The trials of a public relations writer are numerous and varied. It is a profession that demands an individual be capable of conducting astute economic analysis, be able to divine new industry trends, and be aware of the human element in news stories, while writing with the sincerity of a carnival fortune-teller, the tenacious blood-sucking determination of an aluminum siding salesman, and the ethics of an aging whore (condemned to haunt the lobbies of threadbare hotels).
I am the personification of this profession.
One day (the middle of last month), I was writing a impassioned speech for a client regarding the impact of a fragile economic recovery on the international professional meetings and conferences trade, which has yet to collectively make $70 since 2009 (when most companies decided it was more cost-effective to make employees stand outside the bathrooms of major industry conventions, listening to the side conversations of those pissing against the walls, as opposed to registering for the actual event). My opening line read, “The big decision facing many of us this year will be to either capitalize on the drama of jumping out the window of a luxury hotel, or to pursue the ignominious end of sitting in a running limousine parked in a closed garage.”
Client input had been scarce on this assignment. Yet even so, there was doubt in my mind that I was hitting the cheery note of optimism so desperately sought by my patrons. It was then I felt something odd, other than remorse for not becoming a plumber 30 years ago. It started as a sense of pressure on the center of my chest. In seconds, that sensation multiplied, spreading across my back as well, giving me the feeling that I was caught in the jaws of a giant vise.
Breathing was still possible. There was no pain per se, but the crushing pressure continued to mount. I called for Leslie.
“I’m afraid I have a real problem,” I said. “I think I’m having a heart attack. Could you stand by me for a bit?” (I really do speak like this at home. I either sound like Cary Grant or Leo Gorcey.)
“Do you want me to call 911,” she asked, reaching for the phone.
My first inclination was to say “yes.” I knew from reading a thousand articles, blogs and posts that the first few minutes of events like these often prove to be the deciding factors in minimizing the damage and hastening a recovery. But 2009 had been a real dog shit year. I took a serious hit on the chin financially... And had pulled myself back from the brink by investigating every bit of potential for getting my clients in print. I’d just gotten them into the headlines of the big papers again. I’d even managed to get interviewed by National Public Radio on a tragic plane crash. This would be the worst conceivable time to go to the hospital. The momentum I had salvaged could be so easily reversed. And if I went down, my clients could replace me with one of 10,000 writers now out of work.
I was at a crossroads in my career. I’d reached the point where death was preferable to unemployment.
“Don’t call them yet,” I said. “Let’s see what happens.” Leslie waited with me, and even took my blood pressure. It was elevated as I am ponderously fat. In fact, it was 567 over 124. The only recorded pulse higher than this was achieved by a hummingbird at the height of coitus. (Later on I had to admit that this data would be of little use to both of us.) The pressure on my chest began to subside after eight minutes, and would be all but gone in another 20. I went back to writing the speech, and altered the perspective slightly.
But I’d had a bad scare.
First of all, Leslie was not dialing 911 but a local knacker who picks up dead horses.
Then there was the event itself. It was like leaning a bike into a tight, wooded curve, only to find a herd of deer coagulating in the apex of the turn. I’d had some chest pain before, but wrote it off to the torture of flabby chest muscles being called into service to levitate my bulk in the absence of strong knees. I did think it odd that I experienced these twinges in the dead of night (when attempting to get laid) or when my clients were on the phone (ready to discuss some attitude characteristic of mine). C’est la vie. At 56 years old, something always hurts.
Two days later I brought the car into the shop for tires, and my mechanic’s waiting room (the one with the broken fan, not the other one with the broken toilet) had a stack of old magazines to read. I flipped one open and the feature article was, “124 Signs That You Had A Heart Attack While Writing A Speech!” Amazingly enough, I had 123 of them. I made a mental note to cut back on the toasted salt pork rings I usually eat for breakfast, along with the three tablespoons of Crisco I stir into my coffee.
Now I’m an affable type, and I mentioned this odd string of coincidences to a couple of riding buddies in the Mac Pac. As I have explained before, the Mac Pac is the premier riding club of BMW connoisseurs in south eastern Pennsylvania, chartered by the national organization. The Mac Pac numbers about 250 active members, from Japan to Chicago, From Toronto to New York, and from Texas to West Chester, Pa. It is a society of white-collar executives, artists, musicians, engineers, craftsmen, arborists, and at least two medical professionals. One of these is a cardiologist.
The most amazing thing about the Mac Pac is how its members stand up for each other — with very little fanfare. Whether it is to help one move a household — or a body — these are guys who can be counted on... Both for their individual talents and for their discretion. All of these guys excel at something. They are all experts in their respected fields. I was strongly advised to call the cardiologist.
