Hell is a Children’s Ward

This post is for all the Make-a-Wish kids I worked with who still haunt me:


Their sedan was on a narrow causeway just beyond the Ghost Fleet when the already dented delivery truck a couple of cars ahead spun around and hit the guardrail with such force that its rear axle flew off with the tail shaft still connected.  Together they twirled high into the air, spinning wildly out of control until returning to the ground and bouncing between the hapless cars. Sara watched from the backseat keenly aware that if it hit the windshield, the consequences would be gruesome.  There was no time to duck behind the seat or to say silent goodbyes to her children.

The axle and tail shaft cartwheeled in front of them and then the shaft plunged into a patch of soft asphalt like an arrow shot into the mud, causing the axle to detach, catapult over the guardrail, and roll down the hill toward the bay.  Sparks flew as the truck skidded on bare metal to a smoldering ruin, leaving deep ruts in the road. Miraculously the driver of the truck was not hurt nor were any other vehicles damaged.

They drove the final twelve miles to the army base in silence.

“I want a party – a HUGE party,”the girl began. “In a grand ballroom with at least two hundred people.  And I want Madonna to be there and Boy George.  Oh, that would be so cool.  And of course, kids from school,” she stopped to catch her breath, “and they’d come to the party in limos.  Or maybe helicopters.” She wore a purple terrycloth bathrobe and her hair was brown and stringy. 

Get the dead boy out of your mind, Sara ordered and force a loving look upon your face.

He looked about ten years, the dead boy did, and lay flat on his back just down the hall from the girl’s hospital room. The door to his room had been left wide open.

“Oh my God,” she’d said to the driver pointing to the body.  The man took one look and yelled angrily down to the nurses.  “Hey! Get down here.”

“How did you know he was dead?” the first nurse to arrive on scene asked. 

“I was an Army medic.  Hell, this hospital is still a shit hole.”  His wife, the other Make-a-Wish volunteer, hushed him.    

“You’ve been here before?”  Sara asked.

“Nam,” he replied.  “There was a tunnel running from the airstrip to the morgue so that no one on base got a good look at the steady parade of corpses.  It’s bad for morale, you know,” he said as through it was a very dark joke, “It’s probably still there.”

“I’m amazed you wanted to come back here.”

“I had to keep my sweetie safe.  Don’t like her to drive at night.”

The man and wife were now interviewing the foster parents in another room while she transcribed the girl’s wish.  There would be purple balloons and flowers and even purple gummy bears.  And a band of course, maybe Boy George or Madonna would sing.  “Do you think that’s too much to ask?”

Sara shook her head, no. The nurse trying to insert a tube into the girl’s already bruised and frighteningly thin arm, glanced at Sara with wet eyes.  Many of the “kids” she interviewed looked so healthy that it was hard to believe the doctor’s reports but this girl could have been mistaken for a victim of the Holocaust.

It’s so much easier to interview children under five, Sara thought.  They have no idea what they’ll be missing in life. Dying was the same as going to Disneyland.  Maybe better as they’d get to see Grandma or sit on Jesus’ lap.  No more needles, medicine that made them puke all night long or worse.  No more barbaric excavations into the marrows of their bones that had to be done without anesthesia. 

But the teens and the pre-teens want it all. They are vampires, voracious for life, wanting to suck as much nectar as they can before giving way. They go down fighting. Interviewing them, she felt her energy sucked into a useless, self-absorbed past.

After she finished interviewing the girl, and the man and his wife finished completing the legal paperwork with the foster parents and the doctors, they drove back to the Bay Area across the causeway where they’d almost died and past the rusty ships of war whose drunken ghosts saluted them with their middle fingers.  They all knew the girl would have her party in the hospital ward.  There would be purple balloons and gummy bears.  The Foundation might convince a local celebrity to drive out to the base.   And she would say “so what” because, in the end, that’s what we all say.

Last but maybe least, Sara’s transcription of the grandest party ever planned would be filed in a cabinet somewhere in the Foundation’s basement. Or maybe tossed or shredded or burned.

#ThursdayDoors: Mystery Room

I was surprised to find these doors and the room they lead to in an art museum. 

Probably because the original purpose of this room is not equated with art, unless it’s the art of the deal.  If you have good vision you can probably read the writing over the door. If not, here’s another shot, this time from inside the room. 

