Driver’s Side Airbag #34
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BELOW THE PIER by M.J. Euringer

There was no one to help a broke hooker in labor ... not this night, not below this pier. Ellen had lost track of how many hours she’d been down here. It seemed like days -- and she ... so goddamn ignorant‚ so helpless.

All she could recall was her television baby know-how ... towels‚ hot water -- she didn’t know. She hadn’t understood she was even pregnant until the reptile started to kick. She’d no way to know how long this thing had grown ripe within her. Through her sickness‚ and her weight gain‚ she thought her body had given up on itself. She hoped to die, and be through with her cyclical game of self-destruction ... through with turning her cunt out to New York’s filth-laden streets just to feed a vengeful habit‚ but she was gypped. Death passed on her ... again.

Ellen knew this child would drown in the Hudson when it evacuated her. Her big question was what to do with its’ life-cord. What happened after the cut? Did she have to put it back? Would it just fall off? She imagined herself on the strut up eleventh avenue‚ the swing of her useless umbilical like a purse‚ "Want some company?"


Her womb‚ stomach‚ ass and leg muscles cramped up as she toughed out each contraction. She knew‚ at least‚ the distance between spasms was some indicator of how much time she had left ... and they came closer and closer. She wasn’t sure if she would give birth or if she were revved up to cannon-fire a clump of shit from her rectum.

"Can’t be more than a few more hours."

She prayed without faith.

She’d done time. She could handle it. Hell‚ back in the day‚ she spent more time than this just on the jones for a fix. Ellen had spent hours, here and there‚ in plenty that demanded more of her than now ... but never with so much consistent pain.

Strange‚ too‚ she felt focused. She’d heard of so many women -- from their husbands, mostly -- tell of how‚ in labor‚ these chicks became possessed and so unlike their usual natures ... but this was not how she felt. Ellen was still the same old scumbag who arrived in NYC from Newark six years ago. Someone would have to care about her for her to put forth that kind of fury. No one cared about Ellen. Even Leon told her to fuck off until she had dealt "with it. I don’t peddle no pregnant bitches‚" was his moral reinforcement. He made it her fault.

She went to Leon’s "doctor." He was set up in a rat-hole‚ bare bulb-lit basement lab with ... less than state-of-the-art apparatuses. Even Dr. Elorč had said‚ "to perform an abortion at this late stage would be very dangerous. As you can see‚" his voice melancholy with apprehension‚ "I am not prepared to deal with a surgery of this magnitude." He had promised her a scar that would extend from her pubis to her abdomen, a scar which would never heal proper. His recommendation was for her to come back when she went into labor. Of course‚ being kicked from Leon's stable, she had been on the street now for two months. She had fallen out of the loop. Yesterday‚ when she realized the baby’s time had come‚ she dragged herself to Elorč’s office‚ but he had ditched‚ been kicked out‚ found out, whatever -- the disgusting little quack was gone.

Ellen then made her way down here, down below ... onto the silken‚ algae-coated rocks.

There had been many times she encountered the NYC Underground‚ but there was no one in this place. She was alone. Here‚ she would face herself. Ellen liked the smell of the giant‚ water-rotten pylons in support of the pier. It didn’t smell of the city here. It smelled of ... a thing beyond her concrete world. One time‚ she had tried to find a bed in the subway tunnels. That decision turned into the worst mistake of her life. She was‚ at first‚ amazed -- like a zealot come to her Holy Land -- by the size of the subway tunnel network. Reality defied her imagination. There was another city below Manhattan. The Mole People were real. If anything but what had happened had happened‚ Ellen would have stayed below forever.

But that was not to be her lot.

She discovered part of ... a tribe‚ really‚ of homeless men. The absence of light had bleached some of them like giant, hairless possum‚ their eyes wide and stupid. There were about nine of them, and they trapped her, and, among the holes of her body, there was no manner of thing -- flesh or steel -- which those bleached men could not find a place for. Their laughter echoed‚ but never stopped. For five days‚ Ellen could not escape them.

That had been worse than this.

Ellen fumbled in her purse for her stem between deep breaths. If she had not brought her shit with her‚ she didn’t know what she would have done. Whacked off‚ probably‚ snuffed out by now. She had only a brief respite from the kicking one inside, and she wanted to maximize this opportunity ... a spoonful of sugar helped the medicine go down.

She lit the glass pipe-length with tremors through her forearms‚ and the half-burned rock melted into black slime as she drew white-smoke into her lungs. She began to cough, felt her cunt yawn. White fire burned in her shoulders and her legs. Her snatch split open without warning. The glass pipe ground to shards, dust in her palm as her hands smashed against the rocks for support. Ellen rolled over‚ pulled her legs up to her chest as the infant spilled from her womb. Her bloody hand‚ and the other‚ were in her hair for long moments as she caught her breath‚ the infant left to wheeze in her placenta.

tolento.jpg (114519 bytes)It was over ... just like that.

Ellen got her strength together and looked for the child. Her mind wandered far from the sight. Her eyes transfixed on the waxy, tangled ball -- no more than three or four pounds of it -- birthed from her woman’s wound.

The infant had no face.

