Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Nuclear Medicine

The elevator doors close unsteadily. Cables squeal and grind with effort. The yellow rectangular light panels buzz feebly overhead. The inhabitants of the elevator glance at each other out of the corners of their eyes. One is male, the other female. The male is lean with sunken eyes and bony cheekbones. He wears slacks of brown polyester held up with a belt under which a black and blue checkered shirt is tucked and buttoned up to the collar. The woman is short but ample and wears her hair closely shorn. She wears slacks and sandals with a white tunic blouse. They stand silently with a healthy distance between them. The carpet underfoot is stained and torn. The woman tries not to let the tips of her toes come off the edge of her sandals lest they come into contact with its contaminated fibers.
The doors shudder open into the gray mustiness of what used to be a bomb shelter. All surfaces are concrete. Doors are the exception. They are dull metal.
There are flickering florescent tubes leading the way from where they are bolted high above, and yellow arrows painted on the concrete point the way from below. The corridor twists and turns. There are no people, just doors marked RADIATION. DO NOT ENTER. With small nervous movements and wide eyes the two individuals shuffle along following the yellow arrows.
A cubicle with a yellow light shining out through the panes of glass houses a solitary human being. He is a fat young man seated behind a desk, his nightly snack of Snickers Bars and two cans of Coke Classic stacked beside his appointment book. He’s a little sweaty, but manages a smile. ..
He directs the woman to continue alone, further down the gray hall with the yellow arrows. There, a tall man in a white coat and blue paper shoe covers awaits and ushers the woman into a very large room with a large white torpedo in the middle. There is nothing else in the room. Absolutely nothing. The tiles on the floor have been buffed until they are almost invisible.
The man is very businesslike as he hands the woman a flimsy cotton hospital gown that opens down the back. She undresses awkwardly. With her back to him, trying not to allow her clothes to fall to the floor she simultaneously attempts to cover herself with the disposable garment. It is creased so that she is swathed in white paper squares. Tersely the man instructs her to put earplugs in as well. A narrow bed slides out of the mouth of the torpedo like a curved tongue. Nothing supports it. It doesn’t appear very sturdy. It’s plastic. The woman crawls onto it but is forced to lie down with her arms over her head. The tunnel is too narrow to let them dangle naturally alongside her torso. The man in the white coat warns his patient to keep her eyes closed and places a heavy, weighted belt over her abdomen. A smaller version is placed over her knees. A still smaller version is placed over her ankles.
She is unable to move. Or see. Or hear.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


The air outside the building is heavy with the smell of cooking meat. It is smoky and gray and long wafts of smoke protrude from the chimney sixteen hours a day. The sweet smell of barbecue sauce lingers on the wind. It too, presses down on the air, keeping the wind full of thick charcoal gusts. But the heaviness does not invade the building, it just hovers on the outside, waiting just beyond the closed doors and windows, a tangible promise of what waits within.
Inside, the smell of smoke does not penetrate. The walls, both solid concrete and glass, are thick and insulated. Inside, there is the feel of military order. Everything has its place. The trash cans are bolted securely to the wall, framed pictures of men playing golf decorate the walls above. The tables are lined up in rows that vary just enough to give off a slightly human touch.
This is a tightly controlled environment and only specific smells, sounds, and tastes can exist here. There are two walls adjacent to each other. They are almost entirely made of plexi glass except for the bottom two feet, which are standard wall material but covered in brown tiles. The glass walls are covered in huge pictures of burgers that are 6 ft by 4 ft. One after the other line the glass walls, with a small 4 inch gap separating each poster from the other. Images of juicy hamburgers are printed on all the posters. Double patties with oozing ketchup and mustard. A picture of a creamy Oreo milkshake, bigger than life. The images are stark, there is no hiding the leering attempt at physical seduction…a hamburger, a picture of a cartoon of French fries. BAM.
The floor is composed of smooth brown bricks laid in a lattice/geometric pattern. There is a family of Latin descent. An overweight mother, a slightly overweight father, a boy twelve years old, a little girl wearing a gold paper crown. They sit in silence, at their square table, each facing in, reaching for the French fries in the middle of the table. White circular fans whirl lazily above. Against the wall dividing the two glass side walls are more faded prints of golf courses. There are three, each at exactly the same height and held together by a white wooden picture frame.
Directly across from the solid wall, about 30 feet away, is the central hub. A teenage girl stands behind the register. She is slightly disheveled, long wisps of her thick, dirty hair have fallen from the confines of her blue visor, the same hat which some health advisor devised to prevent hair from mixing with food. She mumbles something unrecognizable into a thin, bendable chrome microphone that is attached to the register. Her command is lost in the dull murmur that vibrates and holds like the thick smoke outside.
There are beeps that go off every minute, different sounds for different meanings. They signal cars approaching, perfectly cooked meat patties, heating times accomplished. A small crew of uniformed workers, all looking like they came from the south pacific, busy themselves behind the wall dividing the registers from the kitchen. One is at the grill, flipping meat patties amid lapping yellow flames. She squints her eyes against the barrage of smoke. Another small man to her right prepares the buns with condiments, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, lettuce, he piles them on the little buns.
The glow from the heat lamps, directly above the French fryer, emits a beam of yellow light. The sound of a door creaking and closing keeps disrupting the space. The light sound of music is just barely recognizable. A young Samoan woman sings along to the lyrics, she gazes at her 1 year old daughter as she sings. She is curvy, wearing jeans and a black sweatshirt, her long thick hair is piled high atop her head with a rubber band. The baby girl is wearing a gold paper crown, it barely fits on her little head. There are three generations of Samoan woman, each with big slightly slanted eyes and big brown lips and golden skin. They sit at the booth sharing a pile of French fries. Each has a paper cup full of a sugary liquid. They laugh and talk, delighting in the simple closeness of family. The baby stares, she stares directly at me, looking as if she knows.