Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Nineteen

“You seem really upset about something,” Donny insisted.  He shifted his weight on the mattress as he spoke.  “I don’t know what it is, but ever since you came in this afternoon you’ve been walking around like you were trying to get away from something.”
“It’s nothing,” said Deirdre.  She didn’t want to go into it.  “I ran into someone I’d rather not have seen.  That’s all.  It’s nothing for you to be concerned about.”
 Donny leaped to his feet and was by her side in an instant.  “What happened?  Was some jerk giving you a hard time?  Tell me right now who it was.”
Deidre couldn’t help but smile at this show of concern.  “Oh, Donny.  You should see yourself.  You’re all ready to be the knight in shining armor setting out to protect his lady fair.  I can’t tell you how sweet you look.” 
Donny was insistent.  “If someone was bothering you, I want to know who it was so I can deal with him.  I can’t let him get away with it.  That wouldn’t be right.”
Deirdre was growing concerned by her boyfriend’s outburst.  She had never seen him act this way before.  “What on earth’s come over you?”
“I just want to teach whoever it is that he shouldn’t be hassling my girlfriend.  That’s all.”  Donny made a fist and banged it helplessly against the wall.
“Shame on you,” said Deirdre.  She regarded Donny uneasily.  “Here you are always talking about Buddhism and non-violence, and now you want to go out and beat the daylights out of some poor fool you don’t even know.  Can’t you see how wrong that is?”
 “What am I supposed to do then?  Just sit here while every guy in town gives you a hard time?  No way.”
“Can’t you understand?  No one gave me a hard time.”  Deirdre was exasperated.
“It was one of those creeps who hang out at the Onion, wasn’t it?  Those guys are nothing but a bunch of perverts to begin with.”
“Stop it this minute.”  Deirdre had had enough.  “All that happened was that I caught sight of a person I don’t care for very much.  We didn’t say a word to one another.  He didn’t even see me standing there in front of him.  Honest.”
Donny calmed down.  “Is that the truth?”
Deirdre looked hard at him then.  “Donny, what have you been doing that you’re all of a sudden so paranoid?  Do you really think I’d lie to you about such a thing?”
“I’m sorry,” Donny apologized.  All the anger went out of him as quickly as it had come.  “I must be going out of my mind.”  With a bewildered look in his eyes, he eased his huge frame back down on the mattress.  “I don’t know what made me act that way.”
Deirdre glanced up from the stove where she had begun heating up a potful of leftover chicken soup.  “Well, I know if you don’t.  It’s those drugs you’ve been getting from Johnny Hastings, that’s what.  There’s something wrong with the stuff he’s peddling.  God only knows what he’s been cutting it with.”
“Now who’s being paranoid?  Johnny wouldn’t have many customers left if he started pulling tricks like that.  For sure, I’d never fall for anything that obvious.”
Deirdre only sighed.  “Like hell you wouldn’t, Donny.  If Johnny told you he had a bridge to sell in Brooklyn, you’d give him your last dollar to buy it.”
“Oh, come on,” Donny protested.  “I’m not as far gone as all that, am I?”   He appeared embarrassed at the idea.
Deirdre threw her arms around his neck.  “Oh, Donny, in some ways you’re so smart, like when you talk to me about the books you’ve read or about Asian philosophy.  But you’re just too trusting when it comes to people.  You’re never able to understand that there are some who are plain wicked and don’t mean anyone any good.  That’s what’s so sad.  You don’t know who to watch out for or how to protect yourself.”  She kissed him on the cheek.  “You’re nothing but a babe in the woods.”
Donny shook himself free.  “Stop fooling with me.  It’s not as bad as all that.  I can take care of myself well enough.”
Deirdre shook her head.  “No, you can’t.  Your innocence is going to be the death of you one of these days when I’m not there to look out for you.  And it’s the thought of that that keeps me awake at night.”
Donny took Deirdre’s arms from around his neck and held her back so that he could look in her eyes.  “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
Deirdre started to cry.  “Oh, if only you knew how much I love you and worry about you.  Then you wouldn’t keep doing these crazy things or hang out any more with that son of a bitch Johnny.  But there’s no getting through to you.  You hear what I’m saying, but you just won’t listen.”
“Hey,” Donny tried to soothe her.  “Let’s lighten up a little.”
“I wish I could.  I wish I could hold you in my arms for the rest of my life and know everything’s going to be all right.”
