An Interview With Doc
Ricky Ginsburg - November 2006/May 2011

Doc reached over and tapped his pipe into the brass urn beside his lounge chair before continuing, "Well, you know the diamond mine had slowed to around twenty carats a month of nothing but industrial grade material by the end of the fifties." He arched sideways and pulled the pouch from his back pocket. "Keeps it moist and warm," he said and smiled. "DeBeers came in and made us a fairly reasonable offer. I say, 'fairly reasonable' because they had the tools to dig deeper and faster than the seven of us and could have offered at least double what we accepted. It wasn't much of a surprise when they found a second vein at a hundred and ten feet." He looked over at the reporter. "I'm not going too fast for you, am I?"

She shook her head. "No, I've got my own shorthand. Please, continue, this is fascinating."

"Well, by the mid-sixties the money was about gone. What with Dopey's heroin habit and Sleepy eating downers like Turkish taffy, we were spending almost a hundred bucks a day and no one but Grumpy seemed to complain about it until it was too late." Doc slipped the corncob pipe into the pouch and tamped a fresh load of herbs deep into its charred bowl. He fumbled in his vest pockets for a lighter; the stem of the small pipe held tightly in his teeth.

The reporter pulled a disposable from her purse and handed it to the bearded centenarian. "What happened to Snow White?"

Doc lit the pipe and placed the lighter on the arm of the cracked leather chair. The four-foot tall grandfather clock in the corner chimed twice while he adjusted the front tails of his vest. "Things with her and the prince lasted about six months. Apparently, this guy had a damsel in distress in every township. She caught him by a lake kissing frogs that were supposed to be transformed princesses. The guy grew some weird warts on his lips and tongue before she threw him out the door."

He took a long pull on the pipe and blew a cloud of silvery blue smoke into the musty air. "One of the side effects of the poisoned apple was that her age froze at the moment the prince kissed her back to consciousness." Doc slapped his knee, "Boy, if the stupid queen knew that was going to happen, she'd have eaten a bushel of them herself!" He broke into a hoarse laugh that quickly crackled into a coughing fit.

"Are you okay?" the reporter asked, as she reached over to touch his wrinkled hand.

"Yeah. At my age it's hard not to laugh and spit at the same time." Doc wiped the corners of his mouth with a red handkerchief before he stuffed it back into his vest pocket. "The last I heard, she had moved out to Hollywood, dyed her jet black hair," he sighed, "changed her first name to Vanna, and was shacked up with some game show host."

"And she still looks nineteen?"

"Not a day older nor a moment wiser." He puffed on the pipe and leaned toward the girl. "She's old enough to be your grandmother, but still pretty enough to be your twin."

The reporter blushed and smoothed the short plaid skirt down over her knees. "Thank you, Doc. You don't look a day over a hundred."

The front door flew open and a Saint Bernard with a whiskey keg dangling from its collar came bounding into the room, followed, at the end of a nine-foot rope leash, by a stumbling Happy. He let go of the leash and collapsed onto the couch next to the young reporter. "He ran through the liquor store again," Happy wheezed, "and almost took out a display of six-packs and some racecar driver." The dog jumped up on the couch and forced the reporter to one side and Happy to the floor. "Doc, you're gonna have to get someone else to walk him or give him a tranquilizer before we go."

Happy reached up and opened the spigot on the keg, letting the last of the liquor dribble down into his throat. He turned and grinned at the girl. "Hey, I've seen your picture in the newspaper!"

She reached down and shook his hand. "I'm very glad to meet you." The dog lay down on the couch and put its head on her lap. "He looks big enough for you to ride," she said.

Happy slid against the front of the couch. "I did ride him once. Did Doc tell you the story?"

"No, not yet." She brushed chestnut brown bangs out of her eyes and pulled her writing hand out from under the drooling dog. "Did you ride him in a race?"

Doc spit out a laugh and puffed once on the pipe before he handed it to Happy. "It was right after Nixon resigned in '74 that we had to put Dopey into rehab. Sleepy went back to Denmark and none of us have heard a peep from him for over thirty years. With Dopey in this high-priced clinic in the Midwest, the income from our investments wasn't enough to sustain the five of us, so I went back into practice."

The reporter put down her pencil and took off her glasses. "I didn't realize you actually had a medical degree."

Doc pointed over his shoulder. "University of Geneva, class of '27; I was a practicing pediatrician for almost ten years before Grumpy and Bashful found the first diamond in the cave behind our house on Christmas day, 1937. That diploma will be almost ninety years old next year and it's still valid anywhere in the world." He twisted around in his chair and stared at the yellowed parchment, hung at a slight angle next to the fireplace.

