Aladdin's Neti Pot
"Doctor, my allergies are killing me," I said. My usual deep voice came out nasal and stuffy. The paper sheet crinkled underneath me as I sat down on the table. I could only hope it was clean paper.
Exotic elevator music from the reception area played over the speakers in the exam room. All I could think as I sat there on the table was, "What if that horrible pain in my nose is because it's growing like Pinocchio's because of all those lies I told my wife about eating celery and carrot sticks while I was really sneaking candy bars and hamburgers on my low cholesterol diet." I touched it to make sure it hadn't grown a foot like my cousin's friend when she lied about her age. I groaned over the agony of that gentle touch.
"Mr. Burns, did you use the allergy medicine and the nasal spray I proscribed?" Dr. Bravo's weathered brow crinkled up even more as she glanced over her clipboard.
My eyes watered, making the cheery flower painting on the sterile wall look like Jackson Pollock drip art. Then again, just about everything reminded me of drips these days with the constant drippity-do-da of my nose.
I sneezed. "Yes, and I tried the allergy shots. I used the mask. I even tried sticking ear plugs up my nose to block out the pollen." I ever-so-gently blew my nose on the handkerchief my wife had sewn for me. The dull pain under my nose increased to a throbbing headache that matched the rhythm of the drum beat overhead. "But the real problems began when I used that neti pot my granddaughter brought back from India. She said it would be better than the one I bought here."
The doctor wrote a note in the chart. She didn't respond. I wondered if she was even listening. Maybe it was the hypnotic music. It made it hard for me to pay attention.
"My granddaughter said it was crafted a couple hundred years ago by Hindu priests. Or maybe Muslim priests. I don't remember. Anyway, I knew what that meant. If it was that old, she'd gotten it from a flea market. Used. Think of the germs." I glanced at the pump of anti-bacterial soap on the counter, wishing I could scrub my entire body in the stuff. Not that it would help with hayfever.
Dr. Bravo raised an eyebrow. "You did clean it, right?"
"Well, yeah. I wasn't going to shove something with century old snot on it up my nose. I put it in the dishwasher. Maybe because it was metal it made everything else rattle like crazy in there. My wife got mad at me 'cuz more than a few dishes broke. Well, that and the dishwasher started to smoke. On the hottest setting it should have killed germs, right? You don't think I got some kind of weird disease, do you?" I pinched the bridge of my nose, more than anything wanting to alleviate the pressure. As I did so, the music decreased. I let go of my nose. The volume went up. I pinched my nose again. It quieted a fraction. My voice came out even more nasally. "Do you hear that music?"
Dr. Bravo sighed as if bored. "You boiled the water for the saline solution?"
"Just like the directions said. I hear about those people who get worms in their brain from not using distilled water in their neti pots."
She put together one of those tools for looking in people's noses. I hoped it was clean.
"And the weird part, well, I know this sounds crazy, but ever since I used that neti pot, I started hearing voices."
She froze. Her face remained the same calm, but her knuckles turned white. My wife had told me not to repeat that detail, but she had heard the voices arguing too. It wasn't like I was crazy.
Dr. Bravo looked in my ears before she moved on to my nose. Upon inspecting the first nostril, she jumped back and yelped.
"Holy mother of god!" She crossed herself.
"It's the Ebola virus, isn't it?" I asked.
She looked again. Then she brought the stethoscope up to my nose and listened. "Is that drumming coming from your nose?"
Now she had me really worried. I didn't know much about anti-histamine reactions and deadly viruses, but this didn't sound good.
"Ahem, excuse me for a moment. I need to get Dr. Kassab." She slipped out the door.
It was a few minutes before another doctor came in. The young man smiled at me and nodded his head in greeting. His voice came out crisp and British despite his dark complexion. "How are you, Mr. Burns? Dr. Bravo tells me . . . well. . . ." He cut her eyes at the older doctor with a disapproving glance. "Your allergies are troubling you?"
He used his tool to stare up my nose. He took in a sharp intake of breath and stepped back. "That neti pot you used, it was metal, wasn't it? Not porcelain? And it came from an exotic land?" Seeing me nod, he went on, "I don't suppose you brought your neti pot with you?"