“It is going to be all right.  You’ll see.”  Donny picked up his denim jacket on whose sleeves Deirdre had embroidered a string of white doves.  “Let’s get out of this place for a while.  We need a change of scenery.  It’s being cooped up in here that’s driving us both crazy.”  He took his wallet from his jeans pocket and began to count the bills inside.  “Why don’t we take a walk over to Bleecker Street and hang out while we listen to some live music?  They’re bound to have some new bands playing at the Gate.  And I got paid this afternoon, so we’ve got enough cash to at least buy beer.  Let’s enjoy ourselves for once.”
Deirdre smiled.  “I got a few dollars in tips too.  We can make a party out of it.”
Hand in hand, they walked out the door and started down the stairs together.

It was after midnight when Donny and Deirdre returned to the apartment.  They were both more than a little tipsy by then.
“Come to bed, Donny, and let me show you how much I love you, you big dope.”
Donny smiled.  “I love it when you call me names.  Just let me smoke a joint and mellow out first.”  He picked a book off a shelf.  “And while I’m at it, I’ll check out the I Ching and find out what life’s got in store for us.”
“Ok, you do that.  Meanwhile, I’m going to change into something a little more comfortable,” she teased him.  “Michelle – she’s one of the other dancers at the club – gave me a piece of lingerie she picked up on sale.  I’ve been waiting for a chance to wear it for you.”
Donny gave a loud hoot.  “That’s far out.  Go in the bathroom and put it on then.  I won’t peek.  I promise.”
“I’ll be right back.”  Deirdre giggled.  “Don’t go anywhere now.”
“You don’t have to worry about that.  Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.”
But when Deirdre returned a few minutes later, she found Donny frantically moving around the room.  He had already taken all the paperbacks off the bookcase and thrown them in a pile on the floor.
“What’s up?” Deirdre asked.  She didn’t take her eyes off Donny for an instant.
“They’re gone,” he answered.  He looked at her in bewilderment.
“What’s gone?”  Deirdre deliberately kept her voice as steady as possible.
“I picked up ten tabs of sunshine from Johnny yesterday.   I put them right here on the bookcase next to the I Ching.  Now they’re gone.”
Deirdre put on a blank expression.  “Maybe you put them somewhere else.  Or maybe you got stoned and tossed them by accident.  You’ve done things like that before when you were high, you know.”
Donny shook his head.  “No.  That can’t be.  They were right here.  I’m sure of it.”  He cast a suspicious glance at his girlfriend.  “You didn’t take them, did you?”
“See what I mean about how paranoid you’re getting?  You know I’d never touch your stuff.  Why would I?  I never drop acid myself.”  Deirdre crossed her arms.  “But if the stuff you’re getting from Johnny is messing your head up this bad, then I’m glad it’s gone.  He’s selling you some really bad shit.”
Donny didn’t say anything else.  He turned toward Deirdre long enough to give her a cold hard stare and then sat down on the mattress.  An uncomfortable silence filled the apartment.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Eighteen

Sitting beside Gallagher in the Rose of Shannon’s gloomy back room, Connor took another sip of his Guinness and then sat back contentedly as he savored its taste.
“I don’t know about this Marguerite woman,” said Gallagher, “but if she’s gotten you to start drinking again, she can’t be all bad no matter how crazy her dreams are.”
Connor gave his friend a good natured smile.  “I already explained that there’s no reason not to drink if I’m going to get bounced from the program anyway.  I might as well enjoy myself.”  He pointed to his nearly empty glass.  “It’s the little things in life that give us the most pleasure.” 
Gallagher nodded his approval.  “The sooner you’re done with that dream bullshit, the better off you’ll be.  I don’t like the idea of all these scientific experiments in the first place.  If you ask me…”
“Which I’m not...”
“… they’re nothing but fronts for government research.”  Gallagher’s voice rose as he warmed to his subject.  “Who do you think is in back of all this research?  It’s the C.I.A. and the N.S.A., that’s who.  Why should they tap your cell phone when they can get inside your head instead?  You can’t hide anything from them when you’re asleep.  The whole thing is just a scam to get control of people’s minds and get the dirt on them.”
“Enough, Richie.  I have no time for your paranoia.  If the government was up to something, it wouldn’t be anything so obvious.”
Gallagher gave him a pitying look.  “Have it your way.  When you finally realize what’s going on, it’ll be too late.”
“Give it a rest, or at least come up with something more imaginative.”
“Whatever you say.”  Gallagher leaned over in his seat and took a long look around the room.  He’d already done this several times while the two had been sitting together.
Connor checked too but didn’t see anything worth noticing.  He turned back to his friend.  “Why are you so jumpy lately?  The whole time we’ve been sitting here you’ve been looking over your shoulder like someone’s out to get to you.  Has anybody been giving you a hard time?  The way you act, it’s like you’ve been marked for death.”
