One of my favorite songs in the world is David Olney’s “Jerusalem Tomorrow,” as recorded by EmmyLou Harris. It begins:
Man you should have seen me way back then.
I could tell a tale, I could make it spin.
I fear you will be tempted to think I’m spinning a tale here, and in many ways I wish I were, but what I’m about to convey is the Lord’s truth. It was reported to me by not just one impeccable source, but by three.
A woman I know (I’ll call her Zoolander) was the office manager of a hospital clinic that performed only breast procedures: annual exams, biopsies, lumpectomies, and mammograms. The hospital was in a small city surrounded by an impoverished rural area. Not HOPELESSLY impoverished, more like the socio-economic class that really enjoys a trip to the Wal-Mart, and families who watch television from the time they awaken until they fall asleep in front of it, their t-shirts often dusted with bright orange Cheeto dust. Without being judgmental about these families, Western science is right on the verge of discovering a link between obesity and decades of inertia. I mean, they’re really really close to seeing a connection.
After a couple years, Zoolander noticed a trend among the clientele. The heavier the woman, the more lumbering her gate, the more limited her vocabulary, the less likely she was to have ever had appropriate medical care, even if she had good health insurance. Zoo drew the unfortunate conclusion that some people are the opposite of bright. Indeed, they might be called just hopelessly stupid.
Such was patient Lollygag. Lolly wandered into the clinic one day without an appointment and said, in something approximating the King’s English, “Mm sumpin wrong wiv it.” Zoolander, always cool and professional, said, “Pardon me?” Lollygag pointed in the general direction of her chest, which was at one with her seven chins and her mid-section, a mid-section so large it might have doubled as a gazebo. “Something is wrong with one of your breasts?” Zoolander spoke quietly, believing the woman might be painfully shy, rather than just a barely sentient chunk of moss. Lollygag nodded.
Arrangements were hastily made, as Zoo believed there must be something quite wrong to have brought Lolly all the way into town. She had even gotten dressed, wearing what must have been her best bright yellow polyester sweat pants and an enormous stained sweatshirt that proclaimed that Jesus had died for her. Zoo commented to me later that the shirt should have said, “Jesus died BECAUSE of me.”
Lollygag was escorted back to the changing room, where she demonstrated a bit of animation, insisting that she wanted two gowns, and the doctor would be allowed to look at ONE area and there would be no funny stuff. It came out like this, “One fron and nudder back, and tie TITE and ain’t gone look in my pants so fergit it.” The nurse helping with the procedure assured her that no one would be looking in Lolly’s pants; indeed, to do so would risk not only a tragic loss of sight but intractable madness. Lolly was then escorted to the examination room and for some time, there was silence.
After about fifteen minutes, the doctor (I’ll call him Dr. Regret) walked out into the office with a look on his face that bespoke terror. His pallor was a sickly green. His eyes had what we call in Indiana the wild-eyed cow. When he tried to speak, he stuttered. Zoolander feared he might be having a series of mini-strokes, and asked if he needed to sit down. He said he simply had to talk to someone. He had to tell someone what he had seen. If he kept it inside a moment longer, his very sanity was at risk. This is the story he told:
Lollygag was a sitter, a television watcher, a snacker. She was about ninety pounds overweight, and her breasts were both large and pendulous. As can happen to anyone, regardless of size, sometimes a snack or two dropped down into her shirt. Sometimes people forget to bathe. On occasion the rich soil of Indiana gets into one’s clothing. And who hasn’t had the experience of eating something raw because turning on the microwave or the stove was too trying? Zoolander, afraid to ask but unable not to, said, “Dr. Regret, what exactly is going on here.”
“The first thing I saw were vines,” Dr. R. whispered.
“Vines?” Zoo whispered back, with dawning horror
“I . . .” Dr. Regret pinched the bridge of his nose, swallowed against his rising existential horror, “I tried to lift her breasts but couldn’t, because . . . .”
“Just say it. I can’t bear it, just say it.”
Dr. Regret stood up straight, looked Zoo in the eye, and said, “There is corn growing under her breasts. It is living corn, with even tiny ears beginning to sprout.”
For a few moments, no one could speak. Then Dr. R. said, “I’m unclear about how to proceed.”
Zoolander thought about it, and said, “I’ll go get some hot dogs and potato salad and we’ll just go from there.”