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26

In the House of God, whosoever had sighted the humps' had been repulsed. These pneumatic, stupendous, astounding humps had stirred up even more speculation: than a Zock. Given her rate of respiration?six breaths per minute?the oxygen theory was much favored, and many thought that the slightly green gomere had turned into a plant. And so, the last week of the ternship LP Leon, his Fellowship secure, relented, and I lays on the top bunk going over her chart, the full story of Olive O., formulating how best to spring them of our Chief. I wanted to see if he'd show any human, emotion upon sighting the horrible humps.

After the eye?opening lunch, the Leggo had in fact made some concessions and it looked like all but two or three terns would stay. The Runt and I were definitely leaving; Chuck hadn't yet said. The others were staying. In years to come they would spread out across America into academic centers and Fellowships, real red?hots in internal medicine, for they had been trained at the Best Medical School's best House, the House of God. Although a few might kill themselves or get addicted or go crazy, by and large they'd repress and conform and perpetuate the Leggo and the House and all the best medical stuff. Eat My Dust had been praised by the Leggo that he could start off the second year as ward resident, with "a free rein" on his terns. And so, saying already that the ternship been "not so bad," Eddie was preparing to indoctrinate his new charges: "I want them on their knees from day one." A year later it would be back to California for his Fellowship in Oncology. Hyper Hooper was staying as well. He'd sent us a postcard from Atlantic City, signed with a picture of a black crow. Upon returning to the House, he'd shown he hadn't lost his touch; walking into a room containing a LOL in NAD who'd been getting better, Hooper had said, "Hi, dearie," she'd gasped, clutched her chest, and five minutes later was dead. The post showed a massive pulmonary embolus. Hooper had been promised by the Leggo that he could start off the second year in a Path elective, doing his own personal autopsies on his own personal patients. And so, saying that the ternship had been "not so bad," Hooper was also dreaming California Fellowship, in "Thanatology: " The Runt was going west for a "classic Eastern" psychiatric training program on the "mountain campus" of the U. of Wyoming, run by a guru named Grogyam with a Ph.D. from the U. of Kansas. The Runt was so emphatic about his entry into psych being diametrically opposed to the psychoanalytic viewpoint of his parents' "classic Western"?that it seemed pretty clear that this "Eastern" jag was a penultimate step that the Runt had to take in order to rebel against it and come on back to mom and pop and Freud to roost. Thunder Thighs had told the Runt that she would not miss him. The Runt imagined this was OK with him. Little did he know how lonely Wyoming could be.

My Clinic patients had been sad to hear I was leaving. They'd brought presents, brought family members, wished me good luck. One, who I'd recently told had incurable cancer and who continued to deny that it exists, had asked me, "Where will you hang up your shingle?" When I'd told her I'd be taking a year off, she'd said, "That's OK, I'll be your patient when you get back." No. She'd be dead. It was hard, too hard. I went through my last Clinic taking deep breaths to keep back the tears. Mae, my black Witness, concerned about my puffing, asked, "Oh Doctuh Bass, you ain't done caught my asthma from me, has you?" When I'd told people I was thinking of going into psychiatry, many were surprised.

. . NOT GOING ON IN YOUR MEDICAL RESIDENCY?! YOU PROMISED THEM! HOW WILL IT LOOK ON YOUR RECORD? RECONSIDER! I AM AMAZED! . . .

My father. For the first time, he'd been nudged out of his conjunctions. But then, calming himself again, he embraced his grammar, he embraced his son, and went on:

. . I can't understand your taking a year off and it is a waste of a potential year's income. I'm amazed at your going into psychiatry and it seems a waste of your talent. I hope I am explaining the point well and probably not. I know that you will always give yourself over to your new field of medicine and I am sure you have all the attributes to make an outstanding practitioner of psychiatry. Your deep interest in people and what makes them tick will be a great basis for your work and I do hope you will be able to make a living at it. The new philosophy for people of all ages is to enjoy each day and do what you plan on doing within the limits of responsibility, work, and commitment, and mom and I will try to do this as we have always tried to, only more so now.

The weather has been wet, and remember, dear son number one: IT NEVER RAINS ON A GOLF COURSE. . .

