Go West, Young Man

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

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

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

Yeah, I better get busy.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

“You’re not Tom!” I said to him.

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

Food wrappers, candy boxes, and a whole lots of beer cans and bottles. We picked up everything we found. But there this one…thing…none of us wanted to touch.

That thing was an inflated condom, tied off like unto a balloon, filled with air and semen. And here’s the really weird thing. There was almost always an used condom balloon that needed to be picked up every time we cleaned the lot.

“Clearly, this is the work of one of our regulars,” Andy decided, and there was no argument.

“But, who could it be?” Dave asked.

That, was the question, and we spent hours discussing whom the culprits could be. We eventually decided it had to be a couple that came to the drive in almost every night.

They were an incredibly attractive couple. I’ll call them Tim and Tammy because I can’t remember their names anymore, and I don’t think I know any current couples named that.

Tim was a trim, handsome, muscular guy, probably in his early twenties. Tammy was probably around the same age as Tim, maybe a year or two younger. She was pretty much the stuff that wet dreams are made of–so stunningly beautiful it was almost like unto a superpower.

The only problem we had with our hypothesis was the car Tim drove. It was a red Volkswagen Beetle. It wasn’t the kind of car you think about when you think of having sex in the back seat. And if they weren’t in the backseat, they must’ve been gymnasts, like, Olympic Gold medal winning gymnasts. And, they nailed the dismount.

And then there was the matter of who blew up the condom and tied it into a balloon…  We were pretty sure that had to be Tammy.

* * * *

Our gay bosses, Eddie and Bob, weren’t just semi-legendary in Missoula. They were also semi-legendary in Las Vegas. Well, according to them they were, and they knew all kinds of famous people.

“We had dinner with Bob Newhart and his wife the last time we were in Vegas.” Eddie told us one evening as we were driving out to the drive in. Bob and Eddie drove us out to the drive in every night it was open. The Go West was almost twenty miles outside of Missoula, and they didn’t want us wasting our money on gas.

“I know him! He’s a comedian, and he’s really funny!” I said.

“He’s even funnier in person. I almost pissed my pants I was laughing so hard!” Eddie went on.

“God, is his wife ever an ugly woman! Umm, you couldn’t pay me enough money to sleep with her!” Bob said, which made all of us bite our tongues. Like he would sleep with any woman.

“Yeah, but she’s a sweet woman.” Eddie continued.

“Hmph!” Bob added.

I wasn’t sure if I could believe any of their stories. I mean, they were talking about people from Hollywood, like movie stars hung out with regular people…

“Yeah, it’s probably true. Everyone in Hollywood is gay!” Dave said.

“Not John Wayne!” I countered.

“Yeah, he’s probably not gay. That’s why Bob and Eddie haven’t had dinner with him.” Andy agreed. “And, our gay bosses are richer than Solomon…”

There came a night when we were cleaning up the concession stand, getting ready to go home. I was near the back entrance when someone knocked on the door. This wasn’t something that happened very often, so I cautiously opened the door.

“Hi.” a guy that looked a lots like Carroll O’Connor said. “Are Bob and Eddie here? Could you please tell them Carroll is here?”

Little Known Fact: Carroll O’Connor attended the University of Montana in Missoula. Another Little Known Fact: he evidently returned to town from time to time. And he was friends with Bob and Eddie.

“Um, just a minute…” I replied, and made Archie Bunker stand outside in the dark while I tried to figure out what to do next.

“Well, Jee-sus Christ, Maarrk! Umm, let him in!” Gay Bob almost yelled when I told him and Eddie who was at the back door.

That’s how I met Carroll O’Connor. He was a very nice guy, and greeted all of us, shaking our hands. He mentioned he was hungry. Dave, Andy and I cooked him one of our crappy pizzas, but we were so starstruck we burned it to a crisp, and had to start all over.

National Lampoon was a magazine back in those days, and as far as I’m concerned, it was the funniest magazine, ever. For all time. As fate would have it, their latest issue when this happened was a spoof of All in the Family. I had bought a copy at the magazine shop near the Wilma Theater, and read it while I waited for my gay bosses to show up, and I brought it to work that night.

Carroll O’Connor saw the my magazine and asked if he could look at it.

“Sure,” I said, and handed it to him. He laughed so hard he had tears running down his cheeks.

“Can I have this?” Archie Bunker asked me, wiping tears out of the corners of his eyes.

“Yeah, absolutely! It’s yours!” I replied.

Come to think of it, that was another night at the Go West that left me feeling stunned, and impressed.

* * * *

It wasn’t all shits and giggles and celebrities and booze and sex and mysteries of the inflated condom at the Go West. There was the night the Vietnam vet brought in a porcelain bust of a skull with a porcelain rat crawling on the skull. He had a beer in one hand, and he slid the skull down the counter, so the skull could get a good look at everything available. He talked to the skull as he walked down the concession line toward the cash register. He bought a few items for himself, and even more items for the skull.

“I have to ask,” I said to the guy. “What’s up with the skull?”

“This? He’s my best friend. He didn’t make it home from Nam, so now I’m going to buy him all the stuff he never had.”

“Wow. I don’t know if that’s cool, or creepy.” I replied, adding up his purchases on the register.

“Neither do I, kid. But it’s the only thing I can do right now.”

I still get goosebumps when I think about him, and it took me a long time to forget him. In a lots of ways, he was my first Nam vet, even though I met him at least fifteen years before I became a psych nurse. It was his memory that made me want to write this story.

There was that night, the Night of the Skull. And then there was the Night Randy Was Murdered. Randy was one of Dave and Andy’s friends. I think they went to grade school with him. I talked to him casually a couple of times at the drive in, but I could never call him my friend.

On that night, the first movie had ended. It was Intermission, the concession stand was packed. People were stretching their legs and stocking up for the second show.

Randy and three or four of his friends were gathered together inside of the concession stand, shooting the breeze, flirting with the girls that walked by. A long haired guy that nobody had ever seen before walked in, wearing a pair of flowered pink colored bell bottom pants.

Randy and his friends went silent, watching the guy, then burst into laughter.

The guy with the outrageous pants didn’t like being the object of their laughter, and walked over to them. There was a brief, heated exchange, and one of Randy’s friends said, very loudly, “Those are the pussiest looking pants I’ve ever seen!”

There was another, even more heated exchange of words, and then everything went into slow motion. Randy made a fist, took one step, and punched the guy wearing the flowered pants in the jaw, sending him flying to the floor.

Randy and his friends turned their backs on the guy, and started laughing again. The guy in the flowered pants jumped up, pulled something out of his pocket, and ran toward the group of men that had insulted him. He appeared to punch Randy in his left pectoral area from behind, then ran out of the concession stand into the darkness.

I’m not sure how long it took for Randy to collapse to the floor. He didn’t do it right away. I don’t think he looked like he’d  even been injured. Then he kind of stumbled, and then he fell like his knees had been cut out from beneath him. A dark red spot appeared on his shirt. That’s when everyone realized Randy had been stabbed. In a matter of moments, he was dead.

Cardiac tamponade.

And then the world moved swiftly, once more. And it moved really fast. Randy’s friends were shouting, yelling. Then crying. There were screams, there had to be screams. People running. People gawking. I was one of those. I couldn’t move. I had no idea what to do, and my brain was frozen. I think Dave had to shove me to get me moving, and even then I didn’t know what to do.

I know Gay Bob called for an ambulance. And the police. Even if the Go West hadn’t been halfway to Idaho, the EMT’s wouldn’t have been able to do much to save Randy if they had been standing next to him when it happened. The police ordered us to lock the gate and keep everyone there until they arrived to take control of the situation.

We chased everyone out of the concession stand. I think we let Randy’s friends stay.

An army of cops descended upon the Go West. They took witness statements, got a description of the assailant, then started a car by car search for Randy’s killer, looking for the long haired guy in the pink pussy pants.

We knew a few of the sheriff’s deputies. They dropped in whenever they were in the area because Bob and Eddie comped them food and let them fill their thermoses with coffee for free. In return, the cops would make a few random trips around the lot to make sure nothing too illegal was going on.

One of the cops we called Dudley Do-Right because he looked like Dudley Do-Right. He was actually a pretty decent guy. There was another cop we called Studley Do-Right. He liked to tell tall tales about his life in law enforcement, and he always had his perps right where he wanted them.

And then we waited. And, in advance, please excuse my wording in the next sentence. The only other time the concession stand was as…dead…after the first movie was the night we showed Last House on the Left and Night of the Living Dead. After the Intermission that night, not a single person entered the concession stand.

An ambulance crew eventually took Randy’s body away. I think the police escorted Randy’s friends back to their car and made sure they stayed there. They didn’t want any vigilante justice being handed out. The police eventually let us start cleaning up. I thought there would be more blood. I mean, Randy had been stabbed in the heart!

We were all somewhere beyond stunned. I can’t remember much of anything we said to each other, except we all hoped Dudley would find Randy’s killer, not Studley.

But it was Studley Do-Right that brought the long haired guy in the flowered pink bell bottom pants to the back entrance of the building so he could be identified.

“I got my man. I always do.” Studley Do-Right said.

I think we were all surprised the guy was still there. I mean, why hang around the drive in after you killed somebody? Unless you’re getting the greatest blowjob ever given…

But that wasn’t the case. He knew he had stabbed one of the guys that had been making fun of him, but he didn’t know he’d stabbed Randy in the heart, killing him almost immediately. He simply returned to his car, and his boyfriend, once he realized no one was chasing him, and watched the movie. He was probably the only guy in the history of the Go West that actually watched a movie.

In retrospect, that was probably the first time I thought the world wasn’t as safe as they made it look on TV. Bad shit could happen to you anywhere, even in bucolic, boring-ass Missoula, MT.

* * * *

That was a long time ago, and the Missoula of my childhood no longer exists. The last time I was there, I barely recognized the place. Bob and Eddie both got dead about three decades ago, and much like its semi-legendary owners, the Go West no longer exists.

