Good Humor Man

Picture credit: Solen Feyissa

CW: This story is set in 1968 and contains language that some readers may find offensive.

Martin Binstock ran a finger along the crusted suture line in his scalp, a testament to Friday’s adventure. He tilted his head as though he could conceal the damage from Miss Ryan. She had come from Ireland on a work visa. After sixteen runs, she was still Miss Ryan and he was still Dr. Binstock, and she had the wheel. They were headed for Cabrini-Green, where Mrs. Cleveland’s labor had begun.

The late sunlight bounced off his white jacket and worsened his headache. A horn blasted behind him when Miss Ryan pitched into another lane.

“Focáil leat!” 

“No wonder your car is a shit can,” he said. She drove a large-bore Pontiac with a bad muffler. 

She glanced at him. “No one would take anything off my car, would they?” Early on, he had insisted on driving his precious Mustang to a delivery at Robert Taylor.

Miss Ryan hit the brakes when a squad car squeezed ahead of them. Martin straight-armed the dashboard.

“Pig,” he said.

“Ah,” she said. “Now they’re pigs.”


She eyed him. “Nasty cut.”

“My mother told me the policeman was my friend. She lied.” She lied often, he thought.

Miss Ryan nodded, keeping her eyes on the road. 

Martin laced his fingers carefully over his head, then dropped them when he gazed at her. He focused on the faint lines that radiated from the corners of her eyes and didn’t match the rest of her. She was slim, but her body pushed against her dress as though bursting to get out.

She asked him about Friday.


He told her about the blue bus that stopped at Randolph Street, full of cops who roared like animals, and how they emptied out and charged the line, how he could just see their blue helmets and the clubs going up and down as though they were threshing in the teargas, how they outflanked the crowd while the guys were still saying walk-walk-walk, how the people poured heedless around the woman sitting on the pavement, her legs splayed open like Raggedy Ann whom he tried to pull up, and then the helmet and the flashlight poised above his head, the knock that was painless, a thousand pinpricks of light and the blood running hot down his neck.


 Miss Ryan had parked the car. As though he had awakened, he glanced out his window. Faded newspaper tumbled in the breeze, children chased each other in the dust of an empty lot, and everywhere the buildings rose like tombstones.  

“We’re here,” he announced, and opened his door.

“Hold off,” she said, motionless, her head inclined toward him, her pupils large and black, her lips parted.

“We had best wait for the pig.” 

She spoke calmly, as though Mrs. Cleveland’s condition no longer concerned her. “Dr. Binstock, why are you taking call this evening?” 

It still jarred him to be called doctor. He felt like a fraud, and for him there was little distance between feeling and being. None of his classmates seemed to mind.

“Surely, you don’t feel well.”

He told her that he really liked doing deliveries, as though that explained anything. He had done over twenty now, and even took night call for his classmates to do more. It was like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, he said. Magic.

He also had done enough of them to realize that he might grab an emerging head in both hands or catch the little body that slid out in a gush, but in the end he was just a gawker. Women held more mystery for him than he wanted Miss Ryan to know. 

Her eyes twinkled. “Would you like aspirin?”

She reached in front of him to open the glove box. He caught the scent of lavender in her hair, and something else. He closed his eyes and his head dropped. He leaned back in his seat, while she tapped two tablets into his palm. He swallowed them dry.

“Dr. Binstock! You mustn’t! You’ll get ulcers.” She groped under her seat, staring straight ahead, giving him another chance to take her in, and pulled out her thermos. It was dented, like her car. She was tough on things, he thought. She poured tea into the cap, and offered it to him. Mindful that her lips had been there, he sipped slowly. 

A squad car pulled alongside and parked in front of them. The cop walked back to their car, smiled and tipped the sunshade of his helmet. Before Friday, only the motorcycle cops wore helmets. The times, they are definitely a-changin,’ he thought.

“Hi, Annie,” the cop yelled through the glass. She waved.

