Once upon a time, I went to the dermatologist.
Actually, that time was just this morning. My bad. But it’s been a very trying day, and let’s just say that a variety of factors have contributed to my mind not being continually focused on important things like timelines, reality, and the presentation-status of my personal undergarments, should I find myself in a situation wherein said undergarments might be reviewed by rescue, medical and/or psychological personnel.
In our formative years, Momma said you should always have clean underwear, with no holes.
Actually, she used the word “panties”, and she was generally talking to one of my sisters when she said such. Perhaps she already sensed that said sister would prove rather challenging in the upcoming life-decisions of her teenage years, and Mom felt it best to at least provide fashion tips concerning the gathering storm. Mom’s concern for me? Nada. I was such a meek little child that they were stunned when I would leave the house of my own accord. No undergarment issues there.
Did I warn you that my mind is wandering? I think I did. So, let’s get to the why.
I couldn’t sleep at all last night. (“Tossin’ and Turnin’”) This is not unusual for me, as I’ve babbled about such previously, perhaps much more so than any of you care to hear. (So what if you couldn’t sleep? The world is imploding for a number of very political reasons that have nothing to do with your slumber satisfaction. Deal with it.)
I read a book until 3AM, hoping for drowsiness. That didn’t happen, so I clicked off the Kindle and tried to empty my mind, prone in the darkness. As if often the case, the emptying did not occur. I began to reflect, on this and that and whatnot, whilst the clock on my phone blipped past 4 and then 5 and then 6. At this point, there’s a chance that I may have drifted, but there are no witnesses to verify such, unless you count the glass of water that I must have on the nightstand, but he’s not talking.
At 7AM, the stray cats behind the house decided it was the perfect time to start screaming and (based on the sound of it) killing each other with machetes, or at least some carefully-orchestrated razor-clawed paw swipes. Understandably, my delicate sleep-process was encumbered by this “Jets and Sharks” development, so I stumbled out the back door in my hastily-adorned jammy pants and broke up the rumble in the jungle. There was a tense moment when the cats (it seemed like there were 400 of them, but probably only three) almost turned on me, but something in my bloodshot eyes advised them that they should probably run like hell. They did.
At 7:10AM I was prone and despondent again. At 7:15, Partner leapt out of his own bed and proceeded to begin his work day, trying to be quiet but not really succeeding because he’s moving around and that results in noise, however minimal. (Yes, we sleep in separate rooms. It became necessary years ago; otherwise, we would have long since killed each other due to our mutual affinity for hellacious snoring and bruise-causing mattress-flopping. You do what you can to make a relationship work, yes?) I think I cried a little bit out of sheer frustration at this point. It wouldn’t be the first time I greeted another dawn with tears, the result of a persistence in hope that mankind will do the right thing but continually seeing evidence that much of mankind is simply not capable of such. Feel familiar?
At 9AM, I gave up the fight and abandoned my pointless bed, dissatisfied. (“Why you do this to me, Dimi?”) I’m retired, so I normally could have chased the elusive bouncing sheep for hours still, but I actually had to be somewhere in a bit. And that somewhere struck fear in my heart, a place of torment and anguish that just might explain my wide-eyed night.
It was Dermatologist Day. [Cue dramatic music and a collective gasp from the viewing audience. There may have been some crucifix-clutching.]
Unlike some folks, I don’t go to the dermatologist for acne-prevention or facelifts. (“Is that Kenny Rogers? He looks like a boiled apricot, albeit a perpetually happy one.” And yes, I know he’s gone now, but I’m not being mean. I’m just reporting the facts. Sometimes you should just say no.) I go because I have a propensity for skin cancer, the result of spending so many of my younger years frolicking in the sun without any concern for, or knowledge of, sunscreen. And let’s be honest, most of us who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s had no clue. Hell, we would swathe ourselves in baby oil, causing even more damage. It’s easy to point fingers, but it was simply the time and place.
Ergo, my propensity. I wised-up to the not-good by my early thirties, but the damage was done. I haven’t sun-bathed in decades, nor do I frolic in the sun without slathering myself in SPF 125 concoctions. (I even soak my hair with the ministrations, which makes me look rather sweaty and swarthy due to my Italian heritage, and I kind of feel rather sexy, but I’m sure this is just one of my many self-delusions.) Still, the damage was done and the long-term results continue to present themselves, which is why I go to the dermatologist every six months, more often if he finds something more-concerning than usual. And he always finds something.
Today’s visit was a typical experience.
I arrived early, which is a thing with me, even though I know full well that “appointment times” and “actual times” do not necessarily agree when it comes to medical consultations. The check-in hostess handed me a form to fill out, so I took such and wandered off to a vacant couch in the waiting room, not even bothering to wonder why there was yet another form since I’m basically here every other day. The form was rather primitive in nature, looking like it had been mimeographed like they used to do back in the day. (Raise your hand if you remember mimeographing and how those pages smelled.)
Whist I filled out the form (repeat questions that I had answered many times before; what was the point of this exercise?), I also studied the other occupants in the waiting room. There was one woman off to the right who gave the impression that she was married to her phone and could not possibly put it down. Off to the left was an ancient man who appeared to be on life support, what with the industrial-strength walker positioned in from of him, replete with oxygen tank. (And he wasn’t wearing a mask, praise be to Trump. Not.) And directly in front of me was a cowboy that I knew well.
Not personally, of course, but he had that look that I recognized from my days in Oklahoma. Gruff exterior, probably never speaks unless absolutely necessary, and is much more comfortable with animals instead of people. (Trust, I knew many of them, even a few in the biblical sense.) He was, maybe, a few years older than me, but roughly the same age.
