A Dark and Stormy Night

I had recently arrived at Fort Sill. It was January of 1975. I was getting to know the guys in the barracks, and what I was supposed to do as a serviceman in the US Army. Things were going well enough, I think.

I can’t remember what the occasion was for sure, I think someone was being discharged. I can’t remember the exact date, maybe late January, but there was a big party at one of the dentist’s houses. I didn’t know the doctor, but I somehow got invited to the celebration. I’m going to guess the party was planned for a Friday or Saturday night

As you have deduced from the title, it was raining that night. It wasn’t raining terribly hard, but it was steady, and it was January. It was a cold rain.

It was also the 1970’s. When we got all dressed up for the party, me and my new buddies were adorned in flowered shirts with exaggerated collars, plaid bell bottomed pants and platform shoes. We looked like we were going to a pimp convention.

I can’t remember how far we drove off base, but it was a ways. The party was okay, I guess. There were a lots of snacks and beer and other types of liquor.

Other than the guys at the barracks that I journeyed to the party with, I didn’t know anyone at the party, and I didn’t know any of the guys at the barracks very well. I mingled, I chatted, but mostly I drank. And I got drunk.

And then I started missing my girlfriend. Her name was Maureen, and she was my high school sweetheart. I had seen her twice since I had enlisted.

The first time was after I had completed Basic Training at Fort Ord, CA. The second time was after I had completed Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston, TX.

I was totally in love with Maureen, and not being with her totally depressed me. I suddenly hated everyone at the party because none of them were Maureen. I grabbed my coat and stepped outside in the rain to get some fresh air.

Remember the movie Forrest Gump? Jenny had just visited, then disappeared. And for no particular reason, Forrest suddenly felt like running. That’s pretty much what happened to me, except I felt like walking back to the barracks, which was probably ten or fifteen miles away, easily.

No problem. I was young. I was in the best shape I had ever been in, and I was used to marching almost everywhere. So what if it was dark, I’d be able to see headlights easier. So what if it was raining. And cold. It’d clear my head, and my head needed clearing. I somehow figured out which direction Fort Sill was, and headed out.

Well, the rain and the cold didn’t do much to clear my head, even when the rain started pouring out of the sky. I started jogging, in platform dress shoes. And then I walked. I alternated between walking briskly and jogging, and I actually made pretty good time. If I wasn’t back on base after three hours, I was close. Once I got back on base, I’d be at the barracks in probably twenty or thirty minutes.

I’m pretty sure I had to enter the base through one of the two main gates, but I honestly don’t remember anything about this. I told you the rain and cold didn’t do anything to clear my head. But I do remember marching across the golf course, and that was good. The golf course was right by the hospital, and the hospital was maybe a mile from my barracks. I was almost there.

And then I encountered the drainage ditch.

For those of you that have never lived in Oklahoma, gentle rainfall is the exception, not the rule. Oklahoma is subject to monster thunderstorms–the sky opens up, and it rains like a bastard. The golf course at Fort Sill had been designed with a plan to move all that water, and by the time I approached the ditch, it looked like a raging river. I had no idea how deep the ditch was, but the water flowing in it was racing by at about two hundred miles an hour.

I looked around for a bridge or something, but couldn’t see one. Drops of water dripped off my glasses. I could hardly see my hand in front of my face. And now it was truly dark. There was no lighting on the golf course.

I stood on the bank of the ditch, trying to figure out how I was going to cross it. It wasn’t terribly wide, maybe five or six feet at the most. And that’s when I decided I could jump the ditch.

Probably.

I backed up about ten feet. I was going to sprint like a cheetah, and fly like an eagle over the racing water. I made my first step, and fell flat on my face.

Those platform shoes might’ve been great on the dance floor, but they were hell on a wet golf course. They provided no traction, and what I needed to cross this obstacle was speed.

I got up, and backed up, maybe fifty feet. I could gradually increase my speed that way, I figured, and when I reached the bank I’d hit be running as fast as I could, and jumping across the ditch would be a piece of cake.

Well, the first part of my plan worked perfectly. I gradually picked up speed, and then I was running like the wind. What I hadn’t considered was how waterlogged the ground was. When I planted my right foot to launch myself across the ditch, the bank crumbled under the pressure, and instead of flying over the water, I fell in it. Face first.

I’m not a strong swimmer. In fact, I can’t swim. Period. When you consider this factor into my decision, you can see how little walking and running in the rain had done to clear my head. And that goddamn ditch was deep. My feet couldn’t touch the bottom, and I was literally in way over my head. The current grabbed me, and away I went.

The current carried me swiftly. I was smart enough to not fight against the flow, but I probably drank my way across the stream as opposed to swimming, and I managed to reach the other side. I flung my arm over the bank, and grabbed something solid. And I did not let go. I’m not sure how far the current carried me, but it was probably the length of a football field.

Coughing, sputtering and retching, I hauled myself out of the water. I didn’t think I could get any wetter than I already was, but I was wrong. My coat was waterlogged, and it felt like it weighed about half a ton. I really couldn’t see my hand in front of my face now. I lost my glasses when I fell in the water. I tried to stand, and fell on my face once more.

My right ankle was screaming in pain.

This isn’t good, I thought. On the bright side, my head was finally starting to clear. I tried standing again, and crumpled to the ground in pain once more. Well, if I can’t walk, I’ll crawl, I thought.

That lasted maybe fifty feet. There was no way I could crawl all the way to my barracks. There was nothing else to do. I had to walk.

On the bright side, I was really drunk, so I was pretty well anesthetized against the pain, which was considerable. I had to limp along at a much slower pace. Jogging was totally out of the question. I eventually limped past the Emergency Entrance of the hospital, a place I’d be visiting soon, and probably an hour later or so, I limped into the barracks, where all my new buddies were anxiously waiting for me. It was probably 2:00 AM, maybe 3:00 AM. I had been missing for close to four, maybe five hours.

“Where the fuck have you been?  — We’ve been worried sick about you! — What the hell happened to you??”

I looked like I had drowned to death. Twice. I had a superficial cut on my face about two inches long that I sustained wrestling a river. And my right ankle was swollen to roughly the size of a monster grapefruit.

I offered up my senseless explanation, and told the guys about trying to jump the ditch on the golf course. My new buddies immediately drove me to the Emergency Room for treatment.

The ER doctor didn’t see the greenstick fracture of my right ankle, probably because of the swelling. He could see the soft tissue damage, and figured I had a really bad sprain.

I ran into Dan Franklin at the hospital a couple days later by accident. He saw me barely limping down the hallway and took a look at my ankle. He x-rayed my ankle a second time and saw the faint fracture, and made a splint that I wore for a couple weeks or so, and that’s how we became friends.

And I became a legend. My new buddies told my tale to everyone they knew, and pretty soon it seemed the whole base had heard about me. The FNG that walked halfway across Oklahoma in the pouring rain and swam a raging river with a broken ankle. All because he missed his girlfriend.

Well, there’s another story of my stupidity out of the way. Only another five thousand to go…

A Rose By Any Other Name

I first met Rose when I started working at MIHS, Maricopa Integrated Healthcare Services, otherwise known as the County. Maricopa Medical Center was the ancient hospital that was its primary treatment facility. And by ancient I mean it was built in the 1970’s. There’s not a lots of historical places in Phoenix.

MIHS also provided psychiatric care, and they had two facilities for that. The first was the Psych Annex. That’s where I worked. It was a nondescript two story building behind the medical center. The second was Desert Vista, a much newer, incredibly secure building in Mesa. It’s the place you’ll end up at if there’s ever a petition for court ordered examination/treatment filed against you.

I’m sure I’ve suppressed some of the memories I have of working there, mostly because I hated the management there so much. I really liked the people I worked with, and the patients I cared for weren’t terribly different than the patients I’d taken care of at the MVAMC.

I left the MVAMC in October of 2007, and started working for MIHS in November. And that’s when I met Rose.

What do you think of when you think of a rose? A beautiful, fragrant flower, right?

Yeah, that wasn’t Rose.

She was loud, intrusive, disruptive and did I mention loud? She was rude and undisciplined. Her hygiene was crude, her manners were random and unpredictable. And watching her eat could ruin your appetite for a few days. On top of that, she was also one of the most profoundly psychotic persons I’ve ever met. I can’t imagine what happened to her to transform her into the person she became.

Rose was possibly cute at one time, but those days were long gone by the time we crossed paths. She always looked disheveled, even after she had just showered. She had no fashion taste. Her outfits could cause seizures. Even if you were blind.

But the most distinctive thing about Rose was her voice. It was harsh, discordant and gravelly. Clint Eastwood sounded almost gay compared to Rose. And after listening to Rose for eight hours, even someone speaking into a megaphone sounded like they were whispering.

Rose could easily be described as a problem patient. She needed a lots of redirection. And there was no such thing as telling Rose something once. It was constant. And exhausting.

“Hey, Rose! Turn down the volume over there, okay!”

“YES, SIR!” I have no idea why, but Rose always called me Sir. She called other staff members by name, but not me. “I’M GONNA TURN DOWN THE VOLUME, ISN’T THAT RIGHT, JEFFREY?” Rose was constantly talking to Jeffrey MacDonald. You might remember him. He was the guy accused of murdering his pregnant wife and two daughters. He was apparently Rose’s imaginary best friend. “YOU HEARD WHAT MISTER SIR SAID! TURN DOWN THE VOLUME OVER THERE, ROSE. WHAT ABOUT YOU, JOHANNES? He was one of the BHT’s at the Psych Annex. DO YOU THINK ROSE NEEDS TO TURN THE VOLUME DOWN? I KNOW JEFFREY THINKS I NEED TO TURN IT DOWN, RIGHT JEFFREY? THATS FUCKING RIGHT!”

And she swore more better gooder than two Portuguese sailors. I purposely deleted about seventeen swear words from Rose’s dialogue. Anyone that knows me knows I don’t have any problem swearing, but even I was shocked by the amount of profanity Rose unleashed in casual conversation. And when she got upset, it was like getting hit by a fucking tsunami.

Rose was rarely violent, but she tended to provoke it in others. I think she wore on the nerves of everyone around her until they just couldn’t take it anymore. And most of the people on the same unit as Rose weren’t all that tightly wrapped either. She made more than one person lose it, and half of them were people I worked with.

I spent a lots of time with Rose. I may have even begged her to quiet down, I’m not sure anymore, but it’s not out of the question.

Rose was at the Psych Annex when I started working there. I’m pretty sure she was still there when I quit six months later. Rose was one of those people no one wanted within fifty feet of their facility, let alone inside it.

I worked Gero/Psych and did a stint in management at Banner Del E Webb for a few years, then moved on to St Luke’s Behavioral Health–straight psych–I was back in familiar territory. I hadn’t been there long, maybe a couple months, when I did something stupid. I started wondering what had happened to Rose.

There’s a rule when you work in Psychiatry: you never, ever mention the name of a discharged patient. You know, I wonder how So and so is doing? If you do, the person you invoked will invariably get admitted. The only way you’re safe doing this is if the person got dead, except if they had gotten dead, you wouldn’t have to wonder how they were doing…  For chronically frequent flying psych patients, the only way you can totally get rid of them is death. I know that sounds terribly callous, but it’s also true. You can ask around, if you so desire.

I never said Rose’s name aloud, not even to myself or any of my imaginary friends, nor to any of my co-workers–none of the people I worked with at St Luke’s knew Rose.

But they would.

Never underestimate the craftiness of a psych patient, especially the really crazy ones. They are spooky beyond belief. And like any other organism, they evolve. When I first started working as a psych nurse, a name had to be spoken out loud. By the time I was getting ready to retire, a simple thought would suffice.

I was walking into work at St Luke’s from the parking lot one day, and I ran into someone from the day shift.

“How was your day?” I asked. What happened on the day shift rarely had anything to do with how the evening shift would go, but it was always nice to ask.

“Oh. My. God. Turn around and leave now! We got a new admit today, wait until you meet Rose!”

I stopped in my tracks, and slowly turned toward my co-worker. I briefly described the Rose I knew, knowing there could be only one Rose that could effect that kind of reaction.

“Oh. I see you already know her.”

Yep. That was my Rose.

AP 5 was my home unit at St Luke’s. It was the court ordered unit. You didn’t have to be court ordered to be admitted to my unit, but if you were court ordered, it was the only unit you could be admitted to.

Rose was permanently court ordered. She was usually admitted to the Psych Annex, or Desert Vista. But the staff at those facilities were burned out by Rose. She was sent to St Luke’s purely out of desperation.

AP 5 was a chaotic place. It was two large dayrooms with the nursing station in-between. The patient rooms were dotted around the perimeter of the dayrooms. The unit was a giant echo chamber, it was concrete and linoleum. The other units had artwork. Some of them had carpeting. AP 5 was like the basement where your family locked up your crazy aunt, and no one ever talked about it. There was no no artwork, nothing for noise abatement. It was almost as loud as the artillery firing range at Fort Sill, way back when I was in the Army.

Added to the abnormally normal pandemonium, was Rose.

“WELL, HELLO, SIR! HOW ARE YOU! I HAVEN’T SEEN YOU IN THREE AND A HALF YEARS!”

I had to stop and think about it, but she was correct, almost to the day.

“Hi Rose. Say, could you do me a favor, and turn down the volume a few hundred decibels.”

“TURN DOWN THE VOLUME! YES, SIR! WHAT DID I TELL YOU, JEFFREY! MISTER SIR STILL WANTS ME TO TURN DOWN THE MOTHERFUCKIN’ VOLUME! YES, SIR! I’LL TURN THE MOTHERFUCKIN’ VOLUME DOWN!!”

I hadn’t even started my shift, and I already had a motherfuckin’ headache.

I filled my fellow evening shift staff members in on Rose. This was perhaps the best crew I would work with in my career. Deb Goral. Luis Hinojosa. Anthony Tafoya. Rachelle Carson. I loved those guys. We were a well oiled machine. And Rose had all of them pulling their hair out within the first hour.

I started herding Rose to her room to remove her from the mileau. She started peeing on the floor. I think Rachelle was ready to kill her.

I spent a lots of time talking to Rose once more. It didn’t happen right away, nor did it happen overnight. I didn’t even notice it at first, probably because it was always so noisy on AP 5, but Rose actually did turn down the motherfuckin’ volume of her voice. She didn’t swear anywhere near as much as she normally did, and she stopped peeing on the floor altogether. I think she actually became one of the better patients on the unit.

I have no reasonable explanation for it.

And then something really weird happened. Rose came up to the nursing station one evening and actually whispered something.

My name.

“Maaaaaaark!”

It was, like, the spookiest thing I’ve ever heard.

Deb could do a perfect imitation of it, and she did it often. But only because she loved me. She became my first work wife, ever. And then she became my first ex-work wife.

I’m in a lots of relationships, and they’re all complicated.

Unlike my first encounter with Rose at the County, her stay on AP 5 was relatively short. Maybe three weeks, maybe a month. She came back again almost immediately, but was discharged later that same week. We had to have set a record for her shortest hospitalization, ever.

I never saw her again, not that that’s a bad thing. There are people you meet in your life that you’ll never forget, but you don’t miss them when they’re gone.

I know a lots of people like that.

I like to think Rose was able to gain a measure of control of her insanity, and she’s doing better.

But that’s doubtful at best. More likely she’s standing on a sidewalk somewhere in Phoenix, saying, “Maaaaaaark!” Very softly.

Dallas, Part III

Shorty and I made it back to the apartment safely. Michael and Hillary were kind of watching TV in the living room. They were basically asleep on the couch with the TV on. We woke them up enough to tell them about our dinner date with Jerry and his family, and our adventure getting out of Jerry’s housing development.

Shorty and I thought our story was way more humorous than Michael and Hillary did. They yawned a lots listening to our tale, and maybe mustered up enough energy to chuckle a couple times before they went to bed.

Hillary and Michael’s apartment was small. One bedroom, one bathroom. Both of those rooms were immediately off to the left as you walked in the front door. The living room was the largest room. If you walked straight through it, you ended up on the balcony. If you took a left about halfway through the living room, you ended up in the kitchen and the small dining room.

There was a good sized couch in a pastel floral print with a matching chair in the living room, a TV set was at the far end, near the sliding door to the balcony. A large glass top coffee table sat in the middle of the room. A pile of large tan square lounging pillows were stacked in the corner on the far side of the couch, as well as the sheets and blankets Shorty and I were using.

Shorty and I used the pillows as mattresses. There were six in total, he took three, I took three. We wrapped them in a sheet and covered up with a light blanket. It wasn’t the most comfortable bed I’d ever slept on, but it was far from the worst.

The most complicated part of our living arrangement was the bathroom. Being a high maintenance woman, Hillary took an incredible amount of time in the bathroom doing her hair and makeup. She liked to walk around her apartment in her very pretty bra and matching panties while she got ready in the morning.

Yeah, that part was hell. Michael repeatedly told her to at least put a robe on–she had half a dozen of them–but Hillary ignored him, bless her little pink heart. Now that I think about it, I don’t think either Shorty or I minded how much time she took to get ready in the morning…

I remember this part of our vacation in Texas as being idyllic. I remembered Jerry’s warning about Michael and Hillary, but it faded back in the recesses of my mind. Shorty had forgotten about it completely. If Shorty and I had wandered into a field of landmines, well, it was very hard for us to believe. Or comprehend.

Hillary and Michael went to work every day. Seeing how they worked in the same office complex, they rode together in the van, leaving us with Hillary’s car. Seeing how we were on vacation, Shorty and I spent a lots of time hanging out by the pool drinking beer and getting to know the very attractive single women living in the apartment complex.

I was seriously thinking about never leaving Texas. Why in hell would I want to return to Minnesota when I could have this? It’s not like I had anything in Minnesota I’d miss if I stayed. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have a steady girlfriend. Dallas was looking awfully attractive to me.

