• christ kvetched •
“This is a surprise.”
All eyes were on me. All six of them. Those two eyes I had come to see were closed, but soon opened, and took me in, rheumily. He raised his hand to take mine. Tubes and a saline drip, with some sort of opiated solution mixed in, I guessed, dangled from his forearm. His grip was weak in my hand, more of a slight grasp than a shake, but what did I expect? Surgery is no walk in the park. And how was Ed supposed to look after a six hour back surgery?
Something of the “L4” and “L5”, about a “lamination”, or some such, of his spine, that reminded me of something I might do to a kitchen counter, in need of repair, something with minor water damage around a sink, maybe. Something about a “laminate”, or some such, anyway, to fix the thing.
And what was it he had, again? Something, if memory served, that sounded like “stenosis” or some such, they said, but I hadn’t really been listening, when they said it. Fairly typical of me, I’m afraid. Something. I couldn’t shake the notion, the mental picture of a ‘stenographer’, a severe looking woman in a high-collared outfit with horn-rimmed glasses, or a crisp court reporter with a ramrod spine, taking down every word of everything said in no uncertain terms: a dispassionate chronicle of chronic pain’s progress, each touch of her nimble fingers on the keys of her demonic device sending shock waves of searing pain through the poor man’s lower back, for how many years, now, three, maybe? I wasn’t sure about that either. I guess I wasn’t really invested, ’till now, not unusual for me. Distant, some said.
Disconnected, said others.
To hear them tell it, that’s me.
And so I just show up, uninvited, unannounced, and not entirely unwelcome, but unlooked for, they might have said, and probably did.
Surprised. Yes, I guess they would be. I had more or less ‘taken a powder’ for the last five years, give or take a year. Frankly, I had just had enough of the ‘Fox News constituency’, the ‘Rush Limbaugh clan’, the ‘Glen Beck “Good American” club’, which now sat gathered around the curtained room we were now in, with the beeping monitors, and line feeds and drips, the adjustable bed.
Not really my thing, vying so, for so little good, what little good there was to be had in such a dearth of good company. I had taken to keeping my own, for the longest time, and quite satisfactorily, but this, now, was quite a different matter. What was called for was humanity, the best of what I had on offer, and not tomorrow, but now, and in good order. I felt compelled to check on my father in law, to offer support, to see for myself, that he was okay. Word of mouth just wouldn’t do, in this. And so I did, such as I had. Needless to say, it had been a while. It had been a while. I felt awkward, and out of practice. I held my hat and scarf in my hands, and cleared my throat.
Ed opened his eyes, which looked large and watery and far away through the capacious lenses of his over-sized glasses, the same ones he had always worn for the last twenty-five years. Very late eighties. Very Isaac Asimov, only without the genius, without the secular humanism. Without a hint of a glint in those eyes of his. Ed, once so imposing, so the alpha male, now looked small, like a wasted weather balloon, once soaring so high, now laid low.
His voice was as thin as a blade of sawgrass on a shore wind, dry, indistinct, as he said, “Hey, thanks for coming.”
“That’s alright,” I said. “How ‘you feeling?”
He just inclined his head a bit, a subliminal shrug. I nodded back, and squeezed the fingers of his papery hand. He released mine, and I his.
I looked around the room. Mom. Janet. Kris. Were there, sizing me up. The unwelcome wagon.
“He just came out of the anesthesia a little bit ago. What was it, about fifteen minutes ago?” Said mom, graciously, making an effort to be cordial. She looked around the room. The others nodded. She looked exhausted.
“Yeah, he just came around, about twenty minutes…” replied Janet.
“This is a surprise.” This from Kris, again, as she had said, when I first walked in. Oh, well.
I didn’t acknowledge that last.
What would be the point?
I was here to offer comfort, if I could. That’s all. Just that. ‘Nuff said.
I looked down at Ed. His arms were bruised. Yellow rings around the needles, where they were taped against his skin.
“Seems like a powerful lot of trouble just to lose fifteen pounds in a hurry,” I tendered, “Liposuction is more draining than it’s made out to be, and not to be taken lightly.”
“What?” Ed said.
“Liposuction, Dad!” Explained Janet, from the corner where she sat, partially obscured by the roll-away curtain.
“Lipo!!” She repeated, louder still. “He was making a joke, Dad!!”
‘Geez, he’s not deaf, is he,’ I wondered, silently, ‘what’s with all the raised voices?’
But then, he did look as if he really hadn’t heard me properly. I adjusted my volume, incrementally, for his benefit.
“Of course, the easiest way to take off fifteen ugly pounds fast, is to have your head lopped off. I hear it did wonders for Louie the Fourteenth. And not a word of complaint, afterward.”
I vamped. Heads were turning towards each other. Ed just nodded, and then relaxed.
“No, nothing like that,” he said.
“Vanity,” I added. “Is it really worth it? All this…attention seeking?”
