Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Smoking Nuns and Cafeteria Jesus

St. Anthony Catholic School

"Hey, there’s a spot! We must’ve done something right along the way.”

“Yep. Karma. Maybe.”

Scoring a parking place right in front of the church was something we agreed seemed kind of tricky.  Years of religious conditioning rolled our rational thinking.
St. Anthony Catholic Church
It felt awkward lucking into it, like we didn’t deserve it, so we quickly jumped out of Karen’s car and scurried across the road toward our old elementary school before anyone could tell us otherwise. It was a hot, cloudless Sunday morning assuring me (somewhat) that no bolt of lightning would strike down the two of us irreverent middle-aged delinquents in flip-flops for sneaking into school.  
Especially if we serpentined.
Karen and I, a couple of 50-somethings who were notorious little trouble makers in our youth, just wanted to see our old elementary school again. St. Anthony Catholic School.
“I didn’t get picked to play Mary in the Christmas pageant. They chose Darlene. She had blonde sausage curls, straight A’s and was such a flippin’ saint all the time. Remember? The stable used to be right here in front of the convent..."
A news story about the St. Anthony pageant. T'was a big deal.
“I always had to wear my dad’s robe, my brother’s sandals and a hand towel on my head to be a shepherd. I think I even wore a beard one time. I was taller than everyone. I never got to be a girl in these things.”
“There were real animals though. I remember a donkey and a calf or something. Sheep too? I think I played an angel one time.”
“Did you hang by your waist from a tree like you were flying? I seem to remember…”
“Wasn’t me…”
“Everything seems so small now. It was huge when we were little. Even the Angelus Tower seems shorter now. We used to climb up there y'know. All the way to the top. Bill and John and me. Altar boys knew all the great secret passages…”
“Yeah, I heard they used to get the wine from the sacristy and drink it up there…”
“Well, I didn’t do that…I did, however, climb up to the school roof over the principal’s office once thinking I’d avoid getting busted for something or other. Found Sister J. there, her veil off, having a smoke. We promised that we wouldn’t snitch on each other for being on the roof. Or smoking. She had brown hair. It kind of marked me for life to see she actually had hair under her veil. Didn’t we think they were bald? I don’t think she stayed a nun…”
“No! Really?”
“Stack of bibles.”
Math class about '64 when Sr. M.T. tapped a stick while we recited times tables. 
The girl with her back to the camera probably had her nose stuck
 in a circle drawn on the blackboard.  Looks a little like Karen...
“Aww, damn, the gym’s locked. Remember the locker room under the bleachers and when we had to wear these special jumpers for P.E.? They made us look like powder blue pumpkins. Well, so did our regular uniforms as I recall.”
“It always smelled so funky in there.”
“Probably because there was no air conditioning.”
“Can you believe we had no A.C. in 90 degree heat when we were kids? I don’t know how we did it. Let alone the nuns. May explain some of their behavior…”
“No hard soled shoes on the basketball floor! God, they got mad when we wore our loafers out there on the shine. I could slide almost all the way across in my socks.”
“I loved that crazy stage where we put on plays. It had real curtains we could open and close…”
“You were always directing something, yes, I remember.” 
“Oh, I can picture the Christmas Fair here. My mom always ran the bazaar. We stuffed ourselves with cotton candy, candy apples, and hot dogs and then we barfed it all up on the rides later! It was weird to see the nuns and the priests out playing carnival games and just hanging around wasn’t it?”
“We’re walking around in a closed school on a Sunday…”
“What’ll they do if they catch us? Call our parents? We went here, we have permission!”
“Here’s a memory: On this very spot, right outside the cafeteria, I will never forget Jose the Janitor sprinkled his magic sawdust down where Terry puked after lunch.”
“I think Terry projectiled on a bunch of us in 1st grade too, during reading circle.”
"And right here they gathered in a clump.  A penguin convention.  All the nuns sent us home early that day in '63 when Kennedy was assassinated. Remember? They cried. Nuns crying. THAT was awkward."
“It’s a little spooky how much things haven’t changed isn’t it?  Will you just look at this cafeteria with the turquoise tiles and the columns that flair at the ceiling and the weird statue up there of Jesus watching over everyone eat?”

