It’s an unfortunate fact that some of the most memorable books written by the late Charles Willeford also happen to be among the most elusive. I’m referring to OFF THE WALL, a dramatization of the Son of Sam killings, as well as COCKFIGHTER JOURNAL, a witty recounting of the filming of 1974’s COCKFIGHTER, and A GUIDE FOR THE UNDEHEMORRHOIDED, a short but deeply resonant account of the author’s late-1970s hemorrhoid surgery.
This being a Willeford book, you can be sure there’s far more to it than just the topic under discussion. Quite a few issues are covered, in fact, including Willeford’s thoughts about the politics of healthcare in America, his own unsettled childhood (this book actually began life as a chapter of his then-in-the-works memoir I WAS LOOKING FOR A STREET) and the racial makeup of his surroundings, all contained in just 32 impressively ordered pages.
Certainly the gruesome physical details of Willeford’s surgery and its aftermath are attention-getting. As he bluntly states, “if a man is past thirty, it is not worth his while to have a hemorrhoidectomy…there are not, simply, enough good years remaining to any man past thirty to make the pain of this operation worth it.” Yet the sardonic humor for which he was known is also quite evident in passages like this one: “An old soldier, fifty years old, scarred from old war wounds, and here I was, reduced by the extremity of pain to using a word like “Nursie!” for God’s sake.”
Willeford also makes note of the Hispanic orderlies who attend to him, and the old Cuban man with whom he shares a hospital room, thus foreshadowing the primary focus of his 1980s-era novels: the changing ethnic makeup of Miami, where Willeford spent his final years. Then there’s the cost of the hospital stay, about which Willeford has much to say: “To charge a man a dollar an ounce for his urine when he is suffering is pushing our free enterprise system beyond the bounds of human decency.” And, as mentioned above, there’s also a flashback to the author’s childhood, specifically a stay in a military academy that was only marginally more pleasant than his pain-wracked sojourn in the hospital.
But of course, A GUIDE FOR THE UNDEHEMORRHOIDED only ever saw print in a limited edition hardcover, self-published by the author. It may not be especially scarce—according to Willeford biographer Don Harron, “I’ve seen so many (copies of UNDEHEMORRHOIDED) I have difficulty thinking of them as rare”—but it is quite collectable, and very difficult to come by for under $150. That’s a shame, because if you’re a Willeford fan, or even if you’re not, it’s a must-read.