Days are sometimes stitched together with absurdity. One moment jells into another, morphing one’s experience into a long line of episodes that span the gamut, from unrestrained joy to the tyranny of utter depression, sometimes within only a few hours. In the mid-nineties, I was living in a small house on Patterson Avenue. It had barely two bedrooms and one large living area in the front of the house, a front porch area that was sheltered, and another small room off the kitchen that worked more as an overfed hallway that was stuffed with shelves of records and my makeshift stereo. It was pieced together with old bits of electronic gear that I had collected over the years. The only newer item was a dual cassette player that I had bought with a Sears credit card. The house, which was small and wooden and had a deteriorating garden that a recently deceased elderly woman had spent years planting, was home to many of the nonsensical events of my mid-twenties. It was a motel of sorts for bands traveling through Columbus, and my roommate Tom, a jovial bearded sort who sported a tattoo of Don Shula on one arm and one of Don Knotts on the other, was shellacked with many late night shenanigans as he tried to get enough sleep so he could get to his five A.M. job as a designer at Kinko’s. The living room had two couches. One was a threadbare relic from the early seventies that my grandmother had given me after my grandfather passed away and the other was an orange vinyl sort that was deathly cold in the winter but easy to wipe off.
These couches and the floor around the stereo made quite a comfortable space for many traveling bands during those years. Some were kind of known and some lesser so to most, with the exception of those of us who breathed music the way others focused on such things as family, jobs, and religion. Bands with names like Sleepyhead, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, The Ex, and Nothing Painted Blue would make nary a ripple for most of the people I used to know, while others, such as Jon Spencer, Chavez, Guided by Voices, and The Breeders, may have garnered a raised eyebrow from a family member. This was my life, though, and I embraced it as if the certainty of my existence depended on it.
One of the bands staying one night witnessed one of those absurd situations that many of us often found ourselves in. The band was from Boston. They called themselves Kudgel and dubbed the genre of music they played “lard rock” due to the hefty girth of the band members. They had one stupendous song called the “Alphabet Song” and a new record called Chimp Rock. Although they were from Boston, they lacked the brainy pop eagerness of other Northeast bands like the Blake Babies, the Lemonheads, and Sebadoh. They were more akin to the sludgy sounds emanating from the Amphetamine Reptile label in Minneapolis. Kudgel were pure hate rock but in a very goofy way, as half the band dressed in skirts and muumuus. The shared a bill with the Bassholes and the Cheater Slicks, who were also from Boston and whose immense guitars sounded as if they were belched from the bowels of the Atlantic during one of those fabled New England Northeasterners that could erupt out of thin air and bring the death of a thousand shipping vessels.
Jenny lived just a few blocks from me in the crammed apartment I had left a few years before, complete with most of the belongings that we had accumulated during our stormy and hesitant four-year relationship—several pianos, pieces of broken stereo equipment, half-finished artworks, hundreds of painted doilies that Jenny would churn out during her fits of mania, and a boundless array of women’s clothing that spanned the last fifty years of the 20th century. Sometimes when I visited her we would argue and throw verbal shots at one another, blaming each other for the misery of our lives, never taking a modicum of responsibility for our own sadness until I would crack under her spell and apologize as if I were just convicted on manslaughter. Other times, we would inevitably have ruinous ex-sex, humping our bodies together for a brief period to help squelch the past or the present or whatever longing needed to be squelched. This would always followed by a promise that we were not going to get back together again as I left her house as soon as it was appropriate to do so. We were both seeing other people during this time, and as navigating one’s twenties is difficult enough, there were no thoughts that this constituted unfaithfulness on our parts.
I had some issues with my bodily plumbing around this time. I had gotten an STD from a former girlfriend and had to go to the Health Department to take care of it, as I was too ashamed to go to good old Dr. Brown. D r. Brown was in his early forties and had a family clinic just on the outskirts of campus in an old wooden house that straddled Pearl Alley and a gas station. He had an easy going charm about him, with the kind of good natured easiness that he must have gained by going through medical school in the nineteen seventies.. There was no possible way I could have him, with his Mickey Mouse earring and bushy mustache, look me in the eye while sticking an antiseptic, 8” cotton swab down the shaft of my penis. When I had some new symptoms, I realized that I needed to go back to the Health Department. I assumed that most people who would be foolish enough to acquire a sexually transmitted disease would be late risers, so I made a point of arriving early to have the symptoms that had been bothering me treated.
