Archive for February, 2010

Creative Cruisin’

February 20, 2010

We sat in the back pew as evening services were drawing to a close. I had an overpowering feeling of emptiness. The pastor’s words fell on deaf ears and all I could think of was the one thing that could fill the void. I leaned closer to my friend Gary and whispered, “Cheeseburger.” After the usual ten seconds of Gary’s dramatic pause, he replied, “Which car?” There was no expression of any kind on his face or in his voice. I leaned closer again and said, “My car’s on empty.” Gary nodded and it was all set: my car would be dropped off at his place and we would use the Green Bomb for our Sunday night cruise. As my mind continued to wander, I recalled the time I asked Gary about his dramatic pause. The usual ten seconds grew to twenty before he informed it was to create suspense. Fearing the increase in suspense would be exponential, and not linear, I pressed no further. Contemplation of this and other equally important matters was suddenly interrupted when the congregation stood for the final hymn. Church was over and it was time for cruisin’.

Once we were outside there was the usual crowd of punk kids wanting to mess around with us rather than go home with their parents. Three or four of the guys were about fifteen and they looked forward to the day when they could hot rod around too. Gary and I had four years of driving behind us and took turns impressing them with our style. Our reputation as hot-rodders, however, was completely unfounded. The only thing hot about my ’67 Plymouth was a tachometer of questionable origin. Gary’s car, a ’52 Ford we called the Green Bomb, was far from high performance. We eventually installed a radio so the Bomb wouldn’t be totally boring. Our driving habits weren’t all that fast either. We rarely broke the speed limit – by more than ten miles an hour – and even the police didn’t bother us at those speeds. The hot rodder reputation was hardly justified but the kids thought we were great, no matter what our driving was called. Still, we preferred to think of what we did as CREATIVE CRUISIN’.

Suddenly a horn blared, tires screamed, and the Beatles belted out “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” We turned to see Larry in his mom’s station wagon. All we could see was teeth. Then he stopped grinning long enough to say, “Wanna run it?” Gary and I just looked at each other. The punk kid had his license.

The trouble was Larry and the rest of the punks had seen all our maneuvers but didn’t know how they were done. Like the old passing on the crest of a hill at night. maneuver. It only works after dark when headlights of oncoming traffic told us if it was ok to pass. If there were no headlights, there was no traffic. The professional driver is like the professional boxer who uses everything in the ring to his advantage, even the ropes. The punk didn’t know the “ropes.” When something goes wrong, an experienced driver already has two or three escape routes in mind, especially when executing a tight maneuver. A new driver like Larry wouldn’t be inventing hypothetical exits because he’d be too busy with things that are second nature to the accomplished driver. Let’s face it, Larry didn’t know anything important, not even the fine art of spotting cops.

Like many art forms that look easy, being a show-off with a car is a lot of hard work. We were big on gravel. At relatively low speeds we could break the rear end loose and hold it off to the side like Bobby Unsure on a flat track. The maneuver looks impressive and scares the girls, but no big deal; just practice a lot without an audience beforehand. Looking spontaneous takes a lot of practice sometimes. We used to spend hours checking out and practicing a small jump or a hill-climb in some field or construction site. Then on the night of the big cruise we would casually execute the daring maneuver and get our wheels off the ground on the “first” try. Our following had a bad case of hero worship and we loved it. As we waited for the rest of the group to check with their parents, I kept wondering if all this admiration was going to get somebody in trouble.

Before long, parental consultations were over and curfews were established. The next order of business was to drop my car off. I could have left my car there at the church but the tradition was to race to Gary’s house. We never really raced, although we would sometimes start by burning ‘em off as we left the parking lot. The lot was gravel, no big deal. Even Marge who was seventy-two and the president of the local chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, threw gravel when she left. Couldn’t be helped. The race was more of an exhibition of class and style: Make the light and pass of the right with maybe a wheel or two on the curb just because it was cool.

We loaded up the cars and headed out, Gary left first and I brought up the rear. Gary was cooling it as much as possible which didn’t bother me a bit. Neither one of us wanted the punk to get in over his head. Larry was swinging left and right trying to get around Gary but he just couldn’t quite make it. Gary kept him in his place without seeming to do much of anything. He was obviously trying to set a good example while keeping the punk under control. Then it came, the shortcut.

