I’m telling you about my experience last year in the doctor's office because I am very concerned about your health. You have not looked all that great lately and I’m afraid you might be coming down with something. You should seek medical treatment, but this is very important:
DO NOT BREATHE OR TOUCH ANYTHING IN THE DOCTOR’S WAITING ROOM. EVERYONE THERE IS SICK AS A DOG.
I am not yet famous and hounded by paparazzi, so my physicians will not come to my house to inject me with industrial grade pharmaceuticals. When I need medical care I have to make an appointment like the rest of you, which is humiliating enough.
And that thing I have to make—the appointment. I swear I heard the receptionist giggle when she told me on the phone that my appointment was at 9 a.m. I showed up a minute before nine. There was standing room only in the waiting room. I pushed and shoved my way to the receptionist. I tripped over a grandma’s aluminum walker, but because of my incredible balance I recovered. The receptionist slid the glass open and pointed to a clipboard.
“Sign in,” she barked.
I reached for the Bic pen but my hand froze. I stared as the pen seemed to pulsate and wriggle as if alive. Using my laser-like concentration, I figured out why.
EVERYONE WHO SIGNED IN WITH THAT PEN IS DEATHLY ILL.
I shuddered and pulled out my own pen, knocking aside the germ-encrusted Bic with my elbow. Under “Time of Appointment” I wrote “9:00 a.m.” and looked at the thirty names ahead of me on the sign-in sheet. With the SKREEK SKREEK SKREEK of Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO music in my brain, I realized all thirty had written in “9:00 a.m.” Well, that’s not really an appointment, is it?
“Uh, Miss, all these people are….”
“Sit down until we call your name,” Nurse Ratched said.
I schlubbed my way to the corner. Sixty eyes, no, make that fifty-nine because one old guy wore a yellow-medicine-stained gauze patch covering one eye, followed my every move. I leaned against the wall, hoping someone would pass out onto the floor so I could get a seat.
Two cell phones chimed at the same time. An old man sneezed then loudly described to his caller intimate details of the rupture in his groin. A nice lady answered hers on speaker, blew her nose and babbled enthusiastic baby-talk to her grandchild on the other end.
The outside door opened and a grimacing man, bent at the waist fought his way through to the reception window where he told the receptionist in a stage whisper “…they said on the t.v. if it lasted four hours to see the doctor, so here I am.”
He was instantly admitted to THE LAND BEYOND THE RECEPTION GLASS and within five minutes shrill laughter from two dozen nurses filtered through the walls into the waiting area, where everyone pretended not to hear. My cheeks grew hot in sympathy. My God, man. Have those nurses no shame?
After three hours my knees buckled and I fell forward, smashing my nose against a heavy steel prosthetic leg the man next to me had removed to polish. I tore off my shirt and pressed it to my face to stanch the blood gushing from my nose. The receptionist noticed and I was ushered quickly into THE LAND BEYOND…, where a nurse practitioner stuffed my nose with cotton and asked “what seems to be the problem?”
I described the shooting pains I’ve had the last three weeks running from my heart through my shoulder. “The pain is excruciating when I walk more than ten feet,” I said. The nurse said “there’s a lot of that going around,” and told me to take two Aleve and begin a daily regimen of St. John’s Wort and one large garlic clove.
While you may think my doctor visit was less than optimal, some good came out of it. I was referred for my broken nose repair to an ENT who has opened an office in an old Sonic location. The nurses skate to your car and do a workup through the window. It’s comforting because any car is more hygienic than the waiting room and if surgery is needed, the doctor leases space on the hydraulic lift at the former Jiffy Lube location next door and adjusts the O.R. table up and down as needed.
I’m scheduled for surgery at the Jiffy Lube next week, but if there’s a lightning storm and the ENT raises me to the ceiling, I’m hightailing it before the villagers show up with their torches and pitchforks.
