"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

May 18, 2011

On the Intersection of Chemistry, Biology, Human Community and Infection, in a Grand Conspiracy...

...to put my crappy little ego on notice.

Today, bad shit happened to me. In waves. But, it started last night.

It began with a toothache. Koestler's toothache. Malraux's existential, isolating tooth pain. Suffering, mandated by the human condition its very self. The kind of agony that leads even anti-meditative monsters to consider a drink from the well of consolation. The type of pain what makes a person contemplate self-defenestration. The restfulness of a welcoming death. Drugs. Every drug, ever.

Abscessed, I feared. And did next to nothing about it. Because, like whatever man, I can handle it. My wife, a more reasonable species of human than I, called our dentist. I'd left a message. She called him at his house.

He called in a prescription for an antibiotic.

Dutifully, I trudged to the drug store, adjacent to a Catholic hospital that always has a batch of old ladies and withered nuns out front protesting the evils of everything. I mean, everything. One day it was an alleged merger with a godless women's health practice (nope, they don't do abortions, but that doesn't matter, does it?). On another occasion it was the failure of local Mancunians to properly venerate the Virgin Mother. Replete with a gaudy five foot tall plaster statue of the same. A painted plaster statue. A Bathtub Mary, liberated from her habitual digs on some old Canadian's lawn, to give mute protest to the failure of passersby to take her seriously. Or some shit.

Anyway, the drug store. Shuffling in line. Begging for pills. The bright lights and the wan fluorescence, competing for the pride of painting us all in our own dirtied plaster tones.

A bottle with a command. Take immediately. We got back home and dutifully, again, I did just that.

Sat down to some bad teevee. Got itchy. Found welts all over my abdomen. Mewled pitifully until my wife stopped whatever productive work she was doing in order to coo over my booboos.

Spider bites, she pronounced. Seemed reasonable. But, it's taken me a while to trust her diagnostic skills, again. She blew a big one, you know. Well, I blew it, but it's still convenient and funny to hold her to account, because it put me in the hospital for more than a week, recovering from a ruptured appendix riddled with worms.

Nasty fuckers. I got them from our little piece of urban heaven. A half acre of garden plot we'd scratched and scribbled and dug into existence. Beans and 'matoes. Chives, mint, basil, lettuce, carrots, peppers. thyme, oregano and squash. Potatoes and scallions. First year asparagus. Echinacea, cucumbers and even a few fiddleheads.

And the worms. Our neighbor's sewer pipes had busted. See, our garden was preternaturally well fertilized. A subterranean mysticism of fecundity. Me, turned into a warning system Jack. I thought it was my wife's green thumb. It was our neighbors' poo, instead.

But, back to the appendix. One day, I got the sweats. Preacher in a hot tent somewhere in northern Louisiana, jumping around, arms flailing, mouth sputtering in the noon heat of the hottest summer on record, sweats. I turned green. Well, greener. Fucking olive skin.

Told my wife. She smiled, and suggested perhaps I could bother her a little less with my whimpering. (I still play this card. It doesn't work anymore, but it's taken on the gilding of a rite, or tradition.)

I "toughed" it out for another day. Collapsed into a cash register and half a dozen cigarette displays, while doing a tobacco reconciliation report. Got a cosmetic scar and one of those nifty morphine drips with the auto-serve buttons. Mmmm, morphine.

Could have used that shit last night, or for most of today.

Last night, man that tooth.

At least I was distracted by the spider bites. The indignity. Just because it's the damned New England Monsoon season, doesn't mean those fuckers get to come inside our flat and bite on me. The bastards. I was pissed. Which is another way of saying that I can be preeningly ridiculous.

So, off to the more evolved one for a little soothing, and back to the bad teevee. Fucking spiders. The gall.

I didn't sleep well. Or, as my son's friends say, I didn't sleep so good, no good.

"Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head..."

That last part is a lie. I don't have enough hair for a comb.

But, I did what the label on the bottle told me. Dutifully. Pills, cherry juice, swallow.

And a fucking spider bit me again. Right next to the other bites. Inauspicious, I thought. No, really. I used the word inauspicious, silently, in my own head. What an asshole, amiright?

What, was the fucker hunting me in my sleep? Not content to bite whilst awake, he had to bite me while I was sleeping too?

Told me wife. She was heroic. She suppressed that chuckle with muscular resolve.

Then it happened.

A taut, burning, itchy donut ring of vanity erasing fleshy vengeance. Actual donut sized. And I means it. I really do.

My unreal gods be damned penis.

"Wife," I says, "could you look at this?" I did not do my best to channel John Wayne. I couldn't even manage a Kevin Spacey. My voice cracked. I did a little panic dance. I said, over and over again something like, "My dick?!" My dick?!"

That's not exactly accurate. I didn't say it. I whined and mewled and whimpered it. Plus, the panic dance was more like a drunken, spasmodic jig. Several of them, haphazardly strung together, and acted out across several rooms, to a mishmash of competing instrumentalizations from a variety of cultures and epochs - all while I tried not to let my now awake children in on the cosmic joke unfolding beneath my waistline. A failure, on all accounts.

Now we had a family affair. I have good boys. They did not giggle. My oldest, ever compassionate and sweet, gave me a hug. One of those unselfconscious embraces only truly noble, benign and benevolent people can manage. Needless to say, I rarely manage them.

I do manage to make a fool of myself. And there was this morning...

Pounding tooth ache?
Embarrassing inability to handle pain or surprises, coupled with choppy gesticulations?
Squandering all dignity while I bounced around our bed room, chanting, "My dick!?"
Hives all over my belly, threatening to drown out the pain with intestine deep itchiness?
Panicky dissolution of my pride and vanity, asking my wife to look at it again. And again?
Swollen jelly donut where the end of my dick used to be?
You betcha.
Sudden certainty that, no, jackhole, it wasn't spider bites at all?
Duh, idiot.

