I punched in the phone number of my long-time friend, partner and punishment, Dr. Beauregard Stonewall Culpepper. He answered. I began, “Dr. Cul…”
“Hold on just a minute, Dr. Garvin,” he said hurriedly. I sat there with the phone to my ear.
“Okay, Dr. Garvin, Ah’m back. The commercial’s on.”
“Do I hear a radio on in the back ground?”
“Yeah, Ah’m listenin’ to a fishing tournament.”
“No more Swamp Thing Marathon weekends?”
“It’s Tuesday, Dr. Garvin; Ah could never give up my Swamp Thing. In fact, Ah’ve taped it; maybe you could come over next weekend.”
“I’m having a hysterectomy.”
“But listening to the fishing tournament is how Ah keep mah mind sharp during the week. You’ve probably wondered. Sometimes they have instant replays.”
“It must breathe new life into your days.” I was starting to lose the feeling in my feet; nothing new when talking for more than 30 seconds with Dr. Culpepper.
“Ah just drop everything so Ah can concentrate. Ah’ve got to make a note to buy mom a trolling motor for her birthday.”
“Does she fish?”
“No, she’ll probably just set in on the mantle next to the hip boots Ah bought her for Christmas. It’s the thought that counts, Dr. Garvin.”
“Heaven spare me.”
“Ah wouldn’t count on that, Dr. Garvin, good as Ah love you. Oh, by the way, you know Ah’m scheduled to work tomorrow…”
“I’ll put your nomination for the Nobel Prize for Medicine in the mail this very day.”
“’N Ah wanted to let you know Ah might have to leave early. Family crisis.”
I’ve been snookered before so my response was a cautious, “And the family crisis is?”
“Mah Aunt Simmie is having a birthday.”
“So how is that a family crisis?”
“Well, she died in 1984…”
I lost feeling in my hands.
“Yeah, but Ah still like to celebrate her birthday every year, so maybe Ah could just get you to work for me, save me the round trip…”
“Ah got her a cake and a little hat…”
“There you go again! As many times as you’ve broken mah heart, Dr. Garvin, it’s a wonder it still works at all. Oh the grief! Ah’m getting’ all choked up; Ah think my nose is runnin’.” His voice broke down. “Oh here Ah go!” I could imagine him furiously fanning away false tears. “My peace and prosperity are at stake here.”
Tom Cruise has nothing on this guy. “You might be the laziest man I know, Dr. Culpepper.”
“Ah might be lazy, but Ah take a lot of naps to make up for it. Dr. Garvin, Ah’ve got a reputation to maintain.”
“An overhaul of your reputation might be in order.”
“Ah don’t know whether to kill myself or go bowling. You’re a hard man, Dr. Garvin, you could chew the tip off a cattle prod. Ah’ve about made up my mind to make a career change, to become a male stripper.”
“You think anyone would pay to see that body?”
“Nobody has enough money.”
“Dr. Culpepper, are you one of the ‘pod people’?”
“Don’t throw a rod, Dr. Garvin, Ah’m just joshin’ you about tomorrow.”
As much as I’d like to do a lobotomy on him, I’m convinced someone beat me to it. “Well, let’s talk about today. Do you remember you’re supposed to be here in two hours? You and I promised to orient Mary Pickney to the ER.”
“The new Physician’s Assistant.”
“Ah’d rather vomit blood than miss that, Dr. Garvin.”
We said good-bye and hung up. The Wizard of Odd, I thought to myself.
I’ve known and worked with Dr. Culpepper for twenty-six years now, a tribute to endurance if ever there was one. “It hasn’t been boring has it, Dr. Garvin?” That’s what he’d ask me, and the world awaits a truer statement to be uttered. The first day I met him, he showed up for work late and within ten minutes filled me in on the following salient facts: When he was a little boy he had been ‘as cute as a little red wagon’, and had owned a small dog he named ‘Snot.’ “Spot?” “Snot. His nose ran all the time. Might have been the cucumbers Ah fed him.” Could be.
He went on to inform me that he was so special, “Ah should have been twins,” that he preferred a schedule that would put him at work about 12 noon, “Give or take an hour,” so that he could eat lunch in the hospital cafeteria before his shift started. He confided that he had extensively studied his own biorhythms and had come to the conclusion, “If Ah eat lunch before a shift, then Ah could take a nap in the call room. Just an hour or two – Mom always said Ah shouldn’t work right after eating. Something about cramps and drowning…” By now I was the one with the cramps. “You let me rest an hour or two and Ah’ll come out here to work and all you’ll smell is my exhaust.”
“Not to mention the fact it will be about time to go home.”
“That thought never entered my mind, Dr. Garvin.”
He showed me a picture of his parents. “Ah only had two.” He went on to inform me of other non-essentials such as the fact that he was an only child [his parents apparently refusing to take any more chances after he was born] and he had had difficult early years. “Ah had a full time job in third grade what with supportin’ the family and all.”
I asked him, “Were you hurt in the crash at Roswell?” but he thought Roswell was a new shopping mall. I concluded, reasonably, that his mother had gotten her tubes tied one child too late, but I didn’t say anything; I mean I had just met the man I was to work with for the next thirty years.
Thirty years, and he didn’t change a bit.