Under the Gun
‘experimental literature of an urgent nature’
Copyright © 2013 b2 publishing
Thank you for purchasing this e-book. Although it was free, it remains the copyrighted property of the author and may not be reproduced, scanned, or distributed for any commercial or non-commercial use without permission from the author. Quotes used in reviews are the exception (and if anyone actually reviews it that would truly be an exception). No alteration of content is allowed, nor may you alter your halter while reading the content. If you enjoyed this book, then encourage your friends to purchase their own copy. They can afford it.
Your support and respect for the property of this author is appreciated.
This is a work of creative non-fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are most likely convenient hallucinations, but also could very well be the products of the author’s warped imagination. In either case, all information is used in a fictitious manner and not intended to replace history books, encyclopaedias, or one’s individual responsibility to use their head for more than a hat rack. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events could be coincidental, but I doubt it.
**The thoughts, words, and ideas contained in this work have not been homogenized for the masses. While it is not my intention to be labeled as a writer of ‘Adult Content’, nor do I feel that anything you are about to read is harmful or profane. However, I do come from a long line of sailors. The bottom line / bottom line is that if your children are required to use the word bottom when referring to their backside (as is mandated in my house) then you may want to consider reading your child a Dr. Seuss book and putting them to bed prior to scrolling to the next page**
Under the Gun
Welcome to the world of 'Under the Gun', experimental literature from the pontificator at large, b2. Each of the chapters of this book was originally released as installments on the blog ‘b2publishing’. No more than twenty minutes were spent on each episode so that second guessing could not place a burden upon the creative process. No editing was done prior to the release of each chapter, no safety net was used, and all works were immediately released for spontaneous public regurgitation. So throw out all of your postconcieved notions about what a reading experience should be. Open your mind, let go of your fear, and release the kraken. –b2
Do you ever feel like the clock is ticking?
Not running late for work, gonna miss a podiatrist appointment ticking. I'm talking about it's all gonna be over at any second so you better kick it in one time before your heart explodes kind of ticking.
Well, I've felt that way for three years. In some ways I've been like this my whole life. It doesn't mean that I'm incredibly productive or even that I have any sort of special abilities to get things done. My only super hero power is that the blood in my veins moves faster than most, yet my blood pressure remains unnaturally low.
You see, I have a condition. An ailment of sorts. The kind that no ones' heard of, and nobody is running a foot race to cure. There's not a 501c3 non-profit seeking donations, there's no viral effort using social media to raise awareness. You won't see firefighters standing at traffic lights with their boots in hand.
What you will find is time bomb with a very short fuse. A dried up rubber band, stretched and ready to snap. You'll find me. Fooling everyone, convincing no one.
No one, that is, except for myself.
UTG - II, Sense of Urgency
There was a show on cable a while back about people with strange compulsions. No, I wasn't on it. But I can relate to one of the strange byrd's that was profiled.
He couldn't stop working out. Sounds a little silly, right. Well, that's the nature of the show I guess.
The really weird thing was that this guy didn't appear like one would guess: all juiced up and popping out of his clothes with ripped flesh. He look liked Larry from down the block, in khakis. He actually worked out in Dockers and a Polo.
He wasn't strung out on roids (as far as I know, anyway). He didn't compete in the Mr. Universe contest. He was just a guy who was addicted to lifting weights.
Six, eight, ten times a day he would sneak to a gym (he belonged to a half dozen) and jump on a machine, pick up some free weights and sweat his way through some oldies like his life depended on it.
I can relate. Sort of.
UTG-III, Diagnosis: Denial
"Mr. B, the doctor will see you know".
"I'll be there in a minute."
"Just a minute...please. I've only have two more hidden pictures to find in this issue of Highlights."
The nurse practitioner did not act as if she found this humorous, but then again I didn't have a lot to laugh about today myself.
I cancelled and delayed this follow-up appointment at least four times, quite miffed by the fact that they wouldn't give me details over the phone. I know most of the blood work that was ordered was routine, but the bone aspirate was just plain weird. Yeah, the drugs were a riot, but having a piece of your femur scooped up like the 31st flavor is not my idea of a D.H. Lawrence picnic.
The self-flagellation that is putting off what you are convinced is horrible news is something of an art form. Some of the most prolific in the history of man ulcers have come about, or beautifully aggravated, by the internal struggles of a troubled soul. Finding new ways to worry is like a rat seeking a better mouse trap. But hey, everybody’s' gotta be good at something.
The courtesy paper has torn and the cold steel is a shock to the part of my cheek not protected by the flimsy examination gown. I thought for sure that we were at the consultation / sit down in a cushy chair portion of the proceedings. Rumor has it that some Md's will dress you down in order to dress up their uniform whites. The medical equivalent to a boss elevating their desk chair.
Once I really start getting into the giant diagram of the inner ear, my blankness is sharply interrupted by the polite apologies of my health professional.
"Mr. B, how have you been lately?"
Lately? You mean like since you robbed me of bone marrow and sent me home to stew in a stress pool of my own makings?
"Wonderful! And you?" There are just some mindless social interactions that even a borderline maniac cannot avoid kowtowing to.
"Good, good. How are the workouts coming along? Still keeping them to down to 2 or 3 a day".
"Of course." Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever you want to hear doc. Let's get this over with so that I can sneak in some pushups in the parking lot before forcing myself to vomit behind your Bentley.
"Great! You know, moderation is the key. Well,.... I guess you would like to hear about your blood work?"
No, I wanta shove tongue depressors in your ear until I can hear your ear drum play the solo from Crazy Train! Yes, I want to hear about the blood work. HIT ME WITH IT!!
"Oh. Are the results back already? Sure." Oh, sure. Are the results back already. Give me a break, will ya'?!
