Dr. Gan Li’s office is at 265 Canal Street, between Lafayette and Broadway. Its grubby entryway is invariably blocked by vocal sellers of pashmina scarves, watches, and infant onesies emblazoned with the world’s most appalling slogans (“Give Me My Bottle, Bitch!”), and mobbed by teenage tourists with ironed hair, massive sweatshirts, and the newsboy caps they just purchased next door. One would never mark 265 Canal Street, 3rd floor, as the unassuming portal to glorious recovery. At least, Broke-Ass didn’t.
On this particular Tuesday morning, Broke-Ass had two reasons for darkening that door. First, the excellent head of gastroenterology at Long Island Hospital, Dr. Irwin Grossman–after having run every test in the whole fucking world to get to the root of Broke-Ass’ nonstop vomiting and finding nothing but stress (is that all?)–had recommended that she consult with a doctor of Chinese medicine. Second, Broke-Ass’ cherished friend Doda, an entrenched hypochondriac of the most charming and knowledgeable order, swore by him. If Doda sticks with a doctor, it’s an incomparable recommendation.
At the first appointment, the slight-framed and genial Dr. Li felt Broke-Ass’ tarry pulse and stuck out his tongue, a gesture Broke-Ass ultimately understood as a request that she do the same. (Dr. Li’s English is leaps and bounds better than Broke-Ass’ Cantonese.) Dr. Li then slipped a bunch of pins into her abdomen and head before exiting the curtained cubicle, ordering Broke-Ass to “rest now.” Babydolls, she was out cold before you can say “liver meridian.”
When she awoke, she was feeling a great deal better. And she had a question for Dr. Li, a question that was related to something she had been mulling over since her vesuvian encounter with the stress build-up that is her life. It occurred to her that just about every culture in the world–the majority of which slug it out in grinding poverty–has built-in traditions and activities for dealing with stress that do not cost money. Consider the flocks of old Chinese ladies doing early-morning Tai-Chi in the park; people in India who do yoga daily and who have never heard of “power” anything; Russians in steam baths; Koreans and scrub-downs; and so on. What do we have? Stomach ulcers, expensive healthcare, antidepressants, gym memberships. Broke-Ass could not afford any of those. Surely, there might be some alternative in the cultural nexus of New York City that Broke-Ass could sneak into.
So, she asked Dr. Li if he knew of any such thing, and if something like Tai-Chi might help her condition. Dr. Li shrugged. “If you want, okay,” he said. “But for you, I think it better just to take pill.”
Dr. Li told Broke-Ass to return two more times, saying that was all that was needed to fix her stomach problems. And it was. Stomach problems: gone! Un-freaking-believable. Like a rabbit out of the hat. When Broke-Ass asked him about his theory, Dr. Li laughed.
“I think to fix stomach, I must fix your mind,” he said.
“Well, good luck with that, Dr. Li,” she said. “Many have tried, none have succeeded.” Dr. Li looked at her earnestly.
“What you do for work?” he asked. When Broke-Ass spat that she was a writer, Dr. Li shook his head gravely.
“Oh, very bad,” he sighed. “Too much thinking: no money.”
Broke-Ass laughed and laughed until her bladder meridian hurt. And this, babydolls, is where the real healing began. Broke-Ass thanked Dr. Li with all her heart and walked out onto the glaring, motley scene of Canal Street. A vendor urged her to buy a tee-shirt, which he raised before her so that she could decipher its without her cheesy reading glasses: “Fuck you, you fucking fuck!” Broke-Ass grinned. If she’d had a red cent left, she’d have worn that tee-shirt home, kissed Big Daddy, and made a big, red cooked pork belly for the schmushkies.
Some days, it is actually good to be a writer.