An excerpt from The Spectacular Simon Burchwood, a novel by Scott Semegran
I tried to call Jessica several times but she never answered her phone or returned my calls. She was really starting to piss me off. I mean, who the hell did she think she was, wanting to move to Dallas and take our kids? It was all a goddamn mess. It's true. And I'm sure Sammie and little Jessica didn't appreciate it either. All of their little friends were here in Austin. Their school was here. Their life was here. Their father was here. I imagined that they would have no interest in moving to Dallas away from everything they knew. But, then again, kids have no choice in the matter. They will do what they're fucking told to do and my kids were no different. They were good kids. It's true.
After getting the go ahead from my supervisor Rod, I realized I had one thing to do before leaving town. I had to go see my doctor. Weird, huh? Well, not really. I'm getting old, you know? It's true. This slightly pudgy, slightly balding "Adonis" isn't going to stay beautiful forever. Ha! Besides, everyone needs to go see their doctor every once and a while. It is a goddamn moral imperative. I made the appointment a couple of months ago after realizing I hadn't seen my doctor in quite some time, maybe before all my divorce bullshit. I had been compiling a list of ailments and weird goings-on with my body and health in general and I felt I really needed to discuss them with Dr. Todd, especially before leaving town. I call him Dr. Todd because his last name is so unruly and filled with dozens of unnecessary consonants that I'm not even going to waste precious keyboard strokes trying to spell it out for you. Just trust me, his last name is a goddamn Polish disaster. It's true. But Dr. Todd is a kind man with a caring way about him and I rather enjoy talking to him, even though I'm sure he will be examining my nutsack or prodding his finger in my poop shoot at some point today. Great. Just great.
Here, in no particular order, was the list of things that were bothering me over the last few years: constipation, left eye twitch, hemorrhoids, upset stomach, random headaches, weight gain, hair loss, weird dreams (duh!), knee pain, seasonal allergies, lower back pain, etcetera, so on and so forth. It was a pretty goddamn long list of ailments and nuisances but they were things that were really bothering me. I mean, especially for a writer, having distractions of the bodily nature can really put a damper on your creative spirit and literary output. Nothing is worse than a raging case of hemorrhoids to ruin a marathon writing session. You can't sit down for more than 15 goddamn minutes at a time when you have burning blisters poking out your asshole. It's true.
Anyway, I drove over to Dr. Todd's office. I pulled my car into the office building parking lot and parked in the back. The building was a pretty nondescript place tucked away behind a group of these massive oak trees in a decent part of town. Dr. Todd had his office here for years before I became his patient and I'm sure it would be here for years to come. On the outside, the building looked like one huge metal and glass box but on the inside, it was an elaborate maze of offices connected by a serpentine hallway that zigged and zagged in no justifiable way. If I didn't already know where his office was then it would be damn near impossible to find. I wondered if that was on purpose. Doctors do some sneaky shit like that sometimes. It's true.
I found his office after walking through the maze of hallways and entered quietly, standing next to the front desk. A nurse was sitting there, busy with something. She wore pink scrubs that had Winnie the Pooh and Tigger on them and her hair was long and blonde and styled in a way that reminded me of the TV sitcom moms from the 1980s. She didn't seem to notice me and I stood there for what seemed like a goddamn eternity while she scribbled on some forms on a clipboard. They must have been pretty goddamn important forms because she was carefully and intently filling in the boxes and checking other boxes and crossing her t's and dotting her i's and examining the hell out of that paperwork. Time really seems to stand still when you're waiting unnoticed for something. It's true. I decided to stop the madness and tap on the desk so she would notice me. I think I startled her. She about jumped out of her goddamn seat.
"Oh! I didn't see you there," she said, straightening herself, fixing her 1980s hairdo.
"I'm so sorry. And you are?"
"Simon. Simon Burchwood."
"And do you have an appointment this morning, Mr. Burchwood?"
"Yes I do. It's at 9:00am. And call me Simon. Mr. Burchwood is so formal."