Missoula is no longer the quiet refuge of redneck cowboys. Back in the Eighties, a bunch of aging hippies from California started moving in and transformed Missoula into an eclectic, diverse, much more urbane, and possibly, quite a spifferooney place to live. I think of it now as the Austin, TX of Montana.

And a river runs through it.

Actually, three rivers run through Missoula. The Blackfoot, the Bitterroot and the Clark Fork. It’s a beautiful place, and I still dream about it from time to time.

I may go back again, someday, before I get dead. My fiftieth high school reunion is coming up in several years. I might actually attend that one. We’ll see. Shitfaced Bob won’t be there. He got dead a few years ago. Tom won’t be there either, he got dead, too.

Sad to think that my generation has already started gotting dead at such a young age. You’ll have that, I guess.

Some trips down Memory Lane are more enjoyable than others. This one was mostly good, and I take solace in that. Not all of them have been.

You’ll have that, too.

Harvey

Things are heating up here in the Lakeside area. Believe it or not, May is the hottest month of the year down here. According to everyone we know, it should cool off in June once the rainy season starts.

That’ll be nice. I think it’s rained once since November, and there have been a thousand fires in the last month or so. It’s so smoky/hazy now, there are days when you can’t see the other side of the lake.

* * * *

If you’re a classic movie buff, I don’t need to tell you about Harvey. 1950. Jimmy Stewart as Elwood P. Dodd, an eccentric man whose best friend is a pooka named… what else? Harvey is Elwood’s best friend, and he’s a six foot three and an half inch tall invisible rabbit. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s a darling movie.

I knew a guy named Harvey. He was maybe five foot four. He had kind of a weather-beaten appearance, and he wasn’t invisible. Harvey was an older guy. He was in his seventies when I first met him. I can’t remember if he was bipolar or schizophrenic. He might have been both. If he was bipolar, he was the quietest manic guy I’ve ever met. And if he was schizophrenic, he kept his psychosis to himself.

Harvey was pretty much an enigma. He was more imp than pooka, and was, at least once, like unto a gremlin that had been fed after midnight. That’s how I remember him. One of our patients at the MVAMC was a guy we called Forrest Gump’s Smarter Brother. Harvey was probably their grandfather.

And I should add this: The female nurses loved him. They thought he was cute.

I probably first met Harvey around the year 2000 or so. He came up the nursing station one day and said, “I want to call my mom. My mom. My mom!”

I took a long look at Harvey and seriously wanted to ask if his mother was still alive, but I asked a different question.

“Do you know her phone number?”

“Yeah. Yeahyeahyeah.”

So I set a phone in front of him, and he dialed a number.

“Hi Mom. It’s me. Harvey.”

I decided to look up Harvey’s contact information in the computer. His mother, Olive, was listed. As near as I could discern from his file, his mother was still alive. She had to be in her nineties.

Harvey had a very nice conversation with someone, and a few hours later, a frail little old lady who smelled of cat urine, walked onto the unit with a man whom, I think, was Harvey’s brother.

They brought in a bag of clothes for Harvey, and his glasses. When Harvey was showered and shaved and wearing his own clothing, he looked like he could’ve been a college professor.

All the female nurses wanted to talk to Olive–they might have seventy year old sons to raise someday, and they wanted all the information they could get about Harvey. I can’t remember what he did for a living anymore–if he ever had a job, or if he was on some sort of disability, or if he had a place to live, or much of anything else about him.

There was a lesson for me to be learned. Just because I didn’t think something could be possible, didn’t mean it wasn’t true.

For example, The Guy Who Knew Milton Berle. His name was Steve. He was a local radio personality/comedian who had relapsed on alcohol. His detox was uneventful, and we were getting him set up with follow up care.

For those of you who don’t know who Uncle Miltie was, he was a comedian, and one of the pioneers of early television. He might have been a pooka, but he stood only five feet ten inches tall, and he wasn’t invisible.

Steve was talking on the phone at the nursing station one Saturday morning, and when he hung up, one of the nurses I was working with asked who he was talking to.

“Milton Berle.” he replied, and all of the nurses started laughing. So Steve went to his room and returned with a photo album that contained dozens of pictures of him with none other than Milton Berle.

Yeah, who’s laughing now, nurses?

The sad fact is most psych patients lie about almost everything, so as a psych nurse, you tend not to believe practically anything they say.

“I’m the hair dresser to the stars.”

“No kidding! If you don’t mind me asking, who are some of your clients?”

“Stevie Nicks. Victoria Principal. Morgan Fairchild.”

“Wow. When was the last time you were in Southern California?”

“I’ve never been there.”

“So, they fly here, to Minnesota, so you can do their hair?”

“Yeah. Pretty much.”

“By the way, I love what you do with Stevie’s hair.”

“Yeah, she’s beautiful. Thanks!”

I met at least two guys who were the hair dresser to the stars, and neither of them had ever been to California. And then there were the guys who were mysteriously drugged at their local watering hole.

“Well, I was at the bar, and then I can’t remember anything. I think they ​slipped me a mickey!”

“Yeah, that’s why I quit going to bars. I got tired of getting drugged, too.”

“See? This guy knows what I’m talking about!”

I always got a kick out of that story. Fictional private detectives from the 1940’s, like Sam Spade and Mike Hammer, were always getting slipped a mickey, but I don’t think it ever consistently happened to anyone in real life. Until Ruffies became popular, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it was mostly girls who were the target of Rohypnol. Even the girls had their tales of misfortune.

“We just discharged you two days ago. Why are you coming back today?”

“Someone on the bus stole all of my meds!”

“Even your Xanax?”

“No, that’s the only thing they didn’t steal!”

“What happened to that?”

“Oh, I accidentally dropped the bottle in the toilet!”

Well, there are a lots of fun filled activities to do on the bus, so it’s easy to see how that could happen…  And toilets clearly can’t be trusted anywhere near controlled substances. But every now and then, you meet someone who actually tells the truth. So, try to remember that.

* * * *

Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lots of Harvey stories. He was a mostly benign, very quiet guy, who sometimes looked quite professorial.

He did have his Harvey moments. He would randomly bolt down the hallway as fast as could, for no apparent reason. I think that was Harvey. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me.

He was one of those guys that randomly uttered words of inestimable profundity, most of which I can’t remember, but he did say this:

“Ooh, shiny!”

It became our catchphrase whenever someone went off on a tangent, or for someone with a short attention span who was easily distracted. Like me.

And then there was Harvey’s hallmark admission. And like so many hallmark moments, it happened in the dark of night.

It was probably around 2005. Harvey had been a patient on my unit a couple of times. None of his admissions had been especially remarkable. We stabilized him and sent him home, or somewhere, until the next time.

On this particular night, it just after midnight. Harvey was admitted once more. We got him changed into VA pajamas and settled into his room by the nursing station. There wasn’t much point in trying to do a thorough admission assessment because Harvey wouldn’t answer any questions, so we got all our information from his old charts and our previous knowledge about Harvey.

Most people admitted in the middle of the night just want to go to bed, but that night, for no apparent reason, Harvey decided to demo his room.

I think he started with the baseboard molding, and ripped it all off of the walls. One of the nurses I was working with asked me what we should do. He wasn’t harming anyone, but he was systematically tearing his room apart.

We tried medicating him with Haldol and Ativan. The meds didn’t touch him.

After he removed all of the baseboards, anything that Harvey could disassemble with his bare hands was fair game. We would check on his progress periodically, and remove all the debris from his room from time to time.

When he started to take his bed apart, we rolled the frame out of his room, leaving the mattress and bedding on the floor. By 5:00 AM, the only thing Harvey hadn’t demolished was the light fixture on the wall where the head of his bed had once been.

Around 5:30 AM, we heard a loud crash. Harvey had somehow ripped the monster light fixture out of the wall, leaving behind a few live electrical wires. We were forced to move him across the hall into one of the seclusion rooms. I can’t remember if we locked him in or not, but we probably gave him another cupful of meds, that would have no more effect than an handful of Tic-tacs. Then I entered a whole lots of work orders into the computer so the maintenance guys would start putting the room back together again.

* * * *

It took the VA Corps of Engineers at least five days to repair what Harvey had done in roughly five hours.

I had at least one day off between getting off of Nights and transitioning to Days. I asked the night nurses how Harvey was doing when I returned to work. He hadn’t demolished anything else, but he hadn’t slept since he was admitted.

I have a couple of clear memories of that day. One, I was assigned to do Meds. Two, it was the first time I met Darrell. He was an LPN, and a new hire. He had never worked in a Psych setting before, and my boss asked me to show him the ropes.

“I’ve been doing this job for a long time. I can play this song in any key. I can tell you how you’re supposed to do this job, or I can tell you how I do it. If you do it my way, you’ll work smarter, not harder.”

“I was hoping I’d meet a nurse like you.” Darrell replied. I was going to like working with this guy.

I spent the first couple of hours explaining my unorthodox philosophy to Darrell, and then I decided to show off a little to the new guy. I pulled Haldol and Ativan from the Pyxis, and told Darrell to follow me. And we went hunting for Harvey. He was standing in the hallway by the dayroom.

“Harvey hasn’t slept since he got here. I’m going to send him to the Land of Nod.” I told Darrell.

“Yeah, the nurses tried like hell to put him down for the count yesterday, but nothing touched him.”

“Hey, little buddy. I’ve got a couple meds for you.” I said, and handed Harvey a med cup with a couple pills, which he readily took. Then we escorted Harvey back ​to his room, and laid him down on his bed.

And I started singing, softly.

“Lullaby, and good night. Go to sleep lit-tle Harvey. Close your eyes, count some sheep, a-and go to fucking sleep…”

I didn’t know many of the actual lyrics, so I kind of made them up on the fly. I sang a few more verses of my impromptu lullaby, and when we tiptoed out of Harvey’s room, he was snoring.

“I don’t know what you just did, but I can’t believe what I just saw.”

“Smarter, not harder.”

“Well, I hope you don’t expect me to sing a lullaby to every one of these guys, because there’s no goddamn way I’m doing that!”

“Nope. It’s probably the only lullaby I’ve ever sung.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, how did you know that would work?”

“I didn’t. It was a gut feeling. Always follow your gut. It’s never wrong.”

