A 48 year old secret that I want to tell you…

As this Sunday dawns. I stand at the threshold of my 48th year….and it’s time that I revealed the secret burden that I’ve been hiding from you the last few months.

This may divert from my usual “gee, this past year kinda sucked but was kinda OK” birthday post.

Because this last year was freaking AMAZING.

The kind of year of my life that I had always dreamed and hoped for.

It wasn’t perfect.  But it was jaw-dropping at times…in all the best ways.

And a 47 year old mystery dissolved in a matter of minutes and a lifelong burden lifted.

Some of you may know that I was adopted when I was six weeks old.  For some adoptees, myself included, this comes with a wagonload of questions, issues, etc.

Speaking for myself, I spent most of my life feeling unwanted and out of place, even with my own family and those closest to me.   At home, at work, it didn’t matter.  Apparently it’s quite common among adoptees, and I empathize with those among us who fought that battle in their life.

I always knew that I was adopted.  It was never a secret, my parents told me from the moment that I was able to comprehend the concept.

And as kids are wont to do, I used that in shitty ways.  I remember my mom being mad at me for something and my reply was “Well I’m gonna go find my REAL parents” (Sorry Mom) or words to that effect.

Of course I never did.

Until this past March.

The law preventing adoptees from accessing their original birth certificate was quietly changed in Missouri a couple of years ago and as of January 1, 2018 adoptees can now request their original birth records…so I did.

Unless you have no idea what your biological roots are, you may not have any idea how powerful the concept of not knowing who you are or where you came from can be.  Now I did a DNA study a couple of years ago, which answered a few questions and you can find a post about it on this blog.

After sending in my requests, the months of agonizing wait ensued until a chilly Friday in March, when a nondescript envelope was waiting for me when I got home from work.

I’m pretty sure that I was weeping before the envelope was fully opened.  Nope.  I’m positive that I was.  In fact, I pretty well cried that whole weekend and freaked the shite out of my kids who I kept trying to reassure between bouts of tears that I really was okay.

I called my sister before I even left the mailbox.  She’s also adopted (from a different family) and would understand better than anyone what I was going through.  We cried together on the phone and I promised to keep her informed as to anything I found out.

Here’s what I found out:

My birth name was Robert John.

This surprised me because I had fully expected to see “Baby Boy Jones” or something along those lines.

And it also listed my birth mother’s name but no father’s name.  Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, in literally 5 minutes, I located a likely individual matching the name, approximate age and profession (my parents had always told me that my birth mother was a nurse.)

I studied her Facebook profile, poring over her photos and wondered…could this be she?

Then I pondered what to do for several days.  I realized that I was opening a 47 year old can of worms and possibly disrupting a peaceful life for her which was nothing that I took lightly.  I did not want this to be a negative experience for anyone.  I’m not that selfish.

The following Wednesday, I wrote a carefully worded letter and mailed it to the address that I had found with no expectations.  In the letter, I expressed my thought that she could POSSIBLY be my birth mother and if she she was indeed my birth mother, I would understand if she could not respond to this letter, for whatever reason.

A few days later, I was elbow deep in replacing the rear brakes on my girlfriend’s car when my cell phone rang.  I saw the area code and knew instantly who it was.  I grabbed my phone and hustled to my car to have some privacy for this moment.

For the first time ever in my 47 years, I heard my birth mother’s voice.

Her voice was soft and kind as she confirmed that she was indeed my birth mother.  She told me my birth father’s name and gave me a bit of the history of what happened.

I tried to keep it together and keep the conversation from getting too emotional.  We ended the conversation after about 20 minutes agreeing to keep the line of communication open.

The feelings that followed are hard to put into words.

All I can say is I have a sense of peace about who I am and where I came from.

And a tremendous sense of relief.  I had a host of fears about this contact.  None of them came true.

I have creeped on my biological father’s Facebook page.  My birth mother told me that he looks like Mark Twain.  She’s not very far off.  But I’ve taken no steps to communicate with him.  I just have this gut feeling that it won’t go well.  Knowing who he is is enough for me now.

And for the first time in my life, I am celebrating my birthday knowing exactly what had escaped me for all my years prior.

Join me as I raise my glass to 48, Daniel Gerard/Robert John.  Thanks to all of your for being a part of the journey.  If 48 is anything like 47, I’m in for a hell of good year!