She put down her important paperwork and typed something on her computer, mousing here and clicking around there. I couldn't quite place which 1980s actress she reminded me of but she reminded me of someone. Meredith Baxter Birney, maybe? I couldn't figure it out. I knew it was going to drive me crazy until I figured it out. It's true.
"Yes, Mr. Burch... I mean, Simon. I see you here in our system for a 9:00am appointment. Do you have your health insurance card?"
"No. I don't have insurance anymore."
"Oh. You don't have health insurance?"
"Is that a problem?" I asked, a little perplexed. Losing your job and losing your benefits really puts a kink in things, doesn't it? My benefits with the State of Texas weren't going to start for 90 days after my first day on the job which meant zero health insurance for me for 90 days. I decided right then and there that I was going to have to be extra careful over the next 90 days and not lop off a finger or smash a toe or get into a car wreck. I would be royally fucked then without health insurance if a major medical problem came up. It's true.
"I don't imagine... it will be a problem. Will you be paying cash?"
"OK. Wait one moment." She typed some more on her computer. She looked confused about something. Whatever it was, she didn't tell me. Figures. "Thanks Mr. Burchwood... I mean Simon. Have a seat in the waiting room." She flashed me a bullshit smile which told me she knew something I didn't know which probably meant I was going to be in serious trouble when the bill for this visit showed up in my mailbox. Shit! Or as good ol' Sammie would say: Shmit.
The waiting room was spacious with big, poofy couches and a coffee table covered with a mound of crappy gossip magazines. Here I was in a fine goddamn business establishment and they had a pile of bullshit celebrity magazines wasting space. Nothing was lower on the publishing scale of importance than gossip magazines. It's true. Well, I would imagine those novelty rolls of toilet paper with one-liner jokes printed on them may be lower but not by much. With all the fine literature in the world (including literary masterpieces by yours truly), why anyone would buy this crap about some actress' cellulite on her ass or some actor's worthless marriage to a costar or some TV celebrity's gay skeletons in his closet or some singer's drug-fueled rampage is beyond me? It was really a goddamn shame, a waste of dead trees. It's true. The only thing gossip magazines were good for was reading in the can because you didn't have to think too much while reading them. Thinking too much in the can will make for a long sitting.
As soon as I got myself comfortable on a poofy couch, a middle-aged woman entered the office, dragging an over-sized purse on the ground and holding the hand of her booger-eating little boy. He couldn't have been older than five years old. He immediately locked his beady eyes with mine as he waved a red lollipop in the air with his free hand like a magician's wand. I knew that little bastard was going to cause trouble. I could just tell. His mother released his hand, demanding that he be good, and he made a beeline for the coffee table. He slid a portion of the magazines off the coffee table and stuck his gooey lollipop on a copy of People Magazine, right on top of Oprah Winfrey's face. Bullseye!
"What's your name?" he asked me, shoving his index finger up his crusty nostril. I didn't respond at first, mesmerized at the tenacity of his nose digging. He was really going at it! I was speechless. "What's your name?" he asked again.
"Oh. My name is Simon."
"I have a friend named Simon. He has a dog that rubs his butt on the carpet."
"Matthew!" his mother barked, looking pissed and tired and stressed. The nurse giggled. "Sit down and be quiet."
Matthew the Booger Eater pulled his lollipop from the magazine, ripping Oprah's face off, and plopped on the couch next to me. He smelled of sugar and curdled milk and Lysol and chicken nuggets. He picked at the glossy paper stuck to his lollipop, perplexed on how it got there. His little beady eyes were as blue as an afternoon summer sky in west Texas.
"Yes?" I replied, pulling my arms in close. He was nudging his way toward me, invading my personal space. It was kind of annoying. It's true.
"Do you know what 1 + 1 is? It's 2. Do you know what 2 + 2 is?" He looked at me with a seriousness seldom seen in adults. He looked as if he knew the answers to all of mankind's problems. "It's 4! Do you know what 4 + 4 is?"
"No. What is 4 + 4?" I asked.
"I don't know but when I find out I'll tell you. I like you mister," he said, jumping up from the couch, dancing a little jig, and shoving the pile of magazines around, some more sliding off the coffee table. The little bastard was starting to make a real mess.