Cafeteria Jesus
“It’s Jesus as like maybe a 6 year old all decked out in a fancy-schmancy medieval robe and a crown, like he was aware of his special powers even as a kid…”
“It’s the same, yes. Wow.”
“I have a question. Your mom volunteered in the hot lunch line with my mom right?”
“Did she ever reveal how they could get the fruit salad  chunks to suspend in the jell-o? And, really, what was ‘meat sauce?’”
“Nope. They were sworn to secrecy on the jell-o and I believe meat sauce was also a proprietary recipe.”
“Hey, first grade classroom is open. The alphabet is still up on the wall. It looks the same. Oh, damn. I’m welling up. What the hell? I never wanted to leave first grade. I hung on to Sister S.P. like a spider monkey the last day.”

The uber-cool Sister S.P. when we were graduating 8th grade. We knew she had hair.
“Sister S.P. was the best nun ever. She was so cool.  She played kickball and ran the bases like a flippin’ gazelle.  Taught us how to make crayons last forever.  And to read.  Dick and Jane and Puff.”
"Brave too. She stomped one of the biggest scorpions I have ever seen. Didn't hesitate, just crushed it!"
“The old live oaks are still out on the playground too. I can see them out the first grade window like I did then. Man, did I daydream about recess in those days.  All around those trees.”
“Hey, where’s the bench that used to be outside the principal’s office?  I left my very own butt impression there and I am not happy they removed the thing!”
“The principal, Sister M. from 8th grade, was a tiny woman. Remember? She had to reach up to put her arm around my shoulders."
"She had a hard time catching me. Most of us were too fast for her."
 "She told me I had some ‘unusual views on things about which we will be having many serious discussions.’  Maybe my face-off with Darlene in a debate contest rang her bell a little, I don’t know. Topic was abortion. I kind of went all scientific on her head.”
“Well, someone had to debate the little angel.”
“C’mon.  I’ll show you where I kicked a hole in the wall and was made to clean the boy’s bathroom on a Saturday as a punishment…”
When the coast was clear, we snuck back out of St. Anthony even though it really wasn’t closed for Sunday with catechism classes in full session all around, as we sheepishly discovered.  We heard the Angelus Tower ringing the noon bell as we pulled away from our lucky parking space. It was intoning "Bye-bye, Bye-bye!"  It was a gorgeous sound, so familiarly solid and reliable and yet so far away.  Like a memory.
Later, we rode by Karen’s childhood home. She wanted to see the tree she climbed as a child and if the house had changed.  We followed the house numbers right up to where she remembered, and the house was gone. Only a vacant lot remained.
It was a shock. Especially since we had only just wrapped the solidity and timelessness of our elementary school around us like a warm reassuring blanket.
Growing up was inevitable and a hefty helping of unwelcome change came along with that. Every cell in our bodies has turned over seven times since we ate our hot lunches under the watchful eye of a well-dressed deity.
It’s all a mystery, what endures and what disappears.

We both know that the ghosts of two free spirits, one too tall to play an ingenue and the other elfin and quick,  will always roam those sacred spaces hand in hand plotting new shenanigans together in our dreams.

"Oh, Lenzen, that was sappy!"

"Yeah. So?"

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Golf Course Gorts

“Wake up.  They’re back and they need our help again.”  
I could hear Dad growling in a groggy fugue while she repeatedly bumped his shoulder nudging him awake. 
“Well, go get my bag then. I thought you told them last time we were done with all that…” 
“I did but this is serious.”
Mom trained us up early about unexplainable things.  In fact, she was certain all could be explained if she just got a shot at interrogating the parties involved.  She always quizzed us thusly -
“What are you going to do if a UFO lands on the golf course out back?”
“I’m to say, ‘Wait right there! I’m getting my mom and she’s got some questions for you…’”
Unidentified flying objects were never poo-pooed in our house. Mom, ever the romantic, was fascinated by the topic.  So much so, I think besides A Wrinkle in Time and anything by Maurice Sendak, the book I most remember reading at a tender age (although forbidden to, I snuck it by flashlight under my bedspread) was Mom’s copy of Interrupted Journey.  It is the story of Betty and Barney Hill, a married couple who were allegedly abducted from a rural country road in Connecticut and experimented upon by space aliens. The experiments they recounted under hypnosis stood my hair on end.
Science fiction had me in thrall. For an “active” child with a hummingbird span of attention, this was a miracle.  I was dedicated to movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Plan 9 from Outer Space on our local horror flick channel late on Saturday nights.  Robinson Crusoe on Mars still does it for me.

