Susan was real smart. Street smart. But every once in a while she’d surprise you with her knowledge of advanced things like tape recorders. I believe she was the very first person I knew with a tape recorder, other than my dad, who actually had a reel to reel. She’d show me how this tape recorder could record what you were saying just by speaking into it. We’d sit in the floor of her room and repeat into the mic, “doo doo pee pee…doo doo pee pee”. We’d listen back to it over and over and louder and louder until her mother would tell us to be quiet and stop talking so ugly. Soon Susan introduced us to the world of video. This was way before anyone owned a video camera. Her father, the dentist, used it in his practice and had brought it home one day. There was a group assembled, though I can’t recall who. We were all there waiting to see what Susan was going to unveil. All we knew was that she was going to show us something “cool”. The group of us gathered around the tiny monitor that was connected to the long black cord that was connected to the camera Susan had taken into the bathroom. The bathroom door closed behind her with a click and we all waited to witness something “cool”. All of sudden there was movement on the monitor but we were unable to determine what it was. Then I think we saw a bare leg. Then the floor…the ceiling…the floor…the wall…the leg….then the side of the toilet…then the toilet bowl…then the ceiling…then back into the toilet bowl. And there it was. And I have to admit, even though it was her poop, it was pretty cool. I don’t know who went next, but just about everyone who was able to poop on camera did. It was an important day. History making.
Inspired by the likes of Speed Racer, Speed Buggy… Bruce Lee and Hong Kong Phooey…mixed in with the real-life super hero of our time, Evil Knievel , the next call I received was that of a sort of race car driver/ daredevil/ all-around dingbat.
There were several boys living on and around Turtle Creek Circle who heard the same calling. Go-carts were built using anything and everything we could find to transform into racers. Most of the materials were found deserted in the pastures surrounding our neighborhood…old 2X4’s , sections of fallen down fencing, garbage can lids…while some items were “borrowed”. I seem to recall a rash of lawn mower wheel burglaries during that time. We always blamed it on “The Goat Man”.
Turtle Creek Circle was in the shape of a horse shoe. Our home was located in the curve and there was a slight hill that started at our driveway. After several test runs down the “hill”, the urge for a more thrilling experience began creeping into our stupid, under developed brains. We wanted more. At the bottom of the hill, if one ignored the curve, was the “creek” of Turtle Creek. And a part of the neighbor’s driveway was a bridge that covered the “creek”. It was my brother, I’m nearly certain, who suggested the idea that it sure would be cool if one person got into the cart while the rest us pushed as hard as we could, sending the driver barreling down the hill, up the driveway, onto the edge of the bridge, off the bridge and airborne, plummeting down toward the muddy “creek” bank, and into the almost always, empty, rock infested, “creek”. One by one, we’d climb from the wreckage, bloody and bruised…teeth missing, and fighting for the chance to do it again!
I’m a tad embarrassed to tell you that I haven’t given much thought as to how I am to be disposed of when my name is called “up yonder”. Irresponsible, I know. I also know that by now, at my age, I should have some sort of plan in place, but the way I look at it, when it comes to death, why rush into things? Besides, I have plenty of other things to worry about. Staying alive for one. Not only because I’m way too busy to go anywhere any time soon and still have so many things left to do, but I simply can’t afford to die. I’m hoping things will turn around and I’m doing everything I can to see that it does, but at the moment I’m worth more alive, which isn’t saying much.
I totally get that when it comes my time to kick the bucket, it won’t be my problem, but I can’t stand the idea of my passing being a burden to anyone. I want to do what I can to make it as easy for whomever gets stuck with the task of having to deal with me just in case.
Depending on how things go, if I’m given some sort of reasonable warning, I’ll make sure things are in pretty good order and that the house is picked up. I’ll throw out what’s expired or about to be and remove any thing that might be offensive or embarrassing. Though nowadays I think the most offensive and embarrassing things one might run are a few pair of holy underwear and the ridiculous piles of unopened mail. If I’m able to, in the last few moments, I’ll try and remember to crack a window and replace all the Glade Plug-Ins. But, I can’t promise anything.
