To be called back to work after three years of retirement was an ego stroking of orgasmic proportions. And it was of little consequence to me that it was in the wilds of Georgia where they wanted me to be the executive director of a therapeutic program for youth at risk until they could replace the exec who had resigned. Baxley Wilderness Institute was located on a river, which meant I would be able to spend considerable time fishing and sailing with the delinquents, who, would be quite respectful, in as much as they would be on my turf, i.e. water. Consequently, it was an easy decision, the one and only minus being my awareness that it would mean one more physical examination; not that the exam was any big deal, but through the years I had developed a recalcitrant aversion for the prostate procedure.
But I bit the bullet, and after enduring the invasive segment of the physical, spent four pleasurable months at Baxley. What made it a blue chip billet was that the staff was well trained and conscientious, allowing me a considerable, perhaps inordinate, amount of time on the river fishing and sailing with the delinquents. In my report I called it, “rehabilitative activity”. The situation seemed so ideal that I found myself wondering, “Why the hell would they pay me to take kids fishing every day?’
But in spite of having a swell time enjoying the work, I apparently was doing a good job, because Baxley became the first of several stints in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Virginia, and Texas, wherein I would replace an executive director, who had resigned or been fired, and keep the program stable until a replacement could be found. It could not have been more gratifying, and I left each institute with affectionate memories, except, however, for that one distasteful aspect. Since every institute received funding from its own state department of juvenile justice, I was required to have another physical exam every time I went to work in a different state. The scheduling and time involved for a physical exam were minor inconveniences, but being subjected again and again to that digital exploration of my rectum by a bevy of MD’s became a major vexation for me.
I could not fault the physicians, all of whom made a genuine effort to be congenial and make the procedure palatable. In fact, they all seemed to share a semi-apologetic acknowledgement of the farcical element in the prostate segment of the exam. This harmony of humor would manifest itself in remarks such as, “Well, here comes the fun part, ha ha, so you can just pull down your pants and bend over the table, ha, ha, ha.” Or, “OK, just take down your pants, bend over, and we’ll get to the nitty gritty, ha, ha, ha.” I would indulge them with a feigned smile, but the truth was, their anal centered jocularity was putting a strain on my already over taxed tolerance.
My fourth assignment was in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, and I felt particularly fortunate because it was a day program that required no physical exam. I was delighted to dodge the bullet on at least one posterior intrusion. Moreover, since my nights would be free, I was looking forward to spending evenings discovering the New Orleans night life. As it turned out, I managed only one night of beads and bare breasts on Bourbon Street when I got a call.
“Captain Bill, Tom Dodger here” Tom was vice president of operations. “I understand you’re doing an outstanding job down there in Cajun Country.”
“Well, I hope so, Tom; it’s a great staff to work with.”
“That’s terrific. I’ll tell you, man, I’m really glad to hear that, because the reason I’m calling you, Captain Bill, (at this point I was becoming suspicious of why he was making a point of calling me, “Captain Bill”). . . Well, what it is, I mean, have I got a deal for you. I mean, how would you like to go to Norfolk, Virginia and take over the program there?
My first thought was, “It’s a goddamn sodomy conspiracy; that’s what it is; they just want another chance to jab me in the ass.” But reality asserted itself, and as I came back to my senses I remembered that The Norfolk Marine Institute was actually located on board a ninety seven foot former naval vessel. The Sabine had served as a mine sweeper in WW II, and was currently tied up at a dock in Norfolk harbor, serving as a therapeutic facility for sixteen juvenile offenders. Tom Dodger’s sobriquet, “Captain”, I realized, was a clever ploy.
Although Tom Dodger failed to enlighten me over the phone, I was to learn that the program’s former executive director had been fired two days before for allowing students to dump raw sewage into the water. Now, even though the boat was hooked up to the city of Norfolk’s waste disposal system, the eliminating endeavors of sixteen healthy juveniles could be formidable, sufficiently potent at times to clog pipes. Before a plunger could be used effectively it was necessary to scoop out a couple of buckets full of the effluvious blending of urine, defecatory detritus, and befouled tissue, but, and this was the real problem, even after the head was cleared by the plunger, rather than risk plugging up the system again, the students found it easier to dump the contents of their excremental coffer overboard.
