The Doctor and Mr. Dylan (7 page)

BOOK: The Doctor and Mr. Dylan
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“I grew up here. I missed the ice fishing and deer hunting.”

“Bullshit.”

“My son transferred into the 11th grade. We want him to graduate from Hibbing High.”

“Let me guess. You think he’ll be the smartest kid in town.”

“I have no idea. We just got here.”

Dylan twirled a wisp of his moustache between his fingers and thumb. “I’ll bet $1000 you and your kid are gone by next January. This ain’t no place for boys from Californ-eye-aye. No place at all.”

“We’ll adjust.”

“You OK working here, where nurse anesthetists are your equals?”

I bit the inside of my cheek. “I’m not sure nurses and doctors are equal. I expect I’ll get used to the fact that nurses can give their own anesthetics here.”

“Of course you will. Just remember, you’ve got no power over me here. No power at all.” Dylan winked and said, “Now, if you’ll pardon me, I’ve got to go make me some money.”

He walked away, and his words echoed in my ears: No power over me at all. My first impression was reconfirmed. This Bobby Dylan was trouble.

It was break time, and the lounge was filling up. An attractive woman sat down at  the adjacent table. She had the palest of green eyes that precisely matched the color of her scrub shirt. She had flawless skin and adorable dimples, and the knack of smiling nonstop as she chatted.

I smiled to myself, and forgot about the onerous Mr. Dylan. The sight of a beautiful woman trumped all of life’s ills. It really did.

 

 

CHAPTER 7

IN SOME FOOL’S HAND

 

The school bell rang at the end of the day, and I watched students stream down the front steps of Hibbing High. Johnny separated himself from the pack and ran across the street toward me. He hopped over the picket fence gate, skipped up the walkway of Dom’s house, and burst through the front door. He was grinning like a lottery winner.

“How was your day?” I said.

“It was a life-changing experience.”

“In what way?”

“In every way. The kids were friendly. The teachers were cool. I was afraid the teachers might be backward, like, maybe not even as smart as me. But they were sharp.”

I was stunned. This was the same kid whose last words this morning were, “I hope this school doesn’t suck, for both of our sakes.”

“What were the classes like?”

“Calculus should be a breeze. They’re doing stuff I already learned in Palo Alto. In English they’re reading
King Lear
. They’re in the middle of the play already, and I’ve got about 100 pages to catch up. In AP U.S History they’re doing the Constitution, which I’m pretty comfortable with. In physics they’re working on relativity. That was pretty hard to follow, but one of my classmates is going to help me figure it out.”

“Great. So you made some new friends?”

“The kids were real chill. They couldn’t believe I moved here from California. At lunch time they asked me a million questions. I was worried I’d be treated like an outsider, but instead I felt more like a celebrity.”

Johnny’s cell phone chirped. He pulled it out and his thumbs flew across the keyboard. His foot tapped the ground at a frantic pace.

“You sure look happy,” I said. “Who are you texting?”

“Just someone. Hey, I’ve got a lot of homework to do, and I’d like to get started. One hundred pages of iambic pentameter, anybody?”

“I don’t think so. I already finished 11th grade.”

“You’re my hero, Dad.” As Johnny went inside I heard his cell phone chime again. I was thrilled. It was only the top of the first inning, but we seemed to be pitching a perfect game so far. Johnny was enthusiastic, studying without prompting, making friends, and not complaining about anything.

So far, so good.

A Ford Explorer pulled up to the curb, and Michael Perpich climbed out carrying a cardboard box and a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. He pushed past the front door, and the sixty-degree temperature gradient from outside to the interior of the house fogged his thick spectacles. He flipped the glasses up over his forehead and handed the box to me. “Welcome to the North Country,” he said.

Something was alive and moving inside the box. I opened the lid and was greeted by the sight of a six crappies, a type of Minnesota game fish I hadn’t seen since I was twelve years old. Their gills strained in agonal efforts to breathe air.