"No. What is it, doctor?" I gripped the edge of the table.
He tugged at the hem of his white lab coat. "I know this is hard to believe, but you have a genie stuck up your nose."
I laughed so hard, the pressure in my head increased. I immediately stopped. Their expressions were grim. Oh, shit. This was worse than the neighbor kid who had stuck a lima bean up his nose and started to grow a beanstalk.
"What should we do? Will you need to operate?" I wasn't sure my insurance covered genie removal.
"We may be able to avoid that," Dr. Bravo said. She rummaged through the drawers of medical equipment. For the first time since my arrival, her face lit up. "Do you know how rare this is? This is one of those things I've only read about in medical journals!"
Dr. Bravo ceased looking through the drawers. She held up a feather. She attempted to make me sneeze by tickling my nose. When that didn't work, Dr. Kassab resorted to tweezers. That didn't work either. But it did elicit a string of what I suspected were Arabic curses from my nose.
"You do know how to fix this sort of thing, right?" I asked.
Dr. Bravo glanced at her colleague. "There is one more thing we could try." With that, she commenced to rub the sleeve of her white coat against my nose. A plume of blue smoke erupted from my nostrils in addition to a string of slimy snot. To my immense relief, the sinus pressure dissipated. Not completely, but it was a definite improvement. I inhaled deeply. It was the first time I'd been able to this month.
As the cloud cleared, it became obvious we weren't alone. A tall, dark man with a scowl on his face stood before us. I had imagined a genie would have a goatee, an earring and a turban. He did have a goatee. But this guy wore black leather pants, a gold chain and a Rolex. I guess he was a little more modern. Immediately, he gestured at my nose and loudly yelled in Arabic.
Now that I could breathe, I could also smell the musty, rotting cabbage stink of the smoke. I waved it away. Dr. Bravo spoke to the genie but I don't think he heard her from the way he was yelling.
Dr. Kassab tilted his head to the side, listening intently. He turned to me. "You have insulted the genie by mistaking his magic lamp as a neti pot. He says he will not serve any master who stores him in his nose."
I hadn't even thought about potential wishes. On one hand, just getting him out of my nose was a pretty good wish. On the other hand, who wanted to pass up three wishes? "Hey, shouldn't he be so grateful for getting out of my nose, I get an extra wish?"
"I was the one who did the rubbing. I'm the one who should get the wishes," Dr. Bravo said.
"Excuse me, I identified the problem," Dr. Kassab said.
The genie's face flushed red. A vein bulged out in his bald head. From the sharp edge to his words, I knew what he said wasn't in my favor.
"Maybe we could share the wishes," I said. I blew my nose, unable to completely clear it out. Allergy season was still in bloom, apparently.
The doctors insisted they get the wishes, the genie interrupted with yelling, and Dr. Kassab frantically waved his hands to placate the genie. I tried to explain I would free the genie with my last wish, but I doubt Dr. Kassab translated. It took a lengthy interchange between them, none of which I understood, before they came to some kind of understanding. The genie gestured to the special lamp for examinations screwed into the wall. A wolfish smile spread over his features. A new puff of smoke clouded the air.
The genie was gone. We all lapsed into silence. A faint tinny percussion of music accompanied the beat of a drum. I hoped the sound wasn't from my nose. I was fairly certain the genie hadn't returned there because it wasn't as stuffy as it had been before. But it wasn't like I was back to my normal self either.
"Where'd he go?" I asked.
Dr. Kassab cleared his throat. "The genie said the lamp has given him nothing but trouble since the neti pot craze caught on. No one recognizes him as a magical being. He was even confiscated at an airport by security and accused of being a terrorist smuggling himself into the country. No one appreciates him for his magical nature."
He cast a disapproving gaze at us. I wondered if I'd insulted not just the genie, but their entire culture. There had to be some way to make amends.
Dr. Kassab continued. "Fortunately this genie works freelance, so he isn't bound to one vessel. He's decided to dumb down his magic to the level of modern, American culture and live in a container that might be a more obvious lamp."