Vladimir Putin has been in the news a lot lately, taking time from his re-conquest of Eastern Europe to send fighter jets and troops to his ophthalmologist pal Bashar al-Assad. Watching him on television, I was reminded of the week I spent two months ago with Vlad at his new dacha on the beach at the Black Sea coastal resort of Sochi. The town seemed deserted compared to the Sochi I experienced during the Winter Olympics when I helped win a silver medal as a sweeper for the Paraguayan curling team, whose coach I met two years ago at a layover in Orly Airport near Paris when I asked him why the round granite rock he was holding had a handle.
Putin’s dacha, as you would expect, is state of the art, built to the President’s exacting specifications by Russian craftsmen. Shaking off jet lag, I poured a vodka from the carafe in my bathroom, knocked it back, and shaved and showered in invigorating ice cold water in a tub with no drain. I slammed another vodka and joined Putin in his breakfast nook. After a fabulous meal of black bean curd, hambone, black bread, and black coffee laced with vodka, Putin tore off his shirt, sending buttons flying everywhere. The President suggested we leave the dacha for a stroll around town. I said okay, ripped off my shirt, and followed him out the door.
We had not yet made it to the street when a massive Russian boar came crashing through Putin’s black picket fence and barreled into Putin, knocking him ten feet into the air. Incredibly, he landed on his feet. I watched in awe as Putin grabbed the 700 pound boar in the throat with one hand, lifted him off the ground and throttled him. Putin held the boar aloft until it died, then grabbed the dead animal by its tusks and flung it into his neighbor’s yard.
“You don’t think your neighbor will mind having that dead boar in his yard?” I asked.
“Nyet,” Putin said, “he is Crimean. If he complains I will annex his yard into mine.”
Putin looked at me with cold eyes, then punched me on my upper arm and started laughing. I realized he was joking, and began to laugh with him, having momentarily forgotten what a keen sense of humor he has. We walked toward the beach, puffing out our bare chests, nodding to the admiring comrades we passed. I watched with envy as a couple of stocky babushkas stopped Putin to rub his hairless pecs. The ladies offered us a drink, so the four of us knocked back a vodka. The President patted their heads and strutted off.
After a couple of blocks I caught up with him. We walked past a vacant lot. Putin stopped abruptly and stared at something on the lot. I saw nothing.
“What is it, Poot?” I asked.
“Follow me,” he said.
Putin strode to a small mound on the back of the lot, kicked the mound a few times with his black boots, and reached into the dirt to pull out an ancient cloth sack. He knocked the dust from the bag then held it open for me. I gasped when a saw hundreds of Roman gold coins.
“My God, Poot,” I said, “these are worth a fortune.”
“Yes,” Putin said. “I find these treasures all the time. The Romans left in a hurry.”
Putin noticed the two babushkas trailing us, and waved them over. Laughing and singing, he poured the gold coins into their aprons. They thanked him and fondled his bare pectorals again.
We continued to strut toward the beach. Out of an alley a white Siberian tiger bounded toward us. I yelled, but Putin calmly moved between the tiger and me, raised his hand and spoke quietly. The tiger stopped, tilted his head, and sat on its haunches before the President of Russia. Putin stroked and petted the tiger’s enormous head.
“That is unbelievable, Poot,” I whispered from behind him.
“He only wants love,” he said, then stuck two fingers in his mouth and cleaved the morning calm with an ear-splitting whistle.
A gorgeous black stallion raced around the corner and stopped in front of us. Putin grabbed the stallion’s mane and swung his leg over the horse’s back, coming to rest atop the magnificent beast. Poot gestured for me to ride with him, but I demurred. He spoke quietly to the tiger, who leapt from the ground onto the horse to ride behind Putin. The President smoothed the tiger’s white fur and gently nudged the stallion forward. I followed them to the beach.
Putin dismounted, slapped the horse’s rump and shooed the tiger away with a kiss on the nose. He kicked off his black boots and sauntered across the black stone beach. He marched deeper into the water until the waves were breaking over his head. He disappeared for a few minutes, then burst through the surface and strode back toward me. I saw something in his hand.
