public computers

public computers

This is a re-post from five years ago. I’ve been thinking about the importance of paying attention, and this story came to mind…

A while back I was in the library checking my email on the public computers. The patrons of the library’s public computers constitute what may politely be called a cross-section of humanity. At my library, they don’t just let you sit at whichever computer you like. They assign you one, and it’s right next to the person who sat down just before you did. Which is to say, there isn’t any of that natural spacing of the discreet whereby two people in an elevator stand in the back corners and the third person stands in the middle right by the door. No, at the library computers you’re spang up against the next fellow. The fellow I was spang up against was managing his account at an online dating site. He was a white-haired, paunchy old boy with a long, straight nose that ran bulged off to the left just at the tip-end, putting me in mind of a train that derailed right before pulling into the station. Every half-minute or so, he chuckled at something some dating prospect or other had written in her profile, wagging his head each time and cutting his eyes over toward me. Clearly he hoped I would ask him what he was laughing about or otherwise engage him in conversation. I was determined not to. I was in a bit of a hurry–just trying to check my email and get out of there–and I wasn’t up to it anyway.

Soon my neighbor wandered away from the dating site and to a medical self-diagnosis site. He stopped chuckling and instead made little murmurs of interest–or maybe it was concern. I didn’t take the bait. I was locked on to that email. At last the man nudged me with his elbow. He pointed at his screen. “How would you pronounce that word?” he asked.

I looked at his screen. “Splanchnoptosis, I guess.” I went back to my email.

“Splanchnoptosis,” he repeated. “Prolapse or backward displacement of an organ in the abdomen.” He rubbed his ample belly. “I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ve got,” he said. I glanced in his direction and gave a quick, sympathetic nod, then looked off, hoping he would get the message.

The man turned his chair to face me. “You probably didn’t know that you can cure cancer with baking soda, did you?”

It finally occurred to me that whatever my email said, it wasn’t going to be nearly as interesting as the things this old boy had to say. I turned my chair too, and we were face to face.

“That’s right,” he said. “Some doctors in Italy taped pouches of baking soda under the armpits of women with breast cancer. Six weeks later, the tumors were gone. No surgery. No chemo. No radiation. I saw it on YouTube.” He crossed his arms triumphantly, as if he had been one of the Italian doctors who made the discovery. “It’s all about the pH levels.”

He extended a thick right hand in my direction. “I’m David,” he said.

I shook his hand. If I told him my name, I’m quite sure he didn’t hear it. He was off again. “But there’s no money in baking soda, is there? Where would the medical-industrial complex be if everybody was controlling their pH levels with baking soda and wasn’t getting cancer? What would the doctors do? You can’t make the mortgage on one of those doctor houses by selling baking powder, can you?”

David looked behind him as if to be sure nobody was eavesdropping, though he was speaking so excitedly now that I suppose everybody in the computer room could hear every word, unless they were wearing foam earplugs. He leaned in close. “You know who built all the hospitals, don’t you?”

I shook my head.

“The Rockerfellers. That’s who. The same Rockerfellers that are in charge of everything else. You think that’s a coincidence, that the Rockerfellers built all those hospitals and the Rockerfellers are in charge of our health policy? You want to know why you didn’t know baking soda is the cure for cancer?” He snorted disdainfully. “Ask the Rockerfellers. Only they won’t tell you.”

David gestured toward the people who were lined up outside the computer room for early voting. “It’s like I told one of the women out there,” he said. “I said, ‘Do you really think you’re smart enough to vote? Do you think you can outwit the military-medical-industrial complex? Because that’s who runs things around here. Do you think you’re smarter than the Rockerfellers?'”

To think my natural inclination was to ignore this guy.

“But there’s no telling what women want, is there?” David said. I wasn’t sure if that was a rhetorical question. “I know what women want,” he said, “and I know how to give it to them.” He leaned in even closer than before assumed a confidential tone. “They just want somebody who will listen.”

  • EmmaJ
    7:44 AM, 3 February 2011

    Oh, humanity, you are blessedly bizarre. I heart real people. Sometimes it does pay to talk to strangers.

