The Day I Met Joey Slotnick
I’ve always thought the world revolved around me. I don’t think that’s unusual for a child, especially an only child, but it’s a trait that most of us outgrow around the age of eight. Or twelve. Or sometime before the age of twenty six. Going unpicked when they choose up sides for kickball games in P.E. for two years running tends to shatter that image. Especially when your best friend is the captain. And you pay him $2 to pick you. And the last choice comes down to you and the Stephen Hawking clone in the wheelchair. So what if he understands particle physics and the space-time continuum? He can’t kick.
When I claimed illness my mom would take me to Beth Israel or Mount Sinai for diagnostics. Traffic be damned. Rush hour on the FDR Drive was of little consequence when this was life or death. My parents knew people on the boards, so appointments were never a problem. We showed up and got whisked away from the truly sick, the truly needy—the guy with a knife sticking out of the side of his head, the woman oozing bilious green fluid from her side—and were sent to a quiet room where a young, eager doctor would check me out.
Before he would introduce himself, my mother would cut him off, taking out a legal pad from her handbag, suggesting exotic diseases. “He claims his stomach aches, Doctor. Could it be dysentery? Maybe cholera?” It was like she came up with diseases after watching me lose one too many games of Oregon Trail.
“Then dengue, perhaps? Or the plague?” My mom was once convinced that I had Endomentriosis until the doctor explained the high improbability due to my lack of a uterus. (She had me take the test done anyway, just to be safe).
I wondered where she came up with these diseases, if she studied the Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedias that gathered mold in our basement. (Funk from the Latin, meaning the earthy mood of jazz or soul as played by James Brown, and Wagnalls from the Flemish, meaning a cheap imitation of Encyclopedia Brittanica).
She was so sure that I was unwell, seriously unwell, that I was on my deathbed, that she could cause a panic. Pandemonium. Sometimes she would so spook the doctor with her facile memorization of symptoms that he, a man with an advanced degree, Ph.D. in being a doctor, would have to confer with an older, more experienced physician before confirming that I was fine. But she had me so sufficiently scared from her diagnosis that even when I knew I was healthy going in, I wasn’t so sure on the way out.
On days when she couldn’t take off from work and drive me to a hospital, I was sent to Dr. Cohen, my local pediatrician, where invariably I was given a lollipop and a test for strep throat. I went once claiming food poisoning and was given a lollipop and a strep test. The lollipop I could understand. But what was it about sticking a cotton swab down your esophagus that made a doctor feel like a man?
I wasn’t sick. There was no reason to breathe in someone else’s germs. Most of the other kids were all right; they were in the same boat I was. We’d look at each other and nod.
“Yeah, long division. You?”
”Paper on the American Indians.”
So pretending to be sick at home was not an option. I had no choice but to bypass the parent system altogether. But I had a plan. I had an in. Her name was Mrs. Segal.
So whenever there was an exam for which I hadn’t sufficiently studied, or a homework assignment I hadn’t completed, I excused myself from class, marched my little self down to her office and proclaimed myself sick. Not actually being sick, that might have been a problem. But lacking tangible symptoms such as a fever, chicken pox, or a trail of gastric discharge, I went with the old reliable, the unprovable: I had a headache. A bad one. The biggest, hugest, most mind-blowing headache known to man. I wasn’t known for hyperbole in elementary school, but I could moan and hold my head with the best of them.
Mrs. Segal, being a kind older woman, probably knew I was lying but allowed me to stay. She fed me aspirin and put up a pot of coffee while we spoke and played gin rummy for a nickel a hand. Because of this there are entire gaps in my elementary education, voids that haunt me to this day (for example: multiplication tables, The War of 1812).
But on the plus side, I knew which teacher was an unwed mother, that the principal’s daughter was caught in the bathroom smoking pot, and I could recite the intimate details of the Spalding clan from Guiding Light. I could have been learning, but I was in Mrs. Segal’s office, playing cards and drinking coffee. And in the end, what better preparation for life is there than shirking responsibility while gambling and schmoozing and getting a caffeine fix?
