Friday, March 10, 2006


In Which I've Seen Everything When I've Seen...You Know...


Four, three, and two days earlier...

And suddenly, the in-laws were behind us, we were driving to Orlando and I felt pretty darn good, if you want to know the truth. Thanks to the band-aid meds the urgent-care doctor had given me, my cough was down to a minimum (and I was no longer yacking up blood, so yay for my side) and my fever had dropped below 101. Things were looking up.

I'm a terrible planner and I ashamed to say we made our Disney reservations somewhat late in the game--as in about two weeks before our actual departure. Thus most of the really cool resorts were closed to us and we found ourselves staying in one of the outlying hotels with some name like Cruella DeVillage or something, the slums of Disney.

And then a week before we were to leave, the phone rang at work and it was my good pal from Disney PR. I don't have many friends among public relations folks--I get so many calls from so many of them it's really hard to bond, you know? But there are a few with whom I'm friends and she of Disney PR was one of them.

I find that depending on the size of the company, PR folks can be either really good or really bad. Folks who rep for worldwide brands, however, are awfully sharp. And scary, sometimes. As in the case of my Disney pal, who opened her call with, "What are you doing staying at Cruella DeVillage?" I hadn't told her I was going to be in town, see, she just knew. "Your boy's 7 now, right? Is he into animals and stuff? I bet he is, isn't he?" she asked. Like I said, scary.

"So what number am I thinking of now?" I asked.

"Don't be smart," she said, and I heard her clacking away on her end. "So, you have time for breakfast while you're here? I'd love to catch up and put a couple of press kits in your hands."

"Sure," I said. "Where should we meet?"

"How about Monday at 9 at Boma?" she said. "It's the restaurant in the Animal Kingdom Lodge."

I knew it. Animal Kingdom was at the top of Thomas' must-visit list, and he was crushed when he found out there were no rooms available at the resort there. The Lodge is situated in a savannah environment and supposedly some rooms offer a view of all manner of wild animals from your balcony.

"We'll be spending a lot of time at Animal Kingdom so I'm sure I can find the Lodge," I said.

"I'm sure you can too," she replied. "I just moved your reservations there. You've got a 3rd-floor room with a savannah view starting Saturday night."

I had a few ethical qualms about this, but I got over them in about, oh, seven seconds. For one thing, I knew I wasn't displacing anyone; the resorts always had one or two rooms open for media or VIPs. For another, I hadn't asked for any special treatment. I got upgraded without asking. For another, I was paying my own way (my pal would have comped our trip and flown us down on Disney's dime if I had asked, but I didn't). For a third, of all my many PR contacts, we had a very clear understanding of how the game worked. Her upgrade efforts on my behalf didn't buy her free coverage in my magazine. But I certainly felt I ought to return the favor by meeting her for a face-to-face breakfast.

And the truth is, I wanted some cool-dad cred for scoring us savannah-view rooms.

"There's a giraffe right outside!" Thomas yelled, when we arrived early Saturday evening.


Indeed, it was still light out so I could see the long-necked creature, ambling across the open ground, munching and making a sort of muttering sound to himself. It was a cool night, so we kept the balcony door open and let the sounds of the wild waft in. And I'm thinking that may have been my first mistake.

We bedded down early--lots to do next day--but I was thrashing in the sheets. My fever felt like it was up again. By turns I dozed and woke, occasionally using my waking moments to drink yet another glass of water or simply stick my head under the faucet.

Shortly before dawn, I woke up one time, only now I wasn't hot. I was freezing. My teeth were chattering so hard I was actually shaving bits of my inner lip off. Shivering, I got up and went to close the balcony door, which was giving off a chilling breeze. As I stood, the room spun slightly under my feet and I heard something very close to the balcony, out there in the darkness.

I blinked my sandpapered eyes as I stood there shivering in the doorway. Two giant eyes were staring back at me. Two giant eyes with two great horns or stalks or something sticking out of the top of his head. The creature stared at me, then opened his mouth and out came an enormous purple tongue. As the tongue slopped out, a kind of slavering guttural language seemed to be emerging from the creature's mouth, some kind of scary demon-speech crossed with the slobbering noise of the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes. I shivered and stared and gradually was seized with the idea that this was some kind of hellish creature. I tried to cry but it came out as a tiny moan. Then I shoved the doors shut and fell into bed.

Art Lad is probably in a better position to fill you in on the funner details of the trip and how much he enjoyed the fruits of the famous Disney Imagineers after that, so I won't steal his thunder here. Instead, I'll shift gears and talk about the adventures of one particularly demented Imagineer--the one who took up residence in my head from that night forward.