That is unless I’ve been living in a refrigerator box under an overpass. Which is highly likely. If that’s the case, there won’t be much to attend to. All I ask is that the box be broken down and the few, random contents be divvied up, donated, and disposed of properly. It would kill me to think that the last thing people remember me by as being a litter bug.
I recently read somewhere that Pauper burials are making a comeback. But who knows if they’ll still be in style when it’s my time and since I’ve always felt I was someone who kept up with current trends and such, I would just die to know I was sent off unfashionably. I know I have no real say in the matter, but if I had my druthers, I would suggest the cremation route. Last I checked, it’s a fraction of what a burial would be and saves you the hassle of having to go casket and head stone shopping. I would think it would only take a few good bake sales and spaghetti dinner benefits to pay it off. Or if I’m lucky, I’ll drop dead at work. The company life insurance policy should cover most of it. But only if it’s a job related incident. Fingers crossed!
I really hate that it’s come to this. And I’m so sorry for the inconvenience. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine this is how things would end up. And I’ve had some wild dreams. Day dreams mostly. Where I’d imagine faking my own funeral, partly as a practical joke, but mainly to find out just who would bother to show up and how torn up they’d be. The place would always be packed. Standing room only. After I felt each guest had suffered enough, I’d pop out of the casket and yell, “Surprise!”. We would all laugh and everyone would tell me how funny I was and how relieved they were to find out I was still around. But that was a very long time ago I think that if were to attempt to conjure up another one of these scenarios, it would be like playing one of those seedy lounges at 3am in a Greyhound Bus station. So, I don’t bother.
I haven’t given up on the idea that things will turn around. God, and anyone who knows me, knows that I would be tickled to death to take part in one of those funeral scenarios I used to dream up. But I’m also a realist. And though I can’t honestly say anyone else would agree with my being a realist, I’m pretty confident most would agree that I try or that I would die trying.
It’s hard to count the number of times I’ve narrowly escaped death, but I’m certain that if I were a cat, I’d be long gone by now. Most of my close calls were accidental or caused by someone else’s negligence, but the tale that follows has no one to blame but myself. It’s a story of addiction. A story that begins with an innocent sleepover.
Every kid looks forward to a sleepover. It’s exciting to spend the night with a friend and to see how the “other half” lives and be exposed to new things. New foods, toys, gadgets, and trampolines. If you were lucky enough to be invited to spend the night on a Saturday night, it usually meant you would be the family’s guest at their home church the next morning. Visiting other churches was like visiting a whole new world to me. Each one different from the other but all with same goal in mind…a huge potluck after “big church”.
It was at one of those first Saturday night sleepovers where I learned our little town consisted of more than just Baptists. There were Catholics in town, but somewhere I’d heard to keep a safe distance from them. Probably at Vacation Bible School. Bingo night was fine, but anything else was risky.
After only a short time I’d visited every church in town. And by now, I was hooked. Come the middle of the week, I was already jonesing for my next fix and desperately searching for my next sleepover. And I didn’t care who it was with.
First it was only the Methodists and the Episcopalians, but then I started getting into the hard stuff. Church of Christ, maybe a little Lutheran. By now, I was out of control and mixing religions and I didn’t care where I got them from. And before I knew it, I was no longer just attending Sunday School classes or the occasional vacation bible school, but week long, out of town, summer camps. I was now a hopper. A hardcore summer camp hopper. My summers were filled with church camp after church camp.
For the longest time, I managed to keep my little secret to myself. As far as anyone knew, I was a Methodist or a Baptist or a Lutheran. I changed denominations like I changed my underwear. But it wouldn’t be long before I would hit rock bottom.
It would the last day of a week long camp with the Baptist youth where I would come face to face with death.
