Vanish by Dawn
J. D. Wells
…Time flows on by, no stopping does he,
Time flows on by, it won’t stop for me.
Drinking my wine, nimbus rising by light,
Flames in the darkness, they burn out the night.
Reading my lies, my love laughs where I’ve been,
Her body bitter as blood, sweeter than sin.
Briny winds over waves, a perilous song,
Dreams of the nighttime, they vanish by dawn.
“Vanish by Dawn”
Carson Van Austin
This too shall pass . . . then, on to Agrigento, cosmic guardian, keeper of the flame. . . old angel midnight . . . blazing two-lane blacktops, destination flashpoint. A steady rain pelting the sidewalk, melting . . . drip . . . drip . . . drip . . . through the city cracks, down the funky sewer. A weightless stranger in a long gray coat slips below the surface like a wet dollar bill. Press on, fraught with worry, waking up hungover . . . sleeping next to an empty bottle of Grey Goose, appearing in Yankee stadium, giving my great farewell speech with a massive crowd on hand, the Babe listening intently, blue eyes squinting in the brilliant sunlight slashing through rolling white clouds. Today, I don't feel like the luckiest person on the face of the earth . . . Je est un autre . . . This must be the Flash World lying ahead . . . home from faint daylight through a dream . . . slowly returning . . . solitary processed time . . .
So, this is the stuff of bizarre daydreams, reliving the night I became Lou Gehrig, waking up in a field, clutching an empty bottle of Grey Goose vodka. This absurd episode goes a long way to explain why I'm driving to New York City to see a psychiatrist.
I'm a bit of an outcast—the only shanty-Irishman living in the Ginny Heights section of Garfield, New Jersey. Garfield is a remarkable two-tiered city. Below Ginny Heights is Pollack Valley, home of Polish residents. When I first moved here, I was troubled by the ethnic slur, but over time I learned the derogation had been adopted as a term of endearment by both parties. Now, when someone asks me where I live, I simply say, “Ginny Heights.” It seems to explain everything.
It was an unusually warm October day as I drove my four-year-old Toyota Corolla down Charles Street and onto Midland Avenue, near the police station and the Pump House. A crew of high school slackers were smoking weed in the park, draped like railbirds over a wooden fence. I passed Goodfellas restaurant, and crossed Market Street before merging onto Route 80 and the express lane for the George Washington Bridge.
Seeing a psychiatrist was probably a losing proposition. My friend Sal Cirillo (aka Bandit) set me up with him. Bandit was a public defender in Garfield—he knew everybody in low places, high places, and everywhere in between. He said this guy was the best psychiatrist in Manhattan. I told him there was no way I could afford to see a psychiatrist anywhere near New York City.
“No problem,” Bandit assured me. “He owes my uncle a favor.” His uncle could pass for a Mafia boss from Central Casting, so I didn't ask any questions. Bandit also let it be known that the shrink drank in his office and secretly smoked Marlboros. I couldn't help but wonder, if the guy was so good at changing people’s behavior for the better, then why didn't he change his own? It was like the eight-hundred-pound fat lady from the circus filming a Weight Watchers commercial. But I had to give it a try. I needed relief from the brutal psychic chaos and horrific nightmares. At least, I hoped they were nightmares. I was dead tired of dealing with the never-ending question, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Before entering the Holland Tunnel, I spotted ominous storm clouds racing across the tops of the skyscrapers. My sunny day quickly turned to slate gray as the Toyota panted and grunted from the heat and gridlock. I forgot how much I hated going into the city. It wasn’t so much the stagnating traffic, the inevitable shouts of “Fuck you, asshole!” or paying twenty dollars for a hamburger—or even trying to find a decent parking space. It was watching the frantic mass of automatons with blazing saucer-sized eyeballs, chattering into cell phones nesting in their palms like precious baby eagle eggs. The phones appeared surgically attached to their hands, mutating into the irritating stranger in the room who never leaves.
Someday I’ll hear, “That guy’s so rich, he doesn't even have a cell phone.” But now, they’re running, jogging, clambering to get somewhere as quickly as possible—though they’re not doing much of anything but hustling for money as they slog down martinis with bald bean-counters, Wall Street crooks, and sycophantic Ivy Leaguers who kiss the boss's ass while he fucks the secretary. While you're at it, throw in a boatload of nervous, underpaid managers one bad trade day away from losing the house, committing a crime, or committing suicide.