Morning was presumably like a morning at any other school, only compressed to cram all of the English language subjects into half a day. From the hours of eight till twelve, we tackled our reading, our penmanship, our social studies. The afternoon was in Hebrew, where in addition to learning the guttural language, we passed notes and poked fun at the little Israeli man in the front of the room. We also studied the Bible, the history of Israel, and inexplicably, presumably because it is the international language, math.
But we loved Phys Ed. We had co-ed lockers for Phys Ed a year before we had health class, so while we didn’t know what we were looking at, or why we were looking at it, it was the highlight of our weeks.
In the fourth grade, they hired a full-time science teacher, Mrs. McCall. She was good, but strict. Being Catholic, naturally she had been disciplined by ruler, beaten by nuns, and we knew better than to mess with her. We didn’t judge her, as this was what she knew; she was one of them. The school board knew this, but none of the Jewish teachers wanted the gig, so they said what the hey.
But Mrs. McCall had two things going against her at this very Jewish of schools. One, she was named Mrs. McCall. Mrs. Christine McCall. Of the McCalls of St. Paul, Minnesota. The second, she was pregnant. As it turned out, very pregnant. And being pregnant while being a McCall was apparently not the best career move for a science teacher at the Midwood Day School.
But this concept of the world not revolving around me is an important one for me now; I have a girlfriend currently, and we try with our might to make sure that these two planets don't collide.
My girlfriend spent last night at my place and invariably when she comes over I’m unable to sleep. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I don’t like people watching me when I sleep. It’s a fear I’ve had since childhood and goes a long way toward explaining how I sleepwalked through my first two years of undergrad sharing a room with an odd boy with freakishly long fingernails who might or might not have stared at me in my sleep.
Being an only child, I had my own room, and the thought of sharing a room repulsed me. I refused to go to sleep-away camp for fear of bunking up with other kids and being subject to wet willies, or pantsing, or the trick with your hand in warm water. I don’t know what happens when one person is asleep and the other person is not. And I don’t want to know.
So perhaps that fear that explains why I can’t sleep when she comes over. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that I tend to sleep diagonal, stretching from one corner to the other. You’d think a Queen-sized bed would be fine for two people of normal proportions. But it’s not. Also, you’d think meds would help. But they haven’t kicked in yet. I’ll give them another week.
I tell her, “When we’re married, you’ll have to do some of the cooking.” Or, “When we’re married and on a budget, you’ll have to buy the cheap bread. The Albertson’s $0.99 loaf.” I don’t care if she likes the seven grain bread from Trader Joe’s that costs $3.89. If her mom wants to buy it for her, fine. But not on my dime. It’s bread. Bread. One grain will do. How many grains does one man need?
Sometimes, if I talk with the baker, he gives me some post-dated rolls for free. He winks as he bags it up for me. So what if it has white spots after the first day—that’s protein. Mold? That’s vegetables. Its green, isn’t it? When I go to the bakery I don’t just get bread, I get the whole food pyramid.
(Did I say that? Or just think that? Seriously, when she reads this—which she will—I’m looking forward to a twenty minute chat about whether or not I was kidding and then she’ll ask if I think her kid sister is cuter than her. This will be followed by a dissertation about how every joke has a grain of truth. My response: Just a grain? How about seven? She’ll storm out of the room.) But that’s okay. I tell her I want to marry her and everything is golden. That phrase implies permanence. That shows I care.
He was walking his dog, unless it was someone else’s dog. Maybe he was researching a role. The role of a man with a dog. He could be taking this acting thing seriously. Method all the way. Bob DeNiro has nothing on him. I’ll check the credits after the next romantic comedy: Joey Slotnick...Man with dog.
Or maybe he was hard up for cash and answered an ad on Craig’s List: Television Star wanted to walk daschund.