We usually drove to Hillary’s office to have lunch with her and Randi. Martha and the redheaded hippie chick sometimes joined us, but mostly it was the four of us. Shorty and I were still head over heels in love with Martha, which irritated Hillary and Randi to no end.

I tried my best to spend every second I could with Martha. I was pretty sure she liked me, but chance and circumstance seemed to be conspiring against me. And so was Shorty, that bastard. He always seemed to get to her desk before I did. I ended up spending a lots of time with Randi.

And to be fair, I probably got the better end of that deal.

Randi was a year or two older than me. She was a single mother, her son was around two years old, and her life revolved around him. She was smart enough to not marry the guy that had knocked her up. I don’t think they had any kind of a relationship after the birth of their child. Randi lived with her parents. It wasn’t the best arrangement, but she didn’t have to pay for rent or daycare, and she knew her son was in good hands while she worked.

She saved most of the money she made. She had a plan. She wanted to go to college. She wanted to buy a house, and she wanted a better life for her son. There was more to Randi than met the eye.

The world of telephone sales was a mixed bag. The sales force made good money on their commissions, but they had to sell something in order to collect. Jerry paid them a minimal salary, but not enough to live on, and certainly not enough to afford any of the finer things in life. Like Quaaludes.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the drug, methaqualone is a sedative hypnotic soporific medication, used to help people suffering from insomnia. It’s a sleeping pill. And as far as pills go, it was huge!

Rorer Pharmaceuticals manufactured a white pill about the size of a quarter, and three times as thick. It was scored so it could easily be broken into four pieces, making it easier to swallow.

It didn’t take long before ‘ludes became one of the most highly abused drugs in history. It was allegedly the drug Bill Cosby allegedly used to allegedly drug his alleged victims before he allegedly raped them. And it also allegedly improved your sexual performance and pleasure.

Back in my pill popping days, I thought I had tried everything, but I had never tried Quaaludes until that trip to Dallas. And I didn’t care for them all that much. They were sleeping pills, and they put me to sleep. There’s nothing that impacts one’s ability to drink beer quite so much as being asleep.

However, if you don’t fall asleep after taking a Quaalude, you get higher than a kite. It loosens up your inhibitions and enables you to call people you’ve never met halfway across the country and sell them stuff they didn’t know they needed.

Jerry’s entire sales force was a bunch of Quaalude zombies.

* * * *

As great as hanging out by the pool with bikini babes was, and it was pretty great, man cannot live on bikinis alone. Not even me. Shorty and I got bored. We went to work with Michael a couple times, and helped him install carpeting. We did a tune up on Hillary’s car. We did laundry and cleaned the apartment. We even made dinner a couple times.

Our hosts were starting to fall in love with us.

I spent a fair amount of time keeping our hosts amused when they were around. I told jokes and funny stories from my time in the Army.

Shorty and I had wandered into a head shop one day and bought a small bottle of Giggle Juice, or something. It was like unto liquid nitrous oxide. You sniffed this stuff, and you giggled your ass off. I don’t care how bad your day was, a couple whiffs of that stuff was all you needed to make your world right again.

I had a Samsonite suitcase back then. My dad gave it to me when I graduated from high school. He told me, “Don’t be afraid to use it.”

Samsonite had an huge ad campaign back then depicting the reliability of their product. No matter how badly it was mistreated, their suitcase would remain closed. Well, I had an idea to check the veracity of their statements. I dropped my fully packed suitcase from the balcony to the ground, six floors below.

It stayed closed.

* * * *

Hillary took the first Friday we were in town off. We went to a park near the apartment and played Frisbee. And drank beer. And Hillary told us her life story.

The part that has the most significance in what would follow centers on her relationship with George. Hillary and George had dated for a long time, way back when they were still in Detroit. They were working for Jerry, and when he decided to relocate to Dallas, they went with him. Actually, most of Jerry’s employees made the move.

Detroit, it seems, was dying, and there was an epic migration of people moving to Texas or Florida in the late 1970’s to escape.

Hillary and George were living together in George’s apartment. They were planning on getting married and raising a family. And then they broke up. I can’t remember what caused that, but where there had once been love, now only bitterness and hatred remained.

There was also some dispute about possessions–she took some of his stuff, he kept some of hers–I think there was even a lawsuit. Over furniture! Each accused the other of theft, fraud and dishonesty. Then Hillary started dating Michael, and it got worse. Hillary and George got into a very ugly argument at work one day about a month before Shorty and I came down to visit–it was all fuckin’ George’s fault, of course–somehow Michael got involved, and it got even uglier.

The net result was this: Jerry created a position in his company for George, to keep him separated from Hillary. George filled a restraining order against Michael, essentially banning him from the office whenever George was there. And there was relative peace at Jerry’s company once more, except Hillary hated George even more because Jerry had removed George from the sales force, and his life was no longer dependent upon making commissions to survive.

“That fuckin’ bastard gets to sit in his office and stare out the window! He doesn’t do shit! And I have to bust my ass every day to afford this fucking dump!”

I guess George had a really big apartment, and it was beautiful.

There was another reason Hillary took the day off. I was leaving. My buddy, Raoul, was coming to town. He was picking me up and we were going to hang out at Fort Sill for the weekend with the few guys I still knew from my Army days.

Hillary was incredibly upset by this!

“I can’t believe you’re leaving me here all alone!”

“Michael and Shorty are still here. I’m hardly leaving you all alone.”

“Oh, I know that, but it won’t be the same. You know I love you, don’t you?”

I’m not sure what I was expecting her to say, but I know that wasn’t it. I think her revelation left me speechless. And one thought filled my mind: Why can’t you be Martha?

* * * *

Raoul arrived at Hillary’s apartment around one or two in the afternoon. He didn’t recognize me when he saw me. I introduced him to Shorty and Hillary. We drank a beer with a couple of the bikini babes by the pool. I packed a change of clothes,  my hygiene kit, and maybe an ounce of pot for the road.

We had smoked maybe an ounce of pot during the time we’d been in Dallas, maybe more, but there was still a whole lots of pot to be smoked.

That would not be the case when I returned two days later. Quite a few things would be different, and what happened to most of the marijuana I smuggled into Texas would end up being the least of my concerns.

Thanksgiving, 1976

Back when I was in Oklahoma, the holiday season was approaching. I was living in the barracks again. My attempts to live off base with a couple of roommates had ended in disaster. I’ll be revisiting this neighborhood again…

Dan Franklin was a friend of mine. He was an Orthopedic Technician at Reynolds Army Hospital. It was Dan who diagnosed the greenstick fracture of my right ankle, and fashioned a splint for me so my ankle would heal. There’s another story I have yet to tell…

Dan was married to Leslie, one of the dental assistants I worked with at Clinic #2. Because we were friends, and because Dan and Leslie were incredibly sweet people, I was one of several people invited to their house for a Thanksgiving feast that couldn’t be beat.

On that Thanksgiving morning in 1976, I was sitting at the desk in my room, listening to music. My door was open, I rarely closed it when I was there. Almost everyone that had been in the barracks when I arrived was gone. They had all been discharged from active duty.

Randy, Roger, Johnny and Tommy. The Two Mikes. Jesse. Don One and Don Two. Virg and Alan. Even Lightning Bob. They were all gone. Raoul and I were the only Originals left. That’s what we called ourselves. Everyone else was a Fuckin’ New Guy.

Raoul had gone home to Middle of Nowhere, Texas for the holiday. I’m sure he had invited me to come along–I was practically a member of his family then–based on the number of visits I’d made, and how much I loved his mother’s cooking, but I declined. I had been invited to Dan and Leslie’s, so I wouldn’t be spending the holiday alone. I was just about the only person in the barracks, except for Fernando, and maybe a couple other guys.

Fernando was from Puerto Rico. He was an FNG in my company, and had transferred in to Fort Sill after a tour of duty in Korea. Fernando was a suave and debonair guy. He’d had all of his uniforms tailored to fit him like a glove while he was in Korea. He was 5′ 8″, slim, and what most women might describe as devastatingly handsome. I’m not a woman, and I thought he was extremely good looking.

I had partied with Fernando and his girlfriend, Christina, at the barracks several times. They made a devastatingly handsome couple. She was also from Puerto Rico. She stood about 5′ 3″, deep, almond shaped eyes so dark they appeared to be black, and her long black hair cascaded down below her shapely ass.

I’m actually surprised I remember any of this about her because she had the biggest tits I’d ever seen on a woman that small. Half of her total weight must have rested on her chest, and I’m sure I spent most of my time gazing at her hooters whenever she was around.

At one of the barracks soirées a few months before, I got ridiculously drunk, even for me. The FNG’s living in our barracks had invited the girls living in their barracks to a party, a kind of a Get to Know You social thing. It was a brilliant idea, I wonder why none of the Original guys ever thought of it.

We bought a bunch of booze, rolled a bunch of joints, ordered some pizzas, and even decorated the dayroom so it looked almost festive. It was an Army barracks, there was only so much we could do. To our surprise, some of the WAC’s actually attended–not many–six or seven at the most. There were maybe a couple hundred WAC’s living in the Women’s barracks. Most of them were tough looking lesbians, and they weren’t interested in hanging out with a bunch of sissy guys.

I stumbled over to the pool table and bumped into Fernando and Christina. I was wasted, and started babbling to them about nothing. I have a vague recollection of doing this, but I’m sure I was staring at Christina’s tits the entire time. I very politely asked if I could ask her an incredibly inappropriate question, then immediately changed my mind and apologized.

And then Christina did something even stupider than me. I have a very clear memory of this. Maybe it was because she was one of the only women in the room, and she wanted to prove to everyone she could be one of the guys. I couldn’t tell you what her thought process was, but she asked me to tell her what my incredibly inappropriate question was.

We ended up getting into an argument–You don’t want to know.  Yes, I do.–it went back and forth like that. Finally, she demanded that I ask her my incredibly inappropriate question, or she would never speak to me again.

I looked to Fernando for support because I was pretty sure he was going to have to kill me to death once my question was uttered. He looked at me and said, “Do it.”

I’m pretty sure everyone in the dayroom had stopped speaking. The music may have even stopped playing; it was as silent as a church on Monday.

I straightened my posture as much as I could without falling over. I looked her in the eyes and said, “Just how big are your tits anyway?” It was a question every guy in the room wanted to know the answer to. For all I know, even the girls in the room were curious.

I don’t know how Christina could’ve been that shocked by my question. Everyone that I talked to about it afterwards knew what I was going to ask her, even the other WAC’s knew what I was going to say.

Be that as it may, a look of horror crept across Christina’s face, and she started crying. Fernando escorted her out of the dayroom, down the hallway to his room, and that was pretty much the end of the party.

Fernando knocked on my door an hour or two later. I knew it had to be him. And I knew I was going to got dead. But Fernando didn’t kill me to death. To my surprise, Fernando and Christina both stood outside my door. They looked to be even drunker than me, if that were possible. Christina was still crying, but Fernando was sobbing harder than she was. I may have even started crying.

I apologized to her. I apologized to him. I apologized to both of them. I don’t know how long or how many times I apologized, but it seemed to go on for hours. I think Christina finally stopped crying. Fernando did not. They finally stumbled back to Fernando’s room, each supporting the other.

To say that incident impacted our friendship would be an understatement. Fernando and I still spoke to each other, but not much, and we certainly didn’t hang out with each other. I don’t think Christina ever spoke to me again. And she never did tell me big her breasts were.

* * * *

Fernando likely heard my music playing on that Thanksgiving morning. I tended to have only one volume setting on my stereo in those days: louder. He appeared in my doorway and I gestured him into my room. Fernando looked sad, so I produced a bottle of whiskey from one of the drawers in my desk and a couple glasses. I was feeling kind of down myself that day. We started drinking toasts to departed friends, and to family far away.

We smoked a couple joints, and continued toasting anything we could think of. Before long, we were laughing our asses off. We even laughed about my incredibly inappropriate question to Christina that ended up making everyone cry.

“Jesus! What did she think I was gonna ask her! Have you ever had sex with a horse?”

“I know, man. I knew what you were going to say. Fuck, everyone at the party did. Do you want to know how big Christina’s tits are?” Fernando asked. He handed me the joint we were smoking.

I can’t remember if he was still dating her or not, but I can’t imagine anyone I knew back then breaking up with those gazongas.

“I don’t think I want to go there again, man.”

“They’re 48 F’s!”

“No shit!” I was impressed. I didn’t know tits came in an F size.

“Oh, you should see them, Marco. They are so beautiful, and so perfect! They make this noise when she takes off her bra, kind of a sucking noise, like her tits are vacuum sealed!!”

We laughed as if that was the funniest line ever spoken. We laughed as if we were best friends, and always had been. And before I knew it, it was time for me to go to Dan and Leslie’s.

Now I had a dilemma. I had been planning to give the bottle of whiskey we were drinking to Dan and Leslie for hosting the Thanksgiving feast. Fernando and I had toasted away at least half of it, so that gift wouldn’t do.

In addition, if I went to Dan and Leslie’s, Fernando would be left all alone on Thanksgiving. I couldn’t do that to the devastatingly handsome Fernando, who was suddenly the best friend I’d ever had.

I decided to call Dan and Leslie. Seeing how they had invited several single, lonely servicemen and women to their house, maybe one more wouldn’t be a problem.

Well, it was. I wasn’t the only one who had discovered one more lonely person hanging around the barracks. Leslie said the original number of people they had invited had doubled. She was sorry, but she just couldn’t accept one more unplanned guest.

“I understand. No problem. But in view of the circumstances, I won’t be able to attend your Thanksgiving feast today. Thank you for the invitation, and tell everyone I said hi.”

“Wha–” Leslie was saying as I hung up the phone.

“Marco, my friend. What did you just do?” Fernando asked.

“I changed my plans. Are you hungry?”

“I’m fucking starving!”

Fernando and I drove to the nearest McDonald’s. We probably ordered one of everything. And an order of fries. We ate and ate. And ate some more. We made a lots of sucking noises and laughed like fools. Thankfully, we were just about the only patrons inside the place, so the staff didn’t call the police and have us arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct.

As it turned out, everyone at Dan and Leslie’s Thanksgiving feast ended up puking their guts out. Food poisoning.

I’ve lived through sixty Thanksgivings, but I think that one may have been the best. It certainly embodied what the holiday means, spending time with friends, sharing joy and happiness, and forgiveness. Being together, and fighting back against the loneliness that can consume us during the holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving, Fernando, wherever you are today. Happy Thanksgiving, Christina. I hope your tits are still vacuum sealed and still make sucking noises when you remove your bra.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, one and all.

Skol, Vikings. Beat the Lions!

Dallas, Part II

Shorty and I flew into Dallas on a Friday or Saturday, I think. I know it was the weekend. We spent a couple days getting to know our host and hostess. Michael liked to wear jeans and plain black T-shirts. He kind of reminded me of The Fonz. Hillary was a diva. She had enough clothes for twenty people. Michael actually took us into their bedroom to show us her closet. I don’t know how she managed to get that many outfits into that one small space.

Our first Monday morning in Dallas, Shorty and I went to Hillary’s office. She wanted to introduce us to her friends and co-workers. We rode in Hillary’s big green sedan. It was a Dodge or a Chrysler, I think. Michael drove a big white two seat panel van, much like the van I drove when I was a supply driver in the Army. The van belonged to Michael’s uncle, Bernie, who owned the carpet company Michael worked at.

Small World Factoid: Hillary’s boss and Michael’s boss were best friends.

There were about a dozen people that worked at Hillary’s office, but I remember only two. Randi and Martha. Almost everyone in Hillary’s office was a transplant from Detroit, including Hillary. So was Michael, for that matter. I think the only one who wasn’t was Martha.

Randi was a pretty, very well endowed brunette with short curly hair–it was so curly it was almost an afro. The only reason I mention her hair is because I had an afro, and a short, thick beard at that time. Randi and I would’ve made a very cute couple. I think Randi was a single mother, so the last thing she would be interested in was a casual hook up with me, no matter how darlingpreshadorbs we would’ve looked together.

I had asked my sister, Denise, to perm my hair a couple of months earlier. I had promised myself I wasn’t going to cut my hair for three years after I got out of the Army, but my hair was straight, fine and flyaway, and I wanted something with a little more body. I wanted hair like Randi’s, but ended up with hair like Julius Irving. I hated it, until my dad saw my new hairdo.

“Your hair looks like a goddamn dandelion that’s ready to blow away.” he said, in disgust. And then I loved my hair.

Martha was a stunning Texas blonde. She was easily one of the most beautiful women I’ve met in my life. She was petite and perfectly packaged; immaculately groomed, not one hair out of place. She looked like an angel, and I fell in love with her immediately.

Shorty and I couldn’t stop staring at her. Randi and Hillary hated her. Martha liked to party and have sex with random guys. She was essentially everything I was looking for in a woman at that time. I was totally hoping we’d become close friends while I was in town.

I remember Shorty and I were each drinking a beer as Hillary showed us around and introduced us to everyone, which is probably why I can’t remember most of them. And most of them were guys, so…  There was another gal that worked at Hillary’s office. She was a redheaded hippie chick, and she was in relationship with with some hippie dude. That’s probably why I can’t remember her name.

I seem to remember a sense of tension in the office. There were sales quotas to be met and commissions to be made by the salespeople. There was a lots of nervous chatter as the day began.

Then Hillary’s boss strolled in, like unto a king.

His name was Jerry. And he wanted to meet Shorty and I. He took us into his huge office, poured us a glass of bourbon from his bar, and sat down behind a desk about the size of Rhode Island. He then proceeded to interrogate us for an hour or more. Interview doesn’t seem appropriate to describe the gravity of our first meeting. He may have even taken notes, or he could’ve been doing paperwork, I can’t remember for sure.

