SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
July 30, 2017

Wendy Williams, Marked For Death

 

It took some wrangling, but after a couple of months my insurance company finally and reluctantly caved and agreed to cover the MRI that would document the progress of my Incredible Shrinking Brain. That much was a surprise.

            Some things simply become inevitable over time, however, so I was neither surprised nor shocked and grossed to find it was pouring buckets of warm oily rain the morning I had to trudge back up to the hospital in the heart of the Most Loathsome Neighborhood on Earth. At least the downpour would, with luck, keep most of the Stroller Brigade at bay.

            I was right about that much at least, and found my way through the mostly empty damp sidewalks to the hospital dripping but not ranting about genocide. This is a good thing, as hospital personnel tend to look askance at soggy would-be patients shouting things about sarin gas and neutron bombs. Once inside, a security guard led me to the radiology department, and handed me off to a young man who took all my pertinent information before sitting me down in a chair in the waiting room about three feet from the television.

            Okay, here’s the Big Question of the day. Not only why, but how is it every last doctor’s office and hospital waiting room in the world insists on blasting the Wendy Williams Show at full volume, twenty-four hours a day? I’m sent to a lot of doctors, and have gone to appointments at nine in the morning, and there it is. I go to appointments at three in the afternoon, and there it is. I could end up in an emergency room at midnight, and I have no doubt I would find a television screen poised above my gurney blasting the fucking Wendy Williams Show. Who the hell is this woman, and why does she insist on yelling everything? Granted, being assaulted by the Wendy Williams Show in waiting rooms is pretty much my only key to understanding a little something about contemporary pop culture. Given this I’m only convinced time and time again I have no fucking time for contemporary pop culture. I still have no idea who some woman calling herself “Black Chyna” is or what she does or why she’s considered a celebrity. Is she some kind of professional wrestler or something? I never learned the answer from Ms. Williams, but did learn whoever this Black Chyna is, she’s a scheming gold digger.

            As the minutes passed and the television shrieked on, I found myself slipping into an hypnotic state. Usually in waiting rooms I like to eavesdrop on the personal miseries of the other patients and the receptionists around me, but with the hooting and caterwauling from the dead screen drowning everything else out, I had no choice but to enter an altered state of consciousness. It was either that or start stabbing everyone.

            In my semi-hypnotic state, I jumped and nearly screamed when a nurse placed her hand on my shoulder and told me she was going to take me to another room for the MRI.

            “Oh, thank god,” I told her as I stood in my still-damp raincoat and took her arm. She led me through a set of double doors, and as they swung shut behind us, Ms. Williams’ howling was blessedly silenced. I felt myself relax at last. We went down a long hallway, around two corners, through more sets of doors, finally pausing in still another waiting room, where she sat me in another chair.

            “Someone will be by to take you in just a second,” she promised. I thanked her, and she vanished.

            There were no other patients sitting around me in this other waiting room. The only other people in the room were two secretaries, one Russian, the other with a heavy Brooklyn accent, both in their forties. The television was of course on in the far corner and of course it was that eternal Wendy Williams atrocity, but at least it was far enough away from me that I could almost ignore it. I began thinking, and I’ve thought this before, that maybe the reasoning is, after being subjected to that fucking show for even a few seconds, anything that might be done to you, anything the doctor might tell you, would be like a merciful heavenly choir in comparison.

            “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have a brain-eating bacteria, and at the rate it’s progressing you have approximately twenty-two minutes to live.”

            “Oh, thank god for that. Can I just hang out here, then? I mean until it’s over? Just so long as I don’t have to go back to that fucking waiting room again.”

            I was surprised and impressed that in a hospital this size, I was brought back here at the exact time my appointment was scheduled. This was easy as pie, it was clockwork, it was a well-oiled machine. Expecting someone to step through the doors and call my name at any second, I remained alert and waited patiently.

            Then I waited some more.

            The secretaries went about their business, paying no attention to me. They conferred about records and appointments and whether this or that patient had gotten the necessary blood tests yet.

            I continued to wait, and things fell silent save for the distant drone of Ms. Williams screaming in the far corner.

            Half an hour passed. At one point the Brooklyn secretary broke the silence by looking up and, with no clear provocation, announcing “You know, I don’t think I appreciate your attitude lately,” to which the Russian replied, “Huh?” Neither of them said anything else about it after that and resumed their business.

            After a full hour passed with no other patients entering or leaving the room, I began to get the suspicion I’d somehow slipped through the cracks, that someone had neglected to forward a piece of paper with my name on it and I’d been forgotten,. Or that I had once again found myself in a local dinner theater production of No Exit. Just to make certain, I finally spoke up.