"Mr. B,....we found an anomaly in your tests. As a matter of fact, we are not sure...........Mr.B.........NURSE! Mr. B, can you hear me!"
As a matter of fact, I can't. Because while you were pacing, and carefully choosing your words, I had decided to make a dive for the tongue depressors. Unfortunate for me, and the 95 lb. nurse that had to help you lift me back on the table, my feeble attempt at an auditory dissection resulted only in my own syncopatic episode.
I blacked out and ended up as a hot mess on the floor. Face down, pale side up, poking out of my gown of course.
At least I didn't have an ulcer. Not yet, anyway.
UTG IV: Hard Pressed
Luck has never been my lady when it comes to doctor visits. The most vivid memory I have of early childhood is a visit to an ENT.
It had no allergies at the time. I was not plagued with ear infections, or even the sniffles. I simply needed a nut removed from deep inside my nasal cavity.
1/4 - 20 fine thread I think it was. My friend Chuck and I were taking turns shoving pieces of hardware from our metal cots up our nose to see who could go the farthest.
Pre-school was such a blast (when I wasn't having medical extractions done, anyway). Chuck and I had a routine down. As soon as our Mom's dropped us off we would take our wooden name blocks straight to the apple room. That is where the turn table was.
Ah yes, forty-five heaven. 'Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head' over and over again. I don't care what you say, B.J. Thomas was THA' MAN!
Then, after nap/nose shoving we would head straight for the sandbox. The fact that I did not end up a structural engineer is absolutely amazing when you account for the tunnels that we dug for our metal Tonka trucks. But that's not why I went to the sandbox. I was there for Tiffany.
You see, I never went through an 'ooh, girls are gross' - pull pig tails - throw rocks at Suzy - phase. (Remember this: everything for me is a race. Everything.) I dug chicks from the get-go.
And Tiffany was the sweetest babe on this side of the jungle gym.
There, among the monuments to sand creativity, I had my first kiss. At 4 years old.
Lucky for me, my second kiss was year's later. Apparently an early start does not necessarily equate to steady momentum. I didn't realize this back in pre-school. I learned this lesson much later in life.
As a matter of fact, it was about the time I first started noticing the symptoms.............
UTG V - Shifts in Priority
Waking up from anesthesia after a procedure is a messed up experience as it is. Coming to in a medical environment when it's not planned will turn your brain upside down. I've woken up in ambulances and emergency rooms more times than I care to admit, but waking up in my GP's office after going night-night in a heap on the floor is a singular experience.
Was the air conditioner on this high before? My dainty little examination gown was drenched in sweat and was somehow giving me a wedgie. My forehead was throbbing and I was certain that I was freezing to death.
"Feeling better Mr. Byrd?"
Hell yes! Never been better. Where has this place been all my life?
"I'm a little cold; could I have a blanket please?" Can I have a blanket please? Oh, brother, why don't you give her a tip and add her to your will while you're at it. You make me sick.
The voice was back.
Not my usual don't be stupid voice. Not the hey-everybody-watch-this / great idea voice. Not even my conscience (yes, I have one). But the voice. The voice that second guesses, criticizes, undermines.
Right now it was chastising me for not telling the nursing staff how I really felt. For being civil under duress. For being me.
The doctor will be back in to see you shortly. Yeah, sure. Shortly my a...
"Oh,..... yeah. The doctor. That's fine. Can I have a blanket, please? Can I have a blanket please....you really are pathetic when you are hurt, you know that?
The medicine that my other doctor put me one just about had the voice silenced. But two months ago, shortly after the symptoms started, I stop taking all prescriptions and even my daily vitamin. I could only eat jello and broth for two weeks while they tried to eliminate the possibility of poisoning or an allergic reaction.
It all started with the headaches. But they were unlike any headache I had ever experienced. Not the behind-the-eye-sinus variety or the pulsing-skull-I-swear-I-didn't-drink-Yeager'-last-night kind. These were different.
Sharp jets of pain would leap from inner ear to inner ear, back and forth until tears came to my eyes. Then the scars on the back of my head would start throbbing as if they were going to split open and let my synovial fluid spill all over the back of my knotted neck.
The scars. I almost forgot about the scars.
They don't call it exploratory surgery for nothing. If it's done right (or in my case very, very wrong) the procedure is only the beginning of the exploration.
They said it was routine. For them maybe.
UTG VI: Sorry, gotta' go....My hair is on FIRE!!!
"Lymph node? What the hell is a lymph node?!! And why do you want to cut one out of my skull?"
Six weeks ago; before the bone sample was drilled out of my leg, before my rendition of Admiral Woodward on the exam room floor, and before my forehead ached like cracked Quickrete; I was being faced with 'elective' surgery. I could opt to find the cause of my ails (and / or chalk another one off the list) or choose to bury my head in the almighty sand of denial.
"Mr. B., it really is a routine biopsy..." there it is again, ROUTINE!
"When you say 'routine',...what kind of 'routine' do you mean exactly?" I had quickly, rudely, interrupted the nurse practitioner who really was doing her best to provide me what I needed in order to make an informed decision. And here I was making big quotation symbols with my raised hands and fingers every time I said 'routine'.
"Is it a dance 'routine'? Is it a comedy 'routine?!! Is it a freaking exercise 'ROUTINE'?!!"
"Perhaps you should take some time to think about your options".
Oh,...she says you have options. How wonderful. How adventurous. Yeah!! Options!!
I spent that night learning everything the Internet had to offer on Lymph Nodes:
- "Lymph nodes are football shaped organs that play an integral role in the humane immune system...." - Sick-i-Pedia
- "....the biopsy of a lymph node is utilized to analyze the immune system or to identify diseases, such as cancer." - WebQuack.Net
- "Swollen or pain full lymph nodes are generally a sign of government involvement in the local water supply....." - isweartheyreouttogetus.org
Needless to say, I didn't learn much. But I did decide that going under the knife was better than not knowing. Boy was I naive.
