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Chapter Four

"Crew of Salvation"


    As Judy's corn cores blurred and bounced off the ceiling, I pointed out that both my parents and their doctors still wanted to perpetuate the myth of my mental illness.
    More than a little frustrated at the state of affairs, I explained why the idiots denied my sanity. "To protect their reputations, I suppose."
    With a snarl, Judy said she bet Rudolph Capol III was a neo-nazi. But I didn't think so.
    Ména cautioned me. "But you don't know."
    I conceded that Capol might be. "One thing for sure, the damn country club gynecologist is no doctor of the mind supposedly qualified to administer mood-altering drugs. Like I said, I didn't know my craving was an addiction and not something genetically wrong with my brain."
    Ména probed his beard with a toothpick and assured me that there never was anything, genetically or otherwise, wrong with my brain. "Quite the contrary, David; I find it wholly miraculous how your cranial hardware has survived intact. Truly remarkable; but not the least bit unexpected."     I flinched. "Not unexpected?"

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     However, the evening was to yield no answer, only silence, save for the motor and tire noise of untuned and out-of-balance automobiles that filtered through the new screen door.
    Following a moment of meditation, Menachem claimed our adversaries had subdued not just my Pohla. "They also muted your soul, David, both Ohla and Mohla."
    I told him that I didn't know about that. "But I do know that until Doc Riddle weaned me from the drugs, I'd forgotten what it meant to be alive."
    Ména snarled that he wasn't surprised. "The hippocratic fanatics' shock treatments erased your memories of a clear ambillect."
    I nodded in sad agreement. "As for Capol, he rendered free care to my entire family, in-between his battles with the bottle and efforts to keep me in a chemical straight jacket. Unlike the narcotics' euphoric effects on my parents, they drove me into one bottomless pit of depression after another."
    Judy asked what exactly depression was, if it was sadness. I told her no, that with sadness there can be hope. "Depression is an invisible, morbid pain which gnaws at ones soul. It's a windowless room with cold concrete for a bed and a bare bulb over a sloppy bucket for companionship."
    Judy moaned that I'd said enough . "I get the gloomy picture."
    Taking a deep, subtle breath, I painfully explained how numberless persons noticed my slurred speech and drugged-out appearance over the years, that when they mentioned it, I wondered if it was a genetic flaw too. "My parents simply told me I paid too much attention to what other people said."

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     Not-so-naive Judy said that sure they did. "Your parents didn't want you to listen to anybody but them."
    I agreed and flexed my cramped hands as I described how Nullium actually made my tremors worse. "Under stress, my hands and face would shake out of control. They don't any more."
    Menachem finally returned the corn cob pipe to his robe and said that possibly my affliction was in periodic remission. "Now that your mind is free to heal your body." I asked him what affliction he meant and he said that it mattered little. "Continue, please, with the details of Capol's transgressions."
    Vaguely remembering Ména's earlier mention of multiple something, I pressed on with how I had no aspirations for success under Capol's care. "Much less did I have a desire to build a family. I hated life so much I periodically planned to commit suicide after my parents died."
    When Judy asked why I wanted to wait until they died, I answered that I didn't want to hurt their feelings. Looking into Ména's cyan eyes, I quickly qualified myself. "I doubt if I would have ever done the dirtiest of deeds, though."
    Ména blew his nose. "As it should be, David."
    Judy smiled nervously. "Gramps and I are both glad you didn't kill yourself."
    I thanked her and said that I was glad too, now. "And now I want all the things everybody wants in life. A wife, a couple kids, and whatever small measure of success I still have time to achieve. For twenty years, I never dreamt of the future during the day or even of the past in my sleep at night. Now I dream of everything."

