Thursday, December 15, 2005

A double agent and a perfect nursemaid

Intrepid readers will recall that prior to the troubles with my faulty ticker, I sent a student, Ms. Elizabeth Lowell, on an assignment to ascertain the whereabouts of the missing Mr. Clayhouse. My idea was innocent enough, to have an attractive student befriend the stoic veteran recently returned from a war zone and ascertain if he is in need of special attention. She was then to report back to me and we'd plan an appropriate course of action.

Perhaps I was reading too much into the fact that he was skipping my classes. After all, if I were a student I'd skip my classes, nevermind the war. But in any case, Ms. Lowell is the pedantic sort to follow through with even such a strange assignment with all due seriousness.

And did she follow through.

Today could have been classified as a late, late Indian summer, or perhaps a hint of early spring. It was fifty degrees, warm enough to leave the flat in only sweater (and pants, of course). I was out for my morning walk. The doctor had advised me that I should be noticeably less winded after mild exercise than I was before last week's angioplasty, but I'm afraid I feel worse. I rested by the pond in the park and enjoyed the sight of a juvenile bald eagle feasting on a goose that had died and frozen in the ice of the lake. Feathers were scattered like tickertape, the rough hackles and pinions of the eagle making him appear brash and full of the youthful vigor that has so completely abandoned this old fish. I literally wept and was even tempted to rush home and phone a confession to both my daughters, from whom I've withheld any mention of my condition. They've enough to worry about.

After thirty minutes on the bench I was chilled, so I walked across the quadrangle and along sorority row in the stately district where the wealthy academics live. It was there that I was shocked to find Ms. Lowell strolling my way alongside the lanky Billy Clayhouse, their hands interlaced, engaged in energetic conversation. In their free hands they were both holding black, leatherbound copies of the Holy Bible (KJV!). I noticed that while Billy's copy was brand new, Ms. Lowell's was worn and bookmarked, and it had a yellow "Support Our Troops" sticker on the back. They were so engrossed in one another that they were startled when I came upon them.

Prof. Trout: (through clenched teeth) Ms. Lowell

Ms. Puppycute: Professor Trout!

P. Trout: Mr. Clayhouse.

Billy: (nodding) Mr. Trout.

P. Trout: (brusque, eyeing Bible) Ms. Lowell...I'd like to have a word with you about the assignment we discussed last week. Could you meet me in the office on Monday?

Ms. Puppycute: Of course! I think it's going well! (winks) We just finished Bible study at the Baptist student center.

P. Trout: (grimace) Heavens!

I left with a thumping heart, gasping for breath, my bowels quivering with rage and despair. Had the fundamentalist lass managed to convert him in less than a week? I cursed my stupidity. I should have known better than to trust her. Had she preyed (prayed) upon a young fellow in a delicate state of mind, converting him to her perverted form of what, until Constantine, had been a perfectly sound spiritual practice? I'm all for spirituality. I married a Catholic, a Jew and a Wiccan/Lutheran, and I found consolation in all of their respective religions. I own autographed copies of most of Elaine Pagels' works and I consider both Jim Wallis and Rev. Jesse Jackson true friends and spiritual advisors. But I was now astounded. Nothing can ruin a writer faster or more completely than "praise" music. I quickly ticked off the various disasters that engulfed many of the Vietnam Vets I've known upon their return: suicide, homelessness, heroine or meth dependence, financial ruin, divorce, alcoholism. Clearly fundamentalism is the worst possible scenario.

I waddled home and frantically downed two glasses of medicinal Pinot Noir (as a kind reader astutely suggested) and lay on the couch for an hour or more, unable to close my eyes.

Fortunately, Shirleen, my delicate flower and diligent nursemaid, came over. Reading my state, she instantly began to cook. She simmered the carcass of last night's grilled chicken for ninety minutes to make soup, throwing in a bit of everything in the fridge, most notably shallots, two full bulbs of garlic, carrots, shitakes, potatoes, celery, plus the neck and livers, which we saved. She fussed over me on the couch, taking my temperature and bringing a cold cloth for my forehead. I was reminded of the youngish nurse who tended to me in my youth as I recovered from an appendectomy. We used ether in those days, and I was sore, sick and vomiting, each bout of wretching causing my belly to burn. As miserable as I felt, I still was stirred as the short-skirted nurse busied herself about my room. And when she slipped her warm hands under the sheets to check the bandages on my belly, I coughed and blushed as my little soldier rose to greet her. "Oh my," she exclaimed and then winked.

Shirleen's ministrations had the same effect on me this evening, though I won't say more as I am a gentleman.

In any event, I'm quite worried about Mr. Clayhouse. Last month I thought that I was finally helping to create a writer for the first time in my teaching career. Now I fear that I've lost his soul to the dark side. Damnitalltohell!

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