Saturday night/Sunday morning, 4:35 A.M. There is nothing so sweet, or so sad, as the stillness in a jazz club just before dawn. I make this Sinatra-esque observation while sitting alone at the bar, easing back the third in a series of well-deserved cognacs. Years of bartending have taught me to recognize such one-more-for-the-road insights as the warning signs of incipient insobriety and its attendant threat of maudlin introspection. A definite indication that it’s time to turn out the lights, lock up and leave. Besides, just a short cab ride away lay bed, bagels and a relaxing afternoon of avoiding people in general and street fairs in particular. Little did I know that in two hours I would be straining to urinate into a plastic bottle while tied naked to a bed in a fluorescent-lit room that would echo with screams of dementia and pain. Well, to paraphrase E. B. White, you shouldn’t live in New York unless you’re willing to be lucky.
After tipping the homeless guy outside the door a buck for remembering my name I collapse into the backseat of a shiny new cab, you know – the kind with the drunk-proof sliding doors. I give the driver my destination and compulsively check the anagram on his hack license. (I distinctly remember his name was not Bob.) I let my eyes half close till I can just make out the the red tail lights ahead of us as we turn on to Fourteenth St. I’m on my way home and all is right with the world. At least it is until I realize that the blurry red lights are, for some mysterious reason, turning into bright white lights that are all too clearly heading towards us.
Thinking quickly I sit straight up and yell “What the Fuck?” into the plexi-glass.
Not-Bob takes my comment as an opportunity to share and starts screaming “I got no brakes! I got no brakes!”, sounding all too much like the late, lamented and strangely retro Herve Villachez. He then completes an evasive maneuver across two lanes of oncoming traffic that lands us on the opposite sidewalk, still doing about 30 m.p.h.. Surreal does not do the scene justice. I’m not just having an accident, I’m experiencing an act of automotive anarchy. I actually have time to look out the window and see people’s faces as they gaped and pointed. (While admittedly not exactly performance art, it was, at the very least, an accident which should have taken place much farther Downtown.) Doing a quick inventory of all the emergency instructions I had ever received from concerned parents, stewardesses and crash test dummies I realize that nothing covered side walk surfing in the back of a runaway taxi. While I’m trying to adapt the classic duck and cover for an imminent head on collision Not-Bob continues to scream his his muffler shop mantra.
And then, as they say, it is over.
Realizing that heading through Third Avenue traffic and crashing into the porn store on the opposite corner probably was not a good idea, although it would have made for better copy, Not-Bob turns sharply into the low wall that surrounds the Con Ed parking lot and brings us to a halt. I am thrown across the seat and into the bullet (and bartender) proof shield. For a couple of seconds I just sit there. Then, sitting up slowly, I do a quick check and, deciding that I am bowed but definitely not broken, I inquire after Not-Bob’s health. He doesn’t answer. He just makes a low whining noise that I assume is the Not-Bob-ese equivalent for “OOh, I’m gonna get it when I get home.” It was just about this time that things started getting weird.
Remember, its five o’clock on Sunday morning and we’re only three blocks from Webster Hall. There are lots of people still out on the street. And these are special people.
Before I get a chance to make further inquiries into Not-Bob’s well being the street side back door is yanked open and someone jumps in the cab.
“Don’t move, man, I saw the whole thing, you can get a lot of money”
The other door is then pulled open and I almost fall out. This guy pushes in and sits on the other side of me.
“Hey, man, tell them your back hurts, my cousin got a lot of money.”
At the same time someone is talking to Not-Bob, in a similar accent, telling him to back up a little. It will look better.
Moments later, with a half dozen more potential counselors straining to get in with us, the police arrive. Shooing away the crowd, one cop looks inside and asks me how I feel.
“Well, it hurts a little here.” I say pointing to my solar plexus.
“You should go to the hospital.”
This seems like prudent, if unpleasant, advice. (And was that a twinge I felt in my lower back?)
The arriving ambulance adds to the red strobe affect lighting up the surrounding crowd. I can hear the loud squawk of the police radio and for some reason I think that all this scene is missing is Karl Malden in a trench coat. Instead a short, fat, round guy in whites comes up to my door asks me how I feel. For a fleeting moment I have a vision of a decimal point magically sliding to the left on several bloated credit card accounts bearing my name.
“I think my back hurts a lit…ugch”
I produce this sound as the EMS tech slaps a neck brace, none too gently, under my chin. It dawns on me that whatever empathy this man possessed has been exhausted by a long, dark Saturday night of street triage. I also have the same feeling of guilt that I used to get when trying to fake an illness to get out of school. This is not to say that my back does not, in fact, hurt. It does. But then again it generally does to some degree after nine hours of tending bar. I’m not that young anymore. If I was I’d be getting safely drunk in an after hours club and not being strapped down to a wooden plank.
“Uh, is this really necessary?”
“We gotta do this so you don’t sue us.” This delivered in much the same voice as a plumbing estimate. So much for plank side manner.
This leaves me staring straight up into the street light, completely immobile. Someone whispers something into my ear about a witness and sticks a scrap of paper into my hand as I, a newly spawned six-wheeled vehicle, am bumped into the back of the ambulance. Then we are away. Something seems wrong though, I mean besides the obvious. Wait, there’s no siren. My first ride in an ambulance and I don’t even rate a siren. What a sad and jaded city we have become when a pathetic accident victim doesn’t deserve a siren so that beautiful, yet momentarily soulful, young women can look and shudder and whisper a small prayer, their hushed entreaty lost in the purr of two sheer stocking-ed legs crossing slowly, arched high in the back seat of a limousine rank with the smell of leather and expense account companionship. The street light glistening coldly, reflected by a diamond pinky ring as it slides up slowly…
See, forgot about me already, didn’t you?