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     Judy said that a person needs to dream every night. "Dreams tell you what to do when no one else will."
    I agreed. "And I sleep and dream pretty well now. Even if it is only for two hours at a time. I think my cramped muscles wake me up every time I try to roll over."
    Judy advised me to read to catch up on my dreams. "Gramps says reading at bedtime is like having an extra dream before you go to sleep."
    I told her it made sense. "Maybe I should start reading instead of watching television."
    In no uncertain terms, Ména said that I certainly should, that our minds assemble images from word-memory for proper dream-sequencing. "When television continually does the work for us, our Ohlaé become lazy and useless. Reading actually fortifies our ability to conjure images from ideas, thus making our Ohlaé/Mohla all the more agile and effective." The lucid sage cleared his throat, wiped his eyes, and nodded in my direction.
    I told him that sometimes my dreams were still nightmares. "But even when they are, I feel much better in the morning than when I didn't dream at all. No matter how much sleep I used to get on Nullium, I was already burnt out when morning came. Covert naps and nonstop coffee were all that kept me going. Everything was such a chore that once I did manage to get started, I was afraid I would never have the energy to begin again if I stopped. So I worked feverishly, if not efficiently, until finished. As a result of this chronic impatience, all my endeavors amounted to less than they should have."
    I rubbed an ear lobe and detailed how my senses had all been numb, my perceptions distorted, how my touch, smell, taste, and hearing were all affected to one degree or another. "Physical pain had even subsided, on the conscious level, anyway. I ignored frequent and careless injuries. Often, I would wander outdoors in the middle of winter without a jacket to drive a beat-up motorcycle without brakes. I never smelled subtle perfume or tasted good food. My olfactory senses were somehow numbed by Lump's meatgrinder."

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     Judy wisped a deep breath through her nostrils. "I bet you could have smelled our Garlic Chicken."
    Ména grumbled that he doubted it. "The medical malcontents had carried out their mission quite meticulously. The only two things they never reckoned for, young lady, was David's determination to endure. And now he will triumph."
    I said that I hoped so and tried to finish up with the past. "Even my hearing was messed up. What?!? Huh?!? became my most frequent eloquence. Now that my interface circuits are undampened, my sensitivity has already increased." I sat down, combed my hair back, and mentioned that Capol's chemicals had dried up my entire system.
    Conveniently, Judy excused herself to visit the ladies room. In her absence, I briefly told Ména how layers of dead skin used to flake from my scalp and face; how my eyeballs lanquished in sockets of dried saline between red, raw lids; how, just the winter before, during de-Nullification, I got accustomed to saliva in my mouth for the first time in nearly two decades. "All those years, my sweat glands were screwed up too. When I exerted myself, I'd overheat and turn beet red. I never perspired."
    Wiping beads of frustration from my forehead as Judy returned, I asked if she'd please get me a glass of ice water. She did an about-face and left the room again, allowing me to tell my adult male listener how my sexual drive/performance was crippled, nearly impotent; how, on that rare occasion when I was able to complete the conjugation, my pleasure was slight. "I never felt love or hate, only differing degrees of aloneness."

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     While the water faucet howled in the kitchen, I used the neonacular to describe how various other body functions had been lethargic, also slow-moving.
    My host's big head rocked about with heavy regret as Judy returned.
    Her orders were simple. "Enough man-talk."
    So we kept quiet as she emptied a frosty pitcher of lemonade into three tall goblets. Stuffed as a Thanksgiving turkey or Passover latke, I took a swallow of the friendly thirst-quencher all the same, but was ill-fortunately reminded of how my drugged-out appearance had alienated so many potential friends. In silence, I wondered how many passed me by because of what the professionals did to me.
    Ména gave me a fresh tissue and I wiped the anger from my eyes and insisted that it was no hyperbole. "I am truly alive for the first time in my adult life." Then I went a step further, to suggest that Drs. Lump and Capol should be held accountable for their parts in my aborted past and that the manufacturer of Nullium was also liable.
    Ména grimaced. "Nullium was developed by Pyre Pharmaceutical."
    I knew of the perverse operation. "P.P. of Tennessee?"
    Ména nodded. "The very same. They're a subsidiary of Pyre Industries, the neo-nazi, mutli-national conglomerate that seeks world domination this time around. You'd best look over your shoulder for some time to come. Hista is surely amongst them."
    I mentioned briefly to Ména that I'd spent an evening at the Pyre Place in Tennessee with my cousin Sherman, twenty years before.
    He told me to fine-focus my memories of the encounter. "You will discover it was no coincidence."
    But I was busy complaining about the denullification I'd encountered more recently, the cold turkey withdrawal at St. Luke's. "I prayed only that death would come easier. I had no way of knowing the highway of life was ahead."

