Thursday 1:15 PM, 2nd Deck

His name was Irv. Probably short for Irving, but Irv suited him much better. Not particularly bright, I always thought that he went by Irv because it was  easier to spell. We entered our apprenticeships at about the same time, it didn’t make us friends, but rather, a familiar face to nod to when we saw each other across the way.

I was nineteen, that age where you’re old enough to know better, but too stupid to care. Irv was probably ten years older than me, but hadn’t moved past that nineteen stage; he was of an age where he definitely knew better, but didn’t give a damn. I blamed it on the booze, a kind excuse for someone who was probably just an idiot.

The training program was structured to give on the job training during the day, followed by class room theory in the evening twice a week. Irv and I were in the same classes, nodding off  was a regular occurrence for him, but only after arriving his customary 20 minutes late. He usually looked like hell, the smell of cigarettes and bourbon complimented his pallor complexion, the tinge of yellowed sclera surrounding his iris, gave one pause to ponder the condition of his liver.

I had been working at Conoco Oil Refinery about a year; part of  a large work force assigned with the task of rebuilding the refinery after a serous explosion took out about 25% of the plant two years before. With it’s multiple distilling towers  and catwalks connecting one to the other, it was a labyrinth of piping, and steel, shrouded in clouds of condensing steam vapor. It had the feel of Escher, with an uneasiness of M. Night Shyamalan.  The amber glow from the halogen spot lights at night gave it a warm magical feeling, when viewed from the Interstate Bypass. During the day, it was either too hot in the summer, or too cold in the winter.

At one point Irv was working there as well. Shagging tools from the work area back to the tool crib, sweeping out the lunch trailers, sorting out different sized nuts and bolts, he had been delegated to one of the lowest forms menial labor.  Irv boast that  it was perfect; not too physically taxing, during the heat of the day he could get out of the sun, and at 3:30 he was the first in line to punch out at the time clock.  The day Bill Armstrong arrived on the site, Irv’s perfect world came to end.

“Powerhouse Bill” made his bones working the Alaskan Pipeline in the 70’s. He had hammered out a reputation as a boomer; traveling from one turn around project to the next and was regarded as one of the elite fitters in the trade. This job was merely a staging point for the next big one.

Age was creeping up on Bill, waging a timeless battle against his physical abilities. As was customary in the trades, the foreman made sure that the “seasoned” journeymen had an apprentice to partner up with. It was a good trade off, the journeyman didn’t have to handle all the heavy lifting, and the apprentice could learn a lot from a veteran.

PowerHouse Bill and Irv.

There have been hundreds of famous pairings in the history of “Teams”; Orville  and Wilbur, Tom and Jerry, Tonto and The Lone Ranger. When Grady McFarland teamed Powerhouse Bill up with Irv, I would liken it to George S. Patton barking orders to Pee Wee Herman. Grady had one wicked sense of humor. By noon on Tuesday the word was out, and a betting pool was suggested wagering the day and time v.s. which deck, Powerhouse Bill would push Irv over the hand rail; on the 200′ Fractioning Column.

The now famous team had been assigned to welding up pipe supports around the perimeter of the 2nd level of the Fractioning Column. It was just after lunch, and I was on my way back to the tool crib to get a chain fall when I saw the two of them. Irv was on the 2nd deck about 80 or 90 feet above the ground, a coil of rope in his hand, down below Powerhouse Bill had their hand tools in a bucket and several hundred feet of welding cable coiled near his feet, waiting for his partner to lower one end of the rope.

The scripting was perfect, all the elements were in place.


Bill’s voice cut through the constant hiss of the leaking steam lines that produced those concealing clouds of vapor.

The distracting offender.

No response. I looked at Powerhouse Bill in order to get a fix on his partner. Irv was looking up too, watching intently as a gray and iridescent green pigeon tip toed across a steel beam, trying to catch the eye of a similar bird three or four feet above his head.

“Hey Irv!

For an old guy Bill didn’t lack in volume. Several other tradesmen looked to the open concrete area where he was standing. A few gentle elbows and a couple of head gestures had about six or seven men looking at the Laurel and Hardy remake.

Irv hadn’t a clue, the two courting pigeons moved back and forth on the steel beam like some kind of avian tight wire act, being performed just for him.

