London Calling: The Tube

“Welcome to the UK.  May I have your passport, please?” asked the customs official in a proper accent.  Now you’re talking my language!  No more of this bonjourno or ciao crap!

After a question or two and a stamp of the passport, I had officially become a visitor of the UK.  And man, with less than an hour had been spent, my outlook was already on the up and up!

To be honest though, everybody had talked the place up at work, telling me where to go, what to see, and how to get there!  “Oh, you can take the Tube anywhere,” mentioned my boss.  “It’s easy!  They’re all over the place…”  Wait, the Tube?  What’s a Tube?

***

My topcoat and parted hairline cloaked any traces of my foreign status as I walked down the steps to this supposed “Tube,” though it looked a lot like a subway if you asked me (FYI, they have funny names for a lot of their stuff over there).  The British have a tendency to be much more presentable in their fashion, at least in public.  And the girls like to do themselves up big time, especially on a Friday night!  Like, “holy cow, you must’ve spent hours in front of the mirror putting on make-up,” style of done up!

And get this… one even talked to me!  Schya, I know.  Kind of a big deal, right?!

I’ll never forget the look she gave me, that layer of glittered makeup, the precisely drawn-on eyebrows, her crispy, blond hair caked in product, the hair spray stinging the nostrils.  As I looked at her, there was but one thought that consumed my mind… “Man, I hope nobody lights a cigarette nearby!”

She turned her head, expecting her two friends walking next to her.  Instead, there was me.  Out comes a shrill gasp.  Taken aback, her eyes widen and mouth hangs agape.  “Ohae, Christ!”

Quickly, she scurries past me and finds her girlfriends.  No matter.  I had Tubes to ride, places to be.

Friday nights on the Tube can be a little tight as well.  For better or worse the skinny cabs of the Piccadilly line force you to get cozy with your fellow commuters.

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At least their seats are more like couches.  Before being packed in like a can of sardines, I found an open spot on one and got comfortable.

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A few crackles on the Tube intercom brought the patrons to attention.  I remained calm, having heard these types of official announcements many a time riding the DC Metro.  “Attention green line passengers,” the voice would usually say in a succinct manner.  “The elevators at the Mount Vernon Square Station are currently out of operation.  Maintenance will be conducted on Sunday, from 6 AM to 8 PM.  I braced myself for something similar, more professional and proper, of course, as is the British custom.

“Why ello dere,” mentioned the operator.  Wait a minute, is the operator a 15-year-old boy?  A slight paused commenced before the young lad continued with his official, important, Tube-sponsored announcement.  “Well… you might be wonderin’ why when you try to go north at the Wimbledon station, they keep on makin’ you go south.”

…No, not really, but yes, continue.

“Well, dats because… and actually, you’ll probably hear about this on the news lata…”

Go on…

“…But the power cables… they fell down.  They’re layin’ down on the tracks… all of em’.  Another long pause commenced.

 “The last time this has happened has been… why, since before I can even rememba…”

And that was it.  That was the entire announcement.  I sat back and took a deep breath.  What the hell was that?

So yea, I guess you could say there are some interesting characters on Tube.  I mean, get a load of this guy with his kazoo keyboard, trying to be the next Ed Sheeren or something!

Honestly though, he wasn’t too far off!  His style was enigmatic, a collaborative combination of instruments classified as juvenile, yet captivating.  The patrons couldn’t help but engulf themselves in his interpretation of the classic tune, “Jingle Bells,” especially the lady across from me!  She acted like she was annoyed, as did I, burying her face into her phone and everything.  Her eventual toe tapping gave away the façade.

But his musical endeavors didn’t come without consequence.  Stop after stop, new passengers boarded, greeted by his siren song.  And one by one, they stayed and listened, put under a soporific-like spell the minute they entered the Tube.

The lady across from me… she took it the hardest.  Struck by his soothing voice and her phone forever removed from her face, she lost herself, her eyes fading, unwilling to move from her spot on the couch… not for the end of the world—

“Oh my God!”  Her rising face and deep gasp said it all.  Precious seconds spent in a blissful existence of song and dance were no more—this was her stop!