"So, you went back into pediatrics after all those years of being a miner?"

"Nah, I was sick of kids and their stupid 'short people' jokes." He took the pipe from Happy and relit the bowl taking another toke as he winced, thinking about the abuse he had contended with for a decade. "Kids see a person my size and all they think about is the Wizard of Oz. I gagged the heck out of some wiseass teenager once with a tongue depressor." Doc laughed but stifled the coughing before it got out of hand.

"What field of medicine did you practice then?"

He reached across and shook the little keg on the Saint Bernard's collar, "We opened a veterinary clinic in downtown Chicago." Doc pulled a faded Polaroid from the folder next to his lounger and handed it to her. "Opening day - look at the snow, it was over our heads by noon and the only patient we saw was a stray mutt looking for a handout." He dumped a collection of photographs and frayed business cards onto the coffee table. The reporter bent over to inspect them, unintentionally giving Doc a close-up of her ample cleavage. "Ahhh," he sighed. "Memories of mammaries."

Grumpy waddled in from the kitchen carrying a tray of cups, a steaming pot of hot cocoa, and a small crystal bowl filled with marshmallows. He set the tray on the uncluttered end of the table and snatched a photo of him and a toy poodle out of the young reporter's hand. "Hmmph! Stinkin' little rat puked all over the exam room. You should have let me feed him to the alligator."

The reporter grabbed the photo back. "Alligator? In Chicago?"

Doc nodded. "You think New York City has cornered the market on gators in their sewer system? Heck, we've got Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. There are alligators in those pipes large enough to swallow a rooster whole. That little toy poodle wouldn't even have been a suitable appetizer for one of the really big ones." He held his arms out to their full three foot span, "We had one this big living in the storm drain behind the office. Dopey used to feed him Quaaludes stuffed into chicken breasts; that alligator couldn't have found his way out to the river much less all the way back to Florida."

"Woulda been a good snack anyhow, miserable mutt." Grumpy turned and walked back to the kitchen, stopping to lift his leg and fart just as he reached the doorway. "Sorry," he mumbled, and slammed the kitchen door behind him.

The young reporter read through her notes and looked at Doc. "You were telling me about Happy's ride on the Saint Bernard."

Doc slid a few of the photos around and picked out one he studied for a moment before handing it to the girl. "This was the examination room after the ride. That's not a folding exam table; the dog jumped onto it with Happy on his back and split the top in two." He reached over and pointed at the bottom corner. "That's the coat rack from the waiting room stuck in Happy's beard. The garden hose we used to wash down the sidewalk at the end of the day is wrapped around his leg."

He pulled another one closer to his chair and spun it around on the tabletop so it was facing the reporter. "This was Beni, our third receptionist." The blonde pigtailed woman in the picture could have bench-pressed the doctor in one hand and the dog in the other. "Her real name was something in Dutch that none of us could pronounce, so Sneezy named her after his favorite medication."

"Which was?"

Doc shook his head, "Benadryl. He ate those little pink pills twice a day."

The reporter held up her pencil. "He was that allergic and he worked in a veterinary clinic?"

"For almost two years before he gave up and moved to Iceland. He lives just south of the permafrost and hasn't sneezed once in thirty years. Of course, you could hold a bucket of rotting carp under his nose and he wouldn't be able to tell it apart from a rag soaked in perfume."

She looked down at her notes again and cocked her head to one side. "You said third receptionist?"

"Yes, in two years." Doc grinned as he placed a cup and saucer in front of the girl. "Seems Bashful really wasn't." He filled the cup with steaming cocoa and offered her a marshmallow that she declined. "All those decades we thought he was satisfied with playing with himself late at night." He groaned. "None of us dreamt that he had such a wicked side. And when Grumpy found him one morning chasing the first receptionist around the office with a broomstick and a tube of K-Y jelly, we knew we had a real problem on our hands."

Doc dumped three marshmallows into his cup and covered them with cocoa. He popped a fourth one in his mouth and held a finger in the air as he chewed and finally swallowed. "The second girl, Rita, would tease him by not wearing a bra or pinching his butt as he walked by her desk. We had to pay her five thousand dollars to not file rape charges against Bashful, but she agreed to move out of town and never come back."

The reporter scribbled something on a separate sheet of paper that she tore from the notebook and stuffed into her purse. "And what happened with Beni?"

Doc smiled. "Beni was great. An ox of a woman, strong enough to bend nails, and the only person in the clinic who could handle the big ones."

