Lessons from the classroom of life
As a kid, I knew one thing for sure: All adults were right. If a grown-up said it, they knew it, and it was gospel.
By my teens, compulsive reader that I was, I realized that not only were all adults not always right, but a lot of them were poorly informed, and another bunch were total doo-doo brains.
It was the crack in the picture window.
My reaction to these realizations was extreme: I pretty much dismissed adults as know-it-all ignoramuses.
Then, as a young adult, I once again changed my attitude. Now I listened to what everyone had to say. By then I knew enough to figure out what sounded right versus what didn’t, and to check it out on my own. At that point I understood that while some peeps had their facts straight, others couldn’t separate facts from opinions, and still others were constitutional liars. Regardless, all of them knew something I didn’t. Just as a blind chicken can still find a grain of corn, there are things I could learn even from God’s Own Idiot.
Also, there might be something I heard that I couldn’t use at the time, but that’d come in handy later. A perfect example of that was in last week’s column. It was about a town cop, Francis Gauthier, dealing with a man suffering from the DTs. The man was hallucinating, seeing snakes. Francis played along with him, pretending he saw them, too. It was both kind and compassionate, since it reassured the man instead of insisting, “No, no snakes there; you’re just seeing things, you ole lunatic, you.”
Did I find that useful because I had to deal with someone with the DTs? No. But the DTs aren’t the only cause of hallucinations.
Spiders et al
I’d heard my friend Jack Delahant was recovering from an operation, so I went to the hospital to visit him.
I’d known Jack all my life, having gone to school with his sons. But I never talked to him till I was a young adult, and when I did, I found him delightful.
Jack was sharp, witty and worldly, and he loved to talk about The Good Old Days — something I loved to listen to. In his case, TGOD were the 1920s. Jack also had class. He’d graduated from Yale in 1929 and told me nothing could ever compare with the joys of going to a New York City nightclub in top hat and tuxedo. I never recall him not wearing a sport coat, including when he mowed the lawn. He was a fan of jazz great Jack Teagarden, also one of my all-time favorites.
Anyhow, I can’t remember the details of Jack’s operation, just that it was long and it left him wiped out. Then again, he was no kid — if not 80, then not far short of it either.
When I went in his room, he looked exhausted but said he’d like to visit for a while. After we were chatting a minute, he pointed at the window.
“All those spiders are giving me the creeps,” he said.
I looked and saw no spider, let alone a bunch of them. Clearly, he was hallucinating, a result of drugs, trauma, exhaustion and who knows what post-surgical effects. And when I realized that, I remembered Frank Gauthier’s story, its moral and the role I was about to play.
“Why?” I said. “They’re all on the outside of the window. They can’t get in.”
“I know,” he said, “but I hate having them there.”
“Sure,” I said. “But they won’t stay. It’ll get too cold for them, and they’ll leave.”
I can’t remember what season it was, but that didn’t matter: To say it was going to get too cold for anything — like spiders hanging out on a window — was believable in Saranac Lake any time of year.
“Maybe,” he said, not fully believing me but seeming to calm down a bit.
We talked some more about nothing in particular; then he said, “You know, I’ve no idea how I got here.”
“Really?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “It’s strange. I was home one afternoon and looked out the window and saw two cops coming up the walkway. They knocked, I let them in, and the next thing I knew they’d arrested me and put me in the town jail.”
“They put you in the jail?” I said, playing along. “You’re kidding.”
“No, I’m not,” he said.
“So what happened?”
“Nothing,” he said. “Till I got a visitor.”
“Who was that?” I asked.
“The French consul,” he said.
The French consul? In the hoosegow of My Home Town? Then again, I told you he was a classy guy, and what could be classier than the French consul visiting a Yalie in MHT’s slammer?
“So what’d he say, the French consul?” I asked.
“I can’t remember,” he said. “I can’t remember anything else about the jail.”
“Probably just as good,” I said.
“But I think it was right after his visit that they brought me up here,” he said. “And I’ve been here ever since.”
“Pretty strange,” I said.
“Not just strange,” he said. “Nuts.”
He shook his head and then spoke.
“I mean, me, of all people.”
Not knowing what to say, I just shrugged.
“Getting arrested and thrown in jail?” he said. “Hell, I’ve never even had a damned parking ticket!”
He fell silent for a bit, while I was thinking of my next move. Finally it came to me.
“The chief of police is a good friend of mine,” I said. “Do you want me to talk to her and see if we can get this straightened out?”
“Sure,” he said, brightening. “That’s a great idea.”
“OK,” I said. “I’ll leave now and go talk to her, and I’ll come back tomorrow.”
Which is exactly what I did … aside from not seeing Chief Peer.
When I came back the next day, Jack still looked beat, but he was lucid and everything he said made sense. His hallucinations were gone. Gone were the spiders, the arrest and the jail time, which made me glad for Jack’s sake.
But as a lover of the exotic, and a selfish one at that, I sure missed the French consul.