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25

Why, he would call an emergency B?M Deli lunch.

On the morning of the emergency lunch, I walked into the House to find Howie, calm "Social Medicine" Howie, the last tern to have gone to Gomer City, standing in front of the elevator door, IBM cards scattered at his feet, hair disheveled, biting on his pipe stem and kicking and pounding on the closed steel door, screaming, "GODDAMNIT, COME DOWN, COME DOWN!" So, I thought, the last happy tern has been broken.

The only patients I went to see were Nate Zock and Olive O. My relationship with Nate had rocketed along on a remarkable trajectory. All the Zocks-Nate, Trixie, the kids?suffered under the illusion that my "taking charge" in the E.W. by kicking them all out of the room was what had saved Nate's life. I did not relieve them of their suffering under this. For the first few days Trixie, thinking that Nate was at death's door and that I had the key, had shadowed me all over the House. I'd shaken her only by mentioning that in fact Nate still did not have the best room in the House. Trixie had gone one?on?one with the daughter of the rich gomere who did have the best room and was never to give it up. Trixie had done a thumbnail calculation and ascertained that this gomere was not in the League of Zock, especially while the interior of the Wing of Zock was not quite finished. The major medical complication in Nate's case had been how to implement what Nate needed, the Fat Mannish LAW: DO NOTHING. I'd encountered much resistance, and had had to use all my hard?earned House skills?lying, false?BUFFING the chart, keeping the Low Profiles?to be sure of doing nothing on this important personage. I liked Nate, which made my holding on to doing nothing a little easier. And so the potentially lethal bleeding polyp of Zock had healed over, and he got better. That day, he was to go home, and wanted to talk to me.

"You're a good guy," Nate said. "I'm a real judge' of talent. I look at a guy and I know if he's got it's or not. Know what I mean?"

"Sure." I said.

"You got it. The Pearl warned me about you. The way you kicked my wife out of that room I'll never forget. You and me are similar: started with nothin and now . . ." And Nate made a wavy motion with his hands, as if playing a huge accordian stuffed with money, expanding to fill the world. "Now, listen: I like you, Basch, and the people I like, I reward. I know you don't make shit for money here, but now, with your internship almost over, you can start in private practice. I can help. You know the Pearl? With the ritzy office and the Muzak playing Fiddler? You know how he got started? My old man. So listen: your sneakers tell me you play tennis. Come to the house, play on my court, use my pool. Here's the card: NATE ZOCK: NOT THE BEST BUT THE MOST. You call this weekend, OK?"

I thanked him and started to leave.

"Oh, and one more thing: I'm writing a letter to the Chief of Medicine, Dr. Leggo, with copies to Chief Resident and the BMS and House Board of Trustees. I been a patient here eight times and I never been treated so good. Usually my intern is some whiny kid from the Bronx who's so scared of a Zock pegging out that he's in the room every ten minutes doing tests, taking blood, and I get worse before I get better. By the time I'm out of here I'm so exhausted I've got to fly 'straight to the condo in Palm Springs for a rest. Bad for business. But you?you had enough savvy to let me heal. And I knew you were there in case anything went wrong. Basch, you were with me man to man. You handled my wife, my fat kids, and you handled me. So I'm going to tell your bosses, eh? Give a call Saturday. I'll send my man around."

A letter to the Leggo? Fight power with power! Not even the Leggo would be dumb enough to stand up to Zock, a family dealing in monstrous steel beams and knockwurst?sized nuts and bagel?sized bolts holding together the brand?new Wing of the House of God. Excited, I checked out humpy Olive O. She seemed to be doing just great.