“He’s just KIDDING, Dad!” Janet said.
“So, you feeling fit?” I resumed. “I could use a hand cleaning out the gutters on my roof, if you’re not doing anything, in the next day or two. Those gutters won’t clean themselves.”
“Maybe, a bit longer than that,” said Ed. “I hope to be back on my feet by Spring.”
“That’s good.” I cajoled. “We can’t get anything done around here. We could use a supervisor, at the very least. And you’re the very guy we need.”
Ed blinked away a mistiness that seemed to pass over him, with a watery lid, and looked at the sky, out through the window across from his bed.
In that moment, I hoped he could see himself healthy, and vital again, fit as a fiddle, and raring to go, but I could see, or imagined I could see that he was only seeing his own end, and beyond – somewhere out there in the limitless space of the ionosphere, in that great vast emptiness just past the thin veil of life that contains us. He swallowed, with what looked to be a painful maneuver. I fell for him. ‘I guess I really do like him,’ I thought. Damn.
“You want to hear a joke?” I broke out, from where, I dunno, it just came to me, and I blurted it out.
“I just made it up this morning, while I was driving my route.”
“Yes, okay.” Ed said. His eyes came back to me.
“Okay. It’s about Jesus on the cross, so don’t get mad.” I began.
“Never a great start.” Mom said.
I nodded in agreement, “Yeah, right?”
Still, permission granted, I proceeded, desperately, raising my arms at my sides, akimbo, as if secured by iron nails to “two morsels of lumber” (to borrow from Sedaris), trying to calm myself. I then made quite the show of being raised high up, as if I were Christ Himself, on the cross, and complaining mightily, much to the annoyance of the crowd below:
“Oy, am I toisty!!” I shouted.
“Shhhhhhhhh!!!” Said the ladies. “Not so loud!”
“Oh! Right. Sorry.” I said, correcting my volume, and then, intoned,
“Oy…oy…OOOOOY!!… Am I toisty!
…Oy! I am so toisty! I am so…so… soooooooooo….toisty!!”
I elaborated, setting the scene, below:
“So the officer in charge of the Roman Guards, the Head Centurion, says to his soldiers,
“Would SOMEBODY PLEASE GET THIS BLOODY BLIGHTER something to drink, before I go completely BONKERS!! I don’t care WHAT you give him, just give him ANYTHING! Anything at all, just so long as it will get him finally, once and for all, to SHUT HIS FILTHY GOB!! I have had just about enough of his continual caterwauling!! If it doesn’t stop, I shall surely go insane!!”
“You, and you!!” He ordered two of his men to carry out the detail, to fetch this champion kvetcher, this whiney nobody, this Jesus, something to wet his whistle.” I said.
“So, the two soldiers,” I went on. “They found a long pole, and, well, you know the story – they soaked a sponge… in some vinegar, which was really just some old rancid wine, well, well, WELL PAST it’s due date, and so, sticking on the tip of the pole, raised the soaking sponge to said Jesus’ lips.”
“Of course, this business with ‘changing water into wine’, and vice-versa, was kids’ stuff to Christ – he’d been doing that since that wedding way back when – a mere parlor trick to the likes of Him, you know, so, using a little transubstantiation, you know, He blithely turned the vinegar back into water, and drank deeply, and being sated – sighed, with a mighty sigh, and seeming at long last, satisfied, settled in with a satisfied grin, that stultified the soldiers that had offered him only vile vinegar.”
“So, the Head Centurion, seeing an end to his own suffering, exults, “Thank you, ZEUS, and all his minions!! Finally, to shut him up: for this, I would have paid good money, and not a minute too soon!”
“Then, from above, Jesus starts in again:
“The Head Centurion, hearing this and despairing, and rolling his eyes to the heavens, slapped himself in the forehead, with a mighty smack!
“Ooooooyyy!! VAS…I… TOISTY!!!” cries Jesus, and gives up the ghost.”
The punchline delivered, I lowered my arms, and looked around. Every jaw in the room was hanging open. Every mouth, one big “O”.
Success. I looked down at Ed. He was grinning, if only a little.
“He said. “Where’d you hear that, again?”
(Actually, it was derivative, about the tradition of ‘kvetching’, which is all about “squeezing”, purportedly the kind of deep-squeezing necessary to take a very satisfactory shit, but all I allowed was that I had cobbled it together from something I had picked up, here and there, and had just made Jesus the center of attention, allowing that I figured it fell into the rubric along the lines of “misery loving company”, and so, was more or less perfect for the occasion – but, by the time I had got all that out, Ed had nodded off, sleeping soundly.)
My work here is done,’ I thought, and with nods to the ladies, took my leave.
“Tell him I’ll come again, tomorrow, if that’s okay, okay?”
“Will do.” Mom said, as she shook her head, and waved, weakly, with one hand. “Thanks for coming.”
“No problemo, Ma. See you soon.”
~ Tim Burchfield