RAY FLANAGAN HAD TO TAKE A WICKED LEAK.
Generally speaking, Ray didn’t get along very well with his internal organs. And right now, his prostate was really hacking him off.
Or as Ray called it, his “prostrate.”
Damn prostrate, he said to himself, it’s the size of a friggin’ Subaru.
Having something the size of a sensible Japanese car pressing on his bladder meant Ray Flanagan had to pee in a major, Russian racehorse kind of way. And since his Ford F450 delivery truck did not come factory equipped with a urinal and the Bronx’s Major Deegan Expressway had exactly zero rest areas, he had a serious problem. But Ray was nothing if not a problem solver. He punched the button on the glovebox and yanked out a tortured coat hanger wrapped around a length of garden hose with a funnel jammed into the end. Steering with his knee, a technique expressly forbidden by the New York State commercial driving code and perfected by Ray after years of dedicated practice, he fed the pre-bent wire over the steering column and slipped the garden hose through a rusty hole in the floorboard. The wire positioned the funnel at crotch height. Ray, not a big believer in seat belts anyway, preferring instead to be thrown clear of the wreckage in case of a big accident, wiggled up to the edge of the seat, opened his fly and let nature take its course.
He glanced up just in time to see the Buick behind him switch on the windshield wipers. Seemed odd, the woman behind the wheel thought, for it to rain on a perfectly clear day. A sun shower, she supposed. Ray looked in the rear view and smiled. Something Ray didn’t do much anymore.
With a little extra room in the pipes, he reached into the pocket of his old plaid hunting jacket and slipped out the second Old Milwaukee tall boy he had picked up at lunch. You see, Ray was what used to be called a drinker. These days he qualified for any number of insurance-approved psychological maladies, but he didn’t need any therapy or medications, alcohol helped him cope fine. Ray wasn’t an alcoholic, he just liked to drink, there’s a difference.
Except recently his lifelong drinking partner had turned on him. After fifty years of dutifully straining booze out of his blood, his liver decided to call it quits. Ungrateful bag of goo. Call something a vital organ and it gets all uppity. Ray’s liver wasn’t the only problem, there was a lot of this quitting bullshit going around lately.
His wife quit six months ago. They had been together ever since he felt her up in the back seat of his Dad’s Oldsmobile. In fact, that was the high point of their 43-year relationship. It wasn’t a big surprise that she left, Ray just thought the whole thing would have played out more like on TV. He figured she would shack up with a tennis instructor or a muscle-bound pool boy. Never mind the fact that they didn’t have a pool and she never played a game of tennis in her life. Ray’s wife left for one simple reason: she was sick of Ray. Nothing in particular. It wasn’t the drinking or the distance or the arguing or the boredom or the unfulfilled dreams or the wasted years. She was just sick of looking at his face every day, so she packed up and left. Ray figured it was better than her going full-on lesbo, but not much.
Fine, he’d get along without her. He knew how to get to the grocery store, he could probably figure out the microwave and he had a brand new package of Jockey underwear ready to go. (Ray had always been a Hanes man, but after seeing the commercials a few years ago where Michael Jordan insisted on wearing a Hitler mustache, he made the switch.) What else did a man need? Ray could watch what he wanted to watch, eat what he wanted to eat and bowl whenever he wanted to bowl. Damn, he missed her sometimes, but he knew he’d be okay without her.
Ray couldn’t say the same thing about his liver. He had half a mind to reach down his own throat and punch that good-for-nothing thing right in the bile duct. His liver was a quitter and Ray hated quitters. But then again, how hard was it to put a new liver into somebody these days? Ray read the papers, it seemed like every week some creaky old movie star was pickling his liver in 18-year-old scotch only to have a crack team of doctors at Cedars-Sinai jam in a new one like they were putting a water pump into an old Chevy pickup. Two weeks later the guy’s crying on Dr. Oz.
The doctors working on Ray’s case sprung into action just like on TV. Unfortunately, they were all working to find a new heart for a Hall of Fame pitcher who collapsed in a strip club while his wife was across town undergoing chemotherapy. The public outpouring of support was touching. The last time Ray saw his doctor was on TV during the press conference celebrating the successful transplant. All Ray got was a battered manila envelope filled with complicated forms and bad Xerox copies of brochures with titles like “Me And My Cirrhosis” and “I Need A New Liver, Now What?”