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     Judy sipped lemonade and said that she thought only teens had bad times. "But you've had a rough ride all the way."
    I told her that God gave me, unlike many, another chance. "I can't ever replace those lost years, but I need to somehow succeed in the days remaining." I gazed into the old gentleman's magnetic eyes; they looked so familiar.
    My advocate claimed I'd already succeeded. "Your success is measured by the quality of your effort, David; not by the immediate magnitude of your results."
    When I told him I wanted to invent things to make the world a little bit better, he claimed the most marvelous mechanisms of all were those assembled from the intangible, in the omnizoid of the spirit and the world of our soul. "So, David, please prepare your machines in the minds of your progeny, our children and students."
    When I repeated that I had no children or students, he insisted that I would, then turned to Judy. "At the right time granddaughter, David will know the ultimate truth and fly to Freedom with all his followers."
    I was afraid to ask to what followers he was alluding, and I think he could sense it. Slipping a dented flask of CHaz from his robe, Ména splashed his towering forehead with cryptic cologne, several times. "The intrusive electrical confusions, chemicals, locked wards - what enormous wastes of everyones time. How laughingly futile of our adversaries, David."
    When I finally asked what adversaries, he invited me to have tea before leaving. "The three of us will sit outside, beneath our eternal stars."
    I told him I'd had a long day, that I needed to fix my car and get to St. Louis before I fell asleep. But the old man insisted, leading me by the hand across the living room, telling me that these had been long days for us all. "Share some special tea with us and be soon renewed."

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     So I followed this strange man outside while Judy went to get the special tea. As we made our way around the house, the muggy night suddenly smelled like a spring morning lake. Paused in the subtle wash of a distant highway light, I told the old timer I didn't know what Mohla, Ohla, or Pohla meant, or who Fela, Sola, and Sidra were; much less was I familiar with some Hista character who just might be aligned with Pyre Industries. "Mr. Menachem, I certainly hope this entire evening isn't some sophisticated hoax to try and drive me off the deep end."
    He said that it was best that I judge for myself. "After you put your past in tight perspective. Next spring, after you've discovered as best you can, I and a few others will reveal the truth and give you redemption."
    I wondered. What sort of redemption?
    My zenoptic philosopher stated his claim. "With self-realization will come personal redemption and universal salvation."
    Proceeding in silence to the washed-out redwood table, we sat opposite one another and simultaneously scanned the lucid cosmos. Some time later, Judy arrived with the tea serving and asked me about the things I used to build.
    With little coaxing, I told her about the four-engined go kart with three-speed transmisson I built in high school and the motorcycle with five engines I built for the Bonneville Salt Flats. When she asked if I ever raced motorcycles, though, I didn't have the heart to admit how dear dad disposed of my 35 trophies after taking me to Formington.
    Up on the interstate, two mail trucks high-beamed one another from opposing directions and Ména told Judy that my soul, my Ohla and her Mohla, had returned. "Now David's Pohla wishes to pick up where he left off, but it will be more difficult than he may imagine. Needless to say, Mr. Daniels will outdo the odds in the end, as he always has."

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     With grace, my host again offered me Chaz cologne and I willingly splashed my face, lightly. Judy gave me a speckled bag of Garlic Chicken snacks and her grandfather said the special recipe Oolong Tea in the clay pot also came from his ageless Oriental protégés. When I asked for sugar, Ména claimed refined sugar was wholly unnatural and unhealthy. So I asked for artificial sweetener.
    He roared. "Oh Balderdash! Artificial sweetner is worse than refined sugar. You can't trick your Ohla into thinking it's getting proper nutrition by teasing the pleasure center of your Pohla. Why not just rip open your jugular, pour all the poisonous products of all the world's chemical plants directly into your bloodstream and get it over with once and for all? How naive and easily seduced you've become, David."
    I told him that it was no big deal. "I'll drink the stuff straight." So I guzzled the semi-tangy beverage, but immediately became light-headed.
    And Menachem started chanting Hebrew again. Very gently this time, as a lullaby. My vision blurred while I weakly asked what he was singing. Staring at me, his eyes became hypnotic brown jewels and I realized I couldn't move. Reaching under his robe, he pulled the alabaster egg from its pouch and wrapped it in my right hand. I felt the ovum's subtle warmth, until my hands went numb and limbs limp.
    The metamaven explained. "As the proper frequency or password allows access to a certain radio network and/or database mainframe, so do the proper word patterns and even certain blank syntax, if recited out loud in correct cadence, allow one access to the Mohla of some passing generation."
    Slumped with an empty cup in my left hand and a glowing ovum in my right, I was barely able to respond. "You mean that by reciting an ancient prayer or historical writing that you can subconsciously contact a dead culture even if the reading is in a different language?"

