Monday, June 25, 2007

The Serengeti Emergency Room

It started innocently enough.
I was alone Thursday night.
I'd just cracked a beer and was still savoring the aftertaste when the phone rang.
It was the wife of a good friend of mine. For the sake of privacy, we'll say my friend's name is Ted and his wife's name is Janet.

Janet didn't sound well.. not at all, and after telling me that Ted's blood sugar was sky high, she asked me if I could take Ted to the hospital.

There were many factors, which I won't go into, that prevented Janet from taking Ted herself, so I assured her I would be right over. I put my opened beer back in the fridge, grabbed my keys and rolled.

On the way to Ted's, a funny little light in my dashboard came on. Then another, and another. My dashboard became a Christmas tree and my speedometer and rpm gauge started spiking and flicking like I was driving through the Bermuda Triangle.

This did not please me a bit, because I cannot stand car trouble.

Nevertheless, car trouble is what I had.

I got about a half mile from Ted's and my truck died, so I pulled it to the side of the road, got out and shot it.

Okay, I didn't shoot it, but I wanted to. I reallllllly wanted to.

But I didn't. Instead, I hot footed it up to Ted's house so I could grab his car and get his ass to the ER.

Ted wasn't looking so hot. He was pale and weak and since he'd only found out he was diabetic a couple weeks back, I knew this was hitting him hard.

At the hospital Emergency Room, we waited for a smiling lady with a clipboard to make her way through the crowd of four until she could get to us and take information.

I've said before I hate the stink of hospitals and the ER is no exception by a long shot. But on the other hand, they're always entertaining.

On this night, there was a little kid who looked like he needed an icepack to the back of his head, but kept asking when he could watch Spongebob again.

Some teenage boy who was dressed like he could've been selling bibles. I don't know what was wrong with him, as he looked fine aside from the scruffiness of his adolescent beard.

Then there was a guy in a wheelchair with bad acne and worse teeth wearing socks and sandals and an Anthrax t-shirt. An off white towel soaked through with blood was wrapped around his hand. He never sat still, always in constant motion of fidgeting in the wheelchair and groaning with pain.
I heard him mention something about getting back from WalMart and making his son some macaroni and cheese, then he was opening a movie he'd bought (Oh, I'd have given anything to hear the title of the movie...I'd bet the farm it had Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, or Dolph Lundgren in it) with his new switchblade.

The smiling woman with the clipboard came by and led us to another smiling woman who sat at a desk and began asking Ted a lot of questions.

Are you taking any drugs?
Ted spoke at length about his prescription drugs.

Have you taken any non-prescription drugs?
Sure. Pot. Acid. Peyote. Some really good mescaline but hey, it was the 70's, what do you expect?

Are you depressed?
I wouldn't say I'm depressed, but I'm not too happy tonight.

Any other complaints?
My wife's mean to me.

Oh, I don't believe that.
She is. She's old and mean.

I don't believe that.

After this, they sent us back to a curtained emergency room to wait more.
Another lady came in to start an iv and take three vials of blood.

And we waited.

And waited.

And Ted started getting pissed off about waiting.

Then we waited while we waited.

And after waiting an hour and a half, that's when the screaming began.

I've never heard a water buffalo in rutting season, but I imagine if you could teach it to use profanity, it would sound like what we heard less than 15 feet from us in the emergency room.

"Get your fuckin hands off me motherfucka! Don't fuckin touch me! Don't EVAH fuckin touch me!"

Then an extremely loud slam of a door against a wall.

At this point, the murmur of the impatient chatter in the emergency room came to a screeching halt. You could have heard a pin drop, a mouse fart, or... well, you get the idea.

A nurse scrambled by, yelling "Call the Police, NOW!"

As you may imagine, this didn't do anything to calm us down. It wouldn't have surprised either of us to hear gunshots ring out. At this point, Ted reached for the only weapon he had... a two inch pocket knife. I guess it was better than nothing, although threatening to whittle a guy doesn't sound very menacing.

