Illustration by Russell Christian.
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Slackjaw by Jim Knipfel
New Adventures in the Land of Ointments
The kid behind the sandwich counter at the deli asked me what religion I followed. Normally he's joking around with the other guys in the deli or flirting with the female customers. With me he always goes after the Big Issues, usually right after he's seen something on PBS. I have no idea where he ever got the damn fool idea Big Issues were a concern of mine. I did away with those 20 years ago.
"Well, what do you believe, then?" he asked, after I told him I had no religion. "What is the meaning of life on Earth?" I wanted to tell him that it had something to do with the salami sandwich he was theoretically making for me, but I thought that might be rude. "And if everything's just nature, just an accident following the Big Bang, how do you explain this perfect universe we live in—and that human bodies are designed so perfectly? There has to be Someone behind it."
"Perfect?" I blurted. "Are you nuts?" I really just wanted to get my fucking sandwich and get back to work, but I didn't want to leave him gaping there. "Look," I said, "we're a mess. Our bodies, I mean. A very complicated mess. We aren't even designed to stand upright, but here we are."
(Morgan's been explaining various biological processes to me of late, making it clear just how very complicated and messy we are.)
Then he got into the position of the Earth in relation to the sun, and the rest of that hoo-hah. Yeah, it's all real "magical."
"Consider this," I told him, still waiting for my damn sandwich, "for all we know, there are forms of life in the universe that are much more intelligent, much more advanced, which we might not even recognize as life forms. Floating droplets," I told him. "They might just be—floating droplets."
With that I took my sandwich (which he'd finally finished) and walked over to the register. Ahh, the old 'floating droplets' spiel—always good for getting me out of a tight spot. At least floating droplets don't have to worry about troubles of the flesh.
An hour or so after my little philosophical interlude with the deli boy, I headed out to the doctor's office. I've seen this doctor far too often over the years, for everything from tenacious cysts to bulbous, profound infections.
For the most part, my skin is just fine (if a little scarred up). But I seem to be subject to random lumps and glitches—enough to leave me feeling like a Cronenberg character. Perfect bodies my ass.
This time my reasons for going were twofold—a persistent armpit problem I've been wrangling with since last summer, and an odd, small eruption on my right arm that seemed too pathetic to worry about, but sure was irksome.
"Irksome?" the doctor snorted when I told him this in the examination room. "There's no such word."
"Yes there is."
"Irksome? No there isn't—you just made that up."
For some reason, every time I see this doctor, he latches onto one of the words I use. Last time I was in there it was "ointment."
I rolled up my sleeve and pointed at the dime-sized patch on my forearm. In recent days it had started growing.
He leaned in to peer at it, said nothing, then turned back to his desk, pulled out his prescription pad, jotted something down quickly, and handed it to me. "Use this," he said. "Should take care of it."
He wasn't being brusque or anything. It's just the way he operates. I usually had to do a lot of poking and prodding to get him to reveal what the hell was eating my flesh away. This time it turned out to be very little at all. And now I had another new ointment for it.
After getting back to Brooklyn, I stopped by the pharmacy before going home. Brain or heart medications were one thing, but I was always a little peevish about getting prescriptions for various fleshy eruptions filled. You know the pharmacist is looking you up and down, trying to imagine where the trouble might be, concluding the worst. I just tried to play it as cool as possible while handing the slip to her.
"Did you want to pick this up later," she asked, "or wait?"
"Oh, I could just pick it up tomorrow," I said. "No big deal."
"Fine—but would you like to know how much it'll cost?"
No one's offered me that before—they usually just surprise me. "Sure," I shrugged. "If you have it right there."
She typed something into her computer, then stood, walked ten feet, grabbed a small tube off a shelf, then returned to the computer. She began typing in the numbers printed on the side of the tube.
That was it? I was thinking. That's all it takes? All that waiting, all that running around—we'd always been led to believe that, "Oh, it's gonna take a few hours to fill this one—maybe a week," when all she had to do was take a few steps, grab it off the shelf, print up a label and toss it in a bag? What a devious racket they've set up!
"You know what?" I said, still waiting to find out how much it would cost, "since you have it right there and handy, I think I'll just wait."