Now, as a lump begins to push my eyebrow into full view of my red veined eyeball, I sit and wait for Doc Mengele to deliver my fate. I could hardly believe hearing myself repeatedly refuse perfectly good pain medication.
No, not this time. I wanted answers. And I wanted to be perfectly coherent, bulging brow or not, to hear the sentence laid out for me.
So I sit, biding my time. Biting my tongue. Pushing the internal battle, the voice, deeper into my midsection. Swallowing the last scraps of my chewed up pride.
Patience isn't really my thing either. That's why I've been lifting weights 4 times a day. It's the motivation behind my latest change in eating lifestyle (call it what ever you want, it's still a diet). It serves as the basis for the 8-10 self improvement books I tear through each week, reading until my book light flickers and I finally doze off for 2, maybe 3 hours. It's been like this for over three years now. And the real crazy thing is, I feel like I'm just getting started.
It's like someone finally shot the starting gun, or I just got around to hearing it. Something changed deep inside me and I'm not sure that it's necessarily a good thing or not. But what I do know it has inched its way into every facet of my life. Relationships can't mature fast enough. Which is why I usually come across either charming or harsh, depending on the demeanor of the recipient in my latest bull in a social china shop attempt of introducing myself.
Case in point, here is a conversation I had just the other day. Seemed like run of the mill daily minutia at the time. But once I had the chance to think about it later that night as I laid in bed second guessing every decision that I had made during the previous 72 hours (I had finished my 8th and 9th book on Thursday morning and had gotten so hung up on trying to scrub the rust off an old turnbuckle I found during my daily 5 mile hike that I didn't even look at the clock 'til forty five minutes after the library had closed). The veterinarian's office had called to confirm my dog's appointment for the next day:
"Hello, this is Margaret from East Side Animal Clinic. Is this the home of Keaton and Buster?"
"Yes it is, but they can't come to the phone right now."
The long pause followed by a polite giggle made it obvious that my lame attempt at charm had at least brought a smile to her face.
"...I'm sorry, you caught me off guard a little. That was pretty funny".
And, I could have left it at that, confirmed the appointment and let this lady go about her day and continue on full-filling her post-retirement / second career aspirations in professional animal care.
But NOOOOOO! I had to take it a little farther.
"Do you have pets?"
"Well,...yes. I have a poodle."
"Where do you take them for shots?".
"I actually don't believe in vaccinations."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I mean, I'm sorry that I asked.....but since I did. Do you not believe in them for people as well?"
I relived that twisted excuse for a conversation at least 25 times before reverting back to my old stand bye lament involving an odometer reading in 1992.
And I'm not just anxious over new relationships. Like any parent I want my boys to be smarter than me. But I want it yesterday. Literally. So I insist on a daily regime of trying to force feed them information that I am not an authority on.
Then there's my siblings. I regularly put them through their own personal obstacle course of emotional landmines and guilt traps. Oh, but I have justifications for my intentions. I can justify with the best of 'em. I just want to strengthen our bond. And I want it RIGHT NOW!
I can't be bothered with details like experiences and all that live in the now, smell the roses mumbo jumbo. Don't get me wrong (so help you), I am an optimist. To some pretty sick degrees in fact. But when it comes to time....when it comes to the finality of it all..........when it comes to getting it all done....in time........
"NURSE!! Excuse me, NURSE. Yes, I've changed my mind about those pain killers. And can I get another blanket. Thank you."
"Say, do you have any pets?"
UTG - VII: Facing the Muzak
"Mr. B., I'm not sure how to tell you this......."
"So just tell me Doc."
"Well,....John,....we found something in your marrow..."
come on! I ain't got all day.
"What is it Doc."
"We're not exactly sure...."
what are you paying this guy for, anyway?
"Is it cancer Doc?"
"No! Well,....we don't think so."
oh!! he doesn't think so. well isn't that just peachy!
"What are saying Doc?"
"I'm saying that whatever it is, it's very rare. Look, I'm a little over my head here, John. I've talked to the folks over at U-Med, we'd like to run some more tests....."
now you're talking, let 'em have it!
"..they're expecting you. It's all lined up."
you hear that, it's all lined up. whoo-hooo! it's all lined up.
"Would you shut the hell up!!"
"Look, John, you need to calm down."
"I was'nt talking to you."
"I know this has gotta be a little scary..."
you hear that! he knows!
"..there's also someone I'd like you to talk to. A friend of mine on staff at U-Med."
"A shrink? You don't know what's wrong with me, and now you want me to talk to a shrink?!"
yeah, now we're talking. let 'em have it. you don't need to talk to anybody.
"Do you have any pets?"
don't do it. I'm telling you right now. we don't need no shrink. you got me, you don't need no stupid shrink! don't you dare!
"Yeah, we have a dog. Why do you ask."
"I'll talk to your friend, Doc. But no more tests today, okay. No more tests".
"Sure John. No more tests today."
UTG VIII: Today is tha' Day.......
Today will be different. Everything changes right and here and now. Today is the day.
Today is the day I'm going to put plans into action, take names, and kick a--. Today is the day my Ts will be powerfully crossed and my Is will be dotted with a smiley face. Today my microwave popcorn will not have any un-popped kernels at the bottom of the bag.
Hesitation will be tossed aside and replaced with a sense urgency. Contemplation will step aside for the arrival of methodical execution. Today I will re-invent myself and recycle the biodegradable mold. Today complete, long term, sustainability will be realized on a universal scale.
Today the osteoarthritis in my knees will be reversed as the cartilage is regenerated. Shoulder pain slips away as the rotator cuff tendon is enveloped in atrophied muscle. My conscience even feels healthier as yesterday loses its significance and tomorrow slips from reality.