When he joined me on the rocky beach, he broke the barnacles and sea detritus off the object with his bare hands, revealing a gorgeous golden astrolabe, which Putin identified as one used by Portuguese mariners in the 16th Century. He held it aloft and determined our latitude, then gave the priceless astrolabe to a young Russian boy who happened by. The boy patted Putin on his bare chest pulled a bottle from his backpack. We all slammed a vodka. The boy held the astrolabe aloft, thanked the President and ran off down the beach.
“An amazing day, Poot,” I said, clapping my pal on his bare shoulder as we headed for his dacha.
“Nyet,” he said. “Merely a day in the life. Come. Let us now drink some vodka.”
Copyright © 2015
I have two movies and one BBC crime series to recommend.
1. THE HUNDRED-YEAR-OLD-MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT OF THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED. A Swedish "Forrest Gump" that is really entertaining, and clean.
2. THE WOMAN IN GOLD: You've probably seen Helen Mirren in this movie about her attempt to reclaim her family's art by the Nazis. If you haven't, you should.
3. BROADCHURCH: First season of a BBC series about the murder of a young boy in a small coastal town in Dorset. Very deliberate pace. As with all series like this, the first season is always the best.
I was working in my astrophysics lab at home yesterday, flipping the space-time continuum on its side and tying quarks and Higgs boson particles to it with the sub-atomic vibrating strings which some claim to be the building blocks of all matter. I cobbled together a miniature particle accelerator/collider out of an old bicycle tire and cap pistol in between football games. It has since produced a steady stream of God particles, which I keep cool in an old Yeti ice chest out back. If you ever need any, just holler.
In an incredible coincidence, after I closed my lab for the night, I got a call from an old friend, Momo, with whom I had done a nickel in Alcatraz. He died unexpectedly last year from injuries received in a limbo challenge in St. Barts. He heard I had been trying to break into the posthumous interview racket and turns out he’s been spending a lot of time lately with Albert Einstein, whom he put on the phone. I asked the late genius if I could record our conversation. He said “ja wohl,” and off we went. Here are excerpts.
MH: Thank you for your time, Herr Einstein.
AE: Sure, you are welcome, young man. My spacetime is your spacetime.
MH: Herr Einstein, I was…
AE: Call me Bert. Everyone here does.
MH: All right, uh, Bert. Just exactly where are you now?
AE: In one of the many alternative universes spun from spacetime.
MH: Could you explain that to me? Is it like heaven?
AE: What size hat do you wear?
MH: Seven and seven-eighths.
AE: Then no, I cannot explain it to you. You would need at least fifty per cent more brain to understand. Look at the size of this dome of mine. Size 12. Big, big brain. It’s still there in your United States in a museum near D.C., where they seem to have nothing but small brains.
MH: This is a telephone interview, Bert. I cannot see your big head.
AE: Pity. Did you know I changed my hair?
MH: I did not know that. No more wild white hair sticking out everywhere?
AE: (Laughing) No, no. I was smoking a lot of, uh, well I was going through a hippie stage when all those photos were taken. I wear a big white pompadour now, very smooth. Like a television preacher. You would not recognize me.
MH: That’s why there are so many pictures of you with your pipe?
AE: Ja. How did you think I could come up with my theory of general relativity, in which I concluded that gravity warps space and time in the cosmos? I was so loaded. That train speeding past with people moving inside… , man-oh-man.
MH: Momo suggested I ask you about the rock band you put together back in the day. I’ve read about your life but never saw any mention of your musical adventures.
AE: We were called The Emcee Toos. That was so much fun. Just a bunch of quantum shade tree mechanics jamming on weekends. Heisenberg played accordion and Schrodinger was on drums. We did a syncopated oompah number we titled “Unified Theory” that went to the top of the charts. I wrote a waltz I called “The Singularity” that I had high hopes for, but when we released the single, it just kind of blew up on us. How do you say it? With a bang?
MH: Your theories led to the creation of the first atomic bomb. Any regrets?
AE: Ach du lieber! Many, of course, but one that bothers me most—please tell your readers it is pronounced “nook-lee-er” and not “nook-you-ler.”
