An asymptomatic condition of some concern to my primary physician found me sitting in a specialist’s examining room on a recent morning. Pushed up alongside one wall was the examination table: a well-worn piece of equipment with cracking leather corners, faded paint on its legs forcing a resemblance to an abandoned pommel horse base circa 1977 – a crackling, long sheet of tissue paper strategically placed in an apparent effort to conceal those details. The table occupied the length of the wall, and led my eyes, upon entering the room, to the plate glass window that occupied its perpendicular neighbor. The window was adorned with aluminum blinds, half-opened to afford a panoramic view of the hospital campus from the room’s fifth-floor perch. After spending a few minutes taking in the sights, watching the green lights at the intersection turn to red a number of times while three shuttles performed their drop-off-pick-up duties at the adjacent building’s entrance, I turned around to face the door – now closed – through which I had entered. I sat down in a stiff chair with my back to the window.
Centered on the wall opposite the examining table, to the right of a small sink and above a rolling stool that, I assumed, the specialist would soon be occupying, was a large framed photograph.
Peeking out from the bottom of the print, almost obscured by the frame, was the photo credit: Walker Evans Roadside stand near Birmingham, Alabama 1936. I leaned back on my heels, in front of the picture, and soaked in the details: the hand-painted signs, the telegraph poles, the onlookers in the background, the weight of the melons in the boys’ hands, the price of eel, the fish face frown, the outdated phone number configuration, the oddly-placed apostrophes, the stacked fruit orbs in the window.
Presently, the physician entered and sat squarely where I thought he might. He rolled to the center of the small room and faced me. The Walker Evans photograph was between us, off to the side of our avenue of communication. We discussed his concerns. I mentioned my asymptomatic state. He proposed a plan of discovery to rule out his concerns. I gave my consent to go forward. During the discussion, I occasionally glanced to my left, toward the Walker Evans photograph. When we finished this stage of my visit, I gently detoured with an observation.
“That’s a fascinating photograph.”
He turned toward it and lit up. “A Walker Evans, yes. That’s an exhibition print. It’s a rather famous photograph.” He seemed to hold this particular picture in high esteem and had obviously spent some quality time admiring it. “You know, for that exhibition – in the 1980s, I think – they went to all of the sites of the original Evans photographs and recaptured them in the present day. That fish stand is just right outside of town,” meaning Birmingham, the largest “town” in the state of Alabama, where we were meeting. “The updated version of this photo has two boys holding fish, not melons. And that building is gone now.”
I asked if he had been the one who had selected this print to adorn the walls of the exam room.
“No, this is my partner’s print,” he said, referring to the other physician whose name was on the office door. He then paused, anticipating an explanation of my initial observation.
I turned my eyes to the print. “I was wondering if you thought that there was something maybe a little odd about the picture.”
He turned and made a cursory scan of the picture he’d glanced at hundreds of times before. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Well, I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but, mm, it’s oddly fitting that in the center of that photograph is a pretty obvious representation of, you know, for this being a urology practice.”
Puzzled, he took another look. It took him no more than a couple of seconds to see the central image – the watermelon phallus – and he laughed. “I’d never noticed that,” he said, to my disbelief and his quiet amusement. Then he swiveled back toward me. “So. Now. Stand up, facing me, and let your pants drop to your ankles.”
[This piece was originally posted circa 2011 or 2012 at V’s Place, a website now sadly – but, hopefully, only temporarily – retired.]