At the Worcester Zipper Hospital

It was the sort of thing that happens in an instant, but could change your life forever.  Or at least until you die.

I had just put on my half-zip pullover sweater and started to pull the tab up the front when, for some reason, things went horribly wrong.  “Ouch,” I heard from beneath my hands, which had hardly moved.

“Are you okay?” I asked, looking down.

“Of course I’m not, you klutz,” my zipper said, and the scene that I saw when I surveyed the spot was like an overhead view of a teeny-tiny train wreck.  My zipper had jammed and gone off the track, and now sat askew atop a row of hooks.  I started to yank it back into place but my zipper stopped me before I could get going.

“Don’t even think about it,” he (it’s a male sweater) said.  “You’re the least handy person in the house, and you’re going to try to fix a piece of machinery as complicated as a zipper?”

“Well, what do you suggest?”

“Take me to the Worcester Zipper Hospital,” it squealed, obviously in pain.  “STAT,” which as viewers of Grey’s Anatomy know stands for “sooner than already there.”

“You can’t be serious,” I said.  “That’s forty miles away and it’s late.”

“I don’t care–they’ve got the best zipper medical experts in the world.”

“But . . . it’s not covered by insurance.”

“Did you go for the cheap HMO plan again?”

“No, we got the incredibly expensive PPO, but there aren’t any zipper doctors in our network.”

“Then you’ll just have to go out-of-pocket,” my zipper said, and it sounded like a threat.

I gave him my best gimlet eye–keeping my second-best gimlet eye so I could still see him.  “How are you going to make me?”

“I’m a zipper,”  he said.  “If you ever want to get out of this thing, you’d better do what I say.”

He was absolutely right, of course.  I was trapped in an accident of my own making, and the only way out was through, as Robert Frost said.

“Let me tell mom,” I said.

2020 Pediatric Stuck Zipper Poster Child


“Well, hurry up, would you?  Have you ever been stuck in a zipper?”

I recalled immediately that I had been, at a man’s most . . . er . . . sensitive point.  “Okay,” I said, lapsing into Bill Clinton-speak as I bit my lower lip.  “I feel your pain.”

I rushed into the living room where my wife was doing physical exercises while she watched Grey’s Anatomy.  “I’m going to the hospital,” I said.

“What’s the matter?” she said with a note of concern in her voice.  I felt flattered to think that she’d take her attention away from her favorite TV show–for even a second–if I had a medical emergency.

“My zipper is stuck.”

She gave me that look; the look that says “He’s nuts–but he’s my nut.”  “What does that have to do with . . .” she began, but I interrupted her.

“The Zipper Hospital–in Worcester.”

“There’s such a thing as a zipper hospital?”

“If you’d read my second novel . . .”

“I’m only halfway through your first one,” she said.  That’s the one I finished eighteen years ago.

” . . . you’d know that America’s leading zipper hospital is in beautiful downtown Worcester, Mass., the Industrial Abrasives Capital of the World.”

“Somehow I’ve been able to survive without that knowledge.  Can’t you get it fixed at the dry cleaners?”

It was time for my zipper to speak up.  “There’s another zipper hospital in Brookline, St. Nigel’s, named for the Patron Saint of people whose zippers are stuck.”

My wife, WASP by birth and, like my mother, a long-time critic of the Catholic faith, gave out a little snort.  “You people actually bother to name somebody a patron saint for that?” she asked me.

“We have a patron saint for people who get fishbones stuck in their throat, St. Blaise, so I don’t see why not.”

“All your better zipper doctors tend to congregate in Worcester,” my zipper said.

“Why is that?” my wife asked.

“Because they like all the railroad car diners there.  Can we go now?”

Image result for st blaise
“Next time get the chicken nuggets.”


My wife looked at the two of us with heavy-lidded skepticism.  “Are you sure this isn’t . . .”

“A frolic and a detour?” my zipper asked, invoking the hoary legal test to determine whether an employer is liable in respondeat superior for the tort of an employee.

“Something like that,” my wife said.  “I trust this guy”–referring to me–“about as far as I can throw him.”

