Sunday, June 24, 2007

Samantha Power Between Her Knees

What was the doctor saying? Cut what? Everything seemed so foggy right now.

She tried to center herself in the present but couldn't. So she went back to the beginning.

She was an NYU student. She may have been only semi-political active, but she liked to think of herself as politically aware. That was how she ended up at the rally three days before and the planning session now. A hushed awe came over the planning session -- so much so that no one was even mouthing "Not on my watch."

It was there. The force behind the movement. With what appeared to be a really bad bleach job making the hair color look more orange than anything else. And as it floated into the room there was a smell like burning incense or cabbage.

It was the next morning, waking twenty minutes late and wondering if the snooze button had been abused or the alarm not set, when she sat up in bed, that she first smelled it.

Looking around the room as she sat up in bed, sniffing the air, she couldn't place where the smell was coming from and with ten minutes before her first class was due to start, she really didn't have the time to. She opened a window, hurried to the shower and told herself she'd locate the smell when she got back.

"Hobbs," a guy on the back row was saying, "you can't wear those grungy sneakers and no socks like that."

"Yeah, dude," agreed another, "we're all choking on your funk."

Hobbs replied with an unprintable while everyone laughed. Almost everyone.

She didn't think the smell was Hobbs' feet or his sneakers.

It was the smell she had sniffed earlier.

She kept her head down and ground her teeth waiting for class to finally end and then, when it had, she headed for the first bathroom. Entering the stall, she dropped her slacks and the smell wafted off. It was her.

This was so embarrassing.

Was it a yeast infection? Her period wasn't due for two more weeks. She had certainly soaped up the area down there right before class.

The bathroom door opened and she could hear a group of women come in.

"Oh my God! What is that odor?"

She heard the women laughing.

When they had finally left, she'd hurried out ending up at a drug store where she bought assorted products including the one that killed cockroaches so, surely, should be able to kill this smell.

She applied everything, sprays and liquids. She even removed the hair down there. After three hours and about sixteen products, the smell was gone.

She breathed a sigh of relief, wrote off the missed classes as no real loss, and headed off to the quad to get something to eat.

As she ate, her friend Bernie came over. Bernie was working on a new Out of Iraq action and the more animated he became talking about it, the less she found herself caring. She tuned him out for several minutes before she realized he'd asked a question.

"Sure," she offered.

Not sure what she was agreeing to but she could tell by the look on his face that a question had been asked.

Whatever she'd agreed to, it made him happy and he nodded before going on his way.

She had a paper due shortly on the historical struggles of labor in the US so she headed for the library where she attempted to take notes but found her mind wandering and realized she'd taken several pages of notes on autopilot.

She couldn't believe how little she cared, all the sudden, about any of it. But she told herself it was due to the embarrassment of the morning. She just knew she was yawning and tired.

After trudging back to her room, she stripped and crawled into bed. The clock displayed 5:15 but it felt more like midnight. Making sure the alarm was set, she fell asleep with the sun still shining.

Two things hit her as she awoke the next morning -- she was hungry and the smell was back.

There was no denying that the smell was back. No denying that it seemed stronger than yesterday and no denying that it wasn't the most pressing issue right now.

She rarely ate breakfast but her stomach was growling. She thought of grabbing some body spray or perfume but her stomach was in control as she pulled on her sweats and went in search of food. That was the other thing, two slices of toast, for her, was a big breakfast. But right now she wanted bacon, she wanted sausage, she wanted hot links.

She first realized she was out in public, seated, and that people were making jokes about the smell as she polished off the twelfth sausage and started in on another plate of bacon. She really didn't care about the cat calls, she was more concerned as to whether or not she her ATM card with her having used all her cash on breakfast. And still being hungry.

The kindly looking woman at the clinic a few hours later was obviously attempting to hold her breath. Now standing across the room, the woman was saying she had no idea what was causing the odor and recommending she see a specialist.

She laughed loudly. Tossed her head back and roared. A specialist? Who had the time? She was due at a planning session.

"This may not seem serious, but that odor is probably an indication of something very serious," the woman told her.

Waving a hand, she replied, "Not on my watch."

At the planning session with other students, she noticed that no one seemed to comment on the odor or even care. These were serious people. These were people like her. Except for that one jerk who kept insisting that "talks needed to take place."

"Screw talks," she snarled, "I say we carpet bomb the area."

The remark surprised her but she noticed everyone was nodding.

Outside, she bumped into Bernie. He and seven other students were holding signs and marching in a circle. Breaking off from the march, he strode up to her.

"You said you'd be here."


"The march," he reminded her.

"For what?"

"Out of Iraq."