She shot up and made a break for the exit, minding the gap the furthest thing from her mind.  “She’ll never make it,” I thought to myself as I watched the doors come to a swift close in front of her face.  “They’re moving too fast.  She’s doomed, her entire day—ruined!  How will she ever get off—”

Wham!  The doors slammed, separated only by mere inches.  Without missing a beat, the music man shoved his foot in the middle, right in the nick of time.  “Jingle bells, jingle bells,” he continued… but the doors were relentless—determined to shut, no matter the casualties.  They opened once again, only to shut on his delicate foot with twice the force.  Unfortunately, a Tube entertainer’s salary doesn’t always provide for adequate footwear.

This music man was undeterred, however; his commuters deserved better than this.  In a courageous display of might, he took another step, wedging his body between the doors.  Sacrificing his body, the lady stepped past before either could be crushed.  “Jingle all the way…”

Pop!  The doors slammed into each other.  On one side, the lady walked her way to luxury, never to acknowledge her savior, ever again.  On the other side, the music man stood, stoic and un-phased at the fact that he was nearly decapitated.  “Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh, hey!”  He sends me a wink and a smile, needing no praise for performing his civic duty.  He knows I’ve enjoyed his performance; my stupid grin gives it away.  I reward him abundantly with a pocket full of pounds.

***

It’s getting late, and even in London’s prestigious Trafalgar Square, the underground corridors can become a bit sketchy, let alone tricky to navigate, especially for a foreigner like myself.  At such a late hour, the usual commuters tend to vacate, leaving the unsavory to populate the Tube’s tunnels.

I walk alone, eyeing the end of a corridor that looks to be the exit near my hotel, at least one can only hope.  To my left sit two homeless kids, their belongings spread out across the ground.  A line of a brownish/green substance lays on top of an open piece of cigarette paper.  OPSEC ringing, I surge forward, not willing to stick around and find out what type of herb they were using.

The boy begins to speak.  “It’s Lokke,” I imagine he says.  I can’t quite understand though, nor do I try to.  Just pretend like he wasn’t talking to you.  Works every time.

“It’s Loke!” He says again, louder this time, and more legible.  Still, my mind is races, survival instincts overcoming.  Ignore him.  Keep walking, and whatever you do, don’t stop.  The exit’s only—

“IT’S LOCKED YOU BLOODY BLOKE!”  I freeze, coming to a realization.  Ahh, this exit must be locked!

I turn to address the lad.  “Oh.  I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.  The exit is locked you say?”  I thank him for the friendly suggestion and turn back.

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“You know, I think I’m starting to get the hang of this ‘Tube’ thing,” I thought to myself as I emerged from the depths of the underground a block away from my hotel.  “It’s a shame I only have a day to spend here.  I was really starting to feel at home in the UK.  It’s sort of like I was a natural…”

…A native.

The Mammogram… and the current state of our healthcare system

Healthcare.  It’s been on everybody’s mind lately.  People are worried sick about it.  “Am I going to lose my health coverage?  Is the website working yet?  Will I have to same type of coverage as the elite members of this country such as the president, senators, and Kanye West?”  All are legitimate questions, without clear answers, answers that have torn apart friends, family, and parts of this country as a whole.  Along with these answers comes the blame game, with our problems always being somebody else’s fault.

The truth is, these issues have been apparent for quite some time… years even…  well, I at least have known of them for a while now.  I could’ve sent a warning to my friends much earlier, but hesitated.  I was acting on selfishness and cowardness when I should’ve thought of others and how my story, no matter how embarrassing it may be, could have prepared them for the future.  Well, better late than never, and who knows?  It may still save a few souls here and there, even though my silence has cost many all ready a great deal of pain.  You only have one life to live, and you must do what you can with what you got to make it count.  That’s my motto.

It all happened a couple years ago during a Christmas party in an old apartment in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.  There was a holiday theme, and all in attendance were mingling about in the appropriate attire to match the occasion, sharing with each other the spirit of the Christmas season.  For some reason, I had my shirt off (which baffles me to this day, for I rarely rip off my shirt during any party or likewise occasion, ever), and after talking to somebody for an extended period of time, they noticed something unusual with my chest.  One breast was bigger than the other.  This was something I had known ever since my teenage years, and didn’t think too much of it.  “So, one of my boobs is bigger than the other.  Who cares!?”  But as the news spread around the party about my abnormality, worry and panic set in.