The entire week, I cleverly dodged the “Lord’s Supper” by feigning all sorts of illnesses, from bee stings to diarrhea. I’d been so busy visiting other churches and church camps, that I never stopped to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my Personal Savior” or been dipped in the blood of the lamb. I was not one of them. I knew the risk involved, but was too far gone at this point….
I just now stopped writing to blow my nose
Luckily, I don’t get sick often. Maybe twice a year and both times are nothing more than your common cold. I guess. I suppose the illnesses could have been something worse, but I don’t go to the doctor for a real diagnosis. I just tough it out. I fill myself with over-the-counter medications, plant myself on the couch or in bed, whine a lot, and feel sorry for myself. I only see a doctor if I’ve suffered longer that I feel I should or if I’ve allowed the internet to convince me that I’m dying. The last couple of times I have seen a doctor, It was too late. I had suffered past the point of their being able to help me. And I was out the $25 copay. That really makes me sick!
It’s been forever since I’ve had anyone around me to take care of me when I’ve been sick. Remember, I’m tough. And I’ve always thought it easier to be left alone to suffer and that there really wasn’t anything anyone else could do to help. Though the last time I got really sick I remember leaving work early on a Friday and going straight home and plunking down in a chair and not moving until Sunday or Monday. This was one of those times I thought I might die and that no one would even know if I did.
This time, I had someone here with me. This time I had someone to check on me. This time I had someone who made sure I ate and drank. Incidentally, these past few days I’ve been ill, the city has been shut down due to an ice storm and this someone actually walked to the store to make sure I had things I needed. This time I had some who cared. And I will be the first to admit that I am a terrible patient. I’m grumpy and mean. Even more when I’m not feeling well.
So, not only am I lucky to not get sick very often, I’m even more lucky to have someone in my life who cares for me. For the first time in a very long time I don’t feel alone. So, thank you!
About four to six weeks had passed and things were just starting to get back to normal. I’d been out east for some reason or another and was heading west on Poplar Avenue, when I noticed one of those big, neon signs. It was attached to this new bank building next door to the new Olive Garden. I didn’t quite catch what the sign was flashing, but it did remind me that the Memphis Funeral Home would be coming up on my immediate left and that they had one of those signs that showed the time and temperature. Just then, it occurred to me that I had totally forgotten to pick up my dad. I couldn’t believe it. Well, actually, sure I could.
“Oh, shit!”, I said to myself. Out loud. In the car. Over the sound of the radio.”Shit, shit, shit!”.
As I walked through the front doors I probably looked lost, since I was. I looked around the lobby and noticed a woman walking towards me. She greeted me with a smile and a, “Good afternoon, welcome to the Memphis Funeral Home. How may I help you?”
I returned the smile and answered, “I’m here to pick up my father”.
“I see”, she said. “Do you know what service he’s attending?”
“Oh, no, he’s not attending any service. Well, let’s hope not”, I answered like an idiot and followed up with a ridiculous fake laugh. I might as well have thrown in a “Ba dum bump”.
I then stumbled and stuttered through an attempt to explain how he had recently passed away and that we decided to have his body cremated and how by driving by the funeral home I was reminded that his remains had never been picked up. As I did, the woman just stood there, unmoved and expressionless except for the slight look of disgust on her face.
When I finally stopped blabbering, the woman instructed me to follow her. She led me down a hall to a small office where I was told to have a seat and that someone would be in to see me soon. Before long, a man entered the office and sat at the desk across from me. Once again, I explained my predicament and as I did he seemed a bit terrified, maybe a little sick to his stomach. When I finished, he stood and excused himself from the office.
I thumbed through the stack of old Field and Stream and Popular Mechanics magazines to pass the time and to help keep my mind from wandering, but there was no way to keep down the scenarios that frequent my mind. I do it all the time. I began imagining this poor guy frantically searching for my lost father. I feared that the funeral home had more than likely disposed of his remains since no one had come to claim them. Like a lost and found item. I then imagined the man not being able to find my father and finding a box or urn to fill with ashtray sand or kitty litter to pass off as Dad just to get rid of me.