Now usually, I carry a knife on me as well... I've done this since I was around sixteen or so, and it has a much bigger blade than a pocket knife. But on this particular night, as I ran out of my house, it never crossed my mind to consider personal protection heading to the emergency room.

So... improvise, overcome, adapt.

I began looking around the room to see what I could use as a weapon. A sphigmomanometer would do me no good. If I got close enough, I could probably give him a splinter with a wooden tongue depressor, or maybe poke him in the ear with a Q-tip.

I was fucked.

Then I saw Ted's IV pole. Aluminum... not the best because someone as obviously bugfuck as this guy was would probably turn it into a modern art sculpture very quickly, but it was better than nothing.

Then the screaming got louder.

"You best step tha fuck back! You ain't so fucking calm now are ya, ya gray haired fuck? This mothafucka put his hands on me. Fuck that shit. Calling the cops? Fuck the cops. Call the fucking cops. I'll fuck them up too."

Things were escalating nd I saw Ted's expression change. He asked me if I could make it to the car and back because he had a loaded handgun in the glove compartment. Normally, this information may have gotten me in a twist knowing I'd been driving around with a loaded handgun in the glove compartment, but at least he'd told me about it before we left his driveway, and he had a permit.

As I was weighing my options, the screaming faded and suddenly the water buffalo appeared to have left elsewhere for better grazing.

At this point, our nurse came back in, her eyes a little glazed but a whole lot more alert than she'd been minutes before. Tests came back and we were discharged from the emergency room less than ten minutes later.

As we walked through the waiting room, the kindly admissions woman nodded to us and wished us a good night. We wished her a night a lot more boring than it had been ten minutes ago.

Then we walked from the building directly into a group of approximately twenty bystanders, policemen and security staff. None of them looked happy, but the least happy of the entire group had his back against the brick wall of the hospital.

And there he was... majestic... shirtless... barefoot... dressed in only a pair of gray shorts... was the Water Buffalo.

"I've fucked cops up before. Ain't nothing but a thing to me. I've fucked em up before, and I'll fuck'm up again if you put your hands on me."

Much like hyenas in the wild surrounding their prey, we left the Water Buffalo there to accept his fate. Ted wanted me to pull the car around so he could give the Water Buffalo the finger, but since I was driving, I vetoed that decision.

After some vehicular musical chairs, I finally got home, retrieved the open beer in my fridge and let out a sigh of relief.

I sat on the couch and turned on the tv. Animal Planet was on with a show about the African Serengeti.

I turned it off before they could show any animals and went to bed.

Barefoot and Shirtless

Tune in tomorrow for Barefoot and Shirtless... the local's guide to York Hospital Emergency Rooms at midnight.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Tending Gardens

Until the age of thirteen or so, I grew up in the northern part of Maryland. The place we rented was a 55 acre farm that, to say was in the sticks, would be an understatement. We were an easy half hour from a mall and if we were seriously hurt, it was a good 45 minutes to an hour from a hospital.

My grandfather lived with us from the time I was six. He was a strong, stubborn, hard-headed goat of a man, but he knew how to run a farm, and he damn sure knew how to tend a garden.

Between him and my mother, I recall gardens of sweet corn, tomatoes, radishes, onions, jalapenos, green peppers, and I know lots of other things I can't remember.

We had chickens, ducks, a couple of pigs, some ponies, cattle, and for a while, a real asshole of a goat that lived on the farm.

Two summers before we moved away to Pennsylvania, I remember one early Saturday morning. Fog drifted down through the valley. The rooster was crowing from the barnyard, letting everybody know it was time to shake their ass out of bed.

And three ducks were in our driveway, their throats ripped open. Other than their shredded necks, their bodies were untouched.

Wasn't the work of a raccoon. Not a fox either.

