Prélude à l’après-midi d’un rhinoplastie: or, When the Rabbi Went for a Nose Job
And there it was: the place that would help me realize all my desires, the place that would give me the nose of my dreams: The Offices of Joyce Marianne Webster, M.D., FACS.
I turned the corner on Lexington and 79th as two girls walked out of the office, buoyant and brimming with the kind of blasé joie de vivre that I hoped my new nose would give me.
They couldn’t have been older than twenty-three, I guessed, as they glanced in my direction, smirking, and I accidentally made eye contact with one of them as she giggled about God-knows-what.
Is it me? I thought—are they laughing at ME? Do they know why I’m here?
“Yeah, we had our noses and eyes done, but a guy’s doing it? What is he, sick or something?” Was that what they were thinking? Could they even see my nose under these thick sunglasses and oversize scarf that I wear to hide my hideousness like I’m the phantom of the seminary, the elephant man of the rabbinical school? Ah, there are two other offices in this suite, I noticed, an alibi…plausible deniability…
They walked out of earshot and I let out an anxious sigh: beauty is in the eye of the beholder—yeah, right. And if you study and work hard, when you grow up you can become anything you want. Tell me another bedtime story from the book of American Fairy Tales.
Joyce Marianne Webster, M.D., FACS, read the placard outside the door. I pressed the round chrome button under her name, and a buzzer sounded.
“Yes?” said a woman’s voice through the intercom.
“Hello?” I said, speaking into the intercom, embarrassed at the meekness of my tone. “Dr. Webster?….”
I tried to swallow, but my throat was as dry as an Arizona summer, dehydrated by the anxiety of being at a place I was not supposed to be.
“Hello? This is Ruben Goettisheim…I have a three-o’clock appointment…?”
Meanwhile, the lingering sinus infection that I was getting over was still bequeathing a resplendent nasal timbre to my already muffled voice.
“Did you hear him say ‘appointment’?” I imagined the doctor sayingto her receptionist, horrified at what she could have been thinking. “Whoever that is outside, get him IN here! My GOD! What a nose this guy must have, he can barely SPEAK! Linda, clear the rest of my afternoon appointments—the work he’ll need on that nose, it’s a GOLD-mine!”
The buzzing stopped, and I pulled on the doorknob. It wouldn’t budge.
Did I miss it? Was I supposed to open it while I heard the buzz? Should I have pushed instead of pulled—yes, that was it, I should have PUSHED! PUSH, G#$-daMMIT, PUSH! This is only your REBIRTH, that’s all, a whole new YOU, you have to FIGHT for it!…My GOD, it took you six years to work up the courage to make this appointment and you don’t even know how to open the DOOR!—you!—you of the fancy 3.9 GPA, you!—you the Valedictorian, with all your five-dollar words, you can’t even open the DOOR!, ‘what kind of man ARE you?!’, THAT’S probably what those girls were saying—
The buzzer sounded again, thankfully, and the door opened quite easily.
I walked past the elevator on the right and noticed that the office lay immediately straight-ahead on the first floor.
Thank God I don’t have to take the elevator…all the people in there would be wondering, “what’s HE in for? Looks like a perfectly healthy guy…except for that gnarled ZUCCHINI-thing on his face…”
I pushed open the door and entered into a different world. The waiting room smelled like something—lavender? Is that LAVENDER?…You don’t even know what lavender SMELLS like!…you don’t even know what lavender IS!
The room was absolutely spotless—sparkling, actually, in its cleanliness—the picture of ‘sanitary svelte’!, if there is such a thing!
Plentiful puddles of bright fluorescent light splashed upon the room’s Jerusalem-stone walls, which shimmered like a chivalric knight’s freshly polished chain mail. The magazine racks were stacked with beauty magazines instead of eight-month-old copies of Sports Illustrated and Us Weekly; glass cabinets filled with beauty products—anti-aging lotions, facial cleanses, wrinkle-reducing makeup removal, gradual-tan sunscreens, de-puffing eye balms and something called “elixir serums”—were interspersed among the cowhide leather-upholstered chairs and mahogany tables.
Sitting atop the magazine pile on the lacquered plywood coffee table was a glossy Glamour magazine with a picture of Joyce Webster herself on the cover. “New York’s Finest,” read the caption:“Joyce Webster Reveals Her Beauty Secrets.”
I looked across the table and tried to see if any of the secretaries noticed whether I had come in, but they were both on the phone, eyes cast downward in businesslike fashion.
The first secretary, a young woman wearing a red ribbed sweater, suddenly turned around to face me. Pushing her pigtailed amber hair behind her neck, she shifted the receiver away from her lips and mouthed “come in” to me before resuming her phone conversation.
She looks like she’s had some work done here HERSELF, my…do the secretaries here get complementary nose-jobs? Is that one of the benefits of working here? Health, dental, and nose? A face-lift for their Christmas bonus? 10% off on eye-jobs for employees?
