STAGE FRIGHT

Dr. Strawn De Leon needed a fresh nickel-cadmium battery for his new electronic sphygmomanometer — it had a flared plastic handle that made it look built for speed. He’d sent his nurse to the Battery Shack outlet store just across the river, and we waited in uncomfortable silence; me more uncomfortable than he, I suspect, as I was wearing the paper robe that tied up the back. Paper apron is more apt (one-size-fits-all, my fat ass!), and I had to maintain a constant fidget to keep the flesh of my backside from adhering to the vinyl of the examining table.

“I don’t believe you’ve seen any of my magic tricks,” he suddenly said, establishing a modicum of eye contact, which he quickly disengaged.

“Wouldn’t you rather tell me about the Priest and the Rabbi?” I muttered.

“I don’t follow,” he said with a suspicious smile. He patted nervously at his comb-over.

I was afraid he was aiming to prestidigitate some lubricated item out of sight and into one of my unaccommodating orifices. But what could I do?

“Nothing, sir,” I said with a shrug. “Go right ahead. The stage is yours.”

It started out so cornball that I was thinking a prostate exam might not be so grim. I could only imagine that Dr. De Leon started out in the pediatric wards where naive tikes were as impressed with the got-your-nose thumb trick as they were with their first sight of a laryngoscope; but, myself, all I could do was roll my eyes and smile indulgently as the doctor reached his hand up behind my ear — “what do we have here?” — and produced a shiny Kennedy half-dollar. Things started to pick up as he made the coin walk back and forth across the knuckles of his left hand. He spun around, his white lab coat flaring out like a flamenco dancer’s skirt, and he snapped off the overhead lights so that the eye exam lamp cutting across the room was hitting him like a spotlight. Suddenly I realized that the 50 cent piece strolling back and forth over his knuckles had been joined by a nickel. Pretty slick, I was thinking. The guy’s cooking on all burners. He tossed the coins into the air and they exploded with a flash of fire and pink smoke and from out of the smoke dropped a live chicken. Dr. De Leon caught the startled bird and spun it like a basketball, then he placed it on its back on the counter between the sink and the row of glass jars filled with swabs and cotton balls. He stared at the chicken and it seemed to go into a trance. Never once looking away from the animal, the doctor removed his left shoe and sock. He soaked the sock in ether and slipped it over the chicken’s head. Music started playing from a speaker in the ceiling. Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 2. I watched, enraptured, breathless, as the doctor seized a scalpel — out of thin air, I swear — and began slashing at the dozing bird with muscular, masterful strokes. Jets of blood slashed across his face with no more intensity than a child’s water pistol. He made a little grunt of satisfaction and walked over to me. I watched as he placed a dripping palm on my chest and he pushed me gently down until I was flat on the examining table. His other hand, I saw, held delicately the chicken’s tiny heart, which he fed to me like a lover.

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