Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Apperception - Part 3 of 4

Continued from Part 2

Dr. Lumeise, thin, birdlike and wanting to chat about how lovely Canada was but explaining how she still missed her home in Bordeaux, assured me that my headaches were most likely referred pain from an incident a few months earlier (I had slipped on an icy patch of road and fallen jaw-first into a car’s bumper). Her exam revealed no signs of my having experienced a Transient Ischemic Attack. I was given the option of having an MRI to check things out thoroughly, but barring genuine signs of distress I would have to wait several weeks for an appointment.

I declined the opportunity, thanked her for her time and went about my business. I was far less concerned about chatting with the dead after receiving a clear bill of health (physically, at least) and was comfortable in chalking up the entire experience to an episode of something entirely explainable that I simply didn’t have the time or wherewithal to examine.

An hallucinatory response to mild food poisoning, perhaps.That was Scrooge’s first response to Jacob Marley’s ghost in Dickens’ chestnut. I might have stared Pleasance in his (non-existent, mostly) eye and quoted Dickens gleefully, shouting “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato… more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” and while it would have been melodramatic, it would have been no less insane than our chat about movies and what it was like to be dead/undead.

I tried (and failed) to disregard everything Pleasance had told me, assuming that the dead can’t be trusted and to try and establish what was valid or invalid in anything we discussed was pointless. I didn’t talk to my wife about it for fear of worrying her (and admitting to myself it had happened).

I fought off all impulses to speak to a psychiatrist. I leaned instead on my extensive knowledge of abnormal psychology (collected from two University courses and a lifetime of TV and movies) to determine that his 'I’m incidental' remark was a manifestation of my unconscious, a part of my brain that was unable to explain exactly why a long-deceased actor would materialize on the subway.

Thus, one part of my brain refused to provide answers (or conjecture) when a different part of my brain was compelled by malfunction to have conjured him up in the first place.

I also convinced myelf that If I was sane enough to determine that Pleasance’s presence was impossible, then I was therefore entirely sane because to accept it as possible in any meaningful would have been crazy.

I disliked the experience. More than that, I resented the experience. It was trivial. It ignored a wide variety of people I would have enjoyed having a few words with in place of Pleasance. My father, first and foremost, who I’m sure was too drugged and incoherent to have heard me whisper goodbye before dying from cancer a decade before.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Apperception - Part 2 of 4

Continued from Part 1

I didn’t speak to him for an unforgiveably long time in social terms. Let’s call it ten minutes of staring blankly as the busy subway filled and emptied at the Queen Street, Dundas, College and Wellesley stations. He returned my gaze patiently, occasionally revealing an almost sheepish ‘Well, you’ve caught me’ smile that I assume was meant to be comforting.
Don’t talk to the apparition, I told myself. Talking to the apparition affords it the opportunity to respond, whereupon you will be talking to an impossibility so don’t talk to the apparition. While you’re at it, stare at the apparition and determine which film appearance you’re looking at exactly, which synapse’s worth of memory is firing this back at you for no reason you can fathom but do this without talking to the apparition.
This worked at first, but it felt rude not to at least acknowledge the dead-not-dead man. My application of the silent treatment ended shortly after passing Rosedale station, when he finally found a seat on the train directly across the aisle from my own. The passengers sitting to his left and right shifted their positions to accommodate his presence. 

That chilled me; I was no longer hallucinating one person. I had coerced bystanders into acknowledging his presence, or I had grafted his likeness onto some poor guy minding his own business on the train.
He actually looked rather happy sitting down, perhaps not surprising given his age. An older gentleman (he was 75 when he died) would understandably like to rest whenever possible. There was also no means of knowing how far he’d traveled to end up on my train.
He leaned towards me and said “Are you all right in there?” while tapping his temple with his index finger.
I didn’t move. He was close enough to touch me (which wasn’t an appealing prospect) and that was probably the impetus which updated my mantra from Don’t talk to the apparition don’t talk to the apparition don't dignify its presence don't let it make its own narrative to oh what the hell at least he's polite and if I'm crazy I'm already there I can't unwind the crazy clock and if this is all going south I might as well get on top and ride it down and talk to the...

Monday, January 16, 2017

Apperception - Part 1 of 4

I sat on the train, watching him standing only a few feet away from me.

I thought I am having a stroke.

He was hanging onto a ceiling strap in lieu of a seat on the crowded subway. He’d glanced in my direction a few times but didn’t appear to be looking at me or for me. I was just another stranger in his line of vision.

He wasn’t a complete stranger to me, although we hadn’t met in the flesh.

Based on appearance alone, he could literally have been anybody. Few people have entirely unique features and the art of looking average was part of his milieu. But I’d seen him enough times to recognize the facial consistencies from every role – a small scar on his left cheek, a bump on the bridge of his nose, unusually deep-set eyes – and it seemed impossibly unlikely that I was staring at an uncanny resemblance.

This left me with two conclusions; I had either gone insane (which I always believed was a gradual process), or I was undergoing a sudden, brain-altering medical condition that was broadcasting gibberish instead of reality to my cerebral cortex.

Having a stroke on the subway struck me as an undesirable, but not entirely horrible situation. The Toronto Transit Commission boasts of its robust support system of police and paramedics to deal with emergencies like the one I felt sure was happening to me. Upon review, I was confident that I’d be transported to an appropriate medical facility as quickly as possible after my inevitable collapse.

My cursory knowledge of stroke symptoms (gleaned from a 'Signs of Stroke' pamphlet I’d casually reviewed in my doctor's waiting room years before) included numbness of one’s appendages (the arms, in particular), facial paralysis, incontinence, blurred vision, slurred speech, and an unreliable, garbled comprehension of one’s surroundings. I didn’t feel any of the physical manifestations, but looking at him and simply entertaining the fact that he was actually there suggested that I was in the midst of a reality-bending episode appropriate to a stroke.

Having decided that he was the result of ischemic-related dementia, I was left with nothing to do other than wondering how I would eventually notice that my arm or leg had gone numb when, if entirely numb, there would be nothing evident to notice.

 I would have stood up to test my facilities but the train was crowded and I didn’t want to lose my seat. It also would have put me squarely in his line of vision and while I could handle the phantom from a distance, I didn’t want to do anything that would solicit contact.

That said, when we did lock eyes it was my fault entirely. I couldn’t stop staring at him – trying to make him into something less of him, looking for some telltale indicator of his not-being him – but eventually his eyes met mine as he continued to look for somewhere to sit in the crowded train. I realized that his eyes lived up to their billing; Terrence Pettigrew described them as “… mournful, but they can also be sinister or seedy… he has the kind of piercing stare which lifts enamel off saucepans.”

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