Jerry kind of knew Shorty. They certainly knew of each other. They had talked on the phone a couple of times, and Hillary had told everyone about her trip to Minnesota to visit the crazy mechanic. Jerry seriously wanted Shorty to buy more stuff from him, and worked that into the conversation a lots. But what Jerry seemed to be most interested in was our experience with guns. Did we own any? Did we go hunting? Had we killed anything? Ever? Lately?

Neither Shorty nor I were sportsmen. We didn’t hunt animals, though we probably could have if we needed to. Neither of us owned a gun, but we had a lots of friends that did. And I had qualified as  a marksman, back when I was in the Army. The only shooting I did anymore was with my camera.

Oh, you were in the Army! Did you go to Nam? We’re you in combat? Did you ever have to kill anyone?

“Are you looking for a hitman?” I asked, in jest. A look of shock or surprise raced across Jerry’s face, and just as quickly disappeared.

“Me? No, I’m an honest businessman.” Jerry replied, and changed the subject. When he was sure he knew everything about us he needed to know, he invited us to his house for dinner. “You seem like a couple of nice guys, and you’re down here on vacation. Let me call my wife to let her know to set a couple extra plates at the table.” He gave each of us his business card, writing his home number on the back while he talked to his wife. “Call me if you need anything. Any time.” We put his cards in our wallets.

Hillary gave us the keys to her car, and we drove back to her apartment. Shorty and I spent the rest of the day hanging out by the pool drinking beer, chatting it up with the poolside bikini babes working on their tans, and playing Frisbee. I brought a couple discs to Dallas with me. I could throw a damn Frisbee back then. I think we even talked a couple bikini babes into playing Frisbee with us. I loved watching them run around and jump up and down.

At around 3:00 PM, we drove back to Hillary’s office. We had a dinner date with Jerry. The office was loud and chaotic. Most everyone was upbeat and cheerful, high on adrenaline. Shorty and I would discover they were all high on something else as well: Quaaludes. The sales force in Hillary’s office popped them like they were M&M’s.

The only person in the office that wasn’t upbeat that afternoon was Martha, who looked like she had been standing in an hurricane for an hour, then dragged behind a truck down a gravel road for a few miles. She was crying into the phone, mascara running down her angel face à la Tammy Faye Baker. Her hair was disheveled and looked like a rat’s nest. Shorty and I couldn’t stop staring at her for completely different reasons this time. We started to walk over to her desk to, you know, offer some words of comfort and support, and ask if she wanted to go have sex in the backseat of her car. That’d probably make her feel better…

Randi and Hillary appeared out of nowhere, stopping us in our tracks. They gave us a look that froze the marrow of our bones, we backed away from Martha’s desk, slowly. Randi and Hillary secretly smiled at each other. They were enjoying this.

Jerry strolled into the Bullpen, that’s what he called the Sales Office. It was a huge room, filled with desks, chairs and telephones. No cubicles, nothing to separate the desks or provide even a hint of privacy. Satisfied with what he saw, he asked if we were ready to go.

I can’t remember what kind of car Jerry had, but I remember he didn’t drive. He had a chauffeur. We followed Jerry’s car through rush hour traffic in Dallas for maybe an hour, heading out to one of the suburbs. The houses started getting big, then bigger.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Shorty asked.

“Uh-huh. Jerry must be rich.”

We finally arrived at Jerry’s mansion in a neighborhood of other mansions. I had been to the homes of some of the dentists I worked with when I was in the Army. They lived in really nice houses. Jerry’s domicile made them all look like trailer houses. There were six or seven banana trees, twenty feet tall, growing in the living room. Real bananas were growing on them. The cathedral  ceiling soared probably another twenty feet above the tops of the trees.

“We were wrong. This guy is fucking rich!” I whispered to Shorty.

Jerry introduced us to his supermodel wife–I think her name was Sheila–and his two young sons, then took an immense amount of joy giving us a tour of his home. There were rare Italian marble countertops in the huge kitchen. Gold plated faucets and hardware in the bathroom. Jerry spared no expense when he built his castle. Even his garage was nicer than half the places I’d called home. He had an exotic custom built sportscar in the garage that he had driven exactly once.

“I got a goddamn speeding ticket! I can’t drive the fuckin’ thing, it goes too fast!” he laughed.

He led us upstairs. The master suite was the size of a bowling alley. The shower in his bathroom was large enough to accommodate five Planet Zablotnys. Shorty and I were totally impressed. I think both of our mouths were open in awe.

“Do you mind if I ask how much it cost to build this place?” I asked.

“Yes, I do.” Jerry replied. “Go ahead and guess.”

“A million dollars.” Shorty said.

“I think it’s closer to two…” I added. Jerry nodded, but he never actually told us how much he spent.

“Wow. You must sell a helluvalotta stuff.” Shorty and I both said.

“I’ve done all right.” Jerry replied. His face was beaming.

We had a bourbon at Jerry’s bar, he drank with us this time. I had been in bars that weren’t stocked with as much booze as Jerry had in his house. We ate a delicious meal with Jerry’s family while his wife quizzed us about our visit. She was also curious about how much we knew about guns.

Sheila was a raven haired goddess. Her hair was long and flowing, and framed her oval face like an avatar of midnight. She had dark eyes, and porcelain skin. I was mesmerized by her, and had to remind myself not to stare at her. I focused on the food on my plate, and then I had to remind myself to chew the food in my mouth before I loaded another shovelful.

Jerry interrupted her, telling his wife he had already gone over this subject with us.

“They’re good guys. They’re here on vacation. Leave ’em alone.”

“That’s all?” Sheila asked us.

“Yeah, that’s all.” I said, trying not to talk with my mouth full. The stew she had made was savory and delicious. “It’s still ten below zero in Minnesota. We’re pretty much in love with the weather here.” I was pretty much in love with Jerry’s wife. I think I was surprised she didn’t have a chef, then I wondered if she needed an assistant. I’d be willing to peel her potatoes…

I started quizzing Sheila about her life. I figured it was only fair. Sheila and Jerry were from Detroit, so they knew all about winter weather, and wanting to escape it. I was trying to figure out if Sheila was interested in having an affair with me while we were in town, but couldn’t figure out a way to tactfully ask her that in front of her husband.

Sheila didn’t have to work for a living, so she had other pursuits. She managed Jerry’s household, and did volunteer work in the community. She was working her way up the hierarchy of the high society housewives of Dallas. Sheila didn’t seem to be especially happy or fulfilled, but she had a lots of other perks and benefits in her world. I couldn’t feel bad for her, no matter how much I tried.

Jerry’s boys were another matter. I can’t remember their names either, but they were around eight and six years old, respectively. They giggled all through dinner. They loved listening to Shorty speak, and asked him a million questions. He sounded like the guys in the movie Fargo.

“How come you don’t talk like that?” they asked me.  I think they laughed at me because I was probably the first hippie dude that had ever been inside their house.

“Ya mean like this, then? Yah, you betcha!” I said, breaking out my rural Minnesota accent.  Easiest laugh I’ve gotten in my life.

After profusely thanking Sheila for a delicious meal, Jerry, Shorty and I retired to the bar for more bourbon and cigars. Cuban cigars, of course. I had a pretty good buzz going by that time. Shorty and I had been drinking beer all day, and Jerry was generous with his liquor. Shorty didn’t care for bourbon, so I probably drank his whiskey, too. He sipped on a beer.

“What’s the deal with all the questions about guns?” I asked. If I hadn’t been so lubricated, I probably would’ve been a bit less direct. I liked Jerry, and I didn’t want to do anything to offend him, especially once I met Sheila.

“You seem like good guys, so I’ll tell you, but you have to promise me you won’t say a word of this to Hillary. Or Michael.” Jerry said, after a moment. We promised. He paused for a short time before speaking, wondering if he could trust us. “You shouldn’t have come here.” he finally said.

“You invited us here!” Shorty said. I wasn’t the only one under the influence.

“Not here. Dallas!” Jerry said. “Jesus Christ! Are you guys going to be able to drive?”

“Yeah, we’re like this all the time. You were saying…”

“You shouldn’t have come here. And be careful with Hillary. She’s dangerous.”

“Hillary? She’s my friend!” Shorty replied, shaking his head.

“Listen to me. She’s not your friend. You guys are walking through a minefield.”

“What?” Shorty asked.

“We’re in trouble.” I translated for Shorty.

“Hillary and Michael are good people. I like them.” Shorty said. Dogs aren’t as loyal as Shorty. It’s one of the things I admire about him, but it’s a quality that many people have taken advantage of.

“Michael’s a putz. The only reason I put up with him is because he’s Bernie’s nephew, and Bernie and I go way back. We both started out with next to nothing in Detroit, and we’ve supported each other every step of the way. I love that guy like a brother, more than a brother! I have a brother, and I can’t stand that sonuvabitch!!”

“If Hillary’s so dangerous, why do you keep her?” I asked.

“What I do is my business, not yours,” Jerry snapped. I was momentarily afraid I had gone too far. “But the truth is, she’s the best salesman I’ve got. She got you to buy something, didn’t she?” Jerry said to Shorty, and he laughed. Shorty was hardly Jerry’s best customer.

I couldn’t get Jerry to explain exactly why he thought Hillary was so dangerous, or why he thought we were packing heat, but there was no doubt he didn’t trust Hillary, or Michael, any further than he could throw his house.

My head was spinning for a couple reasons when we decided it was time to leave. We said our goodbyes and thanked Jerry and Sheila for their hospitality. And we then we thanked Sheila a couple of dozen more times for the meal. It was really good. Jerry walked us out to the car.

“Are you sure you guys are going to be okay?” he asked. “You’ve both been drinking since eight this morning.” It was around 8:00 PM.

Alcohol had a random effect on me back then. Sometimes I could drink all day and not feel overly impaired. Other times, two beers would have me reeling from lamppost to gutter like unto a skid row bum. On that day, I was feeling great, until the last two glasses of bourbon.

“Yah, sure,”Shorty replied. I think Jerry got a kick out of the way Shorty talked, too. He smiled and clapped Shorty on the back. “Just tell us how to get the hell outta here and back to the highway. We’ll be fine once we find that.” Jerry gave us directions that we immediately forgot, and we took off.

“What do you think about this?” I asked Shorty.

“I think I should’ve peed before we left Jerry’s.”

Shorty had entirely missed the intent of my question, yet somehow managed to come up with the correct answer. He wasn’t the only one with an uncomfortably full bladder.  We drove down the street, trying to remember Jerry’s directions, and ended up in a cul de sac. At the end of the cul de sac was the largest house I had ever seen in person.

If Jerry’s house was a mansion, this place was the Taj Mahal.

We were lost, and our bladders were beyond full. We drove out of the cul de sac and tried again, ending up in the same cul de sac a few minutes later. We tried again, taking the opposite turns out of the cul de sac we had taken the last time, and ended up in front of the Taj Mahal once more.

We tried again, taking random turns when an opportunity presented itself, and ended up in front of the Taj Mahal for the fourth time. By that time, our bladders were about to burst.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna piss my pants in about thirty seconds.” I said.

“I’m right behind you, brother.” Shorty said, and put the car in Park. “I hate to have to do this, but I’d hate to piss my pants even more.” We got out of the car and started pissing on the front yard of the Taj Mahal of Dallas.

The porch lights came on, the front door opened, and a little old guy came running towards us.

“Hey! What are you guys doing there!” the old guy asked, then he said, “Hey!! Stop pissing in my yard!!!” even louder when he saw what we were doing. “Stop! Or I’ll call the police!!”

“We are the police.” I said. There was no way I could’ve stopped peeing then without causing serious harm to myself, and it was the first response that popped into my head.

“What?” the old guy said. He had run the mile and half from his front door to the street, and stood about five feet from where Shorty and I were defiling his meticulous yard. The old guy clearly wasn’t expecting that answer. And we sure as hell didn’t look like cops.

“We’re not cops,” Shorty said. “Don’t listen to him, he’s drunk.”

“What??” The old guy’s voice had lost some of its anger.

“That’s right. We’re hitmen.” I said. Shorty and I continued to piss like racehorses.

“What!?!” the old guy said. He wasn’t angry anymore. He sounded more confused than anything else.

My flow of urine was starting to ebb, and then it stopped. I shook a couple drops of pee off of the tip of my penis, and zipped up my fly. I took a quick look and saw Shorty was still going strong. I needed to stall the old man a bit longer, so I extended my hand to the little old man, and smiled, real friendly-like.

“I’m really sorry about having to piss in your yard and all, but I don’t think I could’ve waited another ten seconds, man. By the way, you have a beautiful house. I can’t imagine a nicer place to toss a whiz, can you, Shorty?”

“Nope. It’s probably the prettiest place I’ve ever taken a leak in my whole life.”

“Thank you.” the old guy replied, then recoiled in disgust. “I’m not going to shake your hand! Get away from me!!”

Shorty finally finished, and zipped up his fly.

“Yah, thanks, man. I had to pee so bad I could’ve cut metal.” He also extended his hand. The old guy shook his head and took a step backwards. Now that we didn’t have our dicks in our hands, we might pull guns on him. After all, I did tell him we were hitmen…

“Well, now that you’re done, you can get off my property, or I really will call the police.”

“Yeah, really sorry about this,” I apologized again. Shorty also apologized, then he got a bright idea.

“Hey, can you tell us how to get back to the highway? We’ve been lost in here for about the last half hour…”

The little old guy mumbled to himself for a minute, then actually gave us directions. Armed with this knowledge, and feeling ten pounds lighter, we made it to the highway and laughed all the way back to the apartment, forgetting all about Jerry’s warning. We relived our relieving experience, and how beautiful Jerry’s house and wife were.

I would remember Jerry’s warning in the morning, but Shorty completely forgot about it. We never discussed it again, which is probably a real shame.

Then again, I don’t know if it would’ve made any difference in the long run…

Paperback Writer

When I started writing my Reflections posts on Facebook, many of the people that read them said, You should write a book!

My response was something like unto, Forgive them. They know not what they say.

Writing, like cunnilingus, is dark and lonely work. If you don’t believe me, try doing either one of them exclusively for a year or two. A writer spends hours, days, weeks and months doing nothing but writing. On the Fun Scale, it doesn’t even register.

For starters, no one writes everything perfectly the first time. I sure as hell don’t. I have to edit and rewrite almost everything I write, even grocery lists, and that includes these posts. When I was trying to become a published author, I spent eight to ten hours a day or more parked in front of my computer monitor almost every day for two years. My only companion was a glass and a bottle of scotch.

I’m probably not a very good writer. I doubt I could tell you the difference between an adverb and an adjective. I mix past, present and future tenses. I leave participles dangling all the time. The only reason I know what a conjunction is is because I watched Schoolhouse Rock when I was a kid. I wrote what popped into my creative mind, irregardless of its grammatical correctness. And yes, I know irregardless isn’t a real word.

I’ve written a book before. It was a monster; over 1500 pages. After a lots of discussion with other hopeful authors and people in the publishing business, I broke my magnum opus into three smaller books. If you’ve never heard of me, or any of my books, there’s a simple reason. None of them were ever published.

I titled my book Seven Trumpets. It was a fictional interpretation of the Book of Revelation, the Two Witnesses, and the End of Times. And you have never seen a more pissed off person than I was when Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins came out with their Left Behind series.

still hate those two fucking fucks.

I wanted to be a rich and famous author back in the 1990’s. And a prophet–I really wanted to be a prophet, too. Granted, the publishing business has changed a lots since then, but what hasn’t. Would I have a better chance of successfully being published now?

Possibly. But the publishing business isn’t the only thing that’s changed since then. I no longer have the desire to be a rich. I no longer desire to be famous. Okay, I still want to be a prophet. That part hasn’t changed much.

And I still like writing–writing is a creative process, and I’m a fairly creative guy. But I have no desire to write another book. And that’s all because of the publishing process. Publishing is a business. Publishers aren’t interested in creativity. Publishers are interested in making money.

Back in the 1990’s, once you wrote something you wanted to see in your local bookstore, you needed a publisher. To procure a publisher, you wrote a query letter that briefly described your book and why it should be published, and sent it out to every publishing company you could find an address for. I’m going to take a wild guess here, but publishing companies probably received hundreds of query letters from guys and gals like me every day. I don’t know the statistics of novels published based on a query letter, but I’m going to take another guess here and say not very damn many.

There were actual published books that were little more than lists of publishing companies and their addresses, and you could find them in bookstores. Publishers probably loved them because potential authors bought them by the ton.

I know this because I bought a few/several of them. I wrote query letters by the dozen and mailed them out every week. And I received a lots of letters in return. I can still remember the excitement I felt when I saw my first response from a publishing company I had queried in my mailbox. My hands were shaking so badly I could hardly open it. Good thing it wasn’t an engagement ring!

Alas, the first letter I received from a publishing company was a what authors referred to as a rejection letter. Come to think of it, the last letter I received was a rejection letter, as well as all the letters in between. I had a stack of them over a foot high.

I’m not the only author that has experienced this. Norman Vincent Peale received so many rejection letters he threw his manuscript in the garbage. His wife pulled it out of the trash and convinced him to try, one more time. You might have heard of his book, The Power of Positive Thinking.

Robert M. Pirsig received over one hundred rejection letters before his manuscript was published. Maybe you’ve heard of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. If you haven’t, read it. It’s one of my favorite books.