 

 

 

 

 

Restless spirits speak at Old Baptist Cemetery ~ Hannibal, MO

Years ago, I watched an old cemetery caretaker locate occupied, unmarked graves using dowsing rods. George was a devout Christian, yet seemed to have no issues utilizing this bit of witchery to accomplish his tasks.
Last Wednesday, using the same technology, I conversed with some restless souls at old Baptist Cemetery in Hannibal.
It was ostensibly your standard haunted tour, with stops at various decaying structures and stories of “what happened one time” but I did NOT expect the tour to end this way.

It was hotter than Hades, with barely a breath of breeze stirring except when our tour trolley was in motion. There was the expected aforementioned stops and tour guide banter, but as the trolley struggled up the last hill to reach Old Baptist Cemetery, the energy changed. The evening cicadas sang and ancient headstones leaned drunkenly, if they stood at all. Years of obvious neglect had left it in a shambles, and the professional side of me cast a slight frown on the use of a cemetery for tourism, but all that vanished when the dead began to speak.
I got my pair of dowsing rods, grasping them as George had shown me years before, and cleared my mind of any expectation or anticipation.

Then they moved.

They aimed to my left so I turned and they straightened as I faced their desired direction. My footfalls were soft, deliberate as I followed each gentle swing of the rods. Finally, I found myself at a clump of shrubbery, with a jumble of headstones underneath.
The conversation was silent, all mental, with the rods speaking for the other side. If the tips touched, the answer was yes. If they didn’t move, it was no.

Is this where I’m supposed to be?
Yes

Are you buried here?
Yes

I wanted to take a picture of the stones, but it didn’t seem right to do so with asking.
May I take a picture of the headstones?
Yes.
I moved some branches aside and snapped a few camera shots, including the one above.

I didn’t know what to ask next so I turned and started to see where to check out next.
The rods quickly swung around, pointing back to the headstones I just turned away from.
OK, I thought. Unfinished business.

We aren’t done visiting yet?
No

Is there something I can do for you?
A pause…
Yes

I had a strange feeling coming about me… not necessarily sadness but more of gentle anger, if that makes sense.

Are you upset?
Yes

I wasn’t sure what to ask next. Then thought occurred:

Would you like me to say a prayer for you? (Now this goes against my heathen nature, but in days of old it was tradition to pray when visiting the graves of family.)
Yes

Are you a Christian?
Yes
I mustered out a prayer that this restless soul would find peace and rest in the next world.
I paused for a moment, thanked and bid farewell to this soul and turned to see if the rods would swing back that way.

They didn’t.

I had a shorter experience at some toppled markers along the tree line. In short, I think they just wanted their presence known.

Now, as this experience unfolded, I had memory of visiting a palm reader and spiritualist a few years back. As she touched my hands, she yanked them back almost immediately, almost as if she had gotten an electric jolt from me.

She seemed very unsettled and surprised as she stammered out a question.

Have you had a lot of relatives die recently?

Ummm nope.

She continued “I see death all around you” and it obviously didn’t sit well with her.

I smiled. I told her that it was probably my job.

And with that, she relaxed. That makes sense, she said.

She went on to say that I had a unusually large number of spirits attached to me.

Now that surprised me.

She explained that they were attracted to me because of the kindness I had shown them.

Them?

She smiled. Yes. Don’t you realize that very often you are the last person to touch their physical form on Earth?

I guess that I had never thought about it, but it sort of made sense.

She closed her eyes. There’s one in particular right out front. A little boy, 8 or 9, maybe. Dark hair. He’s very close to you.

At that moment, I realized exactly who she was talking about. One of the worst funerals I ever had to do. A true heart breaker. A nine year old who died in a house fire. His service was so stressful that I had started smoking again because of it.

I asked her if there were any spirits attached that I needed to be concerned about. She said no. No evil or ill intent found among them.

As I stood in that cemetery, I decided that I would ask if she was right.

Are there spirits attached to me?
Yes

Is one a little boy named Brian?
Yes

Are there any spirits attached that I need to worry about?
No

At that point, the tour guide summoned us all to return to the bus. Others with me had some experiences just as interesting. If you find yourself in Hannibal, take the tour. Place your skepticism aside and take a walk through Old Baptist with an open mind. Ask questions that only you know the answer too.

My guess is that you’ll find the answers among the tombstones.

