20041204

Gotta Go Get Cut


“I am a thing, like a dirty dish,” said the woman in yellow, staring at the new arrival with unblinking eyes. There were but two lonely chairs in the entire downstairs of the converted condominium, and they were facing each other across a wide expanse of wine-stained, cigarette-burned carpet. The only other person downstairs was something snoring in a sleeping bag on the kitchen floor.

The woman in yellow was already sitting in the chair by the stairs, so Uwe sat in the chair closest to the door. He wished he had brought a book or a magazine, but he really didn’t expect to wait. He had an appointment, after all. Polyphonic wailing in three separate registers drifted down the banisters like spectral opera and a man’s high pitched voice repeatedly invoked Jesus and all of His Saints. But that was only to be expected, he supposed.

“When I get dirty, I must be washed. When I get greasy, I must be scrubbed,” she continued. Uwe nodded politely. “I am a thing that thinks it lives. When I crack, I must be mended. And when I forget myself, I must be altered. I must be made new under the knife like plasmatic soapstone. Do you know me, friend?”

“I can assure you that we’ve never met,” said Uwe.

“Are you not a fellow canvas?”

“I’m only here because I don’t have much of a choice. Do you have any idea how long it’s going to be?”

The woman was petulantly silent. That was just fine.

An alarm clock went off, and the door at the top of the stairs flew open, banging into the adjoining wall and sending a misty spray of plaster down from the ceiling. Flecks landed in Uwe’s pierced eyebrows. The woman in yellow began to scream. Someone began to clomp down the stairs like a jackbooted slinky, and the woman in yellow began to claw at her face, jibbering in tense glottal packets that synched perfectly with the now-deafening screams from the open door. Uwe stood up and tried to see what the matter was, but she slapped him, and he let her be.

The person from upstairs finally reached the ground and clomped by like a pallet of bricks on a unicycle: balanced poorly and throwing weight to keep moving forward. It was the man Uwe was here to see. He recognized him easily from his photograph -- or rather, he recognized his accessories. Every exposed piece of the man’s flesh was connected by a complex and jangling series of chains terminating in hooks that hung from his belt loops. He had an orange Mohawk and a tattoo on his forehead of a single heavy-lidded eye – bloodshot all to hell.

“Help me, Rutty!” screamed the woman in yellow, lowering her hands. “Rutty” ignored her and charged his way into the kitchen, his arms low and limber like a blitzing defensive end. The snoring thing in the sleeping bag was stepped on. It cursed and then almost instantly resumed its spluttering honk as Rutty began loudly puking into the kitchen sink.

Uwe could now see why the woman in yellow was carrying on so mightily. A scrap of plaster was jutting from one of her eyes like the last piece of peel on an orange. There wasn’t much blood, but the pierced eyeball jiggled in its socket like the bars of a slot machine and released some sort of yellowish spray from around the edges that matched her outfit.

Evidently, the woman in yellow had no eyelids. Once again Uwe reached out to help, and once again he was slapped.

It went on like that for at least a full minute: puking, snoring, alarm clock, and screams from both upstairs and down, all in jaunty three-four time. Uwe felt strangely left out from this diabolic concert that seemed to be in his honor. He considered whistling, but he instead let it persist unaccompanied. What was a performance without an audience? Just practice, really.

Finally, the professional returned. All of his guts discharged, Rutty jounced back into his waiting room and surveyed the scene.

“Stop yer whining, Glinda. Yer crying is only making it wooooorse,” he said in a tremulous vibrato sing-song that let him get close enough to her to give her a diagnostic squint. She was quiet. Whimpersome.

Rutty cradled her head in his hands like a lover and then, with decisive violence, he spit into her pus-filled eye. She flinched, but stopped fighting altogether, acquiescing to the silver-tendriled beast’s superior wisdom. Then, with artificially sharpened teeth, the man Uwe only knew from his unparalleled online reputation snatched the plaster out of her eye like a vulture plucking a bit of gristle from the ribs of a day-old cow carcass. The whole house fell simultaneously silent.

Uwe clapped.

“I’m Dr. Ruttiger Tambo,” said the jingling imp with a genteel bow, spitting the piece of plaster onto the floor. “Are you my four o’clock?”

“I am,” said Uwe.

“Don’t mind Glinda here,” he said. “She’s one of my regulars. Crazy as fucking crackers. She’s probably just here to have a finger removed or something.”

“I need help, Rutty,” she said. “I’m sick.”