I finally realized what all these conjunctions meant: hope. What was my hope now? To take a year off, to risk, grow, be with others, even to be with parents' who'd loved me despite my shabby treatment of them, through so many arrogant years. Was the Fat Man my hope any longer? In what he'd taught me, yes, in showing me the one truly great American Medical Invention: the creation of a foolproof system that took sincere energetic guys and with little effort turned them into dull, grandiose docs who could live with the horror of disease and the deceit of "cure," who could "go with" the public's fantasy of the right to perfect health devoid of even the deterioration of age, a whole nation of Hyper Hoopers and other Californians who expected the day to be sunny, the body young, to be surfing along always on the waves of vitality, and who, when the clouds come, the marriage fails, the erection wilts, the brown blotches of age break out like geriatric acne on the backs of the hands, in terror, wipe out.

And so I'd succeeded in keeping Olive O. from being killed by the Privates and Slurpers and BMSs and Blazers and even Housekeepers of the House. In a few days a dew?fresh tern would get the gomere. We had survived. The Leggo arrived for rounds. As I began to present the case to him, I realized that ever since the emergency lunch he'd been out of sight, withdrawn, secretoid. In his rare appearances, he'd seemed down, sad yet bitter, vulnerable and suspicious. For some reason, it troubled me. And yet Olive, a real "fascinoma," seemed to perk him up. I made no mention of the humps, and the Chief's questions were mainly to 789 about Olive's diabetes. Why, the Leggo wanted to know, with Olive's blood sugar three times normal on admission, had Sev infused more sugar, raising the level to nine times normal, a new House record? Sev gave a brilliant mathematical exigesis, drawing vector diagrams of enzyme action, which left us confused and subdued. In a rare burst of excitement the Chief said, "Great case! Come on, boys, let's go see her!"

We fairly ran to the bedside. Chuck and I positioned ourselves at the head of the bed. Getting no oral response from Olive, the Leggo proceeded to physical exam. In hushed expectation we watched him gently peel back the bedsheet and then pause. It was not clear if he'd caught sight of the humps. As if communing with the dead, he rolled up the nightie, and there, suddenly, were the two homungus, smooth, fluctulant, translucent, greeny?veined, and mysterious, almost cabalistic humps. Did the Leggo so much as bat an eyelash, no. Many eyes focused on him, and none could detect any reaction at all. Even well?prepared strong-gutted terns had felt the queasy slosh of nausea on first sighting the humps, but our Chief never turned a follicle. And then what did he do? Silently, as cautiously as a cat around food, didn't he take his right hand and put it on her right hump and then take his left hand and put it on her left hump, and it was all we could do to keep from screaming DON'T DO THAT! in amazement, revulsion, and disdain. And what did our Chief say was in them? Well, he didn't say. He just stood there straight?legged palming her humps for two minutes or more, and no one could figure out what for, but the only things we'd ever seen him go after like that were Moe the Toe's toe and God?given things filled with piss.

And then it was the last day. Relieved, happy, we bopped around the House saying good?bye, doing loopy nutty things, a carnival of interns. I searched out the Fat Man, and found him in an on?call room standing at a blackboard in front of three new terns, talking into the telephone:

"Hi, Murray, what's new? Hey, great! What? A name? Sure, yeah, no problem, hang on." Turning to the terns, Fats saw me, winked, and then asked, "OK, you turkeys, what's a catchy doctor's name for an invention? I'll be with you in a minute, Dr. Basch."

So that was it: the reality of his inventions was only that they involved us with him, showing us that someone could stand outside the drudgery of the Hierarchies and create. He'd given us his inventions as a, way of helping us through. How I would miss him! More than anyone else, he knew how to be with patients, how to be with us. Finally I understood why he stayed in medicine: only medicine could take him. Burdened by his precocity, all his life Fats had hurt people by being too much. From his puzzled parents through his grade?school teachers and chums to his college and med?school classmates who'd gather at dinner, where he'd scribble notes and equations with such prodigal brilliance that as he rose to leave there'd be a mad dash for the napkins, the Fat Man had found himself separated from others by his power and his genius. All his life, he'd had to hold himself back. Finally, after two years of testing it at the House, he knew that here at last was something even he couldn't dent, that would not, in awe, in jealous anger, reject him and play with somebody else. He could dish out anything and not hurt anyone. He was safe. He would flourish. He would bloom.