A somewhat ordinary box, not too flashy, with a Mother of Pearl inlay. We decided a box made more sense and could be re-purposed later and used to store mail or as a decorative accent piece. But an urn, well, an urn would just be too creepy.
I brought the box to my house and I placed it on the lower shelf of the bookshelf in the family room. That evening, when the kids returned home, somehow they were magically drawn to the box. Any other day, if a Cobra snake was on the shelf they wouldn’t notice it. I don’t know how that happens, but cats are like that too. A cat can be nowhere in sight, but the moment you lay something out to wear for the day and turn your back for just a split second, there they are. Right in the middle of your favorite sweater, hairing all over it.
I soon noticed my youngest standing there in front of the box and studying it hard. He just couldn’t figure out how his grandfather, the “Colonel”, could fit inside. I watched as he raised the Mickey Mouse Light Saber he was holding and was just about to begin using to either pry or bash the box open. Luckily, I was close by and able to distract the kid before disaster occurred and quickly relocated my father to the top shelf and out of harm’s way.
Over the next several weeks, my father sat on the top shelf and every once in a while, I’d remember he was there and make yet another mental note about delivering him to my Mother’s house across town. This remembering and forgetting went on for weeks and months. And during this time, I often wondered what exactly we would do with the ashes. I couldn’t figure out where my father would want them scattered. Normally people scatter the ashes in or over an area that meant something special to the deceased, but my father never went anywhere. In the last several years of his life, he literally split his time between the doctor’s office and Kroger, neither location seemed quite appropriate.
One day I remember remembering the box and finding myself standing there and staring at it. I stared at it for the longest time until finally the scenarios began to play in my head. In one, I could see myself inside one of these boxes, except mine wasn’t a box. It was more like Jeannie’s bottle from “I Dream of Jeannie”. It was full of pillows and tassels and fancy brass and somehow I’m able to see through it to the outside world. I see my youngest standing in front of my bottle with that same puzzled look, wondering how I was able to get inside. His older sister appears and announces she needs the bottle for something, pushes her brother out of the way, and grabs it up. Then the arguing and shouting begins and my bottle and I become a part of a rather violent game of a tug of war. Back and forth and back and forth. Next thing I know, I’m in midair. I twist and turn in slow motion and then begin falling to the ground. By this time, the kids have been distracted and moved on to something else, and there’s no hope of anyone catching me. I hit the floor with a thud and a cloud of gray ash fills the room. And no seems to notice. Eventually I hear the sound of the vacuum cleaner and before I know it, every last particle of me is sucked up, then poured into a plastic grocery sack that gets knotted closed and tossed in outside in the trash like a bag of cat poop or a dirty diaper….
Early one morning, as my family slept, I crawled out of bed and quietly tip toed down the hall and through the house until I reached the front door. Still wearing my footy pajamas, I unlocked the door and made my escape. It was all too simple.
Once outside the house, I stood there for a second to go over the plan in my head, just one more time. I looked around and without thinking, wiped my nose. Twice. Again without thinking, used the front of my pajamas to clean the snot off my hand and was off. I was headed to the house at the other end of the block.
When I arrived at my destination, I paused at the end of the driveway and looked up and down the street to make sure I hadn’t been followed or that no early birds were out collecting their morning paper or walking their dog. The coast was clear so I quickly made my way up the driveway. When I reached the top, I paused again and double checked just to be certain I wasn’t being watched, and then reached for the garage door handle.
With both hands, ever so slowly, I lifted the door just high enough to allow me enough room to get in and then back out with what I had come for. I tip-toed between the two parked cars and towards the deep freeze at the back of the garage and there, right where I last saw it, between the stack of old tires and bikes, it sat. The BIG WHEEL!
