Non-fiction

The stuff that dreams are made to escape…

Total Badass

Ages back, when I was but a wee and punkish youth, my friends and I took it upon ourselves to head to the local fly-by-night carnival that had set up in a dingy field on the edge of town. There was the usual assortment of pricey games for crappy prizes, and rides that rattled and moaned like they were inches away from shaking themselves to oblivion.

Dauntless, we chose to ride one, the Gravitron, one of those spinning deals where you get pressed against the wall. As the ride is loading, a couple enters with a very young daughter, whom the male of the couple decided to hold on his chest – this seemed like a very bad idea, but who were we to question? The ride continues to fill, and across the drum from that couple, a big, mean looking biker dude settles in to his spot. The ride operator, in a little booth in the middle of the ride, starts the gears in play, then puts on his headphones and starts reading a magazine (of the adult variety – does this tell you about the kind of carnival this was?) as the ride begins to spin.

Sure enough, about halfway through the ride, disaster strikes. The wee girl slips from the guys chest, and rolls to the side, her head slipping between the slats that everyone was pressed against…the slats that, when the ride stops, pinch closed. People start screaming, imagining what is going happen to the little girl. Some folks are trying to get the ride operator’s attention, but he is otherwise occupied, and their shouts can barely be heard above the din of the machine.

Suddenly, above the din, we hear a roar like a lion. Across the way, we watch the biker dude straining and roaring, as he pulls himself from the wall. He forces himself forward, his muscles straining, and reaching out, grabs a rail that is in front of him…and then slowly, carefully, fights the force of the Gravitron as he pulls himself around to the little girl all the way across the ride from him.

Placing his feet to either side of her, he continues to fight the tremendous force to lower himself down carefully. We could see every vein in his arms, his neck his head, straining against the motion of the ride. He reaches down, scoops the terrified little girl into his arms, and brings her to his chest, holding her tightly against the power of the spinning monstrosity.

Finally, the operator looks up, sees what is happening, and slows the ride. The biker guy hangs on as the ride slows enough that people can move again, then finally sets the girl down as the spinning stops. He looks as if he might collapse. He drops to a knee for but a moment, but then stands up, gives the girl’s (presumed) dad a stern, you’re-a-fucking-dumbass look, then turns his mighty, vengeful gaze on the ride operator. He leans over the rail, and in a deep, menacing tone, says “You need to pay more attention to your work, boy.”

And then he exited the ride, as the rest of us checked to see if our undies needed changing.

Sheer, utter, total badass.

The End of My Adventures in Pawnbroking…

What feels like a lifetime ago, I was an assistant manager at a pawn shop. It was a pretty stressful job, but nothing stressed me as bad as the day I had to call 911.

This sweet little old lady came in one afternoon, while I was the manager on duty. She was a bit frail looking, but dressed very nicely, a sweet smile, but eyes that looked far sadder than I had ever seen eyes look. She hesitantly came up to the counter, and I approached with an easy smile and calmly asked if I could help her. I expected she was there to find something that had been stolen – we had that happen far too often; grandkids would steal their grandmother’s jewelry and pawn it for a quick buck, and it was always hard to break the news to the grandmother that we’d have to get the police involved to get them back their things. Like I said, stressful job, so I was already mentally preparing myself for the speech I’d given a thousand times at least.

I asked her gently if I could help her. She smiled, and reached into her purse. She pulled out a collection of really beautiful looking jade jewelry.

“I was wondering if I could get a loan on my jewelry,” she said quietly, her eyes cast down, refusing to meet mine.

Fuck. This was worse than I was prepared for. The problem was, my shop, hell, most shops, won’t lend on jewelry that isn’t gold, silver, or diamonds. It’s too hard to verify that it’s real, and unlike Pawn Stars, we didn’t have a TV network flying in experts to verify something’s worth. As it was, I had already gotten in trouble that week for giving too much money to a young mother pawning a very cheap wedding ring set, in order to buy diapers and formula for her kids (yeah, I know, classic sob story, but her very hungry looking, smelly infant had me convinced there was a glimmer of truth to it).

I looked at the jewelry, and swallowed. I could probably give her $20 for it. That way, even if it was plastic and not actual jade, I wasn’t going to be out so much that I couldn’t cover it out of my own pocket if need be. But I didn’t want to insult her. I could tell be the tremble in her hands that this was breaking her pride, and I’d be damned if I contributed to that.

