Tears in Heaven

There was yet another mass shooting in a school in Florida the other day. Or as they say in America, “Sounds like a typical Wednesday.”

I wrote about the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and I’m pretty sure I said it wouldn’t be the last shooting, and therefore, not the last time I’d have to address this issue. Unfortunately. I’m not a prophet, but it didn’t take any special ability to be able to predict that.

There’s been the usual show of outrage and support on social media. There’s a renewed call for the banning of all assault weapons in the US, something I believe should have happened at least ten years ago.

One of my friends posted pictures of US Senators offering “prayers and support” for the victims and their families of the shooting in Florida. And she also posted how much money those Senators accepted from the NRA.

It was hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Another friend posted a picture of a check she wrote for the re-election campaign for one of the Senators. The dollar amount was “thoughts and prayers.”

I loved that.

* * * *

Words do not suffice to express how tired I am of hearing about these events. Or how tired I am of hearing the arguments of the pro-gun lobbyists. Yes, they have the right to own firearms. Yes, they have the right to express their opinion.

But the victims and their families have rights, too. The latest mass shooting silenced seventeen voices forever. So let’s take what I hope will be my last examination of this issue.

I do not blame our current President for what happened in Florida. Mass shootings have been around longer than Trump. And if something isn’t done to change the current status, they’ll be around long after he’s gone.

If you want to know where I stand on this position, read my previous post on this subject, Viva Las Vegas. I tried to be somewhat balanced then. Today, I am over that.

This shit needs to end. Now.

* * * *

Teachers should be armed to protect our children

Yes. That’s an actual solution.

Right now, school funding is so poor that schools can’t provide pencils and notebooks to their students. A box of one hundred #2 pencils costs about ten bucks. A six pack of two hundred page spiral notebooks costs about twelve bucks.

One Glock .9 mm handgun costs about six hundred dollars. Let’s say for the purpose of this argument there are five million teachers in America. It would cost three billion dollars just to arm all of the teachers. That doesn’t include safety training, marksmanship, or any other special training they would need. Or ammunition.

Who’s going to pick up the tab for that?

I pick the NRA. If nothing else, it would decrease the amount of money they have to buy our politicians.

One of my friends suggested that school sports budgets be used to pay for arming the teachers. Why not? Everyone knows that no one has ever learned anything by playing any sport.

Sports serve no purpose. They have never created any opportunities for anyone. That’s why no sports stars ever came from a background of abject poverty. Everyone knows athletes are nothing but a bunch of pampered narcissistic morons.

So yes, let’s rape our scholastic sports programs. And while we’re at it, we might as well get rid of band and music, speech and debate, and every other extracurricular activity currently in our schools. Let’s get rid of all that crap and put that money where it will do the most good by giving our teachers handguns.

When I was a psych nurse, I witnessed many acts of workplace violence. I can’t remember how many times someone said we should be issued guns so we could safely do our jobs.

This was my response:

“Because if they gave nurses guns, we would use them.”

And I have no doubt some teachers would do the same thing. I’m pretty sure that several of my teachers wished they could’ve shot me.

There’s another popular solution on social media. America has a shitload of unemployed combat veterans. Let’s hire them as security guards for our schools!

Sure. Why not? Because nothing says freedom like having an armed guard watch you. And this is seemingly the big issue for the pro-gun argument. Infringements on their civil rights.

News flash! Your civil rights have been infringed since way before 9-11. The government was finally transparent about what they were doing after the World Trade Center was blown up.

So go ahead. Create a police state. Just finish the job and get it over with. Do whatever it is you need to do so you can still play with your precious fucking guns.

* * * *

Mass shootings aren’t the problem. They’re a symptom of a bigger problem.

The obvious answer as to what the bigger problem is is the moral and social decay of American society. My question is this: Has America really fallen that far off the map?

All of the American people I know, both here and back in the States, are decent people who would go out of their way to help someone in need. I have yet to see anyone actually applaud the fact that people are being killed to death by the dozens on an alarmingly frequent basis. This is hardly the indication of a country that has lost its moral compass.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s true. You can’t perform a heart transplant on a societal level. You cannot tranfuse a new ethos into a culture. If this argument is true, there’s nothing that be done to make America great again. And nothing should be done. In fact, America should be euthanized, and the sooner the better.

This is a conversation I had today with one of my virtual friends who thinks society is the problem:

VF: I see more value in addressing the actual issues surrounding problems in society as opposed to unnecessarily limiting our options.

Me: Don’t stop now, you’re on a roll. How would you address the actual issues?

VF: Individually, with reason and logic. A good understanding of the Constitution….

I’ve been trying like hell not to say this, but the people who promote this argument sound like Donald Trump to me. They identity a vague and nebulous problem. They tap dance around it, and when you ask them how to fix it they have no fucking idea.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this argument is nothing more than a diversion, nothing more than an attempt to distract us from the real issue. And that issue is all about people being killed by automatic assault weapons.

If someone tries to pull this crap on you, kick them in the balls as hard as you can.

* * * *

If someone gets a DUI, do we blame the car or the driver?

Yet another misdirection play aimed to befuddle and confuse.

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s been a concentrated effort to get people to stop drinking and driving. And there’s a simple reason for that. Drunk driving used to be something like unto a goddamn epidemic.

I got a DUI in 1980, I think. My BAL was .28, almost three times the legal limit of .10. I didn’t go to jail. My fine was $400. Four months later, I got my driver’s license back.

You could check this out. My generation, and my parents generation–we drove drunk all the time! And then around 1980 or so, MADD was founded was founded by by a woman in California named Candy Lightner. And why was she against drunk driving? Her daughter had been killed. By a drunk driver.

Thanks to Candy Lightner and the organization she founded, the legal blood alcohol limit for a DUI is now .08. If I were to get a DUI today under the same circumstances, I would probably be in jail for one year. My fine would be at least $3000, and my license would be suspended for at least one year.

Drink responsibly

Do you really think the companies that make alcoholic beverages actually care how you drink? Sure they do. That’s why they encourage you to buy so much beer. And vodka. And rum.

Dilly-dilly on that for a moment.

Corporations have only one overriding concern. Making money, and a lots of it. But they’ve come up with some creative advertising to foster the illusion that they actually care about people and social causes. So please drink responsibly so you can continue to buy more Bud Light®. We don’t want you to start having to go to any Twelve Step meetings.

And here’s the biggest flaw in the DUI argument. No one who gets a DUI is proud of it. Everyone I know who was involved in an automobile accident after drinking regrets it. Everyone I know who was responsible for killing someone when they were drunk– Man, if there was just one thing I could do over in my life…

It’s something you never get over.

As for the guys who open fire on a group of people for no rational reason, not one of them has ever apologized for their actions.

Drunk drivers don’t get behind the wheel because they want to kill as many people as they possibly can. On the contrary, they’re praying they make it home safely, without hurting anyone or anything.

Guys armed with automatic assault weapons on whatever day of the week it happens to be, in whichever state they happen to be in, have no other purpose in mind.

This week it was a Wednesday. In Florida.

We can’t know when or where it will be next week, or the week after that, but we’re pretty sure it’ll happen again. And it will continue to happen. Until something is done to change it.

* * * *

I have one solution that I haven’t heard anyone else offer up yet. And it’s so simple you’re going to slap yourself for not thinking of it.

We should just ban schools.

Listen, the kids in school now are all idiots anyhow. They don’t actually need to know anything. They can Google it, or look it all up on the Wikipedia and the YouTube if they need to figure something out. They don’t need to go to school for that!

No schools, no more school shootings.

I can’t believe the NRA hasn’t suggested this to Congress yet.

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Virtu-ality

I once heard this bit of advice when I was interested in becoming a rich and famous writer.

Write what you know.

Unfortunately, I didn’t follow that advice at the time, and it may be at least one reason why I became neither rich nor famous as an author. I’ve probably gotten better at following that advice. Most of my blog posts have been about things that I know. Psychiatric nursing. Getting drunk. Doing stupid stuff…  However, I doubt I’ll ever become rich or famous no matter how many Rules of Writing I follow.

The most important thing, according to the people in the know, was to just keep writing. Just in cases you were wondering…

I’ve had a lots of time to ponder the wisdom of those words, but I think you actually have to be a good writer in order to achieve fame and fortune.

I doubt I’ll  ever attempt to write another novel. I’m content with an occasional post in my blog. And is there such a thing as a rich and famous blogger? I suppose it’s possible, but only because I believe almost anything is possible.

I have a lots of time to ponder life; its many facets and mysteries. I get a lots of different points of view from my friends on social media.

One of the things I started pondering recently came from a post on Facebook from one of my friends:

Is it just me, or are people getting stupider?

Technology is a wonderful thing, but with so much knowledge and information available at our fingertips, maybe we are getting stupider. Well, not my generation. The ones that followed us.

I’m pretty sure every generation thinks they’re the only cool generation. The preceding generation is over the hill. The following generation doesn’t have a clue. And there may be some truth to that.

And then again, maybe my generation is responsible for producing a couple of generations of moronheads. They may not know shit, but they are technological wizards when it comes to finding what they want/need to know.

There’s an app for that.

That bit of advertising genius was aimed at Generations X, Y and Z. Not at me or my generation. We’re still trying to figure out if the Snapchamp is cute or creepy.

* * * *

I used to belong to a lots of groups on Facebook, but I’ve bailed on almost all of them. I found myself getting annoyed by the things the stupid people in the groups posted. It’s one of transitions you go through when you retire.

I used to belong to a Classic Movie group. I like classic movies. I thought there might be some valuable insights posted by other classic movie fans. I was wrong. This was one of the insightful posts from that group:

What’s your favorite Doris Day movie? I like Pillow Talk

There were literally thousands of posts like unto that, just change the name of the actor, and the movie.

But this post still has me scratching what’s left of the hair on my head:

I love Robert Redford. I love all of his movies! My favorite is Paul Newman

unnamed

That was pretty much my reaction, too. I’m no longer a member of that group.

* * * *

The Winter Olympics started a few days ago. I love the Olympics, too. So I became a member of the Official Winter Olympics Facebook page last Friday. And then I waited for the Opening Ceremony on come on at 8:00 PM.

While I waited, I read posts from my fellow lovers of the Olympics. There were a lots of posts like unto this:

Hello from Seattle! Go Team USA! Where are you and who do you want to win?

And I was okay with that. I mean, it’s the Olympics. Of course you’re going to root for your country. Who doesn’t? I responded that I was in Mexico, rooting for the Mexican Bobsled/Curling/ Ski Team.

Someone from Nigeria posted that she was proud of the Nigerian Bobsled team, the first African bobsled team in history. And a guy from the US responded, I think Jamaica was first.

And I responded, Yes, the African nation of Jamaica!

I could feel the Sands of Stupididity starting to flow into the hourglass, and then it happened, at 4:00 PM. Someone posted this:

I can’t find the Olympics on my TV! Am I missing something?

My first response was this: Yes! Your fucking brain! But I toned it down and said this instead: Yes, the Olympics.

And then I bailed on that group, too.

If there’s a message in this post, it’s this:

Never underestimate the power of stupidity

* * * *

I spend a lots of time on Facebook. I’m retired. Time is a resource that I have in abundance. I keep up with all of my virtual friends; their triumphs, their heartaches.

A couple of them just got married. A couple more of them are pregnant. One of them might be going to prison for some things she did several years ago when she was strung out on drugs.

When I read her post, the first thing I thought was, There but for the grace of God…

I’ve become much more selective about the people I send Friend Requests to. I haven’t had anyone ask me if I want to see naked pictures of them or sex chat in months. But I have been getting requests for something else.

Money. Or an iTunes card, whatever that is. I’ve only given serious thought to sending money to someone once, but I actually knew her, and she’s a sweet girl. I’ve never seriously considered sending money to someone I’ve never met.

And there’s one other thing some of my virtual friends are looking for:

A relationship.

Yeah, I don’t get it either. I’m not sure I could ever admit I met my wife on Facebook. I know online dating sites have become very popular, but I’m not sure I would ever use one.

And the thing I don’t get the most is Why me? I mean, there’s nothing on my Facebook profile that indicates that I would be interested in dating anyone. Maybe I should have a few people look at it, just to make sure…

This is an amalgamation of several conversations I’ve had over the last six months or so. I doubt any of them have been this long or detailed.

Random Girl: Hi  where are you from

Me: That information is on my profile page. If you don’t mind my asking, why did you send me a friend request?

Random Girl: Im looking for a serious relationship with a serious man.

Me: Sorry. I can’t help you. I’m not a serious man. You can ask around. I’m probably the least serious man on the planet.

Random Girl: lol your funny

Me: It’s you’re, not your…

Random Girl: What ever I want to meet you

Me: Are you on drugs?

Random Girl: no when can we meet

Me: Let me ask my wife. She doesn’t think that’s a good idea.

Random Girl: your married

Me: It’s you’re, not your… Yes, I’m very married. My wife is a supermodel. You would’ve known that if you had read my profile page.

Random Girl: that’s okay. I still want to meet you send me a picture

Me: No. There’s a picture of me on my profile page

Random Girl: okay your really handsome

Me: It’s you’re, not your. That’s not my real picture. I look hideous. I was blown up by a bomb during the war.

Random Girl: you were in the war? which one

Me: All of them since the American Civil War. I was almost killed at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Random Girl: okay I still want to meet you

Me: No, you don’t. The Battle of Gettysburg was fought in 1863. Besides, I live in Mexico. You’d hate it here.

Random Girl: I’ve never been to mexico do you live on the beach

Me: No, I don’t live on the beach. I live in the mountains. It’s boring here, you’d hate it here after twenty minutes. Besides, I’m probably old enough to be your father.

Random Girl: how old are you

Me: I’m 62. How old are you?

Random Girl: I’m 28 age isn’t important

Me: Jesus! I’m old enough to be your grandfather! The only people who say that are stupid young people!

Random Girl: lol I don’t like boys my age  I want a mature man who will treat me nice like you

Me: You don’t even know me! I could be a serial killer!

Random Girl: lol what do you do in mexico

Me: I just told you, I’m a serial killer. Why else would I be in Mexico?

Random Girl: I don’t think youd hurt me

Me: That’s what the last three girls like you said. I’m running out of room in my backyard

Random Girl: for what

Me: To bury bodies

Random Girl: okay when can I come see you

Me: You can’t. I’m married. And if I don’t kill you, my wife will.

Random Girl: why would you’re wife want to kill me

Me: It’s your, not you’re. She’s a serial killer, too. That’s why we make such a cute couple.

Random Girl: but I want to take care of you

Me: I weigh five hundred pounds. I haven’t had a bath in a week. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.

Random Girl: its okay

Me: Oh, that’s different. I just shit my pants. How long will it take you to get here?

So far no one has hung in there after that line, no matter how much they said they wanted to meet me.

Youth-in-Asia

It’s been cold here in the Lakeside area this week. And for those of you who live in Northern climes, I get it. This isn’t really cold. -30°F. That’s cold!

But cold is a relative term, and 57°F with overcast skies and a cool wind down here feels like the onset of the next Ice Age. The Mexican locals dress like Minnesotans in January. Big down-filled parkas. Winter hats and caps. Scarves wrapped around their faces. Gloves. And if you ask them, they will tell you they’re fucking freezing to death.

Ten years in Phoenix has effected the way my body reacts to and adjusts to the weather. I haven’t broken out my winter parka and scarf yet, but my reaction for the last couple of days has been to turn on the gas fireplace, camp out in the living room, and try to stay warm.

That’s not entirely true. I went golfing on Monday with my golf wife. Phyllis and I decided we don’t need wind and cold to impact our game. We’re bad enough on good days. And I went to my golf lesson with Tom yesterday. It was even colder and windier, and even less fun.

It’s supposed to be back up in the 70’s next week, and that will be a welcome change. And everyone can talk about how they survived the Winter from Hell in Ajijic. According to people in the know, this has been the coldest winter in recorded history in the Lakeside area.

* * * *

Euthanasia is one of those words that doesn’t mean anything close to the way it sounds. It sounds like you’re talking about children in China. Or anywhere else in the Oriental East.

Just in cases you don’t know what euthanasia means, here’s the definition: Euthanasia (from Greek: εὐθανασία; “good death”: εὖ, eu; “well” or “good” – θάνατος, thanatos; “death”) is the practice of intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering.

It’s kind of like the Spanish word disfruta. In English, the prefix dis is associated with bad things. Dis-ease. Dis-tress. In English slang, if you diss someone, you’re saying not very good things about them.

In Spanish, the word for fruit is fruta. So if you try to Spanglish the hell out of the word disfruta you come up with bad fruit. And you’d be totally wrong because it means enjoy. 

Yeah, go figure.

You might be wondering where I’m going with this. Given my style, that’s a good question to ask. The central figure in the beginning of this story is our very old kit-ten, Samantha. Sam is going to be twenty years old in April. We’ve had Sam in our house for roughly one-third of our lives. She has survived three moves with us.

Like unto most any creature of advanced age, Sam isn’t doing as good as she did when she was younger. She used to run and frolic and hunt lizards. Now, she mostly sleeps and eats, and goes back to sleep. She had a couple of days when she couldn’t keep food or  water down, and that was very disconcerting. She has arthritis in her hips, and when she moves she does so slowly and deliberately.

I’m not sure, but I think she’s developed a cataract in her right eye, and she’s probably developing some degree of deafness as well. Maybe she can still hear as well as she ever did, but she simply cares less about what people are saying.

Who knows? She’s a cat, and cats are, well, mystical.

I don’t know if it’s her limited mobility, or possible vision problems, or something else entirely; but Sam has developed some issues when she uses the litter box over the last month or so. The biggest problem is she doesn’t appear to be actually using her litter box. I think she’s still trying, but she’s developed some serious accuracy problems.

I have a couple of plastic mats in front of the litter box that generally gather and corral her errant urine, and we have ceramic tile floors, so clean up is a breeze. I used to be a nurse. I’ve cleaned up a lots of urine and other body fluids in my lifetime. Still, it’s not a task I can say I relish doing, no matter how much I love our kit-ten.

As a result, my lovely supermodel wife and I have had several End of Life conversations about her beloved kit-ten. These are not easy conversations. Lea really loves her kit-ten, and she always starts crying. I really hate seeing her cry. We’ve had to say farewell to other kit-tens, and those were painful events.

When the day finally comes that we have to put our kit-ten down, that will be a very sad day in our household. On the bright side, that day will not be today. Sam only vomitated once today. She’s still having trouble in the litter box, and I’ve come to the conclusion that’s probably not going to get any better, not that any of her other problems are likely to improve either…

I think Lea has decided to take Sam to our veterinarian, Dr Betty, tomorrow to get her opinion on Sam. Dr Betty is a cute young Mexican woman. She looks like she’s thirteen years old, and barely stands five feet tall. I like standing near her because even I look like a giant compared to her. I’m going to go to the vet, too. Just in cases…

* * * *

When it comes to End of Life decisions, we have much better options with our pets than we have with ourselves. Lea and I have had this conversation, and several variations on it a few times. We’re not interested in the quantity of our lives, only the quality. Lea has often told me she doesn’t care about living to be one hundred. I’m not sure I’ve told her this, but there are days when I’m not sure I want to live another ten years.

You might think that odd, seeing how I’m retired and living in paradise with a supermodel, but it’s a vast improvement over the days when I did didn’t want to live another ten minutes.

Living Wills and Advanced Directives are legal documents where you can outline what types of medical treatments and interventions you would like in the event that you become incapacitated and can’t tell anyone that you don’t want to be placed on a respirator. Or that you don’t want any heroic measures taken to save your life.

My lovely supermodel wife and I have Living Wills in both the US and in Mexico. All we want is comfort meds to control pain. And that’s it. No CPR. No intubation. Nothing. Nada.

But you can’t request that a lethal combination of drugs be given to you when the quantity of your life exceeds the quality of it. And that’s where our pets have us beat all to hell. Their lives can be ended for humane reasons.

When it comes to our pets, we have the option of essentially putting them out of their misery and ending their suffering, an option that we, as people, do not have.

Pets can be euthanized.

* * * *

My youngest daughter, Abigail, once told me a story about her friend and his hamster. The average lifespan of a hamster is somewhere around two years, give or take six months to a year. So I’m guessing Herbie the hamster was around two years old, roughly, when her friend approached his dad one Sunday morning. And for some context, the kid was probably nine years old.

“Dad, something’s wrong with Herbie! We have to take him to the vet right away!”

Well,  it was only a hamster…  I mean, who takes a hamster to the vet? Hamsters are like unto goldfish, with fur. When they die, you flush the old one down the toilet and you buy a new one. And it was Sunday. The Vikings game was going to start any minute.

So dad did some quick thinking and explained the concept of Life and Death to his son, and the fact that the veterinarian’s office was closed, and emergency veterinarian services are very expensive.

“I think we need to do the humane thing, son.”

The humane thing dad came up with was gassing his son’s hamster. He pulled a kettle out of the cupboard, blew out the pilot light on one side of the stove top, placed Herbie under the kettle on one of the unlit burners, and turned on the gas.

“Are you sure Herbie’s not going to suffer?” the kid asked.

“No, he won’t suffer. In fact, this is how the vet would do it…” And he went into a detailed explanation of oxygen, carbon monoxide, hemoglobin and maybe even Krebs Cycle. That last part is something I vaguely remember from nursing school. It might have something to do with this topic, but don’t quote me on that.

Dad might have had the right idea to humanely terminate Herbie. He might have even been incredibly kind while he carefully described how death in the absence of oxygen occurs. But he was very stupid about one thing.

He forgot to blow out the pilot light on the other side of the stove top.

So, while dad was patiently and compassionately going through his explanation, gas fumes were traveling across the top of the stove to the burning pilot light. When they became concentrated enough…

You know what happens when propane gas fumes hit an open flame, don’t you?

There was a small explosion on the stove top. The kettle flew to the ceiling with a BANG! then clattered across the floor, followed by the shape of a hamster with patches of fur on fire flying through the air. Herbie the Flaming Hamster landed on the floor right in front of dear old dad, and he did what any guy would do when he sees a hamster on fire on his kitchen floor.

He stomped on the hamster.

Well, that reflexive reaction put the flames out. It also killed Herbie, if he hadn’t already died to death from being old, then gassed, kind of exploded, and sort of set on fire.

Okay. This might not be the best example of humane euthanasia for a pet. However, I thought this was one of the funniest true stories I’ve ever heard in my life, and it popped into my mind as I was writing.

I tend to go where my Muse takes me when I write. This is probably the only story I’ve written lately that I’ve given any thought to for more than half an hour, actually giving my Muse an opportunity for input. I should probably be more mindful when I write. A couple of my latest posts are incomplete because I forgot to write half the things I wanted to. Maybe I’ll go back and finish them someday…

I can only speak for myself, but I like the results much better when I listen to my Muse. Or Muses. Seeing how this may turn out to be tragic, Melpomene will be involved. But it’s also kind of funny, so let’s give Thalia a warm round of applause.

* * * *

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that I have wanted to be a prophet for quite some time. And you also know it’s something I’ve essentially failed to achieve. So I doubt that I could predict the exact circumstances surrounding my death even if I wanted to.

Be that as it may, it doesn’t stop me from speculating about them.

I used to read the obituaries when I was a psych nurse, mostly to see if any of my former patients had died. Especially the ones I didn’t like very much.

There were a lots of people that died from an “unexpected heart attack.” Does anyone ever expect to die from a heart attack on any given day? And if you expected a heart attack, wouldn’t you do something to prevent it?

“Hey! Do you want to go golfing?”

“Okay, but we better go early. I’m planning on having a heart attack around two o’clock today…”

A lots of people died after a “courageous battle with cancer.” You won’t be able to say that about me. Nope. That sonuvabitch pretty much gave up when he found out he had cancer, and just surrendered to his fate. No chemo. No radiation. No surgery. He just wanted morphine.

In the event that the quality of my diminishes greatly before the quantity of it does, I’ve come up with a scenario to effect an humane end for my life. It involves my two darling daughters, Gwendolyn and Abigail, and a dog costume. And it goes something like unto this:

Gwen and Abi will come down here to Mexico, dress me in the dog costume, then take me to the veterinarian’s office.

“Buenos dias, I’m Doctor Ramirez. How can I help you ladies today?”

Abi: “It’s our dad, I mean, dog.”

Gwen: “Yes. Our dog is very old, and he’s in a lot of pain. He needs to be put down.”

Abi: “We thought about doing it ourselves, but I don’t think the stove top is big enough.”

Gwen: “And we don’t have a kettle big enough.”

Abi: “And we might accidentally blow up the house.”

Gwen: “And we really don’t want to do that…”

Abi: “It’s a rental house. The landlord probably wouldn’t appreciate that.”

Dr Ramirez: “I see, I think. How old is your dog?”

Abi: “He’s, like, eighty…”

Gwen: “In dog years.”

Dr Ramirez: “Yes, of course. He is old, then. What sort of symptoms is he having?”

Abi: “Well, he isn’t eating.”

Gwen: “He mostly sleeps a lot. And he’s incontinent. Can dogs be incontinent?”

Abi: “He doesn’t enjoy any of the things he used to do anymore. He doesn’t even watch football.”

Dr Ramirez: “Your dog watches football?”

Abi: “He used to watch it…with our dad…”

Gwen: “Back when he watched football. They did a lot of stuff together.”

Dr Ramirez: “Okay, can I see your dog? This doesn’t look like a dog! This looks like a man in a dog costume!”

Abi and Gwen: “No! He’s really a dog! He’s really old! And sick. He used to look better when he was younger! He really did!”

Abi: “And he spent so much time with our dad, they kind of started looking like each other, maybe.”

Dr Ramirez: “Well, yes. I have seen this before. Dogs and their owners can be very similar sometimes…  What’s your…dog’s…name?

Abi and Gwen: “Mark.”

Dr Ramirez: “This is a very strange name for a dog.”

Abi: “Well, he…has a cleft palate!”

Gwen: “Yes! And that’s the noise he made when he barked!”

Abi: “So that’s what we called him. Back when he used to bark…”

Gwen: “Yeah, he doesn’t even enjoy barking anymore.”

Abi: “He’s really old, and sick.”

Dr Ramirez: “Yes, and he needs to be put down. I get it. What kind of…dog…is he? I’ve been a vet for thirty years, and I have never seen a dog like this before.”

Abi: “Well, he’s Irish, so maybe Irish Setter?”

Dr Ramirez: “That is not an Irish Setter, I can assure you.”

Gwen: “No, he’s more of a mixed breed, right? He isn’t very big, so maybe he’s more of a Cocker Spaniel…”

Abi: “Those weiner dogs are short, too. Maybe he’s part weiner dog…”

Gwen: “Labrador?”

Abi: “Beagle?”

Gwen: “Collie?”

Abi: “Poodle?”

Gwen and Dr Ramirez: “What?!?”

Abi: “Well, everything is part poodle now, right?”

Gwen: “So, he’s an Irishcockerweiner…labra-boodle.”

Abi: “Probably.”

Dr Ramirez: “Okay! Let’s go into the exam room.”

Abi: “Come on, daddy, I mean, doggie. Get up on the table!”

Gwen: “You can do it, dad! I mean, boy. Good boy!”

Abi: “Oh! And he used to be an alcoholic, so you might have to double the meds when you put him down.”

Gwen: “Yes! He might have a greater tolerance! We don’t want to take any chances.”

Dr Ramirez: “Your dog…was an alcoholic?”

Abi: “Well, kind of…”

Gwen: “Um, yeah. He used to drink beer with our dad…”

Abi: “And watch football.”

Gwen: “You know, before he became old.”

Abi: “And sick.”

Gwen: “And stuff.”

Abi: “Okay. Let’s get this over with. Goodbye, da–doggie.”

Gwen: “Goodbye! We love you and we’ll miss you!”

Abi: “You were the best Irishcocker–  Oh, fuck it! You were the best golldarn dog we ever had. Vaya con Dios!

* * * *

And that’s how I’d like to go. As if I were in a skit by Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It would only be fitting.

🎼Turn Out the Lights,🎶 the Party’s Over🎵

Hey there, sports fans.

I went to my first golf lesson today. My instructors were…impressed. Kind of. But I think what impressed them most was how bad I was at times.

“Señor, you have two swings. One swing is muy bonito. One swing is no muy bonito.”

They’re so polite here. It’s actually kind of cute. Well, they didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. What I’m not sure of is where my ugly swing came from.

However I acquired it, acquire it I did. Now all I have to do is figure out how to get rid of it. Hopefully, the lessons will help with that. The lessons cost 75 pesos, around four bucks. Life here so incredibly… economical. Among other things.

Last week, my golf wife, Phyllis, came up with a plan for world golf domination. Now that we’re both members of the Chapala Country Club, were going to play nine holes on Monday. I take golf lessons on Tuesday, she goes on Wednesday. Play nine holes on Thursday, and eighteen holes on Saturday.

We’ll see how that goes. My scores right now vary anywhere from the low fifties to the low sixties for nine holes, depending on how many times I utilize my very ugly swing, I suppose.

If I actually get any better at golf, you’ll be the next to know.

* * * *

Well, in case you weren’t aware, the Minnesota Vikings ended their run to the Super Bowl last Sunday by playing their worst game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Final score: 38-7. The Eagles scored 38 points, not the Vikings.

It wasn’t the best way to finish what had been a pretty remarkable season for them. The Vikings scored on their first drive, and that was probably a good thing. I don’t think they came close to scoring for the reminder of the game.

On the bright side, it wasn’t a nail biter/heartbreaker kind of loss. You know, where the game was tied and Philly scored late to win. This game was probably over before halftime. Vikings fans had a lots of time to come to terms with the fact that their team was going to get its ass kicked. Soundly.

That part does kind of suck. If only the best teams make it to the playoffs, how does a really good team get beat by 31 points?

Good question. Watching the game, I noticed a couple of things. The Vikings were out of position on most of the plays in that game, and the Eagles weren’t. Minnesota couldn’t do much right, and Philly didn’t do much wrong.

It’s rare, but sometimes it happens, and you never want to be the on the wrong side of that equation, especially in the playoffs. I look at it as good incentive for the Vikings next year. That loss is going to stick with them a long time. Far longer than it will with me.

I’m not a football player, or a coach. I just love watching the games.

My lovely supermodel wife and I used to attend Vikings games when we lived in Minneapolis. The Metrodome was five miles from our house. We went to one of their games when we lived in Arizona. University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Cardinals, was eight miles from our house.

By the way, the Vikings clobbered the Cardinals that day. By the start of the fourth quarter, almost all of the Cardinals fans had left. When we walked out of the stadium at the end of game, it was all Vikings fans.

That memory still makes me smile.

* * * *

Being a sports fan in Minnesota isn’t easy. Minnesota has at least four men’s professional sports teams. The Vikings in football. The Twins in baseball. The Wild in hockey. And Timberwolves in basketball.

Additionally, Minnesota has a professional soccer team, I think. I suppose I could look on the Interweb and find out, but I’ve never been a big soccer fan. It is very popular here in Mexico, so maybe I’ll start watching it. Someday.

And, Minnesota also has a professional women’s basketball team. The Lynx.

Professional sports are a big deal not just in the US, but worldwide. If you doubt this, take a look at the salaries some professional athletes make. They’re outrageous! Be that as it may, it’s part of the world we created.  And without the presence of these teams, Minnesota would essentially be, you know, Iowa.

Minnesota sports teams have historically let their fans down. Not just once. A lots of times. All of them.

It’s so bad that all of the Minnesota teams have nicknames denoting their high level of mediocrity. The Vikings/Viqueens. The  Twins/Twinkies. The Timberwolves/Timberpups. The Wild/Mild.

I outlined the Vikings history of falling apart in the playoffs in my last post, and I don’t have the heart to repeat it again. If you’re at all interested, you can read about them there, or on the Wikipedia.

* * * *

The Minnesota Twins were a small market, mediocre team for a good part of their history. They did make it to the postseason a couple of times in the Sixties and Seventies, but they lost in the ACLS at least twice. But then there was a magical three year period from 1989 to 1991. The Twins won two World Series, beating National League teams from St Louis and Atlanta.

The Twins haven’t performed all that well in any of their subsequent postseason appearances. They haven’t been back to World  Series since. Be that as it may, the Twins have given all of Minnesota something we don’t have to be athletically embarrassed about, and for that, I will always love the Twins, even if I’m not a big baseball fan.

I always thought baseball was kind of boring, especially on TV. Lea and I went to several Twins games back when they were really good. The Metrodome wasn’t the best venue for baseball. It probably wasn’t all that great for football, to be honest. I was very happy when the Dome was destroyed and both the Twins and the Vikings now have new stadiums.

We’re planning a trip back to Minnesota later this year. I definitely want to see the new stadiums. I’ve heard they’re both beautiful.

* * * *

The Minnesota Wild, our professional hockey team, has a history much like unto the Vikings. They play good hockey, sometimes even great hockey, during the regular season. Once the playoffs begin, they become mediocre at best. I don’t think they’ve ever made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

I like hockey, but I’ve never been a huge hockey fan. It’s fast paced, and the puck goes about two hundred miles an hour. You really have to keep your eyes open to follow the game. There’s one strange thing about Canadian TV. We can see every Vikings game here in Mexico, but the Wild are almost always blacked out for some strange reason. If not for that kooky fact, I might be a much bigger hockey fan now.

I don’t watch much baseball or basketball. I might watch more if either the Twins or the Wolves were broadcasted by Canadian TV, but they aren’t. And there’s my lovely supermodel wife. While she does love football, she doesn’t love all sports equally.

I’d probably watch any sporting event, even knitting, if it was in an arena…

Lea and I used to go to hockey games when we lived in Minneapolis, and in Surprise. Arizona also has a hockey team, the Coyotes. Their arena is across the parking lot from University of Phoenix Stadium. I think I loved hockey fans far more than I loved hockey. Those guys were fucking hilarious.

Minnesota used to have a different hockey team, the North Stars. Much like the Wild, they tended to fall apart in the postseason, until they moved to Dallas and finally won the Stanley Cup. However, by then they were no longer a Minnesota team.

* * * *

The Timberwolves are the NBA team. They were a very bad basketball team until roughly 1997, when they made it to the playoffs several times, but never advanced to the NBA Finals. Ever.

They have a good, young team now. They might become a force to reckon with. Someday. Hopefully, soon.

I used to take my nephew, Michael, to Timberwolves games. He liked basketball, and their arena was maybe seven miles from our house. I can’t remember how many games we went to together, but I never saw the Wolves win a game in person.

Minnesota used to have another basketball team. From 1947 to 1959, the Minneapolis Lakers were a great basketball team. They were the one of the best teams ever in the NBA, and because they were so good they clearly didn’t belong in Minnesota, and they moved to Los Angeles. Where they have continued to be a very good basketball team.

The bastards.

* * * *

The Lynx are without a doubt the most successful current professional sports team, male or female, in all of Minnesota. The Lynx have qualified for the WNBA playoffs nine times. With four championships, the Lynx are tied with the Houston Comets for the most titles in WNBA history, and they have won more Western Conference championships than any other franchise.

Those gals are good, so they’ll probably move to New York. Or Florida. Or anywhere but Minnesota soon.