Today I will be first to act, watch your back, and be ready for a counter-attack. There will be no need to retract, stretch the facts, or kneel to prevent a sack. Today will be different, today things are gonna change.
Listening will active, words will be well thought. Intentions will be clear and methods will be proven. Faith will be constant, then questioned, tested, lost, and then regained again, but at a much stronger level. Fear will be respected, but will not under any circumstances get in the way of expressing love, compassion, and truth.
Feelings will be considered, others will be recognized. Glory will be shared, blame will be kept selfishly. Selflessness will be rampant, egos will go dormant. Learning will become paramount, teaching will remain heroic.
Eye contact will be encouraged, accepted, and returned. Handshakes, hugs, and high-fives will become commonplace. Touching someone else's heart will be allowed, opening your own will be mandatory. Leaders will follow, students will step up to the plate.
Today is the day. Yesterday's gone and tomorrow never comes. It doesn't matter if you feel ready are not, it's here. But this isnt' about you, following me. This is about me preparing for what's next. Today truly is the day. Today, I fight back. Today I will come face to face with them. Today I will confront my external demons.
I'm not really sure how long they have been following me. But can I can tell you that it was almost two weeks ago that I noticed. That was the day everything started to change. That was the day that I knew that this day would come.
UTG: IX - Hook It Up.....
Sometimes having a deep respect for something doesn't discount the fact that it completely buggs you out. That's how I secretly feel about U-Med. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big outspoken fan of the crown-jewel of college hospitals. The campus and facilities are world-class, the research and leading edge research they conduct is legendary, and the staff are no less than angels walking the earth. Hell, they brought my dad back from the dead, twice. But the idea of walking through those doors as a patient makes me a complete hot mess of a train wreck.
Yesterday. Well,..yesterday was fantastic. Yesterday was unique. Yesterday I was on fire.
Yesterday is gone, and I am highly concerned that tomorrow may never come.
Yet here I am, in the lobby, almost two hours before my appointment. And it's not just because of the Keurig coffee maker. Not completely. I also had some forms to fill out.
Have you ever had surgery? Yes. Do you have any allergies? Yes. Are you currently on any medications? Yes. Are you experiencing any Pain? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes........ three, four years ago these were all a big fat NO! Am I getting that old? Am I getting that frail? Am I really that neurotic?
"Oh...yes,..sorry. I don't usually answer to my first name, I mean, I go by my middle name."
"The doctor will see you now".
"Well, actually I'm going to move you to the examination room where you will sit alone for a couple of hours without anything to read."
"I'm just kidding, John. I mean Mr. B. Follow me, please."
i'm telling you right now, if she asks you to put on another one of those stupid gowns I'm gonna freak!
Great, the voice is back. Just great. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the five cups of coffee I've poured down my gullet in the last forty-five minutes. I really should have gone ahead and made that shrink appointment.
Thankfully I was not led into another exam room, no not today. Today I have finally received the leather-wrapped, oak-varnished, book-lined, office-consultation that has been denied me for so long during this entire twisted drama that has become my life.
Despite my extreme caffeine buzz and subsequent need to powder my nose the cushy comfort of my doctor's guest chair almost lulled me sleep.
"Mr. B, good morning. I'm Dr. Sladge. Hope you haven't been waiting long."
no you don't. you freaks live for this stuff. now kick it in and tell us what in the wide world of sports is going on here?
"No, not at all."
"I've read your chart and have a few questions. How long have you been experiencing the symptoms?"
really? if this chump has read your chart, why is he asking such a stupid question.
"Ah, about three years now."
"And when did you first seek medical consultation?"
"Three months ago."
"I see........Mr. B. I'm glad you're here today.
well that makes one of us!
"I think you are a very lucky man."
whoo-hoo, you're lucky! this guy is rich.
"U-Med happens to have the world's leading polycthemic research program and.."
"Excuse me. Poly-O-what-ic?
"Oh, sorry. Polyethemic, as in polycthemia vera. We have reason to believe Mr. B that you are suffering from an extremely rare case of thin blood."
"Thin blood? You mean like Hemophilia?"
"Well, we don't think that you have any issues with co-agulation. Or high blood pressure for that matter."
"That's good, I think. So what IS the problem?"
"Well, Mr. B. We think that your blood is traveling twice as fast as a health.....as an average person your size and...."
"And while in the short term you could actually experience heightened endurance, increased strength, and an abnormal ability to comprehend, to learn quickly..."
"Why is this a problem?"
..and in the LONG term you could suffer from advanced fatigue syndrome, dehydration, strokes, or even heart attack."
nice! you should qualify for some really good drugs now!
"Just shut up!"
"Sorry, not you Dr. Sledge."
"Hey, Jim mentioned that he put in a call to Charles, I mean Dr. Foley. Have you spoken to him yet."
"No, but I think I might need to. Doc, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure, John. Please do."
"Do you have any pets?"
oh boy, here we go!!!
UTG X: ....and how do you feel about that?
"So how does this work, exactly Dr. Foley?" I mumbled, chin to chest, eyes to the floor picking out patterns and faces in the medium shag.
"Please, call me Charles."
"Okay, how does all of this work, Chuck?" I said smugly, with eyes now fixed straight on the head shrinker before me. I would say that my patience with being a patient was wearing thin, but since I have not patience (about anything) there was really nothing left to wear.
"How would you like it to work, John?"
"Please, call me Mr. B." This guy is going to get no where fast with me.
"Okay,..Mr. B., how would you like to spend your time here today?"
well for starters, big boy, how 'bout you bring that hassock over here and go grab us some beers while I put my feet up....
"I don't know, I guess I was expecting that you would ask me some questions, I guess."
oh brother, you really do love you some doctor's, don't ya'?!!
"Well, first of all there are no set rules on how a therapy session has to be. I think that to start with we just concentrate on getting to know each other a little better."