Gallagher’s reaction was so intense he almost jumped out of his seat.  “Why do you say that?  What the hell makes you think someone is after me?”
Connor raised his hands.  “Hey, calm down.  I didn’t mean to get you so uptight.  It’s just that you keep shifting around in your seat as though something nasty is about to go down.  I’ve seen guys act that way in prison.  Usually it’s when they’ve pissed off some big shot in the cell block.  After that, they walk around paranoid as hell; they’re convinced somebody’s going to stick a shiv in their back when they’re not looking.”
“You got it wrong, I tell you.”  Gallagher was almost apoplectic by now.  His face was livid.  “I’m not in bad with anyone, so just get the idea out of your head once and for all.”
Connor was growing more alarmed by the minute but didn’t want to get Gallagher any more worked up than he already was.  “Ok, ok.  It’s just that you’re my friend and it bothers me to see you so uptight.  If you’ve got a problem, you can tell me about it.  Otherwise, we can go back to talking about my sad excuse for a love life if that makes you happy.”
“You bet it does.”  Gallagher tried with difficulty to compose himself and lighten his tone.  “So tell me more about this Marguerite.  I’ve got to admit I was totally freaked out when you first mentioned her to me.  All that insanity about being eaten alive by the creatures in her dreams.  How weird is that?”
“It’s not her fault if she’s having nightmares, is it?” asked Connor.  He felt he was being put on the defensive.  “She’s a kindhearted person, and that matters more to me right now than anything else.  After all, she didn’t throw me out the door when I told her I was an ex-con.  She deserves points for that.  Not many women could handle it so well.”
“I hear you, man.”  Gallagher lightly tapped the rim of Connor’s glass.  “Now who’s getting all upset?  All I did was to ask you about your girlfriend.  No harm in that, is there?”
“I’m not upset.  It’s just that there’s nothing else to tell.  She’s a cool person and I’m happy to have met her.  What more is there to say?  It makes life easier if I’m not alone all the time.  I need someone, someone besides you, to talk to and have a good time with.”
“Didn’t I hear you mention someone named Deirdre not too long ago?”
“That’s just a student I met on campus,” Connor replied quickly.  “She’s much too young anyway.  I’d guess she’s no more than twenty.  That’s not even old enough to drink.”
“Twenty is legal for sex, and that’s all that counts.”  Gallagher had regained something of his good humor.  He knocked back his shot of Bushmills and put the glass down on the table.  “If she’s too young to buy her own liquor, so what?  You can order one for her and then drink it yourself.”
Connor had been taking in the dismal surroundings while listening to his companion with only half an ear.  “I’ve always wondered about something, Richie,” he finally said.
“What’s that?”  Gallagher raised one eyebrow warily.
“It’s just that you’ve never lived in an Irish neighborhood or even been to Ireland …”
“I should hope not!  There are a lot more fun places to visit in Europe.”
“…and yet when we’re out, you always want to hang in this godforsaken Irish bar.  Why exactly is that?  It’s not like you at all to be here.  Not only are you the least Irish person I know, but usually you always want to be where it’s trendy and fashionable.”
Gallagher visibly relaxed.  “Beats the shit out of me, my man.  I never really thought about it that much.”
Connor shrugged.  “Doesn’t make any difference.  I was just curious.”
“You know what happened to the damn cat when he got too curious.”
“Why are you always so paranoid?  Just forget I said anything.”
Gallagher backed off.  “Sorry if I sound a little jangled.  I was just playing with you.”
“It’s all right.”  Connor was suitably abashed.  “I know well enough you’re my friend.  I don’t take personally if you get a little moody now and then.  You’ve got a right.”
“Good to hear.  So when are you going to be seeing Marguerite again?  You’ve got to keep the fire burning while things are hot.  You don’t want to let this one get away after it took you so many months to go out and get yourself laid.”
“I’ll probably run into her on campus.  As long as she and I are still both part of the project we’ll both be reporting to the sleep center and going to meetings in the psychology department.  After that, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
“Go to her place tonight.  Bring her some roses and a bottle of good wine.  Women are always suckers for all that romantic nonsense.”
“She hasn’t invited me back yet.  Besides, I don’t have the money to buy anyone presents.  And to answer your next question, yes, she already knows that.”
Gallagher shook his head.  “That’s your problem.  You’re always too correct and want to play by the rules.  If you want to win, you’ve got to make your own rules.  When are you going to learn that?”
“Maybe you should keep your advice to yourself.  Listening to you will only put me back on Rikers.  How about you play it your way in your life and I’ll play it mine?”
“Fair enough.  I was just trying to impart some useful advice.  Let’s change the subject if it bothers you so much.  You never did tell me how that last dream turned out, the one where you were supposed to take photographs.”
