It was one a.m. when Pedro arrived on Murray Street for the free drinks promised at the opening of another new club.
The joint was named Midnight, because that’s what time its doors opened. A noisy crowd was gathering outside, demanding immediate entrance. Pedro was alone, drunker than usual. When he tried to get in, the doorman roughly refused him entry on account of his inebriated condition — it seemed the young bruiser hadn’t yet learned how to work the velvet rope, where a simple ‘No, sorry, sir,’ was much more effective than verbal or physical abuse.
Pedro was an aggressive drunk and began mouthing off like the tough guy he wasn’t, and the youth responded the only way he knew how. As Pedro stood there, legs akimbo, babbling about who he knew, the kid delivered a brutal kick to his unprotected groin. Pedro went down, hard. The bouncer dragged him out into the street, then dropped him between two parked cars.
Pedro lay there for a while, blacked out from the pain. Two other patrons, who thought he’d been hit by a car, picked him up and tried to carry him inside the club, but they were turned away by the manager, who doubtless foresaw lawyers and legal bills if this damaged partygoer were to be found on the premises. So the two Samaritans stashed him in a doorway up the street, where he was soon forgotten as the crowd milled around, intent on access. When he finally attempted to get up and leave, his scrotum had swelled up so much it had forced his legs apart and he couldn’t walk.
Somebody finally called an ambulance, which carried him off to Bellevue. There a doctor declared one ball smashed beyond repair. The shattered fragments would have to be removed. He had very little time to consider the implications — children, impotence, the financial cost — because they needed to operate immediately, before more complications set in. He surrendered his testicle while still legally drunk, pumped full of morphine.
Down at the loft everyone was asleep when the phone rang at 4 a.m. At that unforgiving hour the news is rarely good. You live as long as you can in that brief moment before you pick up the phone and are transformed by whatever information comes down the line.
I answered the phone and a female voice spoke: “Are you a friend of Pedro Salzman?”
“Mmm, who is this?”
“This is Bellevue hospital. He has been hurt. He gave us this number.”
“He underwent an emergency operation to remove his testicle.”
“Underwent a what? Jesus! How did that happen? Who gave permission for an operation?”
“The patient gave his consent. You can get details from the doctor when you come up here. By the way, do you know if your friend has insurance?”
“Yeah, he definitely does,” I said, certain that Pedro did not.
I woke Arturo, who was sleeping in the tent, next to a girl I didn’t recognize. Arturo’s 9 millimeter automatic, tucked in a shoulder holster, was lying by the futon, on top of a pile of clothes. It always shocked me to see a real gun lying around in the open like that. I couldn’t figure out why Arturo needed to carry a gun. New York wasn’t that dangerous. I assumed it was a cultural thing, the same way some people always had a book in their pocket…
“‘Turo, wake up. Pedro got hurt; he’s in Bellevue. Who’s that with you?”
“Her? I don’t know. She said she’s been here before.”
“Well, leave her here. We have to go. And hide that fucking gun somewhere, will you?”
We dressed and took the elevator down, leaving the sleeping girl locked inside the loft.
The streets were empty, but soon a cab appeared, its on duty light glowing as it sped down Church Street and, seeing we were white enough, pulled over, and we piled in.
”Did you bring that fake ID?”
“Yeah, but if they’ve already done the operation maybe we shouldn’t bother. Tell ‘em his parents will send the money from Europe when we get in touch with them. Are we going to get in touch with them?”
“I don’t even know them. Pedro can call them when he’s feeling better. Do you think…he’ll be talking like this?” I replied in a helium squeak voice and our laughter filled the cab as it raced up Sixth and turned right on Houston toward First Avenue. Arturo pulled a vial from his coat pocket and tapped a small mound of powder into the indentation between his thumb and forefinger, careful not to spill it as the cab bounced over potholes. He snorted the coke and leaned back on the seat as I looked on expectantly. He tapped out another small pile and held it out. I leaned over and inhaled it. We both sat back against the seat and let the drug plough through our blood, staring at the back of the driver’s neck. I removed a pint bottle of Jack Daniels from my coat pocket.
