“We’re here to see Grandpa. Any Grandpa. Your Grandpa.”
The unibrowed orderly glanced up from his monster truck magazine and grunted, pointing to a large bound volume in front of us on the desk. Then he ran his gigantic right hand (with odd child-sized fingers) through his scalp-beard, returning to his mental realm of go-cars and automotrons.
“Is this the registry?” Kon-El asked. I’ve only been working with the Kryptonian lad for a handful of hours, but already I sense the force is strong in this one. Centripetal force, that is. I’ve got a feeling he could last for days in a centrifuge.
“Not only is it a registry, it’s the heart and soul of rock and roll!” Boomed a tiny six foot tall woman in an off-white lab coat. The ID card pinned to her lapel said she was a doctor: A. Normal, M.D.
I was a little concerned that her name was printed in Comic Sans (90% of real doctors break for Helvetica), but I suppose the attendants here don’t get their choice of font. Someone higher up must be asleep at the switch...
“Are you a... doctor? Or are you just a 90 pound weakling?!”
“Ah hah hah!” She snorted, crunching her nose like a Bajoran pepper merchant. “I’m the curator of the Old Gladiator’s Home. Call me Abbey.”
“I shall call you ‘Abbot’ if I so choose,” I bellowed. “Now tell me where I- where we,” I motioned at Kon-El, “can find a set o’ chompers ’round here.”
“What my... associate is askin’, ma’am,” Kon-El paraphrased with a southern drawl while snapping his suspenders, “is where two vagabonds such as we can procure us some false teeth.”
“Science has proved that old people have false teeth,” I super-stated matter-of-factly. “And we’d like a set. For charity.”
Abbey bit her hand-painted upper lip. “I don’t think-”
“You lo-o-o-o-ok like you’ve got some false teeth,” I undulated rhythmically at a small man with killer jowls and what may have been some tapioca rolling by in a wicker wheelchair.
“Back off, junior!” He barked. “I didn’t spend fitty years in the tubes to get m’teeth shanghaied.”
“Stop bothering Senator Stevens,” my old pal the orderly... ordered. Kon-El eyed the old man’s pudding hungrily, but Kryptonian religion specifically forbids the consumption of pudding. Only before sundown, my inner Kryptonian reminded me.
A ringing sound momentarily distracted us, and the unhelpful orderly reached with his left hand (which was child-sized, but had enormous fingers) for the landline. Bored, I ran my eyes across the waiting room: coat racks covered with mink stoles, old chairs with ragged upholstery, stacks of sticky magazines, flaming portal to the abyss... just like every other waiting room I’ve ever been in. Except most hospitals have at least four portals.
“we take pride in our exceptionally high tooth-to-patient ratio,” Abbey beamed. “our policy is to encourage flossing.”
“Surely there are patients here who decided to follow the dental precedent set by George Washington,” I said nonchalantly, “and also, you should start your sentences with capital letters. What you’ve just done is very unprofessional.”
She balked, unaware of just what in the Sam Hill I was talking about. I’d have to show her a transcript of our conversation.
“Why exactly do you need-”
I nearly jumped out of my skin as the brutish orderly (the one with the weird hands) slammed down the desk phone and stood up screaming. Kon-El did me one better, and smashed his head through the ceiling tile. Dr. Normal actually seemed sleepier.
“What room?” She groaned, rolling up her sleeves. “And don’t ever- ever? Bleh! Even. Don’t even bother telling me if it’s Glitterman again. That man needs to get over himself.”
“It’s Iron Joe Bone Grinder.” The orderly said ominously. I’ve heard people say things ominously before, so often in fact that I’ve assembled a numerical system of grading ominosity. And this guy was in the Kissinger Range.
A steamroller of trepidation kowtowed the good doctor, her freckly forehead follicles flagellating fearfully. “Nurse Sunshine, get me a syringe of maple syrup.”
“Yes Doctor,” the asymmetrical orderly replied as he aimed his desk-axe at the emergency breakfast cabinet. “Will we need the jaws of life this time?”
“We might,” she whispered, picking up the syrup. “Joe’s orthodontist isn’t in today, so we...”
Tuning out the conclusion of that sentence, I instantly began connecting the dots. Joe has an orthodontist... orthodontists always give their patients candy... candy leads to tooth decay...
“I’m an orthodontist!” I announced, ripping off my shirt to reveal a white lab coat and stethoscope. “Take me to Joe Iron!”
“How’s my favorite patient doing today?” I giggled, giving Joe’s belly a little rub. He started wheezing and squirted soy milk out of his nose, like the Mighty Mississippi. “So... I hear you need an emergency...” I scanned his chart. Then I held it upside down and shook it. Why are they still using Etch-A-Sketches?! Are Post-Its that expensive?!
