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Dolphin Stays Dry
By Dave Shulman
First published in L.A. Weekly, March 7, 2007.
Dolphin’s zonked out in a semiprivate room on the fourth floor of the big orange downtown hospital. Yesterday’s surgery went well, and now Dolphin’s making the most of a king-size bag of morphine.
“I just wanted a few more years,” says Dolphin. “That’s all. See a few movies, go out to a nice restaurant . . . ” Dolphin’s jaw goes slack, and he drifts away.
[Doctor Banky, boop-bop the yammaflang. Dr. Banky, the yammaflang.]
Dr. Banky enters with Dolphin’s wife.
“Hello, Pumpkin,” says Dolphin, now wide awake after the blast from the PA.
“THE DOCTOR’S HERE!” Pumpkin gushes.
“Let’s take a look,” says Dr. Banky, examining the contents of Dolphin’s new bladder, currently clamped to the bed’s steel railing.
“Straw yellow,” says Dr. Banky. “Perfect.”
“YOU SEE THAT, DOLPHY?” Pumpkin shouts. “THE DOCTOR SAYS IT’S STRAW YELLOW!”
“No shit,” says Dolphin. “I have ears, I just don’t have a fucking bladder.”
For 60 years, Dolphin was a respected scientific clinician with a Ph.D. in Subconscious Biology from Joliet State. Until his retirement in 1997, he’d suffered no ailments worse than a cold. But one month after retiring, Dolphin was diagnosed with bladder cancer, and while the surgeons were removing his bladder they found prostate cancer as well. Dolphin didn’t like the idea of wearing an external bladder, so he drained his life savings to co-pay for an internal bladder quilted from lower-intestinal tissue. This newfangled bladder worked just fine as a reservoir, but lacked a connection to Dolphin’s nervous system. So he’d been catheterizing himself three times a day until just recently, when he was diagnosed with another cancer, this one in the new bladder.
Dolphin says the past few weeks have been hell, but that he can’t recall enjoying anything in his life as much as he’s been enjoying the hallucinations that’ve been coming and going since waking up from surgery. Common morphine side effect. As a young man, he’d never tried hallucinogens. He’d read the studies and didn’t want to take the health risk.
“But these hallucinations,” says Dolphin, “are wonderful. They’re the only good part of this whole damn thing.”
While Dolphin cycles through hallucinations, sleep and consciousness, I sit in a chair at the foot of his bed, editing one of Hector Schechner’s many fake fan letters to recently departed celebrities. (Schechner somehow got a $40,000 advance to write a collection of these things, so he’s slipping me $725 to pre-edit them, before the “real” editor has a go.)
“What are you writing?” Dolphin’s back. Looking at the ceiling.
“I’m just editing, those letters I was telling you about.”
“Oh, yeah — Schechner’s celebrity whatevers,” says Dolphin. “How’s my urine?”
I scrutinize the bag. “Straw yellow. How’s the hallucinating?”
“I just had a good one,” he says. “I was over there, at the foot of the bed. I could see myself lying here, just like I am. Everything was like it is now, only I was outside, in the middle of a tennis match.”
“Playing tennis. In a park. But I’m half underwater. The whole park is flooded. And the water’s getting higher and higher, but it’s a sunny afternoon, and I’m playing tennis — kind of in slow motion — with my old pal Grant Willis. The water’s up around our waists. After each point, I run back to check on the other version of myself — the one in bed, with oxygen tubes and everything. I push the elevator button on the side of the bed, to keep my sick body above the water level. Then I return to the game, play a point, then back over to the bed again.”
“So the healthy version of you is keeping the bedridden version from drowning.”
“Yeah. I guess so far it’s working.”
Visiting hours are over, but it’s still quite loud here. Dolphin says the hospital reminds him of Home Depot — the blaring PA pages, the constant and overlapping ringings and pingings, the nauseating fluorescent light. “Easy to hallucinate,” Dolphin says, “but hard to sleep.” Dolphin asks me to read something to him — anything. Other than Schechner’s letters, all I have is a copy of Dolphin’s first book, Congruences of Personality Expression in Self-Conceptions, the Thematic Apperception Test, and Dreams, which I was hoping to get autographed.
“That’ll work,” says Dolphin. “If you could just read softly . . . and slowly.”
I open to a random page:
“Hall came to the conclusion that the dream represents an expression of the dreamer’s personality, which conflicts with Freud’s idea of the dream as representing a repression of personality. Whereas Freud concluded that all people were relatively disorganized, Hall came to look upon the normally functioning individual as being relatively organized (i.e., that the person’s ideas, feelings and motivations existing in awareness were reflected by his dreams).
“Hall also found that many people displayed a great deal of ‘talent’ in interpreting their own dreams, although they had little knowledge about Freudian symbolism. He asked, ‘Why should one bother to deceive oneself by dreaming in symbols when they can be translated so readily by the dreamer himself?’”
Dolphin begins to snore. He looks almost happy. I turn off the light, pack up and tiptoe to the vending machines for coffee. It’s a long drive home.
The next day, Dolphin looks better. “I can’t wait to get back home,” he says. “Can’t wait to have a nice tall Jack Daniel’s and ginger ale.”
“Maybe you should have it with water, at first,” says Pumpkin. “Then work up to ginger ale.”
“Yeah,” says Dolphin. “Maybe.” And he begins to snore.
Pumpkin turns to me. “HE REALLY DOESN’T KNOW HOW GOOD HE HAS IT — BEING ABLE TO FALL ASLEEP SO EASILY!”
. . . which, of course, rouses Dolphin.
“WHA—!!?” Dolphin snaps awake, eyes wide in a frenzied search for the source of his rude awakening. “WHA—!!?”
“I WAS JUST TELLING YOUR FRIEND HOW LUCKY YOU ARE!” Pumpkin trumpets. “THAT YOU ALWAYS FALL ASLEEP SO EASILY! WHENEVER YOU WANT TO SLEEP, YOU JUST SLEEP! YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN ABLE TO TO—”
Dolphin takes a sudden gulp of air; his chest pounds hard; his eyes begin to flutter and roll.