Her grin was 100 percent institutional: barely functioning and poorly painted. Her "May I help you" hung in the air, unfinished, waiting to be completed by a phrase like, "... light your hair on fire" or "... stop breathing."
"My name's Woodiwiss," I told her. "I'm scheduled for surgery."
That seemed to cheer her up.
I was assigned to a semiprivate room, meaning a semisheer curtain separated my semicomfortable bed from a semitolerable roomie. He introduced himself as Anfernee.
"Like Anfernee Hardaway?," I asked.
"Unh-unh," he said, "like Anfernee Pukkins. You know, fwub da moobie Thycho." Later, I found out he was in for a broken nose.
Myself, I was in for a personality transplant. Of the non-elective variety. The personality I'd lived with for so long was putting me at risk -- i.e., people spit on me so often I was always damp and coming down with a bad chill. Fortunately, the transplant was covered by my health insurance. Or I thought it was. It wasn't until later that I discovered my insurance would only pick up the cost of the ego and superego; I had to take care of the id out of my own pocket.
My surgeon, Dr. Sting (like the singer, not his given name), stopped by in the afternoon. He explained how my case was dependent on a strong, healthy personality becoming available for harvesting. He suggested that toward that end, I pray as hard as I could for a popular college athlete or spiritual leader to die very soon. I informed him I'd been doing that every day of my adult life anyway. He asked if I had any questions, and I took the opportunity to have him explain why every hospital meal includes a dish of lime Jell-O. All in all, his manner inspired confidence but, at the same time, I felt certain his Armani scrubs were going to wind up on my bill.
That night I had a dream. Its shallow symbolism makes it unworthy of retelling.
The next day was one of waiting. As was the one after that and the one after that, etc. Turns out that, deficient as my personality was, other, more critical cases kept leapfrogging past me on the recipient list. Bob Costas. Three clerks from the Ohio DMV. The French. And let me say this, I want to see Hillary Clinton with a new "identity" as much as the next person, but when its your own selfhood that's put on hold, well, you try not to be selfish.
The nurses did their best to keep my spirits up. Mostly, this was achieved by looking the other way while I cruised the cosmetic surgery wards as a Breast Implant Quality Control Inspector.
On Day 11, Dr. Sting came around to say the operation was a go. He said the personality of a man in Medford, Ore., who had succumbed at the age of 97 was on ice and on the way. His understanding was that the man had been a truly decent person, adored by his children and grandchildren, respected by his neighbors. Less than 24 hours later, my body rejected it.
I'm so cold and damp.