As a country, Cancer is divided not into provinces but districts named for organs: Breast and Prostate are very populous, as are Lung, Liver, Stomach and Colon. I am in an outback called Esophagus, which is a narrow strip of territory between Piehole and Belly. It is something like the Khyber Pass: Much traveled through but largely without permanent settlements.
Here’s another thing. Very strange to say, all Cancerlanders are either visitors to the place, whether long- or short-term, or Workers serving the aforementioned Visitors. There is no indigenous population. No one is born here. All come to be in Cancerland either by fate, or professional training and inclination.
About the greeting ritual: Americans engage in the handshake, the French in the air-kiss, Germans in the hug, Japanese in the bow. This is the way it goes in Cancerland: The Visitor extends a hand, palm up, the Worker facing him or her says, Gonna pinch, then pricks one of the Visitor’s fingertips with a needle, through which two little vials of blood are drawn. These vials of blood are the equivalent of the driver’s license back home, or the Social Security card: They serve as bona fides.
The greeting ritual begins, however, with the Worker asking for the Visitor’s name and then, immediately thereafter, without any change in inflection, the Visitor’s Date of Birth. Evidently, there has been a great deal of identity theft in Cancerland, and this is the way the authorities have devised to be sure they are dealing not with one of the dozens of Peter Freundlichs who seem to be wandering about, but with yours truly, Peter Freundlich, Nine Four Forty-Six.
P.S. Visitors may ask Workers for their names but never, God forbid, their dates of birth. This would be an extreme breach of etiquette.
N.B. Workers often volunteer their names, without being asked, as a matter of bonhomie. Such announcements are frequently followed by the Cancerland Professional’s traditional, “I’m your new best friend.” There is no customary response to this. I myself sometimes say, “Uh…good. Thanks.“