“Oh, that.”  Connor went suddenly vague.  “It went ok.”
“What’s kind of answer is that?  It was a simple enough question.  Did you get any great photos while you were dreaming or not?”
“I don’t know,” Connor lied.  “They looked all right when I checked them out in the dream, but that doesn’t mean anything, does it?”
“No, I guess not.”  Gallagher gave him a doubtful look.  “Is that all that went down?”
“What else?  You’re as bad as Professor Elicott.”  Connor was growing more uncomfortable by the minute and badly wanted bring the discussion to an end.  “I dreamed I was at a lake.  I took a photo and then I woke up.  There’s nothing more to talk about.”
“If you say so.”  Gallagher waved to the bartender Igor for another drink.  “You’ve got one assignment left you said.  What’s that one about?  Or is that a secret too?”
“Why are you so interested all of a sudden?”
“I’m not really.  But we’ve got to talk about something while we drink, so it might as well be your crazy dreams.  Now are you going to tell me what the assignment is, or not?”
“I’m supposed to master a musical instrument.  I’ve no idea how I’m going to go about doing that.  I never took a music lesson in my life.”
“Which instrument are you going to play?  You were always into rock & roll, weren’t you?  Why not try the electric guitar?”
 “I’ve already decided that would be it.  And yes, it would definitely be fantastic to be able to play that old blues number Crossroads without actually having to sell my soul to do it.  I also thought rock guitar would be a lot easier to manage than classical music.”
“I agree.  It’s better to stick with what you already know.”
“That’s what I decided too.  With what little classical music I’m familiar with, I could never pull it off convincingly.”  Connor looked at his watch.  “I’ve got to be leaving now,” he said abruptly.  He put a few dollars down on the table and stood up.
“Have a good one, man.  And don’t forget to bring Marguerite with you next time.”
Connor studied his friend uneasily.  “And you take it easy yourself.  I’ve got enough problems without having to worry about you too.”

When Connor stepped onto the sidewalk, he saw Deirdre standing outside the bar’s entranceway.  “What are you doing here?” he asked in surprise. As his eyes adjusted from the bar’s dimly lit interior to the brilliant sunlight outside, her image appeared to flicker before him.  He rubbed his eyes to steady his vision.
“I was waiting for you.”
“Yes, I can see that well enough.  But why?  And how did you know I’d be here in the first place?”
“I have to talk with you.  It’s important.”
“Is it about the next dream assignment?  If you don’t already know, I have to learn to play a musical instrument expertly.  Will you be there to help me?”
“Yes, I’ll be there whenever you’re ready,” Deirdre replied with a touch of impatience.  “We can go through the dream together again just like last time.”
The two had crossed Madison Avenue by now and were moving toward the subway station at Grand Central.  As Connor checked the passing traffic, he noticed for the first time how upset Deirdre was.  “What’s going on?” he asked himself.  “First Gallagher, now Deirdre.”  Aloud he said, “It wasn’t really about the assignment that you wanted to talk.”
“No, it’s about the guy you were drinking with in the bar.”
That was the last thing Connor had expected to hear her to say.  “Gallagher?  What about him?  He and I have been friends for years.”
“That’s what you think.” Deirdre looked at him sharply.  Her words came out in a rush.  “Believe me when I tell you this – he’s not your friend.  He’s low, and he doesn’t mean you well at all.”
“What are you going on about?  You don’t even know the guy.  Or do you? Don’t you think I know better than you who I can trust?”
“Not in this case, no.”
Connor felt himself growing angry.  “Come on, Deirdre.  Cut this out.  It’s bad enough you’re following me around in my dreams, but now you’re here in my waking life trying to badmouth the people I hang with.  I have so few friends as it is that I can’t afford to lose the ones I’ve got.”
But Deirdre was adamant.  “If I say he’s evil, you’ll just have to take my word for it.  You’ve trusted him and given him your friendship for so long, and all the son of a bitch has done in return is to screw you over big time.”
“How do you know so much about Gallagher that you can say such things?  Are you one of his ex-girlfriends, or do you know him from somewhere else?”
“His ex?  I’d never have anything to do with that guy.”  Deirdre shuddered in disgust at the thought and then roughly grabbed Connor’s arm.  “Listen, I can’t explain to you right now how it is I know so much about him.  You’ll have to take my word for it.”
“I’m sorry, Deirdre, but I’m just not able to do that.”  Connor’s voice was pained but firm.  “I can’t turn my back on someone I’ve known all my life when you can’t even give me one good reason why I should.”
“Then I guess I’m just going to have to show you.”