With no time to waste, I threw myself into the seat and grabbed the handlebars with both hands. I took a second to run my fingers through the colorful plastic streamers at the end of each yellow handle and as I did the shock from the static snapped me out of the trance I was under and told me to GO! I stood up, put one foot in the seat and used the other to get me moving, then flopped back in the down and flew under and out the door, down the driveway, and towards the street.
I pedaled and pedaled until before long I found myself face to face with Saratoga Avenue. Still high from the thrill of the staticky streamers, I looked both ways and headed across the four lanes to the other side.
Little did I know that waiting for me on the other side was a woman who had witnessed my gutsy maneuver and was there to capture me. Once inside her car, she began interrogating me, hoping I could or would tell her where I lived. I said nothing. I just sat quietly in the back seat and played dumb.
Next thing I knew, she had pulled into the parking lot of a savings and loan and was escorting me inside. Others were brought in to question me. Again, I gave them nothing. For hours I sat there, quietly feeding on crackers and playing card games until the police arrived.
By now, I’d grown tired. It was nap time. I decided to help the police return me home. All I knew was that I lived on Englewood Drive. And with that, I was loaded in the front seat of the squad car and held in the lap of my captor. We drove slowly down our street until it was obvious which house was mine. It looked like the entire neighborhood was gathered in the front yard. In the middle of the crowd stood my mother. She looked like a statue and didn’t move a muscle. Her arms were crossed in front of her and in one hand, dangled a burning cigarette. Her eyes were glued on us we pulled up to the curb. As I began to climb out of the car, I realized that it wasn’t US my mother was staring down, but the woman who had found me and who had been giving my mother a look that read “you are the trashiest mother” behind my back.
As I made my way up the yard, my mother still didn’t move a muscle or her eyes off the woman, but instead told my father, “You take him or I’ll kill him”. Even though I knew she didn’t really mean it, she kinda did. Mom had this mad talent where all she had to do was look at you a certain way and sometimes add a comment like that or “I love you very much, but I don’t like you right now…go to your room” and that was all it took. Don’t misunderstand, we were spanked. But honestly, these tricks of hers were way worse.
Head down, I skulked past the crowd and into the house. I made my way back to where my day had begun, my father close behind. I expected the worse. I didn’t look back. I just waited. Then I heard the door close and my dad asked me to take a seat. We both sat at the tiny table and chair set and what followed was a stern lecture. No yelling and no spanking. I was both surprised and relieved. This was certainly not what I expected. But it worked. I never, ever snuck out of the house again. Well, not that house.
I didn’t learn until recently, that my mother used her talent on my father that very night by threatening his life if he didn’t make sure anyone escaped again. By morning, he’d installed additional locks and latches on every door in the house. I suppose that night at the tiny table, my father empathized with me and cut me some slack. He understood.
There was no mistaking the sound of that car. The fierce “VROOM” could be heard throughout the house as he turned the key in the ignition each morning before leaving for work. If you happened to be at the kitchen table and half asleep over a bowl of Cream O’ Wheat, that sound would usually be all it took to make sure you were “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” and ready for school. There’d always be a couple more “VROOMS” as he backed out of the garage and then, 3…2…1…like a rocket ship, he’d take off and zoom down our street.
The day he bought the car, he phoned ahead and instructed us all to wait outside in front of the house. My brother and I waited anxiously and to pass the time paced back and forth while balancing on the curb. Pretty soon, from a distance, you could hear the car roaring down the street and then, all of a sudden, it appeared. Behind the wheel was my father and on his face was the biggest smile I ever saw the man wear. Our jaws dropped as he pulled the car to the curb. This machine was like a cross between the Batmobile and Speed Racer’s Mach 5. It was a little boy’s dream. And if I’m not mistaken, I may have pee’d just a little bit.
