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Injured patients who want to help and be heard, click here.

 

Thomas Jefferson said that given the choice between government without newspapers and newspapers without government, he would choose to have newspapers.

In medicine we have government without newspapers. Patients cannot find out what they need to know to make informed choices. No one in medicine records or reports the information patients need to know the most. So patients will have to.

Aaron

Places, events, and situations in this story are purely fictional.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Rough Draft / Under Construction

Aaron remembered jokes. Not only jokes. Anything you said to him you had to be prepared to hear repeated back to if you contradicted yourself in the future. But he especially remembered jokes. If you told him a joke and then two years later told it to someone else in his presence, he could remind you of how you told it the first time if the first way was better.

When his grandparents came to dinner on Sundays they would ask him if he had heard any jokes. His parents would leave the room knowing that he was going to repeat every joke he already had told the rest of his family during the week plus every joke they had told him and probably even repeat jokes he had told to his grandparents before. As long as they kept laughing, he would keep going.

It's not the memory for them that was the gift. It was the sense of humor. He didn't need to repeat a memorized joke to make people laugh. When he was asked to read The Cat in The Hat to his little brother at bedtime, his parents would lie in their bedroom listening to their youngest son laugh until he could not breathe. Of course Ted, like any child, knew how the story was supposed to be read and would know if any word was said incorrectly. So Aaron purposely read things wrong in a way that sent his brother into convulsions of laughter. Their parents would lie in bed wondering if they ever were going to get to sleep, but it was hard not to enjoy the sound of a four-year-old laughing so happily. As his parents lied there in the dark, from each other's breathing they knew that they both were smiling.

Aaron even could make people laugh in class without getting in trouble, because the teacher would laugh too. He usually was the funniest person in his class and always the tallest person in his class. He was not the strongest or the most coordinated. Other guys were better at sports and more formidable physical presences if fighting broke out. But he was the Cub Scout who could say, "Hey. Tom. Why don't we get Dave and Chris and go . . " and several minutes later have thirty boys walking in the same direction. He wasn't aware of this, but the adults around him were.

Then, when he was eleven, he got interested in money. At the age of seven he had been put in charge of mowing the family's lawn and raking the leaves and shoveling the snow. A few years earlier, because of his size, the man down the street probably did not realize he was only seven when he asked how much he would charge to rake his leaves. Aaron said he would have to ask his father. The man said, "Tell him I'll pay you three dollars." Aaron said that for three dollars he would do it. The leaves kept falling and he kept getting three dollars from that house as well as several other houses where he knocked on doors now that he understood how this worked.

But when he was eleven he found a goal. By that time he was mowing lawns and shoveling snow as well as raking leaves to earn money, when he learned that in the state of Ohio you could get a license to drive a motor cycle when you were fourteen. That was an age that was not too far in the future for it to become a goal he could imagine. He asked his parents if he could have a motorcycle. They did not like to say No if they did not have to. Instead, normally, they presented the obstacles and said that if he could overcome those, then he could do whatever it was he had asked about. In this instance, they told him that if by the time he was fourteen he could save up enough money to buy a motorcycle, he could buy one.

Years later he would wonder what his parents had been thinking when they said that. He had been doing yard work for money for four years by that time and still had the first three dollars he had been paid. He was a saver, not a spender. His grandparents had seen his cash accumulating and purchased a sheet metal safe for him for his birthday. A year later his parents saw the amount of money stuffed in that safe and thought it would be a good experience for him to have a savings account. In the two years since then, he never had made a withdrawal. The flow of money always was into the account. He could do the math. He knew that by the age of fourteen, he was going to have enough to buy a motorcycle.

However, he also knew the difference between being able to pay for something and being able to afford something. He wanted a larger cushion. He wanted to earn more. But did not know how.

His grandfather had been a stockbroker and something of an investment banker who had arranged some mergers and done very well. His father had climbed the corporate ladder and done very well. An uncle who married into the family was a vice president at General Motors and had done very well. These were his examples and none of them were raking leaves. He wanted a better opportunity, but had no idea where an eleven year old could get one. It was something he talked about regularly with Bobby. Then one day opportunity drove up in a black sedan.

Aaron was walking along Worth Street (named for an early resident's son) when a car pulled up to the curb along side him and an older boy leaned out the window saying, "Hey. Kid. Come here." Aaron thought they must be sixteen because they were driving. It was an older car, a kind he never had seen before, but it was immaculate. The interior was red. The exterior was highly polished black. It was a hot rod. Everything about it and the boys inside it was clean and shiny. The boys wore skin tight tee shirts and skin tight blue jeans. Aaron stepped toward the car warily. They boys half whispered, "Wanna buy some firecrackers?"
"What d'ya got?"
"Cherry bombs."
"How much?"
"Four for a dollar."
"I don't think so."
"Why not?"
"Too few for too much."
"What d'ya want?"

Aaron knew fireworks. Summers they went to Canada where fireworks were legal. He used to walk from the beach to the grocery to buy firecrackers to take back to blow up his sand castles. So he negotiated with the boys in the car. After going back and forth he said he would pay them five dollars for fifty cherry bombs.

"Do you have five dollars?"
"Can you break a twenty?"

They told him that if anyone asked where he got them to say that he had found them in a brown paper bag on the street.

"What if I need more? How can I find you?"

They hadn't thought about that. They said they would drive down that street again next week.

Aaron went back to his neighborhood and began selling cherry bombs to the other kids. He had paid ten cents each for them and was getting twenty-five cents each, the price that the boys who sold them to him seemed to think they could get. Now this was good business. But in six days he was out. And he never saw those boys again. He walked up and down Worth Street. He sat on the curb. He finally gave up.

Then one day in the newspaper there was an article about Sam's Confectionary shop just across the Ohio River in Covington, Kentucky. It was a candy store that got busted for selling fireworks under the counter. Aaron's first thought was, "A supplier!" According to the article, in Kentucky it is illegal sell fireworks to any resident of Kentucky. It was legal to sell them only to people from out of state who were taking the fireworks back out of state. Aaron said to Bobby, "In Kentucky we are from out of state!" And they knew how to get to Covington. Aaron's family drove through it every time they picked his father up at the airport. Aaron also remembered his father taking the bus downtown once when car repairs and such left him without transportation. He asked his parents about that bus and told them what he wanted to do. In those days people were not worried about strangers kidnapping children. Other parents might have worried about their children getting in trouble on such an excursion, but Aaron's parents had so much faith in him, they only smiled.

Aaron and Bobby pooled their money and took the bus downtown. They had no idea how to transfer to a bus that would take them across the river, so they got off and walked across a bridge and wandered around asking directions until they located Sam's Confectionary. Inside there was a lady at the counter. They waited until she was finished and then Bobby stepped up to the counter. Since Bobby was a year older, he thought he should be in charge of things like this and took the lead. He said to the man behind the counter, "Yeah, we'd like a gross of Silver Salutes and some . . . "

The man interrupted declaring, "We have nothing like that. We have no fireworks at all. We don't sell anything like that." and was turning away from the counter as Aaron interrupted. A person standing off to the side sometimes can have a perspective that people in the middle of a situation do not have. It does not take being smarter or more knowledgeable or more mature, only the perspective gained by getting to watch and think without having to react. As he stepped up to the counter, he pulled out his wallet saying, "We're from Colorado, Ohio. This is my ID from the Colorado school system. We are from out of state. You are allowed to sell to us."
The man paused for a moment and then said, "A whole gross?"
"Of the Silver Salutes. We'd like three grosses of Cherry Bombs. Do you have M-80s?" The man nodded and Aaron said, "We'd like a gross of those too."

They were cheaper by the gross. They bought them for four and a half cents each and sold them for a quarter each. But a quarter was a lot of money for kids back then. They were bankrupting their customers. They lowered their price to twelve cents each. It still was almost a three hundred percent profit. Kids from other neighborhoods heard about them and came to buy firecrackers. Within a few weeks they sold out and went back to Kentucky for more. They bought as many as they could carry.

On the fourth of July Aaron walked through neighborhoods he never had been in before. He was carrying an arsenal. He walked into yards where there were parties and sold Cherry Bombs to adults. For fifty cents each! He loved contraband! This became his summer job. He had tried to get summer jobs before, other than just mowing lawns, but his father always made him quit. His father wanted to take trips and do things that conflicted with Aaron's working. But the fireworks were so lucrative he never thought about summer jobs again, other than yard work. By the time he was fourteen he had enough to buy a car. But his perspective about this whole project had changed by that time.

But before that, when he was still twelve, two things happened. His parents purchased life insurance for him. And then they took him with them when they were looking at potential real estate investments.

The life insurance policy was purchased with a company that was just starting up. Original purchasers paid a bit more because they were investors in the company.  In a twenty-five years those investors would have insurance policies that were paid off and an investment that would produce dividends for the rest of their lives. This was retirement planning for a twelve year old. His grandfather explained compound interest to him and how this was going to work for him.

