Dan’s flat is in the East Village. A two bedroom apartment with a little living room combined with the kitchen. It’s obvious a woman lives there and Dan explains that he’s living with a couple, old friends from London named Ivy and Jake. A distinctive stale pizza smell hangs in the air and sure enough, there on the iron and glass coffee table sits an Artichoke Pizza box.
‘Have you had Artichoke pizza yet? Fucking epic, mate.’ Dan doesn’t stop to hear the response as he opens up the box and bites into a cold slice.
Len slumps into the couch, cuddling the soccer ball.
‘It’s nearly 5am. Shit. Ivy will be up soon. You won’t get any sleep out here, man. Come on, you can stay in my room.’
Len briefly wonders how that would work, but he’s too tired to care much. Dan shows him to the room and Len collapses on the bed passing out almost as an instant reaction to being horizontal. His shoes are still on and his phone and wallet are still in his pockets. Dan turns off the light and disappears into the bathroom.
CHAPTER THREE: God and the mental note
Morgan McMahon sips coffee at his kitchen table in the suburb of North Melbourne, looking through a pile of old patient files. He glances up at his new chrome fridge and grimaces. His ex-boyfriend, a young budding musician, had taken the old fridge. Granted this one was newer and better, but it was also a big shining phallic reminder of a failed relationship.
The coffee tastes bitter. Morgan has stopped putting sugar and milk in his coffee in an effort to be healthier. In fact, he has cut down on caffeine all together. One black coffee every morning would be sufficient.
Morgan remembers that many months ago when he used to have two or three lattes a day he’d gone into Hot Poppy cafe for a fix with George (his terrier puppy) and there sitting at a table with his writing and minestrone was his former client, Leonard – or, Len as he preferred to be called. Morgan was curious about why Len had simply stopped calling to make appointments rather than discussing the decision to end their therapy sessions. In Morgan’s experience, clients usually required a kind of break-up session to review their progress after a period of therapy. Not Len, apparently.
In the cafe, Len had looked up from his writing and made eye-contact with Morgan standing there at the counter, at the exact same time that Morgan had decided to look away. The awkwardness made Morgan quietly cancel his order and quickly walk out, only adding to Len’s feeling that he was being intentionally snubbed by his old shrink.
Morgan finds the file he’s searching for, opens it, and hits the replay button on his answering machine:
‘Ok, so you must be in session or something because I’ve been calling – and like, not leaving messages. So, um, I thought I’d leave you a message. Which is what I’m… yeah, anyway, look I need to speak to you. I can’t make an appointment to come in because I’m in New York at the moment and I don’t know when I’m coming back and it’s kind of urgent. So, could we maybe have a phone session? Something fucked up has happened. If I tell you on this message, I’m afraid you won’t call me back. But you have to call me back, right, isn’t there some shrink’s code of conduct that means you have to call me? Surely there must be. Anyway, call me, please. I’m really sorry about ending our sessions without getting in touch. I just didn’t see the point, I guess, but I’m sorry if I offended you. Oh, It’s Leonard Juric, by the way. Len Juric. It’s been a while I suppose, I hope you remember me. Anyway, my American number is…’
A long beep follows the phone number. Begin the second message:
‘I’m just going to tell you, ok. But you can’t not call me back because you think I’m mad because that would be unethical. It’s your professional responsibility to care for the mad. If that’s what I am. Unless you’ve heard something about the Bronx zoo missing some big arse felines. And I’m not joking, this is not a joke. I came home to find a lion in my hotel room. Alright, a lion. There, I’ve said it. So please call me. The number is… Oh, it’s Len Juric again.’
Morgan scans the notes he’d made in Len’s file.
On their first session, Morgan had asked Len some standard questions he used to help ascertain some things about the patient’s personality, intellect, sensibilities, and etcetera. One of the questions he asked was: If you find an addressed envelope on the street, unopened, what do you do? Len had proceeded to ask a series of questions about the envelope and the context of the question instead of going with his gut. He asked whether or not the envelope had been postmarked, because if it had, perhaps the recipient had discarded it intentionally. If it hadn’t then it can’t have had a chance to reach its destination. He asked if it had been raining, in case the envelope was damaged. He asked if the address was typed or handwritten, because if it was an official looking document it’d probably be resent eventually anyway, but if it was a personal letter it would seem more important.
Len looked slightly alarmed when Morgan started noting down all these unusual responses, as though he might have said the wrong thing. He was thinking about The Simpsons’ episode in which Homer is declared insane with a red stamp on his hand.