* * * *

I know some of the stuff I write is hard to believe, but that actually happened. And as weird as it might sound, I had no doubt my intervention would work. I probably didn’t even need the meds.

However, I didn’t have any qualms about giving them to Harvey. I figured if my lullaby worked, the meds would help him stay asleep, and that’s probably what my little buddy needed more than anything.

Almost every field of Nursing is a science, except Psychiatry. At best, it’s an imprecise science, but it’s mostly an art. Only the really good psych nurses understand this.

The essence of psych nursing is guiding people out of the maze of darkness or whatever else they’ve created inside their minds, and teaching them a few new coping strategies, so they can try to avoid having to repeat it again in the future.

It sounds good in theory, but the reality is the majority of the patients we took care of weren’t all that interested in doing anything different.

You can lead a horse to water…

That part of the job was frustrating, but every now and then, someone would come along, and all they wanted was a second chance. And every now and then, you could sing someone a lullaby.

It was those moments that made the whole thing worthwhile.

The Long and Winding Road

I come from a big family. Two parents, Les and Sally Rowen. Four brothers, three sisters.

ColleenMarkJohnTomDeniseBruceBobJulie. My dad would say that when he was talking to one us and he couldn’t remember which one of us he was talking to. That happened more often than you might think. My dad seemed to be in a perpetual state of confusion when we were growing up.

One my younger brothers had a friend sleep over on a Friday night. We were eating breakfast in the kitchen the next morning when my dad walked into the kitchen looking like unto a bear that had just awakened from hibernation.

“Are you one of mine?” he grumbled at the kid, who froze, with a Cheerio hanging from his lower lip. The kid shook his quickly. “Okay. Real good then.” my dad said in relief, and poured a cup of coffee. “You had me scared there for a minute.”

My dad had worked for the ICBM Defense Program for most of my childhood. We moved roughly every two years from the time I started grade school until I was in the eighth grade. In 1968, my dad quit working for the missle guys, and we moved to Missoula, MT  My dad said we were going to live in Missoula for the rest of our lives.

We had all  heard that line before, many times. I doubt any of us believed it, including my mother. But two years came and went, and we didn’t move. And then another two years passed, and we were still in Missoula in 1972.

What do you know? Miracles do happen.

My sister Colleen is three years older than me. My brother that got dead from SIDS was born and died in between us. I think Colleen had graduated from high school 1971, but that’s where she met Rod Sanderson.

Rod was a year older than Colleen, and like unto a lots of guys, he fell in love with my sister the moment he saw her. Back in the day, Colleen was what was referred to as a stone cold fox. She was maybe 5′ 4″ tall, long light brown hair, and according to all my classmates, she looked like an angel. Actually, all of sisters are very attractive, except when they’re pissed off. Then they’re fucking scary. Real scary.

Colleen used to drop me off at school in the morning, and some of the guys in my class would hang around the front of the school, hoping to get a glimpse of her, or if God was truly benevolent, a word or two with her. All of my friends were in love with my sister, but she wasn’t interested in any of them. She already had a boyfriend.

Rod was an okay guy, I guess. He was the baby of his family, and I don’t know if spoiled is the correct term to describe him, but it’s the best term I can think of. If there was an easy way out of something that Rod didn’t want to do, he would find it. That didn’t make him a bad guy, but it hardly made him a stellar role model.

Rod’s parents, Vern and Jackie, doted on their only son. Like me, he had an older sister, but I didn’t really know her. Rod lacked nothing when he was growing up, and Rod liked toys. So, when he got older and his parents stopped buying him toys, if he saw something he liked, he bought it whether he could afford it or not.

All of Rod’s friends had hot muscle cars. Rod bought a Fastback Boss 302 Mustang. Dark blue. It was a beautiful car. He liked to hunt, and bought himself an arsenal of guns and rifles. And he bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

It wasn’t a big old good one kind of Harley hog, it was a 300 cc bike. As far as Harleys go, it wasn’t much of a street cruiser, but it was a street bike. Rod used it to cruise the backroads in the mountains to scout for good areas to shoot deer and elk and stuff. And he bought my sister an 80 cc Yamaha so she could ride the backroads with him. That was nice, but my sister didn’t really care for it much, and rarely rode it, but I loved it. Rod and I probably bonded riding the mountain roads outside of Missoula.

I know he also bought helmets, but we never used them.

Helmets were for fuckin’ sissies.

* * * *

Rod might have been a poser/wannabe all around he-man outdoorsman kind of guy, but his dad was the real deal. Vern was nothing short of legendary in certain circles. He was a hunter/fisherman/guide kind of guy. He had a lots of firearms and a whole lots of rods and reels and fishing tackle. And a boat.

Vern had a garage full of tools, and he knew how to use them all. He was a woodworker/carpenter.  He was a stonemason and a bricklayer. He was a plumber and an electrician.

Vern was essentially the opposite of my dad. Les didn’t hunt or fish. He wasn’t an outdoorsman. He probably would’ve gotten lost in our huge backyard if it hadn’t been fenced in. Les wasn’t an handy man. He had maybe seven tools, and he didn’t know how to use any of them.

Be that as it may, as Colleen and Rod’s relationship progressed, so did their relationship with each other’s family, and Vern and Les became pretty good drinking buddies. It was probably the only thing that they had in common.

Well, and they both loved Colleen. Seriously. I think Vern once asked Colleen what she saw in his deadbeat son.

Because she was the oldest daughter in my family, and the first girl to start dating, my dad spent a fair amount of time threatening to kill Rod to death for a list of infractions both real and imagined.

Getting drunk with his buddies. Getting my sister drunk. Getting me drunk. Bringing my sister home late. Bringing my drunk sister home late then passing out in his car in the driveway.

Rod eventually gave my dad a nickname: Ornery. And despite the fact that my dad did everything he could to make Rod’s life a living hell, Rod asked Colleen to marry him. And she said Yes!

* * * *

That’s probably enough of the backstory leading up the events that were about to unravel.

It was the Memorial Day weekend in 1972. Saturday, May 27th, to be precise. I had just completed my sophomore year of high school. I was sixteen years old, and I had just started working at the Go West Drive In.

My family went to a state park a few hours out of town to celebrate the holiday weekend. My mom cooked enough food and made enough sandwiches to feed an army. We were joined there by Rod and his parents. Vern had brought the motorcycles along in the back of his truck.

You never know, they might be fun, he said. And because Vern was anything but a fuckin’ sissy, he didn’t bring the helmets.

* * * *

I know I was reluctant to go with my family that day. I had to work, and I didn’t trust my dad when he said he’d drive me back to town in time to get to work. But Rod said not to worry, he’d drive me back in his Mustang. I quit arguing after that.

I know I drove out to the park with Rod and Colleen. We listened to one of my 8 track tapes on the way out. The Stylistics, a Philadelphia soul group that hit the top of the charts in the early 70’s. Rod was more of Country/Western guy, but even he liked their music.

“They’re pretty good for a bunch of niggers.” he said.

I can’t remember the name of the park anymore. I’m not sure I knew the name back then. It was a very scenic green valley at the foot of some mountains. A creek ran across the valley floor. There was a lots of room to run and play Frisbee. A rocky gravel road led up into the mountains. And the motorcycles turned out to be a flash of genius. Rod or Vern rode the Harley while me and two oldest brothers, John and Tom, took turns riding Colleen’s Yamaha up and down the road with one of our younger siblings as a passenger.

The road probably wasn’t all that different from any other mountain road in Montana. It had been blasted out of the side of the mountain in the 1940’s, maybe. The rock and boulders that been blasted loose building the road were moved to either side, forming a guardrail of granite. Some of those boulders were the size of a house.

I’m going to guess I spent roughly four hours or so out at the park, and then I had to go. As I was hugging my mom goodbye, my dad and Vern were climbing aboard the motorcycles. John and Tom were sulking because they couldn’t ride along on the bikes. True to his word, Rod drove me back to town, driving as fast as he dared down the curving road that cut through the mountains back into Missoula. And we listened to The Stylistics again.

I know I made it to work on time, and I know it was pretty much the same as any other night at the Go West. It was probably around 11:00 PM. We were cleaning up the concession stand and checking inventory when one of my gay bosses came out of his office and said, “Umm, Maark, could you come here? Your mother is on the phone…”

I walked to the office, and my other gay boss handed me the phone. I heard my mother crying.

“Mark? Oh, God! I don’t know where to begin, but right after you left, there was a terrible accident…”

* * * *

What follows is what I can remember hearing from the people who were there, and I also have to admit I have repressed, suppressed and denied these memories for so long it’s almost as if I had completely forgotten it even happened. But when I was writing my last post, Melpomene whispered in my ear, and the memories came flooding back.

* * * *

My dad wasn’t a outdoorsman/sportsman guy. He wasn’t handy at fixing anything. And he wasn’t very good at riding motorcycles either, so in that regard, it’s fortunate he didn’t take a passenger when he and Vern went for their ride on the bikes that Memorial Day weekend in 1972.

I don’t think my dad was drunk when I left. He’d been drinking that day, but my dad was Irish, and he could knock down some beers without outwardly appearing to be impaired. And to be fair, Vern had had his share of beer that day, too.

Vern drove Rod’s Harley. My dad drove Colleen’s Yamaha, and away they went, climbing up the mountain road. I have no idea how far up the road they went, no idea how long they were gone. I’m not even sure if they were driving up the road, or back down it when my dad lost control of his bike.

And sadly, the details I remember are sketchy. He was either going too fast and braked too hard, or he wasn’t going fast enough and lost control when he gunned the engine to increase his speed. He kind of weebled and wobbled, but didn’t fall over, then careened off the road, running headfirst into a pretty goddamn big boulder. The impact crumpled the front wheel of Colleen’s Yamaha like it was made of tin foil, and sent my dad flying over the handlebars.

The boulder my dad hit was big, but it wasn’t especially tall. The way I understand it, my dad essentially did a somersault over the boulder, just kind of kissing the top of the boulder with his forehead enough to sustain a couple of superficial cuts to his scalp. If he had collided with a taller boulder, he would’ve taken the top of his head off, and if he had been wearing an helmet, the only thing he would’ve injured would’ve been his pride.