My weariness amazed me. The blinding sight of windows stacked on windows, sheeny, translucent walls topping more glazed walls, glass edifices climbing into the stratosphere, they hid a litany of offices bearing false promises and unfulfilled desires. Meanwhile, electric neon billboards assaulted me, hovering over me like a political ad for Big Brother. This was the time of the assassins—the Flash World lay ahead, more precious than blood.
The psychiatrist’s name was Everette P. Dixon. His office was located in a swanky building around the corner from the Empire State Building on the eleventh floor of One Park Avenue. I found a parking garage and paid the going rate of eighty-five dollars per day. As I emerged from the garage, I was hit by endless filaments of steel, glass, and concrete, a dreadful system of animal constraints, a colossal web of locks and bolts keeping the inmates penned up, trapped, preventing them from the slightest taste of real freedom.
From a distance, the city looked remarkably like a modern Disney theme park, Tomorrow Urban-Land. A sanitized, wholesome environment for kids of all ages. The city fathers did a wonderful job hiding the fact that it was a foul-smelling, seedy shithole. I imagined a crew of uniformed soldiers sweeping the streets every night, collecting the homeless, sidewalk drunks, whores, dope fiends, stray dogs, and other riffraff, and loading them into vans bound for underground relocation centers. The remaining populace appeared surprisingly normal, but as I gazed into their hearts, where compassion and empathy were supposed to dwell, I saw nothing but a legion of empty, alien shells.
I walked a block to the entrance of Dr. Dixon's building, where I was knocked down by a mob of people rushing out the revolving door. I got up and forged ahead, entering a large, busy lobby. I took the elevator to the eleventh floor, searched for a minute, and entered an expansive waiting room. You can tell a lot about the psychiatric profession by glancing around the waiting room. Most of them attempt to be as sterile and nondescript as possible, trying not to upset anyone with controversial decor like a picture or magazine that might insult the needy, anxious clientele. Even the colors of most shrink offices were designed to be plain, neutral, and pallid as Velveeta cheese, as if they were encouraging the Bull Goose Loonies to act as passive and dull as the wallpaper.
I checked out the office literature, which consisted of boring psychology journals and magazines . . . Faint daylight through a dream . . . searching vertical horizon, stumbling into a black room draped with a gauzy scrim highlighted from the back by a dim yellow light, frail forms fainting at the door. Inside the gloaming, an opaque image appears, collapsing on the floor in front of the cops as if shot in the heart—
“Are you okay?”
I looked up, confused, nodding vaguely. A real person stood before me. She was an attractive woman in her late twenties, sharply dressed in a fashionable light gray business suit, looking like she was applying for a job in public relations.
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“Do you mind filling out some forms?” she asked, holding some papers in her arm.
Dr. Dixon’s receptionist handed me a pen and four different forms. It was a daunting task. They asked every conceivable question about my mental and physical health—everything from indigestion to leukemia. It took over a half-hour to complete all the questions. Finally, the receptionist returned.
“Dr. Dixon will see you now.”
I stood up, wobbling a bit. She led me into a surprisingly intimate, tasteful office, motioning for me to sit in one of two Georgian wingback chairs in the middle of the room. Classy panels of mahogany wainscoting accentuated the forest-green walls. A mesh curtain covered a gigantic window overlooking Manhattan. There was no overhead lighting.
Floor lamps and desk lamps were placed strategically around the office. In front of the window, there was a large, antique French walnut desk with a pewter-gray leather chair. The desk looked unused, as if it were there for show. The pictures on the walls were pastel floral art prints, probably designed to help nervous, neurotic clients sit back, relax, and regurgitate their problems. Moments later, a handsome middle-aged man wearing a dark-blue pinstriped suit and a subtle pink tie emerged from a side door. He approached me with ultra-smooth, controlled confidence, as if he were master of ceremonies at a Frank Sinatra roast.
“Good afternoon. I’m Dr. Everette Dixon. Sorry about the wait.”
Dr. Dixon forced a faint smile and took a seat in the wingback chair in front of me. He grabbed a pen and notepad from an end table, placing the notepad on his lap. “It's nice to meet you, Mr. Milligan. I understand you’re friends with Salvatore Cirillo, Mickey DeRosa's nephew.”
“Yes, Bandit and I went to college together.”
“It’s a nickname.”
“Isn’t Mr. Cirillo a lawyer in Garfield?”
“And people call him Bandit?”
“Only his friends.”
“When I talked to Mr. DeRosa, he told me his nephew said you were having some difficulties.”
Dr. Dixon ignored my question, picking up his notepad. “I understand you own a record store in Garfield and do volunteer work for social services.”