I think I'm going to be sick. this mutual admiration crap is way too rich for me....
That's when it happened. It all just spilled out. Somehow I managed to skip the pre-requisite five visits to a psychologist prior to really opening up. Right then, right there, I single handedly saved my insurance company over twelve thousand dollars:
"There is a voice in my head that is constantly berating me, insulting others, second guessing every decision I make, and is so vile that it sometimes makes me want to drive sixteen penny nails into my ears just in the hopes that it will shut the hell up for five minutes so that I can have a little peace." There I said it, out loud, in the presence of a medical practitioner.
you've done it now, mister! they're gonna lock you in a silly room with all the droolly heads and shock you up right, one-flew-over-the-cookoo's-nest-style! yes-sir-ree-bob! you are completely and utterly screwed!
"I see." Doctor Chuck nodded as he furiously scribbled notes with a purple sharpee on a dog-eared yellow legal pad with doodles all over the cardboard backing.
"I see." Again he nodded.
"Mr. B." This time looking up over his bi-focals, the whites of his eyes making his gray comb-over look even more brittle and dry. "Do you have any pets?"
"Mr. B.,....Dr. Foley will see you now."
The waiting room slowly came into focus and I frantically looked around the room at the new faces that had arrived during my slumber. Wondering how many of them noticed the line of drool that ran all the way from my lip down to the Highlights picture puzzle on page 73.
wake up jerky! time to see the head shrinker, blood-boy! now don't go and screw this up. we don't want to be sent the silly room, now do we?
Under the Gun: XI - Let's Get Down To Brass Tact
No kid ever dreams that they will one day grow to be in MRO sales, Besides the fact that most kids kids have no idea what MRO is, heck most adults don't either. Sometimes I think that half of the people in the business of Maintenance, Repair, and Operations products for industry don't know what it means.
No, most kids I grew up with wanted to be doctors, lawyers, firefighters, soldiers, or Evil Knievel. I was no different. Okay, I was a little different. I wanted to be a writer. And at 41 years old, I'd probably be a pretty good one by now if I'd had stayed the course.
'Tha' course' I'm referring to was my grand plan. I had it all figured out. In the late eighties Orlando, Florida was just coming into it's own as the 'Hollywood of the East'. The University of Central Florida had just opened it's cinematography department, and I had just graduated high school. The timing couldn't have been better.
Or could it. Looking back now I can see that the early symptoms had already started to show. I was laying the groundwork for what was to become a twenty year internal battle between me and my destiny.
The ink hadn't even dried on my diploma and I was on 75 South blazing a trail to O-town the day after graduation. I remember being pulled over, not for speeding, but because the Georgia state trooper wanted know what was in all the milk crates in my back seat. My answer, "everything".
And everything it was. Twenty three 45's, eleven albums, seventy two cassette tapes, one boom box, three pairs of Levi's, two Allman Brother's concert shirts, one blue jean jacket, and a lava lamp. Everything, and bag a chips.
Despite the lead I had gotten from a family member who's co-worker's brother was the senior editor at Disney Studios, I immediately got two jobs washing dishes. And wash dishes I did. I spent so much time with my head stuck inside the steamy hole of a Hobart commercial sanitation machine that I was the only eighteen year old on the east coast with clear skin.
And I ate good too. No, I didn't clean any plates if that's what you're thinking. I took care of myself. Each and every payday I went out and got a brand new jar of Goober Grape. Sometimes I would even splurge on a loaf of bread to spread it on. But not often.
The lack of dietary sustenance didn't slow me down a bit. I was driven by a different kind of hunger. What I needed was the right environment. The right friends. The right mindset. What I needed was money. I was convinced that if I worked hard enough, conquer-the-world-hard-enough, then I could arrive a special time and place that would allow me to follow my passions. I would one day be free to feed my muse. But first I needed to make it. It never occurred to me, not once, that if I followed my passions a life could unfold. I chose the path of sweat. And sweat I did.
But this 'Jack' didn't let all that work make him a dull boy. Oh no. I made it to UCF. Sort of.
Delta Tau Chi fraternity, off campus, was my one and only foray into collegiate life.
Needless to say, I didn't sleep much that year. Or the next really. At first I passed it off as the exuberance of youth, though I don't think that I used the word exuberance until I was well into my thirties. Later I found that my mind and my body were on completely different rest cycles. Sometimes I would be sleepwalking through life, other times I would be frozen on the floor, limbs given out, yet mind racing with ideas, solutions, and ever increasing quandaries. What was I running after, when would I find it, what would I do then.
I try not to regret how many years I spend running after an unknown prize. After all, if I had not made every decision, made every move, taken every turn, I would not be where I am right now.
well right now you're waiting to see a head shrinker because you are being a panty waist about the blood sickness they think you have.......
And right now I'm waiting to see a therapist because of the voice in my head......
oh, so now it's MY FAULT!! listen here blood-boy, you need me. YOU NEED ME!!
...and due to the fact that I haven't cried in twenty five years.
liar, liar..you cry all the time.
Despite the occasions that have seemed 'appropriate' I only seem to get angry.
now you're talking...come on get mad....
I've come close to crying a couple of times, while listening to music, alone.
no, I said get mad, not sappy. boy you're a piece-a-work!
At age seventeen screaming Alice Cooper's "I'm 18, and I like it" to the top of my lungs til my dry eyes started to burn.....
i'm telling you, don't go there....
Again, a few years later the first time I heard Radiohead's "High and Dry".....
don't you do it!!
...and now, every single time "disarm" from The Smashing Pumpkins comes on.
"I think that we made some real progress today Mr. B."
"I do too, Dr. Foley. I do too."
oh me too. now, let's go do some 'driving and crying', shall we. give-unto-me-a-break......