While I had had the privilege of meeting Dr. Peter Frechie at a number of club breakfasts, I’d yet to engage the gentleman in conversation. He rides a magnificent and thoroughly lethal-looking MV Augusta, rumored to have been hand-built by the College of Cardinals, at a cost $12.6 million, in addition to a Beemer he’s got tucked away someplace. Dr. Frechie typically wears black leathers (modeled after those worn by Michele Pfieffer in one of the Batman movies), with the outline of a kitten embroidered on the waist. His Mac Pac code name is “Cat Woman.”
Above — Doctor Peter Frechie on his 2005 MV Agusta F4-1000 Tamburini. 109 of the Mac Pac's 250 members have this model MV Augusta as "second" bikes.
My appointment at Dr. Frechie’s office was high on drama from the beginning. One of his medical assistants herded me onto a scale (of the variety used to weigh coal trains). The digital numbers indicating my weight were visible on a screen at eye-level. Yet they were cycling so quickly it was hard to see what the final number might be.
“Holy shit,” I heard the assistant mutter. “Your final weight has a comma separating the numbers.”
My weighted taken and logged for the Guinness Book, I was then told to remove my shirt. This is always a poignant moment for me in any medical professional’s office. Many people are unaware that my shirts are made of sheet metal and the buttons are sewn on with piano wire. This is because my physical shape is determined by my immediate container. Without one of my shirts, I am defined by the borders of Pennsylvania.
Above — Leathers worn by Michelle Pfieffer in one of the Batman movies provided the inspiration for leathers worn by Doctor Peter Frechie. Photo from the Internet.
I was asked to position myself on a steel reinforced table while Dr. Frechie probed my shapeless mass with a wand connected to some kind of sonar device. The machine was to produce an image of my heart, detailing valves, arteries, and a muscle the size of a catcher’s mitt that has been brutalized by women since I was 15.
“Something really catastrophic happened to your heart when you were 36 years old,” said the doctor.
“How can you tell,” I asked.
“Well, your heart has rings around it like the center of an oak tree, and ring number 36 has a spiked high-heeled shoe sticking in it,” he replied.
I’m afraid I presented something of a career challenge to the doctor, or at least to the probe. The handheld device was designed to emit a beam capable of penetrating a six-inch lead plate. The slab bacon encasing my body was diffusing the laser, apparently.
Above — Doctor Peter Frechie takes a corner at 156mph on Track Day, demonstrating techniques learned at the Jack Riepe School of Motorcycle Riding Prowess.
“You are one fat... Fuck,” muttered the doctor. “King Kong didn’t have man-boobs this huge.” The probe eventually found its mark and the second largest organ I have filled the screen. It was remarkable. Valves opened and closed like those on a three-cylinder K75 at 4 grand on the tach. Each beat made a noise like a battering ram, as blood enriched from generations of Irish kings surged through veins and arteries as tough as stainless steel hoses.
“That’s impressive,” muttered Dr. Frechie.
“Too bad you’re not a urologist,” I said. “You’d need a 27-inch screen.”
The next step was an EKG. This machine required my gut to be wired like I was a stooge for a federal law enforcement agency. Fifty or 60 conductive tabs were stuck to my arms, legs, and chest with dabs of red Locktite. Had there been a power surge, I’d have levitated off the table, stopped only by the ceiling. Once again, my fattitude was frustrating the latest technology. Stepping up the voltage drew St. Elmo’s fire from every metal object in the room, and the first beating thing to get measured was my spleen. (My spleen is the organ that allows me to read congressional legislation without taking a a shit of rage in my pants.)
Above — Doctor Peter Frechie showed up at the Mac Pac Guinness Book Record Breaking Ride on an immaculate BMW "R" bike.
Dr. Frechie has the kind of bedside matter that I am most comfortable with. His face is a mask of thoughtfulness, that yields no information before its time. Going into this historic meeting I was positive that I had days, maybe hours, before my heart exploded into a paste of misspent youth, scorched romance, and unfulfilled promise. At the moment when I was held in that vise-like grip (at the beginning of this story), I knew three things... That I wanted Leslie with me (not only to hold my hand, but to be buried, alive if necessary, by my side like the wife of Pharaoh)... And that I had neither fucked enough nor ridden my K75 far enough to justify dying in this fashion.
As it turns out, my heart is fine. There is no evidence of a heart attack. My arteries are not clogged. My valves are not worn out. My heartbeat has not been disturbed by legions of women who climbed on top, just to use me as Cupid’s trampoline.
However, Dr. Frechie had another message for me: “You are too fat. Figure out whatever you have to do to drop the weight, and get started. I want to see you in three months, and you should be noticeably thinner.” He is a “no bullshit” kind of guy.
I have started... Again. But I don’t want to embarrass myself, nor betray the confidence of my club and riding friends. So I will succeed at this. Two days after this visit, I met some friends to honor the passing of the Senator Byrd of West Virginia. We met in a barbecue joint. I had six plain chicken wings and a cup of cole slaw. And so it begins.
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©Copyright Jack Riepe 2010
AKA The Lindberg Baby (Mac Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain — PS (With A Shrug)