Traditionally, whoever was behind the leader had the option of taking the shortcut. The shortcut was forty feet of lawn on a corner lot. There was no curb, sidewalk, or ditch. The maneuver was easy, just cut the corner and stay between the telephone pole and the tree. We had done it so much the lawn had permanent tire tracks. The tires would fall in the grooves and we barely had to steer, I’m sure the owner was amused. As we approached the shortcut Gary began to pick up speed. It looked like the plan was to stay in front of the punk and show him who was boss. Larry had other plans. The punk wasn’t sure how fast to take the shortcut, so the faster the better. You should have seen the sparks. There was a sickening crash. The front end of the car lifted off the ground. The whole neighborhood was lit up by the sparks. The owner had decided to add a large boulder to the landscape. Nice touch, but hard on Momma’s station wagon. Rounding the corner, my left rear tire broke traction “Oil slick, probably lost his pan.” My passengers were duly impressed with my knowledge of such matters. Gary’s house was another two blocks and we all made it, even Larry.

Larry was less than rational at this point, so Gary and I inspected the damage; it didn’t look too costly, but it couldn’t be fixed on the spot. I really felt sorry and even somewhat responsible for Larry as he paced up and down saying over and over, “Dad’s gonna kill me!” As I watched Larry, I wondered if we had somehow let him down. I had an uneasy feeling of emptiness. Looking at Gary I said … “Cheeseburger.” We waited in suspense. Ten seconds later, turning toward the Green Bomb, Gary said, “Let’s cruise.”


Examples we set.

February 20, 2010

I wrote Creative Cruisin’  for a creative writing class in college. The story took place a few years before when I was about 20.  It’s a fictionalized account of real people, places and events. Enjoy!

Do you get what you ask for?

February 16, 2010

Do you get what you ask for?

Spirituality can be confusing. I can remember sitting in prayer services listening to testimonies about stuff like how god helped someone find a good used car. Then next Wednesday night that same person is convinced that god helped them find a mechanic to fix the car that god found for them the week before. This reminds me of the Arsenio Hall routine “Things That Make You Go HMMM?” But I’m a believer and I’ve prayed many the mighty prayer over the years.

I have to admit that a few decades ago I too prayed more than a few prayers for the mechanical good health of my vehicles.  Now with a semi-successful career I can afford better vehicles so I should be praying prayers of gratitude. John Lennon, however, once said “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.” Car problems aren’t much of a pain these days so cars don’t remind me to pray. Oh but there are other triggers. Never seems to be a shortage of prayer triggers does there.

My career, used to be a reoccurring prayer theme, especially before I had one. Now I’m a computer programmer. My current position with the state puts me in the category of civil servant. When I graduated high school a couple months before Woodstock, civil servant wasn’t what I had in mind. But here I am … part of the establishment. I have a 45 minute commute. I enjoy driving and am able to use commute time to think my own thoughts and even find time to do a little praying. I think back on those “career prayers.”  As I start the day driving into a gorgeous sunrise, reflecting on my career, I often look up into the heavens and declare, “Lord … what was I thinking?”

Something I heard in prayer service more than once was to be careful what you pray for because you might get it. At the time I guess I pictured God reviewing our prayer requests and using some of them to “teach us a lesson.”  I knew that wasn’t how it worked but the actual process wasn’t all that clear. It still isn’t … but I may figure it out yet.

In the past my preferred reading genres have been things like science fiction, fantasy, westerns, action adventure, teen, young adult, and murder mysteries. About 4 years ago I added the spiritual genre to the mix and am now familiar with spiritual buzz word concepts like “living in the now,” “attitude of gratitude,” “positive affirmations,” and “the power of attraction.” My reading and personal experience tells me that getting what you ask for is somehow tangled up with the power of attraction.

The power of attraction is largely about self talk. Let’s say you get up in the morning and tell yourself, “OH what a wonderful day!” On your morning commute you may drive by a meadow full of wildflowers with lambs and calves frolicking in the sunshine.  On the other hand, if you started your day telling yourself, “OH what a miserable day!” You are more apt to drive by a raggedy old field full of yellow jackets and cow pies! Same pasture, but in a cause and effect kind of way your experience is based your focus. Cause and effect is very physical and predictable, a process or procedure to follow. Positive affirmations will result in better life experiences because your focus is on the positive things in life. But there’s something a little mystical happening here too.

