God Bless Medicare by Joseph Hirsch

It had been years since I’d seen a doctor, but thanks to my liaison down at the VA I finally managed to secure some good medical coverage. The first thing I did with my Medicare (parts A and B) was visit a general practitioner by the name of Greg Boehm, M.D. His office was less than ten minutes from my house, across from a gas station, beneath the waxing steel forms of two ceaselessly blinking radio towers.

The first time I went to his office was on a Monday, shortly after my German Culture elective let out at the local diploma mill where I took classes. Formal education had never been my thing, but I was going to school on the Montgomery G.I. Bill, which meant that as long as I took three classes I got a monthly Basic Allowance for Housing of thirteen-hundred dollars per month, tax-free.

I was faced with the option of either joining the semi /unskilled workforce, or going to school for a couple hours each day, and I naturally went with the latter option.

My initial visit was pretty routine. I sat in the waiting room, reading AARP and Ebony, feeling slightly excluded, since I was neither old nor black. I glanced up at the wall-mounted television where a fat woman and a gay man on a cooking show talked about the best way to prepare Swabian noodles.

Eventually my name was called by a female physician’s assistant, who wore blue OR scrubs and matching crocks. She took me down a hallway, weighed me, and then led me to a small examination room. I had gained roughly ninety pounds since my discharge from the Army. My exploding girth could in part have been explained by doing less exercise, but I feared my health problems had deeper roots.

I had been in the Signal Corps during my hitch in the service, and during that time I had engaged in all manner of unsafe (and perhaps illegal) operations. I had been gloveless when I handled radon; I had walked in front of actively broadcasting radars. I had been downwind of more than a few battles that had been fought partially with depleted uranium.

Needless to say I was sweating while that PA was taking my temperature and my blood pressure, and my anxiety increased while I waited for the doctor. About five minutes after the departure of the physician’s assistant, Dr. Boehm arrived.

He was short, his eyes level with my clavicle. His bald spot expanded to give him the look of a friar in a fransiscan order. His tie was a checked pattern of black and gold, like the filigreed border on a coat of arms. His eyes were steely gray, made entirely colorless by the layer his glasses added.

“Hello, I’m Dr. Boehm.”

“Joseph.”

I stuck out my hand and we shook. He looked at his clipboard. I caught sight of my handwriting on the piece of paper he studied. “It says here you served your country.”

“Yes sir.” I felt embarrassed.

“Well, thank you for your service.”

I inhaled and exhaled. “So,” he said. The doctor walked to his swivel chair and sat down in front of the computer on his desk. I remained in my hard chair. “You seem to think you may have been exposed to some environmental contaminants?”

“I’d just like to get screened.”

“Sure, sure…” His voice trailed off. He licked his lips. “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t we do some lab draws on you? We’ll test the samples, and then you can come back for results in…say, two weeks?”

Dr. Boehm looked up from his computer at me. “Sure,” I said. “That sounds good.”

“Great.” The doctor flashed me an ionized smile. Had this been a commercial for teeth whitening strips, a twinkling starburst would have exploded on the edge of one of his incisors.

There was some more small talk, and then I was led to a curtained off area where a phlebotomist had me squeeze a small rubber ball, while she pronated my arm. She chewed minty bubble gum and filled several glass tubes until they swam with my purplish oozing blood.

I thanked her, and then shortly left the office. A week later I got a bill: $13.53. God bless Medicare.

My follow up appointment was unfortunately scheduled for my hump day, a Tuesday on which I had two core classes, rather than on a Monday where I could glide half-attentive through my candy-assed electives. I was worried about my results, as I drove along the highway that went from my college to the doctor’s office, but I was also frankly pissed that I wouldn’t have time between school and the doctor’s appointment to get home and walk my dog.

Benny, my terrier mix, would have assuredly left me a present on the floor when I returned home, and probably not on one of his puppy pads.

I pulled into the parking lot of Holyoke Medical Center and walked inside. There were several other patients waiting comfortably in their vinyl chairs, reading or watching television. One of them was a very old woman whose skin looked like a beeswax candle that had been left unattended for too long in the sun. Another was a man with a head shaped like a cinderblock whose expression approximated that of a toad intently fertilizing a lily pad. He was the kind of man with whom it was impossible to win a staredown, not necessarily because he was without fear, but because he inhabited some placid realm beyond intimidation. I guessed he was a tollbooth operator, or if he wasn’t one, then he should have been.

