Monday, November 16, 2009


The Vanderbilts were obviously well off. The little Vanderbilt, that snot-nosed little brat, needed a piano in his room on the second floor of their giant white mansion on Long Island. So they called The Sullivan Moving Co. And that’s how Red Sullivan hurt his back on Tuesday.
It was rainy, and the grounds were muddy. And Mrs. Vanderbilt made Red and his partner wear plastic bags over their muddy work boots in a very contemptuous manner. It was not going to be a good day. Red knew. It happened in the middle of the spiral staircase. Rodrigo, his go-to guy among his crew, was manning the front of the piano and Red in the back, going up.

Red was a big, strong man in his prime (or so he thought) who just turned thirty nine that year. “You are as old as Homer Simpson now.” Missus Sullivan joked, as she pulled grey hair out of his temple with tweezers one morning. Silly woman.

A sharp pain shot up through his left shoulder and neck. Hmmph. It almost knocked the wind out of him. His muffled internal cry was loud enough, Rodrigo looked back concerned.
You OK, boss?
Can we stop for a sec? Red barely managed to say.
He looked up the top of the stairs and saw the little Vanderbilt sitting there picking his nose.
I don’t know how they managed to get the piano up, but they did. With great difficulty I’m sure. They exited the building as the little brat hammered on the keys some post-modern masterpiece.

* * * *

Red screamed as Missus applied some Ben Gay on the troubled spot on his hairy back. Ben Gay, the name always bothered him. Ben Gay on my back. He shuddered.
Missus told him to see a doctor right away. He whined about the ineffectiveness of going to the doctors. They are all swindlers. All they want is your money. He said with utter contempt.
In fact, Red hated going to the doctors. It had been at least two years since he stepped his foot in one: he hated the idea of a needle going into his flesh. He couldn’t think of anything more helpless than having someone poking him with a sharp object against his wishes.
Don’t give me that macho crap. You are gonna see that old doc of yous pronto!

That night in bed, Missus remembered while rolodexing her brain the list of doctors she knew, Gerry, a neighborhood kid who grew up to be a medical student at some ivy league school. He was studying Eastern Medicine and acupuncture.
I hear it does wonders. She said.
They teach stuff like that in school now? He said incredulously. She gave him a look.
As he laid himself down in bed, the pain shot up.
Anyway, I doubt that our insurance will cover that.
Well, nowadays, you never know. You are not afraid of needles are you?
He had to roll to the side, facing away from his wife.
I’ll go see Strauss. He said.
I hear it’s good for snoring too. She threw that in just as she turned off the light.
Red couldn’t get an appointment until Friday with Dr. Strauss. The pain didn’t go away let alone subsided. He was in real misery the last few days.

* * * *
The young Hispanic receptionist was on the phone chatting away as usual, not paying any attention to Red’s miserable state. He waited waited waited for her to get off the phone. She waved him off twice already. His appointment was at four, about thirty minutes ago. His face was getting red. He prided himself in being a patient fellow. But lately, everything was getting to him. He needed to calm himself down, really. Tranquility. Relaxation. Meditation. What luxurious ideas. He let out a big sigh, got up and approached the reception desk once more.
Did you want something? The little Dominican twat finally looked up from her phone receiver.
I…had an appointment at four. He flashed his grinding teeth. It was supposed to be a smile.
What’s your name again?
Sullivan. Red Sullivan.
Is this your first time here?
Calm yourself down. Nothing good can come out of losing your cool. The voice inside his head said.
No, I’ve been coming here for years.
I gotta go, she said irritably to the receiver and finally hung up the phone. What’s your name again?
Sullivan what?
As he entertained the thought of breaking through the windows and grabbing her neck and snapping it like a twig, a young attractive woman in a lab coat opened the side door. She was wearing a silk blouse and a short skirt underneath the coat. Her black high heels made a sound that reminded Red of Fred Astaire movies.
Mr. Sullivan, come on in. She picked up the Sullivan’s medical file from the receptionist’s desk.
He followed her to a small examining room skulking in pain.

Sit yourself down here. She patted the examining table with her slender fingers. She looked in the file.
Mr. Sullivan, you haven’t been here for more than two years. Are you afraid of us? She smiled mischievously.
His eyes followed down her neckline as the top two buttons of her blouse were undone.
You are not Dr. Strauss. He finally said, smiling as his anger from minutes before was subsiding.
She bent down to listen to his heartbeat with her stethoscope. Hmm. She looked up brightly.
You have a heart murmur. The high heels said. Did you have congenital heart defects?
Got it fixed when I was seven. I got a scar to prove it. He said.
That’s nice, she smiled. Dr. Strauss is seeing other patients now. I’m just helping him out today. He will be here shortly.
A girl in scrubs entered the room after a brief knock.
She’s an intern. You don’t mind all the attention, do you? She teased. Congenital heart defect. She announced proudly, as if she’s in possession of a rare specimen.
Now they both were examining him with their stethoscope, fascinated by his heart murmur.
I want you to come in for an echo, soon. Nothing wrong with your heart but you need to check it out once in a while since you had a heart surgery. The intern jotted everything down with the ferocious concentration.
So, it’s your back that’s the problem? The high heels asked. He didn’t mention snoring.
She touched his back. Here? Mmmph.
Probably a severe case of back sprain, she said. It happens when the ligaments get stretched by sudden movement. Blah blah blah….
Pretty green eyes, he noticed on the young intern.
Acupuncture might alleviate the pain a bit. The high heels said. This caught his attention.
It turned out that Dr. Strauss practiced acupuncture.
I’m sure he can put some needles on you today if you want. The high heels said.
He had no idea the whole time he’s known Dr. Strauss. That old geezer, knew acupuncture. Ha! And apparently it was covered by his insurance. What do you know.
Does it hurt?
Well, there is a slight sting when the needles puncture the skin. But I’m pretty sure a big strong man like you can handle it. She smiled slyly. Try something new?