Bill’s patience looked like it had reached the limit. Reaching down into the tool bucket he grabbed one of the 5/8” nuts that they were using to mount the pipe support system to the structure. Taking a bit of a wind up like a Sunday afternoon baseball pitcher, Powerhouse Bill heaved the nut upward toward Irv. I’m not sure if he intended to hit him or not, but Bill did look a bit disappointed when the nut struck the decking just below Irv’s feet.

Irv reacted with delayed confusion, as the avian lovers took flight. Looking down to his partner as if to say, “What did ya do that for?” I don’t know if it was common sense or dumb luck that he didn’t.

Bill’s face was crimson, his hands formed into tight fists. He was pissed. The journeymen that had gathered were doing all they could to contain their laughter.

“DAMN IT IRV! Throw down the rope!”

Like a daft Rapunzel, Irv did. Neatly coiled, the entire one hundred and twenty five foot length of 3/4 yellow manila rope floated gently down from above, and landed with in three feet of Powerhouse Bill’s steel toed boots.

Bill picked up the length of rope and headed for the Fractioning Tower, spitting out words that I probably shouldn’t be writing here, as he made his way to the first set of stairs.

Depending on how fast he climbed them, and how quick Irv caught on to the situation; Thursday at 1:15 p.m. from the 2nd deck, could have been a winner!

Talk to you later.

Every industry has them, legendary men who by courage, brilliance, or brute strength and determination have been immortalized by their feats. It’s rare that those excelling at mediocrity are given such acclaim.

Things play out differently in the field of construction; an individual can make a name by being a great job site superintendent, a golden armed welder, a superior fitter, or being strong as an ox. We also reserve notoriety for those individuals that drink too much, or posses a physical male attribute that would make a Barbie doll blush. Even stupidity is awarded with it’s own form of distinction. The tales of these men are passed down from journeymen to apprentice, year after year, in the downtown high-rise projects, in power plants and oil refineries.

Ray became one of those legends. The trades were a male dominated field, even more so when Ray was in his prime. I knew him as an old timer, someone over 55 back then. He was old school, which meant he was outspoken, opinionated and short fused. Women in the trade? Not on your life. He was the stereotypical construction worker with a stay at home wife. Her duty was to him, keeping a clean house, getting his dinner on the table when he came home from work, a lunch packed for him each morning, while he ate a  breakfast prepared by her. A real charmer as my wife would say.

Our day started on the site at 6:45 a.m. coveralls and hard hat on, with tools in hand by 7:00. A typical crew was made up of eight men, six journeymen, and two apprentices,  supervised by a crew foreman, I was one of the apprentices. Ray was my journeymen, we were installing baseboard radiation on the third floor of a 12 story building, when I say we, I meant Ray.

“Gut Damn cub! Can’t do anything right. Gimme dat damn ting!”

Ray had the patience of a badger at a gopher hole. No one could do anything right, and after learning about the new hire in the other crew it was even worse.  A new apprentice had been hired for the basement crew and when Ray found out it was a woman he hit the roof.

I resisted the temptation to throw the flaming acetylene torch at him, instead I carefully shut it off and handed it to him.

“Vot da hell did you shut it off for? Now hand me dat striker”!

It wouldn’t have mattered, if I had handed it to him lit he would have been pissed about that too. Ray was just a grumpy bastard, and everyone on the crew knew it. He was sort of a testing ground for new apprentices, and the last six months had been like… like a return to Munich Germany, June 1940, if you get my drift.

I handed Ray the flint striker; with a quick squeeze a shower of sparks exploded from its steel pan, followed by a burst of yellow orange flame. A small adjustment cleared the soot as the flame went from orange, to yellow, to blue as he introduce more oxygen. He was a competent journeymen, but his impatience with his team made him a difficult man to work with.

We worked on the copper fin tube, moving our way down the wall hanging the tube in the brackets and soldering the tube together as we progressed along. My job was to clean the tube with sand cloth, flux the tube, clean a copper coupling, flux that as well, and hand them to Ray. In six months I had cleaned 6000′ of fin tube and 600 copper couplings, I had used about 2 pounds of flux and was on my 10th fluxing brush. In that time I had soldered about 10 couplings, Ray didn’t think I was ready. Sometimes I would daydream; thinking of ways to accidentally start his thread bare coveralls on fire, or to drop a 24″ pipe wrench off the top of an eight foot ladder on to his grey haired and balding head.