Me and my brothers:  Typical homemade costumes created by Mom
So between Mom and me, anything super or extra natural, or even paranormal with all its idiosyncrasies, was worth poking with a stick.  Still is.
“Mom, who’s out there?” I called out from my bed that night hoping to halt her sprint down the hall to get Dad’s doctor bag.  She didn’t miss a beat.
“Just one of the golf course workers. He hurt himself. Dad’s going to take a look at it.”
“Oooh! Can I come see?”
“Nope. You stay there.”  She didn’t even look in my room at me on the return trip with the bag and towels. They were the nice towels reserved for guests. I'd get whooped if I so much as dried my pinky finger on them.  
Naturally, I planned to sneak a look if only I could kick my way out of the bed sheets.
I couldn’t.
I couldn’t move my feet or arms, just my head and eyes.  The cats, my fat warm Siamese cats were pinning me down, one on each side of me stretched out the full length of my body, their bottomless Siamese blue eyes sparkling. They purred and calmed me.  Funny, I never even felt them jump up on the bed. The frangipani tree blooming outside my window sent a sweet cloud of fragrance drifting in.  I felt sleepy, like waves of warm water were rocking me, but resisted with every piece of me.  Then I pinched myself in the thigh – Hard!
Oh no, this all was too good to let sleep get in the way.  
I listened really carefully so I would remember.
The usual night sounds on this suburban golf course were just the lonely scree of night hawks and the wind slapping around the eucalyptus trees and Australian pines.  Occasionally the putt-putt sound of gas fueled Cushman carts would jangle by carrying the night shift golf course workers to their assigned chores. Every once in a while, on a normal night, I could hear them talking in low tones with each other in foreign languages as they groomed sand traps, mowed fairways and moved the holes around on the putting greens. That course was “play ready” every morning by 7 a.m. with only tire tracks left on the wet grass telling the story of the night’s tasks done there by shadow workers.
The Cushman cart that brought the injured golf course worker to our back door that night sounded slightly off to me as it idled in our yard; more like George Jetson’s cartoon commuter jalopy. The headlights on the cart sprayed light across the ceiling of my bedroom, but it wasn’t the usual tired yellow color. The light was intensely white, and a shadow play danced on the ceiling. Dad and Mom rendered assistance to the person outside who was moaning in pain, their shadows and others, expanding and contracting...
“How did he get this?  Mmm-hmm. Ok. As he came through? Ok. Well, I can’t stitch him up as you know, his skin is too delicate, stitches won’t hold, but keep pressure with these towels on the wound until you can get back. I can set the bone though. Mmm-hmm, yes, it’s painful but you guys can block that right? Do that now so he’ll stop making those sounds. The neighbors…”
And the moaning stopped.  I heard some shuffling and a muffled wet crack and then Dad.
“Ok! That should keep you until you can jump again. Let’s wrap this up with an Ace bandage…Good. Done. Would you guys do me a favor and quit using that damn thingamajiggy until you work out the kinks? Too many of your guys get mangled in it still…Thanks. And maybe find another doctor who lives on a golf course please?”
And then Mom.
“Oh no, he’s just kidding. You are welcome anytime. Never mind about the towels! Come when you can stay longer, I have a few questions…”
Fabulous photo courtesy of deserttrumpet at Flickr, Creative Commons

Click on titles for more family stories starring Dr. Dad:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Space Between Hell and College

Bullies were always stereotypically singular and identifiable. They were the loner sweaty-faced angry kids who shoved and punched their way around knocking books out of the hands of the meek or making “meet me at 3 on the playground” challenges. They were always in the company of just themselves and the anonymous mob kids who watched, egged on and color commentated the rough handlings of these snarling malcontents like Romans in a warped Colisseum. The mob kids shouted louder when the dust rose, the fists flew. “Fight, fight. Fight!”  The mob kids had to side with the bully so they wouldn’t be next on the bloody dance card. 

Until now, I thought a bully to be handle-able.  I never took the first swing, but if I was punched first, I had permission to end it right then and there. I believed that all a bully needed to quit was a good nose bloodying, or a knee to the crotch.   I did my share of leveling the field in those days, both for myself and others.  I stuck up for the ones who couldn’t fight. Not terrifically girlie of me, I know, but my sense of social justice was simmering.