Then his parents took him to look at real estate with them. One place was vacant land on the Ohio River. High on a steep hill above it, there was a section that was only thirty-five dollars an acre. It is not what his parents had come to view. They were looking at property with road frontage at the bottom of the hill. He asked if they please could not look at the top of the hill. The wheel ruts running up the hill seemed too treacherous for their car. They were certain the overgrowth on either side would scratch the paint if nothing else, but they walked up it following Aaron as he charged ahead.

At the top were the most run down shacks he ever had seen. His father said he thought he saw a still through the trees. Abandoned appliances and pickup trucks stuck up through the brush. A stained upholstered loveseat was on the front porch of a shack where people sat watching them approach. They did not rise from their seats. They stayed on their couch as they talked to his father about the land. Aaron could see that his father had no use for them or the property.

"But I could afford it," Aaron said. His father laughed. His mother asked what he would do with it. Many people are born thinking about their own children. Little girls play with dolls and plan their future families. Aaron was thinking that descendants of his likely would be glad to have such property was in the family. If not his own children, then his grandchildren. If nothing else someone might want to put a weekend place on a hill overlooking the river someday. It was so much land for so little money. But really, he was hoping for appreciation over time. "It's an investment," he said. His parents looked at each other wondering how to talk him out of this.

The two most frequently consulted pieces of printed matter in the lives of Aaron and his brother were the Bible and the classified ads. Mostly it was Ted who read the classified ads, but that drew Ted into it. They both had become accustomed to bargain with people who had something they wanted to sell. The way the people on this porch had said "only thirty-five dollars an acre" sounded to Aaron like people motivated to sell.

"They will come down," he said. His parents laughed. "They will. They'll take less. Let's offer twenty." He was earning money. If his parents would lend him some. . . He imagined himself owning a hundred acres.

They told him that you could not just own property. You had to take care of it. He said that the people who were living on it then were not taking care of it. Why would he have to?

But they told him that it was not smart to buy property just because you had the money to pay for it. With real estate it was necessary to check the property values of similar properties and determine if it was a good deal. He asked how people did that. They explained about courthouse records believing that hearing that obstacle would dissuade him. But he was the boy who had figured out how to take a bus downtown and walk across a bridge to buy fireworks. He figured out how to get from that same bus to the courthouse. People in the courthouse smiled when he told them what he wanted. A woman behind a desk walked him through the whole process as they looked up the land on the top of the hill. He looked it up every year. When he was fourteen someone purchased it for seven hundred dollars an acre. The future potential he saw in real estate made fireworks seem like a waste of time.

His parents could not have been more proud of him for this. He brought it to them as a See-I-told-you-so he showed them what had become of the property they had not let him buy, and they apologized and smiled and relayed the story to his grandparents. While they relayed it Aaron's interjections and his rolling his eyeballs at his parents made his grandparents laugh. The entire family was sure that what he was going to accomplish in life was going to exceed their own accomplishments by so much that they had moments when they felt competitive. And he very well might have if, by the time he was in college, mentally he still had been in the same place he had been when he was fourteen. But he wasn't.

*        *        *

In high school when friends talked about what they were going to major in in college (he did not know anyone who was not going to college), when they talked about the arts or history or literature, he asked if they wanted to teach that. If not, why not just major in business? From his perspective it seemed that no matter what people majored in, they ended up in business. So why not major in the thing you are going to be in? Under his yearbook picture they wrote, "Ambition: hostile takeover of the earth. . . without hurting anyone."

They might have written that in part because of his continuing efforts to purchase real estate. Like most of the people he knew, his parents had established a college fund in which money was growing to pay for future tuition. He had watched that money for a long time and saw how slowly it grew compared to the land that doubled in value in two years. His parents would not allow him any say in how it was invested. He talked to his grandfather about it and his grandfather was decidedly against putting money in high yield mutual funds. He said that the incentive structure worked against motivating managers toward what most benefited investors. And Aaron's father would not move the money to higher yield possibilities no matter what they were.

There was the thought that Aaron might go to Wharton or Stanford or possibly even something Ivy League. His grades were not quite what would get one into an Ivy League school, but it was felt that if a recruiter from an Ivy League college discussed investments with him, they would have to see that he was so likely to become exactly the kind of wealthy person schools love to have among the alumnae they routinely ask for donations.

Going to an Ivy League college interested his parents more than it interested Aaron. Aaron had heard someone else's father quip that the amount of additional money that they earned as a result of going to college was about what it cost for them to send their children to college. That caused him to pause longer than hearing his friend say "torture chamber" had caused him to pause. He had been a twelve-year-old with a retirement plan/life insurance policy and a grandfather explaining mutual funds and compound interest. He understood about how important it was to establish the nest egg early. Those extra years made people rich. If Ivy League cost so much, why not pay less tuition somewhere else and invest that money where it could start working?

At the age of sixteen he had joined REIA, the Real Estate Investment Association, a group of people in Cincinnati who owned rental property and formed the group to pool knowledge to help each other. He was about half the age of the next youngest member. They steered him to a real estate investment course taught by one of their members. By the time he was seventeen he could speak about the subject with any of them and was out looking for property. That's why he did not want to leave Cincinnati to go to an Ivy League school. He had learned so much about real estate there in Cincinnati and had so many connections that he believed he would be better off there than at an Ivy League school. The tuition money that would be saved he intended to use as a down payment on a ten unit apartment building that he would own outright by the time he was 40. He planned to live in the managers apartment while he was in college and run the building himself.

So he enrolled in the University of Cincinnati where, on the first day of orientation, he sat in an auditorium listening to teachers from the various departments explain what their fields were about. He listened particularly to the people from the department of Design, Art and Architecture so that he could tell his brother about what they said. That was the direction Ted was going. He also listened to the people from the English department because were so charming and eloquent. The people from the music department he didn't get. The people from the business department he thought did a disservice to their field. They spoke about what they taught and how that would help you get a job.

If he had been asked to represent the the business department, he would have talked about how business unites the peoples of the world, brings them together to coexist in peace. Once in high school when friends were talking about Christmas he said that what he wanted for Christmas was "Peace for all nations. Work for all people. And the playmate of the month for myself." It got a lot of laughs, but in the joke was the awareness of the importance of peace and work. Countries that believe in opposite religions and philosophies might hate other for their beliefs but find common ground in trade and commerce. They put their differences aside and come together on down-to-earth, put-food-on-the-table, constructive endeavors that create jobs, feed the hungry, heal the sick and enable people to live in peace. Why hadn't the business professors explained that?

Then the political science professors stepped behind the podium.

The political science professors talked about peace. And Aaron knew that this was really what it all was about. The motivation of people in business was to make money. What they do might have the effect of helping people to coexist in peace, but they were not there to make peace. They were in it to make money. The purpose of politics was peace. What could be more important? He never took a business course. He never bought an apartment building. And he never sold a firecracker again.

*        *        *

The last thing his mother had told him when leaving him at the dormitory where he would begin living was, "Just don't fall in love with someone from Alaska."
"Why not?"
"It's just too far."
In college a friend of hers had done that. So, instead, he met someone from Brazil. Her name was Judy. Her first language was Portuguese but she had almost no accent because in her home in Brazil her parents always had spoken English so that their children would be fluent in it.

Judy had green eyes and dark Hispanic skin. Her father owned a business that she described as mining mud. It was some mineral with an industrial use that he sent by the shipload to other countries. He used the least reliable shipping lines he could find because when they sank, the shipping firm's insurance paid him for the lost product, and yet an order still was standing that he got to fill a second time. Becoming the girlfriend of Aaron was different than becoming the girlfriend of other freshmen. He found out everything about the businesses of your father and uncle and grandfather. He didn't ask if you ever had gone to a dance without wearing underwear, which is what she wanted him to find out.

It was Judy's first time in the United States. Aaron knew Cincinnati well and had a car. Anytime she asked something about the city, he said, "Come. I'll show you" and took her someplace like to the top of one of the seven hills where there was a vista from which he could point things out. Since he had researched property values in every neighborhood in the city, he could talk about the city endlessly, but not always in terms as romantic as she might have hoped to hear on an overlook in the moonlight with her boyfriend.

The University of Cincinnati was a commuter school. It didn't have a social fabric like other colleges. To have the kind of freshman experience that forms bonds with people that last a lifetime, it was necessary to join a fraternity or sorority. Judy did not know that and being with Aaron did not help her discover that. Aaron's plan, prior to orientation and discovering political science, had been based on investment goals - to live in an apartment building that he was going to purchase. That plan kept him out of the fraternity loop. When he wasn't studying, they were spending so much time together that it isolated them from the other people who would have lead them into the social fabric.

Days he was rushing to figure out what political science was about. In the dorm he learned it was called Poli Sci by some and Pre Law by others. He called his advisor, but his advisor never answered the phone or responded to messages left. He got the syllabus of courses and read about what freshmen were supposed to study. He had tested out of freshman English and speech and swimming and assorted other courses that were going to fill the schedules of many during their first quarter. So he went to DuBois Bookstore to see what textbooks were assigned for freshman Poli Sci courses in order to get some sense of what to take, since he was getting no advice from an advisor. It was dismaying. They looked like high school civics courses. He began wondering if he shouldn't have applied to an ivy league school. The biographies of the authors of the texts showed them as teaching at Amherst and Berkeley and other places he might have gone.