            “Um, excuse me?” I asked. “Um, is anyone, do you think, going to be coming to get me anytime soon?”

            The Brooklyn secretary excused herself and stepped through the doors to where the MRI machine and the techs were hidden. She was back a moment later.

            “I’m real sorry,” she said. “There’s a stat-one emergency in the ER, and the doctors want to run a priority MRI, so we need to keep the machine open until he shows up, because he’s stat-one. But we have no idea when that might be, and when he does show, it’ll be at least another half-hour after that before you go in. At least.”

            “Holy mackerel,” I replied, though I didn’t ask why they hadn’t bothered telling me about any of this earlier, and without pointing out that if I’d been put into the machine right when I’d arrived an hour earlier, I’d be well on my way home now and out of everyone’s hair. I just let that “holy mackerel” do all my griping for me.

            So I resumed waiting.

            Ten minutes later, the same Brooklyn secretary (who’s name I’d learned through osmosis was “Melody”) said, “C’mon, I’m going to take you to the other machine.” Taking my arm. She began leading me back through the doors and hallways toward the original waiting room.

            “Wait,” I was thinking. “There’s another machine?!”

            As we drew closer to the first waiting room. I began to recall the television in there and nearly made a break for it. Sensing this, she said, “I’m just going to put you in a dressing room over here. Someone will get you in a second.”

            Yeah. I’d heard that before.

            After dropping me in a small bare room with a bench, she asked “Would you like me to turn on the television so you have a little noise?”

            “OH GOD PLEASE DON’T! I yelped.”

            A minute later a round man with hairy arms appeared. “C’mon,” he said. “I’m gonna take you to another dressing room.”

            “Okay,” I said. I was getting used to this now, and was fully convinced I was never going to get an MRI. In fact I was convinced I would never be leaving that hospital again, that I would simply be moved from smaller to smaller rooms until I died of that brain-eating bacteria.

            But after reaching the second dressing room, he locked my bag and coat in a locker, walked me down some more hallways and through some more doors, and plopped me down on my back in the MRI device.

            I have a hard time convincing techs that I really really enjoy MRIs, but I do. It’s like being immersed in an isolation tank, but with much more intensely repetitive grinding industrial noise. I know plenty of people who can’t tolerate MRIs at all. Most of them cite claustrophobia, but I say they’re just sissies.

            When it was all over and they slid me out of the white plastic tube again, I said “Awww, it always ends right when it’s getting good”

            As the tech helped me sit up and get to my feet again, I asked, “So tell me—were you able to find anything at all inside my skull?”

            “Nope,” he said. “Not a thing. That’s why the test was so short.”

            I wasn’t sure if I should take him seriously or not. Guess I would find out soon enough. I hit the streets of the Most Loathsome Neighborhood on Earth feeling more than a little dizzy. It had by that point been over six hours since I’d had anything to eat, drink or smoke. At least the rain was a little lighter. I pulled the smokes from my pocket and lit one.

            I made my way to the subway, where, mercifully, a train showed up quickly. But when I stepped aboard, the hooting, shouting, cackling and arrhythmic clapping stopped me. For a second in my disoriented state, I was convinced I’d somehow wandered into the live studio audience of The Wendy Williams Show. I moved to step back out onto the platform, but the doors closed behind me. I was trapped.

            “I like that man!” A nasal voice shouted. “He’s a funny man!”

            “You go! You go!” Another excited and nasal voice chimed in.

            “Nah-nah-nah-nah-boo-boo!” Added another.

            As the dozen or more slurred, nasal and excited voices gelled into a piercing and raucous hum, I realized everyone else in that car was part of some kind of adult retard day care group on a field trip.

            “Nah-nah-nah-nah-boo-boo!” The one to my left repeated.

            “Now Nateesha,” the group leader scolded one of her charges. “I don’t want you falling asleep again. Our stop is coming up, and I don’t want to have to wake you up. If you’re asleep, I’m just gonna leave you there, and you’re gonna go all the way to Bay Ridge.”

            “Wuh-oh!” Another one said.

            “Oh, I heard that!” Chimed in another. “Boy, did I hear that!”

            “Wuh-oh!”

            “Is that what you want? To go to Bay Ridge?”

            “NOOOOOOO!” Nateesha responded.

            I was suddenly more convinced than ever I had taken a wrong turn somewhere onto the set of The Wendy Williams Show. Either that or was indeed trapped in that local dinner theater production of No Exit. Having no choice, I decided to accept it, and leaned back against the doors.

 

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