“How much are you trying to get?” I asked cautiously.

She sighed.

“I was hoping, maybe $300?”

Fuck. There was no way. No way at all, that I could get her that kind of money.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I really don’t think I can help you with this. We don’t have the ability to test jade, and we’re very limited in what we can offer you.”

“Please,” she said, looking up with tears in her eyes, “I’ve tried every other shop. I need the money, please. They’ve raised my rent and I can’t afford to move. Please.”

F U C K.

I sighed. There was no way. But…

“Let me call my boss,” I said, “And see what we can do.”

I spent the next 15 minutes or so on the phone with my boss. He wasn’t a bad guy, but he didn’t want to take it in at all. We argued back and forth, and finally, we agreed that we could go as high as $75, but no higher.

I came back to her, and as gently as I could manage, I told her that the best I could manage would be $75.

Her face paled. Her mouth gaped. And then suddenly, she twitched, her eyes rolled back, and she fell over with a brief convulsion. I leaped over the counter and tried to get a response, but she didn’t seem to be breathing. I jumped back up, grabbed the phone, and called 911.

She was gone before they got there, I’m pretty sure. They still tried to resuscitate her, as they wheeled her out on the gurney and into the ambulance.

I was in a state of shock. It wasn’t until about a half hour later that I’d realized she’d left her jewelry on my counter, along with her ID. I contacted the police (non-emergency) and they sent an officer to gather her things.

I never found out if she made it or not.

Three weeks later, I turned in my resignation.

My Not-So-Bitchin’ Camaro

Today, my friends, I am going to tell you another story of my near escapes from Death. That winged reaper has danced a scintillating tango with me since I was a child, coming close, so close, but never quite touching. I’ve already written about one of these times, in my near miss through strep throat. Here’s another memory.

My 1979 Camaro Berlinetta was not my first car. That honor went to the 1943 Volkswagen Bug that I had used, abused, and ultimately, well, blew up. With the death of that little German War Machine (ah, to be a stupid punk teenager and not realize the implications and power of names), I had decided I wanted something newer, but still affordable for the shoestring budget of an odd-job working teenager. I also wanted something cooler, and as the Dead Milkmen would be happy to endorse, fewer things are cooler than a bitchin’ Camaro.

Alas, this Camaro was more rustin’ than bitchin’, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care that the power windows were broken. That the AC was broken. That the heater was stuck on permanent full blast. That the interior of the car was stripped of everything, including insulation, down to bare metal. That the tires were all bald as hell, and the whole care rust brown. From actual rust, not paint. No, what I cared about was speed – and boy, let me tell you, that Camaro could fly. Even if you did had to open the doors at every stoplight to keep from getting heatstroke in the summer. I drove that Camaro for a good year, despite its scrap-heapitude, and you know? It was fun. Fast and loud and broken, which fit my punker/thug reputation.

The second summer I had it, my best friend and I landed a shit job working at a tree farm in the mountains of Colorado. Our job was pretty simple – we arrived at the farm, and took the trees that were dug up already, wrapped their roots in burlap, and loaded them on a flatbed for delivery. We were usually the only ones on site – the migrant workers who dug up the trees did so early (to beat any heat of the day) and our boss usually showed up at the end of the week to verify the count of trees we’d bagged and give us cash for our paycheck. Anyway, it was late May, almost June. We got up to the tree farm around nine in the morning, and the weather was fucking gorgeous. T-shirts and shorts weather, the way a day in late May should be. We were a bit miserable to say the least – the work pretty much required jeans and flannel shirts, so we were hot and not happy about it. We got to work, bullshitting about this and that. Then around one in the afternoon, the temperature dropped a good 20-30 degrees in minutes.

This put me on edge, instantly. My car was not ready for winter conditions. Basically, a death trap sled in car form. I turned to my buddy and said, “Dude, if it starts snowing, I am off this fucking mountain.” He bitched because he wanted to wait for the boss to show up with our pay, and I told him he was welcome to wait in the snow, but I would be getting off that mountain. He agreed, reluctantly. We kept bagging for a half hour, when this big, fat snowflake came drifting down between us.

“Seeya!” I said, and got up and went to my car. My buddy followed, jumped in, and we made our way down the dirt road to the mountain highway that would take us back to the city at the base of the mountain.

