February 7, 2010

Take for Stomach

My mother tells all her friends about my problems. They know I lost my cat. They know I lost my girl. And they know about the post-surgical complications that have left me bloated and gassy at the worst times. So just imagine my mother describing all this to her friends at her weekly coffee klatch.

It turns out that one of them had the same stomach problems until she visited the elderly, but still spry Dr. Weng, an acupuncturist on Canal Street.

“But I’ve already tried acupuncture, mom,” I complained, wailing a bit. This is what happens when you go to your mother’s home for dinner. Twenty years of adulthood vanish by the time you take off your coat.

“Well, try this one. Gretel said it really helped her.”

“Yeah? I went to the Lin Sisters on the Bowery because someone said they were great, and it didn’t work.”

“What can it hurt?”

“My pride. Because now I’m going to have to explain it all to yet another person.”

But I made the appointment and a few days later I walked toward Canal Street, dragging myself past Golden Dragon Trading and Wing Wong Variety on Hester Street, and then the Double Crispy Bakery, Yu Fung Enterprises, and the Relaxing Spa Palace on Grand.

It was a shabby office, but busy. The receptionist hummed a complicated Chinese tune. She took me into a little examination room where I waited for Dr. Weng. I couldn’t imagine any of my mom’s German friends coming here, sitting in this room, and waiting for Dr. Weng. He walked in, smiling. I told him my history and he nodded sympathetically. That alone was worth the $60. For some reason, I think he assumed I was familiar with acupuncture, because he didn’t preface his treatment with any warnings. He only asked me to lie down on the papered exam table and then he jabbed needle after needle into my belly.

Finishing up with one in my ear, Dr. Weng said, “You try to relax, OK?” He shut the lights and closed the door behind him.

I thought about the girl who left me. A twinge. In a matter of months she went from “I love you with my whole heart” to “What can I do to help you achieve closure?” Zing! I thought about my poor cat Sam who died in June. Another twinge. I’m terrible at dealing with loss. Why is life so horrible? Why can’t I just be a cat or a dog? A cat or a dog in a good home leads the best life. Then I thought about dinner. This was Chinatown, after all. I could stop in one of the restaurants on my way home. Something with shrimp? For the millionth time I thought about vegetarianism. Why can’t I stop eating animals? By now, I couldn’t feel the pins anymore. Actually, I couldn’t feel my hands or my feet, either. This was not unpleasant. So I moved my foot to see if it still worked. Moving my foot on the exam paper created a shocking crunching sound. Wow, I thought, that was that loud. I wonder what time –

The door opened. The lights came on.

“Feel okay?” asked Dr. Weng. Still woozy, in my mind I saw ducks hanging in the windows of the Chinatown restaurants.

Dr. Weng placed a hand on my stomach and said he wanted me to try something before I went to sleep.

“Rub in a circle around stomach 37 times. Then rub other way 37 times.”

“Why 37 times?”

“Is 37 times. Always 37.”


“Very easy. Can’t hurt.”

Dr. Weng held out a plastic weed baggie filled with what looked like birdshot or the excretions of a tiny mammal.

“Also take these pills. Eight pills each time.”

“What are they?”

“Take for stomach.”

OK. What’s in them, though?”

“For digestion.”

“But what are they made of?”

“Special Chinese herbs.”


“You come back in two days.”


On my way home I picked up a container of Buddha’s Delight — all vegetables — at one of the storefront restaurants. My twilight reverie had resonated; I couldn’t face a dead animal on my plate. When I got home I pulled out the ziploc of birdshot. It required a leap of faith to take these without knowing what they were. But eventually desperation forces you to leap.

24 black pellets a day.

For stomach.