"Big ones?"

"German Shepherds, Great Danes, and our slobbering friend here - the Saint Bernard." The massive dog swished its tail and woke the dozing Happy, who immediately smiled and reached up to pet him. "We had a police dog, one of the really mean, nasty Shepherds, brought in one day with a gunshot wound. The dog had taken one in the thigh and saved a cop's life. But the dog was in such pain that no one in the police station could control him. They brought him into the clinic in a small cage, gnarling and gnashing his teeth, drool dripping down the bars mixed with blood from the poor animal's wound." Doc tossed two marshmallows into Happy's open mouth and poured him a cup of cocoa before continuing. "Well, they plopped this cage down on the floor of the waiting room and every dog and cat jumped into their owner's lap, several of them soiling a pant leg in the process."

Grumpy came out of the kitchen dragging a three-legged stool in each hand. He dropped one alongside Happy and placed the other one at the far end of the coffee table. Throwing a disgusted look at the girl's half empty cup of cocoa, he shook his head and asked, "You don't like my marshmallows? Not good enough for rich girls from the big city?" With a grunt, he slid the stool back from the table and spun it around so he could pick his nose and look out the window. "Don't forget to tell her about the fry pan," he called over his shoulder.

Doc shushed him. "I'll get there, relax old man." He pushed the bowl of marshmallows over to the girl. "Just try one to keep him... well, less grumpy." She took the smallest one in the bowl and popped it into her mouth. Smiling, Doc looked over at his pouting friend. "She ate one. Now come back to the table and behave yourself." He looked at the reporter, "Where was I?"

"The police dog was in a cage."

"Right. There we are with this dog, and he's growling, snarling, and scaring the wits out of everyone, until Beni came around from behind her desk and got down on her knees and looked that dog in the eyes." Doc leaned forward and stared at the girl's deep brown eyes as though he were looking for a broken rib on an x-ray. "She shouted the word 'Quiet!' and for three city blocks everything came to a halt. The dog closed its mouth and went down on its belly in the cage. Beni opened the door, lifted the wounded beast out and carried it into the examination room. She stood there the entire time, holding its paw, while I extracted the bullet, cleaned the wound and dressed it with a bandage." He shook his head, "We were lost without her."

"What happened to her?"

Doc slapped his forehead. "Bashful."

Grumpy belched. "The man never finished puberty."

As he swallowed the last of his cocoa, Doc stood and stretched. He walked to the fireplace and retrieved a framed photograph of Bashful and seven plumed women on a stage in a nightclub. "He played grab-ass with her one time too many and on just the wrong day." Doc handed the picture to the girl and retook his seat. "Mrs. Worthington, one of our wealthiest clients, came in just before lunch with King Arthur, her largest Saint Bernard." He nodded at the dog on the couch.

The reporter pet the dog on his head. "This is King Arthur? He'd have to be over thirty years old. Don't tell me you found a stash of the evil queen's apples!"

"No, that big fellow is Snowcap, a grandson of King Arthur and one of Mrs. Worthington's other Saint Bernards. She had six of them in a penthouse on Michigan Avenue." Doc pointed to Happy, who had nodded off again. "He still thinks that this is King Arthur, so don't tell him different. I doubt he'd remember either way."

She nodded. "Your secret is safe with me."

Doc leaned back in the lounge chair and gathered his thoughts. "So there's Mrs. Worthington standing in the waiting room with her dog and Bashful walked out to get him. Now to be honest, I didn't hear the comment, but Bashful claimed that Beni said something about the size of his... manhood and he reached over to tweak her... breast." Docs blushing cheeks, barely visible over the top of his beard, took on the glow of ripe apple as he struggled with the words. The reporter did her best to suppress a grin. "Well, Beni got up from her rolling chair so quickly that it slid back against the file rack behind her, knocking the rack over and spilling folders everywhere." Doc threw his arms in the air. "Paper was flying all over the waiting room and as Mrs. Worthington tried to back away from the airborne cardboard assault she fell backwards over King Arthur."

Grumpy let out a combination grunt and howl that made a drunk hitting his thumb with a hammer sound pleasant by comparison. "Don't forget the frying pan!"

Doc quickly filled the pipe and passed it along with her lighter to his friend. "Shut up and smoke this while I tell the story!" He turned back to the reporter. "Beni grabbed a yardstick from her desk and started smacking Bashful on any part of his body he couldn't cover with his hands. In an effort to get out of her reach, he jumped over Mrs. Worthington and ran out the door just as Happy was returning from the pizza parlor with our lunch."