If someone would just hold my glasses and my retainer, it was on.

If adults got wind of it, we’d endure a “come to Jesus” meeting. The bully, the prey, both sets of parents and the school principal usually cleared it up. Deal sealers like a “no contact contract” or the threat of a lawsuit would stop down the whirling gyro of anger and then, after an appropriate period of time, the bully casually targeted the next victim in the chute, and the games began again.

The bully was, for me, a surly kid sitting in a chair. A singular I could diminish with one well-aimed punch.

Fast forward to now.

The bully at high school is a cyberspace phantasm named Rumor.  Its genesis is secrecy, anonymity. 

Who knows what sneering voodoo princess hatched that first untraceable egg a year ago?  Someone who hates the Girl’s spark, her courage, her confidence, her independence, her beauty, probably.  Someone who took her boisterous “ah, screw it” attitude personally.  Someone who wanted her love and loyalty...

But hatch it did. 

It splits like an atom over and over again dividing exponentially along razor sharp web fibers sending soul killing lies and accusations from cell phone to laptop to hissing sibilant whispers echoing in steamy cement corridors.  There is no bully to blame, no singular to bloody or restrain by law.  

The bully is a ghost.

When the electrical storm of lies abates, Girl breathes, but just a breath or two.  It comes again in waves, she knows.  It’s not stopping, not flaming out. Friends don’t battle with her, stick up for her, fearing the ignition of their own personal incineration. 
It is invincible.
It comes from the space between hell and college.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Pumped Up Kicks

Driving my daughter to school before dawn yesterday, after the daily slap fight to control the tuner, I found myself enjoying a song she had chosen on the radio.  That alone was a miracle with the gravitas of a full galaxy convergence, but this song was good.  It had a fresh infectious beat and some auto tune effects limning the vocals in a creative way. 

The lyrics caught me too.  Something about a “cowboy kid” rolling his own cigs. 
Robert's got a quick hand.
He'll look around the room; he won't tell you his plan.
He's got a rolled cigarette, hanging out his mouth, he's a cowboy kid.

We were cruising along to this tune, bobbing our heads and I lost track of the lyrics in favor of the cute pop beat and the actual riff of whistling threading through the melody.
“I really like this song.  I guess that’s the kiss of death for it then?  If I like it, it must be crap, right?"
She looked at me like I’d fatally fired a rogue synapse.  “No, Mom. I like the song, but ‘like’ might not be the best word here…”  I hardly heard her.  I opted instead to lose myself in the tune again, bopping down the road with my surly daughter.

Yea, he found a six shooter gun.
In his dads closet hidden in a box of fun things, and I don't even know what.
But he's coming for you; yeah he's coming for you.
Cowboy kid.  Six shooter. I remembered when we played cowboys with our cap guns in the back yard with my cousins. I chuckled to myself about sharing some genetics with Jesse James, many degrees removed from the immediate family tree…

All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you'd better run, better run, outrun my gun.
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you'd better run, better run, faster than my bullet.
Faster than my bullet?  Must be some reference to Superman. Faster than a speeding bullet. I spent a few seconds talking myself into some fantasy and out of what I had just heard. But then the story of it broke through the contagious beat.

Daddy works a long day.
He be coming home late, yeah he's coming home late.
And he's bringing me a surprise.
'Cause dinner's in the kitchen and it's packed in ice.
“Mom, you know what this song’s about don’t you?”  She was familiar with my expression, a face clench when something hideous just dawns on me.
“Not until now.”

“Well, it’s about an abused kid who shoots up his family and his school with his dad's gun.  You know, like Columbine."
The song was ending as I swung into the circular drive in front of Boone High. A silent stream of crusty-eyed disheveled teenagers shuffled by.  The sun was sending sprays of red above the horizon as my daughter jumped out of the car, adjusted her ass exposing low cut jeans, and threw her backpack over her shoulder.
She went to slam the car door…
“Bye , Mom. I love you.”
“Wait!” I blurted it out, a bee stinging my tongue.

I've waited for a long time.
Yeah the slight of my hand is now a quick pull trigger,
I reason with my cigarette,
And say your hair's on fire, you must have lost your wits, yeah.