Fats finished, escaped from the throng wanting to say good?bye to him, grabbed me and rushed me into the Men's Room, locking the door. He was beaming: "Isn't this great! I love itl It's like being at Coney Island on the Fourth! And tomorrow, Basch, it's the STARS!"

"Fats, I figured out why you stay in medicine."

"Terrific!" he said. "Hit me while I'm hot!"

"It's the only profession that's big enough for you."

"Yeah, and you know what the damn thing is, Basch?"

"What?"

"It might not be, after all"

We were interrupted by a banging on the door and the cries of the Fat Man fan club, and feeling rushed, I asked, "Really?"

"Sure. But that's the game, isn't it?"

"What is?" I asked, feeling that this wily fatso had foxed me again.

"To find out. To see if it matches our dreams"

The noise at the door grew louder, more insistent and, panicky, I felt in my gut that this?right now!-was our good?bye.

"This is it," said Fats, "for now."

"Fats, thanks. I'll never forget?"

Big fat arms hugged me, and the smiling fat face said, "Basch, come to L.A. Be 'beautiful' like all the rest of us Californians. Even car crashes and rectums are 'beautiful' out there. So? So listen, Roy Gee Basch, Emm Dee: do good, support your AMA, and once a while, to remember where you come from, put money in the pishke to plant a tree in Yisroel."

He unlocked the door, was embraced by his crowd and was gone.

I went to the Telephone and Beeper Operators and handed in my beeper. Walking down the long fourt floor corridor, I passed Jane Doe and ignored Henry the Horse's HEY DOC WAIT. I found Chuck doing an invasive procedure on a gomere. He was wearin a bright orange shirt and a green tie with a heart of gold in the middle of which was the word LOVE. I asked how he felt and he said, "Man, it's been pitiful but like this tie says, I loved it. C'mon, Roy, there somethin' I want to show you." We went into the on call room, sat, and poured ourselves shots from bottle in his bag.

"You know, man, I been thinkin' about what to do next year."

"You mean tomorrow?"

"Right. I keep gettin' these postcards, see;" he said showing me the pile he'd collected, "and I been puzzling out what to do. I come a long way from Memphis. I could keep right on goin', startin' tomorrow, again. But look where it got me, huh? You know what, Roy?"

"What?"

"I figure I gone about as white as I can go. Watch this." He took the postcards and one by one ripped them to shreds. He finished and looked at me. For once his eyes weren't that fake dull soft, no. They were sharp. They were proud.

"Good for you, baby," I said, full of pride, "good for you."

"An look at this, he said, handing me a piece of paper.

"A bus ticket?"

"No foolin', man. Tomorrow mornin'. Back to Memphis. Back home."

"Great!" I said, grabbing him. "Great!"

"Yup. It ain't gonna be easy, it's a whole differn' worl down there, and I been away since that bus ride to Oberlin, Iemmee see, yeah, nine years ago. Folks are differn' there, and, well, man, the only cotton I ever picked was out of a aspirin bottle. But I'm gonna try. I'm gonna get back in shape, find a black woman, be a regular old black doc with a lotta money and a big bad lim?O?zeene. And that'll jes' about do it for old me."

"Can I come visit you?"

"I be theah, darlin'. Don't you fret none, 'cause I be theah."

Getting up to go, feeling sad and happy both at once, I asked him: "Hey, ace intern, notice anything different about me?"

He looked me up and down and then said, "Damn, Basch! NO BEEPERI"

"They can't hurt me now:"

"There it is, man."

"There it is."

I walked out of the on?call room, down the corridor, down the stairs. I stopped, feeling uneasy. Something had been left undone. The Leggo. He had never called me in. For reasons I didn't understand, I had to see him before I left. I went to his office. Through the open door I saw him staring out his window. Separated from the happy bustle in the rest of his House, he looked lonesome, a kid not invited to play. Surprised to see me, he nodded hello.

"I just thought I'd say good?bye," I said.

"Yes, good. You're starting psychiatry?" he asked nervously.

