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The incandescent alley lights reflected off the candy-appled paint job. Near the rear of the custom coach's deep-purple side metal, a pair of teardrop windows were tinted lavender to match. Within the awesome mural itself, a thousand twinkling stars served as backdrop for a solitary comet - tracing the entire length of the cosmic carriage.
Approaching the doctor from behind, I noticed the life-sized image of two hands painted near Doc's elbow. One golden hand sprinkled silver stars onto a tiny magic carpet; the other clutched a long paint brush and overlarge Ace of Hearts. Brushed beneath was a lucid credit: Coachwork by The King, East L.A. (8/16/77).
I'd almost forgotten how Elvis reportedly died on my 32nd birthday. Had Goodtime Gert been right about the immortal Mr. Presley running a body shop and poetry room on the coast? Bumping my bad knee on one of the cruiser's ruby-like lug nuts, I stumbled forward, quickly voicing Smitty's passphrase. "Four pounds of rendered brains, please."
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Placidly, Doc drew a pipe from his pocket and turned slowly around. "Why, David Daniels. How have you been?" After we shook hands, he directed his unlit pipe toward Abraham. "Man, what an impressive pole and bird you have."
After I thanked the good doctor one more time for helping me the winter before, he lit his pipe and said he came to help Granny share her good fortune with friends. "She's dropping Smitty and me off to open up the clubs." As he paused to blow a smoke ring, Granny appeared at the hatch.
Decked out in a polka-dot evening gown and Easter bonnet w/gambling visor, she looked at me and grinned. "Why sonny, what a surprise. Come and shoot some craps, on the house."
While I tried to explain that I needed to get home and take care of some pressing matters (like smoothing my couch out with my can), a big brass version of "VIVA LOST VVAGES" began to play inside. Glistening soap bubbles slipped out the hatch and floated upwards as Granny slammed her little fist against the door frame and asked how I liked her baby. "She's powered by a matched pair of V-12 Allisons. Aeronautic all the way."
I told her the cruiser was something else. "You sure got one heavenly machine here, Old Lady."
Quickly, she explained how Smitty had it flown in from Pasadena on a chartered C-141. "Now that our troops are comin' home, we gotta help the pentagon make money somewho, huh?" Reaching inside, Granny clicked a switch and the hot rod's pink neon name flashed on above our heads:
"THE HOUND DOG"
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Granny shook her finger at Riddle and told him to help Smitty light up the Doll House. "Tell him and Herbie to get the turkey and giblet dressing going right away." Cocking her well-coiffed head in my direction, Granny complimented my well-behaved bird and instructed me to sample some of the Pipe Club's niceties. "When I get back with the Hound Dog at midnite, you hop aboard and I'll show you how we deal out justice this side of the Bible Belt."
Before I could decline the invite, one of the two tuxedos scurried from the market. Toting a giant tub of grub, he climbed aboard and the hatch banged shut. Riddle grabbed his left cane in mid-air as the cruiser slipped away and barreled down the alley. The Dog's neon name flashed twice before it navigated the tight corner onto the Sante Fe Trail.
Moving towards Smitty's back door, Doc said he was the one that should be doing the thanking - for the talks we had during my denullification. "David, I no longer mask problems of the mind with chemicals; I treat them with understanding and change."
While we leaned against the alley wall, scraping mud off our shoes with our walking appliances, I told Riddle I hoped I was worthy of his recuperative efforts and was especially glad to hear he'd corrected his procedures. "Some quacks, Doc, still think a pathological imbalance in brain chemistry causes most mental illness."
Riddle coughed and agreed. "You've totally convinced me, David, that any of untold discrete points in the brain can and do alter the entire brain's chemical makeup to voice disdain or alarm to the whole at a particular metaphysical environment. Level the tilted environment, the chemistry returns to normal, and the depression or other disorder recedes." Doc dumped smoldering tobacco into the wet alley. "In most cases, anyway."
