Have a Mint
When Michael and I moved out of the Brookline doghouse we found a rental apartment in a rundown tenement in Summerville, just over the town line from Cambridge. Local snobs not living there called it “Slummerville,” and our apartment was a pure monument to that truth. Housing quality diminished in direct proportion to rental pricing as one moved away from the trendy neighborhoods near Harvard and entered the working-class suburbs of Boston. It wasn’t that we wanted to live there. It was because we were on parental budgets that forced us to make do.
The place must have been made for midgets because every room in the apartment was about three fourths what would be considered normal. This included the height of the ceilings, all of which fostered a perpetual sense of claustrophobic containment. It gave new meaning to the terms ‘kitchenette’ or ‘dinette,’ with the entire layout being hardly big enough for one person let alone two. The interior was also so dark that the only plants we could hang in our windows that would remotely stand a chance to survive were mushrooms. Add in no air conditioning and the only way to stay cool was to go half-naked.
When my father saw it for the first and last time on his visit for my medical school graduation he was appalled.
- I just can’t understand why you had to pick a place like this to live in.
What could I say? I had succeeded in coming in under a budget he had based on a 1941 rental pro forma.
Once again, like Big Funk, our décor was dismal and the furniture third or fourth hand. Then not being exactly the kind of place that fostered a keen desire to design or create a better interior in the first place, it was more like the kind of place that made one abandon all hope. The apartment did nothing to help our social lives either, as it was so embarrassing, we never brought dates home. The exception was the doped up Chinese girl, who was oblivious to her surroundings and barely knew if it was day or night anyway.
Myself and dog lover Bob― over for a visit, a drink and a spliff
The landlord/owners were an elderly Irish couple, Alice and Joe, who no longer had any desire, much less even the physical or mental capacities required to maintain the place. They could barely remember when it was time to collect the rent; or then tried to collect it twice when they forgot they already had. But what difference did it really make in the grand scheme of things? It was our last year of Medical School and there was finally a light at the end of the educational tunnel. Pretty soon we would be independent; starting to make lots of real money and would no longer have to live like lepers in a cold cellar.
We used an old packing trunk for a coffee table, covered it with a paisley print cloth, and in the middle of it had placed a small glass bowl filled with some gallstones that Michael had procured after a surgical case. Apparently, it was one of the worst gall bladder cases on record with the diseased sack containing at least twenty yellow-orange multifaceted perfectly smooth lustrous stones that looked like extra-large driveway pebbles.
In a fit of perverse and bored fun we had attached a little sign on the bowl that read:
Fine Mint Candy. Have one!
Because of our decadently embarrassing dwelling we rarely if ever had any real guests over anyway and forgot about the inside joke of the gallstone candy dish. The dish had simply blended invisibly into the rest of the sordid background where it had become a fixture. We had so forgotten about it that we were paying virtually no attention to it the night my brother happened to visit, got very drunk, stoned on pot, and then got literally stoned as he began to chomp on the little yellow mints.
He had already consumed about three of them and was chewing on his chalky fourth before we realized it, then told him what they really were. Being four sheets to the wind and nearly in his cups, the only response he could mumble was:
- God. No wonder these things are chewy and tasteless. I thought maybe you guys left the candy out so long that it got stale.
It wasn’t until the next day when he finally sobered up that the full realization of what he had done hit home, which made him sick and nauseated in retrospect.
- Shit, I can’t believe you guys let me eat somebody’s gallstones.
- Better than some other nasty things you can put in your mouth in a state of abject drunken waste, my brother.
Actually, in some primitive native cultures it is believed that if a man consumes pieces of desiccated grizzly bear gall bladders, he can prevent sexual impotency, or if already impotent, reverse the curse. Like some other men I have known, I guess these natives may have thought of their bear enhanced erections as somehow becoming ferocious wild beasts on the prowl for fresh meat.
But trust me―the last thing my brother got from his little debauched snack was a nice big hard on. Toward the end of our lease term, old Joe had a stroke and although we begged Alice to let us help, she refused to even take him to the hospital. He was paralyzed on his left side, aphasic and dribbling down his chin, but Alice said that he had a good life and that the hospital would kill him for sure. So, she put him in a lounge chair, stroked his motionless side several times a day in a fruitless effort to bring it back to life, and after a brief period of time let him die a natural and compassionate death.
Although it is probably true that old Joe would not have survived the hospital anyway, it was more likely that the food Alice attempted to stuff food down his throat every day and that subsequently trickled into his lungs instead of into his gullet was the more probable and proximate cause of his eventual demise: Aspiration pneumonia.
Killed with kindness
|Myself and former rommate Bob/Personal photo|
|© Photo: Gallstones||Deutche Welle|