I pictured myself jamming the car into park.
I saw myself running, (better run), and dragging her back into the car. I saw myself burning tire rubber to leave that god forsaken place where every angry looking kid with a backpack now haunted my mind; where every bitter bullied kid plotted mayhem to make "them all" pay for slights, real or unreal, finally attaining the kind of cool only a killer can earn. 

It wouldn’t matter if my daughter was a gentle unassuming shy person or the sharply witty, loud and sometimes confrontive personality that she is. She’d still be one of all the other kids.
I saw myself there to rescue her from it. But I can't.

All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you'd better run, better run, outrun my gun.
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you'd better run, better run, faster than my bullet.

“I love you too. Be careful in there, ok?”

Thank you to Foster The People for their song Pumped Up Kicks.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Dad and the Purple Schwinn

For Dad, with love, on his 90th birthday.

“Let’s take a bike ride!”
Dad liked to ride bikes along the golf course road before dinner some nights.  Since our house was one of the first built on this new course on the outskirts of Ft. Lauderdale, he enjoyed checking out all the new home sites rising up from those scrubby sand lots. 
He had his English racing bike painted rusty brown and equipped with impressive toe harnesses on the spiky corrugated pedals.  My brother had his banana- seat high-handlebar Easy Rider thrasher. My younger brother still had a fire engine red tricycle so he was stuck rolling around the driveway in circles under Mom’s watchful eye. 
And I had my brand new shiny purple Schwinn girl’s bike with the saddle bag baskets over the rear tire.
Or did.
“Ready to go?  Where’s your bike?”
It was my birthday present and I hated it. 
All my friends had ten-speed boy’s bikes with handle bar brakes. I asked for one of those. But somewhere my request got lost in translation, or Dad got a good deal, and I was burdened with a prissy purple Schwinn girl’s bike.  It had only one speed and to stop I had to brake by backpedalling.  
I was expected to ride that pixie dust and moonbeam mess to the school bus stop every morning, lock it up, and then ride it home every afternoon along with everybody.  I felt like a sparkly unicorn leaving a slip stream of rainbows amidst a herd of sleek racehorses.  It was humiliating.
But the purple Schwinn was gone. And, I only just then remembered what happened to it.
“Where’s your bike?”
Half way home that afternoon, the chain fell off the purple Schwinn and made me fall down. I was miffed and had two skinned knees to show.  So I left it by the side of the road and walked home. I meant to tell Mom right away but forgot. I was easily distracted at that age by things like snacks, cartoons or dust particles floating in sunbeams.  And looking back, I wonder if it was semi-subconsciously on purpose to forget about it.  I just put it out of my mind.  Now I had to ‘fess up.
Bike ride cancelled, Dad loaded me into his car and we went to pick the purple Schwinn up.  But, oops, it was gone.  Stolen. Apparently a shiny new purple Schwinn lying on the side of the road for three hours was too much temptation for those so inclined. 
“Oh no, Dad! It’s gone. Gosh! Darn! Shoot! Maybe we can get a new ten-speed boy’s bike with handlebar brakes for me now?”
He gave me the “look.”  It’s the one perfected by every pissed-off disappointed Dad since time began. He cleared his throat and issued the edict in a measured, yet intimidating, tone -
“You could not take care of the bike you had and you think we’re going to just run straight out buy you a damn new one? No. Now you will be walking…everywhere.”
Thus began my wilderness weeks of walking across wet golf course grass and vacant lots prickling with sticker burrs in the dank Florida heat to and from the bus stop.  Much of the trek was spent swatting clouds of mosquitoes that lay in wait to chew me up and suck me dry.
No matter how much time I spent on my grooming each day, I always arrived to school a disheveled wreck with pie plate sized pit stains and soaking wet saddle shoes speckled with golf course grass.   After school, I pretended I didn’t care as I watched all my friends hop on their ten-speeds and zoom off to 7-ll for Slurpees and penny candy. Or to the pier.  Or the community pool. I was left to slog home, sweaty and downtrodden. I cried a lot. But only when no one could see.  I still had my pride.
Nights I lay in bed and listened to tree frogs chirp in the eucalyptus trees. On my transistor radio a woman with an airy quavering voice trilled a song: “Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone…” I fervently wished, even prayed, that my purple Schwinn would miraculously appear in the garage sparkling loyally waiting for me to wheel her out and ride. But no amount of wishing was going to fix it and surely Jesus had more important things to think about.
One day Dad stuck his head in while I was moping and reading in my room. 
“Come on out here a minute.”
I spent a significant amount of effort dodging Dad’s attention during this time.  So when he actually addressed me directly, I jumped like a cricket following him to the driveway where he was pulling something out of the trunk of his car.
“Fix this up if you want. One of my patients was going to throw it away, but maybe you might want it? There’s sandpaper in the workshop…”
It was a relic. Rusty from handlebars to wheel rim, this thing was a flaking stinking disaster. An ancient crone of a broken down girl’s beach bike, she was a beast.  No ten-speed derailleur here, no handlebar brakes. She was fat all over, including the tires. And they were flat.
I was never so grateful as I was at that very moment.
For days, with help from Mom and Dad, I worked on her.  I sandpapered all the rust off and found that she had at one time sported black paint.  I soaked her rusty chain in Coca Cola and oiled it, used my saved up birthday money to get the bulbous white-wall tires repaired, and buffed up her pitted chrome parts to a righteous shine. I found an old chamois cloth and sewed a new seat cover.  A smooth coat of black enamel Rust-o-leum paint finished her makeover and a white wicker basket garlanded with purple flowers strapped to the handlebars added a surprise feminine touch.  She was a proud dowager wearing her Sunday hat in the islands; the flowers an homage to the long lost purple Schwinn.
She wasn’t pretty, but she was mine. And she could roll. Big and powerful, I could speed along just as fast as a ten-speed. Better than a ten speed too, I found out, was not having to fiddle with all the levers and pulleys.  I just stood up on those pedals and rode like the wind.
The kids with fancy racing bikes were superior in every way, and they let me know it.  But somehow I shook it off and just appreciated that big beast of a bike. My big beast of a bike.
I think Dad had me figured out.

