Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Inez, Can I Please Have My Cigarette?" From The Memoirs

The title refers to a request made four times a day by an Army Captain I once knew, respected and yup ---- loved. If he's reading this from Heaven or Hell (probably the latter) he's probably making puking noises right about now.

After high school and before college, my Dad thought it was time for me to learn some humility, so he got me a job at Pine Knoll Nursing Home here in Carrollton. The reason my father thought I needed taking down a notch or two was because, in his opinion, I had gotten full of myself playing drums in a rock group, so he got me this job to supplement my income from the weekend gigs. I was 17 at the time.

Captain Williams had both legs shot off in WWII, and after being discharged to the VA hospital in Atlanta, finally wound up in the Nursing Home in Carrollton. He served in a paratrooper regiment - don't remember which one, but it could have been the 82nd Airborne. In addition to bathing him and helping with other bodily functions, it was also my job to light his cigarettes. He got 4 a day. They and a shot of Jack Daniels at bedtime were pretty much his only enjoyment. He had no family that I knew of. No one ever came to visit him except some old Army buddies. They meant well, I know that, but I wish they would have come more often; it was one of the few times I saw him smile with sparkling eyes.

During my breaks, I would head straight to his room, sit down and listen to some of his war stories. I wish I had written them down and/or taped them, but I was 17 and full of myself, remember?
He and I had a great relationship as far as it went. I got him extra cigarettes and helped him hoard his booze and one night after I got off (at 11) he and I got plastered together. I don't know how I managed to make it home to Villa Rica, because I was as drunk as Cooter Jones when I finally left.
One of the night shift nurses was a pretty cool chick and turned a blind eye to what was going on in room 15, and made sure the Captain looked bright-eyed and bushy tailed the next morning. He always wore a dour expression, so it wasn't noticeable to anyone who didn't know that he was hung over.

And so it went. Every time I was on duty and not working with other patients, everyone knew where I could be found. On my off-days a date and I would stop and say a quick hello. At those times he was an "Officer and A Gentleman". Until the next day, when he'd critique the poor girl.

One day we learned that Captain Williams had been diagnosed with lung cancer. A lifetime of smoking had finally taken its toll and he was dying.

I have to say he took it pretty well. May even have been relieved - it was hard to tell, but here is what I could never understand: Why in the HELL did they continue to limit his smoking to 4 a day???? He was dying and the smokes gave him some pleasure, so WTF???

Later on, in my forties and working as a respiratory therapist, I thought back on those days and Captain Williams and one day decided to stop my "preaching" to adults about not smoking. "They're adults," I reasoned, "and they made their choice. If it's to continue smoking, who am I to stand in their way?" So from there on out unless someone came to me to ask about quitting, I stayed silent.

Shoot me.

So hell, I bought him smokes and smuggled them in. If any of the nurses or other orderlies were any the wiser, they kept their mouths shut. I'll always be grateful for that, because they felt the same way I did about this sadistic sonofabitch doctor who would not lift the smoking "regulation".

One day I came to work late, got a quick report and went to see my friend, but his room was empty. I didn't need to be told, he went downhill quickly after the diagnosis and with "Sister Morphine" on board, he was beginning his journey to the Elysian Fields.

So I sat down on his bed, cried and imagined him hovering over me shouting for me to shut my "goddam" mouth and get to work. He cussed like a sailor, did  Army Captain Williams, but his heart was pure gold. Many was the time he gave me gas money or helped with buying a new tire. It was against policy, of course, but he always found a way around that particular protocol.

I have a lifetime (his lifetime) of history in my head because of our talks. Mostly about the war; Glen Miller's music (the Captain played clarinet); being sitting ducks trying to land in a war zone as the Germans shot them out of the sky like the hunters many of them were. He even taught this German Boy a little bit about how to please a woman in bed.

He taught me a lot, my friend the Captain, and without meaning to (or maybe he meant to all along) he taught me what I needed to learn: Humility.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Going Home In A Few Weeks

September 4th, actually, and I don't know for sure, but it may be my last time to visit my friends and family. Not only because of my illness, but also because of the state of affairs our world is in right now.

Israel and Palestine have taken their war so far as to kill children and neither one wants to back down, both saying "Well, HE started it!", which is such a childish attitude it makes me want to vomit.