“Yes,” she said upon finally hanging up the phone. “Mr. Goettisheim, hello!” The residue of a fading Puerto Rican accent was evident in her voice. “Nice to meet you, glad you could make it!”
“Yeah, I know,” I replied, jittery, reaching into my right pocket for a tissue. “I wasn’t sure if this cold would be gone by today, but it’s just about gone…” I blew my nose into the clean half of a half-soiled tissue, and groped for another clean tissue in my left pant pocket.
“Here,” said the secretary, handing me a clipboard with a pen and a few pages of forms. “You can have a seat while you fill these out. The doctor will be right with you.”
“And if you need any more tissues for that monstrous nose’uh yourz, here’z a few—actually, why don’ch’you take da whole box—and if you need more—GEEZ, look a dad thang! We gonna make a LODD-uh money offa dad thing!”
“Thank you…and do I need to fill in my health insurance info again even though I already emailed it to you?”
“Yes, please do…you know this is gonna be out of pocket for you, because this is out-of-network, right?”
“Yes, I do…do you need my driver’s license number? It says here you need my driver’s license number.”
“No, we don’t need that.”
“Ok…and all this other stuff…I should fill everything else out? All this information about past and present conditions and everything, fill it all out like I’m at the doctor’s?”
“Yes, please do.”
“And if I have a cold now? Do I say I don’t have ‘chronic’sinus problems but am presently experiencing ‘sinus discomfort,’ do I say that?”
“Sure, yeah, you can put that down, on the side, in small print if you want.”
Trying to quell the nervous twitching of my mouth and cheeks, I masked my inner turmoil with an outer stone face and sat down on the sumptuous leather couch, where I started to fill out the standard medical waiting-room forms: listing all my past surgeries and procedures and all present conditions, family history of this, present symptoms of that, height, weight, allergies, medications, emergency contact information, workplace—workplace? Can I put down my seminary as my workplace? Oh GOD No, I can’t list them here—this can NOT get back to my seminary—if they find out I’ve been here they’ll CRUCIFY me; Jews aren’t even allowed to get tattoos, how would I ever justify a NOSE-job to them?—an entire BODY-part put under the knife for cosmetic reasons, for vanity—how could I ever explain THAT one?!
“Um…excuse me…” I said, getting up and walking to the secretary’s desk. “Sorry to bother you again…do I have to fill this part I out?” I pointed to the section entitled “workplace.”
“Yes, please do.”
I sat back down and began to incriminate myself. There was no choice: Workplace: Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer Theological Seminary.
Location: New York City.
Workplace Phone-Number: 212…
May we call your workplace?
I checked the “NO” box, checking it once more to make sure it had been checked, even boldening the check-mark, tracing it over a few times with the pen.
Okay…they can’t call once I check ‘no,’ RIGHT? That would violate some kind of confidentiality agreement now, right?…so I’m safe…?
After turning in the forms to the secretary, I sat back down and waited; I was waiting for more than just the doctor—for something which I couldn’t quite put my finger on—maybe for some form of enlightenment from above, for my sanity to be restored, for the Messiah, for Godot, for…something.
What IS this place? Where AM I? Have I lost ALL sense of decency and self-respect? WHAT in the world am I DOING here?! LEAVE, Ruben! Get up and LEAVE! NOW! While you still can! C’mon, you can do it! You know you shouldn’t be here!…WELL?!…WHY the @#$% are you still here?! If they find out about this it’s the END of you! Do you have some kinda @#$%ing DEATHwish!? LEAVE this place and get back to reality!
I didn’t budge an inch; the couch was too comfortable, the air smelled too good, the waiting room’s crystalline purity was too disarming, and the alternative—embarrassing myself in front of a secretary whom I’d probably never see again in five lifetimes—somehow seemed even worse.
A moment later, the secretary walked me down a short, fluorescently-lit hallway and led me into a small room whose walls were painted tombstone gray.
“Please take a seat, the doctor will be right with you.”
“Thanks.” As I looked around the room, my eyes darted like spermatozoa inside an ovum until they fixed themselves upon a medical school diploma that I was too frazzled to read.
Grimacing, I tried in vain to make myself comfortable in the tiny room’s large leather-cushioned chair by bantering with myself – what kind of chair is this, a chaise lounge? A dentist’s-chair? Is that even a type of chair—“dentist-chair”?…God, when will she get here already…This is like waiting for the wizard to step back from behind the curtain, just come OUT already! Does EVERYone need a grand entrance now?! If I ever become a pulpit rabbi, I’m gonna make congregants fill out four pages of personal religious-history forms before they can see me:
Please check all that apply—
are you currently experiencing, or have you ever experienced:
Do you have a family history of:
Tortuously-long-sermon-induced high-blood pressure?
My-son-is-flying-to-TaiWAN-to-meet-the-PArents-and-RAbbi-I-only-have-one-last-chance-to-SAVE-him,- rabbi!,-RAbbi!,-help-me-explain-why-he-should-stay-JEWish,-rabbi!-induced encephalitis?
After a few minutes the rab—er, doctor—opened the door.