They waited while Officer Ballard stowed his helmet in the trunk. He was a stout man with short-cropped grizzly hair and black eyes. Tufts of hair sprouted from his ears and nostrils. He headed for Mrs. Cleveland’s apartment, with Miss Ryan listing away from the satchel she carried. Martin followed. He talked a lot, Ballard did, and gestured as he walked, but sure didn’t offer to carry the satchel for her. She laughed at whatever he was saying, and did nothing to smooth her skirt when the wind pressed it against her hips. She tripped on something, and Ballard grabbed her with both hands. She giggled. 

They entered a darkened foyer that smelled of piss. Ballard pressed the elevator button. As they waited for the elevator, he said, “Holy smokes! What happened to you?”

“I got mugged.”

Ballard shook his head. “A brother?”

Martin nodded.

Miss Ryan hit the button staccato.

“These people don’t take care of what they have,” Ballard said. “Look at this place.”  He shook his head again, and headed for the stairwell. The elevator door jolted open, dark and empty. “Wait a second,” he said, and pulled his flashlight. Martin backed away.  

Ballard trained his beam on a puddle on the elevator floor. “Puke,” he said.

 “Wow,” said Martin. “You up for detective?”

“Dr. Binstock?” Miss Ryan said.

“Naw,” said Ballard.  He pressed the button. The door closed. “I got two more years. Then I’m going to bother the missus, maybe teach my grandson how to fish.”

Ballard focused his beam on the dead floor-counter above the door, and whistled tunelessly. The elevator groaned upward until the door opened onto a dimly lit corridor. Ballard walked out slowly, looking both ways. When he took off down the hall, they followed.  

Miss Ryan knocked on the door and announced herself over the television racket. She turned toward Martin, but looked away as she told him that Mrs. Cleveland had failed to attend her prenatal appointments.

They waited in silence.

Ballard rapped the door with his flashlight. 

A woman yelled, “Jamaal! See who it is.”  

The doorknob turned and released, turned again and released. Then the door opened the length of a security chain, and a little boy peeked through.  His liquid eyes widened.

“Mama? It’s the police!”

“What do they want?”

Ballard squatted, cupped his hand next to his mouth and whispered something.

“Mama? The police is with the doctor.”

“Well? Let him in. About time.”

Ballard moved fast from room to room. He returned to Miss Ryan and told her to call when she was ready. 

She shook his hand with both of hers.

He gave her a bashful smile, tipped his nonexistent hat, and closed the door behind him.

She turned to Martin. “It would please me if you’d not refer to policemen as barnyard animals, or make jokes at Officer Ballard’s expense.”

Martin set his teeth. “For all I know, he was the one.”

“Do me the kindness,” she said, no longer smiling. “My father was a constable – a Catholic – in the R.U.C. and my brother is still. It’s a boring way to make a life, and a treacherous one.” Her voice shook. “You can be sure that Mrs. Ballard gets no rest while he’s on the job.”  

While Martin blinked and tried to craft a rejoinder, Miss Ryan headed for the bedroom. 

As the heat and rodent-smell closed in, he looked around the living room. Plastic screw anchors dotted the cinderblock walls and duct tape patched the trails worn in the carpet. Two faded chairs and a herniated sofa huddled around the television. 

Jamaal emerged from the bedroom and leaned with his cheek and hands against the wall, staring at him as though he were an exotic animal. Then he gave him a wide berth and dived into the sofa to watch reruns of Deputy Dawg.  

Jamaal’s mother lay sweating on a mattress soaked in birth water and covered now with layers of fresh newspaper. Her hair radiated in a fan against her pillow. Miss Ryan had drawn down the sheet, exposing her belly, and had finished checking her. Pulling off her glove, she turned to Martin.

“Mrs. Cleveland – she prefers to be called Claudine, don’t you, dear – this is Dr. Binstock. It appears we haven’t arrived too soon.”

Martin shook Mrs. Cleveland’s flaccid hand. 

The woman looked him over. “You sure you’re a doctor?”

He snapped on a glove.

“Looks like the Good Humor man to me.”