I went through a period where it was really hard to go to work. I’d get up dreading the day. I decided to work on my self-talk. It went something like this.

Alarm sounds. “ARRHHGGG! NO NO NO!” Anxiety attack complete with dry heaves. “Ok stop!” Pant pant pant. “I am joyful!” At least I’m trying to be. Panting is slower now. “I am healthy.” Deep breaths. “I am wealthy.” Feeling better now. “I am living the life abundant.”   At least I will be when all these positive affirmations kick in. “I am at one with the warm fuzziness that is the universe.

It’s hard not to feel joyful when you’re laughing. How can you not laugh when telling yourself how you are joyful and healthy … between anxiety induced dry heaves. It will be a good day. I’ll be a little more assertive and get together with that co-worker who’s been too busy to go over that stuff for the project we’re working on. I’m gonna get out of the house sooner than usual and not have to worry about getting to work late. I’m going to get to work so early, I’ll have time to swing by and get a breakfast sandwich. Going to be a great day.

Ok I did all that stuff you do in the bathroom and I’m on the road. Still feeling good, and riding high. Didn’t get on the road as soon as I’d like, but it’s turning into a great day. Won’t have time to get the breakfast sandwich but maybe I’ll go out to lunch, and buy it then. Or I can get it Monday. It’s a good day and one way or another, that breakfast sandwich is mine.

Ok I’m at work. Co-worker showed up in my cube shortly after I got in and things are falling into place. We’re having a good time and getting lots of work done. Knock on the cube wall. Another co-worker. “Harry we had a birthday celebration in our group today and we have some food left over, how would you like … a breakfast sandwich!”

So prayer works and I ate the breakfast sandwich to prove it. But why the breakfast sandwich God? Why couldn’t you teach me the lesson with a lottery ticket?

Dad’s Tractor

February 13, 2010

Dad’s Tractor

Dad walked into the garage. “Hi boys!” Bob, Steve, and Roger all greeted Dad. “What are you kids up to today?” Uneasily, the guys all looked at me to answer Dad. I finished adjusting the pipe in the bench vise and began to crimp shut the remaining open end as I told him, “Making a Bomb.”

“A bomb you say.” Dad chuckled and winked at Bob. Rog and Bob were brothers. Bob was a couple years older than the rest of us and in high school. Dad apparently figured that since Bob was older and wiser, he shared Dad’s skepticism about foolish kids who thought they could make a bomb.

But this was my third bomb and the first two seemed to work fine.

The big rock in the woods still had the scars and burn marks to prove it. Then there was the time I demonstrated the second bomb to my older sister’s boyfriend. The bomb was on the top of a fencepost when it went off. I couldn’t prove that though since the fencepost disappeared when the bomb exploded. Mel always enjoyed interesting things like that.

My bomb making projects had started a month ago when the guys and I bought some fireworks for the Fourth of July. We got the biggest ones they had at Rockford store just down the lane a half mile or so.

The firecrackers let out a loud snap when they went off. They were fun but not as loud as we would like and you couldn’t really blow up anything that amounted to much. After a while they seemed a little childish. We tried bundling several firecrackers together and that was better but still not quite the effect we were looking for. You never knew when a guy might need to do a little serious demolition.

Firecracker packages were made out of paper. The empty ones contained a fine grey residue that reminded you of the gunpowder you see when you open up a shotgun shell. Everyone should break open a shotgun shell to see what’s inside.

The guys and I talked it over and agreed. It was common knowledge; firecrackers were made with gunpowder. I rolled that around for a week or so before I decided to do a little further research.

We had a big old Webster’s dictionary in the bookcase with the glass-covered shelves. It said firecrackers were papers rolled up with an explosive powder. Well that didn’t prove or disprove the gunpowder theory. I already had the dictionary out so I looked up gunpowder. Sure enough, gunpowder was used to make firecrackers, rockets, and all manners of fireworks. Not only that, but good old Webster listed the ingredients for making gunpowder. They seemed to jump at me from the page, sulfur, salt peter, and charcoal.