Rejection is part of the publishing process. My experience certainly wasn’t/isn’t/will be unique. As I was to learn from the mountain of rejection letters I received, publishing is a very subjective business, and just because Random House wasn’t interested in publishing my manuscript didn’t mean another company wouldn’t be. Good luck with your career…

After two years of writing, and editing, and rewriting almost every sentence I wrote, thanks in part to double vision from the scotch I was drinking. After another three years of writing query letters, and attending seminars on getting published, and making follow up calls to any publishing company that would talk to me, I finally decided I’d had enough and quit. I threw every copy of my manuscript I had in the garbage. I trashed every note of research I had done. Any scrap of paper even remotely related to my writing got tossed. Even my pile of rejection letters.

I have no desire to go back down that road again. I like to think that all of you who encouraged me to write a book did so because you enjoyed reading my stories, and I appreciate that more than I can say. A writer lives to have his or her work read. A comedian lives to make people laugh. I have at least two reasons to live right now. Writing a few humorous and perhaps poignant short stories every week has fit into my new lifestyle very well so far.

Lea would never tell me, but I think she was overjoyed when I finally gave up trying to be a rich and famous author. And a prophet, though I’m still holding on to the slight possibility it could still happen. I look upon it as my last chance at redemption and recompense. I’m sure I ignored my lovely wife terribly during my writing days. She was one of the few people that actually read my monster manuscript from start to finish, and I know I didn’t take anything that sounded like criticism or correction from her gracefully. I don’t know how she put up with me. I could be a real bastard to live with back then.

Thanks for not divorcing me, honey.

Dallas, Part I

It was February of 1978. My good friend, Shorty Girtz, was flying down to Dallas, TX for two weeks. He was going to visit a friend of his named Hillary.

Hillary was a telephone salesperson, and she had coldcalled Shorty’s service station one day hoping to sell him something. The company she worked for sold all kinds of stuff. It was kind of the precursor of Amazon.com, maybe.

Shorty loved talking on the phone. He and Hillary hit it off and became friends. They talked to each other frequently, almost every day, I think. Shorty invited Hillary to come visit him, and Hillary accepted. She flew up to Minnesota in August or September of 1977, and in return, she invited Shorty to visit her in Texas.

I had met Hillary when she came up to Minnesota. She was attractive, taller than me or Shorty. Come to think of it, Shorty was taller than me. Hillary had long black hair, a decent body, and she liked to party. We hit it off. All of Shorty’s friends liked her, except Shorty’s girlfriend, Robin.

You know what? I think that’s why Robin went out with me when I started dating the Banana Split Girls in September later that year!

Shorty asked me if I wanted to go to Dallas with him. I asked him where we were going to stay. We would stay at Hillary’s apartment, so we wouldn’t have to pay for lodging. I thought about it for about five seconds and said, “Yeah, sure. I’m up for that.” I put in my two week notice at work and prepared for a trip to Dallas.

I was getting tired of being an orderly at the nursing home anyway…

I didn’t need to do a lots of preparing. I bought a half pound of weed, and called my buddy, Sergeant Raoul Sanchez, to let him know I was going to be in Texas. I got out of the Army in July of 1977.  Raoul was still in the Army, and was still stationed at Fort Sill. He would drive down to Dallas to meet me while I was in town.

I didn’t tell Shorty I was bringing a half pound of weed with me. I didn’t want him freaking out. But I had a perfect solution. I had a Mamiya Sekor 35mm camera and a metal Copal camera case. It looked like a metal briefcase–the kind spies and secret agents carried. I removed the big telephoto zoom lens, put the big baggie of weed in the big leather lens case, and locked it up. If airport security didn’t do a lots of snooping around in my camera case…

Robin drove us to the airport. She was very quiet during the trip. She was anything but happy about what her boyfriend was doing. She kissed us both goodbye, and charged me with taking care of Shorty while we were in Big D.

I was a little nervous at the airport, but just a little. I had learned a lots about transporting drugs when I was in the Army. And the first rule is Don’t panic. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the first rule of everything.

I was pretty sure the airport security guys wouldn’t be too attentive when they checked my camera case. I mean, who smuggles dope to Texas from Minnesota? If you’re going to smuggle dope, it’s the other way around. And I was right. The security guys barely noticed us. Once we were through Security I told Shorty what I had done. I was right to keep him in the dark because he totally freaked out.

“You did what?!?” he hissed. We were walking to our gate. I turned into one of the bars and ordered a couple shots of whiskey.

“Relax. If I was going to get busted, it would’ve happened back there. We have nothing to worry about now.” I had checked my suitcase, but my camera case was my carry-on bag. I wasn’t letting it out of my sight. Or grasp.

“I can understand you bringing a little weed, but a fuckin’ half a pound! We could go to prison for that!!” Shorty said. I hailed the bartender for a couple more shots.

“You afraid of flying?” the bartender asked.

“No, he is.” I replied, nodding toward Shorty. The bartender poured him a double. I gave him a nice tip.

Our flight was uneventful. We took off from Minneapolis, where the temperature was probably -10°. We landed in Dallas where the temperature was probably in the mid-fifties. Waiting for us at DFW airport was Hillary.

And her live-in boyfriend, Michael.

“You didn’t tell me she had a boyfriend!” I whispered to Shorty.

“She didn’t tell me she had a boyfriend!”

I was having second thoughts about this whole Dallas trip, but it was a little late now. Well, if this thing fell apart, I could always call Raoul. He would drop everything and come get me if I asked him to. We could go hang out with him in Oklahoma as Plan B if we needed to…

Michael and Hillary took us to a Friday’s® near their apartment. We ate, drank a few beers and played several games of pool. I’m a mediocre pool player at best. Shorty was probably less than mediocre. But we played pool and told jokes, it was a good ice breaker.

Michael was a carpet layer. The company he worked for was right next to Hillary’s office. That’s how they met. Michael was a tall, skinny guy with long curly black hair. He was a handsome guy. He had moved in with Hillary about one month earlier, after Hillary had broken up with her previous boyfriend, George.

I didn’t know anything about Hillary’s complicated lovelife, nor was I much interested in hearing about it. Shorty knew all about George from the almost daily telephone conversations he had with Hillary, and he knew all about their acrimonious break up. However, he didn’t know that Hillary had hooked up with Michael. Nor did he know the true depth of hatred that existed between Hillary and George.

I wasn’t paying much attention to the chatter. I wasn’t too wild about the live-in boyfriend thing. I mean, Michael seemed like a decent guy and all. Maybe this vacation thing was probably going to be okay. At least we weren’t freezing our asses off in Minnesota…

We eventually went to Hillary and Michael’s apartment. It was in a new-ish complex designed for young urban professionals. It was filled with hundreds of singles, and at least half of them were women. The apartment we would all call home for the next two weeks was on the sixth floor.

I really liked the whole lots of single women thing, but…  I still wasn’t sure about this situation.

Once in the apartment, I opened my camera case and produced a very large baggie of weed.

“Wanna get high?” I asked our hosts.

“I wasn’t too sure about this thing when Hillary told me about it, but I think this is gonna work out okay.” Michael said. He had a big ol’ Texas sized grin on his face.

I was glad to hear I wasn’t the only one that thought this was kind of a fucked up mess, but I didn’t say anything. I did breathe a sigh of relief, and smiled at Shorty and winked.

I had just hit a grand slam.

We had gotten through that mess.

There were so many more to follow.

Glenda K

Glenda was one of our patients at the Banner Del E Webb Medical Center. Prior to being acquired by BannerHealth, Del Webb and its sister facility, Boswell Hospital, were managed by SunHealth. SunHealth was a very small fish in the large healthcare pond in the Phoenix area. When Banner offered to purchase their facilities, SunHealth quickly agreed.

The employees weren’t thrilled with the acquisition. SunHealth was a very good employer. The mostly elderly population that used and staunchly supported the SunHealth facilities were extremely upset. Del Webb and Boswell hospitals were their hospitals. They didn’t want a bunch of strangers roaming the hallways of their getaway retreat hospital spas.

That’s exactly how they thought of them.

Those little old ladies even had bake sales to raise money for a new MRI machine! Do you have any idea how many cookies that is? That’s, like, a trillion fucking cookies!! Maybe they should’ve put on some cute outfits and stood on the corners in Sun City and Sun City West…

Gero/Psych nursing is a sub-specialty area of Psych nursing. Elderly psych patients generally come pre-equipped with a whole slew of medical issues, and all of those issues have to be effectively managed, as well as the psychiatric disorders they are admitted for.

Glenda was an older gal, all of our patients had to be at least fifty-fifty years old. Most of our patients were closer to one hundred seventy-fifty years old. Glenda was married, and she was a hot mess. Her husband was a sweet, supportive, long suffering man.

Glenda had asthma, emphysema and COPD. As a result of her respiratory disorders and diseases, she suffered from chronic anxiety and depression. She was a very frequent flyer on the SAGE Unit, the Gero/Psych Unit at Del Webb. I would get to know her and her husband very well in a relatively short amount of time.

In all honesty, I was extremely uncomfortable in Gero/Psych. I was not a Real Nurse. I was a psych nurse. I had worked in a strictly psychiatric setting for twenty years. When we had patients that were that physically sick at the VA, we transferred them to a Med/Surg Unit. I had to learn how to start an IV, how to draw blood all over again–even do blood transfusions. 😓 In order to transfer one of our SAGE patients to a Med/Surg Unit, they essentially had to be dead.

If you don’t use those skills, you lose those skills. I had to be retrained in almost everything. It was good to be able to master all those skills again, but I had the same underlying fear that I’d had way back in nursing school. I was sure I was going to kill one of my patients, or in a worst case scenario, all of them.

When my senior manager offered me a clinical management position, I took it out of self-preservation.

Glenda was probably what you would consider a difficult patient. We certainly did. She was anxious and depressed at home, so she desperately wanted to be hospitalized. She was depressed and anxious once she was admitted to the SAGE Unit, and she’d demand to be discharged. That’s where I came in. The staff nurses would call me and ask me to come try to reason with Glenda.

As a clinical manager, I didn’t have anything to do with her patient care, but I had a lots to do with patient and family education and satisfaction. One of my managerial duties was to round on a random sample of the patients on the SAGE Unit to assess their rating of the service being provided to them. In the world of BannerHealth, everything revolved around Patient Satisfaction Surveys. And do you know what I discovered? Old people suck!

Man, they hated everything!! That’s when I started calling them Raisins, the sunbaked asshole/bitches that they were. It was almost impossible to get them to give us high satisfaction ratings on any service we provided on those goddamn surveys, and we needed at least an eighty percent satisfaction rating or there was hell to pay! 😭😭😭

I had worked in healthcare for twenty years by this time. I knew when we were doing a great job. I knew when we were doing a bad job. The SAGE staff was extremely talented, and they did an amazing job. They should’ve gotten elevens on a scale from one to ten.

My Filipino Posse, that’s what I called them–a lots of the RN’s were from the Philippines–Al, Julius, Liligene, Wei, Jing. Julie and Ethel. I loved them all. Well, most of them. Almost all of them were great nurses. Except two. And everyone knows who they were. And they weren’t Julie and Ethel. Those two were so darlingpreshadorbs!!

I worked with another rockstar nurse there, Rhonda Dolatshahi. Rhonda told me she wanted to be listed in one of my Reflections posts someday. Well, Rhonda, today’s your lucky day.

I told she’d have to be naked in the story I wrote. So I want to thank Rhonda for coming into my office, closing the door, and taking off all her clothes and saying, “You’re a nurse. What do you think this is?”

Yeah, that never happened. Unfortunately.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Glenda.

Glenda was unhappy about everything. The nurses were rude. They weren’t doing anything to help her. They never answered her call light when she turned it on. And so on, and so forth. Blah, blah, blah.

I did a lots of redirection and refocusing with Glenda. I doubt I did much of anything to actually change Glenda’s mind, but I did spend a lots of time with her, and that’s probably all she really wanted.

But there was that one thing about Glenda. And that one thing was her tooth.

images-2

Glenda had one tooth. And it seriously looked like that picture. She had dentures, but she rarely wore them. So when I went to listen to her litany of complaints, her tooth jumped into my field of vision, and it was the only thing I could see. It was like her tooth was talking to me. It was like watching a train wreck. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t.

I stared at her tooth as if it were the only thing that existed in the world. I knew I was staring at her tooth. And so did Glenda. She eventually started putting a finger to her mouth when she talked to me, obscuring her mutant tooth. I actually laughed the first time she did it. So did she, come to think of it.

Glenda’s respiratory problems eventually got the best of her. She died at home, thank God. You wouldn’t believe the amount of paperwork involved when someone dies on a psych unit. And there’s always a follow up investigation, even if the person dies from natural causes.

Vaya con Dios, Glenda. I have to believe you went to a better place, and you’re at peace now. And you have all your teeth once more.

Sorry about that whole staring thing.

The Planet Zablotny

I’m not sure how to describe Mr Zablotny. I can’t recall his first name. He was a patient at the MVAMC. He was an older guy, maybe. I’m not sure. He didn’t look old.

I’m not sure why he was admitted anymore. Maybe he was depressed, but I would never see that side of him. He wasn’t aggressive or violent. And he wasn’t psychotic. But he was on my unit, so there had to be something wrong with him…

He was a huge man. Hence, my nickname for him. He probably weighed close to four bills. He was large enough to create his own ecosystem. He wasn’t physically fit, and could barely walk five steps–none independently. He needed at least a two person assist to be transferred or toileted, actually, maybe three people. He was an enormous Fall Risk, in more ways than one.

To manage him, we placed him in one of the private rooms near the nursing station, right across from the medication window. To keep him safe during the day, we put him in a gerichair and rolled him into the hallway. The nurse assigned to do Medications for the day essentially ended up doing 1:1 observation on Mr Zablotny.

The VA was the only hospital I worked at that assigned one nurse to pass all the meds to be given that shift. I’m not sure why that was, probably money. Money seems to be the answer to most of those questions. The VA had way more money than the private sector hospitals I worked in.

The first time I met the Planet Zablotny, I was the  med nurse of the day. He had been showered, dressed and rolled into the hallway by the Night shift nurses. I was pulling my meds for the shift, and whistling Moonlight Serenade.

Remember the movie Big? The scene where Josh and Susan are dancing at the amusement park? The band is playing in the background…

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That’s Moonlight Serenade.

“Oh, ho-hoho-ho-hoho!” the Planet Zablotny chortled. “I love that song! What’s the name of that song?”

I’m sure I had a hangover that morning, so I was likely in a lousy mood. And I’m very sure I was initially a jerk to the Planet Zablotny.

“Sweet Home Alabama.”

“Ha-haha-ha-haha! That’s right!!” he giggled like a kid. I stopped what I was doing and took a long hard look at the Planet Zablotny. A look of pure enjoyment radiated from his face. He was thrilled! “Oh God, it was in that movie! Which one was that?”

This, is going to be fun, I thought, and I smiled, like The Grinch.

“Nightmare on Elm Street.”

“Hee-heehee-hee! That’s the one!! Oh, gosh, I love that movie! That guy was in it! Oh, what was his name?”

“Jerry Mathers.”

“Ohhhh, God, yes! Man, I love that guy! He’s so good!! He was in that other movie…  Oh, damn! What was that called?” The Planet Zablotny looked at me, hopefully.

“The Man in the Iron Mask?” I guessed. And I realized what was happening. The Planet Zablotny had CRS! He couldn’t remember shit!!

It’s entirely possible the Planet Zablotny suffered from some type of dementia. We treated a lots of veterans with dementia. Maybe he was admitted for that. He certainly didn’t appear to be depressed, and if he was, I doubt he could remember he was.

It didn’t make any difference what answer I gave to any question, it was always the correct answer. I totally fell in love with the Planet Zablotny.

“Oh, yesyesyes! That’s it!” the Planet Zablotny continued. “That’s my favorite movie! And he sings that song…  Oh, which one was it?”

“All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth?”

“Oh-hoho-haha-hee! That’s the one!” The Planet Zablotny was grinning from ear to ear. By this time, I was too.

“What the hell are you doing over here?” It was my buddy, Paul Anderson.

“Check this out.”

Paul and I played the endless movie trivia game with the Planet Zablotny all shift. As long as someone was willing to offer an answer–any answer–the Planet Zablotny always had another question. The only times he stopped was during meals and when he fell asleep.

It was one of the best work days I had at the MVAMC. Paul had a blast, too. The Planet Zablotny had the best day, ever. I taught my co-workers the game. Some of them were more motivated than others. Some weren’t interested. Some were annoyed.

The Planet Zablotny was our guest at the MVAMC for a couple of weeks. I played Made Up Movie Trivia with the Planet Zablotny every chance I got. I was incredibly saddened when he was discharged, and actually hoped he’d be readmitted. If it had been up to me, we would’ve kept him until he died.

Alas, it was not to be. The Planet Zablotny wouldn’t return. He most likely died at the nursing home we returned him to.

I hope there was someone on staff that loved to play Made Up Movie Trivia with Mr Zablotny.

He loved that game.

Wild and Crazy Guys

When you’re a psych nurse, you get to meet a lots of crazy people. Even if you’re not a psych nurse, you get to meet a lots of crazy people. But they’re your friends, or your parents, and they don’t count.

I’ve met so many kooky people, I can’t keep them all straight anymore. But these are some that stick out in my mind.

The Tin Man. He was a patient at the MVAMC. I would meet him only once, which was actually quite rare at the VA.  He was an incredibly muscular young man, which probably explained all the people that escorted him to the unit. Almost all of the Outpatient staff had walked him over. You could tell right away he was going to be interesting. For starters, he drew a crowd.  For another, he was wearing a hat made of aluminum foil.

“What’s with the hat?” I asked.

“Aliens.”

“Like, from Outer Space? Those kind of aliens?”

“Yessir.”

“What does the hat do?”

“Mind control.”

“Ah! It…prevents…mind control?”

“Yessir.”

We did skin assessments on all of our patients when they were admitted. We needed to know if they had any open wounds, or lice. Stuff like that. We also wanted to make sure they weren’t concealing any contraband items, like guns. Or knives. Or drugs.

