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May 31, 2006

The Grouch Potato

I was in the bar of my hotel, looking for someone to talk with, when the grouch potato edged up next to me and said hello. He didn't look straight at me; he stood near me, looked into the distance, and introduced himself.

We sat at opposite ends of a sofa in front of the large open fire. He sat upright and rigid. He stared at a point on the wall far in front of him. His jaw was tense; it was muscular from habitual clenching.

"My wife is divorcing me." I volunteered. "I don't think that it's going to be so good for my son." I told him a little about what was happening in my life.

"You're not the only one with problems." He told me. "Many people have much worse problems than you." I listened to this and then continued to talk about various things. Then he said again, "A lot of people have much worse problems than you."

"What problems do you have?" I asked him.

Grouch Potato: It's a long story do you want to hear it?

Duncan: Go ahead.

Grouch Potato: I have a herniated disk and I've had a lot of trouble with it.

Duncan: I know someone else who has one of those.

The waitress asked if I wanted a drink. I asked for a glass of wine and one for the grouch potato.

GP: I had physical therapy for it but the therapist made it worse.

D: How's that?

GP: She had me bending over and touching my toes. That's the worst thing you can do when you have a herniated disk.

D: How do you know it's the worst thing?

GP: I've got the best surgeon in San Francisco, he's a great man; he told me so.

D: And what happened when you bent over?

GP: It aggravated it and made it worse.

D: I see.

GP: I tape recorded all of my meetings with that physical therapist and she knows that and now she's scared because I could sue her.

D: Do you think that you could get much money out of her? Is she wealthy?

GP: No, she's just a young girl. She also hurt my wrists.

D: How did she do that?

GP: She had me doing twenty push-ups a day and then I got repetitive strain injury. See those?

He showed me a large scar on the back of each wrist. The scars had bold stitch marks on them.

GP: That's where my wrists had to be operated on to fix the RSI.

D: Wow! That's pretty intense. I do twenty push-ups a day and I don't have a problem.

GP: She should pay for what she's done to me.

D: Do you think that she knew what she was doing? Do you think that she intended to hurt you?

GP: No. She just doesn't know what she's doing.

His voice seemed softer.

D: It sounds like you've been through some really hard times.

GP: I have. But I've got the best surgeon in San Francisco. I've got the best two surgeons in fact. I pay them well because they're experts and they deserve it. Not like that stupid girl.

D: How do you know that they are so good?

GP: Because they're renowned for their good work. I don't think that they do it for money. I think that they do it because they want to help people. Not like that girl. She's just out to make money; to rip me off. She knows that if she keeps me sick then she'll make more money out of me. She doesn't want me to get well.

D: How does it feel in your back to have a herniated disk?

GP: It's agony. It's constant pain. It never ends. I suffer and suffer. A month ago I was in my house and my back went into spasm while I was on the bed. I couldn't move. I just lay there in agony and I couldn't get to the phone. I was terrified because I couldn't reach the phone and I thought that I was going to die there; that no one would find me.

D: What happened?

GP: After a few hours it released and I was able to crawl to the phone. So you think you've got it hard. You're wealthy; I assume you are because you're staying here. And you've got a son. You're lucky.

D: What do you do for work?

GP: I was a realtor but I can't work now, but I have a big property portfolio. Since I've been sick my wealth has increased by about five million. A friend came to visit me in the hospital after my last operation and I told him this whole story. I heard from him recently, a year after last seeing him; now he has the same problem: a herniated disk.

D: That's strange.

GP: I've only told five other people this story and all of them have now got the same thing wrong with them.

D: Are you saying that I'm going to get a herniated disk now?

He didn't say anything and kept looking at the point on the distant wall; it seemed as if he hadn't heard me. I started an om inside my chest and spread it out around my body. I was inside an egg of violet light and I could see him through the shell. But it didn't seem right, so I expanded the hum around him too, so that we were both inside the egg. I felt safe again.

D: It was interesting to talk with you.

GP: Yeah, me too. I'm sure you'll learn what you need to from what's happening to you. There are some big lessons in it for you.

D: I'm sure there are. I look forward to that.

I asked for the check. The waitress billed him for his own wine, but I still paid, as I had intended.

We shook hands and he went. The lovely waitress came up to me and I said to her, "Wow! That was amazing. I've never experienced anything like that before."

She replied, "You're such a nice man. I wanted you to meet my friends who were sitting on the opposite sofa. They're visiting from San Diego; he used to own the hotel and he's with his fiancée. I'm sorry you had to sit with that guy."

I said, "It's okay, it's all part of life. It was an amazing experience."

"I like the way you write; it's real and allegorical at the same time." — Mary S.


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