Country Doctor

By: Ernst Luchs

I’ve been retired for a number of years. Lean a little closer. I say I’ve been retired for a number of years. Did you hear that? Good. Yes, I was a doctor. “Doc” they used to call me. I’d be sitting near the fireplace with my head in a brandy snifter when someone would sound the alarm: “Doc, come quick. Luke, he bahn hurt bedt.”

“Get outta here,” I’d say. “Go on, get outta here!”

Then I’d try to throw the brandy snifter at ‘em but my head would stuck fast inside of it. If there was time I’d drink a little Irish coffee to sober up. Then I’d wash my feet and embark on the next train for New York so I could pick up my doctor’s bag at the pawn shop. But if it was a real emergency, like when Luke got lost in Gecko Cavern, I’d grab whatever I could find in the kitchen and go.

It was generally a good thing when I didn’t find my doctor’s bag. I never could figure out what most of that stuff was inside there. A lot of those little glass vials with powder in them were labeled with a skull and crossbones and that always made me feel superstitious.

Anyway, by the time I got to that cave most of the town folk were there singing church hymns. They all looked pretty scared. Spotted corn fever had taken its toll the previous winter, so the fear was still hanging in their watery gray eyes. We all knew that come Spring (God willing that Spring did come), the Dry Burlap Rash would be the weight of worry on our minds.

By and by a black preacher man by the name of Nubi Nixon leads me to the mouth of the cave. “Have a care, Doc,” he says. “That place is chock full of geckos!”

He puts boney hand alongside his face and rolls his eyes around. I take a big look into the dark of that cave. Then I rear myself up like a jungle beast till my rib cage just about busts and I yell, “Sa-tan, begone! Sa-tan, begone!”

We hear an echo and a couple of geckos come skittering from the cave. The crowd murmurs. It starts to drizzle. Women folk are holding paper fans and bits of rhubarb over their heads. Lightning skitters in the far distance. I take another strong look into the cave. “Luke,” I yell, “get outta there! Go on, get outta there!”

Now I’m still wearing that brandy snifter, you see, but no one says a word. Not a thing. It starts pouring rain. The crowd goes deathly still. A couple more geckos scurry out and a dog gets one. I turn toward the crowd and shake my head slowly, “No.” I wipe my brow. But then, out of the dark comes this shape, slowly comes this shape, pale like Luke and slow, an awful lot like Luke. And here he comes blinking and crying but he’s all right and only missing one pants leg. Everybody’s cheering. They rename the town after me and all that. I don’t mind much.

Sometimes I’d be staying for as long as a week when somebody’s down with fever. Folks really can’t afford that kind of living. So they’d pay me whatever they had: sometimes a barrel of salt pork or a sack of dried grasshoppers, or one time even a gourd shaped like a lady’s behind. A freak of nature it was; worth a lot to the right buyer.

“Alas, we have nothing,” they’d say sometimes.

“No matter,” says I, “the kindness and generosity of your lovely daughters has more than recompensed me.”

Then the folks would yell, “Get outta here! Go on! Whoever heard of a doctor with a brandy snifter on his head? Charlatan! Pedophile!”

All I know is my daddy wore a snifter on his head and his daddy before him. Can’t all of us be wrong.

Way back then, the main medical problem was keeping people from using that good old folk medicine on themselves. I’d come to treat a man for gout and he’d be lying on his stomach with a pumpkin tied to his back and inside the pumpkin was a big snake. It got so that when a fellow had gout folks would say, “He’s got a pumpkin on his back.”

“Basil,” I’d say, “that snake’s no good for you.”

The fellow would look kinda hurt and say, “That snake was meant for you, Doc. I know it isn’t much to go on, money-wise, but it’s a lot more snake than you’ll find anywhere else.”

“Well, Basil, thanks, but I don’t like to see you with a pumpkin on your back.”

“Doc, I chewed a possum tail nine times and it just won’t do.”

“Did you spit on the grave of a Chinaman?”

“Of course.”

“Did you whistle up the leg of a pregnant mule?”

“I sure did.”

“Basil, better call a preacher. You’re not long for this earth, so I fear.”

Just then the snake rises up, looks right at me and s-s-s-says-z-z-z, “Go on, get outta here-s-s-s!”

