BETWEEN THE LINES - Medicine and literature
I set down my verboscope and undo the top button of my starched white labcoat. "Martini," I tell my winsome assistant Miss Florence Nightengaleforce, "stirred, not shaken...oh, and use the good root beer this time."
No, I'm not a doctor, but I saw several minutes of "ER" once. When I gave up medical school to become a Pilot-Tribune columnist, I gave up noon tee times and 18-digit salaries for bologna sandwiches minus the bread. On the up side, a surgeon can't eliminate his boo-boos with a bottle of "White-Out."
Do I regret my decision to bypass the Michael Jordanesque bucks of medicine? Oh nooooooo, of cooooooourse not.
So, in my feverish cranial glove compartment, I like to imagine a moment of triumph over the grand profession a frog-slicing biology teacher sideswiped me out of. Why, I feel it coming on now...
The phone causes me to miss the putt across the floor of my newsroom office practice green, made more difficult because the place seems to be carpeted with used stable hay. Let it not be said that I can't chip when the chips are down.
On the line is my family physician, Dr. Dewey Needlebottom, M.D., PC, D.O., PhD, MIc, KE.Y, MO/U, Se.
Like everyone else in America, he's writing a book. He wants an appointment to restore the health to his viral conjunctions. Oh, this is going to be good.
"What seems to be the problem, old bean?"
"My sentences are sinking fast," he moans, "and my adjectives are aching. Can you come by?"
"Oh now, don't be silly, doc. You know we English majors don't make house calls."
I quickly calculated the cost of putting my two children, Emily Dickinson Faith Hill Larsen and little Hemingway Snoop Dog Larsen, through Harvard. "I think I can fit you in at the old journalism clinic," I tell him. "How's a year from Wednesday at 2 a.m.?"
He showed up right on schedule. I didn't, of course.
When I came in, he was looking through the magazine selection in my waiting room - consisting of 1,087 copies of "Beowulf," a dog-eared copy of "Life" magazine from 1971, and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition with all the good pages torn out. "The columnist is in conference; he will be with you shortly, so sit down and keep quiet or else," my secretary Sandy Smokinbreaker says politely, without looking up from buffing her nails, while the sound of my cursing a rim-out putt can be heard bleating over the intercom.
Finally, I let the poor fellow in, after demanding proof of libel insurance and removing a few gold teeth as a security deposit.
"Doc, put this on," I say, handing him a writing gown. It is a fraying denim dress shirt with a clip-on tie and tan Dockers, all inexplicably split down the back to let the breeze go right where a breeze doesn't belong.
I draw a writing sample, siphoning off a few pages for testing. He looks as if he might faint at any moment from loss of plot.
The lab rushes the results right back. Within the year. "Eh-hummm," I say professionally. To myself, I say, "Hot dawg! This should just about cover the down payment on that Navigator!" I force a grim look to my face, just like "Doogie Howser" used to use when telling his little pal that he had contracted terminal jock itch. Or was that Marcus Welby telling Consuello that the chocolate pudding diet wasn't working out.
"Tell me the truth," the doc urges me, "I can take it."
"Well, it' not good. Your infinitives are split. Your metaphors are badly mixed. Worst of all, I'm afraid your participle is terminally dangling. If only we had caught this earlier..."
He is sobbing now. Doesn't realize I charge extra for that, at least until Medicareless gets wind of it.
"Oh, please," the doc slobbers on my sleeve, "can't you do something to save my book?!"
I call in my young manuscript intern, Gonzo Yates. He is wearing a walkman and listening to his favorite DJ, Bock Chrisman, on KAYNot. I roll up my sleeves and sterilize my red magic marker. I make a swift, sure incision deep into his introduction and extract his bibliography. Layer after layer of diseased chapters are cut away. It is not a pretty sight. But when I am done, doc's doomed 3,000 page novel has been edited down to a postcard with a fighting chance. I feel good. Yeah, I do.
Chalk up another one for the ER (editing room).
The doc's recovery will be a long one. He will relearn to use his shattered pronouns with the help of a therapist. I have also prescribed some medicine which is expensive, appetite-repressive, and causes an occasional side-effect such as toenails growing out of the ears. No, wise guy, it is not my wife's cooking.
I run into the doctor on the street a few months later, before I can cross to the other side. He is sprawled across a grate on the sidewalk on a gin-soaked bed made of my crumpled pink second-notice clinic bills. Seems he had given up on being a novelist and caught on writing dialogue for Jesse Ventura's XFL color analysis. With a shaking hand, he showed me his latest work:
I read carefully: "Urrg! Bah! Rargh! Um. Eh? Dorg!"
Well, what do you know? He's better already!
"Tell me," he wheezes, tugging at my Brooks Brothers, "is my writing ever going to completely recover?"
I nudge him aside with the toe of my Doc Martins, protectively cupping my priceless, highly-trained keyboard-punching fingers. Both of 'em.
I had to lie to him, of course. We journalists have the Hypocritical Oath to live up to, you know.
"Sure it will. Can you say follow-up examinations until the year 3000? Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a tee time."
Everybody, it seems, wants free advice.
"Take two Roget's Thesauruses and call me in the morning."