The door to the back opened, and my PA in scrubs and crocs called my name. She smiled and I tried to do the same. I walked back with her to get on the scale again. My weight hadn’t budged, despite the fact that I had actually started dieting. Glandular, I heard a voice in my head say.

She walked me back to the same office, and I stared at a laminated poster which displayed male and female anatomies on a side-by-side chart. She took my blood pressure and then my temperature.

“How are my levels?” I asked, and then swallowed nervously.

“Good. Your temperature is a healthy ninety-eight point-six. And your blood pressure is perfect.”

I tried to take some kind of reassurance from that, but it was useless. I wouldn’t truly be able to relax until I talked with the doctor and saw my results. She left me in the room. I sat there and listened to my heart beat as if it was trying to escape from my chest.

“Joseph?”

The doctor entered. His stethoscope dangled from his neck, the stem bobbing and the steel chest piece catching sickly fluorescence from the ceiling light. “Yes sir?”

He sat down in his swivel chair in front of the computer, and pulled the Logitech mouse across its pad. “Let’s have a look at your levels.” He stared into his monitor, and then looked over at me. “I’ve already seen them, but I want to explain them to you.”

“Are they bad?”

My mind conjured up an image of me wasting away in a flowing hospital gown, my hair thinned and my eyes hollowed by multiple chemo treatments. “Not really,” he said, “for the most part.”

I sighed upon hearing the first half of his sentence, and grew rigid as I contemplated the meaning of the second half. “You should be aware that blood tests can’t tell us everything. But they do give us a good picture that’s part of the greater holistic view.”

I knew that holistic was synonymous with horseshit. “There’s no lead poisoning, which is good. Most of your levels are fine. The cholesterol’s good. The only problem is testosterone.”

“Testosterone?” I felt my heart sink, my already slack muscles deflating another degree or two. He might as well have said that I wasn’t a man.

Machismo was never a large part of my makeup. I had always been cerebral, and then philosophical when life got bad, but his words still stung.

“It’s important that we get those levels up, very important.” He took the end of his summer paisley tie and wiped moisture from his glasses. Finding that insufficient, he took the glasses off and set them in the right breast pocket of his lab coat.

“Okay,” I said.

He gave two rapid left-clicks on his mouse, an ergonomic flurry that made his knuckles a blur. “Your testosterone is important to regulating your immune system, for one.”

“So, what do you suggest we do?” I leaned forward in my chair.

“Well, your levels are really low.”

“Okay.” I thought about maybe going home and committing suicide, but then my dog would have no one to feed it. Plus, I still had another season of Antiques Roadshow coming from Netflix, and I wanted to see if an item would auction for more than that Currier & Ives print that had gone for $65,000 last season.

“Normally, I would put you on a regimen of a testosterone booster that has FDA approval, but the anabolic content is so low that you would probably excrete it to the point where it had a negligible effect.”

“Then what?”

The doctor glanced over my shoulder, toward the closed door. Still somehow not assured of our total privacy, he lowered his voice and reached for a compartment beneath the adjustable examination bed. “This is still in the early clinical trials, and in the spirit of full disclosure I should tell you that I have a partial stake, actually a partnership, in this product, should it go public.”

Dr. Boehme stood up from the cabinet secreted on the bed, and held a small bottle. It was marine blue and curved like a perfume phial. “Would you be willing to try it?”

I took the bottle from him and spun it in my hand. “What’s in it?”

“Oh,” he whispered. “It’s most efficacious, I promise you.”

“I’m real happy about the efficacy, but could you tell me something about the ingredients?”

Dr. Boehm’s lips grew so tight that they disappeared into his mouth for a moment. “I can’t tell you, as a matter of the provisional status of the patent.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll try it.”

He was shocked, and drew back so quickly that he almost fell over backwards on his bed, gripping the mattress with both hands. The crinkly paper sheet over the padded mattress made ruffling sounds, and then finally shredded. “You’re sure? Would you be willing to sign a waiver to that effect?”

“Sure.”

