“The Doogie Howler,” by Alex Dermody

Dec 20th, 2023 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

An excited Professor Maxwell watched from behind his podium as the last Chemistry 101 students trickled into the lecture hall. Professor Maxwell wasn’t excited because today marked the start of another semester, or even because he loved teaching chemistry. Professor Maxwell was excited because he was an asshole. A fresh batch of doe-eyed pre-medical students meant another opportunity to give The Speech.

“Welcome to Chemistry 101,” Professor Maxwell said. “Now, before discussing course specifics, I have a duty to do. I’m a betting man, and I would wager a night with my wife that everyone here wants to be a doctor. Mommy and Daddy got it in your heads that medical school is the obvious answer for their shining star. Well, I’m not Mommy or Daddy. I don’t sugar-coat. Of the hundred students in this room, ten will go to medical school. And of those ten, only about seven will graduate.” Professor Maxwell always paused here, letting the silence grip the room.

A girl in the back row raised her hand. “Hi!” she shouted. “My name is Sasha. Hi. I’m already a doctor.”

“Excuse me?”

“You said everyone here wants to be a doctor. But I’m already a doctor, and I’m here.”

After twenty-six years of teaching, Professor Maxwell thought he’d seen it all. “You finished medical school?”

“And surgical school. Both took a day.”

The professor’s anger spiked. This teenager, claiming to do something in a day that he failed at for years. “Why the hell are you in my classroom?”

“I’m here to advertise!” Sasha said. “The medical profession, it’s about to change forever.” She unzipped a duffle bag and out jumped a chrome mechanical monkey no bigger than a house cat. A few students let out involuntary awwwwws. “First, I created an AI software containing everything known about medicine. Diagnosis. Treatment. Theory. Then I crammed it all inside this robotic monkey, which I’ve affectionately named the Doogie Howler. My team thinks eventually we’ll need to rebrand because, from a marketing perspective, Doogie Howser, M.D. is a pretty dated reference. But I’m on the fence. If you know the show was about a teen doctor it’s like haha. The perfect pun does exist.”

“Please get to your point,” Professor Maxwell said.

“She’s trying!” shouted a male student by the windows.

Sasha thanked her supporter. “I wanted to be a surgeon. So, after the invention of the Doogie Howler, it’s pretty much a Ratatouille situation. Are you all familiar with the movie Ratatouille? A rat transforms a man into a fine French chef by operating his body like a puppet via his hair. Genius premise. It’s no Toy Story or Up, but genius premise. And that’s exactly how I perform surgery, the Doogie Howler atop my head controlling my arms and hands like the rat in Ratatouille.”

The students gasped. Professor Maxwell swelled with rage.

Sasha continued: “At first the Harvard doctors were skeptical about the Doogie Howler. But all it took was one knee surgery for the truth to be revealed. With the assistance of this robotic monkey, a bus driver can perform a colonoscopy. A construction worker can make a melanoma diagnosis. Now, with help from a Doogie Howler, anyone can practice medicine.”

Sasha had the lecture hall eating from her palm. Because Professor Maxwell was right: everyone in attendance dreamt of being a doctor, and as the gravity of Sasha’s story slowly pressed itself upon the room, everyone realized that making their dreams come true was now easier than ever. All they needed was a Doogie Howler.

“How much do you want for one of those damn monkeys?” shouted a girl in the third row. Raucous agreement echoed throughout the hot August room.

Sasha settled the mob. “I’ll start with the bad news. My team is still in the process of bringing the product to market. There are lots of … hoops to jump through, especially at the federal level. However, we’re now in a grey area. Across the street, there’s a Quiznos sandwich shop. Outside the Quiznos is a line of people who all want or need a minor surgery. Appendectomies and vasectomies, mostly. To see if surgery is right for you, simply download our app, claim a ticket, and we’ll call when it’s your turn to cut someone open.”

A student yelled, “What if I don’t wanna be a surgeon? What if I wanna be a psychiatrist? Or a general practitioner?”

“Appointments for soft-medical jobs, as my team calls them, are tomorrow at the Jersey Mike’s. Just download our app. The schedule spells everything out.”

All at once the students pulled out their phones, the room now silent except for rapid tapping on screens. They gathered books and laptops and began to exit the lecture hall, some going for the Quiznos, some calling their parents with good news, everyone heading towards the rest of their happy, productive lives.

“Sit back down!” shouted Professor Maxwell. “If you leave this room, you fail this class!” But the professor’s words were no use.

One by one, the students marched out.

Sasha waited until she was the last person in the cavernous lecture hall. She pressed a button on the Doogie Howler and, like a receipt, paper printed from its mouth. Sasha read: “Ever wonder why you’re so angry? I think you feel unfulfilled. This isn’t your beautiful career. This isn’t the life you imagined. And the damage is buried so deep it’s become your personality.”

Professor Maxwell’s mouth went dry. In that instant, he felt like a fly on an elephant’s ass. He wanted to say terribly mean words to the teenager. Words she would never forget. Words like she just said to him. But the words weren’t there. The doctor’s diagnosis rang true.

Sasha ripped another receipt from the monkey’s mouth. “You wanted to be a surgeon as a younger man, right? But you flunked out of medical school? Well, the dream isn’t dead! Make a change at fifty-six. Come to the Quiznos. Perform surgery before your students. Show them starting over doesn’t have to be hard.”

Professor Maxwell’s skin ran cold. His vision flashed white. The next thing he knew he was a young man again, his happy life shining ahead, calling out he wasn’t too late. Actually, he might even be early.

The Doogie Howler strolled towards the exit, Sasha following closely behind. And before Professor Maxwell could think differently, he was following too. One foot after another. Finally leaving the classroom behind. Finally excited for the future.


Alex Dermody‘s fiction has been most recently featured in The Seattle Star and Robot Butt. His published work can be found on Instagram @alexdermodywrites.

Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.