Jan. 1, 1995

High Cholesterol

By
Josh Becker

 

       Burt gets a letter from his doctor saying it's time for a check-up.  The letter goes on to say that since Burt's cholesterol tested rather high at his last check-up--two hundred--it, too, must be checked again.  Since Burt has a health plan through the furniture store where he works, he calls his doctor's office and makes an appointment.

* * * * *

       A week later Burt is sitting in his doctor's waiting room reading National Geographic.  He tries to mentally disassociate himself from the other patients.  He does not want to be any part of a group including: an extremely fat woman; a very old, weazy, arthritic man; and a suspicious-looking, bespectacled girl.  Burt reads about environmental disasters in Russia, with a two-page photo of ten, cute, similarly deformed, one-armed children standing in a row.
       "Burt Fielding?" the nurse inquires.
       Burt jumps to his feet.  "That's me!"
       "Why am I so eager?" he thinks.  "Not eager, exactly, more like frightened.  Doctor's offices are insecure places.  It's all bad news as far as I'm concerned."
       Burt follows the nurse into an examing room, where he is left to choose between sitting on the clean white paper covering the examination table or sit on the stool?  He sits on the stool.  Spins around, checks things out. The doctor enters.  Burt jumps to his feet again.  "Burt."
       "Dr. Weinstock, good to see you."  Burt shakes the doctor's hand firmly.
       "How's your mother?"
       "Fine.  Living in Arizona."
       "Scottsdale?"
       "Right."
       "How old are you now, Burt?"
       "Thirty-five."
       "Still single?"
       "Yup."
       "So . . ." Dr. Weinstock looks down at Burt's file.  ". . .Your cholesterol level was getting pretty high the last time you were here."
       Burt nods shamefully.
       "Two hundred, actually," says the doctor.
       "Yes, well," says Burt.  "I've switched to I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, Egg-Beaters, skim milk.  I really do think I've brought my cholesterol level down."
       "That's good," says Dr. Weinstock, seeming to neither believe nor disbelieve.  He proceeds to give Burt a standard check-up.  When he's done the nurse comes in to take Burt's blood for the cholesterol test.
       The doctor asks: "By the way, have you had an AIDS test?"
       Burt shakes his head slowly.
       "Have it done now," recommends Dr. Weinstock.
       Burt frowns, then shrugs.  "Sure, why not."
       The doctor tells the nurse to take an extra test tube of blood.
       As the nurse puts the rubber tube around Burt's arm, he suddenly looks quite nervous.  The nurse smiles.  "I can't dance or sing or act, but I can do this, now don't go passing out on me, okay?"
       Burt shakes his head.  "No, I won't."  As his blood is drawn he starts thinking . . .
       ". . . I'm damn near certain I don't have AIDS.  I mean, of course not.  The only ones that get AIDS are gay or Haitian, or people that got bad blood transfusions.  I'm not gay, I'm not Haitian, and I haven't had any blood transfusions at all, I should be all right . . ."

* * * * *

       Burt walks across the parking lot massaging the sore spot in the crook of his arm.
       ". . . Hell, I don't get laid that much anymore.  God forbid it does happen, it's always with a condom.  Still condoms aren't perfect.  Let's face it, there were even a few times in there without them.  Hey!  It happened, and there's not a damn thing to be done now.  Unfortunately, one of those times without just so happened to be with Sherri Loesser.  God only knows who she's been with?  Probably the entire punk underground of the Detroit metropolitan area.
       Hmmmmm . . . ?"

* * * * *

       Burt drives home with a furrowed brow.  He is impatient, honks his horn and swears at fellow motorists.
       ". . . What if I do have AIDS?  I might have ten years left, but probably not.  Seven is more like it.  What can you do in seven years?  Alexander conquered the world.  Since I don't even have plans for this weekend, I doubt I'll do anything quite that grand.  Seven years, then die.  Would anyone care?  That's the big question.
       Jesus, I'm starting to sound like Hamlet . . ."
       Burt honks his horn.  "Move it, ya stupid shithead!"

* * * * *

       Burt furrows his brow again.  "What the hell was the name of that girl I picked-up at that party?  . . . No idea. We were both shit-ass drunk and ended up in the backseat of her car.  I don't think we used a condom, either.  Shit!  I can't even remember her name.  How the hell am I supposed to know who she's been with?  I don't even know who she is.  She might go out every single night of the week, get plastered, pick guys up and screw 'em in the backseat of her car.  Oh man . . ."

* * * * *

       Burt gets home, looks through his fridge.  He finds damn little except TV dinners.  He reads the cholesterol count on the back of a turkey dinner--20mg.--is that a lot?  Burt sighs and throws it in his gigantic, ancient, Amana Radar-Range, sets the timer for a couple of minutes.  He flees the room so as not to absorb escaping microwaves.
       "There was that other girl, too, the one I met at an evening pottery class I took specifically to meet women.  Well, I met her, whatever her name was, and we went home to bed.  She was cute, too.  We sat in our underwear afterward eating Lorna Doones at the kitchen table.  She ate too many and got sick to her stomach.
       Son of a bitch!  What's wrong with me?"

