Len Kruger

I pick up the first card and hold it in my hand, tracing its edge with my thumb, watching the crease it makes in my skin. The card says: Jordan Brillo, typed, then "Doctor" handwritten in parentheses. I call the number, count the rings. One. Two. Three.

"This is Doctor Jordan Brillo," says a hurried voice, cold and gruff. He emphasizes the word, doctor, as a challenge.

"Good evening, Doctor Brillo. May I take a moment of your valuable time?"

"Absolutely not," he says. "I'm waiting for an important call."

"Aren't we all, Doctor? But this needn't take long. Our records indicate that you gave 75 dollars last year," I say slowly, evenly. "We'd like to ask you to give 125 dollars this year."

I hear a click, then silence. I assume that the phone is not slippery, that it has not wriggled from his grasp like a fish, that the trembling hand of Dr. Jordan Brillo is not now at this moment scouring the floor like a lobster on a seabed. I lovingly depress the redial button with the soft spongy meaty part of the fourth finger of my left hand. I count the rings like sheep jumping over precipices, their desperate bleats trailing into an abyss. One. Two. Three. Four.

"This is Doctor Jordan Brillo."

"Last year, Doctor, 75 dollars. This year, 125 dollars," I say.

"What the hell for? Who is this?"

"Accept my apologies," I say. "And I will accept your 125 dollars." Another click, a silence. The redial button depressed, the rings like heartbeats. One-two, three-four, five-six.

"Dr. Brillo here!"

"We take personal checks, money orders, credit cards . . ."

"You're not very good at this, you know that?"

". . . currency, jewelry, bullion . . ."

"Good Lord, you have to establish rapport if you want me to give you 125 dollars. You have to make me like you. I don't want to give you anything..."

". . . collectibles, parts, labor."

". . . because right now, I hate you."

"Nothing personal, Doctor."

"No, you're wrong. It's very personal. What could possibly be more personal than the hatred I feel for you?"

"Perhaps the love you feel for yourself?"

There is a long pause. I slide the pointed corner of the index card down my bare forearm, tracing along the vein.

"Let's try a little something here," says Doctor Jordan Brillo. "It's called roleplaying. You'll want to take notes. Got a pencil handy?"

"Go ahead," I say. On the back of the index card, I draw a picture of a body lying on a slab, arms splayed outward, toes pointed to the sky.

"In this exercise, we're going to pretend that I'm the caller, and you're the victim. Now, I want you to close your eyes. Are they closed?"

"Yes. Closed," I say. On the index card, I shade a circular cavity in the body's chest.

"Visualize the following. You are sitting at your kitchen table, depressed. You are depressed because you suffer from impotency. This impotency is due to your feelings of inadequacy over the extremely small size of your penis. The last woman you slept with, many many years ago, laughed at you. Her words, retractable pencil dick, haunt you still. But last week, you saw in the sports page, an advertisement for penile enlargement. Free thirty minute consultation, said the advertisement. This intrigued you. You visited the clinic. The doctor was a man your age, very friendly. He talked about sports, putting you at ease. He told you that penile enlargement is nothing to be ashamed of, that he himself has undergone the procedure. He would show you himself, but under the circumstances, well, you know. The doctor examined you and declared you an excellent prospect. He showed you a brochure. The implant is custom designed from a jet age plastic originally developed for the space program. It is a winning example of 'technology spin-off,' that is, federally funded technology which works its way into society and helps taxpayers in ways that were never envisioned. I'll take it, you said, writing a check for thousands of dollars. Your implant is injection molded and filament wound at a manufacturing facility in Indiana. The factory promised to mail your implant to the clinic, in about two weeks. They will call you as soon as it arrives. You've been waiting for two weeks. You can't sleep and your mind wanders at work. My God, you're such a loser. And today's the day they said they would call. Your custom made implant just arrived, you imagine them saying, come on down! Happy days are here again! But it's late in the afternoon, and they haven't called. You panic. What if the factory couldn't accommodate your specifications? What if the company went out of business? What if there was a fire at the plant in Indiana, and your implant, shiny and gleaming in its majestic protuberance, has shriveled and blackened in the inferno? And then! And then! The telephone rings! Could it be? It must be! Your heart pounds. You have to answer it, immediately. Go ahead -- answer it!"

"Hello?" I say.

"Hello, there! My name is Doctor Jordan Brillo. I am a doctor of philanthropy and I'm asking for donations to help poor little sick little children. Some of these kids, oh my God, they're so adorable and so sick and it is only through your generous donation that they will get well. I hope I'm not interrupting anything?"

"This isn't a good time," I say. "I'm waiting for an important phone call about my penile implants."

"Implants? You mean to say you're getting more than one? Oh my!"

"This isn't a good time," I say.

"But . . . what about the kids?"

"Yes. I will give you a generous donation."


"Because I feel very badly about the kids."

"No, no. You don't understand. OK, roleplaying's over. Let's review. What do you feel for me, right now?"

"I feel compassion and love because you're concerned about the kids."

"But I'm not concerned about the kids. Don't you understand? I've interrupted you while you're waiting for this important call about your penile implant and I don't give a rat's ass about the kids. Fuck the kids. I just want your money. I might as well ask you to buy lightbulbs or magazine subscriptions."

"You're talking very rapidly, Doctor," I say. "Could you speak more slowly, in order that I may get all this down?" To the right of the body, I draw a table with a wide rectangular surface. On the table's surface I draw my instruments: scalpel, clamp, scissors, retractor.

"OK, why don't we try another one? Good afternoon, friend, my name is Doctor Jordan Brillo. I am old, sick, lonely, bitter, and flatulent. I want to kill myself and others but can't because I lack the money for guns, knives, ropes, pills, and poisons, which is why I call you today and interrupt you in your home as you make love to your wife, as you fight off intruders, as you hunt and gather for food, as you absorb tragic news, as you ponder life-altering decisions. By the way, I wonder if you've considered the opportunity of investing in a very special mutual fund? All risk and no benefit! All sorrow and no joy! What do you say, friend? Well? Well?"

To the left of the body, I draw another table. On this table I draw a liver, lungs, eyeballs, intestines. I draw wisps of steam, curling upward from the open chest cavity.

"WELL?" he cries.

Spleen, stomach, kidneys, heart.

"Don't you understand?" he screams. "I want you to wear my skin! I want our blood to mingle, our bowels to move in harmony, our brains to swivel on the same blessed bloody stem!"

"Exactly, doctor." I draw a tag on the toe, Jordan Brillo, Doctor, in the tiniest of print.

"Now what?" he asks, voice trembling. "My God, is there anything left to say?"

"Our records indicate that you gave $75 dollars last year," I say slowly, evenly. "We'd like to ask you to give $125 dollars this year."

"Yes," he exhales, the dying gasp.

I hang up and go to the next card.

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