I'm no stranger to hallucination. When I was 9 or 10 I got so sick that my temperature was off the thermometer's scale and my parents were giving me ice baths every hour to get the fever down. Doctors said my fever was so high that I might emerge with brain damage, if I didn't slip into a coma and die. Well, obviously I didn't die and I guess the jury's still out about the whole brain damage thing. But what I remember most about that illness--and I was sick for over a month--was the stunning and realistic hallucinations I experienced. I spent what seemed like hours watching my bedspread roll up and down the length of my bed like a cloth wave. I saw giant bugs, felt the bed rise to the ceiling, heard voices whispering to me in the dark. One bright winter morning, while I was watching The Price Is Right on our old black-and-white TV, my father's head suddenly appeared out of the mirror on the wall and screamed at me to GET OUT! And a second later there was a horrific explosion and the room burst into flames. I bolted downstairs in my underwear, screaming to my mom--who was having coffee with a neighbor--that the upstairs was on fire. No amount of persuasion would convince me otherwise and I smelled smoke for days afterward. But for the most part, the hallucinations I had during that period were fairly benign.

Later, much later, when I was living on my own in Chicago, I tried a well-known psychedelic drug and expected a similar experience. But instead of seeing things that weren't there, all that happened was that my perception of everything that was there seemed to intensify by a factor of a thousand. Lights appeared to be distinct individual living entities. Blank walls took on the character of craggy old rock faces. For about an hour, I developed a very strong emotional attachment to the floor lamp in my apartment. I unplugged it from the wall and carried it from room to room with me, stroking it and patting it and whispering sweet nothings into its Halogen bulb. God, I loved that lamp. I was prepared to do anything for it. And then it all wore off and I plugged the lamp back in and got on with my life.

The hallucinations I started having from then on were not like the ones I remembered having when I was 9 or 10. These were experiences that started out very subtly and even once they got past the point of ridiculous, it would still take me a while to realize what I was experiencing wasn't, in fact, happening.

Such as my conversation with the giraffe the next morning.


When I woke, Her Lovely Self and the kids had gone to devour waffles in the shape of Mickey Mouse's head. I begged off, seeing as I wasn't hungry (indeed, my entire food consumption during our Disney visit consisted of one cold Pop-Tart and 17 small chunks of fruit, which I recall in detail because I got to taste each one of them twice). I filled the little courtesy coffee maker on the tiny fridge and drank the 4-cup carafe by myself, using it to swallow more Vicodin and cough medicine. I went out to the balcony and waited for the meds to kick in. In the distance, I could see the giraffe.

And then suddenly there was a jump cut in my mind's flow of events and there he was peering over the balcony at me, his spots changing color before my eyes.

"Carrot?" he asked in a slurping, slavering tone.

"What?" I asked, slopping the coffee carafe slightly in my hand.

"Carrot? Got a carrot? Boy, I could really murder a carrot."

"No, no carrots. I didn't think you ate them. It's not like you can bend over and pull them out of the ground."

The giraffe looked at me, chewing on his hideous purple tongue. "Well, what do you know about it, sport? You sure as hell aren't Juan Valdez. Bet you don't know beans about coffee, but you're drinking it."

"I don't think--"

"Shut up. You got a carrot or not?"


Long, slobbering sigh. "Awright. Hey, you scared of me?"

"No. Well, I don’t know. Wait a second. How is this-- how am I--?"

"Sick. Sicksicksicksick. You take your temperature today?"


"G'head. Take it. I'll wait."

I staggered to the bathroom and found the thermometer. As I walked I felt the pleasant muzziness of the Vicodin kicking in. Like most opiates, it didn't really kill the headache and sore sides I had from all the coughing I'd done in my sleep. All it did was make me care less. I found the thermometer and took my temperature. The low battery light came on but it still gave me a reading: 103.8. I took it again and this time it read 102.6.

"Stupid batteries," I muttered in the direction of the giraffe. But he was gone.

Over the next two days, I had several odd events like that, as well as two miraculous lucid periods. The longest was the 4-5 hour span I experienced just after my conversation with the giraffe, after I took a cold shower and joined my family for what would turn out to be my one upright afternoon at Disney. But I was back in bed by dinner that night and now I had the bed-spins something serious. I slept an hour at a time for the rest of the night, getting up only to drink water and quietly throw up. Sometimes, the room pulsed like a living thing, like a construct built on fun-house mirror logic. Sometimes it was fine, but everything around me was off-kilter. At one point, around 4, I looked at the Brownie, who was sleeping sideways in the giant bed she shared with Thomas. I did a double-take and almost shrieked in horror.

My daughter had become a stuffed animal. She was constructed of plush and velveteen and one of her button eyes seemed to be unraveling. I rushed to her and tried to turn her to the light but as I did her arm came off in my hand and then I did cry out, waking up Her Lovely Self, who found me in a corner in my underwear, clutching something and on the verge of tears. It wasn't my daughter's stuffed arm. It was a brand-new stuffed leopard toy she had purchased for herself with her piggy-bank savings.

I tried to explain what I'd seen to Her Lovely Self, but she just tutted and put me in a cold shower. She wanted to take me to the doctor in the morning, but when 7 AM rolled around, my fever had roller-coastered back down to 100 and I felt almost normal, except for the constant pain in my head and ribs. I convinced HLS that the fever must have finally broken during the night and I was over the worst of the flu. So she and the kids went off to explore the Animal Kingdom while I met my Disney PR pal for breakfast. I was supposed to hook up with the family by lunch, but after my meeting with my PR pal--the second and last lucid period of the vacation--I ended up back in my room. I had intended to lie down for just a few minutes, but when I opened my eyes again, it was dark and I was still in my clothes.

