Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Center of it All - Part IV

I had an eleven AM meeting scheduled with the hospital administrator where Yoni died, and so after going on the treadmill, I showered, grabbed some breakfast, and drove to the hospital.

The hospital was located in the poorer section of town, and I recognized the urban decay that was creeping through Phoenix from the hundreds of times I had driven through poor neighborhoods in Detroit. Burnt out homes, decaying porches and unkempt lawns dotted the roads as I drove through the neighborhood to get to Phoenix Memorial.

The only thing that was missing was groups of teens and aimless young adults congregating at street corners. Due more to the oppressive heat than to law enforcement, I assumed.

And it was hot. The radio said it was over 100 degrees for the eighth day in a row, and I believed them. Sweat poured down my face as I drove, the car’s air conditioning losing the climate battle with nature. I found an 80s station, and wondered when this would be an oldies station.

Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes was playing, and it took me back. Yoni and I had gone to see Say Anything that week I was in Chicago, together with Rachel and Fran. I didn’t want to speculate about Yoni’s sexuality anymore, not until I knew more. I switched the station, and caught Eminem on Phoenix 98, the station for Phoenix’s top hits.

I was early for my meeting, so I grabbed a paper, and went to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee while I waited for Susan Donnelly, the hospital administrator who called me three days earlier. There was nothing really interesting in the paper. The war on terror was still being fought in the jungles and mountains somewhere, the Diamondbacks had lost their sixth straight, and the columnists wondered whether the Suns off-season moves would pay off.

It was nearly 11, so I went up the three flights of stairs, and waited for Ms. Donnelly. She didn’t keep me waiting long, and a few minutes later I was seated across from her, in her cramped office. There were papers piled everywhere, a filing cabinet, and one look showed she was another overworked and understaffed administrator.

Still, she was very friendly, and wanted to be helpful. We made some small talk about the heat, and I found out that she was originally from the Midwest, and moved to Phoenix to follow an old boy friend who ended up moving back east. But she loved Phoenix, had a job, and never wanted to leave.

After a few minutes, we got to talking about Yoni, or Jon Winters.

“Jon was here a few times,” she told me. “The first time he came in here, he signed a waiver asking us to contact you or a Dr. Marc Stein in Brooklyn if anything should happen to him. And in that waiver he allowed us to give either one of you whatever medical and personal information we had about him.”
Marc Stein, I thought. So it was either me or Menachem that he was turning to at the end. Yoni knew neither one of us could have turned down anything he asked of us, no matter how much time had passed.

I didn’t say anything, and Susan continued.

“As I mentioned on the phone, he died of AIDS-related pneumonia. He tested positive for HIV in 2001, and it turned into AIDS a year or so ago. His body seemed to really start losing about six months ago, when he started coming here.”

She looked up at me, and noticed the beads of sweat pouring down my face. Sitting in offices with administrators always made me uncomfortable, and the heat was just killing me. I thought I had lost about ten pounds since she started talking.

“As you may have guessed,” she continued, “Mr. Winters had no insurance, and no known relatives. If you know of any kind of estate, Mr. Winters' medical bills were quite expensive.”

She looked at me expectantly.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Donnelly,” I started, “I don’t know anything about his finances or his life. I haven’t seen him or heard from him in almost 20 years.”

“Then why did you come down here from Detroit?”

It was a fair question, but only because she had never been best friends with Yoni Winters.

“Loyalty,” I said. “Gratitude,” I continued. “Jonathon was as good a friend as I have ever had. There is nothing that I wouldn’t do for him.”

“I guess there isn’t much you can do to help with his medical bills, then,” she said, sort of half shrugging and looking a little less perky.

She picked up a manila envelope that was sitting on her desk. “These are the things he had with him when he walked in. You can take them.”

“Can I ask you one thing,” I said. I hated to ask the question, hated the words for coming out of my mouth. “Was Jonathon gay?”

“I don’t know,” she answered. “There are plenty of ways to contract AIDS without being gay.”

I stood up, the manila envelope in my hands, and felt my sweat-soaked back peel away from the vinyl chair. I shook hands with her.

“Thank you for coming in today, Mr. Berger,” she said, reaching her hand out to shake mine.

I shook her hand. “You’re welcome.” I responded.

She kept a hold of my hand. “If you find out anything about an estate, can you let us know? We would appreciate any kind of remuneration.”

I took her card and assured her that I would be in touch with her if I found out anything, and left the hospital.

It was too hot to do anything other than go back to the hotel, and I found myself looking over the manila envelope. Curiosity was killing me, but I wanted to get back to my room before going through his things.

I had driven three or four blocks, when I realized I was in Phoenix’s red light district. There were a few sex shops, and a marquee advertising a 2 PM showing of the Wedding Flashers. I parked the car, took off my kippa, and walked into the Red Lounge.

They had a video section, and I walked over. I was trying to find out whatever I could about my old friend. And if that meant watching Butt Bunny, that’s what I would do.

I found the DVD, paid in cash, and went back to the hotel. I had some research to do.

The preceding work is fiction. The beginning of the story can be found in the prior posts on this blog.

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    Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

    did yoni learn in telshe?

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