"After I take a year off, yes"

"So I heard. Three of you leaving this year, yes."

"Five if you count the policemen."

"Of course. You know, you may find this hard to believe, but I had the same thought once, to take a year off. Even to try psychiatry."

"Really?" I said, surprised. "What happened?"

"Don't know. I'd invested too much by then, and and I guess it seemed like a risk," he said in an almost quavering voice.

"A risk?"

"Yes. Now I almost admire the ones who do it, take that risk. It's so strange: at my previous hospital, my boys had great affection for me, but here, this year . . ." And he trailed off, searching the sky in quiet amazement, like a man watching his wife run over his dog. Turning back abruptly, he said, "Look, Roy, I'm upset. Things are out of order: three of you leaving, what you all said about House medicine at the luncheon, Potts killing himself like that. This has never: happened to me before?never!?where my boys didn't love me, and I don't know what the hell's going on!" He paused and asked, "Do you? Why me?"

Suddenly I realized how much he was hurting, how vulnerable, at that instant, he was. Did I know why him? Yes. It was my knowing that was setting me free. Should I tell him? No. Too cruel. What would Berry do? She'd not tell, she'd ask. I'd ask him, give him way to talk about it, a way out of the judgment he was begging from me.

"Never before?" I asked. "Not even in your family?"

"My what? My family?" he said, startled. He fell silent. His face showed concern. Perhaps he was thinking of his own son. I hoped that he would find a way to talk about it. As I watched, his face got sad. I began to hope that he wouldn't say anything, scared that if he opened up, he'd dissolve. The Chief in tears? That would be too much for me. I waited, my anxiety rising. Time seemed to have died.

"No," he said finally, looking away, "nothing like that. Things are fine at home. Besides, in many ways my family is here in the House."

I felt relieved. Somehow he'd pulled things back up around him, and could go on, impenetrable, cold, the tough little pisher he'd always been before. I felt sorry for him: I was going free; he was in a cage. As had happened so often before in my life, the tiger had turned out to be a paper tiger, a dream tiger: worn, bored, timid, envious, sad.

He held out his hand in good?bye and said, "In spite of everything, Roy, it's, well, it's not been all that bad having you here this year."

"It's been difficult for me, sir. There were times when I did things that just about drove you ape, and I'm sorry for that."

"Nothing to be sorry about. I know. I went through it too, by God. But you know something, Roy, I'll tell you from my experience: you wait and see, you'll look back on this year as the best year of your life."

I didn't know what to say. I shook his hand and left.

Finally free, and more free for having glimpsed the fear and jealousy of those trapped inside, I left the House of God for the last time. These men were so vulnerable. Poor Nixon, with a severe phlebitis that might kill him, and probably would if he had Hooper for his doctor, floundering so bad. I found myself standing on the microfilm of human tissue coating the parking lot that I still regarded as Potts. Feeling the warm sun on my face, I felt a weight in my hand: my black bag. I didn't want it or need it anymore. What should I do with it? Give it to the nearest six?yearold kid and start him on his way to the top? Give it to an underprivileged? No. I knew what to do. Like a discus, round and round and round it went, gathering momentum, until with a scream of bitterness and joy I launched it up and up into the hot fresh summer' breeze and watched the glittering chrome instruments' fall out in a rainbow and smash on the pavement below. .

Later that evening, the policemen picked up Berry and me and loaded our luggage into the squad car and with sirens blaring and lights ablaze rushed us to the airport.

"You're really becoming lay analysts?" asked Berry.

"The couch awaits the excretia of our unconscious' processes," said Gilheeny.

"And like other rare Catholic candidates?the latest, being a horny nun," said Quick, "we are celebrities. Our brains are being picked neatly for our reactions to so many years on the beat."

We arrived at the airport, and Gilheeny said, "Brevity is not my forte, and yet I shall try to be brief." Rambling on, the flashing red light of the squad car highlighting his bushy features, he finally concluded: "And so as Quick and I place this final bookend on our shelf of time at the House of God, the three we will always cherish are Dubler, the Fat Man, and Roy G. Basch."

"Your like will not be seen again," said Quick.