“Hi Mr. Goettisheim, I’m Dr. Webster, nice to meet you!” She extended her hand,
smiling demurely, and brushed away a lock of light-auburn hair from her hazel eyes that were the black-speckled dark brown of overcooked cauliflower.
Her shoulder-length hair looked like it was layered by a professional stylist; she was wearing lightly applied makeup, and her loose sky-blue blouse and tight-fitting cadet-gray pants perfectly complemented her slim figure.
The lightly bronzed complexion of her face was wrinkle-free, her sandy-brown high-arching eyebrows were immaculately lined, and her nose—well, her nose was perfect, of course it was perfect! It was a nose to die for—no, let’s not go that far; it was a nose to pay ten thousand dollars for.
“Hi, nice to meet you as well,” I responded, showing her a forced, miserable smile as I shook her unusually warm hand.
GOD, she’s probably the most attractive plastic surgeon in the CITY! I gasped, catching myself gaping at her. How did I FIND her?! Does she do work on herSELF? Others on HER?…Why are there hot plastic surgeons?…What PLANET am I on?! I stifled a dejected groan.
“So…” She sat down in a short black vinyl swivel-chair and pulled out a doctor’s pad. She smelled strongly of jasmine-scented perfume. “What can I do for you today, Mr. Goettisheim?”
“Yes…um…well, I’m here for, um…” Oh, c’MON, you KNOW why I’m here!, I shouted at her in my head, suppressing my indignation with a polite smile. We made this appointment two WEEKS ago! You EMAILED me! I have to say it AGAIN?! “as you know from the forms and everything, for…um…cosmetic rhinoplasty.” REALLY?! I have to tell you why I’m here, like there’s some obligation for a verbal confession?! “Yes, Jim, I know you slept with John’s wife, and YOU know you slept with John’s wife, but it’s REALLY important that you SAY it, TELL me what you’ve done—EXPRESS it, LOUD and clear!—it’s the only way you can be saved!”
She scribbled something down on her notepad.
“And this is just purely cosmetic, Ruben, correct? You have no need for functional rhinoplasty?!”
FUNCTIONAL rhinoplasty?! No, doctor, I don’t!—my nose works JUST FINE—it’s kept me girl-free for twenty-six years! A PERFECTLY functioning Jewish nose, Doc, it’s a GLORIOUS specimen, the WONDER of creation! Oh, wait till you get your hands on it, Doc, it’s the most efficient, hardest-working, reliably-functioning Jewish nose ever devised! When the priests and monks are looking for a nose that’ll help them stay celibate, THIS is the one they’ll want, Doc, RIGHT here! A Class-A-type functional nose!
“No, that’s right…just cosmetic.”
“And how long have you thought about rhinoplasty?”
“Umm…I’ve been thinking about actually having the procedure for a few months now, but I’ve probably thoughtabout it for years.”
“When did you first start thinking about it?” she asked, drumming with her fingers on her notepad.
“Oh, I dunno…maybe since…ninth grade?”
Ok, is that enough? We need to go into my whole mental-psychological HISTORY here? What IS she, my nose-job doctor or my SHRINK?! Please, Doc, I’m BEGGING you!—can we please just get to the medical info-dump already?…That’s enough information, right?
“And why have you thought about it? Why is rhinoplasty something you’re interested in?”
Oh God…what does she want me to SAY?! C’mon, PLEASE, LOOK at me, Doc!, Look at my FACE! Can’t you SEE with your eyes—if they’re FUNCTIONING, that is!—why I’d be interested in rhinoplasty?! I need to SPELL IT OUT for you?! Is psychological torture a prerequisite for a nose-job?!
After paying the room and equipment fee, if the patient wishes to proceed with rhinoplasty, the patient must recount his entire history of low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, time lost by trying to take pictures of himself from the only angle possible that wouldn’t reveal a large and misshapen nose, and must recount—in VIVID detail—all of his past awkward social situations when he has liked a girl but was unsure if she actually liked him—after all, she was smiling and talking to him—or if she was secretly reviled by him and was only talking to him to be polite.
“Well, I guess I’ve always felt like, if I was uncomfortable with how other parts of my body looked, I could change that—I could get a haircut…I could work out if I didn’t like my body, you know…I could improve the way my body looked, and I did, I would work out, you know, get in shape…” Ok, OKAY! You don’t have to tell her you’re in shape, she doesn’t need to know that!
“YES, Doc, I’m actually RIPPED! TOTALLY! What, you don’t BELIEVE me? You don’t think a guy with a good body would want a nose-job?! You don’t think that maybe, just MAYBE, the dates have no IDEA what kind of body I have and that all they see is that THING in the middle of my face?! You think maybe, just MAYBE my dates think, ‘yeah, sure, he’s a nice GUY and everything, but…that NOSE, ooof….I wouldn’t wanna spend the next fifty years of my life with that thing!’ And YEAH, I know what you’re thinking—‘a guy with that kinda body would wanna be a RABBI?! For WHAT?! So he can wear a dark SUIT every day for the rest of his life, when he has a BODY like that?! Why would you wanna DO that to yourself?! GEEZ you people are @#$%ed up, I mean, SERIOUSLY, you people need some SERIOUS @#$%ing HELP!’”