Dr. Dixon wrote something down. “And you’re not married and have no kids, is that
“Right, divorced and no kids.”
“Mr. DeRosa said you’re having very bad dreams, is that correct?”
“I’m not sure.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not sure if they’re dreams, hallucinations, or something else.“
“Maybe they’re real. I don’t know.”
“Tell me about them,” Dr. Dixon said, making eye contact while casually crossing his legs.
“In a way, they’re all the same. I mean, they have the same theme—the same result. I’m always a famous figure in history—well, not history, but famous in sports or music.”
“Can you give me an example?”
“Last week, I was Lou Gehrig giving his farewell speech in Yankee stadium in 1939. It was very real. I can tell you who was there, the weather, how I felt. How sad Babe Ruth looked. Then, early in the morning, I woke up with a terrible hangover in a field near my house, lying next to a bottle of Grey Goose vodka—an empty bottle. I was also very weak for three days afterward. As if I had a debilitating disease.”
“Like Lou Gehrig?”
Dr. Dixon scribbled something on his notepad, maintaining a formal, inscrutable expression. “Let me get this straight. It was the daytime. You were Lou Gehrig in Yankee Stadium. Then, after the . . . dream, you were back in reality, lying in a field near your home after apparently drinking a bottle of vodka?”
“No, I was in Yankee Stadium. It wasn’t a dream.”
“I see,” said Dr. Dixon, scrutinizing his pen for defects. “How do you explain this?”
Dr. Dixon leaned forward, again locking on my eyes. “Do you really think you were in Yankee Stadium and not dreaming or hallucinating?”
The temperature of the room increased. I pulled at my collar. “I can’t be sure of anything right now . . .” slipping upward . . . wearing cotton socks, sneaking around the tiny apartment like nervous kittens, hoping the son of a bitch doesn't wake up and bludgeon us to death . . .
“You seemed to be drifting off there for a second.”
“Are you okay?”
“Didn’t you already ask me that?”
“It seemed you were losing concentration.”
“Not really. I was just wondering if anyone ever committed suicide while you were treating them.”
Dr. Dixon looked up from his notepad, flexing his eyebrows. “No. What made you think of that?”
I felt stuck, trapped. I couldn’t talk too long on one subject. I surveyed the room, my eyes settling on a plain black floor lamp in the corner. “Well, there’s a psychiatrist on TV who looks like Jared Kushner in a cheap suit, and I heard that two of his patients committed suicide. One by gunshot, one by hanging. And yet, he's still on the air giving people advice on how to solve their problems. It seems to me that having two of your patients commit suicide is a bit of a problem. You know, he might not be the best person to help you overcome your issues. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Dr. Dixon shrugged, staring at his pen as if he disapproved of the writing on it. “Well, I’m not sure who you’re talking about, and I don’t know the details.”
“Well, doctor,” I said, leaning toward him. “Would you go to him for help?”
Dr. Dixon remained impassive, noncommittal. “I’d certainly think twice about seeing him, but I’d need to know all the facts.”
“The fact is, he’s a fuckin’ snake oil salesman.”
“Okay, Mr. Milligan, let’s get back to why you’re here.”
“Call me Frank.”
“All right, Frank. You say the . . . events are related either to sports or music. Can you give me any more examples?”
“So far, I’ve been Roger Bannister running the four-minute mile, Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, and James Brown at the Apollo Theater.”
“And after each episode, you wake up in the same field with an empty bottle of Grey Goose vodka next to you?”
“Yes,” I said. “I also have the same physical symptoms as the person in my episode—weak after Lou Gehrig, stoned after Hendrix, and a sore throat after James Brown. Do you have any answers for me?”
“It’s too soon for me to make a diagnosis, or offer any answers or solutions. Let’s assume you’re not really in the mind and body of these men—you’re instead experiencing some form of hallucination or repetitive nightmare. Does that sound reasonable to you?”
“If you say so.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, it’s real. I don’t care what anybody says.”
“You think you were actually in Yankee Stadium last week and it was 1939?”
“Yes. Can I leave now?”
Dr. Dixon glanced up. “You want to leave?”
“Yes, I have a headache.”
“All right, no problem. This isn’t jail.”
“Or high school.”
“Do you want to see me again?”
“In that case, you can make an appointment with my receptionist for next week. By the way, Frank, do you have any thoughts of hurting yourself or other people?”
“No.” I got up to leave.
Dr. Dixon stood up and shook my hand. “It was nice to meet you, Frank. Tell me truthfully, are you coming back?”
“I don’t know.”