The fact of the matter was that Len wouldn’t do anything until had all the information. More accurately, Len was more interested in exploring the scenario, talking about it, thinking about it, looking at it from every angle and analysing the possibilities than he was in pragmatic solutions to the problem. In a later session, Len had admitted to Morgan that in a weird way he related to Heath Ledger’s Joker in the new Batman movie, because of the character’s insatiable curiosity about humanity and how people react to different strange situations. For a moment, Morgan toyed with the possibility that Len was something of a sociopath, but that was mostly because it would have made his job a little more interesting.
On the contrary, Len was obviously a caring young man who was sensitive to the feelings of others. He was close with his mother and elder sister. He’d been in a loving relationship with his first girlfriend for some years, and although he hadn’t found a woman to settle down with, he didn’t objectify women or have a lot of promiscuous sex. He did have an unusual attachment to one of his university lecturers, and he held her in high esteem. Later in their sessions he admitted to being in love with her. He was smart, literary, good looking. He was also creative. He wrote short stories, poetry and got his work published in journals and magazines.
One point of contention was the relationship with the father. Len had reported feeling disapproved of by his dad. Len recounted a few incidences where he was physically threatened or actually attacked by him. When he was around seven or eight years old, his father had thrown a bucket at him, kicked him and chased him to his bedroom. Over the years Len had been cornered by his father, screamed at and threatened with physical punishment. The turning point in their conflicted relationship occurred when Len was eighteen years old, the same year he moved interstate away from the family. During an altercation after Len broke it to his father that he planned on moving away to go to university (the father disapproved of this idea), the father raised his arm to strike Len for the first time in ten years. Len was finally old enough and big enough to defend himself. He described grabbing his father’s forearm, mid-strike, and pushing him to the ground. The father never threatened Len again but he also saw this incident as a betrayal and their relationship became increasingly distant.
When asked why Len felt his father disapproved of him, he responded that it might have been partly cultural. His dad was born and raised in southeast Europe in a fairly traditional but rather complex family. Len described his father as being a hypochondriac, a manipulator, someone who often lied to save face, and having no control over his emotions. These four traits made Len distrust his father. Len also said that his father didn’t have the self awareness to know his own flaws and so he was constantly frustrated with the world.
In his father’s defence, Len said that he was a dedicated family man; that he didn’t drink or smoke or cheat and he worked all his life to care for his family. He also admitted to being afraid of turning out like his father, who never learned to be independent and look inside himself, and that made Len reject the idea of having his own family anytime soon.
Although Len was independent and freethinking, he also struggled with moderate to severe bouts of depression and anxious episodes that lead to panic attacks. It was not a consistent condition; he described gradual onsets of anxiety that brought on a panic attack which was immediately followed by a period of depression. Whereas the anxiety did not present until he was in his mid-twenties, the depression had been diagnosed by a clinical psychologist when Len was just thirteen years old.
When asked what brought on the periods of anxiety, Len said he didn’t know.
When asked whether or not he’d ever taken drugs, either experimentally or habitually, Len admitted to occasionally smoking marijuana and having taken cocaine a few times.
Now Morgan is wondering whether he should have probed further down that line of questioning. He didn’t believe smoke a joint once in a while was so unusual for a young man his early thirties who doesn’t have the most conventional lifestyle, anyway. Unless Len had failed to mention having taken marijuana daily, say, as a teenager, the chances that it was the cause of some kind of hysterical psychoses are slim to none. A hallucination of this kind would be more likely to occur in someone who had taken acid, even if it was only once. Morgan feels certain he’d have picked up on it during their sessions if Len was suffering from psychotic episodes. An isolated incidence of taking a hallucinogenic would be a much likelier explanation. It is possible that Len had simply forgotten to mention having tried acid during that session, or that he didn’t think it pertinent to the discussion.
The phone rings just as Morgan goes to call Len back. He picks it up first ring which is a rare thing for a man who habitually screens all his professional and personal calls:
‘Morgan McMahon?’ – his standard answer.
‘Morgan! You’re there!’ Len sounds manic and distant.
‘Len? Yes, hi. Got your messages. Look I’m not sure there’s a great deal I can do for you if you’re overseas. Can you tell me how you’re feeling right now?’
‘I’m feeling… I don’t know, confused. I blacked out last night. Well, this morning really. And I slept in this bartender’s room. In his bed. And now he’s gone and I don’t know what happened exactly. I mean, I don’t think anything happened, like that, you know. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I mean…’
‘Len, do you remember I asked you about drug use in one of our sessions?’ Morgan interrupted his rant.