“These fish were swimming two hours ago,” he said.

I pulled one of the crappies out of the box. It was greenish-brown, 10 inches long, with a broad tailfin and a white underbelly. “Who caught these?” I said.

“Not me. You saw how I spent my day. These are from my neighbor, an old guy who’s a retired U.S. Steel welder. He goes fishing every day and hooks more than he can eat. He caught these this afternoon. We’ll have to clean them ourselves. Remember how?”

“I haven’t skinned a fish in twenty years, but I can do it. Do you think I forgot how to be a Ranger?”

“Let’s see what you’ve got.”

The box was lined with pages from the
Duluth News Tribune
. I spread the newspaper on the kitchen table, dumped the fish onto the paper, and pulled a 12-inch knife out of a kitchen drawer.

“For a change, a surgeon is going to watch an anesthesiologist cut,” I said.

Perpich crossed his arms over his chest. He snickered and leaned back against the refrigerator to watch.

I laid the six fish in parallel on the tabletop. I turned the first crappie on its side, and brought the blade down hard to cut off its head. Ending its life didn’t trouble me one bit. In my boyhood I’d killed hundreds of pike, ducks, and partridge, and even a deer or two. The act of beheading a living thing was barbaric, but this wasn’t a loving creature, it was food. I tossed the fish head aside, gutted the body, and scaled the glistening skin. I grabbed a second crappie and repeated the process. In a flurry the paper was covered with five more fish heads, a mound of fish scales, and twelve fillets.

“For a gas passer, that was a nice job cutting,” Perp said. “Let’s fry these up. I need an egg, some flour and access to Dom’s spice drawer. Your boy drink beer?”

“No. He’s only 17.”

“I know how old he is. I asked you if he drinks.”

“He doesn’t.”

“I fry my fish in beer batter. Johnny can finish off the bottle if he wants. I recommend you teach him to drink. He’s going to party up here with his friends. If he didn’t drink in California, he’s sure to find some keggers up here at somebody’s lake cabin.”

“He’s a pretty straight kid.”

“C’mon. He’s in 11th grade. Look at you and Angel. You two were the straightest kids in the history of Hibbing, and look what trouble you got into.”

“Who’s Angel?” said a voice from the stairway. It was Johnny, peering down on us from on high, a quizzical look on his face.

Perp looked at Johnny, and glanced over at me. Perp raised his eyebrows as if to say,
He’s your son. You answer
.

“Johnny, this is my friend from medical school, Dr. Michael Perpich. He’s the Chief of Staff at the Hibbing hospital.”

“Good to meet you, Dr. Perpich. So Dad got into trouble with somebody named Angel? Sounds like a good story. Who was Angel?”

I wanted to make this conversation go away as soon as possible. “Angel was Dom’s daughter,” I said in a flippant tone.
Next topic, please
.

“What kind of trouble did you get into with her?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. She’s dead now.” I busied myself setting the table.
Next topic, please
.

“Jeez, I’m sorry,” said Johnny. “What happened?”

“She died of cancer.”
Next topic, please
.

There was only one family picture in the whole house. Johnny walked over to the fireplace and studied the solitary photo there. “Is this Angel?” he said.

“That’s her,” Perp said.

Johnny studied the photograph for more than a minute, but if he recognized the man in the picture, he didn’t admit it. His cell phone chimed the arrival of yet another text message, and Johnny punched in a reply. The next topic had arrived, I thought with relief.

“Someone texting you from California?” I said.

“No. It’s a friend I met at school today.”

I waited for more information, but Johnny was distracted and quiet. His thumbs kept moving. I surmised that natural selection would favor future generations with pointed, pliant, and powerful thumbs. I was glad he lost interest in Angel, and made a mental note to remove the photo from the mantle and put it in a dark and dank drawer somewhere Johnny would never find it again.

