Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Ridiculous and the Sublime: I Get a Glimpse at Some of God’s Creatures and Mock Them

My mother-in-law arrives day after tomorrow, and I should be devoting myself to housework in preparation, but I have the Festival of Laundry underway. It takes 2 hours to run a load and the ironing is under control, so I thought I’d write a few notes about some interesting things I’ve seen and heard.

At the Gynecologist
I walk in and before I even reach the desk and sit down, Dr. G says, “New glasses?”
“New hair cut?”
“Yes, yes it is.”
“Have you been working out?”
He grins. “Well, you know what they say.”
I crack up. “NO, I do not have a boyfriend. Have you seen the men in Bratislava?”
He laughs. “Well, what about the foreign men there?”
“Nah . . . the good ones are taken, and they are in limited supply.”
He looks skeptical: “Well, if you say you’re satisfied . . .”

Later, we determine that I will return once a week for five weeks for acupuncture (long story). He looks pleased: “So come early and spend some time looking at the Viennese men!” Do you suppose he has someone in mind? Or is he just being . . . hospitable?

At the Dermatologist
Another long story, but I have been introduced to Dr. J, a 40-something Slovak cosmetic dermatologist. Dr. J is the Western man’s fantasy: tall, blond, shapely, with a whiskey-and-cigarette voice. We determine that I am going to try IPL or Intensive Pulse Light photo rejuvenation. I look it up on the Internet and determine that is can be used to treat a variety of complaints from hair removal to veins to wrinkles and age spots. She administers the treatment (basically a session of light flashes across your skin), and we adjourn to her office for a coffee and a chat.

I ask her about her practice. She confesses that she can’t bear to look at the backs of my hands . . . we will do those next time. I tell her my kids call me “Old Lady Floppy Buttinski” and ask if her practice includes any invasive procedures. No, she does only non-invasive things because she does not have the facilities to deal with anesthesia and its possible complications. But she reveals that there are undergarments for those sorts of things. In Slovak, those sorts of bras are called pushupkas. “And we have similar for the bottom,” she confides. “You get undressed quickly, and in the dark!”

Ah. No one will be the wiser? But back to the topic of plastic surgeries in Bratislava. I am sure she has had her lips and nose done, but I don’t ask. Instead she tells me that she had a breast reduction about five years ago. A colleague, the one she refers clients to, did the work. “And look,” she says, unbuttoning her white doctor coat and whipping out a perfect breast. “The scars are minimal.” Yes. Yes, they are. Thank you Dr. J.

At the Tennis Court
My opportunities to gaze upon undressed Slovak body parts continues.

I go to the gym twice a week where I pay to stand in close proximity to Dr. R (he really does have a PhD in something like exercise physiology). I’m starting to wonder if his niche is not unlike Warren Beatty’s in Shampoo: being charming to middle-aged women. He’s not flirting, though. And he’s seen me in my sweaty gym clothes on mornings when I have forgotten to brush my teeth. In the locker room one day, a Scandinavian woman I know only slightly tells me that she thinks he wears too many clothes. I start to pay attention. He does dress modestly. I don’t get to see much. One day, feeling as though my efforts have paid off, I wear a black lycra top with a racing back so I cana ctually see my arm muscles while I am grunting and sweating . . . it has a very high neck, but he says, “You’re practically naked today?” Maybe, like most Slovaks, he thinks I’ll get a chill and die of the grip? Okay. It’s back to cotton shirts with sleeves.

But Fridays are another matter as I have begun tennis lessons with Baboo’s former sports teacher. J teaches every foreign kid in town. He is mid-40s, extremely nice, a water polo player, and just about the only good looking Slovak man I know. Ask the foreign moms at a Girls’ Night Out to name a nice looking Slovak man and everyone will get sort of dreamy eyed and mention him. He went through a painful divorce last year, but now the word is that he has a nice girlfriend, so we are all glad. Really. He’s that nice.

But last lesson, J shows up at the tennis court wearing street clothes, not sports clothes. The space there is three clay courts under a bubble. Each court has a coat rack and a small set of bleachers where you can put your gym bag. J announces, “Well, I’ll change and we can get started.” And begins to unbutton his shirt.

My God! I’m sure the sound of my chin dropping into my lap was heard on the other side of the Danube. It was so remarkable, that before he got to removing his jeans I had to sit down on the bleachers with my back to him, making idle, nervous conversation and looking up at the light fixtures. It just seemed like I should pay him more than the cost of the lesson if I was going to get this eye candy, too.

At the Food Court
Recently, after a session at the gym, I tried to convince Cool Slovak Girlfriend to join me for lunch. But, alas, she was busy. I hadn’t eaten breakfast, did a more-vigorous-than-usual 30 minutes on the bike after my usual hour of weights, so I was starving. It was barely 11:00, but what the hell? I’ll go to the food court and have my standard Prinz Menu at the Schnitzel! place.

I order. I receive my plate. I put it on a tray. I sit. I am the only one sitting as it is too early for lunch. The place is deserted.

Then I notice Crazy, Sweaty, Fat, Crippled Man. He’s doing a tour of the various food vendors’ offerings, myopically peering closely at the goods on display behind the glass cases. He is wearing a down-filled parka that is zipped up to the neck even though it is a comfortable 70F in the mall. He has a cane attached to his right hand with an elastic strap.

He settles on Delicious India (which isn’t). His plate on a tray, I look up in time to see him heading straight for me.
“May I join you?” he asks in Slovak.

“Nech sa pa?i,” I reply. If it pleases you.

I have a book. Even though EVERY other place in the joint is free, he can sit here I guess. I will read my book and just ignore him.

He doesn’t seem to be there for the witty repartee anyhow. He picks his plate up to chin level, and with noisy enthusiasm, begins to slurp and moan pleasurably while shoveling in his Delicious India, cane swinging from his wrist.

By now I am looking at my pages, but unable to focus on any of the words. The slurping and moaning continues. I finally glance up. He’s sweating rivers from the top of his balding head. He pauses eating only to take a paper napkin and mop his brow and wipe drips of Delicious India off the front of his down coat (still zipped to the chin). I look around the food court, but rather than meet my gaze, everyone working at the various food stations looks down or at their shoes or anywhere other than at me.

I suppress my giggles, but only with great difficulty.

He says something to me at one point, which I can only guess was “Are you Hungarian?” No. No, I am not.

Time comes to a stand still. It is impossible to continue reading. I cut my chicken breast and tomato slices, trying to eat with a dignity he lacks. He eats, sweats, and wipes. Finally, he finishes and abandons his plate. I am alone.


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