SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
August 9, 2020

The Abomination, Part I

 

The Pakistani driving the livery cab asked a question I couldn’t quite understand. At least it sounded like a question.

            “Pardon?” I asked from the back seat. Ninety-five fucking degrees out, and I get a driver who doesn’t believe in air conditioning. Figures.

            He repeated what he’d said, but I was still having a hard time parsing it into comprehensible English words. I apologized and asked him to repeat it a third time. This time, listening hard, it finally clicked.

            “How . . . do . . . you . . . spell . . . ’South’?”

            Uh-oh, I thought. That didn’t bode well at all in terms of making this appointment on time, especially when you consider he’d been driving for ten minutes despite, apparently, having no idea where he was taking me.

            Eight years ago, I underwent a small surgical procedure to have a disgusting oozing cyst removed from the crown of my skull. Granted, it hadn’t been oozing until, as usual, I got drunk and fed up one night and went after it with a shoe knife, my surgical instrument of choice. I didn’t do a very good job, and after that it wouldn’t stop oozing.

            I brought it to my dermatologist, normally a very bright, helpful, funny guy,  but he told me he wouldn’t operate on anyone’s head. He gave me a referral to another dermatologist, who told me the same thing. Everyone kept passing me along to people who told me they refused to operate on heads, refused to remove oozing cysts, or simply wouldn’t do it because they didn’t feel like it.

            I was finally directed to the only doctor in town—and I’m serious about this—who would remove cysts from people’s heads. He was actually a plastic surgeon who specialized in giving women giant Brazilian asses, but, yes, in my case he’d make an exception.

            When he removed the oozing cyst from the crown of my skull in 2012 (and did a mighty fine job of it, too), I had another Abomination clinging to the left side of my skull, just above and behind the ear. He asked if I wanted him to excise that one while he was at it, but I declined. That one had been there for over a decade, was about the size of a grape, and wasn’t bothering anyone, save for confounding the occasional barber. Barbers always paused and palpitated it for some reason. One suggested it might be a tumor. More than a few recommended I have something done about it, but I brushed them all off. It was my Abomination, goddammit, and I was keeping it.

            Everything was fine and dandy with the Abomination. We got along quite well. Then one day a few weeks back, likely after the constant irritation from the COVID-era face mask, it started to ache. At the same time, an Abomination which hadn’t changed a wisp in over fifteen years suddenly began extending a new arm, or tentacle, or feeler of some kind. Neither of these developments was good news, and they hinted there was either an abscess afoot, or the Abomination was about to take on a life of its own, leaving the two of us locked in mortal combat over control of my brain.

            Better to get it taken care of, whatever the case, before it got any worse, I thought, trying to ignore the closing line of the Killdozer song about cyst removal (“And my soul shall BURN for the destruction of this little life!”).

            Instead of reaching for the Wild Turkey and the shoe knife again, and instead of going through another long string of comically useless referrals, I looked up the plastic surgeon’s number in my files, hoping the number still worked, that he was still in business, and that he hadn’t injected cement into some woman’s ass at some point along the line and ended up in Sing-Sing.

             He apparently hadn’t, and was still in the same office on Central Park South, which brings us back to the Pakistani driving the livery cab. After he picked me up in Bensonhurst and headed off with smiling confidence, I  learned he not only had no idea where Central Park South was, he couldn’t even type it into his GPS until he figured out how to spell “South.” So I spelled it slowly and clearly three times until it took hold. Good thing I decided to head out an hour and a half before my appointment. Even after he got a handle on the address and the device began spewing directions at him, he got on the phone and called his dispatcher, the two jabbering in Urdu about how he might get from where he was to where I was going.

            Much to my astonishment, in spite of it all we arrived at the southern end of the park with fifteen minutes to spare. I found my way to the office, where I was the only patient waiting, though I could hear the doctor—never could get a finger on his ethnicity—consulting with someone in his office in the back. I was in a spacious, dim and cool waiting room with just a couple of chairs. I couldn’t see any of the decorations, but assumed, as Morgan had described it last time, that it was still dotted with gilded sculptures of plump, smiling  cherubs, and a video screen behind me was still playing an endless loop of before and after pictures of women with gigantic boobs and asses. All these women seemed very happy.

            As I was lost in thought, pondering these surroundings I would never see, the consultation taking place in an office somewhere behind me came to an end without my noticing, and the future proud owner of a gigantic ass left the office.

            The doctor called my name from behind as he entered the room. He sounded like he was eating a donut. The first thing he said after stepping around in front of me was, “You have good hair.”