“Hey! Vat are you doingk? It’s break time”.

My image of Ray sprawled out on the concrete floor, the 24″ pipe wrench laying next to his head vanished into thin air. It was 9:30 break. For the next 15 minutes I wouldn’t have to worry about doing something wrong.

At break the crew gathered for coffee, and some kind of light snack. A cookie, or doughnut, just enough sugar and caffeine to get you through the remainder of the morning, until the next break at 12:00.

Rays' steel cornucopia.

Ray’s wife was famous for packing a great lunch box, fresh fruit pie or brownies, roast beef sandwiches with dill pickles, and some kind of dessert, and always two cloth napkins, one for the lap; a fork and spoon plated silver or stainless were wrapped in the other. The crew always looked in Ray’s direction to see what he pulled forth from the steel cornucopia.

Today it was fresh cherry pie. Ray had this ritual, first the cloth napkin was laid in his lap, next the Tupperware pie shaped container, the lid pulled back, and then the unwrapping of the flatware. We waited, and waited, there was no flat ware. Ray pulled out a tin foil wrapped sandwich, a pickle wrapped in cellophane, then a second Tupperware container, it looked like  chocolate pudding. Suddenly there was huffing, and puffing and gruffing, follwed by cursing.

“Gut damn voman, can’t even pack my lunch box right. Vhere is da fork und da spoon! How in da hell am I sposed to eat dis vit no fork!”

In the trades when opportunity knocks, the inspired act quickly. Tim was one of those inspirational kind of men. Grasping at the moment he struck.

“Ray! What the hell? Did your old lady forget your silverware? That’s some shit man, I wouldn’t let my old lady get away with that!”

Like coyotes closing in on a lamb in the pasture, two other journeymen joined in.

“Yeah Ray! What the fuck, I would give her some shit about that tonight when you get home”!

Ray was pissed, indignant about the inconvenience and embarrassment she had put him through. By lunch time he was fuming having to fashion a eating utensil from the tin foil sandwich wrapping  in order to eat his chocolate pudding. The second round of encouragement from the crew did not help the situation.

That afternoon with his wrath focused on the missing fork and spoon, I managed to take over the soldering duties, with his wife on his shit list I could do no wrong.

The next day was Friday, it’s generally an easy day as everyone has payday and the weekend on their mind. Ray was back to his old self, fretting that he may have to redo all the soldier joints that I did, if they leaked. I was back to cleaning fin tube and fittings, and day dreaming about Rays unfortunate demise. By 9:30 I was ready for a break from mister sunshine.

We went down to the second floor for break. I had forgotten about the fork and spoon incident, and so had Ray. The crew each pouring their coffee, casually glanced in Ray’s direction. Ray opened the his steel lunch box, on top a neatly folded napkin, placed with love. Ray removed the napkin, his face contorted like some one had his finger clamped in a vise. The crew leaned forward trying to get a look at what the woman of valor had packed today.

Forks? You want forks?

“Vhat ta fuk is dis”?! Vier is my food!

Ray lift the lunch box and dumped out the contents, it was nothing but forks and spoons. There must have been service for 8.

Tim was the first to speak.

‘Yeah Ray, looks like you told her!

Several other journeymen chimed in.

“Way to go Ray”! So what’s for lunch”!

It was the first time I saw him smile.

“Aahh Fuk you guys”.

Legendary, it doesn’t always carry a metal.

Talk  to you later.

The conversation was probably meant to be private, however given that he had taken the call in a restaurant, seated with six co-workers, was in the vicinity of eight other patrons, and was shouting into his cell phone, that wasn’t very likely.

Nick has been a single father for as long as I have known him, that didn’t necessarily mean he qualified for Dad of the year. It merely meant that he could take full credit for the mess he had created. The conversation taking place was a familiar one, although I was only hearing one half of the verbal exchange it didn’t appear to be going well…  again.




“Anthony! I told you I’m not doing this again”.

“Anthony… okay.. Anthony, I can’t talk right now, we’ll talk about it tonight”.

The argument had been lost to a thick skull, but Nick didn’t know it yet.

