Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Sheer Lunacy

There is a belief that the full moon brings out the madness in people. Lunacy is a term derived from  the Latin for  moon, luna so the connection between madness and the state of the moon has been established for a good long while. I read a modern discussion about the apparent connection between the moon and madness and the author suggested people may act crazy on well illuminated nights simply because the night on those occasions is not dark. It's not the moon, but it's the quantity of light reflected from the moon that makes people act up.
I resist these folk tales and fanciful explanations for the mundane but there is no doubt lunacy has been sweeping the nighttime streets of Key West. One character was wide awake the other night, a name well known t night shift police as he has a habit of going off the rails. The other night Manish was so far off the reservation he managed to take our breath away in dispatch, a place where we tend to hear the weirdest things about our neighbors.
Nick took the first call with a sigh and listened to a long outpouring of invective as Manish accused officers of violating his home. Then he hung up. Then again he called back and I took the call. He  screeched at me, blaming me for the violation of his home. He called me an eight dollar an hour monkey and threatened to rape me. He kept screaming "faggot" at both Nick and I as the night progressed. I found myself wondering what was really going on in his derangement as his anger on those occasions when the demons take over always expresses itself in love of money and hatred for gays.
Far be it for me to diagnose the madness but listening to him describe in painful detail how he plans to rape me with his giant penis is not a cause for alarm as this sort of thing happens all the time when callers are scared and angry and feel helpless. I wish there was more we could do than try to simply tamp down the symptoms, but in he end he is so insistent with his calls every couple of minutes we send officers to try to convince him to stop. Their visit helps inasmuch as the threats diminish and his calls become please for help. That leaves you wondering what on earth you can do for him. Eventually he sips off into sleep and the phone calls  stop. Normal service resumes in the 911 center. For us its a victory if we can juggle his screams for help while continuing the business of sending help to those who need it.
The full moon will be back soon enough but for now the nights will slowly be getting darker and I hope Manish's mind will be getting lighter. I find my early morning walks with Rusty are the perfect antidote to listening to the various streams of invective all night long. Just like Rusty shown above shaking off excess water from his fur, I shake off the night's madness.
I was pondering the weirdness of full moon nights, he domestic squabbles, the drunkenness and the general lack of civility when a job seeker was asking me about my job. That's when the nutty nature of my work strikes home. I am forced to confront the fact most people don't deal with this stuff when they go to work. Most people shuffle paper and deal with annoying people in the ordinary  way at their jobs while my colleagues and I sit there and wait for the deluge of nonsense to flood over us. The candidate thought better of it and is I believe applying for a more sensible, if less well paid job.
I don't think I could go back to a  nine to five Monday through Friday job. I am so used to what I do when I show up  that dealing with Manish and his madness or the guy who calls at random blurting out anti-Cuba  slogans is just part of  the night's work. I wouldn't mind if the full moon didn't concentrate so many of them into just a few nights each month bu a hectic pace makes the night go by. I'm coming up on fifteen years of answering 911 in Key West and the thought has only just occurred to me that this is not a normal job. There again I ask myself, what is?
And no one else has Rusty there to help them keep their feet on the ground.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

How Are You?