“You can wait yer turn, dear. What’d I tell you about wearing sunglasses if yer gonna be all froggy-eyed from now on? I suppose you are here to have your eyelids sewn back on, just like I said you’d be. Anyway, go put a wet paper towel on that.”

Glinda lowered her head and walked silently to the kitchen.

Rutty hooked his thumbs under the two chains that ran from his nostrils to his earlobes and gave Uwe a giant, jaw-splitting grin.

“Come on, then!” he shouted. “Sorry about the puking, but I’ve been drinking all day. I hope it won’t cause yer to question my medical credentials.”

Then he ran back up the stairs like a Russian folk dancer, kicking his legs up and hooting madly.

“Quite to the contrary,” said Uwe, following dutifully. It took him quite a bit longer to climb the stairs, and he relied heavily on the double banisters due to the unfortunate malady which had brought him to such picaresque surroundings. When he finally made it to the top, he felt in smaller measure the brutal triumph of self-overcoming that was his medical lullaby every night since the accident. But this was quickly replaced by an almost unbearable tension. He had made it here, but would he end up like Glinda?

There was just one room comprising the upstairs legation of the offices of Dr. Ruttiger Tambo, and it smelled very strongly of both latex and pork chops. The only light came from a series of holes punched into the walls that were painted on the inside to be the retinas of eyes – multivariant in type, scope, size, and hue. These holes were sealed in stained glass, but let in more light than one would expect, giving the grisly rumpus room the feel of a hallucinogenic cathedral. There were six beds, two operating tables, and a stainless steel island in the center full of tools, equipment, and exotic gauzes – notched with a washbasin at two-foot intervals. Only one of the beds was occupied.

There were drains in the concrete floor, and he wondered briefly why Tambo had run downstairs to puke with all of the available vomit infrastructure. Then he remembered the alarm clock and chocked it up to simple coincidence.

“Looks like Richard has knocked himself out,” said Dr. Tambo with a wink, pointing to the only taken bed. “Thank God, eh?”

“How do you know he isn’t dead?” asked Uwe. The Richard in question was lying on his back caddy-wampus across both guard rails. There was a toothbrush-sized circular saw dangling from one limp hand, a mirror on his chest, and a beaded line of blood running halfway across his forehead. His hair was thickly matted with brown blood and it grazed the ground lightly, feeding into a still, coagulating pool.

“I’m a doctor,” said Tambo. “Death and I practically swap tuna salad recipes at the Laundromat. Richard lives, and you can bet yer ass.”

Uwe looked closer. Sure enough, Richard’s chest rose and fell with solemn regularity. With each inhalation, the crown of blood on his forehead pooched slightly open, parting to reveal slick and ropy brains, moist with what looked to be perspiration. It was a good thing he had only made it halfway round before collapsing, or his skullcap might be collecting germs on the floor, a saucer of milk for an infinite infected kitty.

“Why was he trying to cut his head off?” asked Uwe.

“Because I have a noble old soul and won’t perform lobotomies anymore, despite slanderous rumors to the contrary. But I can’t begrudge the truly dedicated a sanitary place to exercise their free will, can I?”

Uwe found the logic solid. But still…

“It seems as if he is really trying to do things the hard way. Couldn’t he just pound in a nail or something?”

“I’ll let him use my tools any way he sees fit, but I’m not about to volunteer any advice. He comes in here this morning – knocks on my door and wakes me up from a great dream about high school girls and high pressure hoses – and demands to be helped. I fix him a bagel and he calmly explains to me his predicament. He’s tired of it all, you see – but neither does he believe in offing himself. He lives all alone and works as a lunchtime chef at a nursing home, so he doesn’t think anyone will notice if he goes in for a light trim. I try to talk him out of it, but he’s got those eyes, you know. The ones you sometimes see in old Civil War photos. There’s no light left, if there ever was -- no more pratfalls and no more pie fights. So I show him upstairs and give him a crash course in working man’s neurosurgery. I even give him a complimentary sample packet of Vicodin. But he’s been idling since noon, just staring and sobbing, trying to work up the courage. I didn’t think he was going to go through with it, and I was just about to ask him to leave when he started going to town. He probably won’t finish, once he wakes back up. But you have to admire his balls. This is a man who deserves his piece of mind.”

Uwe could only agree. He helped Dr. Tambo carefully reposition his erstwhile patient in the bed, and then he lit a cigarette. Tambo lit a joint off the same match and pulled up chairs for the both of them.

“So tell me why, you’re here, Mr. Fruhstuck. We spoke on the phone, but I don’t remember any of it.”