Nothing about proportions but I could experiment with that a little. A quick check to see what Webster had to say about salt peter and I found out it was potassium nitrate. I didn’t know anything more about potassium nitrate than salt peter, but knowing the proper terms is good. Using them made it sound like you knew what you were talking about. Making a good impression can be important.

Money was tight, but I was always raising rabbits and chickens and stuff on the farm. I usually had a little pocket-money for educational projects of one kind or another. Early the next morning after my consultation with Webster, I was at a drugstore in town.

I walked up to the counter. “How much is sulfur?” The pharmacist looked it up on a chart and gave me the price. “Ok I’d like a pound of sulfur please.” He weighed it on the scales and put it in a sack. “How much do you get for charcoal?” I was happy to hear that charcoal was much cheaper than the sulphur. The Great Depression was supposedly over by then, but old habits are hard to break and I liked to see my money go as far as it could. Soon I had two sacks on the counter. “How much is your potassium nitrate?”

The druggist looked at me over his glasses. “Do you know what you get when you mix all that together?”

“Well sure, it makes gunpowder, everybody knows that.”

Suddenly there were no sacks on the counter and I was asked to leave. I guess he didn’t approve. And I’d used the proper term for salt peter and everything. So much for making a good impression.

Out front on the sidewalk I decided my first lesson in the manufacture of explosives was to not purchase all the components from the same supplier. I considered my options and as it turned out there were other drugstores in town. Before long I was back home with sacks of chemicals purchased from three different stores. We had some old pipes in the scrap pile and several yards of fuse left over from when Dad used dynamite to blast a few big rocks while clearing one of the fields. I now had everything I needed to make gunpowder, and real bombs. What an educational summer this was turning out to be.

Dad was getting more amused by the minute with my silly little bomb. I checked the fuse to make sure it hadn’t been damaged when

I crimped the pipe. “Hey Dad, you know the tractor out there in the middle of the field.” Dad agreed he knew the tractor. He’d bought it brand new a couple years back. We used it the first year we bought it, then stopped using it, what with the war, gas rationing and all. “Well we haven’t used it for a while and the gas tank has been drained.”

“That’s right. But I plan to use it again so don’t be blowing up my tractor.” At this point he could hardly put two or three words together without bursting into fits of laughter.

“Naw … it’s just that I’d like to see the pieces of this bomb after it blows up. So I was thinking if the bomb was in the tank when it went off, I could pull the tank and shake out the pieces.”

Dad composed himself long enough to say, “Alright, but be sure the fuse is long enough. I don’t want anyone to get hurt now.” He was really getting a kick out of ribbing me but I didn’t mind too much. It was always fun when he took an interest in my projects. I grinned as I pulled back the handle on the vise releasing the pipe, and headed for the tractor with my bomb. Good Ole Dad. I was finally going to see one of my bombs after it exploded.

Ok the bomb was in place. I checked the house. Dad and my friends were on the porch. I scanned the area for people, pets and livestock. All was clear so I lit the fuse and headed for the house with a deliberate brisk walk. You don’t want to run from a freshly lit charge. Running increases your chances of spraining an ankle or something and not being able to get clear of the blast. If you need to run, the fuse should have been longer.

Safety first!

Back on the porch I could still see the fuse burning and spraying sparks like a sparkler as it worked it’s way towards the tank. I had timed it well. A few seconds later the sparks disappeared into the tank. Everyone was quiet. You couldn’t even hear them breathing. I guess they probably weren’t. I know I wasn’t. I should have invited Mom to come out and watch. Now there wasn’t enough time.

The shockwave rocked me back and I had to catch my balance. The disapproving druggist probably heard the blast from town. The big picture window to the left of the porch rattled so much I thought it was broke.

At first you couldn’t see the tractor. Dad was slowly, softly repeating, “My tractor! My tractor!” It was very mantra-like.

The cloud of smoke and dust began to clear. Now you could tell it had probably been a tractor at one time. But it wasn’t going to be one again. One of the large rear wheels wobbled and fell over with a thump. I looked at the guys. They weren’t on the porch anymore. Funny, I hadn’t noticed them leaving. They were disappearing in all directions. Up the driveway, around the house, leaping fences. We were all very athletic.

I looked at Dad. He wasn’t mad yet, but his new mantra was coming louder and faster all the time. It kind of reminded me of the fuse burning shorter as it came closer to setting off my silly little bomb.

