Mr. Armand Bender came into the waiting room at Providence Hospital with a cough so rattling and deep, I thought he was going to produce a lung. I'm not someone who is particularly averse to the presence of illness, dirt, or even death, but I had to forcibly restrain myself from running out the room and away from Armand. Fortunately, he wore one of those face masks you see on sensible construction workers and subway passengers in Japan. Still, it gave me the creeps. What did the poor bastard have? Pneumonia or Bronchitis? Tuberculosis? Egad.
Mr. Bender was a large and rather thick-bodied sort of fellow. Not fat, really, but the kind of stout that probably got him on a high school football team - a lineman, maybe. Anyway, he had the kind of denseness that prevents arms from hanging straight down alongside the body. Such a frame often looks like some kind of cartoon toy that came with your Happy Meal, the arms perpetually in half-flight, an eternal comic gesture.
He anchored himself across the from my mother and me. Though I smiled at him when he looked over, it was only partly out of natural friendliness. Another part was pity, some part was nervousness. Clearly he suffered, not only from his mystery ailment and alienating cough, but also the mask. A common object in a different context estranges. The mask said that Armand was, in fact, dangerous.
Not only was he a hazard, but Armand also was loud. Given the right situation, bellicose even. In sporadic fits, Armand gave us rants. Mostly it concerned how much he was made to wait. Later, it was, didn't we all, we band of brothers hunkered down together, ever wonder, much less notice, that there were no clocks in the room? It was a conspiracy, an outrage, this willful omission of clocks. They were duping us yet again. Some of these words are my embellishments, of course, but one got these feelings quite distinctly from the pugnacious Armand.
He was a rabble rouser. A shit stirrer. A perennial malcontent. Now I think of Ignatius Reilly, to whom Armand bore much similarity in costume and physiognomy. He lacked the hunting cap, but was fitted with the plaids, jeans, and workingman's boots of a hunter, a construction worker, or simply half the blokes who live in the Northwest. Like Ignatius, he was possessed of no less literary a name. I think the name alone, which, happily, was called out across the room by an ill-fated and summoning nurse, inspired me to write of him.
Following the outbursts, no one could look at him. I missed this, but my mother swears he grew salacious at the sight of a particularly delectable and tightly clad youngish female who crossed his path. By her re-enactment, his gaze followed her like one of those owl clocks with the hyperthyroid eyes that swing hither and thither. He gasped, "She's slicked right in there," then wretched some more. Poor lonely Armand.
As Walker Percy wrote of the misadventures of the comedic and "Falstaffian" Ignatius Reilly, "It is also sad. One never quite knows where the sadness comes from -- from the tragedy at the heart of Ignatius's great gaseous rages and lunatic adventures or the tragedy attending the book itself."
This is my final impression of Armand Bender, one which rendered me weeping and convulsing with laughter in front of everybody. I swear couldn't help it. I did my best. I hid my face, but I was sunk. It is a memory of his final public eruption, occasioned by the newspaper he squeezed in his meaty hand:
"I'm so sick and tired of people yelling about child abuse! Yeah, sometimes people go too far, but you've still got to PUNISH them! It's just more job security for the COPS!"