* * * *

Yah, and that’s about it from here regarding the Minnesota sports scene. The Vikings can practice their golf games, much like me, until August when their season starts again. Maybe they’ll win it all next year.

Basketball and hockey seasons are in full swing. I have no idea how either the Wild or the Timberwolves are doing. If either of them make it to the playoffs, I’ll probably watch their games, and cheer for them.

Baseball season probably starts in a couple of months. The Twins had a pretty good team last year. They might make some noise this year.

The Lynx will probably win their conference, and they might win another championship.

You never know. This might be the year for one of those teams, but they are Minnesota teams. And almost every sports season in Minnesota ends with these words:

There’s always next year…

Divine Intervention

Hola, amigos.

I’d apologize for not writing more often, but I have no regrets about not writing, so I won’t. I hate receiving insincere apologies, so I hate giving them, too. I’ve been busy working on my golf swing with my golf wife. Judging by our scores, we’ll both be busy refining that aspect of our games for awhile.

If you thought this story was going to be about the miraculous hole in one I shot the last time I played, you’re going to be disappointed. Not as disappointed as I was, but still…

I’m not sure why I love doing something I’m so mediocre at, but life is full of mysteries. Golf is but one of them. I might feel the same way about bowling, but there aren’t any bowling alleys here, so I can’t fall in love with bowling.

I broke down and joined the Chapala Country Club a couple of weeks ago. I was spending roughly the amount of my monthly dues there anyhow, so it seemed like the thing to do.

I hear membership has its privileges, but I have no idea what they might be. I got a membership packet when I joined, but I haven’t read it. I figure if there’s something important, Phyllis will tell me. Phyllis is my golf wife, and she reads instructions.

And there’s our Spanish lessons. I think I’m picking up Spanish about as quickly as I’m improving in golf.

There are basically three types of gringos here. The ones who spoke Spanish before they got here. The ones who have no intention of learning Spanish, and act like fools when they go to the Telmex® office. And then there’s the ones like us who feel they have an obligation to learn the language of their new home.

We’re probably the minority of those three.

Poco y pinche poco. It’s a slow process, and frustrating at times. But it’s not like I have all that much on my schedule anymore. And the money we pay to learn Spanish is donated to help pay medical expenses for needy children.

As Lea says, at least someone is getting something out it.

* * * *

How’s everyone doing?

Life is still pretty sweet down here south of the border. It’s been chilly enough for us to use the fireplace, but seeing how someone who reads this might have actually frozen their ass off this winter, I’m not going to make too big a deal about the weather.

I’m still not sure how we ended up here when we did, so I tend to attribute wondrous things I can’t understand to God. If I didn’t believe in God I might attribute them to our cat, but I’ve never seen her do anything I could remotely call miraculous, so that’s too much of a stretch even for me.

I’m not sure I’ve ever outlined the chain of events that led us here in my blog. I’ve told the story a lots of times, and I’m too lazy to go back and read through my previous posts to find out…

I’m pretty sure all of this started when we moved from Minnesota to Arizona in 2007. My lovely supermodel wife became Phyllis’ boss. Phyllis, as in my current golf wife, Phyllis. Lea and Phyllis worked together for several years and eventually became good friends. In 2012, Phyllis and her husband, Max, were getting ready to retire. They were thinking about North or South Carolina because they were big NASCAR fans, and there’s a lots of race tracks in that part of the country.

Max has a brother, Rick. Rick was living in Ajijic, and he suggested Max and Phyllis come check the place out before they moved to either of the Carolinas. And that was the end of that plan. Max fell in love with Mexico. When Phyllis returned to work, she put in her notice, and my wife just about had a heart attack. Six weeks later, Max and Phyllis jumped in their car, and their retirement days began.

And that was almost the end of this story, except Phyllis sent Lea an email at work long after she moved away, I think it was 2014. A lots had happened in a couple years. Max had died. Phyllis missed her friend, and really wanted Lea to come visit her. After multiple invitations, we decided to check the place out in September of 2015, and flew to Guadalajara.

Phyllis had a little party for us while we were visiting. We met all of her best friends, and we listened to the promotional speeches they gave about why we should move to Mexico. We liked the Lakeside area. It was as pretty as a picture. However, at that time, neither of us were thinking about retiring, not for several years at least. And neither of us had even remotely considered retiring in Mexico. But it was certainly something to consider.

And then a whole lots of kooky things happened in rapid succession. In February of 2016, Lea’s company went through a major reorganization, and Lea found out she was going to be reorganized out of her job.

Just. Like. That.

Thanks for all your hard work and dedication. Please clear out all of your personal belongings by the end of business today.

Lea called her daughter, Gwen, who just happens to be our financial planner, and Gwen crunched some numbers. Gwen told her mother based on our savings and our Social Security income, Lea didn’t need to work anymore if she didn’t want to. And by virtue of that fact, neither did I. That memory still makes me smile.

It was at that precise moment that moving to Mexico started looking like a very real possibility.

Lea called Phyllis and they would have a lots of conversations over the next several months. Phyllis was instrumental in helping us navigate the obstacles of moving to a foreign country. Additionally, our landlord, Planet Janet, and all of Phyllis’ friends have been a great resource in assisting us in our transition. We haven’t had to face most of the pitfalls many expats run into when they move here.

Getting back to my story, we put our dream house in Surprise on the market and sold it in seven days.

Lea flew to Mexico and found a very spacious rental house three doors down from Casa del Phyllis. And she met Janet, who has become one of my favorite people.

The Mexican Moving Company came and packed up all our stuff, and headed south.

We rented a condo about five miles from the hospital I worked at and stayed there for three months until I retired at the end of September. Our furniture was waiting for us in our house when we arrived.

Everything that happened in this process fell into place so neatly. If we had planned it for years, it still wouldn’t have happened so perfectly. It was that slick.

Some might say it was nothing more than a series of coincidences. But I tend not to believe in coincidence. I’m more of an everything happens for a reason kind of guy. Besides, it’s more romantic when there’s a reason.

And that’s how we ended up in Mexico. I had a vague feeling something devastating was going to happen, you know, like unto a natural disaster. The Yellowstone Supervolcano was going to explode. That’s why we needed to get out of the US as quickly as we did.

Yeah, that didn’t happen. See? Still not a prophet…

Also, the fact that nothing terrible happened has left me wondering why we needed to get here so quickly. Well, Trump was elected President…  And however tragic I might view his election, it still wouldn’t have added up to anything equalling imminent danger to myself or Lea.

I’m not complaining about being here. I’m merely curious about the why.

Lea says that God is blessing us with this time together because we worked hard and we’ve been granted some peace and relaxation time.

It makes more sense than the volcano thing…

* * * *

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that almost everyone that believes in God has a Divine intervention story, and if it weren’t for God, they wouldn’t be here right now. We have, all of us believers, certainly prayed for divine intervention for any number of reasons.

Health. Illness. Love. Relationships. Life. Death.

The Bible is full of stories about God interceding for his people. There’s a lots of stories about prayers being answered by God and lives being changed for generations. I might write more about those someday. I spend more time thinking about that kind of stuff than anything else.

Lea’s not a big fan of my spiritual/ religious ramblings. She thinks it makes me appear, you know, crazy.

When I was a nurse, I used to pray for my patients. I used to pray for personal patience, understanding, and wisdom. When I was drunk I used to pray for a life changing intervention. Or death. And then I realized that’s one prayer that will always be granted, eventually.

It just never happens at the moment that you’re praying for it.

I see a lots of divine intervention in my sobriety. I doubt it’s an achievement I could have done on my own. Something greater than myself or my addiction came into play, and without that, I shudder to think what my life would be like now.

You can think what you like. For me, God saved my life, though I often wonder why He chose to do so.

* * * *

If you know me personally, or follow me on Facebook, you know my lovely supermodel wife and I are Minnesota Vikings fans. The Vikings had a very good season and are in the playoffs this year.

If you know anything about the Vikings history, you know the Vikings haven’t had the best results in playoffs. I have drowned many gridiron sorrows back in my drinking days, and celebrated scores of regular season wins. The Vikings have been to the NFC Championship game ten times. They’ve been NFC Champions four times. In their four Super Bowl appearances, they’ve come away with exactly zero Lombardi Trophies.

Divine intervention hasn’t been on the Vikings side in the playoffs. Miraculous plays always happened to the other team. But all that changed last Sunday night when the Vikings came from behind to beat the New Orleans Saints by scoring a 61 yard touchdown with ten seconds left on the clock.

The Vikings played a perfect first half, scoring seventeen points and shutting out the Saints. The Vikings defense was stellar, intercepting Drew Brees twice and keeping two of the best running backs in the game out of the end zone.

The second half was another story. The Saints scored twenty four points. The Vikings only six, and with twenty five seconds left in the game, the Vikings were down by one, and their season was about to end.

Lea and I were devastated. I was trying to figure out if we had enough medications to successfully overdose.

And then came the Minneapolis Miracle.

images (1)

For once, God decided to favor the Vikings. For a brief moment, Jesus wore a Vikings uniform, and as Stefon Diggs trotted into the end zone, there was surprise and disbelief, then jubilation! Even the players couldn’t believe what happened. You can Google® it if you haven’t seen it. It really was incredible. And beautiful.

On Sunday, the Vikings play the Eagles for the NFC Championship. The winner goes to the Super Bowl, which will be played in Minneapolis this year. The Vikings might be the first NFL team to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium.

It could happen. Hopefully, they won’t need any miracles to beat the Eagles because there were at least three miracles involved in the winning touchdown play last Sunday. It was kind of an Angels in the Outfield thing. Seriously.

I’m not sure how much more miracles they have left.

I don’t know how much God has to do with the outcomes of football games. Personally, I’d think he’d have bigger fish to fry. But if God truly orchestrated a miracle or three to beat the Saints, then please keep the miracles coming for two more games.

I’ve never prayed for something as trivial as a football victory before. Like I said, I think God has better things to do, but I’m going to pray for not one, but two more wins for the Vikings this season. Let there be any number of miracles, and let the Vikings win just one Super Bowl, before I die.

Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to any of us. Just because the Vikings had a great season this year doesn’t mean they’ll have an equally impressive season next year.

I’m not getting any younger, so they might as well do it now.

Just Like In The Movies

Prior to retirement, there was a moment in time that I seriously considered becoming a professional movie watcher. Okay, that might be a bit of stretch regarding my career aspirations. Professional would imply that I would get paid to watch movies, and that’s not going to happen, especially in Mexico.

I don’t have a work visa here.

There’s another thing that inhibits me from becoming a professional movie goer. I don’t tend to go to the theater very often. In fact, it’s usually once a year to see the latest Star Wars® movie. I used to go see the Hobbit movies, but I think Hollywood is done making them…

Be that as it may, I’ve seen more movies in the last year than any previous years. I have an XBMC MART box, or something like unto that. Thanks to that little black box, my lovely supermodel wife and I can watch a seemingly unlimited number of movies almost any time we like.

And in an unprecedented move, Lea decided to binge watch pretty much every Hallmark Channel Christmas movie last year, so I’ve become something of an expert on them by default. Christmas movies are a lots like Elvis movies in my opinion.

Perhaps a Little Known Elvis Fact: Elvis Presley made thirty-one movies. They were essentially all the same movie, except for the location and the love interest. In an Elvis movie, Elvis was always the hero. He sang a few songs, fell in love, probably got into a fight or two, lost the girl, then won her back in time to sing one last song.

Elvis made two movies that didn’t follow the above formula. They weren’t as successful as the singing Elvis movies, and Hollywood wasn’t interested in making movies no one wanted to see. I guess it would be like unto watching a porn flick without any porn…

“An Elvis Presley picture is the only sure thing in Hollywood.” Hal Wallis actually said that. He produced a whole lots of movies, including Casablanca, so he probably knew what he was talking about. Despite being a huge box office success, Elvis Presley never won an Academy Award. He wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar.

Everyone loved Elvis movies. Everyone, it seems, but Elvis. He hated almost all of them.

Hallmark Christmas movies, like Elvis movies, are also essentially all the same movie, albeit with different locations and main stars. The main character in a Hallmark Christmas movie is always an attractive young woman. She ends up in Small Town, America for the holidays. The sets are so over the top Christmas that even Santa would be jealous.

I’m not kidding. Lights, trees, trinkets, wreaths, bedding, even outfits. It’s like manic Christmas took performance enhancing drugs. And meth.

Once ensconced in rural America, our heroine meets her love interest, then she discovers the family business is in peril. And she has about an hour and a half to save the business, fall in love, lose her love, then somehow make everything work out. Because it’s Christmas, and there’s always a Christmas miracle or two up Santa’s sleeves.

Despite the predictability of Christmas movies, I found I actually liked most of them, and I’m sure I even shed a few tears of comfort and joy at the end of most of them. Which only proves the point that there really must be something magical about Christmas because there’s nothing that magical about Christmas movies.

* * * *

Motion pictures were developed in the mid to late 1800’s. There were a whole lots of moderately famous people involved in the process. You  could look them up if you want more information. In the early 1900’s the film industry became based in Hollywood because of the climate and the diversity of the surrounding terrain. There was a lots of sunshine, not a lots of rain, and scenic backgrounds up the wazoo.

The first motion pictures didn’t have a sound track, hence the term The Silent Era. Some  of the biggest movie idols that ever lived worked during the Silent Era. Rudolph Valentino was such a huge star that several women killed themselves when he died at the age of thirty-one in 1926.

Around 1925, Hollywood produced the first movie with sound, and I guess the rest is history. The Talkies, as they were originally called, were a huge sensation, and they have been ever since.

There are a whole lots of things in my life that I can’t remember, but I remember the first movie I saw. Babes in Toyland, 1961. Walt Disney. Tommy Sands. Annette Funicello. Ray Bolger.

We were living in Little Rock, AR. We had a black and white TV. I’m pretty sure that movie was the first time I had watched something in living color. It. Was. Magic.

That’s the biggest and best reason I can think of why people love movies.

* * * *

I like movies. I generally find them to be very entertaining. A lots of people do. A good movie can turn a nobody into a star, and make a whole lots of money. A successful movie franchise can be worth a ridiculous amount of money. In the short time that it’s been out, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has already made almost a billion dollars in the US alone.

Lea and I went to see it last week. I like the last three Star Wars installments. They’re probably the three best movies in the Star Wars universe. The first movie will always be the best. I mean, it changed the world. The second movie was even better, and then they went downhill from there.

So, there is balance in the Force once more. And that’s a good thing.

Hollywood loves blockbuster movies. While some might say much of the entertainment produced these days is driven by computerized graphic imagery. I say it is what it is. Let’s face it, Wonder Woman would’ve been a boring movie without CGI. There wouldn’t have been any reason to see The Lord of the Rings. Or any of the movies in the Marvel Universe®. And I loved all of those movies.

But even CGI has its limits. Dialogue is still what makes a good movie flow. Well, except porn movies. No one watches porn for the dialogue.

According to Cracked.com, modern porn movies don’t even have scripted dialogue. Speaking, if there is any, is completely ad libbed. And presumably brief.

When it comes to dialogue, this is one area where art doesn’t imitate life, at least, my life. I rarely have the right answer at the moment that I need it. I might have it five minutes after I needed it, or five days later. I’m usually impressed by the dialogue in most movies I watch, and I envy the characters sometimes.

And then I realized that the scene I loved had been written by someone years before it ever appeared on screen. That scene had been written, then edited, and rewritten, and tweaked until it was so perfect. That’s why people in the movies always say the right thing at the right time.

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”  Casablanca, 1942.

“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Gone With The Wind, 1932.

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” The Godfather, 1972.

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” Cool Hand Luke, 1967.

“Go ahead, make my day.” Sudden Impact, 1983.

Five instantly recognizable lines from five iconic movies. Lines that have become part of our collective psyche. Movies have impacted our lives. In a sense, they’ve become a part of the fabric of our lives.

If you were to ask, I’m sure most of the people who saw the last Star Wars® movie would tell you their favorite part of the movie was one of the CGI action scenes. But for me, my favorite part was a line.

Rose Tiko saves Finn from sacrificing himself to save his fellow rebels. Afterwards, he asks her why she stopped him.

“We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love.”

I don’t know if that line will ever become classic, and timeless, and iconic. But it should be. It might just be the greatest movie line ever written.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Part II

Two people I know, or knew, have died in less than a week. There’s a saying that these things tend to happen in threes, so I’m almost afraid to breathe right now. If that’s true, there’s one more to go…

On Saturday, I found out my cousin, Jimmy Clark, had been killed to death. He had been hit by a car while crossing the street in Rapid City, SD. He was 64 years old.

But getting hit by a car? Cancer, I get that. Heart attack or a stroke, I’d understand those. Getting hit by a car, in Rapid City? That just seems to be the most unlikely way a person can get dead.

I guess they knew what they were talking about when they told us to look both ways before we crossed the street when we were kids.

Jimmy had a great sense of humor. I’m sure he’d see the irony in that if he were still alive to talk about it. And then he’d laugh. He had just about the greatest laugh of anyone I’ve ever known.

Jimmy’s family lived in Wall, SD. It’s arguably the most famous town in the US with a population of less than one thousand people. And its’ notoriety has everything to do with an advertising gimmick, and one small pharmacy.

Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of Wall Drug?

Wall Drug hasn’t always been world famous, but it started becoming famous because of a billboard sign campaign advertising free ice water to tourists heading to Mount Rushmore. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I think it was Jimmy who told me there were two kinds of people in Wall. Tourists, and people who hate tourists.

The once humble pharmacy is now a tourist magnet drawing in a couple of million people a year. The drug store has become a mall that includes a cowboy department store, an art museum and a chapel, I think. It’s been a while since I’ve been there. In fact, I’m not sure there’s even a drug store there anymore.

Wall is pretty much in the middle of fucking nowhere, South Dakota. It’s on the edge of the Badlands, and if there was ever an apt name for a terrain, that’s a good one.

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, I just saved a couple of dozen paragraphs trying to describe the Badlands. It’s a wild land that has been shaped by wind and water for centuries. Not much of anything grows there, meaning not much of anything can live there. And that’s where my family would go every year or two when my dad wanted to see his sister.

When we were kids, we’d play King of the Hill in the Badlands with our cousins while our parents sat around the kitchen table drinking a lots of highballs, smoking cigarettes, and laughing their asses off. The hell with Disneyland®. When I was a kid, Wall, SD was the happiest place on Earth.

I was always sad when we had to leave Wall and head back to wherever we were living. And once I grew up, I lost contact with my cousins. Its probably been over thirty years since the last time I saw Jimmy. Maybe longer.

Vaya con Dios, primo. The world will be a sadder place without you. With your passing, I think I become the oldest male on the paternal side of our family. Another reason I’m afraid to breathe. I might be next.

* * * *

The other person I knew was one of my virtual friends. We had never met in person, and now, we never will.

Mercedes was young. And pretty. She was from Canadia. Facebook suggested I send her a friend request, and she accepted. I liked her posts. She seemed to have a lots of energy, and she posted a lots of photos of herself smiling as she traveled around the Great White North. She had a pretty smile.

One of her posts was different from all her other posts. No pictures. No smiles. She stated she was fighting a battle against depression. She said she was okay. She had a lots of friends and family, and was taking antidepressants. She was going to be okay. She just needed some prayers and support.

That was about a month ago, maybe two. I told her I would say a prayer for her, and I offered my services, such as I could. After that, her posts always showed her smiling, apparently having a great time and enjoying her life.

Someone who probably knew her in person posted an update about her for all of her virtual friends today. She was found dead yesterday from an apparent overdose. She was 23.

* * * *

It’s hard to end on a high note when you’re writing about a topic like unto this. Death will come for us all, soon or late. But twenty-three is too goddamn young to die, and it’s even worse when the cause of death is suicide.

Please, think twice before you chose that as a final option. There is help available. All you have to do is ask. I know it’s hard, but do it anyway. It’s only by doing the hard things that you can truly grow.

And look both ways when you cross the street.

The Dreaded Annual Performance Review

This is the first year of my life that I haven’t had to endure one of these asinine assessments of my performance on the job, and there’s a simple reason for that.

I’m no longer working.

Be that as it may, I should probably take a look at how my first year as a retired guy has gone, and share my results with the ten people who consistently read my posts. I’m sure they’re dying know. But first, a little background stuff.

For the last thirty years or so, I was an RN. I like to think that I was a really good psych nurse, and most of my performance reviews reflected that. My managers tended to love me, and generally said really nice things about me. Their main concern regarding my performance was that I wasn’t always conventional in my approach with my patients.

“I’ve held my breath more than once watching you in action, but I can’t argue with your results. Keep doing what you’re doing, I think.” one of my managers told me once during my review. That was when I worked for the Minneapolis VAMC.

Performance reviews are basically the same, no matter where you work. You’re rated on a list of criteria. Your boss makes an assessment of how well you’ve met said objectives. Sometimes your colleagues are asked for their input. In the healthcare field, sometimes your patients are. Add it all up and you’re either a valued employee, or you’re not.

Back then, the VA wasn’t concerned with Patient Satisfaction Surveys. I’m pretty sure that has changed quite a bit in the last few years, mostly because millions of people started listening to the thousands of people who had been complaining about the VA system for decades.

Working in the private sector was vastly different. They were very concerned with how satisfied their patients were, and almost everything we did at those facilities was driven by those goddamn surveys.

We were expected to have high positive ratings from our patients 80% of the time, and that’s just crazy when your patients are in a psychiatric setting. These are chronically unhappy people. Getting one such person to feel 80% positive about something is a monumental task. Getting a group of them to consistently do so–it’d be easier to build a suspension bridge from Baltimore to Paris.

Especially when you consider that you’re not responsible for anyone’s happiness but your own. Try telling that to a bunch of suits when they ask you why the survey results for behavioral health are twenty points lower than the rest of the hospital.

There’s probably a couple of good reasons why I didn’t last long as a manager…

Performance reviews are legion, and they essentially begin the moment you’re born. Ever heard of an APGAR test? It’s nothing more than a performance review for newborns. If you don’t pass that initial review, you probably won’t have to worry about any of the others.

Employers use performance reviews to motivate their best employees, and also use them to rid themselves of their worst employees. This is something I learned from my days as a manager. I also learned that performance reviews are purposely skewed, even with your best employees. You never want to tell someone the don’t need to improve, nor do you want to rate anyone too highly because then they’ll merit a performance based raise, and there’s seemingly nothing that employers hate more than paying someone what they’re actually worth.

My Boss from Hell at BannerHealth discovered that I really sucked at this part of my job when I was a manager. I rated my direct reports honestly, especially the really good ones, and more than one of them found their paycheck a little more generous for at least one year.

So my fucking boss repaid my honest assessments by giving me the worst performance review I’ve ever had in my life. It was at that precise moment I realized I needed to find another job, and left BannerHealth.

I’ve written about this previously, so I’m not going to go into any further detail here, but you can rifle through my archives if you don’t have anything better to do.

* * * *

If there’s one overwhelming reason to retire, it’s this. Your employer can no longer tell you that you’re not meeting their high standards of mediocrity. In all honesty, you can set the bar as low as you want once you retire. There have been days when I haven’t changed out of my pajamas, like yesterday.

In my defense, I have Minnesota Vikings pajamas, and yesterday was Football Sunday. I was supporting my team, and it must have worked because the Vikings destroyed the Rams. I’ll probably do it again next Sunday because you never mess with something that works when you’re rooting for your team.

Also in my defense I should point out that I actually do take a shower and get all spiffed up most of the time, even if I don’t leave the house, which happens quite often. We have a beautiful house, and my lovely supermodel wife and I are very comfortable here.

It’s not always easy being married to a supermodel. They have very high standards, so there is that. Luckily, I’ve been married to Lea for almost thirty years, so I’ve been well indoctrinated as to what I need to do to keep her happy.

Happy wife, happy life. Any guy who has been married longer than a Kardashian knows that truer words have rarely been spoken.

Lea tells me she’s never been happier, so I should probably be getting a raise for an outstanding job. Oh, wait. There aren’t any pay raises after you retire…  You know what? I’ll learn to live with it.

* * * *

Moving to Mexico was something I couldn’t have imagined myself doing as recently as three years ago. It more or less happened without a great deal of planning on my part. The door opened, and it seemed prudent to me to just go with the flow, rather than resist something that unfolded so perfectly.

My first task upon arriving was to help my wife set up our house. It was really my first chance to try being her assistant design assistant, and it went better than either one of us expected.

I’m going to take credit for most of the foyer at the front of our house. And for Samantha’s office. Sam is our kit-ten, and she uses the office far more than either Lea or I do. Hence the name. Sam appears to be pleased with the way her office turned out, and if she isn’t, she hasn’t mentioned anything to me about it.

So, that went well, and I seemingly passed my first test with flying colors. I’m going to give myself an excellent rating as an assistant design assistant.

* * * *

But as I recall, my transition to retirement didn’t all go smoothly. About one month after I retired, I mysteriously screwed up my back, and I was in serious pain. I rate it worse than my first kidney stone, and that just about killed me to death.

I use the term mysteriously because I don’t remember doing anything to injure my back. I woke up one morning with a stiff neck and limited range of motion turning my head. Nothing serious, and I figured it’d go away. Two days later, I could barely move, and when I did it felt like I was being stabbed with a very long, very sharp sword.

One of my sisters told me God had afflicted me thusly to remind me that I still had defects that I needed to address. I do not disagree with that at all. As a Christian, it’s an argument that’s hard to dispute. After all, how many times did Jesus ever say this to anyone?

“Um, nope. You’re good. I can’t think of anything you should do differently. Keep up the good work.”

That would be none. If you don’t believe me, read the Gospels.

However, when you’re afraid to move because you’ll end up in so much pain that you might piss your pants, it tends to limit your course of action. I certainly didn’t spend a lots of time thinking about what I needed to do to make myself right with God. I remember that I mostly just prayed to die to death. Quickly.

Thankfully, the worst of my back pain lasted only about a month, and then I started cleaning out my closet of skeletons in my blog, and whether that was what I needed to do or not, it happened, and I didn’t got dead. And my back pain went away.

I attribute that to Diamond Dave, my Bowen Therapist, far more than than anything I did. He thought I was having some sort of allergic reaction to no longer working in a high stress environment. Personally, my sister’s diagnosis makes more sense to me than his did.

My only issue with this is how it was presented to me at the time. Would it have killed God to be a bit more subtle? Couldn’t He have sent me a text, or an email? And if I wasn’t attentive enough, He could have given me a warning. I might have paid attention to that. If nothing else, I am highly motivated to avoid excruciating pain.

I know I still have a lots of stuff to work on, so I clearly have room for improvement. Ten minutes after I die, I’ll probably still have a lots of stuff I should have worked on. But I don’t have to fix everything at once, and there are some things I’ll never be able to fix. It’ll all work out. Probably…

I’m going to say I’m meeting my performance objectives, but will need to be monitored.

* * * *

After roughly six months of being a retired guy, I took up golf again. I hadn’t picked up a golf club in about ten years when I decided to I needed to do something with all of the time I had on my hands.

I’ve never been a great golfer, and I didn’t get any better at it by not playing any golf for a decade. The first time I played in Mexico, I shot a 57. In the first six holes. As a point of reference, par for nine holes is 32. As another point of reference, par is the score a good golfer could have at the end of a round. A really good golfer can have a score that’s under par.

I’ve spent many hours hitting golf balls at the driving range. A bucket of balls here costs roughly four bucks. Practice may never make me perfect, but I’m not going to go broke on the driving range no matter how hard I try.

Playing golf isn’t exactly cheap. Most golfers own at least one set of really nice, very expensive clubs. I appear to be the exception to this rule. My clubs would be seen as antiques by any serious golfer. And there’s the greens fees. And the caddy. And sometimes golf lessons. And weekly sessions with your therapist. It all adds up.

I’m slowly getting better at golf. Last month I shot a 49. In nine holes. It’s possibly the best score I’ve ever had. It’s also possible that it’ll be the best score I ever have. I’d like to improve on that score, but it’s not the most important part of my life, or even my golf game.

Again, I’m meeting my objectives, but will need monitoring. Fortunately, my lovely supermodel wife occasionally acts as my swing coach, and I have a retirement golf wife who is very good at getting my ass off the couch and on the links.

Golf also serves an important service in my life. It keeps me humble, and I have every confidence it will do so as long as I can swing one of my antique clubs.

* * * *

I take a lots of pictures now that I’m retired. I have two cameras and a smartphone, and I use them frequently. I post most of my photos on my Facebook page. Sometimes I post pictures on Instagram, but not as often. I’m a pretty decent photographer, but it’s ridiculously easy to take amazing pictures here. This place is prettier than a postcard.

I’m going to say I’m doing an acceptable job as a photographer. One of my friends down here posts his amazing photos every day. I’d rate myself higher if I were as consistent as he is.

I write semi-frequently, and while I tend not to be greatly impressed by my writing ability, there are a few people who disagree with me, and they’re probably smarter than me. So maybe they’re right.

Noteworthy or not, I do enjoy writing. Thankfully, my ability to stay retired has nothing to do with the quality of my prose, so it’s not like anything important depends on me writing stories of varying degrees of readability.

I’m probably the last person who should evaluate my performance in this area, so I’m going to take the easy way out and leave that to anyone willing to offer any input.

* * * *

The remainder of my retirement duties involve household chores. Taking out the garbage, washing dishes, cleaning Sam’s litter box, vacuuming the floors, taking care of the plants in my patio garden. Stuff like unto that. I believe I do a mostly outstanding job in this area, and all I need to do is keep doing what I’m doing.

There is one issue that keeps me on my toes. Leaf cutter ants. These little bastards can strip your garden to nothing but twigs in one night. I have been at war with these pinche hormigas ever since we moved here. I’ve destroyed thousands of them, without any discernable drop in their population.

I had the same problem with squirrels when we lived in Minneapolis. I killed hundreds of them with my trusty air rifle, and there was always more of them to shoot…

I have to give myself high marks for attention to detail and immediacy of response, but I can’t rate my interventions as being hugely successful.

* * * *

And, thankfully, that is the extent of my retirement proficiency evaluation. I’d have to say it’s about what I expected, and that’s a good thing. You should never be surprised at a performance review, and if you are, your manager hasn’t been doing their job. That how I viewed it back when I was a manager.

Granted, I took my job a lots more seriously than I take my life now. I had high standards for my performance. I took a lots of pride in my work, and I mostly loved what I did.

I totally love what I’m doing now, and if I’m not meeting my much lower standards in retirement, I really have no one to blame but myself.

Gulliver’s Travels

Unlike Jonathan Swift, I’m not sure I’ve ever written anything that could be deemed noteworthy. I don’t think I have the proper amount of seriousness to do something like that on my own. I’m pretty sure I haven’t written anything that could even be called interesting of late. If you’re looking for something noteworthy in this post, let me save you some time. You won’t find it here.

I might write something noteworthy someday, but if I do, I’ll probably be the last person to know it. And it’ll probably be the biggest mistake I’ll ever make. If you don’t believe me, read some of my previous posts. There’s over one hundred of them to choose from…

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you know that my lovely supermodel wife and I recently took a trip back to the States. It was our first return trip since retiring in Mexico.

If you don’t follow me on Facebook, you can send me a friend request, but my life on social media probably looks a whole lots more interesting than it actually is…

Other than me having a couple of allergic reactions to environmental stimuli in airports and sneezing into my shirt sleeve for about a thousand miles, and the cold that Lea came down with upon our return, our trip was a lots of fun and we had a great time.

We flew back to the States on Volaris Airlines. I don’t have a lots of experience flying on Mexican airlines, but from what I do know, Volaris is kind of the Mexican version of Frontier. The only difference is I don’t hate Volaris, and I loathe Frontier. The people treat you better in Mexico.

It’s a bit more complicated when you fly from Mexico back to the States. There’s the whole Customs thing. Not that it’s a big deal, because it’s not. There’s a show called Border Security on TV, and it makes international travel look like a blind date with the KGB. We’ve never had any problems flying to Mexico or back to the States.

In fact, the Culiacan airport had the most lax security I’ve ever seen, anywhere. Half of the staff looked like they were sleeping, and the other half looked like they just woke up. I probably could have smuggled an entire mule into the US from Culiacan if I could have trained it to sit in a chair and fasten a seat belt. If I owned a handgun, I probably could’ve taken it on the plane if I had told the sleepy looking young woman at the desk that it wasn’t loaded.

The main purpose of our trip was to attend Brea and Charlie’s Endless Wedding Celebration. I suppose it could be like unto Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, except I’ve never seen that movie, so I can’t really say what it’s about, but I’m going to guess that no one gets married in it.

We kind of figured Brea and Charlie would have a traditional wedding, you know, like normal people. I should have known better. I know Brea. I used to work with her. She’s one of my work daughters. My other work daughter was one of her bridesmaids. Brea is anything but normal. She’s extraordinary.

Brea and Charlie were married at Stonebridge Manor. It was without a doubt the most beautiful wedding I will ever attend in my life. Martha Stewart would’ve thought she’d died and gone to Wedding Heaven if she had been there. An elegant reception and brunch followed the beautiful and brief exchanging of vows and rings. In the evening there was an hors d’oeuvre bar and drinks at the Thirsty Lion Gastropub in the very fashionable Scottsdale Fashion Mall.

I ran into a few of the doctors I used to work with. A couple of them have been busy buying Ferraris. I know, right! Where the hell are you going to drive a Ferrari? You’re not taking it to the store when you run out of paper towels!

The next day, which I think was Friday, there was a party bike tour in downtown Scottsdale for the younger people who came to the wedding. If you’re like me and you have no idea what a party bike is, it’s essentially a bar on wheels propelled by any number of people pedaling while they drink at the mobile bar. You can Google it if you need more detailed information about this. On Saturday evening, there was a barbecue for anyone still able to stand at the Scottsdale Rotary Park.

I’ve had nothing but problems trying to figure out which day it is since we flew to Phoenix. Part of it is the change from Daylight Saving Time. I’ve never had this problem before, but that’s when it started. Mexico changes back to Daylight Standard Time one week before the US does. I’m still not sure how this one hour change ended up making me unsure which goddamn day of the week it is, but there you go.

And then Volaris changed the date of our return flight without telling us. If Lea wasn’t as OCD as she is, we wouldn’t have found out about that until we arrived at the airport on the wrong day. We were supposed to fly back on Tuesday, but ended up coming back on Monday. I think.

I thought yesterday was Friday, but now I’m pretty sure today is Friday. Lea tells me it is, and I trust her.

At any rate, there might have been more fun stuff associated with what will probably known as be the Social Event of Season, but that’s as much as I know. Lea and I had a great time, so thank you very much to Brea and Charlie. And we hope you two are as happy together as we are. May your marriage be blessed, and both of you as well.

* * * *

We had multiple reasons for traveling back to the States. As amazing as it is living in Mexico, there are some things that are difficult to obtain down here. A lots of ex-pats return to their country of origin to shop for things they can’t find and presumably can’t live without.

The first thing we did after we arrived in Phoenix and got into our rental car was drive halfway to California and ordered the largest pizza we could at Rosati’s Pizza, which is something I haven’t been able to find in Mexico, then we went to see Nikki and Jay and all of the stuff Lea ordered.