The unexpected magic of an ancient cat…

minka2

Allow me to introduce you to Minka… she’s 21 years old (101 human years old, according to Cat World)… she’s a tiny little lady, with a soft rusty purr and and a crabby sounding meow.  She’d rough-looking and graying but carries herself with the never-ending pride of cat attitude.  She’s fighting the ailments of any geriatric cat and she lives at a local animal clinic that was going to be closed over the holiday weekend.  And I got roped into cat-sitting her.

I had no idea how happy she would make me.

This little lady gave me such a warm sense of the holiday… it’s hard to put into words.

She spend the holiday weekend in the warm carpeted confines of my son’s closet, which she took to immediately.  She got lots of attention and love, mainly from my boy who was happy to volunteer his room for her guest room.

For some unusual reason, the knowledge that there’s a good chance that this would be her last Christmas gave me a tremendous sense of purpose.  If the cat gods call her home before next December 25, I will have the satisfaction of knowing that her final Christmas was not spent alone in a steel cage, but taking naps with a teenager curled up on the floor next to her… gentle face rubs and lots of friendly words.

Sometimes, I would sneak away from the family activities to run upstairs and lay on the floor.  She’d rouse herself from her soft, warm bed to come greet me, get a few pats and issue a gravelly meow and then head back to her bed to relax.

And that was enough to put me back into a great holiday spirit.

An act of kindness towards someone (or something) that can never repay you is an exquisite feeling.  It’s indescribable.  It’s as if you’re making a deposit back into that Bank of the Universe that has shown you the occasional kindness or stroke of good fortune.  And it allows you to feel grateful for all the good things that you enjoy in your life.

The beauty of magic (especially Christmas magic) is that you can’t predict the source or timing… but even an ancient cat can be the gateway for a little magic of your own.

This won’t be a lengthy post.  Just enough to say thank you to Minka.  Thank you for spending the holiday with us.  Thanks for the rusty purrs as you got your face rubbed.  Thanks for helping Christmas feel like Christmas again.   And if you’re still with us next Christmas, you’ve got a standing reservation at my place and the welcome mat is out.

And to you, dear readers, may 2018 bring you magic, happiness and peace.

A Suicide In My Brain

“Man looks into the abyss, and there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that’s what keeps him out of the abyss.” – Wall Street

A few months back, a high school classmate posted his suicide note on Facebook. Although I hadn’t laid eyes on him in 25+ years, I joined the frantic effort from his friends and family members in vain attempts to reach out to him. Hours passed, and while I knew that he had seen some of my messages, he stopped looking at them or responding.
My spirit bottomed out. I feared that our efforts would be fruitless, wasted with a culmination on some lonely dead end road.
It stirred up a black swirl of my own memories, when dark days prior to my separation and divorce led to even darker days that followed it.
Many nights spent lost in shadowy thoughts. Where internal debate rages between the fear of death and the pain of life and like some evil role call every single misstep and bad decision comes prancing out of lightless corners in the mind and each one happy to burden the scales in favor of ending it all.
Voices from nowhere reminding me what I waste I was, how I had squandered my life, ruined my family, destroyed my finances…
The gift of words that I had been blessed with I rarely used.
I felt that I had disappointed so many people.
Why was I continuing to remain here? What was the point?

I don’t endorse/condone suicide in any way, shape or form.(I don’t include terminal disease/medically assisted cases in this)

But I understand it.
Oh do I ever.
When the burdens grew nearly intolerable…I called my best friend and handed my gun over to him to keep. I told him that I was worried about security at the extended stay hotel I was at, but it was so much more than I could bear to talk to even him about. I asked him to hold onto it for safekeeping.
I let him hold onto it for months.

Until the internal debate simmered down.
Until I felt like my head was on straight.
Until I felt like I could breathe again.
Until I could look my children in the face and not feel like I was collapsing into a emotional disaster.
Until the dark thoughts finally dissipated.
Until I realized that there was hope.
Until I allowed myself to feel the love of those who rallied around me.
Until I could study the sunset and look forward to tomorrow.

As I write this, there is a story on Yahoo about Katy Perry and her own experience with suicidal thoughts. Even the young, wealthy, famous, gorgeous aren’t immune from the siren’s song…

And if there’s a battle raging inside of you or someone you know, act and act quickly. For your own good. For the sake of your loved ones. Because there is always hope. There’s always good things in the future. There is always a reason to keep on living.

As for my high school classmate, he was found at a hospital. I don’t have all of the details except the most important one…he is alive.
And for that I am thankful.

