Bucks County Writers Workshop
My name is Alvin Sheiber. At my next birthday, in July, I'll be seventy six, which is pretty old for a barber who has been on his feet for fifty-seven years cutting men's hair. Not that all my customers are men. I used to have walls of certificates for the first haircuts I gave kids. But when you have given first haircuts to three generations, grandfathers, fathers, and now grandsons, there are no walls left to decorate. I still give certificates, but now I put them in an envelope for the customers to take home. They can put them on their own wall.
By the way, my customers call me doc the barber. I'm five-foot-seven, which is about the right height for a barber's chair. That is why I can still stand when I give haircuts. Big guys, if they are still working at all, need to sit in a chair when they cut. If I had pursued my first love, plumbing, I would have had to quit years ago. Plumbers end up cripples. The heavy lifting would have killed my back and legs which brings me to the story I want to tell. Did you ever realize the close connection between plumbing and the medical specialty of urology? In fact, when I go to see my urologist, which is often these days, I tell my wife I'm going to visit my plumber.
I was dragged to my first urologist in France during World War II with 103 fever and wads of pus exuding from a red hot swollen penis. Boy, did that hurt. A week of penicillin shots from a long needle into my butt fixed me up. That was the end of the clap and all my problems down there, or so I thought.
I'm really too embarrassed to talk about the rest, but I guess I have to in order to continue the story.
For twelve years, (there have been more times than I care to remember), my erection has gone flat. A parade of visits to many medical plumbers followed. Each one put their fingers into my rectum and exclaimed, "My God, It's huge!!!"
"How huge?" I asked.
I'll never forget the first guy. He shouted, "The size of a baseball."
"Hard ball or softball?"
"Somewhere in between. You need your pipes cleaned out."
Before I took my next breath, he stuck a long silver wand up my urethra. I left his office doubled over with pain with a handkerchief of bloody ointment sticking out of my drawers After that, I forgot about the whole thing for a while.
About a year later, the erection problem returned. I was referred to what was called a master plumber, an aging Australian, who was forced into retirement because he shook too much when he operated. He checked my prostate with the usual reaction, "My God it's huge," and asked if I drank gin.
"I love gin. I have a gin and tonic every night after work."
"Drink vodka, gin will kill you," he said in his thick Aussie accent.
I gave up gin and drank vodka; and limped along for over a year. Stopping gin helped.
The next episode was so bad, I couldn't hold my water. A barber I know in South Philly recommended his guy, said he did a ream job on him, shaving off half his prostate, and now he has no more trouble pissing. But he cut the nerves. I didn't tell him my problem was I couldn't get it up. I didn't want to make him feel bad.
I ended up leaking all over the place. My wife said it was so bad that all the rugs in the bathroom and the rest of the house stunk terribly. I was afraid to drive. I lost my confidence when I lost my water. So I took the train. I didn't know the trains no longer had bathrooms. When I finally reached the doctor's office, my pants and underwear were soaked. It was winter, and I wore a long coat which covered most of the damage, except I was frozen underneath.
The urologist, a rough red faced Irishman with rolled up sleeves, looked more like a boilermaker than a plumber. When he stuck his finger into my prostate, he hollered, "If that son of a bitch Clinton gets in it will be the end of the world."
"What about my prostate?" I asked.
"It's huge. Take this medicine." he said, handing me some antibiotic samples.
Six months later, another can't get it up scare. I was sent by my family doc to a local urologist who had such a large belly that his pants hung over his shoes as he walked. It's a wonder he didn't trip over all that excess fabric. He sure could have used a set of suspenders.
This guy had a new weapon, at least new for me. Prostatic massage, and he believed in it. He went to a closet and took out something that looked like the rattle of a rattlesnake. It was made of ivory and was L shaped, like a dentist's proxy brush. "I got this in France; it's what they used to massage prostates 200 years ago. Want to try it?"
I shook my head no, and he said he would use his index finger after he examined me.
"Go ahead, doc, I ain't no sissy. Do what you have to do."
In went a finger, and with an OOH OOH OOH! I lifted off the floor, landing on my toes like a ballet dancer.
This guy was a real plumber type. I bragged to everybody for the eight years he kept me functioning always warning, "I'll get you under the knife before this all over."
Nothing lasts forever, at least nothing good.
This winter I closed the shop for two weeks, and my wife and I went to Florida. Maybe the piece of mind would help, I thought. The family doctor slipped me some Viagra. If it helped Bob Dole, with only one good arm, it was worth a try. The hell with just laying around.
"You're wearing me out. No more. You must have another infection," the wife said.
I must admit, it wasn't staying up, even with the Viagra. The hotel recommended a urologist. At his office, I signed in and waited until a tall athletic looking guy about fortyish dressed in pale greens directed me back to an inner maze of doors with sinks, examining tables, and black machines. He gave me a bottle which I filled with urine.
"Thanks for taking me so soon, Dr. Embreeo. I've read all your magazines; you know I have a barber shop."
He took my blood. The PSA (prostatic-specific antigen) was fifteen.
"I'm not Dr. Embreeo, I'm a tech here. The doctor will be in soon, but thanks for the flattery."
In about twenty minutes there was a rush of footsteps outside the door. In walked a smallish pasty skinned man, with eyes magnified the size of binoculars. A white surgical hat covered a bald pate. His white scrub suit was blood stained as were the white bucks on his feet. Five big assistants attested to his authority and were ready to nod at everything he spoke.
"Bend over", he ordered. I felt the familiar gush of KY jelly, as his finger glided through the familiar passage.
"Give me a massage while your in there. Let's kill two birds with one stone," I quipped.
"OOH, OOH, OOH," sprang my vocal cords as I lifted off the table, landing on the balls of my feet.
"Huge, very huge, the size of a grapefruit. A normal prostate your age is the size of a lemon."
"At least it's not the dimensions of a football." I thought a little humor might lighten everybody up. But it didn't.
"I felt a small hard knob on the left side."
"The BIG C, Oh MY GOD!" I shouted. He didn't answer.
I tried to fight off the panic creeping through my body like molten lava.
"If it were me, I'd have an ultra sound and biopsy immediately." the doctor said. after I asked him what he would do.
I went back to the hotel, called a buddy who had his prostate removed eight years before. "I'm alive, so what if can't get it up anymore. So what if they cut the nerves." he said. "Do what the doctor says."
Another cripple, I thought.
And so began the worse two weeks of my life. I locked up the barber shop The sign, "CLOSED FOR PERSONAL REASONS," was removed for three weeks and many sleepless nights later. My PSA returned to a comfortable eight, the month of prescribed antibiotics killed the infection, and the lusty massage from the suspenderless wonder got me ejaculating again. By the way, the ultrasound was negative and no biopsy was done.
I opened the shop early on Monday morning. A flock of old faithfuls sauntered in, taking up all the seats.
"Do you want it razor cut or with the machine?" I said, applying the apron to the first customer.
"We missed you, doc," he said.
"Yes, it is good to be back."