“And so…this was the one thing I couldn’t change…” The one thing all the pushups and sit-ups in the WORLD couldn’t change—one-hundred fifteen sit-ups, EVERY day, for weeks, for months, for YEARS, for eighteen YEARS, and all those bicep curls and dumbbell extensions, and not the SLIGHTest change on the nose, isn’t that WEIRD how that works, Doc? You ever thought about that? How there’s no exercise you can do to get your nose in shape, like, say, ‘oh, my stomach is flabby, lemme cut down on pizza and start doing sit-ups,’ and that WORKS, but you can’t say, ‘oh, my NOSE is outa shape, let me cut down on the garlic and start doing nose-ups’? What if you had to pay ten thousand bucks to get your STOMACH in shape?! This isn’t fair—why is the NOSE the one thing you can’t fix on your own?!
“So…that’s why I’m here!” I concluded, hoping my mask of strained cheerfulness was still covering the raging sea of anxiety inside my head.
“Oh-kay…” THAT was a weird “okay,” did she HEAR any of that? Any of these thoughts spill out by accident?! GEEZ, Rube, keep a LID on it! No one’s supposed to HEAR any ‘a that stuff!
“I do thank you for coming in,” she said, resuming her simultaneous scribbling and talking. “You had said you weren’t sure if you were going to make this appointment, you had said you weren’t feeling well?”
“Yeah, I was glad I could make it. I’m just getting over this sinus infection…and I still have a stuffy nose, actually.”
”’Stuffy nose,’ HA! You’ve got a bit more than a ‘stuffy nose’ problem, DON’T you?!” And this COLD—what are the odds of having a cold and a stuffy nose TODAY?!, The day of my nose-job appointment? What are the odds of THAT?! What LUCK! It’s like…I don’t know WHAT it’s like—like getting a blister on your big toe the same day you’re scheduled for a pedicure—but it’s like SOMEthing…
“And what kind of nose did you have in mind?” she asked, briefly looking up at me before jotting down a few more notes on her notepad.
“Oh, you know…” What kind of nose? ‘WHAT kind of NOSE!?’ DOC, you’re KILLING me, Doc! LOOK at me! I have to tell you what ‘KIND’ of ‘NOSE’ I want?! Just look at it and FIX the g$#damn thing, for chrissakes!
“I just want it to be…regular, straight, on this part…” I drew a straight line with my index finger from the skin between my eyes to the tip of my nose. “…Over here…”
‘What kind of nose?!’ you’ve gotta be KIDDING me…Is there some kind of MENU?!
“Our specials this afternoon include the Paul Newman nose—that one always sells out very quickly—and the Richard Burton…and if you’re asking for the George Clooney, let me apologize, sir, we’re all sold out of those today.”
“I see…and how is the DiCaprio?”
“Oh, one of our most POPULAR, good CHOICE, sir! The DiCaprio is exquisitely crafted with only the FINEST ingredients of Italian and American cartilage—but TRUST me, don’t ask HOW the cartilage is made, please!—and is served at room-temperature.”
“I see…sounds GREAT, but, I don’t know if I can afford one of these expensive movie-star noses…what about the vegetarian options?”
“WELL,” she said, looking frustrated at losing out on a big sale, as if I was about to order a salad instead of a steak, “we DO have some interesting, healthy choices…the Salinger is a low-calorie but tasty alternative…”
‘The Salinger? The SALINGER?! EXCUSE me, miss—Doc—whatEVER—um…you see, there’s just one problem with the Salinger, is all—I’d love to order it, but…”
“But I already HAVE a @#$%ing Salinger! I’m EATING the g$#dam thing right NOW!”
“Oh, I’m SO sorry sir…let me suggest something else…”
“Well…we have the Philip Roth…?”
“The Roth, hmm…the Roth…you know what?”
“You see, it’s a funny thing…”
“Look, look at me, look closely…”
“Yes, I’m looking…? Yes, sir, what is it?”
“No, I don’t think you’re looking closely enough…c’mon…look CLOSER, REEAAL
“close…take a GOOOD, close look…”
Her left eye was now right on my nose—if she got any closer the thing’d take her eye out.
“Yes, sir, I’m LOOKING, I’m looking VERY closely! What IS it, sir?”
“You SEE now, DON’T you?”
“I THINK so…”
“Yahsee…the thing is….I already HAVE a @#$%ing Roth TOO! The @#$%ing thing IS a Roth! Why would I COME in here, SIT down, and order a ROTH, when I have the SAME g$#dam thing EVERY, @#$%ing, DAY?! Would that make ANY sense to you? ANY sense?!”
“NO, sir, absolutely not. No sense, sir. It would make no sense.”
“Exactly. Now, either bring me a DIFFERENT menu, or get the @#$% outta here!”
