Walker Percy Wednesday 60


When I was in the open ward and working on staff, he was very good to me. He immediately saw what I was getting at and helped me wire up my first lapsometer, read my article and refused to take credit as coauthor. “Too metaphysical for me,” he said politely, knocking out his briar. “I’ll stick to old-fashioned tumors and hemorrhages”— and off he went humping it down the hall squee-gee.

But we were always wary of each other. Our eyes never quite met. It was as if there was something between us, a shared secret, an unmentionable common past, an unacknowledged kinship. We were somehow onto each other. He recognized my Southern trick of using manners and even madness guilefully and for one’s own ends. I was onto his trick of covering up Alabama hambone with brave old Amherst and humping it like a Brooklyn interne. What is more, he knew that I knew and I knew that he knew. We were like two Jews who have changed their names.

. . .

Doctors, you may know, have a somewhat retarded sense of humor. In medical school we dropped fingers and ears from cadavers on pedestrians. Older doctors write doggerel and satirical verse. When I was a young man, every conservative proctologist in town had a cartoon in his office showing a jackass kicking up his heels and farting a smoke ring: “LBJ has spoken!”

. . .

(No idle speculation this: once, before Colley and I fell out, I measured his pineal region. He had good readings at layer I, little or nothing at layer II. Diagnosis: a self successfully playing at being a self that is not itself.