I love you, Dad.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What The Arachnid Did

A slim fiber was tapping my forearm as I tried to bridge the gap between falling and actually being asleep. It was pitch black in my room so I couldn’t see exactly what it was.  It could be my hair, which is long enough to drape down to where my forearm was tucked up under my chin. Or it could be the bedclothes settling in the breeze from the ceiling fan.

The cat, Tom-meh, was in his spot at my feet so it wasn’t him whisker tickling in prelude to affection. 

I flexed my forearm and the sensation ceased. 
Then it started again, so I flicked my arm slightly to dislodge the gossamer annoyance and settled into my pillow fortress aggressively confident I had solved the problem.
All eight legs touched down on my arm as though the thing had taken a few steps back and pole vaulted down onto my quivering skin.
Torn between thrashing like a maniac to get the thing off me or slowly moving toward the door to shed the arachnid outside, I attempted a little of both. I flicked on the light and stared at the interloper.
It stared back. We had a moment.
This monster was no Charlotte and I expected no pithy life affirming messages spun in a web above my head. Unless it was something like “Bite You.” 

It was one of Florida’s finest, a gigantic Wolf Spider. They like to come in out of the rain and heat. To mate. You can actually hear them scuttling about when they dash across the ceiling.
When I was younger after a night of tequila and who knows what else, I woke up splayed on my bed with a half-eaten quesadilla in my hand and one of these spiders studying me from about two inches from my face.  Life altering.
And then there’s the Jonny Quest episode with the big gi-normous one-eyed attack robot spider…Cue the high pitched scream here.

This one had a brown fuzzy body about the size of a dime and long spindly jointed legs all splayed out on my arm for stability.  Or to make its next jump. Which would be right to my face.
And what’s with the attitude?
This spider had swagger, thuggishly bobbing up and down, popping and locking,  preparing its next move.
Which was to jump down into my sheets and run like hell using the wrinkles as causeways to a hiding place behind my bed.
When the last of the adrenalin leeched out of my overtaxed system, I slept in the recliner with the lights on.

Next morning, geared up with my son’s paintball helmet, gloves, a large plastic cup and stiff paper, I set about capturing Mr. Legs “Fuzzy” McSpiderson for release outside in a more suitable environment.
Terrified of spiders, I still won’t kill one if I can help it. My method is usually really effective and better than flailing at it with a tennis racket as the thing limps away with maybe four legs left. Even more better than drowning it in bug spray until it flinches no more in a curled pile of imploded exoskeleton.
I place the cup over top of it and slide the paper between it and the wall or floor.  Then I run to the door and throw it all in the yard like a nelly-girl usually with a scream and a little nervous dance. Spiders get it and, even after a rough landing, they scurry quickly away.
I looked for Legs, but not for long.  Alas, there would be no pee-inducing nervous dance in the yard, no paper cup forced relocation of an alien life form to its former planet. 
Tom-meh found and assassinated the Spider with Swagger and left his exploded dismembered carcass on my pillow as a gift, as cats will do.


