Read Old Man Scanlon

A Drab and Wretched Afternoon

03 May 2012

Some days just can't be bothered to deal me an idyll with my grandchildren. On the other hand, seldom can I chalk up a day as a total loss. Today is cool, grey, and drizzly. It dovetails seamlessly with my mood: a good start. I expect only what the world owes me—you know what that is—so I'm primed to be pleasantly surprised by small things.

At my doctor's office a receptionist asks a milling group of patients, "Are youse taken care of?" My standards are slipping. Once I would have reacted with teeth-gnashing, prodigious oaths, and blazing prescriptivist indignation, and I devoutly hope I may regain that high ground. Though "youse" still sounds outlandish and at first blush ignorant, I find I appreciate its logic. Until I regain my senses, I take comfort in guessing there's a high probability that she would spell it with an apostrophe ess.

In the exam room I warn a nurse of no little experience and wisdom that others have a hard time taking my blood pressure (and later, I'll revel in the opportunity to indulge in litotes). She tells me, "Palpate first, then put the stethoscope under the cuff, so you don't have to touch it, and all the tubing is hanging free and untouched," even as she does so. This reduces ambient noise and often makes a positive reading possible. The price of this nugget of knowledge is that I am having my annual Urological Procedure of Unusual Loathsomeness.

My urologist has an unbreakable deadpan, and God knows I've tried. That is disconcerting enough—really, if I can't joke with someone, do I allow him to stick his finger...? Also, he wears a white shirt, rolls its sleeves up to high forearm, and tucks his necktie into one of its inter-button gaps. It's unfortunate that this reminds me of my grandfather, standing at his lathe in the jewelry factory, except—also disturbing—Gramp wore a bow tie. Though a legitimate retro look, as a doctor's getup there's something just not right about it. The rolled-up sleeves cry out for a shop apron and imply to me an unseemly gusto. They're just too much, since my prostate has no dangerous moving parts that could cause a horrific industrial accident involving unsecured clothing.

On my way out I hear a nurse ask a gentleman, "How are you?" The geezer replies, "Better than nothing." It strikes me that I know only one other person who answers thus. Perhaps it's a New England thing, a phrase of men of a certain age and of a cynical and fatalistic disposition. It may just be a failure of imagination, but I can't for the life of me picture a woman saying this. I have the attitude, but until I'm old enough, I'll content myself with my usual answer to the question: "None of your *@#% business."