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While Daphney foraged his pockets for the key, I told him about my fruitless visit to M. Pyre. "I think he's the devil in disguise."
Petting my obedient bird with one hand, Doc reached into a pocket on his cape with the other, then told me that I had indeed survived a great tragedy. "But I suggest you put it behind you and get on with the balance of your life." Coming up with the key, Riddle unlocked the door. "Come and we'll chat. Later, we'll go for a cruise with Granny." As we both tugged on the heavy door, my medical friend explained how he loved to observe people under pressure. "Most are so obsessed with hiding their nervousness, especially gamblers."
Stepping onto a soft mat inside the market and turning right, we descended a skewered oak staircase, quite slowly. Doc's gait was more troubled than mine. Someone told me that Daphney was paralyzed as the result of a race car accident while still in med school. The experts said his legs would never move again, but now he got around just fine with the help of his canes, untold determination - and very strong arms. Often, I sensed that he hoped to someday walk with no artificial assistance. Near the bottom of the present staircase, Riddle gestured a cane to a stainless steel door to our right - Smitty's Cloneshop.
At the very bottom, as we stepped into a warm, welcoming tunnel, Riddle claimed the mantube led to the Commons. Large, unshaded oil lamps lined both sides of the underground corridor, lapping at rough-hewn rock. Moving along, Riddle said Granny burned only vegetable oil in the lanterns. "Reformulated Olive Oil, unless I'm sadly misinformed."
The ceiling was of chiseled pink granite; the floor polished brick. Two rails were recessed into the floor, cradled in vanilla mortar. Ambling along, I noticed the rails were heavily oxidized from non-use; one covered with orange rust, the other tarnished green.
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I asked Riddle the obvious. "Why would anyone use rails of dissimilar metal?"
He said they were installed almost two centuries before. "You'll have to ask Granny."
While we limped along, slowly descending, the aroma of smoked turkey wafting at us from the far end. Shortly, I detected a slight vertical crook in the rails and tilted Abraham forward to clear a benchmark in the low ceiling.
Riddle, legs in far worse repair than mine, fell against the wall and said we should rest for a while. "This is the middle of the shaft. From here on, we climb."
I smoothed my bird's feathers and examined an engraved platinum bar recessed into the ceiling: Centerline - Sante Fe Trail. Lewis and Clark Expedition. Riddle noticed my curiosity, and, one more time, said that I should ask Granny.
When we got back underway, my bird flew on ahead. As our underground trek rose toward the sound of Early American music, Riddle solicited my opinion on mania.
I told him that mania was just another response to environmental disdain. "An attempt by one portion of the mind to hide the pain being suffered by another portion - by distracting it with excitement."
Slugging along, Riddle verbalized his own disdain. "Only a few very specialized options now offer themselves to Homo Sapien minds that were borne to thrive on diversity. Our assembly lines place such a premium on those functions best performed by Simian brains - or by human cranium numbed by drug. How sad."
Wholeheartedly, I agreed. "However, our collective sentience hasn't allowed itself to devolve as fast as our society has asked it to, Thank God."
"Amen," Riddle said matter-of-factly as we pressed on.
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At the end of the tunnel, my impatient bird fluttered about in an oval marble vestibule whose large ceiling fan chopped at the flavorful air. Directly before us stood a biblical mural, sculpted from white alabaster. A brilliant sunrise washed a thriving garden of corn, wheat and sunflowers, filled with animals, a man and woman and a tinted rainbow. The stone rendering appeared to be Eden in Kansas.
Riddle described how the mural slid to one side. "It's the entrance to an enormous ceremonial hall that's been sealed since World War II."
Steering to the left, we made our way up several carpeted steps. The bird settled onto my shoulder as we emerged into a twenty-foot rotunda with latticed windows on the near side. Now at ground level, we enjoyed a gaslighted view of old-town Lenexa.
