an icy stillness
gives way to roaring currents –
an icy stillness
gives way to roaring currents –
It was long thought by historians that Julius Caesar had epilepsy. However, modern medical experts believe it is more likely that he suffered a series of mini-strokes over the course of several years.
Accounts from Caesar’s doctors reveal that nightmarish hallucinations haunted him during these episodes.
It was recorded that Caesar suffered such an episode as he stood at the banks of the Rubicon River. He collapsed into the water and had to be pulled to safety by his bodyguards.
When his head cleared, Caesar told a confidant that he had witnessed a ghostly woman rise from the water. She warned him not to bring his army across the Rubicon.
Hallucination or not, it was good advice. At the time, Caesar was considered an enemy of Rome. Bringing his army across the Rubicon boundary could only be viewed as treason.
Of course, Caesar ultimately decided to press forward – an act that plunged Rome into civil war. General Pompey, who had been charged with protecting Rome, proved to be no match for Caesar and his battle-hardened legions.
After defeating Pompey, Caesar became an all-powerful dictator who was regarded as a deity. Even with ultimate power and mind-boggling riches, he must have known his days were numbered. The political currents in Rome were powerful enough to sweep anyone away – even a god on Earth.
In the years leading up his assassination, Caesar was mired in a deep depression and a constant state of paranoia. The troubling hallucinations persisted, and I can only wonder if Caesar ever regretted crossing the Rubicon that fateful day.
rises from the Rubicon –
even Caesar balks
When I was a kid, I saw a large number of ants moving in an endless circle. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the phenomenon. Years later, my biology teacher told me army ants are blind, so they navigate by following the scent of a pheromone trail. If they lose the scent, they begin following one another in a circle. Eventually, they will die of exhaustion.
ants march mindlessly
in never ending circles
Waiting in my car for the rustiest ship in the fleet to dock. My buddy, who is sitting shotgun, warns that you can get tetanus just from looking at it. I half believe him.
Today’s haiku was inspired by a memory I have of playing in a baseball tournament down in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was seventeen – a pretty good shortstop, but certainly not a Major League prospect. There were several guys on other teams who had attracted scouts from Division I colleges, and there was a pitcher who had caught the attention of a few professional organizations – I think the Royals and the Reds.
They came equipped with radar guns, and they pointed them at the pitcher as he was warming up in the bullpen. Someone’s dad peeked over the shoulder of a scout and said the gun registered at 91 mph. I didn’t believe it until I stepped up to the plate and saw his fastball firsthand.
the pitcher winds up,
he’s a titan in pinstripes –
a blur sizzles by
*This post was originally intended to be the first story in a creative nonfiction series, but a publisher has expressed some interest in buying it. So, I’m unable to post anything else from my Mimeographed Memories Project until I decide what I want to do with it.
**I chose this font color in an attempt to approximate the color of the ink from an old mimeograph. It’s not exact, but it’s in the ballpark. Enjoy.
I’m at a party and next thing I know the host is showing me this mimeograph machine he’s restored out in his garage. He’s a bit of a tinkerer, apparently.
“That’s interesting,” I say.
When I started elementary school, most of our tests and worksheets were printed on a similar contraption. The teachers called it a Ditto Machine. There was some kind of drum filled with ink, then you had to put a stencil over the drum and hand turn the thing by a crank. A piece of paper would feed between the drum and a roller, and the ink would squeeze through the stencil onto the paper. Sometime around 1984 our school finally bought a photocopier.
“You wanna see me run a batch?” the guy says.
“Sure,” I say.
“I’m gonna break out the good stuff,” he says in a conspiratorial tone. I nod like I know what he’s talking about.
“Nowadays the ink is all water-based,” he tells me. “Environmental regulations and all that. Which is good, but it’s just not the same as the old, oil-based formula.”
“Makes sense,” I say.
“But I’ve got a little bit of the oil-based.”
The guy secures the stencil to the drum, makes some adjustments, and loads the thing up with ink and paper. He turns the drum by hand, and the copies start to pile up.
“Pretty awesome, right?” he says.
“Yeah, that’s pretty interesting.”