“All I need is some new cleansing tablets,” the old man rasped. He held up an box of Baking Soda. “I don’t trust the ammonia process what makes these...”
“We can get you just so many tablets,” Kon-El told him, “but you just have to do something for us, señor.”
“Enough of this tomfoolery!” I grabbed Joe and stared into his very soul. “Give us the teeth!”
“They’re putting... they’re putting Fluoride in the bicarbonate, you know.” Joe’s eyes flickered. “They’ve got Fluoride in everything... didn’t used to. They told me everything would be... stronger.” His eyes teared up. “And I believed them.”
“Yes, yes. Fluorite is great-”
“FLUORIDE! IDE!” By now he was rocking back and forth like a screwloose waterboy. “It’s my fault! They told me I would be helping the People’s Revolution, they said. They said nobody would get hurt, they said. Look what Fluoride has done to me!” The cellulite danced on his bony arms.
I drew the blinds and slapped the ceiling light so it would swing over the hysterical old gladiator. “Where are your teeth, comrade?”
Crying, he pointed weakly out the barred window. “I buried them weeks ago, when I couldn’t get pure tablets.”
Kon-El shoved me out of the way and got all up in the bedridden crybaby’s grill. “WHERE?!”
I was a little surprised by Kon-El’s forceful monosyllabic command, but to each his own.
“In... in your pocket!” Jabbing a skeletal finger in my general direction, he cackled mercilessly before collapsing into a heap.
Reaching into the pocket I’d sewn onto my sweat pants, I closed my eyes and pulled out a set of hand-crafted dentures. Great Dugong of Hong Kong!
“How did you do that?” Kon-El asked, quite amazed.
“Old people are always giving me things,” I shrugged. “I keep shoveling them in my pockets.”
“Shoveling? Not shoving?” He snickered, latching onto my verbal gaffe. “You opening a coal plant? Gonna shovel coal?”
“Funny how you would associate shovels with coal. Have you actually seen a shovel? Ever? In your life?”
“I... of course I have. We used to grow them, on Grandpa’s farm.”
We stood over Bone Grinder’s unconscious body for what seemed like hours as my realization of Kon-El’s sheltered life sank in. Then the door — and believe me when I say this — opened.
“Sunshine!” I beamed.
The orderly frowned. “I’d prefer to be addressed titularly.”
“Nurse Sunshine?” Kon-El guessed. But it wasn’t enough to placate the oaf.
“Nurse Gumdrop Jacob Sunshine, RN.”
The urge to laugh was almost unbearable. Jacob!
“Nurse, it’s been a pleasure to deal with you.” I reached first for the large hand with tiny fingers, then for the tiny hand with large fingers. Giving up, I placed one hand on the hilt of my sword and the other on my hat. At least someone around here is following in Washington’s footsteps.
Just as we were turning to leave, Gumdrop noticed Iron Joe bent up like a hot pretzel. “Hey! What’d you do to him?!”
“That was like that when we got here,” my Kryptonian cohort coughed, creeping ’cross the colloquially-colored carpet. Sweet Cockatoo of Kathmandu!
“He’s probably like that because of the asbestos guy.”
“What?!” Sunshine gasped, almost inhaling half the furniture in the room.
“There was this guy leaving when we came in. He was in a razzmatazz Hazmat suit, and I distinctly remember him saying he put some asbestos into the walls.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out a chunk of flame-retardant, life-giving asbestos. “Here you go. I popped this out of the ceiling panel.”
“OMG! That is totally asbestos!” Kon-El chimed in.
Sunshine practically tore Bone Grinder’s room phone from its slender, ergonomic casing. “I NEED HOSPICE SECURITY! INTRUDER ALERT!”
“This is the part where we slink away,” I whispered to a nodding Kon-El. “Move slowly toward the door, but after the frame we can move at normal speed. Once we hit the parking lot, you run. You run ’til your legs give out, you understand me, boy?”
“You shall not pass!”
Kon-El and I froze. Jowls flapping in the breeze, Old Man Stevens came barreling down the hallway directly at us in his wicker wheelchairmobile. Hot Turkey of Turkey!
“GET BACK TO YOUR ROOM! INTRUDER ON PREMISES!”
Shoveling past us, Nurse Sunshine scooped the unhappy gladiator up over his boulder-like shoulder (the left one. The right one looked like it was missing a joint). As the duo vanished into the fluorescent moonlight I could hear the sound of pudding splashing against a hard surface.
“Hey, Kon-El?” I whispered once the coast seemed clear.