On a long serving table, large candles licked feverishly at the underbellies of eight silver trays. The room to our left was illuminated from within by twin low-slung chandeliers. On a marble plaque above the doorframe, it was designated The Pipe Room. To our right was an unlit room, its door perceptively shorter and slightly wider: The D.O.L.L. HOUSE (Daughters Of Lovely Lenexa).
I told Riddle there were those liberals who would say such segregation was sexist. "Even at a private club."
Opening a nearby closet, Riddle explained that membership was voluntary and that both sexes mingled in the Commons Area we now stood in. "What narrow-minded radical would equate equality with identicality?"
Closing the closet, Daphney handed me a loner cane that resembled Moses and asked me to leave the pole Abraham beside the coat rack, so not to knock into the antique furniture.
Suddenly, a cow bell sounded and Smitty emerged from the kitchen. Wishing us happy holiday, he laddled chowder into two large bowls. As he handed them to us, he boasted they were Bone China. "Courtesy of Marco Polo's Second Mate."
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Thanking the jolly grocer, we turned towards the Pipe Room while he went to light up the Doll House (per Riddle's reminder). With the cane hung from my shoulder, I very carefully carried both bowls into the Early American room. Doc collapsed into an overstuffed senatorial chair in front of a roaring fireplace. After I handed him his chowder and dropped into a matching chair, we both slurped heartily. My eyes, though, were on the decor. Courageous George Washington, Eloquent Tom Jefferson, Big Ben Franklin, Honest Abe Lincoln, Worldly Woodrow Wilson - they all (not to mention Gorgeous George) could have joined us and felt quite at home.
An oil painting above the mantle especially caught my interest - a portrait of two explorers in animal skins, sitting on opposite sides of a chess table. Instead of chess pieces, however, the board was scattered with odd-shaped rubys, diamonds, emeralds, pearls, and more. Floating in the painting's background was the angelic rendering of a nude maiden.
Doc pointed his dripping spoon at the piece and said the idyllic virgin was a Shawnee. "Lenexa's namesake - Princess Lé Negsah. The two triumphant souls in coonskin are Lewis and Clark, left to right, respectively."
I noticed how Lewis was holding a corn cob pipe in his right hand while Clark was holding his pipe in his left - but both had their powder horns slung from their left shoulder. I asked Riddle what they were doing in Lenexa, but he was fast asleep.
As the fire crackled, Daphney snored, and I finished my soup, I noticed a hollow blue triangle on each explorer's cap - one apexed upward, one down. I set my bowl on a walnut table and melted into the easy chair. Staring at the now-lazy flames before me, I was too tired to realize how the Lewis and Clark triangles, if overlapped, would form a non-secular star.
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Two strong hands squeezed my shoulders from behind. It was wide-awake Riddle, telling me I'd been asleep for two hours. "You seemed to be so enjoying your REM, I hated to interrupt your second round."
As I sat up and looked into the rotunda, the bird nibbled my ear. Several people were moving along the Commons' serving line; many others stood inside the Pipe Room with their plates already full.
With a super wide smile, Riddle handed me the loner cane and told me to help myself to the food. "There's bounty for all."
After dousing my face in cold water at a nearby pitcher-and-bowl group, I headed for the feed. While loading my wooden plate with turkey and dressing, I heard a cute voice call out from my backside. It was April - looking quite the dignified lady. Nibbling on a cob of corn, she whispered the news. It seemed that when she visited the Schicklgruber suite last, a big shot in a chartreus Mercedes arrived right after she left.
April said the joker had a fancy silver toupee and rotten teeth. "He looked just like the picture Stanley showed me of his father, M. Pyre."
I told April she had done well. "See if you can get a picture of all of them together. If push comes to shove, we can extort information out of them."
Discreetly, April 'Cleopatra' Butler reached into her bountiful bra and pulled out what she called a nipple camera? "I got it from Biff's Gizmonics catalog."
I told her to keep up the good work, but, more importantly, to be very careful. "These jokers are playing for keeps, Cleopatra." Neopatra pecked me on the cheek and scooted towards the Doll House. Topping my already laden plate with honeyed yams, buttered corn, and sour-creamed buns, I returned to fireside to feast.
