Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 17 and 18

Chapter Seventeen (Chapter One ran on April 9, and every weekend thereafter).

At the medical clinic, Jordan signed the promise paper maybe to be used against him in court at some future date. Joya handed over ten crisp Andrew Jacksons. The bloody mess he was merited prompt attention. They took him down a hall to one of those rooms where you’re told to sit on an elevated, cot-style furnishing and quickly abandoned. This he did and not too much later a nurse came in with an intravenous bag that she hung on a steel pole above his head before grabbing an arm, which he promptly pulled back. “Don’t want it,” he said.

“Sir, it’s just a special solution to stabil-”

“Never felt more stable. I just want my nose checked.”

This threw the nurse for a mild loop, although Jordan was left with the impression that such medical shopping was not unheard of in these days of technologically driven, overpriced treatment. The nurse proceeded to a bank of drawers and pulled out a syringe. “What’s that for?” he asked.

“I’m going to give you a tetanus shot,” she responded.

“Don’t want it.”

She explained, somewhat testily, that he was bleeding from an open wound and that to be safe-

“How much is it?” he cut to the chase yet again.

“Well…I’m not sure,” she said, “I give care, I don’t set the prices,” and then she gave him a ballpark figure.

“Forget it. I’ll take my chances.” She shrugged an “it’s-your-life” shrug, returned the syringe to the place from whence it came and left without further attempts to pad Jordan’s bill.

He’d always accepted as rote that whatever was done to him in such situations was necessary and for his own good, yet here was this woman responding to his negatives with the obedience of a drug store clerk. He had rights. He had power!

Minutes passed, another nurse came in. The wait had not been long at all. Jordan mused that they’d deemed him a low-profit endeavor and were moving him through to make room for the richer injured. The second nurse directed him to follow her – and he did – down yet another hallway to what was unmistakably the x-ray facility.

She left him sitting on another elevated cot with crackle-y white paper and shortly thereafter a man in green scrubs and the, by now, all too familiar shower-cap-like hat entered. “We’re going to take a few x-rays,” he stated the obvious to Jordan who, up until that moment, had not considered what capturing irradiated images of his nose would entail. The technical assistant – as he remembered such people being called – moved him over into a dark, adjacent cubby and told him to lie down on his stomach. He covered the patient with a very heavy, body-length blanket which J. knew only too well was designed to protect him from the perils of certifiably dangerous levels of radioactivity. Near his head was what struck him to be the camera lens and he was directed to stick his chin out so that the contraption could get a good shot at his proboscis. This he did. “Raise your head just a little more so the nose protrudes,” ordered the orderly and this he also did, not without thinking how ridiculous he looked and (again) how undignified medical treatment was in general.

There was a loud noise akin to a freight elevator arriving and halting at a loading dock, and then a click. The technical assistant approached, moved some kind of plate around in the machine’s entrails and, with both hands, tilted Jordan’s head a bit and went back to take another shot. When this was done Jordan, somewhat laboriously under the weight of the anti-radiation blanket, rose to his feet. “Where are you going?” said the guy in the shower cap. “I’m not done.”

“Sure you are,” said Jordan, thinking back to his stay at the hospital that ultimately would not treat him and what it charged for the x-rays, which were known to be inconclusive where appendicitis was concerned. “I’ve got eight more to take,” Jordan was told by a voice that shrunk as he departed. “Not at these prices you don’t. I just want to be sure the nose is broken. It looks broken. It feels broken and you’ve got two shots to confirm it. If you can’t, call me in for one or two more.”

There was no response. Jordan came out to the waiting room because he was tired of waiting and informed the nurse of his decision. She said if he could wait a bit longer Doctor Singh would have a look at the x-rays and the nose itself. “Another Dr. Singh?” he wondered to himself and looked at Joya who waved her box of Dãrshãn and smiled contentedly. “You doin’ okay hon?”

“Just peaches.”

So Jordan, feeling rather in command of things despite his continuous run of bad luck, returned to the first room and sat back atop the crackle-y white paper. After a while, an affable doctor of subcontinental origins entered, put some rubber gloves on and pressed the nose in question for a bit.

The upshot was this: Jordan had been lucky. No deviated septum and no broken blood vessels. He was able to breathe and that was always good. Cosmetically he would be left with a little bump as trophy and testament to his survival. It would not dramatically alter, as Joya had worried, the landscape of his face. Jordan asked about nose jobs, a topic for which he possessed no information, and was informed that they were expensive and involved a “clean” re-breaking of the nose followed by a resetting of the same. This business of intentionally breaking bones deepened his concern about the wisdom of certain accepted medical practices.

Under the circumstances, the doctor said, “I rec-o-mmend yu just go awn with yaw life and fowgit abowd it.”

Jordan shrugged and reflected on how neither would be easy. Still, he liked the idea of having come out of the whole disaster with the minimum physical damage.

Psychically, J. knew he’d be screwed up in some way. But that was a concern for the future. Presently, he looked forward to a pleasant ride home with his lovely new guardian angel. “Do you smoke Dãrshãn?” he then asked the doctor.

“I dunt smooke it oil,” the man answered via the sing-songy accent into which his tongue stretched and twisted the English tongue. “It’s nut good faw yu.”