UTG: XII - Cashing in
I as halfway home from the therapists office at U-Med before I noticed them. The black Crown Vic' with out a spec of dust on it wasn't fooling anybody. My initial thoughts of loosing them in rush hour traffic dissolved when I remembered that I in fact was not driving a Bullitt edition Mustang and that my trusty 4 cylinder would do no more than make them cough a little from the invertible smoke screen that would occur if I tried to bark the tires.
So instead I did what any other god fearing American would do when faced with such a situation while driving his brother's car would do, clinically depressed or not. I slowed down to a crawl as we approached the interstate, forcing them to catch up, obviously trying hard not to pass me. Then stopping at the cloverleaf on a yellow light I put it in park, gunned the ignition one last time, and while they choked on my emissions I got out and walked diagonally across the intersection daring the off- ramp traffic to take me out in the process.
Unfortunately no one had enough guts or anger to turn me into street pizza so I made it across in time disappear among the crowd of 9-5ers getting off the 29 bus and heading for the check cashing joint before beelining to the Tally-Ho dive bar.
Figured that I had killed more birds with that one stone than the vice president ever did with a shotgun. Sure, it would be only a matter of time before they caught up with me. But at least I would have time for a few beers prior to calling Rich and giving him the great news about his car.
Besides, that was just plain fun.
Until I realized what I had left in my brother's car.
The beers would have to wait. And the first call I needed to make was not to my brother.
UTG: XII - Cut to the Chase!
Caught up to an old friend the other day on the phone. Or I should say, he caught up to me. Asked me what I'd been up to. "Same thing as twenty five years go....", I muttered, "...trying to find my niche."
He didn't bite, but then again, either did I. The conversation slowly died a torturously painful death until we both simultaneously gave it the "well it was good talkin' with ya'.....yeah....goodtimes....." - click. No goodbye, no see ya' later, just - click.
Still don't know why I did it. He was always a cool guy. Guess I just didn't want to be reminded that I had sold my soul for one way ticket on a hamster wheel bound for perpetual-grind-town, USA. Sure I had my share of kicks, usually they were aimed at my own backside, but I had them none-the-less.
None the less. What a great group of words that is. Makes one feel pretty darn good to use such wonderfully optimistic, yet undeniably horrible English phrase, not once, but twice in one rant. I might just be able to get to sleep before dawn tonight. I feel like I have really accomplished something.
Then I remembered Rick's car.
I had such a good time letting the blue-collars buy me drinks at Tally-Ho I had completely forgotten to share the funny story of where I had parked my brother's car, with my brother. Not that he would be surprised. The last time Rick handed me a set of key's I promptly handed them to the guy who ended up driving his new truck to Miami. It took fifteen years before we could laugh about that one. Fifteen years to find humour in the loss of a hot pink low rider with a tailgate that simply said 'YO'. The license plate might as well had said 'pull me'.
Well at least I have that to look forward to. In another fifteen years we can have a big laugh about how I parked his oldsmo-buick in the middle of the boulevard during rush hour traf.........
In another fifteen years. With the way the 'experts' are talking, I'll be lucky to have fifteen weeks.
don't you start a' whining now, blood-boy. i'm just starting to have some fun. what ya' say we call your brother now, what is it three in the morning. that'll get his blood boiling. oh, blood boiling, you should know all about that eh?!! heheheheheheh
I must be sobering up, the voice is back, and he's starting to make some sense.
oh yeah, i'm back alright. and i'm ready to light it up! whoo-hoo!! Tally-hhhoooooooooooo!
UTG: XIV - Placebo for your Libido...
I think I was twenty five years old before I realized that you could use vise-grip pliers for anything besides replacing a broken handle on a car window. You see, I come from the duct-tape, motor- honey, rag-as-a-gas-cap school of shady tree mechanics. Cars I work on are guaranteed not to rust, bust, or collect dust. But in all my days I had never seen anything quite like the sweater incident.
Being late for a Bad Company concert sans Paul Rodgers is not a big deal. Being late for a Bad Company concert sans Paul Rodgers when the opening act is Damn Yankees with Ted Nugent is completely, and utterly, unforgivable. Particularly if you are in your twenties and have been a 'Nuge' fan since you were eight.
Being late exacerbated by being lost. Not completely lost, just being on the corner of Peachtree and Peachtree in Atlanta, which does not narrow it down in any way, shape, or form. It might also not have been helped by the fact that I had somehow fit six grown (physically, if not emotionally) adults in a Yugo. When one is such a situation it is highly encouraged that you keep an eye out for obstructions in the road that a car that is rather low in the first place, let alone weighed down, may not be able to clear. I, however, was too busy looking for the Fulton County Civic Center. Therefore, I did not notice that the intersection had not yet received is final layer of asphalt. Nor did it cross my mind that the man hole cover in the middle of said intersection was at least twelve inches higher than the paved surface that my tiny 20 inch tires were riding on. So I was utterly surprised, as was the girl riding shotgun, when the stick shift flew out of fourth gear and slammed into her leg like rubber mallet on a baked sweet potato. But, alas, before anyone could react to this sudden anomaly, our eardrums were suddenly engulfed with the brain pulsing sound of a 1.1 liter engine that has just lost it's exhaust system on a road named after a fruit bush.
That's when I saw it. The Fulton County Civic Center in all of its faded brown post disco glory. My brother Rick reached up from the back seat (at 6'3 stuffed into the backseat of a Yugo, he didn't have to reach far) and grabbed my by right shoulder, "PULL OVER, NOW! THERE, RIGHT THERE, NOW!!". While I was admiring the wonderfully unimpressive architecture of tonight's venue, Rick was taking charge in a crisis situation and had spotted a parking space in an abandoned lot.
