Ad­vise Me

The Iowa Review - - SARAH VIREN - Sarah viren

The caller clears his throat when Doc­tora Isabel asks about birth con­trol. “The rhythm method,” he fi­nally re­sponds. In the back­ground I hear a crack­led an­nounce­ment on what sounds like a ware­house PA sys­tem, fol­lowed by the caller cough­ing. Doc­tora Isabel in­ter­rupts: “The rhythm method is ac­cept­able, but do you re­al­ize,” she asks, “that with this, bi­o­log­i­cally, your wife most wants sex pre­cisely at the times you can’t have it?” The voice doesn’t an­swer; it isn’t meant to. In the pause, Doc­tora Isabel’s ad­vice un­coils. She ex­plains fer­til­ity cy­cles and fe­male sex­u­al­ity; she re­peats the tenets of the rhythm method. “Very few men have the abil­ity to re­sist a wife who wants to have sex with him.” She slows slightly. “Do you see what I mean?” The man as­sures her he does. I see him cup­ping the phone near the open door of a load­ing dock, pluck­ing flecks of dirt from his nails as he nods, watch­ing the clock and think­ing about his wife, about how they got them­selves into all this. He is middle-aged, I can tell from his voice. I un­der­stand enough of their con­ver­sa­tion, too, to know that he is an im­mi­grant, that he has five chil­dren, and that his prob­lem, the rea­son he is call­ing Doc­tora Isabel, is that he doesn’t want to have any more. “How many years have you been mar­ried?” Doc­tora Isabel asks. “Nine,” he says. “So five ba­bies in nine years,” she em­pha­sizes. Her ad­vice is now ob­vi­ous.

I am jog­ging up a snowy hill in Iowa with my dog when I hear that call. Morn­ings like this are how I’ve come to lis­ten to Doc­tora Isabel, “El Án­gel de la Ra­dio.” She is the most well-known Span­ish-speak­ing callin ad­vi­sor in the United States, “a Latina ver­sion of Dr. Laura, Dr. Ruth, Ann Lan­ders, and Dr. Spock,” to quote her web­site. On Face­book— where Doc­tora Isabel poses with French-man­i­cured hands and a frosted wave of hair—she has four­teen thou­sand fans. She re­minds us to breathe, she tells us that “a head full of fear leaves no space for dreams,” and she posts, in both English and Span­ish, on such top­ics as “the love boomerang,” food as medicine, hap­pi­ness, erec­tions, per­fec­tion­ist chil­dren, an­gry teens, med­i­ta­tion, and sleep de­pri­va­tion, all of which are

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