It wasn’t that I was desperate to reclaim my lost manhood (assuming I’d ever had it). It was merely that I figured I had already made enough poor decisions that if I were to now start making sound ones, then it might throw the whole universe out of alignment.

My quick assent had the good doctor scrambling back down to his cabinet, where he selected a form from a stack and handed it to me. He extracted a Parker pen from the same pocket where his spectacles hung from a stem. He uncapped the pen and handed it to me. I signed with a curlicue flourish and then handed both the pen and the paper back to him. Dr. Boehme stowed the pen back in his pocket, and he folded the paper into halves several times, delicately shrinking the square.

“Right,” I said, hefting the bottle in my hand. “So, how much should I use?”

“Yes,” the doctor said, coming to stand behind me. “Simply squirt one dollop into each hand, and rub the gel across your chest and solar plexus, or onto the shoulders if you wish. Remember,” he cautioned, “to wash your hands after application, since contact with the gel can cause hirsuteness in women. Conversely, you are to avoid bathing or showering for at least six hours after each application.”

“When do I see you again?”

“Oh, when that supply runs out. In, say, about two months’ time.”

“And will I have noticed a diff-”

He giggled, and his convulsions carried on until they became spasmodic little ripples that made his shoulders hunch. “Oh, you’ll notice a difference. I’m most certain of it.”

“Thank you.”

With that, I departed.

I drove home, fed my dog, and wrote my evening Aufsatz for my German course. My instructor was a ball-breaker, the Chair of the German Studies department, who gave out assignments with the willful cruelty of a mistress intent on discouraging anyone from ever making an attempt at her tenured throne. I had the benefit of actually once living in Germany, and beyond that I had little social life to distract me, so I maintained an “A” average in her course, indubitably much to her chagrin.

That night I performed my first application of the jellied solution. It was a cool liquid with a spearmint undercurrent whose mentholated scent seemed to clear my sinuses. After hitting myself with the gel, I went upstairs and fell asleep watching reruns of old shows from the 1950s. The bland intonations of Rockwell-era fathers counterpointed by canned laughter always soothed me to sleep with dreams of collies, mothers gossiping over waist-high fences, and juvenile delinquents playing chicken in American-made jalopies.

The full effect of the drug didn’t hit me until about a week later. Prior to that I had felt little twinges of some kind, but I couldn’t be sure what was placebo and what was real. For some reason even when I was at my most depressed I still maintained something of my appetites, both for food and sex (which might have explained my weight gain, though not my low blood testosterone). I got on average two or three wayward erections per day, usually early in the morning or late at night. I may have gotten a few extra in the first few days after applying Dr. Boehm’s balm, but I couldn’t be sure.

I certainly felt more irritable, and a couple of times I’d have characterized my behavior as downright angry. I had always been prone to road rage, or at least taking the indignities of being cut off in traffic personally, shouting until spittle pocked my windshield when someone changed lanes without first signaling. This was exacerbated by the drug, though, or at least it seemed that way to me. I gripped the steering wheel until the upholstery groaned, the usually subsumed veins of my arms cabling as if they intended to crawl out from underneath my skin. I shouted at other drivers until my voice box rattled, until the chords of my throat were scraped and hoarse.

I had to disassemble the Walther I kept stored underneath my bed for fear that I might soon boil over with rage and decide to place the .380 in the glove box. I had a conceal-carry permit, which was granted to veterans of foreign wars without our having to take instructional courses (a plan that could obviously backfire).

I felt very little in those first few days after using the salve, aside from those few drawbacks listed above.

That all changed exactly seven days after I first applied the gel to my chest. I was in my morning German language course. Frau Beckman was introducing a block of instruction on the subjunctive case. I was sitting in the back, as was my wont. I wasn’t necessarily antisocial by nature, but my years in the Army created a wide divide between me and the other undergrads. They were young enough for their default setting to be an eager, smiling state that I might have worked my way into with drugs or a winning lottery ticket, but it wasn’t the kind of thing that I could muster upon waking up in the morning.

I felt a hot rush course beneath the skin of my arms, a thermal frisson that made the hairs of my neck stand up. My heart contracted like the fist of an angry pugilist, and I felt a desperate need to masturbate that hadn’t seized me with such force since the onset of puberty. It was as if some psi level had reached a dangerously pressured threshold, an all-consuming need to orgasm more distracting than the itch of a full bladder. I was twelve years-old again.