Anyway, I am interrupted from my Monica Bellucci fantasy by something one of the EMS techs has said, something about destination, something about…BELLEVUE! Or, as my suburban trained ears have always interpreted those two syllables, BEDLAM!.
After a five minute ride, which is just enough time for every Bellvue horror story headline to flash before my eyes, we lurch to a halt. I am bounced out on to the pavement and into the painfully bright light of the Emergency Room.
I’ve always made it a policy to keep to a minimum questions of syntax, or word usage, while having my pants removed by an attractive, unarmed, woman. Under different circumstances the lilting accent of the woman undoing my belt and slipping down my Levis could have been quite stimulating. But not this time, not with the attractive woman repeating in a disconcertingly loud voice that she will be sure to leave my “panties” on. I can only stare up into the lights so, of course, I’m sure everyone in the room is now staring in my direction. In less time than it takes to say “sweet transvestite” 15 years of hard-earned downtown cool desert me and I start hissing “UNDERpants, they’re called UNDERpants!” She just smiles, nods and repeats herself. Louder.
After the nice lady has removed my outer clothing, and assured everyone within fifty feet of my cross dressing proclivities, I recognize a growing pressure on my bladder that means I’ve got to urinate. Soon. Of course in my present condition of cranial immobility I can’t do anything as subtle as catch someone’s eye. Besides which it is becoming increasingly clear that my stoic bravery in the face of what, for all they know, could be an extremely painful injury is not gaining anyone’s respect. Or attention. On my left is a big guy, sitting up in bed, bellowing for the nurse and on the other side is a woman calling loudly, and incessantly, for someone named “Larry, Larry, Larry”. My feeble “Excuse me”‘s are just not getting the job done. I start to raise my voice and soon the people on both sides of me, in some sort of group empathy or competition, I can’t tell which, raise theirs. After a few minutes I have lost all sense of dignity, with reality packed and waiting, and find myself screaming “Nurse” along with the obvious faker on my left. Growing bored with this technique I try for something ear catching and start screaming “Moe!” and “Curly!” around the repeated wail from the right-hand bed. This makes me no friends but does get the attention of my publicist, who promises to get me something to “make pee-pee” in, employing the same subtle tones she used to inform the staff of my undergarment preference. Moments later I am presented with a wide mouth plastic bottle.
Okay. Now I’m an adult man which means, among many other things, that I’ve peed in some very bizarre places and circumstances. Nothing, however, prepared me for the daunting task of urinating while laying immobile in a brightly lit room full of screaming people who, I am now convinced, know exactly what I’m trying to do. Talk about performance anxiety. I close my eyes and try to imagine a waterfall, somewhere in the mountains, the sound of rushing water, a deep pool, the air filled with warm mist and there, in the clearing are two deer waiting to drink – alongside Larry King. Over there, in a small boat, is Larry Bird with Larry David. Through the trees I can see Larry Rivers at an easel and Larry Homes winding up to throw a punch. Soon there are Larry’s popping out all over the landscape like mushrooms. I finally give up my attempt at creative visualization when I see Lawrence of Arabia waving at me from atop the cliff.
Eventually, despite the screams, moans and ubiquitous Larry manifestations, I manage to “pee-pee” in the bottle. Greatly relieved I ask the nurse to please take it away but she informs me that it has to go with me, screws a cap on the container and wedges it next to me. I lay back, well, okay I relax my one ambulatory muscle, and drift off into semi consciousness.
Sometime later another nice lady comes and gives me an EKG. This is, she tells me, because I had said that my chest hurt. While she is greasing my chest and attaching electrodes to my nipples it occurs to me that it was probably most serendipitous that I had never mentioned the dull ache in my posterior. I pass my test, none the worse, unless you count the seven or eight graphite covered hickey’s now decorating my thorax.
More time passes. People scream less and less. The shift changes. I check my watch. It’s now 9:00 A.M.. I’m laying semi nude under a sheet, taped to a piece of wood with a cold bottle of my very own urine sticking into my side. This is not how I pictured my morning. And to top it all off – I have to pee again. Enough is enough.
I try squirming around and moaning softly in the hopes of getting someone’s attention. This fails and I finally give up and start tearing my neck brace off and unstrapping myself, feeling very much like a B-movie Frankenstein. A nurse finally notices me while I’m trying to wrestle my jeans on under the sheet and tells me not to move. I explain to her that I want to go home. I tell her that I’ve had enough. I do everything but sing “Exodus”. She tells me I have to sign a release that says I’m leaving against doctors orders. I ask how that is possible since in the three hours I’ve been there I haven’t seen a doctor but I sign anyway. I would have signed any number of war crime confessions at that point. I scribble something illegible and enter into the world of three dimensions once again. I find the nearest bathroom and get that pupils-disappearing-up-into-your-head satisfaction that only the relief of draining a full bladder, in a vertical position, can bring. I then stride defiantly out the door.
It’s 9:30 on Sunday morning. It’s raining and I’m standing at the E.R. entrance to Bellevue, which is about half a mile from the nearest avenue. Things look pretty grim when all of a sudden a yellow cab pulls up.
Well, like E.B. said…