Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Diary Of A Rag And Bone Man

by Jack Rafter
No. 7 Desperate Times (Part II)

See below for Part I. Previously: Jack shows up at the charity Hospital with a case of walking pneumonia. Sitting in the waiting room all night with nothing else to do, he watches replays from the 9-11 Commission on TV.

Well, it was the dead middle of the night and Colin Powell was droning on about the planes hitting the towers and how he knew right then we had to go after Al Qaeda and bin Ladin; I couldn’t believe the Commission just sat on their hineys and let it go by without asking the obvious question, “Then what the hell are we doing in Iraq?”

So, it looks like they’re all in on the big lie, and the whole thing's a fraud and a sham. What other conclusion is there? I commenced yelling at the TV, “Why don’t you ask him why we’re in Iraq? Go on! Ask him! Ask him the question! Jesus Christ on a crutch!”

That’s when the nurse suddenly appears and says, “You’re going to have to be quiet, sir. People are trying to sleep.”

“Yes, ma'am,” I mumbled, hanging my head.

She stood there a moment, glaring at me with a severe frown, the kind of look I imagine she would give a child that had just dashed to pieces one of her treasured family heirlooms. Then, she turned and stalked off, shaking her head.

* * * *

Yes, and it’s a whole country of people sound asleep, like babies. Now and then they wake up and whine for some soft sweet food or mother’s milk. Then, it’s back to sleep. Colin Powell was followed by the sinister Paul Wolfowitz, and then Rumsfeld. Watching kindly old Donald tell his lies, it’s easy to see why child stealers are so successful.

I left the waiting room, looking for something to eat. Passing through a double door, suddenly the halls were as quiet as a mausoleum. After wandering around awhile, I found a little snack shop. Abandoned. The food machines lined the walls, bright and sterile in the cool florescent room, like Hal, the computer, waiting for someone to engage them.

A lone table stood at one end of the room. There, a whole sandwich sat uneaten on a clean paper plate. Probably some nurse was called to an emergency and had to leave it. I checked the halls for some sign of life, then, returned to the table, snatched up the sandwich and wolfed it down. I was that hungry, despite walking pneumonia.

I found some more scraps in the waste basket, collected them in a piece of paper, and took them outside to Vincent. He was waiting patiently by the door. He just about peed himself he was so glad to see me. And equally glad to get a few bites of food, which he lapped up in an instant. I had to grab the paper away from him or he would have eaten it, as well. I felt so sorry for him making him stay out there in the cold that I decided to try and smuggle him into the waiting room.

The mouse-haired nurse was nowhere around and the white haired one was still bent over her mountain of papers. The whole time I was there, I don’t think the pile got any shorter. I slipped Vincent through the door on his rope and quickly tucked him under my chair. Then, I put a pillow in front of him and you couldn’t tell he was there unless you looked close. Poor fella dropped right off to sleep, adding his snores to the others in the room.

Meanwhile, the 9-11 hearings were still going on. Now it was Little Miss Condoleezza in the hot seat. Now, there’s a piece of work! What is it about her that gives me chilblains? Watching her, I kept looking around for a blanket. I wanted to cover up, like when I was a kid, to keep the bogey man away. For some reason, she just surpasses all the others for sheer creepiness. Maybe it’s that permanent scowl in the middle of her forehead just between the eyes that her smile can never quite erase. Maybe it’s that odd little bobbed hairdo that never changes, even the tiniest fraction. Someday, I suppose we’ll find out she was a robot. Yes, I can picture her being dismantled piece by piece with fine little calibrated screwdrivers and wrenches, all the parts of her head laid out on a stainless steel table. Not a drop of blood anywhere. Her brain just a pile of computer chips. I can see her dead eyes sitting there on the slick steel.

In fact, maybe all of them are robots--Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell. Creations of the mad Karl Rove. But not Bush. No, sadly, he’s the most human of them all.

But the one thing they have in common is they’re all programmed to lie. Condi could give them lessons in the lying arts. She spins her lies like a spider spinning its web, all beautiful intricate lacework. By the time she gets done, you have no idea what she’s said, and it could take days to get it all untangled. I hear some press people have nicknamed her “Mushroom Cloud.”

Now, I suppose lying must be among the worst scourges of our times. Perhaps in its own way as bad as the spread of hunger, homelessness, even AIDS. Certainly as much a scourge as war. Where would war be without the big lie? Without lies, we would have had no Viet Nam War, no Korean War, no Philippine War, no Mexican War. We would not be in Iraq today. All that killing, our wealth wasted on these terrible weapons that could end all life on earth, the endless planning and preparation for war, none of it could progress one inch without the lie. Lies are the fuel for wars. Lies are the fuel for all other scourges.