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As I sat, Riddle said he could see my appetites had returned. "I saw you chatting with that voluptuous doll. Your hypothalamus seems to be very hungry."
Between bites, I told Riddle that it was strictly a business relationship, that a trio or more of neo-nazis were following me and she was finding out what they wanted. "They call their callous clique the Supreme Order of the SwizzleSticks, SOS for short."
Uncapping a table cannister of tobacco, Riddle told me that he, too, had a rather strange and recent encounter with teutonic mischief. After he struck a match on one of his canes and lit his pipe, he described how, on Tuesday, he was escorting a mentally abused child to his waiting room, his last patient of the day. "My clinic's cleaning lady lay on the floor, badly battered and bruised. A stream of blood running from her mouth, she hardly had the strength to tell me how two smelly foreigners in stocking masks beat her up when she denied them access to my file cabinet. She said they blabbered with each other in German as they jimmied my cabinet with a letter opener." Riddle paused to take a deep drag of peach tobaccco. "They left with your file, David."
When I asked what anyone would want with my file, Riddle told me not to interrupt, explaining that the next day his janitress requested a two week recuperative furlough. "So I posted a note on the bulletin board in the lobby, soliciting temporary help. But an hour later, a horribly cross-eyed fraulein applied for the position. Obviously, a professional aryan seductress."
I asked Doc if he called the authorities, and, again, he anxiously requested I not interrupt. "David, her shallow cleavage and short forehead were tatooed with the letters SOS. Right now, she's working in there, on her hands and knees in the men's shithouse." Pointing his overheated pipe toward a tall ebony door to our left, Daphney said he promised her a managerial positon at his clinic, if she worked out well at the club. "So I can keep an eye on her, David. Her imbecilic cohorts stole only the clinical generalities of your case, not my personal notes on what really makes you tick. Those intimate details are hidden right here in the Pipe Club's mainframe."
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Transferring the bird from my shoulder to his own, Daphney motioned for me to follow him to the far side of the coffee fountain, to a well-lit niche at a large bay window.
As we sat opposite each other at a gaming table, I noticed, scribed deep into the mahogany on all four sides, a timely message: Peace Games Only! A tile version of Walker's 256-octagon Quatra-Chess field was colorfully enlayed into the tabletop.
Riddle began our strange intercourse by explaining that he'd noticed my eye patch while we were in the alley, but decided to opt for a more comfortable setting to discuss it. He went on to inform me that while I was at St. Luke's the winter before, he ran a complete diagnostic battery on my central nervous system. Supposedly, my optic nerves and spinal cord showed long-term signs of very slow demilenization, self-destruction of the nerves' waxy insulation.
Doc reached across the table and put his hand on my shoulder. "Unfortunately, Multiple Sclerosis is untreatable at this time in medical evolution. I didn't say anything last winter, because the Spinal Tap and MRI results were forged. Just yesterday, while reconstructing your file after the teutonic intrusion, I learned the truth. You've suffered from MS for many years, my boy."
I told him that I wasn't surprised, that I'd known since puberty that something was wrong with my muscle control system. "I just hope I can get things wrapped up before it gets too much worse."
Puffing away, Riddle claimed his findings weren't all negative, that he noticed P-Waves in my brain. "Only the second case ever documented, totally unrelated to the MS."
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When I prodded Doc to tell me more, he grinned euphorically, explaining that when the mind is surprised by a sudden noise or event, a specific point in the ordinary human brain emits S-Waves. The senses, so Riddle said, are startled into action, the adrenal gland pumps, the blood pressure skyrockets, the muscles tense, etcetera, etcetera. "In your case alone, David, I noticed an ever-present 'P' or para-parabolic wave. It's always there and upon a startle stimuli, it reacts by amplifying itself and transforming itself into an S-Wave."
The mind-maven had my undivided attention. "So??"