And the giraffe was back.

His neck was all the way in the window now and he peered down at me on my bed.

"Sure you don't have a carrot?" he asked.

"I'm really sick, I think," I said.

"Yup. Yupper," he agreed, looking around the room. Just then, the door opened and in bounded Thomas, leading the girls.

"Dad! Where were you? I saw everything today! Crocodiles and gazelles and we drove cars and played in a playground that was made of big things and it was like we were shrunk--"

"See? They had a good time. Wasn't it worth it? Aren't you glad you didn’t go to the hospital?" the giraffe asked, looking down on Thomas.

"I guess, but--" I turned to Thomas. "Hey, how bout this, huh?"

Thomas looked at me. "What?"

"The giraffe. In the room. Pretty neat, huh?"

Thomas just blinked at me and proceeded to tell me more about his day.

Her Lovely Self, my champion and heroine, brought me cold cloths and water and changed me out of my street clothes. She was on the horns of a dilemma now. Clearly my fever was back and she wanted to take me to the doctor. But it was 9 o'clock at night. We were due to fly out of Orlando on the first flight of the morning, which meant leaving our room at around 4:45 AM. If I could hold out just another 12 hours or so, we'd be home, I argued. Eventually, despite her better judgment, the giraffe and I convinced her that we should catch our flight and take me straight to a doctor when we got back late Tuesday morning.

So it's too bad really that, that very night, after everyone was asleep, I started hearing scary noises coming from the clock radio--a static-y whispering that predicted terrible doom. I was so unnerved by the voices, I eventually moved the radio into the bathroom, where I plugged it back in and reset the time and the alarm.

To go off some time around 4 PM the next day.

And no, none of us thought to call the desk for a wake-up call.

The next thing I knew, Her Lovely Self was ripping open the curtains, letting sunlight in and cursing it as she did. "We missed our flight!" she cried. "Who put the damn clock in the bathroom?!?"

All eyes turned to me. Except the giraffe's. He was nowhere to be found.

Thomas and the Brownie began shouting with glee and managed to turn their cries into an eerily Disney-like tune ("Our flight! Our flight! We really missed our flight! We have to stay another day because we missed our flight!"), while Her Lovely Self just stared daggers at me.

"Please tell me this is a hallucination," I begged.

She shook her head angrily and reached for the giant Yellow Pages by the bed. I thought she was going to brain me with it and pulled a pillow over my face.

And that's the last thing I remember of Florida...

I have never hallucinated in my life that I can recall... Aside from minor little sleep-deprivation things like seeing bugs out of the corner of the eye that aren't there, and the like.

Must be weird.

And for a second there, I was really, REALLY hoping HLS was going to bash you with the Yellow Pages. Sorry.
I've been saving this series to avoid the whole cliffhanger factor...

but I couldn't wait any longer. And now I'm hanging on the cliff with the rest of the crowd. And the giraffe. Such great storytelling...
You're so lucky. I never get to see cool things like giraffes when I have fever hallucinations.

I can't believe that HLS let you live. She must really love you...
Sometimes, when I stay up too late at night, I smell bacon for no reason at all. But that's the extent of my hallucinations.

I'm really sorry you went through all that, I'm sure it was horrible while it was happening. But damn! Entertaining as all hell. I really did miss your writing!!
You never have a boring vacation, do ya, MM? Very entertaining writing as usual although I'm sure it must have sucked to go through. Hope you're feeling 1000% better now.
Hmm. Too bad you didn't have any carrots.

Geez, MM, you really are a medical oddity, aren't you? I'm really glad you survivied.
I'm dying to know how the P.R. breakfast went...did you pull it off???
I, like shane, tried to wait it out but alas I was sucked in before you finished your tale.

I particularly like Talakshi's comment a few days ago about wanting to strangle you with the monitor.

I find myself completely sucked in until I realize that if anything really bad happened ....YOU WOULDN'T Bl**DY well be writing!!

Best part: eye ball coming out of the socket. Can't wait to hear what that was really about.

I guess the question is: How many entries does it take for MM to tell a whole story?
Whoa groovy cool giraffe maaaaaan...

I'm scared you're not gonna make it!
Jeezus, dude. I've hallucinated once in my life, when I had an illness that I really thought was, quite possibly, going to kill me. I saw these amazing flaming purple swirls spinning all over the wall at the doctors office, dripping little dashes of light to the floor like a 99-cent box of sparklers.

But, jeezus, man. You put my flames to shame. This post reminds me of a Stephen King novel, honestly. There's such a matter-of-fact-ness to your conversations with the giraffe.


I love your stories. Best stuff I read on the 'net, hands down.
So, I mainly lurk. I really enjoy your stories. I thought the word fackin to myself and giggled for days after your grandfather's funeral.

I'm writing now to say that I hope you haven't had a relapse. If you're healthy please consider this a friendly request to finish the fackin' story!
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