“Yes, you certainly will.”
“Fine, but this isn’t the time or place.”  With that, Deirdre turned on her heel and marched off toward Fifth Avenue.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Disfigured ATM

I'm posting ths as part of the street art series.  Anything left unattended in downtown Manhattan soon becomes a magnet for stickers and graffiti.

Friday, January 18, 2019

On Amsterdam Avenue

I took this photo on a summer evening when people venture outdoors on the Upper West Side after the heat of the day has finally subsided.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Seventeen

“So how are we doing tonight?” asked Jacqueline as she adjusted the discs on Connor’s forehead.  “Are you all ready to have some wild dream about being a musician?  That sounds like so much fun to me.”
“Yeah, I guess I finally get to be a rock guitarist.  That’s what I always wanted when I was a kid.  It looks like my wish is finally going to come true.”
“Good for you.”  Jacqueline smiled brightly.  “Me, I always wanted to be a singer.  I’d just love to stand up there onstage and let it rip.”
“Nothing wrong with that.  You’ve probably got a great voice too.  Maybe you can give a concert here one evening and liven things up.  I know I’d love to hear you sometime, and I’m sure Professor Elicott would think it was an excellent idea too.  Good for morale.”
“That’ll be the day, won’t it?”  Jacqueline laughed at the thought.  Then, “Are you comfortable?  Need anything before I go?”
“No, no, I’m fine.  You go take care of the others.”  Connor gave Jacqueline his warmest smile and then lay back.
But everything wasn’t as fine as Connor had let on.  Something was prodding at the back of his consciousness and wouldn’t let go, something Marguerite had mentioned in passing the evening before.  It wasn’t that he hadn’t been listening, he realized, only that he hadn’t been paying close enough attention to appreciate her remark’s significance.  And now he was having trouble remembering what it had been and why it was worrying him so.
“Let it go,” Connor told himself. 
He tried to relax and imagine the electric Fender guitar he’d always wanted so badly to play, but his mind was unable to focus on it.  Instead, his thoughts wandered randomly from one topic to the next.  He knew his inability to concentrate would make it difficult to have the dream he wanted, but there wasn’t very much he could do about it. 
And then, just as Connor was about to drift off, he realized what had been bothering him ever since he had left Marguerite’s apartment early that morning.  Hadn’t she mentioned some cryptic reference Reicha had made to the previous experiment?  Yes, that was it.  “What exactly did happen in Moldova?” he asked himself. 
And then he was asleep.
Connor found himself in a large room filled with worn furniture that reminded him of photos he had seen of New York hospital waiting rooms in the 1950’s.  The strong smell of disinfectant only strengthened the impression.  An overhead fluorescent fixture buzzed and flickered.  To his right, behind a wooden desk were rows of green metal filing cabinets, some of whose drawers were buckled and missing the handles needed to pull them open.
Connor knew at once where he was.  “Moldova,” he whispered.  He tried to remember what he knew of the country but could think of nothing other than that it was located somewhere in Eastern Europe and had once been part of the U.S.S.R. 
A pair of swinging doors pushed open at one end of the room.  Beyond them, Connor could see, was a ward filled with iron frame beds.  On a rickety wooden stand beside each had been placed an apparatus somewhat similar to that used by the university in his own experiment.  These machines, however, were bulkier and looked much more low tech. 
A doctor, stethoscope around his neck, entered the room with a white uniformed nurse at his side.  Connor instinctively moved back into the shadows but then realized the pair hadn’t seen him and that he was in fact invisible to them.
“But what could have happened?” the doctor asked.  Though he wasn’t speaking English, Connor had no trouble understanding what the man was saying.
“How should I know?” the nurse responded brusquely.  Her manner was defensive.  “One minute Catemir was lying in bed asleep and then, when Natalia went to check on him twenty minutes later, he wasn’t there.  No one saw him leave.  I’ve already spoken with the front desk in Admissions, and they are certain he did not exit by the main entrance.  And no one has been able to find any trace of him even after having searched half the night.  All we can be sure of is that he is no longer in the hospital.”
The doctor frowned.  He was a small wizened man wearing a rumpled gray suit and a black bow tie.  He turned to stare at the nurse through his wire rimmed spectacles.  “Nurse Chernyakov, this is not acceptable.  No, not acceptable at all.”
The nurse, a strongly built woman in her early fifties, fairly bristled.  “What do you want of me?” she snapped.  “You know as well as I that I cannot keep watch over all these patients twenty-four hours a day.  And neither can any of the other nurses.  We have too much to do to be babysitters for your precious patients.”