Lea bought a whole lots of things online and had them delivered to Nikki and Jay’s house. There were a whole lots of boxes. And bags. And bags in boxes. Our stuff covered one of Nikki’s kitchen counter tops. And then it filled the entire backseat of our rental car.

Rosati’s is our favorite pizza, it was the main reason we went there, but there was another reason. It was kind of a peace offering. Nikki and Jay are Packer fans. Lea and I are Vikings fans. Our team broke their all-star quarterback, and as a result the Packers are going to mostly suck for the rest of the season.

Pizza. It makes everything more better gooder. Even losing, maybe…

* * * *

If you’ve never been to the Phoenix area, it’s fucking huge. Our Packer fan friends live in the West Valley. The condo we had rented is in Fountain Hills, which is in the East Valley. It takes about an hour to drive from one side of the valley to the other.

The distances you had to drive are one of the things that fade from memory if you don’t do that kind of stuff on a regular basis. Almost any place we need to go in the Lakeside area is a five minute drive from our house. Another thing you forget is how wide and smooth the roads are. Honestly, driving on those roads was one of the most pleasant surprises about our trip.

Thankfully, we got to spend a whole lots of time driving on the very wide, very smooth and flat roads of the Phoenix area. In six days, we drove close to seven hundred miles, which is probably three hundred miles more than we’ve driven in the thirteen months since we’ve moved to Mexico.

After we ate a really big pizza, then packed all of our boxes and bags and stuff into our rental car and then drove for an hour as we headed east, we stopped at a supermarket near our condo in Fountain Hills and bought two pints of ice cream, coffee, coffee creamer and a bottle of Claritin. It cost over sixty dollars. That was an unpleasant surprise. Life is so much more inexpensive in Mexico. You could probably get all of those things, and a couple of tacos, for ten bucks down here.

Fountain Hills is a very beautiful, very affluent city. You really have to see the mansions built into the hillsides to truly appreciate them. Words, in this instance, just aren’t going to do it justice.

And, of course, there’s the fountain. It’s in a park near the downtown area. Our condo was right across the street from it. The fountain more or less erupts every hour from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM for about fifteen minutes, and shoots jets of water roughly 300 feet into the air. At night, it’s lit up. It’s pretty cool, for a fountain.

We did have some official business to take care of while we were in the States. We had to have our new Last Will and Testament notarized. Nikki and Jay graciously agreed to be our witnesses. Afterwards, we all went to the bowling alley to eat walleye. I guess you can find bowling alleys in some of the larger cities in Mexico, but there are none in the Lakeside area, nor can you find a walleye dinner here.

* * * *

So, there was a fabulously elegant wedding. Shopping. Pizza. Friends. Walleye. And more friends. Lea and I saw as many people as we could in the short amount of time we were there.

I even did something I wasn’t planning on doing. I went back to work. Okay, I didn’t actually work. I only visited my last employer, but one of my former co-workers did ask me if I could work for her on Friday.

Nurses. Gotta love them.

Work, it seems, has changed quite a bit since I retired. We rarely had any open beds when I worked at Aurora Behavioral Health, but several new hospitals have opened, and a couple more are being built. While this is good news for the people who need psychiatric help, it’s not good news for the people who manage psychiatric hospitals.

Something has to give, and not all of those places are going to survive. You can oversaturate any market, and that will very likely happen in Phoenix in a year or two. And then there won’t be enough psychiatric beds available, and everything will be right back where it was once more.

I know I’ve said this before, but I do not miss working for a living. At all. However, I was more than a little surprised by how many people said they missed working with me. That was actually very humbling, and anyone who knows me knows that I am not a humble guy.

So thank you all so very much for that, but I’m more than satisfied with my current position and I have no intention of changing that any time soon.

* * * *

Along with all of the cyber-shopping Lea did before we returned to the States, she wanted to do some real time shopping, so we did that, too. There are no Target® stores in the Lakeside area, nor are there any Kohl’s®. I’m not sure I can say I missed shopping at either one of those places.

I’m a guy, and guys don’t love shopping. Most of the time. Unless it’s for big screen TV’s or home theater systems. There were plenty of things I could have purchased, but there wasn’t anything I needed, so I ended up wandering around a lots looking at things I wasn’t going to purchase.

It was still kind of nice to sort of go shopping. All of the stores had their Christmas displays up, and some of the stores might have been playing Christmas music.

I love Christmas, even if it starts right after Halloween nowadays.

Lea bought a few things, on sale of course, but not as many as I thought she would. Even she was surprised by how little she bought in the stores. I’d have to call that a pleasant surprise as well.

In between traveling from one side of the valley to the other side of the valley, we hung out at our cozy condo in Fountain Hills and watched American TV. The only real difference I could see between American and Canadian shows is they don’t talk about Canadia as much on American TV.

* * * *

With what time that remained in the States, we spent catching up with our friends and our spiritual family at Joe’s Church. Okay, it’s really called Just Church, and it meets at Imagine Prep in Surprise, AZ. Lea and I used to be greeters there. I wandered over to Einstein Corner where I used to greet and took a selfie of myself and Brother Al.

Little Known Fact About My Lovely Supermodel Wife: she has really weird dreams. Prior to our return trip to the States, she had a dream that we went to our old church. And no one spoke to us. Not the pastor. Not his wife. Nor any of our friends.

Luckily, my wife doesn’t have any prophetic talent either, and a lots of people talked to us, including the pastor. And his wife. And all of our friends. We invited all of them to come to Mexico, just not all at the same time.

* * * *

It’s football season, and the Vikings played the Redskins while we were in town, so we went to a sports bar to watch the game. Bill Sbiliris, one of the docs I used to work with met us there. So did Deb Goral, one of the nurses I used to work with.

Bill is a Vikings fan, so we had a great time watching the Vikings beat the Redskins on a really, really big TV. Deb is a Packers fan. Maybe I should have bought her a pizza…  But her team won that day, too, so she was happy, even without pizza.

There was another person/former co-worker who was supposed to meet us. Karen Rae Goff, one of my favorite social workers. But Karen forgot she was going to a NASCAR race when she said she’d come to the game, and then she remembered the race when she remembered that she hates football.

Maybe next time, Karen.

* * * *

We deliberately packed light when we flew back to the States so we’d have a lots of room in our luggage for the stuff Lea had purchased to bring back to Mexico, and that was a very good idea. We bought a lots of stuff. When we first saw all of the boxes and bags and more bags and boxes, Lea and I both thought we’d have to buy another suitcase to get all of our stuff home. Thanks to some creative packing, we were able to fit it all in our existing luggage, and even more surprising, we weren’t overweight on any of our luggage.

That was a very pleasant surprise.

And now we’re home once more, and it’s good to be home. No matter where you go or what you do, it’s always good to be home. I have grown accustomed to my very stress-free lifestyle, and so has my lovely supermodel wife.

Everyone we talked to said Hell had a more mild summer than they had in Phoenix this year. It does get incredibly hot there.

Yeah, really unfortunate we missed that…

I’m sure we’ll travel back to the good old USA again someday, but neither Lea nor I want to be in Minnesota during the winter, or in Arizona during the summer. I’m sure Lea will plan accordingly, unless it’s some kind of dire emergency.

Life can do that to you sometimes. No matter how well you prepare for it, Life will surprise you.

‘Tis the Season

Tomorrow is Halloween, the official start of what I call the Holiday Season. Well, other people probably call it that, too. All of the Big Ones are coming up now in rapid succession, and Halloween kick-starts it all. Fun for kids and even more fun for adults who love to wear costumes and go to parties. I have a few vague memories of some epic Halloween parties, and it’s probably best that they stay that way.

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Romans added a couple of their holidays to the Celtic festival, Feralia and the Festival of Pomona. If you’re curious about these things, you can look them up on the Interweb. The Catholic Church added a couple of twists, mostly to water down the pagan aspects, and we eventually ended up with the current holiday we celebrate and all of its trappings.

I tend to think of Halloween as a mostly North American, Canadian/American holiday, but I could be wrong about that. Maybe kids ‘Trick or Treat’ in Pakistan. Or China…  I doubt it, but it’s possible. I don’t think they do much of that in Mexico.

Halloween is still pretty much of a gringo holiday down here, but that’s probably starting to change. You can buy costumes at Walmart here in Lakeside, so it’s starting to creep into the culture. The big Mexican holiday down here is Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead. It’s a three day celebration, and when it comes to celebrating, Mexico takes a back seat to nobody.

From the beginning of October until New Year’s Day, there will be endless barrages of cohetes and bands and parades and fiestas, pretty much every day. Hardly anyone here will sleep for the next two months. It’s a really good thing I quit drinking before we moved here, or I’d rarely be sober. There’s something like unto a couple hundred of holidays down here, and half of them begin tomorrow.

I used to really love Halloween. When we lived in Minneapolis, my lovely supermodel wife and I used to carve pumpkins. We handed out tons of candy and sometimes shoveled snow. We had at least one huge honker of a blizzard on Halloween.

* * * *

Little Known Fact About Me: I love the Holiday Season. Granted, as a nurse I tended to celebrate most of those occasions by working, but that’s the way it went. Be that as it may, we always celebrated the holidays, even if we had to wait until I finished my shift.

Little Known Fact About My Lovely Supermodel Wife: Lea is an excellent cook, and she has served up some awesome Thanksgiving feasts over the years. And I have loved them all.

According to legend, the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in November of 1621. The Pilgrims in Massachusetts and their Native American buddies got together and had a feast, and it kind of caught on. Until the white settlers decided they needed to get rid of all the natives, but that’s another story for another day.

George Washington issued a proclamation in 1789, a National Day of Thanks and Gratitude kind of thing. Abraham Lincoln issued another proclamation in 1863, and set the date for Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November. I’m not sure when a turkey dinner became synonymous with the holiday, but I’m sure my Uncle Don was pleased. He raised a lots of turkeys.

Little Known Fact About Turkeys: they originated in Mexico. Another funny thing, turkey isn’t a very popular item at any Mexican restaurant. The Mexican people are very gracious and will cook a traditional gringo Thanksgiving feast at many of the fine dining establishments down here. Lea and I went to one last year with a lots of our friends, but we’re planning on celebrating at home this year.

Traditional American holiday or not, we love get together at least once a year to give thanks, and eat ourselves  into a coma, and watch football. Well, that’s more or less what I do…  And when we lived in Minneapolis, I’m sure I shoveled a lots of snow. Until I got a snowblower.

I don’t miss snow at all, but I do miss my snowblower. Go figure.

* * * *

Christmas is arguably the biggest holiday of them all, and the only reason I say that  is because everything is arguable nowadays, even things that shouldn’t be.

Christmas, on a superficial level, is a Christian religious holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus. On a deeper level it’s a combination of that, the Winter Solstice, the Roman festival of the Saturnalia and a melange of any other number of beliefs and customs.

Anyone ever heard of Santa Claus? You can no longer have Christmas without Santa Claus. I can’t think of another person more closely associated with a major nonreligious holiday than Santa, and that includes Jesus, and St Patrick. No one dresses up like St Patrick. No one even knows what he looks like. Does Jesus come down the chimney and give you presents? Nope, he does not.

Christmas has become a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. Decorations, presents, wrapping paper and trees. It all adds up. Christmas is big business. Entrepreneurs live for Christmas. And it’s probably kudos to them, and Coca-Cola®, and Hollywood for making Santa Claus the superstar that he’s become.

I lived for Christmas when I was a kid, even though half of my presents were stupid things like socks and underwear. Eight kids. We all got a lots of socks and underwear for Christmas.

But then there was the good stuff. Toys. Games. More toys and and games. It was sweet. I tried like hell to be a good person simply because of Christmas. I didn’t want to be on The Naughty List.

Christmas became less magical as I got older, but I can’t think of anything that didn’t. Being so far from my children and family has had an impact. If nothing else, Christmas is a time for family. And yet Christmas still retains something special to me–maybe it was the memories, maybe it is something more.

And when we lived in Minneapolis, I’m sure I used my snowblower. I think Lea bought me my first snowblower for Christmas. I used to clear all the sidewalks on my block.

Merry Christmas to all, and your sidewalks are clean!

* * * *

New Year’s Eve is another worldwide celebration, and the reason for that is simple. The last year probably sucked and everyone is hoping the next year will be better. It can’t get any worse, can it?

Oh yes, it can.

This has been the most relaxing, least stressful year I’ve ever had since I was a kid, and I can’t wait for this year to end. We’ll be one year closer to getting Donald Trump out of the White House.

This is simply my opinion, but Donald represents everything that’s wrong with the world, and he’s proud of that. If God ever needed a reason to speed up His timeline…

When I was much younger, I used to go out every New Year’s Eve to celebrate with my friends. And then there was one year when I went out all by myself. I was in nursing school, standing at a bar in downtown St Cloud, drinking a beer. When midnight came, everyone started cheering and hugging and kissing.

The guy standing next to me said, “Hey, I’m Tim. Happy New Year.” I introduced myself, and we shook hands.

It was one of the loneliest moments of my life. It was also the last time I ever went to a bar to celebrate that holiday.

* * * *

I haven’t written much lately. I haven’t felt much like writing. I started out writing about my nursing career, but the longer I don’t do that anymore, the less I think about the days when I did. I might get back to writing about that again someday, but we’ll see. Part of me believes I’ve already written all of the best stories I have to tell about being a psych nurse.

I spent a fair amount time writing about what an idiot I was when I was drinking and doing drugs for a living. I have a lots of stories to tell about those days, and some of them are really funny. For that reason alone, I might be tempted to say more, even though I’m not sure I want to remember more about those days…

There’s not much to say about my current life, other than it doesn’t suck at all, and yours probably does, simply because you may still be working for a living. Start feeding your 401K now. You’ll thank yourself later.

I have never enjoyed being alive as much as I do now. I get to spend every day with the woman I love, and I cherish this time we have together. I played the best game of golf I’ve probably ever played a few days ago. It doesn’t get a whole lots more better gooder than this.

The only reason I wrote this is because the last time I talked to Jane Castleman, she told me to keep writing, and I respect her opinion. Not my best work, for sure. Probably not my worst either.

Have a safe and happy holiday season. Eat your kid’s candy. Watch out for the sugar buzz. Have another helping of everything for Thanksgiving. If you’re too full for dessert, eat pumpkin pie for breakfast the next morning. Yeah, you can do that, unless your mom tells you you can’t.

May your Christmas be perfect. If there were ever a time for perfection, it’s Christmas. Enjoy the time with your family. You never get it back, and you don’t get a do over. Remember the reason for the season. Jesus wasn’t really born on Christmas Day, but he was born, and he was born to be our King. And just like Aragon, son of Arathorn, someday he will return, too.

Stay safe, and more or less sober, celebrating the new year. Each year has the potential to be better than the last, but will probably be just as tragic as the last. What will be, will be. Anticipate the best, but steel yourself for the worst. You’ll probably find both no matter what you do.

And, just for fun, may your team win the Super Bowl. Super Bowl Sunday isn’t a national holiday anywhere, but it should be, and it should be the official end of the holiday season. Maybe some day it will be…

Attitude really is everything. If you can remember that, you’ll get through anything life will throw at you. And I with that, I wish you the best of success until the next time. Whenever that might be.

Viva Las Vegas

I love Las Vegas. My lovely supermodel wife and I have been there several times, and we’ve always had a blast. We don’t go there to gamble. And now that I’ve quit drinking, we don’t go there to party. We like staying in the luxurious hotels. We love the shows, and fine dining, and the people watching.

But the other day, something happened in Vegas that didn’t stay in Vegas.

Dear God, where were you that day? There are a whole lots of hurting people down here who could have really used your help and protection.

On the offhand chance you haven’t seen the news, a lone gunman opened fire on a crowd of people attending a concert in Las Vegas with multiple automatic weapons, killing over fifty people and wounding something like unto five hundred.

And while we are left feeling stunned and shocked, and filled with dismay; there’s one thing none of us are.

Surprised.

It’s a sad fact of our lives that these occurrences have become all too commonplace. If a mass shooting can be described as four or more people, do you have any idea how many of those have happened in the last ten years? I don’t know the exact number, but I know there have been hundreds of them.

Hundreds. Let that sink in for a moment.

And the even sadder fact is almost all of us have come to believe that nothing can be done to change it. I am one of those people. And there’s a reason for that. The most obvious solution to this problem is the hands of our elected officials in Congress.

Need I say more?

It’s a gun issue! No, it’s a mental health issue!

Both of those arguments have merit, but the solution, if there is one, is hardly that black and white. So let’s take a look at them.

* * * *

It’s a gun issue.

We need better gun control.

That seems like the most obvious solution, doesn’t it? But there’s that whole Second Amendment thing. And the icing on that cake is the NRA. There are many powerful lobbyist organizations at work in America, but not many of the them have the political clout and power of the NRA.

What seems to be missing in this issue is another inalienable right, and that is all about not having to live in fear that you might got dead going to the movies, or to a concert, or going out to dinner.

If there weren’t a multitude of reasons for term limits in Congress, this issue in and of itself should be enough to mandate its implementation.

Guns don’t kill people!

Oh yes, Virginia, yes they do. And in the violent country of my birth, they kill a lots of people on a daily basis.

Personally, I’m not sure gun control is the only answer, and I don’t own a single gun. I know a lots of people who do, and none of them have killed so much as one person. And that’s true for the majority of gun owners. If this were strictly a gun issue, the gun owners living in an area as small as Northern Idaho could’ve killed everyone in the US already, twice.

That said, I can’t think of any reason why anyone would need to own an automatic assault weapon unless they needed to kill a whole lots of people to death at once in a very short amount of time. Without the arsenal he had, the guy in Las Vegas would’ve been hard pressed to kill even one person attending the concert from where he was.

Should there be a ban on the sale of assault weapons in the the United States? In my opinion, yes there should be. Will that be enough to stem the tide of future occurrences like what just happened in Las Vegas?

Good question. Let’s find out.

* * * *

It’s a mental health issue. 

I used to be a psych nurse, and this argument pisses me off so much I want to kill someone. If it’s only the crazy people killing everyone else to death, then working in Psychiatry would be the most dangerous job on the planet, and pysch nurses would have gone extinct years ago.

Most of the craziest people I’ve known have been too disorganized to figure out how to turn on the fucking shower, let alone plan and carry out a massacre of dozens of people.

There’s a whole lots of people working in law enforcement right now who are trying to figure out why the shooter in Las Vegas did what he did. Why don’t we ask him?

Oh. That’s right. He’s dead.

And that’s what has happened to almost every person who has chosen to take this course of action, so we’re never going to know exactly why he, or any of them, did what they did.

Was he mentally unstable? We’d certainly like to think so. Sane people don’t do these kinds of things, do they? No, they most certainly don’t! When trying to put the pieces of an investigation like unto this together, law enforcement officials generally find out the person they’re investigating is:

Well, he was a quiet guy. He kept to himself. He seemed like a normal person, you know. He liked to eat pizza. And burritos. No, he never said anything about wanting to kill anyone. I didn’t know he even owned a gun…

In other words, there were no warning signs, nothing that even hinted at any danger. In general, most mass murderers don’t seem to be anything beyond nondescript, until they do something that isn’t nondescript. It’s too bad because they’d be a whole lots more easier to stop if they were more up front about their intentions.

Oh yeah, he was always talking about killing people. In fact, that’s just about the only thing he talked about.

And did you take any actions to stop him?

We sure did! We got rid of all the hammers! And his mother hid the cheese grater in her underwear drawer in the bedroom!

For some reason, that part about the cheese grater seems to be something that actually happened with one of my former patients, but I might be wrong about that…

I have a theory about why people decide to kill a whole lots of people to death before they kill themselves, and Andy Warhol summed it up when he said, “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.”

We can’t all be Paris Hilton or one of the Kardashians…

Let’s suppose for a moment this actually is a mental health issue. What are we as a society doing to combat this crisis? Has there been an increase in resources to provide better care?

Um, no.

In fact, Congress has been trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And if you follow that logic, it’s probably because the NRA told them to do it.

* * * *

I felt like dying yesterday. If my lovely supermodel wife’s birthday wasn’t today, I would’ve been happy to check out, but that probably would’ve ruined her birthday today, so I’m glad to still be alive and be together with her.

The horrifying events that happened in Las Vegas will fade from our memories, and in a few months we’ll probably be collectively shocked and dismayed by another equally terrible and senseless event.

And nothing will be done to prevent it from happening again.

Back to Basics

The rainy season continues. It’s incredibly green down here. The Chinese Mountains in front of our house look like heads of broccoli. I’m not sure what the real name of the mountains are, but I call them the Chinese Mountains.

Las montañas de chino, in Spanish.

I think they look like the mountains in old Chinese paintings.

* * * *

Remember the movie, Mr Mom? 1983. Michael Keaton. Terri Garr.

Michael Keaton’s character loses his job and becomes a stay at home dad. After a few months of misadventures, he becomes disillusioned. He gives up taking care of the house. He gains weight, grows a beard, and spends most of his days drinking beer and watching soap operas on TV.

That’s kind of where my lovely supermodel wife and I are at right now.

Okay, it’s not that bad. Lea hasn’t grown a beard, and I haven’t started drinking and watching soap operas, so at least we caught it in time. And now that we’ve been able to identify what’s happening, we can come up with a plan of action to do something about it.

And we haven’t lost our jobs. We’re retired. Lea’s been retired for over an year. My one year anniversary will be here at the end of next month. The issues we face are vastly different than if we were still trying to remain gainfully employed.

We don’t have any debt. We don’t have any institutions we owe money to. We have monthly expenses, and that’s all. It’s pretty damn cool, and I haven’t been free from debt since I was twenty-one.

That was forty years ago. And as weird as this might sound, it’s time to get back to basics.

* * * *

I enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school. The first stop in my military career was Fort Ord, CA for basic training. Fort Ord was located around Monterey Bay. It opened in 1917, and closed in 1994, twenty years after I was there.

If the Federal government has any common sense, they’ll sell the land to developers and make a ton of money.

From what I remember, Fort Ord was a nondescript place, mostly sand and ice plants, scrub oak and poison ivy. And of all those, sand was predominant. I once described Fort Ord as a sand trap on the fourth hole of Life.

I’m pretty sure that description stands the test of time.

I arrived at Fort Ord in July of 1974. I was eighteen years old. The one thing I was sure of after I had been there for a couple of days was that I had made a terrible mistake. After talking to a few of the other guys, I knew I wasn’t the only one who had come to that conclusion.

I still remember some of the guys in my squad. Day. Moreno. Marthaler. Dennison. Mramer. I remember those guys better than I do most of the people I went to nursing school with ten years later. We all joined the Army for a myriad of reasons, but none of us were overly gung ho about it.

Marthaler and I were both from Minnesota. We were bunk mates. He slept on top. Dennison was probably my best friend in boot camp. We talked about a lots of stuff. We had similar interests. It helped the time go by. Day and Moreno were my buds. I helped them survive the obstacle course, and they helped me survive everything else. Day taught me how to play chess. Moreno made me laugh. Mramer and I hated each other. I’m not sure why. We never discussed it. I’m not sure we ever spoke to one another. But I’m pretty sure he hated me, and as a result, I know I hated him.

* * * *

I was assigned to Company A-4-3, fourth platoon, first squad. Our company commander was Captain Heller. He had a painting of a a bunch of marching penguins placed right above the mess hall doors. He thought penguins were the epitome of military attention. We were the Marching Penguins of Fort Ord, and all of the other companies laughed at us.

We hated those fucking penguins.

Our instructor was Drill Sergeant Byrum. DS Byrum was from North Carolina. He was slender and short, maybe a little taller than me. He wore glasses, and had a mustache. He looked like Ned Flanders from The Simpsons. Despite his meek and mild looks, he wasn’t a man to mess with. He had killed more than one enemy combatant with nothing more than a knife and his hands.

DS Byrum had been a tunnel rat in Nam before becoming a drill sergeant, just like Forrest Gump. He had been wounded several times, and had lost several feet of his small intestine as  can result of one of his wounds. All our training cadre had served at least one tour of duty in Vietnam, and they all had quite a bit to say about it.

The Vietnam War had become very unpopular in the US, and I can’t remember a single guy in my platoon that wanted to go there. I certainly didn’t. The war was a topic of heated discussion whenever we weren’t being run into the ground, learning how to be soldiers.

There were two groups. The guys who thought it was our duty to fight for our country, no matter where that might be, and the war was right. And there were the guys who thought America had no business being in Vietnam, and the war was wrong.

I was one of the latter. So was Dennison.

In addition, whether by accident or design, all of the fuck ups were assigned to the fourth platoon. We all knew we were fuck ups because DS Byrum told us we were. We were the platoon of misfits from Stripes.

Our first meeting with DS Byrum went something like unto this:

It was 4:00 AM on a Monday morning in late July. Everyone in my platoon was asleep in the barracks. And then I heard the sound of an empty metal garbage can being thrown down the middle of the barracks floor, echoing as it bounced off the floor and metal bedframes. And a voice was shouting, “Get. The. Fuck. Up!”

His voice continued as my platoon slowly roused itself and started getting dressed.

“I am Drill Sergeant Byrum, and you will address me as such if you want to live! Do not call me Sergeant! Do not call me Sir! Every rotation of new recruits has a platoon of fuck ups, and gentlemen, you are that platoon! You might be fuck ups now, but ten weeks from now you are going to be the best platoon in this company, or you will die trying! Now, rise and shine! Get. The. Fuck. Up!”

And for the next ten weeks, that’s more or less how every morning started.

* * * *

DS Byrum is memorable to me for at least one particular talent. He couldn’t correctly pronounce anyone’s name. Well, he could say Day’s name correctly, but the rest of us fuck ups got a fucked up name. My last name is Rowen. I became Private Roland.

Basic training serves a series of important military functions, probably. Initial processing. There’s a ton of paperwork that has to be filled out in triplicate, and processed on each new soldier. We were issued a literal ton of military equipment and uniforms that we had to sign for. In triplicate. With each step and each signature, we became a little less civilian, and a bit more military in thought and appearance. That process reached its fruition when we all received our trainee haircut which made all of us look like unto Bryan Baeumler.

That haircut was a rite of passage. Before it, we were still individuals with an unique identify. After it, we were officially soldiers, all equally bald and bereft of identity and individuality, and our real training began.

* * * *

The three most important aspects of boot camp are to brainwash each new recruit to stop thinking like a civilian, to start them thinking the way the Army wants them to think, and to get them into the best physical shape they could be in to die in the service of their country, if necessary.

“Men. There are two ways to do something. The wrong way, and the Army way. You are here to learn to do everything the Army way, and you will learn to do so without question, or your Army career will end somewhere in the next ten weeks. Do. You. Understand. Me!

“Yes, drill sergeant!”

And the first thing you better learn is that sentence. Or you’ll end up doing a whole lots of push ups. Even if you learn that sentence better than anyone ever has, you’ll still end up doing a whole lots of push ups. There might be things drill sergeants enjoy more than making everyone do push ups, but I’m not sure what they could be.

“Give me fifty.” was one of the most popular lines spoken in boot camp. After a couple of weeks or so, doing fifty push ups was nothing. Another favorite line was, “Give me one hundred.” The worst part about this line was it was usually said at 2:00 AM, and it was generally prefaced with a speech.

“Men! I heard some of you have been crying to your girlfriends and to your mamas on the phone. My drill sergeant doesn’t like me because I’m black! He doesn’t like me because I’m Mexican! Men! That’s a bunch of bullshit!  I don’t care if you’re black! I don’t care if you’re brown. Or yellow. Or white. I hate each and every one of you motherfuckers equally! Do. You. Understand. Me? There’s only one color in this Army, and that color is green! Now, get down and give me one hundred!”

Or there was this speech from Drill Sergeant Camacho in the early morning hours, in the pouring rain while the entire company stood outside in our underwear. A couple of guys got into a fight earlier in the day, and DS Camacho didn’t want any of that shit going on on his watch.

“Men! I heard some of you guys think you’re tough. I heard some of you guys think you’re real badasses. I heard some of you guys like to fight. Is that true? Do we have any fighters out there? Because I want you tough guys to know one thing! If any of you fuckers want to fight, you can fight me and I’ll beat the living shit out of you! I’ll kick your fucking ass! Are there any badasses out there now? Are there any tough guys out there that want to fight me?”

“No, drill sergeant.”

“I. Can’t. Hear. You.”

“NO, DRILL SERGEANT!”

“That’s more like it! Now, get down and give me two hundred!”

* * * *

We had a whole lots of drill sergeants. Each platoon had a primary and secondary instructor. We had Byrum and Camacho. There were at least six other instructors who collaborated to make all of our lives as miserable as legally possible, plus a rotation of instructors in training. I can’t remember all of them anymore.

The only one of them I can remember clearly is DS O’Connor. I think he was one of first platoon’s instructors. His father was an American serviceman stationed in the Pacific, and his mother was a Polynesian native. He was half American and half Polynesian. He was…Amnesian.

* * * *

Boot camp is a new miserable experience for everyone that has to endure it. The only free time you have is when you go to bed, and sleep is your only escape mechanism, unless you decide to try to escape from the Army. And there’s always at least one guy who tries to go AWOL in boot camp.

In my unit, it was Calvin. That was his last name. No one has a first name in boot camp. He was most definitely a fuck up, but I don’t think he was in my platoon. I wonder how that happened? In addition to the mangled names DS Byrum gave us, almost everyone had a nickname. And Drill Sergeant Byrum helped me get mine one day when my platoon was in formation.

“Private Roland! I understand you had a meeting with the company commander this morning.”

“Yes, drill sergeant!” Everyone in the company knew about it. I was called to Captain Keller’s office while we were eating breakfast in the mess hall.

“Why did the captain want to see you?”

“I’d rather not say, drill sergeant.”

“Did I ask you if you had an opinion, Private Roland? Get down and give me fifty. Now, tell the rest of the platoon why the captain wanted to see you.” 

“He…he asked me if I wanted to go to West Point, drill sergeant.”

“And what did you tell the captain?”

“I told him I wasn’t interested, drill sergeant.”

“Do you hear that, men? Private Roland turned down an appointment to attend the finest university in the entire world, just so he could stay here with you. Is that correct, Private Roland?”

“Yes, drill sergeant!”

* * * *

Captain Heller was more than a little surprised when I told him I wasn’t interested in going to West Point.

“Take some time, think about it for a day. Talk to your parents. This is a great opportunity, son. You’re not going to get another chance like this again, ever. I can guarantee you that.”

“Yes, sir. You’re right about that, sir. But I don’t need any more time to think about this. I’m not interested.”

“Well, okay. But I think you’re making a big mistake with your life, son. Dismissed.”

* * * *

“That’s the stupidest fuckin’ thing I’ve ever heard, Private! Why would you turn down the opportunity to have a free college education at the best center of higher learning in the entire universe?”

I had at least one good reason for not wanting to go to West Point. I already knew I hated being in the Army, and the sooner I got out of the Army, the happier I was going to be. West Point was a four year commitment, plus another four years of service in the military on top of that.

Eight years in the Army was five more years than my enlistment. At that time in my life, it seemed like unto two eternities. All I wanted to do was serve my three years, and go back to Montana and marry my high school sweetheart.

But that wasn’t anything I wanted to tell Drill Sergeant Byrum, so I told him something I was pretty sure he’d like to hear.

“Permission to speak freely, drill sergeant.”

“By all means, Roland. I cannot wait to hear what you have to say.”

“I didn’t want to end up being a goddamn officer, drill sergeant.”

“Well, Private Roland. The captain told me you were smart, but that is fuckin’ genius! That is the best reason I’ve ever heard!” And he smiled, and laughed. He might have even clapped me on the back.

I think DS Byrum actually liked me for a minute there. And that was a bad thing. The last thing you wanted in boot camp was to be seen as someone your drill sergeant liked, for any reason. And another bad thing was being considered better than everyone else. Before I even knew it was my turn to bat, I already had two strikes. In one fell swoop I had developed something like unto leprosy as far as almost everyone in my platoon was concerned.

They started calling me Captain. It might sound cool, but in boot camp it’s like unto the Kiss of Death. It wasn’t a sign of respect, but rather, contempt.

* * * *

You get to do an endless amount of marching in boot camp. You march everywhere. And while you march, you sing. The Army has a buttload of a shitload of a ton of marching songs. Most of them have something to do with pretty women, getting drunk and killing things. Singing helps you find a rhythm to the mindless task of marching, and it helps you move in unison with the guys around you. Doing everything in unison is not only critical to the smooth functioning of your unit, but the entire Army.

If you can’t learn to march in unison as a platoon, you’ll never be able to march in unison to the Army way of life. And the first thing you have to do in order to be a good soldier is to stop asking questions.

“Private Roland, the Army is not paying you to think. You decided not to go to West Point, remember? The Army is paying you to do whatever I tell you to do! Now, get down and give me fifty!”

If I had one hundred dollars for every time DS Byrum told me that, I probably could’ve retired at the end of basic training. That was easily the hardest part of boot camp for me. Accepting something as the truth from a guy who couldn’t even pronounce my name correctly was tough.

All of the training we received was designed for a dual purpose. To keep us alive if we were ever in a combat situation, and to pass all of the testing we would have to endure in boot camp. It made sense, even back then. All that testing tended to weed out the weakest members of the herd. We were being tested, and all of us had to pass a battery of tests along the way. Weapons training. Shooting range. Hand grenades.

We were trained and drilled. Retrained, and redrilled. Then trained and drilled some more. On the days of our final testing, we were driven to the ranges to test out on weapons. The M-16 rifle. The M-60 machine gun. Hand grenades. Whatever. The Army wanted us rested and relaxed on those days.

The rest of the time it wanted us miserable and exhausted, and probably the most exhausting endeavor of boot camp was bivouac. Think of camping while you’re in the Army, then add automatic weapons and live ammunition. And drill sergeants yelling at you. It was supposed to be the closest thing to actual combat experience training we would receive.

I was paired up with Moreno, we would share a tent for the next week while we were out in the field. I think Moreno chose me because I was smaller than he was, and I didn’t snore.

“You won’t take up a lot of room, and you won’t keep me awake at night, like Day. He snores like a fuckin’ chainsaw.” Moreno said. He was one of the few people that didn’t treat me differently after I chose not to go to the Military Academy. Even Dennison did. I think he was pissed he didn’t get asked if he wanted to go to the Military Academy. “What the fuck do those morons know? How many of them were asked to go to West Point?” 

That was a good question. There were plenty of other guys that were easily as smart as me, like Dennison. He was probably smarter than I was. And yet…

For the first and only time, we didn’t march in close formation, but were spread out in a long column. Drill sergeants ran up and down the line, telling some to spread out, others to hurry up  and close ranks a bit. Moreno and I stayed near the back of the column and talked. Moreno was a funny guy. He joked about almost everything, and that made the long march tolerable.

Bivouac maneuvers started out benignly enough. We marched. That was nothing new, but this march didn’t stop. We marched for four hours straight. For lunch we ate C-rations, then marched for another four or five hours.