Well, and the front wheel of my sister’s bike.

As I nurse, I can tell you that your scalp is a very vascular area, and even a small cut can bleed like the dickens. My dad was essentially uninjured, save for a couple of superficial cuts that bled like hell, creating the illusion that my dad had been mauled by a fucking Grizzly bear, and was about five minutes away from dying to death.

Vern possibly knew my dad wasn’t badly injured–he wasn’t unconscious, none of his bones were broken–but he was bleeding like a stuck pig, and that’s probably all Vern saw. He told my dad to lay still, and apply pressure to the cuts on his forehead, then Vern jumped on the Harley and tore off down the mountain.

Rod used his motorcycle to cruise up and down the mountain roads, but it wasn’t modified in any way to be a mountain bike. It was a street bike, and if you’re curious about the differences in the way the bikes look, you can do a Google search.

Even still, some explanation is required. Off road bikes have a beefed up suspension, and the engine and foot pedals are set on higher the frame for better clearance over things, like, rocks in the road and stuff like that.

I stated earlier this mountain road was probably much like any other mountain road, meaning it was dirt with rocks of varying sizes imbedded in the dirt, covered with varying levels of loose gravel. It was never designed to be driven at an excessive rate of speed, and certainly not a motorcycle designed for street use.

I doubt any of those things occurred to Vern on that day. His buddy had been injured, and was bleeding, a lots, and he needed help. Fast! Vern was a very good motorcyclist, but even good cyclists make mistakes, especially if they aren’t being careful, and Vern had thrown caution to the wind. I’m sure he never saw the rock sticking up out of the road, sticking up just high enough to catch the brake pedal on the unmodified bike he was driving, turning low to make that corner, racing down into the valley to get help for his friend.

* * * *

I don’t know how long my dad waited for Vern to return. I don’t think he even knew, but he did as he was told until he started thinking it was taking Vern an overly long time to return.

“I really wasn’t injured,” he told me later. “There was a little stream running along the side of the road. I soaked my handkerchief, and held it to my head. Once the bleeding slowed down, and Vern still hadn’t returned, I started walking down the mountain. I figured I would meet him on the way.”

And he did, only it wasn’t the way he had imagined. Instead of finding Vern leading a motorcade of vehicles coming to rescue him, he found Vern laying face up in the middle of the road, a large pool of blood under his head. Rod’s Harley was piled up on the boulders lining the side of the road about thirty feet away from Vern, the brake pedal bent at an impossibly acute angle.

Vern was breathing, but that’s all he was doing. He was unconscious, and he would not awaken. My dad checked to see where all the blood was flowing from. The back of Vern’s skull felt like a bag of loose change.

“I started running down the road, for maybe for a quarter of a mile,” my dad said. “And luckily, a car was coming up the road. I flagged them down, then we put Vern in the backseat, and drove down the mountain. When we got back to the valley, Jackie climbed in the car with him and they took off like a bat out of hell. Your mother and I packed up everything and the kids and followed them to the hospital.”

* * * *

One of my gay bosses volunteered to take me back to town immediately. The Go West was something like twenty miles outside of Missoula, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It was further out of town than the airport. It was probably closer to Frenchtown than it was to Missoula. The only thing remotely close to it was the paper mill where Vern and Rod worked. Vern had gotten his son a job there after Rod graduated from high school.

I was in a state of shock, and it took me a minute or two to respond.

“I don’t think you need to do that. It doesn’t sound like I need to be anywhere immediately. My dad’s okay, but it doesn’t sound like Vern’s going to make it.”

Vern had been rushed to the hospital. His condition remained unchanged once he reached the hospital, he was breathing on his own, but still unconscious. The doctors told Jackie there wasn’t much of anything they could do. Vern had suffered a massive injury to his occipital lobe and cerebellum. The back of his skull had caved in like unto a broken eggshell. He might wake up, and then again…

“If he had only been wearing a helmet…” the ICU doctor said.

* * * *

My gay bosses dropped me off at the hospital around midnight, and gave me the rest of week off. If I needed more time, all I had to do was ask. I went up to the ICU waiting room where everyone else had gathered–Rod’s mother and sister, my mother and sister–and the person they had gathered around was my father. A couple of steri-strips had been applied to the cuts on his forehead. I think his clothes were dotted with his blood, and smeared with Vern’s, but I’m unsure about that. He probably changed when he took my brothers and sisters home before returning to the hospital.

My dad was beyond inconsolable. He blamed himself for the accident; placing full responsibility for what had happened squarely on his own shoulders. He kept saying he wished he could trade places with Vern. The women were trying to comfort him. I went over to talk to Rod. He told me everything he knew about what had happened, and he kept saying this,

“I wish to God I had never bought those goddamn motorcycles.”

After that, I sat down, and waited. There was nothing else to do, but wait.

That’s when I saw the book. It was small, rectangular black book, less than fifty pages, very plain in appearance. It was titled, The Impersonal Life. I picked it up and started reading. I finished it in less than half an hour, then started re-reading it from the beginning, slowly. I slipped it into my pocket, and took it home when I left the hospital. I hid it in my bedroom like it was a Penthouse® magazine. I’ve read it thousands of times over the years.

It was the book that would eventually lead me to believe that I was going to be a prophet someday.

* * * *

You can look it up online if you’re interested. You can even download a copy of it if you like, in PDF format. I have a copy on my Galaxy Tab S2®. And while I could probably wax philosophic about the contents of the book for hours, all I will say about it is this: it either contains the most sublime, simple truth about God and His Purpose ever written, or it’s the most convincing complicated lie about life and everything ever told. And to be sure, a very convincing lie has to contain at least some small measure of the truth

I’ve never been able to decide which of those two statements are correct.

Maybe they both are.

* * * *

I spent all day Sunday and Monday at the hospital, sitting with Jackie. She was surprised to see me there, and it wasn’t as if she had no one else to lean on during that time. Dozens, maybe hundreds of people dropped in to see her at the hospital and hold hands with her and cry.

On Monday evening, there was a change in Vern’s condition. He started having trouble breathing on his own. He was intubated. By Tuesday, he was no longer breathing on his own. Jackie decided to take her husband off of life support Tuesday evening, and Vern stopped breathing. He died on May 30th.

Little Known Footnote in History: both of my parents died in May. My mom in 2007, my dad in 2011.

Vern’s funeral was probably on Friday, maybe Saturday. I can’t remember when it was, I have no memory of even being there, but I know that I was. I remember how quiet it was in our house during that period of time, and our house was never quiet.

I remember sitting up in the living room with my dad after the funeral. It was late. Everyone else had gone to bed. We didn’t say much. We didn’t talk to each other much during that time, and that is all on me. But my dad finally spoke, and this is what he said,

“I can’t for the life of me figure out why this had to happen.”

“This might help.” I said, and I gave my dad the little black book I had taken from the ICU waiting room, and he read it. It would be just about the only thing we had in common for the next fifteen years or so.

* * * *

Rod took me along when he and his buddies went back to the park to pick up the motorcycles. They were still laying on the side of the road. The rock Vern hit with the brake pedal had a noticeable dent in it. Thirty feet away was another large rock in the road, this one covered with dried blood.

Rod attacked the bloody rock with tools and his hands, screaming and crying until he got it loose, then threw it as far as could down the side of the mountain, leaving a crater in the road. We drank a beer, and everyone said some words of farewell to Vern, then Rod gave me my 8 track tape back.

“I’m sorry, Mark. I can’t ever listen to it again.”

I left it on the side of the road.

I know the mangled motorcycles languished in Vern’s workshop for a very long time. I think Jackie finally made her son get rid of them, and he sold them to someone for parts. He never bought another motorcycle. And he traded his Mustang in on a four wheel drive pick up.

* * * *

Colleen married Rod in June of 1973. Maybe it was July. She was a beautiful bride, and Rod was happier than he had been in an year. I’m sure they loved each other, but as Colleen told me when her marriage was falling apart, “I just had to get out of the house. I couldn’t fucking take it anymore. I would’ve married the milkman if he had asked me. But I almost felt like I had to marry Rod, you know, especially after Vern died. Dad wasn’t the only one who felt responsible for Vern’s death. I did, too. It was my motorcycle!”

About ten years later, Jerry would be standing under a falling telephone pole, and I would learn the hard way that grief is the wrong reason to get involved with someone. Nancy and I stayed for maybe a year and a half before we called it quits. Colleen and Rod stayed married for maybe three years before they got divorced.

I think even Rod realized they had made a mistake. I talked to him a couple of times on the phone during that time, but I was fucked up on every drug on the planet, and I was drinking. My memories of this aren’t the best, but I have a vague, hazy, whisper of a memory of Rod saying that Colleen was just another toy in his collection. He didn’t value her for who and what she was, and he didn’t blame her for divorcing him.

* * * *

A lots of time has passed since Vern got killed to death, and a whole lots of stuff has happened since then. I have traveled a very long and winding road to get where I am, but my journey is not yet over. There may be a lots more twists and turns I’ll have to encounter before it ends. Life will do that to you in the blink of an eye.

I can’t say that I’ve spent much time thinking about this story. It’s a story that I’ve rarely told, if ever. Hell, until last week I had pretty much forgotten it even happened. But there is one issue that always rises to the surface whenever I think about it, and it popped into my head as I was writing this.

It’s probably why I’ve tried so hard to forget it.

My dad felt responsible for Vern’s death because he was a lousy motorcyclist, and Vern had gotten dead trying to help him. My sister felt responsible because our dad had crashed her motorcycle, and Vern had gotten dead trying to help our dad. Rod felt responsible because he had bought those goddamn motorcycles in the first place…

But I have my own what if in this story. What if God recycled Vern’s energy because He knew I would see that little black book in the ICU waiting room, and it was the only way He could think of to get it into my hands?

If that what if is true, then Vern’s death rests on my shoulders, and mine alone.

