I was standing in a car. A car on a train. A train like Metra’s North Line to Kenosha. And the train was outta control. Like a Mexican jUmPiNg bean. Moving faster, then s…l…o…w…e…r, then faster. Every-which-way.
Suddenly, both car doors ope–ned. While the train was still m-o-v-i-n-g. So I clutched a pole. Playing Jack to the beanstalk in an English fairy tale. As the train jErKeDoutta the city. Farther… and… farther… and farther.Into deep-shit space.
I screamed, “HELP!” to two passengers. In the car in front of me. But they couldn’t hear me. As if their ears were plugged with Walgreens’ cotton balls. Or they were deaf like Beethoven. Or dumb as Mississippi mud.
When the train slowed, I saw a passenger leap to the platform. Starboard. So I followed.
I searched for place-telling signs. Like East Bank Club, West Loop and North Avenue. But all were generic. Like drug store, restaurant and COLD BEER.
Walking through a tunnel, I saw cool graffiti. Like Bansky’s. Or Nicky “Krylon” Procaccini’s.My subversive college roommate from Provo, Utah.Which I thought about photographing. Imitating Ansel Adams. Or Annie Liebovitz.Or SONY sightseers on the Magnificent Mile. But didn’t. To save my iPhone’s power.
Two people walked toward me as scary as Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula. From Transylvania and a descendant of Attila the Hun.If you believe him. One looked like a William Penn-Quaker. The other like a Krushchev-KGB agent.
I asked the Quaker, “What town is this?”
She just stared at me. Like I was a tourist from Poughkeepsie. Or an alien speaking Urdu.
So I asked, “What city?”
But she sleep-walked away. Like Bela Lugosi. On morphine.In a low-budget, Ed Wood movie.
I asked the agent the same questions. But he only spoke Pусский.
So I tapped Maps on my cell. But it was dead. As a clichéd doornail. And the sea in the Jordan Rift Valley.
All local businesses were CLOSED. Except one. Which looked like an art barn I visited in Nowhere, Oklahoma.14 miles northwest of Anadarko. Its owners glared at me. Coldly. Like the neurotic farmer and his daughter in Grant Wood’s American Gothic at Chicago’s Art Institute.
“Where’s the nearest public phone?” I asked.
Farmer-man didn’t reply. But pitchforked me around the corner. To a rickety-oak, Bell System phone booth. With a rotary pay phone.
I had enough ca$h to make a call. Luckily. But the phone was OUT OF ORDER.
Farmer-daughter, dressed in a colonial print apron, recommended her hair stylist. From Angie’s List. Who came right over. But couldn’t fix it. Cuz his tools were calibrated in a foreign language. Metric.
“I took an Advil, fell asleep and my back feels better.”
“The bad news is, I had a nightmare.”
“What was it?”
“I was standing in a car. A car on a train.A train like Metra’s North Line to Kenosha. And the train was outta control. Like a Mexican jumping bean.”
“Ah, sounds like control, about not being in control.”
“Are we leaving for the movie at 2:00?”
“I thought you said 2:00.”
“1:03. We’ll walk.”
A = 1, B = 2…
I’m in bed, staring at the clock. REsTlesSly.
And I’m restless-thinking about two people I saw yesterday. Two college friends.One, a retired U.S. Marine Captain from Sheboygan, Wisconsin.The other, a BIG apple socialite. Both the captain and socialite remember-described me with the same 6-letter word.Curiously.A word that never occurred to me. Neither positively nor negatively.
Before I piece together my puzzling and puzzled situation, however, I gotta brief you about a book I read by the Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. A book titled “On Death and Dying.” Not that the grim reaper is knocking at my door. Dr. Plotnick told me just last week I should live another y-years. To x+y.Which bothers me. I mean, wouldn’t you cringe if someone could x+y your life span?
The reason I’m digressing is because K-R’s book describes five emotional stages a person goes through when faced with personal tragedy. Critically. Like a major rejection or end of a close relationship. Or death.Which, like paying taxes, is inevitable.Unless you live in Italy. And hire a shrewd accountant. Five stages from denial to anger to bargaining to depression to acceptance. And the third stage, bargaining, grounds the meaning, import and gravity of my situation. Curiously. In a sense, you’ll soon understand. Unless you’re as obtuse as Bernie Madoff. Who believed for just a minute, or even a second, that he could pull off the largest financial fraud in U.S. history. Unscathed.
The bottom-line reason I’m studying K-R’s book is twofold. First, to learn how to recover from a college friend’s death.