An erection snuck to life inside of my starched khaki pants. I squirmed. I had a large penis, which was difficult to conceal. I frankly found this “blessing” puzzling, since it had never given me confidence in my interactions with woman, or the more general sense of confidence that is supposed to come with being well-endowed. Public speaking terrified me, for instance.

I tried to clean the slate of my mind. I thought back to the books on cognitive-behavioral therapy I had read. I ran through the bits of The Relaxation Response that I had committed to eidetic recall. It did no good. I felt the full, oppressive hammer-weight of teenage lust, and I wondered for a moment why any man would seek to be crippled by high testosterone. I immediately wanted my milquetoast sex drive back. I liked reading books in the bathtub on Saturday nights. This, on the other hand, was murder.

Frau Beckman spoke on from her lectern, flicking to the next in a sequence of PowerPoint slides. It was always death by PowerPoint with her. Other instructors varied their courses up with movies, and songs, but not her.

My mind filled with the writhing forms of hundreds of female bodies, a down of sweat on their lips, bronze forms writhing in black lace garters and frilled corsets, their limbs slithering like the original snake curling its form around that red apple in the Garden. I felt every nerve of my body tortured, brought to a quaking hum as intense as the precipice just before an orgasm. The entire trove of my spank bank, dating back to my first crank session in junior-high, flooded my prefrontal cortex, my entire sexual history flashing before my eyes. It began with Becky Sanders crossing and uncrossing her pale legs on the school bus, a faint trace of cellulite visible where her starched, navy blue Catholic school shorts cinched her thighs, heaving mounds of cleavage just barely touching the lavender-scented cotton of a bra that concealed nipples ridged with goose bumps, perhaps even better in the fantasies I conjured in my bedroom than in the prosaic reality of nubile flesh.

I felt my IQ drop to nil, reduced to a caveman by these glimpses of the opposite, finally superior sex. “Yosef?”

Frau Beckman was looking at me, as were two or three students, curious to see why I hadn’t responded to my name the first time it had been called. “Bitte?” I said. My erection was bumping against the cold metallic underside of my desk, propped with the force of a zombie’s fist pounding its way through the earth of a fresh grave.

“Was bedeutet Konjunktive? Gibt uns ein Beispiel, bitte?”

I thought, or tried to think. The girl in front of me, a brunette with a wide predatory smile and dream catcher earrings, leaned forward in her seat. As she did so, the elastic band of her cerulean-blue panties peeked from the back of her jeans, and with it I glimpsed the darkened crevice where her tailbone disappeared into the shadowy region of her ass. I thought about pressing my nose there and inhaling the fragrance with the intensity of a sommelier sniffing the cork of a rare Rothschild vintage.

Silence hung in the room, an oppressive awkward force which magnified the sound of fluorescent humming light fixtures to an unbearable exponent. “Wieder, bitte?”

Someone giggled at my stupidity. Frau Beckman frowned, and blinked. “Gibt uns ein Beispiel, bitte.”

I consulted my mind. Pussy, it said, with the vulgarity of a thoroughly drunk frat boy gripping an empty keg to keep himself from blacking out on the lawn of his fraternity. Then, Vagina, it said, with the clinical detachment of a gynecologist who had seen thousands of women in his examination room. Pussy, cunt, vagina. I thought of frothing lips, bulbous, inflated in the second trimester of pregnancy, ripe and wetted for birthing, pink and shaved or wrapped in curling steel wool-like hairs arranged in the shape of a laurel wreath, shrouding the origins of some matriarchal cult that might one day return, a morning litany of gynocentric updates delivered by two bimbo robots in sheer stockings and no panties, sitting at the news desk while the former network meteorologist and sportscaster performed endless oral gymnastics on behalf of their new female masters, overcome by the fish-glue scent of their secretions. “This just in. Mandatory cunilingus reeducation camp for all unreconstructed male chauvinists.”

“Es tut mir leid.”

