TAXES AND DR. DEATH

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Taxes and Dr. Death

By

Cusper Lynn

I had spent a quiet morning working on reports at my office.   My assistant, who is only slightly better than a paid audience, was busy organizing my files and losing my receipts.  Those activities occupied the period between her arguments with her boyfriend, her twenty minutes of updating her Facebook page and an intense game involving tossing small birds at pigs which she played on her phone.

Measuring my options – another useless conversation with her on office policy or an immediate termination – I decided to go to lunch.    Hiring Sheila had been a mistake.   I knew that before I did it.  The basic rule is never hire anyone you can’t fire.   Or as I prefer to state it, never hire anyone you are not willing to take out back and shoot.    Sheila Marksen is the daughter of an old friend of mine from my corporate warrior days.   When he called me to ask if I knew anyone who would need the services of his “not quite” college graduate youngest daughter, I knew I was doomed.    Without missing a beat, I accepted her services, sight unseen.  I owed Carl Marksen.

Leaving the office I informed Sheila that I would be out for about an hour.

She acknowledged this information with a slight grunt and then started whooping enthusiastically as she slaughtered a large family of green pigs with a single bird.

The “Sheila” problem did not occupy my mind unduly as I drove to Little Athens for lunch.   My strategy was simple.  Sheila was terminally in love with losers.   What had brought her to my front door was Leslie Holbronte, an aspiring beach bum with a collection of tattoos, a middle class upbringing and a permanent sneer on his face aimed at societal conventions.   Which made him a very conventional idiot.  On two or three occasions I had seen him in the office – to get money from Sheila to do something he wanted to do – and I had identified his weakness; his need to be extreme, brutal and inscrutable.  My goal is to prompt him to pursue dangerous activities that would require relocating to a place that has mountains, say Boulder, Colorado.   I had laid out my general campaign.  To associate his current sport – Kite surfing – with members of my generation and to associate a more dangerous sport – say speed mountain climbing – with people three years younger than him.   If Carl Marksen was really lucky Leslie would break his neck climbing a mountain.   If Carl Marksen wasn’t lucky he would be father-in-law to a mountain climbing maniac.

I let my mind pass from the happy thought of a letter of resignation from Sheila to my gyro, the stuffed grape leaves and the side of extra feta I had ordered.    After completing my tax filings I am always a bit melancholy.   It has nothing to do with the forms or the money itself.  It has more to do with the fact that reviewing a year’s worth of double entry accounting takes me through the last year, transaction by transaction, and makes me acutely aware of how little I have learned, how quickly time has passed and how much of life races away in negligible purchases.    Such moods leave me craving Greek food, the way too much beer leaves you craving a curry.

I was just starting into my gyro when I saw him; Dr. Death.    I did not need this.   A conversation with Dr. Death was something I absolutely did not need.   Dr. Death is not the famed torturer of prisoners of war – pick whatever war you like there is always a Dr. Death.  Nor was he the famous euthanasia advocate, now long dead, from Michigan.   He wasn’t even the famed Dr. Jerkowitz – so named by the nurses at the East Division Center for his homicidal arrogance during his residency.   Dr. Jerkowitz went on to change his specialty to Renal Failure, describing more what he achieved than what his patients had when they first presented to his office and gave him a batting average well above the deceased euthanasia advocate.   This was THE Dr. Death, Dr. Andrew M.  DeHeath.

Practicing an ancient meditation of indivisibility taught to me by a wandering yogi outside of Boothwyn, Pennsylvania, I deflected Dr. DeHeath to the far side of the restaurant.

“Cusper?” Dr.  DeHeath called out to me.

This was wrong.   The meditation was not working.

“It is you, Cusper!” he said happily and started for my table with his tray.

I reviewed my experience with the wandering yogi outside of Boothwyn, Pennsylvania.   I believe it went as follows:

“Mister, would you like to learn the secret of invisibility for a dollar?”

“What?” I asked as the old man dropped into step with me as I was leaving the office building.

“Learn the secret of invisibility for a dollar,” the old man repeated.

I had stopped and looked at him.  The proposition was preposterous but the price was right.  I took out a dollar and gave it to him.

We stood together and time froze, or so it seemed to me.  Perhaps it was just a memory of the opening of the Bhagavad Gita that passed through my mind as I was in anticipation of experiencing received wisdom.

“Clear your mind,” he said.

“Okay,” I had cleared my mind.

“Stop bathing, dress like me and ask people for change,” he said and then left me to consider the secret teaching I had received.  I never saw him again.

“You must be having a lot of fun lately,” Dr. DeHeath said settling into my booth.

My eyes meet those of my unwanted luncheon companion and I began to seriously question whether I had ever been initiated into the secrets of invisibility.

“How do you mean?” I asked.

“The new budget and the health care law,” Dr. DeHeath smiled as he unpacked his silverware.