Yet, we put up with it. Why is that? Why is everyone asleep? Is it because our brains are so fogged by the great Praying Mantis of TV that no one can think clearly anymore? When Bush and those other characters enter a room, the odor must be abysmal. How can anyone stand it? Poor, stinking homeless people don’t give off as bad as that. I suppose the only reason the members of the sham Commission are able to tolerate it at all must be because so many of them are tainted themselves with corporate bribes. Maybe if you allow your integrity to be compromised enough over time, your sense of smell diminishes, dries up. They say if you stay around scum long enough, you get used to it. Humans can adjust to anything, they say.

* * * *

Around five a.m., I must have dozed off. When my eyes popped open again, sunlight filled the room and there was a flurry of renewed activity. Doctors, orderlies, nurses swishing by. Janitors mopping floors, emptying waste baskets. The mouse-haired nurse and her white-haired counterpart had gone home, replaced by a fresh out of college red haired nurse with freckles handing out clipboards and forms; behind the window, a black male nurse with white hair and a white mustache. The sheaf of papers in front of him was as thick as ever. I had the feeling whoever drew that duty was destined to experience premature white hair.

A lot of chairs were vacant in the waiting room. But numerous familiar faces remained—maybe twenty of us, all told, looking stale and frazzled, as if we’d just staggered off a bus we’d been riding all night.

Meanwhile, the somber mood of the 9-11 Commission was now replaced with Katie Couric’s flashy morning makeup face. A chef in starched white chef’s hat was showing her how to make crepe suzettes. He talked a mile a minute, knowing he had maybe that much time or less to show her how it was done. Katie kept inserting little chirpy remarks, like a chipmunk, and everyone was laughing and cutting up. The whole thing was kind of pointless, like all those morning shows that millions of people supposedly watch as they ready themselves for work or wherever they’re going.

Checking under my chair, I found Vincent awake and more or less alert. I gave him some pats on the head and whispered to him to be patient and stay put awhile longer. Food was uppermost in my mind, though I was feeling shot and weak. But I was afraid to leave the waiting room for fear I’d miss my turn with the doctor.

Just as I had that thought, I heard my name called. I looked around. Maybe I just imagined it. Then, I heard it again. A nurse I hadn’t seen before was standing there looking around the waiting room. “That’s me,” I said, raising my hand.

“Come on.” She turned and started off. I leaned over and told Vincent to stay put. Then, I got up and followed her out. She lead me through a doorway and down a narrow hall. She stopped at an examining room. “Come on in here and have a seat.” I had a seat on the—what-do-you-call-it—raised bed kind of thing you sit on when they examine you. She proceeded to take my blood pressure and temperature.

She was pretty. She smiled at me. Her badge said her name was Esther. Unlike the bleary eyed night staff, she looked all bright and morning fresh. There was the faint smell of coffee on her breath as she spoke. “So, you’re down with a bad cold, huh?” she said.

“Well, I think it’s pneumonia, actually.” I said.

“Pneumonia?” She frowned a little.

“Yes, ma’am. That’s what the nurse said last night.”

“Who said that?”

“I don’t know her name. She had her hair up in a bun. She carried a lot of clipboards.”

“Oh, that’s Margaret. She’s a bit of an alarmist. I don’t think you have pneumonia.”


“Well, you’re not running a fever. Let’s have a listen.”

She listened to me through her stethoscope, telling me to breathe in and out. She put it on my back and listened there, too. “Well, you’ve got some congestion, but I don’t think you have pneumonia.” She smiled and patted me on the arm. Wait here. The doctor’ll be here in a minute.

Pretty soon, the doc came in. Another young one, fresh out of medical school. Perfect hair and teeth. He looked like Clark Kent. He listened to me and pronounced me sick as a dog, “but you don’t have pneumonia,” he said, grinning. He started to write out a scrip for some meds, then he looked at me a moment. Sizing me up, he rifled through a drawer and gave me a handful of pills and a bottle of Robitussin. "Get some rest," he said, and sent me on my way.

As I was heading back to the waiting room, Esther met me at the door. “Are you hungry?” she smiled.


She handed me a ticket. “Take this down to the cafeteria and get some breakfast. That’ll do you more good than all that stuff he gave you. And whatever you do, stay warm for a few days.” I nodded.

So I ate a huge breakfast and took some out to Vincent. Outside, the sun was coming on bright and strong and everything was warming up. Steam was wafting off the grass and shrubs, looking almost like thin smoke in the air. I stood there a long moment letting the warmth melt over my face and get into my bones. It’s amazing how much better you feel when you find out you haven’t got pneumonia.


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