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     Ména answered that he could see I was still a quick study. "The spirit of a passing culture lives on, for only a people's flesh dies. Their Mohla and therefore their cultural essence, sometimes even certain select Ohlaé, endure forever. Now rest for a spell."
    As he chanted on, I drifted off...

    Someone slapped me lightly. "Wake now!"
    My eyes jerked open, imperfectly focusing on my mysterious Missouri pal.
    He said it was time for him and Judy to retire. "Call us from Florida and we'll give you an update on Mr. Sam's health."
    I flexed my face and sensed a searing pain just above my left eye. Putting my finger to the spot, I realized my pubescent scar from a motorbike accident was bleeding again.
    Handing me fresh tissue, Menachem complained that he was forced to jumpstart my Ohla. "For the second time this century."
    When I noticed blood above his own right eye, I asked precisely what he meant by jumpstart my Ohla.
    He said the Ohla was my own, occasionally conscious, vector of everyone else's Mohla. "Your own soul and our collective sub-conscious."
    Shaking my head, I tried to stand, but was still too dizzy - until Judy doused me with a coffee can of cold rainwater. Finally my eyes fine-focused on Ména's face. "Without that beard and bushy hair, you'd look exactly like my high school chemistry teacher and wrestling coach, Prescott Mathews!"
    He barked back. "Utter nonsense! I have no idea what in the world you're talking about - or who for heaven's sake your Mr. Mathews could possibly be."
    Judy giggled. "Oh Gramps, how can you say it's nonsense if you don't even know what Mr. Mathews looks like?"

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     Perplexed for only a second, Ména shrewdly smiled at the unlit cigarette in my shirt pocket, then changed the topic, asking Judy and me to engage in a mutual non-smoking pact, explaining that nicotine was a mind-dampening drug just as potent in the cell as alcohol. "It's confused and contused mitochondria, afterall, that cause cancer. Not to mention overtight brassieres, corsets, and jockstraps."
    Another eighteen wheeler sounded its horn and Ména's swarthy complexion went pallid, his voice gruff. "A handful of tobacco barons and marketing executives slay half a million of our countrymen per annum, just so they can shtup under satin sheets and shice into ivory toilets. The corporate afterlöcher thrive in the void of that which is immoral, but not illegal nor yet verboten, the heathen assholes."
    Judy blushed and asked how they slept at night.
    Ména's eyes turned cold as steel bearings as he bellowed the answer twice. "Without a soul!! Without a soul!!"
    Without warning, the yard shuddered like a nearby freight train had just ran off the tracks. Ména said that it felt like the old New Madrid fault was acting up anew. "Maybe it's already too late."
    I opticized. "People can always change; and I think they will."
    Judy broke the somber mood. "All right, you good guys win. I'll quit smoking if David will. Margot's been bugging me about it for months too."
    As she dropped her designer dispenser onto the ground, I clasped her hand in agreement, then squashed the flip-top container as confirmation. Menachem placed his hands on our shoulders and told me about Miss Margot Morningstar, his cohort who helped Judy in Arizona. It seemed vibrant Margot now lived in Boca Raton, Florida.
    I told him that Boca Raton wasn't far from my parents' new condo in Boynton Beach. "After I pick my parents' car up in St. Louis, I'm going to drive it down there for them."

