Rod Henderson woke Thursday morning with a terrible headache. He couldn't remember drinking anything the night before except some lemonade because it was so hot. And he didn't put his usual Bacardi Light in the lemonade because he'd taken an aspirin and gone to bed early rather than his usual—staying up to watch Jimmy Kimmel. Rod went to bed early because that afternoon he had a root canal in a left upper molar and two fillings on the right. When he finally got up, Rod found himself dizzy and unable to walk, holding onto the bedpost, just trying to get to the bathroom where he had some more aspirin.
Two aspirin and two cups of coffee later, Rod looked out his kitchen window at nothing in particular, trying to figure out if he could go to work. As his headache faded, it came back to him. Rod began to remember a night of images: e-mails, text messages, and sexting that he couldn't help but read, marching across his mind like rows of gravestones. It was all too familiar. Rod worked for a large retail firm and was on the receiving end of the many e-mails from angry customers. He had to respond to in a kind, polite, way and still be able to brush most of them off without giving away any of the company's secrets. Occasionally, an exchange of e-mails would require him to ship the exchange on up to a higher level, but, the more he could avoid that, the better his job security. There was always talk about outsourcing to some English-speaking foreign country or automating the whole process, that made Rod think of doublespeak. A place where disgruntled customers can get circular answers forever. Usually, after a couple of bad exchanges, the customer would pick up the phone and call some other poor fool on company lines.
Henderson needed this stupid job because six years earlier when he was 19, working framing houses, he slipped and fell, setting off his nail gun into his eye socket. He didn't even feel it at first, until a fellow worker, Randy Horner, who had seen him slip and drop the gun, yelled out, "Hey, Rodney! (Henderson had always insisted that everyone use his given name, Rodney) Are you all right?
"I'm fine!" Rod had remembered yelling back at Randy while picking up his nail gun and turning to face him.
Horner took one look him and saw the blood running down Rodney's cheek. "No, you're not. There's blood running down your face!"
Rod remembered feeling the blood running down his cheek and how they drove him to the emergency room flying through red lights and speeding all the way, only then to have to wait three hours while the nurses took paperwork and he got in line for getting x-rays. John Stevens, his boss, slammed his fist on the counter, trying to explain that Rodney had a nail in his head and was in mortal danger. But John’s ranting was to no avail. The nurse in charge had to come out and tell him to calm down. Stevens paced the room for two hours and finally announced, "Crap, we're burning daylight. Randy, you stay here with Rodney. I'm taking Hank and getting back to the job. I'll be back just after sunset."
Except for the initial bleeding and a little swelling and redness around his eye, Rodney was feeling okay even with a little headache that was starting to creep up his forehead. When they finally took him into x-ray, Rodney was still feeling all right except for that annoying headache. After completing a CT scan of Rodney's brain, and waiting another hour for the neurologist and neurosurgeon to look at the results, the doctors concluded that, after a number of balance and vision tests, Rodney could go home, take a pill for his headache, and be ready to call 911 if there was swelling, pain, bleeding, or other bad signs. The way the neurosurgeon explained it. "Where that nail is located, in the visual cortex, any attempt at removal could cause further damage and bleeding—you could lose that eye. Go home for a few days, and if nothing happens and the headache goes away, we won't operate. If you do any kind of problem at all, here is my direct cell number” (The doctor handed Rodney a prescription for pain pills with his phone number on it).
Rodney only took a couple of pills before the swelling went down. After a week at home with no pay and John Stevens calling him every day asking him to get back to work, Rodney returned. As a joke, the guys started calling him "Rod" for the nail (rod) forever lodged in his head. They even dared to call him, "Lightning Rod." That got him chasing one guy or another through the sticks until John stopped them. However he tried, they wouldn't call him by his right name. He just had to accept it. Rod was unsure of using the nail gun after that accident, but he had to. He was so cautious he slowed down production. John was constantly on him about it. "Damn it, Rod, get the lead out. We've got to finish this one today. I can't afford you to be on vacation on the job." Finally, about five weeks after the first accident, Rod slipped on wet wood again. This time it was better—or worse—depending how one looks at it. He ran the nail directly into his femur three inches above the knee. The pain was excruciating as he let out a scream, dropped the nail gun and bent over. Once again, everyone dropped what they were doing and ran to Rod's aid.
"Are you all right?" Was John Stevens's patented response as he climbed up on the framing to reach Rodney's side.