He looked at books for the Poli Sci courses that juniors and seniors took - one for a course in Constitutional Law. He forgot he was standing in a bookstore and stood there reading for several hours. When registering for classes, he figured out that no one was going to stop him from signing up for upper level courses. By the third day of classes the gulf between "Con Law" and the freshman courses was so large that he dropped the freshman courses.

The first day of classes, in the cafeteria he had heard two upperclassmen making cracks about an Arab professor in his department. He had asked about the man and they told him how to pass that professor's course if he ever took it. The second day of classes he strolled into a class being taught by that professor and heard him explain a problem fundamental to the crisis in the middle east. Arabs have an attachment to the land that westerners don't understand. If you ask an Arab how much he needs to be compensated his land, he does not understand what you are talking about. Land to them is not a thing with economic value. It is a part of them. It is as though you had asked how much their mothers are worth.

With all the coverage that problems in the middle east get, Aaron wondered why had he never heard this before? Shouldn't an understanding of this be fundamental to peace in the middle east? He signed up for the course even though it was a senior course.

Aaron's reading habits changed. He read parts of newspapers he barely had scanned before. His brother, Ted, noticed it right away. Aaron didn't pay as close attention anymore when Ted told him about something for sale in the classified ads. Instead, Aaron noticed things like an item about a discussion, open to the public, at a Quaker Friends Fellowship House where local Arabs and Jews were being asked to come together to talk.

One of the more interesting participants in that discussion turned out to be a woman his grandmother's age, Hester, a short, white-haired woman who had been raised in Israel before the 1948 Balfour Declaration. Her parents were Quakers who had run a mission and a school there. When the discussion was over and people rose from their seats, he strode straight to her to ask her questions. A tall blonde woman a few years older than him stepped next to him to join their discussion. Hester gave a first hand account of pre-Zionist Israel - the date farms, the Arab community's making room for Jews immigrating from Germany before World War II, the peace and tranquility and productivity of the Arab community in which she, a little Caucasian American girl, grew up. She said it never was a desert like Zionists at that time were claiming.

When there was almost no one left in the room and someone wanted to close the building, the older woman, as a way of ending the discussion, turned to leave saying, "Remember. The first time Moses set foot in the promised land, Arabs were living there." As they watched Hester walk away, the tall blonde next to him asked what had brought him to this meeting. Shortly it appeared to him that she was trying to find out if he was a Quaker like she was. From a distance, the short older woman turned, looked at them, and became dismayed. Aaron saw that. It appeared that she thought that he and the blonde only had been interested in picking each other up and not in what she was saying. Which wasn't true. At least not for him. The blonde kept asking questions. Her name was Samantha. She was a graduate student in the English department. She wouldn't have guessed he was a freshman. She said it was nice not having to bend down to talk to someone. He said that now that she mentioned it, he thought the same thing. Hester had walked further, but stopped and looked back at them a second time, with even more dismay, and this time with a reprimanding gaze.

In the parking lot, Samantha finally said, "Let me give you my number."
He said, "I'm kind of seeing someone."
"Oh, I see. Okay. Well, maybe I'll see you around campus sometime."
"We're tall. We'll stand out. How could we miss seeing each other around campus?" She smiled a polite smile. He had expected a laugh. He said, "Oh, hell. Give me your number. If nothing else, we have to talk about peace in the middle east." She smiled a better smile as she recited her number as he wrote it down. Before the term was over he was glad he had it.

*    *    *

Aaron's roommate was a sophomore who was drug dealer. He was a black guy who was taller and heavier and stronger than he Aaron. The first time Aaron entered the room and put out his hand to introduce himself, his new roommate interrupted him saying, "First names only." Aaron said, "Your name is on the form. How am I not going to know your last name?" People came and went all night long. The clothes in Aaron's closet smelled like the marijuana and tobacco smoke that constantly filled the room. The floor was sticky from sloshed drinks. He spent the daytime in the library to avoid going back there. At night he wished they library never closed so he could sleep hunched over a desk. One night he slept his car. A few other nights he drove to his parent's house to sleep.

When he tried to get transferred to another room, they told him he was a racist and he had to grow out of that. He explained growing up in an integrated school and having a black friend he took home, but they were not moved. Now that he had signed up for it, he was required to stay in the dormitory for his entire freshman year. No, he said. He only was required to pay for the room for an entire year. He didn't have to stay in it.

So while he was trying to date Judy and keep up with upper level course work for which he did not have the prerequisites, he also was trying to find someplace else to live. It was hard to consider renting. Renting was throwing money away. Owning made more financial sense. For a long time he had planned to purchase rental property and live in it to manage it. The idea of paying rent went against his grain. If he bought property now, he would own it outright by the time his children needed to go to college. It could help pay for their education. If it was this near the university, they might even live in it while going to college. The way his parents had put aside money for his college relieved him of having to worry about that and enabled him to think about how to pay for his children's college. Instead of doing homework during the day, he was inspecting rental property, doing investment analyses and planning for his future family. He did homework at night instead of sleeping.

Friday he took Judy to a movie. He had never felt anyone hold hands like Judy held hands. Still, he fell asleep during the movie. She woke him up the first few times. Afterwards he nodded off as he drove. She told him he needed to get some sleep. He said he couldn't in his room. She waited for him to suggest her room. Instead he suggested that they spend the weekend at his parent's house. They would love to meet her. She didn't know what she would do there. She told him maybe he should go there and get some sleep and she would see him on Sunday when he came back. So he did. While he was gone she did not sit in her room waiting. She discovered fraternities. When he returned, there was a party she wanted him to take her to the next weekend. She talked about it all week- what she was going to wear. Carnaval in Brazil was bigger than Christmas. This reminded her of it and she spent the week planning what she was going to wear. What was he going to wear? He said, "Blue jeans?" No. No. No. That would never do. But in the end, it did.

Half the people at the party were in costumes. There were girls dressed as cheerleaders and strippers and cartoon characters. One girl was in a string bikini made of three girl scout badges. But no one was as inviting as Judy. Her breasts gave shape to short strings of beads that did not hide them. Some guy who knew how to dance like she was dancing hooked an arm through hers and did a maneuver Aaron could not hope to attempt. Moments later the guy returned with two shot glasses. The guy and Judy each tossed one back. Then the guy turned to Aaron, smiled, nodded and waved Bye, in a friendly, deferential way that positioned himself as the non-threatening interloper. Judy danced back into Aaron's arms. This happened more than once. These people knew how to dance and share and arouse each other's partners in non-confrontational ways that he was experiencing for the first time. With his arm around her waist, she gripped his wrist to secure it for support and leaned back. When he understood not to let her fall, she let go of his wrist and leaned back until she was dancing with her hands reaching backward to the floor. The beads on her breasts covered the tops rather than the bottoms now. She sprang back to him wrapping one leg and both arms around him pulling herself high enough to say in his ear, "You like?" She wrapped herself more tightly and said, "I can feel that you do."

The next day rushing on his way to the library he stopped. There was not a verb or a noun or an articulated concept in his head. There were colors and sensations and sounds. There were freeze frames from the night before, a warm fall breeze, sounds of traffic on the road nearby and distant conversations between students on campus paths. He was here, now, in this place as he had not yet been before. He sat down on a bench. Two days ago he had raced down this path in a fatigued hurry to get to a class. Yesterday on a phone in the dorm he had told Judy about the fascinating study on the death penalty that the Supreme Court had done. It turned out the death penalty not only did not deter crime but it also cost more than lifetime prison terms, because of the expense of the appeals process. "I see," she said. Then last night his body had become a cradle to which Judy returned between spins and grinds with others on the dance floor. He saw her world. What must his have seemed like to her? Did she care who built which neighborhoods when he pointed them out from the tops of hills? Did she care about court decisions?

The following Wednesday she telephoned him from a payphone in a bar. Could he come get her. Getting her to his car almost required carrying her. Before he got from the passenger door around to the driver's door, she was asleep in the passenger seat. He carried her to her dorm room. Her roommate, Lisa, laughed, got up to leave and said she needed to go to talk someone else for a while anyway. He said, "No. Don't go."
"Right."
"I'm not staying."
"Why not?"
Figuring out what people expect can be so hard. "She's passed out."
"And she's your girlfriend, right? I'll stay away a couple of hours." And she left.

Aaron could hear Judy's breath. She seemed to be breathing more loudly than normal. He sat down on the bed next to her. He leaned putting a hand on either side of her as he looked at her face. Softly he said, "Judy." He leaned in close enough almost to kiss and felt her breathing on his lips. "Judy." He touched her chin with his finger. Her breathing changed. "Are you there?" She wasn't. "I would love to put you to bed. I would love to undress you and put you under the covers. I would love to wake up in the morning with you. But I don't know how." He looked at her for a while, then kissed her goodnight and left.