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     Menachem bade me visit Morningstar's carwash and ask her to contact him. "Look for an aquamarine work trailer beside a giant gas station at the south end of Alaska Boulevard. The Valdez Exxon Station, unless I'm sadly mistaken. She'll be elated to see you. Tell her my present number is listed with the new Kingdom City operator, under P. M. Menachem."
    As Judy stepped back, I wondered for an instant whether P. M. could possibly stand for Prescott Mathews, my teacher and coach from Lincoln High. But I abandoned the bewonderment when Judy suddenly spun in place and asked if I thought she looked like Dorothy from Kansas.
    While her pinafore billowed like the delicate blue umbrella of a rainy-day angel, I confessed to not remembering what Dorothy looked like.
    She insisted that I knew who she meant. "Dorothy from 'THE WIZARD OF OZ.'"
    I told her I wasn't sure whether she looked like either Dorothy or Judy Garland. "But I do know you look just like a pretty young lady from Missouri that I recently met. Judy from Kingdom City."
    Abrupty, she stopped twirling and complained her nose was too big. I told her a woman's beauty is in her eyes.
    Ména hugged his pole. "Remember, Judith, how Morningstar's neo-Navajo features were horribly mauled in Cuba?"
    Judy said she certainly did. "But Morning was still beautiful."     The old purist said that she truly was. "For the love of life burns eternal in the eye of true beauty."
    Judy smiled and excused herself to fetch something special from the house. The advancing nightair was now cool and calm, the highway traffic having diminished to an occasional set of headlights.

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     A giant searchlight swept the western skies toward Columbia as Judy returned. She had a large mason jar and a bright white lantern. Setting them on the table, she explained that Innocence was the Monarch butterfly Lone Eagle gave her as a birthday gift. She opened the jar with delight and a magnificent butterfly fluttered out.
    When I asked who Lone Eagle was, Judy spoke with reserve. "He's Morningstar's sick grandfather who caught me stealing counterfeit wampum."
    Ména giggled and thumbed a green button on the lantern's base. Its white light changed gradually to intense ultraviolet. While Judy moved several steps east with her pet butterfly overhead, Ména spec'd the magic lantern as a very rudimentary multi-frequency, optical-plasma generator. "Just something I've been fiddling with in my spare time." He proceeded to give Judy a three-count pound with his pole.
    Acapella, she sang "SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW" while she danced a stylized Hora.
    The magic melody lifted toward the three-quarter moon as Judy's white blouse and golden butterfly alternated colors among the infinite hues of the endless rainbow. The lantern switched only between violet and white.
    When the song was sung and the dance done, our applause echoed as thunder through an amphitheatre. Innocence fluttered everywhere.
    When Judy touched the lantern's button, it turned pure azure. Moving to my side, the sensitive teen asked if she'd ever be a genius like her grandfather.
    I told her that she might, but it was more important what she did with whatever Mother Nature gave her. "Being born with an agile mind counts for no more than being born with a nimble body. It's what you do with either, or neither, that counts in the end."

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     After Judy hugged us both, Ména asked if she didn't have a special word for me, before she retired to prayer and dream.
    Calmly, she picked up her mason jar and sighed. "Ha-Tikvah." Walking slowly toward the house, she reiterated. "Ha-Tikvah." Innocence followed freely.
    Ména began to play with his corn cob pipe again. "Use the password 'Ha-Tikvah' to let Morningstar know you're one of us, one of the crew. Just in case she fails to precognize you after all these years."
    Ha-Tikvah?? Crew??
    As I clasped Ména's hand, I noticed several stars burnt deep into a taut leather wristband, seven Stars of David in a most curious configuration.
    Ména smiled and stroked his beard. "The crew of salvation. I'm sure you'll solve this riddle too, Danu."
    Before I was able to ponder much, though, an inebriated motorist yelled unprintable blasphemes from his vehicle and reminded me of J's wine.     Without me asking, Ména pulled a half-pint from his obviously well-stocked robe. "You tell Mr. Stalin this is next month's stipend."
    I took my bag of chicken snacks from the table as Ména added that poor Joseph had been pruning the same stretch of road so long. "Ever since 1953, and he's only just begun."
    As we limped in tandem toward my car, Ména asked me to phone Mr. Sam in the next few months, after Yom Kippur but before Thanksgiving. "Before it's too late to save him from that damn lifetime supply of two-cent cigars he got for raising the flag at Iwo Jima. Unless I'm mistaken, he and Palooka have a special gift for your Ohla."
    I promised to call Puberty Park. "If that bus doesn't get me first. Do you think it was really after me?"