Eagle is dead.
My retired Marine friend said, “Eagle is dead.” When I said, “Sure, I’m going to our 40th reunion. I’ll contact some of the guys like Eagle.”
Don Aurora’s nickname was “Eagle.” Like “Perk” for Don Perkins and “Hotty” for Tom Hottinger and “Bobby Mac” for Bob McDonald. But more cryptically. Like a Fibonacci sequence in art, nature and human development.
“I want to fly like an eagle. To the sea,” sang Steve Miller. “Fly like an eagle. Let my spirit carry me. I want to fly like an eagle. Till I’m free. Oh, Lord, through the revolution. Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future. Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.”
The second reason I’m studying K-R’s book is learn how to recover from major rejection. And the too-limited time I have to keep my spirit. And fly into the future. Through the revolution.Totally free.From criticism.And rejection. And shame.
To keep my spirit, my major contribution to the field of Mathematics. Undoubtedly. My opus magnum. Before I retire as Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago. My grand finale is a 2-part book about mathematics in 1) nature and 2) language.
The key concept weaving through my book is symmetry. Clever mathematicians like me, I explained, work from symmetry toward energy-of-truth equations. Then, wonder if nature verifies them. Quite simply.
But, hey, ignoring a few minor issues, abandoning realism for the sake of mathematical simplicity, it’s usually better to be maybe right about something than not wrong about everything. You know?
Now, that’s precisely what I submitted to my publisher. But what I submitted also brandished the brunt of my rejection. And potential infamy. And family’s scar. Forever.
You see, my publisher accused me of plagiarism. Accused me of copying my math-nature theory word-for-word.Almost.From a book written by Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek. And I have one week, my publisher admonished, to prove-positive my theory’s originality. Hey, I’m not a Nobel laureate. Not yet anyway. But I’m not Pinocchio. Or Charles Ponzi.Or Lance Armstrong. Either.
Clearly, I would argue, and all enlightened mathematicians would agree, my publisher’s criticism was short-sighted for at least two reasons. First, it’s not uncommon for two people to advance the same theory at the same time in different places. Remember the concept of multiple discovery? Like the 17th-century independent formulation of calculus by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz?
Secondly, unlike Mr. Laureate’s, my book detailed not only a theory of mathematics in nature but also, as I said, a second part. My distinctive theory of Alpha-Numerics, such that A=1, B=2…Z=26. I also theorized, remarkably, that identifying ANs between and among words triggers an AN experience as psychedelic and euphoric and orgasmic as 1) watching a Woody Allen film or 2) reading Dostoyevsky or 3) having sex at 3 a.m. On reflection, perhaps not as satisfying and fulfilling and cosmic as 3. But 1 and 2.Absolutely.
So, here I am pondering a counter-argument to my publisher’s misguided accusation that I plagiarized Frank’s theory. A counter-argument based on K-R’s third stage of grief. Labeled “bargaining.”A bargaining plan to negotiate a compromise with my publisher. A compromise based on Pareto Efficiency. Upside down. I’m 100%-confident it’s possible to make one individual better off without making at least one individual worse off. In short, I could easily tweak the first part of my book in exchange for my publisher’s modest agreement to promote it. Aggressively.And my noble agreement to accept flaccid royalties.Unromantically.Which Venus and Casanova and my landsman Felix Mendelssohn would abhor. But Charles Pierce and William James would applaud. Pragmatically. Like my Uncle Meyer used to say, “Sometimes you gotta do whatcha gotta do.” You agree, don’t..
Just a second. My wife woke up.
“Who are you talking to, honey?”
“I’m not talking to anyone.”
“What are you doing, sweetie?”
“I’m crafting a defense of my opus magnum. To save my legacy. And ensure our family’s reputation.”
“You’re talking to yourself, baby?”
“I must be thinking aloud.”
“You woke me up, sweetheart.”
“I’m sorry. I’m trying to recover.”
“Go back to sleep, honey.”
“In a minute.”
“Your two college friends were right, sweetie. You are a little 17-21 _ _ _ _.”
“17-21-9-18 _ _.”
“13-1-11-5 12-15-22-5 20-15 13-5.”
“25-5-19 25-5-19 25-5-19!”
He looked kinda professorial. Sporting a brown-tweed blazer, blue work shirt and khaki pants. With scuffed Bass Weejunssans socks. And a 60s Beatle hair dew, long-stem Savinellipipe and a beard like in a Van Goth self-portrait. But, salt-and-pepper, not red, as if Jesus or Lazarus. But, there was something too textbookish about him, something telling. As Texans would say “Big hat, no cattle.”