How are you? That loaded question in my life requires more of a reply from me these days than a simple formulaic reply. I have never found much appeal in the pat reply -I'm fine thanks. And these days when people who haven't seen me for a while ask that polite question they are actually trying to elicit a real response. They follow up with -How are your legs? Well, they are still attached I want to say. Sometimes I offer my party piece and squeeze out an unsupported squat. I'm fine, I'll tell them.
Yes indeed the bionic man walks. He walks his dog and stretches his legs and goes to work and drives a car and rides a scooter when it's not raining with summertime tropical intensity.  He wonders too why he is alive at all. There is no escaping it: life goes on. 
I have been reading about near death experiences lately and I am struck by the search for scientific rigor in pursuit of the unknowable.  Everyone would like proof of life after death it seems and travel to the edge of  existence is supposed to offer tantalizing hope of proving that which cannot be proved. My own experience proves nothing, as I failed utterly to find anything other than a profound detachment from the here and now. I did not go down a tunnel of light, I did not see life forms or people from my past though I was hoping to meet my previous dogs as I lay there and wandered away from the scene of the accident. I felt a great detachment, an annoyance that I had run out of time, and a feeling of lassitude in a silence that was not part of the busy scene of disaster I left behind.
I spoke recently to a woman who suffered a sudden and acute loss of blood after childbirth and found herself fading away and while she saw darkness encroaching while I never did, we shared many similar symptoms. There was a sense of serenity and silence, an abstraction of self in her case from the doctors trying to "save" her, and also like my own experience she found dying to be physically comfortable and easy. Neither of us floated out of our bodies nor did we follow a light down a  tunnel but we were both aware of the death we were floating towards. My conversation with this woman gave me a fresh insight into  what happened on the highway last August.
I have had strange glimpses of similar experiences among police officers at work, sturdy men, no women among them in this case, men who suffered physical torment in previous jobs, military men shot on the battlefield especially who in an unguarded moment talked to me about  those moments they usually feel unable to share. I found myself accepted only by virtue of what was essentially an accident, not a wilful act, a pursuit of heroism or a distinction gained on a battlefield. It was only a  momentary twitch of a curtain that they pulled back briefly, an admission of what they see as weakness to a fellow traveler. I find myself unexpectedly sympathetic now to the travails of PTSD sufferers. I notice handicapped access or lack thereof, and I am reminded frequently of my time spent in a wheelchair living on faith that I would walk again, but I never expected to find an opening into the world of post trauma stress. Yes indeed when you ask how I am I barely know how to answer.
Webb Chiles wrote on his web page words that have stirred my thoughts:
"  I have written that April 29, 2019, ended the ‘being’ part of my life.  Whatever value and meaning my life has is already established by what I have done and written in the past forty-four years.  I expect that I will do more, but it ill be incremental, not determining.
One cannot, in the world in which the rest of us live, plan out a life the way he has, yet the simplicity of the sentiment, the narrow and focussed determination to do from a young age, resembles only the life lived by extraordinary people. The rest of us need not be concerned that we live our modest lives at random. For my own part I never did see a grand plan to my life. I responded to stimuli and when life with my family grew unbearable I high tailed it to California only as a place to catch my breath far outside the scope of my insular European family members. That I settled in the Golden State was a fluke and when the opportunity presented itself I married the woman and settled down with no great plan of action in mind. Yet I suppose that's how most of us live, with occasional bursts of planning and forethought thrown in.
My Catastrophe has forced me to put a big bold period in the middle of my life. There is the before and there is the after and I am struggling to come to terms with what this means. Like the act of dying itself which I found to be serene  in large part and peaceful, physically comfortable and devoid of pain, the act of living now has to be carried out with a certain serenity. I frequently tell myself I am living on borrowed time as it seems to me my physical destruction was such I could not reasonably have been expected to live. When the paramedics brought me back to Earth and I came to myself and found my mind on a  stretcher being asked necessary but annoying questions I don't think neither they nor I expected me to see another sunrise. The nurse at the hospital told my wife to brace herself for the worst. Which leave sme wondering what to do with this allocation of extra time in my life.