“Oh let me just see it,” one girl asked.  I didn’t mind.  She was probably a babe, so I let her feel for herself the non-symmetrical phenomenon that was my boobs.  “Oh my gosh, it’s true!” she exclaimed as she caught the attention of others, drawing them into close quarters with my naked chest.  “Let me see,” asked one.  “I don’t believe it, I wanna feel,” said another.  Before I knew it, a dozen people from both sexes were crowded around me in an attempt to examine the build up of unusual tissue around my left nipple, all of which began touching and feeling it at their own free will!  I don’t mind if a few hot babes grab them here and there, especially since I was eager for a chance to show off my newly sculpted pectoral muscles.  But it was getting to the point where things were starting to get uncomfortable.  To some, it could’ve been classified as sexual harassment, although I couldn’t bring myself to make that accusation.  After all, every one that touched both of my boobs seemed genuinely concerned for my health, and was only grabbing them for medical reasons.  So I just stood there in an inept position as I watched the reaction of people, one after another in shock as the squeezed each nipple, realizing the irregularity of my body.

“You really should get that checked out,” one suggested, followed by nods of approval.  Enough people agreed, and counseled me in their own personal way.  I forget who was all involved in the decision that night, but I know it wasn’t Ben Woodward.  He usually has some pretty good sense about these things.  In fact, I don’t really remember much of Ben during the whole party, which leads me to believe that he was actually being really cool about the situation and in general.  However, his coolness wasn’t enough to convince me from doing something about my condition, so the next week, I made an appointment to visit a doctor and clear up whatever defective generation of tissue build up there may be inside my body, if there was any issue at all, which I highly doubted.

I entered the doctor’s office with a slight agitation, and the nurse reminding me of my weight insecurity wasn’t helping the situation.  What was this build up of tissue in my left breast?  Will I need surgery?  Chemo?  I was just beginning my life, and life was good.  This is the last thing I need at a time like this!  But better to take care of these things now rather than later, when they could be much worse…  That’s my motto.

The doctor entered and did his regular examinations before proceeding to copping a feel, which I guess I allowed in an indirect way.  He squeezed, and massaged, and rubbed, and felt all around my chest as I stood there in anticipation of his diagnosis.  He had a look of puzzlement on his face that was impossible to determine whether it was a sign of hope or doom.  So I waited, heart pounding for several minutes for his decision.

“Well, my professional opinion is it’s just some build up of residual tissue.  I don’t see any signs of a tumor or-“

“Great news doc!  I agree with the diagnosis, and gee, look at the time.  Gotta go.  It’s been a pleasure-“

“BUT…”  One of most disappointing phrases a man may ever hear.  I looked back with concern, halfway out the door.  I wasn’t going to like the next words out of his mouth.  “I’m going to have to refer you for an ultrasound.”

“You gotta be kidding me,” I thought to myself.  It killed me inside, but I had to respect the man’s recommendation and his years of study and practice.

I informed my boss the next day at our group meeting that I had to schedule another appointment.  “I have to go in for some testing tomorrow,” I told the group.  I was immediately shot with an array of strange looks, and immediately realized I had uttered one of those phrases that came out the worst way possible and wished I could take back.  I sensed what they were thinking, but I didn’t know what would be more embarrassing; letting them think I have an STD, or telling them the nature of my impending risk of breast cancer, and the fact that I’m getting an ultrasound.

I kept my mouth shut.  My professional relationship with my Catholic coworker has suffered ever since.

