October 25, 2020
A notification appears in a small box at the upper right corner of my computer screen
I am informed my daily average screen time — the time my computer is linked with the Internet — is three hours, thirty-one minutes.
I close the box.
It’s 3 a.m.
The top of my foot hurts — at a spot where, if I’m not mistaken, the metatarsalphalangeal joint is located.
I am familiar with the joint.
Could it be?
The pain is not yet at Level Red. I move my big toe without screaming; I can bear the minimal pressure of a sheet on foot flesh.
But, could this be the first twinge, a signal of an oncoming disaster?
I touch the spot on my foot. It is not warm, as it is when gout does its nasty business.
But, is this the prelude?
Can I expect agony?
I review pertinent details.
Should I have downed three vodka tonics, eaten several helpings of spicy garlic shrimp, and sipped two glasses of wine? Should I be 25 (OK, 30-35) pounds overweight, averse to any kind of strenuous exercise? Actually, to exercise of any kind?
My answer to these questions: a resounding “Yes.”
I am too old to change.
Did I taken my daily dose of Allopurinol?
Yes, I took the Allopurinol.
That should do the trick.
No es problemo.
The pain must be the result of another type of arthritis, likely as destructive as gout, but less fearsome in terms of quick-onset, debilitating pain. The last time I underwent a bone scan to find where my cancer has taken up a home, the oncologist noted I am corrupt, arthritis-wise, an arthritic wreck.
That’s probably it: another kind of arthritis. No big deal. Not compared to an attack of gout. Gout fucks you up to the extreme. It’s a beast.
I turn off the light, and pull the covers up to my neck.
Before I drop off, I consider the many ways I can cook a hunk of beautiful, prime beef the next day, and I review my inventory of Kermit Lynch reds. There is a bottle of 2010 Les Pallieres Gigondas “Terrasse Du Diable” that needs attention, stat!
I sleep. I dream.
Gout might not be ravaging my foot but it is on my mind.
I dream about Gertrude Elion, the biochemist/pharmacologist and Nobel Prize winner who partnered with George Hitchings to develop a new approach to creating medicinal drugs — an approach that led to the production of Allopurinol and the alleviation of one of nature’s crueler ailments. I often dream about scientists. Scientists, monster truck rallies, and the middle-aged Eartha Kitt.
This night, it is Gertrude.
Before Allopurinol, gout sufferers indulged myriad ineffective treatments: a slather of steaming ox poop; a mixture of horseradish and ground elder; a meal featuring a roasted goose stuffed with chopped kittens, incense, wax and rye flour, the drippings smeared on the affected area; a laxative called “Daffy’s Elixir;” Uritika Nervine Balm; morphine injections and chloroform liniment.
As far back as the first century BCE, a relatively effective treatment existed, utilizing conchicum, with its modern form, colchicine, proving useful, ignoring the fact the sufferer shits his or her drawers.
A pre-Gertrude list of mighty characters who suffered from gout includes some of my faves: Thomas Jefferson (too much claret, Mac and cheese, and guilt); Ben Franklin (too much claret, too many affairs, too little guilt), William de Ferrers, 5th Earl of Derby; Pope Honorius IV; Francesco Sforza; Sigmund Zois; Nostradamus (did he know ahead of time that he would suffer the pain?). These are but a few.
I am in the grip of gout; the skin on the top of my foot is red, swollen, paper-thin, hot to the touch, the pain on and within the foot unbearable. I curse beef, wine, paté, scallops.
I whimper as I hobble on a path leading through the quad at Dreamville University. It is late, the ivy-cluttered classroom buildings are locked, the dormitories darkened, youthful scholars fast asleep in their little beds.
Ahead of me: Science Hall, for more than a hundred years the site of earth-shaking discoveries, home base for the greatest lab geeks on the globe.
A glow emanates from a window on the third floor.
Mounting the stairs in the quiet building is an excruciating ordeal, but I persist, I must go on. I must get to the Chem Wing, and Room 323.
I open the door, and there she stands: Gertrude, poised before an array of single-jacketed glass reactors, graduated cylindrical receivers, Friedrichs condensers, dual receiving flasks and the like, their surfaces sparkling in the flickering light thrown off by a shelf’s worth of Bunsen burners, each device flaming full force, the burners arranged like votive candles in the Cathedral of Science.
The gas flames backlight Gertrude as she turns toward me. The light shimmers through her tight perm, washes around the sides of a plump form concealed beneath a starched lab coat.
Gertrude smiles. She steps toward me, and says: “Ah, Karl, you’ve come for the experiment, correct?”
As she speaks, she opens her lab coat to reveal her nude body.