The Lord works in mysterious ways, does He not? I’ve always thought that was just another way of saying, isn’t that ironic? And yes, He does work in ironically mysterious ways. I don’t know anyone who believes in God that would argue against that statement.

And there’s this: what if I failed to achieve the qualities God requires of a prophet? What if I had my chance, and choked? What if I missed the critical free throws at the end of regulation, and I lost the game? If that is true, then Vern’s death was wasted, and God made an huge mistake, inflicting many people with unnecessary grief and loss for no good reason. And He should have recycled my energy long ago, rather than keeping my stupid ass alive when I was so determined to die young.

That’s a possibility, but it’s also possible that the time for me to assume that role is yet to come. The fact that I’m still alive and pondering this is enough to keep my hope alive that my delusional dream could still come true.

And finally, it’s possible that I misunderstood everything and my desire to be a prophet is nothing more than a delusion, as my lovely supermodel wife insists. And if that is true, then I have nothing do with any of this, and Vern died to death simply because he got careless when he was riding a motorcycle too fast for the terrain and road conditions. And I can go back to forgetting any of this shit ever happened.

Maybe The Horne was right about me when he nicknamed me Wrongway…

A lots of questions, not many answers.

There’s only one thing that’s clear to me. No matter how much I want this, I’m no prophet, and I know that to be the undisputed truth.

That’s one bit of truth I don’t have to do any seeking to find.

The Doctors

You get to work with a lots of different disciplines as a nurse. Social Work. Adjunctive Therapy. Physical Therapy. Laboratory. Dietary. Even Housekeeping.

But the most challenging discipline you’ll likely encounter is the doctor. Well, Dietary can be a real pain sometimes. You know who the sweetest people are? The housekeepers. I loved them, especially the housekeepers at Aurora.

Doctor shows are incredibly popular on TV. I have no idea why. I’ve spent years hanging around doctors, and I never found most of them to be that interesting.

TV doctors have changed a lots over the years. They used to be older, wise, fatherly figures that made house calls and took care of you and your family from birth to death and everything in between. Nowadays they’re young, pill-popping, supersexy smartass mannequins who perform some obscure lifesaving surgery, then go get drunk and have sex with another supersexy doctor or the nurse with the big tits.

From a nurse’s point of view, doctors can either make or break your day, depending on a wide variety of factors and variables. Sometimes the most difficult part of being a nurse is getting what you need from your doctor.

And as a psych nurse, mostly what you need from your doctor is good coffee in the morning, and a shitload of medications to offer your patients.

* * * *

My first psych nurse position was at the Minnesota State Hospital. You had to be certified crazy to be a patient there, and some of them were downright scary.

Vincent was a certified crazy, angry young man, and he often made threats of death and other types of destruction to the staff. I never found those situations to be especially fun, so I asked his doctor to maybe increase his meds, just a little.

Vincent’s doc was a tall guy named Bruce, who spent about five minutes a month meeting with his patients. When I spoke to Doctor Bruce and informed him how his patient had decompensated of late, and was threatening death and destruction to pretty much everyone, Doctor Bruce had this classic response:

“Well, Mark, we all have to die from something.”

* * * *

The next stop in my career was at the MVAMC, and I would stay there for almost twenty years. I would meet a lots of doctors there.

Doctor Bob was an older, wise, father figure guy who had been at the VA for eons. He was an alcoholic, but had quit drinking some years before we met. But that was all he did, and he was a mixed bag of moods most of the time.

We had a guy on our unit named Duane. Duane was a was what we called a non-compliant patient. He refused to take any medications. He refused to take part in any programming. Duane just wanted to eat and sleep and he was rather rude in his interactions with the staff.

Doctor Bob walked onto the unit one morning, and walked into Duane’s room. They had a brief, loud interaction, then Duane started screaming. Two seconds later, Doctor Bob emerged from Duane’s room with Duane in tow. He had grabbed Duane by the ankle, pulled him out of bed, dragged him down the hallway to the nearest dayroom, and told him to stay there.

Doctor Bob was investigated by the hospital for alleged patient abuse, and ended up getting a three day suspension. Anyone other than Doctor Bob would’ve been terminated immediately and most likely would’ve lost any professional licensing they had.

* * * *

Lori Suvalsky was my favorite doctor at the MVAMC, and my personal favorite doctor of all time. She knew her stuff, and was a very good doc, and she was hotter than July in Phoenix.

I’m very serious about that.

We took care of a lots of crazy people together, and she was the first doc I worked with that seriously listened not just to me, but all the nurses. As hard to believe as that might seem, a lots of doctors weren’t all that interested in what the nurses had to say. Doctor Lori absolutely loved the nursing notes I wrote. It was so refreshing working with her.

Doctor Lori spent a lots of time talking to her patients, and she almost always took the nurse caring for a patient with her to get input from the patient and the nurses. She was the only doc I worked with that consistently did that.

Doctor Lori wasn’t just the first doc I formed a professional relationship with, she was the first doc that I counted as a friend. We went out for drinks and dinner after work. We talked about the problems we had in our personal lives. She threw elegant parties and invited me and my lovely supermodel wife.

She told me I needed to quit smoking. I told her she had a nice ass. She helped me survive the traumatic aftermath when one of our patients committed suicide on our unit. When the VA decided to create an assistant head nurse position, she lobbied for me to get the job, and she had my back when I quit finally drinking.

She cried when I left Minneapolis and moved to Phoenix. Of all the people I would miss when I left the MVAMC, I missed her the most.

* * * *

I worked at several psych facilities in the Phoenix area, but it wasn’t until my third job that I found a doc I really liked. I worked with some decent doctors at the County and Del Webb, but there were some real losers, too. Especially at the County.

Hey, Dr Loser. We have a guy starting to escalate here. He’s hyperventilating and pacing. He just punched a hole in the solid concrete wall, and he’s threatening to kill everyone. What kind of injections would you like us to give him. Immediately!

No injections. Offer him Haldol 2 mg by mouth, and a half a milligram of Ativan.

Seriously? This guy is six foot five, and weighs about four bills. With all due respect, we’ve had four Code Blacks with this guy in the last three days. Yesterday we gave him ten of Haldol, two of Ativan and a hundred of Benadryl. And it finally caught up with him after we gave him a repeat dose!

Are you a doctor? Do you think you know more about this than I do? You don’t give me orders, I give orders to you! Do what I say!!

That might be an extreme illustration, but shit like that happened occasionally. The big badass guy would inevitably go off. Fifty staff members would come running, and there would be an huge wrestling match. We’d shoot the guy up with what we knew would work, and then get orders. If Dr Loser still refused to give us orders for what we needed, we’d call the Medical Director, and he’d sign off on them, then he’d call Dr Loser and chew him a new asshole.

* * * *

My favorite doctor at St Luke’s was Naveen Cherukuri. My favoritest thing about Naveen was listening to him tell a funny story. He would start laughing so hard I couldn’t understand a thing he said, but was still thoroughly entertained listening to it.

Naveen was also a really good doc, and he took care of the nurses. St Luke’s could be a really scary place to work at times, and Naveen wasn’t afraid to lock and load. I really liked working with him.

He married one of my favorite St Luke’s nurses, Stacey Supermodel. They have a couple kids now. Hopefully, they look like their mom…  Just kidding, Naveen. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again, but I hope I do.

* * * *

I ended my semi-legendary psych nursing career at Aurora Behavioral Health, and I would work with several doctors there that I would come to view as not just colleagues, but good friends.

Bill Sbiliris was the primary doc on the Canyon Unit, my home at Aurora. We didn’t get along all that great at first. We probably had a similar opinion about each other: That arrogant sonuvabitch thinks he knows everything!

And then we discovered between the two of us we really did know everything, and we were both Minnesota Vikings fans, which was rare in Arizona. After that, we made a great team. Too bad our football team didn’t achieve similar greatness…

Doctor Bill also wasn’t afraid to lock and load medications. He was pretty easy to work with in that regard, and that made it easy for the nurses to drop the Canyon Hammer if we ever needed to.

Doctor Bill wasn’t so great at spending a lots of time with his patients. They called him Dr Drive-by. Be that as it may, Doctor Bill was a good guy to work with, and we stabilized a lots of crazy people together.

Doctor Bill also took very good care of the nurses. He usually stopped at Starbucks on his way to work and brought in a wide variety of caffeinated beverages for the nurses. He bought lunch for the nurses more consistently than any other doc I worked with, and he also threw great parties.

* * * *

Michael Fermo was another Aurora doc. He was also a very good doc, and another wizard of psychopharmacological management, and he spent a reasonable amount of time meeting with his patients.

Doctor Mike used to transfer a lots of patients to my unit. Fiona, the Queen of the World, was one of his patients. The nurses on his unit used to say their patients needed to spend some quality time in the Canyon. Doctor Mike used to say this: “I think they need some quality Mark time.”

That was a pretty high compliment.

For his especially difficult patients on my unit, we would do a Good Cop, Bad Cop routine. Doctor Mike always played the Bad Cop, and would rip his patient a new asshole, and then I’d put a band-aid on it and make it all better. And then we would laugh our asses off. We were incredibly successful, and there was mostly peace on the Canyon.

“How’s my boy doing today? Do I need to get all medieval on his ass again?” he’d ask.

“Nope. He’s got his damn mind right now.” I’d reply.

“Good. I love it when a plan comes together.”

And when it came to throwing epic parties, none of the docs I worked with could hold a candle to Doctor Mike. The only thing he didn’t have at his parties was strippers, even though I lobbied hard for them the next time.

* * * *

But my favorite Aurora doc was Reyes Topete. He was the staff addictionologist, and he was a freaking dream to work with. Whatever I needed for my detox patients, El Topete delivered.

“Give him Ativan 2 mg now, and set up a taper, 2 mg QID. I’ll see him when I come in and take care of the rest.” Or “Give her Subutex 8 mg now, and set up a four day taper. You need anything else?”

If I wanted a Subutex taper extended, no problem. If I wanted one stopped, it was done. If I thought we should add something, like phenobarbital, sure, why not. It was the same if I thought we should remove something from a patient’s med profile.

