All my life, people have been asking, “What the Hell is wrong with Salmi?”
When I was three, I slashed my sister, ten years older, with a butcher’s knife for putting garlic sausage in my ice cream and laughing at my disgust. She should have known better.
Like everyone else, my sister was convinced that I was going to be born a mongoloid.
Years before giving birth to me, my mother had a nervous breakdown. They electro-shocked her. She was never ‘all there’ again. They put her on thorazine. They did not bother to take her off the antipsychotic when my old man knocked her up for the fifth time. Those of you who think you know me will be thinking to yourselves, ‘That explains a lot of things.’ Perhaps you’re right.
All my life, people have been asking, “What the Hell is wrong with Salmi?”
All my life, I’ve seen those looks. Sometimes people are perplexed. Sometimes they are shocked. Sometimes they are horrified.
Teachers, cops, coaches, judges, journalists, editors… Hell, even friends, have asked themselves and each other, “What the Hell is wrong with Salmi?”
II’d never asked the question myself until last Friday night. When my blood sugar actually went up, a bit, after I was given an injection of insulin, I finally asked, “What the… ” well, you know.
My rock ‘n’ roll doctor raised an eyebrow when he saw the reading. “That’s not supposed to happen,” he said, nonchalantly. Apparently, he was not an expert in the field (this having transpired at an ER), so he pulled out his phone and made a quick call. I assumed he was consulting with an expert, and not checking on the score of the Montenegro vs England World Cup qualifier. I assumed my assumption was correct when he he noticed a very concerned Marina paying attention to the gibberish he was speaking, paused from his parlez, and asked us to go back to the waiting room.
Marina and I were both tired and hungry. We’d had long days, neither of us had eaten much, and the only end in sight was THE END. The waiting room was standing-room-only. A dozen or so youngish folk had rolled into the ER. None of them appeared to be any worse off than myself, so I didn’t think twice about pouncing on a seat when one opened up. Marina sat on my lap. We waited. And watched.
At a 45 degree angle to us, about four feet away, there sat a curious troika. I assumed they were husband, wife (very elderly) and daughter (about my age?). The old guy looked a lot like Benny Hill’s sidekick
The wrinkly little runt was jabbering with the people sitting next to us, who smelled of mothballs. I asked Marina what they were blabbling about. “I’m not listening. I’m not going to.” She was alone in thoughts, content as possible, given the circumstances, to have me wrapped around her. I let her be.
I couldn’t blame Marina for tuning out. One of the things I really like about this place is that my mind is not invaded by missiles of meaningless gossip and small talk. It’s easy to tune out a language you do not understand. I don’t hear here. Some days, I don’t even see them. Should this continue, there will surely a come day when they don’t even exist. But, on this life-changing night I was alert and attentive. I watched. Oft times, you’ll learn more about people by watching them, than you will by listening to them.
Benny Hill’s buddy was getting a bit agitated by something. He was being ignored by the people next to us. I assumed they got tired of his ramblings. Perhaps he, like my mother, was not all there. The old guy looked around. Searching for someone else to engage with? When his gaze fell upon others, they averted their eyes. He fidgeted. He squirmed. Finally, he did what knew he was going to do – he reached for a smoke.
Smoking is a mandatory course in the Montenegrin education system. Kids are taught to smoke in elementary schools. When, in an attempt to appease the sanctimonious nanny-staters of the European Union, the country passed a nation wide smoking ban, the reaction was to flood the country with ashtrays bearing the universal no-smoking symbol
The younger female gave the old guy a contemptuous look. He didn’t give a fuck. She attempted to dissuade him from lighting up by pointing at the no smoking signs and clamoring in an agitated tone. He didn’t give a fuck. He fired up the little white slaver. No one gave a fuck. Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me; fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me; fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!Killing (himself) in the name of… what, exactly?
Marina hates tobacco smoke. She didn’t object when she noticed that he was going to light up. She knew she’d be alone. Marina knows smoke does not bother Montenegrins. She’s a smart girl. And, after five years with me, she’s learning to be more assertive. So, when the old guy lit up, Marina went to the double doors and opened them.
It was windy. There was a clod, hard rain falling. Montenegrins think the world is going to end whenever the thermometer dips below 20 degrees. They disappear from the streets when it rains. If you open a window on a public bus, they chide you because they believe that their heads will explode as a result of the breeze (I’ve never seen a convertible in this country). The reaction was swift and violent. The sugar-coated sissies howled their indignation. Marina stood her ground. She pointed at the no smoking sign, then at the old guy. No one could argue the point.
Although he said nothing, the old dude was clearly livid with Marina. His women folk approved fully of my wife’s gambit and signified their support by nodding their heads. The crowd grumbled. I laughed, delightedly. The clock ticked. The wind blew in through the door. The crowd started to transform into a mob. An increasingly agitated mob. A possibly dangerous mob. The old guy showed indifference (I couldn’t tell if it was feigned, or genuine). I laughed harder.
A nurse poked her head out of the examining room, assessed the close to frantic scene, everyone pointing alternately at Marina at her wide open doors, and the smoking old fool.
The nurse walked over to the old guy and asked, politely, that he extinguish his stink-stick. The old fool waved his hand in the air – fuck off, all of you. The mob grumbled. The wind blew. I laughed. The nurse looked pissed. She pumped up the volume.
I could not tell if her turn was feigned or genuine, but that didn’t matter because this was a great show (I’ll never understand why people find scripted ‘high’ drama more compelling than the shit that goes on all around them, every day).
The old fool was not intimidated by the nurse. He waved his hand in the air – be gone, woman. And just like that, she was gone, back into the examining room. But not for long.
The nurse came back out with the rock ‘n’ roll doctor. He had no time for this shit. He had people to examine, lives to save. He laid down the law, pointing at the door. The old man recognized the authority of the room’s alpha male. He went to the door. He obeyed the law, but showed his defiance by throwing his smoke out and returning to his seat, rather than puffing it with the doors closed behind him.
The old guy made me think of Marina’s father. A couple years ago, he lost a lung to cancer. Two months after he got out of the hospital, he started smoking again. Every time he comes over to visit he pulls a smoke out and makes like he’s going to light it. It’s a game that always ends with Marina, the alpha of our household, laying down the law, and him puffing on the balcony., It’s a game he always loses. but he insists on playing anyway.
But the old guy’s performance made me think of me, too – fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me; fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me; fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!
I didn’t know how it came to be that I was in an emergency room that night but I figured it had something to do with some unhealthy habits of mine. I’m not stupid – I know smoking and drinking too much is bad for me, but I do so, anyway.
What the Hell is wrong with Salmi? Killing (himself) in the name of… what, exactly?
And now, on this cold, rainy, life-changing night in a Balkans ER, with no Albanians selling life-saving organs outside the hospital, my body had completely ignored a shot of insulin that could have turned a lollipop into a lightning bolt, begging the second side of this double-edged, vexing question:
What the Hell is wrong with salmi?