The Columbus Health Department provides tests for the standard line of sexually transmitted diseases: gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and syphilis. The agency will immediately disperse medication if someone has symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease even before the results are returned. These symptoms range from pus and discharge to itchiness. I was experiencing two of these. During the first two visits out of three, I was given antibiotics and told that I would have to refrain from alcohol for the duration of the medication, which was roughly ten days. I could not abide for even two days. On my third visit, I was the first to arrive at the Health Department. I sat in the corner, filled with bewilderment and shame. I had refrained from having sex during the month and was perplexed. Soon after sitting down and flipping through a wrinkled copy of a years old Sports Illustrated, I noticed another man sitting across from me. He was roughly my age and seemed slightly familiar. Soon my name was called and I took my chart to the desk. Entering the back room, I was met with a heavyset African-American nurse who gazed at me and shook her head. “Weren’t you just here?” she muttered more to herself than me. “Well, you know the drill,” and before my pants got to my knees she had jabbed the long swab up into me, shaking her head the entire time.
For an alcoholic, taking antibiotics while refraining from drinking is about as easy as eating one potato chip. After my symptoms didn’t go away after my three visits to the Health Department, I resigned myself to seeing good old Dr. Brown, with his Mickey Mouse earring and his undoubtedly disappointed mustache. I told him that I had an STD. I figured a good shot of penicillin would do the trick. Shortly before my visit to Dr. Brown, Jenny phoned. “Hey, you got the clap again, huh?” she asked.
“Shut up. If I got anything it was from you and your vagina that welcomes anybody who asks.”
She laughed, “My new boyfriend saw you there the other day. You guys were the only ones there and you both fucked me.”
“Yeah, that’s real funny, Jenny. Real fucking funny.”
I went in to Dr. Brown’s office, surrounded by Highlights for Children and Ranger Rick magazines, my dick itching as if an ant had crawled up it. I went back to see Dr. Brown, who had been treating me and my variety of drunken escapades for a few years, and told him what was going on. He laughed when I informed him of the three trips to the VD clinic. Looking at me with a face of bafflement, he said, “You probably don’t have one at all,” explaining that the symptoms would have worsened and, besides, the medication would have killed whatever I had. He asked if I had ever gotten my results.
I sheepishly said, “No, its kinda humiliating calling there.” He then asked me to drop my pants and said he was going to check my prostrate.
Leaning over, I was startled to hear good old Dr. Brown shout out, “Good heavens, son, no wonder you are so uncomfortable. Your prostate is huge. Christ, it feels like you’re sixty five years old.”
Pulling up my trousers, trying to look dignified with an enlarged prostrate and jelly all over my ass, I asked, “So that means I don’t have an STD, right? That’s good.”
The good doctor’s brow furrowed as he shook his head. “No, it is not good for a twenty-two-year-old man to have a prostrate that large. It can only mean two things—it is severely infected or you have cancer.”
I was dumbfounded. Cancer? On my fuel injector? I asked, “So now what?” Dr. Brown made an appointment with a specialist right away. I would only have to wait two weeks. Needless to say, there was a great deal of alcohol consumption during those next two weeks. I was relieved that I didn’t have any communicable diseases, thus saving me from the embarrassment of informing someone that they might have to get checked. I believed that I had cancer. Besides that, I lost at everything. I knew that I would never be a cancer survivor.
Kugdel arrived at my house sometime before my appointment with the specialist. I was smashed, ears blown by the Cheater Slicks and the goofy throat-rattling lard rock of Kudgel. Laughing as I fetched blankets and a trusty bucket that was kept bedside to make puking more convenient, the gentlemen from Boston were shown to the various beds in the house. Soon, Mark Erody, the erstwhile singer of Kudgel, walked into the living room holding a medical enema. “What the hell is this?!” he cackled.
“Oh, shit, I gotta be at the urologist in four hours and I have to give myself an enema.”
“Uh huh, they think I might have prostate cancer.” News like that will suck any humorous energy out of a room, no matter how late at night.