“My, oh my,” I think, “for a fifty year-old biochemist who is most likely a lesbian, she is remarkably well put together. There’s a lot of her … and there appears to be a sizable scar on her abdomen, left there by a chemical burn.”
I am excited. Research accidents and bunsen burners arouse me.
Gertrude sashays clumsily past me to a small record player that sits on a desk. She takes a 45 from a sleeve, puts it on the turntable, places the needle down, starts the machine:
“Volare,” by Dean Martin.
“Volare, Oh Oh
“Contare, Oh Oh Oh Oh
“Let’s fly way up to the clouds…”
Gertrude shimmies as best as she can.
I sport a raging erection.
I’m lost in the song, entranced by the portly seductress advancing toward me, thrilled with the realization I am about to sample the charms of the (likely lesbian) co-creator of Allopurinol, the drug that will allow my excess.
Trudy drops her lab coat to the floor. She wears nothing but a pair of light brown handmade women’s Oxfords, with dark brown laces.
She extends a hand, offering me a tab of her miracle drug.
“Take this, then take me…and your troubles are over.”
I swallow the pill. It works immediately (this is a dream, after all). I feel like a thoroughbred newly put out to stud.
“One more thing,” says Trudy in an unsettling, deep voice, “When you mount me, look at the wall behind the table. There’s a chart of the periodic elements on the wall. Slowly recite the names of the elements in order, beginning with hydrogen. They must be recited in order. Slowly, ever so slowly.”
As we prepare to embrace, the door to the lab flies opens.
It’s that son of a bitch Hitchings. He sees us perched on the precipice of passion, his face turns a crimson red color, his hands curl into fists.
“Wha…” he screams. “I… I… Trudy, for god’s sake… Trudy. You told me you could never …not with a man…that you…”
Hitchings emits an agonized moan that transforms quickly into a horrifying howl. He picks up a Borosilicate Glass 25 ml. Serological pipette and smashes the end on the edge of a counter. His eyes are wild as he advances toward me and Trudy with the weapon, ready to do damage.
I lose my erection. Anyone would.
Trudy shouts: “Just once. I wanted to try it, just once. Oh, George, dear George, let him go, don’t slash him. If you let him go free, I will experiment with you, just as you desire, just as you’ve always desired. I’ve known what you want ever since you put your hand on my derriere during the Nobel Prize ceremony. I knew, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. There was Estelle, my research assistant, and Cherise, the lab secretary, and… but now, let him go…and take me.”
(The rumor on campus, originating with the locker room attendant at the faculty steam bath, is that Hitchings is hung like a draft horse, but is unaware of possible stardom among the very few fans of academic porn. The Academic Porn category at Porn Hub draws the fewest number of clicks, but attracts the best educated viewers. A study at the site revealed that 92 percent of return viewers have earned at least two terminal degrees.)
Trudy walks across the room and sweeps a batch of beakers from the surface of a table, sending a shower of glass shards skittering across the lab floor.
In a move remarkable for a woman of her age and stature, Trudy flings herself on to the top of the table, spreads her legs and reveals an as-yet-unsullied portal — the passage to ecstasy. The bunsen burners blaze. The portal glistens slightly. She throws back her head, shuts her eyes tight, and growls: “Now George, now. It’s now…or never. Begin with hydrogen.”
George drops his trousers, but I wake before I can confirm the rumor about his appendage.
My foot hurts.
I waddle to the kitchen, open a cabinet, find my supply of Allopurinol.
I swallow two of the pills and chase them with a hefty hit of Tito’s vodka.
For good measure.
October 30, 2020
A notification appears in a small box at the upper right corner of my computer screen
I am informed my daily average screen time — the time my computer is linked with the Internet — is three hours, fifty-seven minutes.
I close the box.
If I recall correctly, our current prez is a Donald. A large one. Let’s call him Donald 1.
He reminds me of another Donald, a fellow I knew forty-plus years ago. Another large one. Donald 2.
Donald 2, like Donald 1, is a dynamo by his own reckoning — a powerful, manly man; ideas flow from his magnificent, ever-active mind like magma from an erupting Mount St. Helens. This superb specimen engages simultaneously in a variety of projects and schemes, all sure to be successful, further monuments to his genius. Nothing fails. Can’t happen.
Donald 2 specializes in touting the wonder of Donald 2.
Forty-plus years ago, Donald 2 knows me as Merle Box, intrepid young reporter, Sleazeworld loiterer, a cutting-edge scribe prowling the underworld in search of unusual individuals and stories, on the lookout for specimens slouching in dim environs.