“You’re my eyes and ears on the unit.” he told me one day. “And if you tell me one of my patients needs something, or doesn’t need something, I trust you.”

As far as compliments from doctors go, it doesn’t get any better than that.

I told him about my drug use history, and he had trouble believing parts of it. Mostly the quitting part.

“And you just stopped? Cold turkey? Man, don’t tell my patients that! I have kids in college!!”

El Topete is from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico–the Big City about forty miles away from where we’re currently living. He was thrilled when I told him we were going on vacation here the year before we retired.

“Really? I’m grew up in Guadalajara. You’re gonna love it! You have to go here, and there…” He was so excited he started speaking a combination of English and Spanish and probably a couple of languages no one has ever heard before, outside of a Star Wars® movie.

And when I told him we were retiring down here, he was jealous. At my retirement party, he cried. To this day, that touches me more than I can say.

* * * *

I’ve said before that I don’t miss working for a living, and that’s true. I’ve also said that I miss some of the people I used to work with. That is also true. I’ll probably travel back up to the States again from time to time, but I have no intention of staying there, and I sure as hell don’t plan on rejoining the workforce.

I’ll try to see as many of my friends as I can cram into any of our Stateside visits. But we do have a guest room here…

Dallas, Part V

I have become somewhat obsessed with this story. I hadn’t thought about it much in the last couple of decades, but it’s pretty much consuming all of my waking moments of late.

I kind of need to get this sucker out of my system, though I couldn’t tell you why. My first attempt at being a rich and famous author was focused on telling this story. All of it. I’m not going into anywhere near that much detail with this telling, and it’s still taking forever.

I know I told my brother, Bruce, the whole story once. We drank an entire case of beer by the time I had finished. And Bruce probably slept through the last two hours of my narration. It has always been a long story, and I’m trying like hell to make this very long and convoluted story shorter. But the worst is yet to come…

* * * *

Michael and Hillary came home from work Monday afternoon. Shorty and I hailed them from the pool. They smiled and waved, and we decided that was as good a time as any to inform our hosts they were hosting our Big Epic Party on Friday, seeing how they were in a good mood.

Who were we inviting? Just the people from work. And maybe some of the bikini babes Shorty and I had met by the pool. And anyone they wanted to invite. I mean, it was their place…

Drinks? Um, we’re getting a keg of beer. Some sodas. Maybe a bottle of whiskey…  And we still had weed!

Food? Sure. We could get a party tray. Or something. Somewhere. Probably. And chips. We had to have chips, and dip, probably. And we still had weed!

And when Hillary was satisfied, everything was cool. 😎  We had Michael at party.

The apartment complex even had a spacious entertainment room more than ample enough to hold all the people were planning on inviting to our epic shindig. This just kept getting better and better, except the being broke part, and not having any idea how we were going to pay for it part.

Michael and Hillary were in better spirits than they had been when I returned from Fort Sill. But that didn’t mean all, or anything for that matter, had been forgiven.

George, evil George, mean and icky George had won custody of the glass topped coffee table with the black wrought iron frame, and Hillary’s improved mood vanished the moment she saw it.

That table became the object of her hatred for George. That table had to die. And if it couldn’t be killed, it had to be severely damaged at the very least. Hillary changed clothes. We smoked a joint, and gathered around the table with dark intent, armed with one instrument of mass destruction.

A ridiculously small hammer.

We all took turns trying to break the glass top, but that plane of glass was almost an half an inch thick, and it was able to withstand our initial half-hearted blows. Neither Shorty nor I held any animosity toward the table, and we felt more foolish than anything when we took our turns smacking the table top with the hammer. Even Michael’s attempts at breaking the table top were pretty lame, and he certainly didn’t like George.

We tried breaking the glass table for at least half an hour without success. We were all giggling like schoolgirls. Michael, Shorty and I were ready to call it quits. We had hit it with our best shots, but the table took them all and laughed at us. That, was an insult Hillary could not ignore.

We had all been sitting on the floor around the table as we enacted our dark ritual, but then Hillary rose to her feet. She uttered a string of curses that would’ve rivalled anything Rose could have come up with, and smote the the table with the hammer full force, and a small section of the corner of the glass top flew free.

We were all surprised, even Hillary. She might have been more than surprised, but whatever it was she started feeling, she converted it back into anger. And satisfaction.

George might be getting the table back, but it wasn’t going to be pristine.

* * * *

We all got up early on Tuesday. We were all going to work. Shorty and I had flipped a coin. He would go with Michael. I would go with Hillary. And we would trade off the next day. Neither of us really wanted to work with Michael, and not because we didn’t like him. We did. But Michael didn’t work with Martha, and Martha made the world go ’round.

Shorty and Michael went to Bernie’s House of Carpets. Hillary and I went to Jerry’s Emporium of Telemarketing and Stuff. We were making the big bucks in Big D.

My life as Jerry’s bitch was okay, I guess. I’ve certainly had worse jobs. The sales team didn’t drop everything to talk to me. They waved and said hi, and kept on working. I invited everyone to our party, and everyone said they would be there. But that’s about as far as our interactions went.

It clearly wasn’t me that disrupted productivity at the office, so it had to be Shorty. That was my take. I think it was the way he talked. That Minnesota accent was as foreign as a British accent in Texas, and people couldn’t get enough of it. And, he could spin a fairly funny tale. We both had a lots of funny stories about our lives and the characters we knew.

However, I did have one work related perk that Shorty wouldn’t have that day. I got to see 💕Martha. 💕 Angelic Martha. 😇 Beautiful Martha. 😍 I love you, Martha!❣And she looked marvelous!

We exchanged greetings, and I especially made sure she was still coming to our Big Epic Amazing Party. On Friday. At Michael and Hillary’s.

Yes! She was!!

However, we both had jobs to do, and that was just about the extent of our interactions. Martha had to sell stuff, and she had been in a slump. She was fueled up on caffeine and Quaaludes, and she was hitting it hard. She just needed some good leads.

I had been tasked with mastering the Supply Room. It was a big closet at the end of the hallway past Jerry’s office, ten by twenty, maybe. It was full of boxes, bags, stuff and junk. It looked like a bomb had gone off it in. A big bomb.

I took everything out of the room, and swept and mopped the floor. I found some pallets in the underground parking garage, and put them on the floor, then organized the hell out of everything I put back in supply room.

I was done by eleven o’clock. Jerry just about had an heart attack.

“What do you mean, you’re done already!” Jerry shouted as he walked over to the Supply Room to appraise my work. “I told you to–”

Jerry was speechless. I smiled a very satisfied smile.

“Je-sus Christ! I can’t believe this! This. Is. Beautiful!”

“Thanks. Anything else you want me to do?”

“Yeah…” Jerry’s voice trailed off. He looked at me in an entirely different way. He rattled off a list of things, then started pulling random people over to look at the Supply Room. “Do you see this? Do you see this! This, is a goddamn masterpiece, that’s what it is! I will fire the first person that fucks this up! Do you hear me! Fire!!”

I spent the rest of the day impressing the hell out of Jerry. And Jerry spent the rest of the day annoying the hell out of everyone by telling them how fucking awesome I was. By the time the day ended, I was sure no one was coming to our party. Not even me.

Shorty had a good day with Michael. There was a building boom in Dallas, and Bernie had a lots of carpeting that needed to be installed. Michael was happy to have the help, and the company. He usually worked alone.

Our first work day in Dallas had been a success. We had made forty bucks, and we didn’t spend it on beer. It couldn’t have gone much better.

“I think Jerry’s gonna ask you to marry him!” Hillary teased me when we were all together at the apartment. Except for that part. Her teasing was good-natured, thankfully. But Hillary’s good mood would vanish quickly. George was coming over to pick up his furniture.

* * * *

I have to confess, I was a complete dick to George when he showed up. I taunted him like I was one of the Brownies in Willow. I taunted him like I was a French soldier in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

To his credit, George kept his head down, and did not respond to me. He was a much better man than I. He picked up his stuff, he had gained custody of more than just the maimed coffee table, but I couldn’t tell you what. George said something about the broken glass top of the coffee table, but he was in enemy territory and he had no back up. He collected his stuff as quickly as he could, and got the hell out of Dodge.

* * * *

I called my mom on Wednesday on my lunch break. Michael and I had flown through our first job, then drove back to the office to meet Hillary, Randi and Shorty outside her office. I had laid carpet for a couple months during the summer when I was in high school, so I knew what Michael needed without being told. We made a good team.

I went inside the office while everyone else waited outside, and used Hillary’s phone to call Mom so I didn’t have to call her collect. I think that probably surprised her.

Apparently, a wire money transfer wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, but Mom came through. She told me which bank to go. One hundred dollars was waiting there for me. Michael knew where the bank was, we went there after lunch. I gave fifty bucks to Shorty. We were in this together.

💖 Thanks, Mom. You were the best. 💖

The rest of the week was uneventful. Shorty and I were working stiffs. I think the only problem was I had been so efficient as Jerry’s bitch on Tuesday that Shorty didn’t have much of anything to do at the office on Wednesday. So Jerry spent half the day showing Shorty all the stuff I had done.

“Do you see that?” Jerry showed Shorty the Supply Room. “That, is a goddamn masterpiece! A masterpiece! I should have taken before and after pictures! No one fucks this up, and lives!”

Shorty spent the rest of the day disrupting the productivity of the sales zombies in the bullpen. They had a great day. They didn’t sell much, but they had the best day, ever. Hillary said her sides hurt from laughing so much.

The only person happy to see me in the office on Thursday was Jerry. I think I actually begged him to stop shouting my praises. Not even my parents loved me as loudly as Jerry did.

I didn’t ask if he had anything for me to do, I just did stuff. I cleaned the windows. Almost everyone in the office smoked, and there were no prohibitions against smoking indoors back then. When I finished, sunlight flooded the bullpen. Some of the sales zombies actually donned sunglasses.

Jerry simply nodded this time. I was sooo thankful.

I was able to spend some quality time with Martha on Thursday. Her sales slump had become a drought, and she was freaking out. She was crying and disheveled once more. Hillary and Randi tried to stop me as I headed for Martha’s desk, but I was immune to their black magicks that day.

