The Brick and The Rose
An interesting anecdote from the writer's childhood.
Few who know me now will believe that I was once a gangbanger.
It was so long ago, before people said things like, ‘gangbanger.’
Phones weren’t smart back then, and social media meant sharing a brew with another minor at the local watering hole. Anyway, few who know me today will understand I was once gangsta.
But I have lived many years, during which time, I have played many parts.
I was born and raised in the hood in Boston. To those from here in the know, specifically, Dorchester (pronounced “Do-er-chusta” by those with thick Boston accents). Yes, Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck--that Boston hood. Boy! did those guys ever screw up by not pursuing a career in accounting like I did.
But perhaps that’s a story for another essay.
Growing up in the hood, my best friend and neighbor was a German immigrant boy named Wolfgang. We were inseparable, as thick as thieves, Wolf and me. One day, we were running along the hood, playing out one of the countless, mundane, bleak fantasies by which our formative years may be dismissed.
Dashing along towards home, I ran ahead of Wolf, into the backyard of the Emily A. Fifield Elementary School. There, behind the brick school, alongside the thickets of hardscrabble inner-city roses, a group of young punks stopped me. Their intention was all too clear. All I could do was prepare to fight. To brace for impact. Since I had just run ahead of Wolfgang, I no doubt appeared to be alone and defenseless to the pugnacious, pusillanimous punks.
As they approached me, I hollered out for my friend.
I curled my fists into hard balls and prepared to fight, while hollering as loudly as I could.
Instantly a look of panic streaked across the faces of the five or six punks.
“Look, man,” their scruffy apparent leader stammered, “we, we, like, we didn’t know you was in a gang, man. We like, don’t want no trouble, man.”
Gob smacked was I. Yet I showed only a face full of scorn to the enemy.
He sniffled, wiped his tattered plaid shirtsleeve across his worried face. I stiffened my back straight, brushed some imaginary dust from my shirt. I glanced at him with a tricky combination of both scorn and diffidence. Sort of a scornidence.
Then I muttered, “damned right. Damned right!”
Quietly dismayed at my unbroken condition—and more than rather pleased by my newfound power, I sauntered off slowly – the inscrutable hero—like Alan Ladd at the end of “Shane”—only without my horse.
I think this was the moment I discovered the power of words.
To this day, a lifetime and many parts played later, I still upon occasion wonder if those poor, duped punks knew that the scrawny, lanky, sixty-eight-pound mop-topped German boy running along the same schoolyard just minutes after me constituted the entire balance of the feared, fearsome, mighty Wolf Gang.
A humorous narration of the writer's run-in with a fertility clinic.
My wife, Faith, paced back and forth in our bedroom, as determinedly as General George S. Patton about to address the troops on the eve of a great battle. She was striding to and fro, in front of a large rectangular whiteboard resting on a wooden easel.
“Where did you get that thing,” I asked, looking at the whiteboard. It had various diagrams, notations, and temperatures with dates, written with red, blue and yellow dry erase markers. There were arrows, exclamation points, X marks, and more. Some things seemed to be intersecting with some other things. The whiteboard had the appearance of the plan to invade Sicily and lead the 7th U.S. army to victory against the Nazis. Faith explained that she had borrowed the equipment from work.
In recent months, there had been many battles. And yet, the war dragged on. There was no victory–no conception–in sight. Though I had said nothing to Faith, I feared it was due to my little men. For hundreds of years–as late as the 18th century, when people made the connection between sex and babies but were struggling to, shall we say, connect the dots–most people believed that each sperm contained a little man. It’s true. You can look it up. It was the ‘science’ of ‘Preformationism.’ And now, a couple of hundred years hence, I feared my little men were somehow not good soldiers. Faith and I were enjoying the battles–well, upon occasion, anyway–but we appeared to be losing the war.
I stood in our bathroom, a few days later, looking down, you know, just down, and addressed my troops.
“Men,” I said, “we’re about to engage in a desperate struggle.”
Still, the war dragged on.
About a year later, Faith and I visited a fertility clinic.
“I am dock-door Olga-Volga-Pavlovich,” the tall, slender blond Russian woman said. “Please, have zeet,” she added, as Faith and I plopped down on metal folding chairs in her austere office. A wooden desk and chair, two metal folding chairs for patients, fluorescent lights recessed in the ceiling, a bookcase full of notebooks, a whiteboard with diagrams in which things intersected with other things. It felt more like a KGB interrogation room than a doctor’s office.
Faith and I explained that we had tried to conceive naturally for the better part of a year. Dr. P. listened intently, then informed us that the next step ‘vill be check count and motility.’ We were going to see just how many little men I had, in case the problem was there weren’t enough to overrun the enemy position. And we were going to see if the little men were motile, which, Dr. P. explained, meant they could move with speed and efficiency toward the front line. If not, they would perish like sitting ducks in the kill zone.
I was not looking forward to a return visit to undergo whatever medical procedure was necessary to figure all of this out.
