Saturday, April 4, 2009

Chapter 4: The Diagnosis

From Sarah's Journal:
Doc and I went out for a walk. We visited Marshall Fields store - the store all Chicago people rave about - but we do not think it compares to Wannamaker’s store in Philadelphia. After our lunch, we went to see a very comical movie picture, “Rain or Shine.’ After dinner, we left at 6:30 p.m. for St. Paul.
We had spent only about 12 hours in Chicago before re-boarding the train for St. Paul, Minnesota. While Doc and Sarah were sight-seeing, I wandered out to the lake, where I watched the people and studied this odd scene. It felt to me as if I were an extra in some period-piece movie. If Al Capone had shown up and started mowing down people with a Tommy-gun, I’d have viewed it more as a curiosity than some real tragedy unfolding.
As I was waiting to cross Michigan Ave., I noted the cars - Fords, mainly, but some Chevrolets and Hudsons. All black, of course,
I pointed this out to a gentleman who, like me, was standing on the corner at Michigan Ave., waiting to cross. “Describing a car as “black’’ would be pointless, wouldn’t it?’’ I said.
The man just gave me a funny look.
Doc have given me a $5 gold piece - “for lunch, or other amusement,’’ he said.
Five bucks, I thought. I’ll have to be careful.
For lunch, I stopped at a fancy-looking restaurant - white table cloths, fine crystal, etc., etc. - and had prime rib with potatoes, a slice of apple pie with ice cream and tea. The tab: $1.12.
In fact, I discovered that $5 was more than sufficient.
A row of men were standing in line in front of a factory gate and I could not resist. A year into the Depression, unemployment has reached a record 8.5 percent, according to the Chicago Tribune I had been reading during lunch.
“A little something for you,’’ I said, handing out 50-cent pieces.
“Thank you, sir!’’
Back on the train, we pulled out of the Chicago station, heading for St. Paul. After dinner, the ladies retired while Doc and I went for a smoke.
A porter produced a wooden box containing cigars and Doc was inspecting the contents, finally pulling two cigars out of the box and handing the a 50-cent piece.
“Keep the change,’’ he said.
“Thank you, kind sir,’’ the porter said, bowing politely as he stepped away.
“Havanas,’’ Doc said, clipping the end of a cigar and offering it to me. “We’ll be sure to stock up with more when we get to Cuba. Remind me.’’
“We’re going to Cuba?’’ I said, wondering how a west-bound train to Minnesota could eventually wind up in the Caribbean.
“Why, Mr. Smith, have you forgotten the itinerary?’’
I thought for a moment.
“Yes, it’s safe to say that I have no idea where we are going, beyond St. Paul, I mean.’’
“Interesting,’’ Doc said. “Tell me, last week, we all went to a very special occasion, the mark the opening of a great addition to the city of New York. Do you recall what is was?’’
I tried to remember. Somehow, I couldn’t recall anything beyond being on the train.
“No,’’ I said. “What was it?’’
“Last week, we went down to witness the opening of the Chrysler Building, the tallest building in the world. But you don’t remember that, do you? Of course, you wouldn’t. Every day, seems to be the first day with you.’’
“The Chrysler Building?’ I tried to recall the visit, with no success. “I thought the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world or, maybe, Sears Tower in Chicago.’’
Doc stroked his chin and his eyes seemed focused on some distant object, as if he were lost in thought.
“I’ve no knowledge of either of those buildings,’’ he said. “They likely do not exists outside that remarkable head of yours.’’
I didn’t respond right away. The whole conversation was a little unnerving, to be honest.
I took a deep draw from the cigar.
“Havanas,’’ I said contentedly. “You realize, that there will be a day when smoking a Cuban cigar will be a rare treat.’’
“Yes,’’ Doc said in a tone that implied sarcasm. “Tomorrow, for example. We’ll likely be in the company of the ladies for the entire day. We’ll not have time for a smoke, I fear.’’
I turned to look at the window into the blackness of the night.
“Earlier today, you said I was your patient.’’
“That’s correct.’’
“So I was wondering…Doc, what’s wrong with me?’’
Doc turned at fixed his blue-gray eyes on me, as if he were examining some rare specimen.
“I’ve yet to determine a comprehensive diagnosis,’’ he said. “It has been just two months since we met, after all.’’
“Two months?
“Well, in two months you must have some idea, some theory, don’t you?’’
Doc’s voice seemed to change.
“At this point, I would say the patient suffers from acute and recurring amnesia with marked and frequent episodes of psychosis.’’
His cold, matter-of-fact tone threw me a little.
“Psychosis? I hardly believe that,’’ I said, feeling a little indignant. “Doc, I admit I can’t seem to remember a lot of things that have happened recently, but when have I ever head psychotic? That’s totally inaccurate.’’
Doc put a hand on my shoulder.
“See here,’’ he said in a soothing tone. “I’ve meant no offense. I’ve not accused you of anything that you should feel shame. It’s just that the only things that you seem to be able to recall are things that have never happened, are likely to never happen or will happen only many, many years hence.’’
“I’m not sure I am following you, Doc.’’
The Doc rubbed his chin, struggling to find a way to clarify his point.
"It seems that you have lost your ability to recollect,'' he said finally. Whatever in the human mind triggers memory seems, in your case, to elicit only fantasy. It's as if you were wired back-wards, somehow.''
He could tell that his answer did not satisfy me.
“OK,’’ he said, changing tactics. “Let’s try one of our little experiments, OK? Now, you’re a baseball fan. That much I know. This morning you were commenting on the story about Lefty Grove in the newspaper. So let’s talk baseball, OK?’’
“I don’t’ know what baseball has to do with anything, but, sure. Why not? You’re the doctor.’’
“OK,’’ Doc said. “Tell me: What is your most memorable World Series?’’
“Easy,’’ I said. “2001 World Series. Arizona Diamondbacks beat the New York Yankees in seven games, scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 to win it, 3-2. I was there, in fact.’’
Doc laughed, then caught himself.
“I’m sorry,’’ he said, still chuckling. “But don’t you see? You are talking about a World Series that won’t be played for 71 years. And what was the team? The Arizona Diamonds? Is it your assertion that there will be a baseball team in, what, Phoenix, 70 years hence? It is beyond imagination. Really.’’
Now it was my turn to laugh.
“Call me psychotic, if it pleases you,’’ I said. ‘”Mark my words: It will happen. I know it from personal experience. You’ll see. Well, no, you probably won’t, unfortunately. But it will happen just the same.’’
Doc just shook his head.
“What’s more,” I said, “Phoenix will also have a professional hockey team.’’
Doc burst into genuine laughter.
“You are simply delightful,’’ he said, warmly. “I do not know if there is a cure for you. And I confess, at times like this, I wonder if the cure would not deprive us of something truly marvelous. You make H.G. Wells seem like a dullard.’’
I put my arm around Doc’s shoulder. So what if he thinks I’m nuts, I figured. He’s picking up the tab. I’ll just enjoy the ride.
“Maybe I should be a writer,’’ I suggested. “I think my first book will be about World War II.’’
“God forbid,’’ Doc said.

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