Saturday, December 15, 2012

City Doctor

By Thomas Stone
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1951
Sometimes working with Philip was more than Jane could bear. She admired him as a doctor; she loved him as a man. But Philip preferred women like Cynthia—Sin for short. So Jane worked with him day after day, while his nights belonged to Cynthia, until that night when Jane found herself in desperate trouble, trouble that would smear her over the front page and wreck her career. No one could help but Philip, and to help her she must make him see her as a woman. … Here is a dramatic, behind-the-scenes story of the medical profession—the private lives of some of those men and women in white.
“His patients practically never had the bad manners to die on him.”
“I play no favorites,” Phil sometimes said, when a woman asked him if he preferred blondes, or what. “All I demand of my gals is that they know how to hold their liquor, mean that come-hither look in their eye, and that I’m the one man in their life, as long as I’m holding them in my arms.”
“San Francisco is my first and truest love. But the old city is really quite a trollop, you know. She was conceived in abandoned sin. The miners came in Forty-Nine, the gals in Fifty-One. And when you think of the lovers she’s had since—show me a two-fisted, hard-drinking man who hasn’t loved San Francisco—she’s really quite the scarlet hussy. And still going strong, after nearly a hundred years.”
“Mrs. Lambert does so enjoy being ‘examined’ by you.”