Yet LP Leon still refused to let me present the humps to the Leggo, and so I climbed into the top bunk, pried open my can of Freud, and soon found yet another Viennese bombshell recalling leaping into the sack with her pop. Chuck came in, took his bottle out of his bag, and began to sing. Hooper wandered in and opened a book called How to Pierce an Ear, which turned out to be not another quest for a post, but a requirement for a moonlighting job in a department store downtown. Eddie stopped by and started reading out loud from my old "internship novel" How I Saved the World, but after a few passages that had us laughing at the idealized deception, the book sailed into the trashcan for good. The Runt ambled in and greeted 789 cheerfully: "749, how are you? Did you ever find out what was in those humps?"

"Excuse me, but you misspelled my middle name," said Sev. "No, I have not yet found what is in 'those humps.' "

"Man, maybe they're breasts," said Chuck. "Extra breasts."

"Doesn't help," ,said 789, "no one knows what's in breasts either."

"They're spiritual humps," I said, "filled with the milk of human kindness."

"The leading theory," said Sev, "is that they're filled with oxygen. It's said that the oxygen in her humps, is what's keeping her alive."

"That's it," I said, "she's not human, she's a plant. Her humps are cotyledons. In her altruism, she makes oxygen for us all."

"Nah, you're all wrong," said the Runt, "I know what's in the humps, and it's not altruism or oxygen, either."

"Well, man, what's in 'em?"

"Pimento. Olive's humps are big pimentoes."

After the laughter had died down, Chuck drifted into a song by Mississippi John Hurt:

When my earthly trials are over, cast my body, down in the sea;

Save all the undertaker's bills, let the mermaids flirt with me. .

Each of us had heard another tern sing that song. The other tern had been Wayne Potts. We were ready. It was time for the B?M Deli lunch.

Gilheeny and Quick stood by the door. As we entered, they sent back two winks: one fat, red, and bushy; the other thin, wiry, and black. Little did the Leggo realize whom he'd chosen to protect him. We dug into our B?M Deli sandwiches. The Leggo ate standing, in front. Sensing the tension in the room and with only two weeks to go until his Chief Residency year was successfully completed and he would be assured a spot on the House Slurper staff, the Fish was determined to avoid an explosion. Standing before us, he began to announce the event that Hyper Hooper and Eat My Dust Eddie had been awaiting, the presentation of the Black Crow Award.

"You mean the thing really exists?" I asked Chuck.

"If'n it don't, it sure did fool the Leggo and the Fish."

'. . . and so, since there has already been one award this year, the ***MVI*** won by Dr. Roy G. Basch and symbolized by his silver tiepin, we've decided to have a tiepin for the Black Crow." The Fish held up a silver tiepin with a black crow perched on it, and said, "I know there's been fierce competition, and right up until last night the contest was a dead heat between Hooper and Eddie for the most posts. In fact, it wasn't until the early hours of the morning, with the death of Rose?"

"KATZ! ROSE KATZ!" screamed Hooper, leaping up. "YAYYY! I KNEW IT! ROSE KATZ PUT ME OVER THE TOP! I WON IT AT THE POST!"

"Yes," said the Fish, "it was Mrs. Rose Katz, the postmortem was done this morning, and it gives me great pleasure to announce that the first annual House of God Black Crow Award goes to Dr. Hooper."

"YEE?AYY!" said Hooper, running up to the front of the room to accept his tiepin and his free trip for two to Atlantic City. He did a little victory dance and burst out with "Underr the boo?ard?walk, down by the seee?eeeeee?"

"Wait just a second," said the Runt angrily. "Rose Katz was my LOL in NAD. I claim credit for the death and for the post. I worked hard for that death, and Hooper robbed me of it. He came in last night when he wasn't even on call and I was home asleep. Eddie was on call, and since Rose died when Eddie was in charge, I know she'd want him to get credit for her post. Eddie's the winner, not Hooper."

"HEY! HEY HEY!" cried Eddie, standing, running up to the front. "HEY, GUYS, IT'S EDDIE! HOOPER, YOU CAN EAT MY DUST! I'M THE BLACK CROW, FAIR AND SQUARE! LET'S HEAR IT FOR EDDIE, EH? HEY HEY HEY!"

