5:30 am -- huddled around the computer in my studio, both of us having logged a solid 4 hours of sleep
As we drove up through California's Central Valley early yesterday morning, the day already heating up, Tony and I laughed about our fallen status. A day earlier we'd ridden to a VIP tour of the White House in our smooth-riding, air-conditioned taxicab with a tape deck purring country music, a meter that read over $20,000, and "San Francisco Taxicab" lettering on the side that brought us much bemused and bemusing attention. Then NPR came to our house to be regaled with stories of our trip. Now we were sweating at 8 a.m., with the wind snapping noisily through our open windows, no music, and no passing motorists or policemen taking note of us, except perhaps to note that that old looking Honda CRX with the two tired-looking, mismatched men inside sure has needed a paint job for a long, long time.
We reached the kindly dentist, Dr. Skiff Peters in Red Bluff right on time, 10 a.m. Skiff and his assistant Sherrie (hope I spelled your name right, Sherrie) had come in on their day off to work on Tony -- no one else on today's schedule. Tony spent four and a half hours in the chair. First, another root canal -- Tony's third -- Skiff executed the first two about three weeks ago. Tony's teeth, his mouth, in the area where he was struck with a hammer when he was mugged, are in pretty bad shape. Three front teeth were dead and infected, requiring the root canals. The teeth themselves were blackened. Tony has often complained about their appearance. I really haven't noticed -- or, I've noticed, but they've not been a distraction the way his eye once was. Anyway, Tony kept asking Dr. Peters if the teeth could be capped. Dr. Peters said that procedure takes three weeks -- not doable. But we could at least take care of the infection. I took three naps in the office lounge during the day. When I woke up from the third nap Tony had what looked like a whole new mouth. Dr. Peters had performed what seemed a miracle. All three teeth were white! All were perfectly shaped! Tony had not seen himself in a mirror until just now, and when he sat up and saw what had been done -- well, he was a happy man. A pleased, tickled man. I'm sure Dr. Peters and Sherrie have seen this marvelous reaction from others and are sort of used to it -- but this was special, I think. For the record, Dr. Peters never once mentioned money. Nor did I. But Tony and I have both marveled at this incredible act of generosity -- and at Skiff's expertise.
Later, at the Chinese restaurant in Red Bluff, looking across the table at Tony I was struck by how handsome he is. I said, "Tony, my goodness! Rita is going to take one look at you and say, 'They took my husband, Tony, and they sent me back this other man! I like this other man! I want this other man! Oh, yes!'"
Across the table Tony ducked his head, lowering the brim of his cowboy hat, but not before I could see his smile. He knows I'm pretty much right about this. And he must be looking forward incredibly to seeing his family again, both because he misses them, and because he's got to be looking forward to their reaction -- they've not ever seen this particular cowboy!
Last night, after Rhonda and I had read bed time stories to Sarah, Gloria joined Tony and me for a trip in to San Francisco. We were going back to the New Delhi Restaurant, where we would meet Marc and Aunie Scalzi, the missionaries who were instrumental in saving Tony's life. Tony and Marc had lost track of each other, had had no contact since 1992, and when my detective friend Trudy Marin tracked them down in Idaho last week, and after my brother Grant said no problem when I asked him for frequent flier miles for the Scalzis to fly to San Francisco, and after Michael Pace, general manager of the Monticello Inn, said no problem when I asked him for a free room...well, last night was the Scalzis' fourth at the Monticello.
They walked into the restaurant while Tony was in the bathroom. I got some videotape of their greeting. Great, down-to-earth people. We sat around the table until we were the only people in the restaurant. The key detail I came away with: When Tony was mugged, no one really wanted to help him. At first he was left lying by the road, assumed dead. Then, when someone noticed him breathing, bystanders moved him to the clinic in Banaue, where no one had the expertise to deal with such a severe wound as Tony's. Tony was given a single stitch to hold his split upper lip together. Tony's cousin-in-law took him to a hospital in a town one hour away, where, basically, the people at the clinic left him, untreated, to die. Rita was notified and arrived the next morning to find her unconscious husband dying and asked, basically, what the hell are you people doing? Why are you not treating my husband? The hospital inquired as to Tony's financial status and, when informed, said there was nothing they could (would) do for him. Rita went back to Banaue and went to Marc and Aunie's house -- they had recently been trekking with Tony -- the same trek that I made with him six months after his mugging, or, as he often refers to it, "the accident."
When Marc showed up at the hospital and the hospital realized that there might be other financial resources available they began to make a show of treating Tony. Marc, angry and doubtful of the quality of care available, put Tony on a mattress in the back of his truck and he and Tony and Rita headed for Manila. By now, nearly 24 hours had passed since the attack. They went to three different hospitals in Manila. At the first they were quoted $12,000 for treatment. At the second, $8,000. At the government hospital, $2,000 -- a fortune to a rice-farming family in the Philippines. Tony stayed a month in the hospital, and came home a changed man.
And after tonight's bonfire, he goes home again, a changed man again.