Telling, perhaps, cuz he was detained at Customs in Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. And, got all pie-in-the-face, answering questions and fiddling for his passport and swearing that he was there to make a presentation at the International Fruit Tree Association’s World Conference.
Oh, and he argued that the weed he toted was legal in Canada, or would be, whenever. If ordered online and delivered through the mail. But, his argument was deemed hypothetical. So, two guys in maple leaf jerseys escorted him away. As he flagged the international sign, his middle finger waving to heaven’s gate.
Curiously, Big-hat-no-cattle was seen again. This time, in Katz’s deli on NYC’s Lower East Side. Dressed as a rabbi, as if Zelig in Woody Allen’s 1983 mockumentary. Toting a Torah and babbling Yiddish-gibberish between bites of a sliced tongue sandwich on dark rye and swigs of an old-fashioned fruit shake. But, again, he was outed. This time, by a real rebbe, named Ratkowitz. Who noticed that Zelig ordered his sandwich with oodles of Wisconsin, pure, grade A butter.
And, again, dressed as if an American airline pilot. Imitating Leonardo DiCaprio’s role as Frank Abagnalein Steven Spielberg’s 2002 movie, “Catch Me If You Can.”With an iRRResistable smile. That easily in-pressed airline hostesses found iRRResistable. With repeated CAPITAL Rs.
Then, amazingly, he appeared again. This time, as a Picasso lookalike. Dressed in his signature long-sleeve, horizontal-striped sailor shirt, baggy shorts and espadrilles. While pant-painting a portrait of a soon-to-be-deflowered vestal virgin.While his wife cookedCrème Brulee in the kitchen.
“And, then, I woke up.”
“You want bizarre?”
“Ok, my dream was split-screen.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Like two columns of images. On the right, I saw what I just described. And, on the left, I was a bartender in a chichiArt Deco joint like Bemelmans in NYC’s Carlyle Hotel. But, without provocative paintings by the creator of the classic Madeline children’s books. Instead, its walls were adorned, according to one tale, with paintings by Koko the gorilla. Which sell for beaucoup bucks at https://www.koko.org/store.And, according to another, by Jean-Michelle Basquiat’s hip-hop ghost after a taste of heroin. And, another, that the paintings appeared miraculously, like tears of blood one day in 2002. Streaming from the statue of Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina in Messina, Sicily. And…”
“And, after too-too many pour-me-anothers, my customers, especially conventioneers from the Bible Belt, would tell stories.”
“Like one guy, who said he was a Professor of Psychopharmacology and in town for ecumenical therapy.”
“Well, that’s what he slurred.”
“Pour me another!”
“Ok, after a self-prescribed liter of Budweiser, he told me about three old dreams he had. In one, he was on a train that was outta control like a Mexican JuMpInG bean. And, another about being a Math Prof falsely accused of plagiarism. And, another about a weedy experience at Toronto’s International Airport.”
“Was there a connection between the split-screen stories like a dream within/about a dream within/about a dream with two meanings in one and one in two?”
“How should I know? I’m not into Epistemology at this juncture in my psycho-social development.”
“Anyway, you should write a story.”
“What kinda story?”
“A 3-part story, exactly as you would tell/sell it.With starts. And stops. And GLORIOUS GUSTO.For dramatic effect. While s/l/i/c/i/n/g thru prissily/constructed/tightass/sentences that no human on this planet uses in quotidian conversation.”
“What kinda reader could bear that kinda writing?”
“The kind that brushes its teeth and takes a shower and combs its hair and gets dressed and eats breakfast and goes to work and loves its family.Day in and day out.Just like you do.”
“Let the games begin!”
“Oh, and, title your story ‘Three Old Dreams.’”
“Isn’t that title kinda textbookish?”
“Ok, how about ‘Trio Dreams?’”
“Wow, that’s t-O-tally SO TRE-men-dOus!”
A confessed outsider, Chicago’s J. Ray Paradiso is a recovering academic in the process of refreshing himself as an EXperiMENTAL writer and photographer. His work has appeared in dozens of publications including Chicago Quarterly Review, Storgy and Into the Void. He labors to fill temporal-spatial, psycho-social holes and on good days to enjoy the flow. All of his work is dedicated to his true love, sweet muse and bodyguard: Suzi Skoski Wosker Doski.