At some point in the afternoon, we were ‘attacked,’ and had to dive for cover. Live ammunition was being fired in our general direction, about fifty feet above our heads. The area I ended up in was a few scrub oaks surrounded by a field of poison ivy, so I decided I needed another place to dive for cover.

“Private Roland! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m getting out of this poison ivy, drill sergeant.”

“Private, we are under attack! You need to drop to ground! Now!”

“We are not under attack. I’m not in any danger of being killed. There’s a place without any poison ivy right there! That’s where I’m going.”

“Private Roland! You drop to the ground right where you are, right now, and that’s a goddamn order!”

I’m not sure I have ever hated a man so much as I hated DS Byrum at that moment in time. I dropped to one knee.

“All the way down. To the fuckin’ ground, Private! Now, goddamnit!”

I ended up with the worst case of poison ivy anyone has ever seen, including the bivouac doctor at Sick Call the next morning. He gave me a tiny bottle of calomine lotion, and told me to come back if I needed more. I started every morning standing in line to get more calomine lotion, trying not to scratch any part of my body.

Oddly enough, having to dive into the poison ivy ended up being kind of a blessing. Arguing with DS Byrum wasn’t something new for me, but the fact that he had to give me a direct order made the other guys in my platoon dislike me less. It proved to them I wasn’t an asskissing egghead who probably should have been smart enough to go to West Point.

Plus, I had an ugly ass rash all over my body, and there wasn’t a more miserable looking person on the planet than I looked that week.

It was one of the longest weeks of my life. Ever. Even now it was probably only exceeded in emotional misery by the week my mother-in-law died, and even then, I wasn’t covered by the itchy rash of poison ivy, nor did I have to march ten miles a day.

* * * *

If boot camp is nothing but an endless test, the final exam of boot camp is the Fitness Test. I can’t remember how many different sets of exercises we had to complete beyond several of them, but every skill was measured, timed and graded. Your final score determined whether or not you would be able to leave Fort Ord, boot camp, and continue onward in the Army. The final component of the Fitness Test was the mile run.

You could run as fast as you liked, but the slowest acceptable time was eight minutes.

Some of the guys I was in boot camp with were phenoms at certain skills, and their scores were legendary. Like Mramer. He could run like a sprinter for at least a mile. I wasn’t spectacular at any of the Fitness skills, but I was consistently average. Not great, but good enough to pass.

That pretty much sums up my entire academic career. And my military career, for that matter.

After that, boot camp was essentially over. There was a ceremony. A general gave a speech. I shook DS Byrum’s hand, and thanked him for making my life a living hell.

And for those of you who think I should have jumped at the chance to attend the Military Academy, maybe you’re right. But the judgement I had to endure in boot camp is the same thing I would’ve had to endure if I had decided to go to West Point. The You Don’t Belong Here Judgement.

I would’ve been hated by a better class of people. Instead of being too good to be an enlisted man, I wouldn’t have been good enough to be an officer, but that’s the only difference.

* * * *

As much as I hated boot camp, I’m sure I learned some important lessons there. It is only through facing adversity that one truly grows. I learned discipline. I learned how to persevere. I learned how to focus my diffuse anger. Unfortunately, I learned to focus it at the Army. And I learned something about patience. Those were all good things to know, and they came in handy over the years. But it would take me a very long time to learn all about patience.

Patience is the least of my concerns. Waiting is probably the last thing I need to do. However, just what it is that I’m supposed to do isn’t immediately clear. I have a few ideas that I’ve been mulling over, and Lea has a couple of things she wants to do. Everything will fall into place.

It always has so far.

And it’s not like my whole world has fallen apart. It simply hasn’t fallen together. There’s a big difference between the two.

Maybe I’ll get started by doing some push ups…

The Writer’s Almanac

Before I get into whatever this piece is going to turn into, I’d like to say, Hi, Jane! And just so there’s no confusion, the picture isn’t me. That’s Garrison Keillor. Among his many achievements and accomplishments, Garrison Keillor is a very good writer.

I’ve been enjoying writing lately. It’s a good thing, I suppose. I could certainly do worse things with my time. And if the opening line of this installment leaves you feeling bewildered, welcome to the club. That’s how I usually feel when I start writing.

I sometimes have a very good idea of what I’m going to write about, but more often than not, I don’t. I usually have a topic or theme floating around in my head, and sometimes I have a sentence I like, and want to use it somewhere in my post. That’s about it. It’s like unto taking a sink to an architect’s office and saying, “Design and build a house around this.”

And if you’re wondering, Jane is probably the most ardent reader I have, so I thought I’d acknowledge that.

* * * *

The rainy season has impacted my latest hobby, hitting golf balls. I can’t golf in the rain. But it has given me something else to do. Drain our pool. Our rental house came equipped with an hydropool that we don’t use, so there’s usually no water in it. It’s essentially become a gigantic rain gauge and deathpit for insects. We got about an inch of rain yesterday, but we got an additional four inches this morning.

Rain water is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, so I grab my shop vac and suck all the water out of the pool. I do not like mosquitoes. It’s a relatively simple procedure, so I don’t mind doing it. And the pool always looks great when I’m done.

The rainy season has brought forth a whole lots of tiny Mexican tree frogs. They come out at night, and sing in a chorus of peeppeeppeeppeep sounds. It’s kind of soothing, and it’s pretty cool to fall asleep to.

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife and I went shopping today. We found everything we were looking for, except coffee filters. You’d think they’d be in the same aisle as the coffee, but that’s not the case at El Walmart.

Esto es Mexico…

I’m sure that news made a couple of hearts skip a beat, but fear not, and be of good faith. Coffee filters are available down here. I know I’ve bought them somewhere down here, probably not at Walmart, but somewhere. Most, if not all, of the retail stores down here go out of their way to cater to the gringo population. We are here, and we are legion.

This place really is the closest thing to Heaven on Earth.

* * * *

A few days ago, one of my virtual friends asked me if I missed the United States, and the simple answer is no. Not at all. There are only two things I really miss. Rosati’s pizza and paved roads. Before my friends get offended, you are not things. 

Yesterday, I was notified by Facebook that I have 650 friends. I might’ve had around 300 friends before I retired, so I’ve been busy expanding my social circle. I accepted a virtual friend request from a gal yesterday, then waited. Within a matter of minutes, I received a message. I almost always get a message after I accept a request from someone.

Thankfully, she didn’t want to send me naked pictures. She wanted to sex chat, I think. I’m guessing about that, mostly because I’ve never been in this swamp before. She asked if I wanted to Skype and we could chat. She said I looked like an interesting guy and she wanted to know more about me.

I sent her link to my blog and told her anything she’d ever need to know about me was in here. I haven’t heard another word from her. I guess I’m not that interesting after all.

I’m not sure why, but I think that’s one of the funniest things, ever. And I should stop accepting friend requests from people I don’t know.

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife and I are going out tonight with some friends. We’re going to Perry’s Pizza. He’s making his chicken fried chicken dinner especially for our group. I’m totally looking forward to that. There will be photos posted on my Facebook page.

I love being retired. I’m not sure how rewarding it is, but it’s most definitely a nice reward for all those years of working my ass off toward this end.

* * * *

One of my real friends and former co-workers has been writing something like unto her memoirs. She’s a nurse, and she’s one of the good ones. On her Facebook page this morning she confessed how difficult this process has been for her.

I knew going into writing this book that healed scars would be opened up again and feelings that I haven’t had in years would resurface. I was prepared for that. I was prepared for raw emotions and ready to share the deepest, darkest parts of my journey…  Or so I thought. 

Ah, Tiffany. I know your pain. I wasn’t planning on writing today until I read her post. I accidently ended up writing some Tales From the Darkside of my life after I started writing my blog. Unlike Tiffany, I wasn’t aware of what that can do to your soul, but I would find out quickly. It’s like unto crossing a swamp. It looks daunting when you get to it, but you tell yourself it won’t be that bad.

Look! There’s a little path here! If I just stay on that, I’ll be fine…

But that path will disappear quickly, and in front of you will be dark, fetid water of an undetermined depth and a shitload of mud and muck. Then you’re faced with a decision. Turn around and try to find a way around the swamp. That’s not going to be easy. It’s a big swamp. Or, you can keep going forward and try to get through the swamp as quickly as possible. You almost always decide to go forward. The mud sucks at your feet and legs as you try to slog your way forward, and the water is full of leeches.

That was the paragraph I had in my mind when I started this post.

Opening up old wounds is mentally, emotionally, spiritually and even physically draining. It hurts like hell. It’s like unto passing a fucking kidney stone, and I know that pain, too. Seeing how none of your old wounds were obtained in a vacuum, it’s not just your wounds that end up being opened.

After you’ve decided to go into that swamp once, you know what it looks like when you’re going to venture into it a second time. I’ve been there intentionally a few times. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost at least one reader of my blog by going there. And there’s nothing funny about that.

She was a real friend of mine, probably my oldest friend.

I like to joke about how no one ever reads my blog, but I’ve probably had a couple of thousand people who have at least visited my site, which isn’t all that bad. I follow a couple of other bloggers who are vastly more successful than I am. They have more visitors to their sites in a day than I get in a month.

I have to admit, I’m a little jealous.

But I remind myself that I not doing this as a competition, and those bloggers have been doing this for a long time. Their blogs also have a more specific focus than mine, so their audience is there for a more specific reason.

I originally started writing my blog about my nursing career in Psychiatry, and it has gone off on some pretty weird tangents over time. While I’m sure there were compelling reasons for doing this, though they haven’t always been immediately recognizable to me. It’s one of the hazards of going through most of your life unconscious…

Waking up is hard to do.

I’ve been in the process waking up for about ten years now, and it hasn’t always been pretty. Be that as it may, the life I was living before that was a lots less pretty. I still get flashes of memories that hit me out of nowhere, leaving me wondering where that came from and what am I supposed to do with it now? Sometimes those flashbacks are unsettling and disturbing. Sometimes they’re just annoying. Sometimes they’re really funny, and I laugh out loud. If my life before was an almost endless binge, part of my healing process has involved a fair amount of purging.

And in the process, I’m sure I opened some old wounds that weren’t only mine. Many people have said I simply did what I had to do get all that poison out of my system, You did what you had to do! they said. And I probably said something like unto this at least once, It was never my intention to hurt anyone.

That said, if that’s your defense, you knew someone was going to get hurt in advance.

Life, and its many facets, can be an incredibly beautiful and poignant thing. It can also be very ugly and sordid. Most of the time it’s somewhere in between. Life, for lack of a better description at this point in my waking up process, is what it is. It’s a description I’ve never especially liked because it’s so banal.

And yet…

Life, as messy as it can be, still beats the alternative. And before you get the idea I’m a tortured soul in search of peace, that would be wrong. I’m more at peace than I’ve ever been. I have learned to appreciate all that I’ve been given, and to see the Bigger Picture. I have a more balanced view of my life, and myself.

And I am mostly content.

In the long run, cleansing your soul and ridding yourself off all that unnecessary baggage is ugly and dirty work, but it’s worth it.

Night has fallen, and the frogs are peeping. This seems like a good place to stop. Good night, and sweet dreams to you.

Living in the Virtual World

¡Hola! ¿Que pasa?

Things are pretty chill down here in Mexico. The rainy season is still in progress, though it hasn’t rained for the last three days. My lovely supermodel wife and I are still in love with being retired. We’re still mostly happily adjusting to our new lives and the new culture in which we’re living.

The most significant change we’ve encountered at Casa del Selva has been the hummingbird population. We used to have seventy thousand hummingbirds at our feeders, and we’d have to refill them eight times a day. Lea was worried we’d burn through our pension funds buying sugar.

I wondered if we could claim them as dependents…

It turns out Mexican hummingbirds are migratory, and they go somewhere else to raise their young, probably Texas. I wonder if President Don Jon Un knows about the illegally immigrating Mexican hummingbirds, and how he’s planning on stopping them…

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We’re down to about seven hummingbirds. One feeder will last for eight days or more. Lea is really bummed out. I kind of miss the ravenous horde, too. They were fun to watch, and they kept me on my toes whenever I wandered out on the patio. But I’m sure they’ll be back this fall, and we’ll be happy to see them again.

* * * *

I’ve been working on my golf game by going to the driving range when the weather permits, and playing the occasional round or two. I spent a month working on my drives on the range, and I made a startling discovery the last time I played golf. You only hit a ball off of a tee once per hole.

Some of my drives were so pretty it almost brings a tear to my eye, but the rest of my shots were so abysmal it practically makes me cry to think about it. It took me five strokes to reach the green of the par four first hole. And then I three putted. After that, my composure was pretty much gone, and the next seventeen holes were mostly a nightmare with flashes of brilliance.

The other thing I discovered was I’m not as young as I once was. A shot I could easily make with a five iron ten years ago no longer has the distance it used to. I’ve had to come up with a completely new strategy to play the game I love that doesn’t love me in return.

So this week I’ve been practicing on the range with fairway woods and irons, and I’ve come to the conclusion I’m going to need a whole lots more practice.

My lovely supermodel wife has been coming to the driving range with me this week, and she’s been a voice of encouragement to me. It’s been very sweet, and I appreciate my adorable wife even more because of it.

And then there’s putting. I’d probably be a pretty decent golfer if I didn’t have to putt. I’ve been doing some putting on the practice green. I sank a forty foot putt yesterday, and the best part was Lea saw it. I’m not sure who was happier, me or her.

* * * *

As for the rest of our life, we’re very slowly learning the language of our new country. Our landlord and Spanish teacher is Planet Janet. Back when she worked for a living, Janet taught English as a Second Language and Spanish as Another Language at university in Canadia before she retired in Mexico, so she graciously agreed to teach us when we moved into one of her houses. She charges us $200 pesos for a two hour session, once a week, and donates the money to buy wheelchairs for children whose families wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them.

It’s a win/win/win situation. Janet gets to do something she loves, teach. We get to do something we need, learn. And we all get to help out someone in need.

And seeing how Janet’s been here for a quarter of a century, she’s been showing us some of the ropes and helping us find our way through some of the tricksier aspects of living in Mexico.

Legal things, like Wills, Advanced Directives, health insurance and residency visas. She has recommendations for doctors, dentists, mechanics and veterinarians. And reviews of the latest awesome restaurant she’s eaten at.

And then there are the unexpected things that happen out of the blue.

We ran out of water last weekend. Our main water supply line sprang a monster leak a couple of weeks ago, so we turned the main off and called Planet Janet and El Don Padrino. We have two huge water reservoirs under our carport, so we had plenty of water to tide us over until the leak could be repaired

Don and Janet sent their plumber, Mani, over the next day to fix the leak, then he called SAMAPA, the local water authority. SAMAPA said they had to send a guy over to turn the water back on–Mani was forbidden to open the valve–and the SAMAPA guy would come over ahorita.

Ahora is the Spanish word for now, but now isn’t a highly regarded reality based concept in most of Mexico. Even the Mexicans think it’s funny that there’s generally no such thing as now, especially when it concerns the government and some of the utility companies.

There’s another Spanish word, ahorita. It can mean really soon, however, in Mexico, ahorita can also mean something a whole lots closer to never than it does to now.

Well, the SAMAPA guy never showed up, and no one told us our water main hadn’t been turned back on. So, two weeks later we ran out of water, at 9:00 PM on a Saturday night. I turned the water back on, probably illegally, and that solved the problem.

These kind of things happen, and not just in Mexico. When they happen here, we laugh and shrug and say, This is Mexico/Esto es Mexico, and move on. If you don’t like it, leave.

Mexico is not like the United States. Spanish isn’t the same as English. The language of Mexico is an amalgamation of Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, English and Arabic, as well as some words from the fifty-four indigenous languages of the native people who lived here before the Spaniards arrived and fucked up everything.

If you’re wondering how Arabic got thrown into the mix, the Moors invaded Spain in the year 711, and ruled the country for eight hundred years. Spain invaded Mexico in 1519, or roughly about the time the Spaniards finally kicked the Moors out of power in their own country. It took the Spaniards only two years to topple the Aztec empire and steal as much gold and silver from the Mexicans as they could.

Little Known Fact About the Spanish Language: there are probably four thousand Arabic words or phrases that are now part of the modern Spanish vocabulary.

The language barrier is certainly the tricksiest part of living in Mexico, especially since neither Lea nor I spoke any Spanish before we moved here. After almost nine months we can now say hello, how are you, goodbye and thanks, and a few phrases here and there, but we’re hardly fluent, and mostly lost with someone who speaks no English.

It can be kind of comical sometimes.

* * * *

Like unto practically everyone else on this planet, I probably have a form of addiction to my mobile devices and social media. I have a blog that maybe seven people read, including me. For my last installment I posted a picture of one of my former co-workers, and it was seemingly an huge hit. I had a lots of people reacting to the picture on my Facebook page. They loved it! But I don’t know if any of those people actually read the accompanying article.

Oh, look! A picture of Brea! That’s such a cute picture!! What’s this stuff? Eww! Words!! OMG, there’s, like, a thousand of them! Ick!

I have a Facebook page, an Instagram account, and a Twitter account. Unlike our current President, I’ve never figured Twitter out, and I dislike being limited to the number of words I can use. I doubt anyone has ever read even one of my seven Tweets.

My lovely supermodel wife isn’t as addicted to social media as I am. She views Facebook the same way I view Twitter, and I doubt she knows Instagram is even a thing. Or SnapChamp.

Social media has become almost a necessary evil to me, now that I’m a retired guy living in a foreign country. It’s the most convenient way for me to stay up to date with the lives of my friends and family, and it’s the easiest way for them to keep tabs on me.

Before we retired, Lea and I discussed what we’d like to do after we retired. Travel was one of the things we both agreed on, but now that we’ve traveled to Mexico, I’m not sure how much more traveling we’re actually going to do. We’ll see what the future holds. Be that as it may, whether we embark on a tour of the world or not, thanks to the Interweb and social media, the world now comes to me. And so do all of my virtual friends.

I have far more friends now than I did back when I really had friends, people I knew and hung out with and did stuff with. My virtual friends come from all over the world: Canadia, England, Ireland, Spain, France and Italy. Poland, Croatia, Greece, Russia, Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil and Ohio. I doubt I’ll ever meet any of them face to face. But because of them and our virtual friendship, I get to see what their part of the world looks like, and what their lives are like.

By the way, Ohio is evidently a whole lots more interesting than I thought it was.

Back when I was a kid, the only way you could accomplish something like unto this without being a world traveler was with a National Geographic subscription. If you don’t know what that is, Google it.

My virtual friends post a lots of pictures of themselves, so I also get to see a lots of pictures of tattoos. Back when I was a kid, the only people who had tattoos were drunken sailors, biker gangs and criminals. Tattoos were the mark of low life scumbags and losers.

Nowadays, almost everyone has at least one tattoo, even my lovely supermodel wife, and she’s probably the most conservative person I know. Tattoos have moved out of the darkened alleyways that only a fool would enter, and have become a legitimate mainstream art form of individual statement, beauty and color. Some of them are really quite stunning.

I don’t have any tattoos. I think tattoos look pretty cool on other people, but I’ve never wanted to get one. I’ll admit I don’t understand what the attraction is. For me, the same thing is true of Disneyland®. I have no idea why anyone would want to go there, unless you really like standing in line for hours.

Having a tattoo isn’t a requirement for me to send a friend request to someone on Facebook. I automatically receive an infinite number of profiles of people that I’ve never met every day with the suggestion from Facebook that I might know some of them. Ironically, Facebook will then ask me if I actually know the person I’m randomly sending a friend request to before I can submit it.

I don’t receive as many friend requests as I submit. If a guy sends me a request, it’s usually because he has a great business proposal and he wants me as an investor. If a woman sends me a request it’s usually one of those Click here to see naked pictures of me things. I have yet to knowingly accept one, but I always wonder, Where the hell were these girls when I was twenty? And the answer is they weren’t even alive.

Some of my newest BFF’s that I’ve never met send me personal messages and ask a few questions about me and my life. This always surprises me because it never occurs to me to do that with any of them. Some of my virtual friends disappear from my profile after they discover how boring I am, or that I don’t want to see any naked pictures of them, or I don’t want to invest in a ground-breaking business opportunity.

Many of my virtual friends live what appear to be interesting lives, and their careers run the gamut. I’m still partial to nurses. I have a lots of virtual friends that are nurses. It’s a brotherhood thing, or more probably a sisterhood thing.

A couple of my virtual friends are witches, one of whom does tarot card readings. Another one of my virtual friends sells cars in the GTA. If you’re not an intrepid, sophisticated virtual world traveler like me who watches Canadian television in Mexico, the GTA is the Greater Toronto Area.

Yet another of my virtual friends is an activist, warning the world about every possible conspiracy ever conceived. I used to have two friends like unto this. I could say I unfriended one of them because she was too crazy, but almost everyone on my FB page admits to some level of insanity. And, I used to be a psych nurse, so craziness in and of itself isn’t something that bothers me much.

It was her unstable anger/rage that I found so unsettling. Her rants/raves hit the airwaves every five minutes, and each was more outrageous than the last. I tried joking with her a couple of times to get her to lighten up a little, but she didn’t appreciate my humor. Clearly, we had unreconcilable differences, and something had to give.

I’ve become virtual friends with a whole lots of motivational speakers/health gurus/life coaches. They post videos of their exercise workouts, recipes for healthy meals and daily motivational quotes and videos. Several of them post live feeds of themselves giving motivational talks to break out of your rut and improve your life.

To be honest, I’m not personally interested in most of that stuff. I don’t exercise. I think my diet is healthy enough for me, and I don’t need to make any significant changes to improve my life. If I did, I’d likely already know what it is that I need to do differently. However, I do listen to them and take their advice into consideration.

Mental and emotional health are things that require a certain amount of intentional maintenance. They are perishable commodities. It takes an effort to keep your goddamn mind right. It’s easy to fall asleep at the wheel and end up in the ditch, and before you know it you’re wondering how the hell could this happen to me?!?

So it’s good for me to be reminded of the things I used to preach lest I start backsliding. I’ve worked too hard to get away from that shit to ever want to go back again, even by accident.

* * * *

Before I retired and moved to Mexico, I would occasionally have breakfast with Brian. Brian Leach is the former lead pastor of one of the churches we formerly attended in Surprise. I liked Breakfast with Brian. He’s a pretty smart guy, and he’s the closest thing to a friend/pastor I’ve ever had.

We used to attend a small group/Bible study at Brian’s house. It was Brian who first made me a virtual celebrity by saying something like unto this at one of our group meetings: “I’m not a big fan of social media, but I think everyone should check out Mark Rowen’s Facebook page at least once a day.”

And I didn’t have to pay him to say that.

Just before we departed Arizona, I had one last breakfast with Brian. He spent the last few minutes trying to convince me to do a video blog.

“There’s a kid on YouTube who’s making a six figure income, just by posting videos!”

I replied that the kid was probably smart. And funny.

“Well, you’re smart and funny.”

I replied that the kid probably had a personality. If you’ve never met me in person, once you did, you’d probably wonder if I was ever going to come out of that coma. I don’t have an affect, and my voice lacks inflection. I posted a video on Facebook once. One of my real friends said I sound like Eeyore. Ben Stein sounds like Sam Kinison when compared to me.

I blame my life as a psych nurse for that. When you’ve seen as much strange stuff as I have, it’s hard to be surprised by anything. Also, I’ve been a Minnesota Vikings fan for fifty years. Therefore, I find it almost impossible to get too excited about anything anymore. If the Vikings ever win the Super Bowl, I might get a tattoo…

My virtual friends who post inspirational videos are excited by what they’re doing. They smile. They have a fire in their eyes, and they clearly have a passion about their messages. If you’ve ever read any of my blog posts, most of them don’t have an inspirational message. I’m not sure any of them have even had a point.

In addition, the video blogs I’ve watched are short, or at least, short-ish. My written blogs don’t seem short to me. Even the shortest blog I’ve written has taken me hours to complete. And while I am sometimes spontaneously witty, I’m not a great impromptu speaker. I would probably end up writing a script that I would essentially end up reading, and I’d probably stumble through everything I’d written.

I’m trying to imagine that being entertaining to anyone. I might become the first person YouTube paid to stop posting videos…

It could be argued that if I started making video blogs, I could save myself a ton of time. If I weren’t retired, that argument might carry more weight. But I am retired. If I don’t have anything else, I have plenty of time, and very little of it is scheduled with any recurring activity, except my Spanish lessons.

A real friend of mine occasionally posts The Manitowoc Minute Vlog on his Facebook page. It’s a very funny commentary about life in Wisconsin, which, in retrospect, probably goes without saying. The idea of posting El Minuto Mexicano certainly has its appeal. I could ramble on incomprehensibly in a mixture of Spanglish, Latin and Japanese about life in Mexico.

“Buenas tetas, amigos y amigas! Bienvenidos a mi vlogarito lo que nostrodamos vidas fabulosos en Mexico! Nosotros tiene relocatado de los estados unidos. El gente de Mexico estás las más amable de todos los gente en el universario! Ellos tienen los más paciencia! Ellos dicen, “Poco y poco,” y sonrisa. Beauty, eh. A todo madre, la roma no está hecho en uno dia! Ergo, quid pro quo. Shigata ga ni, es los más awesomosa cosa en el mundo actualmente! No es mentira! Si, es verdad, daddy-o! Entonces, adios y omne datum optimum untiliarmos los hasta luego, y domo arigato por tu atención y de nadamashite.”

Maybe I’ll stick to writing. In English. It’ll greatly decrease the chances of me accidentally starting the next world war…

The Myth of Aging Gracefully

Remember when you were a kid, and all you wanted to be was old? You know, like, eighteen, or twenty? Twenty-one was even better.

Old people had it made, right? No one told them to eat their vegetables, or clean their room, or when to go to bed.

Eventually we all got older, and we discovered adulthood isn’t anywhere near as much fun as it looks on the weekend. Being an adult is all about responsibilities. Get an education. Get a job. Make money, so you can pay bills. A whole lots of bills.

Adulthood is a prison. No one tells you this when you’re a kid, and if someone does, you don’t believe them. Just about the only good thing about being an adult is you can eat chocolate cake for breakfast if you want to, and no one can stop you. Given that fact, it’s a miracle any of us age gracefully.

I’m not sure I’ve ever done anything gracefully, so I’m probably the worst person to try to tackle this subject.

Aging, if you don’t know what that means, is simply the process of growing older and maturing. It doesn’t take any special talent. All you really have to do to grow older is not die young.

Like most young people, I didn’t give any thought about getting old. That was the furthest thing from my mind. You don’t ponder this question much when you’re young, mostly because you’re too busy having fun, and there’s nothing fun about getting old.

Don’t believe me? Ask an old person, they’ll tell you.

My generation is the most influential group of people in recent history. We invented Rock and Roll, Frisbees, Woodstock, and the Summer of Love. I’m not sure if Baby Boomers are the product of modern advertising, or if modern advertising is a byproduct of us, but we are certainly joined at the hip.

We were a rebellious bunch of long haired guys and gals who burned draft cards, bras and flags. We didn’t trust the Establishment. We questioned everything, and changed societal norms. In the process, we changed the world. And we were a worldwide phenomena. It was fun at the time, but now I’m not sure if all that change was good.

I’m not the only one of my generation who thinks that.

To say I was somewhat wild in my youth would be an understatement. I had a lots of undisciplined energy, a veritable ocean of anger inside of me looking for an outlet, and a short attention span. I still have a short attention span, but I no longer have a whole lots of energy, and my anger has burnt itself out. In their place I now have pain.

As Mickey Mantle once said, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”

I was recently asked how I spend my days now that I’m retired. When I wake up, I spend a few minutes figuring out which day of the week it is. Then I take my morning meds. I drink a couple cups of coffee, and watch the news from Toronto. And I spend a couple of hours trying to figure out how I got that bruise, or what could I possibly have done to my shoulder?

The next thing I know is it’s 10:00 AM. Or 2:00 PM. If it’s 2:00, I take more meds. Around 5:30 PM, I eat dinner, either at home or at one of the hundreds of great restaurants in the Lakeside area. I read, or write, or take a nap while watching TV. Around 8:00 PM, I take more meds, and I’m probably in bed by 10:00.

Time actually flies by relatively quickly.

* * * *

Aches and pains are a given when you get old, and in my case, they are mostly directly correlated to stupid stuff I did back when I was young. After all, I did jump out of a speeding car on the highway once.

If you ever get really pissed off at me, and want to drop me in my tracks, kick me in the right knee. I will hit the ground so fast you’d think I’d died to death. I originally hurt my knee in the late Seventies, maybe early Eighties. One case of beer, one moving motorcycle, and one stationary car. Yeah, not the best combination. I reinjured my knee in 2005. And again in 2013. I can walk on it without any problems, most of the time. But if I bump into anything with that knee, I just about soil my pants.

My right ankle is equally touchy. I’ve blown that sucker up at least five times. My left shoulder has good days and bad days. I’ve never been able to figure out just what I did to my back, but it occasionally lets me know I must’ve done something to piss it off.

Some of my current aches and pains are related to injuries I sustained while I was a psych nurse. My jaw, for sure. My hands and wrists, possibly. It’s hard to pinpoint what happened to them exactly, mostly because so much has happened to them. And I was usually drunk when I injured them.

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife and I have recently been going through the process of getting health insurance. Our insurance agent is a darling woman named Ava. Almost all of her clients are retired ex-pats from the US and Canada, so she helps organize seminars on living in Mexico to make our lives easier. One of the things she’s involved with now is the concept of aging gracefully.

She mentioned it in a conversation we had today. Those two words, aging gracefully, had been in my mind, and they were the impetus for this post, even though I have no idea how to do that.

And then it occurred to me that no one does. If you go to your first seminar on aging gracefully when you’re already old, you’ve kind of missed the boat. And I’m sure if I were to ask my friends in the Lakeside area they’d agree.

Yeah, I wish I’d started doing that about twenty years ago!

When you’re twenty, you think people in their forties are old. People in their fifties are really old. But by the time you reach forty, you develop an entirely different attitude. Forty isn’t that old! And seeing how you’re not old, you don’t need to think about aging gracefully for Christ’s sake!

And the next thing you know, you’re sixty. And then there’s no denying it anymore. Goddamnit! I’m old! How the hell did that happen?!?

I suppose it’s possible for some people to look graceful when they’re surprised, but it’s not something most of us can pull off. Most of us open our mouths really wide and just about jump out of our clothes. Some of us even scream like a little girl.

And if you examine this situation logically, growing old should be the last thing that surprises any of us because we are all going to get old if we live long enough, and we know that in advance. If you know something ahead of time, it’s pretty fucking hard to be surprised by it.

Have you ever watched a movie twice and been caught off guard by what happened? If so, I’m not sure you should have been allowed to grow old…

We’ve seen what happened to our parents. They were young once. According to them. And our friends. Have you seen Mary lately? My God, she looks so old! We scratch our heads and wonder how such a thing could happen, especially when we still look so young.

And yet…  It seemingly happens to all of us when it comes to this subject.

Yes, it’s true. We all get old eventually. And if my generation has any questions about this, all it has to do is look at the advertising geared for us. That’s right, sister. Those sensitive bladder leak undergarments, they’re talking to you.

And Generations X, Y and Z, you fuckers are next, so just sit down and shut up. We trained you not to trust anything either, but you can trust this. Maybe you guys can learn something from our mistakes, and take this to heart.

Aging gracefully is more of an attitude than anything else. If attitude is a component of success in life, and it most definitely is, that continues into retirement. And retirement is a whole lots more than simply not working for a living anymore.

Just as you made plans for your life when you were young, make plans for your retirement. Before you retire. It’ll make the transition look graceful, even if it isn’t. And remember, winning and losing aren’t important. Looking cool is. Goals aren’t as important once you retire, but you’re not going to stop having goals simply because you retire. If you don’t have any goals, you are going to have a lots of problems.

The one thing I hated the most about working was all the politics and drama and angst at the workplace. So take this bit of unsolicited advice: if you find your life is still filled with all that bullshit after you retire, you have totally failed. You might as well keep working.

If there’s any cohesive theme to what I’ve been saying, it might possibly be this: be nicer to yourself when you’re young. You’ll thank yourself later.

Go West, Young Man

The rainy season has officially begun here in the Lakeside area. It’s rained pretty much every day or night for probably the last couple of weeks.

My lovely supermodel wife and I lived in Surprise, AZ for nine years before we retired in Mexico, so rain is still somewhat of a novelty to us. Everything has turned green and verdant, and the rain and clouds have moderated the heat, but the driving range at the golf course has been mostly closed of late, and that kind of sucks.

I’ve had a lots of time to contemplate writing, and I have a few hundred ideas bouncing around inside of my head, like unto super balls thrown at a concrete wall.

Yeah, I better get busy.

* * * *

My first official work for a living and get paid for it job was at the Go West Drive In outside of Missoula, MT. My two best friends in high school, Dave Nelson and Andy Hyde, worked there. When a position opened up, they suggested I apply for a job.

I had an interview toward the end of my sophomore year with one of the two gay guys that owned the Go West, Ed Sharp. The other gay owner was Robert Sias. Eddie and Bob. They were semi-legendary in Missoula’s history, mostly for their eccentricities. Especially Eddie. You can look him up if you like. At one time I think he and Bob owned every theater in Missoula. The Wilma. The Roxy. And Bob and Eddie’s Go West Drive In.

I worked in the concession stand with my high school buddies, selling soft drinks, popcorn and candy, hot dogs, hamburgers and pizzas. Initially, I was a lackluster employee at the Go West. So much so that Dave and Andy had a little talk with me.

“We think we might have made a mistake with you.” Andy said.

“Yeah. We’re not sure you’re Go West material, Rowen.” Dave added.

“You really need to step up your game, man” Andy said.

I got the message. Bring your A game, or go home. I brought my A game from then on. It was a message I never forgot. Do your job, and do it to the best of your ability, even if you’re mopping the goddamn floor.

* * * *

I have fond memories of the Go West. Working at a drive in when you’re in high school was just about the coolest thing, ever. I got to meet a lots of people–we had our regulars–and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had working for a living.

My first date was at the Go West. I took three of my four prom dates there, two on the same night. I probably fell in love for the first time at the Go West. I can’t remember how many times I went there with my high school sweetheart.

It was a very popular place for young people to go in the Seventies–there wasn’t a whole lots of places to go in Missoula back then–and Bob and Eddie made a ton of money showing R and X rated B-list movies, and selling overpriced concessions to our patrons.

The concession stand at the Go West was huge. The walls looked like unto a log cabin, painted with a dark brown stain. Tanned animal skins and trophy heads adorned the walls. There might have even been a picture of Horace Greeley saying, “Go west, young man!” If there was ever such a thing as a classy drive in, the Go West was it.

A great deal of alcohol was consumed at the Go West. That was probably its’ greatest attraction for most of our patrons. Underage drinking was generally accepted at that time in Montana, and the drive in was almost every underage drinker’s favorite place to drink. And as the guys that worked there, we got a lots of invitations to “…come out to the car and have a beer!” We didn’t get the opportunity to do that very often, but when we did…

Getting shitfaced drunk at the drive in was pretty much par for the course. I helped more than one person stumble back to their car. There was one night a man got so drunk he couldn’t find his car. I think we waited until all the other cars left and took him to the only car that remained. I hope he wasn’t driving…

There was the night that my gay boss Bob came up to me and said, “Um, Maarrk, could you go to the Men’s Room and find out what happened. It smells like someone, umm, died in there…”

So, I did. And I found one of my classmates–his name also happened to be Bob–sitting on the toilet.