And just so you know I am not lying, enjoy these two clips.

Friday, June 3, 2011

до свидания Dear Doctor

Dr. Dmitriy Nikitin

Dr. Dmitriy Nikitin, clad in green scrubs and a puffy green surgery cap leaned into my hospital doorway at three a.m. and said, “How are you doing?”
“I could use a big shot of morphine and someone to get that beeping to stop.”
He came in, left the lights off as he remembered I was sensitive, and snuffed the infernal I.V. alarm.
“You’re up late, Dr. Dmitriy…”
“Emergency surgery. All done now. I am tired…” he said in heavily accented English. Dr. Dmitriy was of Russian origins. “But since I was here, I check on you too.”
“Go home! Snuggle your wife. Kiss your kids,” I said. “I’ll get by.” He smiled a weary grin, waved, and slipped away down the hall. Nurse was there in minutes with a new I.V. bag and pain relief. I knew Dr. Dimitriy had a hand in the rapid response. It took an act of congress and a bribe otherwise.
I remember running my fingers across the immaculate row of staples that perfectly knitted up my stomach. I don’t hate my osprey feather scar at all. It symbolizes the many more years I will have in this life because someone knew how to give me that gift. Chin and Nikitin knew how.
The mysterious vocation of the surgeon provokes awe in me. The courage to hold the organs of another human in their hands, with a purpose to heal, is perhaps the closest to the divine as I can comprehend.

Florida Hospital Transplant Team
I was dealt a royal flush, hearts, when the Florida Hospital Transplant Center took me as a patient. I had a big invasive benign tumor in my abdomen that needed to come out immediately before it put a strangle hold on my vena cava and eclipsed a kidney. Dr. Lawrence Chin was the lead physician on my case and Dr. Dmitriy Nikitin partnered with him.  They gave me life beyond what I might have been dealt had I been born 200 years earlier.
Dream team doesn’t adequately describe.
Angel men might.
All my major surgery drama took place during the holidays, so I was a little blue as carolers made their way up and down the hospital halls. I bumped into them as I was taking my laps to the nurses’ station and back. You don’t walk around after abdominal surgery, you don’t poop. One must jump start the intestinal mill before one is deemed well enough. No poop, no go home. So I was walking, well, shuffling, with a purpose most days.
Finally the blessed event manifested, I flushed, and I lobbied passionately to be sprung from medical gulag. Dr. Dmitriy was on call, so he gleefully did the honors.
“Do your people celebrate this holiday?” he said as we bid farewell.
“Yes, indeed we do!” I responded.
“MEDDY CHREESMUS!” he bellowed, laughing. And, with that, he was gone.
Shot and killed in the hospital parking lot by a man to whom he had transplanted a liver and a kidney.  It has been reported that Dr. Dmitiry's fellow surgeons tried so hard but failed to save his life. 
I can't write any more now.
More in-depth background on Dr. Dmitriy:
And more -