As of today, Egypt has brokered yet another Cease-Fire, but who knows how long that will last? have you figured out yet who the "good guys" are? In this instance, there aren't any. Oh, there are some good men maybe, but they are silent. If they'd speak, I believe they would say something like this as they took their fingers off the buttons and triggers: "Screw this! I'm not killing old folks, women or children anymore!" ---- If enough of them did that on both sides, what do you think would happen?

"Okay enough, Bill!" I hear can almost hear you saying.

Almost done. Bear with me for another sentence or two, please?

Okay, do I want to go home badly enough to risk being shot out of the sky with a missile shot by....... who......? Well, it could be anyone representing whatever cause, couldn't it? But yes, I do want to go home that badly. Besides, that missile could have been launched at anytime from anywhere, so what does it matter? Yes, I worry it might happen, but it might happen that I slip in the tub and bust my ass too, so it's an acceptable risk.

What isn't an acceptable risk is the Ebola Virus. While it is relatively hard to catch (it isn't airborne as yet), people in Africa are dying and except for an experimental serum, there's no cure. And it is fast. It incubates for 21 days during which time the number of people which could contract the disease would multiply exponentially.

I won't bother explaining the symptomology to you - you'll know all of that soon enough, if not already and hopefully not personally. Meanwhile, stay away from other peoples' pee and poop, and for God's sake wash your nasty hands! Here's a little tip to teach you how long to wash them: As you wash, sing "Happy Birthday" to yourself and scrub the hell out of those hands as you do. Do it a bunch of times a day every day of the year and then guess what ? Chances are good that one day you'll be singing that little song and really mean it!

So yeah. That one scares me. It scares me a lot. It scares me more than the damn disease I already have. Dementia can be measured to a certain degree. Not by time, of course, but visually and by testing cognitive functions. Ebola, though is a sneaky bitch and you won't even know she's riding you until it's too late. I plan to avoid her like the, uh..... plague. So to speak.

So one way I plan to minimize my risks is to watch where I am and where I go. This time I fly into Düsseldorf, not Frankfurt. Frankfurt is a hub for so many countries, so many cultures. So many people who may not even know the meaning of the word "hygiene", let alone how to practice it. Maybe "Aunt Rosa" has a present for the folks in Stuttgart. Only she doesn't know she has a present for them. It'll be a ....... SURPRISE!!!

Another thing I want is to learn how to straddle a toilet the way ladies do...without letting my butt touch any part of the seat. Paper napkin at a restaurant in a dispenser? Pull out the first one and throw it away. Hell, pull out the first 50 and throw those away! Better yet, bring your own.

Oh, you can bet your ass people are going to get a crash course in how to avoid dying. Maybe this time they will actually listen and learn. They may even keep the rest of us from dying. Wouldn't that be something, friends and neighbors? We'll be able to Rock'n Roll a while longer!


Ah yes. The vacation. This time my pretty wife Dondra won't be able to go. So far this year there have already been three hospitalizations, her knees are shot and she won't be able to handle the walking.

We did plan for contingencies, however:

1. If she gets sick by the time I leave, I'm not leaving.

2. If the world's problems get worse, I'm not leaving. That part will be out of my hands

3. Finally, if I'm home in Germany and she gets sick, I'm on the next plane home anyway.

"So why go then, ya selfish Bastard?", you ask as you throttle me by the neck.

She wants me to, for one thing. For another, she feels fine right now. If she gets to not feeling fine, see #1.

Another reason is my Uncle Bernd. He too is in ill health and has the same precariously balanced life that Dondra does. He's my last living relative. The last part of my Mother's life. Yeah, it could happen to him at any time too, so this might be my last opportunity to see him. Both he and I realize this and have discussed it. He helped make the rules of the trip.

So all is understood. Whether you, dear friend understand them is immaterial. The reason I even brought it up is because you are a part of my life. Because I invited you in, you get to know all the stuff that's going on.


I will be spending my entire time in my beloved Rothenburg ob der Tauber. I had plans to travel elsewhere using Rothenburg as "home base", but my aunt, uncle and cousins will be coming there and I will spend as much time with them as possible. I will also be seeing my best friend Peter Holstein and his family.


So there it is, my friends: You are all up to date. As much as is possible, anyway, without you sitting on my shoulders 24-7. Thanks for reading as always, and please remember to help me feed the animals by clicking on the link at the end.

Bye for now and take care of yourselves!


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