She put her notepad down on the desk and turned to face me, looking me directly in the eyes—or in the nose? Can you “look at someone nose-to-nose,” or “look someone ‘in the nose’?” Maybe only a nose-job doctor can “look someone in the NOSE,” maybe you have to have that talent if you’re a nose-job doctor—and, still gripping her pen, began to describe the “procedure.”
“Okay, Mr. Goettisheim, let me explain what I’d be able to do for you…”
She launched into a jargon-laced explanation about what exactly she would do and how she would do it, but as soon as I heard a few medical terms like “cartilaginous perforation,” I was lost; my mind caved in on itself, disappearing into her swampy mass of biological expressions and physiological argot that my liberal arts-based, non-scientifically oriented education made me entirely unequipped to process.
Not only had I stepped into a thick foreign forest without out a map or a guide, but I felt as if I had walked into the forest precisely when a violent snowstorm started to swirl through the icy air, its wet flakes hitting me in the face, blinding my vision and freezing my fingers, and all I was wearing were shorts and a t-shirt.
“…we’ll make a small incision across the columella….taking precautions around the lacrimal apparatus…and we’ll have to be extra careful with the septum, which can sometimes become vulnerable to…”
Septum? What’s this about a “septum”? What the hell is a SEPTUM?! Some Roman General, Flavius Septumus, some GLADIATOR?! And I have one?—in my NOSE? A real live Roman gladiator, in this VERY NOSE! If only those girls would have KNOWN—they weren’t dating just a nose—oh, NO, it’s much MORE…
“YES, it may be big, Leah, but it’s not a JEWISH nose, it’s a ROMAN nose! That’s right, a real, genuine, ROMAN, this one right here! It’s Flavius Septumus Afrikanus, this nose, and it could be yours, ALL yours! A strong, heroic, FEARLESS Roman warrior-nose!, this nose!, didn’t you KNOW?! What, WHAT’s that?! You don’t think ‘we’d be a good fit,’ you and Flavius Septumus Afrikanus Augustus’?! Well, I have news for you—me and Flavius Septumus Afrikanus Augustus Caesar will go our merry way WITHOUT you, conquering Gaul and Britannia, conquering the WORLD, him and I! And you won’t be there to see ANY of it! How’s THAT sound, HUH?! Are you not entertained?!”
“So…Is that clear?” She licked her lips and smiled confidently, looking at me the way a person who almost always receives a welcoming, satisfactory response to her queries looks at someone when anticipating the other’s reply.
“Honestly, I understood about half of that…maybe half of that…I’m sorry, Doctor, there were just…a lot of medical terms in there, and…could you explain that again, please?”
“Sure, of course! I apologize, that must have been awfully hard to understand. Let me start over….We want to make sure we preserve the integrity of the overall structure of the nose, except for the bridge, right?”
“And we want to make sure you can still breathe out of your nose, right? So, we’re going to have to extract cartilage from here, and place it over the bridge…” Now she was gently squeezing the thing as if it were an avocado—is it ripe yet, Doc? Is it ready to slice open? You wanna use this one? Or…or maybe save it for tomorrow night for when we have hamburgers, cause it’ll go better with the burgers, it doesn’t really go well with the chicken…but we DO have a ripe avocado, shouldn’t we use it before it goes bad?… Now she was pinching it with her thumb, index finger and middle finger like it was a hardened clod of earth—is it a fossil, Doc? Do you think it’s a fossil? A real ancient piece of petrified Jew-nose? Or maybe it’s just a piece of petrified dog-sh#$ from last week? Maybe you’ve found the real thing, Doc, the REAL thing, RIGHT in your hands! WHAT a find…this one’ll go in the Natural History Museum—oh, when they find out about your latest discovery, they’ll—!
“…so we’ll have to extract that piece of cartilage—it’s just extra cartilage, after all—and use it to restabilize the bridge. Does that make sense now?”
“Sure.” That still made absolutely no sense. Of course it didn’t…maybe you should’ve been LISTENING this time, idiot!
“Thanks for explaining the procedure, that really clarifies things…”
“Of course—I want to make sure my patients understand the procedure to the greatest extent possible. It’s always best to be well-informed, I reason.”
“Of course.” Well-informed, HA! About as informed as an airplane passenger during an emergency landing. WHAT is she gonna do?! Take cartilage from HERE and put it WHERE? Is this rhinoplasty or a liposuction?!
“In addition to removing all excess fat from the nose—in addition to giving you a sleek, sexy, TOP-of-the-line, fat-free nose—we actually install SMART-chips now in all our noses.”
“Is that SO?”
“YES! In FACT, you’re LUCKY, because last month they came out with the 17sg model! Fully equipped with Nose-finder. Now we will ALWAYS know where your nose is! And YOU will, TOO!”
“AND, ALL new noses are equipped with Osiris, so if you have ANY questions about what you’re smelling at ANY time, just ask Osiris! You’ll be the STAR of your wine-tastings and cocktail parties! Here, try smelling this wine—what do you smell?”