Nope. This was a Minx. That same fancy-ass furred fiend that evokes the nostalgia of the era of Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and any number of other icons from that time of life, the old-school gangsters and the starlets who brought style to the high-rolling life.

A Minx. What a mean little fucker he was.

The whole situation was enough to set my grandfather free.

I came to see what was going on out of sheer curiosity. I'm pretty sure I was still in my pajamas at the time. Our driveway was long - longer than you'd imagine - and it ran over a stream that had a huge culvert pipe in the middle to let the water run through.

Which, incidentally, was exactly where the Minx ran to hide.

My grandfather had been around a while. He'd seen some shit go down in his life. He knew how to run a farm, and he knew how to tend a garden.

So he set about doing just that.

He went to the barn and grabbed a can of gasoline, then called my father to grab his shotgun.

He had my father stand on the south side of the culvert pipe, while he went to the north. Then my grandfather poured in a liberal amount of gas in the creek and threw a lit match into the stream.

Immediately the gas fumes caught fire, and the hairline of flames travelled right down into the pipe.

It was a smart play by my grandfather, I'll give him credit. That Minx hauled ass out of there like he had hell hounds on his trail. He came out of that culvert pipe on fire, hissing and howling and making these angry growling noises. Right into the aim of my father's shot gun.

He was nothing but a little thing... roughly the length of a grown man's hand, but damn was he vicious.

Even so, I remember feeling a little sorry for him. Don't get me wrong, I understood why he needed to be rubbed out. He was killing the animals and my grandfather showed no mercy for that kind of shit. If there were any animals to be killed on his farm, he'd be the one to do it and nothing else.

But the thing is... the Minx was following his nature - that's all. He was doing what nature had programmed him to do. And worse, at the end of it all, he was cornered.

And that, to me, is the worst thing of all.

I do the best I can to avoid a couple words in my vocabulary. One is "can't" and the other is "hate."

But to me, even "hate" doesn't quite come close to how I feel... the word "despise" might make the cut... But I absolutely loathe being cornered the most of anything else.

I, at 36 years old, am pretty much an emotional train wreck.

I put myself at the bottom level of importance on many things, putting others wants and needs way before mine. I will sacrifice myself in order to make sure others are provided for, are happy, are taken care of.

I know where this comes from; my mother and her Southern upbringing. I bottle shit up and keep doing it until the emotions spill out.

And yes, before you say it, shaddup. I know it's unhealthy. I''ve no doubt my mental pack-ratting has created the seeds of a thousand ulcers inside me. I've got my methods of dealing - not that they work all the time - but it's a start. On the other side of things, this type of behavior is in my nature as well, just like the Minx.

One of my best friends has told me that he never wants to see me get in a fight because he's afraid to see what this many years of bottled up emotion will do to someone.

I loathe being cornered.

Corner me, and things get... interesting.

Corner me, and I get vicious. I growl and I howl, and hiss my anger or weep my emotions.

Corner me, and I will run to the darkest culvert I can find until I am forced to come out...
and I...
fight back.

To the death if i have to.

Because when you're cornered, there's nowhere else to go.

My grandfather knew how to tend his garden. Back then, I did too.

Just took me a whole lot of years later to remember it.

To grow a decent garden, you need to get rid of the predators. Have to get rid of the weeds.

Sometimes we see beautiful roses of many colors. Sometimes we see vines, weaving their ways through our days, our nights, the very core of our spirit.

Sometimes, the weeds sneak in without you noticing.

But sooner or later, we all need to tend our gardens.

It's been said that you can tell the mettle of a person by looking at their garden. If their backyard is in order, it's a good bet their life by the same. That or they're making enough pocket change to hire a good landscaper.

My yard? Oh hell, right now it's got thistle in it. It's got chickweed and wild violets running rampant. Poison Ivy has run amok. Right now my garden's a mess.

But there are beautiful flowers there too, if you know where to look. But the weeds... all I can do is keep trying.

Just keep trying.