He sounded like that twenty something parent, putting his three year old into time out. The difference being Nick is 61, and his son nearly 30.

I recall similar struggles with my Dad, as he sought out control mechanisms that he could use to hold me in check. When I moved out of the house there was little he could do about the way I lived. It was the late 70’s early 80’s; cocaine was treated like a party condiment, a double Gin and Tonic was a sports drink. My parents, like most could see the train wreck on the horizon. They raised the red lantern and waved the red flag, but could only stand by and wait for the deafening crash.

I Never Saw It Coming.

I entered a Pipefitters Apprenticeship in the summer of 1979 I was 19 years old; I moved to Denver to be closer to the oil refinery where I was placed for my first job. A refinery under construction is like the wild wild west; travelers, the hired guns of the industry, came from across the United States and Canada working to rebuild the Conoco Oil Refinery. An explosion in the summer of 1978 that registered 3.5 on the Richter scale had all but taken it out.

I was on the demo crew, working side by side with men using note worthy names like Earl the Squirrel, Steady Eddy, and Jack Garrison who’s claim to fame was documented in black Magic Marker on the San-O- Let walls.

Paydays were on Friday at 3:30 p.m. On Friday mornings, and only on Friday mornings, at 6:45  sharp, a  shinny black Lincoln would pull up to the construction gate; with his wife behind the wheel, Putt Putt Povitch would get out. Putt Putt was a Pipefitter who stood 5′-6″ with his Red Wings on, and weighed about 150 pounds, he towered over his wife by three inches, but she out weighed him by an easy 100 pounds. The razing and heckling from the 150 or so Pipefitters, Boilermakers, and Ironworkers on site, would follow him into the break shack, he never said a word. Every Friday afternoon at 3:15  the same shinny black Lincoln would pull up to the gate. At 3:35  Putt Putt would walk out of the construction gate, up to the driver side window of the gleaming black sedan; it would slowly roll down and he would hand over his paycheck. The window closed as he walked around to the passenger side door, waiting until the door locks had made their familiar thump, he would open the door and climb in. Everyone snickered, some made off color remarks as she pulled away, but in reality the only one laughing was Putt Putt, or at least his wife, all the way to the bank. I had been making more money than I ever had, and not a cent to show for the effort. I didn’t have a checking account or savings account, hell I didn’t even know where a bank was.

On each payday about twenty of us would get into our vehicles and drive to the other side of the industrial wasteland, Dino’s Nightclub and Lounge at 6 & 85. It was an oasis, the closest bar in the area, they cashed payroll checks, and they were my personal banker. The policy was, if you cashed your check at Dino’s you received a buy one get one free coupon for any beer on tap. With my coupon in one hand, and $175.00 stuffed into my wallet, less the $75.00 I had stuck in my sock, I walked out of the men’s room ready go. The sock was my security system, a drinking man’s version of a safety deposit box. Thinking was, if I held out $75.00 dollars I should have enough to make it through to next week, even if I drank the rest up, or lost it playing Liars poker, I was a terrible liar.

What seems easy to see now, but lost in the fog of the past, was my steadfast determination, to do as I damn well pleased. Try as hard as a parent  might, there will never be an argument so shrewd, or a plea so heartfelt, to cut through a thick skull.

It took two years and an ultimatum to finally brake through. Not from my parents, or from a court of law, but from my future wife who left the choice to me. A life of that, or the one with her, but not both.

The only one bit of advice I have for my kids…. never call on seven aces, when you’re holding three.

Talk to you later.

It’s been too long, the sound of that phrase doesn’t even come close to describing what it feels like.

My Father in-law Lenny; of Alice and Lenny died last month.

Leonard Ruback; 21 Tevet 5684 – 28 Cheshvan 5772

We; my wife, her mother, my daughter and I went to Feldman’s Mortuary to pick out Lenny’s coffin. It was a Friday, the day after his death, it was also the day after Thanksgiving. Amid tears and irrational conversations between my wife, her mother, and the funeral director, we were able to determine that he was to be dressed in an undershirt, underwear, plaid shirt, and blue denim jeans. A pair of socks and slippers were added as an after thought, because he always suffered from cold feet. “Yeah but he’s; never mind”… I didn’t get it either. We had also convinced Alice that the small coffin on display was merely a mock up and they would not be folding Lenny into thirds in order to fit him in the coffin. Not only is my wife’s side of the family directionally challenged, the concept of a mock up seems to escape some of them as well.