It took us about five minutes to get to the road. In that time, around 4-5″ of snow had already fallen. It was crazy how hard it was coming down; the windshield wipers on the not-so-bitchin’ Camaro were almost worthless. Every time they’d swipe one direction, enough snow would fall that the back swing would build it up against the base of the windshield, and the wipers would become worthless in minutes. So every few hundred yards, I’d have to stop and get out, clear the snow from the backswing, and keep going. To make it even more fun, the roads were getting slicker and slicker, so that it was a bit like driving on the ice level of Mario cart. Except on a mountain, with no little helper in a balloon/cloud with a crane to help drag you back on track. To make it even more fun, the freakin’ heater? The one stuck permanently on that turned my car into an Easy Bake Berlinetta for the previous year? It gave out as soon as we hit the paved road.

So there we are, slipping and sliding in my deathtrap Camaro down the mountain, and after a few wild fishtails I finally get the car to stop so I can clean off the windshield again. I was sick of getting out of the car, and had resolved to fuck with the heater controls to see if I could get it to work, so I told my buddy it was his turn to get out and clear the windshield while I did so. He obliged, opening his door and stepping out of the car. Except he didn’t get out. Instead, he slammed the door, and began scrambling over me as if he had opened the door to a prison shower scene and he was dressed in clothes with pedophile written all over them. He was screaming and in a blind panic, clawing at my door handle, and he opened it, causing us both to tumble out. I started yelling at him, asking what the fuck his problem was. He was whiter than the falling snow, catching his breath. Finally, he grabs my hand, and escorts me gingerly around to the front of the car.

Now, I know this is the internet and people are prone to exaggerate here, but I am telling you the honest-to-God truth:  my car had stopped a scant few inches from the edge of a 200+ foot drop into a gorge. When my buddy opened the door to step out, he literally put his foot into empty air, had looked down, and nearly passed out before scrambling over me, screaming like a little girl. I was instantly struck by a wave of dizziness myself. My buddy refused to get back in the car. He said he’d rather freeze to death. I wasn’t so anxious either, but I didn’t want to try to hike my way off a mountain during a freak blizzard. Thankfully, a big rig truck came down the highway as we were debating what to do, and the trucker gave us a lift down the mountain.

My dad and I went back up a week later, when the snow had cleared, to get the car. A plow had pushed it even closer to the edge, enough so that my dad didn’t even want to attempt to drive it, since it still had some ice underneath. We hooked a tow chain to the front, pulled it free, and I drove it home.

And traded it in that week on a newer, less death-trappy car.

Punctuational Perversity Pervades

I just,
can’t seem,
to keep,
from adding commas to,
my work;
Pausing,
every other word,
like freakin’,
Captain,
Kirk.
Punctuational perversity,
pervades,
within my mind;
I have,
to see,
a comma
at the end of,
every line.
If not,
a pause,
Then a full,
stop, a,
period-ication,
A semi-colon,
dot dot dot,
perhaps a hy-
phenation.
And so,
dear reader,
please,
forgive,
when such,
said things,
invade;
it’s just,
that,
punctuational,
perversity,
pervades.

Where Runs the Warhorse

Where runs the warhorse when his time has come?
When his barding’s gone and his reins retired,
When sounds the beating of a different drum
Than the ones of war, that had once inspired
His gallant service to a noble knight,
With whom he galloped to honor, glory,
In deeds of skill, chivalry and might,
Inspiring many a young man’s story
Of bravery, mastery, battles fought,
And many a lass’s dreams and song
Of ancient days when true knights sought
To prove their mettle with courage strong?
To Elysian fields, where the sweet grass grows,
To await his knight, when the Trumpet blows.

This weekend, the valiant steed of a dear friend, the knight to whom I am squired, passed on to the Elysian fields. I am not a horseman, myself, being massively allergic to those noble beasts, but I know too well how strong the bond between man and his animal friends can be. Fare thee well, Luke, and be ready for your next ride.

I am going to have to concede defeat…

As much as I hate to, I am going to have to concede defeat. I just can’t manage to find the time on my weekends to do the writing that I want to do. I can manage a short post or two now and then, but I just stay so damned busy during my “days off” that I almost can’t wait to get back to work on Monday where I can have a little down time. Crazy, huh? So I’ve decided to relax my self-imposed rules, and let myself have the weekends “off.” I may and likely will still post from time to time on them, but I’m just not going to beat myself up about missing word counts and the like.