“Hey! Mark! I shit my fuckin’ pants, man!” Shitfaced Bob said when he saw me. And he laughed. Man, did he ever! From his waist to his ankles he was covered with shit. More shit filled, and I mean filled the legs of his jeans. I wouldn’t see that much shit covering one person again until I became a psych nurse.

And that wasn’t the only thing. In his drunken process of trying to clean up, Shitfaced Bob had smeared and flung crap all over the floor and walls of toilet stall. The stench of one thousand unwashed asses hung in the air. Guys stopped coming into the Men’s Room and drained their bladders of recycled beer wherever they pleased.

“Oh, for the love of God!” Gay Bob said when I told him what had happened in the Men’s Room. “Well, don’t just stand there! Umm, do something! After all, he is your, umm, friend!”

I spent the greater part of an hour getting Shitfaced Bob cleaned up. I probably ended up wearing half of his shit because I had never had to clean up someone in his condition before. Eddie had a spare pair of pants in the office, just in cases, I suppose, and I helped Shitfaced Bob climb into them, then helped him back to the car where his buddies were waiting with all the windows down.

They told me later the windows stayed down the entire trip to Bob’s house.

Dave, Andy and myself spent another hour cleaning up the Men’s Room. I think I took a two hour shower when I got home, and I probably burned my clothes.

* * * *

Speaking of windows, there was the night I saw a car I recognized parked close to the concession stand. I was taking out the garbage, and there was Tom’s car! I went to school with Tom. We were buds. He drove a white 1963 Dodge Dart station wagon, and as far as I knew, it was the only one of its kind still on the road.

I would buy that car from Tom at the end of my junior year for three hundred bucks. It was my favorite car, until I bought my red MR2.

I went to Tom’s car and tapped on the steamed up driver’s side window. The window slowly rolled down.

“Hey, Tom! I didn’t know you were here! Why didn’t you come in and say hi?” And a guy I had never seen before looked up at me and smiled. I vaguely saw movements inside the car so I looked deeper inside of the dark car. What I saw were the rhythmic up and down movements of a girl’s head right above the guy’s naked crotch. His pants were somewhere in the neighborhood of his knees. So I looked up at the guy’s face again.

“You’re not Tom!” I said to him.

“Nope.” he replied, and rolled his window up.

I was stunned, and impressed. That was the first time I saw a guy getting a blowjob. But what impressed me was his girlfriend. She didn’t miss a beat, not even one. All I knew as I walked back into the concession stand was I wanted a girlfriend, and I wanted her to be just like that girl.

There was one other sentinel night that left me feeling stunned and impressed, and that was the night I saw two really cute girls making out! In their car! I mean, deep kissing without coming up for air! And feeling each up and everything!! I had heard of lesbians, but I didn’t think they were real.

I was pretty sure I wanted to be a lesbian after that night.

* * * *

I don’t think anyone ever came to the Go West to watch the movies. If you didn’t come to the drive in to get drunk, you came to the drive in to get laid.

We cleaned the lot before each movie because most people at the drive in threw their garbage on the ground, rather than carry it to the nearest garbage can.

Food wrappers, candy boxes, and a whole lots of beer cans and bottles. We picked up everything we found. But there this one…thing…none of us wanted to touch.

That thing was an inflated condom, tied off like unto a balloon, filled with air and semen. And here’s the really weird thing. There was almost always an used condom balloon that needed to be picked up every time we cleaned the lot.

“Clearly, this is the work of one of our regulars,” Andy decided, and there was no argument.

“But, who could it be?” Dave asked.

That, was the question, and we spent hours discussing whom the culprits could be. We eventually decided it had to be a couple that came to the drive in almost every night.

They were an incredibly attractive couple. I’ll call them Tim and Tammy because I can’t remember their names anymore, and I don’t think I know any current couples named that.

Tim was a trim, handsome, muscular guy, probably in his early twenties. Tammy was probably around the same age as Tim, maybe a year or two younger. She was pretty much the stuff that wet dreams are made of–so stunningly beautiful it was almost like unto a superpower.

The only problem we had with our hypothesis was the car Tim drove. It was a red Volkswagen Beetle. It wasn’t the kind of car you think about when you think of having sex in the back seat. And if they weren’t in the backseat, they must’ve been gymnasts, like, Olympic Gold medal winning gymnasts. And, they nailed the dismount.

And then there was the matter of who blew up the condom and tied it into a balloon…  We were pretty sure that had to be Tammy.

* * * *

Our gay bosses, Eddie and Bob, weren’t just semi-legendary in Missoula. They were also semi-legendary in Las Vegas. Well, according to them they were, and they knew all kinds of famous people.

“We had dinner with Bob Newhart and his wife the last time we were in Vegas.” Eddie told us one evening as we were driving out to the drive in. Bob and Eddie drove us out to the drive in every night it was open. The Go West was almost twenty miles outside of Missoula, and they didn’t want us wasting our money on gas.

“I know him! He’s a comedian, and he’s really funny!” I said.

“He’s even funnier in person. I almost pissed my pants I was laughing so hard!” Eddie went on.

“God, is his wife ever an ugly woman! Umm, you couldn’t pay me enough money to sleep with her!” Bob said, which made all of us bite our tongues. Like he would sleep with any woman.

“Yeah, but she’s a sweet woman.” Eddie continued.

“Hmph!” Bob added.

I wasn’t sure if I could believe any of their stories. I mean, they were talking about people from Hollywood, like movie stars hung out with regular people…

“Yeah, it’s probably true. Everyone in Hollywood is gay!” Dave said.

“Not John Wayne!” I countered.

“Yeah, he’s probably not gay. That’s why Bob and Eddie haven’t had dinner with him.” Andy agreed. “And, our gay bosses are richer than Solomon…”

There came a night when we were cleaning up the concession stand, getting ready to go home. I was near the back entrance when someone knocked on the door. This wasn’t something that happened very often, so I cautiously opened the door.

“Hi.” a guy that looked a lots like Carroll O’Connor said. “Are Bob and Eddie here? Could you please tell them Carroll is here?”

Little Known Fact: Carroll O’Connor attended the University of Montana in Missoula. Another Little Known Fact: he evidently returned to town from time to time. And he was friends with Bob and Eddie.

“Um, just a minute…” I replied, and made Archie Bunker stand outside in the dark while I tried to figure out what to do next.

“Well, Jee-sus Christ, Maarrk! Umm, let him in!” Gay Bob almost yelled when I told him and Eddie who was at the back door.

That’s how I met Carroll O’Connor. He was a very nice guy, and greeted all of us, shaking our hands. He mentioned he was hungry. Dave, Andy and I cooked him one of our crappy pizzas, but we were so starstruck we burned it to a crisp, and had to start all over.

National Lampoon was a magazine back in those days, and as far as I’m concerned, it was the funniest magazine, ever. For all time. As fate would have it, their latest issue when this happened was a spoof of All in the Family. I had bought a copy at the magazine shop near the Wilma Theater, and read it while I waited for my gay bosses to show up, and I brought it to work that night.

Carroll O’Connor saw the my magazine and asked if he could look at it.

“Sure,” I said, and handed it to him. He laughed so hard he had tears running down his cheeks.

“Can I have this?” Archie Bunker asked me, wiping tears out of the corners of his eyes.

“Yeah, absolutely! It’s yours!” I replied.

Come to think of it, that was another night at the Go West that left me feeling stunned, and impressed.

* * * *

It wasn’t all shits and giggles and celebrities and booze and sex and mysteries of the inflated condom at the Go West. There was the night the Vietnam vet brought in a porcelain bust of a skull with a porcelain rat crawling on the skull. He had a beer in one hand, and he slid the skull down the counter, so the skull could get a good look at everything available. He talked to the skull as he walked down the concession line toward the cash register. He bought a few items for himself, and even more items for the skull.

“I have to ask,” I said to the guy. “What’s up with the skull?”

“This? He’s my best friend. He didn’t make it home from Nam, so now I’m going to buy him all the stuff he never had.”

“Wow. I don’t know if that’s cool, or creepy.” I replied, adding up his purchases on the register.

“Neither do I, kid. But it’s the only thing I can do right now.”

I still get goosebumps when I think about him, and it took me a long time to forget him. In a lots of ways, he was my first Nam vet, even though I met him at least fifteen years before I became a psych nurse. It was his memory that made me want to write this story.

There was that night, the Night of the Skull. And then there was the Night Randy Was Murdered. Randy was one of Dave and Andy’s friends. I think they went to grade school with him. I talked to him casually a couple of times at the drive in, but I could never call him my friend.

On that night, the first movie had ended. It was Intermission, the concession stand was packed. People were stretching their legs and stocking up for the second show.

Randy and three or four of his friends were gathered together inside of the concession stand, shooting the breeze, flirting with the girls that walked by. A long haired guy that nobody had ever seen before walked in, wearing a pair of flowered pink colored bell bottom pants.

Randy and his friends went silent, watching the guy, then burst into laughter.

The guy with the outrageous pants didn’t like being the object of their laughter, and walked over to them. There was a brief, heated exchange, and one of Randy’s friends said, very loudly, “Those are the pussiest looking pants I’ve ever seen!”

There was another, even more heated exchange of words, and then everything went into slow motion. Randy made a fist, took one step, and punched the guy wearing the flowered pants in the jaw, sending him flying to the floor.

Randy and his friends turned their backs on the guy, and started laughing again. The guy in the flowered pants jumped up, pulled something out of his pocket, and ran toward the group of men that had insulted him. He appeared to punch Randy in his left pectoral area from behind, then ran out of the concession stand into the darkness.

I’m not sure how long it took for Randy to collapse to the floor. He didn’t do it right away. I don’t think he looked like he’d  even been injured. Then he kind of stumbled, and then he fell like his knees had been cut out from beneath him. A dark red spot appeared on his shirt. That’s when everyone realized Randy had been stabbed. In a matter of moments, he was dead.

Cardiac tamponade.

And then the world moved swiftly, once more. And it moved really fast. Randy’s friends were shouting, yelling. Then crying. There were screams, there had to be screams. People running. People gawking. I was one of those. I couldn’t move. I had no idea what to do, and my brain was frozen. I think Dave had to shove me to get me moving, and even then I didn’t know what to do.

I know Gay Bob called for an ambulance. And the police. Even if the Go West hadn’t been halfway to Idaho, the EMT’s wouldn’t have been able to do much to save Randy if they had been standing next to him when it happened. The police ordered us to lock the gate and keep everyone there until they arrived to take control of the situation.

We chased everyone out of the concession stand. I think we let Randy’s friends stay.

An army of cops descended upon the Go West. They took witness statements, got a description of the assailant, then started a car by car search for Randy’s killer, looking for the long haired guy in the pink pussy pants.

We knew a few of the sheriff’s deputies. They dropped in whenever they were in the area because Bob and Eddie comped them food and let them fill their thermoses with coffee for free. In return, the cops would make a few random trips around the lot to make sure nothing too illegal was going on.

One of the cops we called Dudley Do-Right because he looked like Dudley Do-Right. He was actually a pretty decent guy. There was another cop we called Studley Do-Right. He liked to tell tall tales about his life in law enforcement, and he always had his perps right where he wanted them.

And then we waited. And, in advance, please excuse my wording in the next sentence. The only other time the concession stand was as…dead…after the first movie was the night we showed Last House on the Left and Night of the Living Dead. After the Intermission that night, not a single person entered the concession stand.

An ambulance crew eventually took Randy’s body away. I think the police escorted Randy’s friends back to their car and made sure they stayed there. They didn’t want any vigilante justice being handed out. The police eventually let us start cleaning up. I thought there would be more blood. I mean, Randy had been stabbed in the heart!

We were all somewhere beyond stunned. I can’t remember much of anything we said to each other, except we all hoped Dudley would find Randy’s killer, not Studley.

But it was Studley Do-Right that brought the long haired guy in the flowered pink bell bottom pants to the back entrance of the building so he could be identified.

“I got my man. I always do.” Studley Do-Right said.

I think we were all surprised the guy was still there. I mean, why hang around the drive in after you killed somebody? Unless you’re getting the greatest blowjob ever given…

But that wasn’t the case. He knew he had stabbed one of the guys that had been making fun of him, but he didn’t know he’d stabbed Randy in the heart, killing him almost immediately. He simply returned to his car, and his boyfriend, once he realized no one was chasing him, and watched the movie. He was probably the only guy in the history of the Go West that actually watched a movie.

In retrospect, that was probably the first time I thought the world wasn’t as safe as they made it look on TV. Bad shit could happen to you anywhere, even in bucolic, boring-ass Missoula, MT.

* * * *

That was a long time ago, and the Missoula of my childhood no longer exists. The last time I was there, I barely recognized the place. Bob and Eddie both got dead about three decades ago, and much like its semi-legendary owners, the Go West no longer exists.

Missoula is no longer the quiet refuge of redneck cowboys. Back in the Eighties, a bunch of aging hippies from California started moving in and transformed Missoula into an eclectic, diverse, much more urbane, and possibly, quite a spifferooney place to live. I think of it now as the Austin, TX of Montana.

And a river runs through it.

Actually, three rivers run through Missoula. The Blackfoot, the Bitterroot and the Clark Fork. It’s a beautiful place, and I still dream about it from time to time.

I may go back again, someday, before I get dead. My fiftieth high school reunion is coming up in several years. I might actually attend that one. We’ll see. Shitfaced Bob won’t be there. He got dead a few years ago. Tom won’t be there either, he got dead, too.

Sad to think that my generation has already started gotting dead at such a young age. You’ll have that, I guess.

Some trips down Memory Lane are more enjoyable than others. This one was mostly good, and I take solace in that. Not all of them have been.

You’ll have that, too.

And Now, A Message From Our Sponsors

I haven’t been writing much of late. I’ve been out on the driving range trying to find my one, true, authentic swing. It’s not quite as lost as it once was, but I’m not completely convinced I’ve found it yet.

According to a commercial I just saw on the Golf Channel, consistency is the biggest problem recreational golfers face, and to fix that problem all I need to do is buy a new, revolutionary golf club. Yeah, I’m pretty sure the reason I suck at golf is because of my clubs. I can’t remember the name of the advertised club–it’s a bunch of numbers and letters, like unto a sportscar, so you know it has to be good.

As they say in Mexico, poco y poco. Little by little…  It’s how everything gets done down here.

Speaking of Mexico, my lovely supermodel wife and I have been doing some exploring of our new homeland. It’s not just sand, cactus and sombreros, as many people north of the border think.

It reminds me of Hawaii, and that was the most breathtaking place I’ve ever been.

And then there’s our fabulous social life. Dining and hanging out with our posse, our peeps. We celebrated 54 years of mostly wedded bliss with Brother Al and his darling wife Jane last night. I love those guys.

Al and I talked quite a bit last night at dinner. He just finished writing his memoirs, About Being Different. I think that was the title, and before you get the wrong idea, Brother Al isn’t gay. At least, I don’t think he is.

Several people who have read my blog have urged me to write a book about my life. If I ever decide to do so, I’ve already come up with a title.

You Need To Remember You Asked For This

* * * *

I’ve also been busy exploring the possibility of corporate sponsorship for my blog. Why not? Corporations have far more money than they actually need. And I’m on a fixed income now, so a few bucks here and there would help pay for my greens fees.

Corporations are interested in only two things: making money, and beating their competitors. In the immortal words of Conan the Barbarian, “…crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.”

Corporations are proof that the love of money really is the root of all evil. Back during the Industrial Revolution, corporations and captains of industry didn’t care what people thought about them. Nowadays they have to create the illusion that they care what people think, so they’ve started doing humanitarian things and championing various philanthropic causes.

I think AT&T once requested a rate increase specifically so they could continue to support their philanthropic endeavors. That takes balls the size of Babe the Blue Ox.

There’s been one major hurdle in my quest: I haven’t found any sponsors that have willing to associate themselves with my stories of hanging out with crazy people, and indiscriminate tales of sex, drugs and alcohol use.

The only prospective sponsor I’ve met with that hasn’t quickly said No way, Jose is the local drug cartel. To be sure, they want me to start putting a more positive spin on drug use. I even came up with a slogan for them.

Drugs. Because sometimes reality totally sucks.

We’ll see how it goes…

And I have met with the reps from a legal drug company down here, Guyz Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Mykok®. I have no idea what the clinical indications for its use are, but it has the greatest catchphrase ever:

Ask your doctor if Mykok® is right for you.

* * * *

Do you have any idea how much money is spent annually worldwide on advertising? No one does, but take a really big number–no, bigger than that–and multiply it by one million. If your total is around five hundred ga-zillion, you’re probably in the right neighborhood.

Like everything else on the planet, advertising has evolved over the years. To illustrate this, all you have to do is look at an institution we all grew up with. McDonald’s®. I mean, the Golden Arches. I mean, Mickey Dee’s. I mean, McCafe.

McDonald’s® started out as an humble fast food burger joint, then it became the kid-friendliest place in the world, next to Disneyland® with Happy Meals®, Ronald McDonald®, The Hamburgler®, and all the rest of those characters. Then, semi-insidiously, it became the place of suave sophistication it is now, and none of the items on the menu are available for fifteen cents.

McDonald’s® slogans have been so catchy they’ve become a part of our daily speech. Look for the Golden Arches (1960). You deserve a break today (1971). Perhaps the all-time best slogan ever, Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun (1974). And finally, I’m lovin’ it (2003).

I think McDonald’s® should expand their services and open a McBar© where you can get McSnockered©, and then you can McStumble© over to the McCafe and meet your friends for a late night meal before you go home and McCrash©.

Like it or not, corporations essentially rule the world, and corporate advertising rules the airwaves. Did you know that you’re probably bombarded by seven thousand ads or commercials a day urging you to buy everything from automobiles to yogurt. And to be sure, if you buy whatever it is that’s being peddled, your life is going to be so much better.

And studies have shown that the more attractive the spokesperson is, the more successful the ad is likely to be. Why do you suppose that is?

Are beautiful people more trustworthy than less attractive people? Obviously. Especially if your spokesperson has an epic set of tits. I’m not sure anyone has ever been able to come up with a reasonable explanation for this, but it’s been proven to be true beyond a reasonable doubt. I don’t wear women’s underwear, but every time I see a Victoria’s Secret® commercial, I want to shop there.

If you can’t find an attractive person to sell your product, find an athlete. Is there anything Peyton Manning didn’t sell? When it comes to trustworthiness in advertising, it’s hard to beat a jock.

Well, cute kids will do in a pinch. Or an even cuter pile of puppies…

You’d think politicians would make good spokespersons, right? I’m sure they’d say that being a spokesperson for anything is beneath their lofty status, but the truth is they’re probably the least reputable people on the planet.

“Hi! I’m Senator Bill Berditzman, and after a long day of deliberating meaningful legislation–“ See what I mean? The idea is so fucking ludicrous, I can’t even finish the sentence.

Given the general population’s preference for attractive athletic types in advertising, there’s a group of people that I think would be the obvious choice for every advertising campaign, no matter what you’re trying to sell.

Porn stars.

Hey, they’re all attractive, except Ron Jeremy. And only someone with the stamina of an athlete could live through the marathon sex sessions they perform. And as near as I can tell, if you want someone to tell you the truth, ask a porn star. They do not lie. Seeing how they have to endure an endless amount of bullshit because of what they choose to do for a living, they have no tolerance for it in  their personal lives. They are artists, passionate about their craft and their beliefs.

Sex sells. It’s a proven fact, so advertisers might as well stop beating around the bush, so to speak, and start producing ads that grab us by the short hairs.

“Hi. Dirk Diggler here. If you ever find yourself in a situation that can only be handled in a court of law, you want a big dick lawyer on your side. At Dewey, Suk, Dingle and Howe, all of our board certified attorneys are big dick lawyers. Call 888 BIG DICK, now.”

I don’t know about you, but I want a big dick lawyer representing me if I ever end up in front of a judge again.

“Hi! I’m Myndi Mynxx, and after a loong day of multiple orgasms and getting gangbanged in my cute little butt, I can’t wait to get behind the wheel of my Buick LaCrosse! It has the smoothest ride of any car I’ve ever driven, and you can believe me when I say a smooth ride really matters!”

I drive a Buick. It really does have a smooth ride.

“Hi! I’m Elle! And I’m Mia! Maybe you saw us in Where The Boys Aren’t. Or our Christmas spectacular, Toys For Twats. Anyhow, we love tacos! We really love tacos!! So whenever we finish a shoot, our first stop is Taco Bell!”

I love tacos, too!

See? Porn stars would make great spokespersons! And seeing how we’ve all become whores to the corporate world on one level or another, it’s only fitting that porn stars should lead us down the road to Perdition.

Harvey

Things are heating up here in the Lakeside area. Believe it or not, May is the hottest month of the year down here. According to everyone we know, it should cool off in June once the rainy season starts.

That’ll be nice. I think it’s rained once since November, and there have been a thousand fires in the last month or so. It’s so smoky/hazy now, there are days when you can’t see the other side of the lake.

* * * *

If you’re a classic movie buff, I don’t need to tell you about Harvey. 1950. Jimmy Stewart as Elwood P. Dodd, an eccentric man whose best friend is a pooka named… what else? Harvey is Elwood’s best friend, and he’s a six foot three and an half inch tall invisible rabbit. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s a darling movie.

I knew a guy named Harvey. He was maybe five foot four. He had kind of a weather-beaten appearance, and he wasn’t invisible. Harvey was an older guy. He was in his seventies when I first met him. I can’t remember if he was bipolar or schizophrenic. He might have been both. If he was bipolar, he was the quietest manic guy I’ve ever met. And if he was schizophrenic, he kept his psychosis to himself.

Harvey was pretty much an enigma. He was more imp than pooka, and was, at least once, like unto a gremlin that had been fed after midnight. That’s how I remember him. One of our patients at the MVAMC was a guy we called Forrest Gump’s Smarter Brother. Harvey was probably their grandfather.

And I should add this: The female nurses loved him. They thought he was cute.

I probably first met Harvey around the year 2000 or so. He came up the nursing station one day and said, “I want to call my mom. My mom. My mom!”

I took a long look at Harvey and seriously wanted to ask if his mother was still alive, but I asked a different question.

“Do you know her phone number?”

“Yeah. Yeahyeahyeah.”

So I set a phone in front of him, and he dialed a number.

“Hi Mom. It’s me. Harvey.”

I decided to look up Harvey’s contact information in the computer. His mother, Olive, was listed. As near as I could discern from his file, his mother was still alive. She had to be in her nineties.

Harvey had a very nice conversation with someone, and a few hours later, a frail little old lady who smelled of cat urine, walked onto the unit with a man whom, I think, was Harvey’s brother.

They brought in a bag of clothes for Harvey, and his glasses. When Harvey was showered and shaved and wearing his own clothing, he looked like he could’ve been a college professor.

All the female nurses wanted to talk to Olive–they might have seventy year old sons to raise someday, and they wanted all the information they could get about Harvey. I can’t remember what he did for a living anymore–if he ever had a job, or if he was on some sort of disability, or if he had a place to live, or much of anything else about him.

There was a lesson for me to be learned. Just because I didn’t think something could be possible, didn’t mean it wasn’t true.

For example, The Guy Who Knew Milton Berle. His name was Steve. He was a local radio personality/comedian who had relapsed on alcohol. His detox was uneventful, and we were getting him set up with follow up care.

For those of you who don’t know who Uncle Miltie was, he was a comedian, and one of the pioneers of early television. He might have been a pooka, but he stood only five feet ten inches tall, and he wasn’t invisible.

Steve was talking on the phone at the nursing station one Saturday morning, and when he hung up, one of the nurses I was working with asked who he was talking to.

“Milton Berle.” he replied, and all of the nurses started laughing. So Steve went to his room and returned with a photo album that contained dozens of pictures of him with none other than Milton Berle.

Yeah, who’s laughing now, nurses?

The sad fact is most psych patients lie about almost everything, so as a psych nurse, you tend not to believe practically anything they say.

“I’m the hair dresser to the stars.”

“No kidding! If you don’t mind me asking, who are some of your clients?”

“Stevie Nicks. Victoria Principal. Morgan Fairchild.”

“Wow. When was the last time you were in Southern California?”

“I’ve never been there.”

“So, they fly here, to Minnesota, so you can do their hair?”

“Yeah. Pretty much.”

“By the way, I love what you do with Stevie’s hair.”

“Yeah, she’s beautiful. Thanks!”

I met at least two guys who were the hair dresser to the stars, and neither of them had ever been to California. And then there were the guys who were mysteriously drugged at their local watering hole.

“Well, I was at the bar, and then I can’t remember anything. I think they ​slipped me a mickey!”

“Yeah, that’s why I quit going to bars. I got tired of getting drugged, too.”

“See? This guy knows what I’m talking about!”

I always got a kick out of that story. Fictional private detectives from the 1940’s, like Sam Spade and Mike Hammer, were always getting slipped a mickey, but I don’t think it ever consistently happened to anyone in real life. Until Ruffies became popular, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it was mostly girls who were the target of Rohypnol. Even the girls had their tales of misfortune.

“We just discharged you two days ago. Why are you coming back today?”

“Someone on the bus stole all of my meds!”

“Even your Xanax?”

“No, that’s the only thing they didn’t steal!”

“What happened to that?”

“Oh, I accidentally dropped the bottle in the toilet!”

Well, there are a lots of fun filled activities to do on the bus, so it’s easy to see how that could happen…  And toilets clearly can’t be trusted anywhere near controlled substances. But every now and then, you meet someone who actually tells the truth. So, try to remember that.

* * * *

Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lots of Harvey stories. He was a mostly benign, very quiet guy, who sometimes looked quite professorial.

He did have his Harvey moments. He would randomly bolt down the hallway as fast as could, for no apparent reason. I think that was Harvey. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me.

He was one of those guys that randomly uttered words of inestimable profundity, most of which I can’t remember, but he did say this:

“Ooh, shiny!”

It became our catchphrase whenever someone went off on a tangent, or for someone with a short attention span who was easily distracted. Like me.

And then there was Harvey’s hallmark admission. And like so many hallmark moments, it happened in the dark of night.

It was probably around 2005. Harvey had been a patient on my unit a couple of times. None of his admissions had been especially remarkable. We stabilized him and sent him home, or somewhere, until the next time.

On this particular night, it just after midnight. Harvey was admitted once more. We got him changed into VA pajamas and settled into his room by the nursing station. There wasn’t much point in trying to do a thorough admission assessment because Harvey wouldn’t answer any questions, so we got all our information from his old charts and our previous knowledge about Harvey.

Most people admitted in the middle of the night just want to go to bed, but that night, for no apparent reason, Harvey decided to demo his room.

I think he started with the baseboard molding, and ripped it all off of the walls. One of the nurses I was working with asked me what we should do. He wasn’t harming anyone, but he was systematically tearing his room apart.

We tried medicating him with Haldol and Ativan. The meds didn’t touch him.

After he removed all of the baseboards, anything that Harvey could disassemble with his bare hands was fair game. We would check on his progress periodically, and remove all the debris from his room from time to time.

When he started to take his bed apart, we rolled the frame out of his room, leaving the mattress and bedding on the floor. By 5:00 AM, the only thing Harvey hadn’t demolished was the light fixture on the wall where the head of his bed had once been.

Around 5:30 AM, we heard a loud crash. Harvey had somehow ripped the monster light fixture out of the wall, leaving behind a few live electrical wires. We were forced to move him across the hall into one of the seclusion rooms. I can’t remember if we locked him in or not, but we probably gave him another cupful of meds, that would have no more effect than an handful of Tic-tacs. Then I entered a whole lots of work orders into the computer so the maintenance guys would start putting the room back together again.

* * * *

It took the VA Corps of Engineers at least five days to repair what Harvey had done in roughly five hours.

I had at least one day off between getting off of Nights and transitioning to Days. I asked the night nurses how Harvey was doing when I returned to work. He hadn’t demolished anything else, but he hadn’t slept since he was admitted.

I have a couple of clear memories of that day. One, I was assigned to do Meds. Two, it was the first time I met Darrell. He was an LPN, and a new hire. He had never worked in a Psych setting before, and my boss asked me to show him the ropes.

“I’ve been doing this job for a long time. I can play this song in any key. I can tell you how you’re supposed to do this job, or I can tell you how I do it. If you do it my way, you’ll work smarter, not harder.”

“I was hoping I’d meet a nurse like you.” Darrell replied. I was going to like working with this guy.

I spent the first couple of hours explaining my unorthodox philosophy to Darrell, and then I decided to show off a little to the new guy. I pulled Haldol and Ativan from the Pyxis, and told Darrell to follow me. And we went hunting for Harvey. He was standing in the hallway by the dayroom.

“Harvey hasn’t slept since he got here. I’m going to send him to the Land of Nod.” I told Darrell.

“Yeah, the nurses tried like hell to put him down for the count yesterday, but nothing touched him.”

“Hey, little buddy. I’ve got a couple meds for you.” I said, and handed Harvey a med cup with a couple pills, which he readily took. Then we escorted Harvey back ​to his room, and laid him down on his bed.

And I started singing, softly.

“Lullaby, and good night. Go to sleep lit-tle Harvey. Close your eyes, count some sheep, a-and go to fucking sleep…”

I didn’t know many of the actual lyrics, so I kind of made them up on the fly. I sang a few more verses of my impromptu lullaby, and when we tiptoed out of Harvey’s room, he was snoring.

“I don’t know what you just did, but I can’t believe what I just saw.”

“Smarter, not harder.”

“Well, I hope you don’t expect me to sing a lullaby to every one of these guys, because there’s no goddamn way I’m doing that!”

“Nope. It’s probably the only lullaby I’ve ever sung.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, how did you know that would work?”

“I didn’t. It was a gut feeling. Always follow your gut. It’s never wrong.”

* * * *

I know some of the stuff I write is hard to believe, but that actually happened. And as weird as it might sound, I had no doubt my intervention would work. I probably didn’t even need the meds.

However, I didn’t have any qualms about giving them to Harvey. I figured if my lullaby worked, the meds would help him stay asleep, and that’s probably what my little buddy needed more than anything.

Almost every field of Nursing is a science, except Psychiatry. At best, it’s an imprecise science, but it’s mostly an art. Only the really good psych nurses understand this.

The essence of psych nursing is guiding people out of the maze of darkness or whatever else they’ve created inside their minds, and teaching them a few new coping strategies, so they can try to avoid having to repeat it again in the future.

It sounds good in theory, but the reality is the majority of the patients we took care of weren’t all that interested in doing anything different.

You can lead a horse to water…

That part of the job was frustrating, but every now and then, someone would come along, and all they wanted was a second chance. And every now and then, you could sing someone a lullaby.

It was those moments that made the whole thing worthwhile.

In Memoriam

Mother’s Day is almost upon us. I decided I’d try to write about my mom, but it hasn’t been easy. I have a million memories of my mom, but I’m thinking mostly about her death today. She died at the end of this month in 2007, and this year will mark​ ten years since her death.

You’d think this subject would get easier over time. I thought it would, until I started writing about it. I’ve had to chop this into very small bites, with a whole lots of breaks in between. At the rate this is going, I might be finished by Mother’s Day. Next year.

* * * *

It was in October of 2006. I think it was a Friday. I got a phone call at work from my youngest sister, Julie. My work day at the MVAMC was almost over, and I was checking my notes at the nursing station. Our mom had been visiting our oldest sister, Colleen, in Montana. Julie had gone to the airport to pick up our mom, but there was something wrong with our mother.

“She’s really confused and acting strange.” Julie said.

“Is she drunk?” I asked. My mom had been sober for at least ten years, but she could have had a relapse. I did, maybe a month before all of this happened.

“No. She’s just weird. I want to take her to the ER.”

“Do that. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” I replied, then called my lovely supermodel wife to let her know we’d be taking an unplanned trip to St Cloud. I’m sure my memories of this are muddled, but I know I had a bad feeling about this situation, and I’m sure I tried to tell Lea that as we raced up Highway 10 to the St Cloud Hospital.

I think this is what I really said.

“My mom has cancer.”

* * * *

I wasn’t an Oncology nurse, or even a Med/Surg nurse. I was a Psych nurse, so you might think I would’ve thought my mom had had a psychotic break, not cancer. And you might wonder how I came up with that diagnosis when it was so far out of my wheelhouse, so to speak.

My mom smoked cigarettes, and she had smoked for something like unto sixty years. You hardly have to be a medical professional to know that smoking is bad for you. And I might be wrong about this, but one of the first major lawsuits against Big Tobacco was filed by a nurse, and in her sworn testimony, she stated she had no idea that smoking was harmful. If that is correct, she has to be the most stupidest fucking douchebag nurse, ever.

I already knew what the ER doc was going to say before I ever saw him. Be that as it may, I have to admit I was stunned to hear his pronouncement when he showed me my mother’s CT scan.

The first stage of the Grief and Loss process is denial…

“You’re the nurse in the family, right? Okay, well, the news I’ve got for you isn’t good. Your mother has lung cancer. She has a nodule in her lung, right there. Normally, we’d need to do a biopsy to be sure, but that’s not all. There’s another one right here, in her liver. Once cancer metastasizes there, well, I probably don’t have to tell you how bad that is. The oncologist can tell you more, but from my experience, your mom has about six months to live. Probably less.”

“What’s causing her confusion?” I asked. I think I saw my mom before I met with the doctor, and my sister wasn’t joking about mom being confused. She didn’t seem to have any idea where she was.

“Oh. That’s from SIADH.” he replied, like I’d know what the hell he was talking about. I didn’t.  So he tried explaining it to me. I tried to comprehend what he said, but even after his explanation, I still didn’t understand what he was saying. I would have to call my nursing buddy, Don Nelson, for some clarification. He had worked in ICU, and he was the only person I could think of who might be able to translate this into understandable terms, but even his explanation left me confused.

If you want to try to understand this, you’re going to have to Google it, and even that may not help. I don’t think it helped me much. This surpassed me, and it confused me almost as much as it did my mom.

Even now, I doubt I’d understand it any better. The only thing I’ve been able to come up with is something like unto this: it’s probably similar to what happens when an elderly person gets an UTI. Somehow, a bladder infection more or less scrambles their brains. Treat the infection, and they’re better in a couple of days. So, I figured that would happen with my mom.

It didn’t.

* * * *

My mom was admitted to the hospital so she could be monitored and treated with Lasix to get rid of some of the excess fluid in her body, and then, hopefully, she’d be less confused. That’s what the nurses said, and they were confident she’d be better in a couple of days.

I can’t remember how many of my siblings were at the hospital that day, but we helped mom get settled into her room. She didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned about being in the hospital. All she cared about was her purse, and going to the bathroom, and the first thing she did once she was in the bathroom was light up a cigarette.

