I blame Seinfeld.
Someone has to be blamed.
My kids watched as they grew up. My wife watched. I tried not to. There was the hapless George: no shabbier soul ever sullied a screen. Every so seldom Kramer might pop up. He’d break me up. A wondrous comic creation. But between cackles I could feel something niggling at my austere soul. It was only later, with the advent of ‘Friends’ – not as funny, the characters even more ordinary – that I could define what offended me.
Nowadays, what was subtext in Seinfeld and in Friends is the explicit in the great world. What those characters (Seinfeld) and those nonentities (Friends) did constantly was normative and, in time, became normal. The banks do it, the captains of cricket, the captains of industry do it. The incumbent in the White House does it, the churches, the military, politicians (of course) – they all do it.
They all lie.
In those TV shows the ethos was subterranean. You could feel the tremors but you didn’t always sense the accumulating weight of untruth; nor how truth as a value kept receding into distance. In response to any difficulty, every character lied. They lied by reflex. Awkward situation? Tell a fib. Everyone does it…
I’ll tell you a story from the Olden Days. It goes like this: A child goes into a bank with his piggy bank. The banker, a man in his fifties, helps the child to open a savings account. The banker congratulates the child on her thrift. The banker does not sell further products to the child.
Today that’s a fairy story. That banker will never drive a Ferrari.
Here’s a contemporary story: A customer goes into a bank and asks the banker a question. The banker replies, “I’m a banker. I tell only lies.” Should the customer believe the banker?
The makers of Seinfeld knew what they were doing. They were blowing a whistle on untruthtelling.
The makers of Seinfeld made us laugh. We laughed and we laughed. And we paid no attention to the whistle. And now the Liar in Chief sits in the White House tweeting. And the laugh is on us all.
A trip to the ear doctor is preceded by an examination by the audiologist and by the dimness of conversation with my patients. So quiet and restful are their remarks that I have been able to remove the notice in my consulting room that read:
Patients are kindly requested to speak softly and to leave quietly to avoid disturbing the doctor’s nap during your consultation.
In addition to increasing hardness of hearing, there have been frequent episodes of vertigo over the past 12 months. During these interludes a twist of the head is followed by a swimming sensation; the world moves, sliding ever to my right; images swarm, kaleidoscope-like, chasing each other endlessly, clockwise, around my visual field. It is an intriguing symptom, drunkenness without alcohol. Remarkable cheap, really. People pay good money for bad chemicals to achieve these experiences. It makes my ENT surgeon jealous, resentful, motivated to act.
And when the ENT saw an 11% discrepancy in acuity between the failing right ear and the failed left, he mentioned an MRI. When he heard of my increasing vertigo over the past 12 months, he wrote out a request slip. The request slip might be paraphrased as follows:
1. The patient is deaf, ie old; this condition will worsen but will, like all things, pass.
2. The patient is a doctor, ie hypochondriachal. He requires an MRI in order to cure him of his hypochondriachal fears, and as a punishment for having symptoms.
3. During the procedure, please confine his head in a shoebox, then slide that head into an extremely confined space and assault his damaged ears with mechanical sounds at high volume. During this time, so confine him that he is entirely unable to move. If he has never suffered claustrophobia before this, please assure him that the days of calm inside his head are over.
4. Do not warn him that during his MRI he can expect to wet himself in sheer terror.
5. Ensure that the young technician who asks him to disrobe is female, charming and attractive. Tumescence will then fight against incontinence.
As you will appreciate the MRI represents the Himalayas of medicine where peak ethics gaze across at the highpoint of patient autonomy and comfort.
Before the scan you fill out a form in which you declare your body’s absence of internal metallic items. The list is long and the list of patients who can say “no” to all these is a shrinking one. Nowadays it is as difficult to qualify for MRI as for cremation. In my unserenity, I might prefer the latter; at least you don’t have to hang around waiting nervously for the report.
“Please take off all your clothes excepting your underpants.” It is not every day that a 67 year old gentleman receives an invitation of this nature from an attractive young woman. I am happy to oblige. She permits me to retain my kippah (skullcap – “no bobby pins please) and my socks. A gent in his socks is the epitome of the sexless vertebrate.
I might just as well wear a chastity belt. Continue reading