So, there I was, not long ago, stuttering up the hill in Port-au-Prince, through the mess of vehicles and across roads that I was likening to those I had banged over in the African hinterlands in the early 70's and now with the chronic throb in my upper left molar increasingly aggravated, I began a “look out” or some kind of dentist who looked legit when serendipitously my sidekick, Jean Claude, spotted a store front ahead with two larger than life photos of “Hillary”. Before and After. With “Before” as some ragged likeness taken by a wire service of her in a candid moment and the “After”, a State Department stock photo which adorned the Embassies around the world. Above them both was a huge needle about to pierce the crow’s feet of a young woman’s face. “Botox” it announced, “Erases wrinkles”. Then, over to the side of this display was a huge enameled tooth atop a long brazen screw. “Implants...Same day. German trained surgeon. Dr. Dieudonné ...Berlin, Paris, New York.”
Meanwhile, stuck in traffic and still looking at Hillary up the street, I was recollecting the 48 hours just a few years back when I had been closeted in a cinder block bedroom in Diyala, Iraq with a horrific abscess during a string of Shia holy days until rosy fingered dawn had finally brought Ali, the dentist, to my cell and who with a great splatter of blood and pus finally had the bastard out in his pliers, held up before my face as if he had just captured Satan himself by the tail while I had slumped down in a “born again” gratification, pounding my heart vehemently with my fist, as faithful Shia’s do.
I signaled Jean Claude to stop. With a full calendar of official holidays ahead which would close down all profitable Haitian activity, I thought it sage to inquire. I rang the buzzer and could see through the iron grates the receptionist move toward me. “Are you open?" "Yes", she answered. "You are here to make an appointment?" And around her were the various loafers all glued to the TV and the Western day-time drama--the fog like inculcation of “spills and chills and soft porn from America.” “I just need a business card", I told her, “so if I had an emergency over the weekend, then I could call.”
"Well you need to see Dr. Dieudonné," and then she led me down a dark, unclean hall and into the Doctor's office which was not much different than the waiting room, with another group of loafers watching the same programs, including several piled onto the dentist chairs themselves whom the rather rumpled Doctor now shooed away and off they shifted to another vantage point. But I was already raising my hand in a signal to stop, knowing full well where my line in sand was drawn and that I was not getting buckled into that contraption under any circumstances other than what had befallen me in Diyala and so I explained I was a visitor to this fair city and as good sense would dictate, being aged and all, I wanted the Dentist's card in my hip pocket should I fall prey to an emergency. “Could I please have his business card and would he really answer if I called?" "Absolutely”, the Dentist said, and scrounged around for a rather un-crisp card as I reaffirmed my need..."even at midnight...even on a Sunday”? "Absolutely”, he repeated, smiling as if both parties knew that his response reflected current intent rather than future certainty, the Doctor being quite sure of the extra-ordinary circumstances surrounding this old Blan which would cause him to have a local practitioner rummaging around in his mouth. "You know, at my age, I just think it wise to have your card". And then Dr. Dieudonné said something about age which I could not seize completely but which got the loafers snickering.
Back in the car, I got to reflecting on all the waiting rooms across the span of Port-au-Prince that had a TV and a ceiling fan and where loafers passed the day, their lives. Sort of indistinguishable pockets. No matter a center for Botox and oral surgery or a room at customs where you watched your dossier, slow as molasses, circulate from hand to hand, some glued to the screen, others in a lively dispute, others eating their meal from a Styrofoam container.
But...and here was the difference. Again, there was a “but” for me--who had also been subjected all his youth to the clean and orderly and unrumpled and always crisp--back in the “USA”. The unrumpled lawyer who had fleeced me and my Annie when, in the throes of romance, we had burned our bridges as we had taken a fast plane for Paris. Or the doctors in the Veterans Hospital in Richmond who went into my gut for “an exploratory” and left with a meter of bowel in their slippery hands and then hid the results of the ensuing investigatory panel of peers from my poor eyes and clean got away with it...in perpetuity...while I suffered the humiliation of streaming liquid shit for several years till some drug company finally came up with the appropriate pill. Not to mention, all the crisp and unrumpled folks who had sent the likes of me to Vietnam in the first place. Similarly, “unrumpled and crisp” was that shining northern city on the hill when it slammed the door shut on the liberation of the slaves in Haiti in 1804 fearing a pervasive contagion of black freedom moving inexorably north to ruin the unprecedented profits of King Cotton from Boston to New Orleans.
And then, in a snap, I got jolted back to the “here and now” as Jean Claude had hit another pothole. Yep, a sharp shot from that molar--via the eyeball--to the cranium. “Gawd”, I moaned. Would Dieudonné be there for me--in the middle of the night-- if there was to be a hemorrhage? All my experience in this part of the world told me, he would. He and his assortment of utensils. That is... if his phone worked.