I inspected the blast site as thoroughly as one can when setting a new personal record for the 200-yard dash. Tractor parts and pieces of this and that were still falling from the sky.

As I cleared the rock wall and headed into the woods, I wished the high school football coach was there to see my broken field running potential as I cut one way then another to keep from slamming into tree trunks at top speed.

Still running, it occurred to me that I should follow up an adventure gone awry with a new adventure as soon as possible. One of those “get back on the horse that threw you” kinda things.

I decided the perfect follow up adventure would be to spend tonight in the woods with nothing but a jackknife and some matches. It also seemed safer than going home right away.

Like I always say, “Safety first!”

Happy Three Day Weekend!

February 12, 2010

Ok it’s also Presidents day on Monday and Valentines day on Sunday, but the three-day weekend is one of the best parts. Check back tomorrow when I plan to post a short story I heard my Dad tell a few hundred times. My dad is the main character in the story and conducts a science experiment involving some chemicals, a pipe, and his dad’s tractor. My granddad and some of my dad’s friends are supporting characters. It’s entitled “Dad’s Tractor”


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King of the Ward

February 6, 2010


“The horn of Boromir!” he cried. “He is in need!” He sprang down the steps and ran away, leaping down the path. “Alas! An ill fate is on me this day, and all that I do goes amiss. Where is Sam?”

Having reread the same paragraph about a hundred times, I decided I didn’t really give a rusty rip where Sam was and what Boromir needed. Escapist reading isn’t much help if you are so preoccupied with the things you need to escape from, you end up reading the same paragraph a few dozen times before you realize you’ve not only already read it, but still don’t know, or much care, what the paragraph said. I loved Tolkien and still do, but good old Frodo, King Aragorn, and the rest of The Fellowship had their problems to deal with, and I had mine.

I thought I’d talked myself out of the “Back in Shriners Blues” this time. There were many reasons not to be as bummed out about this particular hospital stay. The blues never lasted more than a week or so and it looked like I might be able to pretty much forego them all together this time. But things weren’t working out as planned and I wasn’t a happy patient after all.

“Harry!” It was Posey! No one told me he was here!

“Karl!” How have you been! Who else is here?

Karl rattled off a few names that didn’t sound familiar before he asked, “How come they have you in isolation instead of the Ward? You haven’t been here long enough to be in much trouble.”
“I’ve only been in that much trouble here once. This time I’m quarantined so stay outside the doorway or we’ll catch hell. I’ve kinda outgrown my legs and the bad fit is causing problems, especially the left one. I’ve got this big crusty sore over the whole end of that stump. There’s all this green gooey shit inside. It hurts a lot to wear that leg and I was getting behind from missing so much school. The leg was getting worse instead of better, so the folks drug me down here on checkup day, and some doctor decided to admit me. Surprise! I guess the good news is, they’ll just fit me with new legs this time, no surgery.” I was glad to see someone I knew and practically jabbering. Ok … I was definitely jabbering. Being bored out of my mind, totally bummed, and all, I was desperate to get some good conversation going so Karl wouldn’t leave.

Karl was pleasant enough but not all that talkative. “I hate that when you come in for a checkup and end up getting admitted.” “Yeah, it’s happened to me more than a couple times. I guess I wasn’t too surprised about having to stay. Actually, I was so far behind in school, landing here almost looked like a way out. Report cards were taking a beating, teachers getting surly, and all that. But I wasn’t expecting to be banished from the ward.” Blah blah blah! There was school time here of course but Karl and I both knew it wasn’t as demanding as what you had back home if you were gonna be a computer programmer or an attorney someday.

“Well, sorry about the double surprise but it’s good to see you.”

“You too.”

Karl promised we’d play a game of chess later and left. The chess would be good but the leaving part hasn’t much help.

Still, it was good to see him. It always helped to know someone familiar was here. I did feel a little better and decided to encourage that train of thought. Reviewing the positive aspects of this stay seemed like a good idea. No sense being miserable if you can pull yourself out of it. There were actually a few good things for a change this time.

Escaping from report card hell was a definitely a positive thing, but failure wasn’t. It became immediately apparent that the topic of report cards wasn’t going to cheer me up at all. I quickly moved on to more pleasant thoughts.