Being a pallbearer is one of those things that you don’t have much time to prepare for, a few brief instructions 10 minutes before the service is about all you get.  A plain pine box was what he had requested, it was a soft yellow pine with wooden rails for lifting.  Images of someone dropping a corner, or one of the wooden hand rails breaking off kept popping into my mind. The tiny staples holding the corners together suddenly separating when it strikes the ground, at 32 feet per second squared. These are the Nightmares and Horrors of a first time Pallbearer

As I listened to the Rabbi’s service I found myself staring at his coffin; the workmanship was simple, and I was distracted from the service as I looked at the tiny pneumatic staples that had been used to secure the corner nearest to me. The Rabbi spoke with confidence as he recited what he had prepared, it was the perfect service. It had indeed captured those things that lovingly described the man in the plain pine box; evidenced by an audience nodding and tearfully remembering with the Rabbi that which was Lenny. I nodded and smiled too, as I counted staples; two staples to a board, eight boards high, two panels to a corner; thirty two staples per corner. I was about to calculate the volume of the box when a sharp elbow from my wife brought me from my Mensa Moment, as five men stood to take their place next to the coffin.

By getting caught up counting staples and boards per side I had missed most of the Rabbi’s service; but it didn’t really matter as I had lived most of it with Lenny, Alice, and my wife.

Talk to ya later.

The Panic And Frenzy Is Upon Us.

It seems the transition from late summer into fall has everyone and everything in either a state of panic or a mad frenzy.

Wall street hawkers screaming out buy and sell orders in a frenzy, hoping to leverage some undervalued company’s holdings in order to make a killing. All the while CEOs and financial managers shuffle through end of year P & L reports, and account  receivable spreadsheets. Trying to glean the last morsels  of profit for their shareholders; in hopes it will improve their personal end of year bonuses.

Less than a month into the football season, wild eyed fans are already  extrapolating a 3-0 record into an undefeated season with its culmination, the winning of the Superbowl. On Sport Fan radio stations across the country,  panicked citizens are lighting up switch boards calling for the coaches head; certain that their 0-3 start guaranties them a 2-14 season if something isn’t done quick.

The trees are beginning to look worn and tired with bits of the late summers bloom, now bearing fruit, as squirrels jump from limb to limb. Cheek pouches full, it’s an all out panic to put on that last ounce of fat, the difference between life and death as winter marches closer. Under the tree, heads pointing to the sky, my dogs bark incessantly waiting for the perfect mistake by the bushy tailed rodent. Then with a leap and a chatter of squawks, the hoarse frantic yelps of the two assailants scramble as they chase through the under brush to the next tree. The barking continues only this time at an elevated pitch.

Packing on the ounces.

The neighbors have been taken over as well. Gardens fading, they eye the remains of the late summer tomatoes, not quite ready for harvest, as the first frost draws closer and closer. Thirty inch long clubs of zuchini litter our backyard, grossing out at 68 pounds. The time for harvesting well past due.

So when I showed up at the house mid morning to get some paper work, I heard it in her voice too.

“Honey is that you?”

“Yeah, I had to get something for work.”

“Are you going to stay home?’

It sounded unsure, like this might not fit into her plans.

“No, I need to get going.”

On the counter, her Vitamix had some kind of green swirled paste matted to the sides, I didn’t really want to know.

“So Honey, what do you think of a Zucchini Lime Sorbet?”

Yup, that definitely had the sound of panic in it.

Talk to you later.

A Life Full Of Contraindications.

It’s been a challenging summer. Marked by clumsy acts, accentuated with life threatening set backs; it reads more like a soap opera than, “What I did over my summer vacation. ”

My wife keeps me on target with medications to correct or prevent one thing or another, checking to see if I’ve remembered to take them, and administering them when I forget.

Taking care.

She is our resident herbal apothecary, prescribing healing salves and herbal caplets with all natural ingredients, to do battle against the everyday ailments that plague most households. At one time her kitchen cabinets were stocked with glass jars labeled Valerian, Skullcap, Comfrey  and Golden-seal Root, a witches brew station right in our kitchen. I think the nature of homeopathic treatment is seated in the belief it will work, with enough common sense to know when to relent to the pharmacist at Walgreen’s. That’s were we find ourselves these days, Warfarin, Lisinopril, Levothyroxin; it’s hard to find these in herbal form at the Vitamin Cottage.

