That Other Guy
by Brian Clark
Table of Contents, chapters:|
1, 2, 3, 4,
In a switch on the Jekyll and Hyde story, journalist Richard Callaghan transforms from an arrogant, insensitive and stingy man into an easygoing, kind and generous guy who likes to be called Ricky (a nickname that Richard detests). The answer to the mystery of the alternate personality will be found deep inside Richard’s brain, but not before Ricky turns his life upside down.
Excerpt from an article by medical reporter Camila Martinez in the National Register: “Goodbye Mr. Hyde.”
The annals of medical history are filled with stories about brain-damaged patients who have undergone dramatic personality changes, and usually not for the better.
Perhaps the most famous case is that of Phineas Gage, an American railway construction worker who miraculously survived after an explosion drove an iron bar straight through his head in 1848. Although most of his mental faculties remained intact, the formerly courteous and deferential man became foul-mouthed and insensitive. His friends said he was “no longer Phineas Gage.”
Then there’s Mary, a kind, easygoing woman of 42 who would frequently transform into a belligerent, vulgar personality who called herself Courtney and spoke with a British accent. Mary had no memory of what she said or did as Courtney. The removal of a benign brain tumor banished Courtney forever.
But can brain damage turn someone — at least temporarily — into a kinder, more generous, more empathetic person?
Consider the case of R.C., first documented by neurologist Dr. Suresh Patel in the Journal of Behavioral and Brain Research. R.C. is a middle-aged professional who lives in a small city on the East Coast. Patel describes him as being small in stature (5-foot-5 and 135 pounds) but having a formidable intellect.
Patel writes that R.C. was not well-liked at work, although he was respected for his skill and expertise. Colleagues described him as egotistical, arrogant, acerbic, brusque, smug, overbearing, condescending, sarcastic, insensitive and stingy.
Last summer, R.C. began to experience severe and persistent headaches, and his family physician referred him to Patel. Other symptoms arose in the three weeks between the referral and the appointment, including dizzy spells and memory gaps.
And then things got really strange.
Richard Callaghan looked up from the computer screen, lifted his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He let out a sigh that turned into a prolonged growl.
None of his colleagues asked what was wrong. They knew better.
Richard stood up, crossed his arms and looked out over the newsroom. “Mark! A word please!”
Mark Reynolds made his way through the maze of waist-high partitions towards Richard’s desk. As usual, the rail-thin reporter looked like an unmade bed: tie askew, shirttail out, wrinkled pants cuffs drooping around his ankles, hair in general bird’s-nest disarray.
Richard did little to hide his disdain at Reynold’s appearance, his face puckering into a sour, something-stinks expression as he watched the reporter approach. Not that Richard was a fashion plate. He was dressed in his customary Walmart bargain-bin attire: white dress shirt, navy blue polyester slacks, red rayon tie. But everything was nicely pressed and neatly done up and tucked in. And his swept-back grey hair was a topographical wonder of immaculate comb striations.
Arriving, Reynolds removed a chewed-up pen from his mouth. “What’s up boss?”
“Yes, Mark, do you have a copy of that memo?”
“The one that says we’ve stopped using the English language in favor of, well, whatever it is you’re using here. I didn’t get the memo but I’m assuming that you’ve begun to implement that policy.”
Reynolds rolled his eyes and huffed out a long breath. “Is the sarcasm strictly necessary, Richard?”
“OK, whatever. Just tell me what’s wrong.”
“Well, let’s start with this lead,” Richard said, looking down at his computer. “It says: ‘City council has changed course on its decision to reverse the rejection of a housing project that it approved last year.’ ”
He looked at Reynolds over the top of his glasses. “Seriously, Mark, it hurts my head to read this.”
Richard closed his eyes, massaged his forehead with comic exaggeration and moaned. “I’m telling you, Mark, I’m actually feeling an ache in the language-processing part of my brain. I think it’s overheating. So please give the lead another shot.”
Reynolds clamped the pen back in his mouth and trudged back to his desk.
“Then we’ll discuss the rest of the story,” Richard called after him. “And by the way, try sleeping in your pajamas next time.”
Richard closed his eyes again and resumed rubbing his forehead, gently this time, using the tips of his fingers.
“Show’s over, Richard, you made your point.”
He looked to his left into the pudgy face of Blair Larrabee, his closest neighbor on the news desk. Richard dropped his hands onto his desk and flashed Larrabee a half-smile.
“You know,” Larrabee said, swiveling his chair to face Richard, “Mark’s writing has improved quite a bit lately, and he really does try hard, and it doesn’t really help—”
Richard cut him off. “Yes, I know, but did you hear that lead? I mean, come on. He’s got to learn. We’re not here to mollycoddle them, Blair.”
“I’m not suggesting you mollycoddle them, Richard. I’m just suggesting that maybe sarcasm doesn’t have to be your default setting. It does come off as kinda mean, you know.”
Larrabee sighed. “Richard, Richard, Richard, I swear...”
Richard quickly changed the subject. “So what’s the word this month?”
The reporters had a running bet on who could slip a $10 word past the copy editors. The word, which changed every month, was sometimes leaked to the news desk by a sympathetic reporter. Even when it wasn’t, the editors were usually able to spot it. So far, contenders had included paradigm, salubrious, infinitesimal, idiosyncratic, predilection and dogsbody. A couple had made it into the paper, but not on Richard’s watch.
“I think’s it’s gargantuan this month,” Larrabee said.
“Yes, I’ve knocked that out of one story so far — Rossi’s piece on potholes. He wrote about a gargantuan pothole down on Lake Street.”
“Oh, I heard about that,” Larrabee said. “Is it true you made him go measure it?”
“Yes I did. He wanted to just change it to big. But seriously, what’s big? A foot across? Two feet across? Turns out it was roundish and 25 inches across, about the size of a manhole cover. So that’s how we described it.”
Larrabee shook his head. “Well, all I can say is: wow.”
Richard knew that the reporters now had another story to tell about him during their drunkfests at Sheahan’s. There were already plenty of legendary tales. Like the time he ordered Putnam to try to get a comment from the Pope. And the time he calculated each reporter’s words-per-sentence average and demanded reductions ranging from 10 to 30 percent. And the time he scolded the mayor for what he, Richard, considered to be a poorly written letter to the editor.
The reporting staff also loved to talk about Richard’s spontaneous lectures on grammar, punctuation, spelling, clarity and sentence structure, with occasional forays into history, geography, politics and science. And then there were the obscure insults he handed out, which usually sent the victims scrambling for their dictionaries. The list here, too, was long: coccydynia, poltroon, cockalorum, lickspittle, ninnyhammer, snollygoster, jobbernowl, milksop, popinjay. Many of the reporters actually took perverse pleasure in the name-calling. It was a badge of honor.
Not that Richard had first-hand knowledge about the reporters’ alcohol-fueled conversations, so many of which concerned him; he didn’t socialize with the writers. Given his role as copy guardian (an appellation he actually used sometimes), he thought it best to keep his distance. But other copy editors had no such qualms, and they kept him up to date on what the reporters were talking about.
Larrabee’s phone rang and he swung his chair back around to answer it. Richard looked down at his computer screen and moved on to the next story in the queue. He started reading and, almost subconsciously, began massaging his forehead again.
The headache was real and it was getting worse.
Copyright © 2021 by Brian Clark