What a difference a few hours can make. Not too long before, Jordan verily feared for his life at the hands of savage gargoyles straight from the underworlds. Now he was heading home in the cool twilight, wrapped in a big woolen blanket long enough to link him with the lovely Joya, whose curves and strong jaw and soft accent were all for his private (visual) delectation. She emptied the last Dãrshãns, one for him and one for her (he thought warmly inside). The hills to their right twinkled with low-lying galaxies of home lights. “What a shame,” he thought to himself, “that houses cannot be fired by starlight.” He lit up and did the same for Joya – always an intimate gesture between boys and girls of a certain age. He decided to take advantage of the strategic position into which the beating had thrust him. “Indian cigarettes, Indian doctor, Indian shop girl…looks like Indian is the day’s theme.” Joya knew she liked Jordan and things had worked out okay, but hanging around him had given her a true sense of just how dangerous the city – life even – could be and it upset her. These sentiments she synthesized into the following response: “I should think beatin’ was the day’s theme.”

Her copilot thought this remark rather out of character. He decided that you’ve got to take a little bad with the mostly good and let it pass. “So how’d you end up hiring the Indian girl, what’s her name? – Sadina?” Jordan excavated, remembering how sexy he’d found her, and thereby did a little prep work, just in case, for the future. Joya knew where this was going and, as was just said, knew she liked Jordan, but had pretty much had her fill for the day. “I hired her because she works cheap.”

“Really,” he dug himself in a little deeper, “and why’s that?”

“Because I let her lick my pussy when she asks.”

Jordan, to cover up the awkwardness that had fallen upon them like the plush velvety night itself, took a long draw on the cigarette only to conclude that Dãrshãns didn’t have nearly enough kick to them.

They hardly talked after that. Joya dropped Jordan off at his car, which sat in front of her store with a parking ticket stuck to the windshield.

Chapter Eighteen

Inspectors Diaz and Thorpe had worked themselves into a nasty mood by striking up a conversation about how dreary it could be making monogamous love to the first woman they had ever bedded down.

Not that they were two-timers. Nope, even if they had wanted to, neither could afford the high cost of maintaining a mistress, nor find a crack of time in the solid wall of responsibility their dutifully adopted lifestyles presented them with.

They were simply wrestling with the overstimulation of sexual desire that both genders are subjected to, through an infinite number of techniques both surreptitious and obvious, every single damn day of their lives. Stringy sandy-haired models with honeyflows pitched intimate clothing, stunning actresses shed their clothes on giant screens, pop pornography, underdressed and well-nourished thirteen-year olds and God-knows-what-else had them in a perpetual state of agitation.

Anyhow, it didn’t matter. The inspectors were married and that was all that could be said as far as the foul mood was concerned.

Meantime they had been making their way to a Korean restaurant where the folks mostly adhered to a self-imposed code of behavior rooted in home country mores.

These Koreans resented local authorities disrupting their timeless proclivities and were not civil when confronted.

Diaz drove carefully because, “certain people that are Koreans in Koreatown don’t drive very well,” which was expressed in this roundabout fashion thanks to his run through diversity classes. The business in the crosshairs of their enforcement efforts had behaved similarly to the French restaurant crosstown. It too had regularly flouted the Smoke-Free Workplace Act and chosen to pay the incrementally growing citations promptly and without grumbling. Unfortunately for Diaz and Thorpe, the proprietress was out on the sidewalk doing nothing in particular when she saw their familiar (and unmistakable) red-and-white cruiser turn onto her street. They saw that she saw them and saw that she ran inside her place to warn all smokers of the coming raid. The big catch to this Smoke-Free Workplace Act, the bête noir of the inspectors’ existence, was that a citation could only be issued if and when a smoker was caught in the act. As such, Diaz and Thorpe more often than not walked into a room with a healthy weave of tobacco byproduct pushing at the ceiling and no one beneath it bearing the slightest evidence of guilt. The most popular techniques of subterfuge were the flat ashtray under the dinner plate, the extinguished butt in the palm-sized tin mint (curiously effective) box, and the vomit-inducing cigarette-and-wet-napkin combo.

So they blew off the Korean establishment and decided to hit another regular scofflaw up the block a bit. What they could not know was that the proprietress who had successfully sussed out their approach was going to call and alert her competitors – six restaurants and/or bars in all – but Diaz and Thorpe soon found out and threw up their hands.

You can pass all the laws in the world, but if you don’t pay someone to ensure they are obeyed, you’ve done nothing at all.

The fact is that these two gentlemen represented the entirety of local efforts for bringing profligate enterprises to heel. The absurdity of this pair chasing smokers throughout a city with thousands of bars and restaurants was lost on them, its obviousness aside.

Much was made of the law when passed by its sponsor on the City Council and those whose support he’d horse-traded for. There was a big to-do with media and fact-sheets and speeches about the health of the commonweal.

Months later, however, during grueling negotiations in the budget committee, nobody remembered any of it and the act’s enforcement was funded with crumbs. But it takes man-hours, equipment, training, uniforms, administrative support – an entire little company – to get such a job done.

And so Thorpe and Diaz where the extent of the law’s expression. And they had just been mocked by a group of businesspeople normally at odds with one another. And to this date they had been successfully thwarted in their efforts to see the letter of the law satisfied to its fullest extent.

They continued driving through the seemingly endless streets; Thorpe, at one point, requesting that Diaz lighten up on the particulars of what went on in bed between he and the little woman, who was barely either thing anymore.

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