He replied that my sub-cerebral sine wave formed before the stimuli occured, and by the time the event actually did occur my fight-or-flight system was geared up and ready. "Precognition, my boy. Theoretically, you could dodge a speeding bullet before it ever left the barrel - theoretically of course. "
Wondering whether the comedic doctor was simply blowing smoke up my gullible ass, I asked him to tell me about the other documented case of P-Waves. "Just for laughs, Daphney."
But Riddle didn't laugh as he described how Freud's personal memoirs spoke of one Ména Menachem, an ageless Jew who once visited his Vienna office and demonstrated the P-Wave phenomenon, explaining it and many other more common features of the mature mind. "Unfortunately, David, Herr Sigmund simplified, twisted, and exaggerated many of Ména's ideas - then took credit for them all."
Now I knew for certain that Menachem was an extraordinary man, in years if nothing else. Randomly, I pushed White Knights and Green Kings about the four-player field as Riddle manufactured more smoke rings and petted my unnamed bird. "Hey Doc, if I really have P-Waves why can't I even beat Walker at Chess?"
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Daphney's face flushed as a large hand pushed on my shoulder from behind. Walker, still in uniform, stepped in front of me and pulled a chrome pipe from a black leather pouch. "What's up, guys?"
Doc almost choked on his own smoke. "David's P-Waves!"
While Riddle and Walker swapped the latest Pipe Club jokes about the Doll House (hopefully none regarding my reputed P-Waves), I left my bird on the table and excused myself. In need of something cold to drink and time to think, I moved past PIPE MAINTENANCE (the men's room where Lenore was hard at work) and ambled toward the Commons. If I was really one of Menachem's crew and had psychic abilities, why was I having so much trouble just getting by? Going off the deep end once was once too often for a person of purported responsibility. A glass bowl of peach ice cream floating on a bed of crushed ice caught my eye.
As I devoured it, a lovely voice caught my ear. "David, don't be impatient."
Morningstar looked overtly pure as she straightened her blue velvet skirt. What a wonderful Thanksgiving this was turning out to be, I thought, as she poured us each a cup of chilled egg nog.
Inhaling the prairie fragrance of Margot's hair, I toasted the happening. "May every day hold bounty for all."
Morningiving adjusted my eye patch, then smothered my mouth with a kiss. "Catch you later on the Hound Dog, Captain D."
After she disappeared into the Doll House, I returned to the Pipe Room where Smitty stood with Doc and Walker near a croissant-shaped sofa.
Walker slung his arm around my neck and told Smitty and Doc that I was the one that sent him to the donut shop. "This is the no good chump that made it all possible." With no further adieu, Weiland broke into an off-key baritone: "It's good, so very good, to be in love with a magnificent gal. I'm in love, in love, with a magnificent..."
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Following several verses of the bubbly bravado, Riddle warned Walker not to lose his head over the lucky lady. And that was Walker's cue to tell us all about his recent experience with loose heads. He described how some poor sap from San Francisco rolled his dunebuggy off Danté's Hairpin out on the south corner of the Lenexa Triangle earlier in the day. His gas tank blew, and, according to Officer Walker, the biggest body part found was his head, rolling down a nearby drainage gutter.
While the rest of us moaned, Walker smiled, explaining that it wasn't all bad news. "The family can still have an open coffin at Price's Funeral Parlor. They can stick the sap's head on a mannequin and dress it in a turtleneck." Walker broke into hyenic laughter.
I had no idea what was so funny, and neither did Smitty.
But Riddle had a plausible explanation. Still squinting, Doc puffed his pipe cooly and told us that we needed to realize why we laugh , why we cry, why we scream. "And even why we blaspheme."
Pulling several business cards from his nearby cape, Doc handed one to each of us.
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Drawing our attention to the card's logo, a simple triangle with a face at each corner, he told us that it represented the human psyche, what he chose to call the TOE, Triangle Of Emotions. Turning his head to exhale a cumulus puff of tobacco smoke, he went on to say that all events are stored in one of the three corners of our memory. The first corner is reserved for negative events, events to be avoided. The second corner is a neutral corner, for events which are neither desireable nor regrettable. The third corner, Doc hypothesized, is where desirable experiences are stored.