“Too many casual dates leading up to a casual week-end was the most effective way to turn an efficient nurse into a darned nuisance.”
“I think women who go in for being reforming influences in other people’s lives should be drowned at birth, don’t you?”
“Every attractive woman should take time out for love now and again. It keeps you young, helps the circulation, and it’s very broadening. Don’t you want to be broadened?”
“Her hold on him was like the hold liquor gets on a man. The more you had, the more you wanted.”
“You’d be surprised how fast a lady can turn into a tramp.”
“Haven’t I told you your little iceberg of a nurse could be had, if you put your mind to it?”
“I’m not sure you’ll rate so high as a lover, without a few shots of liquor to start you off. Look at you tonight—about as passionate as an ossified oyster.”
“The women men respect are usually dull, stolid creatures with low blood pressure.”
“That breath of yours is strong enough to wipe out a Nazi division.”
“You make a lover sound like these one-a-day vitamin tablets they advertise on the radio. Are you feeling low, depressed, suffering from an energy deficiency; is it hard for you to get started in the morning; are you exhausted when night comes? Then take a lover a day, and you’ll be astonished at the quick pick-ups. Lovers are priced very reasonably and you can find one at your nearest corner drug store.”
“Youth tears itself apart over things that were very unimportant. But only age teaches you this. Nothing else can teach it to you.”
“Women are all alike, under the skin—all wenches. A man hasn’t got a chance.”
“This is a swell drink, baby. There are a lot of things you don’t understand. But how to make drinks isn’t one of them.”
“The minute a dame gets a hold on a guy, she figures she’s got to start doing things about his life.”
“Oh, it’s love all right, because I’ve lost my appetite. No other man ever did that to me before.”
It is with great joy that I offer you the best nurse novel I have read all year, and once again loudly proclaim Florence Stonebraker’s genius. Not only is this a picture of a relationship that feels profoundly true at its heart even as it dolls itself up in a campy sequined dress and feather boa, but this hard-boiled yet gentle story is as much a romance with the city of San Francisco. So if you think that fabled metropolis is the greatest on earth, as I do, you will be greatly pleased by all the references to local landmarks as well as passages such as: “Phil got up and walked to the window. He lit a cigarette and stood there staring down into the steady drizzle which sprayed the city below, wrapping it in mist. It looked beautiful. Rains, sun, or fog—San Francisco was eternally beautiful. It was forever a dream city.”
Jane Walters is a 24-year-old nurse who has worked for two years in the office of Dr. Philip Hastings, located on Sutter Street. (In real life, Florence’s husband William also had an office on Sutter Street, in 1933, just before he left his second wife and ran off to marry Florence. But that’s another story.) Philip has a high-profile and profitable practice of “wealthy idle women whose ailments, in a sense, were one of their sources of amusement.” They summon the good doctor to administer a nightcap when they can’t sleep, wink, wink. Philip is, in other words, a slut.
His problem, as the book opens, is that “he was sick of it, to his soul. He was sick of money that he hadn’t really earned. He was sick of the kind of life he’d been living; being a fashionable, high-priced doctor by day, a playboy by night.” Worst of all, he’s been rejected by the Army because he has gastric ulcers, brought on by too much drinking. “It wouldn’t, of course, be some sturdy, he-man disease that could kill a fellow off, something he needn’t be ashamed of, but ulcers,” he says of his diagnosis. This rejection has made him dwell on past failures, such as how he was drummed out of a career in—what else?—surgery, due to a little confusion about his relationship with his mentor’s wife, a situation in which he was, for once, actually innocent.
So, maudlin and full of self-pity, he ventures back to the office after a five-day bender that included extended visits to Dizzy Dick’s and several fistfights resulting in a black eye, and tells Jane to tell Mrs. Lambert with the liver condition, who thinks she’s “turning yellow all over,” to “change her brand of whiskey.” Jane, though she recognizes that her boss is not quite right, adds to his misery by telling him that she’s leaving his employ, because “there’s work to be done in the world these days. Real work. I can’t go on any longer playing at work.” Jane’s not cruel, she’s just sees what he really needs: “Pity would be the worst thing in the world for him. What he needed most was to be prodded into standing up to reality and doing a little grappling with it.” So she gives him a few straight facts about himself, and instead of firing her, he asks her to lunch, the first time he has shown any personal interest in her. “You’re the first woman who ever talked to me like that,” he tells her. “You’ve been like a tonic to me.”
They go to lunch in Chinatown, he begs her to stay, she accepts. We spend a long afternoon eavesdropping on their conversation, and Phil tries to tell Jane, in a clumsy, honest way, that he’s fallen in love with her. But their new-found romance isn’t going to be so easy. Phil’s most frequent “lovely” is Cynthia Bolton—Sin for short—“a black-chiffon-negligee type of gal,” married to a famous war pilot who was blinded in battle and is now recovering in Palm Springs. She has taken Phil “as a lover,” which is unusual in that these novels very rarely ever give anyone a sex life. And in this case, Cynthia “had more stark physical attraction for him than any woman he’d ever kissed.” But now that he’s found Jane, “there was something flat to it. Somehow, it wasn’t as wonderful as it used to be.” He tries to break it off with Cynthia, but she refuses to go quietly, and tells him that she will tell her husband that she wants a divorce to marry Phil, which will splash his name all over the papers—especially after that incident a few years back with the surgeon’s wife, who named Phil in her suicide note before she jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge—and he will never work again. Never! So Phil’s stuck with Cynthia for now, but still seeing Jane—they spend the night together in a rented bungalow in Carmel, a first for any VNRN heroine I’ve met.
They have an interesting argument about Phil’s growing jealousy of Jane’s work, which takes her into an aging neighbor’s house in the evenings. Phil hints that Jane is a “tramp,” which the book repeatedly holds up as the worst thing a gal can be, but then he apologizes: “I hate having to share you with other people,” he says. “I hate having to share you with your work. I want you—I want all of you. Men are like that.” Jane responds, “Either your love for me means something, and it includes understanding and friendship and a willingness to share me with the things that are important to my life, including my work—or it doesn’t mean a damn thing. It’s just another phoney.” Phil is angered by Jane’s response: “If just this once she’d come to him in the meek humility and surrender of love,” he thinks. But she does not! Instead, she quits! Then there’s another little misunderstanding, when Phil finds Jane in the arms of the surgeon who she believes been squelching Phil’s application for a job in surgery at the hospital, which seems like it might be the end of Phil and Jane, but it is Cynthia, oddly, who lets slip a bit of information that puts everything to rights between them. Phil passes his Army physical, and Phil urges Jane to enlist as well, saying, “Between us, the wounded soldiers will be pretty lucky guys. I’ll fix up their busted legs, and you can touch their fevered brows.” Even the ending of this book is cute.
I am immensely pleased with this book. It has it all: humor, camp, good writing, and a heartfelt story. I urge everyone out there to dig up a copy, fix yourself a frosty cocktail, and settle down with this siren in your lap for a glorious evening.

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