Last night I lost a tooth, crown, and tooth below. My student Kimberly, a nurse, took me to her dentist this morning for an exam. As we got out of Kim’s car at a little strip mall, a burly, long-haired, bearded 30-something man (think Jack Black) approached us, slushie in hand, and began to speak rapid-fire at us. He wore a backpack, which, we would learn, contained copies of what he called his book.
“I’m a rock star,” he shouted, the tone of his speech loud all the way.
The young man was clearly mentally ill, perhaps schizophrenic, and way big enough to dangerous. But he also was fascinating, his sentences tumbling out like a waterfall. We listened, and I found an interjection point to tell him that I had a dentist appointment, so good luck to you. The man god blessed us, and we entered the office.
As I was filling out forms, the man entered the dentist’s office and approached the receptionist. It was clear from the way the receptionist talked to the man that he came in there often.
“I need to make an appointment,” the man roared. “I’m hurting bad.” Probably have to wait a couple months. I don’t have insurance, but I’ve got cash. Want to read my book? I’m a writer and a rock star. My birthday is the same day as Ozzie Osbourne’s. Oh boy, does my tooth hurt. I got slammed in a fist fight last night. I punched this guy 36 times.”
The man held out his hand and showed us and the receptionist bloody knuckles. He took off his backpack ostensibly to take out copies of his book.
“Let’s make you an appointment,” the receptionist repeated.
“Yes, sometime in August.”
We couldn’t see the transaction as he leaned over the counter and watched the receptionist. She didn’t ask for his name, and he didn’t fill out papers. I was pretty sure it was a ritual, this asking for an appointment, the two-month wait, the no filling out of forms, the unspoken appointment. The man stood back and recited a rap beautifully. Then the dentist, a woman of Greek heritage came out in her uniform and mask. The man gathered up his things, offering the dentist a copy of his book, and she declined, and he god blessed us all and walked away.
“I am so sorry,” the dentist said.
“Not at all,” I said. “He was very interesting.”
She greeted Kim and took me into her patient room and examined the hole in my mouth. The wound was not infected, and she could see there had been a root canal performed, so there shouldn’t be a lot of pain.
And then she said, “No charge.”
I thought I heard the “Hallelujah Chorus,” for I hear voices too. And raps and rock music and the waterfall of the River Styx, and the ghosts of my ancestors. The difference between me and the young mad man is degrees. The lines of the degrees may be violent, somnolent, poetic, angry, stillness, visions, dreams.
The young man clearly had battled with someone, someone, I thought, who viewed him as prey. Others along his journey, as with the receptionist and the dentist, and Kim and me, were empathetic souls who listened and humored him. He was brawny and brash, which made him prey, and poetic and dreamy, which allowed him to feel his verbal power.
His journey might be halted by some sadistic Chicago bully who will go all the way and kill him, a street preacher who tells him about the Good News and he in turn sets up a microphone on a wooden crate and stands and proclaims the rap of God, or an agent who finds him a genius of the spoken word. Whatever, he was one of the biblical “consider the birds of the field” who “neither toil nor spin.” Perhaps he gets taken care of; perhaps he is a victim of evolution.
Does it matter?
Not to the universe, which does not consider nor comfort the lost. There is no time there, no story, no compassion. No schizophrenia. The young man was Don Quixote Rock Star, you see, tilting his air guitar cockily, singing to an imagined multitude, excited in his mind for what never happened. He will live or die on the streets of Chicago, a character put of a Nelson Algren short story.
Me, I am champaign after the bubbles are gone. The rock star was champagne, and he was dancing.