Merle takes notes. He intends to someday write about the whores, the madams and pimps, the owners, operators, and employees of topless/bottomless clubs, champagne hustle joints, massage parlors; he plans to describe the seedy adult bookstores, sticky 8mm loop emporiums, in-call/outcall operations. Merle moves carefully, neck deep in the murk. He knows that, sooner or later, this underworld will be scoured by the agents of righteousness, condemned by the morally pure, rejected by socially sensitive inquisitors determined to eradicate anything that does not reflect their superior ideas and stations.
Merle knows the murk.
Donald 2 fancies himself King of the Murk.
He tells Merle this. A number of times.
Merle interviews Donald 2 at one of the man’s four adult emporiums, in an office next to the theater projection booth and directly behind a wall the other side of which features floor-to-ceiling racks displaying hundreds of VHS porn videos.
Donald 2 makes sure Merle is impressed by the facility, making clear the store’s commercial appeal is his doing, then insists that Merle accompany him on a tour of the massage parlors he owns in an unincorporated county just north of Denver — a county lacking the regulations that, according to Donald 2, “fuck with my freedom to be great.”
Donald 2 is particularly proud of the cleanliness of the four establishments he and Merle visit. “Nothin’ dirty in any of ‘em,” he crows, at high volume. His gold chain bracelet clanks as he gestures at a stack of freshly laundered towels and sheets. A stooped, elderly gentleman of southerly origin leaves a room, pushing a mop bucket. The man wears rubber gloves. His name, “Fidel,” is embroidered just above the breast pocket of his coveralls.
“Keep up the good work, Fiddle,” says Donald 2. “There’s nothin’ worse than slippery floors or layin’ down on a dirty sheet. You know, the kind with all sorts of crap leaked on to it and dried up. Crusty, you know? And the girls. Hey, the girls gotta stay clean and look good if they wanna John to come back. And you want ‘em to come back, you know? If they don’t come back, the girl moves on, if you know what I mean. She can go down the road to that shitty old motel run by that guy Stevie with one eye. I’m a businessman and a good businessman makes sure the johns are happy and wanna come back. And I ain’t just good…I’m fucking great at this.”
Merle’s small tape recorder emits a high-pitched whine and a puff of smoke, then ceases to operate. It’s hot to the touch.
As Donald 2 drives Merle back to HQ in a new Coupe DeVille, he reveals his motive.
“Ya know, you got some chops on the typewriter, Merle. Real chops, kid, good enough for magazines and shit. I loved that piece you did where the space aliens were kidnappin’ and puttin’ probes in the massage parlor girls. Damn, that scared the shit out of a lot of ‘em. It was fucking great.”
“Well,” replies Merle, “that’s nice of you to say. And you have the cleanest massage parlors I’ve ever seen. Those towels were pristine. And the rooms smell like jasmine and lavender. That’s a nice touch.”
“Listen,” says Donald 2, pulling to the curb next to his emporium, putting the beast into park, leaning over and arching an eyebrow, “I gotta offer for you. It’s your chance to get in on somethin’ really big. I mean really big, cause you know that’s all I do: big things, really big shit.”
“Yep, the evidence is in, Don. Real big.”
“Yeah, it is but, listen, don’t ever call me Don. I don’t like that. My dad called me Don. It’s Donald, always Donald. Got it?”
“And this is a deal for you, this offer. I mean, let’s face it: You’re thinkin’ ‘Why the fuck you gotta do anything else, Donald?’
That’s what you’re thinkin’, aint it? Why somethin’ else, when you got all this, right?”
Donald makes a sweeping gesture toward his theater, following the move with his large head. The gesture moves past the building to a donut shop two doors down. Donald stares at the donut shop as he talks. His bracelet clanks.
“When you’re on top, got cars, a big house, smart kids — fuck, my kids are the smartest kids in their classes, and I’m sendin’ em to the best fuckin’ private school — more money than just about anybody, why more? Right? Why more?”
“Cause, when you’re like me, there’s never enough. If there’s more there, I wanna take it. And I wanna give you a chance to get a part of it, Merle. Know what I mean?”
“Well, not quite.”
“I been selling porn for a lot of years now, and you know I got the best fucking stores anywhere, and the best theaters. Probably anywhere west of the Mississippi. Fuck what those California assholes say. They can’t deal with somebody like me. But, I ain’t gettin’ the whole cabbage, if you know what I mean.”
“Well, not really. I’m kinda slow when it comes to cruciferous vegetables.”
“I sell the shit, I show the shit, but I gotta buy the shit from somebody else, like those motherfuckers in California. Why the fuck should I do that? Why not make my own?”
“Makes sense. But, what does it have to do with cabbage?”