Doc cleared his larynx and contended that the logic of Walker's mind stored the dismembered-motorist experience in Corner 'A' with events we've commonly been conditioned to avoid. However, if it were to remain there, Doc said, Walker would be quite reluctant to continue his police duties. So, by making a joke out of the whole thing, Walker's emotions supposedly moved this negative experience to corner 'B'.
Thus, Riddle's reasoning went, the event no longer needed to be avoided. "Walker, your mind has now been conditioned by endorphine secretions to consider similar experiences less than offensive. But the rest of us didn't laugh at your joke, thus leaving the experience in the logically negative corner 'A' - to be avoided. A wise decision for us vulnerable civilians." The example explained, Riddle emptied his pipe into a Grecian Vase.
Walker blubbered his lips in mock applause. "Keep thinkin', Doc. That's what you do best."
Riddle said there was more. "Gentlemen, I've only just begun."
Smitty said he'd had enough and headed for the can to check on Lenore. Walker broke into song again, and I offered sage dressing to my bird - to no avail.
After Walker finished his second off-Broadway rendering, we sat on the asymmetrically curved couch on either side of Riddle.
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Sheepishly, Doc said his feelings were hurt that we didn't want to learn more. "Crying simply moves events around the triangle in a counter direction to that which laughter does. While the muscular convolutions of laughter serve to metabolize excess endorphines, tears drain cranial toxins from the sinuses after they've done their painful job of migrating the remembered episode toward the proper corner of our TOE."
Walker sighed as he lit his chrome bowl. "Daphney, tell us just one more time about how you and that island lady with jugs like strawberry gelatin sailed your raft onto that secluded beach in the South Pacific. But not too loudly."
Riddle perked up, describing how it was not a raft at all. "The Lorelei was the prettiest sloop that ever sailed the seven seas. A typhoon had threatened Imelda's and my very existence the evening before, but the sloop prevailed. By first morning light, my sensual seraph and I were beached on the softest, most..."
Before long, Walker began to snore, his smouldering pipe safely beached in a sand-filled ash tray. The soft crackling of the fire and Riddle's ongoing sea saga set me adrift too, conjuring up my own rewoven envisagement, a turbulent nightmare of my unrequited love's untimely demise at the Lincoln High Junior Prom.
Freezing air from the other side of the Pipe Room stirred me from semi-slumber. An overlarge bay window swung in the winter wind while several members struggled to get it closed. As the chill subsided, Riddle drew his South Pacific tale to a timely end, then suggested we go to greet Granny. "My Lord, it's almost midnight."
After I shoved my empty plate through a pidgeon hole into the kitchen, we made our way down the steps and into the tunnel, our bulging guts making our northern gait all the more troublesome.
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I told Doc that I'd just dreamt of a girl I hadn't seen in years. "Does that mean I might see her tonight?"
Doc scraped his left cane on the tunnel ceiling for a second. "Not necessarily." But when I conceded that dreams weren't really prophetic, Riddle said I was wrong. "Our dreams are perfectly prescient. It's our conscious interpretations of them that are flawed. Share your recent innervision with me. Every last detail, please."
As we trod the length of the underground mantube, I told the whole silly story (denied the reader by my minimalist editor). "Of course, Doc, I never really went to a prom in my life."
Doc claimed I still loved Susanna. "A pure, spiritual love - not a lust at all. I would dare say the two of you shared a previous life." He was especially intrigued by the fact that her proper burial was more important to me than the favors of her seven maids. "How infinitely romantic, David. I would say a chance meeting with your unrequited love is imminent. But the closed coffin and your remark that you need not view her body would seem to indicate you probably shan't recognize her this time around."
Passing Smitty's Cloneshop, I told Riddle that I didn't believe I had the dream just to warn me of a chance meeting. "Why did I have the dream? Why does anyone dream?"