“You forget this hospital is a government institution.  Patients cannot wander in and out as they please.  Especially not the patients chosen for this experiment.  Many of them are prisoners hoping they will be given a pardon after having volunteered to be part of this experiment.  Catemir himself was such a one.  He killed a man in a bar fight two years ago.”
“If he was so dangerous,” said the nurse, “you should have had guards posted to keep watch over him.”
“And put at risk the success of what we are attempting?  I think not,” answered the doctor peremptorily.  “Besides, there should be no need of guards in so secure an institution.  All the windows are barred and the only unlocked doorway is at the main entrance.”
“Well,” observed the nurse, “apparently that is not enough.  Somehow Catemir managed to find a way out.  I am sure he did not wish to return to prison once his usefulness here was ended.”
The doctor threw up his hands.  “It would be bad enough if Catemir were the only one.  But he is the third to disappear.  Do you hear me?  The third!”
“I can count as well as you,” the nurse reminded him.
“What will the authorities say when they find out?”  The doctor’s tone had grown plaintive.  There was more than a trace of fear in it.
“Yes, that is what is really worrying you, isn’t it?” sneered the woman.  “You will have to explain to them why you failed to report the first two who escaped.  No doubt that will be the end of your priceless experiment.”
“If the authorities take action against me, you also will suffer the consequences, Nurse Chernyakov.  I am sure you are well aware of that.”  The doctor paused and then continued in a lower voice, “To be honest, it is not the risk to my career that worries me most.”
The nurse looked at him in surprise.  “What is it then?”
“I’m not sure that these three managed to escape after all.”
“What then?  Surely they did not disappear into thin air.”
“Then where are they?  As I pointed out a moment ago, the windows are barred and the front door is under surveillance.  They could not have simply walked out.”
The nurse regarded the small man speculatively.  “What are you suggesting?  That they were taken away?  Surely that no longer happens in our country now that we are free from the Soviets and the K.G.B.”
“We have our own secret police these days.”  The doctor removed his spectacles and began to wipe them with a handkerchief taken from his jacket pocket.  “But that would really not explain it satisfactorily either.  They could not very well enter unobserved any more than the patients themselves could exit.  There must be another explanation.”
“I do not believe in the supernatural if that is what you are implying,” said the nurse.  “That is the stuff of nonsense.  We left all those folktales behind us centuries ago.”
“Nor do I believe in the paranormal either,” answered the doctor.  His tone grew didactic.  “But that does not mean that there are not purely natural forces we have not yet discovered.  No one fully understands the human mind and its capabilities.  It is always possible that we have stumbled on something in our researches we never expected to encounter.  It may be we have unleashed some hidden power from within the mind itself, something that lay dormant until we inadvertently awakened it.”
Nurse Chernyakov only shook her head.  “I hope when you are interviewed by the authorities you are able to come up with a better theory than that.  Otherwise, we will all find ourselves committed to an asylum.”
The two continued talking as they turned and left the room, but their voices were too low now for their words to be audible.
Connor watched the pair leave.  He looked about him, took a step toward the file cabinets and then stopped.  Even if he were able to translate whatever was contained within the folders they held, it would do him no good.  After having overhead the conversation between the doctor and the nurse, he knew the researchers were as much in the dark as he was in understanding what was happening about them.  There was no point in lingering here any longer.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Street Art Series

I'm going to begin posting photos of street art I've seen around the city.  This one was taken last year in downtown Manhattan.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Gray's Papaya

This hot dog stand has been a fixture on the corner of 72nd Street and Broadway for decades.  It's one of the last holdovers from the days before the Upper West Side gentrified and lost its grit.  It will probably be gone as soon as its lease expires.  The floor above, seen in the photo, has already been removed.  Soon there will be another high rise condo for the rich standing where hot dogs are now being sold.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Sixteen

All the project participants had gathered together for the morning meeting and were sitting expectantly in one of the psychology department’s larger classrooms.  Connor had occasionally passed a few of his fellow participants in the hallways, but this was the first opportunity he’d had to study them close up.  Most were academic types looking to add one more item to their resumes.  A few struck Connor as science fiction aficionados who had read of dream control and were intrigued by its possibilities.  Then there were those who seemed to have wandered in off the street for lack of anything better to do with their time. 
Marguerite sat alone in the back row.  Too absorbed in her own thoughts to make eye contact with anyone, she had lowered her head and was staring intently at the desktop before her.  Connor waved his hand to attract her attention but had no luck.
“Thank you all for coming,” said Elicott from the lectern at the front of the room.  “I want first of all to tell you how much I and the other staff members appreciate the efforts you’ve put in to making this experiment a success.”