“Brace yourself Bridget!” I snarled, and sucked down a long draught, before passing the bottle to Arturo. The reek of alcohol filled the speeding cab.
“Shit man, Jenny and Antonio are up here too. I’ve got to go and see them, I hate fucking hospitals.”
As the cab passed Sixteenth street I wound down the window and screamed out “Jenny, I love you baby!” an invocation to my friend lying terminally ill in the hospice at Cabrini, fatally poisoned by a dirty needle. So many people we knew seemed to be dying these days. Nobody was making it past forty anymore, or if they did they were missing parts of their bodies and sometimes pieces of their minds.
We disembarked in a suitably wired state at the ancient iron gates of Bellevue, and made our way into the Breughelesque ambiance of the emergency room. It was a busy night. The room was full, and there was fresh blood on the floor, a libation for the gods of damage and destruction. Pedro was in the right place. The surgeons here were combat veterans.
I fixed the night nurse with a manic smile and gave a beautifully modulated speech full of passion, anguish and barely controlled rage lamenting the fate of my innocent brother. My inspired rant got us an immediate pass to the post-op ward, on the sixth floor. An ancient elevator carried us upward at a rate far too slow for our blood.
At the third floor a frail old man in a wheelchair was pushed into the elevator by an orderly with a medicated look. Our frozen nostrils were inundated with a sweet sickly smell. I concentrated on the sparse hairs covering the old man’s skull, the follicles clinging to their turf like saplings in a windstorm. Minutes to go for this one, nothing was left for him but heavy meds, polyester sheets and plastic tubes in every orifice. Hope I die before I get old.
The elevator stopped at six and we exited into a long corridor. Rubber coated doors imprinted with the letters IC in foot high capitals opened with a soft squishing sound, and we were confronted by an array of beds on which people were sitting and lying in various states of post-operative agony. We wandered among these victims of the city until we found Pedro.
He was sleeping, pale faced and beautiful as a saint, his entire lower body packed in ice, a quizzical smile playing across his lips. You could smell the morphine leaking from his pores. Mutilated, un mutilé de la guerre, his own idiot behavior provoking the violence of strangers. Another fine mess you’ve gotten into, I was thinking. This time the damage was permanent as a bullet — Pedro’s mangled bollock was gone for good, sure as if a vet had sheared it off. Shit, a vet had sheared it off.
The question we dare not pose hung in the air. Had a moron’s random kick rendered Pedro impotent? How many balls do you actually need? I didn’t know the facts about testicular function. Was it just one, or were both eggs involved? “Eggs” was the word my brain produced, because what all men carried between their legs weren’t after all steel balls, they were tender objects, delicate as a robin’s egg or a rosebud, you could so easily be deprived of them, maimed by a single kick from some dumb kid with an IQ of 75. For trying to gain entrance to some shitty hole in the wall club. It was like having your teeth knocked out but so much worse. Unlike teeth, testicles couldn’t be replaced. Seated on opposite sides of the bed, Arturo and I both had our legs tightly crossed. Pedro’s massive scrotum floated between us on a bed of ice like some exotic sea creature on a fishmonger’s slab.
Eyes, teeth, balls, everything seemed so fragile. We sat there, raging quietly.
Pedro suddenly opened his eyes.
“Hey you guys, what’s up? Did you bring me a toot? I’m dying here.”
“You probably shouldn’t do any coke right now,” I said. “It might get you overexcited. How are you feeling?”
“Not feeling much at the moment. They gave me an epidural. As well as a shitload of morphine, and all the Percs I can eat. Hey, we’re gonna be rich!”
He must be fucking delirious, I thought, or maybe he doesn’t know yet.
But Pedro did know, and he was already thinking lawsuits, folding money, turning his testicular tragedy into a financial opportunity. He rambled on in the fragmented, dreamy language of an opium eater,
“There’s a hundred grand in this at least. ….kilo of blow for ten grand and make thirty five off that, me and Sherry can take a trip to Europe, we’re gonna be rich I tell you!”