Pretty fancy room, hey? Below is another picture which definitely gives away the room’s historic importance.In the 1970s the original Chicago Stock Exchange was in a building built in the 1890s and it was falling apart. However, due to the efforts of preservationists in conjunction with the Art Institute of Chicago the actual room where stock transactions took place was rebuilt in a new wing of the museum. Today, instead of being a place where fortunes are made and lost, this room serves as an event center.  Here’s is the story of how the room was reconstructed, if you’re interested.

Around the corner from the event center is a one story stained glass window installation by Marc Chagall. Check out other doors at Norm’s place and Happy Thursday!

One Foot in Hell; the Other in Heaven

For the last couple of months it has been my honor to help Duke Miller, whose work I love, publish his book. Living and Dying with Dogs went out of print a bit over a year ago. Now comes Living and Dying with Dogs: Turbo Edition. The new book contains extensive rewrites and the inclusion of Handbook for the Hopeless, a bizarre novella cum employment guide for emergency refugee relief workers. How to describe the Handbook?  More on that later.  Despite the title, this 2nd Edition is not about creating a doggie hospice program. It’s about the people who rush into war zones hoping to bring help to victims of genocides, famines, and epidemics and how the emergency aid process alters everyone’s perception of what we quaintly call reality. It’s about what happens to people forced to check their morals at the door in order to do what needs to be done. Do the ends justify the means? Duke explores this heuristic notion where the sick and dying lie. In that sense, this book asks the old questions, but provides new answers. He writes about things we don’t want to think about, like how the best of us can falter or how our furry friends occasionally eat the hands that have fed them.   If this book was an endless slog over mountains of corpses, I’d probably only recommend it for those considering a career in relief work. But it’s not. There’s dark humor here, poetry as well.  Take the beautiful Hollywood agent who the protagonist admits he should have never slept with. She urges him to write more conventional stories that people can understand, like For Whom the Bell Tolls.  Stuff she can easily sell to the movie industry. He dreads her visits but WTF, she knows people. Maybe he’d better sleep with her again. But no…ghosts surround him and the lost appear before his eyes: the invisible ones he’s loved and mourned. A trip home makes him feel like an alien.  Old friends are left behind.  Disease rots his body and always there is the dark alley or endless hallway populated by drug addicts.  However, sometimes “life floods the parched regions” of his heart in unexpected places, like leper colonies, whore houses, and the wounds of a dying child.

Which brings us to Handbook for the Hopeless  in which an online suicide haunts a man tasked with writing a “how to get a job in a war zone” manual by his well-meaning publisher. But every time he attempts to tell it straight, another ghost enters his mind and down he falls into the waiting arms of one humorously dark character after the other.   We were aided in our publishing endeavor by John’s Motorcycle Storage and Rare Book Disposal of Long Island whose logo is above. You can read more about Duke Miller here and here and at TinhatsBlog. The artwork for both the cover and the logo were provided by Duke’s wife, Teresa Miller.

The paperback (365 pages)  is currently for sale on Amazon at $12. Or you can download the eBook for $2.99.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing and now I’m off to snap pictures of doors!

 

Draggin Ass? Dragon Mood?

Love this gal’s honesty!

joeyfullystated

I don’t know why we call it draggin ass. Maybe those guys with the droopy pants are draggin ass, but my ass is relentlessly buoyant. My tummy, after three abdominal surgeries in four years, has long been an entity unto itself, but even still, it leads with aplomb.

My mood, now that’s another matter.
I’m about ready for a nap.
I have slept every night, all week. All week with the sleeping at night. Last night, I dozed off on The Mister and he woke me up because I snored at him. Good for me. I love to snore my face. And to beat him to it. I hope I become a louder, more obnoxious snorer as I age. I hope I fall into my pillow and snore within minutes. Imagine us harmonizing — me, a wee hedge trimmer, him, a bigass chainsaw.

We all have relationship goals, amirite?

26-53917-relationship-goals-when-im-old

I see…

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#ThursdayDoors: Cloud Gates and Pierogies

I wish I could say that I start each new vacation looking forward to expanding my horizons, meeting new people, riding a zip line through the jungle, or even joining an archeological dig.

The Cloud Gate in Millenium Park – if you could find the “gate” where do you think it would lead?