We couldn’t wait any longer and begged for him to take us on a “test ride”. We jumped over the side of the car and took our places beside each other in the tiny back seat and we were off. The world looked different seeing it from the back of this car with the top down. Before long, we’d hit the freeway and that’s when my father wanted to show us what this car was really made of. Faster and faster he drove and the faster we went the quieter the engine seemed to get. Almost silent. The WAS the Mach 5!
Just ahead was a hill. Seconds before we got to it, my father yelled, “Watch this!”, and without taking his foot off the gas, we flew up that hill, and for moment, I’d swear we were airborne. When we returned home, I couldn’t wait to tell my mother all about how Dad’s new car could fly, just like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. She didn’t seem as thrilled about the flying car and gave my father a funny look. He just smiled.
Over the next ten or so years, the car sat enshrined in the garage and brought out on weekends or to show off occasionally.
My mother used to tease that my father loved that car more he did her. It was his baby for sure and he did love it. We all loved that car. It was the car I learned to drive in and the one I preferred to “borrow” when my parents were out of town.
In the late 80’s my father was faced with the difficult decision to part with the car. Reluctantly, he did finally decide to sell to a collector in Dallas and agreed to deliver it to the buyer himself. On the day of delivery, my mother followed closely behind as the two made their way up I-35. Over the next two hours, my mother wept as she watched my father take his last spin.
Afterwards, my son asked me what my biggest fear in life was. Before I could give it much thought, we were already at the pick up window paying and in the middle of a deep discussion over Queen’s “We are the Champions” and whether or not we thought the song sounded like any other in the band’s repertoire. I totally forgot about his question until I was about half way home.
All legitimate fears, I might add.
As a teen, I was just like any other typical teen. Dumb and fearless. I’d say my biggest concern then was getting caught. Either caught by my parents for staying out too late or screwing around in school or caught by the cops for a number of things, ranging from speeding to wrapping houses.
Becoming a young adult made my head spin with fear. Every time you turned around or turned on the TV, there was something new to be terrified of. Drugs, war, AIDS, terrorism, sex, school, choosing a major, more war, war on drugs, crime, getting a job, paying taxes..responsibility.
Thankfully, I’ve managed to shake some of these fears over the years, but many of them are still hanging around. Guess their stuck with me. But, to answer the kid’s question, I don’t have just ONE “biggest” fear. I have at least three really BIG ones. My three kids. These kids of mine scare the Hell out of me. I fear for their safety, their health, their future. I wish there was a way for me to be certain they’ll be okay. But I know there isn’t and that frightens me. But that’s normal, right? It’s part of being a parent, right? Oh, dear. I’m scared.
I hate my stupid mouth. I really do. And it’s not what you’re thinking. There’s nothing I can do about that. It’s what comes out of my mouth that has been and continues to beat me down. The words. Those damn words. I don’t know what to say anymore.
I think do a fairly good job with the basic stuff. All the “how-de-dos” and “thank you’s” and the idle chit chat with the grocery store cashiers.That’s stuff’s a breeze. It’s when I am confronted with having to communicate anything to do with feelings or emotions where everything goes to Hell. Somewhere between point A (my brain) and point B (my mouth), the message I thought I was sending comes out all jacked up. Just like the “telephone” game we used to play in school. I dream something up to say and I shoot it out of my brain and inevitably, by the time it gets to my mouth and oozes past my lips, it nearly always ends up pissing someone off or worse, hurts their feelings.
Now, I’m not a doctor and I have never played one on TV, but I have a sneaky suspicion that my little “issue” may very well be kinda sorta a little bit, oh, I dunno….psychological? I’m scared to say anything anymore. I’m too afraid of the outcome. Crazy, huh?
I’ve had this monkey on my back since childhood. Ever since I was just a cute, cuddly and curious little boy who asked so many question that he was told to stop asking them, to the ugly old man I am today, several of my words and ideas have been silenced, edited, deleted, criticized, re-written, censored, misinterpreted, misquoted to the extent that I no longer know what to say or how to say it.