There wasn’t much to say except to nod and smile. The morphine was doing a better job than we ever could.
“Do they give you pills, or is it a liquid drip feed?”
“It’s both. Whatever I need. She should be coming round with pills again soon. I’ll ask her for a couple extra…”
The idea of castration makes every man squeamish, as anyone who has had to take the dog to be fixed can testify. My mind was involuntarily summoning up the castration scene in Thomas Pynchon’s novel V, the victim’s testicle held up stretched on a thread of tendon in the moonlight on some wartime beach in the Adriatic, and then that low twang as the surgeon callously snipped it from its tender mooring. I had barely been able to read Pynchon’s highly visceral fictional description, and now I was looking at the real thing, my friend’s groin packed in ice, only one ball left in the sack, the skin of which was stretched to an inhuman smoothness, not a wrinkle visible. Now, equally unbidden, the first bars of the Colonel Bogey march bounced around my forebrain.
”Hitler, he only had one ball/Rommel, had two but very small.”
Almost humming it aloud, I tweaked and twitched in the plastic visitor’s chair as Pedro, wrapped in the calm, velvety embrace of morphine, lay on the thin bed like some wounded soldier from a Wilfred Owen poem, mumbling pointless rationalizations for the fatal stupidity of his behavior.
A nurse I knew had once told me that when discussing tumors and growths, Jewish doctors usually compared things to food, while Protestants used sports terminology. So Pedro’s scrotum was either a watermelon or a basketball. Bigger than a baseball or a grapefruit. Larger than any scrotum should ever be. You could play soccer with that thing…
A giggling fit was approaching, sure as laughter at a funeral. I looked across at Arturo, in whose forehead that large snake like vein was throbbing, a sure sign of hilarity or rage. I clearly saw Pedro’s scrotum bouncing around a soccer pitch, somebody had just headed it into the goal. I turned away from the bed and stuffed a handkerchief in my mouth to quell the laughter rising in my throat, muffling the whistling noise that was now escaping like steam through the sides of my mouth. Pedro opened his eyes for a moment and sat up. Imprinted on the sheet was a faint copy of the drawing of Bacchus that Rhonda Tattoo had sketched on his back that afternoon, when he was whole. He slowly closed his eyes again and lay back among the ice and pillows.
The nurse came in and informed us it was time to leave. She woke Pedro to give him two Percocets, which she watched him swallow. He was already back in the land of Nod before we left.
The elevator opened into the lobby just as Sherry was rushing in, carrying a bunch of flowers.
“How is he?”
“He’s really nodded out. They woke him up to knock him out. They said no more visitors for a while.”
“Shit, I just spent twenty dollars on these flowers. Those all night delis are so expensive.”
She looked at Arturo. “Are you guys going back downtown now?”
“Yeah, you wanna share a cab?”
We walked out into the street. It was a beautiful morning, people were going to work, people with jobs, families, balls. I felt a sudden longing to be like them, to be a part of this great herd servicing the workings of the vast metropolis. But not just yet. Right now I wanted to sleep.
“I can’t believe he got kicked in the balls,” Sherry said. “Actually I can believe it.
We’re gonna sue that fucking club.”
“Yeah, Pedro seemed to think he’s gonna be rich. Always looking on the bright side.
You might have to adopt though…”
Everyone laughed, and the tragic quality of the event seemed to diminish as the taxi headed downtown into the morning. As we were crossing Houston Sherry said, “I can get out here, I want to walk a few blocks.”
“Yeah, I’m gonna get out too,” said Arturo. “You got money? Here take this,” he handed me a ten, trying to keep a straight face.
I watched through the window as they walked off down Thompson with their bouquet of flowers, looking like newlyweds about to tear off each other’s clothes right there on the street.
Home at last, I rode the ancient elevator to the 7th floor. Every time I walked in the door my first impression was that we had been robbed, until my eyes grew accustomed to the general dishevelment. I looked in the tent. The girl was still there. She turned her head and gave me a sleepy smile. I undressed and climbed in next to her.