“You’re a funny guy, Merle. I like that. Funny. So, anyway, I wanna start out with a test. Throw something out there and see what happens, you know? I wanna make a movie. Not some cheap piece of shit, some goddamn loop for the quarter booths. A real movie, somethin’ with class, with people talkin’, where you can hear the fucking, maybe some music. Know what I mean? I can do it; I got a lotta money. A lotta money.”
Donald 2 pauses, turns his gaze from the donut shop to Merle, smiles, inhales deeply and holds his breath for effect. Arches an eyebrow.
“And I know how to spend some to make some. To make a lot. That’s the key, Merle: spend some to make some. To make a lot!”
Donald reaches over and grabs Merle’s forearm. Donald sports a gold ring bearing a rare ancient Byzantine coin. Merle recognizes the likeness of Theodosius II.
“That’s the way a businessman operates, you know what I mean.”
“Well, it’s good to have goals.”
“You bet your sweet ass it is. I make a movie, I show it in my theaters, play it up real big, you know? I sell it to theaters all over the fucking place: LA, New York, Boston, Miami, places like that. I got connections, lots of ‘em, big people, big guys. All of ‘em important guys. The fucking thing hits, the cash rolls in, and I make another, and another. Get it?”
“Yep, got it.”
“And I want you to write the fucking thing. Take you along on the ride.”
Donald 2 assures Merle that riches are guaranteed if Merle signs up and does the unsurpassed businessman’s bidding.
Here’s the plan: Merle writes the first film, the money rolls in. Merle writes the next film, more money than ever tumbles down the tube from Donald 2’s vault. Stick with Donald 2 and Merle is in for the ride of a lifetime, coat-tailing the world’s smartest and greatest business genius all the way to a prosperity not imagined before this moment.
Donald 2 leans close to Merle and says: “Here’s my idea. Tell me if it isn’t the greatest fucking idea you’ve ever heard.”
Donald 2 smells like English Leather, his breath carries a whiff of Certs, and he whispers: “The porn version of Gilligan’s Island.”
Donald 2 pauses, first looks skyward indicating profound thought, then turns and stares, unblinking, at Merle.
“My original idea,” Donald 2 says after another meaningful pause and a blink, “was to do a porn version of Leave it to Beaver. So, the Beav has a huge dick, you know? But, he’s too young to know what to do with it, and he spends all his time spying on everybody else to learn a few things. He watches Ward screw the secretary at the office. He peeps through a window and watches Wally bang the divorced gal next door. Best of all, he hears this moaning and screaming coming from a bedroom. Beaver cracks the door and sees Eddie Haskell working June like there’s no tomorrow, and June gettin’ off on it big time, callin’ Eddie every name in the book. But then I think: Who’s gonna buy a story about a little kid with a huge dick, no matter how good June looks? So, I wonder about The Beverly Hillbillies, but there’s only Ellie May and Jethro to work with. Nobody wants to watch Miss Hathaway get nailed, even though I know a lot of guys who’d want to see her go down on Ellie May. So, Gilligan’s Island is it. Has to be, right?”
Donald 2 sits back, smiles, and drums his thick, hairy fingers on the Caddie’s steering wheel. He allows the tidal wave of his brilliance to wash over Merle.
“I mean, who didn’t want to fuck Ginger and Maryanne? Hell, who didn’t want to fuck Thurston’s wife? Old pussy ain’t bad, and some old pussy knows the ropes better than any college girl, that’s for sure. My biggest fucking draw at The Lucky Lady is a goddamn grandmother; they line up for her. There’s guys out there who’d fuck The Professor, or at least think about it. All we gotta do is get the right actors and actresses for the parts. I got this friend — Jewish guy, owns the Turnaround Tavern down on Broadway — guy looks just like fucking Gilligan, only taller. Just like fucking Gilligan. The guy’s double-jointed, and he’s got an incredible schlong. Who woulda guessed? A Jew. Who woulda guessed? The fuckers cut off the ends of their dicks before they even know how long they’re gonna be. And even then, you can’t believe what this guy is packin’. Plus, he’s double jointed. Did I tell you that? So, whaddya say? You in?”
Merle sits in the DeVille and looks at the man next to him.
“Sounds like a winner, Donald, a great idea. If it weren’t for the fact I’ve gone back to school to get my Ph.D in astrophysics, I’d jump on the bandwagon. And, speaking of my new career, I need to go now. A bunch of us are building a radio telescope as an extra credit project and I’m supposed to bring the soldering iron. Best of luck. I’ll keep my eye peeled for the film.”
A year or so later, the porn version of Gilligan’s Island is released.
It is awful.
But, Donald 2 is right: the Jewish guy is packing serious heat.
And…he’s double jointed.