“It’s kind of embarrassing,” said Uwe.

“I’ve seen it all,” said Tambo. “Out with it. Tell me why you’re here, or it’s the gas and the black van for you.”

Uwe nodded.

“I don’t have much of a choice, really,” said Uwe. “I’ve been going to your website for years whenever I’ve had a problem, but I never expected to actually come in. There aren’t too many do-it-yourself doctors in the world – and certainly not in this country. I did what I could when I broke my arms, but my current situation requires a more delicate hand. Let me just say it’s an honor to be here, but I can’t pay you at all. I was led to believe this wouldn’t be a problem.”

Tambo rolled his eyes and then flipped his hand around like a trick bronco. Get on with it.

“It all started with this car accident, you see. I was working for this guy Brutal Agape hauling items to Chicago last Christmas. He can’t drive under 100 miles an hour as some sort of evasion philosophy, so he always hires somebody to work the police radar and scan maps for the most arcane, low-traffic routes. I needed money, and he was married to a good friend of mine, so I decided to take the job for his next trip. I thought it was all just going to be routine, but evidently I didn’t choose Brutal: Brutal chose me. We were all teeth and back-slaps until his wife kissed us goodbye, and then things got ugly.

“The first thing he does when I get inside his Mazda is look me right dead in the eyes like some sort of batshit ship captain and turn my airbag off. You know how cars nowadays have those little slots on the dashboard where you can put your key and turn off the passenger airbag in case you’ve got a bassinet strapped in there? Well, he puts his key in and turns my airbag off like that’s what I am. Right then, I knew something was up -- but he tries to play it off as normal.

“This is part of my incentive program,” he says, not quite hinged. “I don’t stop, so you’ve got to get me there fast and without incident.” And then he peels out, and I’m too busy checking the map and listening for pings to even respond.”

After we get out of town, things really get weird. He puts the pedal down all the way to the floor, and the odometer starts climbing, climbing, climbing. We blast by a traffic cop who doesn’t even see us – and who evidently doesn’t have the hustle to follow us once we register on his radar. And that’s when I realize Brutal isn’t even looking at the road. He’s looking right at me.”

“Are you sleeping with my wife?” he asks. “Because it’s cool if you are. I just want to know.”

We are blazing by cow pastures and everything looks elongated like temporal spaghetti. You know how the faster you go, the more narrow your field of vision gets? Well, I can only see ahead in a patch about the size of my fist. I give up on the map and just watch the road. I figure somebody has to, because Brutal sure isn’t.

“Let me ask you again—“ he starts.

“Of course I’m not sleeping with your wife!” I shout. “Watch the road! Watch the road!” But he isn’t having it.

“I found a condom in my toilet,” he says. “I was taking a piss when it unstuck from inside the pipes and floated to the top like a dead man’s head. It was pink, so I know it wasn’t one of mine. Only fags wear pink rubbers. You know you aren’t supposed to flush condoms, don’t you, asshole?”

But I don’t have time to answer. I guess he thought it would be a great way to interrogate me, but one can only drive blind at 150 miles an hour for so long. The road takes a snag and we go flying off into a ditch. I put both my arms out to catch myself. I break them, but I only get knocked unconscious. We land on Brutal’s side – I suspect because he outweighs me by two hundred pounds – and the windshield shears his head clean off, airbag and all. When I wake up, I crawl back to the highway and hitchhike home. I tell Mrs. Agape what happened, and we get our stories straight. Since Brutal had the airbag off, the police assume he was all alone. We prepare ourselves fully for the shitstorm once the cops find out what’s inside Brutal’s trunk, and then I set the bones in my arms with one of your illustrated manuals. They were both clean breaks and they healed up within six months.”

Uwe demonstrated by holding his arms out to the side and then making giants loops with them. Dr. Tambo had finished his joint by now, and he offered Uwe the roach. Uwe declined.

“So were you?” asked Dr. Tambo.

“Was I what?” asked Uwe.

“Sleeping with his wife. Were you? Or was he just paranoid?”

“That’s kind of why I’m here,” said Uwe. “I wasn’t at the time – but I’d certainly like to now. The widow Agape is ripe for sexual consolation. Only there’s this problem I’ve acquired.”

“Problem?” said Tambo. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”

“She’s Jewish, you see. But that’s only part of it.”

Uwe unzipped his pants. He half expected a choir of angels to sing praises in melodramatic soprano to overture his revelation.

