Four months ago I started to experience neck pain followed by numbness and tingling sensations in my arms. A month ago I finally went in to see a doctor about these reoccurring problems. She diagnosed me with “Degenerative Disc Disease-Cervical” which is a fancy way of saying that the bones of my spinal cord in my neck are falling apart crushing my spinal discs and pinching my nerves.
So, I have a pain in the neck. Woo Hoo.
I have named that pain “Bob”. Why Bob? Well, for reasons I care not to go into right now, but some of you may already know or suspect why “Bob” was chosen as a name for this particular, non-curable pain.
This Blog though isn’t about “Bob” but it is about a serendipitous occurrence that came through a very painful moment with “Bob”.
The bone doctor has me in physical therapy twice a week, she wanted 3 times a week but I felt that would be a bit excessive and it wouldn’t fit within my work schedule. Heck, twice a week is a bit too much if you ask me. But, I go.
My torturor’s name is Zach and he has a fancy plaque with his name on it from “Tomas de Torquemada School of Professional Abuse, Torture and Inquiry”. It even reads, “Superiority through the excruciatingly painful removal of the testimonies of enemies, rivals, slaves and lower life forms. We reserve the right to perform mental anguish and Physical pain on our victims and heretics by depriving them of any of their misguided thoughts of personal rights and views for they are not equal to us and never will be.” There’s even an authentic replica signature of Pope Lucius III right next to a neat, little, shiny, gold-foil seal.
The days I have my body wrung through the wringer are Tuesdays and Thursdays, first thing in the morning. I like to have all my poking and prodding done at the start of the day, it makes me appreciate the rest of the day as a civil servant and waiter. When you think about it, there’s not that much difference between those two jobs. Maybe that’ll be Blog-Fodder for another day.
So, on Thursday as per my Doctor’s instructions I arrive at my Torturers dungeon and commence to the indignity, ineptitude, inconceivable, inappropriate and inane torture known as Physical Therapy. Go ME! After signing in I sit down and wait for my name to be called.
“Mr. Novak,” the impersonal voice of my torturer calls to me from nowhere. “Yes.” I reply as I squint my eyes and gaze into the void where the voice is emanating from, “It is time, come with me.” The faceless voice beckons from a mist filled hallway. I get up and start walking down that dark, dank hallway that reeks of sweat, fear, pain and black mold. I stumble and try to reach out with my arms to catch myself on the walls but they are covered with the slime of 10,000 pureed eyeballs of victims before me. An opaque hand with gnarled fingers that are tipped with bloodstained fingernails reach out of the fog and shoves me hard into the gore encrusted walls. “Careful there Mr. Novak, we can’t have you hurting yourself now. Can we?” the evil voice says. “Leave that for us.”
I shall not go into the type of torture I suffered at Zach’s hands after that, simply because I have blocked them from my memory. Although, I will say this, Zack muttered the word “Oops.” And I could barely move afterwards.
By the time I got to work I was nearly blind with pain and even the slightest turning of my head caused me to see white spots before my eyes. The good news is that the white spots looked like the ladies from Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Unfortunately it was the Amish version of the swimsuit issue.
My supervisor took one look at me in my hunched over and semi-paralyzed state of existence and told me to go home. I did not argue, which, looking back now seems like a major miracle. Imagine, ME actually listening to my supervisor AND not working. Yup, it’s true; the “End of Days” is here.
As I gimped my way to my trustee steed “TrnMan” I call my bride and inform her of my good fortune of an impromptu day off with pay to which she invites me to lunch. I almost balk but then decide it actually may be nice. So I say, “Certainly my bride, I would love to come spend time with you and enjoy a healthy meal in your most interesting and congenial company.” (Ok, that may be a slight exaggeration but I’m going to blame it on the painkillers that I’m currently taking.)
We hang up with each other and I continue on my semi-mobile way. TrnMan greets me with the enthusiasm of a puppy that has been left home alone for an hour and proceeds to start up immediately in the hopes of a cross-country road trip. I explain to him that we are just going home and resting, then, maybe if he is good I will take him to a mall parking lot so he can mingle with some German, Italian, Korean, Japanese and American cars and motorcycles. He was happy; he even tooted his horn in delight as we rode home. It makes me smile when TrnMan is happy.
I rested, I did laundry, I took out the trash, I played on the internet, and I got bored. Then a spark in inspiration struck me, why not go to my favorite cigar shop and see Chet the manager? I have time to kill and I rarely get over there during the work week. Plus it’s a block away from where I’m supposed to meet my wife. Brilliant! So I stumbled my way to TrnMan and off we rode. TrnMan knows the way there so I knew the autopilot would work perfectly.
Well, I suppose TrnMan had other ideas rolling around inside his engine mounts because when I looked up from my stupor we were not parked in the normal parking garage at Waterside, instead he chose to park us at the more well traveled MacArthur Mall garage. I dismounted and tethered him to the nice sunny spot where he stood “You sure about parking here?” I asked him “The last time we were here someone smacked your side and left a mark. Or did you get fresh with one of the Bavarian cars again and just not tell me?” I questioned rhetorically. He chirped at me as I walked away. A chirp that said he would be fine and if I came across a nice can of 10w-30 he would be happy to take care of it for me. I nodded, waved and looked for the entrance to the mall.