Well, at that, all hell broke loose. Eddie and Hooper started arguing and then were pushing and shoving and then really started in swinging at each other, and with all of us screaming like at a prizefight, finally the policemen broke it up. The Leggo marched center?ring and said that unfortunately the decision of the judges: was final and Hooper was the first House Black Crow. Hooper, relieved, shook hands with Eddie, and then, turning to the rest of us, with moisture in his eyes, said, "You know, guys, I just can't believe it. This is like a dream come true. I want you to know I couldn't have done it without your help, each and every one of you. You put me where I am today, and I'll never forget it. From my heart, guys, thanks. YAY! Under' the boo?"

The Leggo arid the Fish canned the second verse of Hooper's song, and we settled down to the serious business of the day: "All of you, when you came here almost a year ago," said the Leggo, "agreed to do two years, and yet some of you are thinking of not going on in medicine. Boys, I'll be frank: I'm banking on your being here with me for the rewarding House residency year. One year isn't enough. One year is nothing, almost a waste. It's the second year, built on, the foundation of the first, that makes it all worthwhile." He paused. Angry silence filled the room. A waste. "Now, how many of you are considering psychiatry? Raise your hands."

Silently, five hands went up: the Runt, Chuck, Eddie, the Crow, the ***MVI***. And then the Leggo's eyes and the Fish's eyes bugged out, staring at the back of the room. We turned. Both Gilheeny and Quick had raised their hands.

"What?" asked the Leggo. "You too? You're policemen, not physicians. You can't become psychiatrist on July the first."

"Policemen we are," said Gilheeny, "and strictly speaking, psychiatrists we cannot become. At first t seemed a singular limitation for us, so taken as we are with the warped and criminally perverted?"

"Get on with it, man. What's the point?"

"The point is that we shall become lay analysts."

"Lay analysts? You cops are thinking of becoming lay analysts?"

There was a pause, and then, out of it rolled a familiar question: "Would we be policemen if we were not?"

"Yes," said Quick, "for lay analysis was introduced to our minds by our old friend Grenade Room Dubler. Dr. Jeffrey Cohen also?"

"WHAT?!" yelled the Leggo. "DUBLER A PSYCHIATRIST?"

"Not just a psychiatrist, no," said Gilheeny, "a Freudian analyst."

"THAT MADMAN? A FREUDIAN PSYCHOANALYST?"

"And not just a psychoanalyst," said Quick, "but the bearded President of the Psychoanalytic Institute, a preeminent humanist and scholar."

"Yes," said Gilheeny, "having left the House of God directly after his internship year, Dubler never looked back, and has risen to the very top. At this moment, he is pulling strings for us, giving us 'a leg up'."

"And with Finton's banjaxed leg anyway," said Quick, "it is time for us to change careers to a less ambulatory one. Lay analysis is perfect."

"For did not the great Sigmund Freud in 1912 conclude a symposium on masturbation with the statement: "the subject of onanism is inexhaustible'?"

"And will it not take time to work out our Church dogma that masturbation will render the Catholic lad blind, hairy?palmed, insane, doomed, and with the leg bones bent like an orphan with the rickets?"

"And so excuse us, Chief," said Gilheeny, folding his big arms across his chest and leaning back against the door, "we will not resume the free associations," and he closed his eyes and lapsed into silence again.

The Leggo was shaken. Turning back to us, anxiously tugging the stethoscope deep?sixed in his trousers, he asked, "Psychiatry? All of you five? I don't understand. Hooper?"

"Well," said Hooper sheepishly, "I got to admit I was thinking Path most of the year, but for some reason, right now Psych seems a better deal. Lot to work through, Chief?the divorce, . splitting up the furniture, saying good?bye to the wife's old man, the works?anyway, the fiancee's a pathologist, she'll keep me up on the stiffs."

"Chuck? Even you?" asked the Leggo.