I didn’t argue.


Dear Doctor Castle

By: Neil Pasricha

Dear Doctor Castle,

I think I’m depressed. I’m constantly wondering about the meaning of life. I’m constantly asking myself what my real purpose is here and then thinking that maybe I just don’t have one. Are these normal thoughts? Do I need Prozac or something?


R. J. Kiplong

Algona, Washington

Hey R.J.,

I’m not really a doctor, man. My first name is just actually “Doctor.” I’m serious. People think I’m a doctor because of my odd first name but, I swear, I am definitely not trained to help people with their medical questions. I don’t have any answers for you. Sorry.


Doc Castle

– – – –

Dear Doctor Castle,

I’ve been taking Flexeril for back pain for a few weeks now. Lately, my wife has complained about my lack of sex drive. Is this a side effect of my medication?


Sanjay Duma

Greenville, South Carolina

Hey Sanjay,

I’m not a medical doctor, as you can see from my response above to R.J. I’m a mostly-unemployed 24-year-old graduate of Madison Community College. I got my education in VCR Repair and I specialize in Panasonics. I only got the temp job writing this help column because my uncle has worked for the paper for 15 years and he convinced them to give me a chance. So, I’m sorry, but unless you have any questions about the dangers of hitting eject before a tape is done rewinding, or the proper method for removing a stuck tape from a four-head Panasonic PV-V4021, I can’t really help you.

Sorry about that,

Doc Castle

– – – –

Dear Doctor Castle,

My oldest son “Murphy” recently confided to me that he may have contracted a sexually transmitted disease from his girlfriend. I would like to get confidential testing for him, but am unsure where to turn. Can you recommend something?


Elana Matthews

Santa Barbara, California

Dear Elana,

I’m not a doctor, so this is just personal advice, but why don’t you just look a few up in the phone book and ask them about their policies or something? Definitely check it out though. My friend Dale got some bad warts from this chick he met at a place called Laser in Santa Barbara once. It was no good. Tell Murphy to stay away from that place. Also, if he gets bedridden or has to stay in a hospital for treatment or something, I recommend buying him a Panasonic PV-V4622. You can tape all his favorite shows with the touch of a button on that thing. It’s would be a fine machine for a fine boy.

Good luck,

Doc Castle

– – – –

Dear Doctor Castle,

What do you recommend for treating cuts?


Yvonne Lee

Buffalo, New York

Dear Yvonne,

How about a Band-Aid? Incidentally, I think it’s getting pretty clear that I should have given this column a better name. I was thinking about calling it “Dear Doctor Castle, I Have A Question I Want To Ask You About My VCR”, but then I thought that might be too long. I also wanted to call it “Dear VCR Man,” but one of the editors thought that might lead to some confusion about whether I was a man specializing in VCRs or a man made out of VCRs. The whole thing is getting pretty frustrating, though. On a complete different note, who writes a letter to a newspaper asking how to treat a cut? Who does that?


Doc Castle

– – – –

Dear Doctor Castle,

My grandmother “Rosemarie” has been drinking an herbal ginseng remedy every morning and eating a low-fat energy bar for lunch for the past two years. She’s currently taking calcium pills, Provera 2.5 mg, Synthroid 150 mcg, and getting Vitamin D injections. Her blood pressure is a little high but she has no family history of heart problems. Do you think it would be a good idea for her to start a cardio program three times a week?

Thank you,

Cynthia Drummond

Angora, Minnesota

Dear Cynthia,

Yes. I definitely think this would be a good idea. Please start her up on an intense cardio program, only instead of three times a week make it three times a day. And don’t stretch beforehand because it’s not necessary. And tell her to stop drinking water because it turns into poison inside your body when you exercise.


Doc Castle

Dear Cynthia,

Wait, I feel bad about that. I’m going to level with you here, Cynthia. I’m a VCR repairman. I repair VCRs when they are broken. I know how a VCR works and can fix problems inside one. I provide VCR advice when asked. That’s all I know how to do. So please, if I can make this clear for the last time: Do not ask me for medical advice, and, if I provide medical advice to you, do not take it.


Doc Castle

– – – –

Dear Doctor Castle,

Sorry to bother you with such a simple question, but do I take Amoxicillin with or without meals?