I stood up and ran out of the class, holding my backpack in front of an erection, which threatened to explode with semen, like mercury erupting from a thermometer on a sweltering July day. The rough material of my backpack felt to my penis like lubricated satin. My senses were heightened, a bird of prey whose auditory rather than visual abilities were honed to a fine point. The lilac and apple-hinted traces of a girl’s freshly shampooed hair wafted down the halls. I yearned to wrap my agonized penis in the shimmering, honeyed folds of the departed girl’s strawberry blond locks.

I made it out to the subterranean parking lot where I kept my car, managing not to terrify anyone with the shoehorned kielbasa lodged in the front of my starched pants.

The garage was filled with parked cars, and puddles from a recent rain caught light from the softly glowing mercury vapor lamps placed at intervals in the cement structure. I hopped into my car and started the engine, fumbling to get my parking pass from where I kept it clipped to the steering wheel.

I held my pass out to the reader at the tollbooth, and the candy-colored gate arm lifted, allowing me a path out of the garage. The cavernous library and chemistry building bulged out from their corner to my left. The School for Molecular Biology loomed on my right, its glass face aimed toward the main street. I could see students busily laboring over beakers and Pyrex plates through the great window.

I turned right and headed down the hill. A densely wooded park appeared before me, a verdant jungle of jade-colored leaves trembling in the light wind, browning as fall crept imperceptibly into the air.

“Alright,” I said, turning on the radio. I listened to Vivaldi, praying the pizzicato would wilt my erection, but the frenetic violins seemed to make the blood course even faster, and it felt as if the spongy material of my throbbing cock might burst through the skin shrouding the mushroom head of my penis, like a snake shedding its skin.

I thought of that girl who sat in front of me in class, the Lycra or spandex trim cutting off circulation to her warm, pink skin and making the flesh of her smoothly rounded hips redder, leaving a deep bloody impression on her flesh. I felt something wet hit my hand, and I feared I might be bleeding from the gums, a possible side effect of Dr. Boehm’s magical concoction. I realized that I was drooling.

I closed my mouth and continued down the hill. The next moment my mouth was open again. I had no choice.

“Sheeeeit!” I said, in tones similar to those uttered by a pious Mexican beholding the face of Lady Guadalupe in a honeyed slice of flan.

A woman was running in her performance leggings, which were black with a pink vertical stripe up each leg. She wore a black and gold cotton top, cut with the dimensions of a sports bra. Her torso became a flurrying yellow jacket blur as she pumped her arms and ran. As I got closer I could see she wore ear-buds attached to a Velcro carrying case which gripped her sweat-slicked bicep. Her chestnut hair was piled up into a cinched cinnamon bun shape on the back of her head, furrows of pale scalp visible to the sides of her lustrous, damp hair.

She was running furiously, at war with some ethereal doppelgänger, some memory of some sleight she might avenge by running so hard. Despite her otherwise svelte build, and her pugnacious demeanor, her ass was as soft as jelly, and it refused to participate in her run. It bounced in counterpoint to whatever motion she intended, like the swaybacked half of a palomino horse gone to pot. I watched that ass, ignoring the honking of horns behind me, until I came to a dead halt in my car.

Vehicles passed me on the left, epithets were shouted. I didn’t care. That ass was moving at the laconic pace of a palm frond waved by a Hebrew slave over the body of an Egyptian queen. It was a slow, beautiful thing of mystery. I thought for a minute of somehow kissing it, but there was no way I could run fast enough to reach her and then plant my lips on the tender, dimpled gelatin of her derriere.

“Why don’t you learn how to fucking drive, asshole!” Someone in a blue Blazer chucked a Wendy’s milkshake against the side of my Honda. Chocolate malted milk dripped slowly down the pane of my back passenger window. I wasn’t mad, though, not in the least.

I turned up the Vivaldi and unzipped my pants. I reached inside, freeing my erection from the humid confines of its torment trapped in my cotton boxers. I began masturbating at the frenetic pace of a capuchin monkey mocking its organ grinder master who had asked it to perform a degrading trick for the last time. I kept my left hand on the steering wheel, and I squeezed my penis with my right hand. An SUV behind me flicked its high beams twice, perhaps expressing dissatisfaction or warning me that cops were nearby.

