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.”

I held that stare, hoping that that he’d do something to force me to conclude he was a lookalike rather than a cerebral anomaly. Hearing “What the hell are you looking at?” in a voice that clearly wasn’t his would have been deeply relieving to me.

Instead, he sighed and looked at the train’s door. We had just pulled away from Union Station and, with mid-tunnel delays, it would be three or four minutes before reaching King St. He knew – or looked like he knew – there was no easy escape to a welcoming platform. Then he looked back in my direction, shrugged slightly and walked towards me with a faint grin, rolling those mournful/sinister eyes in mock exasperation.

He said “I don’t bite, Michael. And I’m rarely noticed. So,” after a short pause, “well done, you.”

He seemed jovial, soft-spoken and friendly. He was, in fact, entirely the way I thought he’d be if I’d ever had the chance to meet him. Lots of movies are shot in Toronto and I’ve met a handful of so-called moviestars in passing through friends who work in the industry.

But ‘moviestar’ doesn’t exactly apply to him; he was a well-respected workhorse rather than a star, somebody who appeared in B-movies and prestige pictures in equal measures. He’d played The Devil, one of the Three Wise Men and Nabal the Calebite in different biblical films, made for a surprisingly chipper Himmler in a war movie, gave an impressive turn as the original scarred Bond villain with a fondness for cats and, on one occasion, was even outsmarted by Lt. Columbo.

On one level, I was delighted to meet him. Donald Pleasance was a fine actor and I’d always liked his work. But I couldn’t get past the fact that he had died in France following heart surgery in 1995. And I was on the Toronto subway being addressed by him, by name, in 2017.

This was clearly impossible. Ergo and therefore, I was having a stroke.

Continued in Part 2


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