This past week I’ve been fighting the onset of a cold; a sniffle here and brain jarring sneeze there, it seems to have taken up residence in my chest. This morning at that time when the predawn light allows you to see the outline of objects in the room, but not enough to register the time on the clock; the dog wanted out and was whining at our bedroom door it must have been around 5:45 a.m. My wife is a lighter sleeper than I, and once she’s awake she usually struggles to get back to sleep. During the week I start my day at 4:30 a.m. and have the dog out by 5:00 such that, on the weekends the dog can get a bit demanding by 6:00.

I felt the familiar movements as she climbed out of bed, heard the bathroom door open, a faint rustling as she put on her robe to let the dog outside; the last of two remaining articles left behind by our children. As my wife left the bathroom I mentioned to her that we should check for the contraindication of an expectorant, that I might want to get some to help fight this cold. Things become more complicated when you have an assortment of pharmaceuticals sitting on your counter, and residing in your system. So I was thinking Monday or Tuesday would be soon enough, as that was when I was due for my next INR test at the doctors office.

Fifteen minutes seemed like a long time for the 30 pound mutt to do her business, and I had drifted back to sleep. I was a bit startled when my wife returned, continuing the conversation that had started when she climbed out of bed. Commenting on, how the best time to call the Walgreens pharmacist was at 6:00 in the morning. She was perky, happy, bordering on manic, “I called the Walgreen’s Pharmacist and he said you can take these”. I opened a sleepy eye, my Nightingale in a white terry cloth robe was standing at my side of the bed; in the palm of her out stretched hand, two oval shaped tabs, blue on one side, white on the other; in her right, a 20 ounce glass of water, with the expectation that I would be drinking the whole thing.

Thanks Walgreen’s, for your twenty four hour service! Now I’ve got to pee; who drinks 20 ounces of water before they get out of bed! I sure am glad my wife and I weren’t discussing vasectomies! With their 24 hour hotline, a filleting knife, and two aspirin; no wait make that Tylenol, there are contraindications for aspirin and Warfrarin. Who knows what could have happened!

Talk to you later.

My First Day Back.

It was like it was August, 1969 all over again. Nine years old, I was in the 4th grade; it was my first day at a new school, in a new home, in a new state, and I was nervous. My mother had been to K-Mart, probably spending my father’s whole paycheck on all of our school supplies. At the time she had three kids in school and three at home, she appeared to be a whole lot happier about me going to school than I was.

Who knew?

Three new pencils, a spiral notebook, an eraser, a 24 pack of Crayola crayons, and a small bottle of Elmer’s White glue. In three weeks I would be cursing the easy flow spout, helplessly plugged up with small pieces of red and blue crey paper that some genius had stuffed in the bottle as a dyeing agent; transforming it from it’s familiar white emulsion to a psychedelic tie dye purple. It was years later that I finally made the connection that the friendly looking little bull on the label, probably represented the hooves of the friendly little bulls processed inside. We had rehearsed the route with  several dry runs from our house to my new school before it went into session, so that when the first day of school arrived I was ready.

So it felt strange to feel a similar twinge when I got up yesterday morning. It had been a while since I’d set the alarm for 4:45 a.m. but I didn’t have any trouble getting out of bed. The night before I’d set out my work clothes; on the kitchen counter I had several piles of keys, my employee access card, one pen, a Sharpie, and my pocket screw driver. I was ready to roll.

As I made my way into the living room and flicked on the overhead light, the dog who was splashed out on the couch, gave me the same “What the H*ll?” look that my wife did when I turned on the lamp at my night stand. Begrudgingly she gave me some room on the couch as I laced up my work boots. It was not unlike the reaction I get from my wife when I climb into bed and she yields to me my small patch of memory foam real estate.

Stuffing my pockets with keys, a pocket knife, and choking down my blood pressure medicine with a pomegranate juice chaser I made my way out the door. A quick pat down to confirm that I had my pen and Sharpie, I glanced to the dog who had returned to the dream she was in before I interrupted her, I closed the door turned the dead bolt and I was off.