When we did our initial skin assessment on the Tin Man, we discovered he wasn’t wearing just a hat made of aluminum foil, he was wearing a suit made of aluminum foil. Hence, the nickname.

“That has to be incredibly uncomfortable.” I observed.

“Yessir, but you get used to it.”

I was able to convince the Tin Man to surrender his special suit to us with the assistance of my good friend, Paul Anderson. I told the Tin Man he was in a government facility, and all government buildings have a secret layer of lead added when the building is constructed.

“For real?” the Tin Man asked. I am apparently quite a convincing liar. I’ve had many people tell me they couldn’t tell if I was telling the truth or not. Even when I said something ridiculous. And those were people I worked with.

“Oh yeah,” Paul said. “We have a lot of politicians and high powered dignitaries that visit here, and the last thing they want is space aliens taking over their minds.”

“Definitely.” I added. “They might do something unthinkable, like their jobs.”

* * * *

Wally World. He was also a patient at the MVAMC, and he would check in every few years or so. Wally was homeless. Well, he said he lived in a dumpster, so he wasn’t technically homeless in his mind. You wouldn’t believe how awful he smelled when he was admitted. Be that as it may, he was quite kooky, and he collected things.

That’s what he called it. His roommates called it stealing, and threatened to beat the shit out of him. We had two private rooms right by the nursing station, but we generally filled those rooms with old confused guys. I moved Wally into a seclusion room for his safety. Then I ended up locking him in it to keep him from getting killed to death. He couldn’t stop collecting things.

Some of the guys on the unit were combat veterans, guys who had fought in wars, and had killed other human beings in the service of their country. And some of them were the last person you’d want to piss off because they probably would kill you.

Being homeless, well, living in a dumpster, Wally probably didn’t have a lots of stuff. I doubt any of the stuff he had could be classified as nice. I’m sure the temptation to have nice stuff was overpowering to Wally. If he saw anything he liked, he simply took it. Being crazy as a loon probably didn’t make it any easier…

The rules and regulations for seclusion and restraints were the parts of my job that changed the most during my nursing career. When I started in Psychiatry, patients were secluded and restrained for almost any reason. Locking Wally in his room because he couldn’t stop stealing may seem punitive today, but it was acceptable back then. My boss had no problem with my decision, as long as I tried setting Wally free every day.

Nowadays, you need overwhelming evidence of a clear and present danger to self or others before you even think about using S & R. Especially in the private sector.

I worked for the VA. Technically, each VA hospital is supposed to follow the statutes of the state it’s in, but the VA is a Federal institution, and the Federal government doesn’t like the States telling it what to do. We pretty much did whatever we wanted to when it came to controlling the unit and managing the behavior of our patients.

I met with Wally every day that I worked while he was there during that admission. I thoroughly explained my expectations about his behavior to him. Don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you. If it’s not already in your room, it doesn’t belong to you!

I’m not sure if Wally didn’t listen, or if he couldn’t process what I was saying. I stepped between him and a very pissed off person more than once to prevent bloodshed. I’d return whatever he had taken, and then I’d lead Wally back to his room and lock the door.

“I don’t like you,” Wally told me one day as I was locking him back up again, after I saved his life and returned the item or items he had collected while he was free. “You’re mean, and icky. The only reason you’re doing this is because I can rap better than you!”

See what I mean?

Wally eventually came back to earth. He stopped collecting things, and we discharged him back to his dumpster until the next time.

* * * *

National Security. The Secret Service would bring people to the MVAMC from time to time because they had threatened to kill the President. It was always in conjunction with a Presidential visit to Minnesota.

If you’ve never met a Secret Service agent, they’re intimidating. They’re all tall, and their muscles have muscles. They all wear black suits and sunglasses. And they never, ever smile.

“Lock this man up in that room until we tell you to let him go.” a non-smiling agent would say, and point to a seclusion room.

“This is a locked unit. He’s already locked up.” I said, once.

“Locked up, in that room. Or you can join him. It’s a matter of national security.” When the President’s visit was over, the Secret Service would call and give us the green light, and we could discharge the person they had delivered into our custody.

And we would comply. Once we even put a man in four point restraints and locked the door because the Secret Service ordered us to. Several hours later we cut him loose, again, at the direction of the Secret Service. It was the only time I ever released someone that had been restrained and secluded directly to the street.

I have to admit, I’m not sure who was kookier now. The people that hated the President, the Secret Service, or us.

* * * *

The Mad Crapper. He was one of the kooky guys that liked to strip and go naked at the MVAMC. Truly crazy people emit an aroma or pheromone or something. I could tell how psychotic someone was simply from their smell.

That was true with the Mad Crapper, but he had a little something extra in his mix. That guy had a seemingly endless supply of shit inside him. He would crap like a moose. Nay, he would crap like a herd of moose. Yea, verily, he crapped like unto a veritable elephant.

The Mad Crapper crapped like no one you had ever seen. Or smelled. You would think after taking a dump like that, the guy wouldn’t need to poop again for a month.

After he downloaded enough crap to fill the halls of Congress, he would paint himself and the walls of the seclusion room with fecal matter. We would clean him up, and his room. And he would shit all over everything again with the same incredible amount of crap.

There’s something they never showed the nurses having to do on Days of Our Lives.

* * * *

The Piss Guzzler. His name was Patrick. I met him at the Minnesota State Hospital. You can probably guess why I gave him his nickname.

Patrick used to drink water by the gallon, and then he’d go crazier than hell. We’d have to lock him up with a few urinals and empty them as soon as he filled one, or he’d guzzle his piss like it was a bucket of beer.

Patrick was generally a pretty nice guy, unless he was intoxicated on water. He once charged my friend and mentor, Sondra, with deadly intent in his eyes. She had to lock herself in the report room. She later told me she was sure Patrick would have killed her if he had caught her.

Patrick climbed the flagpole one day. I’m not sure if I was there when it happened or not, but I have a vague memory of someone telling me I had to get him down from there. That was a very tall flagpole, and Patrick had climbed all the way to the top.

“The hell I do. Haven’t you heard of gravity?” I think I responded, if I was there.

Patrick eventually came down from the flagpole, all by himself, whether I was there or not.

* * * *

The Stalker. I met this guy at the County Hospital in Arizona. He looked to be a kind of a sweet, benign kooky guy. He mostly sat on the couch in the lounge, staring off into the distance at nothing, smiling to himself. I called him The Stalker because he had convinced himself one of local news anchors, Beverly Kidd, had fallen in love with him. He wrote her love letters, and started hanging around her TV station. He gave her flowers and candy. She filed a restraining order against him, which he ignored. He was arrested, and then he started writing letters to Beverly telling her how he was going to kill her and her children. The next thing he knew, he was locked up in a psych hospital.

He had two warnings taped to his chart. One, we were supposed to notify Beverly Kidd immediately upon his release. And two, we weren’t supposed to let him watch the news on Channel 3. That was Beverly’s network.

I think I left the County before he did, so I don’t know how his story ended.

* * * *

When it comes to my personal wild and crazy guys, this is but the tip of the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure I’ll visit this neighborhood again.

Sometimes the memories are still so real I’m not sure I ever left.

Dancing in September

Before I became a married guy, I was a single guy. I dated a lots of girls before I got married, generally one at time, but in September of 1978, I dated three girls at once.

Pat Levinski was a blonde. Sandy Evan was a brunette. Robin Wolfe was a redhead. Put ’em all together and you have a banana split. They were all living in Rice, MN, which is a small town about halfway between Little Falls and St Cloud on Highway 10.

There’s a saying that goes, If nobody knows the trouble you’ve seen, you’re not from a small town. I should’ve remembered that. In retrospect, I’m surprised now that none of them told the others who they were going out with back then.

My best friend at the time was Shorty Girtz. He was the owner/operator of a gas station in downtown Rice. Shorty’s station was the de facto gathering place of all young potheads living in the Rice area, and that’s where I met my three girlfriends.

I know I’ve said I was somewhat blithe of scruple prior to becoming a nurse, and there’s nothing that illustrates that fact as clearly as this story. Pat and Sandy were best friends, and my cousin, Danny W. Long, was kind of dating Sandy. Robin was a friend of theirs, but more importantly, she was dating my very good friend, Shorty. I had no moral conflict about dating all of them, not even Robin. Or Sandy. And maybe I wasn’t the only one with questionable ethics…

Small World Factoid: another one of my very good friends, Don Nelson, also dated Robin. Just not at the same time Shorty and I did. Well, not that I know of anyhow…

On the weekends, I liked to go out to the Little Rock Ballroom, just outside of Rice. It was set on Little Rock Lake, hence the name. They served cheap beer, they had live bands on Friday and Saturday nights, and the largest dancefloor in Central Minnesota. I loved drinking and dancing a lots back then. So did Pat and Sandy, and they could dance. I was a pretty good dancing guy back then, but those girls put me to shame.

I fell in love with both of them. Robin was a good dancer, but I think what drew me to her was her sophistication. She was easily the classiest woman in Rice.

I asked Pat out first. I probably took her to a movie in St Cloud. Then I asked out Sandy, and I probably took her to a different movie. And then I took Robin to yet another movie. There was a lots of hugging and kissing afterwards, but none of my relationships with the Banana Split Girls would progress to the level of the couple in the car in the woods that Don and I saw on our excellent canoeing adventure.

For roughly three and a half weeks I went out with one of my three girlfriends every night, or every other night. Even I needed to sleep every now and then. A movie, dinner and a movie, drinks and dinner, dancing and drinks, just drinks. Whatever they were up for, so was I. I was living the high life with a different gorgeous gal almost every night. I was pretty sure I was in heaven.

I went to work everyday at 6:00 AM. I put in my eight hours, then I’d go home and call my girls to see what they were up to, shuffle the deck and cut the cards, and the winner is…  We’d make plans for the evening, and away we would go.

There was only one downside that I clearly remember. My playboy lifestyle I was exhausting. I probably wouldn’t be that tired again until my wife became chronically ill and I lived at two hospitals.

I’m thinking now I also had to be broke because all that wining and dining and movies and gasoline had to be expensive, even at 1970’s prices. I was working as a long distance operator at the phone company in Little Falls, so I certainly wasn’t making a six figure salary. Looking back, I figure I was maybe making around five to six grand a year.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. So the saying goes. I found a way. There’s another saying, All good things must end. And so it was with me and the Banana Split Girls.

It was near the end of that magical month of September. I had gone out with Robin. I don’t remember where we went, or what we did. I was taking Robin home, and we decided to drop in at one of the greasy spoon dining places in Rice–it doesn’t seem fair to call it a restaurant–to get something to eat so we’d have a lots of energy for hugging and kissing.

We had eaten our entrees and were sharing dessert. Robin wanted a piece of pie. She must have had a sweet tooth craving or something. And guess who walked in? Pat and Sandy!

They took one look at me, one look at Robin, and turned around and walked out. And that was how my brief career as a player in the dating scene in Rice came to an end. Neither of them would go out with me again. Neither would Robin, for that matter. She decided she couldn’t date two guys that also happened to be good friends, and she chose Shorty over me.

At the time, I was probably a little bummed out that my playboy lifestyle came to such an abrupt end, but I was also relieved. I could go back to drinking beer with my guy buddies, who didn’t expect me to buy them all their drinks, and buy them dinner.

And I could go back to sleeping again at night. In some ways, that was the most fortuitous piece of pie I’ve ever had in my life.

Mark and Don’s Excellent Adventure

My best friend when I was in nursing school was Don Nelson. We had both been in the Army, and we liked each other immediately when we met. We had similar interests. Don was a couple inches taller than me, stockier. The biggest difference between us was Don was married and had a kid or kids. His wife, Kelly, might have been pregnant when we met. At any rate, they would end up with two girls, Trista and Lindsey. We became such good friends I became Lindsey’s godfather.

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Don Nelson, RN

It was during our senior year of school that Don came up with the brilliant idea to go canoeing on the Little Elk River. As you can kind of tell from the map above, it’s a twelve minute drive from Randall to Little Falls on the highway. If you can see it, the Little Elk is the thin squiggly blue line to the right of the highway. Don figured it’d take three hours or so to canoe that distance on the river.

Don picked this place for a couple reasons. His parents, my parents and Kelly’s parents all lived in the Little Falls area. We could go up there for the weekend, see our parental units, and go canoeing. It was perfect. Except Kelly had no desire to go canoeing. She would visit her parents.

Seeing how we were going to be canoeing for a only a short amount of time, our provisions were minimal. One can of Coke. One pack of cigarettes. One lighter. That was all we took. We didn’t even have life jackets. It was probably 8:30 AM. We put the canoe in the water–Don was in the bow, I sat astern, and we were off. It was a warm, sunny day; the perfect day for an adventure like this.

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The Little Elk was peaceful, scenic and serene. It’s called the Little Elk for a reason. It’s not big, as in wide, big. It flows mostly narrowly through the woods and fields northwest of Little Falls. We floated with the current, lit up cigarettes, and reveled in the beauty all around us. And two things happened: Don’s lighter died, and I knocked over the can of Coke, which I had strategically placed by my feet on the canoe bottom. No big deal, we were only going to be on the water for three hours.

The fact that the Little Elk flows through the woods implies the presence of a lots of trees, and there were a lots of them–some of which had fallen, to become submerged or partially submerged logs. Some became bridges, spanning the banks of the Little Elk.

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We laughed as we ducked our heads to go under fallen trees, paddled to pick up speed to slide over others. Neither Don nor I were expert canoeists, but we merged our limited skills. We managed to navigate all the obstacles in front of us, and we were also fortunate. We were laughing and having a blast.

And then we hit something like unto this:

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We hit treefall hell. There were fallen trees everywhere; above the waterline, below the waterline, at the waterline, damming the flow of water. It was as if an army of amphetamine beavers had been unleashed in that area of the woods, and very quickly, our canoe trip was no longer fun.

It took a couple of hours, but we eventually got through the fallen tree obstacle course. It would’ve been a great time to celebrate with a cigarette, but we didn’t have a lighter that worked anymore. We did take a breather, and off in the distance we espied a barn. Rested up, we set out for it.

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We would see that barn for something like the next four hours.

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It would be close.

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Then far away.

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It was off to our left.

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Then off to our right.

Randall and Little Falls are about ten miles apart. Please refer to the map, if needed. It’s almost a straight line shot. However, the Little Elk River didn’t flow in a straight line. It twisted and turned, cutback and switched back in a curving mess for something like 500 miles in that ten mile distance. We were probably into our third hour on the river when Don started saying, “Right around the next bend, the Mississippi River!”

There were only two problems with this: One, the Mississippi River was never around the next bend. Two, Don wouldn’t stop saying it. Don is an unquenchable optimist. It’s one of the things I admire about him. But on this day, I seriously thought about smacking him in the head with my canoe paddle. Really hard.

We kept paddling toward the Phantom Barn. We called it that because it would take forever to reach it. Don decided we needed to try to outthink the river, so we tried portaging around some of the more obvious curves, to try to shorten our adventure. We would pull the canoe out of the river, carry it a short distance, put it back in the water again.

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There was only one problem. We had no idea if we were actually cutting any time off of our trip. So we decided to stay on the river. We knew it would eventually merge with the Mississippi, we simply had to endeavor to persevere.

The Phantom Barn was still visible, but now we were closing in on it. And then we saw the car.

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We wondered what the car was doing out there in the woods, all by itself. Perhaps it had run away from home. Maybe it was lost… Don wanted to go check it for matches or a lighter. While we were deliberating what to do, a very, very shapely leg appeared from the backseat, and draped itself across the front seat, then the car started rocking and shaking. And we knew why the car had been parked in the woods.

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A young couple had chosen it as their make out place, and they had clearly progressed beyond the hugging and kissing stage in their relationship. We watched them for a moment, standing in the canoe so we could get a better view. I wanted to see what was attached to that leg… Then we decided to move on.

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The Phantom Barn eventually disappeared from view. The Little Elk River continued on and on. And on. And then we hit another area of massive treefall. We were forced to portage. The banks of the river were quite high where we were stuck on the river; not the most advantageous place to disembark from a canoe.

Don was able to scramble up the bank. He then reached down for the bow of the canoe to pull it up to the top of the bank. Don was becoming frustrated. His three hour tour had become a six or seven hour nightmare tour from hell, complete with obstacle courses, and his goddamn lighter had died. He yanked the canoe in an upward direction with a lots of force, and something like unto this resulted:

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I was unceremoniously dumped into the river. I was fortunate in that I didn’t lose my glasses. The water wasn’t terribly cold, but I was now drenched, and I had no dry clothes to change into. We had no idea how much longer our canoeing adventure was going to last; the Little Elk was probably longer than the Nile–and the sun was starting to go down. We still had roughly three hours of sunlight and warmth, but we were canoeing through a forest of mature shade trees. It didn’t take long for me to start shivering, despite all the exercise I was getting.

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I’m going to say we canoed for another fours hours for sure. Maybe five. It was pitch dark when we finally reached the Mississippi. And windy. A strong headwind came up out of nowhere and blew in our faces. There would be no leisurely coasting into town to complete our trip. We had to paddle like hell to make any headway against the wind.

I think our canoe trip took twelve or thirteen hours, and I felt like I had died when it ended. Actually, I couldn’t feel anything. I was half frozen from being dumped in the Little Elk. My once soaking wet clothes were now merely damp, but I think I damn near died from hypothermia, despite paddling my ass off.

We eventually made it to Don’s car. We secured the canoe to it, and even more eventually we made it to Kelly’s parents’ house. Kelly thought we had spent the last ten hours in a bar, so she was furious when we finally pulled up in the driveway. She started tearing into Don and me for being lying bastards and getting drunk–

“Hey!” I said very loudly “Do I look like I’ve had any fucking fun today?”