It was as though he was speaking another language that had been reduced to blips and beeps. She couldn't comprehend him.

He pointed an accusing finger at the "Save Darfur" literature she was holding.

"You've got the Samantha Power!"

That she understood. Wrinkling her nose at him and furrowing her brow, she hissed. He jerked back in surprise but not enough for her liking. She shoved him and walked on by as he fell to the ground.

The next morning, she awoke to discover the stink was even more powerful. The stink. The funk. The odor. That wouldn't go away.


"Oh my God!" she gasped in a moment of clarity. "I've got the Samantha Power between my knees!"

Seizing the phone in a panic, she dialed her mother and found herself sobbing on the phone as she explained the odor issue. Her mother didn't quite get it. Surely, it wasn't that bad? But her mother would drive in and be there shortly.

"Just stay calm."

She tried. But that odor.

She opened the window.

She even sat a fan in the window, pointed outside the room. She sprayed perfume, she lit scented candles, she used everything she could get her hands on, probably doubling the hole in the ozone layer in the process, and all to no noticeable change.

When her mother did arrive, one sniff and she too was bothered.

What followed were several days of appointments with various specialists. Question after question, exam after exam.

"Have you eaten any new ethnic food?"

"Have you practiced unprotected sex?"

"Do you have a history of glandular problems?"

"Have you been working with or exposed to raw sewage?"

The questions, like the exams, seemed to get no where.

But the smell was traveling.

The odor was on the move.

The pores on her legs, down to her knees, now gave off the odor. And this was quickly followed with it traveling further down. Eventually, even her feet gave off the odor.

Bernie showed up at her hospital room one day, weeks later, with flowers. He was apologizing and telling her he hadn't realized she was very sick.

He was also trying not to breathe and, occasionally, holding his nose.

Searching for something nice to say, some compliment to offer, he pointed out that she'd changed her hair.

Had she?

She didn't remember. But looking in the mirror, she saw her long black hair was now orange with a ridiculous part on one side and what appeared to be some heavy teasing going on at the top.

Bernie was, for lack of anything else to say, talking about Iraq.

"We got rid of Saddam Hussein, didn't we?" she snarled.

He sputtered but she wasn't done with.

"If those people can't appreciate all we've done for them, screw 'em. Let's take their oil and let 'em all kill each other. They're obviously all beasts and savages! You waste your time and everyone else's trying to end this war! The answer is not 'no' to war, it's 'yes' -- more war!"

She was spitting her words out at a fast pace and a loud volume. Bernie just stared at her with his mouth open in shock as she spoke of how there was no point in building nukes "if you don't have the balls to use 'em."

Finally, a nurse came in, ushered Bernie out of the room and insisted she calm down.

"Not on my watch!" she shot back.

The next few days were a blur. And they had led up to this morning.

The doctor was explaining that elective surgery wasn't the way to go, that cutting off her legs, as she'd insisted, was excessive for what was, after all, just an odor.

"Kill 'em," she insisted. "Cut 'em off. And if you won't do it, I will find someone who will! Barring that, I'll cut 'em off myself!"

Grabbing the doctor's hand, she'd bit his arm to make sure he got the point and how serious she was. To save her, it was necessary to destroy her. Couldn't he grasp that? What kind of a doctor was he?

He'd given her a sedative. Good. He was serious. She was sure she could be wide awake through the procedure. In fact, she pictured herself eating as they removed her legs. But if he was prepping her for surgery, she didn't care. Just get it over with, was her attitude.

Too many people did nothing or just talked. She was all about action. Cut the legs off. Cut the legs off to get rid of the smell. If that didn't stop it, the arms were next. Need be, they'd go further. That would cure it. She knew that.

When she awoke, she was in an ambulance. Some woman was chattering away in an annoying manner but she just wanted to see if they'd removed her legs. They hadn't. They'd screwed her over. Friggin' doctors. Friggin' cowards.

"Why are you calling me that? Who are you?" she yelled at the woman who would not stop patting her arm.

"Honey, it's me. Your mother."

They'd put some crazy in the ambulance with her. Who was this woman? She noticed that she, herself, was restrained and decided that short of chewing the woman's face off, if she could lure her close enough, she had no way to defend herself. Better not to rock the boat, just yet.

"Where are we going?"


Bellevue. It sounded like her homeland -- where green hills met the coast. She was going home. Samantha Power was going home.

"Who?" the woman asked her.

"Samantha Power. That is my name."

The woman wouldn't look at her. Probably hadn't realized whom she was dealing with. A celebrity. One of the great thinkers of our time. Where there were problems, she was there screaming for war. And, she told herself, that would always be the case.
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