Cops & Daughter

The cop was a giant.  At least six foot six inches tall, he completely filled up our doorway. Even our normally loud territorial dog, silenced by the sight, slunk off to hide. The Officer of the Law wore all the tools of his trade, a non-cartoon array of weapons including mace, an enormous firearm and nightstick. The mirrored sunglasses and polished knee-high boots finished off his intimidating Terminator persona with strategic forethought.
“Someone here call 911?”
I already knew the answer.  Her brother ran to me not five minutes prior breathlessly reporting that T. had just spoken with 911. Our garage sale wireless phone had speed dial programmed to 911 and she punched it.  It was an accident.
But she copped to it.
“I did. On accident.”
“M’am, is there somewhere the young lady and I can talk?”  His face was fixed in the stony rictus of pure authority.
I expected to hear a panicked yip of fear and the sound of her little bare feet rapidly slapping away to burrow into a closet hidey hole.
Nope.  She stepped up.
“Want to see my room?”
She motioned the fearsomely expressionless cop in, waving the way to her room like Vanna turning letters on Wheel of Fortune. At six years of age, she was disturbingly mature. 
He folded himself in half to sit on her teddy bear and unicorn festooned rocking chair, a big imposing Grendel throwing off all sense of proportion in her diminutive pink and purple fairy bower.
I lingered in the doorway nowhere near as composed as she was. Breathless with worry over what her moment of accidental curiosity would yield, I read of families being separated for days until a proper investigation was conducted. 
I knew they take it very seriously when a kid calls 911.  Even “on accident.”
“So you are T. according to what 911 dispatch told me?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Do you know what 911 is T.?”
“Mama taught me to call 911 if I needed help or something happened to her or dad…”
“T., do you need help?”
“No. I‘m fine.”
“How about mom and dad?  Do they need help?”
“No, they’re fine.”
“T., why did you call 911?”
“It was on accident. I was playing with the phone and it just did it.”
“Ok, I believe you.”
The officer took off his sunglasses and smiled.
I could breath again as they finished talking, mostly one-sided in favor of the officer. He told her she should not play with telephones but that she should call 911 if she needs to, and how he’ll be glad to come and save her if she ever has a real emergency.
Then, we collectively confirmed that the “phone did it” via speed dial and all was resolved.
She shook his hand on the way out.  Disturbingly mature.
Apart from “The Sacred No Tattoos Pact” when she double pierced her ears, we made another solemn deal when she curled her jade green polished toes over the threshold of adolescence:  I will pick her up anytime, no matter what, no questions. Anywhere.  If she senses that her safety is compromised in any way.  Even if she makes a mistake that got her there.
No parental psycho eye-bulging freak outs, no wild shouting knee-jerk judgments, no I-am-the-boss-of-you conditions.  I’ll just be there.
Midnight. Friday. She made that call.
“Come get me now. No questions.”
She was keeping her end and I kept mine. In pajamas, hair haphazard, barefoot, I went. Turning down the street where she was, six police cruisers were lined up in twos in front of the residence where I knew she was a guest at a “sleepover.” I called her cell and a boy answered. 
 “It’s T.’s mom. Where is she?”
“Mrs. T. just come around back to the pool house please.”
My stomach flipped.

 A fairly accurate depiction.
I grabbed my ID and walked, crunching barefoot on the gravel drive, to the pool house gate. Could've been hot coals and I would not have noticed. 
It looked like an unsupervised house party gone nuclear, which is exactly what happens when truckloads full of teenagers drop in uninvited en masse. A small planned gathering of four girls had mushroomed into uncontrollable booze-infused debacle thanks to their incessant delivery of tempting cell phone text updates. 
There were other silent hollow-eyed pissed off parents streaming in to pick up their own, their shadows preceding them like some hilariously terrifying zombie movie.
One of three cops asked me who I was there for.  And I heard her name echo down through the pool area.
“Do you know how drunk these kids are? How old’s your daughter?”
“The median age here is about that. Lots of alcohol. Weed too…Found a couple pipes.”
"My daughter does neither. She hates how people act with it.”
“That’s what they ALL say…!”
“Mom! Take me home. Please, let’s go.”
There she stood barefoot, totally sober, trembling and on the verge of tears.
“See? She’s fine.”
“Well this is a first for me…but Officer J. has something else you need to hear.”
Officer J. was the first cop to the pool house gate where he found T. chatting with a guy. The Officer’s flashlight in her eyes, she fumbled getting the push button gate lock open to admit him. Just then, with impeccably half-witted timing, the moronic kid she was with went all Law & Order and demanded a warrant. Naturally T. and Law & Order kid received “extra attention” when the squad of officers shut down the festivities and sat them all down to wait for parents to arrive.
Offering to clean up and put up the unleashed household dogs won her some points. And maybe a gold star for telling the drunken dolts around her to shut it when they shot off their unconstrained knuckleheaded disrespectful mouths.
Officer J. delivered a stern admonishment.  The “company you keep” lecture fell on her like an anvil. She said “Yessir, yessir, yessir” in a hushed mantra.
Then he told T. something she already knew. Something a big scary law enforcement officer told her a decade earlier. Like her family, he would be there, no matter what, to save her should something bad go down. He was on her side, so don’t mess up.
"When we make a deal, we stand by it." He was looking directly at me. 
She said again, “Yes. Sir.”
And we went home.
Photos from Creative Commons.