In conversations with a particular doctor in Intensive Care I pointed out my family has a history on my mother's side of dying young, that in fact I have outlived generations of my Italian ancestors. The doctor told me to be prepared to live for a while as I am apparently endowed with physical strength. I think he meant it by way of encouragement but instead I have managed to take those words and mix them up with Webb's thoughts on living an intentional life and I wonder what the hell am I supposed to do now? Should I engage in intentional living even though it seems a bit late in my life to do that, and yet the point here is that if I do have years ahead, far more than expected, nothing in life need be "too late."
I wish I had a more colorful story to tell of seeing visions or encountering angels or devils but the facts are bald and simple while the feelings left behind are not. I find my physical return to normal isn't matched by an ability to leave behind the memories and feelings that swirl through my mind. There was never a question in mind that others could benefit from my experiences in the hospital and the long process of physical recovery but I have seen why it is that so many people prefer not to speak about the mental changes brought about by near death. The funny thing is I remember my own feelings of  evasion when faced by a person who had been mangled by some accident in life, civilian or military. I don't apportion blame for others not wanting to confront my own descent into introspection. The more time passes the more I seek solitude and  I wonder if that is the correct path forward. Perhaps it is, as every civilization needs its hermits.
Rusty doesn't care what I think about as we walk, though I wonder what he would think if he kew I have every intention of taking him travelling with us when we retire. He likes coming home and checking things out after he has been away for even a few days. I can't imagine what he will think of spending weeks away in a camper van. I do know that since I returned from the hospital he has been much closer to me than previously.  When we go for walks he checks in on me and makes sure I'm okay on the trail. He is much more inclined to be near me at home as though he is aware of my close shave and doesn't want to lose sight of me. He isn't clingy but when I call him he comes bounding and is happy to share a couch or an excessively large share of the bed for at least a little while before he goes off to do his thing out of my sight.
So how am I doing? On the whole I would say well enough. I walk with a slight limp but I am gaining strength and flexibility all the time as one would expect after so many classes at the gym, so many hours of Broga  pretzels. That's the easy part, getting back the physical strength I had before the motorcycle wreck. The hard part is figuring out how to live well in the wake of that blaze of consciousness that reminded me  how short and uncertain our time really is.
I'm doing pretty well at faking it in public. I answer questions about my time in the hospital and in rehab, I try to reassure the timid that I am not at death's door still, and I am not scarred by the experience, but I do refrain from talking about that other thing that sits silently picking at my mind. Now I have this extra time, am I using it well? Am I living intentionally? Am I being as Webb might say? Is this borrowed time being borrowed to good effect? What could I do better is a constant refrain.
It's hard to convince people in real life that any good can come of such a wreck as I lived through. Yet to me there are good things that happened  all the way along. Not only did I learn what hospitals are like from the inside, I am now in a position not to be afraid of the unknown and when the time comes for me to return to a hospital I shall be better equipped than ever to cope. I have  attained  a level of serenity regarding my mortality, even if I have not come to terms exactly with the immediate prospect of my death. I now know I should have not freaked some people out with the notion that good can come from bad, but I don't regret sending back reports of my life changing hospital stay, an experience not often talked about in polite society. I value my own opinion more than I used to and trust my instincts with more assurance than before. I still think of Nikki with gratitude for her kindness at the accident scene even though I cannot remember her presence at my side as I was off exploring other realms at the time- and I might add conversing with her  while I was away. How I did that I have no idea. If my musings have helped you I am glad; if they have confused you I apologize, the fault is mine not yours. My only word of advice is not to fear death, for as far as I can tell the experience itself is not at all unpleasant. I wish I could say with certainty what happens to those of us who do not come back but I have no idea based in experience.
Meanwhile life has to be lived and we all have to navigate amongst people who confuse us and misunderstand us and fail to trust us. The trick I am finding is to try not to worry too much and keep on keeping on. In answer to the original question: fine thanks and I hope you are too.

