Monday morning started out with a phone call to Dave Cockrum. Well, actually it started when my alarm went off at 8 a.m., which is not an ungodly hour?my kids already out of the house; the dogs having been walked twice?but it’s an unreasonable hour if you’ve been up all night writing or typing or fretting about being unable to write. I knocked that obnoxious, buzzing thing to the floor, which is carpeted in deep-pile shag or I’d go through even more of these devices (they see me coming at Radio Shack now; have it on the counter before I’m though the turnstile), then I proceeded up the stairs into the rest the house and entered, for all intents and purposes, my day. I said hello to the dogs, brushed my teeth, dressed, goodbye to the dogs, then got in the car and pulled out of the driveway. Then I called Dave Cockrum.

Dave’s wife Paty answered the phone.

“Marvel is screaming at me, Paty,” I said. “They want to know when their story is coming.” I was referring to Giant-Size X-Men #3.

“I’ll put Dave on,” she said.

I could hear their macaw screaming in the background. Sounded like someone was sawing its feet off. After a minute of that siren, I wanted to saw its feet off. Dave finally picked up the other receiver.

“You’re late, brother,” I said. “Marvel’s gonna have both our asses.”

“I know,” said Dave. “It’s coming slowly.”

I could hear it in his voice?the news was bad again. Three out of four times it’s bad and that’s with anybody, but with Dave, the handicappers are always grinning. We spoke for a while. Turns out he’d spent another weekend at the hospital where they’d stuck a hunk of metal in his chest and dialysized him. I hadn’t called him since Thursday so I didn’t know. I mean, I knew it was coming, but I’m like most people, willing to put off the pragmatic acceptance that the shit hammer is falling until my head or someone else’s is actually rolling on the carpet. Thank goodness for deep-pile shag.

Cockrum’s life has a new routine, now?he’s back and forth to the hospital three days/week, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for four-hour sessions of blood plumbing. It’s something you wouldn’t wish on Gary Groth. Well, maybe on Groth. Of course, Cockrum is looking to get on the donor’s list as soon as possible, but I don’t know what his chances are of getting a new pancreas. As good as anybody’s, I suppose?at least anybody who hasn’t contributed beaucoup bucks to the governor’s campaign. I’m putting the word in with my pals down at the docks to remember the next time they have to tear someone’s liver out to try and include a pancreas.

After Dave and I finished talking, Paty took the phone again. “Tell me you’ve checked yourself out,” she said.

“Well, er, not exactly?”

“Damn it, Cliff,” she hollered, “the last time I saw you, you were eating candy bars just to get normal. And you get tingling in your fingers and toes. I’m not even talking to you again until you get that checked!” It was quite a scolding. In fact, now that my mother’s gone, I’m thinking of giving Paty the job. And she’s right, of course?I should get it looked at. I was just hoping I’d die before anything came of it.

I’ve lived with hypoglycemia for decades. It makes fasting a bitch, and drinking alcohol a regrettable experience for several days after the last drops of beer are pissed out. Doesn’t stop me from tying one on every now and again?I mean, why should I be smarter than any of you? But the train wreck is probably down the road apiece if I don’t get a handle on the condition.

Some months back, I made an effort to find out why my big toe felt like it had taken a walk on its own and hadn’t come home yet. I saw a doctor who specialized in these things and he wrote me a script for a fasting blood sugar test. The next day, I called the lab to set up an appointment.

“No appointment necessary,” said the Russian woman on the phone. “Just come down.” She sounded like Natasha from the Bullwinkle show, but what the hell. So I got up bright and early, after trashing yet another alarm clock, and drove my early-middle-age ass over to MetLabs in Livingston, New Jersey. I was there just ten minutes after they opened the place but the joint was already jammed to the rafters. I couldn’t even get a good magazine to lose myself in, so I grabbed the only rag left, a dog-eared copy of last month’s People and examined Brittany Spears and the other riders of the purple sage as I stood there waiting for my number to come up. They said it would be a 45-minute wait. Like hell.

Two hours later, I was good and crusty. Hungry, too. Like I said, I don’t fast well. I’d swiped a Sports Illustrated off a chair when some bozo went to the men’s room without it (does anything even come out without a magazine in your lap? I’ll have to try that some time). Finally, my name was called and away I went, Sports Illustrated and all, into the prep room.

I wasn’t there a minute when a youngish nurse, or anyway a female in a white uniform and a funny hat, entered the room. Another Russian. She had an unpleasant look on her face, but I shouldn’t talk. In her hand was a cup with the words URINE SPECIMIN on it. “I need you to urinate into this,” she said.

I stood up. “From here?”

She pushed the cup at me and left the room, so I went into the men’s room thinking about her bedside manner. Good thing this wasn’t a sperm bank. I locked the men’s room door, then turned around and did my business. Hell, I can always pee. Too bad there’s no money in it. As I turned to wash my hands, I noticed a whole stack of those pre-printed URINE SPECIMIN cups, so I pocketed a few. Figured I’d break one out next time my mother-in-law asked for apple juice.

So I’m back in the prep room, my piss on the counter, when in walks another Russian nurse. No smile, no eye contact, no nothing, just a rubber tube, which she ties around my arm.

“How long will this take?” I asked.

“About ten minutes each time,” she answered.

“Each time?”

“Yes. We have to draw blood three times.”

Three times?” My heart was racing. “No one told me that.”

“I think you should lie down,” she answered.

I was sitting upright at a little desk with a tabletop?the kind you sat at in 2rd grade and hid under during those Lyndon Johnson air-raid drills. There were probably buggers under this one, too. “Why do I need to lie down?” I asked.

The nurse finally made eye contact. “Because you are too heavy for me to lift up if you pass out,” she said. (Now read that again with a Russian accent.)

“I’m not gonna pass out, sister,” I said. She gave me that gulag look again, then went for the needle. Now I haven’t been around that many needles, to be honest?a lot of junkies, but few needles. Guess I’ve been lucky. But, anyway, this was one serious mother of a needle. I stared at it and it stared at me.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll lie down.”

So here I was on the table, with the bride of Khrushchev coming at me with this harpoon, but before she could stick me, I said, “Just one second. How much blood do you plan to take, anyway?”

She rubbed alcohol on my arm and then tapped my inner forearm looking to make a vein pop up. “I’m not telling you,” she said.

“You’re not telling me?”

“No,” she said. “You’re already too nervous.”

“Well fuck this,” I said, sitting up, just millimeters from that harpoon. I pulled off the tourniquet and leaped off the metal slab. “I spent half my childhood worrying about you crazy fuckers dropping the bomb on us. I’ll be damned if you’re gonna get me now.”

So, anyway, all’s well that ends well.

Not that anything ever ends well.

P.S. Dave Cockrum’s off the Giant-Size X-Men #3 gig. Neal Adams is pinch-hitting. Go reserve your copy now, and visit my website already.

© 2004, Clifford Meth

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