And when Kelly saw how miserable we both were, she smiled.

Don and I never went canoeing again. Ever. I think once was enough for us–it certainly was for me. We did other stuff, and stayed close friends after nursing school.

Don and Kelly divorced. Don and Beth got married. They built a beautiful home on the Mississippi River. And they bought a huge pontoon. Lea and I cruised the river several times with Don and Beth. Good times.

But never in a canoe.

The United States of America v. Mark Edward Rowen

The highlight, or lowlight, of my illustrious military career was my court martial, depending on how you view these things. My lovely supermodel wife thinks it’s deplorable. I think it’s kind of epic. It was something that only could’ve occurred in the military.

It happened way back when the Army wanted me to drive a truck. I delivered supplies to the four dental clinics on Fort Sill. It was a piece of cake job.

I drove to the motor pool in the morning, past the barracks in which I used to reside, and picked up my truck. Okay, it was actually a two seat panel van. Then I went to eat breakfast at the cafeteria at Reynolds Army Hospital. I drove to the warehouse and loaded up on whatever had been delivered, then went to the base laundry to pick up clean linen. The rest of the day was deliveries, lunch, and more deliveries. I dropped off all the soiled linens I had collected from all the clinics at the base laundry, and that was my day.

There was an unspoken rule between me and the staff of Dental Headquarters. When my deliveries were done, so was I. It made no difference what time it was. The company clerk, James Toney, who was technically the first link in the chain of my command, had approved this detail with me.

It was unprecedented in the annals of history at Dental Headquarters, but I was incredibly efficient, and James Toney liked me. My first sergeant knew about it. My second lieutenant executive officer knew about it. They were okay with it, off the record. My commanding officer didn’t know about it, but he wouldn’t have approved it if he had known, on or off the record. He didn’t approve of me.

Colonel Konze knew who I was. I had been summoned to his office more than once so he could read me the riot act about my attitude and complete lack of military bearing. For example, one day I made all of my deliveries wearing a set of Mickey Mouse ears.

I had so much fun that day…

The day in question was a Friday. The time was 2:00 PM. Technically, I was supposed to be on the clock for the US Army until 4:00 PM. I had completed all my appointed rounds, and stopped at Headquarters to let everyone know I was done for the day. Have a good weekend. See you Monday. I went out to the loading dock where my van was parked.

It wouldn’t start. The starter was shot.

I went back inside and informed the company clerk. He told me to tell the first sergeant. I walked across the hall. First Sergeant Garcia and Second Lieutenant Steffler shared an office. I told them about the van.

“The van won’t start, the starter’s shot. We need to call the motor pool. They’re going to have to send a tow truck.”

“Okay. I’ll take care of it.” Lieutenant Steffler said.

My duties, as I understood them, had been fulfilled. So, I went home.

That was the series of events that occurred. And for that, I would eventually end up in front of a military court of law.

I was living off base at the time. I had rented a house with two of my Army buddies, one of whom was Sergeant Raoul Sanchez–the guy that had transformed into Satan on our epic trip to Texas. At the time this happened, that trip was still way off in the future. And there was another adventure with Raoul and his wife lurking out there in the future, waiting to devour me…

I changed into my civilian clothes. I had most likely popped open a beer and was listening to music, when the phone rang. It was the company clerk, James Toney. He informed me the world had stopped spinning, and I needed to get back Headquarters, ASAP! He wasn’t a nurse or a doctor, so he couldn’t say STAT.

“What’s the problem?”

“The lieutenant’s pissed that you left!”

I talked to Toney for a few minutes. I didn’t see what the big deal was, but Toney was clear. I needed to get back to Headquarters immediately. So I immediately jumped in my car and drove back on base. In my civilian clothes. And marched into the XO’s office.

Lieutenant Steffler looked stunned when he saw me standing in his office. Maybe because I was wearing civilian clothes, but I’m not sure.

“Where the hell have you been? I’ve been looking for you for the last hour!”

“My deliveries were done. I went home.”

“You left your vehicle parked at the loading dock!”

“I told you it wouldn’t start. And you said you’d take care of it.”

Strict military protocol was rarely observed at Dental Headquarters. We mostly addressed each other my name, not by rank. We did say Sir, and stuff like that, when we had to.

“You abandoned your post, soldier!” Lieutenant Steffler screamed. His face had turned bright red.

“What?” I seriously could not believe what I was hearing. “Have you called the motor pool?”

“What? No! I’ve been too busy looking for you!”

“Well, why don’t you call them now. Sir.”

“Don’t tell me how to do my job, Rowen!” His face had turned even redder, if that were possible. “Go out to the loading dock, and wait there until someone from the motor pool arrives!”

I went out to the loading dock, and lit a cigarette. My buddy Raoul worked in the dental prosthetics lab making dentures at the Headquarters Clinic. He joined me on the loading dock. He lit a cigarette, and exhaled slowly.

“Let me give you a little advice, amigo. You’re going to be given an Article 15 for this…”

Raoul had been in the Army a lots longer than I had been, and he understood the convoluted way the military worked. There were two types of Articles 15: a company grade, and a field grade. Now, because our company commander was a colonel, I would be getting a field grade Article 15, and a field grade Article 15 was essentially the same, in terms of punishment, as being court martialed.

Raoul’s voice was almost mesmerizing that day. He had a Texas/Hispanic accent, and he matter of factly went through his outline as though he could see it unfolding in front of him. I didn’t know any of this crap, and that’s what I thought it was.

“So, when the colonel offers you an Article 15, you turn it down, and take the court martial, you understand?”

I remember looking at Raoul as if he had transformed into Satan. I couldn’t believe this ridiculous series of events would, or even could, result in me being court martialed. And I told him that.

“Yeah, well, amigo, you just remember what I said.”

Right about then, two old retired Army guys, who were now Civil Service employees, pulled up in an olive green military pick up truck. One of them got behind the wheel of my broken down van and turned the key.

“Yep, the starter’s shot. We’re gonna need a tow truck.”

* * * *

Somewhat unbelievably to me, everything played out exactly as Raoul had predicted. I was called into my commanding officer’s office the following Friday. He was going to authorize Article 15 proceedings. I had seventy-two hours to decide whether to accept it or not. If I declined, court martial proceedings would be initiated.

I spent the weekend verbalizing my disbelief to Raoul and getting drunk. On Monday, I returned to Colonel Konze’s office and informed him I wasn’t going to accept the Article 15. He looked at me like I had transformed into Satan.

“I think you’re making a big mistake, son.” he said, and signed my court martial papers. Because the Dental Service was attached to the Medical Service, my court martial would have to be approved by the MEDDAC Commander, Colonel Bishop.

I had one last chance to make an appeal to someone that would surely see the absurdity of all this.

“Don’t count on it.” Raoul said. He was convinced that our XO was tired of being a second lieutenant, and wanted to be a first lieutenant. In order achieve that, he had to prove to the Brass that he could fuck with the enlisted men, and that’s how all this bullshit got started.

* * * *

I waited outside the office of the MEDDAC Commander, Colonel Bishop. Interesting military factoid: the MEDDAC Company Commander was an enormous man, Captain Fatty. I can’t remember his real name. However, if good old Captain Tons of Fun had initiated my disciplinary action, it would’ve been a company grade Article 15, and according to Raoul, I could’ve accepted that as punishment.

I knew exactly what I was going to say to Colonel Bishop when he asked me what got happened. I walked into his office, and delivered a sharp salute.

“Ah, Specialist Rowen,” Colonel Bishop said as he took his seat. My paperwork was on his desk in front of him. Colonel Bishop didn’t even look up at me, nor did he ask for my side of the story. “I’ve heard all about you.” He signed the papers approving my court martial without so much as one word of explanation from me.

I was in an absolute state of shock. I couldn’t believe any of this was happening. All because my goddamn van wouldn’t start.

* * * *

I received a huge packet of paperwork prior to my court martial outlining the charges against me. At top of the first piece of paper it read:

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. MARK EDWARD ROWEN

That was, like, everyone in the entire country, including my Mom and Dad, and my brothers and sisters. Everyone. It amazes me to this day.

I was assigned an attorney at the JAG Office. Actually, I ended up with a defense team. I can’t remember how that happened, but it was another thing that occurred once every two hundred years. I was charged with ‘Willful Dereliction of Duty.’ My lawyers thought this was one of most egregious miscarriages of military justice they had ever seen, but they were also surprised by the charges.

“Willful Dereliction of Duty isn’t easy to prove. They should’ve charged you with Neglect…”

I credit the DENTAC Company Clerk, James Toney, for that. Neglect might be easy to prove, but the punishment is akin to a slap on the hand. You can go to prison for Willful Dereliction of Duty, and my commanding officers wanted to bust my balls. After my trial was over, and we could legally discuss it, Toney told me he had convinced Steffler to go big when charging me.

“I knew they’d have no problem convicting you of Neglect, but didn’t think they had enough to convict you for Dereliction of Duty. Lucky for you, Steffler and Konze hated you so much they fell for it. The only one that thought it was a bad idea was the First Sergeant.”

My defense team’s strategy was simple. There was no one to counter the prosecution’s claim about my state of mind when I abandoned my broken down vehicle at the loading dock, or to call into question the series of events that then transpired. So, they subpoenaed five dentists to refute the prosecution’s claim that I was a bad soldier.

All of my officer and a gentleman character witnesses were captains, and they all came from the same dental clinic, Dental Clinic #3, which was my personal favorite of all the clinics on Fort Sill. It had the greatest staff, and the cutest WAC’s. All five of them enthusiastically agreed to testify on my behalf. My defense team’s tactic would essentially shut down that clinic for at least half a day, which would impact productivity.

“Maybe they’ll think twice about doing this again.” my lead counsel said.

I had a choice between a trial with a jury of my peers, or a judge only. My defense team urged me to choose a judge only. I agreed with their suggestion. After all, they were the experts.

* * * *

My court martial was scheduled for early March of 1976. Two of my friends, Sergeants Rittenhouse and Beaver, were assigned to escort me to court. They had each been issued a set of handcuffs and a pistol. I was surprised to see that. My buddy Raoul had neglected to mention that small detail. I put my hands behind my back, and presented myself to my military escort as if I were being arrested.

“Oh, please, Mark,” Rittenhouse said. “I feel bad enough about having to do this shit already. You’re gonna make me cry.” What can I say? I was a popular guy.

We drove to the courthouse. The clerk of court, Mike Perkins, was also a friend of mine. We had run into each other a few times at parties. I didn’t know everyone on base, but I knew a lots of people. Mike would be dead in a few months, murdered by another friend of mine, Roy Bowman.

The trial was swift. The prosecution called several witnesses. James Toney, the company clerk. First Sergeant Garcia. Second Lieutenant Steffler. And couple of friends of mine that worked at the Headquarters Clinic. They had been subpoenaed to testify to the fact that Lt. Steffler had ordered them to search the clinic for me, and that I was nowhere to be found. Oh, and when I finally did appear, I was out of uniform.

The only glitch in the presentation of the prosecution’s overwhelming evidence against me was a remark from James Toney. He intentionally mentioned the unspoken rule that existed at Headquarters regarding the completion of my deliveries and the end of my day.

I don’t know how much that bit of evidence weighed when it came to determining the outcome of my trial, but it certainly didn’t hurt anything. And Toney took one helluva risk in saying it.

Thank you, James. That was a gutsy move, my friend.

The prosecution rested its case.

In my defense, Captain Howard Hardy was called. Howard was an interesting guy. He hated the Army. He hated most of his fellow dentists. He had a super hot looking girlfriend, and they liked hang out with me and my friends and get drunk and smoke pot.

Howard testified about my outstanding character, and what an excellent job I did delivering supplies to the dental clinics. And he was positive I would never willfully disobey an order, nor would I ever abandon my post or shirk my duties to the Army, or my country.

“Let me guess,” the judge said to my legal team. “You have four more witnesses that are basically going to repeat what Captain Hardy just said?”

“Yes, your honor.” my lead counsel replied.

“I don’t need to hear that.”

I was called to the stand to tell my side of the story. My attorney questioned me about the events, and about the unspoken rule that existed at Headquarters concerning my deliveries and the end of my day. The prosecution cross examined me, and that was it. The defense rested its case. My trial lasted maybe forty minutes. The judge retired to his chambers to review the evidence.

And he stayed there.

It was a dreary, cloudy day. A fine drizzle of rain was falling. I walked over to a window to gaze upon the grayness of the day, thinking that it perfectly mirrored the way I felt inside.

“Hey,” a soft voice whispered near my left ear. I turned to look toward the voice. It was my soon to be murdered buddy, Mike Perkins. “Just so you know, this judge is usually really fast. The longer he takes to make a decision, the better it is for you.”

Let him stay there all day! I thought. Roughly half an hour later, the court was called to order, the judge took his seat. I stood at attention while he announced his decision.

“Specialist Fourth Class Mark Edward Rowen, you have been charged with Willful Dereliction of Duty, which in my opinion, is not an easy thing to prove. I’ve listened to the testimony, and evaluated the evidence presented, and based on that, I think you’re guilty of Neglect. However, you weren’t charged with that, therefore, I find you not guilty.”

The courtroom erupted. My officer and a gentleman character witnesses started cheering. Sgts. Rittenhouse and Beaver were jumping up and down. My friends who had been forced to testify against me, including James Toney, rushed over to me to congratulate me. Soon to be killed to death clerk of court, Mike Perkins, smiled in my direction, and softly applauded. Even Lieutenant Steffler came over and shook my hand.

“Well, congratulations, I guess.” he said.

“Well, thanks, I guess.” I replied.

* * * *

There was an aftermath to all my legal proceedings. I asked my commanding officer to transfer me to any other Army base, anywhere in the world. I didn’t care where I went, as long as I went somewhere.

Colonel Konze declined my request, but did transfer me out of Headquarters. I would never be assigned to drive another vehicle in service to the US Army, or my country. I would take x-rays for the remainder of my time in the Army. And travel to Texas on the weekends.

Second Lieutenant James Steffler would unsuccessfully try to court martial two of my Army buddies, Joe Parnell and Sonny Gonzalez. He lost both cases, and if there was ever a man in my company that deserved to be court martialed, it was Sonny Gonzalez. How Steffler fucked up that case is a mystery that will never be solved.

The Army decided that being an XO was clearly beyond James Steffler’s abilities. He was promoted to first lieutenant, and put in charge of making out schedules for the Fort Sill Intramural Softball League.

Colonel Konze retired from the Army, bitterly disappointed in the way the Army treated him. He was passed over for a promotion to general. I can’t remember all the details, but he had done something years earlier that some guy who was a General at the Pentagon had never forgotten, so The Konz didn’t get a star and said, Fuck it, and quit.

Everyone else lived more or less happily ever after, I guess. Except Mike Perkins. He would be brutally beaten to death with a tire iron by Roy Bowman. Roy thought Mike had snitched him out for being a drug dealer, which Roy was. I had bought a lots of drugs from Roy back then.

I guess Roy wouldn’t live happily ever after either. He would be sentenced to ten years in prison for killing Mike to death.

No one deserves to got dead the way Mike did. No one.

The Jawbone of an Ass

My jaw has been bothering me quite a bit lately. It’s been a little over eight months since I was assaulted, resulting in the nondisplaced mandibular fracture that certainly doesn’t feel all that nondisplaced to me.

My dentist at Surprise Smiles 😆 told me it could take up to a year for my jaw muscles to realign to the new profile of my bite. This wasn’t what I wanted to hear back then, but if it will truly take that long, the good news is I have a mere four months to go.

I have sustained several physical injuries during my career as a psychiatric nurse. I also sustained several more injuries during my career as a drunken moron. These two careers overlapped each other for at least ten years, so it’s hard for me to separate them sometimes. The net result is pain, and for anyone that lives with daily chronic pain, it really doesn’t matter where or how it originated. You simply have to learn to live with it.

I was physically assaulted on three separate occasions during my nursing career. That averages out to one assault roughly every ten years. Somewhat oddly, I was struck in the face each time.

The first time, I never saw the punch coming. I was working at the MVAMC. My back was turned to the guy that hit me. Merrill came up behind me and suckerpunched the right side of my face because he wanted to go smoke, but I had taken away his smoking privileges because he was being an asshole.

It took me a moment to figure out what the hell got happened, and then it hit me, so to speak. That sonuvabitch punched me! My first response was to immediately punch him back. Yeah, guy logic, if there is such a thing.

My co-workers intervened. Merrill was quickly whisked into a seclusion room. I was sent to Employee Health be evaluated. I sustained no serious injury, but the doctor gave me the rest of the day off, just because.

The second assault occurred at Aurora. It was my second year there. I remember it as The Year of the Borderlines. My unit was generally designated as the  Marginally Functional Psychotic Unit, but that year we got hit with a tsunami of patients with Borderline Personality Disorder.

One Borderline can be enough to stand your unit on its head. A gaggle of Borderlines (?) A gossip of Borderlines…  I like that! A lots of Borderlines gathered together is rarely a good thing, particularly if you’re a psych nurse. And especially if the gossip is gaggling on your unit.

It takes an awesome skill set to effectively manage that.

The patient in question was Melissa, maybe. I used to remember everything about every one of my patients, but they eventually melded into one multi-headed mutant patient. Mel was having a difficult day obtaining the level of attention she desired, so she decided to go full on Drama Llama and had a VPM–Very Public Meltdown. Mel was good for usually one of these a day. She would set off a chain reaction with the rest of her Borderline buddies, and chaos would ensue.

On this particular day, I didn’t respond the way she wanted me to (I didn’t call the doctor to get injectable meds), so she stormed off to her room to slam the door and scream.

Karen Rae Goff, social worker extraordinaire, happened to be on the unit at the time. Karen also happened to be Melissa’s social worker, so we went to her room to see what Mel had planned for her next move.