The Infant. Had no Face. Where baby-blue eyes‚ pug-nose‚ and pink‚ little ears should have been‚ there was only a thick‚ pink‚ varicose skim crisscrossed in red and blue veins about the head. Tiny webbed fingers reached for mama from a mucus puddle. Ellen’s mind returned, and she began to scream as the infant’s mouth gawped‚ bird-like, hungry for her tit, bastard tongue lolled back and forth beneath a featureless brow. There was a word, "mo-tar…"

The word could have been anything -- the newborn’s gag -- but Ellen’s screams blurred her perception. She went unsure of what she heard. She lost control of herself. She began to run‚ her entrails greased the ground below her feet. She took no more than three giant steps before she collapsed against the algae-slick rocks, cool and abrasive below the pier -- there was no last thought when her skull hit stone ... Ellen died of shock.

 Tomorrow’s headline -- WOMAN FOUND DEAD AT CITY PIER: Officers discovered an unidentified young woman below the city piers early this morning. The police are withholding details‚ but, apparently, she died in childbirth. There is no information regarding the whereabouts of the newborn …


Mike Tolento

originally appeared in Empty Life #11.  19 Sunset Rd., Hamden CT 06514.

Physician, Heal Thyself by Mickey Z.

Medicine is no longer the laying on of hands. It’s more like the reading of signals from machines. The hospitalized patient feels, for a time, like a working part of an immense automated apparatus. The word ‘dehumanizing’ is used as an epithet for the way physicians are trained and the way they practice. The old art of medicine is lost, forgotten."
                                                                                                                               —Louis Thomas, physician and essayist

Over the years, the role of the health care professional has evolved from the gentle face with a big black bag who visited your home to the distracted voice of someone you’re lucky to get on the phone for thirty seconds. No longer can we count on the comforting hand of wisdom when a hospital visit is more like an automotive tune-up—lots of machines, very little talk, and an itemized bill when you’re done. With the abrupt influx of technological advances, the goal, it seems, is to cure the disease rather than to treat the patient.

While there are many who choose to blindly applaud high-tech progress, it may prove salutary to pay a visit to the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in Minneapolis, MN. The brainchild of one Bob McCoy (a dead ringer for W.C. Fields), this place has more quacks than a casting call for the next Mighty Ducks sequel. Unlike, say, the Louvre, McCoy’s museum has a foot-operated breast enlarger and a prostate gland warmer.

A stroll through the museum proffers the opportunity to ogle the "seat of health", a primitive rowing machine (1937) designed to promote "organic stimulation and health building, reducing, and scientific body building" through "convenient common sense exercise"—all for only $5.00. How ‘bout "The Saddle"? This helpful gizmo was designed in 1931 to "assist men in protecting themselves from becoming too old," if you get my drift. Plus, you’ll learn that the "Specto-Chrome" (1920) "cured" diseases if the patient dutifully sat in front of it "naked, facing north, under certain moon phases."

"No one else has anything like it," boasts McCoy, a former humanist minister, steel salesman, printer, and operator of family planning clinics. "I’m trying to educate people on the dangers of medical fraud. Most of the quack things trade on hope and stupidity. These things were made by cynical people who earned a pretty penny off of them."

Ah, cynicism, the hallmark of the late capitalist age and, as McCoy is wont to allege, the 1990s are the heyday of phony medicine. "People are so desperate to believe," he says, "and con artists will always try to take advantage of their desperation."

One curiosity not displayed at this or any museum is the potential source of that desperation. Why do snake oil salesman continue to thrive today? Perhaps the root of their success lies in our every-deepening health care crisis. More than ever, people are seeking alternative methods because they’re not getting what they want or need from the AMA-dominated medical community. They’re not getting enough personal contact; they’re not being listened to. Everything is far too technical. Probably, the people who are pursuing alternatives outside the mainstream are doing so primarily out of frustration, and although there is a wealth of centuries-old knowledge lying outside the paradigm of Western medicine, there are also myriad hucksters coiled to ambush the sick, poor, and uninsured.

While McCoy, for the most part, alludes to late-night TV come-ons for diet pills and hair-loss remedies when discussing today’s quacks, my mind can’t help but conjure up sordid images of such modern medical advances as irradiated food, chemotherapy, and managed care. How will these be judged in a half-century or so? What museum will house documentation of same-day mastectomies, cruel and unnecessary animal experimentation, and the rampant misuse and abuse of pharmaceuticals?

Humanity and technology are not mutually exclusive. However, without some kind of moral compass these two entities shall never peacefully co-exist. No medical advance can be deemed truly beneficial if it has been produced merely to make a profit or be used as just another method of treating patients with the least possible one-to-one contact. The motivation for any action by anyone in the health field must be to help as many individuals as possible—in the most compassionate manner. If this means replacing outdated techniques with machines, so be it. But health care workers should never mistake impressive machinery or corporate micro-managing with progress.

Ultimately, technology is neither good nor bad; its’ contributions to the medical profession are almost entirely based upon the men and women who press the buttons. Thus, these individuals cannot afford to lose sight of the human aspects, despite the reality that medicine is a very lucrative business. Indeed, the truth remains that the best prescription is still a smile, a gentle touch, or some deeply felt advice. No computer will ever duplicate those modalities and it’s about time we stop trying.

To contact the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, call: 612-379-4046, fax: 612-540-9999, or email: or visit their website:

Just Say No
From 1981 to 1987:
•39,000 Americans died from (so-called) AIDS
•47,000 died in traffic accidents
•4 million died from medical interventions
•Every day, 80 percent of Americans take a prescription drug and 130,000 die each year as a direct result of prescription drugs.
From 1962 to 1988:
•Street drug addiction in America increased by 30 percent.
•Prescription drug addiction increased by 300 percent.

(Source: New England Journal of Medicine)


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