* * * * *

       Lying in bed that night, Burt can't sleep.  "For a guy that doesn't get laid very much, once you try to track it over the course of seven or ten years, there are a lot of ugly possibilities.  I mean, there was that blind date several years ago--Carol Somebody--and even though I'm generally the total gentleman on first dates, and usually don't even try to kiss the women, Carol and I ended up doing it on the couch.  I didn't call her back, either.  If she put out for me on the first date, she'll probably put out for anyone on the first date.  Fuckin'-A!  This is all getting worse and worse . . ."

* * * * *

       Burt sits on the floor in the backroom of the furniture store, wearing a suit and tie, putting together a dining room table.  He holds an Allen wrench in one hand and a table leg in the other as he stares into space.
       ". . . And what about Kate Cummings?  She was beautiful, and our relationship exploded in two weeks, although we did have sex once.  That's probably what caused the end of the relationship.  Still, she was beautiful.  Beautiful women can have as much sex as they'd like whenever they'd like it with whomever they like.
       So where does that leave me?"

* * * * *

       Burt sits smoking a cigarette at his kitchen table at three-thirty in the morning.
       ". . . O.K., so you die and that's it.  Over with.  Done.  Maybe there is a heaven and hell, and we're judged by our actions in life, but I kind of fucking doubt it.  Or reincarnation, possibly.  With my luck I'll come back on the endangered species list.  Or maybe it's all one big stream of consciousness, and we are all momentary physical manifestations of this consciousness . . .
       Oh, shit!  Why would I fuck Sherri Loesser without a rubber?  I've got to be out of my fucking mind!  I'm deranged!  My genes don't deserve to stay in the gene pool.  Nobody as stupid as me deserves to reproduce."
       Burt goes to his cupboard.  He removes a bottle of Bacardi black.  He makes himself a rum and diet Coke--a stiff one, and takes a big belt.

* * * * *


       The next day after work Burt arrives home, takes off his tie and listens to the messages on his machine.
       Beep!  "Hello, Burt?  This is Dr. Weinstock.  Could you please give me a call.  I think it's important.  Thank you."
       Burt looks at the clock, it's already seven.  He calls the doctor's office anyway and gets a recording--they're closed.
       The walls of his apartment come crushing in on him.  "'I think it's important?'  What the hell does that mean?"
       Burt goes directly to his bookshelf.  He takes down a hardcover edition of The Hudson Bay Company, opens it revealing that it's guts have been crudely carved-out with a knife and it's really a hiding place for miniature bag of pot and a little black pipe.  Burt loads up like a junkie, then takes a big hit.  A thick cloud of white smoke swirls up toward the ceiling.
       ". . . So I'm gonna die.  I mean, who gives a shit anyway?  Ya live, ya die.  Make room for one more.  Make room for ten more.  It's all going into the shitter, and I just won't be around to see it happen.  Big deal.  It'll happen whether I'm here to see it or not.  Or will it?  Maybe if I'm not here to see it, then it doesn't really happen."
       Burt studies a red mark on his bicep.  "Carposi Sarcoma," he thinks as he pokes at the mark.  "Next comes Shingles, then I'm bed-ridden, then I'm dead.  What have I accomplished in my thirty-five years?  I made the single biggest sale of any salesman in the store--eight grand.  Great!  They can put that on my fucking tombstone."

* * * * *

       Exactly at nine A.M. Burt calls the doctor's office.
       "I'd like to speak to Dr. Weinstock please."
       "May I ask what this is regarding?" asks the receptionist.
       "I'm his patient, he's my doctor."
       "Yes."
       "He left a message on my machine yesterday and said it was important that we talk."
       "One moment, please."  Burt is put on hold.
       After what seems like an hour, the doctor comes on the line.  "Hello, Burt."
       "Dr. Weinstock.  You left a message saying you wanted to speak to me.  You said it was important."
       "Yes," says the doctor.  "It is important.  I have bad news for you . . ."
       Burt's eyes go wide in horror.  "What is it?" he croaks.
       "Your cholesterol level is up to two-forty.  I think you need to see a dietician, and get on a exercise program, otherwise you're going to block the arteries to your heart and have a heart attack."
       Burt looks confused.  "What about the AIDS test?"
       "That was negative, but your cholesterol level is a big problem.  Shall I make an appointment with a dietician?"
       Burt sighs in tremendous relief.  "I'll let you know."
       "I think it's very important,"says the doctor.
       "No doubt," replies Burt.  "I'll call ya back."
       Burt hangs up the phone.

* * * * *

       A waiter looms over Burt at a nice restaurant writing on his order pad.
       "And how would you like that steak cooked?"
       "Rare, please."
       "Very good, sir."
       Kate Cummings, a very attractive woman, sits across the table from Burt looking confused.  "I thought you said you had high cholesterol?  Steak is very high in cholesterol."
       "I'm gonna get on this cholesterol thing first thing tomorrow."

* * * * *

       A big, thick, steaming, sirloin steak is placed in front of Burt.  He tears into it ravenously, as though he hasn't eaten in a week.

 

Jan. 1, 1995

 

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