I took Martha outside, and smoked a cigarette with her. I told her jokes and funny stories, and got her laughing. I gave her a little pep talk to get her focused. She even found the strength to flash a look of determination.

“You can do this. You’ve done it a thousand times. I believe in you. Now, get in there and make a sale!” And I gave her a little pat on the ass, for good luck.

I stood there alone in the underground garage, watching her cute little butt as she strode back inside. And I promised myself I would never wash that hand again.

Half an hour later, a shriek of exuberance reverberated out of the bullpen. Martha had made a sale! Her fellow sales zombies swarmed her to congratulate her. I stood just outside the bullpen, watching, and I made no movement to join them. Through the crowd of people that surrounded her, I could see Martha’s elated face. She had her eyes locked on me. Through the tears of joy that rolled down her angel face, she silently said, Thank you!

That memory is also filed in my Happy Box. I haven’t accessed that file in at least twenty years, probably longer. Good to know it’s still there.

* * * *

By Thursday afternoon, Shorty and I had almost two hundred seventy-fifty dollars between us. We could throw a big, epic, amazing party with that kind of coin. And we had almost an ounce of pot, too! We decided we’d work only half a day on Friday, if that was okay with our new employers and co-workers. We had a party to plan.

Yeah, that’s fine. We completely understand, our bosses said when we asked them on Friday morning. I invited Jerry and Bernie to the party. They said they’d think about it.

Michael and I were the A Team once more, and we finished the first job in record time. It was Friday. Shorty and I would be gone on Monday. Michael decided we deserved a treat. We went to a bar and had a couple of beers.

I didn’t spend as much time talking to Michael as Shorty did. They were both motorcycle guys, so they could talk for hours about bikes. I was not a bike guy. I knew they were the things with two wheels, right? And that was about the extent of my knowledge.

“Hey, it’s been surprisingly great having you and Shorty here. I wasn’t too wild about it at first, but you guys have been a real pleasure to have around.”

“I know what you mean. I had some serious doubts about this too, but hanging out with you and Hillary has been pretty much the most fun I’ve ever had. In fact, I’m not sure I want to go back to Minnesota.”

“No shit! Wow, it’d be cool if you stayed. Not with us…” Michael laughed. “No offense.”

“None taken.” We clinked beer bottles. I was going to miss this place, if I left. I had a pretty big decision to make, but first, I had an epic party to prepare.

Michael and I drove to Hillary’s office. We were meeting Shorty, Hillary and Randi for lunch. We walked to a nearby deli. I think we ate there frequently that week. I didn’t think anything about it at the time, but when we returned to the office, Michael walked in with us.

Hillary’s office had the atmosphere of a carnival that day. Shorty had been in his glory, and no one did a fucking thing that morning. Not even Jerry, and he didn’t seem to care that no one in his office was doing what they were getting paid to do. He had been laughing his ass off. Shorty picked up where he left off when we returned.

Now, I’m a comedian. Okay, I’ve always wanted to be a comedian, much like I’ve almost always wanted to be a prophet. It was one of the things I wanted back in my Dallas Daze. And I’m sure I was more than a little jealous of Shorty, who was killing it at the office.

“Oh, God! Stop it, Girtz! You’re killing me, man!” Jerry said. He had rejoined the audience after lunch, and was laughing so hard he actually had tears running down his cheeks. “Oh, hey, Marco! Come with me. I want to talk to you.” He clapped me on the shoulder, pushing me toward his office, and closed the door once we were inside. He offered me a glass of bourbon. I actually declined.

Jerry couldn’t believe it either.

“Man, I am gonna be so glad when you guys leave. I can start making some money again!”

“I might stay in Dallas.”

“What?!?”

“I’m seriously considering staying here.” I repeated.

“No kidding? What are your plans?”

“There’s a lot of stuff up in the air. I need a job, and a place to live. I can’t stay with Michael and Hillary.”

“You–you’re serious! What happened? Did you fall in love or something?” Jerry chuckled at the thought, then he became serious. “Martha! You fell in love with Martha, didn’t you!”

Was it that obvious?

“No! Nonononono! Not Martha! You need a good girl, like Randi. Fall in love with Randi, she’s fucking crazy about you!”

“What?!?” It was my turn to be confused.

“What? You didn’t know that? What are you, blind?”

I didn’t know what to say. I had no idea. Maybe I was so infatuated with Martha that I couldn’t see anything else. Plus, there was Shelly. I had been thinking about her a lots, even if it was because I was trying to put together the pieces of what really happened between us that night. Maybe she felt something similar to what I did, a sort of sacredness…  I like to think of Shelly as a virgin, and in a way, she was. Or maybe we actually had thrown water condoms at the Marines…

“I…don’t know what to say.” I finally said, for many reasons.

“Never mind. That’s not why I called you in here. I don’t care who you fall in love with. I called you in here because–because I wanted to thank you– to thank you for what you did, you cleaned up that closet, my supply…room…”

You know, I don’t think Jerry spent a lots of time thanking anyone for anything. This was the worst thank you speech I had ever heard, and Jerry looked so uncomfortable…

“Hey, Jerry. It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not! Sheila tells me I’ve gotta work at this, goddammit! Can you believe this shit? I’m a grown man! I’m successful, right? And I can’t even tell someone thank you without fucking it up!”

If there was something I could’ve said then, I had no idea what it was. I said nothing, and even now, I think that was the best answer.

“Look, the work you did around here, it was great. You need a job, you got one. And that’s a promise! But that other thing you did, that thing you did with Martha the other day. That, was beautiful. I was wrong about you, hippie. I thought you were a killer when I met you. But you’re no killer. You’re a good man, and I…I just wanted you to know that.”

Years later, when I had become a legendary psych nurse, I would understand the therapeutic value of silence. Back then, standing in Jerry’s office, I had no idea what I was doing, but I sensed what I wasn’t saying was my best course of action. And then I knew what to say.

“Thank you.”

“There! You see that! How do you do that!” Jerry was practically screaming! “I should hire you to teach me how to be, you know, fuckin’ gracious and shit! You want to be my teacher, hippie? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t call you that! Whaddya think? You wanna work for me?” Jerry was on a roll. “Listen! The other reason I called you in here for was this.” Jerry reached in his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. He flipped through them until he found a Benjamin. “I wanted you to have this, too. You earned it, and I know you could use it. Go ahead, take it. But don’t tell Girtz I did this! Hell, I should make him pay me for fucking up my office! Naw, I’m just kidding. But you listen to me. Find yourself a good girl. You’ll save yourself a fortune…”

I took the C-note and silently put it in my wallet. Jerry was quite a guy. I liked him a lot, and I can tell you this in all seriousness. That guy didn’t miss a trick. He saw everything, and everything he told me was true.

Every word.

* * * *

By the time I left Jerry’s office, I wasn’t sure my hearing would ever be the same, but I was positive of one thing. My powers of observation were nowhere near as acute as I thought they were.

I took a long, hard look at Randi, and my eyes locked onto her tits. Maybe that’s why I hadn’t noticed the whole her being head over heels in love with me thing. Well, at least that explanation made sense to me. I got Shorty away from his crowd of admirers so we could get moving on setting up Party Central. I think the sales zombies were actually cheering us onward. I made sure to make eye contact with Martha.

Promise me you’ll come. I said, silently

I promise! she replied

And Randi saw that. I know she did.

It would have to do. The only way I could insure that Martha would actually show up was to kidnap her…  I’m kidding. No, I’m not. I totally would have kidnapped her if that’s what I had to do.

Shorty and I headed for the garage and Hillary’s car. We were going shopping for the epic party! Michael was still in the office, and he disengaged himself from the crowd to join us. As we started walking down the hallway, I vaguely saw a human form walking up the hallway toward us. And then I saw who that someone was.

It was George.

* * * *

Shorty and I said goodbye to Michael in the garage. If he was bothered by the fact that he had just violated the restraining order George had filed against him, he hid it well.

He was a little bummed out that he wouldn’t have a partner for the afternoon, but other than that…

Neither Shorty nor I gave the seemingly innocuous event that had just happened so much as a second thought. I mean, George didn’t even acknowledge our existence. Nor did he even speak to Michael, so even if we had thought about it, we wouldn’t have thought it was a big deal.

We were focused on the party. Well, okay. I did have a few other random thoughts bouncing around in my head, but all I wanted them to do was stop!

A shopping we did go. First stop, a liquor store, for a keg. We had to have a whole bunch of beer. Everything else was optional. We got a thirty gallon keg. And a couple sleeves of plastic cups. And then some sodas. And a bottle of whiskey. Or vodka. Or something like unto that.

Then we stopped at a grocery store, probably, and bought chips and dips and snacks and stuff. And napkins. And whatever else struck our fancy as something we could afford. Money was no longer our overriding concern.

All I know for sure about our out of pocket expenses for the party was both Shorty and I still had money in our pockets when we were through. And I still had Benjamin safely tucked away in my wallet. Just in cases…

Hillary had procured the key to the entertainment suite at the apartment, and I had it in my pocket. The liquor store had given us an enormous plastic container to put the keg in. We set the keg up in the party room. There was an ice machine in the party room, so we wouldn’t need to buy any ice to keep the keg cold, or for drinks.

We tossed anything that needed to be refrigerated in the fridge in the party room, and we were pretty much set. We showered and changed clothes. All we had to do after that was wait for Martha, I mean, our guests to arrive.

Michael and Hillary came home. They were quieter than usual, maybe, but I only say this in retrospect. I’m sure I didn’t give much thought to how Michael and Hillary were acting at the time. Shorty and I spent the majority of our time tending to the keg, getting it to produce a stream of beer at the perfect rate of flow.

There was even a stereo system in the party room. Shorty dialed through the stations, looking for one that played good old rock and roll while I rolled a bunch of joints. Shorty was a gifted mechanic, but there were two things he couldn’t do with his hands. He couldn’t snap his fingers, and he couldn’t roll a joint to save his life. This was something only I could do.

