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By Dave Shulman
First published in L.A. Weekly, December 1, 2005.
Stanley Carruthers sat at the kitchen table with the day’s incoming mail and his monogrammed ballpoint pen. Before he transferred each piece of mail into one of the three categorized piles (bills, not bills and junk), he carefully crossed out each “Mr.” in “Mr. Stanley Carruthers” and wrote “Dr.” on top of it, in very very bold small letters. It vexed him terribly, the notion that people he’d never met would think he wasn’t a doctor.
“I’m a doctor, idiot,” he’d sputter at a letter, “God damn idiot” or “Moron!!” at a bill. “Doctor, god damn it! Doctor, doctor, doctor!”
“Stanley?” It was Mrs. Carruthers, poking her head around the corner. “Are you doctoring the mail again?”
“Leave me alone,” said he. “I am a goddamn doctor, you know.”
“I know,” said Mrs. Carruthers, quietly. “That’s exactly what kind of doctor you are.”
“WHAT DID YOU SAY?” hollered he.
It was true, the part about Carruthers being a doctor. He held, in fact, three separate doctorate degrees — one Ph.D. in military linguistics from Stanford, another in metaphysical nuclear engineering from the University of Fanta, and his third and most recent Ph.D., in semiotics, from the Elliot Tanpool Mangrave Institute of Modern Hieroglyphic Studies, where he’d written a dissertation called “The Sensual Stick Figure,” later augmented and published as the best-selling book of the same name.
Stanley Carruthers stood in the basement, beside the pool table, one hand in a corner pocket, mechanically fondling the No. 2 and No. 9 balls, like Humphrey Bogart’s Captain Queeg and his worry-balls in The Caine Mutiny. With the other hand, he pressed the telephone handset against his head.
“My patients never have to wait this long,” Carruthers huffed impatiently into the unattended phone, in what he felt was a firm and resonant tone, the tone he’d been told exudes authority and wisdom. He hadn’t used his natural voice, really, since he was 8 years old.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Carruthers,” the phone replied, a few minutes later.
“Doctor Carruthers…” said Carruthers.
“How can I help you, sir?”
“I just wanted to make dinner reservations for Saturday at 5 p.m.” said Carruthers.
“For how many?”
“And the name?”
“You got it. Anything else, Mr. Carruthers?”
“Doctor, actually,” said Carruthers. “Dr. Carruthers.”
In early adolescence, when Stanley Carruthers began to fantasize about having sex with girls in his class, or with a few of his younger teachers, all fantasied fuckees would refer to Stanley as Doctor Carruthers. (Give it to me harder, Dr. Carruthers; Dr. Carruthers, you’re so big; More, Dr. Carruthers, more.) Before he’d even started high school, Stanley’s obsession had rendered him vulnerable to linguistic impotence — he couldn’t climax without being called Dr. Carruthers.
Recently, Carruthers had taken to reminding his few remaining friends that he looked a lot like Bill Cosby, only with lighter skin and less hair. Cosby, Carruthers would then point out (three or four beers deep in a night of poker), earned an Ed.D. from UMass in 1977, and credited himself as Dr. William H. Cosby Jr., Ed.D. on his eponymous television show.
“And he wrote his thesis on Fat Albert!”
“Who fucking cares, Carruthers? Fucking call, or fucking fold.”
Every few weeks, Carruthers received one or more special envelopes from charitable organizations. Amnesty International, AIDS Project Los Angeles, the Nature Conservancy, the Cows of Noon. Each of these contained a request for a donation, and one or more sheets of preprinted, adhesive-backed return-address labels, all with the same typo: Mr.
Dear Mr. Carruthers:
Thank you for your inquiries dated July 15, August 14 and August 18, 2005. Unfortunately, we are unable to accommodate your request to change the “Mr.” to “Dr.” on your free return-address labels. Note that these are promotional labels, provided at no charge to you. If they displease you, you are under no obligation to use them.
Furthermore, just as you apparently resent being grouped with others of your gender and not educational achievements, ours is a well-established, internationally respected organization; we do not appreciate being addressed as “Dear Idiots,” “Dear Goddamn Idiots” or “Dear Fucking Morons.”
Oliver Benjamin Charlotte Taylor, Esq.
The Cows of Noon
Yes! That’s it, Dr. Carruthers! Just like that! Oh, yes! Oh, yes!
“License and registration, please.” Carruthers sat in his car, heart pounding visibly through his clashing shirt and tie. He’d really done it this time. He’d been caught. He’d been caught breaking the law, which was one of the very worst things to break. He’d broken the same law every day, but he’d never been caught before. It hurt. Doctors don’t get caught. Just like that episode of that show, where the guy who isn’t a doctor gets caught. And that movie.
He couldn’t breathe. He didn’t know what to say, other than what he’d seen in the show. Or the movie.
“Good evening, officer.” Or a book. A book about a non-doctor, someone who doesn’t say Doctor when someone calls him Mister. That must’ve been it.
“Good evening. May I see your license and registration.”
“Doctor evening.” The guy gets pulled over, in the show, or the book, and doesn’t say Doctor. What does he say?
“Sir? License and registration. Please.”
“Doctor and registration,” Carruthers replied, nodding.
“Sir,” said the patrolman, “I’m only going to ask once more.”
“Doctor License N. Registration,” said Carruthers, suddenly free, suddenly gleeful. “That’s me! I’m a doctor, you know! I’ve memorized Keats! ‘My imagination is a monastery and I am its monk!’ ‘Philosophy will clip an angel’s wings!’ Parakeets — now, those are some attractive birds, eh? Loud, though.
“My wife was a most spherical woman — a most spherical woman, indeed! Call me Bill Cosby, but I don’t understand doctors who put doctors in cages.
“And where did you study, my dear Dr. Office-Sir? Dr. Doctor-Doctor?! DOCTOR!!”