SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
December 10, 2006

Looking for a Way In

For the life of me, I don’t know exactly why I still go to see my ophthalmologist twice a year. All that usually happens is this: I sit in the waiting room surrounded by wheezing, crotchety old people for awhile. Then when I get in to see the doctor, she looks into my eyes with a couple of machines, then shrugs and says there’s really nothing that can be done. Then we chat about something else for fifteen minutes. Then I get a bill.

     It’s been like that for over a decade now.

     But she is very friendly and funny, and her partner in the office is a beer-drinking Asian biker gun nut (though very professional when it comes to eyes). They’re the only doctors appointments I ever actually enjoy, so I guess that’s what keeps me going back. What’s more, the office is just a few blocks from Morgan’s place, so getting there is no trouble.

     As I was walking down the sidewalk to my latest appointment one Wednesday, however, something seemed amiss. In order to get to the office door, see, you need to walk down a narrow, paved pathway which runs through a garden along the side of the building. This time however, three orange traffic cones and some yellow caution tape blocked the path. Two men were standing there, pretending (though not very convincingly) to work.

     I looked around as best as I could, but could figure out no alternate route to the door, short of tromping through the garden and hopping over some wet cement.

     I stood there a moment, confused.

     Seeing this, one of the workmen pointed back down the sidewalk to my left.

     “There,” he said.

     I offered a small wave of thanks even though I had no idea what he was telling me, and strolled back the way I’d just come.

     The first door I passed—what I figured my Mexican friend meant—belonged to a swank apartment complex inhabited by elderly people with small dogs. I paused in front of the double glass doors, still confused.

     The Irish doorman in the snappy cap and stiff green uniform pushed the door open and leaned out. “Can I help you?”

     “Yyyyyeah,” I said, unsure if he could or not. “Does this building connect to that one in some way? I have an appointment over there, but the entryway’s blocked off. The guy told me I need to come in over here. At least I think this is what he meant.”

     He shook his head. “No,” he said. “They have similar names, but the place you’re looking for is west, not east.”

     “I see,” I said, as I began to wonder why everyone I encountered was suddenly speaking only in enigmatic vagueness.

     I thanked him for the “information,” then walked to the payphone at the end of the block. I found a quarter in my pocket, and called the doctor’s office.

     “Hello,” I said. “I have a two o’clock appointment, and I’m just wondering . . . ummm . . . how do I get in there?”

     “Oh,” the receptionist said, “Sorry about that. Just go in next door, and tell the person at the front desk that you want to get over here. Someone will open a door for you and you’ll have to walk through a gym.”

     This was getting to be way too much.

     “Okay,” I said, nevertheless. “Ahh . . . now where do I go in again?”

     “Next door.”

     “Next door where?”

     “To your left.”

     I looked at the blank brick wall to my left.

     “But I’m on a pay phone a block away.”

     “Well then, when you stand in front of our building, it’s to your left.”

     “Oh. Okay.” I thanked her and walked back to the blocked-off entry. I looked to my left. All that was there was the same building the doorman had shooed me away from in that very odd way a few minutes earlier.

     Again I caught the eye of the workman. And again he pointed and said “There.”

     I likewise pointed at the building. “There?”

     “Yeah.”

     I continued pointing. “This one right there?”

     “Yeah.”

     I gestured more specifically at the fancy canopy above the entrance. “That one, is what you’re saying?”

     “Yeah.” He seemed half amused and half annoyed.

     I shrugged and returned to the double glass doors.

Once more the doorman leaned out.

     “Hello,” I said. “You may remember me—I was here about two minutes ago.”

     He nodded, but said nothing.

     “Now, okay. I have an appointment in that building there.” I pointed. “Everyone seems to be telling me that I have to come in here, talk to someone at a desk, and walk through a gym.”

     Even as I said it, it was sounding like something out of Dungeons and Dragons, a really boring video game, or maybe that next Indiana Jones movie people keep talking about—the one where Indy uses a walker and owns a small dog.

      “Oh—you have a doctor’s appointment?” he asked.

     “Uh-huh.”

     “With the eye doctor?”

     “Uh-huh.”

      “Oh, yeah then. Come with me.”

      It’s possible that I rolled my eyes briefly as he held the door open for me, before leading me to the front desk.

     “Stand here,” he said. I was now in complete darkness. I pulled the cane from my bag as I heard him whispering to someone in the corner of the lobby.

     A moment later, I heard the ka-chung of a heavy door being pushed open. A tall, broad shadow leaned out and said, “I’ll take him.”

     As he passed me on the way back to his post, the doorman said, “He’ll take you.”

     “Okay. Thank you.”

     The large shadow took my arm and led me through the doorway, down a gray hall, around a corner, through another door, through a small exercise room filled with treadmills and weight machines, through another door, down another hallway, around a corner, around another corner, and just a little bit down another hallway before he stopped.

      “Here we are.”

     “Really?” I said. “Well, thank you most kindly.”

     “No problem.”

     Before he left, I stopped him. “One last thing—now, when it’s time for me to leave, I just go the same way we just came?”

     “That’s right.”

     “Great.”

 

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