When Lisa returned and found that Judy still was dressed. When she talked about it with friends, she said that she thought that someone needed to give Aaron lessons. One of them said that someone should give him an award. Lisa quipped that those kind of lessons would be an award. The quip traveled on the grapevine. When Aaron walked down Judy's hall, women he never had noticed knew who he was.

He left several messages for Judy during the next days before she finally returned his call. She was doing some sorority things that weekend. She wanted to rush. She would talk to him on Monday. "Love you," she said as she hung up. That "love you" as a goodbye made not seeing her that weekend okay. He slept at his parents again and searched for an apartment during the day. He was considering renting. Paying rent went against his principles. Every time he looked at an apartment he wondered why he didn't just buy the building. His parents told him not to. It put an indecisiveness into the situation that kept him having to return to the increasingly hostile environment of his dorm room. Sunday evening he discovered that his dormitory bedspread had been used to put out a fire while he was gone. His roommate called it a bong fire and said it wasn't his fault and he wasn't paying for it. Aaron telephoned the landlord of an apartment he had seen that weekend and rented it. He called Judy to tell her he was moving. She wasn't there.

He walked to her dorm. It was late enough on a Sunday night. He thought she must be somewhere in the building. Lisa was in a bathrobe and was surprised to see him. They talked for a bit. He learned that she was Jewish and from the east coast. One of the things that surprised him was how many students at the University of Cincinnati were Jewish and from out east. Why did they come here?  She kept peering at him in a way she hadn't before, especially at the moment when the conversation required her to speculate on when Judy would return. Finally she said, "I'm not sure she's coming back tonight, Aaron. . . . She hasn't been here all weekend,"
"I see."
"You are a really great guy. She knows that." He was breathing in a new way, like deep sighs, and he was aware of it. Lisa asked, "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine."
"You don't look fine."
"I'm just tired."
"Cause you can't sleep in your dorm room. Right. She told me about that. So what are you going to do?"
"Go back to my dorm."
"I wouldn't." He looked at the floor. He looked at the door. He didn't know what to say. "It's quiet here. You could sleep here." He looked at Judy's desk. "Or not. You want to get a beer? You're not going to get any sleep. And you don't look like you should be alone."
"Don't I?"
"Definitely not." She put her hands on his shoulders and turned him to face the windows. "Just face that way a moment while I put something on." In the reflection in the glass he watched her drop her robe. He watched only a moment more before he was afraid she would look up and catch him. The reflection was so clear that she would be able to see the pupils of his eyes and know exactly where he was looking. So he turned to face Judy's desk. She looked up ready to act surprised when she caught him, and saw that he wasn't even looking. Rejected is not how she had expected to feel at this moment. Did he find her so unattractive that he wouldn't even steal a glance? It would be years before Aaron would become smart enough to understand what happened, but the level of initiative available on her part to drag him further into that evening decreased slightly. The reservoir of her enthusiasm no longer was as great as the vacuum of his confusion. His "I-don't-knows" and "I-guesses" now were taken as rejections. They didn't get a beer. He went back to his dorm.

Judy had not yet spoken to Lisa when she returned Aaron's calls the next morning and caught him as he was packing. She asked how things had been at his parents. She spoke as though they naturally would be getting together that day, but he said he was busy. She said that next weekend she was busy with another sorority function. He didn't tell her he was packing. She didn't tell him she was sleeping with someone else. They never went out again. When he was unpacking in his new apartment, he put Samantha's phone number on his desk. And then he got sick.

*        *        *

A flu. A cold. He didn't know what, but it knocked him out. He tried going to class but could not stay awake through a lecture. Whatever he tried to do, he fell asleep in the middle of it. After about five days of that, he dragged himself into the campus infirmary and they told him it was a flu, that there was nothing anyone could do, but he'd get over it and to go home and rest till it got better. They suggested going back to his parent's where someone could take care of him. So he did.

Twenty-three hours a day he slept All the energy he could muster was consumed by the act of rising to eat. Then he collapsed unconscious again. The three meals per day were the only times he was awake for the next two weeks. After three weeks of that, he began planning a few days ahead to manage his energy well enough to make a trip to a different doctor. The new doctor said it was a flu and he just had to wait it out. Aaron said he had been doing that for three and a half weeks. The doctor said to give it another ten days and if it was no better to come back. When he did, the doctor said the same thing again. He had missed classes and missed tests and not written papers. He telephoned the university and got extensions on all of his courses. And he got a new doctor, but the new doctor said the same things as the previous doctor. So he got another new doctor, every week. Every week for the next three months a new doctor told him it was just a flu or a cold. It was the focal point of his week. Managing what little energy he could muster revolved around arranging to have enough to make it to a doctor once a week.

A couple of doctors said they thought he just was depressed and asked if he wanted something for that. He became more insistent and more articulate and had more to say about how three months of being unconscious had to be more than a two week flu. He had filled out similar forms for all of them. Answered all the same questions. Told all of them about getting weaker even though he was exercising. One doctor looked at him meaningfully and said, "You DON'T have cancer," something that had not crossed his mind.

And then, during the one hour that week when he was conscious for longer than it took to eat a meal, as he drove back to his parent's house after visiting this week's doctor, he was listening to National Public Radio. There was a report about Yuppie Syndrome. What it was finally had been identified. Epstein Bar, a virus that can knock a person out for half a year. Before they figured out what it was, it had come to be called Yuppie Syndrome because most patients who got it gave up after one or two or three doctors had been no help. But Yuppie's were relentless. They never gave up. When one doctor was no help, they went to another, and then another. So doctors were seeing uncommonly large numbers of Yuppies all with the same complaints and started calling it Yuppie Syndrome.

So in the future when doctors ignored or disbelieved his complaints and symptoms, it was not as though he never has been through that. Epstein bar wasn't even the first time. He had been through that and still was going through that with his feet, and with his decreasing strength in the weight room. There had been other conditions with which he had gone through that, but they turned out to be temporary and eventually were forgotten.

According to the report there was no known cure, but it would not cause permanent damage. A victim of it just had to wait it out. He went back to his parents house and slept for three more months. Ted checked on his apartment for him from time to time, gave the rent checks to the landlord, and said everything was fine. And, oh, had he met that woman who lived above him? When Aaron finally was back on his feet in the spring, it was three weeks into spring quarter. He made arrangements to finish his fall courses, but those classes no longer were in session. When he moved back to his apartment, there was almost no excuse to have social interaction. There were not even classes for him to go to. He heard the woman walking around in the apartment above him. He knew when she woke up in the middle of the night and when she ate. Below him was someone who practiced gospel music on an electric base on Sunday mornings.

And he resumed lifting weights, so there were guys at the gymn with whom he spoke while working out, and with whom he discussed his quickly hitting a peak and then sliding backwards from it again, as he always did when he resumed lifting weights. It made no sense to anyone. Other than that about the only people whose paths he crossed were librarians.

In the days before libraries were computerized, and in a library with closed stacks like their main library, getting a book from the stacks required going through a librarian. First you had to do a subject search in the card catalogue. Then you had to fill out a card with your full name printed, not written, and your address and telephone number, your social security number, the dewy decimal number of the book, and the book's title and author - all of that for every single book. It was so time consuming. He filled out stacks of them and gave them to a librarian who put them in a vacuum tube that shot them to runners down in the stacks. When they had filled the orders that had come in ahead of yours, they found your books in the many stories of stacks, brought them back to their home base and someone there put them in a dumbwaiter that sent them back up to the librarian. When they arrived, not usually all at once, the librarian looked at your cards and called out your name. If you were nearby, you heard it.

Card catalogues offer scant information on books. This was shooting in the dark to find information. He ordered books ten and fifteen at a time, hoping one of them would turn out to be worth looking through. Most he rejected in minutes. Some led to additional books through their bibliographies. But to write a paper, it seemed that he had to spend three days just figuring out what books he would use. It got so that when he heard his name called, he knew which librarian it was by the sound of her voice. Other than guys in the gym, they were virtually the only voices he heard for a while, and a third of his conversations with guys in the gym half consisted of their warning him about exercising without shoes. "You can get a foot injury that way."
He never had found a way to articulate this to people, but he always tried. He would start by saying that he had foot problems that had been caused by wearing shoes and that the only way to alleviate them was to avoid wearing shoes. Usually his explanation was received as though he had not said anything.
"Especially on the machines."
"I can't see where there is a risk on any of these machines"
"Or someone could drop a weight on your foot."
"A shoe would do little to protect a foot with weights being dropped on it."
"Many gyms won't allow people to work out without shoes."
"People keep saying that but so far I've never found one where that was true."
"Exercise books all say to wear shoes."
Aaron repeated what he had said at the beginning. "Shoes injure my feet. My feet are shaped differently. If I wear shoes the shoes themselves cause injury. If I don't wear shoes I might get injured. If I do wear shoes, I will get injured. I'm better off without shoes." But no one ever got it.