            I figured he was joking, and took it as such. After some four barberless months, my hair, which tends to grow vertically these days, now existed somewhere toward the crazy end of the hair spectrum, tucked in between Beckett in his final years, Henry from Eraserhead, and Einstein.

            But he wasn’t joking. What he meant was there was enough on hand to camouflage any patches he’d have to shave for the operation, as well as the resulting scar.  I wanted to tell him that after so many years of zany punk rock haircuts, weird shaved spots and unholy scars would hardly be new to me. I’d just go another barberless month until things grew back.

            “You wanna just do the consult here?” He asked, referring to the empty waiting room. “I mean, we could go to the office if you like, or we could just sit here. There’s nobody else here, so why don’t we just do that?”

            “Fine with me,” I agreed, given he seemed to have made up his mind.

            “Okay, good.”

            We talked about the specific nature of the Abomination, then he stepped closer and gave it a poke. “Yeah, we can remove that. In fact you want to get it done now for two reasons.” He’d been pacing back and forth in front of me as he spoke, but at that dramatic point, he simply wandered completely out of the room.

            He was gone for nearly five minutes, as I sat there wondering what the two reasons might be. If I let it go any longer, would it explode? Would the tentacle growing out of the Abomination get long enough to strangle me in my sleep? If it was a third eye, might it just blink open? Was there a long-dormant parasitic twin inside my head who’d suddenly decided to start growing in order to claim what was rightly his?

            Finally the doctor wandered back into the room. He seemed to have finished his donut. I was also curious to see if he’d finished his thought back there, and would now pick up in the middle of a sentence about billing procedures.

            “Sorry,” he said. “I have this bad habit of wandering away in the middle of a sentence. It’s my A.D.D.”

            I was trying to remember if he’d mentioned his A.D.D. last time, and if he had, why I’d let him come near my head with a scalpel.  I also wondered, now fully and consciously aware of his A.D.D., why I was so perfectly willing to let him do it again.

            He finally took a seat on the couch across from me. No, that’s not exactly right. More precisely, he flopped down on it and put his legs up, conducting the rest of the consult on his back. There was something about his voice and general demeanor, and I know this had struck me last time too, that left me convinced he was half-stoned. Well, he’d done a fine job last time around, and if he’d been stoned then, I wanted to make sure he was stoned this time, too.

            He flipped through my chart and asked me where my seizures came from.

            “Well, I received a couple serious blows to the head back in the mid-Eighties. Ended up with a lesion on my left temporal lobe”

            “Yeah, the Eighties were a crazy time,” he said, without asking for  any more details about how I’d received the blows in question. He then launched into a long, fascinating, and utterly pointless anecdote.

            Back in the late Eighties, someone he described as a “very sensitive young man,” was approached on the subway by a mugger who demanded his wallet. Even after handing over the wallet to the mugger, he ended up getting shot in the belly. The sensitive young man was brought to Kings County Hospital, where surgeons opened him up from sternum to pelvis. Because the bullet had pierced his intestines, he had a very bad infection throughout his body cavity. After cleaning him up as best they could, the surgeons sewed him back together, but let the incision heal naturally. The resulting scar was pretty ugly. The sensitive young man consulted the plastic surgeon to see if he could do anything about it. The doctor took the case, and both seemed quite pleased with the results.

            Jump ahead several years, and the young man returned to the office again, this time on account of a fatty tumor which had developed in the middle of his back. He was hoping the doctor might remove it.

            “I began dissecting the tumor as I was operating,” he told me. “I’ll do the same with you. It’s a way of seeing what we were dealing with. And I found it just kept going deeper and deeper, down through the muscle. And finally at the core we found a small piece of metal. It was the bullet. Sometimes when you’re an E.R. doctor operating on a gunshot victim, you leave the bullet where it is, because removing it can cause bigger problems. So we removed it, and he was fine. But finding the bullet brought all the memories of that incident flooding back, and he had problems, serious emotional problems, for a long time afterward.”

            I had no idea why he was telling me this story until he added, “We’re heading back to the way things were in the Eighties right now. People don’t realize that cops simply aren’t going to want to do anything any more if people keep treating them this way, and things are going to get bad. People don’t understand what they’re doing.

            I thought a quiet and worried “uh-oh,” as I wondered if he’d added a big “Blue Lives Matter” banner to his office decorations since my last visit. If he had, I reckoned it would be best I keep my mouth shut on the issue, given he was the one with the scalpels and the anesthetic.

            “Sooo . . . ” I ventured. “When do you think we might be able to schedule the operation?”

 

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