"No!" Rodney screamed out in pain. "Does this look all right to you! I think I broke my leg!" He was holding onto his thigh just above the wound, his eyes not three inches away, staring at a little black spot with drops of blood oozing out of one side, staining his jeans bright red. "I can't move it."
After wrapping the leg tightly in Rod's sweatshirt, the crew was, once again, rushing off to the emergency room. This time, with Rod screaming in pain as they carried him in through the revolving door, orderlies appeared out of nowhere with a gurney and carried him off to x-ray. The nail had gone clean through his femur, splintering it. It took two hours of surgery to remove the nail and tie the splintered bone back together. To John's dismay, the doctors told Rodney to stay off the leg three months and he had to go on Worker's Compensation. Not only now was John Stevens shorthanded, he knew his insurance premium would increase. "What's the world coming to?" He muttered, showing his disgust.
As part of his rehabilitation, the doctors decided to send Rod to a psychiatrist. Dr. Abraham Feingold's office occupied a good portion of the 10th floor of the Sloan Building. It was a long wait, but Rod didn't mind. The view was fantastic and video games weren't bad either.
There was no couch. Rod was disappointed. He took a comfortable armchair instead. Propping his crutches against its side.
"Rodney Henderson. Can we shorten that? Which would you prefer, Rod, or Henderson? You can call me, Abe."
"I guess Rod. Everybody else is calling me that."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I used to insist on Rodney, but now everyone calls me Rod. But, let's not overanalyze it."
"You're right. We're not here for that. I understand that you have a nail in your head, and, recently, you ran another nail through your femur. And that's why I see you in a cast with crutches. How does that make you feel, Rod?"
"Makes me feel like shit. Not only have I got that annoying nail in my brain, I've got my leg out of commission for 3 to 4 months. I'm on Worker's Compensation and staring at the walls. That would make anyone crazy, wouldn't it you?"
"We're not here about me, Rod, but I see your point. And I sense some hostility."
"Hostility! You're damn right I'm hostile! I want to get back to work earning my pay! Sorry, I get a little upset sometimes the way things are going."
"That's okay for now, I guess. Rod, I'll see you again in a month. In the meantime, try to think of work you can do where you won't have accidents like the ones you have experienced framing houses." Feingold handed Rodney a note for his secretary, smiled broadly and waved him off. Dr. Feingold's secretary gave Rod a cut out finger card with a string tied around it. On the back was an appointment for precisely the same time one month hence. The attention to detail was weird, but comforting.
Rod showed up at the job site a few times during his recuperation. The guys were glad to see him, but John seemed annoyed that he was interrupting work. Finally, when he got the go-ahead to go back to work, John said he wouldn't take him back—"Too accident prone."
Word seemed to have gotten out about him. Everywhere Rod went he was turned down for a job. Rod Henderson began to think that maybe they were finding out about his trips to the shrink. Whatever it was, jobs weren't coming his way. Finally, he signed up with one of those temporary employment agencies. Mall Crazy needed bodies for their customer service center and he was hired as a temp. Like he told Abe, he wasn't crazy about talking to people about their problems with Mall Crazy's products, but there was no other game in town and he had to send his sick mother some money from every paycheck.
This headache and this morning was the last straw.
"Hello, Dr. Feingold's office. May I help you?"
"Say, can I see Abe, ah… Dr. Feingold right away?"
"Dr. Feingold isn't seeing patients on Friday. It's his day off. I'm afraid you'll have to make an appointment for early next week... let's see… there is an opening Tuesday..."
Rod got angry. He was doing that a lot lately. "I don't give a rat's ass where he is, I've got to talk to him now before I go crazy!"
"You don't have to use foul language with me, Mr. Henderson. I'm just doing my job. Dr. Feingold doesn't want to be disturbed playing golf on Fridays."
"Playing golf! I've got a crisis and my shrink is unavailable because he's playing golf! Where's that little dweeb at. I'll show him how to play golf!"
"I'm sorry, I can't tell you. Threatening him and me won't do. Should I call the police?"
"That won't be necessary. Goodbye." Rod hung up the phone and paced the room, trying to figure out what to do next. He decided to take matters into his own hands.
There was only one exclusive country club in town, Royal Oaks, about 5 miles out on the river on 57. Rod left his apartment, hopped in his car, images hammering his brain, and drove out of town. He spotted Feingold's Mercedes in the parking lot and knew he was at the right place. Henderson strode through the front door of the clubhouse like he owned the place, but was stopped by the doorman.