“Wow. Now that’s nasty, buddy. I hope you aren’t expectin’ me to touch that,” said Dr. Tambo with a giggle.

Uwe zipped back up with a painful shudder.

“As you can see, I was never circumcised as an infant,” said Uwe. “This was hardly a problem, and I often found it quite useful for the purposes of self-abuse. But when I broke my arms, I was unable to lower them past my hips for a lengthy period, and was therefore unable to pull my foreskin back in order to adequately clean myself. I couldn’t very well ask someone else to do it either. The first time I took a shower with my arms operating at full capacity, I was – needless to say – shocked and appalled to find that my member had become infected and tumescent beyond all reason. I knew it was a problem, of course. I could feel it. But I had no idea the extent to which things had degenerated. I am now in constant pain, and infected smegma has sealed up my penis like a throat inside an itchy wool turtleneck. In order to urinate now, I sometimes need to clear a path to my urethra with a toothpick. I’m afraid the only course of action is the extreme one. An emergency circumcision. Performed by a qualified, pro bono professional.”

“I guess sleeping with anyone’s wife is out of the question for you, right now, ain’t it?”

“I can’t even ride bumpy buses,” said Uwe.

Dr. Tambo stood up abruptly and walked over to the surgery island. He began to run hot water into one of the metal basins, and the steam that circled through his chains made him look like a Victorian household homunculi, powered by boiling camphor.

“So will you help me, doc?” asked Uwe.

“How kin I refuse? Of course I’ll help you. But first you are going to have to listen to the speech I give all prospective clients. Surgery ain’t so simple as everyone surmises.”

Uwe relaxed and crossed his legs. Tambo proceeded to vigorously wash his hands, and when he turned back around, he wielded a scalpel in one hand and a novelty ceramic ashtray in the other. A wrinkly grandmother was taking a swing on a golf course, and the slogan OVER THE HILL was painted along the ashtray’s emerald green base.

“I love cutting people. I love it. But there’s nothing more addictive than surgery,” said Dr. Tambo. “It’s medicine’s best kept secret, and the world’s most expensive and dangerous high. Surgery is localized, invasive trauma – usually accompanied by a powerful dissociative that scrambles your brain and doesn’t let you process the gruesome things being done to your meat. But you remember – part of you always remembers. You go in one day to have your adenoids removed, and pretty soon you are coming back every day to have fleshed pulled out of your ass and injected into your biceps. Surgery’s like that; at least for my patients. Maybe it’s because I don’t charge anything and then I attract the weirdos. Or maybe it’s because I’m the best. Either way, you are going to want to come back. So consider yourself fucking forewarned. I’m not like a heroin dealer who’s gonna tell you a bunch of bullshit. Surgery is addictive, your brain won’t know what to do with it, and you are going to want more.”

There was a noise on the stairs. Right at the same time, Richard began to stir. Dr. Tambo set the novelty ashtray down on the ground perpendicular to Uwe’s privates – like it was a Buddhist shrine – and then went over to check his pulse.

Glinda timidly poked her head around the bend.

“Rutty,” she said, “I thought you said today wasn’t going to be busy. That you’d have time for me.”

“I told you to wait downstairs!” screamed Dr. Tambo, letting Richard’s hand fall to the mattress with a sordid thump.

Glinda’s eyes grew somehow even wider than they were surgically altered to be, and she scampered downstairs quickly and quietly like a silverfish.

“Undo your pants again,” said Dr. Tambo to Uwe. “I’ll be with you shortly.”

Uwe did as he was told. Dr. Tambo did something to Richard’s neck, and he jumped upright in his bed, putting one liver spotted hand to his skull.

“Where am I? What’s going on?” he asked.

“You were trying to give yerself a lobotomy, you silly ass,” said Dr. Tambo. “Only you passed out before you could get your skull off. Don’t go flapping about, or you’ll attract flies.”

“The quiet, simple, happy life,” said Richard. “I remember now.” He lay back down and began to weep. Dr. Tambo sighed a deep, frustrated sigh, and looked at one of his many wristwatches. He gave Uwe a cool stare.

“Kin you keep your mouth shut?” he asked.

Uwe nodded silently. It seemed like the appropriate response.

Dr. Tambo hopped on top of Richard’s bed like it was a pommel horse. Before Richard could react, Dr. Tambo had grabbed the top of Richard’s head and yanked it wide open, snipping dangling tendons with his scalpel like the stitches in a football.

“You want this, right?” asked Tambo.

“Please. Do it quick!” shrieked Richard.

