by John Grant
Far be it from me to voice any criticism of my good friend
Dave Knuckle, but I must confess I had my doubts when last night,
on my way home from yet another unsuccessful foray to the local
singles Burger King, I noticed that he'd not only returned to
this country but hung up his shingle:
DAVE W. KNUCKLE M.D.
**FREE!!** Gynecological Exams and Topless Massages
Now, I happen to know that good ol' Dave doesn't have a
medical degree such courses not being an option at the Top
Security University of San Quentin so it struck me that he
was perhaps flaunting the law a little.
What purpose could he have in so doing? The question echoed
around inside my mind, but I could not answer it and
indeed I still can't . . . although undoubtedly fleecing a
gullible public will play its role.
Still, it is the duty of friends to support each other in
their new business ventures, and so I went in through the
gleaming plate-perspex doors to find myself in a vast, green-
marble-and-stainless-steel lobby spotted with pots full of giant
bunches of verdant plastic orchids. Blue-dyed water tinkled
merrily from the eight-foot fountain in the center that was
shaped like a sort of Britney W. de Milo, and indeed the gentle
strains of that chanteuse's tender ballad "Oops-Da-Boops Got My
Finger Stuck up My Nose" tastefully filled the space from hidden
Nestling underneath a large umbrella beside the fountain was
the reception desk, and behind the desk was a blonde receptionist
with "Pamela W. Knuckle" embroidered on her lapel.
She paused a moment from polishing her nails with an
"So what's your problem, sir?" she courteously inquired.
"I haven't got any money," I replied.
"Then fuck off," she cooed.
"But, but, but, but, but," I said nonchalantly, "it says
outside about these free gynecological exams and topless massages
and things . . ."
"Dr Knuckle only gives you the free topless massage if you're
over 21, under 30, and you qualify for the free gynecological
exam," she said. "And you don't qualify for the free
gynecological exam." She squinted at me. "At least, I don't
think you do."
I tried a different tack.
"I'm an old friend of Dave's from way back," I said.
"'Dave W.'s,'" she corrected, eyeing me up and down. "OK, I
guess I believe you. You look moronic enough. However, you'll
have to wait until he's finished with his current patient."
"That's fine," I said. "Another friend of, er, Dave W.'s?"
"No, some politico I didn't recognize, although he obviously
thought I ought to. Said something about how I'd have voted for
him in Florida, whatever I believed I'd punched on the ballot.
But he didn't give me any name, just said his wife wanted him to
have a few tests run on what she apparently likes to call his
Axis of Terror. I thought he looked a bit Muslim, so I
fingerprinted him." She sighed. "That didn't go down well.
He got so angry he was like to toss his cookies except they got
stuck in his throat."
"'Axis of Terror,'" I mused knowledgeably, wishing to impress
this exquisite creature. Perhaps I'd been lucky to miss out at
the Burger King. "That's that bone in the inner ear, isn't
"I think the one you're referring to is called the skull," she
said, revving up the sander to return to work.
I sat down on one of the chrome chairs and leafed distractedly
through the magazines that had been left lying around. I was
interested to note that the selection on offer in Dave's
reception area was quite different from that to be found at my
dentist's, and covertly stuffed a few of the raunchier items
things like Modem-Tweakers' Monthly and HTML
Users's Digest up the front of my sweater.
At last the door at the rear opened, and the politico the
receptionist had been talking about emerged. I thought for a
moment I recognized him as someone I once bought a used car from
well, it looked like a used car to me, only when
I'd finally finished carrying it home my landlord said it was
actually a fire hydrant. Anyway, it wasn't the same guy. This one
had his arm in a sling, so presumably he really hadn't
wanted to be fingerprinted.
"Alan W.!" cried Dave in a boisterously welcoming tone when he
saw me. "How good of you to call! What a shame I have an urgent
house-call to make in Tierra del Fuego."
"Just before you go . . ." I said.
"Well . . ." he said, his face showing duty at war with
personal preference. In the end he decided on personal presence.
"Come on in, Alan W.," he said. "I can spare you fourteen seconds
and then . . . gotta go!"
He muttered something to the receptionist that I couldn't
quite make out. I think he was reprimanding her for not having
given me shots on sight.
Ensconced in his office, I realized I'd better thing up some
symptoms fast. Good friend he might be, but he was also a medical
doctor, and I shouldn't waste his time just sitting there
wondering where he'd hidden the spittoon.
"It's like this, you see, Doctor . . ."
"'Doctor W.'" he corrected.
". . . Doctor W. You see, I have these symptoms
. . ."
"Yes? Yes? Can't you see I'm a busy man?"
"Well, I think it's stress. I'm no longer interested in my
Buffy W. the Vampire Slayer inflatable action figure. I've used
all the usual excuses headaches, that kind of thing
but she sees right through them, of course, just looks at me all
sort of deflated, if you know what I mean . . ." It was a funny
thing but, as soon as I'd started talking about these symptoms, I
realized I really did have them, and full blast. "As you
can see," I added, pointing upwards, "even my propeller beanie
"You think you might be suffering from an attack of stress-
related imbecility, you mean?" He steepled his fingers together
the way Quincy used to in the tv series. "Well, it could instead
be a physiological disorder, in which case Electric Shock Therapy
is the preferred treatment . . ."
"I'm pretty certain it's not physiological," I said from the
". . . but I prefer to think," he continued smoothly, "that
you're actually suffering from a severe case of
"What's that?" I gasped, aghast.
"Something you should go and look up in the dictionary," he
said. "Now I must be on my way. Urgent. Tierra del Fuego.
Or was that Istanbul? Somewhere you'll not be able to find me,
anyway. Safe journey home. Don't forget to walk under a few
ladders, cross paths with a few black cats, that sort of thing,
on the way home. Jumping in the path of a speeding locomotive is
another sure-fire cure for triskaidekaphobia, you know
hey, don't knock it 'til you've tried it. Byeeee!"
With that, he blurred out of the room.
Well, I did all the things he said I couldn't find a
speeding locomotive but decided a lamppost was just as good
but my newly acquired symptoms didn't disappear at all.
Disconsolate, I sat in my bijou apartment and began counting the
purple cabbages in the wallpaper.
Wait, though. There was something else he'd said.
I finally found my copy of the Webster's Barney the W.
Dinosaur Pre-School Dictionary under the unopened packet of
Goodyear condoms my father gave me for my 18th birthday
must remember to stick 'em up on eBay as collectibles some day
and make a fortune and feverishly leafed through the pages
until I found the entry for "triskaidekaphobia".
I think Dave W. was wrong in his diagnosis. It seems that
triskaidekaphobia is irrational fear of, well, a certain number
whose precise value I won't trouble you with here for fear of
alienating my less scientifically minded readers.
Hah! I'm almost insulted. Did Dave W. really think I
could be so downright stupid as to be frightened of that
number? Even if I were suffering from stress? As far as
I'm concerned, it's just the same as any other number: no better,
no more dangerous.
My trip had not been entirely wasted, however, because now I'm
able to pass on to you readers this thing I've learned, my new
slogan for the years to come:
DON'T BE FRIGHTENED OF THE NUMBER THAT LOOKS LIKE A BOTTOM ON