“Get out of here!” Mel screamed at us as I opened the door.

“I need to know that you’re going to be safe.” I said, from the doorway.

“Leave me alone, or I’ll kick your fucking ass!” she screamed. And then I did something stupid:

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Melissa launched herself at me and started swinging. I blocked her first punch or two, but then she caught me with a left jab that knocked my glasses askew on my face.

That stirred something inside Karen, and she let loose on Melissa with her Mom Voice, and Mel was so stunned she stopped acting like a temper tantrum toddler.

“I can’t fucking believe you did that.” I said, and calmly readjusted my glasses.

“You asked for it.” Melissa replied.

“Are you going to press charges?” Karen asked me. It’s a felony to physically assault a healthcare worker in Arizona. Melissa let a momentary look of panic escape, and that’s when I fell in love with Karen. We never had another problem with Melissa. She was a little angel for the remainder of her stay.

And that brings us to Assault #3, which also happened at Aurora.

That day started out like any other day. Dr Sbiliris, the psychiatrist assigned to the Canyon Unit, came onto the unit to meet with his patients. One of them, a young kid named Desean asked to be discharged. Dr Sbiliris kind of laughed and said, “No, probably Friday. Maybe Wednesday.”

Desean seemed to accept that, even if it wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear.

And then something happened that should’ve sent my Spidey senses tingling. A patient on the Canyon Unit started loudly acting out, and when the staff from other units rushed over to aid and assist, Desean bolted out the unit doors and made a break for freedom.

We took care of the Yelling Guy. Desean fell short in his sprint to escape. He returned to the unit with an escort, and went to his room. And there was peace in the Canyon once more. Until 2:00 PM.

That’s when Desean entered the dayroom and started yelling and throwing stuff.

My boss of bosses, Lori Milus, must’ve been having a rare quiet day because she had come down to chat. I went into the day room. One of the BHT’s was trying to verbally redirect Desean, and I provided back up. But Desean wasn’t having any of that shit.

“Come on, man.” I said. “You know how this works. Sbiliris says that to everyone. He wants to see how you’ll respond. You know acting like this isn’t going to get you out of here. If anything, it’ll extend your stay, and you clearly don’t want that. Use your head, think about this!”

Desean and I were standing in the doorway of the dayroom. The nursing station and the unit doors were behind me. The hallway leading to the patient rooms was behind Desean.

He didn’t say anything, as if he were contemplating the veracity of my words. He appeared to me to start turning to his right, and I thought he would keep on going and go back to his room. I also started turning to my right, thinking my work was done. But Desean was merely loading up. He stopped turning to his right and reversed direction. His right fist came flying at me at about the speed of light, catching me squarely on the jaw.

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I was launched into space, much like that. I landed by the unit doors, seven or eight feet away. Desean may have howled in triumph. He ripped off his shirt, daring me to get up and fight him.

Like that was going to happen.

I didn’t lose consciousness. I even kept my head elevated so it wouldn’t hit the floor. But I don’t think I could’ve gotten off the floor just then if my life had depended on it.

One of the darling nurses I worked with, Lindsey Stirling, picked up my glasses and protectively leaned over me as I lay on the floor, trying to out figure out what I should do next. Another nurse, Brea Bils, one of my darlingpreshadorbs work daughters, tried to check my blood pressure. She later told me she no idea what she was doing. She thought I had gotten dead.

I knew I didn’t got dead, so I think I even said that.

“I’m not dead. I didn’t lose consciousness. My jaw…is really sore, but other than that, I’m okay.”

A group of BHT’s had escorted Desean into one of the Overflow rooms. Aurora was the only psychiatric facility I worked at that didn’t allow the use of seclusion and/or restraints to manage a behavioral crisis. Desean got several injections. And he was kept under close observation by several large men.

Once Desean was medicated and no longer actively assaultive, my boss asked me if I wanted to press charges. I did.

If Desean had been psychotic and responding to internal stimuli, that might’ve changed my decision. But Desean wasn’t psychotic. He didn’t get what he wanted, and he decided to act like a thug. That definitely was a factor in determining my decision.

The police took my statement. They took Desean into custody. Thankfully, Frankie Baby wasn’t there, or the police would’ve had to arrest him for murder. And there was peace in the Canyon once more.

I didn’t find out my jaw was broken until the following day when I had a CT scan. Because my fracture was nondisplaced, there wasn’t much of a treatment. I was on a soft diet for six to eight weeks; nothing but soups, smoothies and ice cream.

I bought the world’s most expensive smoothie. I lost ten pounds. I gained all of them back once I could eat real food again. And now I’m learning to live with my new occlusion pattern. It’s a process. Some days are better than others. Today, it hasn’t been too bad. Yesterday fucking sucked.

And as Forrest Gump said, That’s all I have to say about that.

Get out and vote.

The Worst Week

October, 1994.

Lea was once again hospitalized at Fairview Medical Center. She had taken another turn for the worse. Abdominal Surgery Number Three had been in the summer of 1993. Ninety-five percent of her colon had been removed. Abdominal Surgery Number Four was on deck, and I was beginning to wonder what the endgame was going to be with this.

I mean, how much more of Lea’s gut were they thinking about removing? How much more could they remove?

It was early Monday morning, around mid-October. The phone rang at our house. It was my father-in-law, David Covington. He and his wife, Wanda, were living in San Benito, TX. They had retired down there years ago. Lea and I had visited them a year or two earlier during one of Lea’s periods of relative stability, all the way down at the bottom of Texas.

My father-in-law wasn’t an easy man to be around. He was a combat veteran of World War II and Korea. He had been wounded in each conflict, earning two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for bravery in battle. He had a short fuse on his temper, and tended to yell a lots of the time. Dave had one bitch of a case of PTSD that he had never sought treatment for.

My mother-in-law was on the fast track to sainthood, in my opinion, for staying with her husband as long as she did.

“Hi Mark. It’s Dave. Say, I just wanted to let you know Wanda’s in the hospital. She’s actually in the same hospital that your wife is in.”

It took me a moment to process that. I was working a stretch of Nights at the MVAMC, and the ringing phone had awakened me.

“Why is she in the hospital. In Minneapolis.” I said. I don’t think it sounded like a question.

“Oh, well, she wanted to see her baby girl, and that’s Lea, you know. So, we drove up here over the weekend. And when we got here, Wanda had a small heart attack. So she’s in Fairview Hospital, on the fourth floor.” Dave may have even chuckled.

Dave was fairly nonchalant about it, but he was like that. When he told me the story about how he earned his Bronze Star, he made it sound as though he had been walking through the park. Except he and his men were being chased by an army of Nazis. Through a minefield. And the Nazis were desperately trying to kill them.

It was no big deal then, and this was likewise no big deal. The doctors wanted to run a couple tests, but Wanda was okay. She was resting comfortably. He thought she’d be well enough to travel back to Texas by the end of the week.

“Let me jump in the shower. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

I met Dave in Fairview’s main lobby. He had visited both his wife and his daughter; Lea knew her mother was in the hospital, two floors below her. Lea’s room was on the sixth floor. Dave hadn’t had any sleep. He wanted to go to his hotel, take a nap and get cleaned up.

“Go ahead. I got this.” I said.

Lea was excited and very chatty when I got to her room. She had already talked to her mom on the phone, and wanted to go see her mom, of course. She had gotten all dolled up; hair, make up, everything. The sixth floor nurses had dropped everything else to help her. Those nurses had  become part of our family  through the multiple admissions and surgeries Lea had had over the previous couple of years.

Lea looked great. I wheeled her and all of her IV pumps and bags of IV fluids down to the fourth floor and Wanda’s room. Wanda also looked great. The fourth floor nurses, who didn’t know Wanda at all, had also given Lea’s mom every possible assistance to help her get all dolled up. The sixth floor nurses had called the fourth floor nurses and had explained the unique situation to them.

Those sixth floor nurses, they were total rockstars.

Lea and Wanda hugged and kissed and talked and talked. It had been Wanda’s idea to drive to Minneapolis. She felt an intense need to see her baby girl before this upcoming surgery. Her gut told her she needed to be here.

This would be my life for the next few days: Work nights at my hospital. Catch twenty to thirty winks of sleep. Shower. Eat something. Go visit my wife and her parents at the other hospital. Repeat.

I informed my boss of this latest wrinkle in the seemingly neverending saga that was my wife’s healthcare nightmare. Marj was actually supportive, verbally, though not enthusiastically so. I was too tired to give much thought to my boss’ reaction. I was pretty sure my life couldn’t get much worse.

On Day Three of my new routine, Wanda’s heart specialist doctor wanted to talk to Dave about his wife’s prognosis. Dave wanted me to be there when he met with the doctor. It turned out Wanda’s condition was much worse than Dave described.

Wanda’s family suffered from heart disease. In short, my wife comes from a long line of people that died young from heart attacks. Wanda was in her sixties. She had serious coronary artery disease, and already had one coronary bypass surgery about a decade earlier. She saw a team of heart specialists on a regular basis in Houston. Dave wanted to stabilize his wife enough to take her back to Houston for treatment.

“Yeah, you could do that,” Wanda’s Minnesota doctor said. “But she probably won’t survive the trip.” The results of Wanda’s angiogram showed an eighty to ninety percent blockage in three of her major coronary arteries. “She needs another bypass, immediately.”

Fairview Medical Center might not be the Texas Heart Institute, but it wasn’t the worst place to go to be treated for heart disease either. The hospital had an eighty percent success rate with their coronary bypass surgeries. Dave asked me what I thought.

“This is a decision for you and Wanda to make. You could call her team in Houston, and see what they think, if you have any major objections. And this isn’t my specialty area…  I haven’t worked in Cardiac Care for… six years. But if this were me, and this was my best option to save my wife, I’d have the surgery here. This is a good hospital. They’ve kept your daughter alive three times already when she could’ve died.”

And they’d be getting a chance at Number Four very soon.

“I’ve got to talk to Wanda…” Dave said.

It was a no-brainer for Wanda. She consented to the surgery. It was scheduled for Friday.

When Friday came, I slept almost all day, which was unusual for me, even when I worked Nights. I called Lea around 5:00 PM. Wanda had been the last case of the day. She went to the OR around 3:00 PM. There hadn’t been any recent updates, but everything had been going smoothly. The fourth and sixth floor nurses had talked to the OR staff, and they would keep everyone in the loop.

Sleep deprived and feeling foggy, I ate some leftovers and went back to bed. I woke up around 11:00 PM and went to work.

At around midnight, I got a phone call.

“Hi Mark. This is Dave. Say, the surgery went well, but then something happened.”

I felt my heart stop beating.

“The doctors haven’t been able to get Wanda’s heart to start beating on its own again. They’ve had her on life support since the end of the surgery…”

“How long has that been?”

“Oh, I think since about six o’clock.”

“Okay,” I tried to get my brain working. “Now what? Do they have any idea what they’re going to do?”

“Well, yeah.” he stammered. “They want to take her off life support. They’ve done everything they can, but Wanda’s heart just isn’t strong enough…  I think I’ve lost my co-pilot.”

I hung up the phone. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. I told my co-workers. And I called my horrible boss, Marj, to let her know I was leaving work and that she needed to come in and take my place.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.” she said. Marj walked on the unit about an hour later. She didn’t look pleased. I could care less what she thought or felt, but I briefly thanked her for coming in to relieve me, then drove like a bat out of hell to Fairview Medical Center.

I met Dave in the main lobby one more time. Wanda had been taken off of life support right after we had talked on the phone.

“Wanda’s gone…” he said. He was holding back his tears.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”

We hugged each other for a long time. Dave was saying something, I can’t remember what he said anymore. I wasn’t really listening anyway. I was thinking about my wife.

“Does Lea know?”

“No. No. I was waiting for you. I can’t tell her her mother is dead.”

I have no clear recollection of most of what followed. I think Dave went to call Lea’s ex-husband, so he could tell their daughters about their grandmother. I went to the sixth floor. The nurses came running up to me when I got off the elevator. All of them were crying. I hugged them all, they tearfully expressed their condolences.

“What does Lea know? Did you tell her?” I asked the sobbing nurses.

“No. You have to tell her.” one of the nurses said, drying her tears with a Kleenex. Her name was Mary, and of all the incredible rockstar nurses that took care of us, Pretty Mary was our favorite. We called her Pretty Mary because there was more than one Nurse Mary on the sixth floor, and she was the prettiest.

God, give me strength, I thought. I was sure I’d rather die than be the messenger bearing this news. I talked to Lea’s nurses for a moment, telling them how I heard the news and what my horrible boss had done. They knew all about my toxic relationship with Marj.

“Okay…” I said more to myself than anyone else, and headed down the hallway to Lea’s room.

“Oh my God! What time is it? Why are you here? What happened?” Lea said in a rush, the moment she saw me in her room in the dead of night.

“I don’t know any other way to tell you this. Your mom’s heart wasn’t strong enough…” I didn’t have to say anything else.

“Oh, no!” Lea cried. And I held her for the longest time as she started grieving the loss of her mother. “I want to go see her!”

The nurses were ready. They flowed into the room, and hugged Lea. Through their tears they checked all of Lea’s IV bags, helped her change into a fresh gown and robe, transferred her into a wheelchair and brushed her hair.

Dave and I were waiting in the hallway when the nurses rolled Lea out of her room. She cried with her dad for a time. He told her how much Wanda had wanted to see her, and how much Wanda loved her. And then he told Lea how much he loved her. Lea later said that was the most surprising thing that happened that night.

Lea’s daughters arrived at the hospital swiftly. Dave led the way to where Wanda’s body lay in state. The OR staff had cleaned her up, and left her body in the OR suite. No one was able to speak, so I said something appropriate for the situation– what a wonderful gal Wanda was, how much we loved her and how much we were all going to miss her…

The staff told us to take as much time as we wanted. We stayed with Wanda for at least half an hour, maybe an hour. There’s only so much crying you can do at one time. I don’t think the girls wanted to leave their grandmother alone in that room. But the transport crew was waiting to take Wanda’s body to the funeral home, and the cleaning crew still waiting to scrub the OR suite down.

I don’t know how long I stayed at the hospital. I took Lea back to her room after her dad took her daughters home. We talked about her mom.

“I didn’t go see her before her surgery.” Lea said. We were laying in her hospital bed, her head was on my chest. “You usually come in, and I thought I’d wait until you came in. But you didn’t, and I didn’t want to inconvenience the nurses. They’re always so busy…  So I didn’t go see my mom, and now I’ll never be able to see her again.”

Sometimes it’s the things you don’t do that you end up regretting the most.

I know I eventually went home and slept. I may have actually had the weekend off because I don’t have any memory of going back to work until after Wanda’s funeral.

I called Marj on Monday morning, and view of the tragic circumstances, I requested the week off. Marj told me I’d have to talk to her boss, Mary Erdman. I called Mary and explained my situation to her. She already knew what was going on with my wife, but she didn’t know about my mother-in-law. In view of the circumstances, I thought requesting a week off was very reasonable.

“Do really you think you need the entire week off?” Marj’s boss asked me.

“No, I don’t think I need a week off. I need a month off, but I’ll settle for a week!” I replied, and slammed the telephone receiver down on the base without waiting to hear Mary’s response.

This, I thought, means war.

But first, I had to bury my mother-in-law.

Bon anniversaire

Almost twenty eight years ago I married my lovely supermodel wife, Lea. We actually got married on a Monday, and our anniversary falls on a Monday this year, so it’s kind of a double anniversary–day and date.

I’m not sure when I started to begin to commence to get ready to think about proposing, but I knew I would marry this woman. I was working at AMRTC. It was a Saturday in September in 1988. Lea and I were walking through the Crossroads Mall in St Cloud.  We were strolling along, holding hands, and we walked past DJ Bitzen’s Jewelers. On an impulse, I swerved in and asked the clerk if she had any engagement rings.

“What?!?” Lea exclaimed. I had surprised her.

“Do you see anything you like?”

“Ohh! All of them.” Lea sighed. This was going to be easier than I thought. I pointed to a ring. The clerk took it out of the display case and handed it to Lea to try on. Her hands were shaking.

“I’m so nervous.” she said to the clerk, and something like this happened:

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Yep, slippery little suckers, aren’t they? The clerk retrieved the ring. I shook my head, Not that one.

“What else do you have?” I asked.

“Um, how about this one?” the clerk suggested. She handed it to Lea, whose hands were quite possibly shaking even more. And this happened:

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This ring flew even farther than the first. The clerk retrieved this ring and put it back in the case.

“I’m so sorry!” Lea apologized. “Let’s go–”

“Not yet. You pick a ring this time.” Lea took a couple of deep breaths, composed herself for a minute. She perused the selection of gold and diamonds, and pointed out a ring. The clerk looked like she didn’t know whether to hike the ring to Lea and go deep or what to do. She smiled at Lea, handing her the ring she had selected. I seriously think both of them held their breath. And this happened:

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Lea placed the ring on her finger without throwing it.

“This is the wedding band.” the clerk said. I guess they come in sets… Lea slipped the second ring onto her finger, and admired how it looked for a moment or two.

I thanked the clerk for all her hard work, and we left the store. We probably went to get something to eat. If it has anything to do with shopping, I get hungry. Not sure why that is.

I called DJ Bitzen’s on Monday morning. The store is closed on Sundays. As chance would have it, I ended up talking to the clerk that had waited on us. She had no problem recalling who we were.

“Do you remember which ring my girlfriend didn’t throw?” I asked.

“Yes, I do!” she laughed. I told her to upgrade the diamond, and wrap it up. I’d take it.

* * * *

A few weeks later, Lea’s ring was ready to be picked up. I called my cousin, Danny W. Long, and told him my devious plan to propose to my lovely girlfriend. He agreed. Now all I had to do was convince her.

