A number of years ago, say 15, I was visiting an unnamed US military installation in the Southwest United States. It was an overnight trip, and necessitated me bunking in a newly refurbished Bachelor Officers’ Quarters — think of it as a kind of Department of Defense Days Inn. Definitely not Hampton Inn, however.
I lucked out and scored a suite, and as I was preparing to turn in for the night, the decor in the bedroom caught my eye. Above one bed hung a large photo of Ulysses S. Grant. Above the other was a similarly sized photo of Robert E. Lee. Both in uniform, North and South, respectively.
The more I tried to get my head around the concept, the fuzzier it became. Here I was, one hundred and fifty some odd years after the Civil War, spending the night in a US military facility in a room that featured the portrait of the general who led the army that attempted to break apart the Union.
Politics aside, the whole deal seemed strange to me. Incongruous. And I’m a Southerner.
And today, literally this morning? Back in a military hospital facility for a relatively routine appointment.
The waiting area resembled, your choice, the bar scene from Star Wars, the social reception deck from any episode of Star Trek Next Generation, or, more closely, any part of Blade Runner. It was an assortment of generally unhappy, very poorly dressed and disheveled, mostly weird individuals. I tried to dismiss the thought that I, somehow, was part of this diaspora, but the fact remained that my lot was theirs.
Except I was just slightly better dressed and marginally less disgruntled. In these situations, I actively try to work on my gruntlement. That’s Zen-me for you.
I grabbed a book from the “take one” carousel, and after reading the first three chapters of The Swallows of Kabul, I found myself somewhat depressed and determined not to participate in any stonings of prostitutes after my appointment. (Note to Self: Don’t read The Swallows of Kabul while waiting to see any medical professional.)
Forty-five minutes after my scheduled appointment time, I was Baby Jesus-blessed, and my name was called to enter the inner sanctum behind the double-doors.
Despite my initial relief at finally being able to see a doctor, I found myself in an examination room that took its inspiration from The Swallows of Kabul – shop-worn, distressed, and wholly absent any sign of human kindness and warmth.
I did, however, manage to educate myself regarding the dangers of skin cancer because of the handy poster (with photos!) taped to the wall opposite me.
Yep. I was in a great state of mind. But the best was yet to come.
The specialist attending to me today ambled in, and he resembled a character straight out of Dr. Zhivago. Not a young Omar Shariff, mind you. More like an old Leonid Brezhnev — I do realize he wasn’t in the movie, but you get the picture.
The best part of all was that he spoke like Boris Badenov of Bullwinkle fame. Seriously.
(As an aside here, I realize I have probably incurred Daughter’s wrath, if not her actual incredulity, since all of the popular culture references I’ve used so far are quite dated, at least for her [and her ilk], but I think she owes me after last week’s trip, so Bam!)
What followed was an increasingly unintelligible exchange between the good doctor and me, compounded in its ridiculousness by my own hearing deficiencies.
“What’s the downside?” I asked him.
“jkl; jkl;jkl; f=jio[wmnnaoi’djn’j'i89-,” he answered.
“Where are you from?” I asked him.
“;j0-u9[sdfdvcczx-stan,” he answered.
“You have Persian blood,” he stated.
That one, I understood, but what was the point?
Where was he going with this? What did the blood results mean?
It became increasingly clear I would not find out during this session.
Now honestly, I really couldn’t understand most of what he said, or what he indicated might be his nationality. However, I made up my own mind anyway and determined that he was Russian, from the Soviet era, and that he was of an age that meant he was probably a part of the Reaganesque Evil Empire during the time I actively served on the Other Side (Ours).
And that’s what got me thinking about the whole Grant/Lee hotel thing in the first place. Except now I was experiencing it first hand, in real time.
As he continued to review my case history and recent blood results, I simply gave up trying to understand anything at all and resigned myself to hoping the nurse could explain to me what just happened after the appointment was over.
But all historical irony aside, he was a nice enough guy and, after all, he’d better be. As I found out afterward, evidently I have a biopsy scheduled a few weeks from now.
Well, I completely missed that one, since all along I thought there was something wrong with a ligament in my knee.
There is a bright side, of course. I didn’t promise to wear a Puffy Shirt (Sorry, Daughter. That’s why they invented Wiki).