted. That same shot paralyzes your lungs; so they breathe for you with a rubber bag during the final phase of their so-called therapy. However, during one dawn visit to the grinder, near the end of my second series of ten treatments, I woke up after they'd paralyzed my lungs but before they'd zapped me. I jumped up, jerked loose of the orderlies and tried to breath, but I couldn't. I didn't have any lungs. I thought I was dying, or already dead. Weakly, I wrestled for my life, for what seemed like forever, until some overgirdled nurse fueled up another syringe and knocked me back out."
Judy snarled. "I wouldn't have taken that layin' down."
I told her that I didn't. "That night, I pushed past a couple orderlies and escaped on an old motorcycle someone had left unlocked. After a frantic chase over the streets and sidewalks of South St. Louis, I was apprehended and returned. My medication was renewed and the electrical invasions continued, for an unparalleled course of thirty more belts.
end page 30
"Sadly, I told Ména and Judy how Liz later boasted that it was the most ever administered to a single patient in a civilian hospital. "After a grand total of 47 electric jackpots, so it's said, my condition improved some. I'd been erased. My memory and personality had been drained away by the hospital's grounding rods. I felt like a migratory vegetable, a non-person. But lovely Lump bragged to my parents how she'd cured me. They say I was slightly less depressed."
Ména said that of course my conscious Pohla was less depressed. "Whoever heard of a depressed vegetable?" With a deep breath, he shrugged his broad shoulders. "Not to worry, David. Your Ohlaen soul wasn't flushed away, merely pushed upstairs into Mohlaen memory, out of reach."
I glanced at Judy's disheveled hair. It looked so funny I wanted to laugh, but couldn't. Instead, I explained how I'd forgotten people's names and faces I'd known for years and how my hands shook so much I could hardly scratch my initials when the drugstore made its daily delivery. "But then, more than ever, I tried to hide my shakes from everyone, for fear my brain might be reattached to the electric eradicator."
Cocking her head to one side, Judy stared at me with empathy and interest as I told her how Lump noticed nervous stress in our sessions and put me on megadoses of Nullium. "Eventually, I returned to college to repeat the courses I'd forgotten; but I knew something awful bad was wrong. I knew life wasn't meant to be so painful, such an unrelenting burden, especially when I continued to suffer one bout of depression after another while Lump played first with one drug, then another. I'd lost any motive to live other than my duty to do so for some arcane reason unbeknownst to myself. I knew homo sapiens hadn't found the motive to survive for millions of years in this quality of life. Though my family was wholly unreligious, I hoped and prayed to be delivered, before or after death, by God Himself. I knew suicide would eliminate any chance for earned salvation - so I pressed on, day after empty day."
Menachem applauded. "Bravo! You've shown exceptional chutzpah."
Judy dropped her empty 2-liter soda jug to the ground and stomped on it, just as a giant diesel backfired in the not-too-distant night. Guardedly, she asked me if things finally started to get better.
end page 31
I hated to admit that they really didn't. "For a couple more years, Lump continued with one designer drug after another, making it difficult for me to do anything. At times during those years, in retrospect, I performed pretty good, considering my half-conscious condition. But no matter what I did, my drug-drowned spirit found no happiness, no pittance of satisfaction, no purpose. Feeling like a lead cape was on my shoulders, I lived in constant fear of another course of EST. I'd accepted the idea that I'd die without ever feeling alive again, but I sure didn't want anymore electricity going through my brain. Lump eventually supplemented her Nullium with Scrozac, an experimental antidepressant which caused continual fatigue, sweating and shaking."
I dropped a half-shelled pistachio into a puddle and Ména handed me another, motioning me to move on. So I admitted that I finally lost control. "I went off the deep end one Sunday and shot a gun off in my parents house. No one was home, but I ended up being taken to County Hospital in the Olivette paddy wagon. The driver said Dr. Lump would visit me there. But I didn't see her for several days, during which time I underwent torturous convulsions, withdrawal from the Nullium that Lump hadn't told anyone I was addicted to. I asked the orderlies to tie me down with sheets, but it didn't help." Briefly, I described to Ména how, by the time I was transferred to Lump's uptown hospital,Queen's Tower, my body was bruised and my head battered from flying through the air and smashing into the walls, floors, and furniture of County Hospital.
"Yeah, David, the hussey probably wanted to make sure you didn't get any bloodstains on her high-falutin' establishment." Judy pursed her young lips like an old prune. "You had some real rotten breaks."
