As a kid I didn’t look forward to going to Dr. Doranz’s office, in fact, you might say sometimes I dreaded it. But it wasn’t because Dr. Doranz was a bad or a mean man, though he did inflict some pain on me at times. But that wasn’t it. The physical pain wasn’t it. The main problem was the talking — sometimes when Doctor Doranz and my father started talking, they just couldn’t stop.
I was young, around 8 then, and everything seemed to go down slower back then, and going to Dr. Doranz’s office was no exception. In fact our trips to Doc’s office took place as if they unfolded in slow motion. When pop and I walked up the steps to our doctor’s nifty brownstone in the more affluent West End of section of Trenton, we did it slowly. We were in no rush. No hurry. Nor do I ever remember sitting in Dr. Doranz’s waiting room, not once. Sometimes it seemed as if I was Doc’s only patient. We’d pull up, and then we’d push open the thick wooden door that led into Doc’s brownstone, and then go through another one that dropped us into a waiting room; and then pop would push a buzzer and suddenly we’d hear Dr. Doranz’s heavy footsteps reverberating on the inside stairs, and then another door would open automatically and Doc would be there standing in his office, smiling at my dad.
Dr. Doranz was short and thick and solid; he was a sturdy man, and he wore glasses that were so thick that they blurred the blue irises of his eyes. I never saw the doctor in anything but white shirts — his sleeves rolled up to the elbows — in dress black pants and wearing a black bow tie, regardless of what time of the year it was or how hot or cold it was outside. (Though it was always the same temperature in his office — hot.) Doc’s forearms were thick and muscled and he had short powerful legs, and unlike the doctors of today, his appearance gave you the impression that being a doctor was only one of his vocations. Dad didn’t call him Doctor, he called him Harold. He was a good doctor, dad said, but he didn’t act like a know-it-all like a lot of doctors. Dr. Doranz delivered me and my younger sister Nancy, and in the winter, if it snowed hard and we couldn’t get into the city, he’d drive out to the country for a house call. Dad called Dr. Doranz some funny German word whose meaning I didn’t know back then; and he said he was “solid”; dad said he was “the salt of the earth.”
As far as his face goes, Dr. Doranz’s was unremarkable except for an upper lip that drooped a little on one side and looked as if at one time he might have had a hair lip. Like most of my father’s friends, all of whom seemed old to me, Doc had a chalky face, though it was a little ruddier and healthier-looking than my father’s, and he had wisps of dark hair on his arms and on the back of his neck. And while Dr. Doranz was also short like my dad, he had larger wrists and broader shoulders than pop. My father was a slight man, while Dr. Doranz reminded me of an ox.
* * *
“What’s on the agenda today, Bill?” Dr. Doranz asked.
“The little guy needs a booster shot,” dad said.
“No problem. We’ll fix him right up,” Doc said as he scrubbed his hands in a porcelain sink beneath the window and then reached into his back pocket for a pair of yellow rubber gloves.
Dr. Doranz’s office was sparse but for the necessities: a silver steel examining table that was cold to the touch (especially to a bare back); two steel chairs, a broad porcelain sink, and a larger brown table where I sat once when Dr. Doranz sewed up my leg and which he called his “operating table.” Two bizarre-looking black-and-white anatomical charts broke the otherwise unadorned white walls, and the silver utensils and tools that Doc sometimes poked me with were laid out, spotlessly clean and orderly, on an isolated table.
This day I stripped down to my underpants and jumped up on the table and dangled my legs off one side. Doc pulled a black rubber hammer which he called his “knee cracker” out of his black bag and tapped me on the kneecap, prompting my left foot to spring involuntarily. Doc mumbled something. He put down the knee cracker and pulled a wooden slab out of his bag and set it under my tongue. “Say ahh,” he said. I gagged, and he said, “Good.”
“How are things going at the college?” he asked pop. “And congratulations on your promotion, by the way.” Then to me: “Say ahh,” and I said “ahh,” and gagged again.
“Changing,” dad said, suddenly looking serious and older to me. Tired and drawn. “Things are hectic, and changing. Changing fast. Things are always changing, that’s a given. But sometimes I’m not sure if for the better.”
Dr. Doranz used his foot to flip open the top of a wastebasket and dropped the damp tongue depressor into the basket. He placed the black chestpieces of his stethoscope, which hung around his neck, on my bare chest and told me to breathe in deeply, exhale and inhale again, deeply. The cold tips of the stethoscope made me shiver.
“Good,” Dr. said. “Again. Good. One more time.”
“Maybe you need an avocation, Bill,” Dr. said to my dad.
“I don’t have time for a hobby, Harold,” dad said. “And anyway, I know what you’re getting at — I gave up smoking six months ago.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Dr. Doranz said. “An avocation, not a vice. Maybe you need some activity, some hobby, to blow off steam.”
My father laughed and colored, then his brow wrinkled and he set his jaw. Dad was a serious man. He could be happy occasionally, but it didn’t linger, and he seldom laughed. Dad bit his fingernails, and he often set his jaw.