"You know how it is, man. I mean, just look at a me. When I firs' came here, I looked great, didn't I, guys? I was thin, ath?a?letic, dressed like a Bluenote, remember? Now I'm fat, and I'm dressin' like a janitor, a damn bum. Why? You dudes and them gomers, that's why. And mostly you?you made me what I am today. Thanks, man, thanks a lot. I be good god?damned if I stay here for round two."

We were startled by Chuck's outburst. The Leggo, looked hurt and puzzled. He began to question Eddie, but the Runt, more and more angry, exploded: "Damn it, Leggo, you don't realize what we've been going through this year. You don't have a clue!"

There was an ominous hush. The Runt, wild?eyed, looked like he was about to strangle the Leggo, the Fish shielded his Chief with his body and gestured toward the policemen. Snarling, the Runt continued "There's some good news, there's some bad news: bad news is there's shit around here; the good news is that there's plenty of it. You've broken us this year with your pious version of medical care. We hate this. We want out."

"What?" asked the Leggo incredulously, "you me you don't enjoy doing medicine here at the House God?"

"Get it through your fucking skull!" shouted Runt at the Leggo, and, according to Freud, at mom and pop in the Leggo, and sat down.

"It's just a small radical nucleus."

"Nope," I said in somber tone. "It's all of us morning I saw Howard Greenspoon bashing screaming at the elevator door like a maniac."

"Howard? No!" said the Leggo. "My Howie?"

The attention turned to his Howie. Silence. The tension billowed out. Howie squirmed. The tension hung, taut. Howie cracked: "Y?y?yes,. Chief, Sir, I'm sorry, but it's true. It was the gomers: one named Harry and a flatulent woman named Jane. See, it's my admitting days that kill me. Each admitting day?knowing that the total age of my admissions will be in the four hundreds?I get depressed and I want to kill myself. The tension had been incredible: those M and M Conferences where I get roasted every two weeks for my mistakes?I can't help making mistakes, can I, Chief??and then Potts splattering and his mess being spread around so we had to park right on him, and all these gomers. And then the young patients dying no matter what we do. The truth is, Chief, well . . . well, since September I've been on antidepressants, Elavil. And I'm staying on here; imagine how the other guys feel. Like the Runt: he used to be a fun guy, and now . . . why, just look at him."

We all looked at him. The Runt was staring at the Leggo with a gaze as ferocious as Crazy Abe's. The Runt looked extraordinarily mean.

The Leggo, shocked, asked, "You mean you don't look forward to your admitting days?"

"Look forward?" said Howie. "Chief, two days before my admitting day?just after my last admitting day?I'm nervous, and I up my dose of Elavil twentyfive milligrams. One day before my admitting day, I add fifty of Thorazine. On my admitting day, as I start to see the gomers, I start to shake, and . . ." Shaking, Howie took out a silver pillbox faced with mother?of?pearl and popped a Valium into his mouth. ". . . and it's Valium all the way. On real bad days . . . well, it's hits of Dex."

8o that was Howie's smile: the guy was a walking Pharmacopoeia.

The Leggo had gotten stuck on something Howie had said, and asked the Fish: "Did they say they don't enjoy their admitting days?"

"Yes, sir," said the Fish, "I do believe they said that, sir."

"Strange. Boys, when I was an intern, I loved my admitting days. All of us did. We looked forward to them, we fought for those 'toughies' so we could show our Chief what we could do. And we did damn well. What's happened? What's going on?"

"Gomers," said Howie, "gomers are what's going on."

"You mean old people? We took care of old people too."

"Gomers are different," said Eddie. "They didn't exist when you were a tern, 'cause then they used to die. Now they don't."

"Ridiculous," said the Leggo emphatically.

"It is," I said, "and it's true. How many guys have seen a gomer die under his own steam this year, without medical interference? Raise your hands."

No hands went up.