"Matthew!" his mother snapped again, still stressed, still red in the face. It looked like her head was going to explode. "Be quiet!"
Matthew the Booger Eater looked down, ashamed for a moment. But that only lasted a second or two. He giggled and smiled and continued shoving the magazines around on the coffee table.
"Hey mister?" he whispered, obeying his mother's command to be quiet. "Did you know... that..." Suddenly, he stood upright, a look of concern on his face, grave concern. He was completely frozen, the way a cat looks when you grab it by its scruff. His eyes glazed over a bit as he stared off in the distance, his body tense. Then he farted, loudly, sending him into hysterics. I don't know what it is about farts that make kids go crazy but the sound of a good fart always makes a kid laugh. It's true.
"Matthew Broderick Jones!" his mother commanded. "Get over here this instant!" She hurried to complete her paperwork, annoyed that her son was acting like, well, acting like a five year old. What did she expect for him to do? Act like he was getting ready to meet the goddamn Queen of England or some shit like that?
He ran around the coffee table to me and pulled at my shirt, pulling me close to him. He cupped his hand to my ear, whispering seriously.
"I pooped in my pants a little," he said, standing upright, looking gravely serious again, as if he told me something that only my ears were meant to hear. He nodded an acknowledgment to me before his mother grabbed him by the collar and dragged him from the waiting room, pulling him quickly out the door. "Mommy, my lollipop! Mommy! I left my lollipop!"
And that was that of Matthew Broderick Jones the Booger Eater. I truly believe all children suffer from a mild case of Tourette syndrome and offer socially inappropriate remarks without a thought or care in the world. What else could it be that would allow them to talk about pooping in their pants to complete strangers without any shame or concern? It's true. Matthew Broderick Jones the Booger Eater was no different than any other little kid his age. Sammie once told me at a large family gathering, loudly in front of all his relatives, that his ding dong was like a water hose and that he "watered" his grandma's potted plants in the foyer of her house. He thought the plants could use a little "drink." He was very proud of his multi-purpose ding dong and his thoughtful deed. What a kid! I love him to death though. It's true.
Pretty soon the nurse stood up and called my name and I knew it was my turn to see Dr. Todd. She motioned for me to enter through a door next to the desk so I did, quietly closing it behind me after I went through. I followed her to a room at the end of the hall and when we got inside, she asked me to sit on the examination table. The paper lining covering the table crinkled and crackled as I sat my pudgy ass on it. It was kind of embarrassing how loud it was. It startled the nurse, who seemed to really be on edge for some reason. Every time I did something, she was startled. It was making me fucking crazy. It's true.
"Dr. Todd will be in shortly," she said, leaving abruptly, slamming the door. What a bitch! Did the fact that I didn't have health insurance bother her that much? How unprofessional! I decided right then and there that when Dr. Todd came in that I would discuss her unprofessional demeanor with him. When they were passing out bedside manners at nursing school she must have been asleep in her dorm room, hung over from a night of keg stands and promiscuous make out sessions with strange fraternity brothers. It's true.
The examination room was sparsely decorated, a few framed photos of the Texas coast on the walls, maybe of Port Aransas or South Padre Island or Galveston. There was a desk in the corner and that was pretty much it. Dr. Todd's decoration budget must have mostly gone to the waiting room and the poofy couches and the subscriptions to all the bullshit gossip magazines, obviously not to the examination room. But I did notice something curious on the desk. Next to a couple of glass containers with Q-Tips and tongue depressors in them was an ash tray. What a weird thing to see in an examination room. Now, I know in the old days that doctors used to smoke their asses off while giving you an examination but those days were long gone. The sight of a doctor smoking nowadays would no doubt send his or her patients reeling and mobilize them to file a class-action lawsuit or call their local news channel or some shit like that. I hopped off the examination table and opened the cabinet above the desk and lo and behold, there was a bottle of whiskey in there: Jack Daniel's Black Label Whiskey. I couldn't believe my goddamn eyes! What the hell was going on? It didn't matter because I heard some foot steps outside so I shut the cabinet and hopped back on the examination table, the paper covering the table crinkling and crackling all over the goddamn place. I did it so fast that I was short of breath like I had run a 40-yard dash or something. It's true.