Unfortunately, a disgruntled staff member took a picture of students dumping their honey buckets into Norfolk’s high profile downtown harbor, and sent the photograph to the Norfolk Daily News, whereupon it became politically expedient to fire the executive; and even when a subsequent investigation revealed that he had been unaware of the dungnacious nature of the kids’ recycling operation, which had been condoned, if not supervised, by the conspiratorial whistle blower himself, it was too late to reinstate the innocent exec.
It took a serious effort not to sound over eager. “Sure, Tom, wherever you guys need me.” I mean, this was a double barreled boon for me, a promotion with a bonus. Given my many years of fishing and sailing, and my twenty year predilection for living on a boat, the one and only place I had ever felt at home, it was a providentially perfect opportunity—except, of course, for the goddamn inevitable physical, the thought of which caused my skin to tingle with anxiety. Nevertheless, I was certain that taking over The Sabine was worth one more poke in the Bunkum, and with no hesitation, accepted the assignment.
Within two days I found myself proudly ascending the plank onto the Sabine’s deck. My first official act, which had become SOP every time I went to a new institute, was to ask the secretary to set up an appointment for a physical exam in order to put behind me as soon as possible the nonconsensual assault upon my rear quarters. That concern was foremost in my mind as I stepped aboard; however, when I was greeted by the administrative assistant, a woman who introduced herself as Latisha, I totally forgot about the exam.
“Holy smokies! What the hell is this?” I nearly blurted out. “Ooooh my, you must be the icing on my bonus cake.” And at that moment, was really glad I had not had anything to drink on the plane, or I’m sure I would have verbally launched my salacious impulses. Struggling to keep my thoughts covert, at least for the time being, I took her hand as she smiled and said, “Welcome Aboard”. I looked into eyes that were a perfect match for dark bare shoulders covered by two spaghetti straps that in no way obscured the ambrosially smooth skin that could only have been bequeathed on one of Aphrodite’s more generous days.
My brain was carpet bombed by myriad images, each of which I pursued with Rorschach license. My first thought, maybe not so arbitrary, went to the myth of Uranus’s castration by Cronus, who, by throwing the testicles into the ocean, made a splash, the foam of which served as the womb from which the goddess of love was born. It was clear to me that I was looking at a creature whose origin was in the same foam. This musing was condensed into the time it took for the exchanged smiles of greeting, an entire adventure of a lyrical fantasy in the brief span of “Good to meet you” in response to, “Welcome aboard”.
On the verge of flirting in order to find out whether this aspect of the bonus was more than a fallacious projection of my prurient fancy my somatic alarm went off, warning me that my ambassador to the nation of Amouria was himself on the verge of a visible excitation over the possibility of what he considered a diplomatic assignment; however, before an all-out assertion of his obtrusive presence, I was able to abort his mission by remembering my number one priority. “I hate to talk business right off the bat, but I need you to get me an appointment for a physical as soon as possible.” She released my hand which she had held the whole time we were greeting each other, or maybe it was I holding her hand; and while I continued to gaze into that ocular chamber of carnal wonders, she pointed me to my office as she headed to hers. “I’m on it, Captain Bill, and here you are.”
In less than ten minutes, Latisha let me know she had made an appointment for me the next morning at 8am. “8am?”– It seemed early for a doctor’s appointment, but she got no protest from me. I was anxious to get the obligatory probe over with as soon as possible. Latisha further informed me that the staff wanted to take me out for a drink after dinner that night, which sounded to me like an excellent opportunity for an initial evaluation of the staff. In my experience a little alcohol could act as an accelerant for getting acquainted, as long as the loosening was not fanned into blazing revelations. Besides, it would take my mind off of the upcoming poke.
The Nautilus, where I met them, was as inelegant as any bar I had ever been in. It was decorated with a medley of nautical accoutrements; although “decorated” was hardly accurate, as there seemed to be no pattern or design to the nets, blocks, tackles and anchors that were draped and strewn about in random fashion. It was a hodgepodge of gear, suggestive of a place frequented by fishermen, who, after coming in from a run and getting thoroughly soused, were able to stumble only themselves out, sans equipment.
A live band was doing an ambitious job of modifying a lack of talent with an exaggerated amplification of their pseudo version of rock and roll– every third song a barely recognizable Elvis number. It was an aesthetically authentic fiasco, the major outrage being that it restricted communication to lip reading. Fortunately, the staff had reserved a room upstairs which muffled the excessive noise to the extent that loud conversation was possible.