"But surely we help them. Why, we even cure."

"Most of us wouldn't know a cure if we found one in a Cracker Jack Box," said Eddie. "I haven't cured anybody yet and I don't know an intern who has. We're all still waiting for number one."

"Oh, come, now. Surely. What about the young?"

"They're the ones who die," said the Crow. "Most of my posts were on guys my age. It was no picnic, Chief, winning your Award."

"Yes, well, you are all my boys," said the Leggo as if he had forgotten to turn on his hearing aid that day, "and before I close this meeting I'd like to a few words about the year. First, thanks for the terrific job. In many ways it's been a great year, one of the best. You'll never forget it. I'm proud of each every one of you, and before I end, I'd just like to say a few words about one of you who isn't today, a physician with a tremendous potential, Dr. Wayne Potts."

We stiffened. Leggo was asking for trouble if he messed with Potts.

"Yes, I'm proud of Potts. Except for some defect that led to his . . . accident, he was a fine young physician. Let me tell you about him. . . "

I tuned out. Instead of anger, I felt sorry for the Leggo, so stiff and so clumsy, so out of touch with the human, with us, his boys. He was another generation, that of our fathers, who in restaurants before paying, added up the arithmetic of the check.

". . . maybe this year has been a little difficult, but all in all it was a pretty typical year, and we lost one in the middle, but sometimes that happens, and the rest of us will never forget him. Yet we can't let our dedication to medicine suffer because . . ."

The Leggo was right: it had been your standard internship year. All across the country, at emergency lunches, terns were being allowed to be angry, to accuse and cathart and have no effect at all. Year after year, in eternam: cathart, then take your choice: withdraw into cynicism and find another specialty or profession; or keep on in internal medicine, becoming a Jo, then a Fish, then a Pinkus, then a Putzel, then a Leggo, each more repressed, shallow, and sadistic than the one below. Berry was wrong: repression wasn't evil, it was terrific. To stay in internal medicine, it was a lifesaver. Could any of us have endured the year in the House of God and somehow, intact, have become that rarity: a human?being doctor? Potts? Fats had done it, yes. Potts?

". . . and so let's have a moment of silence for Dr. Wayne Potts."

After about twenty seconds the Runt blasted off again, shouting, "DAMNNIT, YOU KILLED HIM!"

"What?"

"YOU KILLED POTTS! You drove him nuts about the Yellow Man, and you didn't help him when he was crying for help. If an intern sees a shrink, you stigmatize him, you think he's nuts. Potts was scared that if he saw Dr. Frank it would damage his career. You bastards, you eat up good guys like Potts who happen to be too gentle to 'tough it out' It makes me want to puke! PUKE!"

"You can't say that about me," said the Leggo sincerely, looking crushed. "I would have done anything to save Potts, to save my boy."

"You can't save us," I said, "you can't stop the process. That's why we're going into psychiatry: we're trying to save ourselves."

"From what?"

"FROM BEING JERKS WHO'D LOOK UP TO SOMEONE LIKE YOU!" screamed the Runt.

"What?" asked the Leggo shakily, "what are you saying?"

I felt that he was trying to understand, and I knew he couldn't but that he was crying inside because we'd pushed the button that had him hearing the tapes of all his failings, as father and son, and I said as kindly as possible, "What we're saying is that the real problem this year hasn't been the gomers, it's been that we didn't have anyone to look up to."

"No one? No one in the whole House of God?"

"For me," I said, "only the Fat Man."

"Him? He's as kooky as Dubler! You can't mean that, no."

"What we mean, man," said Chuck forcefully, "is this: how can we care for patients if'n nobody can for us?"

At that, for the first time, the Leggo seemed to hear. He stopped, still. He scratched his head. He made gesture with his hands, as if to say something, but nothing came out. He bent at the knee, and sat down. He looked hurt, a kid about to cry, and as we watched his nose twitched and he dug into his baggy trousers for his handkerchief. Saddened, sobered, yet still mad, we filed out. We'd played for keeps. The door closed behind the last of us, leaving our Chief alone. Boozy, babbling, Nixon was coming apart in public places. People were filing out. What he was feeling, no one wanted to know.