Perp busied himself preparing beer batter and flipping the fish in a frying pan. A dollop of fish grease hit the left lens of Perp’s eyeglasses, and he didn’t bother to wipe it off. The smell of the sizzling beer batter filled my nostrils. I spread three dinner plates on the tiny pine table in the corner of the kitchen.

Perp set out three bottles of Pabst on the table. “Time to eat, boys,” he said. He laid four crappie fillets on each plate.

Johnny eyed the fish with mistrust. “These were alive twenty minutes ago?” he said.

“It’s your baptism into Up North culture,” Perp said. He hoisted a beer bottle. “Let me offer a toast to Papa Antone and his son. May you love the North Country like I do.”

We tapped bottles together, and I watched Johnny slug down a third of his Pabst Blue Ribbon without a grimace.
Where did he learn to do that?

Johnny bit into his crappie and said, “Hey, I like it. It’s not sushi, but if you wash it down with enough beer, it hits the spot.”

“Enough beer? I didn’t think you liked beer at all,” I said.

“I had a beer or two at Amanda’s house. You never offered me one at home before. Dr. Perpich, you’re much more mellow than Dad.”

“I am mellow.”

“Dr. Perpich, can I ask you a question?” Johnny said.

“Sure.”

“You helped Dad get his job at the hospital, right?”

“I did. He was an easy sell.”

“Could you get me a job at the hospital? An orderly job, something like that?”

I almost fell over. My son, born into a world of entitlement, had never worked a day in his life. Nor had he ever expressed any interest in working.

Michael Perpich raised an eyebrow and looked at me. I nodded in affirmation.

“Why do you want a job at the hospital?” Perp said.

“A friend I met at school today works at the hospital on weekends. She said it was super interesting. I told her my dad was doctor who was going to be on staff there. She encouraged me to try to get a job at the hospital, too.”

“What’s your friend’s name?”

“Echo.”

“Echo?” I said.

“Yeah, Dad. Cool name, isn’t it?”

It was a name seeped in Hibbing history. I’d read all of Bob Dylan’s biographies, and tattooed his entire Hibbing back story on my brain. Echo was the name of Bob Zimmerman’s girlfriend in high school. I’d never heard of another person named Echo, until now.

“Echo. Yeah, I know who she is,” Perp said. “Good kid. Works hard. Tell you what, Johnny. I’ll talk to the operating room management people first thing in the morning, and see if I can call in a favor for you.”

“That would be great. Thanks.”

Johnny finished his fish, drank half the beer, and departed for his bedroom either to read King Lear or to send another hundred text messages to Echo. I wouldn’t bet which.

“I like your son,” Perpich said. “I’m impressed that he wants to work at the hospital. Let me tell you, that Echo is a cute girl. If Johnny’s hanging out with her already, he’s a lucky kid. He doesn’t have much trouble meeting girls, does he?”

“No. Johnny’s always had a way with the ladies.”

“Good for him,” Perp said, setting his napkin down alongside his empty plate. “I need to get home. I want to see my kids before they go to bed.”

“I don’t expect you have a lot of free time with five kids. I don’t know how you do it.”

“Great wife, great life. You know how that goes. Sharon takes care of everything. My job is to bring home the money and teach the kids how to play hockey. That’s about it.”

“You’re lucky. The only domestic work my wife ever did was hire the nannies.”

“Your wife makes enough money to pay for an army of nannies, a cook, a housekeeper, ten gardeners and a pool boy. So it isn’t all bad, right?”

“It isn’t great. A lot of miserable wealthy couples would love to have the family life you have.”

“The snow is always whiter on the other side of the fence, Tone. If those miserable wealthy couples want to wire any of their money to Michael Perpich, M.D., I’ll be happy to take their troubles off their hands. I’ve got a ton of college tuition to pay for. You working tomorrow?”

“Yep. First case at 7:30.”

“Excellent. I’ll see you at the General.”

 

BOOK: The Doctor and Mr. Dylan
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