Now, that doesn’t mean I am going to slow down during the week. I still plan to write, lots, because honestly, it keeps me sane. But weekends from here on out are going to be spotty, both reading and writing.

Brutal

Few things can match the sheer brutality of a breezeless summer day in Georgia. The sun beats down with unrelenting fury, merciless in its quest to see us mortals wilt, and neath the wicked lash of its rays all surfaces become ruthless irons beneath the feet. The air, sodden with moisture too oppressed by the sun to feel inspired enough to fall, and too laden to drink the heavy sweat that beads upon the brow of man. The sweat lingers, then, a shining, shimmering second skin, unable to cool, and thus it turns it’s frustration to making it’s wearer share in it.

This is not a world for modern man, whose body yearns for the chilling breath of an air conditioned coolness, a frosty respite from the harsh reality of a summer’s heat. How, I wonder, did we last so long as a species beneath this and wickeder climes? How did the men who walked this land even a hundred years past endure this oppression? And more importantly, the question I ask above all others?

Where the fuck is my A/C repairman?

The One Where I Almost Died…

Strep throat was the nemesis of my youth. I’d never get it less than twice a year, and sometimes, as many as four times. If someone with even the slightest inkling that they might have strep passed within a yard or two of me, it was pretty much a guarantee that I, too, would be stricken by that beast. I was pumped so full of antibiotics through those years that I became deathly allergic to many. Penicillin? Allergic. Amoxicillan? Allergic. Sulfa drugs? Allergic. Having strep was no new thing to me, so when I came down with it again at the age of 23, it was just par for the course.

The big difference this time, though, was my doctor. What a piece of work this guy was. He was the perfect cliche of the disinterested doctor. His office, covered in golf stuff. He literally practiced his swings as he was “diagnosing” me, barely looking at me. That stuff he left to his staff, who constantly rotated out so that there were new faces every time I visited. Apparently, he was hell to work for. But at the time, I had shitty insurance, with a limited number of doctors to choose from. So I figured he was better than nothing. Besides, it was strep. I’d had it dozens of times. I probably could have treated myself, right?

So I get the antibiotics. The first time around, he gave me something in the “cillan” family, and I had a terrible allergic reaction. He took me off of that, put me on something else – I don’t recall what. I do remember that damned, it was taking forever to clear up. By the end of two weeks, I’m still feeling miserable. I call up his office. He prescribes me another round over the phone. Which he called in from the golf course. Because of course he wasn’t in the office to see me.

Week three passes, week four, and then into week five, and I am still really fucking sick. At the time, I was working in a call center as tier three tech support. I was on the phone with a client, feeling miserable…and then I was on the floor, with a half dozen reps surrounding me, panicked. I’d passed out in a fever. Thank god my buddy Glen was there. He convinced the rest of the crew not to call an ambulance, knowing I couldn’t afford that copay, and offered to drive me home in my own car. One of our other friends drove him back. Before he left, he made me promise to call the doc and get in for an appointment. So I did, for later that afternoon, at 3:45PM (I worked early morning shifts, so Glen had me home by 8:00AM).

And of course, my doctor was…can you guess? Golfing! I arranged instead to see his new nurse practitioner, his third or fourth since I had been seeing him. I laid down, passed out. I woke up around 2:00PM, feeling a bit better, and since my then wife was working and I didn’t want to bother anyone, decided I was able to drive myself to the doc. Yeah, yeah, I know. I blame the fever, don’t judge me! Besides, I made it there safe. Got in, waited for the nurse practitioner. She was running behind, so about 4:15PM she got in the room, and started asking questions. When I mentioned that I’d had strep at that point for over a month, she didn’t believe me. She checked my charts. Looked at my throat, and recoiled. Asked me to wait for a moment, and then hurried out of the room.

A few moments later, she came back in.

“Listen, I’m not supposed to do this without the doctor’s permission, but I really think you need a specialist. I called an ENT I know across town – they said they’d squeeze you in if you can get there before five. Can you do that?”