She was so pissed when I took her cigarettes from her and gave them to the nurses, she wouldn’t let me kiss her goodbye.

I probably had to work that weekend. I had every other weekend off, and I know I would’ve been with my mom if I wasn’t working. She was released from the hospital on Sunday. I think Lea and I took another trip to my parents’ house. The Lasix didn’t appear to have made much difference. My mom seemed to be every bit as confused as she had been on Friday.

I have a vague memory of my mother when she returned home. She was sitting on the couch, so I sat down next to her and held her hand. Then I smiled, and said softly, “You realize that you’re fucking up everything, don’t you.”

“Yeah, I probably am. Your father was supposed to die first.”

* * * *

I know my dad asked me to be present when they met with the oncologist. After all, I was a nurse, and if anyone would understand what was going to be said, it was probably me. My dad wasn’t very medically attuned. He rarely listened to his own doctors, so why would he start listening to his wife’s doctor? Plus, my dad was essentially deaf in one ear, and he couldn’t hear so good out of the other one.

The oncologist was a nice guy from India. He outlined his plan of attack, but what surprised me the most was he seemed to think he could save my mother’s life, which I thought was a total crock of shit.

“Your mother needs this treatment, and she’ll get better as long as she stays on it. If she doesn’t agree to the chemo, or if she decides to stop treatment, she’ll be dead in two weeks.” And then he left the room while I discussed the options with my parents.

“Realistically, the best this guy’s gonna be able to do is extend her life for a few months.” I told my mom and dad.

“Well, I’m not ready to let her go.” my dad said.

“I don’t think any of us are ready for that, but it’s not your decision, or my decision. It’s her decision, as long as she understands what she’s doing.” I said, then turned to my mom.  “Mom, do you understand what the doctor said?”

“Yeah, I think so. I have cancer, and I’m going to die.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much it. The only question is, do you want to go through chemo or not. It’ll keep you alive a bit longer, but there are a whole slew of potentially serious side effects from the treatment. This doctor thinks he’s going to cure you, but I don’t think he’s being very realistic. I think the best he’ll be able to do is keep you alive a bit longer, and you might spend most of that time feeling sicker than a dog.”

“But the doctor said he thought he could cure your mother,” my dad said. “And you’re just a psychiatric nurse.”

“Fair enough.” I replied. “But if this guy thinks he’s going to cure Mom, he’s fucking crazy. Mom has metastatic cancer, it’s already in her liver, and God knows where else it’s spread to. This is not going to be a life saving intervention, Dad.” I looked him squarely in the eyes until that sunk in, then turned to my mom. “But it’s your decision, Mom. I hope you can understand your options, and if you do, we’re going to support you, no matter what you decide.”

“What do you think I should do?”

“I can’t advise you what to do.” I replied, and I turned my gaze to the floor. I may have held my breath. She turned to my dad. “What do you think?”

“I don’t want to lose you, ever.”

“Okay. I think I know what I want to do. I’ll try the chemo.”

* * * *

To be honest, I’m not sure if any of that actually happened, other than the visit. I don’t have any clear recollection of the conversations we had. Whatever it was that was actually said, my mom seemed to be able to understand the situation, and she opted for the chemo. That was good enough for me. We called the doctor back into the office and let him know.

* * * *

If you never had the opportunity to meet my mom, you would have loved her. Sally as a good old gal. She’s one of the few people I’ve known that everybody loved. She was smart and sassy, and sharp witted. She was a dynamo, always doing something, always working a project or two.

And then, in seemingly one day, that person vanished, like unto a magic trick gone terribly wrong. The person she once was made sporadic visits over the following months, but those visits were brief. What I remember most was my mom sitting silently on the couch, staring out the window at nothing, or playing with the remote control, flipping through the channels without watching anything.

One of the local hospice programs came over to do an assessment, and they were critical in helping us manage my mother’s care at home. I cannot thank them enough for everything they did for us.

They set up a pain management program for my mom that was miraculously effective. Prior to that, it was a goddamn nightmare. We had to buy a lock box to put her pain meds in, or she would’ve taken all of them at once. The hospice program also set up an adjustable bed in the living room, and that’s where my mom slept. She would fall asleep watching TV, and that was the only time she stopped clicking through the channels.

According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, there are five stages in the Grief and Loss process. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I know we all got together as a family to discuss what we going to do once we all found out our mom was ruining everything by dying. I didn’t have a lots to say, but I offered a brief rundown of Grief and Loss, and asked everyone to remember that our emotions were going to be all over the map.

“It’s not a linear progression, you bounce back and forth, and it can take a long time to work through.”

As a family, we decided to do whatever we had to to take care of our parents. My mom had taken care of our dad forever. Healthwise, my dad was pretty much a trainwreck, and all of us thought he’d be the first to check out. Even him. There was no way he could suddenly become mom’s caretaker.

We had a meeting in the dining room at our parents’ house to discuss our plan of attack. It led to the most memorable reappearance of ​my mom that I remember during those days. As we were discussing how we were going to care for Mom and Dad, and make sure they could stay in their house, my mom got up from the couch and walked into the dining room.

“If you’re planning on putting me in a nursing home, I’ll kill each and every one of you fuckers!” she said. There was real fire in her eyes.

“Mom, we’re not going to do that. We’re trying to find a way to take care of you here, at home.” everyone replied at once.

“Oh. Well, okay then.” she replied, and returned to staring aimlessly out the window from the couch.

After we all stopped laughing, two of my sisters, Denise and Julie, would walk point, so to speak. They lived the closest to our parents. They would manage everything Monday through Friday. The rest of us would fill in when we could, and on the weekends.

* * * *

Sally would go through two rounds of chemo before she decided enough was enough. It would take seven months for the cancer inside of her to kill her to death, but my mom essentially died in October, leaving a shadow figure of the person she’d once been.

We got to spend one last Thanksgiving together, one last Christmas. One more New Year’s Eve, and we got to celebrate her birthday in February. I wish I could say these were happy, joyous occasions. I don’t remember them that way. I’m not sure anyone in my family does.

My mom was drastically different in personality, and then in physical appearance. The chemo changed her so much. By the time she got dead, she was hardly recognizable as the person I knew as my mom.

It’s beyond ironic. I know people who suddenly lost their mother who wish they would’ve gotten an extra six months of time. For me, I’d probably swap places with them.

* * * *

My mom loved Perry Como. I bought a couple of his CD’s, and played them over and over on the weekends I spent as caregiver in Little Falls. Taking care of my parents wasn’t physically demanding. Our duties as caregivers mostly entailed cleaning the house, doing laundry, and cooking meals–and making sure my mom didn’t accidentally walk out the door and wander off.

As a nurse, I had cared for a lots of patients who were dying, but none of them had been my mom. I had no idea how emotionally exhausting it would be. I remember returning home from those weekends being too exhausted to even cry.

I remember one weekend clearly. I was semi-asleep on the couch. My mom was sound asleep on the hospital bed. It was about 3:00 AM, when I heard this:

“BILLY MAYS HERE, FOR OXICLEAN!” 

I just about had a fucking heart attack. I leapt off the couch, and fumbled around, trying to find my glasses. Once I could see again, I located the remote and turned the TV off.

“Hey!” my mom said, sitting up in bed. “I was watching that!”

* * * *

Times of crisis bring out the best, and worst, in people. And sometimes within five minutes of each other. It’s a good thing I had quit drinking before this happened. Otherwise, my reactions wouldn’t have been pretty…  As it turned out, the collective reactions of my family certainly had their ugly moments.

Watching our mother die took a toll on all of us. My youngest brother, Bob, couldn’t take it, and asked to be taken out of the caregiver rotation. My brother, John, couldn’t even come to grips with the fact that our mom was going to die. I can’t remember if he ever attempted any caregiver roles.

I don’t hold that against him. It wasn’t an easy task. I don’t hold what he couldn’t do against him. It’s what he did, and what he did was criticize everything the rest of us did while he drank himself into an ambulatory coma. I don’t hold his drinking against him. Drinking was pretty much the only coping strategy my family had. There was a whole lots of drinking going on during that time. If I hadn’t quit drinking before my mother died, I might be drinking still.

I remember spending a lots of time trying to reason with my unreasonable brother. And I was not always gracious, nor very professional, in my sometimes not so private interactions with John.

For that, I am eternally embarrassed, and very sorry.

About the time that my mother was dying, my lovely supermodel wife got a job offer in Phoenix, AZ. I encouraged her to accept the offer. If the position worked out, it would be a great opportunity for her. As for me, I needed to get as far away from my brother as I could.

For the longest time, all I wanted to do was kill him.

I’m better now, and I probably won’t kill my brother if I ever see him again. But I’m not going to lie. It’d probably be better if we never saw each other again.

* * * *

My mother endured two rounds of chemo. I think the side effects were worse for her the second time around, maybe. They certainly were for me. My mother no longer resembled herself. She had gained what looked like one hundred pounds on her tiny frame, and her face was bloated. As terrible as this is going to sound, she looked like Jabba the Hutt’s wife.

Her oncologist was right about one thing. She died two weeks after stopping her chemo treatments. Her condition rapidly deteriorated. Lea and I drove up to Little Falls to see her before she died, but she had already slipped into something like unto a coma by the time we arrived.

I held her hand, and told her all the things a mom would want to hear. And then we drove home. And went back to our life, and our respective jobs. And waited.

* * * *

My mother died early in the morning on May 28, 2007. It was the Memorial Day weekend. I worked a twelve hour shift on Friday, a double shift on Saturday and Sunday, and another twelve hours on Monday. I was at work when my dad called at around 5:00 AM.

“I just wanted to let you know your mother is gone. And I knew you’d be awake.”

We talked for a few minutes, there wasn’t a whole lots to say. I wasn’t the only person on my unit that lost someone that weekend. One of the nurses lost her mother-in-law. Another lost her cousin. Bad things happen in threes…

I took a break after talking to my dad. I went outside. The birds were chirping, the sun was starting to come up, a gray-blue light filled the sky. I looked up, and three Canada geese flew overhead. They honked, as if saying goodbye, and disappeared from view.

* * * *

I did my mother’s eulogy. I’m not going to repeat it here, but it was beautiful. Lea and I stayed at the Country Inn Suites in Little Falls. I had a dream about my mom the morning of her funeral.

She was driving our old car, a faded green 1963 Chevy Impala station wagon. My mom learned to drive when we were living in Modesto, CA. She drove that station wagon when we moved from California to North Dakota. When we  arrived in Grand Forks, she handed my dad the keys and never drove again. As the car neared me in my dream, she rolled down the window, and waved as she drove past. And then I woke up.

“Really? That’s how you’re going to say goodbye!” I said to the ceiling of our room. “Couldn’t you have at least stopped? At the very least, couldn’t you have found a nicer car?”

* * * *

It’s been almost ten years. I miss my mom. I’m sure I always will.

Wherever she is, I hope she’s at peace. And I hope she’s driving a better car.

Blogger Vance

I went golfing for the first time in a decade the other day. After I had to take three swings at my ball before I finally hit it on the first tee, I knew why I could take a ten year hiatus from the game and not miss it in the least, which is probably going to sound a little weird because I love the game of golf.

There are a few of reasons why I decided to play golf again. First of all, I have an endless amount of time on my hands now that I’m retired. I have a set of golf clubs, and I already confessed my love of the game.

Most of my irons were my dad’s at one time. I bought his old clubs after he had custom made clubs built. My woods used to belong to Don Nelson. He sold them to me when he upgraded to metal woods. My woods are actually made of wood, not metal. I’ve never liked the sound a metal wood makes when it hits a ball. And I have a random assortment of clubs that I bought at Goodwill for a couple bucks a piece.

One of my former golfing buddies said he had one club in his bag that cost more than all of my clubs combined, plus the clothes I was wearing, and if I ever beat him, he’d beat me to death with his very expensive club.

Given my level of play, I doubt I was ever close to that type of death.

Another reason I took up golf again is there are no bowling alleys in Mexico, not that I’m an avid bowler. There are basically two types of bowlers, the kind who have their own balls and shoes and stuff, and the kind who don’t. Most of the latter probably love bowling. The remainder go bowling in lieu of committing suicide.

I think I’ll kill myself…  Well, I guess I could go bowling…

I probably fall into that spectrum when it comes to bowling.

Golf, on the other hand, is something I love doing even though I suck at it.

* * * *

Golf is a good walk spoiled. Mark Twain may or may not have said that about golf. And for me, the quote has no bearing on my game. I ride in golf cart. Unlike many people who play the game, I’m not interested in exercise or fitness. A guy named Merle Williams is credited with inventing the modern, motorized the golf cart, and all I have to say to Merle is, Thank you!

After some of my drives, I don’t need a cart to transport myself ten feet to hit my ball again. Other times, I need an ATV or a bulldozer, not a cart, to get to my ball. Most of the time, I don’t even bother looking for those balls. I’ve gotten very skilled at taking a stroke and hitting another ball. I have hundreds of golf balls. I’m not afraid to lose one. Or ten. Or twenty.

The game of golf was invented by the Scots back in the 1400’s apparently because living under the repressive rule of the English just wasn’t frustrating enough. And like any sport, the rules of golf have been renovated and modified over the years, not that I’ve ever read them. I’m confident if I ever tried to play golf the way it was intended, I’d never play.

I am a mostly terrible golfer. I have about five good shots a game, and they’re rarely consecutive shots. I rarely play the fairway, but not by design. I think it’d be safe to say that nothing I do on the golf course is by design. When I hit the ball, the best I can do is hope it’ll go in the general direction I want it to. If there is a tree within one hundred yards of my ball, in any direction, I will probably hit it. If there’s a water hazard on the course, I will find it.

There are three skills essential to golf: driving, chipping and putting. I’ve never been very good at any of them. If I’m having decent drives, I can’t chip. And vice versa. My putting skills are somewhere in the abysmal range. I totally suck at putting.

You might then wonder why I play? I certainly do. And the answer to that is simple. It’s my dad’s fault.

My dad was an avid golfer, and he pretty much lived on the local courses around Little Falls. That’s why I started playing. Well, that, and the fact that I could drink beer and smoke cigarettes while I played. Those two things were really the only two things I liked about golf in the beginning.

* * * *

Rannulph Junuh: Now, the question on the table is how drunk is drunk enough? And the answer is that it’s all a matter of brain cells.
Hardy Greaves: Brain cells?

Rannulph Junuh: That’s right, Hardy. You see, every drink of liquor you take kills a thousand brain cells. Now, that doesn’t much matter ’cause we got billions more. And first the sadness cells die so you smile real big. And then the quiet cells go so you just say everything real loud for no reason at all. That’s okay because the stupid cells go next, so everything you say is real smart. And finally, come the memory cells. These are tough sons of bitches to kill.

* * * *

I’m not a great golfer, but I was once a great alcoholic, if that’s an achievement that can be considered great. Like any great alcoholic, I had a plethora of reasons why I drank, and like any haunted human, I had a closet full of ghosts and skeletons and traumas that could only be kept at bay by drinking them into oblivion.

In retrospect, my ghosts had the ​power to terrify me only because I gave them that power. If I only knew then what I know now…  I could tell Rannulph Junuh that it didn’t make any difference how much you drank, you could never kill those memories. Those sons of bitches never die.

* * * *

There was another reason why I decided to start playing golf. It was the only way I could talk to my dad. I wasn’t all that keen to talk to my dad when I was in my teens and twenties. We didn’t have that much in common. And then I married my lovely supermodel wife, and if we didn’t have anything else in common, we were both married men, so there was that.

And there was golf. Golf is a beautifully​ simple, frustratingly​ complex game. Much like bowling, you either love it or hate it. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground when it comes to golf.

I love golf. Golf courses are almost always scenic, green and serene. There might be some competition between players, but it’s essentially you, the course and your skills, or lack thereof, and that’s all. You don’t need anyone to set a screen for you. You don’t need anyone to block a defender.

I know my dad loved the game of golf, but I don’t know if he actually enjoyed playing golf. You wouldn’t know by playing with him. He was intense on the golf course. He rarely displayed that level of intensity anywhere else in his life.

For example, we were golfing at the Little Falls Country Club one summer weekend. My dad hit a shot he wasn’t pleased with, and then he hit the roof.

“Jee-sus Christ! Why in the hell did I ever I ever take up this goddamn game? Son of a bitch! I should take all of my clubs and throw them in the fuckin’ river!”

“Hey, dad. It’s just a game. Lighten up, man. Have a little fun.” I said. That’s more or less my philosophy about golf, among other things.

“Who the hell asked you? Shut the fuck up!”

Clearly, that wasn’t my dad’s philosophy, nor would he ever embrace that kind of attitude. Not when it came to golf anyway.

I played many rounds of golf with my dad. There was a time when I didn’t totally suck at golf, and I merely kind of sucked. I challenged my dad a couple of times, and almost beat him once. It wasn’t until age and poor health had taken away most of his skills that I actually had a lower score than him. But I hardly count that as a win.

On the day I almost beat my dad, I was playing the best round of golf I’d ever played, and my dad was playing one of his worst. I had a two stroke lead heading to the ninth tee.

My drive was right down the middle of the fairway. I had about one hundred yards to the green. All I had to do was chip my ball onto the green, and sink a putt. Even if I two putted the green, I’d still beat my dad. His tee shot was mediocre, and his  second shot landed in a sand trap. I could almost taste victory.

If that was a day that I had temporarily found my swing, I lost it when I tried to chip my ball onto the green. I hit that ball so fat. It didn’t float through the air and drop neatly onto the green. It tore off down the fairway about a foot off the ground, moving at the speed of light.

I knew it was wrong the moment I hit it. I turned to my lovely supermodel wife, and asked if she saw where my shot landed. I knew it wasn’t going to land anywhere near the green.

“It’s still rolling across the parking lot.” she replied. The parking lot was on the far side of the ninth green. “And it just rolled down the hill. That’s where the eighteenth green is, isn’t it?”

Yes. Yes it was. And that’s where my ball ended up, and any chance of ever beating my dad ended. My dad chipped out of the bunker and sank a long putt. I left my ball sitting on the eighteenth green, and shook my dad’s hand. And then we drank a lots of beer, laughed and talked about how I almost beat him.

Almost a decade ago, I golfed with my dad for the last time. He died the following year. I hadn’t been golfing since, and when I went golfing last week, I became acutely aware of his absence, and how much I missed my dad.

And then I hit a tree with one of my many errant shots, and I smiled. My dad would’ve gotten a kick out of that.

* * * *

I talked a lots about going golfing before I retired. People asked what I was going to do after I quit working, and I figured I’d need to do something. Golf seemed like the perfect retirement activity, and a lots of retired guys spend their time on the golf course. My dad did. If he could do it…  And I secretly kind of hoped if I spent enough time hitting a golf ball, I might actually get good at it someday, many years from now. I suppose that’s still theoretically possible.

There have been many movies made about golf. Caddy Shack. Hard to find anyone my age that doesn’t love that movie. There are so many great lines from that movie, and none of them have anything to do with golf, except one.

* * * *

Ty Webb: I’m going to give you a little advice. There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.

* * * *

Billy Madison. The only thing I like about that movie is the scene where Bob Barker beats the shit out of Adam Sandler. I don’t like Adam Sandler. Or his movies.

The Legend of Bagger Vance. My personal favorite golf movie. It’s a beautifully filmed Zen movie about golf, and the most important thing about being Zen isn’t whether you win or lose, just that you look cool in the attempt.

I am just about the coolest looking golfer you’ve ever seen, until I actually play golf. I have a beautifully smooth swing. You’d think I’d be a much better golfer than I am. I have no real idea what’s wrong with my golf game, other than almost everything. I lift my head, I don’t keep my shoulders square. If I do manage to accomplish those two things, I certainly don’t do either of them consistently. Perhaps, like unto Rannulph Junuh, I just need to find my my swing.

* * * *

Bagger Vance: What I’m talkin’ about is a game… A game that can’t be won, only played…
Rannulph Junuh: You don’t understand…
Bagger Vance: I don’t need to understand… Ain’t a soul on this entire earth ain’t got a burden to carry he don’t understand, you ain’t alone in that… But you been carryin’ this one long enough… Time to go on… lay it down…
Rannulph Junuh: I don’t know how…
Bagger Vance: You got a choice… You can stop… Or you can start…
Rannulph Junuh: Start?
Bagger Vance: Walkin’…
Rannulph Junuh: Where?
Bagger Vance: Right back to where you always been… and then stand there… Still… real still… And remember…
Rannulph Junuh: It’s too long ago…
Bagger Vance: Oh no sir, it was just a moment ago… Time for you to come on out the shadows Junuh… Time for you to choose…
Rannulph Junuh: I can’t…
Bagger Vance: Yes, you can… but you ain’t alone… I”m right here with ya… I’ve been here all along… Now play the game… Your game… The one that only you was meant to play… The one that was given to you when you come into this world… You ready?… Strike that ball, Junuh, don’t hold nothin’ back, give it everything… Now’s the time… Let yourself remember… Remember YOUR swing… That’s right, Junuh, settle yourself… Let’s go… Now is the time, Junuh…
* * * *

The movie is sort of about golf, but it’s mostly a movie about redemption and restoration. Being who I am, I’m pretty much a sucker for stories like that. In my case, I wish golf was an integral part of my recovery process. It might imply some sort of personal proficiency at the game. For that to be true, I most definitely would need a Bagger Vance in my back pocket.

If you didn’t read the book, Bagger Vance, and the story of his legend, are based on the Hindu epic and scriptural poem, the Bhagavad-Gita. In the epic, Bhagavan is the Supreme Personality who helps his follower, Arjuna, understand life.

In the movie, Bagger Vance is a caddy who appears in the middle of the night to help Rannulph Junuh find his golf swing again, right after Junuh agrees to play a golf tournament sponsored by his totally hot former girlfriend. And there was that whole World War I thing, too.

Before the war, Rannulph Junuh was a very good golfer living in Savannah, Georgia. He had a beautiful girlfriend, a life of privilege, and a future that could only be described as bright. After the war, he was a drunken gambler living on the fringes of society. He had no one in his life, and his future could only be described as bleak.

Bagger takes Mr Junuh under his wing for the price of five dollars, guaranteed, and what follows is one of the most beautiful movies ever made. For a caddy, Bagger rarely spoke about golf in golfing terms. He described the game in esoteric terms. “The rhythm of the game is just like the rhythm of life,” he says, and describes the game as one that “can’t be won, only played.”

For me, that is is an undisputed truth. For my dad, it would probably be the biggest crock of shit he’d ever heard. My dad played golf like he was landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Perhaps life was a battle for my dad. I don’t know if anything came easily to him. My dad became a very good golfer not by talent, but by determination, and a ridiculous amount of practice.

See? I told you we didn’t have much in common.

On the other hand, I’ve become the lackadaisical duffer that I am by not applying myself to master the game to any great degree, which I’m afraid is also the way I’ve lived most of my life. Almost everything I’ve ever done came easily to me. The biggest battles in my life were the ones I created.

When I first started playing golf, I was far more interested in keeping my beer cold on the course than I was in the game, and one of the most surreal experiences for me was golfing sober for the first time.

* * * *

Rannulph Junuh: I can win Adele… I can beat both of ’em… Look into my eyes and tell me what you see…
Adele Invergordon: Determination… Pure determination…
Rannulph Junuh: Panic, Adele… Pure panic… I’m eight strokes behind two of the greatest golfers in the sport, they’ve never blown a lead in their lives and I’m gonna win… Ya know why?
Adele Invergordon: Panic?
Rannulph Junuh: That’s right…

* * * *

I’m trying to think of one thing I did once I quit drinking that didn’t evoke a sense of panic inside me. I can’t think of any. Fear can certainly be a great motivator, but it’s hard to even breathe when you’re in panic mode.

Making any great change in your life can be a terrifying prospect, even if it’s a change for the better. And for many, the greatest hurdle to overcome is that fear, that overwhelming sense of panic you feel. Rebuilding your life requires a whole lots of hard work. It’s so much easier to maintain the status quo, however much it sucks, than it is to try something different.

* * * *

Bagger Vance: You wanna quit, Mr. Junuh? You know you can just go ahead and creep off somewhere, I’ll tell folk you took sick… Truth be told, ain’t nobody gonna really object… In fact, they’d probably be happy as bugs in a bake shop to see you pack up and go home…
Rannulph Junuh: You know I can’t quit.
Bagger Vance: I know… Just makin’ sure you know it too…

* * * *

Bagger Vance wasn’t around when I decided to quit drinking. Sobriety wasn’t an easy thing for me to achieve, and I had a major relapse just before I reached one year of sobriety. That had to have been one of the lowest points in my life, and that’s when I realized the full extent of what I was doing, and that it would be a lifelong task.

That’s when I had to make a decision. Was I going to see this through to the end, or would I quit trying and settle for a life I had nothing but loathing for.

Once I was able to see quitting wasn’t a viable option, my path suddenly became clear, and I felt at peace for possibly the first time in my life since I was seven years old.

I live an incredibly idyllic life now. I am truly at peace, and generally at one with the universe. I feel the rhythm of nature, and life, and I am content on level that I never would have dreamed was possible.

* * * *

Bagger Vance: Yep… Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing… Somethin’ we was born with… Somethin’ that’s ours and ours alone… Somethin’ that can’t be taught to ya or learned… Somethin’ that got to be remembered… Over time the world can rob us of that swing… It get buried inside us under all our wouldas and couldas and shouldas… Some folk even forget what their swing was like…

Put your eyes on Bobby Jones… Look at his practice swing, almost like he’s searchin’ for something… Then he finds it… Watch how he settle hisself right into the middle of it, feel that focus… He got a lot of shots he could choose from… Duffs and tops and skulls, there’s only ONE shot that’s in perfect harmony with the field… One shot that’s his authentic shot, and that shot is gonna choose him… There’s a perfect shot out there tryin’ to find each and every one of us… All we got to do is get ourselves out of its way, to let it choose us… Can’t see that flag as some dragon you got to slay… You got to look with soft eyes… See the place where the tides and the seasons and the turnin’ of the Earth, all come together… where everything that is, becomes one… You got to seek that place with your soul Junuh… Seek it with your hands, don’t think about it… Feel it… Your hands is wiser than your head ever gonna be… Now I can’t take you there Junuh… Just hopes I can help you find a way… Just you… that ball… that flag… and all you are…

* * * *

I’m not overly anxious about improving my golf skills. I figure I’ll get better if I play more often, and even if I don’t, it won’t be the end of the world. I’ll still love playing golf as much as I ever did. And the world will still be just as beautiful.

Perhaps it will happen this year. I’ll step up to my ball. The leaves in the trees will be dancing on the wind, and laughing​ in the sunshine. The birds will be singing, and then everything will grow quiet. And still.

I will see it, and know it, and there will be no mystery.

I will find my swing, and be the ball. And great things will happen.

I Don’t Want to Complain, But…

Just in cases you were wondering, I’m totally loving being a retired guy. I find it almost impossible to find anything about my life that isn’t great. My lovely supermodel wife and I have been trying to avoid using the P word.

Perfect.

It’s been our experience that saying stuff like that will inevitably incur the wrath of the gods, and then things won’t be perfect anymore.

I’ve been staying busy doing anything but writing for awhile. I built a golldarn thing that ended up being more of a really stout shelf than a golldarn thing. I still have the materials for a golldarn thing, and I may build one someday, but I have to replace my drill/power screwdriver first.

I’ve been doing a lots of small maintenance jobs around the house. I lavish attention on my plants on the patio. They’re looking good, and most of the plants we inherited from Planet Janet are looking better. The jade plants are even starting to look better, and they were in terrible shape when we moved in.

I bought a hammock for the frame that looks like unto a Viking longship, and I’ve been practicing getting in and out of it so I don’t look like a complete idiot on the offhand chance someone comes down to visit us.

And we bought a very darlingpreshadorbs table and chairs for the patio for the same reason. It’s a work of art. Seriously. The chairs are all signed by  the artist that painted them. I wonder if he’s a famous guy, like Van Gogh…  If we keep this up, we’re going to need a much bigger patio…

I’ve been practicing my golf swing. I’m going golfing for the first time in eight or nine years next Friday with Phyllis, Tom and Cheryl. I’ve never been a great golfer, so I don’t have to worry too much about sucking. That’s pretty much a given, and if I needed something to complain about, I’ll probably have it after about ten minutes of golf…

And even though I don’t have an actual story in mind, I decided it was time to write something, lest I forget how to do it altogether, and I end up with a permanent case of writer’s block.

I have no Muse for this story. It’s more of a status update on our lives than an actual story.

* * * *

In the interest of fair and balanced reporting, we have had a few bumps in the road since we’ve moved to Mexico. Literally, and figuratively. Literally, the roads are nothing but bumps. The roads here were probably built during the time of the Roman Empire, using the same materials the Romans would’ve used.

The village of Ajijic has been here for about six hundred years. It has more history than any other place we’ve ever lived. There’s only one paved road in the Lakeside area, the carretera. It’s the major thoroughfare in the area. It’s a two lane highway that quickly becomes clogged with traffic during the weekend and any major holiday.

Take, for example, Easter. The village of Ajijic hosts a live Passion Play each year. Thousands of people come to see it. If you have no desire to fight the crowds, your best bet is to stay at home, which is what we did. Last week was pretty damn crazy/crowded here. It was worse than Snowbird season, and most of those people had just departed, returning to the Great White North for the summer.

If anything like unto a serious natural or unnatural disaster happens here, you’d better be the first person out of town, otherwise, you may as well stay home. You won’t be going anywhere…

Everyone complains about traffic, it’s an universal complaint, no matter where you live. So even if you don’t have anything else to complain about, you’ll always have that. Or the weather. Although the weather here is extremely hard to complain about. It’s, well, pretty much per–

It’s okay.

But some people have a deep and abiding love of complaining. Back when I was a nurse, I knew a lots of people that loved to bitch and moan, and not all of them were patients. Some of the nurses I knew seemingly thought it was part of their job description.

Even here, in Heaven on Earth, there are people who look for things to complain about. I think they go through withdrawal, and they’ll jump on the most insignificant thing they can find, simply because they don’t have anything else to complain about. Lea and I got to meet a couple of these types of people a few weeks ago, and the issue at hand was the placement of our satellite dish.

We subscribed to Shaw Direct when we moved here. There are no cable companies in the Lakeside area. I don’t know if there are any cable companies in all of Mexico. Shaw is a Canadian television company, so we get a lots of Canadian shows, plus a few American networks. I’ve learned a lots about Canadia in the last several months, eh.

Beauty.

And like unto everyone else that lives in our development, we had our satellite dish placed on our roof. I mean, it seemed like the best place to put it…

The guy that lives two houses west of us on the other side of the street filed a complaint with the owner of the house we’re renting about our dish, but he didn’t say anything about it until six months after we had it installed. Six fucking months! This guy told Planet Janet that our dish was obstructing his scenic view, and he wanted our dish moved.

There’s a backstory to this. Planet Janet and her husband, Don Padrino del Basura, used to live in Casa del Selva. (That’s the really cool name of our house. It means House of the Forest, or something like unto that.) About fifteen years ago, the guy that complained about our dish got into some sort of an argument with Don and Janet, and he hadn’t spoken to either of them since. Until we moved in and had a satellite dish placed on our roof.

I contacted the guy who installed our dish, Michael E. Merryman. He’s a darling man, and sur’n he’s Irish. He came over, and we went up on the roof to survey the scene, and scouted out possible placement options, and he said wherever we moved it on the roof, someone would be able to see it, and they might object to its new position.

Our satellite dish is about four feet in diameter. It’s a good sized dish, no doubt. However, I’m not sure how much of an obstruction it would’ve posed to the guy living two houses west of us. It would certainly impact the view of the people living directly behind us, but they didn’t have any complaints that I’m aware of.

Michael couldn’t believe this had actually become an issue, and why did it take six months for someone to complain about?!?

Yeah, that was a good question.

Michael asked me to call him once we figured out where we wanted to put it, and he’d send his crew out to move it. And he added that we should make the guy who complained pay for having it moved. See? I told you he was a darling man. And although I liked the idea of making the guy two doors down pay for moving our dish, we decided not to do that.

Planet Janet came over, and Lea and I went up on the roof with her to survey the scene.  We looked everything over, and started brainstorming possible options for a new place for our satellite dish.

Yes, it would be visible no matter where it was on the roof. Lea and Planet Janet thought a good place would be on the western wall of our house, or possibly the southwestern part of the wall, right above my bathroom window.

I made this observation: the only place we could put our dish that it wouldn’t obstruct anyone’s view was way down by the bodega on the western side of our backyard, just off of our terraced patio.

“Then it’ll obstruct our view.” Lea replied.

The guy who registered the complaint happened to be outside, so we invited him to come up on the roof and give us his opinion. He told me he wasn’t trying to create any problems. I told him it was a little late for that. From my point of view, if he really didn’t want to create any problems, all he had to do was keep his mouth shut. And just for the record, the complaining guy has two satellite dishes on the roof of his house.

Be that as it may, he was reasonably pleased with our possible solutions and said any of them would be fine with him.

When we finished our negotiations on the roof, I decided I better check with the guy who lives next to us to make sure he didn’t have any objections to our possible placement solutions. Having a satellite dish on our roof didn’t impact his view of the world in the least. However, if we moved it to the wall next to his house, it might, and I didn’t want to have to move it a third time.

It’s probably a good thing I decided to talk to my neighbor because he turned out to be an asshole, and he didn’t want our dish on a wall that faced his house, whether he could see it or not.

“It wasn’t here when we left for the summer, and no one told me it was going to be there when we got back.”

He actually said that. Like we were supposed to contact him in Canadia to get his permission to install our satellite dish. For a moment, I thought about killing him…

To wrap this story up, our neighbor was okay with placing our dish down by the bodega, and that’s where it sits now, hidden from the view of all of our neighbors. And there is peace in our development once more.

* * * *

There was one other less than perfect event, and concerned our kit-ten, Samantha. About nine days ago, Lea and Sam went outside in the early morning hours. It was still dark. Sam, being a cat, decided to go look for things to chase in the bushes. She used to be really good at chasing things, but it’s something she rarely does anymore now that she’s old. She’s something like unto eighty years old in human years.

On this morning, Sam encountered what Lea thinks was another cat, and there was muchos hissing and howling in the bushes. Whatever it was that Sam had encountered had fled by the time Lea ran down into the yard, and it took another forty minutes for Sam to calm down enough to let Lea examine her.

Sam was clearly in pain. She limped when she walked, and every movement she made was done at great cost. We decided to take our kit-ten to see the vet.

Good news, no major injuries were discovered, but Sam was clearly in a lots of pain. The vet gave Sam an injection of a low dose of morphine, and Sam looked a whole lots better by the time we got her home.

Bad news, morphine is a narcotic, and one of the side effects of morphine can be constipation. After three days of no cat poop in the litter box, we decided to take our kit-ten back to the vet.

It turns out that feline constipation is more prevalent of a problem than one might think. The vet gave Sam an enema. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. About an hour later, Sam pooped, and we took her home. She’s pretty much back to her old self again, and I doubt Lea will ever let her kit-ten explore the yard in the dark again.