It was amazing how wonderful it felt once I turned off the ignition and the lack of un-muffled thunder ripping through my brain settled upon me. I sat there soaking up the silence until it was overtaken by moans from the excuse for a backseat where my passengers were begging for relief from the hatchback of doom. Those weren't the only moans either. My co-pilot already had a really impressive bruise coming up on her left thigh and I swear I could see an image of the gear diagram starting to appear on her skin like a jailhouse tattoo.
We all piled out and created a pretty sad semi-circle staring at this pathetic, and now crippled, eastern block version of a vehicle wondering how it was ever going to get us the hour and fifteen minutes back to suburbia. All of us, that is, except for Capn' Rick. My brother looked entranced, as if the situation had sent an abnormal amount of adrenaline through his veins and it was somehow shooting from his eye sockets in the form of white hot determination.
He took one quick glance at our sad droopy faces, pulled his sweater over his head, and immediately crawled underneath the car. Knowing little about actual real life car repair, but knowing that I knew a hell of a lot more than Rick, I bent over and was mesmerized by what he did next. Taking his wool sweater under the car he used it to tie the now hanging exhaust pipe to the frame of the car. Now, in theory, the car could make it down the road, albeit rather loudly, and return it's bundle of rock fans back to the land of strip malls and water towers.
Rising, practically floating, up from underneath the car Rick turned and smiled at his slack jawed audience. A wry smile formed and called me over. "Come here little brother." I looked at the rest of the sad-sack crew, hesitated, looked back at Rick, and then silently walked towards this now glowing specimen of raw enthusiasm.
"Tell me lil' bro. Can you do this?" And in an instance his hulking frame spun in the air with the grace of a helipad windsock. His blue jeaned leg rising up, then clear over my head, his shoe forcing cool evening air to rush by my ear lobes providing unexpected relief to my still throbbing drums. His spin concluded with a flourish that would have made Bruce Lee's dad proud.
Having just witnessed a freak of nature, an isolated bend in the universal continuum, I did the only thing that could be done. I accepted the challenge.
Twisting my body in a lighting quick rotation my legs feeling light and powerful I swung my right foot high into the air as gently as a dishcloth on a butcher knife. My boot climbing effortlessly against the star filled backdrop of a fall Georgia evening and solidly connecting with the left side of my brother's head. My follow through was immaculate, taking his entire torso quicker than the legs could follow causing a Gumby like bend that resulted in his feet snapping in the air at the last second and remaining airborne long after his skull had struck the pavement.
The slack jawed crowd sucked a collective gasp. These people were from the inner sanctum. They had witnessed our sibling death matches for years. More than anyone who walked the earth these four people knew the extreme peril I now faced. My brother, Rick B. had a legendary temper on a good day. This was not going to be a good day.
As the crew drew their last suck of spit Rick remained silent. Then, as quickly as he had gone down, he somehow rose to a standing position. Then bouncing from side to side like an Olympic boxer he did the most terrifying thing that I could have imagined at that point. He smiled.
Then the bouncing stopped, his glove less boxing grips loosened, and his hands rose to his sides in mysteriously inquisitive gesture of peace. "Well,....I asked him, didn't I?"
The crew started to breath again. I, on the other hand, waited a bit longer before restarting my own respiratory functions. He wasn't going to kill me. Heck, he was impressed that I got my foot as high as I did.
"Let's go see the Nuge!"
Arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm, we headed towards the main event, confident that our transportational issues could easily be resolved once the orchestral portion of the evening had concluded. Heading for the turnstiles we reviled in our durability and basked in the anticipation of the show before us.
That's when things really started to get interesting............
UTG: XV - The Awakening
(there is a place beyond desperation, just this side of hopelessness. a place where fear reigns and confidence is but a whimsy. this is where biceps are found to be useless and the heart becomes the most important muscle in your arsenal. years upon years of building emotional endurance has lead to this moment. it gets to a point that sweat on the brow ceases to sting the eyes and instead becomes a bitter nourishment as it mixes with tears on its way to your parched, cracked lips. you have arrived at the end of your proverbial rope. luckily, fate and faith have tied a big enough knot on the end for you to wrap your bloody knuckles around. you have arrived. time for the real work to begin. - b2)
Its been days since I had any sense of my senses. My only concept of time comes from the pickup of the dumpster I've been sleeping behind. Family legend states that my grandfather was offered the first franchise for 'Dempster-Dumpsters' in Memphis, Tennessee in the fifties. He apparently turned it down, not wanting to deal with the stigma of being a 'trashman' during the Golden Age of Couture. Something tells me that even if he had made the millions he missed out on I would still have ended up here, looking like Grizzly Adams after a bender, smelling like the grease trap behind the BK Lounge.
"I sure as hell ain't in Kansas anymore", the sounds coming from my mouth seeming so foreign that I almost jump at hearing my own voice. It's been three dumpster pickups since I've spoken to anyone. And even that was a brief, yet rewarding, conversation. Though I still thought that 'if I only had a brain' things would be a bit smoother, I certainly didn't lack any courage. I know exactly what made the Hotten-tot so hot.
It was the coldest part of the night, just before the dew begins to settle on the grassy islands of the mega store parking lot. The automatic sprinklers hadn't kicked in yet so it must have been before five. I smelled his camel before I saw him. It's been years since I dragged on anything beyond a discarded butt, yet I could still sniff out a cigarette brand from thirty yards out. When he caught site of me I'm sure he thought I was looking to bum a smoke. I was more interested in the high pressure hot water hose that he was using to the spray down the rubber floor mats. Following a dialogue that was equally uncomfortable for both of us he agreed to hosing me down behind the grease trap. But not before he had a chance to walk the entire perimeter twice to make sure the opening manager hadn't decided to roll in early to check in on him. In hindsight there might have been a better place to get 'clean' than standing in a half inch of scalded animal fat.