  • Canaan Bound
    1:26 PM, 3 February 2011

    JR, I’m glad you paid attention to a man who just wanted somebody to listen

    • Jonathan Rogers
      4:16 PM, 3 February 2011

      Sally, I suspected that maybe you had taken that picture out your window in Alaska.

  • sally apokedak
    3:06 PM, 3 February 2011

    So I’m reading along thinking, “Aha, my word for the week is spang.” (I have to get at least one new word a week from this blog.) And then I came to Splanchnoptosis.
    I was so relieved to find that Splanchnoptosis was a medical condition and I didn’t have to use it in everyday conversation.

  • Jess
    4:00 PM, 3 February 2011

    *Sigh* Good story. Really good story. I have learned something awesome–no wait, never mind, I forgot that morals aren’t allowed here. 😉 Keep listening, Mr. Rogers, so you can keep writing and using words like “spang”.
    Sally: I think I am going to make a poem about “Splanchnoptosis”. But I need a word that rhymes with it, other than “osmosis”, because osmosis has nothing to do with Splanchnoptosis (or does it??).

  • Aaron Roughton
    5:06 PM, 3 February 2011

    There once was a man with SplanchnoptosisWhich he acquired by means of osmosis
    The smile left his face
    When his abdominal organs were displaced
    But it came back with a round of hypnosis

  • Jess
    5:50 PM, 3 February 2011

    Peep peep goes the referee whistle! Personal foul, commenter number 6, Aaron Roughton. You used my word, so I had to think up a different word. Boohoo. 😉
    There’s a medical condition by the name of Splanchnoptosis
    Of which the specific symptoms are the grossest
    I think it’s what I have,
    Because there’s pain in my abs
    (I misplaced my abdominal organs
    Or was it displaced? All this medical jargon)

    • Jonathan Rogers
      6:21 PM, 3 February 2011

      Hmmmm…is a APF topic presenting itself?

  • Aaron Roughton
    6:17 PM, 3 February 2011

    Jess, I’m pretty sure I also violated Jonathan’s strict “no limerick” policy. So let me just apologize to everyone at once.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      6:41 PM, 3 February 2011

      Limericks are OK. It’s haikus that are banned. Here’s my problem with a haiku: if somebody doesn’t tell you it’s a haiku, you’d never guess it’s supposed to be a poem.

  • Patrick
    6:32 PM, 3 February 2011

    SplanchnoptosisWay too much information
    I’m not listening

  • Jess
    6:49 PM, 3 February 2011

    *Sniff* you are forgiven. At least, I forgive you. I don’t know if Mr. Rogers does. 😉

  • Jess
    6:56 PM, 3 February 2011

    Oh, I see. Then Patrick needs a spanking, one, for attempting a haiku, and two, for failing at it (it is 5-7-5, not 4-7-5) 😉

  • sally apokedak
    7:29 PM, 3 February 2011

    Aaron and Jess, those were spectacular.
    Patrick, I’m afraid you just proved Jonathan’s point. I didn’t realize it was a haiku until Jess counted out the syllables.

  • Steve S
    8:09 PM, 3 February 2011

    Jess, in defense of Patrick, in the American South “splanchnoptosis” has 5 syllables, owing to the extended dipthong of the letter “a”, as in “SPLAY-ENCH-NAWP-TOW-SIS.

  • Jess
    8:19 PM, 3 February 2011

    Dialects are of no import in the strict world of haiku.

  • Drew
    9:18 PM, 3 February 2011

    Everything about this makes me recoil.

  • Aaron Roughton
    9:27 PM, 3 February 2011

    Agreed Jonathan.Haiku is hard to detect.
    If you even care.

  • Abby Maddox
    9:50 PM, 11 February 2011

    Oh, my goodness, that was hilarious. Thanks for not checking your email. That was so worth it.

  • Levi Wiggins
    5:50 PM, 27 February 2015

    I have a sneaking suspicion that I have been this David fellow on my than one occasion. I can only hope that I’ve been half as interesting.

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