When Jim Henson Was God

riddle
 During hallucinations he endured after taking an anti-malaria drug, Author David Stuart MacLean realized that he needed to solve a riddle.  The first part of the riddle was, “If you understand that the universe was created by Jim Henson in a studio in Burbank…”  While exploring the universe together, God had given him the first part of the riddle, and God was Jim Henson.  MacLean knew that the second part of the riddle had to do with India where he found himself one day standing on a train platform with no ID and no memory, no idea who or where he was.  The second part of the riddle had to do with masala dosa,  the thin, rolled pancakes native to Southern India.  MacLean’s memoir chronicles his journey in finding the third part of the riddle,  piecing back together a life he does not remember and dodging recurring hallucinations.  Utterly bewildered when he awakens on the train platform, noting that he looks different from others with his pale skin and blonde hair, he is rescued by a police officer who assumes that he is just another American tourist strung out on drugs.  MacLean accepts this assumption, since no other explanation is available.  When his parents arrive at the mental hospital where his extreme hallucinations have landed him, he doesn’t recognize them.  He learns that he is not strung out on heroin he injected with a red-haired companion on the floor of a filthy apartment he seems to recall, but has been in India as a Fulbright scholar conducting research and on sabbatical from a University in New Mexico where he teaches.  How to return to a life that is devoid of any familiarity–a job, friends, and a fiance you can’t recall feelings about?  How to finish work that has terms you no longer understand like “dental explosives” and “nasalized vowel sounds.”  Constant surprises and dread that the worst of symptoms will return or that they are the result of mental illness rather than an adverse reaction to a drug dog MacLean.  If a drug could have such life-altering side effects, would it really be so readily prescribed?   MacLean writes with a poetic hand, “streetlights pitched tents of orange glow.”  He is brutally honest, as he concludes that he might not have been a very nice person and he maybe disrespects women.  At a particularly low point,  he calls friends in a drunken stupor in the middle of the night, threatening suicide.  The reader is rewarded by MacLean’s arduous journey, by the fact that he remembered he is quite a fine writer.  He leaves us with with the disturbing  conclusions about the drug industry and the nagging question of whether identity ever be fully recovered.

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