Thank you,

Alice Donson

Tallahassee, Florida

Dear Everybody,

Okay, you broke me. Are you happy? You people finally broke me down. I’m willing to accept that I’m not a doctor but, clearly, you people are not willing to accept that. In an ideal situation I’d be in a family room repairing a VCR right now. I’d be making the family VCR work again, giving people the ability to watch their favorite movies again, the ability to laugh again, to cry again, to make love again. In an ideal situation my skills would be used to better people’s lives, not to constantly explain myself. Not to apologize for who I am. Not to feel shame and regret every time I mention my occupation. But you know what? You people make me feel all of these things. So I would like to formally announce the end of “Dear Doctor Castle.” Enjoy your fancy DVD players and unbroken VCRs, folks. If anyone needs a VCR repaired one day, try going to school for three years and learning how to do it yourself.


Doc Castle


Club News: Notes And Minutes From Recent Meetings Of Area Social Clubs, Hobby Groups And Special-Interest Associations

By: David Jaggard

Tinfoil Reusers Guild

The TRG unites persons who share a passionate interest in preserving, recycling and reusing commodity goods to the vanishing point. At last Thursday’s meeting members gave updates on their ongoing projects. Dee Eace’s teabag is going into its sixth year and still has “plenty of flavor left.” Sehar Wye showed some giftwrapping paper that has been passed back and forth between her sister-in-law and herself for a total of 28 Christmases and birthdays and has served to wrap packages ranging in size from a costume jewelry ring to an outdoor barbecue oven. Junior member Petie Tehay shared his secrets for restoring chewing gum flavor and showed slides of his collection of vintage wads dating back to 1994. Chai Essayen passed around a plastic yogurt tub that she inherited from her grandmother and that still has the original lid. She is currently using the container as a receptacle for her collection of mid-20th century deep-fat frying grease. “I know some of the bacon drippings are from before 1978,” reports Essayen, “because that’s when we moved and I remember bringing them with us in a coffee can.” Next month’s meeting will be a tea luncheon at the Eace’s house.

Language Butchers

The meeting of the “And Etcetera” Chapter of the National Order of Language Butchers was called to order at 7:30 pm on Thursday night at the home of Treasurer Dia-May Isle. First came the recitation of the club’s pledge:

“What’s the diff?

I mean really: If

You use bad grammar

And mumble and stammer

And haw and hem

Through a throatful of phlegm,

People still seem

To know what you mean.

More or less,

Or at least I guess,

Pretty much, you know?

So, like, hey, whoa!

No reason to flip

On some high-horse trip

Just for some little

Goof, error or piddle-

ing small violation

Of pro-noun-ciation

Or syntax, declension

Conjugation, rhyme or scansion!

Like, hey, I dunno,

For me, why should we go

Bust our butts to talk right

When it possibly might

Not really be such

A big deal to make much


Or whatever. . . ”

Several new resolutions were passed. Members were urged to write to dictionary editors asking to have the words “irregardless,” “fourple” and “overexaggerate” accepted as standard English, drop the first “C” in “arctic,” recognize the pronunciation “mis-chee-vee-ous” and add a new definition of “reticent” allowing its use as a synonym for “hesitant.” Emmy Ayan of the Junior Chapter gave a report on her recent trip to Washington D.C., where the National Chapter presented her with a special award for spearheading a successful campaign to eradicate the use of the verb “said” at all local area high schools. Oatie Eatty presented the Malapropism Committee’s list for this month’s Vocabulary-Shrinking Exercise, including the terms “duck tape,” “notary republic,” “unthaw” and “prostrate gland.” At the end of the meeting members signed an open letter to President G. W. Bush congratulating him on his pronunciation of “nuclear.”

