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The Old Asians Clap
by John Dempsey
It helps to do this once every few months.
Just sitting with a stranger; a person I’ve never met before, a
person I hope to never meet again, and letting it all out. If I
were religious, if I believed in something other than what I
could touch or ingest via some orifice, then I’d probably be in
a church. I’d be in that little booth throwing my guts at the
face behind the partition. But god, the church, any church and
any god just…Ah, I don’t want to get into that right now. I
don’t want to get sidetracked.
“Mr. Duluth? Excuse me, Mr. Duluth?”
“Doctor Bennet will see you now. Room number 12, right down the
hall, it’s the third door on your left.”
I get up, find the room, get in and sit down. Number 12. Now I
wait. I don’t look around much because all these rooms look the
same. Boxes of cotton swabs, gauze pads, tongue depressors, the
rest, a long sheet of paper stretched across…I never get into
those robes they give you. Those ridiculous things, open at the
back…it’s not the physical exposure that I’m after… About 10
minutes or so and I hear the doctor- G. Bennet MD., licensed by
the great state of New York- outside the door.
He walks into the room holding a manila folder, a pen, wearing
glasses, and reading over the forms I filled out in the waiting
room, already making notes- all business. He sits down on the
stool in the corner of the room, looks up at me and it’s like
the beginning of a boxing match, we’re both in our respective
corners, staring across the ring, a bell sounds…
“It says here that you’re a smoker?”
“Ah, yeah. Smoker…”
“A man your age. You should really think about quitting Mr.
“Smoker, drinker, drug addict. Ahhh, I never really thought much
The doctor looks at me from across the examination room.
Somewhat fazed by my opening flurry. His pen has stopped moving.
It rests at the end of the last thing he’s written, still
pressed to the page, spreading ink like maybe he’s imitating
“Criminal, cretin, lecher. Many labels have been affixed to my
“I’ve been called a substandard citizen, a fence straddling
idiot, and a full-fledged sex fiend all in one night.”
“Mr. Duluth, surely this isn’t…”
“I have outstanding warrants in three states. I’ve broken the
hearts of good women and turned them sour as old milk. I’ve been
calling in sick to work since the beginning of January and I’m
waiting for the…”
“Please, Mr. Duluth, I don’t need to hear all of this. You wrote
here that you’ve been experiencing chest pains. Why don’t we
discuss that instead?”
That’s his defense? The duck and move? Poor guy. A rabbit in a
snare, a babe in the woods, easy pickings, a spectacled fish in
a barrel and me with a BB gun…
“That’s what I’m getting to Dr. Bennet. My chest pains.”
I poke a finger into the layer of fat right above my heart.
“This is where I feel it the most. On the inside though. And
mostly at night.”
“Yeah, especially when I think about those two years where I
thought I caught genital warts from that beautiful girl who wore
a wig. Only I didn’t know she wore a wig until the thing slipped
off her semi-bald head and landed on my chest. Ha! Believe me, I
was out of that bed and through the door the second I ca…”
“Papules. They showed up three weeks after the wig hit my chest.
I finally got the courage up to walk into that free clinic over
in Hempstead and they checked me out. But for those two years,
“One night stands. At least twenty of them. Unprotected. Using
names like Samuel Dalton, Crank Evans, Khaleeb Fahwazzy,
thinking that if I infected enough people then maybe I could…”
Hooked. A beautiful girl in a wig, genital warts and chest
pains…this is what I came here for. Now Bennet wants to hear me
out just as bad as I want to let it out, so I just look at him
for a few more seconds without saying anything.
“Could what, Mr. Duluth?”
“So that I could wake up and walk around this place without
feeling alone, like I wasn’t the only one. It was like a
connection or a bond, like finding someone that has the same
birth date, name, tattoo as you do.”
“But then the tests came back negative and I was a free bird,
absolved, and every now and then I would bump into a bouncing
blonde, drunk brunette, fiery-crotched redhead from those two
years and they would say, ‘Hey Sammy-Crank-Khaleeb, how about a
drink?’, and I’d turn them down and walk away because I
automatically thought they had warts.”
“Ahhh, so the connection was a bad one even though you knew you
hadn’t infected them.”
“And bumping into them forced you to think about what you were
doing for those two years! When you thought that you really were
“Yes! That’s it! Seeing them made me feel like a murderer.”
“Even though all you did was sleep with them and move on?”
“It’s the intention. The purpose behind my actions. Like I
pointed a gun at them that I thought was loaded, pulled the
trigger and walked away, left them for dead, you know? Only I
found out later on that the bullets were really blanks.”
“I see what you mean.”
“Oh yes, your…”
Bennet snaps out of it, he looks back at the forms I filled out.
I’m already standing up. I feel like I’ve lost weight, at least
twenty pounds and I’m tempted to get on the scale in the corner
of the examination room. I don’t do it. Instead I begin walking
Down the hallway-
and through the waiting room-
then out the door, onto the street, I light a cigarette, inhale
deep and exhale loudly, really savoring the taste of it. I roll
them myself (Drum tobacco) and it’s the difference between a
good steak and a cheap burger. I look back over my shoulder, and
see Bennet standing in the doorframe.
I nod at him.
And I smile.
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