But alas, I’m a person ruled by my taste buds and not my head. Before even heading for the airport, I’m thinking of all the food adventures awaiting me. You might deduce that I’m some sort of a foodie interested in haute cuisine.  However, nothing could be further from the truth.

From the original doors

I’d rather have Potato Pierogies and Gedadschde at a place like Berghoffs  (above) than nibble on an elegantly presented morsel of steak tartare served on ginger-roasted sea urchins. Berghoff’s Grill, one of the oldest in Chicago, is the sort of place where they don’t make you feel like old Aunt Nellie who lives on fried spam and canned peas if you ask about the ingredients. The matronly waitresses call you “honey” and it’s assumed you want a beer to go with that humongous Bavarian pretzel hanging in the middle of the table for sharing and dipping.

My favorite eatery in Washington DC is also a “grill:”  The Old Ebbitts Grill.Aside from its long list of famous regulars, this establishment (which claims to be Washington’s Oldest “Saloon”)  is famous for its decor. the game heads hanging on the walls were supposedly bagged by Teddy Roosevelt.

The Cabinet Room is famous for its collection of  paintings of tropical birds by Robin Hill.  However, it’s used primarily for private parties and thus we were unable to get a peak inside.

How about you – are you a pierogie or tartare sort of traveler?

Check out other doors at Norm’s place.

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ThursdayDoors: Loop-di-loos

Reflection in the galley window – SF Bay on a beautiful day.

For the last few years my only reason to leave the house seems to be to take pictures of doors and blog about them. Norm Frampton has saved me, and probably a bevy of other bloggers, from  permanent butt-spread with his #ThursdayDoors challenges. 

In the San Francisco Bay Area, early October means Fleet Week, five days during which the Navy comes to town. Among the many events are the Blue Angels air shows which can be seen (and heard) throughout the bay as they rehearse and then perform.

Several locations are ideal for viewing the air shows, and we’ve been to most of them, however this year we decided to view one of their “practices” from the middle of the bay aboard the San Francisco Belle.

Our friends and their grandkids in front of the San Francisco Belle

The Belle is a three story, mock paddlewheel steamer used primarily for parties, weddings and anniversaries. After boarding they feed you and ply you with champagne as they “paddle” to the middle of the bay and stop.

Beyond these modest doors is the grand staircase leading to the ballrooms.

After the show began, we walked up to the observation deck and watched as the jets pivoted through the skies at frightening speeds.  I’m not usually all in for military shows but my father used to teach Navy pilots aeronautical engineering in China Lake (Southern California) and he loved to do what I called loop-di-loos high above the desert floor to scare the crap out of me. He died on this day ten years ago so I’m feeling a bit sentimental for those loop-di-loos.

Vampire Lives Matter?

All the colors found in the skin tone of a typical Caucasian. Note, white is the last one.

The only thing I have to say to all those people parading around with White Lives Matter posters is, you’re not white. Often you’re raw siena and alizarin crimson, or you’re cadmium yellow and carmine. You have aquamarine or viridian – depending on the amount of yellow in your skin tone – in the hollows of your cheeks, under your chin and along your hairline. 

But guess whose skin tone is mixed using mostly titanium white?  Vlad the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula. So my take away is that y’all White Lives Matter folks are trying to save your guy, Drac, from that evil Buffy the Vampire Slayer, right?  Such a kindly gesture and come Halloween night, I’m sure he’ll slither on down your chimney to say thanks and invite you to donate to his favorite charity, Vlad’s Blood Bank.

But seriously, if those White Lives folks want to know who really matters, they should go to a museum.  Might I suggest the one below?

It’s the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. When you first enter this museum, you are directed to an elevator large enough to fit a football team and taken three flights underground. There, in the dim light, you relive the experience of being chained together in the dark, dank bowels of a wooden sailing vessel with no idea where you are going or what will happen to you or the ones you love.   As you make your way up the ramps leading from floor to floor, the often bloody history of the African American struggle for equality unfolds.  I didn’t get many pictures as the halls were dark and the atmosphere, reverent.

In contrast, the upper floors of the museum are full of light, color and music as they celebrate the contributions of African Americans to our culture. You leave those floors grateful that Black Lives really do matter and without them, American culture would certainly not be the envy of the world. Think the experience would cause those White Lifers to change their attitudes?

Happy Halloween everyone!  I hope you all spend it with the people who matter the most to you.

From Brownie Fright Night