It was an enjoyable evening, and while I didn’t feel subjected to any blatant brown nosing, there was a unified insistence on buying me drinks. The result of this hospitality was enough of the “click” for me to forget the impending probe for a little while, not thinking about it even one time. Latisha served as my escort, and kept up with me in terms of tequila shots, making me wonder what a tequila evening with her alone would be like. For me the only negative was staying out too late and drinking more than was expedient.
The next morning, after only a few hours of sleep and with an alcohol addled brain, I did not feel like the first rose of spring. It was more the feeling that if someone were to touch my skin it would tear, just rip open, and spill out my organs. As I drove to my appointment my mind was firing on less than all cylinders. Concurrent with my concern over finding the doctor’s office was an anxiety about facing the fateful probe in my emotionally fragile state. Don’t misunderstand; I didn’t have a phobia, I was not afraid– well maybe a little– but I just didn’t like some guy sticking his finger up my ass. Okay? A little obsessive perhaps.
My fear(and hope) of not finding the doctor’s office was alleviated by the fact that it was located in a shopping mall, which made it easy. But, 8am? In a shopping mall? It seemed strange, weird, but I subdued my uneasiness by blaming it on the previous night’s overindulgence; besides I was still adjusting to the modern paradigm whereby any and everything could be found in a mall.
I arrived in plenty of time, and at 7:45am parking was not a problem. But as I approached the office, my alleviated skepticism regarding the location swerved abruptly back in the direction of suspicion. The lettering on the window made me think of an abandoned shoe store converted into a church of evangelical fundamentalism. In large letters that encapsulated some esoteric process between a stencil and a child’s free hand was the word, “PHYSICIAN”. This combination of orthographic characters was in a garish color that I had never seen anywhere except in the violent red lipstick of a prostitute in Paris. Below this was spelled out in non-uniform letters of the same whorish amaranthine color the name, George Morris Ponce III, MD.
There was a creepiness about it, but I attributed it to my lingering hangover, and managed half a chuckle. The creepy feeling, however, followed me into the waiting room, which was empty except for the receptionist. Admittedly, it was early; nevertheless, it was the first time I had ever been in a doctor’s waiting room where I was the only patient, and I got this feeling that in some way the empty office related to the announcement in the window. All negative thoughts, however, were subjugated by the fact that as soon as I gave the receptionist the pertinent facts and filled out a form, I was ushered into the examining room to have my physical and play the anal game.
There was nothing unusual about the room, an examining table, anatomical charts on the wall, a cabinet and shelf with supplies, a sink and a scale. As I waited I began to wonder what the tactics of this MD. would be, and it made me muse over the different approaches by which previous doctors had defined “physical exam”. The one in Georgia had gotten all he needed from a chest X ray, while the one in South Carolina thumped my chest and used a stethoscope. The old physician in Texas, hobbled by years of obesity, had me touch my toes, do deep knee bends and jumping jacks before having me cough while he probed my scrotum. The best was in Florida, where I never saw the doctor, who had the nurse give me a form to fill out testifying that I had no serious disease and did not use illegal substances. It was a jigsaw. The only purpose of the enigma, I could figure, was to make sure I wasn’t dead.
As George Morris Ponce III, MD, walked in, however, I instantly got the feeling that I was in for a singular experience. Although he was not unusually small, his bearing, his stance, and his tone exuded small man syndrome. “I am Dr. Ponce” he said without shaking hands, “and I will conduct your physical examination.” His facial expression was one of metallic neutrality, and the acrid manner of his officious introduction raised the hair on the back of my neck.
It was as though he were establishing his authority in order to deal with a lower species, like a lion tamer who had to make sure the lions knew who was in charge, or an insecure professor who had to demonstrate that only he had access to inaccessible knowledge. It would have been understandable had he just gotten out of med school, but this man was at least forty.
He was holding the questionnaire that the receptionist had me fill out, on which I had indicated that I had arrhythmia, a twenty year old heart condition. He held the form up, as though it were a confession, “What medications are you taking for the afib?” he asked in a way that presupposed that I could not possibly know the right answer.
“I take a baby aspirin once a day.” He looked at me with a “You can’t be serious” look. I shrugged in response to his accusatory stare, and eventually broke the silence, “Well, when it gets really bad, I run, and if I run really hard, I can get it back into a regular rhythm.”