Driving in Denver morning traffic takes on a “24 Hours of Le Mans” feeling to it, and the month off had softened my reaction times. Having made the transition from the entrance ramp to the 70 mile per hour traffic successfully, I turned on my radio; it seems to help calm my nerves as some fricking ass**** is trying to drive up my tailpipe… I needed calming.

Lefthand at 11.30 on the wheel I settled in, instinctively I felt my shirt pocket a quick reassuring check to see that every thing was there… crap I had forgotten my Texas Instrument TI 35 XA Scientific Calculator!

Images of 1969 returned as I made the corner and walked into the school playground… crap I fogot my HotWheels Lunch Box and thermos! We were probably in for a long day.

Talk to you later.

Naturally Buried.

My wife and I were driving down the road the today discussing… daydreaming, about ways she could supplement her income. Something to bring in some cash if the day ever came that she had to pull the plug… my plug, yeah it kind of worried me too!

I struggled to vanquish the morbid nature of the events that might be leading up to her need for financial stability and tried look at the upside. I had images  running through my head of hand knitted socks, little handmade snow boarder skull caps. I know of some women that make jewelry, or put up jellies and jams and sell them at craft fairs, or card, spin, and dye their own wool, some even going so far as raising their own flock. Cottage industry type affairs with labels that say “This garment was crafted with love, by Jann.”  You know, the kind of thing Grandmas might do.

As I describe my plans for her financial security, I notice it had become awfully quite on her side of the vehicle. I was  getting the feeling we may not be on the same page. Knowing that I was not following her path, I figured I’d better ask her what her thoughts were, I mean it was her dream not mine.

“I want to start a cemetery”. I reached over to the volume control on the car radio and turned it down, I could have sworn she said, cemetery. I tried to keep my eyes on the road, all the while fighting the urge check her pupils for a brain dysfunction.

“A what’?

“A cemetery, but this one would be different.”

I tried to keep my sarcasm to myself. “What, one that didn’t have dead people in it?” I really wanted to go with that, but since we had already had an argument this morning about a Jon Stewart video clip, that I lost, I figured I better hear her out.

“What do you mean by different?” It was hard, but I got the question out there.

“Well this would be an all natural cemetery, and wild life preserve.”

I swerved barely avoiding a pot hole in the road. I think I was the only one that saw it coming.

“What do you mean all natural?” I was intrigued. I mean I’d heard of all natural fibers, all natural ingredients… but all natural graves?

“You know, no wood coffins, just a hole in the ground, the body is wrapped in a cloth and buried. No grave makers either, people could come to the cemetery and find the spot were their loved one is buried using GPS coordinates. I’d rent them the handheld GPS, kind of like Geo-Caching for the dead”

Your loved one is planted here.

Thank G-d for the red light! “Honey! the city wouldn’t allow it!” At this point I hoped she was joking. I can usually tell when she’s joking. She looked at me blinked once looked forward and nodded, “The light’s green.” This didn’t feel like one of those moments.

I tried to reason with her; “Honey, there’s zoning and permits, where exactly would you put this all natural grave yard for the dead”.

“All I’d need is five acres, I could build a little house there, put in a garden, and set up a game preserve, it would be perfect. The city wouldn’t even have to know. Oh!, and I’d need a backhoe.”

A backhoe? Oh honey, you’re going to need a whole lot more than that.

Talk to you later.

“Come in Heparin One, do you read me. This is Hou-ton -alling”. The radio chatter in my helmet is intermittent. I rap the side of my head with the palm of my hand, hoping that the useless gesture with somehow improve the signal inside.

Houston can you hear me?

“Maintain the Enoxoparin at 300, but increase the feed of the Warfarin from 5 to 15. We have got to reduce the viscosity of the circulating fluid faster!”

“Roger Houston; holding 300, and increasing feed to 15″.

” Heparin One… has the Lisinopril stabilized the internal line pressure yet?”

“Roger Houston, line pressure stable and holding at acceptable levels”.

“Roger that Heparin One.”

“Oh and Heparin One?”

“Yeah Houston?”

“When you get back to Edwards in November… we need to bring her in to check your rear seal.”

“Roger that Houston.”