Another third of the time conversation with guys in the gym was about the exercise itself, what was helping them to make gains. Sometimes they discussed why it might be that Aaron couldn't. The other third of the time conversations were about women. It was surprising how many of them exercised exclusively to make themselves attractive to women. Some of them assumed that was the only reason any of them were there and could not be persuaded otherwise.

*        *        *

His high school friends had gone to colleges in other states. Almost none of them were around. He saw other people whose friends from high school were here. Many were commuters, but some were in dorms or apartments. But there wasn't anyone he could call up just to say Hi. There was no Internet yet. There was no email, no such thing as a cell phone. People were buying answering machines for the first time. Long distance calls were expensive and out of the ordinary. Alone in his apartment he wrote letters. Wondering why he wasn't there with them, he wrote to friends who were at Amherst and Yale. They wrote back wondering why they weren't at Harvard. They told him he should come visit.

 

His grandfather had been friends with a family name Hidelbrook. So his parents had somewhat known the next generation of the family. Which lead to Aaron's having been in social situations as a child where he had spent some time with the generation that was his age. So at the university, carrying his tray through the cafeteria of the student center one day, when he saw a guy with platinum blonde hair sitting at a table, he said, "Richard?" They guy looked up blankly. "I'm Aaron Roark."

It turned out that Richard Hidelbrook and Aaron ate lunch there at the same time everyday. They commented that in many ways Cincinnati is just a large "small town." Some friends of Richard's ate with him at lunch most days. There were about a dozen people who came and went from the lunch circle that Aaron now joined several times a week, including Franny, a freckled redhead who wore makeup and jewelry that he noticed. He wondered if he didn't notice it on other students because it was rare or just that he didn't notice it usually.

One day Richard made a quip that ended with the word "existentialism." He turned to Aaron and said, "That's a kind of religion." When Aaron had been a freshman in high school he had taken a speech class for which the final exam had been to make a 45 minute speech without notes. The subject had to be one of the world's religions. No two students could choose the same religion. He kept raising his hand when the teacher was allowing people to choose their subjects, but she did not call on him. After about twenty religions had been chosen, he stopped raising his hand because he could not think of any others. She spoke to him third to last and since he knew of none to request, she assigned him Existentialism. He spent afternoon after afternoon in the branch library reading things he could not understand. Sartre and Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and Hegel and Schopenhauer and back to Sartre. Finally he had to have his mother come with him and tell him what various paragraphs meant. She was slightly amused that a fifteen year old had such an assignment. With her help the focus was narrowed and the speech became Jean Paul Sartre's Existentialism. He spoke about it for 45 minutes without notes. So when Richard said, "That's a kind of religion," part of him wanted to say, "Not actually, not if by religion you mean. . . " and another part of him wanted to say merely, "I know." But he thought a test of his maturity would be how gracefully he managed not to say anything. It turned out to be a continuing test. For the rest of his life, in the back of his mind "I know" sat lurking, waiting for an opportunity to unleash itself at Richard.

Richard, and it was "Richard" not "Dick," was a nice guy. Everyone inadvertently antagonizes other people with gaffs at some time or other. Everyone inadvertently condescends to or challenges others. Peace and harmony come from not rising to those challenges. Aaron had been spending a lot of time thinking about peace and about how he could help nurture it on earth. These small ways were important. It seemed as though every month, if not every week, there would be a moment at lunch with Richard when some imp in the back of his mind said,"Now" at an opportunity to say "I know" about Existentialism, but he managed not to. He mused about possible connections between such impulses in an individual and such impulses in communities propelling nations to war. It's a big leap, but it start somewhere and seemed worth thinking about.

It is something he talked about during dinners with his parents, which whom he ate a couple of times a week. When he had told his parents about a snap decision made on the first day of orientation to drop two generations of focus on business, there was an understanding nod from his father. But apparently he had talked about peace, and perhaps mentioned the United Nations, once too often, because his father was discussing their discussions with his lunch companions at work. Apparently other fathers were concerned about what was being taught to their children at college. Dinner with the folks became oppressive. Not that it hadn't been well on the way to that in high school. Moving out of the home of one's parents can be one of the happiest days of a young person's life. One imagines that some parental pressures will be released by that. But some were increased. Without prompting, his father recited statistics about how much the United Nations was costing, about how the United States was paying for more of it than anyone else, about how other nations could vote down our national interests and tell us what to do. He especially harped on how expensive it was.

It got so that when Aaron was at school doing research, he would go off on tangents that appeared to lead to information he could use against his father in the debate about the UN. Finally, one day over dinner, when his father was harping on that again, Aaron said, "The United Nations costs less per year than the Vietnam War cost per day. If it postpones one conflict for one month, it has paid for itself. To say nothing of the human costs saved. We have a war department. We don't have a peace department. This is the closest thing to it we've got." He ranted for a while like someone who had rehearsed his points for a debate, which he had. In the midst of it, in his least well articulated moment, he tried to convey a thought still forming in his mind that had to do with his own contribution to humanity and how he wasn't sure there was anything more valuable he could do with his life other than work for the UN, but it didn't quite come out that way. When he finished, his father said, "That's an interesting statistic." What his father had heard was the first sentence he had said, and he could see that his father was going to repeat it to the lunch companions with whom he discussed this. Aaron waited for a future dinner during which his father would return with a rejoinder contributed by his lunch companions, but it never came. Which was a good thing because Aaron believed what he said. He even had started corresponding with someone about it at the UN.

Years later he would look back on this wondering if this is how it happens that parents have to worry about expressing an opinion for fear of pushing their children in the opposite direction. He never regarded himself as a rebellious child, but his father expressed opinions about the United Nations that he felt were uninformed and destructive and so he had sought out information to counter it. The next thing he knew he was contemplating devoting his life to working in the United Nations.

His mother sat between them during these discussions without taking sides. She had to live with both of them, but secretly she saw hope in Aaron's interest in peace and the UN. She prayed everyday if not every hour. Virtually any decision she needed to make involved praying. She wasn't one of those crazies who sees the Lord in jam, but His presence in everything one way or the other. And she had seen his presence in Aaron. When he was an adolescent she had come to the conclusion that he could change the world. He knew his Bible so well she thought that might be through religion. She had made quiet comments to him about that. Later it seemed he might find a way to do great things through business. Now, listening to him speak about peace for everyone on earth and the ways in which we might move closer to that, she felt the same vision she had for him all along, just in a new arena. When her husband stopped arguing the point and seemed somewhat convinced by Aaron, even though without saying it, her faith in Aaron to bring others into that fold increased.

He didn't know that. He was stuck back in his lonely apartment writing letters. More than to friends he wrote to people like Seymour Martin Lipset after reading his book Political Man. Lipset had written about the connection between economics and democracy. Aaron involved him in a short exchange about the connection between business and peace, but it was a brief. Aaron's point had merit, but it wasn't ground breaking. His exchange with Les Aspin was brief too. Aspin was a congressman on the House Committee on Armed Services who was outspoken about peace. His name kept popping up in Aaron's research and Aaron asked him about a couple of things he had said. The responses were not short, but they were a long time in coming.

And then there was Martin Roberts at the United Nations.

Lipset was a professor at Stanford where students asked him questions everyday. Aspin was a politician responding to constituents everyday. But Roberts was in a section of the United Nations to which no one paid attention. He was the scientific secretary of the Outer Space Affairs Group there and one of his peeves was that no one knew about the UN's work on this. He wrote thoughtful letters back. The peaceful uses of outer space was his field and he was delighted that someone cared, especially someone in Cincinnati. In his first letter he pointed out that when you fly into Cincinnati, the first thing you see driving away from the airport is a billboard saying, "Get us out of the UN." Aaron wrote back that there was a rich man in Cincinnati who was against the UN, and that apparently he owned a lot of land because everywhere he had a piece of property he put up a billboard saying "Get us out of the UN." But Aaron said that no one paid attention to the man. Hearing that calmed down Martin's rhetoric.

After they had been writing for a while, Roberts asked more about Aaron's interest in peace and space and the United Nations. Aaron wrote that he had decided that the most important thing he could do with his life would be to work there, work for the United Nations. Roberts was charmed by that and said that if he ever was in New York, they should have lunch. Aaron was going to be there soon and thought, "What better way to chart a course that might lead to working in the UN than to have lunch with this person." He was ready to fly to New York right then, but he wasn't sure the invitation was meant to be taken like that. He thought it might be like friends who bump into each other and say that they must get together sometime, but if you pulled out your calendar at that moment to schedule it, you would be reading more into the invitation than was intended. He was going to be there anyway in a couple of weeks getting fitted for shoes, but saying that could backfire. He wasn't telling anyone about that. It wasn't an extravagance. It was necessary healthcare.

A few weeks later he happened to think to look up Roberts name in the card catalogue at the main library. Aaron's grandfather had taught him to do that. Whenever his grandfather was meeting with someone, he researched everything he could about the person and the person's business so that he would know how to deal with that person. In the card catalogue there was only one Martin Roberts. He was listed as the author of a play that was in an anthology. In his next letter, Aaron asked if he was that Martin Roberts, the one who had written that play. Roberts wrote back asking, "I'm in the card catalogue?" Aaron did not know how much that befriended Roberts.