“Zo,” Dr. P. commanded, “you make donation now.”
I couldn’t believe she was already asking for money. Maybe she’d use it to get some decent furniture.
“Vaith, you wait in wait room. David, you follow me to donation zenter.”
I followed the doc down a long hallway. We passed a few people along the way, including a young girl, maybe eight or nine years old, with a black eye patch on one eye, a teddy bear gripped in her right hand, and her mother’s in the other.
“Why are there children here,” I asked Dr. P. She explained that the fertility clinic shared the building with a pediatric eye clinic. I felt calm, and quietly terrified.
“A fertility clinic is no place for children,” I noted.
At the end of the hallway, Dr. P. opened a door with a little white sign which said, “Exam Room 3.” I peeked past the door and saw, well, an exam room. There was one silver metal examination table, various instruments on the walls, a wall phone, and those charming harsh white fluorescent lights in the ceiling.
“Zo, David,” Dr. P. smiled reassuringly, “here you make donation.” I walked past her, into the ‘donation zenter,’ and she closed the door behind me. It was as warm as a November day in Moscow as I stood shivering under the cold glaring lights. Then I saw on top of the exam room table some plastic cups, some stick-on labels, and a thin black Sharpie marker. You’ve got to be kidding me. I am not a machine. I need romance. Soft lighting. A little Miles Davis on the turntable. Maybe a glass or three of Cabernet Franc. But alas, I saw only stethoscopes, sphygmomanometers, scalpels, forceps, and similar such implements which were perfectly suited for a night of romance for a hardcore sadomasochist.
And then it happened.
I found the motherload.
Pulling open the metal draw underneath the exam room table, I found the secret cache of magazines. As I flipped through one after another, I was surprised. I didn’t know they had this stuff back in the 1950s. None of it was half as sexy as the old black and white drawings of ‘ladies’ brassieres” in my parents’ Sears and Roebuck catalogue when I was a wee lad.
I picked up the handset to the phone on the wall. Immediately a woman’s voice asked if she may help me. “Yes,” I replied, “I’d like to order a bottle of 1995 Dom Perignon, Beluga caviar, blinis, and crème fraiche.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. David,” the voice on the phone said flatly, “we don’t have that.”
“That’s fine,” I replied, “if you’re out of blinis, toast points will do nicely.”
“I’m not sure what you mean,” the pitiless voice noted, “but when you’ve donated, please bring it to the collection area at the far end of the hallway.”
After the deed was done, I looked around for something to place the donation container in for privacy. There was nothing. No box, no carton, not even a little brown paper bag. You’ve got to be kidding again. I must walk this down the hallway? I picked up the phone, ready to demand my rights. Bad enough there was no soft lighting, mood music, champagne, caviar, but now, no container for privacy? Alas–there was also no dial tone. Maybe they left their end of the line off the hook after my last call. Or maybe they’d cut the cord.
I thought about leaving my donation in the exam room and walking back to the front desk to ask for a brown paper bag, a ticket home, or a razorblade. But I realized, I can’t just leave it here, in the room. What if the next donor was waiting just outside, chomping on the bit to come in and peruse the scintillating dog-eared copies of Playboy from 1953?
I hesitantly cracked opened the door and peered down the hallway. Empty. Donation container in hand, I slipped into the hallway like a thief in the night and began walking cautiously toward the front.
And then it happened.
There she was, the same little girl, clutching her mom and her teddy and walking straight at me. I surreptitiously slipped the donation cup into my right trouser pocket. Good Lord, whatever would I do, whatever would I say, if they’d noticed? That I was there to buy Sea Monkey’s for my home aquarium? But thank God, they passed silently.
There were many more visits to the ‘donation zenter’ during that long year. At the second visit, though, Dr. P. explained that test results showed that my army of little men were of sufficient numbers–battalion strength–and, unlike me driving on the roads, they also were pretty good at moving in the right direction. So, Faith and I then tried IVF, IUF, or the other way around, I don’t recall. All the way up to egg donation with her cousin. All of this took several years and tens of thousands of dollars. When we’d reached the egg donation stage, I told Faith I honestly had no idea how that worked.
“Do you mean, I’ll have to sleep with your cousin? How many times?”
“Don’t get excited,” she clarified, “it all happens in a petri dish.”
But alas, egg donation also failed. It was the end of a long, expensive war.
“Zumtimes zese zings happen,” Dr. P. explained. “Still, we must have faith.”
Sadly, by then, mine was gone.
Jeffrey Feingold is a writer in Boston. His essays have been published by magazines, such as The Bark (a national magazine with readership over 250,000. The Bark has published many acclaimed authors, including Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver ), and by award-winning literary reviews and journals, including Wilderness House Literary Review, Impspired, The RavensPerch, Schyulkill Valley Journal, PAST TEN, Book of Matches and elsewhere. Jeffrey's stories about family, Russian adoption, and adventures in the movie and publishing industries reveal a sense of absurdity informed by a love of people's quirky ways.