By now the suspicion that the old man in Boothwynn was not a yogi, but instead a creative panhandler was beginning to take hold.   It was also apparent that I would not be able to dislodge Dr. DeHeath without creating a scene.   So I returned his smile.

“It has kept me busy,” I conceded.

“Busy?” he snorted, “from what I hear you are the equivalent of a practice wrecking ball.”

I shrugged.  Dr. DeHeath is not a friend, he is not a client, and I have often wondered if he is even human.

“Do you really think the government would destroy doctors’ livelihoods and deny patients care?” he laughed.

I shrugged again.  He was not going to get a free consultation by barging in on my lunch and annoying me.

“Come on,” he said, with a wheedling tone that made me want to punch him in the nose, “these are not stupid people.”

I assumed he was referring to our governor, state senators and representatives.  Under the circumstances I would consider it more probable that I had met a wandering yogi and learned invisibility then that he had been sincere in his opinion of the state’s government.  So I let the remark pass unchallenged.

“I had an interesting experience,”  Dr. DeHeath said, prodding his lamb with his fork.

Dear God, no.  I did not need one of Dr. DeHeath’s ‘Interesting Experiences.’

“About two nights ago,” he began, oblivious to my silence, “I had this terrible headache.”

I considered asking him for change.

“You know the type,  side of the head, half the face and down to the base of the skull,” he said, his mouth now full of partially chewed lamb and rice and his fork tracing the area of his complaint.

I continued to refuse to participate in this discussion.

“Well, next thing I know, I’ve got this tingling sensation down the side of my face.  I can’t open my eye, and it feels like my mouth is drooping,” he explained, chewing, smacking and drawing down the right side of his face to emphasize his point.

There are in this world neurotics, for whom life is a series of terrors present and future.

“Then I felt my arm become weak.  Couldn’t do a darn thing with it,” he smiled, a bit of partially chewed food trailing from his drooping mouth.

Then there are hypochondriacs, for whom all symptoms point to diseases small and large.

“So I laid down and considered having Vivian call for an ambulance,” Dr. Andrew M. DeHeath continued, stopping the progress of the trailing food at the corner of his mouth with a napkin.

Then there is Dr. DeHeath, for whom grotesque symptoms of infirmity and imminent death are a fascinating insight into the circumstances of his patients.

“My leg is going numb and I’m thinking ‘hemi-facial paralysis, unilateral upper extremity paralysis’ and I’m just wondering where this is going because I figure this sure is text book,” he said smiling now.  “And you know what happened?”

I stared at him.   Every doctor on the planet who has ever taken differential diagnosis and pathology has gone through this process; the conscious awareness of death and its manifold forms.  Some do become neurotics or hypochondriacs, a few become seriously dependent on prescriptions.  Most grow out of it by drawing across themselves the veil of denial or the practical mental exercise of ignoring the implications.

“My leg went numb,” he smiled even more broadly, “could not move it.  So there I am,  half my body numb, a ‘whooshing’ sound in my right ear.  Did I mention the “whooshing” sound?”

I continued to stare at him.  Dr. DeHeath is entirely different from the neurotics, hypochondriacs, addicts and depressives that are to be found in practice.   He is healthy – just a little past fifty – fit and has an obnoxiously vital quality about him.

“Yes, ‘Whooshing’ in my right ear, like listening to the ocean,” he answered himself.

It is never clear to me whether the urge to kill him arises from the absurd vitality he exudes or his near death stories.

“So I figure, stroke.  Thought, well this may well be it,” he splayed his hands out as if in acceptance.  “Was going to try and call Vivian and the kids in.”

Once, while at a conference he produced a quarter inch long tumor in a jar that had been recently removed from his sinuses.   He did this while giving an eye watering description of being conscious for the entire procedure.   He had started that discourse while we were having drinks and appetizers.

“Then I was gone, out like a light.  Fell straight to sleep,” he continued undeterred.

The urge to do him an injury was growing as his narrative continued.

“Next morning, wake up with a minor crick in the neck, get over to the office, scheduled a few tests.  They come back and I’m right as rain!  Amazing isn’t it?” He asked.

I looked down at my plate and realized my appetite was gone.

“Anyway,” he said happily, “I just want you to know I think you are full of shit and everything is going to be just fine.”

I really wanted this man to feel some serious pain.

“So much so,” he said folding his napkin and moving his remaining food to the corner of his plate, “that I have bought a new building and am doubling the size of my staff.”

I shook my head, “Sorry to hear that,” I said.

“Ha,” Dr. DeHeath laughed, “Cusper, you are such a pessimist.”

“Look,” I said, “You do what you want.  But a word of advice.   There is an office manager, name of Sheila Marksen.  She only works in the top flight clinics.  Save your money.  You won’t need her.  You won’t be in business long enough.”

“Marksen,” he said, getting up from my booth, “I may have to look her up.”

I just shook my head and watched him leave.    Evil?  Yes.   But I doubted that I could get Dr. DeHeath to take up speed mountain climbing.    I put aside my lunch and ordered the baklava.

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