Roberts started out as a playwright during a time when dance theatre was the vogue, but when that vogue ended with no money for all his work, he moved on to this career. Roberts already liked this student in Ohio who was asking about peace in outer space, but gaining though him slight recognition as a playwright charmed him so much that he telephoned Aaron and told him that he should come to New York at the next opportunity and spend a weekend with him at his house so that they could talk about how he could chart a career at the UN. People interested in devoting their lives to public service needed to be encouraged. It wasn't remunerative enough to attract good people for the money.

Aaron called a travel agent and arranged for a flight. He told his parents he was going and they asked if he had enough money. How nice of them to ask in case he had spent too much somehow. But he never did.

He also arranged for a rental car. Normally in New York he took mass transit. He had been there enough times with his parents while growing up to know his way around. But as long as he was flying to New York, why not get there a bit early and walk on a beach barefoot? If he could choose where to live based exclusively on whim, he would choose to live where he could walk out of his back door and step directly onto sand on a shore. Never wearing shoes again was a dream for him. As long as weather permitted at school, he wore sandals. In fact, even when weather didn't permit he wore them. He wore them until people asked him if his feet weren't cold. When he said that cold was better than the hurt of wearing shoes, no one ever really understood what he was saying. There were the invitations from his friends to come visit them at their Ivy League colleges, but bare feet on a beach was a bigger lure.

Aaron told Roberts that he would arrive in the evening, but he made a plane reservation that arrived early in the morning so there would be time to walk on a beach before meeting Roberts. When he landed it turned out that the rental car company didn't have a kiosk in the airport, but a shuttle would take him into town where they had an office. There he was helped by Alma, an attractive twenty-four year old, who asked him what he was doing in New York. He told her it was a career opportunity, that he still was a student, but he was meeting with a man from the UN who was going to help him chart a career there. She said her career was in the "car rental industry" where she had been working for six years. He didn't remember what he said that made her laugh, only that she laughed and that they were having fun talking until she asked to see his credit card.

Earlier that year after lifting weights he had returned to his locker in the gym to find that someone had torn the lock mechanism off of it. Not just the pad lock he brought with him, but the entire mechanism to which the padlock had been attached. They had stolen his watch and wallet and everything else in his locker. For months afterwards he kept getting bills for purchases made by someone using one of his credit cards. Security was not good in those days. He was not responsible for the bills, but it irked him that someone could keep using his credit card for so many months for so many purchases. It irked him enough that eventually he canceled all of his credit cards. He explained to Alma that he had canceled his credit cards and why as she lifted his form off the desk with both hands saying, "I can't rent a car to you without a credit card. I'm supposed to tear up this form the minute I learn that you haven't got a credit card." But she didn't. She sat holding it in tearing position, but looking at him.

"My whole career could depend on this meeting. I flew all the way here. He's expecting me to arrive by car. I can't look like an idiot by asking for help getting there from the airport." She kept looking at him and then asked, "How much money do you have with you?"
"Do traveler's checks count?"
"Sometimes we can arrange a car rental for a customer who can leave a large enough cash deposit so that we know we're getting the car back. Do you have twelve hundred and fifty dollars with you?"
"I have a thousand in traveler's checks and enough cash to do that." He had gotten the traveler's checks when he was sixteen and always carried them when traveling just for such an eventuality. Finally that money that had been sitting dormant drawing no interest all that time was paying off. They arranged the deposit. "And," she said, "you'd have to leave your return plane ticket in our possession." She called for the car to be brought around for him, then asked for his his drivers license. He handed it to her. "Your license expired."
"You're kidding. . . Oh, Lord. . . How can I have made such a mess. . . I have to get to this interview." She looked back and forth from him to his license to the traveler's checks and finally said, "Do you have a phone in your own name?"
"Yes."
"If I call it, will someone answer it?"
"No. Not unless my brother woke up early and ran to my apartment. He's the only one with a key."
"What's your number?" He told her. She dialed it and asked to make a person to person call to Aaron Roark. There was no answer. Only the answering machine. "Okay," she said. "I cannot rent a car to you without a valid drivers license. Period. I would get fired if I did, but do you think you could pass a New York drivers test?"
"I guess so."
"You look smart. I think you can do it. I'm going to have someone drive you to the license bureau. If you can pass the test and get a temporary New York license, I will rent the car to you."

A few months earlier he had been on a first date with a woman when the check had been presented to him at the end of the meal and he opened his wallet and not only did not have a credit card, but also had no cash. He was extremely embarrassed. His date did not look amused. The waitress said, "Did I see a check in your wallet?"
"Yes."
"I'll take your check."
"This restaurant accepts checks?"
"No. I'll take it. Make it out to me. I trust you. I'll pay the restaurant and deposit your check in my account."

When he told that to his lunch crowd, unanimously they chimed, "That waitress wants a date." It hadn't occurred to him until they said it, but once they did he could see they were right. People who are available and who are in the same age group are experts as sizing up potential mates as to trustworthiness. Alma had done that and found him trustworthy. She believed he would not steal their car and would pay his bill. She just had to find a way to make it so that her company would not fire her for renting it to him.

At the car license bureau he ran to the front of the line to snatch a booklet from the counter and then went to the back of the line. Standing in line he read New York State traffic laws. When he got to the front of the line, he was not finished with the book. He stepped to the side and let people pass as he continued to read. It might have been forty minutes, he had not kept track, that he studied before he took his turn at the counter. While taking the test, the guy who had driven him came inside to see what was taking so long. Aaron apologized and said he was halfway through the test. He had gotten to know the guy in the car on the way over. Aaron had asked lots about the car rental business. And had asked the guy for an address near where he lived. And about what that area was like. Aaron wanted to be prepared. When the license bureau asked him where he lived, he wanted to know the correct zip code for a street that existed and to know enough to get by if the clerk happened to ask something like, "How do you like it over there?"

When he had finished the test there was another wait while someone graded it. Then they called him up to get his photo taken. "Photo?" They were going to give him a temporary license that day, but the permanent one with the photo on it would be mailed to the address he had given them. Back at the university with his lunch crowd he told them that someone in New York State was going to receive a photo ID with his picture and his social security number on it but their address on it as though he lived there. One thing some young men know is what the laws are concerning common law marriage. One of them said that that was enough for someone to claim support from him. Receiving mail at your girlfriend's apartment is one of the tests courts use to determine whether or not you are common law married. Receiving a drivers license would have to be the gold standard for that. If whoever lived there wanted support, Aaron could be in trouble. None of them ever had heard of identity theft. None of them were worried about that. Mostly they just teased him about the wife and child he had not yet met back in New York who were going to show up on his doorstep someday.

There was not time left for a walk on the beach. The day had been spent renting a car. Gracefully he arrived at the Roberts in time for dinner. "How was your flight?"
"Couldn't have been better."
While lifting his suitcase out of the trunk, still in the driveway of Roberts's Scarsdale home, already they were talking about the law of the sea conference. It was where everything was going to be decided. All the issues in outer space depended on precedents that would be set there. And then Roberts's daughter appeared on the driveway to meet their weekend guest. Her name was Lisa. Yet another woman half his size, but she had a smile that could melt belt buckles. And Aaron felt himself in the cradle of Peace for all nations, work for all people, and someone who could have been the playmate of the month if she wanted. She was gorgeous. She was friendly. She laughed when he talked. She was one of the most graceful and considerate people he ever had met. Until he saw them in their driveway, it had not occurred to him that the Roberts were Jewish, but now he wondered how they would feel about their daughter with a gentile.

Mr. Roberts kept a valid passport in a packed suitcase at all times. A certain portion of his assets always were liquid, some of it in paper currency within reach. He felt he always should be ready to flee and seek refuge. His heritage gave him a completely different outlook on money and mobility than Aaron's. It was interesting how much of their conversation was about business and finances and investing when they were together in person. In correspondence there never had been a hint of that. Nor had there been a hint that he had daughters and that one of them would be home from college while Aaron would be there.

By Saturday morning they were sitting on lawn chairs in the backyard as Aaron read a play Roberts had written several decades earlier. Every minute that he was reading, he was searching for what to say when he was finished. The only plays he had read before had been Shakespeare's. Comparing this to that would be silly. And he was not able to imagine what the dance directions might look like when performed. When he was finished he said that it was very interesting and watched desperately to see how that was received. It appeared to be a good start, but more was waited for. He borrowed phrases from his brother who had talked about the difficulty of describing what a proposed building would be like. Aaron said that this felt like looking at the blue print of an escalator. If one never had been on an escalator, one would be hard pressed to understand how it would feel to ride one. Looking at a blue print did not adequately convey the experience of riding. He waxed on about what evocative and interesting things he imagined one might experience when experiencing the performance of the play that one could not glean merely from reading it.