Only one individual – a graduate student in suit and bowtie – applauded.  None of the others so much as glanced at him.
“We’ve come to a critical juncture in this project,” continued the professor, “and we’ll soon be narrowing down the number of participants needed to go forward.  Though you’ve all shown tremendous enthusiasm, the next stage will involve fewer subjects.  Only those who have shown the greatest aptitude in controlling their dreams will be encouraged to remain.  The others will receive full credit for the work they’ve done and will be acknowledged in our final report.  But before we reach that point, we have one final dream assignment that we hope you will all agree to take on, one that will be of great help to us in deciding who is to continue in the program.”
There was a moment’s silence as everyone looked up in anticipation.
Elicott paused long enough to allow the suspense to build.  “We would like each of you, in your dreams, to take up playing a musical instrument with which you have had no prior experience.  A lack of musical education or even the inability to read music should not be seen as obstacles in making this attempt.  In fact, those among you who have already had musical training should choose an instrument that is not your own.  The whole point, you see, is to acquire expertise solely through the dream experience.”
“Is that it?” someone asked.  There was a sense of anticlimax.
“That’s the basic premise,” responded the professor.  “Now let’s get into the details.”  He then proceeded to give a long winded explanation that thoroughly confused everyone.

Connor caught up with Marguerite as they were leaving the classroom along with everyone else.
“How are you today?” asked Connor.
Marguerite gave a weak smile.  “Well, I’m still here as you can see.  I don’t know for how much longer though.  I doubt I will be one of those invited to take part in the next stage of the experiment.  I think I have upset the powers that be with my fears, fears which they all are so anxious to insist are completely baseless.”
Connor was sympathetic.  “I’m sure they’re taking you seriously and are genuinely concerned for your well being.  It would be unethical for them not to be.”
“Yes, but I know they think I’m slightly insane.  Or maybe very insane.  No one else has experienced such problems or reacted the way I have when dreaming.”
“Perhaps no one else is as sensitive as you are.”
“Is that it?  Am I just being sensitive?”  Marguerite stamped her foot.  “It does not sound much different to me from being insane.”
“Are you still having the same dream you told me about.”
“Yes, and I am still unable to control it.  Dr. Reicha has instructed me to take charge and to seek out the beings I find so upsetting.  He said that if I confront them, then I will no longer be afraid of them.”
“Did you try doing that?”
“Oh, no.”  Marguerite shuddered.  “I am much too frightened to want to meet those awful things face to face.  I think I would die if I ever actually saw them.”
“It doesn’t seem like such a great idea to me either.  You would think a trained psychiatrist like Reicha could come up with something better than that.”
Marguerite gave a bitter laugh.  “That’s pretty much what I told him myself.”
“And what did he say?”
“He told me that was the method the researchers at the prior experiment in Moldova had used when a similar situation occurred there.  He said it had been quite effective.”
“Elicott discussed the previous experiment when I was first being interviewed.  He didn’t go into a great deal of detail about it though.”
“Dr. Reicha didn’t seem that anxious to talk about it either.  Actually, he seemed to regret saying as much as he had.  It was as if he had let something slip he shouldn’t.  As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he tried to change the subject.”  Marguerite shook her head.  “It makes no difference.  How could whatever happened in East Europe have anything to do with what I’m going through now?”
Connor was at a loss.  “I wish there were something I could do to help.”
 “You’re doing a great deal just by listening to my silly problems.  I don’t know what you must think of me.”  Marguerite’s expression softened as she reached out and touched Connor’s sleeve.  “Why don’t you come with me to my place for dinner?  I’d feel less alone if you were there beside me.  Talking to you helps me put things in perspective.”
“Sure,” said Connor.  This was taking a turn he hadn’t anticipated.  “And I can tell you about my own dream experiences.  Some of them have been pretty bizarre.”
“Let’s do it now then.  I have a sublet on West Moore Street in Tribeca.  We can get there by subway.”  Marguerite regarded Connor critically.  “And I think a home cooked meal would do you good.  To be honest, you don’t look the type who eats regularly.”
“No, I live pretty much on takeout.  The truth is I never learned how to cook.”
Marguerite’s apartment was one of those shoebox spaces that exist only in Manhattan.  It was a fifth floor walkup at the top of a twisting narrow staircase illuminated only by one bare lightbulb placed at each landing.  The studio itself was almost as dark.  There were only two windows and both faced a brick shaftway.   A Murphy bed stood raised against one wall.  When it was lowered, it would take up almost the entire floor space.  The only other furniture was a rickety table and chairs just outside the alcove that contained the kitchen.
“It’s no wonder you have bad dreams if you have to live in a place like this,” said Connor as he took in his surroundings.