“Dr. Binstock,” Miss Ryan said, “We must talk a moment.”

“Vanilla,” said Mrs. Cleveland.

He ignored them both, and inserted his first and second fingers into the heat of Mrs. Cleveland’s vagina. He came up short against a bulge that pressed remorselessly against him as her contraction gathered force. He traced the contours with his forefinger to find the rotation of the head. “Left occiput transverse,” he said, and slingshotted his glove into the trash. He liked to do that. 

“Is it, now?” said Miss Ryan. She had a pleasant smile.

The belly under his free hand grew tighter until it clenched like a mighty fist. The skin on his neck prickled, as it always did. 

“Breathe, dear, breathe!” said Miss Ryan softly. “You must breathe through the pain.”

“Shit,” said Mrs. Cleveland through her teeth, “You breathe.” Water ran from her eyes. “Jesus.” Then she relaxed slowly and gasped for breath. “Jesus.” She wept.  

“Claudine?” He wiped his forehead in the crook of his arm. “Claudine, I can feel your baby’s head. He’s almost here.” He ignored Miss Ryan.

“Push, Claudine,” he said, as he felt her womb harden once more. “Push.” 

Mrs. Cleveland’s face contorted. The bed shuddered. She let out a long groan, and pushed again.

 “Claudine,” he barked. “All that grunt and groan is good air going to waste. You need it to push the baby out.”

Mrs. Cleveland glowered at him. She was panting and her thighs shook. 

“Can you see his head, Dr. Binstock?” asked Miss Ryan. She wore a fixed smile now, inflamed with a ruddy glow as though she were going to unload on him in Irish. 

As the next contraction was upon her, Mrs. Cleveland started to growl, and the growl grew into a roar. He pressed his fingertips against her to splint her from a tear. Between her legs, bulging, revealing itself through slowly parting lips, peeked a diminutive butt that squirted shit up his sleeve, then disappeared.  

“Dr. Binstock?”

Martin listened carefully.  

“Do you think Claudine would be more comfortable proceeding in the supine position?” Her eyes flashed as though they would burn holes in him. “Or would she prefer shifting to all fours?”

His heart knocking, he cleared his throat and said, “All fours.”

“Claudine, dear, don’t push!” Miss Ryan stroked her forehead. “Let’s have you roll onto your knees and elbows. Thaaat’s it.” She turned to Martin, and murmured, “Clever idea, doctor, letting the force of gravity work for you, not having to hold the baby’s body up to prevent hyper-extension of the neck.” 

Martin nodded.

This time Mrs. Cleveland took a deep breath and bore down in silence. The bedsprings shook.

“That’s it, dear,” said Miss Ryan, with her hand on the woman’s rigid back, “That’s it!”

He felt her breasts at his back as she now took her position behind him.

Once again, the little buttocks emerged, but Mrs. Cleveland pushed through. Martin freed the little legs, frightened of disjointing them as he might a chicken. A blue torso followed and hung free to the shoulders.

“It’s a girl,” he said, but could hardly hear himself for the pounding in his ears, for his only thought was that her cord was now clamped between her head and the birth canal.

“One more push, dear,” Miss Ryan whispered. Mrs. Cleveland summoned what she had left. Martin caught the baby’s head as it slid free. He held her, limp and blue, along his arm.  

“Good work,” cheered Miss Ryan. “What’s her name, dear?”

Martin cradled the girl like a football, while he rubbed her body.


“Come on, Kaneesha,” Martin whispered to her. “Come on… Come on, little girl… Come on… Come on… Come on, little girl…” Kaneesha took a convulsive breath and squirmed. Then she pinked up. She opened her eyes and stared at him, captured him.

He was startled when Miss Ryan cleared her throat. She cut Kaneesha’s cord and took her from him.

Mrs. Cleveland began to sag. He cupped her cheek in his hand and whispered to her to grab hold. Her breath had soured for lack of water. She dug her fingers into his shoulders and hung on as she lowered her body and rolled onto her back. She looked away and squeezed his hand.

“You must be a doctor,” she said. “Never hurt so much in my life.”