Oh, hello. The bald, white bearded Dr. Strauss said as he came in.
You just crashed our little party doc. The high heels said. Both she and the intern giggled.
Oh, sorry about that. Poor old humorless geezer, Red thought.
The girls said bye to Red as they exited. He smiled back.
So let’s see here… Dr. Strauss said, narrowing his eyes as he read what the intern had jotted down.
He gave Red a routine speech about the importance of posture and exercises and stretches. He also mentioned him perils of getting old and told him to take calcium and vitamin pills regularly. Red’s mind was now fixated on acupuncture though.
Doc. I didn’t know you do acupuncture.
Oh yes. I’ve been doing that for quite some time. I can’t guarantee the result right away. But…why, did you want that done on your back?
Can that do anything about snoring?
Why, do you snore?
Well, my wife says. He said, dismissively.
I understand. Well, it might work on sleep apnea. I can’t guarantee it though. Everyone seems to have a different reaction to it.
Red was suspicious about doc’s “Can’t guarantee” business but after all the greasing he was really up for this exotic treatment.
Well, poke me. Poke me hard doc. Red said. Dr. Strauss didn’t smile at this.
Doc went and took out needles from an unopened plastic package. He explained that those are disposable needles.
Take off your shirt please.
Red did this with difficulty. Doc rubbed some alcohol on his back, neck, the bridge of his nose and his forehead.
It will sting a little bit at first. If any of this is in any way uncomfortable, you let me know. Doc said as he put needles on his face, the back of his neck and then down his shoulder and finally on his left hand, in the fleshy part between his thumb and his index finger.
Does this hurt? Doc asked as he fiddled with each needle. There were about twenty on him.
No. I feel just a bit of pressure here and there.
You are supposed to feel the pressure. Doc smiled. Means it’s working.
Doc left the room telling him he would be back in five to check on him. You might have to sit still for about twenty minutes or so. He told Red. Relax.

Honestly it wasn’t bad at all.

Red looked at the dingy small room: A faded black and white “Smoking is bad” poster circa 1984, judging by the man’s hairstyle and clothes in the photo (he looked like the blonde guy from Hall & Oats), a human anatomy chart, pamphlets on HIV/AIDS prevention, a fake indoor tree, an oxygen tank next to a small white fridge marked with bio-hazard sign, etc. This was far from exotic and relaxing environment. But he was feeling mighty tranquil for some reason.

First, there was a faint odor of something sour, like spoiled milk. Red looked around to locate the origin of the smell. Nothing out of the ordinary. A couple of minutes later, his vision started to get blurry. All of sudden he was seeing colors on the black and white anti-smoking poster, around the blonde’s edges like 3-D picture. He started to panic.
The high heels tap danced in to the room along with the receptionist, alarmed by Red’s scream.
What’s wrong?
They had colorful glows around them.
Something is wrong. Can you take these off of me?
Red felt an incredible pressure on his neck. He looked back and saw the Vanderbilt kid squeezing his neck with a giant left hand. With the right hand he was picking his nose. The kid had a maniacal grin on his face. Red screamed. He felt his left arm tensing up then all of a sudden it went completely numb. Before he knew what was going on, his left arm took the mind of its own and went crazy. It knocked out all the bottles and glasses off the table, took down all the frames off the wall. And with an amazing strength, it hauled the oxygen tank against the medicine cabinet. Then with the lightening speed, his arm got a hold of the receptionist’s neck and broke it like a twig. The high heels was long gone. Tap, tap, tap...

Dr. Strauss arrived at the scene. The room was like a war zone: papers and broken glasses everywhere, the receptionist’s corpse sprawled on the floor like a discarded rag doll.
It’s the Vanderbilt kid, Doc! Red shouted. He is making me do this! You do see him behind me, don’t you? –was what he was saying but it came out like a wookie talk. His tongue was hanging out of his droopy mouth as he lost control over the muscles on his face.
Dr. Strauss went to a corner and broke out more needles from the now destroyed cabinet. With his left hand outstretched, Red went after doc.
Stay away! Stay away! doc shouted, swatting at the cursed hand. But The hand easily got a hold of the old doctor’s thin neck and lifted him up off the floor. Doc’s face was turning blue and his feet kicking the air.
Woooahaah ah, whooohaah (It’s the kid! It’s the kid!). Red cried.
Doc managed to remove a needle from Red’s left hand and was released from his grip. He fell to the floor on top of a dead receptionist whose lifeless dead eyes was looking straight at him. He crossed himself as he got up. Red’s hand was dangling from the wrist on, but his arm was still stretched out, still gunning for doc.
Woooahaah (Help me doc!).
Doc rolled under the murderous arm and got behind Red and placed a needle on the very top of Red’s cranium. With a brief howl, Red fell to the floor, face down.
I told you I can’t guarantee anything. Dr. Strauss mumbled, as he collapsed against the wall.