I was going to be turning sixteen soon so this was to be my last “tour of duty.” There was something empowering about that. Once I made it through this stay, I’d never be summoned back here again. Misunderstandings that arose between myself and staff, couldn’t come back to haunt me during subsequent visits. There would be no subsequent visits. Now that … was a pleasant thought.

There was also an if-only-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now quality about this visit. I knew the score and didn’t need to repeat previous mistakes or be encumbered by rules I’d already figured out how to work around.

Yeah but misunderstandings can still screw up this stay, and just what big fancy schmancy workarounds were really going to make my life so dang much easier this time around?

Ok … all these negative thoughts aren’t helping. If I can’t stop playing “Yes but!” and sabotaging all the good stuff with “Yes but … what about this other rotten crap!” I’ll feel lousy for the next three or four damn months, or however long it takes me to get out of here. A little self-control is in order. A positive patient is a happy patient … happy thoughts … happy happy happy! Let’s try again.

Why should there be any misunderstandings? I’ll charm the heck out of the nurses. I can do that. I’ll convince them that my present level of maturity, negates any previous indiscretions and renders any careless blunders on my part, highly unlikely this time around. Yeah, that’s it! I can, and will, be very careful not to inadvertently get myself behind the eight ball. I’ll fly low under the radar with anything that might cause concern. Ok, misunderstandings are covered.

Wait a minute … once Karl leaves I’ll be the oldest patient. I’ll be King of the Ward! What will that be like?

As for workarounds, I had implemented one already. The last time I was here a couple of the older guys kept a lockbox stashed in their nightstand. So I brought one with me just in case I got admitted. I could secure money, food, assorted other contraband, and no one would know. I was contemplating desirable contraband options when a pair of rubber-soled shoes squeaked up to the open door of my small prison room we called a cube and stopped.

“Hi, Harry!” It was Mrs. Polson. You always watched yourself around her, but she was one of the good ones. Actually, they were, pretty much, all good ones, most of the time.

“Hi, how have you been?” I gave her a heartfelt, good-to-see-you, and no-trouble-from-this-kid grin. I meant every unspoken word of it too.

“Good! Welcome aboard, and I thought you might like to know that Dick Dickson will be joining us in two weeks.”

Now that was good news! Dick was almost my age, a great guy to have around, didn’t stir things up, slow to anger, but able to get plenty hot about the right things for the good of the ward. Dick had a soothing effect on the powers that be and fellow patients alike. He was a good person to have in the ward and a good friend. He tended to offset and defuse some of the more dysfunctional types, again … patient and staff alike. There is nothing worse than a dysfunctional ward. “That’s great, but how do you know so soon? I only get a week notice.”

“Oh, we have ways. Besides, we usually know about the Canadian patients sooner. It’s such a long trip they have to spend the night or two on the way. Because the extra time, I can take longer to make arrangements. The admissions fairy understands all this and gives them and their families more advanced notice so they can get here on schedule.” I was contemplating what the admission fairy could do with her flipping schedules when Mrs. Polson noticed my belongings at the foot of the bed. She didn’t miss much. “What’s this?” Her eyes were on my lockbox … not good.

“Oh, just something to keep a few things in.”

“That’s what nightstands are for.”

“Uh, well yeah … but, some of the guys had boxes like this last time I was here. I thought it was kinda cool.” Mentioning the lock feature seemed like a bad idea so … I didn’t.

“Yes, that’s true. But we don’t allow containers that lock anymore.”

Yep, I was right, the lock was a problem. We talked it over for a bit and before long the lockbox was an unlocked box and Mrs. Polson had the key from my pocket. The following Sunday, I would send the lockbox home with my parents. Mrs. Polson would give the key to my parents and explain about all the interesting things they found in lockboxes during a nightstand search they’d conducted a while back. I would be very interested in what they found, but she wouldn’t define interesting and asking wouldn’t seem like a good idea given my flying low under radar strategy.

For what it is worth, the key that wasn’t in my pocket, the one I didn’t mention before, and she didn’t ask for, didn’t go home until I did. The extra key was of course pragmatically useless since I had nothing to lock up with it. But keeping it secret and safe seemed symbolic of something. I’m not sure I ever did figure out exactly what. But it was always there to cheer me up if I felt the need to gloat. Gloating to oneself about the shortcomings of folks in charge can be important to one’s mental health. I’m sure fondling my extra key would have also been very comforting if any of Frodo’s unpleasant cousins, the Sackville-Baggins, were in the area.