Martin found the soap and headed for the bathroom. When he turned on the light, he saw a gap in the cinderblock where the medicine cabinet would have been. As he rinsed his shirtsleeve and lathered his forearms, he craned his neck over the sink, searching the gloom.

“What do you want?” It was a man’s voice.

Martin drew back. “Nothing.”

“All right, then.”


When Ballard arrived, Miss Ryan gushed over Martin’s prowess. His eyes grew wide, and he clapped Martin on the back. While she busied herself with Mrs. Cleveland, the cop took a seat on the couch next to Jamaal. Martin stood. As the couch sagged, Jamaal fell into Ballard, while he continued to watch Deputy Dawg. Ballard rubbed Jamaal’s head with his knuckles. He smiled at Martin, and stretched his other arm along the back of the couch. Martin took a seat against the armrest.

Ballard told him he was amazing. 

Martin shrugged, but Ballard kept talking.

He said that he had never delivered a baby ass backwards, but had one in the back seat of his squad. That was five years ago, when he busted a couple of kids on a traffic stop. She carried a key in her bag. 

“He’s some fat kike off the Lake, went to college out there. She’s real pregnant, just out of high school. Her water breaks right in the back seat.” He sighed and shook his head. He looked at Martin from the corner of his eye.

Jamaal rocked back and forth, keeping his eyes on Deputy Dawg.

“Guy’s just using her for a mule, but she loves him. I know she’s gonna take the beef herself. The guy’s counting on it – you could tell. Then she starts screaming she’s going have the kid right now. Next thing I know, she takes a shit and out it comes. Joe College sits there like he’s watching the tube. She’s crying and carrying on and I’m calling for a wagon and then there’s the afterbirth and she’s bleeding…” Ballard pulled his lower lip and stared at Deputy Dawg.

“Jesus,” Martin said. “No training, nothing.”

Ballard smiled, but kept his gaze ahead. Jamal bounced off the couch and turned the TV up.

“Then what happened?”

Ballard started to chuckle, but trailed off. He turned to Martin. 

“I make sure they keep Joe College in a cell long enough so he gets to know the place before they give him his dime. And I’m there for every continuance, even on my days off.” Ballard shrugged. “He walks.” He raised his thumb and rubbed it with his index finger. “They always do.” He stared ahead. 

Jamal now sat cross-legged three feet from the screen.

Martin sighed. “Isn’t that the truth.” He softened his voice. “You gave it your best shot.” He waited. “Then what?”

Jamal turned the volume up and inched closer to the screen.

“A couple weeks later I call her.” Ballard ran his tongue along his lower lip. “Tell her to leave the kid with her mother and come down to the station. I feel sorry for her and – this is funny – I kind of admire her.” He watched Deputy Dawg.

Jamal cranked it louder. 

“So beautiful.” Ballard shrugged. “I let her blow me, then I ditched her file and told her to scram.” 

He yelled at Jamal, “Turn that damn thing off.”

Jamal darted from the room.

Ballard said, “I’ve been married thirty-five years and I swear it was the only time I’ve been unfaithful.”

Martin nodded.

Ballard stared at him as though for the first time. “Why am I telling you this shit?” He laughed. “You’re not my priest.” Then he sobered. “Doctors have to keep secrets, just like priests. Don’t they?”

“I’m no doctor,” Martin said. “But don’t worry – I won’t call your wife.” He smiled.

Ballard leaned back and laced his fingers over his belly. He smiled back. “You cocksucker.”


Miss Ryan drove west on Chicago Avenue through a light rain.

“You did well, Dr. Binstock.”

“My name is Martin.” 

The light from a street lamp bathed her face momentarily. Then he lost her again. 

“Left occiput transverse,” he said.

She laughed. “Don’t bother yourself,” she said. “It happens to all of us. I recall after starting, I was still a Sister, tending to Mrs. McPherson. I say to her, ‘Push, Dearie,’ and out comes a shapeless gobbet of meat kicking its feet. Ah Jesus! Sister Anne sees my face, and says to Mrs. McPherson, ‘Martha, you’re a lucky woman. Your little one has arrived wearing his caul–’”

“–Cut the crap,” he said. “You knew it was a breech.”

