Old men tell stories that come out of minds honeycombed by revisionist wishfulness and hyperbole. My own father, when he grew sick of my incessant childish questioning, would invent stories and purvey them as truth, one presumes, to keep himself sane with amusement. Occasionally I'd ask him something he'd find genuinely profound, and he'd go away as if my question simply reflected off of him like sunlight from a chrome bumper. Two or three days later he'd come back.
I'd hear -- "Remember when you asked me what was hotter than fire?"
"Remember when you asked me what the difference was between lightning and electricity?"
"Remember when you asked me how far away the horizon was?"
"Remember when you asked why some clouds look black even though all clouds are white?"
And there'd be a well-thought out answer provided. Turns out he'd go talk to some of the engineers who worked for him. They'd prep him, and he'd come back to me with a dissertation that benefited both of us.
People pose questions to old men to gain benefit of their years of experience. They expect an answer they may learn from, or at least something that upon later consideration, will turn out to be a fabrication of enough complexity to provide the victim a bit of amusement at its discovery.
People ask me questions all the time. Unlike my father, I never fail to provide an answer. People have come to expect a certain wisdom from me, and failing that, a fabrication at least marginally amusing.
Given that, I must apologize, dear ones. The stories have been circulating and questions remain in the minds of many to which I must provide some input. You might expect, given my prior missives, that I will spin some sort of sordid tale or at least make an explanation of reality that fits well-specified rules of logic. Alas, this is not going to be one of those times. The record must be set straight in print. You can decide whether or not you want to believe it. As for me, every word is truth of my own history, as I experienced it.
I first met Doyle in my sophomore year of High School. I was in the Catholic school, and Doyle and his siblings all went to the public school. In fact, the great, wise matriarch, and well-loved Mrs. Doyle, was the high school English teacher to many of us in the neighborhood, my own wife included. The Doyle family was well known in our home town.
Now, in fact I met Doyle's younger brother first. We had a mutual friend, and the guy was and remains (I suspect) incredibly gregarious and rather humorous in a stand-up sort of way. We enjoyed having him around even though he was some two years younger. While I spent very little time with my own younger brother, I spent a lot of time with Doyle's brother. Life with him around was always quite an adventure, and I will admit to all of you in public that I lost my virginity (or had it taken, depending on your POV) due to young Doyle's incredible ability to coax improbable responses from women our age, and I still probably owe him a beer or a Ferrari or a vacation home in the Sierra for that.
The elder Doyle, our own Dr. Doyle, was a study in contrast. Compared to his brother, he was dour and contemplative. He spoke in tones that suggested he wasn't sure anyone cared what he was saying. I had the distinct impression as a 16-year old, that the older Doyle brother didn't care much for me, given his muttering and the way he went about business as if I wasn't around when I was. He and I traveled in different circles. We didn't have much in common except our age. His father was a pilot for TWA, and so he spent large chunks of the summer flying places, tooling around Europe for weeks at a clip, while I spent all my summers in the New Jersey humidity, stacking bags of diazanon in the seasonal plant department of the local discount department store.
Not to suggest that he didn't work. But when he was working, he was working. You weren't going to find Doyle selling bicycles at Sears and Roebuck. No. He was doing hazardous things like working as a longshoreman on the NJ docks, making more money in a week than I could make all year, nearly getting himself killed time and time again. Overcome by fumes in chemical tanks. Falling off shipping containers.
The man was as accident prone as sand paper in a match factory, but imbued with the luck of the goddamned Irish. I am convinced it is only for that, that he walks among us today. And it manifests itself in different ways.
One year, he announced he'd got a job as a "taster" for Laird's Apple Jack. Laird's is an alcoholic apple concocction made in New Jersey. You can find it in the liquor stores next to the bourbon. While I was wearing a white shirt and tie, arguing with people who demanded replacements on perfectly good Craftsman brand tools at the local Sears, Doyle had managed to snag himself a job making money as an official underaged drinker.
Me: What do you actually do there?
Doyle: I test for certain esters and ketones. The distillation process creates different ones.
Me: So, like, what do you actually do there?
Doyle: I told you. I taste the product and tell them when the process is a bit off.
Me: Yeah. But I mean, really.
Doyle: I drink.
Me: That's what I thought. Who are these chicks, Ester and Karen? What kind of parent names their kid Ester in the modern age?
The Doyle's home was the summertime hangout for high-school aged kids in our neighborhood. Mrs. Doyle generally kept us out of trouble, and anyway, most of us were far too geeky to be strung out on drugs or drunk beyond motor skills, though we managed to attempt those things when she wasn't looking. Still, we were kids for whom our only hope in life was maintenance of our minds. Doyle had proved (by running himself over with at least one lawnmower), that left to our own devices we were liable to kill ourselves in execution of minor yard work. We were not going to be athletes. There would be no labor force that would accept us. As journeymen brick layers, we'd kill someone with a dropped brickbat. As apprentice ironworkers, we'd fall off 1-story strip mall beams into the path of moving cars. As painters we'd become overcome with fumes. As carpenters we'd drive nails through our calves. As garbage men, we'd lose limbs in the truck's rear garbage squisher.