“Vanilla? Tanins…? Cherries?”
“Ok, good…NOW, smell it with OSIRIS!”
“Hmm…Osiris says…there are hints of…blackberries…crushed blueberries…and SOFT tannins!”
“My GOODness, it’s unCANNY! It would solve my NUMBER-one problem: failing MISERABLY at smelling wines!”
“And it can EVEN smell the difference between DOG-sh#$ and HORSE-sh@#!”
“And HOW much, Doc, for this incredible nose, how MUCH for this LIFE-saving nose, Doc?”
“It can ALL be yours, for only ONE easy LUMP-sum payment of TEN-thousand SEVENTY-Nine NINETY-nine! OR, with TEN easy payments of ONE-thousand seventy-nine NINETY-nine at fifTEEN-percent INTEREST rate!”
“Where do you work?” she abruptly asked, quizzing me in the politest way possible, but it still felt like the beginning of an interrogation.
“Actually, well,” I began, fumbling through my brain for a suitable cover, “I’m a student…I’m in graduate school…I get a stipend—not a lot—I guess you couldn’t really call it work—”
“Studying to be a rabbi?”
Huh? How had she sniffed me out? What gave it away—was it the beard? It’s the beard, right DOC? Or—or no, no, I know…it was…it was the NOSE, wasn’t it, DOC? The NOSE gave it away, DIDN’T it? Or was it the yarmulke—was it the yarmulke? Had she never had any Jews in here before? Ninety percent of her clienTELE is probably Jewish, who am I KIDDING?!…What did she think, if I was male and Jewish and wearing a yarmulke and in graduate school I’m clearly studying to be a rabbi, what else could it be?
“Umm….” Uh-oh…you can’t let her know that you’re a rabbi—especially an ORTHODOX rabbi! This can’t leave her office…imagine the headlines in the Jewish Week: Rabbi’s Nose-Job Scandalizes Orthodox World.
Or the Forward’s article: The Nose That Launched a Thousand Excommunicatory Letters: Agudath Israel and Rabbinical Council of America Declare Ideological War on the “Nose-Job Rabbi.” Oh, and the Post, the POST, what’ll THEY make of it when they catch wind of it? Probably some gem like: Jew to Nose: ‘Drop Dead.’ Or—or, no, I got it!— The Schnoz-shank Redemption: Jew Circumcises Nose, Escapes Psychological Prison of the Soul. And THEN, the TIMES! Oooh, OOH, the TIMES!, the Saturday “On Religion” column, the one that my parents will read—“ROOben, didya see the PAYpuh yestuhday?” Because only the heiliger TIMES is ‘THE paper.’” “ROOben, didya SEE it!? Didya see the front section of the paypuh? Theih was a WRITE-up on ya! Richie EISenstein told me HE saw it TOO!”—but the one that no one else under thirty-five will ever see, what’ll THEY say?!
She raised her eyebrows, indicating she didn’t quite understand and needed—well, wanted—me to explain.
It’s not as if she wouldn’t take the job if she found out what I was studying for, right? ‘No dogs, pets, or rabbis’—there weren’t any of those signs outside her office, right?
“Oh, you’re a RABBI? You want a nose job, rabbi? Huh? Yeah? Well, guess what, guess WHAT, rabbi—NO NOSE JOB FOR YOU! Come back, ONE MONTH!—actually, NEVER come back! You wanna be a rabbi, huh? So BE A RABBI!, don’t be some male MODEL! Who do you think you ARE?! Get the @#$% outta my office!”
“Not a pulpit rabbi, no…”
She furrowed her eyebrows, and now looked even more puzzled.
“Oh, NO? So you’re NOT gonna be a rabbi? WELL then, I’M sorry…PLEASE…you can come back in, I apologize…I’ll give you 15% off this nose-job—my treat—er, my apology—please accept it as my apology for that outburst, that was uncalled for.”
“More of a teacher-type of rabbi, I think…like a professor…”
A glint appeared in her eyes, as if she were struck by some profound insight, “a GREAT revelation on the human condition – YES! WHAT a discovery: there is more than one type of RABBI, just as there are different kinds of PEOPLE, and different kinds of DOCTORS! And I have discovered one of these RIGHT HERE, in my very own OFFICE! Oh, wait till the medical journals read about THIS!”, and her lips curled upwards into a sympathetic smile—or more of a smirk, I feared.
“Oh, I understand, of course!” she exclaimed. “You want to teach! My father was a teacher, so was my mother, for a little while…I come from a family of teachers, actually. My grandfather was a professor, he taught in the New York state university system…It’s a wonder how I ever became a doctor, they’re still trying to figure that one out!…I’m still trying to figure it out…”
Yeah, SURE…Not like you made a bad decision, going to medical school and having a lucrative plastic surgery business and what-not, I mean, GEEZ, look at this OFFICE for godssakes, it looks like a spa at the Four SEASONS….And you can afford the best shrinks in the CITY to help you deal with your guilt about not following in your family’s footsteps and your guilt about using your medical degree to get rich off of sixty-year-old Park Avenue heiresses who want to look twenty again—not that there’s anything WRONG with that, but that’s what the psychoanalysis is for, you don’t need ME to tell you that—
“The surgery, itself, typically takes two to three hours,” she continued, shifting back to the medical moneymaking matter at hand. “I prepare the case the day before, so the fee will be for the labor, for the hospital room, for the materials, and for my preparation of the case.”