"From the libidinal heart, the oracle of the ventricle, we wish you both good?bye, Shalom, and"?he was interrupted by a gush of plump tears streaming down his cheeks?"and God bless."

"And God bless," echoed Quick.

My first thought when I saw the bulging face of the jumbo jet was that it looked like an obese or edematous gomer. Sinking into the seat for the short night flight to Paris, Berry at my side, thinking of the train ride that would take us to the south of France the next day, I told Berry what the Leggo had said to me, about the year being "the best year of your life." After a moment's thought she settled into the snug of my neck, yawned, and said, "You told him, of course, that there have been twenty?nine others that have beaten it so far."

Damn, now why couldn't I have thought of that? I yawned and closed my eyes and slipped down into the dark.

I am a blind cave fish, thrown into a river of light. My senses are readjusting. As I learn to live in this strange full spectrum, day after dazzling day, at the same time I am drawn back to the horrific dark. I am split, filleted by the knife glare of the French summer sun. Berry and I will be dining in a garden under a trellis of woven branches, our table dressed with heavy silver and starched white linen and monogrammed crystal, the perfection completed by a red rose in a silver vase, and my eye will catch the aged waiter, standing, napkin over his tremoring arm, and I will think back to a gomer with a senile tremor in the House of God. We will be sitting on a bench in the village square, in silence but for the Clack! Clack! of the boules, bathed in the scents of orange, garlic, river musk, and walnut, and I will focus on an old man heaving boules from his wheelchair, and I will think back to Humberto, my Mexican?American BMS wheeling Rose Nizinsky to X Ray the night we set the House speed record for the bowel run. On market day I will see two blackclad LOLS in NAD carrying a pole to which are tied, by the feet, three squawking geese; behind them, dawdling home, fingers looped through the green ribbon loops tied round the boxes of patisserie, two whiteclad little girls. There is no escape. Even the bikini-clad luscious bodies at our river are not safe. I dissect them into tendon, muscle, and bone. At least, I think to myself, I have yet to see the incapacitation, the complete horizontality of posture that goes with being a true gomer, here in the south of France.

And yet I know it is only a matter of time. One lazy and succulent day, I am sitting by myself in the graveyard at the top of the village. A little girl's grave is inscribed "Priez pour elle"; upon the stone vault lies a supine Crucifixion, the arched breast of Christ say lifelike in glazed, flesh?toned ceramic. As I leave "Priez pour elle, Priez pour elle," rings on and on my ears. I am walking down the catnapping winding road overlooking the chateau, the church, the prehistoric caves, the square, and far below, the river valley, the child's?toy poplars and Roman bridge indicating the road, and the creator of all this, the spawn of the glacier, our river. I have never taken this path before. I am beginning to relax, to know what I knew before: the peace, the rainbow of perfection of doing nothing. The days are beginning to feel smooth, warm, pebble with the nostalgia of a sigh. The country is so lush that the birds can't eat all the ripe blackberries. I stop and pick some. Juicy grit in my mouth. My sandals slap the asphalt. I watch the flowers compete in color and shape, enticing the rape by the bees. For the time in more than a year, I am at peace.

I turn a corner and see a large building, like asylum or a hospital, with the word "Hospice" over the door. My skin prickles, the little hairs on the back of my neck rise, my teeth set on edge. And there, sure enough, I see them. They have been set out in the sun, in a little orchard. The white of their hair, scattered among the green of the orchard, makes then look like dandelions in a field, gossamers awaiting there final breeze. Gomers. I stare at them. I recognize the signs. I make diagnoses. As I walk past them, their eyes seem to follow me, as if somewhere in their dementia they are trying to wave, or say bonjour, show some other vestige of humanness. But they neither wave, nor say bonjour, nor show any other vestige. Healthy, tan, sweaty, drunk, full of blackberries, laughing inside and fearing the cruelty of that laughter, I feel grand. I always feel grand when I see a gomer. I love these gomers now.

That night is the worst. I awaken, bolt upright, at attention, drenched in sweat, screaming, as the church bell tolls three. My mind is filled with horrific images of the year in the House of God. My screams awaken Berry, and I say, "I finally saw where they keep them."

"Keep who?" she asks, half?asleep.