With two expert strokes and the graceful agility of a snake-taming fakir, Tambo carved out a piece of brain from Richard the size and shape of a slice of lemon. He dropped Richard to the bed, and Uwe heard his skull snap shut like a desk drawer. Tambo leapt to the floor holding the grey piece of lemon over his head and making mystical passes with his knife. Richard was already starting to drool blissfully. Tambo squeezed the piece of brain between thumb and forefinger, lapping at the juices that tumbled down with his long curly, tongue. He flicked the dried up, grey lump into a sink, and then he tossed his scalpel into the air and caught it with a flourish.

“Your turn, buddy,” said Tambo, sprinting toward Uwe. Uwe was so shocked he had dropped his trousers to the floor and his hands were working the air like an infant’s, grasping and flexing ineffectually. Before he could stammer out a protestation, Tambo was on him -- cutting, cutting, cutting. Uwe tried to scramble backwards, but his pants had bunched up around his ankles, and he only fell to the floor. Tambo didn’t even miss a beat.

There was a mini-fridge in the corner, and when it was all over, Dr. Tambo made a pouch of medicated ice and dropped it inside Uwe’s pants underneath nearly a whole roll of gauze.

“I wouldn’t recommend getting an erection for a few days, and keep some ice on it until the swelling goes down. And here’s some antibiotics, just to be safe,” he said, tossing Uwe an unmarked orange pill bottle.

With his pants pulled up, Uwe looked like he had a small farming village in his crotch. But the pain was gone. Where there had been an inferno, there was now only a dull ache. Uwe was too shocked to say thanks, and just sat there with his mouth wide open and his mind reeling.

Dr. Tambo held Uwe’s foreskin up to one of the stained glass skylights and flopped it back and forth. He ran it across his scalpel and cut it into two equal segments.

“All the pay I’ll need,” he said with a wink. And then he ran to the stairs and yelled down into his waiting room, dangling the two thin pieces of flesh from his hands like Christmas ornaments.

“Glinda!” he yelled, “Time for those eyelids!”









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the herb said...

Wow. I'm still amazed that you can only get "fakir" commenters to spam you.

Good and bad for this one, Jack. Mostly good. Love the intro, we readers are ready for anything. Then the real story begins, great plotting--the temp. job, jealousy, accident, arms broke, resultant uncleanliness leads to jock itch, his wife dies, she's Jewish, hence surgery.

However, since defensive ends usually rush across the line of scrimmage, they can't "blitz." Linebackers and defensive backs don't usually rush across that line, so when they do, it's called blitzing. And speedometers rise and rise, not odometers. Are you sure you're from this planet? Hehe.

I like caddy-wampus. Went on a googling frenzy after you reminded me of that word.

Like the line about what's a performance without an audience... why, practice, really. It seems vaguely familiar, like for some ineffable reason you've only had robots leave comments.

I have more comments.

kaboom! said...

Ah, you are absolutely right about the odometer, and I shall fix it accordingly.

However, regarding "blitzing." Here is one of those linguistic arguments that crop up from time to time. I was a free safety in high school, and so I agree with you that it is generally a defensive back or linebacker who is responsible for the "blitz" being a DING AN SICH. But a blitz is, technically speaking, a maneuver in which the defense sends more men over the line of scrimmage than the offense has assigned blockers.

Now, okay, the people who are going to be executing this blitz would be cornerbacks and linebackers and maybe even a safety, if you are going balls out. But also the line, including the defensive end. You can have a "blitzing" noseguard, and it's still correct terminology.

On a "blitz" play, everybody involved is "blitzing."

A "blitzing" cornerback just doesn't sound scary if you know anything about cornerbacks. Ooo, he's going to try and throw his scrawny 100 pounds in the way of your cleats, and hope one of his jutting ribs snags on your shoulderpads and pulls you down...

Anyway, I DID think about it at the time, and I went for the better image. I suppose blitzing linebacker would be just as powerful. But linebackers get so much damned PR already. In fact, the defensive end is the unsung hero of the defensive unit. Those guys have it rough. Every damned play they have to gamble on the tight end and take shit for it...

Nobody ever cheers when a play is successfully "contained" and a linebacker can step up and make a textbook tackle. Hooray...

Free safeties? If we are involved in the play, it is already a fuck up. So who cares what we do? That's my kind of position.

the herb said...

Re: blitzing lineman, who can blitz.
Good "point of order" here (or whatever it's called). Going for the more technically correct word, or going for the word that better fits the story. Mulling over these kinds of issues is what makes writing fun.