Nothing would distract me from my mission. I would only need a couple of minutes. Eruption was impending. I beat, treating my cock like a tent stake I needed to pound into the ground. I clutched, twisted, flurried, keeping my tenuous grip on the steering wheel with my left hand, leaning forward until my chin was on the dashboard, mesmerized by the swaying, ritualistic bounce of that ass.

I stuck out my tongue, imagined a bead of sweat dripping from her vestigial tail down the crescent moon shape of her gluteus until the moisture, tainted with the scent of her body’s odor, slid down and touched my taste buds, unleashing the savory tang of summer rain in my mouth.

I was about to cum, when the explosion reached me, something more calamitous than what I’d had in mind. I had allowed my car to roll down the hill and the front of my Honda plowed into the side of a white Datsun. I flew through the windshield, shattering glass and emerging on the hard asphalt in a pile of glass chunks and speckled shards. The hood of the Datsun was a crumpled patchwork of fiberglass and gnarled steel, obscuring my vision of the driver, whose moans I could hear. A viscous stream of his blood trailed from the front wheel well of his vehicle toward the spidery fissures of glass at my feet.

I stood up. A crowd had formed around us. “Are you okay?” Someone asked.

I looked down. My erection would not allow the calamitous physics of this accident to slow it down. My member remained there, unbowed, triumphant, arching upward toward the ascendant sun.

“Excuse me,” I said.

I heard the whining of various sirens, the mating call of an EMS vehicle mixing with the blare of a fire engine tearing down the street, flanked by two black-and-white squad cars wailing as they cleared a path toward the carnage.

I wiped my hands on my torn and bloodied pants. I inspected my palms for more glass shards. The hands were shredded into ribbons of torn flesh, some marrow or lumen peeking out from the ruptured cells of my right hand, in a congealed buttery mass which spilled like cotton candy or insulation, but there didn’t seem to be any bits of glass.

“Where are you going?” I heard a voice shout.

“He’s fleeing!”

I hopped into my car. Steam hissed from the radiator, and something unsavory that smelled like an admixture of radiator fluid and oil belched, leaking out onto what little bit of window was still left in the frame where the Honda’s windshield had been.

The engine was still running, and I still had half a tank of gas. I held down the horn, and a pathetic bleat sounded out, like that of a dying goat or a sinking ocean liner. Classical music came through the radio in static-addled bursts. I fiddled with the volume knob on the radio with one hand and steered with the other.

“You can’t flee the scene of an accident, pal!”

“He’s not in his right mind! He could have a concussion! That guy he hit might be de-”

I turned right, down the street where the jogging woman had gone. She had been moving too fast to see the nightmare as it unfolded behind her. She was wearing earphones which kept her shrouded in the cocoon of her own thoughts, where she had every right to be, since she was beautiful.

I held the gas pedal down until it touched the floorboards, but the car groaned and stuttered stubbornly. It seemed to have a new max speed of something like twenty miles per hour. All of my meters and gauges were busted, and I had no way of knowing if I was actually almost out of gas or if the needle had defaulted to “E” the second the Honda had collided with the Datsun. Maybe my tank was leaking.

She appeared on my right, bathed in a shining coat of glossy sweat which heightened every chiseled muscle in her naked back, and created a darkened Pangaea-shaped stain on the seat of her black performance leggings. My yellow jacket woman, I thought, my hornet queen unperturbed by the spectacle of flying bodies and shredded metal. A flame spurted from my engine block, and blew the hood off my car, sending it into the oncoming lane of traffic.

The vivisected steel entrails of my car simmered and boiled, the charbroiled cylinders hissing. I craned my neck around the flames, ignored the blue and red lights blinking in my rearview, and I resumed my meditation upon the perfection of that ass.

Joseph Hirsch’s novel Rolling Country was published by Moonshine Cove. His book Ohio at Dusk was published by Damnation Books. His short stories have appeared in 3 AM Magazine, and he has sold fiction to Underground Voices, The Western Online, and Zahir: A Journal of Speculative Fiction. He was a finalist in a Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers competition, and he previously served as a sports journalist with Fight Hype, covering boxing matches around the globe. His novel War-Crossed Eyes was published by Melange Books, and his forthcoming novels The Last Slice of Pizza and Flash Blood will be available this summer.  Websites: www.thelastsliceofpizza.net www.rollingcountry.com

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