* * * *

Our guests started arriving around 7:00 PM. The guys in the sales force were the first ones to show up. Free booze. It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Shorty’s cousin, Leroy, came. I have purposely kept him out of this story up to this point, or I’d be on Part X right now. Leroy was also an interesting guy. He had been in Texas for so long his Minnesota accent had been replaced by a smooth Texas drawl. He was a true urban cowboy.

Leroy was married to a cute Texas blonde. She was six months pregnant or so, and she didn’t come to the party. I know Leroy and she had visited Hillary’s office at least once and everyone at the office knew them, and all of them had fallen in love with her.

A couple of the bikini babes we had met at the pool dropped in, but they weren’t wearing bikinis, which was disappointing.

The redheaded hippie chick and her hippie dude boyfriend came. They looked like the King and Queen of all the Hippies. They thought the party was groovy. They were totally grooving to the music. And they loved the fact that I had pre-rolled a bunch of joints.

Bernie actually came to the party, but he took Michael into the bedroom and they stayed there for a long time. They eventually rejoined the party, but Michael pulled Hillary into the bedroom and then they stayed there for a long time. I figured they were having sex, and left it at that.

Bernie was tense, a little too agitated, maybe. I’d be able to pick up on little things like that that once I became a psych nurse, but at that time I didn’t think much about it. Bernie relaxed after drinking a couple beers. He even told a couple jokes. I have them filed in my Joke Box, but that’s so cluttered it’d take me the rest of my life if I ever tried to reorganize it, so…

Bernie didn’t stay long. He left before the party really got started

A bunch of people I had never met walked in. They were Hillary’s friends from Detroit. She never told us she had invited anyone. But they were probably the people I enjoyed meeting the most at our epic party. I can’t remember any of their names, but they were a blast!

I lit up a few joints when they arrived and passed them around. This party was starting to become a party!

There were maybe thirty people at the party by this time. Almost everyone brought something to eat. Before long, we had a smorgasbord. And everyone brought more booze, and Quaaludes.

We wandered back and forth from the party room to the apartment and back to the party room. My memory of this isn’t completely clear, but I think the party room was on the second floor, so you had to be prepared to handle at least four flights of stairs.

That in and of itself limited the migration for most of our guests, but Shorty and I probably ran into ourselves coming and going. We were here, then there, shuttling pitchers of beer, snacks and ice from Point A to Point B.

This was our party, and we made sure there was plenty of everything available for our guests, no matter which room they were in. I probably needed to take another shower by 8:30, which happened to be when Randi arrived.

“Hi.” a voice whispered in my ear. My heart skipped a beat. Her voice sounded exactly like Shelly’s. Now that I think about it, I’m surprised I hadn’t noticed that sooner. Maybe it was the whisper…  If Randi had been able to mimic Shelly’s cute little giggle, I’m not sure how I would’ve reacted. I turned to the sound of the voice and saw…tits.

Well, they were wearing a tight red blouse, but I knew those tits, and thanks to Jerry’s repeated warnings, I knew they were in love with me.

“Hi there! I replied, seeing Randi, maybe for the first time. She. Looked. Radiant!

Randi was seriously smoking hot that night. I poured her a beer. I asked if she needed anything. She said she wanted some fresh air, and asked if I would join her on the balcony. Why certainly! I’d love to! And I meant it. I asked her about her day, her son, her parents. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, and that is a testament to just how gorgeous she looked.

As busy as I had been busing beer and food and ice. As much as I had been enjoying meeting all of Hillary’s friends from Detroit, there was something always in the back of mind, something that made my head reflexively turn every time I heard someone enter the party room, or the apartment.

That something was a someone, and that someone was Martha. 

As keyed up as I was about this, as much as I had been anticipating this, and let me tell you something, I didn’t look forward to Santa with as much anticipation as I did to Martha’s arrival. I had even tried to position myself to be near the door at all times to give myself an edge over Shorty. I was not going to let him beat me to the finish line this time. Despite all that, I was totally caught off guard when I heard a chorus of angels burst into song, and that could mean only one thing.

💕Martha💕 had arrived!

And that’s when I realized where I was, and a crowd of about fifteen people were standing between me and the door where the angelic object of my desire was about to make her grand entrance.

And standing right there, mere feet from the doorway–just stupidly standing there like a goddamn idiot, was Shorty.

Dallas, Part IV

I’m the oldest son in my family. I had an older brother, Allen, but he got dead when he was very young.

Despite what you may have heard, there are only two causes of death. SIDS and GIDS. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Gradual Infant Death Syndrome.

SIDS is the unexplained death of a child less than one year of age. It claims about 2500 lives in the United States each year. GIDS is the Number One cause of death of everyone else, every year.

My brother got dead from SIDS. I’m going to got dead from GIDS, someday. Hopefully, not today. I have stuff to do.

* * * *

I certainly had stuff to do when Shorty and I were vacationing in Dallas. We were as good as broke, and our flight home wasn’t for another week. We were fucked, so to speak. Two men in their early twenties could burn through eighty bucks in a New York minute, whatever that translates into in Dallas time. Hell, Shorty had burned through one hundred fifty bucks in about four hours.

On Monday morning, I did what any broke twenty-three year old man on vacation in a foreign land would do.

I called my mom. Collect.

I didn’t tell Mom I had smuggled an half pound of weed into Texas, nor that Shorty had sold most of it, then blew the profits buying drinks for everyone so he could get into Martha’s pants. I can’t remember what I told her exactly, but I’m sure I lied, a lots.

I’ve stated before that I am apparently a very convincing liar. Well, my mom had learned if my lips were moving, I was probably lying. And she wasn’t dramatically moved by my tale of woe. I needed one hundred dollars immediately, or I was probably going to got dead from starvation. She could wire the money to a bank in Dallas, it’d be easy!

“Let me think about it.” was her noncommittal response.

“What does that mean?”

“Call me in two days.” and she hung up the phone.

“What did she say?” Shorty asked. He had been standing next to me while I talked to Mom.

“Well, she didn’t say no.”

“Man, we’ve got to make some money, brother.”

There was a novel idea. Why don’t we get, you know, jobs! We jumped in the car and drove to Hillary’s office, and asked Jerry if we could talk to him. He waved us into his office.

“We’ve run into a cash flow problem.” I said.

“Welcome to the club.” he replied. “What do you want, a loan?”

“No. We want jobs.” Shorty answered.

“What?!?”

I don’t think Jerry was expecting that. I explained we didn’t want to be on the payroll, but we’d be willing to do odd jobs around the office. Or we could help Michael install carpeting. We had already done that! But now we needed to be paid for our services. We’d work cheap, for say, twenty bucks a day.

“You guys are serious!” Jerry said. I’m not sure I can describe the look on his face. We nodded. “Well, ain’t this a bitch.” We looked at each other, then nodded at Jerry again.

“Let me think about it.” he said. “Wait out there, but stay out of the bullpen. No one does a fucking thing around here once you two yahoos show up!”

“He didn’t say no…” Shorty whispered. No, he hadn’t, but he hadn’t said yes either. We just might find a way to survive in the Big City…  We tried to stay away from the bullpen, but someone spotted us, and pretty soon no one was doing a fucking thing. I had never noticed that before. I wanted to disappear because we really needed to stay on Jerry’s good side for one week, but I forgot all about that when Martha smiled at me, and I beat Shorty, getting to her before he did, for the first, and last, time.

Success! I was enthralled being in Martha’s angelic presence. I’m pretty sure heavenly light radiated from her. I would’ve crawled fifteen miles through broken glass, with two broken ankles, just to let her pee on my toothbrush. That’s how much I was in love with Martha.

I don’t remember much of our conversation, except the part where I invited her to the Big Party at Michael and Hillary’s apartment on Friday. Yeah, Shorty and I have had such a great time, and we’ve met so many wonderful people, like you, Martha. Oh, you’re just about the most amazing person I’ve ever met. Sure, you are! Anyway, big party. You have to be there. You will! That’s great!

Yep. I had totally lost my mind. And I couldn’t have cared less. I would’ve robbed a bank to pull this off, if I had to.

“Hey! I thought I told you two to stay out of the bullpen!” Jerry shouted over the chatter in his sales office. “Zombies! Back to work! You two, my office!”

Maybe Jerry knew more than I thought. Everyone jumped. Hillary and the rest of the sales force went back to work. Shorty and I followed Jerry.

“You see my dilemma, right?” Jerry said to me. “Seriously, I don’t think I can afford to have either one of you around here. All of my girls want to to fuck your brains out, which I can’t understand for the life of me.”

I missed the import of that statement at the time.

Shorty and I shrugged our shoulders. It wasn’t our fault we were irresistible to women.

“But I like you guys. I talked to Bernie. He’s okay with one of you guys working with Michael. You can lay padding and clean up, stuff like that, okay?” We nodded. “Twenty bucks a day, just like you asked, all right?”

“Yeah, that’s cool.” we agreed.

“And I can probably find something for the other one. I’ve got a few odd jobs around here I haven’t been able to get anyone to do, but I don’t think I have enough work to last the week..”

“Jerry, anything you can do for us will help a lot.” I said.

“Okay. Show up tomorrow morning. Now get out of here before I change my mind.”

Shorty and I went back to the apartment to enjoy the last day of our vacation. We were sipping beer poolside and soaking up the sun. I thought about telling Shorty about my trip to Fort Sill, and Shelly, and the booze cruise on the range roads, but all I said about it was it was good to see my Army buddies again, and left it at that.

And this might sound a little weird, but my time with Shelly had become almost…sacred…to me. I didn’t want to demean it. And the rest of it was too complicated to explain. Kind of like this story…

So I told Shorty about the Big Party we were having on Friday instead.

“What? Are you nuts? We don’t have any money! How the hell are we going to pay for it?”

I could’ve been a dick. We could’ve had a ton of money, if someone hadn’t blown it all! But I didn’t go there. It would all work out, I had no doubt. And it was going to be totally worth it. Martha was coming to the Big Party.

And I am totally spending the night with her, we both thought. It. Was. On. We clinked our beer cans together, and smiled.

The Big Party! Friday night!! Martha!!!

It was going to be epic!

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.