MH: Will do, Bert. Thanks for talking.
AE: You bet. Gott mit uns.
I ended the call and looked up Bert’s last comment in my German language OED. Best I can tell, I think it means “Don’t forget your gloves.”
I don’t think it’s cold enough for my mittens, but I guess he does. Just goes to show you how everything is relative.
Copyright © 2014
I know you are new to this site, but I have to get this off my chest. Do not get angry. I am telling you this for your own good.
I passed you on the 880 Loop the other day. You were in the slow lane in your new fuel efficient self-aware mini-hybrid. Since we are such good friends, I know you won’t mind my saying you might as well be riding on the interstate in a golf cart. A Mini-Cooper would crush you and your highly intelligent vehicle like a bug.
But that’s enough about you. As you are probably aware, I traded in my vintage Vauxhall for a domestic last year. Driving home from my MENSA meeting, my air conditioner went haywire. The driver’s side vents blasted ice-cold air while super-heated air blew on the passenger side. Ever vigilant and keenly attuned to my environment, I noticed the bifurcation when the vents to my right began to glow.
I drove straight to my trusted mechanic, Milo Fields, and paced in his waiting room. After God only knows how long, Milo walked through the swinging doors. From his hang-dog look, I knew it was serious.
“Tell me the truth,” I pleaded.
“It’s not good,” Milo said, removing his surgical mask and matching beanie. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”
“Can you do something?”
Tears filled my eyes. I searched Milo’s face for a clue, but saw only a stunning Marilyn Monroe beauty mark near his mouth I had never noticed before.
“Is it real?” I asked the burly mechanic, wondering if it might be a mole. I concentrated on it, concluding finally it was probably a natural mole enhanced cosmetically to resemble Marilyn’s. It was not a bad look for Milo.
“Yeah, the problem is real,” Milo said. “Its manifestation could be physical or psychosomatic. And I’m afraid it’s beyond my expertise. I don’t want to go in and find something I’m not equipped to handle here. We’re going to have to call in a specialist.”
Immediately my fertile imagination raised the specter of one fatal diagnosis after another.
“Is euthanasia in the cards?” I asked, lower lip atremble.
“I think we can deal with it domestically,” Milo assured me. “I’m calling Dr. Sigmund Schadenfreude. He’s the best.”
Within hours I watched my ailing car atop a huge tow truck disappear through the sally port of a towering downtown edifice. I wondered if I would ever see it again. The times we shared….
“It is quite serious,” I think Dr. Schadenfreude told me through the haze of pipe smoke curling from his nostrils. “I have seen this before, but not in one so young.” He shook his head. “Such a recent model.”
I couldn’t really understand what he was saying, but everything about the doctor evidenced his gravitas—his shock of unruly salt-and-pepper hair and walrus moustache, his thick Teutonic accent, his curved Sherlock Holmes pipe, his permanently wrinkled brow—this great man knew of which he spoke.
“I have ruled out Degenerative Coolant Disorder, Chronic Schrader Valvitis, and of course, Harkin’s Clutch Neuropathy.”
“Yes,” I screamed in an uncomfortable gumbo of triumph and gastrointestinal pain. “It will live, then!”
It sounded like he said “some may call it living, but I…,” and pointed his curlicue pipe at me, mouthpiece first, humming a tune I recognized from my studies of non-traditional Nordic music. How could I have missed it? The pipe doubled as a mini-bukkehorn.
“Your automobile suffers from delusional schizophrenia emanating from a rare form of bi-polar disorder.”
“My car is mentally ill?”
“That’s why the hot…the cold…, do you understand what it is I am saying?” Vat eet ees I am sayink?
It hit me like a ton of bricks. Steel, rubber, and plastic, sprung from the wallet of my loins in a miracle of zero interest financing—was it over for us? From down deep I pulled myself together, gathering strength for the long road ahead. I asked him if I could see my vehicle.
“I teenk so,” I believe he said.
Copyright © 2014