Standing just inside the alley door, Riddle paused to drag on his pipe, then asked if I recalled the conversation we had at St. Luke's, the morning after my first dream in twenty years, a dream about the end of nuclear confrontation. When I told him that I had scores of other unsettled matters on my mind at the time, Doc offered to refresh my memory.
Cracking the door open to let his smoke escape and leaning against the wall, the mind maven explained that important current events, daily emotions, plus recent perceptions are first stored in our short-term memory. However, like all things, they are most efficiently transferred into long-term memory as part of a surrealistic tale assembled from bits of short-term memory. Riddle said the more interesting the story, the more permanent and accessible the memory for conscious recall or subconscious decision-making at any future time.
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With cool tobacco blow-back in his eyes, Doc said it was all-important that we dream on a regular basis, for our short-term memory has a very limited capacity and could easily overflow if we didn't. Therefore, important facets of recent memories are drained from short-term and combined with related facets of long-term into a suitable storyline. Hallucinations from sleep deprivation occur, Riddle said, because our shortest-term memory, i.e. reality, becomes overloaded and confused, mixing what we call reality with long-term memories, free of conscious control.
Doc put the bird on my shoulder and grabbed his canes. "In general, David, dreams reprogram all memory and emotions in light of new daily occurrences - in addition to entertaining our subconscious self, thereby providing a motive to endure even the most painful existence. Precognitive or prophetic dreams draw from future memories, memories of the last time-cycle of collective consciousness. At least that's what we decided last winter, David."
Scrubbing the bird's colorful scalp, I said that I bet we didn't come up with a reason why life was so painful. "For most souls, anyway."
Riddle slipped his pipe into his cape. "Would our dreams not be boringly bland, our spiritual lessons quickly forgotten, if we had but pleasant experiences to draw from?"
I told him that I didn't agree that we live only to dream - or vice versa. "I think dreams and reality are symbiotic." I went on to give Riddle a very quick rundown on Granny's MOP theory and Mr. Sam's Cosmic Flow Chart, gradually pushing the heavy door wide open in the process.
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With the cold air whorling in, Riddle said I'd given him much to think about and went silent as we stepped into the alley. The invigorating wind combed my thinning hair hair back, and I hoped Susanna Cole had found happiness after high school.
A jacket dropped over my shoulders from behind as Morningstar's voice warmed my ear. "Fanny told Walker to thank you for the use of your coat. And I'm sure Susanna's doing just great." I'd almost forgotten Morningreader could sometimes tune into my mind.
As she snuggled to my side, eight cars pumped their white emissions into the nightsky and I zipped up my jacket. Riddle said the cars were waiting for Granny, then pleaded for me to tell him more about Reohla. But my attention was suddenly diverted.
Shitler rolled up and parked at the back of the gambling pack. Pretending to ignore these perverts who would dare interfere with my Thanksgiving with a clear mind, I caught sight of a faded red motorbike resting against the wall of the market. Momentarily, Smitty came banging through the door with a dolly full of food tubs, and I asked him where he got the 1958 Allstate MoPed Deluxe.
He paused long enough to tell me that Granny gave it to him years before, as an incentive to regain his vision, but now that he could see, his gut was too big to ride it. "I scooter a Knucklehead Harley, but we've held onto the moped for when Herbie gets his vision back." As I stared at the moped and smiled, Smitty sensed my desire. "Go take him for a spin."
Wondering why Smitty called the moped him, I grabbed the handlebars and jumped on the pedal. The old contraption fired right to life, sounding like a sewing machine gone berserk. Revving it wildly to burn out the carbon, I yelled to Smitty and the others that I was going to look for the Hound Dog.
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The seat was rotted away, so Smitty tossed me a towel from his shoulder and I wrapped it around the post. Dropping the moped into gear, I jerked forward, wheeling quickly past Stanley Pyre's retreaded Audi and out onto the open street.