* * * *

You may not know this about me, but I love music. I have a few hundred CD’s, and I downloaded a ton of songs onto our PC. And the only reason I ever got a smartphone was because you can download music onto it.

And it was easy to do. Just plug your phone into your computer, pick the songs you want to load and Click! It was so simple, even I could do it!

And then we moved to Mexico, and I had to buy a Mexican cellphone. My Mexican cellphone and my American computer wouldn’t interface, and I couldn’t directly download any of my music onto my new mobile device.

I had to set up a Music Manager application on my computer through my Google Play® account, and download every single song, all seven thousand of them. It took eight days.

As the songs downloaded to Google Play®, they were then wirelessly transferred to my Mexican cellphone. I’ve spent the last eight days going through the seemingly endless list of songs, deleting the songs I didn’t want on my phone, and keeping the roughly one thousand songs I wanted to keep on my playlist.

My lovely supermodel wife thinks I am totally insane.

She may be right about that.

However, I have a playlist that is pretty much perfect for my life, and I don’t care who knows it. If you ever have about eighty hours that aren’t scheduled with other things to do, you could come down and listen to it. But you’d probably hate it here.

You could lay in the hammock, in the equatorial sunshine, and try to not look like an idiot getting out of it. The weather is…okay…at best. There are only a few thousand amazing places to eat, and you wouldn’t believe the prices. You do have to pay cash for almost everything, so you’ll  have to adjust to carrying a lots of  Monopoly® money. The Mexican people are incredibly friendly and polite, and they don’t care how badly you butcher their language. They simply appreciate that you make the attempt to learn Espanish.

It’s a lots to get used to, and not everyone is up to the task.  But the roads and the traffic, that’ll be the last straw.

Questions of my Childhood

A friend of mine recently posted something on FB the other day that created quite a buzz on social media. This is his post, complete with typos, which I totally want to correct:

Honestly I HATE the phrase “its Gods will” or “God doesn’t make mistakes” and blah blah. If your God lets cancer hit kids as his will, I will take another God for 200 alex. And your God can gtfo. Your God sucks.

It’s been an interesting discussion. At last count, there were 95 comments, two from me. The obvious question here is, How can a loving God allow something as devastating as cancer destroy the life a child? 

It’s a question we all ask sooner or later. I think the first time I asked it was when Judy Kostelecky got dead from leukemia. I was seventeen when she died. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve asked that question through the years, and to quote the progressive rock group Kansas, the questions of my childhood weave a web of mystery.

Implied in the above question is, What did the child do to deserve that? When we all know of at least one person who more than deserves to be smitten with a double dose of pain and suffering, and that sonuvabitch is still running around without any penalty.

My good friend, Don Nelson, had the most beautiful answer to this mystifying question, God doesn’t want to hang out with assholes any more than we do. Why would He take them? Why wouldn’t He take someone perfect, like my son?

I doubt I would’ve been able to be as gracious as he was if our positions had been switched.

The fairness of life isn’t even a question worth debating. Life isn’t fair. Period. But which is the greater tragedy? A childhood cancer victim, or a mass shooting in a theater, or a nightclub, or a rock concert? Which of those sucks more, and what’s up with God? How can He allow any of those things to happen?

My pastor friends would probably say something like unto these tragedies are tests and challenges of our faith in God, and I’m going to have to agree with that. However, disease and tragedy are hardly recent phenomena. Ever heard of the Black Plague? The Spanish Influenza?  Or the AIDS epidemic? Anyone remember the Trail of Tears? Slavery? The Bataan Death March?

I learned about those things studying History. Seeing how I suck at predicting the future, I try not to forget the past. And I’m positive anyone that was touched by the above events found their faith tested to the breaking point and beyond.

Personally, I’m not outraged by those things, or the fact that God does nothing to prevent them. There are a few things God has done that have left me scratching what’s left of my hair. When the Hebrews first entered what they believed to be their Promised Land, God ordered His Chosen People to kill everyone already living in the area. Every man, woman, child–kill ’em all, I’ll sort them out. Even their animals.

That was totally fuckin’ cold, man.

Another one of topics that was brought to the floor on my friend’s post was free will, and do we, as human beings, actually have free will?

You may not have given this much thought, but a lots of really smart people have pondered this question, going back to ancient Greece. Democritus, Aristotle, Epicurus and Socrates all wrote essays about the subject roughly 1600 years ago. The debate continues today.

You can look up what these guys had to say if you’re interested, but to me, this issue can be reduced to one thing.

Is God really All-knowing, or not. And if so, how does He do that?

* * * *

It’d be nice if I could settle this matter once and for all, but I doubt I’ll be able to pull that off. If I could settle the matter inside of my own head I’d be accomplishing something.

I am certainly not all knowing. As I once said, I don’t even know what I’m thinking half of the time, let alone what’s going on around me. However, there are a lots of highly intuitive people on this planet, and they can see things most ordinary people can’t.

Take, for example, the Psychic Network. Remember that? How did they not foresee that they were going to go bankrupt? Oh, yeah. That’s probably not a very good example, is it…

The idea of an All-knowing God is something I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around. The only way I can conceive this whole all knowing thing being remotely possible is if everything that will ever happen has already been predetermined. Otherwise there are just too many variables at play to possibly know everything that’s ever going to happen.

I would ask the Psychic Network for their input, if they hadn’t gone belly up.

I’ve discussed the concept of free will versus determinism with some of my pastor friends in Arizona. And just so there’s no confusion, they all believe that God is All-knowing, and they also believe in free will. They see no conflict with these two incongruent concepts. And I think they described their argument something like unto this:

Suppose you come to a fork in the road. You have a choice to make, which road to take. That’s free will. However, no matter which way you chose, God will know in advance because He knows all. I said if that were true, then our path has been predetermined, and they said, No, you still get to choose which way you’re going to go. 

Pastors are clearly big on faith, and I have no issue with that. Faith is their profession. But this is also a philosophical question, and not all of my pastor friends have a strong background in Philosophy. And this is the question:

If God knows everything you’re going to do in advance, is anything you do actually your choice? And if nothing you do is actually your choice, how can you have free will? Is free will a reality, or merely an illusion?

Just in cases you were wondering, The Impersonal Life states that free will is an illusion, and God determines all of our choices, even the bad ones.

If God is able to know all things even if everything isn’t predestined, this question, to me, becomes a matter of God’s relationship to Time. In order for God to be the entity that He claims to be, His relationship to Time has to be vastly different than ours. There are only a couple ways this could be possible.

Here on Earth we exist in something we call real time. Time is essentially a river flowing in one direction, and we are carried along on the prevailing current of Time. We live exclusively in the present, and there are no time outs in life. We can’t jump ahead to the future to see what’s going to happen, neither can we jump back to the past to change anything that’s already happened.

Please don’t ask if you can use the Time Machine.

Theoretically, I suppose God could exist outside of the TimeSpace Continuum, but I’m not sure that’s even theoretically possible. In this theoretical scenario, Time would no longer be a flowing river. Time would have to be frozen, more like unto a glacier, and as God traversed up and down the length of frozen Time, he could see past, present and future depending on his perspective. And, as I understand this, because everything is frozen in Time, everything that had happened, is happening right now, and is going to happen in the future would have to be predetermined.

I dislike this hypothesis simply because it makes God appear to be nothing more than a Netflix® viewer with Double Platinum Premium membership able to binge watch everything from the original Big Bang to the current Big Bang Theory, without having to interact with any of it, unless He yells at the TV like my dad used to do.

The other possibility is TimeSpace is part of the essential fabric of God, like blood is to humans. Everything in the universe would then be touched by God, and everything that happens would touch God. Free will could theoretically exist in this framework, and God being the highly intuitive entity that He is, He could possibly discern those events in the flow of Time.

I prefer the second explanation. The struggles and successes we endure and celebrate are somehow more intimately tied to our Creator, not that I see Him as an overly passionate parent. If He were, He might be more inclined to personally intervene to prevent at least some of these seemingly senseless tragedies from happening.

Alas, that doesn’t appear to part of God’s job description. God once had a lots to say about what He did for a living, but that was way back in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus stated he works, and his Father works, then implied that he and his Father were going to go on an extended vacation, and there’d probably by hell to pay when they got back. Whenever that might be…

At any rate, if that’s true, I’m sure there are going to be a lots more tragedies on the road ahead, and we’ll all be given ample opportunities to scratch our heads and wonder what the hell God is thinking, how can our loving God allow this to continue, and what kind of God is He anyway?

I AM that I AM.

That was God’s enigmatic response to Moses when Moses asked God for His name. The noted American pugilistic philosopher, Popeye the Sailorman said something very similar: I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam.

I wonder if God likes spinach…

God is what He is, whatever He is. He’ll do what He wants, whenever He wants, and He’s not going to check with the focus groups or spin doctors first to see how popular His decision is going to be with the general public. As near as I can tell, human opinion has never been part of God’s decision making process.

And the bottom line is this: whether or not free will exists; whether we humans can choose our destinies or not, God’s Will cannot be denied. God’s Purpose is going to trump anything we can conceive every time.

You don’t have to like it, but you have to live with it.

Hmm…  Really not much of a mystery there after all.

From the Odds and Ends Department

Have you ever watched something on TV, or read something, and thought, Man, I could do so much better than that! You might even be thinking that right now…  Especially if you’ve read more than one of my blog posts.

I mean, all this guy writes about is getting wasted, his slutty girlfriends, and how all of his relationships fell apart! There was that story about his nympho Russian girlfriend, Ivana Sukyurkokov. And his heartbroken Chinese girlfriend, Wat Wen Wong. Jeez, his blog is dumber than putting wheels on a ball! I liked him more when he wrote about crazy people!

And I hear you. Before I started writing my blog, I thought bloggers were people who needed to get a fucking life, man. They were probably people who thought Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian were the epitome of American society and they all wanted to be Paris-ites, or biffles, or twat waffles with them or something.

I’ve started reading some of the blogs that are out there on the Interweb, and I was wrong about bloggers. Most of them appear to have lives.

Except me.

I’m retired. If I were to write about my day-to-day life now, my blog would consist of restaurant reviews in the Lakeside area, and stories about how much I love my Sleep Number bed®.

And to be honest, I probably liked me more when I was writing about crazy people, too. But those stories are relatively easy to write, and like everything else in life, it’s only when you step outside of your comfort zone that anything meaningful happens. It’s the stories I didn’t want to write that taught me the most about myself. It was the stories that hurt like hell that showed me how far I’ve come.

And how far I still have to go.

And the other thing about writing about my nursing career is not every person I cared for resulted in a story worth telling.  Knife wielding homicidal maniacs were the exception, not the rule, thank God. Most of my patients were never a problem, unlike medical dramas on TV. I’d probably hate being a TV nurse, unless my work partner was the hot nurse with the big tits…

The majority of my nursing career was pretty ho-hum. Mischief was managed. Shit got done. No one died. And that was that. But there were a lots of snippets and moments and oneliners, and if I could patchwork a lots of them together, I might be able to spin a tale or two…

* * * *

I’ve discovered that time management is still necessary once you retire. I certainly have more time to do things I enjoy now, like reading. And because other bloggers sometimes read my posts, I feel a certain obligation to read some of their posts, too. My favorite blogger is a young woman in New York who writes about her struggle to overcome her eating disorder. Her blog is called Beauty Beyond Bones. And while I love her now, I probably would’ve hated her as a patient.

Back when I was a psych nurse in Arizona, there were a couple of eating disorder treatment facilities in the little town of Wickenburg, about thirty miles northwest of Surprise. Remuda Ranch and Rosewood Ranch. She’s never come out and said if she was a patient at either of them, but I’m going to guess she was at Remuda. I hope she doesn’t mind me saying that. I interviewed at both facilities, but decided not to take a position at either one of them. I absolutely sucked at working with eating disorder patients.

Remuda is a Christian based treatment facility. One of the questions they asked me in the interview was did I think the Bible was the sole source of truth. I said no, it wasn’t, and I wasn’t even sure all of the things written in the Bible were true. After my interview, they told me I wasn’t Christian enough to meet their criteria. I told them that was okay. They weren’t the first Christians to tell me that.

A few weeks later they called me back and told me that they had changed their mind about me, and asked if I was still interested in working there. I wanted to say something like, God, you guys must be fucking desperate! But instead I thanked them for thinking of me, and told them I had found another position and I wasn’t available anymore.

Well, it was the truth…

Like most every psychological/psychiatric disorder, eating disorders are caused by a multitude of complex factors, and as with every psychological/psychiatric disorder–except dementia–the successful treatment of anorexia or bulimia depends completely on the patient. If they don’t want to change their behavior, there ain’t nothin’ anyone can do for them once they’re discharged from the hospital.

It’s like alcoholism or drug addiction, only worse. Just as the drinking and chemical use are usually a symptom of a deeper, darker pathology, eating disorders are about far more than food.

Eating disorders are incredibly difficult to treat, mostly because eating disorder patients are the spawn of Satan. I mean that in a Christian way. They are sneakier than a ninja. They can vomit silently so they can purge without anyone knowing. They stockpile food so they can binge feed when no one is looking. And if their lips are moving, they’re probably lying.

The other thing I remember most clearly about most of these women, and they were all females, is the majority of them were gorgeous. And that is truly one of the great mysteries that used to keep me awake at night when I was learning how to be a psych nurse. How could someone so beautiful be so fucking miserable?

One of my first posts was about one of my patients at the MVAMC. I called him the Piano Man because he liked to play the piano. About the time he walked onto the unit for one of his many admissions, we had just discharged a gal with anorexia. She had been on our unit for a couple of weeks, and none of the staff were sad to see her go.

After we got the Piano Man admitted, he sat down at the piano and started playing, and the piano sounded like a wounded moose. We opened the top to find the eating disorder girl had hid enough food inside of the piano to feed Hannibal’s entire army when he crossed the Alps to attack Rome. Including the elephants.

For someone who has never worked in a psychiatric setting, it would be easy to say that we, as staff members, totally sucked at our job, and I really don’t have much of anything to say in our defense. We were hardly specialists at treating eating disorders, and the fact we were so happy to see that particular patient leave speaks volumes to the level of struggle we all had with her.

* * * *

To be sure, it’s very easy to be an armchair quarterback or a wheelchair general, and criticize someone doing a job you’ve never attempted. And when you’re in a service oriented occupation like Nursing, you are never going to be able to make everybody happy. No one is that good, and people can be incredibly demanding/entitled. And it is generally the people who were making the least positive contribution to anything who were the most demanding and entitled.

You guys have to be the worst fucking nurses I’ve ever seen! I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that one. And it was usually a guy that you and your team had spent a month busting your asses trying to arrange housing and follow up for, who had been discharged from your unit forty-eight hours earlier, and was already back because he chose to drink as much alcohol and smoke as much meth as he possibly could before he came crawling back to the hospital.

Most of the time it’s better to just agree with someone like that, and walk away. But there were times when I couldn’t.

“Maybe you should get out more…  That means a lots coming from you…”

I said something like unto that to one of my unhappy frequent flyer guys at the MVAMC who probably spent as much time in the hospital as I did. His name was Ray. I’m going to guess that the total bill for the many, many times we detoxed him off of alcohol, sobered him up and set him up to succeed was in excess of one million dollars, and he had this response, “You used to be a good guy, but you need a new job. You’ve been inpatient too long.”

“So have you.” I replied.

He froze to death one cold December night in Minneapolis. He had gotten drunk and was walking to the hospital so he could be admitted again. His body was found propped up against a tree across the street from the hospital in the morning. He had stopped to rest before making his final stumbling trek to the ED, and had fallen asleep.

You meet a lots of guys like unto that when you’re a psych nurse. There was Charles. He was another MVAMC guy who spent an inordinate amount of time getting drunker than fifty guys combined, and the rest of his time detoxing on my unit.

We had safely detoxed Charles for the umpteenth time, and discharged him at 9:00 AM on a Friday morning. At 2:30 PM that same day, I answered the phone. It was Charles.

“Hey, I don’t think this discharge thing is going to work, man. I’ve been out of the hospital for about six hours, and I’m pretty fuckin’ wasted, man.” he slurred.

“Hey, Charles. Has it ever occurred to you that you need to quit drinking?” I decided to ask. There was a long silence, and then Charles said this,

“Is there anyone else there I can talk to?”

For one of the few times in my life, I had no response. I handed the phone to one of my co-workers. Charles would also die to death as a result of his alcohol abuse.

Sometimes the disease wins.

* * * *

You never know what you’ll see or hear as a psych nurse, and there’s a reason for that. People are capable of an infinite amount of kooky stuff, not that you have to be a psych nurse to experience the full spectrum of kookiness available out there.

All you really need to see that is a family.

But one thing you may not experience unless you’re a psych nurse is the dreaded Dissociative Identity Disorder, or more commonly, Multiple Personality Disorder. In my thirty year career, I met a lots of people who claimed to have multiple personalities, but none of them ever seemed to be legitimate to me, or anyone else I worked with.

Multiple Personality Disorder was virtually unheard of until the 1970’s. That’s when the book Sybil was published, 1973 to be exact. Three years later, the TV movie of the same name was broadcast on NBC, starring Sally Field and Joanne Woodward, and like magic, suddenly everyone had multiple personalities.

For my money, all of the people I met who claimed to have multiple personalities were just assholes looking for an easy excuse for their behavior.

* * * *

I was working nights at the MVAMC fairly early in my career. I was the Med nurse that night, so anyone needing any medications had to see me. Enter Sam. It was around 2:00 AM. We had detoxed Sam off of alcohol with a Valium protocol. Once someone had been safely detoxed, the protocol was discontinued.

Sam had been off the protocol for a day or two, but he wanted more Valium. I explained to him how the protocol worked, and Sam had a five star meltdown. He screamed at me, waking up everyone on the unit. One of the other nurses called the POD and got a one time order of Valium for Sam, and he went back to bed.

At 6:00 AM, Sam came up to the nursing station to get his morning meds. He was quite pleasant, and I remarked that he was much nicer than he had been at 2:00 AM.

“Oh, that. That wasn’t me. That was Samuel.”

“No kidding. He looks just like you.” I said.

Sam gave me, and anyone else willing to listen, a detailed description of his three personalities: Sam, Samuel and Sheryl. A line of patients had formed behind Sam. They were waiting to get their meds so they could go smoke. According to Sam, Samuel was the troublemaker. Sheryl was the lover, and Sam was the drunk. I listened to Sam, and gave him his meds.

“Well, the next time you talk to Samuel, give him a message.” I said. “If he ever talks to me like that again, I’m gonna punch you in the fuckin’ mouth.”

Sam’s jaw dropped. He turned to the guys standing behind him, “Did you hear that! He threatened me!”

“Hey! Take your goddamn meds and get the hell out of the way! And if you ever pull that shit again, if he doesn’t punch you in the fuckin’ mouth, I will.” one of the Nam vets growled.

Yeah, not one of my better moments, but Samuel never made another appearance.

* * * *

I think the last time I met anyone who claimed to have multiple personalities was at Aurora. I walked onto the Canyon Unit, and Nikki was on a 1:1. She was a frequent flyer, and I was usually her nurse.

A 1:1 is a special precaution, usually reserved for patients that are acutely suicidal. In essence, one staff person is assigned to one patient, and that patient is never more than an arm’s length away from the person assigned to watch over them.

Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work, but it’s rarely played out that way.

I went over to talk to Nikki. She had scratched her wrist with a plastic spoon on the evening shift. She didn’t even break the integrity of her skin, and her nurse had placed her on the 1:1.

I’m shaking my head while I write this. I don’t usually like to criticize the actions of other nurses, but that was a lazy-ass intervention. If the evening nurse had taken even five minutes to talk to Nikki, that ridiculous waste of manpower and resources wouldn’t have been needed. We barely had enough staff to cover the units, let alone have one staff assigned to watch someone for no good reason.

I asked Nikki to tell me what happened.

“I didn’t do anything! It was Alexandra!”

“And whom might that be?”

“She’s one of my three personalities! She–”

“Stop. Cut the crap, Nikki. You’re on a 1:1. You can’t smoke if you’re on a 1:1.” I said.

“But they let me smoke last night, and this morning!”

“I don’t care what they did last night. This is my unit, my rules. If I can’t trust you to be safe on the unit, I’m sure as hell not going to trust you to be safe off the unit, with a lit cigarette in your hand. What if you decide to burn yourself?”

“It wasn’t me! It was Alexandra!”

“I don’t care who did it. None of you get to smoke.”

“I’ll be safe, I promise! Please!!”

Less than five minutes. Mischief managed. And I never heard another word about Alexandra again. Ever.

* * * *

There was a fairly consistent response whenever I told someone that I had just met that I was a psychiatric nurse. Their eyes would widen, and they would say something like unto, “I bet you’ve seen it all, huh.”

I would reply, “No. I’ve seen a lots of strange stuff, but the kookiness of humans is infinite.”

And that is the fucking truth.

Every time I thought I had seen it all, something I didn’t think was humanly possible walked through the door. I eventually made peace with the fact that I would never see it all, and I was okay with that. My two other personalities are still sulking about that a bit, but they’ll get over it.

Or I’ll punch them in the mouth.

The Long and Winding Road

I come from a big family. Two parents, Les and Sally Rowen. Four brothers, three sisters.

ColleenMarkJohnTomDeniseBruceBobJulie. My dad would say that when he was talking to one us and he couldn’t remember which one of us he was talking to. That happened more often than you might think. My dad seemed to be in a perpetual state of confusion when we were growing up.

One my younger brothers had a friend sleep over on a Friday night. We were eating breakfast in the kitchen the next morning when my dad walked into the kitchen looking like unto a bear that had just awakened from hibernation.

“Are you one of mine?” he grumbled at the kid, who froze, with a Cheerio hanging from his lower lip. The kid shook his quickly. “Okay. Real good then.” my dad said in relief, and poured a cup of coffee. “You had me scared there for a minute.”

My dad had worked for the ICBM Defense Program for most of my childhood. We moved roughly every two years from the time I started grade school until I was in the eighth grade. In 1968, my dad quit working for the missle guys, and we moved to Missoula, MT  My dad said we were going to live in Missoula for the rest of our lives.

We had all  heard that line before, many times. I doubt any of us believed it, including my mother. But two years came and went, and we didn’t move. And then another two years passed, and we were still in Missoula in 1972.

What do you know? Miracles do happen.

My sister Colleen is three years older than me. My brother that got dead from SIDS was born and died in between us. I think Colleen had graduated from high school 1971, but that’s where she met Rod Sanderson.

Rod was a year older than Colleen, and like unto a lots of guys, he fell in love with my sister the moment he saw her. Back in the day, Colleen was what was referred to as a stone cold fox. She was maybe 5′ 4″ tall, long light brown hair, and according to all my classmates, she looked like an angel. Actually, all of sisters are very attractive, except when they’re pissed off. Then they’re fucking scary. Real scary.

Colleen used to drop me off at school in the morning, and some of the guys in my class would hang around the front of the school, hoping to get a glimpse of her, or if God was truly benevolent, a word or two with her. All of my friends were in love with my sister, but she wasn’t interested in any of them. She already had a boyfriend.

Rod was an okay guy, I guess. He was the baby of his family, and I don’t know if spoiled is the correct term to describe him, but it’s the best term I can think of. If there was an easy way out of something that Rod didn’t want to do, he would find it. That didn’t make him a bad guy, but it hardly made him a stellar role model.

Rod’s parents, Vern and Jackie, doted on their only son. Like me, he had an older sister, but I didn’t really know her. Rod lacked nothing when he was growing up, and Rod liked toys. So, when he got older and his parents stopped buying him toys, if he saw something he liked, he bought it whether he could afford it or not.

All of Rod’s friends had hot muscle cars. Rod bought a Fastback Boss 302 Mustang. Dark blue. It was a beautiful car. He liked to hunt, and bought himself an arsenal of guns and rifles. And he bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

It wasn’t a big old good one kind of Harley hog, it was a 300 cc bike. As far as Harleys go, it wasn’t much of a street cruiser, but it was a street bike. Rod used it to cruise the backroads in the mountains to scout for good areas to shoot deer and elk and stuff. And he bought my sister an 80 cc Yamaha so she could ride the backroads with him. That was nice, but my sister didn’t really care for it much, and rarely rode it, but I loved it. Rod and I probably bonded riding the mountain roads outside of Missoula.

I know he also bought helmets, but we never used them.

Helmets were for fuckin’ sissies.

* * * *

Rod might have been a poser/wannabe all around he-man outdoorsman kind of guy, but his dad was the real deal. Vern was nothing short of legendary in certain circles. He was a hunter/fisherman/guide kind of guy. He had a lots of firearms and a whole lots of rods and reels and fishing tackle. And a boat.

Vern had a garage full of tools, and he knew how to use them all. He was a woodworker/carpenter.  He was a stonemason and a bricklayer. He was a plumber and an electrician.

Vern was essentially the opposite of my dad. Les didn’t hunt or fish. He wasn’t an outdoorsman. He probably would’ve gotten lost in our huge backyard if it hadn’t been fenced in. Les wasn’t an handy man. He had maybe seven tools, and he didn’t know how to use any of them.

Be that as it may, as Colleen and Rod’s relationship progressed, so did their relationship with each other’s family, and Vern and Les became pretty good drinking buddies. It was probably the only thing that they had in common.

Well, and they both loved Colleen. Seriously. I think Vern once asked Colleen what she saw in his deadbeat son.

Because she was the oldest daughter in my family, and the first girl to start dating, my dad spent a fair amount of time threatening to kill Rod to death for a list of infractions both real and imagined.

Getting drunk with his buddies. Getting my sister drunk. Getting me drunk. Bringing my sister home late. Bringing my drunk sister home late then passing out in his car in the driveway.

Rod eventually gave my dad a nickname: Ornery. And despite the fact that my dad did everything he could to make Rod’s life a living hell, Rod asked Colleen to marry him. And she said Yes!

* * * *

That’s probably enough of the backstory leading up the events that were about to unravel.

It was the Memorial Day weekend in 1972. Saturday, May 27th, to be precise. I had just completed my sophomore year of high school. I was sixteen years old, and I had just started working at the Go West Drive In.

My family went to a state park a few hours out of town to celebrate the holiday weekend. My mom cooked enough food and made enough sandwiches to feed an army. We were joined there by Rod and his parents. Vern had brought the motorcycles along in the back of his truck.

You never know, they might be fun, he said. And because Vern was anything but a fuckin’ sissy, he didn’t bring the helmets.

* * * *

I know I was reluctant to go with my family that day. I had to work, and I didn’t trust my dad when he said he’d drive me back to town in time to get to work. But Rod said not to worry, he’d drive me back in his Mustang. I quit arguing after that.

I know I drove out to the park with Rod and Colleen. We listened to one of my 8 track tapes on the way out. The Stylistics, a Philadelphia soul group that hit the top of the charts in the early 70’s. Rod was more of Country/Western guy, but even he liked their music.

“They’re pretty good for a bunch of niggers.” he said.

I can’t remember the name of the park anymore. I’m not sure I knew the name back then. It was a very scenic green valley at the foot of some mountains. A creek ran across the valley floor. There was a lots of room to run and play Frisbee. A rocky gravel road led up into the mountains. And the motorcycles turned out to be a flash of genius. Rod or Vern rode the Harley while me and two oldest brothers, John and Tom, took turns riding Colleen’s Yamaha up and down the road with one of our younger siblings as a passenger.

The road probably wasn’t all that different from any other mountain road in Montana. It had been blasted out of the side of the mountain in the 1940’s, maybe. The rock and boulders that been blasted loose building the road were moved to either side, forming a guardrail of granite. Some of those boulders were the size of a house.

I’m going to guess I spent roughly four hours or so out at the park, and then I had to go. As I was hugging my mom goodbye, my dad and Vern were climbing aboard the motorcycles. John and Tom were sulking because they couldn’t ride along on the bikes. True to his word, Rod drove me back to town, driving as fast as he dared down the curving road that cut through the mountains back into Missoula. And we listened to The Stylistics again.

I know I made it to work on time, and I know it was pretty much the same as any other night at the Go West. It was probably around 11:00 PM. We were cleaning up the concession stand and checking inventory when one of my gay bosses came out of his office and said, “Umm, Maark, could you come here? Your mother is on the phone…”

I walked to the office, and my other gay boss handed me the phone. I heard my mother crying.

“Mark? Oh, God! I don’t know where to begin, but right after you left, there was a terrible accident…”

* * * *

What follows is what I can remember hearing from the people who were there, and I also have to admit I have repressed, suppressed and denied these memories for so long it’s almost as if I had completely forgotten it even happened. But when I was writing my last post, Melpomene whispered in my ear, and the memories came flooding back.

* * * *

My dad wasn’t a outdoorsman/sportsman guy. He wasn’t handy at fixing anything. And he wasn’t very good at riding motorcycles either, so in that regard, it’s fortunate he didn’t take a passenger when he and Vern went for their ride on the bikes that Memorial Day weekend in 1972.

I don’t think my dad was drunk when I left. He’d been drinking that day, but my dad was Irish, and he could knock down some beers without outwardly appearing to be impaired. And to be fair, Vern had had his share of beer that day, too.

Vern drove Rod’s Harley. My dad drove Colleen’s Yamaha, and away they went, climbing up the mountain road. I have no idea how far up the road they went, no idea how long they were gone. I’m not even sure if they were driving up the road, or back down it when my dad lost control of his bike.

And sadly, the details I remember are sketchy. He was either going too fast and braked too hard, or he wasn’t going fast enough and lost control when he gunned the engine to increase his speed. He kind of weebled and wobbled, but didn’t fall over, then careened off the road, running headfirst into a pretty goddamn big boulder. The impact crumpled the front wheel of Colleen’s Yamaha like it was made of tin foil, and sent my dad flying over the handlebars.

The boulder my dad hit was big, but it wasn’t especially tall. The way I understand it, my dad essentially did a somersault over the boulder, just kind of kissing the top of the boulder with his forehead enough to sustain a couple of superficial cuts to his scalp. If he had collided with a taller boulder, he would’ve taken the top of his head off, and if he had been wearing an helmet, the only thing he would’ve injured would’ve been his pride.

Well, and the front wheel of my sister’s bike.

As I nurse, I can tell you that your scalp is a very vascular area, and even a small cut can bleed like the dickens. My dad was essentially uninjured, save for a couple of superficial cuts that bled like hell, creating the illusion that my dad had been mauled by a fucking Grizzly bear, and was about five minutes away from dying to death.

Vern possibly knew my dad wasn’t badly injured–he wasn’t unconscious, none of his bones were broken–but he was bleeding like a stuck pig, and that’s probably all Vern saw. He told my dad to lay still, and apply pressure to the cuts on his forehead, then Vern jumped on the Harley and tore off down the mountain.

Rod used his motorcycle to cruise up and down the mountain roads, but it wasn’t modified in any way to be a mountain bike. It was a street bike, and if you’re curious about the differences in the way the bikes look, you can do a Google search.

Even still, some explanation is required. Off road bikes have a beefed up suspension, and the engine and foot pedals are set on higher the frame for better clearance over things, like, rocks in the road and stuff like that.

I stated earlier this mountain road was probably much like any other mountain road, meaning it was dirt with rocks of varying sizes imbedded in the dirt, covered with varying levels of loose gravel. It was never designed to be driven at an excessive rate of speed, and certainly not a motorcycle designed for street use.

I doubt any of those things occurred to Vern on that day. His buddy had been injured, and was bleeding, a lots, and he needed help. Fast! Vern was a very good motorcyclist, but even good cyclists make mistakes, especially if they aren’t being careful, and Vern had thrown caution to the wind. I’m sure he never saw the rock sticking up out of the road, sticking up just high enough to catch the brake pedal on the unmodified bike he was driving, turning low to make that corner, racing down into the valley to get help for his friend.

* * * *

I don’t know how long my dad waited for Vern to return. I don’t think he even knew, but he did as he was told until he started thinking it was taking Vern an overly long time to return.

“I really wasn’t injured,” he told me later. “There was a little stream running along the side of the road. I soaked my handkerchief, and held it to my head. Once the bleeding slowed down, and Vern still hadn’t returned, I started walking down the mountain. I figured I would meet him on the way.”

And he did, only it wasn’t the way he had imagined. Instead of finding Vern leading a motorcade of vehicles coming to rescue him, he found Vern laying face up in the middle of the road, a large pool of blood under his head. Rod’s Harley was piled up on the boulders lining the side of the road about thirty feet away from Vern, the brake pedal bent at an impossibly acute angle.

Vern was breathing, but that’s all he was doing. He was unconscious, and he would not awaken. My dad checked to see where all the blood was flowing from. The back of Vern’s skull felt like a bag of loose change.

“I started running down the road, for maybe for a quarter of a mile,” my dad said. “And luckily, a car was coming up the road. I flagged them down, then we put Vern in the backseat, and drove down the mountain. When we got back to the valley, Jackie climbed in the car with him and they took off like a bat out of hell. Your mother and I packed up everything and the kids and followed them to the hospital.”

* * * *

One of my gay bosses volunteered to take me back to town immediately. The Go West was something like twenty miles outside of Missoula, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It was further out of town than the airport. It was probably closer to Frenchtown than it was to Missoula. The only thing remotely close to it was the paper mill where Vern and Rod worked. Vern had gotten his son a job there after Rod graduated from high school.

I was in a state of shock, and it took me a minute or two to respond.

“I don’t think you need to do that. It doesn’t sound like I need to be anywhere immediately. My dad’s okay, but it doesn’t sound like Vern’s going to make it.”

Vern had been rushed to the hospital. His condition remained unchanged once he reached the hospital, he was breathing on his own, but still unconscious. The doctors told Jackie there wasn’t much of anything they could do. Vern had suffered a massive injury to his occipital lobe and cerebellum. The back of his skull had caved in like unto a broken eggshell. He might wake up, and then again…

“If he had only been wearing a helmet…” the ICU doctor said.

* * * *

My gay bosses dropped me off at the hospital around midnight, and gave me the rest of week off. If I needed more time, all I had to do was ask. I went up to the ICU waiting room where everyone else had gathered–Rod’s mother and sister, my mother and sister–and the person they had gathered around was my father. A couple of steri-strips had been applied to the cuts on his forehead. I think his clothes were dotted with his blood, and smeared with Vern’s, but I’m unsure about that. He probably changed when he took my brothers and sisters home before returning to the hospital.

My dad was beyond inconsolable. He blamed himself for the accident; placing full responsibility for what had happened squarely on his own shoulders. He kept saying he wished he could trade places with Vern. The women were trying to comfort him. I went over to talk to Rod. He told me everything he knew about what had happened, and he kept saying this,

“I wish to God I had never bought those goddamn motorcycles.”

After that, I sat down, and waited. There was nothing else to do, but wait.

That’s when I saw the book. It was small, rectangular black book, less than fifty pages, very plain in appearance. It was titled, The Impersonal Life. I picked it up and started reading. I finished it in less than half an hour, then started re-reading it from the beginning, slowly. I slipped it into my pocket, and took it home when I left the hospital. I hid it in my bedroom like it was a Penthouse® magazine. I’ve read it thousands of times over the years.

