by Fred Osuna
An asymptomatic condition of some concern to my primary physician found me sitting in a specialist’s examining room on a recent morning. Pushed up alongside one wall was the examination table: a well-worn piece of equipment with cracking leather corners, faded paint on its legs forcing a resemblance to an abandoned pommel horse base circa 1977 – a crackling, long sheet of tissue paper strategically placed in an apparent effort to conceal those details. The table occupied the length of the wall, and led my eyes, upon entering the room, to the plate glass window that occupied its perpendicular neighbor. The window was adorned with aluminum blinds, half-opened to afford a panoramic view of the hospital campus from the room’s fifth-floor perch. After spending a few minutes taking in the sights, watching the green lights at the intersection turn to red a number of times while three shuttles performed their drop-off-pick-up duties at the adjacent building’s entrance, I turned around to face the door – now closed – through which I had entered. I sat down in a stiff chair with my back to the window.
Centered on the wall opposite the examining table, to the right of a small sink and above a rolling stool that, I assumed, the specialist would soon be occupying, was a large framed photograph.
Peeking out from the bottom of the print, almost obscured by the frame, was the photo credit: Walker Evans Roadside stand near Birmingham, Alabama 1936. I leaned back on my heels, in front of the picture, and soaked in the details: the hand-painted signs, the telegraph poles, the onlookers in the background, the weight of the melons in the boys’ hands, the price of eel, the fish face frown, the outdated phone number configuration, the oddly-placed apostrophes, the stacked fruit orbs in the window.
Presently, the physician entered and sat squarely where I thought he might. He rolled to the center of the small room and faced me. The Walker Evans photograph was between us, off to the side of our avenue of communication. We discussed his concerns. I mentioned my asymptomatic state. He proposed a plan of discovery to rule out his concerns. I gave my consent to go forward. During the discussion, I occasionally glanced to my left, toward the Walker Evans photograph. When we finished this stage of my visit, I gently detoured with an observation.
“That’s a fascinating photograph.”
He turned toward it and lit up. “A Walker Evans, yes. That’s an exhibition print. It’s a rather famous photograph.” He seemed to hold this particular picture in high esteem and had obviously spent some quality time admiring it. “You know, for that exhibition – in the 1980s, I think – they went to all of the sites of the original Evans photographs and recaptured them in the present day. That fish stand is just right outside of town,” meaning Birmingham, the largest “town” in the state of Alabama, where we were meeting. “The updated version of this photo has two boys holding fish, not melons. And that building is gone now.”
I asked if he had been the one who had selected this print to adorn the walls of the exam room.
“No, this is my partner’s print,” he said, referring to the other physician whose name was on the office door. He then paused, anticipating an explanation of my initial observation.
I turned my eyes to the print. “I was wondering if you thought that there was something maybe a little odd about the picture.”
He turned and made a cursory scan of the picture he’d glanced at hundreds of times before. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Well, I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but, mm, it’s oddly fitting that in the center of that photograph is a pretty obvious representation of, you know, for this being a urology practice.”
Puzzled, he took another look. It took him no more than a couple of seconds to see the central image – the watermelon phallus – and he laughed. “I’d never noticed that,” he said, to my disbelief and his quiet amusement. Then he swiveled back toward me. “So. Now. Stand up, facing me, and let your pants drop to your ankles.”
A native of the paradise that is the San Diego County coastline, Fred Osuna lives in Birmingham, Alabama, where ceiling fans provide scant relief from the relentless heat and humidity. He writes not nearly as much as he would like, though constantly generates tweet-length vignettes in his head, throughout the day; some of these have landed in the pages of Creative Nonfiction under both his real name and a pseudonym. He struggles to maintain three websites: Spitball Army (www.spitballarmy.com), Cryptich (www.cryptich.com) and Laser’s Edge Leftovers (www.leleftovers.wordpress.com). You should ask him sometime about his collection of World War II letters, but now you’re probably more interested in figuring out his other name.
For more Fourth Monday posts check out flash fiction by Jane Hammons in Roadside Attractions, Camille Swift’s sublime fantasy portraits in the Gallery, or participate in a mini blog tour of The Dead Shoe Society author readings, beginning at the Open Mic. And if you haven’t seen them yet, don’t forget to check out past contributors on the Music Stage, Rumors, and elsewhere on the Blog.
I just finished a book I hated. For over a year and a half I picked the memoir up and tossed it down. I swore at the author. I chastised her for being self aggrandizing and patronizing. “Don’t assume what I’m thinking,” I’d huff, lying on my bed, clicking my tongue at another of the author’s offhanded asides. “That isn’t at all what I was thinking.” Then I’d slam the book shut, stomp downstairs to find my husband, and complain, “This is the worst book I’ve ever read in my life!”
“You shouldn’t read that before bed,” he’d say; and I’d snort a few more times trying to justify my motives.
Why would I waste so much time reading a book that makes me furious?
What was it that made me so furious in the first place?
I think it’s this: in some ways I related to the author so well as to find in her the things that drive me mad about myself–we are both the youngest of a large family; we both expect a certain fawning over the goody-goods that we do; we have a distinct desire to believe that the choices we made in life were certainly the very things we should have done; and we both have an ingrown selfish nature to be right. In short, we think we’re special.
I remember when I was young hearing Ma talk about why my dad and the next door neighbor didn’t get along. “They’re too much alike,” Ma said. I didn’t get it. Who wouldn’t want to find someone so much like themselves?
It’s like looking in the mirror, just fine if you’re happy with what you see.
Aside from the similarities between the author and myself, there had to be more hacking away inside as I streamed over the pages. Something was pulling me back, and it wasn’t a surprise ending; I already knew the secret. It was more like a fight, a feud, I couldn’t wait to pick up in the back corner lot. She was too high and mighty. She needed to come down a few pegs.
“She doesn’t go deep enough,” I said, sloshed on space martinis and literary wine. “It’s like she can’t get inside herself and say what’s really happening. It sucks.” I was revving up, right jab, left hook. “It’s just surface and pretty things. When she gets close to something real she shuts off, wants the reader to imagine themselves in a similar situation. Who does that?”
What I didn’t take into account until now is the type of book that it was. I wanted a story, a struggle (indeed, there was struggle), a brilliant and shining star at the end, but it wasn’t that kind of book. It was a self help book in a memoir jacket. It was hand holding and diminutive regret. It was a wordy pat on the back and a big “You can do it!” from the side.
It was an excellent lesson in story telling, style and voice, and a step by step tutorial in humility.
My opinions on the book are in the minority, and my opinions alone. I’ve taken off my gloves, put on my robe, and dropped a wet towel on my head. One day I’ll be up there in the ring just as big as can be, huffing and puffing out my lines, wondering who’s turn it is to take the next swing.
Your turn: What lessons have you taken away from a book that turned you off? Have you ever wanted to suggest someone read a book you didn’t like just so you could trash talk? What’s your favorite drink and do you like it shaken or stirred?
It wasn’t only me; this movie changed lives.
I love us when we’re fearless.