Tom Schreck: Out Cold

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Tom Schreck Out Cold
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    Out Cold
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Tom Schreck

Out Cold


"Duffy…Duffy…do you know where you are?" Smitty said.

"Shit, right on the chin. Did you see his head whip, around?

Shit," some other guy said.

I went to sit up and felt my head slosh around like a bowl filled with some sort of goo.

"No, no, no, don't try to sit up. Lie back down," Smitty said. They pushed me back down, but they did it gently and I didn't resist. I knew I was in a gym with painted red walls. I heard the sounds of the gym though they were off a bit and the place had a hush to it. Things were happening and I knew what was going on-sort of any way. I felt removed from it.

"I want to get to the hospital. Which one should I take him to?" Smitty asked, but he wasn't talking to me. He was talking about me.

I sat up straight fast and the blood rushed to my head with a gigantic throb. It wasn't painful in a sharp, burning pain. It was dull and livable.

"Whoa, don't get up," Smitty said.

I didn't like the sound of hospital. I got up from the sitting position to show everyone I was all right.

My legs buckled and I staggered into the ropes. I fell backward into them and went halfway through the bottom two. Smitty sprang up and hugged me awkwardly.

"Duff-shit. Somebody get me the stool." He sounded panicked. Smitty never sounded panicked.

My legs must've been on the same circuit as my mouth, because I kept trying to say something and my mouth wouldn't move. Things felt murky. Around the ring, guys starred at me. Out of the meshed conversations I heard something like; "Did you see that fuckin' hook?"

My answer would've been, "No."


I sat at my desk drinking the brown stuff the staff at Jewish Unified Services referred to as coffee. A Monday and I had five back-to-back appointments this morning, because I had to catch up. A few sick days last week to go to Gleason's Gym and spar had put me behind.

I went to see Trina, the office manager.

"Who's my 9:15?" I asked. Before I could get an entire sentence out of my mouth, I tripped over something. I lost my balance a little and banged into the wall.

"Walk much?" Trina said. "Karl is your 9:15."

"Oh, very nice. I almost do serious bodily harm to myself and you find it funny."

"It was pretty funny."

I looked at the box that used to contain a case of Campbell's Chicken and Stars soup. Now it had cans of various meat and fish in it.

"The Mission looking for canned goods? It's August," I said.

"It's for the soldiers oversees."

I looked in the box and saw cans of Spam, sardines, and Vienna sausages.

"Apparently, fatty foods loaded with salt are going to help the war effort."

"No, it's for the soldiers to have snack foods, and canned goods keep the best. They're calling it the 'Snack Attack'," Trina said. She checked the clinic's answering machine.

"Have you ever eaten Spam? Wait a minute. Can you even say that to a woman and still be considered a gentleman?"

"When did you start considering yourself a gentleman?" Trina asked.

"You doubt my chivalry? By the way, who's my 9:15?"

"I already told you-are you gonna keep asking me all morning?" She feigned annoyance.

"C'mon, it's Monday," I said.

"Yeah, maybe you shouldn't take stupid pills for breakfast on Mondays."

"Hmmm… and you work in human services…"

"No, I'm the secretary."

I went to the files to get Karl's chart. His last name is Greene and it wasn't near the 'Gs'.

"Does Claudia have Karl's chart for signatures?"

"Duffy, you got that file fifteen minutes ago."

"That's right. I need more coffee," I didn't remember anything about getting the file. That felt a little weird. So did my head.

I got knocked out for the first time Saturday afternoon. I've been boxing my whole life and I've never been knocked unconscious. I've had my nose broken a bunch of times, I've been cut, and I have had my bell rung, but I never went out for a few minutes. It happens and it happens to the best fighters. I'm not one of the best fighters and have almost as many losses as wins. I sparred with a heavyweight contender all last week and made an extra thousand bucks. I used eighteen-ounce gloves and he used fourteen, which is bullshit, but when they pay you to be cannon fodder, bullshit comes with the territory. The buzzer on my phone jarred me out of my reverie. Trina announced Karl was here for his appointment. Karl was a tough session when I felt fresh and rested, but on an under-caffeinated Monday morning equaled torture. This was only his second time in, but his first had been a little, let's say, out of the ordinary.

"Mornin' Karl," I said and extended my hand.

"Yeah, that's what you'd like wouldn't you?" Karl said with a laugh. It wasn't a happy laugh, though I couldn't say if he smiled or sneered because his Michael Jackson style surgical mask hid his expression.

"Whatyamean Karl?"

"Don't play games with me. I get what's going on, you know."

I wasn't sure if he did actually. Karl and reality parted company sometime between high school and a short stint in the Marine Corps. That stint included a trip to Iraq.

"Well, whatya say we head into the counseling room, then?"

"I'll follow you," Karl said.

I think they call it paranoid schizophrenia. Karl recently hit his mid twenties and had started getting delusional a few years back, which is just about the typical age schizophrenia starts to develop. I'm guessing dealing with Parris Island, wacky military discipline, and RPGs, IEDs, and whatnot might have sped up the process a little bit. I didn't know much more because the Veteran's Administration, that super efficient federal organization, had yet to send me any info on Karl.

"How's the week been?" I tried to be casually therapeutic.

"The week has been just fine-for the NWO."

"The NWO? The angry rap group with the inappropriate name?"

"Don't play coy, Dombrowski."

"Coy, me?" My head started to throb. I couldn't tell if it was from Saturday or from Karl.

"New World Order," Karl said and snickered.

"Not sure I'm down with what the NWO is about there, Karl."

"Yeah-and the World Trade center collapsed when two hijacked planes flew into it. Ha! You people kill me!"

"Ah, Karl, have you been taking your meds?"

"That's what you want, isn't it? That's what they've all wanted since I enlisted. Keeps me in the program."

"The program?"

"Oh, you don't know about the program, ha! When did they get you?"

I didn't remember getting into the program. I did remember Karl was just about due for a psych consult and I thought maybe we could put him number one with a bullet on the waiting list.

"Karl, how's your drug use been lately?" I said, temporarily trying to steer the session away from all things conspiratorial.

"The drugs have kept me a slave at times, but it's a slavery I welcome compared to the other choices," Karl said.

"What does that mean, Karl? The part about slavery?"

"As long as you're hooked they can control you. Shit, why do they introduce you to the stuff? It's just another way for the man to get you under his thumb."

"But Karl, it's your choice to use drugs, isn't it?"

"It is now, but it wasn't then," Karl said and punctuated it with a sneer.


"Never mind, Dombrowski," Karl looked me straight in the eye. "Never mind."

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