‘Case’?!—WHAT “case”? Is my nose on TRIAL now, Doc? PLEASE, Doc, it’s bad enough that I’m here, but you don’t really have to JUDGE me for this, that’s my rabbi’s—er, MY—job!
And I’ve already had enough pre-trial motions to dismiss this “case,” don’t you think, Doc? Like that one my mother filed, that glorious, knife-twisting PEARL of a pre-trial motion to dismiss the “case”? Now, THAT one was astounding:
“ROOben, a NOSE-job?! Ah yah CRAZY?! ROOben, yow’uh so HANDsome! Ya have a WONduhful nose!…Yow’uh thinking about a nose-job? Really?…Didya evah see that psychiatrist Bruce recommended?…I thought you wuh gonna tow’ahk with Bruce? No?…Ya nevah towu’kd with Bruce?…Well…I really think ya should tow’uhk with Bruce…I think it’ll do ya a lot a good…and ROOben…it’s the nose GOwD gave you…it’s the nose I gave you…ya would really DO that? Yow’ah so ashamed of ME?! Oh, ROOben…some girl will love ya foh who you AAH…TOW’uhk to Bruce…REALLY…”
Motion to Dismiss the nose-job: rejected, on account of movant-mother unable to adduce sufficient evidence of women who have loved, or could ever love, a person with such a nose.
C’mon, Doc, I KNOW this is bad—I KNOW this nose has done some awful things, but…an INDICTMENT?! A full-blown TRIAL?!
“Your honor, on the charge of envy and hubris, we the jury find the nose…guilty.”
“On the charge of psychological contempt, we find the nose…guilty.”
“On the charge of causing the host to isolate himself socially and watch movies all alone on Friday night, we find the nose…fairly guilty.”
“But your HONOR, I left the TV on from BEFORE Friday night!, it was already ON from before Shabbos! And I never touched the volume or changed the channel, I SWEAR! I didn’t break Shabbos! And it was ‘Hannah & Her SISTERS’! It wasn’t like I was watching ‘GOODfellas’ or something really violent and GOYish!”
“LET the record show that the defendant ALSO viewed ‘MANHATTAN’ on Friday Night.”
“But your HONOR, it’s not like I saw ‘MEAN Streets’ on a Shabbos night, it was ‘MANHATTAN’! And I never even touched the REMOTE!, I SWEAR!, I never broke SHAB—!”
“SILENCE! The record shows you viewed ‘CASINO’ on TISHA B’av (the Jewish National Day of Mourning)!, which is even WORSE!”
“Dammit…But your HONOR, that movie is TOTALLY appropriate for Tishabuhv, it’s about a JEW!, ROTHstein! And he SUFFERS!, OH how he suffers, your Honor, he suffers TREMENDOUSly!, his WIFE is giving him tzorus and his daughter’s BOYfriend is giving him tzorus, and OH—it gets WORSE!—and then his best FRIEND starts up with his WIF—!”
“SILENCE! PLEASE!—may the jury continue…”
“On the charge of maliciously intending to inflict the host’s mind with extreme emotional stress and profound religious guilt, we find the nose…very guilty.”
“On the charge of recklessly endangering the host’s reputation and permanently damaging the host mind’s future capacity for any modicum of sound mental health, we find the nose…EXTREMELY guilty.”
“After the operation,” she continued, speaking with the easy fluidity of someone who’s given the same talk dozens of times, “we want someone to take you home—you can’t go home by yourself, okay?—and you’ll want to make sure you’re with someone who can, you know, wait on you during that first night. Can you have that?—will that be possible?”
“You mean, like a nurse?”
“Well, not a nurse, necessarily, but just someone who can make sure you’re icing and that your head is elevated. The first night is the worst. I’ll give you some painkillers and some other medication to help with the swelling, but if you keep it iced, you’ll be fine. Five days later you’ll come back here, I’ll remove the stitches, and you’ll be able to shower again.”
Wha—“shower again”?! I can’t SHOWER for five days after this? So not only am I in severe PAIN after this, not only do I need someone to WAIT on me and I can’t go HOME by myself, but I can’t SHOWER for five days?! And I need a nose-job ESCORT lest anyone ‘damage the nose’—will I have to wear a face-mask? Or a sign?—Do Not Touch: Wet Paint (and Fresh Nose-Job)? I have to STINK the whole time?! Great, just…GREAT, Doc, because…you KNOW…people who come in for nose-jobs are VERY well-adjusted people, you KNOW that, right? These are people who have NO problem doing without their nightly shower for a few nights, right?—people who are COMPLETELY at ease if they don’t wash their face with warm water every three hours? who are TOTALLY comfortable without washing their hands with soap for twenty seconds after touching another human being, RIGHT?