“Ow!” my zipper screamed, recalling the blood-curdling cry by which I used to persuade my mom to let me stay home from school in second grade.

“He’s in real pain,” I said with as much sympathy as I could muster for a wedge-and-hook-based closure in an article of clothing.

“All right–don’t wake me up when you get home,” she said, and returned to her side leg lifts.

We got in my 2006 Pontiac Torrent, or “The Silver Mistake” as it is affectionately known around my house.



I buckled up and we headed out to the Massachusetts Turnpike, where traffic was light and we made good time.  MapQuest says it takes 44 minutes to drive from my house to Worcester, but with a strong tailwind we were there in a half hour.  “Do NOT stop at Coney Island Hot Dogs,” my zipper pleaded.

“I won’t.”

“Or the Miss Worcester Diner.”

“Okay.  It’s not going to be much of a trip for me if I can’t get a bite to eat in one of my favorite . . .”

“We didn’t come here for you!” my zipper screamed.  He’s a bit histrionic–I caught him lying on top my book of Tennessee Williams plays one time–but his anguish was palpable.

We cut across town from the exit at Interstate 290 and were soon cruising Webster Square looking for a parking space.  “Go in the emergency room door,” my zipper said.

“It’s not like a real hospital,” I said.  “You may have to wait in line behind people who are picking up their dry cleaning.”

“Thanks, Obama!”

“This has nothing to do with The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” I snapped.  I hate when zippers have to politicize everything.

I rang the night call button and the on-duty nurse buzzed us in.  “Is this an emergency?” she asked.

“No, I just jammed . . .”

“YES it’s an emergency,” my zipper screamed.  “This doofus . . .”

“Right this way,” the nurse said as she ushered us down a corridor lined with curtain-shrouded examining rooms.

“You don’t look like you’re in such bad shape.”


When your zipper’s stuck, you feel like you’re trapped–cornered–and there’s no way out.  But hearing the sounds of pain suffered by other zippers, you realize both that you’re not alone, and that there are many others who have it much, much worse than you.  We turned the corner at the end of the hall and I heard a soft, whimpering sound, followed by a reassuring maternal tone.  “Everything’s going to be all right, sweetie,” it said.

“What’s in there?” I asked, fearing the answer.

“That’s the pediatric zipper ward,” the nurse said, her lips pursed grimly together.  “Little pink down coats, NHL team logo letter jackets.”

“Bruins?” my zipper asked.

“Worse,” the nurse said.  “Columbus Blue Jackets.”

“Ouch,” my zipper said.  “The only hockey team named after an insect.”

“Actually, they were inspired by Ohio’s Civil War history,” the nurse said.

Gag me with a spoon.


“Who knew?” I said, hoping to cut off this line of discussion.  My zipper is a bit of a bear when it comes to professional sports team mascots.

The nurse deposited us on an examination table, took down our personal information, asked if there’d been any change in our dressing habits recently, to which my zipper said “No, he still dresses in the dark–can’t you tell?”

“Ha, ha, so funny I neglected to laugh,” I said, updating the grade-school comeback with a more mature, nuanced verb.

The nurse cracked a smile for the first time.  “You know,” she said with a slightly jaundiced tone, “laughter is your best medicine–if you subscribe to Reader’s Digest.”

That put my zipper in his place.  “The doctor will be in in a moment,” the nurse said as she left and drew the curtain closed behind her.

And then it began–the awful waiting, never knowing how bad the situation is.  I thought of some of the other sweaters I owned.  There was the froofy cable-knit crew neck my wife had bought me for Christmas; it ran totally against her type, a dull greyish-blue shade that drained the color from my face.  (I’m a “spring.”)  I didn’t know how to tell her that I didn’t like it, whereas I did have fond feelings for the sweater that was draped in pain around me.

“How you doin’?” I asked after a while.

“Okay, I guess,” my zipper said.  “Listen–if I don’t make it?”

“Yes?” I said, a little apprehensive as to what was coming next.

“Promise me you won’t throw me in the Goodwill Box?”

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