I told her that I realized that was the case, now. "At the time, I figured there had to be some enigmatic reason for it, and by the time I was transferred to Lump's private floor, the Nullium withdrawal was mostly over. But I've lived the past twenty years with the horrendous fear that my mind might suddenly snap again - anywhere, anytime, for any reason."
end page 32
Judy grumbled. "That bitch Lump."
Ména rubbed his beard against the contoured edge of his giant sceptor and told Judith to watch her mouth. "Let David be done with his narrative."
Gladly, I followed the suggestion, describing how Lump put me back on Nullium and told me that I needed a long rest in a very structured environment, in the Missouri State Hospital at Formington. "She said it was a lovely place, failing to tell me she'd ordered an indefinite interment."
Tapping my empty cup against the wooden table top and swabbing my moist brow with a wet tissue, I wondered what condition my soul would be in if I was still at the Form like so many others, if I hadn't tried to make my caretakers extra happy.
Mena snorted. "But you did make them extra happy - and you're with friends now."
Judy claimed that Butchabeth Lump just wanted her malpractice bones hidden in my closet. "Regardless of the pain it caused you or your family, David. I spent a lot of time in institutions, but I didn't have a father at my side."
Half-heartedly, Menachem asked about my father. "Didn't Ray help you seek the truth of what really happened that dismal Sunday?"
I felt like asking how he knew my father's name, but decided not to waste the time.
Ména answered anyway. "You must have told me his name."
Judy said that, no, I hadn't, then stared at me in disbelief. "You mean your real father wouldn't stand up for you?"
I snickered for a second. "Stand up for me? He drove me to the Form with a pair of his pumped-up female protégées in the frontseat for bodyguards, in case I went off the deepend on the way. Before dear dad dropped me off, he gave me a faceless Timex and told me to 'mark time.' I had no idea what the hell he meant." I coughed and my gut churned as I wished I could forget the whole ordeal and begin again, finally get to the business of living for the first time in my adult life. I hoped it would be so simple.
end page 33
Ména reached across the table, placed one sprawling hand on my shoulder. "Simple or not, you shall overcome. But let's discuss the balance of your past tribulations over dinner." He pressed the other hand to Judy's nape and asked her to please prepare a Buddhist feast with Hindu and Islamic seasoning. "Energize both living room and kitchen TBM's while you work, my granddaughter. We'll celebrate the wisdom of all the sages, irregardless of how they've been misunderstood."
With a smile, Judy sprang to her feet. "David Daniels, you're safe here." Collecting the coffee serving, she jogged around front.
Taking the depleted pyramid of nuts, I gazed into the old gentleman's insightful eyes as he stood with his giant stick. Turning gracefully toward the front yard, he gestured for me to walk at his side. Highway lighting illuminated the way well as we limped along soberly.
Pausing beside my car, he said that I needed to begin again. "You must nurture yourself. No one else will, for no one else can measure what's been taken from you. The delay is unfortunate, but the prognosis is most promising."
I told Ména I wasn't sure what he was talking about, that I had afterall gone off the deep end that Sunday with the gun.
Ména gasped. "Even if you had gone berserk, would you allow it to keep you from fulfilling your written destiny? Tidy up your whiskers and hair and be ready."
Glancing at the rippled reflection of my dishevelled self on the wet car window, I didn't answer, remembering from Hebrew School that Moses was kept from the promised land of Canaan just for kicking a rock.
end page 34
Stepping onto the porch, my mentor answered my inner-turmoil. "Only because Moses' displeasure was with God."
As Ména massaged my shoulder, I thought he certainly sounded serious. If only I knew what he was talking about.
Assuring me that I soon would, he pulled open a now-sparkling screen door, then straddled its polished threshold and kissed his fingers. "You'll make us all quite proud. To tell you any more at this time would be - as an old honey-tongued acquaintance of mine once wrote - to gild refined gold, to paint the lily." His fingers pressed a gold Mezuzah nailed to the doorpost.
Ignoring his Shakespearean rhetoric, I scaled the still-wobbly porch and stood on a new mat, aquamarine velour. Transferring my own kiss to the family Mezuzah, I stepped boldly inside - my eyes billowing with disbelief at what surrounded me.
end page 35
Return to Table of Contents Return to Art Tour Next Chapter |Site Map and Tour Relocator Guide|