The manila envelope slowly gave up its secrets, including the existence of “the list” of who got a liver next. Ugh, a list, Ray thought. That meant filling out forms in triplicate and, of course, a phone call with a bureaucrat who has one eye on a ham sandwich and the other eye on the clock.
“Name?,” said the disinterested voice on the other end of the line at the VA.
“Organ requiring transplantation?”
“Liver, but if you come across a nice looking spleen I’d be interested in that, too.”
The old Ray Flanagan charm wasn’t working.
“Do you use tobacco?”
Ray smoked about a pack, pack and a half a day, but he didn’t chew tobacco, that was disgusting.
“Do you use alcohol?”
“What do you mean by use?”
“Drink alcohol, sir, do you drink?”
Ray was good for a six-pack of tall boys a night, he’d blow through a couple of cases on a weekend during football season. As far as Ray was concerned, that wasn’t drinking and beer wasn’t alcohol. Alcohol came in bottles.
“Occasionally,” Ray answered.
“About how much do you drink?”
“Maybe a mixed drink or two on special occasions.” Ray defining special occasions as things like Saturdays.
“Beer or wine?”
“Beer counts as alcohol?”
“Yes, sir,” she said between bites of a sandwich. “How much beer do you drink?”
“Maybe a beer or three in the evening, a few more on bowling nights.” Ray wondered what difference it made. The liver he had was shot anyway.
“Sir, if a new liver is transplanted into you, you’ll have to give up alcohol completely.”
Ray’s gast was flabbered. The whole point of getting a new liver was to get Ray back into prime drinking form. Beer was about the only thing that hadn’t quit on Ray and now this government hack was telling him he’d have to give up drinking to get one?
“Wait a minute. Completely?”
“I’m certainly willing to give up hard liquor, it’s expensive anyway.”
“All alcohol, sir.”
“That was a trick question, nobody drinks Jagermeister except on their 21st birthday.”
“Can I have a little glass of sherry if I promise to drink it with my pinkie sticking out?”
“No alcohol at all, sir.”
This was going to be rough.
“Sir, let’s talk about your lifestyle.”
It just got rougher.
“Divorced, but it turns out she’s not a lesbian,” Ray helpfully pointed out.
“How active are you?”
“I don’t lay in bed all day. I get up and go drive a truck.”
“Do you exercise?”
“Yes, I go bowling.”
“I meant, real exercise, like jogging or weight lifting.”
“Bowling isn’t real exercise? And weight lifting? My bowling ball is 16 pounds.” She hit a sore spot with Ray. “You know, bowling’s on the verge of being in the Olympics.”
“Curling is in the Olympics, sir.”
“Another fine sport where having a beer in your hand doesn’t hurt your chances for victory.”
She checked the box marked “sedentary.”
Ray was pretty well at the end of his rope now.
“Here’s a question,” he said, “what if I were to get my own liver?”
“I’m sorry, sir?”
“Let’s just say, hypothetically, that I came into possession of a liver, you guys could put it in, right? Like if I brought an alternator to a mechanic and they would put it in for me.”
“Well, sir, I don’t know if...”
“Just between you and me, okay? Say I go out and find a guy about my size, we want to make sure his liver’s gonna fit right the first time, and I hit him in the head with a shovel. I have to be careful not to hit him too hard, I don’t want to kill him, I just want to put him into a really deep coma. At that point, should I call you guys to come get him or should I just toss him in the back of my truck and bring us both in at the same time?”
“Sir, that’s not how it...”
“I’ve got my eye on one guy in particular. Does it matter if he drinks and bowls?”
“I’m going to have to switch you to my manager.”
“Take it easy, I’m just kidding with you. So how long until I get a liver? Week or two? I’d like to wait until after the next bowling tournament if that’s possible.”
“You’ll hear from one of our counselors in the next six to eight weeks, sir.”
“Will they just deliver the new liver to the doctor’s office?”
“Something like that, sir.”
“In the meantime, what kind of shovel would you recommend?”
“You know, to put the guy in a coma. A garden spade or a square shovel? I thought about a snow shovel, but I don’t think that would really work.”
“Sir, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“You’re right. Let’s go with the garden spade.”