"Mr. Simon Burchwood. How the hell are you?" asked Dr. Todd, extending his hand for a shake. He looked exactly how I'd remembered him, kind of like an 80s era Tom Selleck, moustache, tan, and all. He was a good-looking fellow. It's true. Lucky bastard. "Why are you out of breath, buddy?"
"Oh, I don't know. Nervous I guess."
"Nervous? That's ridiculous." He walked over to his desk and plopped on a stool, organizing some papers on the desk, pushing aside the ash tray. I wondered if he knew that I knew that he had a bottle of whiskey in the cabinet. I bet he did. "How are your kiddos?"
"Fine. I think. Their mother told me that she's moving to Dallas and taking them with her. I'm very upset about it."
"What?" He seemed really thrown by that for some reason. He started scratching his head like he had a really bad case of dandruff, scratching all over.
"That's what she told me the other day." I said.
"Why is that strange?"
"Well..." he said, scratching his head some more. Boy, he was really going at it to, like a dog going after a tick. "She was in here recently, with your kiddos, getting a physical exam. She didn't mention anything about it. I asked her if any life changes were coming up and she said no. Strange indeed."
"Yes, strange indeed," I said, kind of sarcastically but he didn't notice. He was too busy scratching his goddamn scalp.
"What about you? Any life changes since you last came in?"
"Well, I did get divorced. You knew that, right?"
"No, I did not. Sorry to hear that."
"You didn't know that?"
"No, sad to say."
"And Jessica didn't mention anything about that either?"
"No, she did not. Strange." He picked up a clipboard from the desk and jotted down notes and checked boxes here and filled in squares there. He was very thorough, I could tell. "Please take off your shirt for the examination."
As I took off my shirt and exposed my fat gut I thought it weird that Jessica had been here recently (with the kids no less!) and hadn't mentioned any of these things to Dr. Todd, particularly since moving to another city with your goddamn kids is a pretty major fucking life change in my opinion. It's true. And what a strange coincidence that she was here too recently, with the kids, seeing Dr. Todd, just like me. It was all getting to be too much to take. I felt like I was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown, an A-class, full-on, mental meltdown. It's true.
"Have you quit smoking?" asked Dr. Todd.
"Sure, yes. Well, no. Pretty much."
"Pretty much? What does that mean?" he asked, pressing his stethoscope against my chest, then my back, then my chest again.
"Once and a blue moon, I'll have a cigarette. Is that so bad?"
"If you smoke, even one cigarette, then you haven't quit smoking."
"You need to quit by the time you're 40 or else it's impossible to quit. I can't help you after that."
"OK." What a crock of shit. Here I was being told to quit smoking by a doctor who had an ashtray on his desk in his examination room. Pretty goddamn ridiculous if you ask me. It's true. "I'll do my best."
"I'll give you some samples of nicotine gum when you leave. And how about the booze? Still drinking?" he asked, sticking one of those ear-thingies in my ear. What do you call them? Otoscope! It was like aliens were taking a peek into my brain. He was shoving that thing so far into my ear that my goddamn ear drums were ringing.
"Simon?" he said, sitting upright on his stool, placing his hands on his sides. I had a feeling that a scolding was coming on. I could tell. "You and I both know you like to drink. No excuses, buddy."