Sure I could. She handed me a hastily scribbled note, and sent me on my way. I made it to the ENT’s office maybe ten minutes before closing. It was clear that it had been a long day, and everyone was ready to go home…and in walks *this* asshole, with a case of strep throat. The nurse took the note, gave it a glance, handed it to another nurse and told her to call the nurse practitioner, and took me back to a waiting room. About ten minutes later, the ENT walked in.

I could tell instantly that he was not in a good mood.  His shoulders sagged, his eyes had dark rings beneath them, and he heaved a heavy sigh and raised a doubtful eyebrow as he came in. He snatched up the clipboard the nurse had handed him, looked it over.

“You’ve had strep for over a month?”

I nodded.

“Been taking your meds?”

I nodded again. I’d brought my empty bottles with me. He sighed again.

“Alright then, let’s have a look.”

I opened wide, he dug out a pen light, and looked.

Let me tell you right now – there are few things I have ever experienced as terrifying as seeing a doctor’s face go pale. He literally only looked down my throat for a second. He glanced at his watch, then at me. His brow furrowed.

“You drive yourself here?”

I nodded again.

“Fuck.”

At this point in my life, I’d never heard a doctor cuss before. I was getting more and more scared by the moment.

“Ok, fine. I’ll have one of the receptionists stay late with your keys. Call someone to come get your car. I’ll be right back.”

What. The. Fuck. I did as I was told, and my in-laws promised to come get the car. As soon as I hung up the phone, the doc walked in, pulling on his jacket.

“You’re coming with me.”

We rushed out to his car, a nice sports car, though having never been a car guy, I couldn’t tell you what kind. Foreign, though. Leather seats. Real leather.

“You’re a lucky man, Mr. Baron,” he said as we sped through the streets, “I’m taking you to the hospital. You’re going to be there for at least 24 hours. By this time tomorrow, you should be a lot better. If you hadn’t caught me this afternoon, by this time tomorrow, you would probably be dead.”

He explained to me that the strep had abscessed, that it was the worse case he’d ever seen. That strep, when it abscesses, can shoot straight to the brain. He got me to the hospital, all but dragged me into ICU, whom he’d called ahead on his car phone to have waiting for me. I was hooked up to tons of machines, a feed of pure oxygen, and an IV drip of super heavy duty antibiotics.

The kicker, though, was this. Every hour, on the hour, that ENT came back in the room to check on me. He stayed at the hospital all night, until, roughly thirteen hours later, it was clear that I had made it past the danger zone. My fever finally vanished. My throat began to clear. The doc went home, got a few hours rest, and then came back to check on me before I was discharged. He came in, still clearly tired, and handed me an envelope.

“Two things,” he said. “One, I can’t legally do so till you’ve been clear of infection for a month, but when a month is over, we’re removing your fucking tonsils. It’s god-damned ridiculous that no other doctor has demanded this, so I will. Two, you’re changing doctors. I looked into your insurance. This envelope is a letter of recommendation to a friend of mine. He hasn’t been seeing new patients, but he’ll make an exception.”

Sure enough, a month later, I had a new doctor and was less two tonsils. I haven’t gotten strep since. The ENT, from what I heard, got my old doctor’s license pulled.

And I didn’t die of step. How’s that for a happy ending?

 

Free – An older villanelle

Since a lot of my poetry these days is written to my other blog, I thought it’d be nice to share here some of my less erotically themed pieces. I don’t write them as often, as I am one who finds his poetic skills work best with passionate play, but some of them I am very fond of. This one, a villanelle written shortly after the finalization of my divorce, is such a piece. I was at the time a bit overwhelmed by the feeling of freedom, much, I imagine, as a prisoner might feel when first released after a long, difficult sentence.

I give you “Free.”

How strange, the way that freedom seems to feel,
No longer shackled to miseries past
When once I suffered ‘neath another’s heel.

For when no more my will is made to kneel
On hurtful deeds that grind like shattered glass,
How strange, the way that freedom seems to feel!

Now freed, I find I can at last reveal
The inner scars I thought would ever last
When once I suffered ‘neath another’s heel.

No more these mortal wounds must I conceal
That e’en my will to live, nearly surpassed;
How strange, the way that freedom seems to feel.

But aired and breathing, now I find they heal,
No longer poked, where formerly harassed
When once I suffered ‘neath another’s heel.

Divorce, I fought so hard against, in zeal;
But now I see my efforts were miscast.
How strange, the way that freedom seems to feel,
When once I suffered ‘neath another’s heel.