“Oh wow, I’m so sorry to hear that, Bela.” The men all provided appropriately forlorn looks.
“It’s fine, and really I’m cool with it. I won’t wake you guys.” With that, I shuffled off to bed, bucket in hand.
The next morning, still drunk and struggling to decipher the small print of the instructions for the enema as I got on all fours, bare ass sticking towards the heavens, I had no idea what to do. My head throbbed and my hands were shaky from the morning shakes I would occasionally have. I figured, how hard it could be to stick something up one’s ass? Apparently, being half-drunk, hung-over, and experiencing more shakes than a 1970s Tudor Electronic Football game can make this an extraordinary endeavor. The first attempt caused a small bloody cut where I had never believed a cut was possible, and I wondered what it would feel like when I had to have a shot there. Standing up, I had half a mind to go ask one of the gentlemen from Kudgel to assist me, but thought better of it and plunged the small tube in. Soon enough, I was out the door, my ego low as I headed to the doctor. Checking in, I was informed that my appointment wasn’t for another week. I laughed as I informed my friend Gretchen, who had driven me, that I got the date wrong.
“You mean you gave yourself an enema for nothing?”
“Yup, isn’t that hilarious?” The men from Kudgel also thought it was funny when I returned.
Seven days later, I arrived at the urologist office with two weeks of heavy drinking and worries stacked up like a line of bottles on the bar, peeled labels and sticky glass. I was a mess. The urologist was a shaky old man who asked me to bend over while he checked out the canyon-sized prostrate that sat inside of me. The appointment was early in the morning. I was a bit groggy and still a bit drunk from the night before. I was so dehydrated that a lizard would have felt quite at home amongst my innards. The old man asked me to bend over even more, and I felt him struggling to get to that prostrate.
“Fuck,” I thought, “what the hell is he doing back there?” He asked me to turn around and, taking my sheepish penis in his hands, he checked to see if there was any discharge coming out.
He looked me in the eye and said, “You smell of alcohol. This may take a little longer.” Leaning again across the table, I felt him try to push something out of the wasteland that was my insides. Soon, my knees grew weak, and I felt stars dancing around my head as if I were being squelched by every force known to man.
“Uhh, I don’t feel to good,” I groaned as I rolled off the side of the tiny urologist bed. The old man caught me and slid a chair under me. This was the worst.
The urologist produced a small packet of smelling salts. In a calming voice he stated, “Doesn’t matter, happens to the best of them.” There was a “best” of people who had their prostates squeezed and poked? Waking from the faint, I looked down as he grabbed my pathetic, droopy penis and wrestled a smidgen of moisture out of it as if he were squeezing the last drop of toothpaste from the tube. “That should do it. Before you leave, the nurse will give you something to put your ejaculate in.”
At times, reality is much more far-fetched than any concoction a mind can make up. Pulling up the trousers that had sunk like a cordless flag to my feet, nestled around my ankles in utter defeat, I murmured a “thank you” to the aging physician. I felt the damp jelly that he had used soak into my underwear as my hangover dissipated into the wild morning. Walking through the waiting room with a slightly modified drunkard’s gait, several thoughts came to mind. First, had I heard the old doctor correctly, that I would have to dispense sperm this morning after the ordeal that I had just gone through? How was this done, exactly? It occurred to me, as I passed elderly men hunched next to concerned white-haired wives who were holding their hands and rubbing their shoulders, that somehow my life had turned into a living, swirling, and debilitating clusterfuck.
I asked the small mousy woman who combed her bangs forward with just the right amount of hair spray to look as if she could be auditioning for a part in a John Hughes movie what I needed to do. “Er, I think the doctor wants something else.”
She smiled, “Oh, he must want a stool sample.”
Somehow, in a matter of just a few seconds, the situation had gotten more absurd. I leaned forward, poking my head slightly through the opaque glass window the framed her 1982 haircut. “Hmm, no,” I whispered, “he wants something else.”
Her face crinkling, eye brows arched, she replied, “Really, I wonder what that could be?” Swiveling around in her chair, she bellowed to a nurse who was in some mysterious back room that all doctor’s offices seem to have. “Missy?! What else did the doctor want for Mr. Koe-Krompecher?!”
