The Wrist Brace

“There’s a reason to kick an old man down a flight of stairs, just don’t do it.”

Ha ha ha, Chris Rock’s sooo funny, kicking an old man down a flight of stairs.

For a long time that bit was only theoretically funny; I didn’t feel it until I accompanied my Dad on a routine Doctor’s appointment.

After 30-years of working at a desk, he had developed a nasty case of carpel tunnel syndrome, just in time for his retirement. On this particular appointment, he was scheduled to see a specialist who’d prescribe a wrist brace, which my dad would pick up from a medical supply store.

That’s all it was.

I knew the afternoon was going to be an ordeal when he walked into the waiting room, “I gotta go pick up this stupid thing.” I know nobody likes getting older and chronic pain will make anyone cranky, but my dad has become a master of crank. ‘Shit-Ass’ is the catch phrase he constantly mumbles to himself in between exasperated sighs. He can mold and form a minor inconvenience the way an artist can mold and form clay. It is his true medium.

As we leave the medical outpatient facility and walked back to the car, I suddenly noticed I was taller than my father. No one in my family is a giant and at 5’8 we both once stood shoulder to shoulder, but now I could see the top of his head? It’s because he’s slouching. I’d noticed previously, that he’d taken on this hunched back head down posture when he walks… and he’s pissed off.

“Alright, so we gotta get this fuckin’ thing before we leave Middletown.”

“Ok, Dad, where are we going?”

“I’m not sure, the receptionist said the place was on Rt 211, just past the Burger King.”

Hold the goddamn phone, “Wait Dad, you didn’t write this down?”

“No.”

“Do you at least know the name of the place?”

“No, she said it was just past the Burger King. You can’t miss it.”

Lord, give me strength.

We head out to this place for which we have no name, no address but it’s jut past the Burger King.

Turns out Middletown, NY is some sort of medical supply store hub. There’s several places on either side of a busy four lane road that could have the brace my dad needs and several fast food burger joints. Coincidence?

Thirty seconds into the drive, he blurts out, “I don’t see a Burger King.”

Jesus, he’s getting tense already. I figured a calm soothing tone was the best way to diffuse a situation that needn’t go off. “Ok, well, Dad, there’s a medical supply store right up on your right and a few feet down is the Burger King.”

“Well that’s not past…”

“I know but depending on where you’re coming from, like the other direction, this is just past…”

“Alright I’ll try here.”

We pull into the parking lot where I sit and wait. It’s creeping up on 4 o’clock and neither one of us has eaten since breakfast. If I’m feeling hungry, I know he is. And that ain’t good.

Before I could weigh out which fast food place had the least greasy health food option, my dad comes back to the car, prescription still in hand. No wrist brace.

“They didn’t have it?” The question alone was gonna set him off and answering it was only gonna make him more annoyed.

“Yeah they had it, but they don’t take my insurance plan. Shit-Ass. Plus I think the guy was lying to me.”

Aw Jesus, here we go. “What do mean the guy was lying to you? That makes no sense.” By now my calm soothing tone is all but gone as my empty stomach collided with his spiraling crazy.

“I mean he lied. He told me about some other place that takes my insurance plan but I think he knows that they don’t have it so I have to come back and buy it whole sale from him.”

Deep breath, “Dad that’s insane! Nobody, especially not the clerk behind the counter at a medical supply shop in Middletown, New York is gonna think ahead that many steps in the name of making a sale! He was probably telling you what he knows to the best of his knowledge!”

“Jin, people do that.”

Unless the medical supply store clerk was Kevin Space a la Kaiser Soze, no way is that what happend!

“Besides,” my dad says backing up his crazy theory, “It wasn’t the same place the receptionist told me about, cause it wasn’t past the Burger King.”

Fine. Whatever. We get back in the car on back on Rt 211.

“Dad, I can see a Burger King from here, but I only see a bank and abandoned buildings after it, maybe…”

“So the receptionist was just talking out her ass.”

“No Dad! She probably told you what she knows to the best of her knowledge! We were just at a medical supply store that was near Burger King and had exactly what you needed just not…”

“Jin, people lie to black people. They do it all the time.”

Dear Lord no. Not the black thing, ‘cause once he starts with that, there’s no coming back.

“Dad I seriously doubt that the doctor’s office receptionist and the medical supply store clerk are part of some global whitey conspiracy to hold you, a black man down. “Look,” I said pointing across the dashboard, “we just passed Burger King and there’s a medical supply store on your left.”

“Oooh, maybe that’s it.” His tone actually lifted. Seriously, ten seconds ago he actually believed Dr. Evil was some where stroking a bald cat, watching us on some closed circuit Big Brother television saying, ‘Yeeees, it’s all coming together.’ But we just found another store that kinda sorta matches the vague directions you got from a doctors office receptionist. Victory must be close a hand.