“People need activities to blow off steam,” Dr. Doranz said.
Dr. Doranz reassuringly slapped me above the knee and then walked across the room to the sink, where he scrubbed his hands and dried them with a small green towel. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out another pair of shiny yellow gloves, stretched and snapped them, like they were rubber bands, and then pulled them one-by-one over his hands.
“Why don’t you go back to the track with us one night?” he asked my father.
Dad smiled, I thought uncertainly, and glanced at me.
“I’m not a gambler,” he said.
“You don’t have to gamble,” Dr. Doranz said. “Two to show, five to place. It’s no big deal. What the hell? Or you can sit there all afternoon and not wager more than $20. You can gamble really conservatively, you know, like I do. In any case, it’s the spectacle of the place that’s the thing. Its appeal. It’s just a good way to get outside in the air and relax.”
“Harold, what makes you think I need to …” my father started, again glancing at me.
“I just think …,” Dr. said, interrupting my father but not finishing his own thought. “Do you still have that blood in your stool?”
“Occasionally,” dad laughed strangely, nervously.
Then dad and Dr. Doranz lapsed into some code I didn’t understand because it wasn’t meant for me to understand. They used words like “start ups” and “across the board” and “bridle,” and then they threw around words like “blood stools” and “colonoscopy” and “genetic tendencies” and “radiation,” and as they did they got more serious. They talked and talked. And since I was unable to follow them, I looked around the room, I surveyed it. I looked at everything — at the strange and spooky anatomical charts that were hung on the otherwise colorless walls and at the pain-inducing objects that were set down in meticulous rows on the table: the blunt and sharp objects that that Dr. Doranz had poked or pricked me with in the past and that were not my friends.
“I’m a vice principal now,” my father finally said, “so I had to get rid of all my vices.”
Dr. Doranz shook his head and laughed weakly and took a long plastic cylinder, which was about eight inches long, out of a paper wrapper. He reached into a glass that was filled with a clear liquid and pulled out a long pointed metal object. He slid the pointed object into the cylinder, and as he did a long metal needle emerged from the end of the cylinder. It got my attention. I stared at the pointed silver tip of the needle, which seemed to sparkle and maybe even throw off sparks.
“When did the little guy start biting his fingernails,” Dr. asked my father. “He wasn’t biting them the last time you were here.”
“I didn’t even notice,” dad said.
“Has there been a change in anything at home?” Dr. asked.
Dad ignored the question.
“Has there been?’ Dr. Doranz repeated.
“I have a new job, a more stressful job, that’s about it.”
“Does he still get heartburn?”
“Do you still get heartburn, Lewis?” dad asked me.
“Sometimes when I eat radishes,” I said.
“It’s that hiatal hernia, Bill. He’s going to have to live with that.”
Dr. Doranz moved slowly, deliberately. He picked up a small cylinder that was filled with yellow liquid and poked the end of it with the tip of the needle. A stream of liquid filled the cylinder.
As usual, it was hot in Dr’s office, very hot, but my hands and feet were now getting cold. Dr. Doranz raised the needle to see if the cylinder was full, and once again the raised tip of the needle seemed to sparkle.
“In any case, I’d recommend you having a glass of wine with dinner,” Dr. Doranz said.
“I haven’t touched a drop in years, Harold. And I haven’t smoked a cigarette since August 12, 1945,” dad laughed dryly. “I left my last pack in France.”
“You can have one drink without overdoing it,” Dr. Doranz said.
“Maybe in your family,” dad replied.
Dr. Doranz sauntered toward the window and stood sideways in front of the half-drawn blinds. He held up the needle and I stared at its long slow silhouette against the beige blinds. Suddenly I remembered what my friends Gary and Bob had said about their last tetanus shots, and how Gary had walked around for days with his arm hanging at his side like a wounded bird. I thought of my last shot, and how much it had stung. How it had felt as if the needle had pierced the bone beneath my left bicep. And how my arm had been swollen for days.
“Everybody needs …” Dr. Doranz was saying now.
But before he had finished his thought I was off. Off, you might say, to the races. Gone. Through one door and into the waiting room, where I stumbled over a pair of feet and apologized and pushed through a second door, and then flew down the front steps of Doctor Doranz’s brownstone and out to the sidewalk, where I veered left and ran up the hilled-sidewalk on South Warren Street.
By the time Dr. Doranz caught up with me I was puffing through the intersection of Warren and Chambers streets. Doc squeezed my arm, while pop was not yet in the picture. The hypodermic needle was still in the doctor’s right hand, though it hung at his side now, and when dad caught up with us he was winded and gasping for air. They looked like two adults who had run after a fawn for five city blocks in tight black dress shoes.
“What’s wrong, son?” Dr. Doranz asked.
“It was hot in there,” I said.
Ron Kostar is semi-retired after years of teaching and now spends most of his time reading, writing, and playing music. He plays the clarinet and sing for a gypsy/swing band, Delta Noir, and has published short fiction and poems in U.S. 1, the Roosevelt Bulletin, the Kelsey Review, the Princeton Review, Askew Review, and others.