The Man Who Loved Nickelback
The rash on your arm was getting worse, so you decided to visit a dermatologist referred by your friend with the really bad skin. And you drove to an office building and signed a clipboard and waited in a waiting room and now you sit on a cold, metal examining table. Cold even through your pants and on the surface of your sweaty palms. Glass jars of cotton swabs and tongue depressors line up on the Formica countertop. Posters for a Swedish metal band named Kolv! paper one wall. On the other wall hangs an expensive-looking lithograph of Guernica.
A young nurse with gum-clicking teeth and Bible Camp culots enters and hands you a paper gown, tells you to “undress and get into it.”
“But my rash is on my arm,” you say.
“MY rash? Possessive, aren’t we? The doctor prefers it this way,” she says.
She leans forward to look disapprovingly at your face, as if at a smudge on a window. You wonder if you had missed a spot shaving that morning. She leaves and you check your reflection in the mirror hanging over the sink. A piece of red, metallic glitter is stuck onto your cheekbone somehow. You change into the gown and sit back on the cold, metal table.
The doctor enters, staring down at a manila file. He is fortyish with white hair and horn-rimmed glasses. He hums a song you don’t recognize. He stands in the middle of the room humming and staring down at the manila folder for a long time. You’ve never been to this doctor… Could he have a file on you already? When he finally sits in a nearby chair his leg jolts up, not unlike David Lee Roth’s definitive scissor kick.
“You’ll have to excuse my unorthodox manner of sitting,” he says. “Old golf injury…”
His speech sounds slow and complicated by hard candy.
“Okay, let’s take a look.”
He pulls an extension out of the examining table so your feet are up. You lay back with some trepidation. He starts humming again.
“What is that song?” you ask.
“Didn’t you see the posters?” he says. “I just love Nickelback. So Jesus-y.”
The song he hums is NOT by Nickelback. Your Born Again brother-in-law has exposed you to their music and this is definitely not them. The melody is high-pitched, far above the sexy-guy low registers of Nickelback’s lead singer, Chad Kroeger. The members of Kolv! posing in the posters are dressed in yellow spandex pants, terrycloth headbands, hightop sneakers. They go topless but for inordinate amounts of flaxen body hair. They wear expressions dour even for metalheads. Not one of them could boast Nickelback’s vacantly mournful affectations, their Messiahesque postures.
You start to panic. Nickelback! Who is this guy kidding? Your eyes search the ceiling for some sign of legitimacy, some framed piece of paper with signatures, a seal of any kind. But you only find brown watermarks, so many you wonder if the pattern is intentional. The doctor’s hands approach.
Suddenly he has grasps your jaw and opens your mouth by way of a penetrating thumb. You try to protest but your tongue flails ineffectually against his knuckle. His manhandling becomes preoccupied with the soft skin of your palate. His thick fingers are cold. His diamond-studded ring reports against your molars like a debutante cynically running her teeth against a gift of pearls from an aunt of modest means. Finally you wrest yourself from him by pushing both hands against his loose-skinned face, knocking his glasses askance.
“What’s the problem, Chief?” he says. He breathes hard and takes off his glasses to clean them. He shows liquid, irritated eyes.
“I have a rash!” you say. “Why are you putting your fingers in my mouth?”
“You see that?” he says. He points to the lithograph of Guernica. “I worked ten hard years for that. Harvard Medical School. Do YOU have a medical degree? Can YOU think of a better way to examine the back of the throat?”
You look to the wall where he points. The appearance of Picasso’s Guernica was apparently some trick of the light. Now there is a degree behind the glass, an M.D. from…the University of Hårvaard.
“I wasn’t aware that you were a practitioner of Eastern Medicine,” you say dumbly, raking your tongue with your fingernails.
“I’m from Stockholm…” he says, eyebrows lowered. He crosses his arms as if waiting for you to fill in the blanks but the nurse enters with another manila file and a large linen sack on a metal tray.
“Ah! Very good!” the doctor says.
He claps his hands and reaches the full length of his arm into the sack and feels around for a full minute before presenting a bottle of pills with your name and address printed on the side. Bits of lint from the sack are stuck to the wiry hairs sticking out from the cuff of his Oxford shirt.
“Take two of these every day and call me in six weeks.”
“How do you have my address?! Where are my clothes?!”
“I will not dignify such questions,” he says. He leaves, followed by the nurse.
Your clothes are on a chair not a foot from the examining table, where you left them. You dress and run to your car. You start the engine and speed away down unknown streets, turning every few blocks. Nickelback blares through the radio.
Eventually you find your way home. You eat a Hot Pocket and feel much better.
Weeks pass. Your rash gets worse. Finally, desperately, you decide to take one of the pills given you by the strange man who believes he loves Nickelback. The rash almost immediately heals. You spend the
next few nights staying up late to look at the Facebook pages of Swedish metal bands.
Years later you will attend a Kolv! concert at the State Fair. Standing in line at the merch table you will run into your old friend. He will be dressed in sandals with socks and tweed pants, shirtless, the Swedish flag painted over the hair of his chest. You will call him “doctor.” He will call you “bro.” You will stand next to him during the concert as he belts out Nickelback lyrics, dancing with his eyes closed, heedless of the glowering metal heads.
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Try something today. Count how many times someone brings up some sort of mental illness in normal conversation. Add that number up and tell me it doesn’t strike you as kind of weird how many normal people walk around with the belief that there is something wrong with them.
She assumed it was jewelry. Every year he gets her a charm for her gold chain or a pair of dangly earrings.
Fall if you will, but rise you must.
You may lose what would have been the joy of the experience had you not been so focused on some fabricated idea or unrealistic expectation you had of how it was going to turn out.