We all turned to the lamp screwed into the wall.
The doctors lunged, scrabbling with each other to get to it. They were far too wrapped up in the excitement to notice the way the smoke was slowly being sucked away. And by excitement, I mean Dr. Bravo held the younger doctor in a headlock as he tore the lamp from the wall. I traced the trail of smoke to the tool for examining noses. It was hard to believe the genie would settle for a nose examination instrument when he detested noses so much. Then again, maybe there was some kind of rule for where genies could live. I scooted around the fighting doctors to get at the instrument. Just as I reached out for it, Dr. Kassab squirted my doctor in the face with the hand sanitizer. She stumbled into me before running off after him.
The nose instrument was gone. I looked on the floor, but didn't find it. The genie must have magicked himself away. No more allergy-free wishes for me.
As if that wasn't enough of a letdown, Dr. Bravo didn't even finish her appointment with me. They wouldn't refund my co-pay at the front desk either. Worst of all, my nose was still stuffy.
"Do you hear music?" I asked the lady at the front desk. "They didn't fix that either."
I turned around to exit, but the rhythm of the music grew so hypnotic I couldn't help swinging my hips to the right and then to the left. I did a full turn next. Before I knew what I was doing, I removed my tweed jacket and whirled it around my head a few times like it was a veil. A sultry female voice spoke to me in a language I couldn't understand-a voice that didn't come from the wide-eyed receptionist or the waiting room full of gawking people. As I let my body sway to the music, it alleviated some of the pressure in my head.
So I kept dancing.
"Please just be the genie's MP3 player up in my nasal cavity," I begged any gods that chose to listen. Heck, I wouldn't have minded if it was one of those curses like in the Little, Red Shoes where I would be made to dance for all my days because I had admired my suede loafers too many times in church. Of course, it couldn't have been that simple.
I found out later the music and residual sinus pressure was because of the harem dancer up my nose.
My new ears-nose-and-throat doctor said the harem girl is scantily clad and beautiful, though I have never actually seen her. Rubbing didn't get her out, and the genie never came back for her. I felt kind of bad for her and tried to make the best of it. When my grandson hooked up some kind of newfangled speaker amplification system to my nose, everyone else heard the hypnotic rhythms too. It came as a natural next step I should want to understand what the woman up my nose was saying. I took some courses in speaking Arabic. After a few months, I found out her name was Fatimah. It turned out, she wasn't cursing at me. Most of the time she was saying, "Right. Left. Swivel your hips in a circle. Now, three snake arms and step to the left. Egyptian basic and a half turn."
Wanting to make the young lady happy, I decided to humor her and follow her choreography.
When my wife caught me grooving to the Arabic music, I thought she would get jealous. Instead, she laughed, "I'm just happy you decided to take up an exercise program. And can you do that back bend again? It was pretty impressive."
I wanted to refuse. But Fatimah made me do it. My wife called a friend of hers who was a talent agent. Things really went downhill from there. No more sneaking hamburgers and candy bars for this pot-bellied grandpa. Between my wife, the agent, and the belly dancer, I didn't have a chance.
To make matters worse, the dancer can be pretty demanding at times, insisting I snort silk pillows and Persian carpets to decorate the interior of my nose. I drew the line at the hookah pipe and hashish. And there was no way I could fit that pumpkin with Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater hiding inside. On the other hand, I know she's lonely. I don't blame her.
Now that I'm a belly dancer, people are constantly trying to shove filthy dollar bills down my coin belt. They say money carries more germs than anything else. Dirty old men, unlike classy gentleman like myself, are always trying to pay me extra for a peepshow. You know, with one of those nose tools. I test out lots of them, hoping the genie might be in one of them and take her back.
None of them have contained genies.
So when people ask how I came to be the most famous male belly dancer, I can honestly say it wasn't the genie who gave me riches and fame. It was his girlfriend. Don't believe me? Get that nose instrument on the counter and take a peek. With any luck, there will be a genie inside that tool and he'll grant both our wishes when he gets his girlfriend back.