But that first shower was purely for morale purposes. And what a morale booster it was. Even my tattered rags felt better after that experience. I almost asked for that smoke, but wanted to save my next favor for something more worthwhile. And the time for that favor has come.
It was now time for a shower, but this one had more pervasive motives attached. And therefore required a little more planning. The bar of hotel soap had been fairly easy to obtain. Obtaining the child safety scissors, however, was an adventure in itself. Not only did I have to collect beer bottles for two dumpster pickups (fyi - there is no end to the supply of long neck PBR bottles that magically appear each afternoon under the picnic table where the airport taxi drivers take their lunch break), but then I had to convince a shopping center patron to serve as my proxy inside the chain drug store that had forbid my entrap' due to the hideous appearance that had become my daily existence.
I got the immediate impression that my friend the night porter had been planning my return, almost as meticulously as I had. His cargo van was conveniently parked in the drive-thru lane just across the grassy-know island from the squawker box fast food menu. This provided a perfect privacy cover that enabled me to relish the decadency of my shower without having to worry about slipping on fry grease or ending up stinking like burnt oil. After using the convex security mirror to shave and cut my hair (the safety scissors proving to be worth every bit of the humiliation involved with 'begging' in front of apothecary shop) my porter friend of few words offered to give me one last head rinse before offering to share a celebratory camel with his fresh, clean benefactor. As I savored the last drag before burning the filter he reached into the back of the van and returned quickly with a paper sack.
"You need to go!” he said tersely, now avoiding eye contact. Had I done something wrong? Was I not supposed to take the last drag of the shared 'cig? He shoved the bag into my chest and once again barked, "You need to go!”
I grabbed the bagged thrust upon me and staggered off, grabbing my safety scissors leaving the miniature bar of Dove lying in now steaming fescue. My filthy clothes now felt hot and sticky against my damp, clean skin. Each step bringing the all too familiar sting of blatant rejection. I was half way back to my dumpster of solitude before I realized that I was still gripping the brown paper bag. Stopping under the flickering glow of a humming Coke machine I peek inside the Jethro lunch box. Not quite sure how to take in the visual before me my hands sought to grasp the reality within. A faded red Jack-shirt, grey carpenter's jeans, and a pair of broken in Adidas. My porter friend had prepared the ultimate care package and was too humble to allow himself to view the joy I was now experiencing.
The paper bag, now damp and containing the thread bare garments of my 'past life' was carefully deposited in the charity bin parked on the far edge of the white marked landscape that had become my world. I could leave now. Not far, but far enough. It was time to face my fate. It was time to tackle the consequences. It was time to put it all 'out there'.
I would be re-entering the world of the faces for the first time in months. The place where you have to carry yourself as if gravity has no effect on your being. Where you have to pretend that you have your act together. Where one is rewarded by how little they let their true feelings show. Yes, I was heading right back into the lion's den. But this time would be different. This time I would be better equipped. This time I knew the truth. This time I would be wearing red.
And this time, I would do it without 'the voice' second guessing every decision I made.
But first, I needed work.
UTG: XVI - '..leave your message after the beep....'
"You have reached John B, or at least you have tried to. I can come to phone right now, but I choose not to. For you see, phones do not fit into my idea of a simplified life. Unless, of course, it involves a brick oven pizza. If you know where I live, please feel free to drop by. You will most likely find me on the back porch writing, or in the shed pretending to be a carpenter. If you don't know where I live, there is a reason for that. Have a great day." " The person you are trying to reach has a voicemail box that is full and not accepting messages."
Simplified life. That's my current quest. It's been almost three years since I was on the street. I still have the pair of Adidas I got from the porter after my last parking lot h shower. Wear them from time to time in an attempt to keep myself grounded. Some say that tragic events give you perspective. For some quirky reason I've always resented that remark. I prefer to believe they just give you a deeper realization, and appreciation, that we are all only a half step away from being homeless and alone. Not really sure which of these is worse. Being alone or being homeless. Just know that being both simultaneously is a partial vacuum of the mouth (translation: it sucks). Having once owned a home empty of voices or other people's stuff I can attest that it is a painfully lonely experience, but it still beats any underpass that has been graced by my presence (translation: it sucks less). Then there is the romantic notion that 'as long as we have each other' we can live without stuff. All fine an dandy, IF you have someone, and IF that you can put up with each other's bullshit while trying to tolerate your own stench.
That's a lot of IFs. One of the words that my therapist has taught me to pay more attention to. The other is SHOULD. As in 'it should not have taken me so long to wake up' or 'I should have more to show for my life', and let's not forget the perennial favorite 'I should be able to pull my self by the bootstraps and get over what ever it is that's still bothering me'. She hasn't told me that I can't use these words. Just that I should be more aware of them, how I often I use them, and why it is that I feel that I have to live up to some imagined expectations from no one in particular. As IF.
Sometimes, when the sun is but a soft orange glow behind the next hilltop, I stand on the far side of the lawn and look back on the side of the cabin I now call home. As the sharp mountain breeze agitates the pines I wonder IF I will ever feel like I am really here. They all tell that it 'takes time'. But I still think it SHOULD have all sunk in by now.
Guess I still have a lot to learn.
You're telling me!
Guess I SHOULD also tell my therapist that 'the voice' is back.
You have just been privy to a heaping helping of literary junk food in the form of the serial anthology known as 'UNDER THE GUN'. All text, photographs, and embroidery is original, un-bleached, and contains no trans-fats. There was no editing prior to the original public dissemination, and no mental health professionals were hurt during filming. Any and all ideas, opinions, or phony baloney contained in this blog are the responsibility of the author and do not represent the opinions of this station or anyone else with half a mind. Participants are encouraged to read all safety warnings, keep their arms and legs inside the train at all times, and keep their diaper helmets firmly in place. so sit back, relax, and leave the pontification to us. - b2
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