Later Lisa quietly said to him, "Very good." This was while she and he were still sitting in the backyard. Her father had gone inside to put the book away. She is the one who told him about her father's passport and suitcase. After listening to them talk politics and business for two days, she thought he might be interested in  that personal information about her father and their heritage to explain some of why her father invests the way he invests. Aaron wanted to say that after two days of looking at her he was interested his own caveman heritage because something in him wanted to throw her over his shoulder and carry her into the woods. If he had thought about it a moment longer he might have thought better, but he already had started the sentence when the sliding glass door opened and he knew that her father would hear the second half of the sentence. He changed it to wanting to swing from that tree in their backyard. Lisa said, "If you want to do it, do it." Now he had to.

In shorts and a tee shirt, and barefooted as usual, he looked up at the lowest limb of the tree after walking across their backyard. He did a deep knee bend and leapt to grab it. With both hands on one side of the limb he felt smooth gray bark of a kind Dr. Masser had pointed out to him before, but he had no idea what kind of tree it was. Hanging facing the Roberts, he felt he needed to do something. He had said swing, hadn't he? There wasn't anywhere to swing to from there. He did a pull-up, keeping his torso vertical but lifting his straight legs up at the waist, in a twisting iron-cross formation, till they were parallel with the branch, which he then sat on. The move was largely out of self consciousness with Lisa watching, but he was surprised at how easy it was. It had been years since he had climbed a tree. He was stronger now and did feel a caveman heritage. He stood up on the limb, leaned to grab a higher limb and swung to another perch. It was so easy. He did it again. It came so naturally.

Walking back to the lawn chairs he was thinking about how to describe the self-discovery, these odd moments at which we find out these things about ourselves and unexpectedly feel in tune with some heritage, when Lisa called out across the grass, "You have earned the undying respect of my father. He did not know humans could lift themselves into trees that way." Her father hollered, "Do you work out?" Well, he lifted weights, but he wasn't any good. He'd been all right in high school, but apparently peaked early because everyone around him now was continuing to make gains while he was not even holding steady.

The Roberts did not have sons. No one ever had dammed up their backyard to make an ice hockey rink. Mr. Roberts did not play golf or tennis. They found these things about him to be amazing.

Later Lisa asked if Aaron if he wanted to go to a party. She was meeting friends before they went back to college. Mr. Roberts said he should go and have fun with some people his own age. Aaron spent half the time at the party separated from her. A guy she knew came over and talked to Aaron for a while. At one point he said, "I mean, if it feels good, why not do it, right?" Aaron thought, "like throw Lisa over your shoulder?" The guy continued, "Lisa has good a philosophy about that."
"Oh, really?"
"Yeah. She believes that if it feels good, you should do it." And then he didn't say anything, but only looked at Aaron until Aaron thought he recognized the expression of someone watching to see if a message had gotten through. The guy then turned to where Lisa was watching as she spoke with people. The guy waved to her. She waved back. Aaron stood stupidly wondering what he was supposed to do.

A car ride on the way home late at night with a desirable woman is a completely different thing when the home you are on the way to is the home where you will be staying with her parents, especially when you were friends with her father first and her second. They were in the Aaron's rental car. Aaron was driving. It was a nice car. He was glad for that now. After the party they had gone to a restaurant with another couple. Lisa and he had sat next to each other in the booth. Walking to the car afterwards he wanted to put an arm around her or take her hand, but if that was the wrong thing to do, he was going to have to live with that for the rest of the weekend. And it had been so warm and friendly so far.

Pulling out of the restaurant driveway he asked her which way to go to get to her house. They had followed the other couple from the party and he did not know where he was. She did not know either. "Aren't we still in Scarsdale?"
"I think so."
"Didn't you grow up here?" Yes. But she hadn't learned her way around. However, she said that if he could find a department store, she would be able to find her way home from there, and then looked sheepishly at him to see his reaction to that. To avoid having a reaction, he thought out loud as he went through the process of how to locate a department store at that time of night by wandering. He drove till the road they were on crossed a larger road, then turned down that following routes that appeared to lead to areas of more traffic. Eventually, they found a department store.

Pulling into her driveway and opening the door for her . . . how could they kiss goodnight in this situation? For all he knew his future career was in the hands of her father. Would touching her be a mistake? Or the opposite? He thought of friends who would know exactly how to handle this. He was considered the people-person in his family, but this was different. This was romance. All these years while he was trying to turn a thousand dollars into a million, his friends were trying to get laid. They had thought about these things. They had stuck their hands in the fire and gotten burned or warmed and learned lessons and knew what they were doing. If she and he were discussing the incarceration of artists in Soviet satellites, he would have plenty to say, even things that were funny and things that were charming. But without speaking as they walked up the driveway to the door of her house, the subject was what they were going to when they got there. He believed that her friend, the guy at the party, had given him an invitation at her request, but he was clueless as to how to accept it.

Inside the door, without turning on the lights so as not to wake anyone, she whispered, "Do you know how to find your way in the dark?" As soon as he whispered "Yes" he wanted to slap his own forehead for being such an idiot. Why hadn't he asked a question back, like "Is it that way?" to give her a chance to lead or ask another question. Why hadn't he at least joked at that moment like he did at so many other moments saying something like, "If I get lost will I ever see you again?" Or maybe, "How will you know if I get there safely?" hoping she would think of how she could check later to find out. Instead, after a pause, she thanked him for getting her home safely.

When he went back to Ohio, they kept in touch. Mostly by mail, but also by phone. She called him a couple of times to tell him what had been said about him when she had been with her parents again and they had recalled something else Aaron had said that made them laugh. Especially that moment when Lisa and her father had been leaving the kitchen and Mr. Roberts had turned saying, "Can I trust you if I leave you alone with my wife, Aaron?" Aaron had replied, "I have a great deal of restraint." Mrs. Roberts lost her breath laughing. According to Lisa her mother later said to her, "Marry that boy."

Lisa was in Ithaca, New York going to college. He was in Cincinnati, Ohio. Still, if she was interested in communicating with him like this even after he did not touch her or say one nice thing to her the whole time they were together, she must see something beyond the immature, awkward, relationship ignoramuse he believed himself to be. And what if he did get a job at the United Nations someday. What if he got a job working for her father? Maybe she was thinking about those same things. After receiving a letter from her months later, he wondered about that out loud with the lunch crowd one day and, as she was picking up her tray and leaving, Franny said, "Christ, Aaron. Don't you know when a woman wants to get her hands on your body?" He guessed he didn't. "You are a very attractive man, Aaron. What's a woman have to do? Slap you in the head?"

Franny is the one who put the idea in his head of getting shoes custom made. He hadn't yet come to regard shoe sales people and shoe makers as providers on the periphery of healthcare. Later he would start thinking that when a shoe repair shop could not make an alteration to his shoe without a prescription. His life was circumscribed by and organized around painful feet and ill-fitting shoes, but it did not cross his mine that it might be part of healthcare.

Franny noticed what people wore. So she noticed his footwear. Over lunch they gotten to know each other well enough for her to comment on it. He had told her enough times that shoes don't fit his feet, but she didn't believe it. One day she said that somewhere in Cincinnati there had to be a shoe store that could fit him. It turned into a challenge and she and he drove from shoe store to shoe store on a Friday afternoon and evening. She did not give up easily. They had not gotten to all the stores on her list. She wanted to resume the next morning. After they spent the morning and part of the afternoon with no success, she said that she knew of a place in Kentucky, but she had to be at Lake Cumberland by seven o'clock to meet her parents for dinner. Did he want to come? If he would drive her down, she would have time to take him to the store in Kentucky.

It turned out to be dinner on a houseboat at the dock in Lake Cumberland with her mother and step father and a large assortment of friends and relatives. Her step father was an obstetrician who owned the largest boat on Lake Cumberland. It was 127 feet long. There were two other boats nearly as long. The shorter of the three was 105 feet long. It had been her step father's first boat, but someone had built one 112 feet long. He wanted the largest boat, so he built one 127 feet long with marble bathrooms, indirect lighting and a billiard table on the third floor. He also had a Cigarette boat, that Aaron guessed might be the fastest boat on the lake. They took a ride and you couldn't talk or hear when it was underway. The wind and the engines were deafening as they sped to nowhere and back.

Seeing this and these people, he realized that the jewelry that she wore was real and her clothes were expensive. She always looked well put together, but he had not paid much attention to it before. He knew that she had sized him up. But she said the shoe thing didn't fit the rest the package. When she finally saw that it really was not just in his head, that there really were not shoes that fit him, she suggested getting some made. He said he had looked into it but the only thing he had found in Cincinnati were some custom made Space Shoe thing that for him was worse than regular shoes. She said, "There's got to be someone in New York who can do it."

He knew she was right. In the main library he got the Yellow Page phone directory for Manhattan. There was a list of people who custom made shoes. Information about them was so scant that he wrote to everyone on the list asking about what they had to offer.

To one of the shoemakers he wrote, "I found you in the Yellow Pages. Please tell me why I should have shoes made by you." In pencil in the margin of his letter the shoemaker wrote back, "Why should you get your shoes made by me? I don't know. They are your feet. You can do what you want with them. I don't need customers like you."