So again I found myself inside a hospital waiting room, checking into my ultrasound appointment, lingering in agony until the moment my name is called.  I needed something to get my mind off the procedure, fast.  It was stressing me out big time!  On the counter I rifled through a barrage of magazines geared towards woman’s health issue.  There were the usual “Shape,” “Woman’s Health,” and “Bridal Monthly,” and “Pregnancy” magazines, but then something else caught my eye.  “So you’re having a baby,” and the many other health pamphlets scattered around the office table.  For a moment, I forgot all about my procedure and became intrigued about the subtle details of pregnancy.  I learned that it’s normal to feel sick and make multiple trips to the bathroom during the early stages of pregnancy, and how one may experience unusual spikes in their appetite.  The real eye opener was the section that begins with the woman’s water breaking and going down the list of steps involved in birthing the baby.  I was a bit disgusted at the level of detail portrayed in the pamphlet, yet at the same time, it was at a level of interest that kept me reading, wanting more, just like the show “Keeping with the Kardashians.”  I was sucked in with horror, yet amazement.  I needed to know what happened next, deeper and deeper into the vile depths of this pamphlet, each section more-

“Excuse me sir, we’re ready for your ultrasound.”  I looked up to a waiting room full of women, all eyes fixated on me, wondering why the hell I was nose deep into this pregnancy pamphlet and getting an ultrasound.  I slowly set the pamphlet down and cautiously made my way out of the room, as if it were a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” me being vastly outnumbered by the crowd of women watching my every move.  Any sense of panic or sudden movement would turn the room into a frenzy in which there would be little chance of survival.

The room mimicked that of an alien probing station, a circular space with a large table in the middle for the specimen to lie, and a long and skinny mechanical eye with the ability to examine any part of the body it pleased.   “Take off your shirt and lay on the table,” the nurse instructed.  I wasn’t really thrilled about taking my shirt off, even with my transitioning chiseled body, so the nurse probably wasn’t that much of a babe.  Regardless of my thoughts, I did what I was told.  I had to do what I could to understand the fate of my left breast, and allowed the nurse to splatter a blob of gel with the consistency grape jelly all over my chest.  This substance was rather warm, making the situation even more uncomfortable than it needed to be, and for several more minutes of unnecessary medical exploitation she took the metal probe and pressed it against my body, moving it all around the general area of my breast with a film of gel in-between looking for the best view of tissue on the large screen hovering above us.  By the way she was taking her sweet time moving the probe all over my delicate body slathered with medicinal oil, I could tell she really enjoyed her job.

“I can’t see anything wrong with your breast.”

“What a relief,” I thought to myself.  Christmas was just around the corner and my worries were behind me.  Sensing my probing was over and done with, I cleaned the warm goop off of my body and put my clothes back on as the nurse finished up her paper work.

“I’m going to refer for a mammogram.  Please go to the 9th floor and hand them this referral.”

“Whoa…  WHAT!”  She didn’t even hit me with a misleading and disappointing “But.”  She went straight for the throat.  I didn’t even get a chance to strike back, or even think!  But you know, I guess better safe than sorry…  That’s my motto.  And so I gathered what was left of my shattered and dwindling dignity, crept past the preying bird-like women in the waiting room, and made my way to the next stop on my breast cancer journey; the equivalent of Level 8 on Super Mario Brothers 3.

“Excuse me mam, I’m here for an appointment.”  I set the referral note on the desk.

“All right, what are we doing today?” she asked, her face glued to the computer screen.

“Um, I’m here for a mammogram,” I politely responded in a soft voice, avoiding any unnecessary attention.  The last thing I needed was another ultrasound incident.  I waited a few long seconds, where I sensed an extreme case of ADD with the receptionist, as she kept typing away on her computer, forgetting that she had responded to me mere moments before.

“I’m sorry, what was that hun?”

Again, I responded with quiet hesitancy.  “A mammogram mam.  I’m here to get a mammogram.”  My patience was running thin at this point, but again, I replied with gentle poise.  I wouldn’t let them break me, no matter how bad of humiliation I may suffer.

But she kept on keeping on with her typing, and again my answer was ignored.  Whatever was on that computer screen was much more interesting than me, a major blow to my ego.  I mean, what administrative bull crap could be on that computer that is much more compelling than my presence?  It was kind of making me mad!  I kept my cool though, for there’s no need to draw attention to oneself during these types of situations.  That’s my motto.

“I’m sorry, one more time sir?”

