Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on September 10, 1972 · Page 105
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September 10, 1972

Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 105

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Charleston, West Virginia
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Sunday, September 10, 1972
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Page 105
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The first is the gracious kind~whom I rarely meet. They are comparatively few in number and growing fewer and the'y are not for me, since rny cosmic guardian saves them for other people. A gracious person, walking in under such circumstances, would say to me: "Hello. I hope I haven't kept you waiting too long." At that, I myself (who am gracious, as well as shy and charming) would surely say, "Not at all. I just this moment walked in." At least I think I would surely say that. Actually. I've never been put to the test. Then there is the second kind--the self- absorbed. She (or he) comes in, greets you ana says nothing. The self-absorbed assumes that if the appointment is for noon then whenever he or she arrives is noon by definition. That's not too bad. If the self-absorbed one is a lady, she's probably fairly good- looking and has been spoiled, and I am always willing to continue the spoiling (Who knows what will come of it? So far, nothing--but who knows?) But there is the third kind--my kind, the kind I almost invariably meet--the guilt- provokers. And that was the lady editor who greeted me on this occasion. Walking in 16 minutes late, she fixed me with her cold eye and said. "Well, you came very early, didn't you 11 " At once, my feeling of self-righteousness gave way to a spasm of g u i l t . I stammered. "I'm sorry. My taxi got into a traffic unjam and unsta'lled. It just raced right ahead." "Oh. well", she said, "You probably took the wrong route. On Broadway there are never any unjams. Always take Broadway." Later on in the lunch, I had occasion to mention that I had begun my career as a science fiction writer and was still best known in that capacity. A gracious lady would have said, "Well! It must take a great deal of skill and imagination to write good science fiction." I would then, of course, have agreed, with my customary modesty. A self-absorbed lady would have said, "I never read science fiction." I would have sighed, acknowledging the fact that she was part of the huge, unworthy majority. My luncheon companion, though, promptly said, "I suppose you write science fiction because you don't have the courage to face the real world." To which I could only mutter, "I'm sorry. It's just that I'm afraid of heights and sudden noises and there are no heights and sudden noises in science fiction." I brooded about that for a while, and then continued, "Of course, I don't just write science fiction. I write mysteries and histories and books about science and about literature and textbooks and children's books--" f "How many books have you written?" THAT'S what I was waiting for, because I had a blockbuster to deliver. This was going to put me on top. Casually, I said, "Oh, one hundred and twenty-two books." A gracious lady would have said, "My, you must be so SMART." And I would have blushed and said, "Oh just medium smart. Lots of people write a hundred and twenty-two books". A self-absorbed lady would say, "My husband wrote a book once." And I would have said, "Please give him my sincerest congratulations and ask him if I can have his autograph." My lady gave me a stern look and snapped, "Good Lord, you must be hard to live with!" What could I say? From the depths of my guilt, I could only cry out, "Forgive me, please. Before the day is over I will unwrite at least the last 22 of them." But don't get me wrong. It isn't only the ladies who are guilt-provokers. Men can do it, too. How about dentists? They're sadists, of course, but that has a good side to it. There they are, kneeling on your chest, drilling away and humming and singing and happy as a lark. You may be in agony, but you are STATE MAGAZINE, Sept. 10, 1972 WELL, YOU CAME VERY EARLY DIDM'T YOU? - making your dentist happy. What more can you ask? I go to dentists all the time just to make them happy. It gives me the momentary surcease from guilt. And then I got a guilt-provoker who found physical torture insufficient. He had to add mental torture. Now you. with your perfect teeth, may . not know what dentists are like, so I'll teil you. They occasionally clean your teeth and gouge out an invisible layer they call "plaque." Sometimes they have their girls do it. but when they are badly in need of a thrill or two, they do it themselves. In the process, the gums invariably bleed. In the extremely unlikely case that they don't the dentist is forced to jab them with a sharp instrument. (There must be a special course in the better dental schools called "Advanced Blood-Letting."i When the blood fills your mouth and threatens to choke you, the typical dentist usually says, "Rinse, please!" Then he turns away, humming something light and tuneful from "Gotterdammerung." Now my dentist! After he attacked that plaque, he stared at the blood angrily and said. "Look at that blood!" (Jab! Thrust! I "If you didn't let your gums get into lousy condition, I wouldn't have to get sick looking at it." / So I left him and never returned. I didn't mind the pain. I just couldn't stand the guilt. Or how about my surgeon? He's a wonderful guy but he has a childhood dread of thyroid glands. So he slit my throat, took out half my thyroid and threw it away in a fit of pique. He then sewed up the incision and came past my bed three times a day to mutter, "What a beautiful scar!" Sometimes he felt the need for a consultation, so he called in nurses and said, "Isn't that a beautiful scar?" And then just before I left the hospital, I sneezed. My throat muscles contracted sharply and something tore loose in there (maybe a cotter-pin or a thumb-tack or whatever it is that surgeons use). My throat swelled up but I paid no attention I assumed this always happened in operations--at least I did until I came to my s u r g e o n for a p o s t - o p e r a t i v e inspection. He took one look at me and came flying out of his chair. "What have you done to my scar?" he cried. I started back in panic. "Please sir, I sneezed, sir." "You sneezed?" he cried out. "Who told you to sneeze? Did I give you permission to sneeze?" "I'm sorry,' sir," I gasped trying to loosen those strong surgeon's fingers as they tightened around my throat. "I'll never sneeze again." Two nurses and an orderly managed to get him off me and now he refuses to send me a bill. "Not for that miserable scar," he says. Oh, the guilt! Don't think I accept all this quietly. Sometimes when no one is around I put out the lights and think: What if I try a little guilt-provoking myself? After all. everybody absorbs the technique with his mothe'r's milk. (That's because mothers are so good at it: "I love to do it for you, darling. What are mothers for? Besides, how long do I have to live?") Yet, somehow, I missed. For example: Once my wife and I decided to go on a sight-seeing trip to Williamsburg, Va. We set off on a bright mild day in late March and spent the first night in south-central Pennsylvania. - . I n the motel I opend mv suitcase with a song in my heart and out fell a pair of rubber boots large enough to reach the knee. I gazed at them in surprise. "How did I come to pack these?" I muttered. "I packed them," said the light of mv life. "What for?" " In case of deep snow." "DEEP SNOW! In Virginia? At the end of March?" It made for a very pleasant drive southward the next day. I spent three hours discoursing on the stupidity of people who pack boots in case of deep snow m Virginia at the end of March. I was exceedingly witty about it. We were crossing the Potomac River when the first flakes of snow fell As we proceeded down Route 90, the snow got thicker and heavier and by the time we reached Williamsburg there were eight inches of wet, nastv snow over everything in sight. " ' 8 I had long since sunk into an abyss of silence. I opened the car door and it was impossible to step out. My wife silently handed me the boots s'he had been clutching to her heart for 200 miles. Silently. I put them on. Then, in a voice dripping with syrup she asked. "Aren't you glad I brought the boots?" THAT was what I was waiting for For having sneered at her, I had accumulated an ounce of guilt with every snowflake. But now I was going to shift the guilt I would be the guilt-provoker. Pointing my finger at her, I thundered, "If you hadn't packesd the boots it wouldn't have snowed." But it didn't work. All she did was laugh. I just don't have the talent to be a guilt- provoker. Mvi Mr\ Ke !·' \'r,.t,,H Eat Well...Lose That Fatf bo you want to lost 5. 10. 25 or mor* pound! of excessiv, weight . . . 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