We pull into the turning lane where my dad begins to judge the speed of the oncoming traffic.

“Dad, you can’t turn.”

“No Jin, I got it.”

“No Dad, you can’t turn there’s a red light.”

“No, Jin I’m in the turning lane.”

“That’s what I’m talking about, there’s a red…” A break in the traffic and Dad makes the left.

“Dad!”

“What!?”

“There was a turning lane light!”

Sounding surprised, “There was?”

In a twisted lean into my seatbelt, I’m now screaming at my Dad. “It was RED! The little arrow was RED!”

Even more surprised, “It was?”

I try very hard not to buy into ‘the man is out to get me’ paranoia, but two anxious agitated looking black people just made an illegal left turn across a two-lane road. Hell, I’d pull us over, but luckily, no cops.

We pull into the parking lot and my dad gets out of the car and does what looks like a loop. He walks in asks a quick question and walks right back out.

“They didn’t have it either?”

He doesn’t even bother to answer. “I need you to dial a number for me.”

Thank God I tagged along, since his cell is always dead and he’s equally confused by my iPhone and personally offended by the size of the keyboard. He dictates what to dial, it’s a number given to him by his insurance company, to a second company that can direct us to an in network medical supply store in Middletown. At this point I figure I’ll navigate the automated system, ‘cause figuring out how to ‘press one’ will only start another crazy spiral.

Finally I get through and I get the worst news I could in this situation. The woman with the information we need is not at her desk. It’s past 4pm on the Friday before Labor Day Weekend and she won’t be back at her desk until Tuesday.

Ok, choose your words carefully, “Dad.”

He’s in the drivers seat, leaning back with his head tiled up and his semi-arthritic hand over his eyes in some kind of ‘I give up gesture.’ It’s been maybe 20 minutes, since we left his doctor’s office.

Gingerly, I poke the bear, “Dad?”

“What?!”

“Is it too expensive to just buy the brace whole sale from the other guy or maybe you can you wear the ace bandage the doctor gave you for a few more days?”

“WHAT!?”

“The woman at the medical supply company is gone for the weekend and…”

“What? You mean dat heffa ain’t even at her desk?” My father has a Master’s Degree. “It’s her job to answer the phone! It ain’t quitting time! It’s only 4:27! See this is what’s so fucked up about the medical industry, you can’t get any straight answers and when you can get an answer, they’re not at there fuckin’ desk to answer the goddamn phone!”

He grabs the wheel with his arthritic hand and winces in pain, “Shit-Ass!” and with the other, sticks the key in the ignition. This is not the psychological state I prefer my driver to be in.

“Dad it’s a holiday weekend, everyone…”

“No! It’s you job! You’re paid to do your job! So you should do your job! Up ‘till the end!”

He starts the car and throws it into drive.

“Dad you can’t go forward there’s a divider in front of us.” He hits the gas anyway and we drive up on the concrete barrier of the parking lot divider.

“I’ll just go to that other place the clerk told me about.” Now, the first medical supply store with the Kaiser Soze clerk, is practically across the street, “Dad, why don’t we just go back there?”

“Cause he lied to me!”

Of course he did.

We head off to yet another medical supply store in a part of town called the 5-points. My dad used to work in Middletown so he knows the area really well. As we pull up to the corner of humongous let down number 3, I’m already preparing myself for the seething hostility and barrage of random curses I’ll silently put up with on our thirty-minute drive back to New Paltz.

From a distance the medical supply store looks dark and there’s only two cars in the parking lot. The time is 4:38.

As we sit at the light ahead of the store I hear, “I bet they’re already closed. Shit-Ass.”

“Well Dad, you never know. It’s not quite 5:00 yet.”

The light changes and we hook a left into their parking lot. As we passed the window, I could see there were people inside and they appeared to be at some sort of counter paying for something. I wanted to scream, shout, clasp my hands in joy ‘Dad they’re open!’ but we still don’t know if a) they take his insurance b) if they even have the correct brace or c) if the current sale is the last one of the day and they’ll coldly turn my father and his chronically inflamed wrist away because… Christ, I don’t know, he’s a black man. At this point we’d been together all day and his special brand of ‘ole negro krazy’ is starting to rub off.

We pull up, we park, he gets out, he walks in. It’s 4:45. 4:50, 4:56. Finally he comes back to the car with a black plastic and nylon Velcro brace on his left wrist!

I couldn’t help myself, the drama was over, I had to smile. “They had it!”

“Yeah,” he said nonchalantly dropping his wallet and ace bandage on the emergency-parking break.

He looks at the brace, like Excalibur wrapped around his wrist, sighs and says, “I wonder how long I’ll have to wear this fuckin’ thing?”

There IS a good reason to kick an old man down a flight of stairs.