Sunday was a beautiful day, but my blood felt thick and sluggish. I had no energy, no oomph. And I couldn’t think straight. I felt like a bobble-head guy – no circulation above my neck. “Just relax,” I kept telling myself. Sundays are a day of rest, right?
But I kept looking out the window and watching the gentle breeze blow golden leaves from summer’s trees. The world looked beautiful. I wanted to get out of the house, take a walk, get my blood moving again. Recover my élan vital. My wife was busy with a sewing project, so I decided to take a solo stroll in the Wissahickon woods. I left the house and drove to Bell’s Mill Road, my favorite spot for entering the park.
But hordes of other folks had got there before me and both parking lots were full. I still felt like I had the metabolism of a Galapagos tortoise. I needed to get out of my shell of lethargy. So I continued on to the gym in Roxborough. I’d use one of the cardio machines – start easy and work my way to a rapid heart rate till I felt better. Within five minutes I felt good, not creaky at all. Soon I reached my beats-per-minute goal and cruised through the rest of the session – 45 minutes. Then I eased down. My happy blood was flying happily through my body, carrying happiness and good will to every cell of my happy self. After a brief after-stretch, I left the gym. Aaahhh!
Then I made my mistake.
Instead of going home, I went into the pharmacy to see how my blood pressure was. I walked up to the far corner and took off my sweatshirt at the waiting bench. But what’s this? The old blood pressure machine was gone. In its place was a weird, modern device with a bench and a TV touch screen. I had never used one before, but it looked simple. Under “What do you want to do?” I touched the button for “Take my blood pressure.”
“Welcome to the Higi (pronounced “higgy”) Station,” said a cheerful female android from within. Let’s call her “Miss Higgy.” Filled with good will, eagerness and pep, she quickly followed with, “Let’s get started.” Huh? Females usually say, “Are you done yet”? to me. Before I could recover from this mild shock, the screen displayed two simplified gender icons, such as you see on airport lavatory doors. She said, “Are you a guy or a gal”? I guess I tapped the right icon because she immediately asked me, “When were you born”? I told her, deciding to be frank from the start of our time together. Then she told me to place my left arm in the cuff and “turn your palm to the sky.” Before I could tell her she had a gift for metaphor, she said, “Relax and breathe normally.” Oh boy, I thought. I smiled to the camera eye above the screen. That was when she began to squeeze my arm.
I must have flinched. “Relax,” she said. Then the screen rolled a commercial such as one sees on TV during Jeopardy! Two middle-aged guys are at a golf driving range and about to hit some balls, but one of them winces and says he can’t go on. His buddy expresses sympathy and says Oh Well they can get together another time. Drat! The afflicted fellow has shingles. They hurt. They’re awful. Fortunately, shingles prevention shots are available right here at the pharmacy.
My blood pressure began rising as I thought about all the things that can go wrong with the human body. I looked heavenward, but there was a second monitor on top of the machine playing the same dreadful commercial. No escape. I looked away. I wanted to relax. Clear your mind, I told myself, breath naturally. I looked to the right side of Miss Higgy. And saw a fire extinguisher on the wall. Fire extinguisher – that’s for when one’s house goes up in flames, right? Wait, don’t think that. I looked to the other side. Storage boxes of rubber gloves. Ugh. Nothing good ever happens when someone is wearing rubber gloves. The commercial wouldn’t shut up. I searched Miss Higgy’s facade for a speaker I could disconnect or cover with my hand. No. I vowed to ignore it. “Nah ah ah” the machine seemed to say. Squeeze, she took a fresh grasp on my arm, right below the threshold of pain. It reminded me of a video I once saw on YouTube where a python swallowed a crocodile.
No, don’t think about violence, I told myself. I closed my eyes, tried to clear my mind. The pharmacy’s speakers were vibrating a familiar song. I listened, hoping it held true that “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.” But no! They were playing that damned song they played in the 80s when I and some gal were breaking up. What a mess that was. By now my blood pressure was really escalating.
“Almost done,” Miss Higgy said, “keep relaxing.” Then she chirped, “Okay, we’re done. Here are your results.” I was by then wild-eyed with nervousness and anticipation. I looked at the screen. A bad number appeared. It suggested I should go curl under a bush until the earth saw fit to recycle me.
Oh my goodness, I thought as I eased my arm from the constrictor, that was some awful ride. Restless earlier today, I did cardio at the gym and felt great. But then I met Miss Higgy. Serves me right, I thought. I turned to her one good eye and said, “I already had my shingles shot. Last year.”
“That’s it, then,” I thought she said. I staggered out, another 1980s break-up song coming out of the store’s speakers as I left. My blood turned back to sludge thicker than this morning’s.
Moral: Leave well enough alone, stay away from talking machines, and never, ever, seek objective proof of your happiness.
Hugh Gilmore is the author of the Kindle Top-100 memoir “My Three Suicides: A Success Story.” Also available in paperback wherever fine books are sold.