"It's a national day of mourning," Dr. L. tells me, by way of explaining my 15 minutes wait in his exam room.
"You're asking what brought me in today," I guess.
He shakes his head, leans in close, says, "we'll get to that," and then repeats what he said about the big news.
He's an African-American about half my 66 years, and on a rogue impulse I put a hand on his shoulder and say "I'm sorry." And then almost compound the weirdness by trying to explain myself, by saying something like Trump will be more of a disaster for some Northern Californians than for the white guys.
He shakes his head again. "He didn't need a get-out-the-vote campaign," he says, "all his small-town voters were self-motivated."
Down to business. What brings me in is sudden hearing loss, on top of the moderate/severe loss that became my new normal a decade ago. For a couple of weeks now, it's been a struggle to talk to just one person in a quiet room. Case in point, our conversation now. I'm a teacher, and worry about keeping my job if my students need to ask questions by writing them down.
Dr. L. looks inside, says the problem is only fluid buildup behind the right eardrum. He wants to schedule a hearing test before draining it, to measure the effect. I ask him to do it now, so this very afternoon I can hear my students. He agrees to rearrange his schedule to fit me in.
Dr. L. stands behind me, numbs my right ear, and inserts a hypodermic needle. I hear muted slurping sounds, and when they stop, other sounds in the room not noticed before. Thank you doctor!
Hillary makes her final campaign appearance while I drive to Rockridge BART. To fill air time before she starts, NPR pundits savor the memories of concession speeches of yore. Al Gore in 2000, now there was an example of accepting defeat after winning the popular vote! Kerry 2004, a good one too. The right words now, from the gracious loser, and America would return to its comfort zone; just as if we had not witnessed our complacencies crumbling beneath us all year.
To me, the most memorable part of Hillary's speech is the very end, where she says her campaign will live on to inspire future generations of girls, who know now that there are no limits to their aspirations. Embracing a cause larger than herself, or seeing herself as the great cause in which others can find themselves? Can't decide. She doesn't grieve for the girls who will suffer if Trump cancels their parents' health insurance; if the thought occurred, during the long night, that her campaign may live on as an example of smug ambition opening the door for disaster, it doesn't leak through to her public persona.
I park, get out of the car, but suddenly my legs feel rubbery, I'm dizzy and nauseous. Someone's leaf-covered yard looks inviting, and I kneel down by the sidewalk, arms on the ground in front of me, head in hands. Don't remember ever feeling so sick. Just want to rest, feel the cool ground under me. But there are two phone calls to make.
The Computer Science chair at CCSF doesn't pick up; my voice mail says my 3 pm class looks dubious. The receptionist at Dr. L.'s office says she'll get him while I wait. On-hold music is streaming through my hearing aids when two motorcyclists stop and walk toward me, wearing concerned expressions. Want them to stay, don't want to impose, not thirsty, but ask for water anyway. They give me a bottle of Evian. Say thanks, wave them away.
Dr. L. comes on the line and says that I'm experiencing an ear drainage side-effect. He offers to call in an anti-nausea prescription to a nearby pharmacy. But where would that be, and how would I get there when I don't want to move? He says that in any case, the symptoms only last 2-4 hours. That's great news anyway, thank you doctor, bye for now.
A woman walking a big dog asks if I need anything, keeping a wary distance. I ask to use her bathroom, though it's not urgent. She says something I can't get, but guess it's that she never opens her door to strangers. Tell her I understand. Someone crouches low on the sidewalk next to me. It's an effort, but I turn my head and see a woman even younger than Dr. L., with shortish hair. She tells me her name is C. She asks what happened.
Tell her about the ear stuff. Where I was heading now? Tell her about CCSF. C. says she's a college instructor too, at a community college and a state university, like me. But she teaches criminal law, she's an attorney who knows the criminal justice system from the "inside." Arrested protesting at Livermore? "Good guess," she says. They picked her up when the police decided to arrest the attorney witnesses at a prisoner rights protest.
Where was she last night when she heard the news? At a party, where people pay to destroy things — the priciest item on the menu was the chance to whack a car with a sledge hammer. Where was I? At the gym, doing 20 miles on an exercycle, watching the tallies mount on CNN, hoping, hoping.
Was there someone she could call for me? The truth comes out — I live alone. Strictly speaking that's not true, but Clark couldn't drive over, or even take the bus, on account of he's a cat. Did I want her to summon an ambulance? Say OK, and she makes the call. Someone else joins us while we're waiting. Turn my head again, and it's another young woman, with a South Asian complexion and a slender gold nose band. She introduces herself as N.
When the ambulance comes I refuse to let them take me. Too much work, by the time they admitted me, I'd be ready to be discharged. The head EMT says it's against their regulation to leave someone lying on the street. I say "Screw the regulations." He consults with C. and N., then tells me to sign a release. I make it to my knees and make an X on a touch pad. The ambulance leaves without me.
Remarkably, C. and N. don't leave as well. Wouldn't you be tempted to say "screw you too," if you went out of your way to provide someone the help he asked for, and then he spurned it? Instead, C. offers to get the anti-nausea prescription for me. Say OK again, and she calls Dr. L. Her voice is soothing although I can't make out her words, and when she's done I give her my health insurance card and a working credit card, and she heads off. N. stays.
Self-pity attack. Tell N. "I'm an old man, sick on the street, and Trump is President!"
"There is that," she says wistfully, referring to the last item on my list of woes. I start crying, really I do. N. asks if she can bring me anything, and I say no, just her offering is enough.
C. returns carrying a little white paper bag, and N. leaves. C. says we'll need to go to her house, only half a block from here. She helps me to my feet, I put my arm around her shoulder, and off we go. Just 5 more house, 3, 1, now up these few steps. She helps me through the front door, and tells me this is where she lives with N. I understand them as a couple. She hands me the little white bag and points me toward their bathroom.
I sit on the toilet for a spell, then take a brief nap, poised on the edge of the tub, head resting on the sink. When I emerge, N. points me toward an easy chair, covered with a sheet, and provisioned with a large metal bowl. I flop down and open the bag. Of course the medication is a rectal suppository, what else could you give someone who can't hold anything down? I say "Oh," close the bag again, close my eyes. If C. was miffed that once again I'd spurned the help I'd asked for, she doesn't say so. Zzzzz.
C. wakes me up and says she'll need to leave in half an hour. I plead for a little more time, and she agrees to 15 more minutes.
C. wakes me up again, and I gather my things and stand without help, stomach quiet. I get her address for a thank-you card. She sees me to the door. "Check this out" I say, and descend the steps, arms raised in triumph high above the handrails.