I feel like I’m piloting a space shuttle for the first time, awkward, second guessing myself, my reactions, and all those in charge. I don’t know how my in-laws do it, visiting the doctor two to three times a week adjusting medications, tweaking  pacemakers. When did all this become second nature for them?

I promised myself that I wouldn’t turn this site into “AJ has a pulmonary” but I keep finding myself getting caught up in it’s tidal undertow as it draws me out past the breakwaters. Frantically I flail my arms around in a feeble attempt to return to shore, only to draw the attention of some patrolling predator.

Today my wife and I are going over to our daughter and son in-laws home, to see their new puppy. Definitely not a grandchild, but I’m sure we should be able to dump enough doating accolades on the 8 pound kibble cruncher to feign  enthusiasm.

I’m just in a grumpy mood today I guess. Picking on puppies, arguing with my wife over some stupid U-Tube clip that I haven’t even watched. I think I’m just tired of all of it; the visits to the doctor, the examinations, the blood tests, the thing is, I don’t see an end to it yet. Tuesday another test, and a week of more self injections. They don’t hurt they’re just… a pain. Tomorrow I return to work for the first time in 4 weeks  and I think I’m a little nervous about that as well. I’ll be glad when I can get off this ride.

“Houston… this is Heparin One, hey we’ve encountered a little turbulence ahead.  What you say we back off on the stick a bit, and grab a cup of coffee.”

“Roger that H – One… but use the paper cups will ya, we don’t need any mishaps up there, remember last time!”

“10-4 Houston… H – One out.”

Talk to you later.


How the heck did this happen! I’d been on the look out for ‘it’ for the last ten years; and yet like the unanticipated crash of a seesaw being released at it’s apex, with me on one end, I suddenly realize I’ve moved beyond middle aged.

I think in part it was the accumulative affects of working with the law firm Schmeckle and Peck; who so skillfully assembled our Last Will and  Testaments, assigned my  Power of Attorney to my wife, and legalized the termination clause in my Living Will. The one that allows the UL rated cord to be pulled and severed from the G.F.C.I. outlet next to my bed, which drove home the fact.

Now wait just a minute!

I’ve never noticed it before, but over the last several weeks the question has come up way too often. They don’t even address the question to me! “Mrs. Gest? Do you have Medical Power of Attorney on your husband? Does he have a Living Will”? The admissions administrator causually nodding his head in my direction like I’m some sort of 6′-1″, 300 lbs carrot laying on the examining table! My wife sighs in relief: “Yes, yes he does.” What the hell is she relieved about! The whole affair made me very edgy as the poignant words from my Living Will peal through my brain, like the bells that tolled in the streets of Cologne in 1351. “In the event I lack the descional capacity to accept or reject medical or surgical treatment… my wife can pull the plug”! It was like a scene straight out of “Murder She Wrote” and the History Channel all rolled into one.

I told you I was watching too much daytime T.V!

There have been other signs of cresting that hill. The books on the kitchen table  “Property of The Aurora Public Library”, with their block letters printed in red ink along the fore edge of the publication; sporting catchy titles like “Death and Dying”,  “Is There A Life After Death”?, and her favorite “Shiva, the Jewish Ritual of Mourning”. Up until now I figured it was just all background noise, heck my father in-law is 87 years old.

But last Friday afternoon, before I was hit on the head with that stainless steel bed pan, my wife and I did something… well, it was just creepy. We went window shopping for cemeteries. Don’t ask me how I got hood winked into that one, I always thought of that as one of those things only old people did; kind of like discussing bowel movements with their loved ones, don’t get me going, that question has been brought up way too often as well!

Comforting in a creepy sort of way.

Oddly enough I enjoyed this shopping experience. There were no uncomfortable inseam measurements, and I didn’t have to exit a fitting room in my socks to see if the trousers were hanging properly. As we strolled through the graveyard, I felt like I was at Costco looking at the items on the shelf comparing the labels. It was as if I’d returned home after a long absence;  recognizing the Hebrew script but not being able to put a name to the face.

Today as I went driving by ‘Oldtimer Acres’, I caught momentary glimpses of octogenarians playing bingo through the pane glass windows. Their images slightly obscured by the reflections of automobiles as we went speeding by, I let out my own sigh of relief. Not yet buddy, not by a long shot!

Talk to you later.