“I’m used to it by now.”  Marguerite disappeared into the kitchen.  Connor heard the hiss of gas as she turned on the stove.    “They are planning to tear this old building down soon anyway.  The landlord has already given us notice.”
“This is New York.  What else is new?”
To Connor’s surprise, Marguerite turned out to be a gourmet cook.  “I used to make dinner every evening for my husband,” she explained as she watched Connor finish his dish of pierogi.  “He didn’t care.  The first chance he got, he went home to Poland and left me stranded here on my own.”
“If he was that kind of guy, you’re definitely better off without him.”
“Yes, I figured that out too.  It doesn’t help much, though, when I get lonely.”  Marguerite shook her head.  “What about you?  Why aren’t you married yourself?”
Connor had come to trust Marguerite.  He saw no reason now not to tell the truth.  “You and I are in the same boat.  My wife dumped me last year.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.”  Connor finished his beer and put the bottle back down on the tabletop.  “I don’t feel bad about it, not most of the time anyway, so why should you?”
“Would you like another beer?”
“No, one’s plenty, thank you.  This is the first I’ve had in weeks.  I’ve realized there isn’t much point in being the sober sister any longer.  I’m probably not going to be in the project anyway once the next stage begins.”
“Why not?  From what you’ve told me about your experiences, you seem to have done better than anyone else in controlling your dreams.”
“Yeah, but I’m too much of a pain in the ass.  That always was my biggest problem.”
“Was that what your wife told you when she left?”  Marguerite lowered her eyes.  “I don’t mean to pry, but you sounded pretty bitter just now.”
Connor debated with himself just how much he wanted to tell.  “I got myself into some trouble with the law,” he finally said.  “It was my wife Jocelyn who talked me into getting involved in the job in the first place.  Then when I got busted and sent away for a few months, she decided she decided she didn’t have time to wait around for my release.”
Marguerite regarded him evenly.  “You don’t look like a criminal to me.”
“Thanks for saying that.  I wouldn’t want to be sitting here if I thought my having been in prison really bothered you.”
“No, it doesn’t.  Everyone makes mistakes.  I’ve certainly made enough of my own not to hold yours against you.  I’m sure it wasn’t anything really bad you did anyway.”
“B&E – breaking and entering,” Connor explained.  “I had a clean record, so I caught a break and the D.A. dropped the burglary charge.  My lawyer pleaded down what was left to a misdemeanor, and I only ended up doing six months on Rikers.  It wasn’t much fun but it could have been a lot worse.”
“You were lucky I guess.”
“Yes, someone tipped off the cops to where I was and what I was doing.  They got there too quickly for it to have been a coincidence.  Whoever called them didn’t mean me well, but he at least put a stop to my life of crime.”
“You never tried to find out who called the police?”
“What would be the point?  I’m not out for revenge.  That would just get me sent away again.”
“So what are you doing now?”
“I go out every day looking for work and respond to every classified ad I see.  No one is looking to hire in this economy, though, so really all I’ve got in my life at the moment is this damn dream experiment and the few dollars it brings in each week.  When I started, I thought it would get my mind off my problems and give me something positive to think about.  But I wasn’t expecting all the weirdness I’ve been coming up against.  If I’d known what lay ahead, I’d probably have passed on it.”
“What about your family and friends?  Can’t they give you any help?”
“I don’t really have any family left.  Both my parents are dead.  As far as friends, there’s only this one guy Gallagher who’s stuck by me.  I’ve known him forever, but it’s only since I’ve gotten out that he and I have begun hanging out together regularly.  I don’t really know why he’s staying so close, but I’m damn grateful to him for being there.”
Marguerite reached out her hand to Connor.  “Well, now you know you have one more friend at least.”
Connor was touched by her sympathy.  “That’s decent of you, Marguerite, especially since you really don’t know anything about me.”
“I know enough.  Women have great intuition when it comes to seeing inside a man’s heart.”  Marguerite laughed bitterly.  “Even so, it is amazing how often we end up giving ourselves to men who care nothing for us.”
Connor looked away in embarrassment.  “I should give you a hand with the dishes.”
“You don’t have to, but it would be nice.  Afterwards, we could open the bed and lie down with one another.”
“I’d like that,” said Connor.  It was only then that it hit him how lonely he’d been himself these past weeks, how much he’d dreaded returning to his apartment in Brooklyn to spend another night on his own.
“You’re a kindhearted man, and it would make me happy to be with you.”  Marguerite reached out and ran her fingers through his hair.  “Besides, I would feel safer if I were not alone when I fall asleep.  Perhaps being with you will keep the bad dreams away.”