‘I haven’t taken drugs! Seriously! I woke up, pulled a muscle in my neck, took a shower without closing the curtain and flooded the bathroom, went out and got a coffee and a very painful Chinese massage, and when I came back to my room there was a great lion in it. He was drinking the water off the bathroom floor. That’s what happened. No drugs, nothing like that. I haven’t smoked weed since last year sometime. Coke’s really cheap here, I took some my first week but that was like three months ago! I’m not on drugs, ok, I’m just… I don’t know what I am. You have to believe me!’
‘Ok, Len. I believe you. But the most important thing is to retrace your steps in the time leading up to the hallucination, and to get some help with doing it. You need to find a doctor who will give you a referral to check into a psych ward where they can do a full evaluation of what’s happening with you. Once you do that, you can give the clinician my details and ask them to send over your file in case you decide to return to Australia.’
Alone in the apartment in the East Village Len is silent. He closes his eyes and moves the phone away from his ear. He isn’t sure if he feels wildly frustrated that his old shrink doesn’t believe there’s really a lion in his hotel room, or if he’s just terrified that he’s properly lost his mind. But the, why would he have called a shrink in the first place if he really believed in the lion’s existence? The appropriate person to call would have been a zoo keeper, or the fire brigade, or the cops. And if Len doesn’t believe in the lion, should that not be a sufficient psychological push for the lion to have disappeared that second time he went into the room? If the lion was playing mind games, and Len wasn’t falling for it, why could he still see the lion? At least it means he shouldn’t feel discouraged when a shrink confirms that the lion isn’t real. But he is discouraged.
The likelihood that the animal was real is minimal. Someone else would have seen him. For a lion to make its way from, say, the Bronx zoo all the way to the Upper West Side and into a hotel lobby during daylight hours, up the stairs, past the religious television addict neighbour and into Len’s room… thousands of people would have seen him! It would be all over the news that a lion was at large. Unless his transportation into the room involved some kind of black magic and the lion was real.
Thereby remain three possibilities: either the lion is imagined, or the lion is real, or the lion is real but magical. All three possibilities have unique advantages and disadvantages. Each of the three possibilities can be explained away, and yet, the lion remains in Len’s hotel room over on the Upper West Side.
Len can hear Morgan’s tiny voice through the receiver that is now sitting on the floor in front of him:
‘Len? Did you hear what I said? Are you still there? Len?’
Len presses the hang up button and lays back down on the carpet in Dan’s living room. He is naked and devoid of a logical explanation for being so. He hadn’t heard Dan leave, he just woke in the afternoon beside a note on the pillow that read:
Morning Leo. Gotta catch a train up to the mountains. Don’t worry about lions in your room, mate. Sure as god is a lie, your lion is your illusion which means he doesn’t control you, you control him.
There’s a black inky pen with no lid on the floor beside the bed. Len picks it up to write a reply and leave it for Dan. He has no idea what to write so he starts doodling on the back of the note.
Len wonders what god has to do with anything. On one hand, he considers himself a respectful atheist and god has no bearing on his daily life. On the other hand, has to concede that god is bloody everywhere. There was a synagogue next door to the hotel on west 79th street and a Baptist church a few doors up from that. Then there was the god fearing neighbour with his/her Jesus door decor and Morning Prayer television. God is in the senate, on the nightly news, on all the social network sites updating statuses and checking into heaven. So perhaps the lion has some relation to god, too. It wouldn’t be the first time god used a lion to make a point. But if god was manifesting in so many ways and using mass media to do his or her public relations, why bother to show up as a lion in a random hotel room in Manhattan who’s only seen by one man? And if the lion is god, is he the vengeful type or the Buddhist type? God probably survives without food or exercise but a lion surely doesn’t. If the lion dies in that hotel room, would god die with him?
Focusing back to the note at hand, Len realises he’s not yet written a word. He has, however, drawn something: a kind of stick figure lion with a zigzag mane and one raised eyebrow. It seems better than any note he could have written, especially considering his lack of context to write a fitting reply – he’s too consumed by the issue of the lion to think of the most delicate phrasing for the question ‘were we gay together last night?’ so he leaves the drawing on the pillow where the note was left for him.
What Len does recall is not having worn underpants yesterday. Perhaps he’d woken after passing out on Dan’s bed still fully dressed and with his shoes on and forgetting where he was decided to pull some gear off. If this was the case, and Len sincerely hoped it was, then Dan deserves full credit for not kicking him out of his flat on his bare arse. This would be the second time that not wearing underpants resulted in his humiliation in front of a stranger in twenty-four hours (the first was during the Chinese massage).
If you’ve been a readin’ and you’d like to get a writin’ (with me) go here:
1 hour poetry workshop, 1 night only, Tuesday 29th 6.30pm Sunshine Library, free