It was the book that would eventually lead me to believe that I was going to be a prophet someday.

* * * *

You can look it up online if you’re interested. You can even download a copy of it if you like, in PDF format. I have a copy on my Galaxy Tab S2®. And while I could probably wax philosophic about the contents of the book for hours, all I will say about it is this: it either contains the most sublime, simple truth about God and His Purpose ever written, or it’s the most convincing complicated lie about life and everything ever told. And to be sure, a very convincing lie has to contain at least some small measure of the truth

I’ve never been able to decide which of those two statements are correct.

Maybe they both are.

* * * *

I spent all day Sunday and Monday at the hospital, sitting with Jackie. She was surprised to see me there, and it wasn’t as if she had no one else to lean on during that time. Dozens, maybe hundreds of people dropped in to see her at the hospital and hold hands with her and cry.

On Monday evening, there was a change in Vern’s condition. He started having trouble breathing on his own. He was intubated. By Tuesday, he was no longer breathing on his own. Jackie decided to take her husband off of life support Tuesday evening, and Vern stopped breathing. He died on May 30th.

Little Known Footnote in History: both of my parents died in May. My mom in 2007, my dad in 2011.

Vern’s funeral was probably on Friday, maybe Saturday. I can’t remember when it was, I have no memory of even being there, but I know that I was. I remember how quiet it was in our house during that period of time, and our house was never quiet.

I remember sitting up in the living room with my dad after the funeral. It was late. Everyone else had gone to bed. We didn’t say much. We didn’t talk to each other much during that time, and that is all on me. But my dad finally spoke, and this is what he said,

“I can’t for the life of me figure out why this had to happen.”

“This might help.” I said, and I gave my dad the little black book I had taken from the ICU waiting room, and he read it. It would be just about the only thing we had in common for the next fifteen years or so.

* * * *

Rod took me along when he and his buddies went back to the park to pick up the motorcycles. They were still laying on the side of the road. The rock Vern hit with the brake pedal had a noticeable dent in it. Thirty feet away was another large rock in the road, this one covered with dried blood.

Rod attacked the bloody rock with tools and his hands, screaming and crying until he got it loose, then threw it as far as could down the side of the mountain, leaving a crater in the road. We drank a beer, and everyone said some words of farewell to Vern, then Rod gave me my 8 track tape back.

“I’m sorry, Mark. I can’t ever listen to it again.”

I left it on the side of the road.

I know the mangled motorcycles languished in Vern’s workshop for a very long time. I think Jackie finally made her son get rid of them, and he sold them to someone for parts. He never bought another motorcycle. And he traded his Mustang in on a four wheel drive pick up.

* * * *

Colleen married Rod in June of 1973. Maybe it was July. She was a beautiful bride, and Rod was happier than he had been in an year. I’m sure they loved each other, but as Colleen told me when her marriage was falling apart, “I just had to get out of the house. I couldn’t fucking take it anymore. I would’ve married the milkman if he had asked me. But I almost felt like I had to marry Rod, you know, especially after Vern died. Dad wasn’t the only one who felt responsible for Vern’s death. I did, too. It was my motorcycle!”

About ten years later, Jerry would be standing under a falling telephone pole, and I would learn the hard way that grief is the wrong reason to get involved with someone. Nancy and I stayed for maybe a year and a half before we called it quits. Colleen and Rod stayed married for maybe three years before they got divorced.

I think even Rod realized they had made a mistake. I talked to him a couple of times on the phone during that time, but I was fucked up on every drug on the planet, and I was drinking. My memories of this aren’t the best, but I have a vague, hazy, whisper of a memory of Rod saying that Colleen was just another toy in his collection. He didn’t value her for who and what she was, and he didn’t blame her for divorcing him.

* * * *

A lots of time has passed since Vern got killed to death, and a whole lots of stuff has happened since then. I have traveled a very long and winding road to get where I am, but my journey is not yet over. There may be a lots more twists and turns I’ll have to encounter before it ends. Life will do that to you in the blink of an eye.

I can’t say that I’ve spent much time thinking about this story. It’s a story that I’ve rarely told, if ever. Hell, until last week I had pretty much forgotten it even happened. But there is one issue that always rises to the surface whenever I think about it, and it popped into my head as I was writing this.

It’s probably why I’ve tried so hard to forget it.

My dad felt responsible for Vern’s death because he was a lousy motorcyclist, and Vern had gotten dead trying to help him. My sister felt responsible because our dad had crashed her motorcycle, and Vern had gotten dead trying to help our dad. Rod felt responsible because he had bought those goddamn motorcycles in the first place…

But I have my own what if in this story. What if God recycled Vern’s energy because He knew I would see that little black book in the ICU waiting room, and it was the only way He could think of to get it into my hands?

If that what if is true, then Vern’s death rests on my shoulders, and mine alone.

The Lord works in mysterious ways, does He not? I’ve always thought that was just another way of saying, isn’t that ironic? And yes, He does work in ironically mysterious ways. I don’t know anyone who believes in God that would argue against that statement.

And there’s this: what if I failed to achieve the qualities God requires of a prophet? What if I had my chance, and choked? What if I missed the critical free throws at the end of regulation, and I lost the game? If that is true, then Vern’s death was wasted, and God made an huge mistake, inflicting many people with unnecessary grief and loss for no good reason. And He should have recycled my energy long ago, rather than keeping my stupid ass alive when I was so determined to die young.

That’s a possibility, but it’s also possible that the time for me to assume that role is yet to come. The fact that I’m still alive and pondering this is enough to keep my hope alive that my delusional dream could still come true.

And finally, it’s possible that I misunderstood everything and my desire to be a prophet is nothing more than a delusion, as my lovely supermodel wife insists. And if that is true, then I have nothing do with any of this, and Vern died to death simply because he got careless when he was riding a motorcycle too fast for the terrain and road conditions. And I can go back to forgetting any of this shit ever happened.

Maybe The Horne was right about me when he nicknamed me Wrongway…

A lots of questions, not many answers.

There’s only one thing that’s clear to me. No matter how much I want this, I’m no prophet, and I know that to be the undisputed truth.

That’s one bit of truth I don’t have to do any seeking to find.

The Horne

I’ve been dreading this post for longer than I can say.

I’ve written about some of my military madness in previous posts, and I was hesitant to even mention The Horne, knowing if that door were opened, I’d end up walking through it eventually. Once it became clear to me I’d be writing about some of my Army buddies, I knew I’d be writing about this chapter in my life, too.

Like Sarah McLachlan said, for this is gonna hurt like hell.

My Muse for this tale is Melpomene.

* * * *

Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy. – F. Scott Fitzgerald

* * * *

Of all the people who would impact my life once I arrived at Fort Sill and settled into life at the Dental barracks, the most profound, for good or ill, was Mike Horne. Or simply, The Horne.

Mike was from Washington State, just outside of Seattle. He was a few years older than me, taller by a couple of inches, at least twenty pounds heavier. He was loud, brash, confident and in your face. He was essentially everything I wasn’t, and therefore, he was everything I decided I needed to be.

In previous posts, I’ve alluded to the fact that there were two camps in the barracks, and on the line of demarcation between them, stood The Horne. You either loved him or hated him. And being who he was, even the people who loved him hated him sometimes.

The Dons, Other Mike and Tommy all hated The Horne. All of them had almost come to blows with him, except Tommy, who probably could’ve killed all of us with one punch.

Fighting was strictly prohibited by the Army, and there were any number of punishments the Army could level upon anyone caught engaging in such behavior.

Additionally, the two Dons and Tommy were planning on becoming dentists after getting out of the Army. They even went to college classes while they were in the Army to further their goals. The last thing they needed was anything negatively impacting their military record. They mostly walked away from The Horne in disgust.

Randy and I were The Horne’s biggest fans. Roger tolerated him, but only because Roger was some kind of Zen Master or something.

“The Horne just wants to be a big fish, but he’s in a small pond.”

* * * *

To be honest, I can’t think of another way to describe my early relationship with Mike, other than I worshipped him. I don’t think I’d ever met anyone like him before. I was in awe of The Horne.

We hung out together. I started emulating him. We were going to rule the world together. Well, he was going to rule. I was going to be his trusty sidekick. And then, slowly, we started becoming rivals. I’m sure I didn’t notice that at first, but The Horne did, mostly because in his world, he had to better at everything than everybody.

* * * *

We were sitting in Roger’s room, thinking of lines of wisdom to add to Roger’s wall. I wanted to express my contempt for the military, so I grabbed a Sharpie® and wrote,

FTA

I wrote it low on the wall, in an obscure place where hardly anyone could see it.

“Ooh!” Mike said. “That was a chicken shit move.”

Feeling emboldened, Randy wrote,

FUCK THE ARMY

Eye level. In the middle of the wall. Then Mike approached the wall, and wrote,

Fuck the world and burn the babies

The next day, Mike and I went into town to a Target®. As we were walking in, a middle aged woman in a wheelchair came rolling out.

I stopped, pointed at her, and started laughing.

“Jesus Christ,” Mike whispered loud enough for me to hear. “I’ve created a fucking monster.”

* * * *

The first minor breach in our relationship was when I was promoted to Specialist Fourth Class. Mike had reached that rank before anyone else in the barracks, and you better believe he let everyone know it. I beat him by a week. Next, I could throw a Frisbee better than him. And I could draw. And paint.

Yeah, pretty big deals, huh? But to Mike, the struggle between us was real, and everything was a big deal. Everything became a contest, and I eventually started actively challenging his supreme authority. Especially when it came to drugs.

Did I mention there were a lots of drugs available back then? Well, there were. If Mike did three hits of speed, I did five. If Mike didn’t sleep for two days, I didn’t sleep for three. Or four.

They were a lots of stupid little things, but a lots of  stupid little things eventually add up to a big stupid thing…

* * * *

It was The Horne’s idea to become storm chasers. After all, Oklahoma is smack dab in the middle of Tornado Alley. We jumped into his car one stormy night with a some weed and a lots of beer and drove to the top of Mt Scott to watch the thunderstorms roll in.

That was pretty cool, but we didn’t see any tornadoes, and I wanted to see a tornado.

The next time we went out, we went in my car, and I headed for the countryside, looking for backroads in the rainy darkness. I got off of the highway and started zigzagging my way across the country down roads none of us had ever traveled before. And I got lost. Like, halfway to Dallas lost before anyone figured out where the hell we were.

The Horne gave me a new nickname, Wrongway.

I wasn’t going to let a little thing like getting lost stop me. I drove out to the country during the day so I could get the lay of the land until I was reasonably sure I knew where I was going, and what I was doing.

* * * *

A big storm front was rolling into Lawton from the west, so Randy, Roger, Mike and I snorted a lots of PCP and headed out in that direction, then I drove out among the backroads, looking for a tornado.

This trip went a whole lots better than the first, and we were feeling pretty damn excited. The radio was playing Riders on the Storm. A light rain was falling, but the sky was blacker than sin, and the atmosphere was ready to riot.

There wasn’t another car in sight. Actually, there wasn’t much of anything in sight, except a grove of trees that I could barely see in the twilight with my headlights, about a quarter mile down the road on the right.

Cool song, cold beer, weed and good friends with a good buzz.

“This is pretty cool, man.” Roger said.

And then the sky exploded.

A flash of intensely bright lightning ripped across the sky right above us. A blast of thunder so intense–it felt as if it erupted inside of my car–roared and rumbled and shook the very earth. Dozens of flashes of lightning appeared, as if the storm were trying to smite us. And then the rain came.

I had never seen anything like unto it before. It was like driving into Niagara Falls. Rain fell in buckets floating in barrels riding in a fucking river. It rained so hard my wipers couldn’t keep the windshield clear. And then the wind hit.

“Jaysus Christ!” Mike shouted.

“Hey, Mark, man. We should probably get out of here, you know what I mean.” Roger said.

As near as I could tell, there was only one place to go, except I couldn’t see where the grove of trees had disappeared to, and then I saw them.

Barbwire fences ran along both sides of the road, but there was a road that led into the grove, like it was sort of a rural wayside rest area or something. I saw the road, and turned into the grove.

“What the hell are you doing? Trying to get us killed?” Mike shouted. “This is the worst place you can go in a storm!”

“Not tonight.” I replied, and pulled as close to the trees on my right as I could, then put the car in Park and turned off the engine and the headlights.

Hailstones the size of cherries and golf balls fell like rain, occasionally breaking through the trees to bounce loudly, but harmlessly, off my car.

The storm raged, and I mean raged for fifteen minutes, maybe a little longer. Everything in the world had been reduced to lightning, thunder, wind, rain and hail–and then it was gone.

“Goddamn! That was fuckin’ bitchin’, man!” Randy said, laughing. We all laughed in relief.

“I thought we were going to die, honest to God!” Mike said. “What in the hell were you thinking, parking under twenty fucking trees? What if one of them had fallen on us?”

“I had to do it” I said. “That storm was trying to kill us, the only way I could save us was hiding from it so it couldn’t see us anymore.”

“Yeah, I get it.” Roger said. “That did seem kind of… personal…didn’t it?”

“Yeah, it kinda did.” Mike said, actually agreeing with someone for once, but it was Roger. “And its anger seemed to disperse a bit once we got under the trees…”

“And you fuckers think I’m cosmic.” Randy said.

* * * *

Tornado season was drawing to a close. We had mostly driven to the top of Mt Scott to watch the panorama unfold after the Storm of Murderous Intent.

The Horne said we had gotten lucky, and he didn’t feel like tempting fate again with someone who was was as hell-bent on killing themselves as I clearly was. I didn’t argue that point. I couldn’t.

The weather report said there was a storm front moving in, a big one. I decided it was time to tempt fate once more. I had done a lots of scouting on backroads with Randy or Roger.

I would do a lots of ‘scouting’ with Katie once I started casually dating her. She loved driving down the backroads. And that grove of trees we had hidden in to hide from the storm became our favorite best place to park.

We headed south, into the wilderness and the night. It was raining hard, so that wasn’t going to catch us by surprise this time. The gravel road we were on was mostly straight. Farm fields flanked either side of the road. Thunder and lightning were flaring and grumbling all around us.

We decided not to do any PCP this time, sticking to weed and beer, which we were smoking and drinking as we drove through the countryside.

“Pretty cool storm, man.” Roger said.

“They’re easier to see from Mt Scott.” Mike said. “And safer.”

“Hey, it’s just a little storm, man.” Roger said.

“At least this one’s not trying to kill us!” Randy said.

It was at that precise moment that the field to our right kind of exploded. Wind swirled, the cornstalks started bobbing and bowing and bending and weaving like they were having a group seizure or something.

“What the fuck is that?!?” Randy screamed.

“Um, I think that’s a fuckin’ tornado, man.” Roger said, peering out into the darkness.

“Sonuvafuckingbitch! Why the hell did I do this again! Move it, Rowen! And whatever you do, don’t turn right!!”

I sped up to get away from whatever it was that was tearing up the cornfield. At the time, I was mostly pissed that I couldn’t see what it was. After all, that was the reason why we were doing this in the first place.

“Faster! Faster!” Mike and Randy kept shouting, and I did my best to comply without getting us all killed. I think I was going about sixty-five. I was afraid to go much faster. What if there was

A fucking T in the road!!!

Yeah. That road came to an abrupt halt. The road it connected to went to the right, but whatever I did I wasn’t going to turn right. It also turned to the left, but I doubted I’d make the corner, given my speed and the amount of time I had to react.

I decided there was only one way to go.

“Hold on!” I shouted.

We flew through the intersection, just missing a telephone pole by six inches to the right. We smashed through a wooden fence, just missing the posts in the ground, coming to a swift stop in a field of weeds and wildflowers.

And the bogeyman wind that had been tearing up the field to our right.. vanished.

“Hey, are you all right, man?” Roger said. “Is everyone okay?”

“No. I spilled my beer.” I said.

* * * *

My car sustained no discernible damage. We were even able to drive it back onto the road. But that was the last time we ever went searching for tornadoes in the night.

I had reached an uneasy truce with Life. I was depressed beyond a doubt. I’m going to describe myself as passively suicidal. I would never try to slash my wrist again, but the risk taking behavior I was exhibiting could hardly be called playing it safe.

And then just to prove I wasn’t afraid to gamble, The Horne and I decided to move out of the barracks together.

* * * *

It was around this moment in time that my van would break down and I would eventually end up being court-martialed for Willful Dereliction of Duty.

I can’t believe that I was the first person ever to be court-martialed by my company, but no one there at the time could remember the last time someone had been court-martialed.

Even if I was the first in recent memory, I wouldn’t be the last, and Second Lieutenant Steffler would have to lose to more courts-martial before he would earn his silver bar and become a First Lieutenant.

Raoul had talked to me about being his roommate after God knows how many times he had moved out of the house he shared with his fucking Goddess wife. I suggested Mike join us. More roommates, fewer expenses…

Raoul wasn’t too wild about the idea, but I found a three bedroom house for rent that wasn’t a dump for $300/month. We packed our stuff and moved in. I’m going say that lasted a month, but it might have been less than that.

Raoul fucking hated The Horne, and decided living with his crazy nymphomaniac wife would be easier than trying to live with Mike. He moved out, and back in with the beautiful and talented Nadina.

* * * *

It was around this time that Roger got out of the Army, and that was one big reason I wanted to be anywhere but there. It took me awhile to realize Roger had been teaching me everything he could, and once he was gone I realized how much more I had to learn.

I wasn’t ready to do this on my own, and I really missed my very wise and wonderful teacher.

After Raoul moved out the house, The Horne felt, for lack of a better word, violated, and didn’t want to live in a place where his general greatness had been held in such low esteem. He wanted to move to a place that had been unsullied by Raoul’s presence.

I know. We were all so adult back then…

As luck would have it, Joe Parnell, the guy who accidentally gave me an in-service on how to successfully slit my wrist, had a trailer house.

The trailer was in a little town called Geronimo, about ten miles south of Lawton. Joe, his wife, and three boys had lived in the trailer, but had recently moved into a bigger house, and Joe’s trailer was available for something like $200/month.

So, we moved to Geronimo. The Horne and I were still friends despite Mike’s increasing paranoia about me, and the ever-increasing rivalry and competition between us.

By this time, even I was aware of it, but I had decided to try to do one of those Zen Master Roger things, and simply abide, man. We were still going to rule the world, but my role as trusty sidekick was no longer etched in stone.

I didn’t really think that much about it, but I would eventually learn it was just about the only thing The Horne could focus on. When we moved out to the trailer, Mike decided it was time to reestablish his place in the hierarchy. And I decided not to make any waves. After all, it was a really small pond…

* * * *

Right next to our trailer was another trailer. Living in that trailer were, I don’t know, twenty people. They were the Joneses, and we they were Joe Parnell’s cousins from Arkansas.

The two oldest brothers were Harold and Charlie. Their nicknames were Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie. And they had earned those names.

They were probably about my age. Both of them had been dishonorably discharged from the Army for a list of infractions two miles long. I been introduced to the boys relatively early during my time at Fort Sill. Roger and Joe were good friends, and he took me out to meet Joe and his family within the first three months of my arrival. I had partied with Joe and his weird/crazy cousins several times. They sold good weed, so they were all right by me.

Also living in the trailer was a sweet young girl, Cindy. I hadn’t met her before. She was Harold and Charlie’s cousin. She was pretty, petite, and blonde. Cindy was barely eighteen, but she had packed a lots of living into those years, and her life story was something that left me in a stunned silence. She took a liking to me. And I took a liking to her.

I can’t remember what happened, but Cindy came over to our trailer one day, crying. She said she couldn’t live with her cousins anymore, and was moving back to Arkansas.

“We have plenty of room here. Why don’t you move in with us?” I suggested.

“Really? You’d let me do that?” Cindy asked, breaking into a smile. She looked expectantly at me, then at Mike.

“So, you two want to live together, in my house. He’s gonna be getting laid every night, and I’m gonna be in my room with my dick in my hand. I don’t think I like this setup.”

“Well, I could sleep with you, too.” Cindy offered, then looked back at me.

“Sounds like a marriage made in Heaven to me.” I said.

* * * *

You’re boned like a saint…  With consciousness of a snake — Blue Öyster Cult, The Revenge of Vera Gemini

* * * *

I never sank to the level of Dave Lovelace, probably, but after Diane disappeared, I dated Crystal, then Katie, and Theresa. Casual sex was something I was more than a little acquainted with. And when it came to being able to deal with the interweavings of a potentially complicated relationship like that, I was light-years ahead of The Horne.

I was no longer a naive kid from Montana. I wasn’t sure what I was anymore, but naive was no longer part of the package.

My decision to have Cindy move in with us had nothing to do with Cindy. This was all about who was going to rule the world. Me. Or Mike. And I already knew who was going to win this pissing contest between us.

* * * *

Mike and I drove to work every morning to work. Cindy stayed at home and cleaned the trailer, read some of my books, and cooked. We would watch TV and chat in the evening. At night, Cindy slept with either me or Mike.

On the nights she slept with Mike, I slept. On the nights she was with me, neither of us slept. And neither did Mike. It wasn’t because we made too much noise, or anything like that. Our bedrooms were on opposite ends of the trailer, so noise was never an issue.

The issue was Cindy was falling in love me, even though I told her that was the one thing she couldn’t do. I’m guessing having multiple spouses is like having kids, you can’t have a favorite. But even a blind man could see Cindy favored me, and Mike was jealous. Our arrangement with Cindy lasted two weeks, tops.

Mike kicked her out of the trailer, and she went back to Arkansas. I didn’t even care. I had won that battle, and it was an overwhelming defeat for Mike. I would never be his loyal sidekick again. He had forfeited his right to rule the world.

* * * *

The weekend after Cindy left, I bought ten hits of LSD. I got them from Crazy Charlie, and gave him two hits, one for him, one for Weird Harold. I offered some to Mike. He took two. I took three.

The world didn’t turn Technicolor® that afternoon. It turned weird. I had hallucinations like unto nothing I’d ever experienced before.

For starters, I was really tall, like, twenty feet tall, but only when I walked through a doorway. I didn’t become a giant, I had Daddy Longlegs legs. I had to walk like I was plowing through a deep snowdrift, and I had to duck so I wouldn’t hit my head, which looked totally ridiculous.

“What are you doing, man?” Crazy Charlie asked.

“I don’t want to hit my head.” I replied.

“Man, you must be really trippin’!”

We went outside to play Frisbee, and the first time I tried to catch a disc, all of the fingers on my left hand fell to the ground. Weird Harold came over to help me find my fingers, but there they were, back on my hand! ✋

Playing Frisbee without any fingers isn’t easy. Don’t believe me? Try it sometime. The grass turned multicolored, and…plastic. I dropped to the ground to look for my fingers again, and little faces appeared on the blades of grass.

“Get off! Go away!” the grass said. “We don’t like it!”

I couldn’t get off the grass fast enough. We went back inside to listen to some tunes and kick back. Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie turned into clowns, then jesters, then ballerinas. I couldn’t stop laughing.

Then I looked at The Horne.

He was sitting across from me in the living room. At first, he appeared regal, like unto a king with a crown, sitting on a splendid throne. I stopped laughing, and almost felt like bowing to him.

But then he changed. The crown disappeared, he no longer appeared regal. His form melted and shifted, and changed. He morphed into something like unto Gollum, then into a little boy, then into something else.

And I saw The Horne for exactly who and what he really was.

“I hate your fuckin’ guts.” I said to the man I had once worshipped.

“Whoa, look at the time!” Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie said, and pretty much ran out the door.

“You want to do this now?” Mike said.

“No, I wanted to do it a month ago, but now will do.” I replied. Mike started to reply, but I cut him off. “You tried to turn me into your puppet!”

“No, you don’t get to hang that shit on me. You wanted to be my puppet!”

“Well, I don’t anymore! You’re my puppet!” I shouted, and I pantomimed the movements of a puppeteer, making the puppet I saw in front of me jump and turn.

“Man, you are totally fucking gone, aren’t you.” Mike said. “Hey,” he said softly. “Mark, you’re on acid, man. Nothing you’re seeing right now is real!” It was almost a plea.

Shut up! I am not gone! I’m here! Maybe for the first time in my life! But you!” I looked around the room, almost frantically, and picked up a sword I saw on the table, and brandished it with a flourish. “You! Get the fuck out of my house!”

The next morning I would see the sword I had threatened Mike with was a flyswatter.

“Okay, Prince Valiant, you win. Just let me grab a few things.” He grabbed his bag of weed, a pack of cigarettes, a few beers out of the fridge, and left.

Todd Rundgren was playing on the stereo. As Mike walked out the door, Todd sang, Tell them Groucho said, you’re just another onionhead…  But I didn’t know if Todd was talking to Mike, or me.

I heard Mike’s car start, heard his tires squeal as he drove off. I had defeated the Dark Lord, and claimed my castle.

But the war–the war, was just beginning.

* * * *

It was probably about 9:00 PM when I heard the planes. I looked out the front door. The night sky was filled with hundreds of airplanes. Their wings were marked with the red hammer and sickle emblem of the USSR.

Out of the low flying planes, thousands of paratroopers were floating to the ground, shooting their rifles as they slowly descended upon the sleepy town of Geronimo, OK.

If I had been a pysch nurse with highly trained powers of observation and advanced critical thinking, I would have noticed that although the sky was filled with enemy soldiers, there weren’t any soldiers on the ground.

But I wasn’t a nurse, and even though Mike had told me I was tripping on acid, and nothing I was seeing was real, I forgot all about that and did the only thing a soldier in my position could do.

I had to warn everybody.

The words came to me from The Return of the King.

Awake!  Awake!  Fear, Fire, Foes!  Awake!  Fire, Foes!  Awake!

I ran down the street, yelling at the top of my lungs. I turned the corner, and kept yelling. What I really needed, I decided, was a horse. But I didn’t know if there were any horses in town, and if there were, I had no idea where to find one.

That’s when I remembered I had a car.

I ran back to my trailer, and grabbed my keys. Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie met me as ran to my car, screaming all the way.

“Hey! Mark! What the fuck’s happening, man! Have you lost your goddamn mind?”

“The Russians are attacking! Look!” I pointed to the sky. Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie looked up, then looked at each other and shrugged. “We gotta warn everybody, man!” I screamed.

“Hey! We gotta warn everybody, man!” Weird Harold said to his brother.

“Yeah! We gotta warn everybody, man!” Crazy Charlie agreed. We jumped in my car and rolled down the windows, all of us screaming,

“The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!! Grab your gear! Grab your M-16!! The Russians are coming!”

I’m not sure how long we drove around the very small town of Geronimo, honking the horn and shouting, but it didn’t take long before everyone in town was standing in the streets, scratching their heads and looking around in wonder. Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie yelled their heads off, then finally looked at each other and said, “Okay, man. That was fun. Now what?”

That’s when I remembered I was tripping on acid, man.

The Russian planes disappeared. The paratroopers vanished. And I felt like a goddamn idiot. I pulled into my driveway and went into the trailer without a word.

* * * *

I have no idea how long the residents of Geronimo talked about me. The Russian Invasion of 1976 was certainly the most exciting thing that had ever happened there, and it probably still would be, if not for one very real, very tragic event.

On December 14, 1984, shortly after 1:00 PM, Jay Wesley Neill entered the First Bank of Chattanooga in Geronimo, and forced three tellers to the back room. He had them lie face down on the floor, and stabbed them to death. The three employees, Kay Bruno, 42; Jerri Bowles, 19; Joyce Mullenix, 25: were stabbed a total of 75 times. Mullenix was six months pregnant.

After that very real tragedy, I’m sure the residents of Geronimo forgot all about me, forever.

* * * *

When I crawled out of the bathtub Sunday morning, I discovered Mike had not returned. I had spent the night in the bathtub, venturing out only to change albums on the stereo, then returned to the tub.

Please don’t ask me to try to explain my rationale for doing that.

I had finally stopped hallucinating. The post-acid trip jingle-jangly feeling in my nerves was still present in body, making every movement I made sort of an adventure.

I remembered everything that had happened the day before, and I was shocked to the core of what was left of my soul by what I had done.

I flushed the remaining hits of acid I had down the toilet, packed everything I owned into my car, and moved back into my room at the barracks.

I’ve never been back to Geronimo.

* * * *

I can’t remember how or when I heard The Horne had been arrested. I can’t remember how that happened, but when he was taken to the cop shop, he had to empty his pockets, and that’s when the cops busted him for possession of marijuana.

Mike moved back into the barracks, too. He moved into Roger’s old room. I think he had Randy help him move all of his stuff out of the trailer and into the barracks.

I became part of the group that avoided The Horne as if he were the Plague, and that’s what he had become to me. The Dons, Other Mike and Tommy welcomed me to the club of Horne Haters.

And that would probably be the end of this story if not for one thing. I was done with The Horne, but he wasn’t done with me.

* * * *

There came a Friday night when we were all at the barracks. Raoul was there. Nadina had kicked him out of the house for the last time after he had an affair with my girlfriend, and Nadina had an affair with The Mystery Man. We were getting drunk in my room, listening to Santana. Black Magic Woman.

My door was open, and The Horne appeared in my doorway. He was also drunk. Randy stood behind him in the hall.

“I can’t believe you didn’t do anything the night I got arrested. I can’t believe you didn’t try to find out if I was dead or alive or anything. You’re a real piece of shit.”

“You just don’t get it, do you.” I replied. “I didn’t care what happened to you. I still don’t.”

Mike rushed into my room. Randy and Raoul tried to stop him. I stood up, and glared at him.

“Let’s finish this, bitch.” I said, taking off my glasses, and stepped into the hallway.

* * * *

Raoul was the ranking NCO in the barracks, and according to Army protocol, he had to do something, so he started yelling for everyone to take a deep breath and get our heads out of our asses. That brought the Horne Haters Club out into the hall, and they started adding their eight cents to the kitty.

“Kick his ass, Radar!” the two Dons yelled. Other Mike and Tommy joined in, and Raoul quickly found himself in a situation out of his control, so he jumped between Mike and I and set down the ground rules.

“Are you two serious about doing this? Walk away, now!” Mike and I shook our heads and told him to get the hell out of our way. “Okay! The rest of you, y’all didn’t see a goddamn thing! You got that? Okay! Either one of you throw any punches to the mouth, I stop this!”

As weird as that might sound, we were in the Dental Detachment, and teeth were our primary focus. Mike had had a buttload of work done on his mouth, and I had braces on. One wrong punch and we both might lose all our teeth.

“Are you done, Pedro?” The Horne sneered at Raoul. He grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me in the eye and whispered, “Kick his fuckin’ ass, amigo.”

* * * *

I would love to be able to say that’s what I did. I did land a couple of good punches, and Mike would end up with a huge honker of a black eye, but I was no match for The Horne in hand to hand combat. He beat the crap out me, and threw me to the floor.

“Get up, pussy!” he screamed. I did. We scrapped some more, and I ended up on the floor again. “Had enough, bitch?” he said, breathing heavily. I got up. And was thrown halfway down the hallway.

“Stay down, man!” everyone said. I got up, and stumbled back toward Mike. We rained body punches on each other until I missed and fell once more.

“Stay down, man! Mike! Walk away, man! You won!” the barracks bums pleaded. I got up again, and turned to face The Horne.

“Haven’t you had enough yet, puppet?” he gasped. We took turns punching each other as hard as we could, and I went down yet another time after Mike kicked me in the balls.

I thought I might puke as I lay on floor, my crotch felt like a grenade had exploded in my dick. But I forced myself to get up again.

“That’s it! That’s enough!!” Raoul yelled. Everybody jumped in between us. I could barely stand. The Horne looked like he might fall over.

“Hey, sorry about that kick, man.” he panted. “I didn’t mean to do that.”

“You kick, like a fuckin’ girl.” I panted in response. Randy and the two Dons started escorting The Horne down the hallway. Tommy and Raoul were helping me stand up. I couldn’t do it on my own. “A fuckin’ girl!” I shouted at The Horne’s back. “You didn’t beat me, you hear? I’m still standing, bitch!”

* * * *

My memories of this time in my life are like unto a collapsed tower of Jenga® pieces. It’s pretty much a chaotic pile, begging to be put into some sort of order.

I had been beaten to a pulp, and kicked in the balls. I was bruised and battered from head to foot. I know I called Roger and told him about my titanic battle with The Horne. He wasn’t surprised, but he had no words of wisdom for me.

“Make peace with him,” Roger advised me. “And with yourself.”

* * * *

My clearest memory of this time is the mass departures that occurred. The two Dons and Other Mike left within days of each other. The Horne hit the road for Washington shortly afterwards. We avoided each other at all costs until he left.

I thought I was forever rid of him, but maybe three months after he left, he called me in the middle of the night. We talked for a long time.

“You’re the only person I’ve never been able to figure out.” he said. “You were such a…chameleon…  You were one thing one day, and something completely different the next. And I couldn’t keep up with you. None of us could.

“You were quicksilver, moving at the speed of light. You were fucking nobody, and then you were legendary, just like that. You were the one thing I needed to be, but you were too fucked up on every drug on the planet to see what you had become.

“In the entire history of the Dental barracks, no one changed as much you did. The rest of us basically stayed whatever we were before we got there, but you were different, man. You changed more than all the rest of us combined. I wish I could say I had the privilege of seeing it, but even now I can’t tell if the change was for the better or the worse…

“There was this weird rivalry between us. I’ve always needed to feel better than everybody else, even if I knew it wasn’t true. But you, you fuckin’ kicked my ass at everything, without even breaking a sweat!

“I was so fucking jealous of you–especially with Cindy. She would sit at your feet, looking up at you with those puppy dog eyes, and you acted like you didn’t even know she was in the room! I didn’t know if you were really that cool, or really that cruel. I still don’t. You’re like the fuckin’ Sphinx, man.”

I was glad we were finally able to talk about some of the weird dynamics of our relationship, and I was really glad we were a thousand miles apart when it happened. I agreed with the weird rivalry assessment.

“If I had had a better idea of who I was, probably none of that would’ve happened, but I didn’t just want to be like you, I wanted to be you. At one point in time, if I could’ve possessed you, I would’ve done it. I loved you, man, but I fuckin’ hated you, too.”

“Sounds like every relationship I’ve ever been in, man.” Mike said.  “I love you with all my heart too, and I hate you with all my guts. By the way, I think you broke my nose.” he laughed.

“Good,” I replied, laughing. “I broke my hand breaking your nose.” He laughed at that, too.

“Hey, I talked to the Cosmic Kid the other day. He thinks you’re a fucking god or something.”

“Why is that?” I asked, not really caring what the reason was. It was good to hear from my friend, and it was good that we could still be friends.

“I think it has something to do with all those strippers you were dating. He was pretty impressed with some chick you were banging, but he wouldn’t tell me her name.”

I had brought Crystal and Katie back to the barracks a couple of times. It could’ve been either of them, I guessed. Randy had been quite impressed with Crystal…

* * * *

And that, finally, is the end of my trilogy about my closest Army buds, and I think I can close this chapter, for awhile at the very least. My Muses seem content, and their voices are fading…

But before they left, they whispered stories in my ears, and they’ll return again someday. I know Melpomene will be the first to show up again.

I had completely forgotten about that tragic tale…