I noticed a head poke around a doorway in the back. “He needs a sperm sample from Mr. Koe-Krompecher!” the nurse brayed from the back. I turned around, hopeful that none of the grandmothers sitting next to the grandfathers who littered the waiting room like cows staring blankly in a field would have heard the words so ineloquently yelped from the back. I noticed a flock of mildly amused and curious smiles staring back at me.
“Oh, that’s easy to do,” said the mousy woman with the bangs. “I’ll have to get you a sample cup for you to put your ejaculate in.” Any sense of pride may have been tethered to my flailing and tattered being had just been torn and let to drift into a sea of humiliation at that moment. Completely confounded by the nonsensical situation I had found myself in, I stared up at the ceiling while I waited, a series of thoughts flashed through my mind. What sort of cup would this be? Would they give me a room? Were there any sort of “tools” used to help facilitate the process?
The woman reappeared with a small plastic cup. “Hmmmm, interesting,” I thought to myself as she handed me the cup. Holding it in my hand, I noticed that it had a small label wrapped around it with small typed print that included my name, address, phone number, patient number, and the purpose of the cup. I grinned flatly, rocked back up on my heels, and stared at her. Seconds ticked by as she smiled back and nodded. A few more seconds passed. “Er, mmmm, so?” I inquired.
Red bloomed across her cheeks as if a curtain had closed over her face, eyes widened so far that they almost reached those combed down bangs. “Ohhhhhh,” she mouthed, answering the unasked question, “no, you need to bring it back in sometime in the coming week.”
“Great, thanks.” And with that I left.
Returning a week later with the small container, I hesitantly walked into the doctor’s office. The collection of old men with brave wives appeared not to have moved since my last visit. Smiling with trepidation, I rang the small metallic bell, inadvertently calling attention to myself. Ms. Bangs appeared, smiling the same vacant smile she had a week before. With pun intended, I handed her the plastic vessel containing a bit of my organic constitution and said, “I’ve come to drop this off for the doctor.”
Her eyebrows rose again. “Oh yes, of course? and what is it again?” she asked while spinning the tiny bottle in her hand. With another silently mouthed “Ohhh,” she nodded knowingly at me. “Oookayy, we will get back to you as soon as we get the results.”
The next week went by slowly. I was a man with too much on his mind looking for evening escape from the fear of the unknown. The fear was only placated by the sound of music, the consumption of beer, and the touch of another human being. Sitting in a back corner booth of Larry’s with small bottled candles burning into the smoke-filled air, peeling the labels off of beer bottles was a hobby unto itself. I plied for relief. Doom was about and I gabbed my fearful information to anyone who I thought could delay the loneliness of a dying man. Drawing comfort from the familiar, I managed to procure several different lovers in between dropping the seed of the Krompecher family for the doctor to read and hearing my fate. I thought that it was appropriate that, as my life circled the drain of death, I would not be alone.
Entering the doctor’s office nearly two weeks later, the apprehension was muggy in my mind as I prepared to receive the news of my demise. My breath was decaying as the cancer ate me from within, slowly from the loins up. There would be some justice in this, I presumed. I waited in the small, cramped, white-covered examination room. Staring blankly at graphic medical posters of the penis and urinary tract of a man, I was ready.
The old doctor entered, asked me how I was, and startled me with his first question. “Young man, how much alcohol do you drink every week?” He leaned towards me, clipboard held tightly to his chest as if he were protecting his chest from the arrows of denial.
“Oh, a few beers here and there,” I said as innocently as I could.
“Well, maybe, but it appears as if your prostate is infected and may be allergic to alcohol and maybe caffeine. We know that when the prostate is infected—we call that prostatitus, and you appear to have a severe case—alcohol and caffeine exacerbate the situation. My advice to you is to give up drinking alcohol or slow down or you will continue to have these problems.”
“That’s it?” I thought, “no cancer, just quit drinking?” I didn’t know what was worse. Looking up at him, I asked, “So, you’re saying I don’t have cancer?”
“Yes, you don’t. You drink too much. You need to stop.” And with that he left the room. With a great deal of relief, I left his office, smiling to myself. It would take me another twelve years to decide to quit drinking.