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     He said that it could have been. "Remember, David, there are at least two ways to spell Empire."
    I hiccuped at the conundrum and was about to open my trunk to get my multi-meter when Ména insisted that I try starting the motor first. "Sometimes, my good David, spark problems mend themselves."
    Sure enough, I wedged myself behind the wheel and the old motor popped right over.
    The modernistic wiseman issued a warning from the porch. "Beware of Hista's parasatanic sort. They spend big bucks to taint good souls!"
    Revving my engine, I shouted above its solid lifters. "What's this Hista joker look like?"
    Ména bellowed back that Hista was flagrantly obese and wore his stringy hair long, greasy, and dark red. Then Ména hoisted his pole over his head and yelled out for all to hear. "If not before, I shall see you at the return. Until then, be brave as a lion and cunning as a cougar while you enforce the will of divine TOLA. To all who love TOLA, L'chayim!" He slammed his stick down onto the portable porch and a rotten plank splintered.
    As I shouted shalom, the ageless Hebrew disappeared into his humble abode. Just sitting there there for a minute, I retuned the radio and wondered what the maven meant. The return of what? What's it all about?
    Suddenly crystal clear, the Fifth Dimension sang "AGE OF AQUARIUS."
    Just when I'd figured out that Gola meant God, Ména called Him TOLA. Maybe TOLA and Gola were parts of God, like Pohla, Ohla, and Mohla seemed to be three parts of our human mind.
    Man, I thought, if only I could remember that Cosmic Flow Chart that Mr. Sam showed me back in the sixties.
    Turning to the more mundane, I decided Ména must have used his mysterious motron cannon to overload my car's ignition system. Just then a disk jockey broke the news of a minor quake along the old New Madrid fault.     Switching stations, I motored slowly up the cul-de-sac, not too confused to remember satanic Josef stalin supposedly died in 1953, the same year Ména claimed J came to work along this strange stretch of road.

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     J's workplace was well-lit by low-pressure sodium, and he still swung his blunt sickle methodically, barely cognizant of my approaching vehicle. When I climbed out and tapped the bolshevik's gaunt shoulder, he jerked rigidly around. I asked what the bus driver was talking to him about.
    His hand shivered as he answered. "She pointed a pistol at J and asked why King David went down to yonder trailer. But J only told her he sure didn't see no one that looked like no king."
    I gave him his wine ration.
    He growled. "It's good ya' remembered J." Then he chug-a-lugged.
    When I asked what kind of work he did before '53, he belched wetly. "Don't rightly know, but J seems to vaguely remember drinkin' lots of free Lithuanian Vodka."
    Then I asked how he came to be in Missouri, and he said he woke up in yonder drainage ditch.
    I asked where he slept.
    "J don't."
    I told him that I thought I understood and limped briskly to my car, realizing I'd probably need a cane before too long. Climbing clumsily in, I glanced at my bag of chicken snacks and wondered if too much garlic had spoiled Menachem's train of thought, or maybe mine. But I knew it hadn't.

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     The overhead luminaire splashed my '67 Chevelle's louvered hood with light orange, sun-like brilliance as I looked down upon P. M. Menachem's mobile home. I saw a last light flicker out inside. But Judy's magic lantern beamed brighter than ever from the porch as I moved quickly away in first gear, daring to wonder if communist butcher Josef stalin had really been drudged from the grave to service the Midamerican Bible Belt as an arthritic highway hand. Or, with some retrospect, was I simply putting two and two together and coming up with twenty-two instead of four, or vice versa?
    Deciding that I might be working with the wrong numerical hierarchy altogether, I nailed it and powershifted into second gear, flipping open the hungry double pumper and fishtailing wildly. "SHINE THE LIGHT ON ME" rolled desperately out of the radio as my Chevelle shot like a rocket from the magic lantern-light of Kingdom City, Missouri.
    I knew the whole wonderful evening had been real - that I was not going over the edge again. And I saw no new sign of the Empire Express in the east or west bound lanes.

end chap 4


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