Dawning realization that I was going to have to show all this to a doctor?

Fucking priceless.

An hour and half later, I was waiting for a physician I'd never met, ruminating on the question asked by the nurse, after I'd described my symptoms over the phone. "Mr. Crow, do you mind if you see a woman?"

"Nah," I lied. I couldn't possibly think of a better beginning to this morning's conclusion. What guy raised in late capitalist uber macho America isn't jumping at the chance to show off his swollen and retreating dick to a female doctor he's never before seen or met?

Did I mention that she was pregnant? It doesn't matter, but it seemed so funny at the time.

She walked in, very pregnant. And happy enough to make a few dick jokes for my amusement (seriously) and her own. A kindness, that. Pregnant lady doctor making dick jokes while she examined my donut ringed penis as it made its best attempt ever to crawl up into the gap left by my long absent appendix.

The juxtaposition of her life-giving, swelled and late stage abdomen with my ridiculous, vanity destroying, ego minimizing grotesque of a caricature of a Gieger abomination...it was funny. Existentially absurd. Camus has got nothing on me, baby.

I almost lost it.

I almost forgot the line I'd rehearsed the entire drive to the practice.

"Today I finally fail in my enduring quest to maintain my vanity in the face of women I've never met."

But, I said it. Yep, I actually said that stupid shit.

I am an asshole. In case I've never told any of you that before.

That's when she made the first dick joke. It was perfect.

A perfect moment, in fact. There I was, swinging in the air conditioned draft - well, not quite swinging, sort of puckering like a new swimmer's over inflated pool floatee - covered in hives, while we discussed what I had to do if the swelling didn't stop (to preserve "the tip," as she put it).

A moment of absolute immediacy. Of immediate, unfiltered presence, my own and hers. A moment without vanity or my ego to be found anywhere.

A moment of perfect humility.

And all it took was an antibiotic to which I have developed an overnight allergy, my traitorous dick, a snarky pregnant doctor, a throbbing abscessed tooth, a couple of dick jokes and a discussion about saving the tip of my faithless, jerk of a penis.


JRB said...

I have a lot to learn from you, Mr. Crow. Thanks.

BDR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coldtype said...


BDR said...

Serendipity works though it will fuck with you.

Thanks very much for the reminder. I hope you're better short-term for the medicine and long-term for the lesson.

(Also, apologies for the botched first comment attempt. That was me.)

fish said...

Nothing more hilarious and delightful than humans being human (as long as it ends okay). I hope the story was worth the pain, cuz the story is excellent.

Cüneyt said...

Wow. Well said.

davidly said...

Sublime piece of writing. Hope you're feeling better.

David K Wayne said...

Great stuff. Feel guilty that it was far from painful to read.

Verification: "hipmeds" (!)

Jack Crow said...

Thank you, all.


You know what bothers me the most? The bill. That's sick, isn't it? It's been sucky to experience, fun to write about, rewarding to have my wife poke playful fun, and humbling to explain to my kids.

And although I could barely sleep because tooth pain is extraordinary and out of all proportion to the region of the body it inhabits, I didn't wake up wondering about pain.

I woke up doing math in my head, trying to figure out how in christ I was going to pay for all this shit.

Two crowns (or a tooth I can ill afford to lose, removed), a root canal, all the expenses incurred yesterday, the gas I wasted driving across the city twice, this week's grocery bill, my promise to buy the last two books in a series for my youngest, my wife's own not insignificant medical needs (and the fact that she has put off a biopsy/exam and a mammogram for far too long, so our kids can eat) and a loan I took from a family member I just finished paying back in time to go begging again.

Weighing out the cost of after school or daytime child care or day camps(summer is real close), against the likely weekly take I'd make going back to work.

That's what I woke up worrying.

We'll figure it out, but man that makes me sad. That my wife and I, like most of the Earth's billions, have to calculate how much health we can afford before our aging bodies become a liability to our children's present, and futures.

Too much pain for anger. But, it's simmering down there somewhere, mocking up its own justifications, scheming and plotting its own revolt.

One of these days, I fear and hope, I'll really start to listen to it.

Again - thank you. It was fun to write, and its own reward in offering it. I'm selfish like that, I guess.

JRB said...

If you need a little "from our ability, to your needs" we could treat it like a communistic experiment where there is no shame in getting screened for breast cancer.

I don't have a more tactful way of saying it, and we all know you wouldn't ask for yourself, but it would be more meaningful than plenty of other things I've been up to lately. Sorry if that puts you on the spot.

senecal said...

I had a similar, less embarrassing but more scary experience when I hiked through an allergenic hayfield on the third day of trying to wear contact lenses. Something made me stop and rush home, where I looked into the mirror and saw two golf-ball sized white orbs staring back at me from what was roughly still my own face. I don't remember how I handled it, but I recall the cold clammy sensation of imminent dying.

Jack Crow said...

JRB, I'm humbled - but we're all set. Gratefully, thank you. Honestly.

I know I can be a bit of a dick, but I mean it when I write that you're a good person.



Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I woke up doing math in my head, trying to figure out how in christ I was going to pay for all this shit.

That is simply tragic, the fact that it's true for a sizable percentage of Americans is appalling.

But at least we're not socialists!!!

Randal Graves said...

Great story that you'll be telling forever (part of me is saying that because I didn't have to go through the pain; see, we're all dicks!) and glad it turned out well, i.e. no coffin, though man, medical bills.

JRB said...


Difference is the spice of strife. I admire who you are in spite of ours.

Just don't be shy about saying whether you need anything.