As the little moped from Sears struggled to accelerate, three Harleys thundered by from the opposite direction and turned into Smitty's alley. I clattered into second gear and my bird lifted from my shoulder. Before I knew it, all three of us we were clipping along at almost thirty-five miles per hour. Reaching down between my legs, I unclipped the air cleaner and our speed jumped to forty, at least.
I hit the brakes, barely in time to successfully navigate Danté's Hairpin. Already, I'd covered a sixth of the Triangle with no sign of Granny and Company. Climbing a hill at twenty, I glanced over my shoulder at the Shitlerites, about forty feet back, and decided to take them on a wild goose chase around the entire Triangle. Turning nonchalantly onto Plumm, I pretended to ignore the shitbums.
The Lenexa Triangle was an area bordered by Plumm, 87th, and the Sante Fe Trail. Once a giant landfill where teenagers went to get stoned and knocked-up, it was now, thanks to the Lenexa Historical Society (chaired by Beryl Hennigh), a nice clean park for family recreation. After school, and on weekends, various Lenexa businesses (led by the Quackenbush Laundry and D. Martin's Bookshop) contracted teens to plant trees, trim shrubs, and build stone shelters and ramps for the handicapped. It worked well and Lenexa had the lowest juvenile delinquency rate in mid-America, not to mention the most responsible high school graduates. Bashing Herbie's moped into low, I slowed to fifteen, just to aggravate the malignant delinquents behind me.
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A blast from a giant fog horn nearly blew me off the towel. As Granny's cruiser streaked past toward the market, I pulled the moped into high and crossed the Overland Ditch at forty-five miles an hour.
The oil-sludged engine started to totally loosen up by the time I swerved back onto Plumm. My bird led me toward an old graveyard right across from Poor Richard's, and I jumped the Gulley of Ghosts at an unbelievable speed, then zig-zagged upward between the headstones and peach trees. For some time, I continued to climb - until I spun to a sudden stop beside a small mausoleum with a tiny steeple.
Holding the most strategic spot in the cemetery, I hoped the teutonic turkeys would pursue me and impale their stinkin' Shitler on the jagged headstones. My faithful bird fluttered onto my shoulder and we waited on our summit. I didn't want to miss the midnight run of the Hound Dog, but the chickenheads remained down in the street, racing their engine in neutral.
Agog, I called down to the heathens. "Come on up and try to bury me."
After killing their pancake engine twice, the shitheads sped off into the anonymous night - just as the ungodly stench hit me. Inside the St. Peteresque mausoleum something was indeed dead - but surely unburied. The failed Vladimir lenin's out-of-date brain, perchance??
At any rate, crunching the motorbike back into gear, I sped away from the stink, down the burial slope, slammed into a rockpile, and was launched into the air at well over forty. Scarcely able to stay in the makeshift saddle, I soared over a sleeping vineyard before splashing down onto the Plumm Incline. Dragging my left boot, I hung a hard left and started back south towards Smitty's alley, the little rear tire spinning frantically on the wet grade.
Having forgotten about my leg's lameness, I put down my right boot and almost wiped out - first skidding, then swerving and finally slamming into the alley wall alongside the Hound Dog.
end page 361
After checking for damage and finding only a loose muffler, I killed the little two-stroke. Immediately, I heard the throaty rumble of multiple large engines, up in front of the Hound Dog. Locating my loner cane, I limped stiffly past all the empty cars to check out the source of the nightnoise.
Up in front of the Dog's open hatch, three Harleys came into view, my bird already fluttering from one to the other. They were the three I'd passed on my way to St. Vincent's Graveyard: two gold-flake Low Riders and a candy-apple-purple Sportster. Idling in neutral, the beasts' front forks throbbed with every torquish stroke.
As I limped in clumsy reverse, the bird settled onto my shoulder and I boarded the Hound Dog at last. Hanging my jacket on a chrome spike and stashing my boots in an oak rack, I examined the exotic innards of the wheeled missîle.
end chap 20
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