He reached over, took the lighter out of Grumpy's fumbling hands and lit the pipe for him. As he turned back to the girl, Doc dropped the last two marshmallows into his cup and filled it halfway with cocoa.

"Happy took a step inside the door and King Arthur, now scared of not only being in the doctor's office, where he knew a long needle was waiting for his annual shots, but seeing Beni stomping toward him with a yardstick held high in her hands, panicked and ran for the open doorway." Doc pushed a photo of the clinic taken from the inside looking out onto the street toward the reporter. "King Arthur plowed into Happy, who dropped the hot pizzas on Mrs. Worthington's head. As the dog went under him, Happy wrapped his legs around the Saint Bernard's enormous waist and grabbed the dog's tail."

The reporter shook her head. "How big was this dog?"

Doc pointed to Snowcap. "Twice as big as him."

"Oh my god! Twice?"

"Yep." Doc raised his eyebrows. "Maybe two and half times as big."

She made a note on her pad and circled it twice.

"So Happy was now riding the dog up and down the sidewalk, hanging on to the tail and screaming for us to stop him. As they passed the clinic for the second time, Happy reached out and grabbed the garden hose hanging by the door and looped it under the dog's collar." Doc sipped a bit of the cocoa and mashed a marshmallow against the roof his mouth before swallowing it. "The hose was only ten or twelve feet long and it snapped the dog around as he reached the end of the line. Being the smart dog that he was, King Arthur turned and ran back toward the clinic, huffing and baying as Happy tried to drag him to the ground."

"Where was Beni?"

Doc put the cup down on the table hard enough to rock the saucer and smacked the arm of the chair. "She was standing on the sidewalk, laughing." He looked over at Happy, who even in his sleep had a grin that covered his face. "Happy pulled himself around on King Arthur's back and wrapped his arms around the dog's neck just as they rocketed through the open door of the clinic. The hose yanked free from its spigot and a stream of water sprayed right across the sidewalk and into Beni's face." Doc slapped his knee and coughed out a laugh. "The dog jumped over Mrs. Worthington, who was already yelling for her lawyer and her hairdresser, and crashed through the Dutch doors into the exam room."

He looked over at Grumpy and smiled. "As they went airborne -- King Arthur with our screaming friend on his back -- Grumpy came running from the small kitchen we occasionally used to cook meals as well as sterilize our instruments, with a fry pan larger than a hubcap on a Lincoln. He smashed the dog in the snout, as the beast was midair over the exam table."

She put down her pencil and frowned at the old man on the stool. "That poor dog!"

Doc shook his head, "Wait, it gets better! The dog crashed into the wooden table, splitting it in half, but managed to grab the fry pan in his teeth as he went down. Happy fell off King Arthur's back and ended up under half the table. The dog sprinted around the room, shaking and swatting the fry pan like a blind man with a sword. Glass cabinets shattered, fragile instruments were strewn about the floor, and every piece of furniture flipped over onto its side."

"How did you get him under control?" she asked.

Doc fumbled around the bottom of the folder on his lap and pulled out a bent hypodermic needle. "This was the one that stopped the demolition." He held the needle in the air and took a deep breath. "I filled a syringe with some horse tranquilizer we kept on hand for when the circus came to town. It was enough of the drug to take out a Budweiser Clydesdale at full gallop. As the rampaging Saint Bernard tried to exit the examination room he plowed into Mrs. Worthington's size 42 waist and bounced back. I hit him in the butt with the needle and rammed the plunger home. It took about a half a minute, but King Arthur slowly fell back on his haunches and then toppled over on his side, down for the count."

He took the pipe from Grumpy and lit the bowl, taking several deep puffs before handing it back. "Beni came into the room just as the dog's eyelids drooped closed, dragging Bashful behind her. She tossed him on top of the dog and quit on the spot, never even waited for her last paycheck."

The young reporter looked at her watch and flipped the notebook closed. "I'd love to sit here and regale in the tales you could spin from your first hundred years, but if we want this to run in the Sunday magazine, I've got to get started putting it all together." She pushed the dog's head off of her lap and stood, extending her hand to Doc. "I'll send someone over tomorrow with the finished piece for your approval and the photographer should be here in an hour." She turned and frowned at Grumpy with her hands on her hips. "Thanks for the cocoa and please, try to at least grin for your photos."

Doc grunted out of his seat and shook the reporter's hand. He nodded toward the Saint Bernard with its head flopped over the edge of the couch, filling Happy's cocoa cup with drool. "Are you interested in a pet?" He smiled. "He's housebroken and loves to eat marshmallows."

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