So much for the lockbox plan. Workaround number one was blown out of the water before my first meal.

I spent the rest of Thursday, all day Friday, and most of Saturday morning reading the first chapter of The Two Towers. There was also 6 meals, two lousy night’s sleep, one visit from Orville the bloodsucker, and a rousing game of chess to break up the monotony. Two days is a long time to spend reading one chapter, but when you read each paragraph a hundred times or so, it takes a while.

Saturday morning was Doctor Rounds just like all the other times I’d been here. I didn’t even bother trying to read. Instead, I followed doctor rounds progress by sound as the Doctor’s, Miss Andrews and various other dignitaries worked their way to me via all twenty or so patients in the big ward. My sore stump was healing up nicely with the aid of hot hydrogen peroxide compresses.

The Doctors were very pleased my stump’s improvement. Their wisdom in having me admitted and thrown in isolation like a death row criminal, so they could have nurses administer hot water, gauze, and other crap in the family medicine cabinet back home, was paying off nicely. They began moving off to the small ward and the next patient. “Whoa! Whoa! Wait a minute! When can I get out of here?” Not very eloquent or diplomatic I suppose, but isolation is harder on a guy’s mental health than you might think.

I looked around my room like a trapped animal and wondered when these evil creatures would allow me out in the ward. Apparently, in spite of my verbal outburst, I was hiding my frustration quite well. They seemed oblivious to the fact that the wings of the angel of death had swept firmly across them all.

“The head nurses are in charge of bed assignments.” The previously pleased doctor looked puzzled.

“Actually, when Harry was admitted it was decided to quarantine him because of the infection. It’s much better now.” Head nurse Polson to the rescue! All lockbox nonsense was instantly forgiven.

It suddenly became unclear to everyone present but me, who had established the quarantine. I knew exactly who made the call, but I personally couldn’t see what the establishment of the decree had to do with the removal of the decree. I made a conscience effort and kept my mouth shut, hoping they’d get it worked out. It’s always better to have adults and others in general, come to the conclusion you want them to come to, on their own, than to argue them into your way of thinking. I soon began to regret my discretion. Establishing the decree-establisher had become a high priority with everyone present, except me. I just wanted the hell out of this damn cubicle and out into the ward with the rest of the inmates.

After an eternal eternity, of no more than thirty seconds, it was decided that the quarantine could be lifted without absolute agreement on how it had all come about. I was released and moved to the large ward within the hour.

I was out of isolation, back in the ward, and riding high. Those pesky blues were over and it was only a little more than two days. It was some kind of a record. I’d had a couple minor setbacks, but they were behind me and from now on it was going to be smooth sailing. Things were good and about to get better.

“Hello, Harry!” That voice always made me smile and I was smiling before it fully registered with me exactly who it was. I had to look up from nightstand organizing activities before I knew … there stood Miss Elbert, smiling sweetly, cute as ever. Suddenly I knew what I was going to do next.

Miss Elbert had started working here as an aide during my previous stay. She was a favorite among those of us who had outgrown the “girls are yucky” stage of life. On her first day, she was barely over the designated lower age limit for nurse’s aides. This made her a mere two years older than the oldest male patient. Now a year or so more had gone by. Our age difference was way too much for a high school setting, but given the circumstances, and my current dynamic positive attitude, I was going to ask someone out for the first time in my life.

I didn’t even have a driver’s license yet. But right then I felt like all obstacles, major and minor, could be overcome with a little creative thought and planning on my part. This King of the Ward thing was really good for a guy’s confidence.

This sounds like stuff from a corny movie, but everything went out of focus except the two of us. We entered one of those parallel time-space continuums like when Superman breaks the time barrier by flying really fast. We talked, and we laughed. She didn’t seem to notice that we were flirting. At the same time, I felt like she was letting me know she didn’t mind. Conversation flowed freely between us, and yet for me at least, the specific words exchanged didn’t seem important. Towards the end, she knew I would like to see her socially when Shriners was behind me. She seemed to like the idea, but there were issues.