Our only collective hope was that we'd have enough smarts to use our minds to ensure our future happiness. And so we graduated High School and I launched off on my engineering career and Doyle headed off for god-knows-what. I don't believe he knew for certain at that point he was going into medicine. What we did know -- all of us except Doyle -- was that he was the smartest human animal any of us was likely ever to know.
I remember when I was struggling with the SATs. On my first attempt, I turned in what was for those in my group, a very poor performance with a cumulative score of 1100. For a guy who was going to have to rely on his brains to survive, I wasn't showing up in the Einstein department.
Doyle, on the other hand, managed a perfect 1600 the first time out, and then major-league superior grades on the advanced tests in science and math.
"There's a trick to it --" he told me, as if everyone could do what he did. "You just figure out the trick, and then, you have it."
I took those tests two more times, looking for the "trick" that never appeared to me, managing a final cumulative score of ~1350 after massive studying sessions that took me off the streets for weeks.
I am now 46 years old, and I don't believe Doyle knows yet that people with average minds can't comprehend the tricks.
This is because Doyle honestly believes in the inherent intelligence of the human race. Despite all the horror he's witnessed, all of man's inhumanity to man, he still believes in the sanctity of human life and the inherent purity of the soul. And I will posit, (if my body allows me to get much older I will actually petition the Pope to have him canonized) that these are qualities necessary for sainthood. For I am beyond believing Dr. Doyle is simply brilliant, but also that he's quite possibly immortal, quite possibly chosen by the creator to lead us somewhere.
Our burgeoning school-aged friendship cemented in the early phases of our college careers. I'll point to one specific event he will bring up to you over and over.
In my first year of engineering school I learned about cannabis, Guinness Stout, ultimate Frisbee, female sexual response, how to program in APL, the absolute horror of LSD, the difference between Thevanin and Norton equivalent circuit models, and how to scuba dive. Of all of these, Doyle, ever the naturalist, was tremendously interested in scuba diving, and as a result of some very minor coaxing on my part, got his certification the summer of 1978 and he and I spent the greater part of that summer and the next diving the New Jersey Shoreline.
Let me point this out to you who have not been diving the New Jersey coast. There are three qualities about the New Jersey seashore in the late 1970's that are important to every diver. 1) There was nothing down there to see that we could access from the beach or the local jetties. 2) It was so damned murky you couldn't see anything past your elbow, anyway. 3) In those days they were finding hazardous hospital waste in the tides. Used needles and body parts were washing up all over Sandy Hook and Jones Beach.
Still, we dove and we dove often. We'd get our tanks filled at Dosil's sport shop on Route 36 in Hazlet, and we'd cruise down to the beach in either my beat up Buick Apollo or his trashed station wagon, and we'd sink ourselves in anywhere from 30 to 50 feet of water until our air supply gave out.
Because there was not much to observe during these dives, Doyle would manufacture entertainment. One time I felt a tap on the shoulder and turned to see a spider crab (harmless) with a leg span of about 4 feet descending upon me from above. This probably wouldn't have bothered me, except that Doyle and I had just seen the movie "Alien" the night before, which is why he decided to pull the stunt in about 45 feet of nearly opaque New Jersey seawater. The resemblance between a spider crab falling onto your head and the Alien "facehugger" is way too uncanny to require further scrutiny before one panics.
I believe I retaliated by pulling off his mask, and when he couldn't see, I turned off his air. Something like that.
We'd go diving during thunderstorms, daring the lighting to hit us. We'd dive in boating lanes, and wave our fists at motor boats that buzzed our floating dive flag. We'd dive where sharks were sighted.
Doyle: "Did you see that fish following you? That was a pilot fish."
Doyle: "They lead sharks to food."
Me: "Why didn't you say something?"
Doyle: "I wanted to see if a shark would come. We'd probably have some time before it attacked."
We got older and got married. We knew each other's fiancees quite well. We hung out and went to movies together. I attended Doyle's wedding, and he was in mine, as well.
Here are some things you all need to know about Doyle:
Never, ever challenge Doyle to a game of anything. The term "fight to the death" was invented while observing Doyle apparently attempting suicide playing tennis singles with a gorgeous brunette. He will not lose. While playing chess, he will find a way to bleed. He is not programmed to accept loss. I have played racquetball with Doyle, and despite my years of prior practice to his few hours, I lost because I would not sacrifice my body to the walls in the manner he was liable to do. The man would just as soon put his own head through a cinder block racquetball court wall than miss a volley. I have seen it. It's fearsome, and I am certain this is how he survives in the 'hood in Newark, New Jersey.