Lea and I were living in Minneapolis. Her ring was in St Cloud. All I had to do was get Lea to go to St Cloud.

“No, I’m not interested in going to St Cloud…” was Lea’s response when I suggested it. As chance would have it, the day I was going to propose to Lea happened to be her birthday. I told her I needed a tune up and oil change on my car, and Cousin Dan and I were going to do that. Dan’s girlfriend would be there, so she’d have someone to talk to. And then we’d go grab something to eat…for her birthday…

Lea reluctantly agreed. We drove the seventy-five miles or so to St Cloud. I dropped Lea off at Cousin Dan’s. She and Margie were chatting away in the kitchen. Dan and I actually bought a bunch of tune up stuff, my car really did need an oil change. And we went over to DJ Bitzen’s.

Lea and Margie were still in the kitchen when we got back. I couldn’t wait to show Lea all the cool stuff I bought. Spark plugs, condenser, oil, oil filter and…a…ring!

I got down on one knee, and asked Lea to marry me:

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Lea said, “Yes!”

It was the last time I surprised her.

We were married thirty-four days later. I don’t think anyone at our wedding was giving us more than six months. I should’ve taken that bet.

There have been plenty of times when we could’ve gotten divorced. I know thought about a couple times. I have no idea how many times Lea contemplated it, but I know she did.

I think our secret for staying together has been this: we didn’t hate each other at the same time. It might sound weird, but I think that’s it.

I’m taking Lea out in a few minutes. We’re going out with a few of our Ajijic peeps tonight. Lea’s actually going shopping with the girls in Guadalajara on Monday, so we decided to celebrate our anniversary tonight. We’re going to Go. It’s one of the many fine dining establishments down here.

Happy anniversary, honey. Buen provecho.

La Vida Fantástico

I’ve been retired for a little over one month. My lovely supermodel wife and I sold our house, decluttered and divested ourselves of a bunch of stuff, and moved to Mexico. Our stunning retirement residence, Villa del Selva, is the featured image above.

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Arriba, baby!

I’ve got to tell you, retirement has been velly velly good to me. Now that I can sleep again and don’t have to worry about dying to death from Malignant Insomnia, I really don’t have anything to worry about.

My days are about as stress free as life can be. I wake up early, I’ve never been much of a late sleeper. My day starts around 4:30 AM, give or take. I turn on our Ninja® coffeemaker, feed Samantha (our kitten) and watch the Morning Show in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

I didn’t know Canadians were funny, eh!

This is perhaps the most surreal part of my life now. I had to move all the way to Mexico to learn all about Canadia. Our satellite TV provider is from Canada, so we get a lots of Canadian TV shows. We also have an Amazon Firestick and an XBMCMART box. We can binge watch movies or pretty much any TV show all day if we don’t want to leave the house. Yesterday we watched all of Season 14 of NCIS, Lea’s favorite TV show.

We have the most minimal set schedule we’ve ever had in our lives. We have Spanish lessons on Tuesdays at noon at the Lake Chapala Society. And November 12-13 we have to travel back to the border with our Padrino, Javier Guardado, so I can get an FMM. (It’s an Immigration form that I didn’t get when I entered the country. I think that makes me an illegal immigrant in Mexico!)

That’s it. Everything else is determined by when or if we want to do it. Lea has a pampering/beauty/spa day today. Hair and a mani/pedi at Christine’s European Salon.

The only thing we actually need to do on an occasional basis is go shopping. Groceries, household goods, furniture, stuff. As my friend and mentor, Sondra Roberts-Johnson used to say, “Gots to go shoppin’!”

And let’s not forget dining out. There are a lots of restaurants and places to eat here in the Lakeside area. There are something like four or five small to medium sized towns that basically run together in what the locals call Lakeside. If we focused on just the restaurants in Ajijic, it’d take us over a year to try them all. It would probably take a lifetime or two to hit every dining establishment down here.

We have yet to find a place we’d never consider returning to.

And for those of you that don’t follow me on Facebook, and you haven’t seen the hundreds of pictures of the Lakeside area that I’ve posted, this place is gorgeous! It’s so incredibly beautiful here!! Ajijic is pretty much heaven on earth. So if you have to do something, you couldn’t pick a more scenic place to do it.

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Ajijic Village

Sometimes we’ll go down to the village and just walk around, and I’ll take pictures, when Lea feels up to it. Apparently this aspect of my personality drives my wife crazy. She doesn’t mind it any other time, except when we’re strolling through Ajijic. In a way, that’s really a shame, seeing how this is where we live… And I have two digital cameras… And a smartphone, with a camera…

Well, there has to be something, I guess, otherwise you wouldn’t need to die to death to get into Heaven, if Heaven is where we go once we got dead. I personally believe Heaven is the abode of God and his angels, and that’s it. We, or what remains of us, go to an entirely different realm once we enter the afterlife.

Well, that’s it for today. I ended up spending about eight hours or more writing my post yesterday. I’m not always an inspired writer, but I am a diligent editor and re-writer. I don’t have any plans after finishing my daily blog for this day. I still have trouble believing I’ve become a blogger guy. Maybe I’ll go for a walk with my camera while Lea’s getting all pretty and cutey.

Film at ten.

What Was I Thinking?

Anyone that has been in more than one serious relationship probably has a story about that time they got involved with someone that was totally wrong for them. If you have more than one story, you should probably consider not dating for maybe a decade. If you have more than five, you should consider becoming a priest or a nun.

For me, that person was Cynthia Jamieson. I met her right around the time I was having my final showdown with Sister Mary Hitler, so she initially presented herself as a very welcome distraction in my already troubled life.

Cynthia was roughly my age and height, and thin–almost too thin. I asked her out. She agreed. We met at a restaurant/bar that had live music on the weekends. We ate, had a few drinks, and danced a lot. She was attractive with short, kind of platinum blonde hair–I don’t know what her natural hair color was. She was smart, witty, funny, and she was a good dancer. She could also sing. She could sing arias from Puccini and Mozart and classical guys like that. And she was good! I was totally impressed.

Cynthia was divorced, she was the first previously married woman I seriously dated. She had two boys, Bert and Pete. I think Bert was maybe ten years old, and Pete was around eight. They were good kids, we all got along.

Cynthia had some vague GI problem that she was seeing three doctors for treatment–two in St Cloud, one in Minneapolis. And she was getting at least one prescription medication from all three of them. She saw each of her doctors about every two or three weeks on a rotating basis. Her vague problem didn’t seem to be serious, and the medication, whatever it was, seemed to be managing her illness, whatever it was…

Things were going mostly smoothly with Cynthia and the boys. I moved into Cynthia’s’s apartment after a couple months of dating her. Things were getting kinda serious. It was only after I moved in with Cynthia I got my first inkling there was something not quite right.

Cynthia was…moody. And sometimes she was darkly moody. And when it got really bad, she always played one special song on the stereo: Harden My Heart by Quarterflash.

“Oh, God,” Bert said, the first time Cynthia played that song after I moved in. “Mom’s in a bad mood. She always plays this song when she’s in a bad mood.”

“What’s that all about?”

“I don’t know, maybe cuz dad divorced her.”

“Yeah, but that was, like, two or three years ago, wasn’t it?”

“All I know is she plays this song, and then she starts yelling.”

I had to investigate this phenomena, and what Bert said was absolutely true. Cynthia went off on me like she was the Witch Queen of New Orleans. I grabbed the boys and fled. We went to my old apartment and hung out with my brother until it was safe to return.

This was not a frequent occurrence, but it wasn’t a singular event either. If Cynthia was upset with her ex-husband, I could understand that, but when Cynthia got into one of these moods, her ire wasn’t focused toward her ex-husband. It was seemingly directed toward anyone/everyone with a penis.

Cynthia’s ex’s name was also Bert. Cynthia’s son was actually Bert II. Bert the First was a semi-wealthy guy, and he had derailed Cynthia’s very comfortable lifestyle by divorcing her. Cynthia had very nice, very expensive tastes. Everything she owned was designed by a Somebody. Cynthia was my first high maintenance woman, and she would become my first serious fashion consultant.

I think it was around this time that my youngest sister got married. Cynthia sang ‘Ave Maria’ a cappella at Julie and Curt’s wedding and brought the house down. She really did have an amazing voice. I think that was the moment I fell in love with her.

Weddings. Never make any serious life decisions immediately after going to a wedding. I bought a ring. I proposed, all that stuff. And then things went all to hell.

Cynthia not only had an ex-husband, she also had an ex-boyfriend. I can’t remember his name, but he couldn’t get over the fact that Cynthia had dumped him. He used to call frequently. I hung up on him whenever I answered the phone. He wrote letters. He sent cards. He followed us around sometimes. And one time he even kidnapped her.

Okay, maybe he didn’t actually kidnap her, but that’s what it felt like. I can’t remember all the details… Cynthia’s ex-husband had the boys, so it must’ve been the weekend. We were out at a park, maybe playing Frisbee. My brother Tom was there. Mr XBF walked up, said he needed to talk to Cynthia. I kind of lost it, and told him to walk away before I killed him to death. But Cynthia agreed to talk to him! Privately!! They went over to his car. Tom and I followed them, and immediately lost them in traffic after Mr XBF drove off with her. I was sure he was going to kill her, then kill himself.

Okay, maybe he didn’t actually kill her. My brother thought I was being a drama llama and told me to get a fucking grip already. He dropped me off at my apartment where I waited for a call from the police, informing me my fiancée had been brutally murdered. By her psychotic ex-boyfriend. Who then committed suicide…

The phone rang, but it wasn’t the police. Or Mr XBF, outlining his perverted ransom demands. Or even Cynthia, calling to say goodbye to me before she got dead at the hands of the psycho guy she never should’ve dated. It was Cynthia’s best friend, Patricia. I told her what had happened in a rush. We talked for at least an hour, and she filled in a whole lots of blanks in Cynthia’s storyline.

Mr XBF was bad news. Patricia had never liked that creepy bastard, and had been telling Cynthia to dump him from Day One. I had met Patricia couple times, and I thought she was okay, but now I thought Patricia was brilliant and I loved her. And then came the bombshells. Cynthia didn’t have anything wrong with her stomach or any other portion of her GI tract. And the medication she was getting to treat her malady was phenobarbital. I couldn’t believe it! My darling opera singer, fashion plate fiancée was a drug addict!!

My head was spinning after I hung up the phone. Cynthia walked in the door a short time, or maybe a long time later. I really can’t remember how long I waited. All I know is, I should’ve been playing Quarterflash when she walked through the door.

I confronted my then fiancée. She countered with any number of reasonable sounding explanations. I called Patricia. She wanted to talk to Cynthia. I handed the phone to my fiancée. She had the shortest conversation she would have with her best friend, ever, but about half an hour later Patricia walked in the door and we ended up doing a tag team intervention on Cynthia that lasted until the wee hours of the morning. I doubt any of the people living in the vicinity of our apartment got any sleep that night. Thinking back on it now, I’m surprised no one called the police.

Cynthia fought us tooth and nail, but Patricia was beyond amazing that night. When Cynthia finally broke down and admitted she had a problem and needed help, it was because of Patricia, not me. Cynthia packed a bag, and we drove her to the St Cloud Hospital ER to get her admitted into the Chemical Dependency Treatment Program.

I talked to Cynthia’s ex-husband the next day to let him know what had happened. He wasn’t as surprised as I was, but agreed he should keep his sons until their mother got out of drug rehab.

I supported Cynthia while she was in treatment. I visited her every day. I went to Family Night. I participated in her program whenever my presence was required. Cynthia’s parents and siblings even got involved, and they started mending their relationships, but I knew I was done.

Given my history, her drug abuse wasn’t the issue. I probably made her look like a grade school kid in terms of drug and alcohol use. It wasn’t the drugs, it was her crazy behavior–the yelling and screaming, the diffuse rage that rained down pell-mell and helter skelter. And there was also Mr XBF. The fact that she had voluntarily disappeared for several hours with him…

I told Cynthia we were through near the end of her hospitalization. She took it better than I thought she would, and gave me my ring back. I didn’t ask for it, she simply took it off her finger and placed it in my hand. I packed up my stuff and moved out of her place just before she was released.

The last thing I did before I left her apartment was break her Quarterflash album in two.

I ran into Cynthia about a month after she completed rehab. She was smiling and relaxed. I just about had a heart attack. Cynthia looked about the same, except for one surprising physical anomaly. Her ass had become huge! She looked to be about the same otherwise, but(t)…

And that was when she became Cynthia ‘Fatass’ Jamieson to me.

I know. It doesn’t say much about me, does it. I make no excuses, nor do I apologize. I’m a guy. I’m not always sensitive to the pain of others, despite my training and my inherent compassion. I rarely care what others think or feel about me and my words or actions.

I’ve done a lot of work fixing the broken parts of me. I’ve come to the conclusion that life is essentially an endless recovery program. Recovery never ends, you simply move on to the next issue. We all have areas that need some work and tuning up.

I hope Cynthia’s life turned out great. I hope she conquered her demons and is prospering at whatever it is she’s doing now. I hope her sons grew up to be decent men, and that they married nice girls, and gave their mother grandchildren to spoil.

But I really wish I had never seen Cynthia’s gigantic ass. It’s an image I’ve never been able to erase from my brain. And I can’t listen to Quarterflash without damn near having a panic attack.

In some ways, that’s the biggest tragedy of this story. I love music, and Quarterflash had a few decent songs back in the 80’s. And I love the 80’s.

A Football Life

I love football. My favorite NFL team is the Minnesota Vikings. They were one of best teams in the NFL three short weeks ago. They were the only undefeated team in the entire NFL. Last night, they lost to the Chicago Bears, a team that has been one of the worst NFL teams all season. Honestly, after the way the Vikings have performed over the last two weeks, they look like they’ll be fortunate to win another game this year.

The Vikings have been in the NFL since 1961. They’ve fielded some impressive teams over the years, most notably on the defensive side of the ball. Marshall, Eller, Page and Larson–the Purple People Eaters–were one of the best defensive lines of all time.

The Vikings have been to the Super Bowl four times. They have yet to win a Super Bowl. It’s like a friend of mine once said, “Oh yeah, the Vikings. Man, you know they’re gonna tear it up in the regular season, but they’ll break your heart in the playoffs.”

Ahem. Did you hear that guys? You have roughly nine weeks of not sucking left! Jaysus, Mary and Joseph!! Saints presarve us!!!

For those of you that don’t watch football, it’s a violent, contact sport. It’s a game of big hits–torn ACL’s, torn MCL’s and concussion protocols. Injuries are part of the game. They are a given. You have to prepare for them.

Last year, the Vikings were an young, upstart team that came out of nowhere to win the NFC North division. This year, they were an early pick to be in the Super Bowl. I was really excited about this team. If they can just stay healthy, I thought…

You can’t make excuses, but injuries have been the one thing this year’s Vikings haven’t been able to avoid. And they have been almost catastrophic. The Vikings lost their starting quarterback before the season even started, then lost arguably the best running back in the game in Week Two. Well, all I can say is those are going to seriously alter your game plan.

The Vikings did go out and get a replacement starting quarterback. Sam Bradford looked like he was going to be more than a stopgap solution. He looked freaking awesome–until the Vikings played the Philadelphia Eagles, Sam Bradford’s former team. And that’s when a glaring weakness in the Vikings lineup was revealed.

Today’s NFL has evolved into a precise, high tech game of complex offensive formations and big plays. The passing game has eclipsed the running game in terms of importance and fan approval. It has become an exciting game to watch, most of the time.

However, in order to achieve this finely tuned aspect of the modern game, you need at least one throwback fundamental element from the old school game of the ancient 1930’s. You still need the big guys on your offensive line to block the big guys on the opposing team’s defensive line.

And this is the glaring weakness that has been revealed in the last two games, the Vikings apparently don’t have an offensive line.

I know, right! How the hell does that happen? Well, the injury bug has been feasting at that buffet this year, too. And so, a year that started out with such promise has suddenly become a season that cannot end too soon, and I love football! I never want the season to end!!

I haven’t been this disappointed since 1998. That was a year that will live in infamy for every Vikings fan.

In 1998, the Vikings unleashed something that had never been seen before. The Vikings had a high powered offense. The Vikings could seemingly score at will, from anywhere on the field. They tore up the regular season, coasting to a 15-1 record. They were easily the best team in football that year. They were the odds on favorite to win the NFC title, and they were a shoe in to win the Super Bowl. It was the greatest season ever to be e a Vikings fan because this was our year! 😄👍😄👏

I’m not sure I can finish this without needing to be on suicide precautions. To make an incredibly heartbreaking story very short, the Vikings got beat in the NFC Championship game by the Atlanta Falcons. By a fucking field goal. And the big story the next day wasn’t that the Falcons won, but rather that the Vikings lost. I lost one thousand dollars on that game. It was the last time I ever placed a bet on any football game, let alone a Vikings game.

I howled like a dog for three days. I cried like two toddlers that had dropped their ice cream cones. I think the only thing that hurt me more, in terms of heartbreaking anguish, was when my high school sweetheart and I broke up.

My lovely wife finally bitchslapped me back to life with these words, “If you want to kill yourself, I’ll drive you to the IDS Center and push you off myself! For the love of God, snap out of it!! Be a man!!!”

I’ve tempered my passion for football since that year. You have to do that, especially if you’re a Vikings fan. I try not to get too high, so I can avoid having to fall so very, very low. And despite that, I’m still disappointed when the Vikings don’t play well.

I guess that’s why they call us fans. We vicariously live and die by our respective teams. It looks like it’s gonna be another year of death for Vikings fans. Too bad we can’t request a bullet to the head, instead of having to watch while someone eats our livers in front of us before we bleed out.