“I tried to tell you,” she said merrily, “but you wouldn’t let a word in.”

“You lied to me.”

“You needed taking down a peg.”  

“You have no idea what I need,” he said.

“Oh?” she glanced at him. “‘Ah Claudine, stop that grunt and groan.’ A regular Black and Tan.”

“I said that to help her.”

“Of course,” she said, “It’s always to help us – isn’t it?”

He turned his head as though to watch the rain. She had shown herself, and he puzzled over it.

A horn sounded behind them. Miss Ryan hit the gas, and pressed him back. Neither spoke.

Then he asked, “How old are you, Miss Ryan?”

“I am twenty-three years old, Dr. Binstock.”

“Twenty-three.” He smiled. “I’m older than you.”

“In years.”

“You were a nun?”

“It’s how I came to be a midwife,” she said.

 “You entered a convent to be a midwife.” 

She said nothing for awhile. Then, “I believed the priests.” 

He waited.

“I had to get out of the house.” She cast him a glance. “And I was in no hurry to become somebody’s brood sow.” 

The rain had picked up and he listened to the wipers knocking out a faster tempo, barely clearing a path of sight. 

“The novitiate sent my mother into ecstasy, of course, but I thought my father would fight it. He did not.” 

In the flash of a streetlight, Martin saw the bright line of water in her eyes. 

“He gave me up like that.” She snapped her fingers, and the car juked to the left. A horn blared from her blind spot, and she swerved back. Then she slowed, pulled over to the curb, and cut the engine. 

Water sheeted down the glass.

“I left after Mr. Ian Paisley’s bunch killed him. One of his own officers ran him down – by accident they said – coming up on the riot.” Her eyes glistened. “I’ve had my fill of civil disobedience, Dr. Binstock. Your bloody Convention.” Her lips quivered. “Your precious bump on the head.”

“My name is Martin.” 

“They showed him to me on a table, Dr. Binstock, propped him up on piles of linen for me to see his good side.” She wiped her eyes. “But I loved the other side, too.” She cried bitterly. “They told me I must forgive. Pshh! If I couldn’t forgive, I’d be up to my crotch in blood. It’s the forgetting.” She hid her face.

She shrugged his hand away, and switched on the dome light.

“The Mother told me it was God’s design.” She wiped her eyes. “I’ve had a belly full of obedience, too.” She reached for a tissue under the seat and blew her nose. “Will you listen to me now – as if God would care.”

“I care,” he said.

The windows had begun to fog. He smelled lavender again and something else.

“You’re no God,” she said, and looked away. “You do have a way with people.” She glanced at him again. “And you are pleasant enough to look at.” 

She tilted her head toward him and spoke softly.

“How many women have you touched, Dr. Binstock, without that glove to protect you?” 

His eyes watered as though she had slapped him. Now Ballard came to mind, Ballard for whom he had put on that glove, who had confessed his sin but received from him no absolution. He burned with shame. Then he faced her and shook his head.

She said nothing, but switched off the dome light and grabbed the wheel. Her head moved in starts as though she were watching a creature scurry this way and that. He closed his eyes and listened to the sizzle of tires on the pavement as the rain let up.

Then she turned the key.


Roy Lowenstein, is a physician and psychoanalyst who lives in Denver, Colorado. His work can be found in Barcelona Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Blue Lake Review, Copper Nickel, Eunoia, MacGuffin, Red Rock Literary Review, and Santa Fe Literary Review. He is married, with two grown children and a grand-daughter named Coyote.

Roy Lowenstein, is a physician and psychoanalyst who lives in Denver, Colorado. His work can be found in Barcelona Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Blue Lake Review, Copper Nickel, Eunoia, MacGuffin, Red Rock Literary Review, and Santa Fe Literary Review. He is married, with two grown children and a grand-daughter named Coyote.

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