Obnoxious Performing Arts Pantomimers

OPAP is open to everyone, performing artist or not, who is sufficiently gullible or cretinous to think that other people find them genuinely cool when they mime playing a musical instrument, plus artists of any discipline who can’t seem to stifle the urge to behave in such a way as to virtually scream to everyone around them, “I’m a Dancer!” or “I’m a Pianist!” or whatever. At the last meeting, Owen Abie of the Air Guitarists Workshop presented a paper on proper tuning. Ariel Laty of the Air Drums Section gave a demonstration of safety precautions to be observed while walking down a crowded street “playing the drums.” (“Limit yourself to two bass drums and a maximum of three floor toms,” says Ariel, “and keep cymbal crashes to a minimum.”) Ivy Ehar of the Dancers Who Can’t Wait in Line at the Bank Without Doing a Few Pliés showed how to hail a taxicab with a flying jeté. Lastly, Ian O’Dubb of the Classical Pianists Who Can’t Resist Fingering Difficult Passages on Tabletops shared tips for looking studiously distracted as though any worldly, non-artistic thought is such an unbearable burden.

Self-Centered Silent Sulkers Society

The SCSSS is made up of people who have a clear, specific idea of how the universe ought to be and become testy, peevish, irritable and — most importantly — uncommunicative whenever it fails to live up to their expectations. According to the bylaws, silent sulking is the only acceptable means of expressing disappointment with friends, family and co-workers. Actually informing the “offender” of what they did wrong is grounds for immediate expulsion from the club.

At the last meeting, role-playing exercises were conducted using scenarios like “Don’t do what I said, do what I meant”, “I didn’t say so, but I meant now”, “Not that there’s any way for you to know this, but you’d better apologize in about five seconds or I’ll never speak to you again” and “Nothing’s wrong! (protracted sigh).”

Longtime member Elle Ewan was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award for her many contributions to the art of creative self-inflicted mental suffering. Among the many anecdotes recounted about Elle’s exploits over the years was the story about a long road trip she took with her husband in 1994. As nightfall approached on the first day, they passed another car that already had its headlights on, and Mr. Ewan said, “Well I guess I better put my lights on too.” Elle clammed up immediately and sustained furious self-righteous silence for the rest of the trip plus seven full weeks after their return before he finally figured out what he had said wrong. (Note for the benefit of non-members: Since the car was partially hers, he should have said “put OUR lights on.” Isn’t it incredible how some people only think of themselves?!)

The time and place of the next meeting were not announced. Members who can’t figure out where to go and when might as well just drop out.

Fatuous Rationalizers Association

The half-baked self-serving rationalizations were flying at last Thursday’s meeting of the FRA. The Tax Cheats Subcommittee has come up with new reasons why they should be allowed to evade income, property, probate and other taxes, including:

* “When I was first starting out and really needed money, the government didn’t give me any. So now that I’m pulling down 280 thou a year, why should I give them any?”

* “People say that by evading taxes I’m not paying my fair share for public works, sewers, roads, police and fire protection and so forth. But I once heard about these people somewhere whose house burned down because the fire department didn’t get there in time. Why should I pay for a service that doesn’t even work?”

* “The government knows that some people are going to pay less than their fair share of taxes, so they artificially raise the tax rates for everybody else. In other words, my taxes have already been paid for.”

The Shoplifters Subcommittee displayed the goods they have pilfered since the last meeting and outlined the reasons why they deserve to have them, including:

* “My mom was probably going to buy me a skirt just like this for my birthday, so there’s no reason why I should have to pay for it.”

* “If they didn’t want you to shoplift they’d have better security.”


* “When a big wealthy company like Sears raises its prices, it’s stealing from the public. So I’m just evening the score.”

The FRA is always looking for new members, especially people who are good at nodding and exchanging approving glances with their eyebrows raised, lips closed and lower jaws pulled down. Note that this is one of the few area organizations that actively welcomes smokers.

New Area Club to Form

A local chapter of the Fellowship of Misplaced Earnestness is being founded to unite several special-interest groups, including:

* People who have become estranged from their own immediate families due to repeated shouting matches about political issues but don’t bother to vote.

* People who block crowded supermarket checkout lanes to complain to a minimum-wage clerk who’s quitting at the end of the week anyway about what they find offensive in the TV ads for a product on sale somewhere in the store.

* People who accost strangers on the street to tell them that they should stop smoking, boycott Nike, go on a diet, etc.

* People who expect any social gathering to suspend all other conversation and activity in order to share in their anguish over some dire (real or perceived) situation on the other side of the globe.

* People who won’t get out of a cab until they have converted the driver to socialism, vegetarianism, Buddhism, etc.

