"Permiso senor. Queres bebidas?" she says.
I am shaken from my reverie. Drink? What I'd like to drink is a double scotch on the rocks, or maybe a Cuba Libre, rum and coke with three shots of rum. No, I can't do that. I'm driving home in a few hours. For some reason, today feels like La Dia de Diablo to me.
"Una club soda, por favor." I tell her.
I can't stop thinking about that strange man from the airport. I've tried watching the in-flight movie, Steven Spielberg's 'Mouse Hunt', but after the first few minutes, they stopped the film, and the captain announced that the sound wasn't working correctly. Mine was O.K. Spanish and English. I've been flipping back and forth, trying to distract myself. The captain says they're going run the Danny DiVito film we saw on the way down to Puerto Rico. I think they should play it in reverse and then we'll be going back in time. I switch the headset to the other settings hoping to find the virtual reality channel.
I've just been asked to make a choice for lunch, either dried-out chicken with soggy rice, or soggy lasagna with dried-out dinner rolls. At the moment, I'd rather be back in the open-air dining room at M and F's house in Ocean Park. Yesterday, La Dia de Diego, was a national holiday in Puerto Rico, celebrating the memory of Angelo Emanuel Diego, poet and revolutionary who lived from 1875 to 1930. Because of the holiday, M and F were home from work; i.e. they scheduled no patients for the day, the kids were home from school, and M had invited his father, Dr. M to join us for lunch.
Dr. M brought chicken sauted in a light oil and butter and smothered with a delicate garlic sauce containing bay leaves and thyme. F prepared fluffy white rice and a side dish of red beans, lightly seasoned. So, we had the classic arroz con pollo, but with a distinctly French flavor.
As I pass the rice and beans to Lillian, M interrupts our discussion about the movie 'Titanic' to say, "I have a joke about the Titanic. Presidents Carter, Bush and Clinton are on the Titanic when the captian shouts, 'We've hit an iceberg! Lower the lifeboats! Women and children first!'. President Carter says, 'God save the women and the children.' President Bush says, 'Screw the women, save the kids!' President Clinton asks, 'Do you really think we've got enough time?'"
Dr. M has listened to me answer his questions about the types of research and how we support that research with computer-based graphics. He understands all the formats the scientists use to present their findings, so I ask him if he is doing any research. He says that he's right in the middle of a project combining virtual reality and psychoanalysis. Dr. M is a classically trained Freudian analyst who studied in France and at Harvard and subsequently worked at the Chestnut Lodge, an exclusive institution serving a very wealthy clientele, located in Washington D.C.
The Chestnut Lodge is the setting for the story 'I Never Promised You a Rose Garden'. He then worked at a similarly upper-crust treatment center in Geneva, before moving to Paris, where he was on the original staff of a private clinic caring for the poor and working class. All of this preceded his move to San Juan where he has been doing private practice and research for the past 30 years.
Dr. M's son, M followed a similar path, going to secondary school in Washington, D.C., finishing high school in Geneva, and attending college in Paris and at Harvard Medical School, and now doing private practice and research in San Juan. I know from previous discussions, that Dr. M's research interests include a tri-partite model of brain functioning which ascribes various mental functions to one of the three brain parts, cortex, medulla, and stem. I also know that Dr. M has developed a method of hypnosis which he uses to help patients overcome repressed traumas by allowing them, in the company of a power figure of their choice, to meet the person who caused them the trauma. This powerful aide then joins the patient in the hypnotic state, not physically, but spiritually, and together they confront the traumatizer, fight him, and ultimately subdue or if necessary kill him, which allows the patient to overcome and get rid of this traumatic memory.
Dr. M, in addition to his current work in virtual reality, developed a new methodology while treating the seriously disturbed daughter of a prominent Washingtonian, during the late 1940's. This woman, diagnosed as paranoid-schizophrenic, had been subject to numerous drug regimes and was treated by the most highly regarded specialists at that time, all without success. To make, as Dr. M put it, "a long story short", he developed a 'hands-on-talking-cure'. Through a series of fortutious discoveries he found that she responded to physical contact, the exact opposite of the hands-off analytical approach. He fought, wrestled, hugged, and pushed and pulled with her, until he began to establish emotional contact and to develop a dialogue with her. He was then able to use vigorous massages to gain her attention and interest, so that they were then able to talk about her problems. Ultimately, she recovered enough to leave the sanitarium and return to a somewhat normal 'reality'.
Discussing his work in Geneva, Dr. M tells us about the two patients that were being treated at the institution at the same time. They never met, but both were suffering schizophrenia. One patient, a common man from the local village, was having delusions of grandeur. He believed that he was the King of Prussia. He would tell everyone he met, "I am the King!" The other patient had just the opposite problem. He said to one and all, "I am NOT the King." In fact, he was.