"The gomers. They call it a 'Hospice.' "

"Calm down, love. It's over."

"It's not. I can't get them out of my mind. Everything reminds me of the year in the House. I don't know how to forget. It's wrecking my whole life. I never realized it would be so bad."

"Don't try to forget, love. Try to work it through."

"I thought I had."

"No, it takes time. Here," she said, holding me, "talk to me, tell me where it hurts."

I tell her. Again I tell her about Dr. Sanders bleeding out in my lap, about the look in Potts's eyes that night before he jumped, about my pushing the KCL into poor Saul. I tell her how ashamed I am for turning into a sarcastic bastard who calls the old ones gomers, how, during the ternship, I'd ridiculed them for their weaknesses, for throwing up their suffering in my face, for scaring me, for forcing me to do disgusting things to take care of them. I tell her how I want to live, compassionately, with the idea of death clearly in sight, and how I doubt I can do that, ever again. As I think back to what I'd gone through and what I'd become, sadness wells up and mixes with contempt. I put my head into Berry's folds and weep, and curse, and shout, and weep.

". . . and in your own way, you did. Someone had to care for the gomers; and this year, in your own way, you did."

"The worst thing is this bitterness. I used to be different, gentle, even generous, didn't I? I wasn't always like this, was I?"

"I love who you are. To me, underneath it all, you're still there:" She paused, and then, eyes sparkling, said, "And you might even be better."

"What? What do you mean?"

"This might have been the only thing that could have awakened you. Your whole life has been a growing from the outside, mastering the challenges that others have set for you. Now, finally, you might just be growing from inside yourself. It can be a whole new world, Roy, I know it. A whole new life" Eyes wet with tears, she said, "I'm going to love you even more, Roy, because I've been waiting a long time for you to begin."

Overwhelmed. Speechless. Excited, even happy. Yet it seemed too easy. "I want to believe you, but it all seems so painful. The whole year seems like a nightmare now."

"Not all of it. There was pleasure in it, too: the pleasure of the mastery of medicine, the pleasure of your group of guys, of latency."

"Latency? What's latency?"

"Latency is the lull before adolescence. Latency is the time of clubs, groups, teams, when baseball is the most important thing in your life and the days are too short for all that you want to do. Latency is caring. This year's been a latency trip: during your internship, with all of you scared and brutalized, the caring in your bunch of guys sustained you:"

Cradled in her arms, I think back to then, to the tree house in the overgrown shallow ravine, to the early summer nights running out of the house leaping up and up in the warm dusk, to the baseball games when the pepperpot shortstop pegged a two-hop bouncer over to first base to just nip the runner in time, and as I began to curl down into the river must of sleep, like a song hummed by a tyrant and picked up by the birds and spread all along and away, a blanket of soothing ideas spreads itself over me, and I think of days so still that a match flame won't bend and I think of blind fish in the black world of a mammoth?painted cave who somehow, even in their icy smooth?walled limestone pool know about the flat hot slabs of summer slapped against the mime?white walls to warm a dozing cat in the middle of a street of a French hill village overlooking a river valley laced with chateaux of the real sort and of the mirrored marbled butchershop sort caressing chilled meat laced with ribbons of lard and a box of patisserie tied with a green ribbon with a loop looped for a child's finger and a market ebbing quiet as the words flow louder from the mouths of the cafes where men caricaturing French peasants sit with their cigarettes stuck to their lips and a cemetery which chimes "Priez pour elle, Priez pour elle" in deathly silence and then I think that outside the House of God even in a cemetary there is no result just process and that here at last, with my love holding me, each day might be filled with all things and all colors and the eternal repetition of all colorful things renewed, and I feel that it just might be that in the flow of time the layers of bitterness might begin to peel away, until bitterness itself had become but a faint etching on a glass wall, layers of etched glass walls leading down a life toward a latency, a summergame, a summer of fun, and as I struggle to rest the layers of bitterness are beginning to peel off, are peeling off, leaving me homing upriver toward innocence and nakedness and rest, as in the time before the House of God with Berry thank God for Berry and except for Berry where would I be for without her I could never learn to love as once I did love and will love and love. Humbly, I ask her to marry me.

THE END.


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