"Do you have a membership?" The doorman asked.
"No, but I've got to see Dr. Feingold right away."
"I'm sorry, but you can't see him. Only members are allowed out on the course."
"Then I'll wait for him. Is your bar open?"
"I'm sorry, Sir, but I'm afraid you'll have to leave. Only members are allowed on the premises."
"Premises schemises. This is an emergency! I have to see him now."
The doorman was on his cell phone calling security when Rod left. As soon as he got outside, Rod sprinted for the links. Crossing several fairways and surprising golfers as he went, he finally spotted Feingold with the foursome on the 18th green. "Abe! Dr. Feingold! I need to see you!" Rod yelled, surprising the men taking their putts.
Dr. Feingold put up his hand as if to direct traffic and stopped Rod at the edge of the green. "Now, now, Rod Henderson! Calm down. Please wait over there while we finish this round. I'll see you in a moment."
Rod stood there by the green, watching the men finish their putts, his head full of images he didn't understand. Abe left his friends and joined Rod. "Come with me, Henderson. After I change clothes, we'll talk." Two security guards came around the corner… fast. Once again, Feingold held up his hand and stopped them. "He's with me." Was all he said to them, but that was enough. The guards evaporated as quickly as they’d come.
Rod followed Dr. Feingold into the locker room where Abe changed into street shoes and stowed his clubs. They retired to the lounge. "What's your poison?" Abe asked.
"That's right, you construction guys are beer drinkers." Abe ordered a dry martini and the beer Rod requested. He motioned for them to go to a quiet corner where they could talk.
"Now, young man. What problem is so important that you have to come out here and interrupt my Friday golfing?"
"I think I'm going crazy."
"Crazy? Now, that's an interesting concept. Just what makes you think you're going crazy?"
"I'm hearing voices... No, not really voices... I see text messages in my inner eye, and they are driving me crazy.
"Just what kind of text messages are you seeing?"
"You know, like about three o'clock this morning, George, the married guy upstairs, was sexting a girlfriend. It was pretty explicit. At the same time. A guy from across the street that I don't even know was sexting his homo girlfriend. Dex, a teenager in my building, was sexting his girlfriend Trisha. Right now, some guy with the handle, Squirt, out on the golf course, is texting his wife, telling her that he will be late because he is helping a friend out this evening, when he is actually going to meet a girlfriend that he was texting earlier to make arrangements to fool his wife."
"You aren't crazy, young man, you're just wireless. It sounds like you're picking up WiFi. The only way you could get away from it would be to go out somewhere in the wilderness where there are no local area networks. You know, like the wilderness. On the other hand, you might consider it a gift." A big smile came over the crafty old gentleman's face.
"What do you mean, a gift?" Right now, it's driving me crazy observing all these people doing bad things in my mind."
"I could give you exercises that would allow you to block it out when you wanted to sleep. And, if that doesn't work, you could have someone wire you a electronic field device that would block out the WiFi frequency. In the meantime, think about changing occupations.
You did say you hated working for Mall Crazy... right?"
"Yes, I did say that I hated that job. What you have in mind?"
"There is any number of ways you can go. You could create an act that would go over well in Vegas. You could work for the police solving crimes by monitoring suspects. You could help the CIA by monitoring spy activity. That would be exciting. I know some people that could use your ability for the benefit of the country. There's a guy I used to know in Bethesda..."
"Hey, while we were talking it disappeared. It just disappeared! Just now."
"Did you have anything to drink last night?"
"No booze. I just had some lemonade before I went to bed."
"I guess the beer must have neutralized the effect of the lemonade. Otherwise, you're going to have to have a lot of root canals." Abe laughed at his own joke. "There is a way we can test it."
"How's that? I'm enjoying not having all those messages flashing behind my eyes."
"Let me buy you another drink." Abe got up and went over to the bar. He bought a margarita. When he got back, Abe said, "Here, try this."
Rod sipped the margarita. It was refreshing on that hot day. Before long, the messages came flooding back. Abe was watching him intently to see if it worked. Rod nodded, "Yes." And they knew they were on the right track. As a test, Rod tried another beer. Before long, the messages went away again. Just as Abe had expected, it was possible to turn the gift on and off.
"How does it feel to be gifted rather than crazy?" Rod's shrink asked.
"It's going to take some gettering used to, but I think I'm going to liker it." Rod slurred. "Let's have another drinker..."