A few years later he would try to use as examples both that and the obstetrician who was so competitive that he had to have the biggest boat on the lake as he was trying to explain to a physician why the surgeon intentionally injured him.

In many marinas people quiet down after ten o'clock in order to enable others to sleep on their boats. Sound travels on the water, but on this houseboat at eleven music and laughter and billiards appeared as though they would go for hours longer when Aaron said he had better start driving back. Franny's mother said she didn't like the idea of him driving so far at that hour and said they had room if he wanted to stay the night. He felt it polite to decline and said he would be fine driving at that hour. Franny said he would be welcome to stay, but she didn't say, "Oh, please stay." He had persuaded people to stay at his parent's home by insisting and blocking the door and telling them what had been planned for breakfast and refusing to let them leave. It would have taken that level of invitation for him to accept, but that didn't come.

At lunch hearing her say, "What's a woman have to do? Slap you in the head?" he thought, "Yes. I guess so." Half an hour later he thought, "Was that a hint?"

The next time Franny was at lunch, he wanted to ask what constituted a hint. Instead he asked something that possibly could have led to that topic. He asked if a guy lying down was a position that somehow was attractive to women. He hadn't managed to ask the question in a way that clarified what he was trying to find out when she looked behind him and said, "Oh. Little Aaron is here." He turned and saw his brother Ted getting milk from a dispenser while holding a tray in his other hand as casually as a veteran a college student rather than the interloping high school student that he was. Ted had learned that anyone could eat in the student center. He knew when Aaron ate and dropped in once in a while.

In the Design, Art and Architecture building there was a bridge building contest that Ted wanted to see. Students had been given the assignment of building a bridge eight feet long that would support their own weight. Bridges had to weigh less than a certain amount and employ certain engineering principles. Ted wanted to see it. Richard thought it sounded interested and so he Aaron went with him.

The design students there said Hi to his brother when they saw him. College students knew his high school brother from his wandering through there and talking to them about what they were working on. One of them had designed the set for a piece of performance art that was showing at the Contemporary Art Center that night. She was trying to persuade people to go. Performance art is a hard sell. She was worried no one would show up. Ted was flattered a college girl was inviting him no matter what it was to and said to Aaron, "Wanna go?"

Aaron could not keep his mind on the performance. By the time intermission came, he would have been hard pressed to tell you what had occurred on stage. His mind had wandered. But when the lights came up on the house for intermission, across the stage in the other side of the audience Aaron saw a tall blonde in the audience. It was Samantha. He walked the perimeter of the stage to get as near to her as he could. When he waved she saw him and smiled and pointed that she would come around. She had to climb down the other side of the riser and walk around the back of the seats. As she was doing that, Judy stood up.

He had not seen her even though she had been right in front of him. She leapt from her seat. Just as Samantha was coming around the other side of the risers, Judy threw her arms around Aaron hugging him saying, "It's so good to see you." With her arms around him, she leaned back to look into his face, saw him looking beyond her, turned and saw Samantha. "I'm sorry. I thought you came to see me. I didn't know there was someone else." Her eyes glistened with tears. "I'm sorry," she said as she let go of him and slipped away into the crowd like a fish through a school of fish, darting so quickly without disturbing any of the people she sped between. Samantha stood watching. Aaron said, "Hi."
"Hi. Whose your friend?"
"Ex-girlfriend."
"Ex?"
"Yes."
"She didn't look ex."
"We haven't see each other for long a while."
"She's very graceful. Does she study dance?"
"No. But I think she could teach it." He looked in the direction that Judy went and felt badly for having made her sad. Worrying about what Samantha might be reading in his face as he felt that, he said, "I don't like that she's hurt. I don't think about her anymore. But I don't like it if I just hurt her."
"It's nice that you don't."

Ted caught up with him and Aaron introduced him to Samantha. Ted and Richard weren't staying for the second act. Samantha and Aaron left too. She suggested Zinos where they had coffee drinks. As he sat across from this tall Quaker, whose religion cared about peace, listened to her voice, watched her long blonde hair sway around her face and heard what her father does for a living, he thought, "This is a woman you could take home to mother." They went on a date a few nights later, a formal date made days in advance for dinner and conversation. But halfway through he wanted to ask, "You're an only child, aren't you?" Too dangerous of a question, of course. So he asked about lying down - was it a position that caught the attention of women. She thought it was an odd question. He never asked it again. They lasted about ten days. She never knew why he stopped calling.

The decision not to call wasn't made in one moment and never rethought. That moment only was foreshadowing. They did a number of things together, including a Sunday brunch with friends of hers, most of whom were graduate students and all of whom, apparently, were liberals who hated conservatives. Really hated them. They hated anything corporate. Everything about business was evil. Anyone who was well-off was despicable. Samantha found even driving through Hyde Park distasteful. "Everyone there is so washed." Clean clothes and brushed hair apparently were the sign of the devil.

There was only one other conversation in the room. After a while Aaron crossed to it to see if it was any better. It turned out to be a guy doing a monologue. He reluctantly half-glanced at Aaron. Aaron sighed at the competitiveness of the guy. On arriving at this party the guy had introduced himself virtually as being a psychiatrist. He was one of those students who had invested his identity in the label of what he expected to be his future profession. The guy could not have been more arrogant. He did not hear what others said. He did not really look at anyone else. Like a celebrity weary of being the center of attention, his peripheral vision was all the focus you got before he turned to remove even that from you. Aaron was used to his size provoking people like this. But he never managed to catch on to how to keep his sense of humor from making it worse. It's never was as though he made a decision to say something funny. It just was normal for him to listen to a conversation quietly, have something occur to him, mutter it, and then hear people laugh. He would be pleasantly surprised that they hadn't groaned and rolled their eyes at him. Humor can be more dangerous than asking the wrong question. And he didn't try to be funny. He just was.

So as he sat on the edge of the "psychiatrist's" monologue thinking about how long to stay there before turning away, he thought of a joke. It wasn't an original quip. It was just a stock joke he had heard. What this guy was saying reminded him of it. The guy was speaking as though he were a font of wisdom about psychotherapy. The sentences he was repeating could not more clearly have been memorized from an undergraduate textbook. Aaron had read some Jung and some Freud and was skeptical about the entire field. So when there was a moment when he could say it, Aaron said, "Do you know how many psychotherapists it takes to change a light bulb?" The "psychiatrist" did not respond. The other guy asked how many. "Just one. But the light bulb really has to want to change." The other guy laughed. The "psychiatrist" stood up, turning his back on Aaron, and left. Aaron talked to the guy remaining for a bit, until he saw the "psychiatrist" look around the corner, see Aaron, and leave again. So Aaron moved away. As soon as Aaron left, the "psychiatrist" returned and resumed doing his monologue about psychotherapy for the other guy.

Aaron moved to where he could listen to Samantha and heard her deliver another diatribe about people she hated. He believed that in ten years this is how she would be talking with her girlfriends about her husband.

Next Chapter

 

*        *        *

CUT THE REST OF THIS? (forgive me for keeping notes to myself here)

Once when he was fifteen years old on spring break with his parents he had been lying on the beach in the sun when a college girl sat down next to him and started talking to him. He didn't know what to say. He squinted in the bright light looking at her. She stayed in spite of his clumsy responses to her conversation. He was afraid to look to see what she looked like and if her bathing suit was as small as it appeared to be through his squint, but after about fifteen minutes when he finally sat up she got a better look at him and asked, "How old are you?"

Not old enough. She left.

Later that year he was in a dentist's chair when the hygienist asked him out. It was the first time he wasn't the one asking that question. He had to tell her he was only sixteen. It was on his chart, but once she started working on his teeth, she was looking at him lying in that chair and forgot about the chart.

In high school after a workout once he laid on a mat and two women he knew stopped and talked to him. They'd never paid much attention to him. They told him he looked good lying down. He began to wonder if there was something about that position.

There were a few more dental hygienists during the next few years. Getting your teeth cleaned by a woman who cradles the side of your face against her breasts to hold you steady is one of the finer things in life. Having her "accidentally" drop her instrument in your lap and then pick it up from there can leave you hoping no one walks until you've had time to relax. How could that not turn into dinner and a movie? One hygienist had told him to get up from the chair and when he did gave no further instructions. He asked, "Where would you like me now?" To which she replied, "Well, Aaron. That's a tricky question."

There were reasons to want to know the answer, but Samantha was the last person of whom he asked whether lying down had anything to do with that. Maybe it was all in his head.

[the back/leg issue's relation to it]

BTW, his name was called whenever a bee needed stomping.

Next Chapter

Putting work on the Internet is inviting people to look over your shoulder
 and comment or contribute or object or check your facts,
especially when it is in progress, especially you've been told you are being watched.

Medical Novel Table of Contents

Persons, places, events, and situations in this story are purely fictional.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Rough Draft / Under Construction

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Home | Table of Contents | It's a Path
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Loyalty versus Patient Safety
The White Wall of Silence versus Patient Safety
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Medical Complaints - How to

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It's a path

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