Monday, June 17, 2019


After a few days away I was pleased to find myself alone in the wilderness with my dog.
 I find these morning walks invaluable in resetting my internal clock after a night spent in the company of 911 callers.
 This time of year the spandex brigades are plaguing roads Up North and it's just me and Rusty and the breeze blowing through the bushes.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Stock Island

The good thing about having a dog is that when you have a chore to do your companion animal can ease the boredom. Case in point: the car needed a check up on Stock Island so after I dropped it off at Oily's  shop I took Rusty for his morning constitutional. First we walked past the shrimp docks:
 Commercial fishing is still an important part of Stock Island's economy, as is the general sort of light industry that keeps modern civilization going. Stock Island boasts some modern affordable housing too, in the form of Meridian West where working people can afford to rent.
Stock Island is unincorporated so the County doesn't require sidewalks or other such niceties. It  tends to look a little chaotic and freewheeling which is  a pleasant contrast to Key West. There is talk from time to time of incorporating Stock island into the city   but it's hard to imagine how Key West could subdue the gentle non conformity of this place into the more rigidly run city.
Stock Island offers these kinds of  homes to the low income workforce that keeps Key West functioning. As much as they may look run down these trailers are a resource that, if replaced could push out people who are barely hanging on. 
There are development plans for Stock island and they have been stewing for a good many years. New marinas and new hotels are cropping up along the waterfront and plans were revealed in the newspaper a few months ago for major developments near highway one displacing dozens of trailer park residents.  If these eyesores go,, the question becomes how do residents pay for better quality housing?
 The fact is developers aren't looking to improve the quality of life of the working poor. This sort of development has turned Key West into a city of second homes, and commuting between Key West and the satellite islands has become the norm. It's not easy to live and work in Key West anymore.
 Order is coming to Stock Island, and with it wealth, ad even though its been a long a long time coming the changes are starting to make themselves visible around the edges. 
You don't see auto body shops, welders or back hoe operators in Key West where real estate is too expensive to support normal life functions. What happens when they get pushed out of Stock Island will be interesting.
The car was fine but I needed new front tires. Mike the mechanic asked me where I get my tires as there are no tire shops left in Key West. Banner Tire has become a Sonic burger shop and Sears Auto has apparently given up doing tires. Mike my mechanic was wondering what to do and I told him about my tir resource in Marathon, 50 miles away. My buddy Nick orders tires online and has a mobile mechanic come by his apartment in Key West and installs them there. These are the compromises life requires in this peculiar place. 
Today it's tire shops that have been run out of town. I dread the day when the last motorcycle mechanic packs his bags and heads north. Or the last fisherman, or plumber or builder. It feels like the day is coming.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

A Slow Ride Home

It is a fact of life in my world that every day pretty much starts with a dog walk, and if Rusty is impatient so much the worse, I go earlier.
 St Petersburg has alleys all across the city ideal for a curious dog. 
 And the city deploys vast trash cans, big enough to hide a body or two.
 And it rained a fair bit while we were there.

One mural struck me, which was representation of the building on the St Petersburg Pier as an apocalyptic alien.
Which turned out not to be not so as they are apparently rebuilding what we used to call "The Martian Embassy."
 The Apollo Beach power station across Tampa Bay. I used to sail there for a weekend away when I lived on my boat at Demen's Landing where I took this picture.
 We were not alone but might as well have been. They were on a  mission.
Demen's Landing is a pretty waterfront park and marina. I enjoyed living here before I sailed for the Bahamas and returned to Key West.
Our trip home was interrupted by a  few stops at RV dealers along the way. Retirement looms and we like to plan for the future which in our case will involve some travel and as we have a dog it won't be by boat. RVs take enormous amounts of research to figure out  and I have all sorts of anxiety looking at machines that move but contain all the paraphernalia for living. Even in a  20 foot camper van; it is quite astonishing how complex these machines are and it takes ages to figure out what feels right. Never mind paying for the thing. We found that moving onto a boat and traveling was made much easier by devoting time to getting used to the boat and actually using it and we plan to apply the same principle here. However I'm getting a headache figuring it out. 
Spending time with RV salesmen was not a highlight but we found time to stop and walk the very patient hound along the way. I figure Rusty wll enjoy the walks when traveling but he is a homebody and he likes getting back to the house. I let him out of the car and he takes a turn around his domain checking whats been going on in his absence and only joins us later in the house. 
The Miccosukee gas station is usually a good spot for a walk along Alligator Alley in the middle of the state. Don't speed around here as the Tribal Police are fierce and always on patrol in this section of their land. They are also building some magnificent construction here. I caught a glimpse on a billboard of what appeared to be a ravishing resort. Or something, as the billboard flashed by and there is nothing I could find online about it.
 A useful stop but not brilliant in the middle of nowhere.
 I've never seen pumps this decrepit but I hope they dispense as promised.
Enough to get me 200 miles home. And a tired dog to bed.