“Typically, continued Dr. Webster, crossing her legs in her chair and unwittingly making the outline of her slender legs distinctly visible, “people like to do it when they have a week or ten days off—they’ll have the operation on a Thursday, take Friday off, and then have the next week off so they can have a good stretch to recuperate.”
“So I couldn’t, say, Skype in to work? I have a couple of classes during the week.”
“Would they be able to see you?”
Huh?! I thought the whole point of the nose-job was so that I wouldn’t MIND people looking at me anymore! If—oh, right, the Eyes Wide Shut face-mask I’ll have to wear after the surgery…they wouldn’t want to see THAT—those poor, sensitive rabbinical students, those fragile Jewish souls, God forbid they’re exposed to someone who’s had the knife taken to a bodily appendage….
“No, it would be so I’d just see them.”
Yes, I will spare them from seeing the freak, not to worry!
“And are these intense classes? How long are they?”
“Oh, an hour, an hour and a half, max…but not so intense.”
What, the nose can’t take the heat? Too much Talmud and the nose has HAD it, it’s DONE for?!
“Ok. I only ask because during the first week, there’s still some swelling, and you may not be able to focus on anything too intense for over an hour.”
“Ah, ok.” Of course—the price of beauty! The new nose makes you prettier but stupider. So you’ll have a great nose, but now you won’t be able to focus. You’re sacrificing brains for beauty: the oldest wager in the book. But do you really want to make this sacrifice? Look at Socrates—he was a real ugly guy, and things turned out pretty well for him…I think. And how’bout Aesop? Didn’t he become such a great storyteller because he was so ugly that he couldn’t rely on his looks, so instead he had to come up with stories to get what he wanted? And didn’t Confucius become as smart as he did because when he was growing up he was so ugly that no girls would look at him and since he wasn’t distracted by girls he was able to turn all his attention to studying and trying to change the world? If they had nose-jobs three-thousand years ago and Confucius had gotten one, it would’ve been a disaster! If Confucius was partying and sleeping around instead of doling out his wisdom to the world, who would there’of been to preach that children should honor their parents?! Who would’ve taught the world ancestor worship?! What other big-nosed people would there have been to teach the world the wonders of parental guilt-tripping? Oh…right…
“And do you wear contacts?”
“No.” What, this nose will affect my EYES?
“Oh, it’s a MIRACLE—that nose was so big I could barely SEE!, THANKyou, Doc!, THANKyou, Jesus!—I once was blind, but now I can see!”
“Those are your glasses that you wear all the time?”
“Yeah, no contacts…definitely not.”
“And there’s no possibility you could wear contacts for a little while—a few weeks—after the surgery?”
“Umm…it’s probably not a good idea…one time I tried it and, you know—the whole thing with sticking my finger in my eye? I was…um…slightly uncomfortable with that….yeah…so…no contacts, no. Outta the question.”
“Do you wear baseball caps?”
“Yeah, sure…usually outside…especially when it’s sunny.”
“Ok…well, I ask because you can’t keep anything on the nose during the first six weeks after the operation, because it could affect the healing of the nose and leave it permanently disfigured. So for people who wear glasses all the time, we make them wear a baseball cap or some kind of hat, and give them a device that attaches to the glasses to keep the glasses raised up so that they’re not touching the nose…if you don’t wear contacts, you’ll have to wear that for six weeks…at least six weeks.”
Wow…so not only will I have this nose-job that everyone’ll be talking about and giving me grief about, NOT only will I be the laughingstock of my community—‘hey, look, it’s the nose-job rabbi!’—but I’ll be sitting there in Talmud class with a baseball hat and some Clockwork Orange contraption on my face, looking like Hannibal @#$%ing LECTER for six weeks! And after ALL that there’s STILL no guarantee that it’ll be successful?! So you’re telling me that even if I order the DiCaprio I STILL may end up with the Salinger?! And I could have the SAME Salinger I ALWAYS had except NOW my Salinger has PERMANENT SCARRING?! Permanent NERVE DAMAGE?! Hematomas and HEMORRhaging and the dreaded deviated SEPTUM?! No!, et tu, Doc?!, not Septumus Afrikanus Augustus Caesar, Doc, NO!, not my Septumus!
And the Salinger might now have trouble smelling, trouble BREATHING?! And it could still be the same Salinger, except it could actually look WORSE than the ORIGINAL Salinger?! AND, now it’ll be giving me OTHER long-term emotional and psychological scars I never HAD, like I need any more of THOSE?! Long-term religious guilt for having unnecessary surgery on a perfectly functioning body part?! Long-term guilt for spending that kind of money on a nose instead of giving it to the local UJA? On second thought…maybe Confucius SHOULD’VE had a nose-job…would’ve done him a world of good…
“So, Rabbi Goettisheim,” said Dr. Webster, “I think we’re just about ready for your rhinoplasty now, yes?”