Something happens to me that borders on the metaphysical. It’s the scent of the ink. The scent triggers a memory so intense I’m suddenly transported back to my third-grade classroom. I’m nervous because I’m taking a timed math test. Fifty multiplication problems are printed across the page in that bluish/purple ink – the hallmark of the mimeograph. That curious petroleum odor wafts up from the paper – a scent that is simultaneously familiar and alien.
The teacher has brought her egg timer from home. It ticks ominously at the edge of her desk. Two and a half minutes to answer fifty multiplication problems – only three seconds per problem. It’s daunting, but after I get by the first one, I realize there’s nothing to it.
9 x 8 = 72.
3 x 7 = 21.
7 x 5 = 35.
Our teacher, Miss Sklanski, has drilled this information into our heads with a daily regimen of flashcards. The answers come to me without effort. I finish with plenty of time to spare.
A few of the kids are still working frantically as the egg timer counts off the precious seconds. Most of the girls are checking over their answers. A lot of the boys have their heads down or are doodling on the backs of their test papers.
I’m looking at the egg timer though. For the first time, I realize Miss Sklanski is a regular person. She has an egg timer, after all. She must go home and cook. She must have cupboards full of dishes and spices and canned things, just like at my house.
I look at Miss Sklanski who is sitting at her desk grading papers. I see that she is really pretty. I wonder how old she is. My first and second-grade teachers were old, but not Miss Sklanski. She doesn’t have a ring, so I guess she’s not married yet. I wonder if there’s some guy who likes her. I decide he’s probably a jerk. I wish I were older. I’d marry her.
A voice booms through the walls of the classroom, “How ‘bout that quality? Huh? Check that out.”
It’s the guy. The host whose name I forgot. He’s shoving a mimeographed copy of the poem, The Road Not Taken, at me.
“It looks pretty good,” I say.
“Yeah, see how defined it is. Go ahead, keep it. It’s yours.”
“Thanks,” I say. “I was always a big Robert Frost fan.”
We go back inside to mingle. There’s some good Belgian beer, and a table full of fancy cheeses. I try to make small talk with the other guests, but my mind drifts. I find a quiet corner and read through the poem. I consciously take out all the metaphor. Now it’s just about a guy standing at a fork in the road.
I realize metaphor is necessary – not just for poetry – but for the entire human narrative. Without it, this night would amount to nothing more than a bunch of hydrocarbon-based organisms eating coagulated milk proteins at a stuffy social function.
I’m suddenly compelled to find out what became of Miss Sklanski. I type a few search terms into my cellphone and find her easy enough. She’s married, so her last name is different now. She has kids and grandkids, and it looks like she’s happy in Boca Raton.
I feel better. For the first time in a long time, I feel hopeful about the future. I go over to the cheese table. An attractive woman suggests I try the Camembert with a slice of apple. It’s delicious.
I’ve read a few accounts about a French soldier known simply as, Tarrare (1772 – 1798). He was renowned for his ability to consume massive amounts of food – baskets of apples, whole eels, wheelbarrows full of bovine entrails, just about anything he could find. Modern doctors presume this “ability” was more likely a symptom of hyperthyroidism, or perhaps a damaged amygdala.
In fact, Tarrare did seek medical help from a doctor named Baron Percy (the first page of Percy’s account of Tarrare’s unusual condition is pictured below). However, 18th-century medicine was not advanced enough to provide Tarrare with an effective treatment plan. Percy could only authorize an extended hospital stay for Tarrare so he could be observed over a long period in a clinical setting.
After a toddler disappeared from that same hospital, the blame fell squarely on Tarrare. Though there was no physical evidence linking him to the child’s disappearance, Tarrare was rumored to have consumed live cats during his stint as a street performer in Paris. From there, it wasn’t much of a stretch for hospital staff to believe he was capable of cannibalizing a small child. Percy’s professional reputation was on the line, and he decided to permanently ban Tarrare from the campus.
Tarrare died some years later in Versailles, likely from tuberculosis. I’ve always found this story quite tragic. Here was a man who suffered incessantly from a profound hunger – a hunger driven by a pathology unknown to the medical practitioners of his time. The story also piques that morbid curiosity that seems to dwell in most of us, but I suppose that’s just human nature. That’s not to say we don’t have the same capacity for empathy and kindness, and Tarrare certainly could have benefited from a little bit more of that.
Tarrare’s hunger –
barrels of tripe could not fill
his ravenous soul