An organizational meeting will be held next Thursday at 6:00 pm in the basement of the Unitarian Church.

Ball Game Canceled

The Knee-Jerk Aggressiveness League has canceled its annual fastpitch hardball game with the Always Right-Never Wrong Alliance due to an inability to agree on a date. Or place. Or starting time. Or batting order. Or umpire. Or rain date. Or who should supply the ball. Or whether to allow cheering. Or where each team’s supporters should sit in the stands. Or where they should park in the parking lot. Or where to go for drinks afterward. Or what the original argument was about in the first place. Or whose fault it is that the plans for a simple friendly game of baseball have degenerated into a never-ending cycle of petty bickering. Or who’s been bending over backwards since the very beginning to work this thing out in a reasonable manner. Or who’s always trying to blame the other side for everything. Or who can shove it up their. . .


Stem Cell Research: Pro Or Profane?

By: J. Pinkerton

The uproar over stem cell research has once again given the genetic sciences the spotlight, and with that spotlight come questions. “Are you making gill-men? Is that what all this is about?” the savvy among us probe. As is usually the case, stem cell research is not actually about gill-men at all, but something else entirely that isn’t terribly interesting. Nonetheless, it is news we must embrace. Why? Because any advance in genetics gets us one step closer to the ultimate goal of all gene tinkering: that someday, it will be raining men. Perhaps even gill-men, though we don’t have the hard facts to back that up.

To date, male-based precipitation research has produced nothing significant. Yet every new finding — be it stem cells or what have you — gives us hope that the ultimate prize is ever closer to our anxious grasp.

What Are Cells?

Cells are the building blocks of humanity. You, for instance, are made out of trillions of teeny tiny little cells, which are apparently really small so, trust me, don’t even bother looking. This is true of all creatures, big and small. Even Rosie O’Donnell, who an astute observer would conclude is composed entirely of fudge, jelly donuts and coagulated gravy, is in actuality made up of the same stuff as you or me.

A horrifying thought, certainly — but also a thought staggering with implications. How can any of us truly be racist, for instance, knowing full well that the folks we’re discriminating against are made up of the same adorable little parts that we are? How can we deny Sylvester Stallone another big box office hit, if we take into account that his cellular make-up is almost identical to our own, no matter how execrable his films may be?

To sum up: cells are small human-building things, the existence of which offers conclusive proof that you should watch Sylvester Stallone movies. This alone is cause for alarm; so it’s easy to see why such small things can stir up so big a fuss.

How Do Cells Know What to Make?

An excellent question. To answer it, you must think of cells as the bricks that make up the you-building. As we all know, a pile of bricks left to their own devices will not make a building. They’ll just sit there like Teamsters. This is where enzymes come in. Enzymes, the proteins that get the cell to transform into one of your you-parts, are the builders. And your DNA, a stringy collection of data that tells the enzymes how to build the you-parts, is the blueprint.

Through a simple metaphor, we have taken a complicated genetic process and made it easy to understand. Unfortunately, we have also simplified it to the point where it is grossly inaccurate. In actuality, cells produce their own enzymes as they need them. Plus, DNA transfers instructions to the enzyme through a complicated process involving RNA molecules and ribosomes. So, to get a more accurate understanding of the process, imagine a construction site where piles of bricks give birth to their own construction workers, the building’s blueprint is popping out instructions that zoom off and gestate inside the workers, and the workers themselves construct the building by setting off chemical reactions inside their own bodies.

Now our metaphor is more accurate. It is also kind of horrifying to think about. If it helps at all, try to imagine the construction workers as cuddly bears. Why, they’re lovable little scamps, aren’t they? Always getting into mischief, sometimes dozing off when they should be working, maybe getting their heads trapped in bowls of honey. Those silly bears!

What Are Stem Cells?

Stem cells are just cells that haven’t been given any instructions yet — they’re a pile of bricks just waiting to be told to transform into something. Recently, scientists have begun to figure out ways of giving stem cells instructions that will start them on their way to becoming things. From a medical perspective, this is a real breakthrough, as it means we could conceivably build sick and ailing people replacement lungs, livers, skin, or anything else that isn’t working. From a raining-men perspective, however, the news is discouraging. Hypothetically, we could use stem cells to stockpile the resources needed to have it rain men’s parts. As an alternative, though, it’s sadly lacking.