“A MAMOGRAM, MAM.  A FREAKING MAM-O-GRAM!  I NEED TO CHECK TO SEE IF I HAVE BREAST CANCER, AS STATED ON THE REFERRAL NOTE I GAVE YOU!!  WHY THE HELL ELSE WOULD I BE HERE?!?!”

They say every man has his breaking point, and I had just hit mine.  I had caught the attention of the entire room now.  I was like Tupac, all eyes on me; everything I had tried to avoid…  Oops.

“Well why didn’t you just say so sir?  Please have a seat and we’ll call your name whenever you’re ready.”

I did as she told me, making awkward eye contact with everybody in the waiting room.  I had to give them the nod of acknowledgment, letting them know that they were all right, and I knew I was in the right place.  I’m not quite sure why we do that when we’re placed in stiff situations, but it’s something we all do.  I didn’t dare look at any magazines or pamphlets this time, even though there was plenty to read on the subject of a woman’s breast.  I was very tempted, but refrained, and just waited with a steady fortitude along with the other woman in the room for my breast test.  There was no way I was making that mistake twice.

After an excruciating fifteen-minute wait, I was called in for the exam.  The nurse ripped off my shirt and grabbed the hunk of flesh that comprised of my enlarged left breast, pulling it onto the bottom glass portion of the machine and setting the top portion in place.

“Ok, I think we’re all ready,” she stated, which was great news for me.  The sooner I could get this procedure done and over with, the sooner I can get out of this discomforted sitting position, out of the hospital, and on with Christmas.  The machine started, and the procedure pressed on and on…  Literally.  It pressed on my boob, and didn’t stop.

“Mam, I think this is good enough,” I stated, voice raising with concern.  I had no idea if it was good enough or not as far as the breast screening process goes, but all I knew is that it hurt like hell, and I was done with this mammogram as far as I was concerned.

“Just about one more minute,” She responded.

“Ah hell no!”  At the rate this is going, there’s not going to be any breast left to examine!  This was far enough, time I draw the line.  So I pulled out… or at least I tried.  The machine had a killer clamp on my boob, and the harder I pulled, the more it pressed and resisted.  The friction between the two glass slabs and my breast was too great to overcome.  I was left in agonizing pain with only two outcomes.  Either the nurse would show an ounce of mercy and let up on the examination, or my left boob would pop like a zit, squeezing puss all over the machine, and probably alleviating my breast cancer worries for the near future.

I scream out loud, but the machine that had turned my breast into a pancake took the breathe out of me.  All that came out was a quiet and exaggerated “Eep.”  For a moment, I was surprised and a little impressed at the amount of surface area in my breast that had been created by the machine.  The amazement was short lived unfortunately by the fact that my boob was on the verge of explosion at any second.  My heart raced, and I could barely hold on.  My face turning a pale blue, heavy breathing, body going faint.  This was the end.  If only there was another way…  If I could take back-

“All done!”  The machine lifted and my breast slowly formed back into shape like a dashpot.  I began to regain consciousness at a rapid pace.  A Christmas miracle.  “The results look good! No signs of cancerous cells or tumors.”

“Oh gee, like I didn’t see that one coming,” I thought to myself, although my demeanor was that of liberation, for that meant no more testing for me.  I was off Scott-free!

“Now we’d like you to come back in three years for another check-up so we can ensure-”

“No way.  Nuh uh.  Not gonna happen.  I’m done…  I. AM. DONE!”

“But sir, we really recommend-”

“Nope! I ain’t putting up with that bull crap again.  No more check-ups, screenings, weird jelly, ultrasounds, and/or mammograms for me!  Screw you guys, I’m going home!!!”

What a complete and utter nightmare.  I swear those nurses were putting me through unnecessary torture just for their amusement.  I can just picture them colluding amongst themselves on how to screw me over and make me go through hell on Earth just to point out the obvious.  “Hey, here comes this one dude, let’s make him go through all the bull crap we have to go through just because we can, haha.”  Whatever.

A wise man once said, “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  One thing’s for sure.   I learned my lesson, that I’m never getting a mammogram…  EVER Again!

That’s my motto.

Merry Xmas,

-Grizzly Chadams