More conversation, consisting of flowing 4unrememberable words, was exchanged until she had to tend to some of her duties in another ward. We wouldn’t be going out. Somehow it was a pleasant mutual decision. Miss Elbert’s recollection of this conversation is undoubtedly different than mine, but I’d like to think it is a fond memory for both of us.

As I watched her leave and the rest of the ward came back into focus, I knew that watching her going or coming was always going to be a joy, but we weren’t going out. Fellow patients were all acting like I too had gone fuzzy, and hadn’t quite snapped back crystal clear again. Or maybe they were just giving me my space. We did that for each other a lot. I personally don’t remember giving anyone space so they could ask a nurse out … but it could happen.

I’d been shut down. But it didn’t feel that way. My confidence seemed to grow even in defeat. Once again I began to review positive things about this stay and the whole situation.

I’d be sixteen in a month or so. Posey was older than me but they’d given him his walking papers during doctor rounds today. I was going to be the oldest patient. I’d be king of the ward. Not that I ever wanted to be king, it’s just that I don’t much like being a vassal. Don Payton was a decent king once he got to know you. But he was a couple years older than me and wouldn’t be back. It was my turn to wear the crown.

I surveyed my vassals. Mental note “Try not to refer to, or think of fellow patients as vassals. It’s bad for morale”

As it turned out, I did know two or three of the guys from before. But except for Mallard, the other guys had been in the younger wards, so the names didn’t click at first. Karl had mentioned Maynard Winston, but everyone had called him Mallard then, so his name didn’t seem familiar either, at first. Maynard didn’t like being called Mallard last time, but without thinking I greeted him with “Mallard!” and a big grin he could hardly take offense to.

“Harry!” he didn’t seem to mind the Mallard crack. The dynamics had changed a bit and he wasn’t required to play whipping dog this time around. The ward had been kind of cruel and mean to him at times during the previous stay we had shared together. But whipping dogs come and go and Maynard had paid his dues.
Amusing nicknames seemed ok with him this time around. Mental note, “No whipping dogs during my reign as king!”

I spent the rest of the day settling in. The comic book drawer in the area of the ward called the back porch was in pretty good shape. The cupboards on the west wall of the main ward had the usual assortment and a few new additions of Hardy Boy Books and board games. I claimed an empty drawer on the drawer wall under the cupboards. Besides my entire Tolkien library of four books, I had a brand new deck of cards, a cribbage board, and a few other high priority hospital survival kit items, all neatly stored in my nightstand.

By the time the day was over I’d visited with most of the other patients. They seemed like a good bunch of guys, the kind of bunch that could make for a nice mellow easy ward. Dickson was coming too. My kingdom was looking good.

From my intelligence gathering activities, I now had a pretty good idea about which nurses were still here, which ones weren’t, and what some of the new ones were like. This was all great information. Also, some of the good nurses, from before, were getting bad reviews, and some of the bad ones were getting good reviews. Go figure. I wasn’t sure what that was all about, probably nothing, but I would find out later.

After lights out, I lay awake for a while listening to the night sounds I’d come to know over the last 14 years or so. The massive glass doors opening and closing. The big grandfather clock, sounding off down the hall by the elevators. The night nurse’s uniform rendering up its various pleasant rhythmic sounds as she went about her duties. Some kid in the little ward strongly sang out “I need a bottle!” A golden oldie you might say … or a golden puddle and a bed change if the bottle didn’t arrive on time.

I still wanted out in the worst way. That part could never change. But I was feeling good too. This was going to be a stay to remember. I made a few kingly observations and decisions, sketched out some plans for future work around implementations, thought about Miss Elbert, and drifted off to sleep.

In my dreams that night, over fine ale and pipes full of the best pipe-weed the Shire had to offer, King Aragorn and I discussed our respective quests, conquests, and kingdoms. We conferred in a well-equipped room in one of the castles of Middle Earth. My personal kingdom didn’t have appropriate facilities for heady conversations of such magnitude.


King of the Ward

February 6, 2010

I’ll start, with a short story I wrote a while back. There’s some good stuff in there about positive self talk but mostly it’s memoir’s. All the people, places, and events are real, but used in piece of fiction. I changed some peoples names, and put events from a two-year span into a 48 hour period. Enjoy