I stumbled my way into a mega-department store; all of my senses were assaulted immediately by the insane genius of the marketing department. The smell of the new clothes, shoes, perfume and chocolate all mingling into an intoxicating aroma that screams into my mind to open my wallet and let the sales reps feast greedily upon the plastic and green paper hidden within its supple leather folds. The overhead florescent lights so bright that if you look directly at them you go blind so you try to look elsewhere, to a softer gentler glow of light that is casting it’s mellow beams on the newest, most spectacular article of clothing or electronic accessory, all the while beaming straight into your cerebral cortex that you “MUST BUY THIS PIECE OF PLASTIC THAT WAS MADE IN A FORGIEGN COUNTRY BY UNDERAGE KIDS WORKING THEIR WAY THROUGH SCHOOL!”
I resist the urges and zigzag my way to the escalator that will carry my living carcass to the lower levels of consumer hell. As I step off the escalator with the grace of a wounded jackalope a sales associate attempts to get my attention by shoving shirts at me while telling me about the greatest sale in the company’s history. “Sir, you need to purchase this shirt!” She bellows to me, “It’s made from the hides of 21 pre-pubescent white seals. The texture is soft and supple. It just screams affluence and high-knobbiness! It would go wonderful with your Levi’s and your Chuck Taylors! BUY IT! NOW!”
I scream in fear and pain. I attempt to run but stumble into a clothing rack and send paisley printed shirts and sherbert colored slacks flying.
“Security!” I hear a voice yelling.
But, I don’t stop. I see light coming through a large set of doors and I head for it. My legs get tangled up in themselves and I find myself crawling through tears of anguish that is emanating from my neck. “Just want cigar.” I mumble, “Out. Need air. Can’t breathe.”
“Sir! you need to buy this shirt and the pants you just got dirty.” A voice booms. I ignore it. I am close to the door; I push, push and push. It doesn’t open. I feel sweat dripping down my forehead and into my eyes. I try to focus on my hands which have become tingly again. Thank you Bob. Then I see the sign, PULL TO OPEN, it reads, I heave with all my might and I am blasted in the face with fresh air. Joyous, wonderful, polluted air but it is fresher than the canned air they have been pumping into the store for eons. I turn to look behind me and I see the clerk shaking her fists at me as two shaved gorilla looking security guards stand in the wake of my destruction, scratching their low-browed heads in confusion.
I try to act nonchalant as I saunter to the corner, while at the same time Bob has decided that more pain and numbness in my extremities is needed. I can’t even lift my arms to push the pedestrian crossing button. My head is swimming while I try to figure out why it was such a good idea to leave my pain meds at home. I get to the corner and cross the street barely getting missed by a tractor trailer, a city bus, and a SmartForTwo, all of whom think it would be fun to blare their horns at me. I would flip them off if I could lift my arms or even control my fingers. But I can’t so I do the next best thing for them; I pray to God that their worst enemy wins the 100 million dollar lottery.
Two blocks to go. Two block to safety. Two blocks to sanity.
I turn the corner onto Granby Street and I can see the canopy of Emerson’s Cigar shop. My destination, my home away from home, my sanctuary. The one place where a person is allowed to still smoke inside with the company of new friends and old. Where, regardless of your political affiliation or gender, you get to say your piece as long as you allow someone with an opposing view to state theirs. A true bastion of intellectual freedom. No topic is off limits and no fisticuffs are allowed. Where if you have a bottle of hooch it’s there to be shared and cops have to check their badges at the door. A haven of freedom and equality. John Galt would live there if he could.
As I approach the door I peer inside the windows and I see Chet the manager standing at the register with his head down with his pipe hanging out of his mouth sending tendrils of smoke into the atmosphere only to be absorbed by the cherry wood cabinetry that is home to some of the best hand rolled cigars in the world. I open the door to the wonderful chiming sound of the bell that lets the proprietor know he has a customer. Chet looks up from his paperwork, over his eyeglasses and a smile that lights up his face brighter than the magnolia Hawaiian print shirt he is wearing and says “Skip, my man! How are you?”
“I’m good Chet, nice to see you. Hope all is well in your world.”
“It is, it is. What brings you in on a Thursday?”
“I need to relax and try to get comfortable.” I reply
“Well here man, try this new cigar.” He states and hands me one of the largest sticks I’ve ever seen. “Oh, yeah and here have this too.” He says and then opens a box filled with 13 Coconut Encrusted Colossal Shrimp that have been skewered on what can only be described at tree branches. The shrimp themselves were bigger than my hands and had more coconut fried onto them than the trees they harvested the coconuts from. I didn’t know what do first. Eat. Light up my cigar. Try to sit down. Give Chet a hug. I opted to eat first. It hid the tears of joy that were close to erupting from my eyeballs.
More friends streamed in the place, more food was brought out, bruchetta with fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes that were basted in extra virgin olive oil. Drinks magically appeared and the conversation never slacked. The television was magically turned off and the entire room filled with a comfort that was shared by all. My hour and fifteen minutes spent there seemed to work magic on my soul, my pain, my psyche. Even Bob had a good time and decided to take it easy for a while.
When it came time for me to leave I said my goodbyes to Chet and the others who were still sitting around enjoying the bubble of comfort that keeps the evil of the world at bay. I left with happiness and joy in my heart. Off on another adventure but this one with my wife and our lunch together. A lunch where we would connect and rediscover our friendship for each other. Much like the discovery and friendship I received from Chet at Emerson’s.
As I re-read this blog I realize that I have gone on and on and if you, my dear reader, have hung out this far then you know I have. I apologize for this and I think I will do an honor to Led Zepplin and rename myself, at least temporarily, “Ramblin’ Man.”
Have a great week.