The talk turns to the present, and Dr. M says that his son, P who teaches philosophy, has gotten very interested in the writings of Edgar Casey, who has predicted 1998 as the year of a momentous, earth-shaking event. We all agree that, to this moment at least, it has yet to happen. Casey has said that the event will be preceded by numerous sightings of angels, who, each in their way, will herald the event. Dr. M says at first he was skeptical, but that recently he has been having encounters with emanuels. In one case he found a man digging through his trash and though he was initially tempted to chase him away, he got into a conversation with him and found him to be very intelligent and seemingly well educated. This man said he was specifically looking for old radios or tv parts. Dr. M then made a pact with him to leave a package of goods for him next to his trash-can every Tuesday night, which he has done religiously ever since.
In another instance, while taking a rare bus ride from his home to Old San Juan, he encounted a homeless man who spoke to him in fluent French, asking him many pointed and personal questions. Because his nature is a trusting one, Dr. M answered him in full. As he was leaving the bus, the man held out his hand to Dr. M, who noticed that the hand had a very distinctive trianglar pattern impressed on the palm. In fact, this triangle was on both of his palms, just like stigmata.
M has just returned to the table. He is continually getting up to check on the progress of the mechanics who are working on one of the twenty cars he has parked in the yard surrounding his house. The cars make his place look like a automobile lot, execpt there is an urban mansion in the middle, for the sales office. A potential buyer is coming tomorrow to pick up a 1965 Ford, 3-ton, bright red dump truck, so it's important to get the brakes fixed before then. M overhears the talk about angels and triangular stigmata, and tells us that Puerto Rico has been plagued with UFO sightings for the past couple of years and also reminds us that the island is one of the three points on the Bermuda Triangle.
For some reason this prompts Dr. M to say that in addition to his personal angel sightings, he has the peculiar good fortune to find a penny, every day, for the past two years. Usually this happens when he is out for his daily walk, but it happens many other places as well, in ways that seem totally random to him. At this point, I cannot resist telling him that for the past few years I have been leaving one or more pennies on the street, usually on my way to or from work, every day. I tell him that I do this as a method of building what I hope will be a storehouse of good karma.
Finally, he recounts a story about his friendship with Dr. Benjamin Spock. Dr. M says that he knew Dr. Spock for many years and had the good fortune of visiting him shortly before he died. He says that Dr. Spock was very alert and seemed in full mental capacity at the age of 89, though his body was very weakened at that point. He concurred that Dr. Spock's wife had done miracles to keep him alive, for more than ten years beyond what the doctors had predicted. This was done at a cost of over $10,000 annually and is the source of a bitter dispute in the family, now that Dr. Spock is dead. His wife used a variety of therapies, including vigorous massages, as part of that regimen, and Dr. M says that during his visit he was able to observe and participate in those techniques. Dr. Spock's wife told him that Dr. Spock was even able to walk around, and she then provided a demonstration. One of the large male nurses bent over and Dr. Spock was lifted and draped over his back. Dr. Spock was a large man, over 6 feet 2 inches. The nurse stood up, raising Dr. Spock, and a second male nurse stood behind them, tightly sandwiching Dr. Spock between the two nurses. Then the three of them, with Dr. Spock in the middle, walked around the room. "See," she says, "he's walking!"
This brings me to the moments just before we boarded this airplane for our trip home. Lillian and Lydia are in the airport store looking for chewing gum, life-savers, and magazines. I am standing in the hallway, waiting for them. I notice a man talking at the phone booth nearby. He his gesturing dramatically and speaking very loudly in what sound like italian. He looks to be in his late 40's, stocky, tall, with longish black hair. He has some kind of marking in the middle of his forehead and is wearing white cotton gloves, with the fingers cut off. "Is the mark a scar? Are his hands bandaged? Has he just gotten out of the hospital? " I wonder.
I look more closely and see that the marks on his head have been crudely carved into his forehead and then colored like a kind of tattoo. The image is a red heart, outlined in black, with a bright blue cross in the center of the heart. The cross is equilateral, like a 'Blue Cross' symbol. I am a little shaken by this and decide to tell Lillian about it later, when we're on the plane. Some minutes later, as we are waiting to board Flight 678, I see this same man join the line for our plane, standing at the rear of the line. "Maybe he's just here to see someone off." I hope.
We board, he doesn't, at least not right away. As I am stowing my backpack beneath the seat in front of me, I look up to see him, walking past, looking for his seat somewhere at the rear of the plane!
I try reading my novel which I bought in Old San Juan called "In The Time of The Dinosaurs", a first novel, locally published, by a young woman from San Juan. The story concerns a young woman living in Old San Juan, recently divorced from a failed painter turned art-critic. She has just taken up with another struggling artist... but I can't concentrate enough to read the book. I try some of my computer magazines, but again, I can't take my mind off the guy at the back of the plane. It's as if he's staring his way right into the back of my head.
"Excuse me sir, would you like the chicken or the lasagna?"
"Que paso?!" I ask.
"Chicken or lasagna?"
I say, "Pollo por favor."
"Me too!" says Lydia.
All Rights Reserved
Last modified Aug. 8, 1998