“Humph!” He snorted, making me feel I had perjured myself. Although I had informed every previous examiner of the heart condition, not one of them had made an issue of it, or even questioned me. Dr. Ponce, on the other hand, acting as though he had discovered the condition, informed me that I would have to go to a cardiologist before he could sign off on the physical –in the subsequent visit to the heart specialist I was told I had afib, which I had known for twenty years, and that I should take coumadin, which I had refused to take for twenty years.
By the time we got to the “nitty gritty”, I realized he was going for starkness. “Take down your pants and bend over the examination table. I am going into your anus and check the size of your prostrate.”
“Anos? Jesus!” I thought, assuming the position and surrendering to a rapidly advancing attitude of grimness, “at least he could say rectum. . .and what the hell does he mean ‘he’s going in’?” At this point my physiognomy was defined by clenched teeth behind lips pressed tight together and a forehead brimming with frown lines. The truth was the little bastard had put me in a bad mood. But that was still no excuse, because while my state of irritability had reached its apex of intolerance, what happened next was not deliberate, simply the culmination of several factors.
The voluminous amount of alcohol from the night before was still moiling about in my stomach; and compounding this internal turbulence was a hangover that had rendered me physically and mentally enfeebled. Moreover, since the early hour had not allowed time for my religiously habitual morning act of regularity, my intestinal musket was fully loaded and primed. As a result, when Dr. Ponce indexed my anus by unceremoniously burying the digit, it was like he had pulled the trigger and sparked the flintlock. The result was a blast of volcanic proportion, discharging a generous portion of quite loose fecal matter that climbed above his rubber glove to adorn the unprotected part of his arm.
He withdrew his finger so quickly that it must have made a popping sound, though I can’t claim to have actually heard it in light of his all-dominant bellow, “Eeyaihu!”. This yelp was followed by a series of guttural caterwauling sounds as he moved as fast as he could, without running– a recognizable practitioner of power walking– to the cabinet, from which, after flinging open the door, he snatched a box of Kleenex. There was no cessation to the incoherent jabbering as he tried to give me a handful of Kleenex while simultaneously attempting to clean his arm and hand. It sounded as though he were trying to say something, but had lost some vital element of articulation. At one point I thought I could distinguish the whiney accusation, “You shat upon me!” But I couldn’t swear to it, probably just imagined it; although I was intrigued by the possibility that I had driven him to Shakespearean syntax.
I was unable to say I was sorry, because I felt it would sound funny. Not ha ha funny, but funny in an odd way. After all, our verbal communication was suffering from an inherent affliction, separate worlds. I watched him in his losing battle to maintain his aura of authority as he became frustrated with the efficacy of the Kleenex, finally throwing the box at the trash can and missing; but leaving it on the floor as he went to the sink and ripped a roll of paper towels from its holder. There were a couple of fleeting moments of cursory eye contact, which, I am certain, magnified his confusion as he tried to decipher my facial aspect, because while I was making a half- hearted attempt to look apologetic, my countenance was in reality a mélange of projected feelings ranging from a mortifying grimace of embarrassment to a satisfying smile of retaliation, a combination invalidating any attempt at a neutral visage.
I watched him for what seemed like much longer than it actually was, as he continued to clean his hand. I had to clench my jaw to stifle my inclination to ask him if he knew the line, “Out, out, damn spot.” Our eyes did not meet again, but I’m sure he could feel the radiation of my gratifying smile. He finally said, “That’s all. See the receptionist before you leave.”
I walked out of the office of Dr. George Morris Ponce III with a Mona Lisa smile of vindication for all the past pokes I had received. Of course I was embarrassed, but also felt a renewed confidence in the concept of justice. Sometimes a lion-tamer finds himself in the ring with an untamable lion, or one of the professor’s students turns out to be Albert Einstein, but that’s the risk you take when you become a medical Napoleon.
By the time I reached The Sabine I was feeling confident that I was in for a blue chip day. I was looking forward to working, and more, with Latisha. And I knew it would be a fun time with the juvies on the water. I was ready. Purged of last night’s hangover, and the probe over and done, my step was light and my smile in command, as I walked up the gang plank thinking, “It was an accident, it really was, but what a glorious coup, had I done it on purpose, a victorious counter attack.”