Doyle loves women. He will do anything for them. Should one ever ask for his shinbone, he'll saw off his leg at the knee with a dull steak knife and present the severed limb on silver.
He does not process fear the way average people do. If he was in the military, we'd call what he does "heroism". Because he's not, we'll just say he's fucking brave. He thinks it's normal to jump into burning buildings when the fire department refuses to go in. He thinks anyone would do it.
Me: How come the firemen weren't going in, then?
Doyle: They didn't see the kid.
Me: But you said she was hanging out the window.
Doyle: They weren't looking where I was looking.
Me: The fucking building was coming down, that's why they weren't going in.
Doyle: No it wasn't. And it didn't.
Me: And you went in.
Doyle: Come on. What would you have done?
Me: I might have listened to the firemen and the police.
Doyle: And then the kid would be dead.
Me: You both could have been dead.
Doyle: But we're both alive.
I've got lots of Doyle stories. I've got more stories about him than he's got about me, mostly because my life, in comparison to the good he's done, has absolutely produced less for society. I've never saved any body's life. I've never seen emergency room miracles. I've never had a child die in my arms.
For all he's done, he's proved himself to be as fallable as I am, in probably the same ways I've screwed up my own life. Because he's Doyle, he's managed to do it more completely and effectively than someone of my limited intelligence can manage. But still, we share the same weaknesses in many areas.
I'll leave you with two anecdotes about Doyle and our friendship. These will remain in my mind, and I suspect I'll think about them on my dying day.
When I decided to move to California in 1987 to work for Intel, we were making the rounds, saying goodbye to our New Jersey friends. At that point, both Doyle and I had infant daughters, and our families were to meet at Doyle's house. At the time he was living in an apartment above an Italian restaurant in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and as had become custom, we would go downstairs to get some mussels fra diavolo and other Italian goodies. We were getting ready to leave our house to go to the Doyle's place when I got a call.
Doyle: You guys may not want to come over.
Me: What's up?
Doyle: Well, I might have TB.
Doyle: Tuberculosis. There's a particularly resistant strain going around the homeless and I've been treating them at the hospital. I might have it. If I do, it's bad.
Me: How easy is it to catch?
Doyle: Pretty hard. I pretty much have to cough on you while you're breathing in a whole bunch of times.
Me: Hmm. What do you think?
Doyle: I could just say goodbye on the phone.
The sound of his voice is embedded in my head. There's no way Doyle was not going to have TB. He was treating people nobody would touch. Day after day. Living above the pizzeria, wife and tiny kid. He could have been driving Jaguars and living in hillside homes in Summit or Teaneck, administering booster shots to the whining children of the wealthy like any other med school valedictorian. Instead, he was fighting the Bloomfield traffic, sweltering through the summers when the heat from the pizza ovens downstairs came up through the floor.
We had our mussels that day, and my whole family tested negative for TB, one month later.
The other incident involving Doyle I wrote as a short story I submitted to a magazine years ago. It was accepted but never printed, and so I never received my check, and the story never saw daylight. I wish I still had it, but I've only got my memory of the last bit.
We'd just got our new house in Edison, New Jersey, and I was mowing my lawn when I came across something in the ground. A family of rabbits had burrowed into my front yard and the rabbit fluff was coming out of the ground ahead of where I was about to mow. I turned off the mower. The bunnies were still in the hole.
On further inspection, I saw they were in some bad shape. At the time I had a dog -- a Norwegian Elkhound, and we occasionally chained him to a tree within distance of the rabbit hole. Clearly, the dog had mauled a couple of the baby rabbits. One, I remember distinctly, was still breathing though it's internal organs were protruding from a gaping wound in its side.
At that point the Doyle family came over. The Mrs. and the kids went into the house to be with my wife and kids, and Dr. Doyle, then intern Doyle, came over to where I was. I showed him the rabbits.
I don't remember the words but what I live with now, some 20 years later, is the very idea of it--that if you were going to dedicate yourself to helping the sick and dying, to preserving life, then the boundaries between things got fuzzy. All life leads to death, eventually. Yet there is no death in something that has never had life. So each requires the other to exist, and the physician has to come to terms with it as the shepherd of life's process on earth. Things and people will die under the physician's care. Things will be born. Things will get sick and some will get better. We do our best to live within the mystery that surrounds us of why it is we live at all.
It was getting dark and the lawn was half mowed, but now we had dinner guests. I put the lawnmower away. By the time I got out of the garage, Doyle was in the process of burying the fatally injured bunnies.
"These will make it," he said. The others were in coffee can he'd found behind my house on a layer of mown grass and rabbit fluff. "I'll take them with me."
We went inside to our families, then. Rich men.