Can’t We Just Change a Sick Person’s DNA?

No, not really. Once something’s been built, it can’t actually be un-built. The idea of giving someone new DNA that will change them overnight is a misconception made popular by bad Hollywood movies starring big muscle guys and, lately, Tobey Maguire. The entire Marvel universe, in fact, rests on the assumption that if you were irradiated, exploded, driven over, or otherwise spectacularly mangled, it would jangle up your DNA and give you super-powers. It is not the purpose of this article to argue the merits of Stan Lee’s grasp of molecular biology. However, it’s worth noting that if any of the above were actually true, there would be a risk that you’d suddenly sprout dragonfly wings every time you bumped into a door.

In reality, the best science can do would be to replicate a sick person’s DNA, clone them, and harvest the clone for parts — in other words, rebuild something from scratch. So far, though, the best the cloning sciences can do is duplicate a sheep that is perpetually sick, can’t walk or think right, and costs millions of dollars to keep alive. So don’t hold your breath, basically.

What If We Gave People New DNA Anyway?

Remember that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where those Nazis opened up the ark and had their faces melt off? It wouldn’t be anything like that.

Okay, So Why Is This Stem Cell Business a Problem?

Well, because of where scientists have to get them. Stem cells, remember, are cells that haven’t been built into anything yet. So if you’re in the market for a handful of primo stem cells, you’ll most likely have to get them from something that hasn’t been built yet, i.e., human embryos or fetal tissue. This opens up the age old debate we’re all understandably sick of by now: when can a human being be called a human being? When it’s born? When it’s still in the womb? At the point of conception? When it’s old enough to move out of the house and get a damn job? There are no easy answers here. Just a lot of arguing and picketing.

Saner heads may point out that the pro-life and pro-choice activists should just pick a point randomly and be done with it, on the grounds that most of the world stopped caring about any of this years ago. It’s difficult to be sympathetic to the “every human life is a sacred miracle” argument, after all, when there are over six billion of the sacred little angels consuming our planet’s resources right now. Twenty years from now, when the world population hits critical mass, and we’re all scrounging around for food scraps and living with five hundred of our closest relatives, we’ll be aborting “sacred little miracles” who are well into their late thirties, I assure you. One can’t help but wonder if future generations will look back on our little debate as impossibly quaint, since they’ll most likely be holding lotteries over who gets the privilege of eating a bag full of everyone else’s hair.

So Stem Cell Research ISN’T a Problem?

Well, let’s be fair. Currently, scientists are getting permission from women who have had abortions to extract stem cells from the discarded embryo. Now, if you see stem cells as a goopy pile of embryonic tissue, there isn’t much of a problem.

However: what if those stem cells were a bunch of cuddly little bears? Capering about the forest as cuddly bears do, sitting down to cake-and-honey picnics, playing lively games of charades? Why, those monsters! They’re killing those bears!

This, in essence, is where the problem starts. Pro-life activists feel that using stem cells for research disregards the sanctity of human life, since the stem cells had the potential to build a human being. Scientists have argued that the embryo was aborted anyway, so the choice had been made long before they entered the picture. The pro-lifers argue that the scientists are still destroying the embryos to get the cells, with the headache-inducing implication that the scientists should instead be making the embryos back into babies.

“Why have the abortion in the first place, then?” the exasperated scientists say.

“Exactly!” say the pro-life activists.

Eager to avoid fisticuffs, everybody simply agrees to disagree. Since using stem cells denies the sanctity of human life, the embryo is thrown into the trash instead of used, which somehow makes the pro-life activists happy.

Elsewhere, someone with acute liver problems dies of liver failure. But it could be argued that he would have been the next Hitler anyway, so it’s not entirely relevant.

Is There a Solution to Any of This, Then?

Yes, actually. What needs to be done, clearly, is to give every one of the pro-life activists diseases that cause their lungs, liver and kidneys to fail. Faced with their own imminent mortality, it’s a safe bet many of them will take the time to seriously reappraise their stance on stem cells; cells which, now that they take a closer look, really don’t look much like cuddly bears after all.

Now where’s that kidney?