Berry, Chuck, and I were at the mansion of Nate Zock. We sat in the fake Elizabethan garden basking in the late?afternoon summer sun, looking back up toward the multimillion?dollar palace, a mixture of millennia of architectural vogue. Nate finished retelling the "Basch's a tough guy, don't cross him" story. Berry and I excused ourselves to play tennis, leaving Chuck to booze it up with Nate and Trixie and the overweight bovines grazing on the hors d'oeuvres and low?calorie celery tonic. The tennis court was wind?sheltered by beech and poplar, and roses coated the fence enclosing it. The splash of color and waves of scent made it like playing tennis inside a rose. We sweated. We stopped, and Nate urged us to cool off in the indoor pool. We hadn't brought swimsuits.

"That's OK," said Nate, "no one's going to watch."

"And no one's keeping track of the time," said Trixie, "we know all about the sex lives of our young Dr. Kildares."

We wandered up the lawn to the house, and I realized that unlike the rich, I was unused to privacy, to being unwatched, to things?pools and tennis courtscoming in ones. We passed the garage, where the butler was waxing Berry's Volvo, trying to match the shine on Nate's white El Dorado. In the indoor pool, tile?echoing, secluded, we stripped, embraced, dived down into the perfectly right water. We played. Delight delight. Splash splash not the best splash splash but the most splash splash not the splash best but the splash fuckin' most.

At dusk, after dinner, continuing with drinks, we chatted about the Letter of Zock. Nate had sent his letter about me to the Leggo, and had gotten a cordial reply. Not one to be satisfied with anything short of "the most," Nate had called up the Leggo and the Fish "to find out why those guys didn't think youboth of you?were as great as I thought you were, 'cause I'm a helluva judge of talent or I wouldn't be where I am today." After some discussion with the Leggo and the Fish and a few other Slurpers, Nate had cleared it right up. Not only that, but to make sure that this clear area would remain clear, Nate had decided on something more permanent: there would be named, in my honor, in the Wing of Zock, a Room of Basch. Not only that, but in addition to the ***MVI*** and the Crow, there would be, annually, the Basch Award, a free trip for two to Palm Springs for the tern "who best exemplified the qualities of Roy G. Basch, M.D." the principal one being "how to leave the patient alone." On hearing of the Room of Basch and the Basch Award, both the Leggo and the Fish had been filled with emotion, too choked up to speak. My Redeemer, Zock, liveth. My name would live on in the House of God.

Cigars were lit. The night was so still, the match games stood upright. Chuck and Nate related their life stories. Chuck told the story of the postcards, the latest: WANT TO BE AN OFFICER IN THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH? IF SO, FILL OUT AND: RETURN THIS CARD. Nate loved it. Nate told the story of "out of the valley of the Depression rode the five hundred bucks to manufacture not the best but the most nuts and bolts," and ended with tears in his, eyes. Chuck loved it. The long June evening ushered in a serenade of crickets, and the dusk lingered in the air like a dozing kitten's purr. Berry leaned her head on my shoulder. Nate and Trixie loved her. They suggested she be a weight?control therapist for their fatties. Nate suggested, about me and Berry, that, as he been told by Trixie's father years ago: "If you milk the cow, you gotta buy it," that we should get married. Chuck chimed in, warning me, "Like they say back home, man, if'n you plant it, you gotta watch it grow." Arm?around me and Berry and Chuck, Nate kissed us good night, tears in his eyes, wishing we would accept his offer to start us in a private practice. At peace, at the level of love, I watched the silver liquid moonlight flow over the orange stucco roof of the House of Zock, reminding me of the stuccoed farmhouses of France.


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