OK, all right. I have a little bit of a drinking problem. Well, more appropriately, I had a little bit of a drinking problem. Shit, I don't know. It comes and it goes. There are periods in my life when I don't drink a drop of booze. Then there are periods in my life when I'm swimming in alcohol. What can I say? When I'm with my kids, I'm happy and I don't drink at all, not even a fancy-pantsy Pina Colada. But (and this is a BIG but) there are times when I'm alone and I'm reflecting on my divorce and I honestly wonder what the fuck I'm doing here at this point in my life. I never in a million years would have thought after marrying my true love that I would EVER be divorced. It's true. That's how I knew I was in love. The devastation after my divorce truly sent me into a tailspin and I still haven't recovered. Pretty stupid, huh? I guess most people would assume that I would go all bachelor-crazy and try to fuck everything that moves but that's just no fun at all after being in love. I mean, when you're a kid and you don't know what true love is then fucking every skank that comes you're way seems like so much fun. And it is, I guess, in a shallow, barbarian kind of way. But to someone who thinks a lot, and being that I'm a writer and all, there just is no meaning in a life where your ding dong does all the thinking and the doing. That's what makes us humans so special: the thinking, and the feeling, in addition to the fucking. I've never heard of no ostrich who thinks about its place in the universe or some goddamn ant eater who feels true love for another goddamn ant eater. If all you want to do is go fuck everything that moves then go live with a community of chimpanzees because that's all they do. It's that simple. But recovering from divorce, that's a pretty goddamn hard thing to do, it really is. I guess, in many ways, I'm really not as sharp as I think I am sometimes. If I was, then I wouldn't drink so much when I was feeling down. There have been times when I was pretty down, down in the dumps of self-pity and shame, and drank a twelve-pack of beer in one sitting. It's true.
"You're right, Doc. But I haven't had much to drink lately. I've been trying really hard. You have to believe me."
"Do you remember the time I saw you at the bar?"
"You told me some story about how you were going to New York, going to read from your book to some large group of adoring fans, at a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan. Do you remember?"
"Are you asking me if I remember seeing you at a bar or if I went to New York?"
"Does it really matter? Do you remember?"
"I remember... some things."
"OK. Do you remember seeing me at the bar that time?"
"You were drunk out of your mind."
"You were so drunk that your eyes were empty, blank sockets. You had completely checked out. Nobody was home."
"I'm surprised, now that I think about it, that you made it home alive. And you don't remember that night?"
"No. I don't."
"Then, as your doctor, I'm telling you, get your act together."
"Otherwise, you'll be dead. You want your children to be fatherless?"
"Do you want them to know you were a drunken suicidal degenerate?"
"Then take the nicotine gum, lay off the booze, and straighten up. You have a lot of potential to do great things. So do it. And put your shirt back on."
Oh, shit. Sometimes when your life is summarized into a few bad decisions it can make you seem like the ultimate loser. It's true. Think about all the bad decisions you've made in your entire lifetime, all of them. Do you have them all listed in your mind? I'll wait a moment while you dust off the memories of bad relationships, bad choices, bad jobs, all of it. OK. Now, how would you feel if someone plucked out a couple of choice boo-boos from your life and summarized where you are today because of them? What a pile of shit, right? It's enough to make you want to end it all because what's the point of being a loser? Maybe. But you know what? It did get me thinking. I did have the potential to be great. I knew that. Sometimes, you just have to take some constructive criticism and turn things around. Sometimes, you just have to take a good look at yourself, shake off the mistakes, and make another run at it. Life is too short to sit around like a sad bastard. It's true. I decided right then and there that I would take Dr. Todd's advice and turn things around. The time was now.
"OK. I'll do it," I said.
"Good. Let me get you some nicotine gum for when you have a craving to smoke." He went over to the cabinet and opened it. Right there, on the bottom shelf, was the bottle of whiskey. He pushed it aside, looking for the cigarette gum. I couldn't resist. I just had to say something. If he was going to be a judgmental bastard, then why couldn't I be a judgmental bastard? It's true.
"What is that?"
"Right there. That bottle?"
"Oh, this?" He pulled out the bottle of whiskey and turned red in the face. Boo-yah! Explain that, you self-righteous bastard! "Oh, it's nothing."
"Nothing?" I asked, confused. "Really?"
"You know, Simon. The best advice I can give you is do what I say, not what I do. Didn't your parents ever tell you that?"
"Good. The nurse will have your invoice on the way out. Have a good day." He placed the bottle back in the cabinet and closed the door. "Make sure to schedule an appointment for next year, same time."
I left the examination room feeling like shit. Who was I to be a judgmental bastard? I mean, Dr. Todd was just trying to help me. He really was. I can see that now. But sometimes it's hard taking advice from someone who is obviously just as fucked up as you are. It's true.