I finished my form before the rest of them, despite being the last to arrive. I turned in my paperwork and returned to my couch, whipping out my phone to practice my Spanish. (Duolingo!) Cowboy finished his scribbling shortly after, turned in his own form, and then walked past where he had been sitting and sat on the same couch as me, despite the fact that there were plenty of other places to sit.
I also recognized this from my days in Oklahoma, wherein we gays had to be hidden, if we wanted to live. There was a very subtle subtext to how we went through life and acknowledged our own. (Gaydar is real, folks. True story. Sometimes you just know.) He didn’t hit on me or any of that mess, but it was his way of saying “hey”. And I said “hey” back, even though neither of us ever said a word. We both knew of the time when discretion was the better part of survival.
This was the highlight of my day, in a nostalgic way, an intricate dance from yesteryear.
Not a highlight? When the door to the inner sanctum opened and a guy called my name. My turn at the rodeo. I followed the guy (who didn’t take my temperature, what’s up with that missing protocol that we’re actually accustomed to by now?) as he led me to Exam Room Number 3. “Are you just here for a skin check?” Yes, I was. “Great. Take off your shirt and the doctor will be with you in a moment.”
I knew that “in a moment”, in office-visit speak, meant that the doctor would most likely not make it to Exam Room Number 3 until I was a dried-up husk of nothingness, so I again whipped out my phone (ignoring the “please turn off your cellphone” sign, full confession) and kicked off another Spanish lesson. Surprisingly, I had only answered two of the vocabulary-review questions when the door was flung open and the doctor graced me with his presence, trailed by an assistant that I remembered from my last visit, one who had said to me at the end of said visit, “Good luck with your colonoscopy tomorrow!”
Long story, not enough time.
Doctor: “So, how are you feeling?”
Me, inner voice: “I won’t know until you do the mole patrol”. Outer voice: “Good, as far as I know.”
Doctor: “Great! Let’s see what we’ve got.”
And thusly the search-and-seizure mission began.
I pointed out a spot on my left arm that I knew would gain his interest. (You learn these things after repeat visits.) There was also a slightly-raised thing on my back that I couldn’t see but could feel, so I wasn’t sure. Oh, and I think you might want to check this spot on my forehead.
His analysis? The spot on the arm had to go, potential future issue. (Knew it!) The thing on your back is just old age, because you’re old. And we should probably do something about that forehead spot. (“Two out of three ain’t bad.”)
The doctor then nodded to his assistant, with said assistant then whipping out the demonic Blow Torch of Misery. I hate that thing, even though I appreciate the fact that it cauterizes naughty bits that I don’t want on my body anymore. (Some of you know this blow-torch well, having been there, done that.) It looks like one of those butane-based cannisters that conspiracy-believing survivalists use in the remote forests of Oregon before they are arrested by the FBI for insurrection against the government.) I’m not a fan.
The doctor is a fan. He scorched the thing on my left arm, initiating that familiar, cold-hot feeling of burning ice shards being shoved into my flesh. He skipped over the thing on my back. (“You’re old, did I mention that?”) Then he focused on the spot on my forehead, but he paused. “Are you doing anything this weekend where you don’t want to appear scabby?”
Well, now. That’s a query that you don’t often hear. “Um, no. But we have company coming next weekend.”
Doctor: “Perfect. Everything will fall off by then.” He ice-blasted the spot, then paused. “You know, there are a few other areas on your ancient forehead that might become an issue. Let’s just take care of it all.”
More blasting, all along my hairline. In case I haven’t made it clear, the blasting, even a single incident, is not pleasing in any way. It hurts. By the time he was done navigating my forehead periphery, I was a quivering mass of jelly, ready to sign over my entire retirement revenue stream if he would just stop.
He stopped. “Well, then. I think we’ve tidied things up. See you in six months!” And then he was gone. The assistant followed him out, but felt compelled to say something, anything, before he did so. It was not as exciting as “Good luck on the colonoscopy!”, but a rather mundane “you might not want to leave the house for a few days”.
Oh, I didn’t plan on it. The burning sensations across my forehead made it very clear that I wasn’t going to be anywhere near presentable for the immediate future, not until the point when “everything had fallen off”, whatever that questionable development might entail.
I raced home, because it was clear that my visage would soon cause screaming children to seek immediate therapy and I’d best get out of public view as soon as possible. I clattered through the backdoor of the house and patiently waited for Partner to finish the latest in an unending stream of conference calls. When he did so, I launched: “You can’t tell right now, but in a few hours I’m going to look like Kenny Rogers. I can’t deal with it, so I’m just going to hide in a cave until I no longer terrify an innocent lass who is just trying to sell us Girl Scout cookies so she can go to summer camp.” I then whipped out my wallet and placed some money on the kitchen table. “Just in case I need something during my seclusion and bereavement.”
Partner understood, completely. He knows the coda of the subtle subtext, the lingering effects of living through a time when it was all about discretion and subversion and survival, a time when a quiet cowboy sat next to you on a couch and never said a word, but you knew. You just knew.
Whoops, it almost slipped my scattered mind that I actually intended to share a music video with this bit, ergo the “shiny happy people” reference in the title. So, let’s do that, shall we?
And since I’ve brought up R.E.M., here’s another cut from the same album. (By the way, that “Out of Time” album is terrific, in case you haven’t given it a listen. It’s the one that propelled the band from moderate success into superstars.) I actually like this second cut better than the first, as the song seems genuinely happy as opposed to the intentionally pseudo-perkiness of “Shiny Happy”. (The brief section where the chorus swells, accompanied by just a gentle tambourine? Perfect.) Enjoy.
P.S. Bonus points if you can name the source of the “Dimi” movie quote. In this case, I purposely left the title out of the tags to make things more interesting…
P.P.S. The opening shot is a detail from one of my masks, one that hints of cowboys and bandanas. It had to be done, yes?
Categories: My Life