My first almost girlfriend… rest in peace

Allow me to grovel at my extended absence from this blog.  Life had delivered a few sharp blows that sucked the wind right out of my writer’s sails…but today, I saw something that forced me back to the keyboard.

Sadly, it’s tragedy that brings me here.

Any of you that know me understand me as an awkward person.  Always have been.  Always will be to varying degrees.

In high school, I was even worse.  Exponentially so.

I never went on a date in high school.  No dances.  No movies.  No senior prom.  I was too painfully shy.

In my junior year, I was required to serve 3 weeks as a social service project.  I chose Children’s Hospital where I thought I could feed babies and pull little kids around on wagons… and I did those.

But I also met a beautiful girl my age there.

Her name was Shannon.

She happened to be very down to earth and friendly.

I was awestruck.

I looked for any excuse to hang around in her vicinity.

I talked to her.  Conversation came free and easy.

I screwed my courage up and asked her out on a date.

She said yes.

Fairy tales would have had us falling in love, complete with white picket fence and Volvo station wagon.

Ok… probably not a Volvo.  Her dad happened to own a Pontiac dealership.

But my life is no fairy tale.  And the date never happened.  Not through her own fault, but due completely to my own cowardice and insecurity.

I never followed through.  I never had the stones to call her and set up the date.

Every now and then, I would flip through a photo album and see photos of myself and a couple of high school chums in our blue volunteer vests hanging out at Children’s Hospital.  I even had a picture of Shannon and I in there.

I would smile.  What a silly, stupid kid I was.

And then today happened.

I was enjoying a gas station hot dog for lunch and flipping through the paper and a headline caught my eye.

“Funeral set for cancer patient beaten to death”

I started to read the article and dropped my hot dog in disbelief.

It was Shannon.

Now I hadn’t seen or spoken to her since then…but I was still sad and shocked.

She was seeking treatment for cancer in the Chicago area.  Sitting at a bus stop.  Some lowlife subhuman came up behind her and bashed her in the head.  For apparently no reason whatsoever.  Not robbery or anything else.  The guy simply ran off.

What the actual fuck is that?  What sort of piss poor excuse of a world is this really coming to?

She was on life support for about a day.

And died.

Died trying to fight death from another source.

A blogger friend of mine wrote a very popular post called “A Senseless Death”

Donnie, I have to compare this loss as just as senseless as the one you wrote about so beautifully.

Godspeed Shannon.  You’re with your dad now.  Watch over your family.

I am sorry for the way your life ended here.

 

 

 

Closing up shop…

It was an ordinary-looking house. A post war Kleenex box with a roof. It looked like every other one on the street.
I pulled to a stop in the driveway. I could feel it coming on me already. I knew that this was going to be a bad one.
My job is to visit foreclosed homes before they are auctioned off. I assess the property for the mortgage company so they can report accurate conditions to the bidders. I walk the floors and check for carpet wear. I flush toilets, run faucets and crank up the air conditioner to see if it works. My boss calls it “closing up the shop.”
But I am cursed…cursed with the ability to see the lives and feel the emotions of those that lived there. I’ve seen love and heartbreak, sadness and tragedy, joy and celebration.
Most houses have a pretty even balance. This one felt a lot different.
Not in a bad or menacing way, and I didn’t expect a hockey-masked psycho to jump out of the linen closet at me.
But this felt different. And the house looked different.
When I stepped across the threshold, I saw something that I rarely see.
No dirt. No dust or cobwebs. Not a cracked windowpane. The carpeting still had the tidy lines left in it from it from its last vacuuming.
And then I saw her. She was slightly out of focus, like a hazy VHS tape that has been watched too many times. She walked worriedly through the living room, stooping to pick up a speck of lint. Worry lines furrowed her face. Pure sadness was in her eyes. She studied the countertops in the kitchen. I followed her. She took something from a white bottle that was under the sink and scrubbed a spot. She shook her head and dropped the rag and headed to the basement. She did not want to have the new owners think ill of them.
I decided not to follow her down. I walked back into the tidy living room to see a boy of about 7 playing with Legos on the floor. He hummed to himself as he lay on his belly, constructing impossible combinations of pirate ships and interstellar cruisers. He held up one creation proudly to his dad, who sat on the couch holding an infant girl, feeding her a bottle. The dad smiled and nodded encouragingly, but the boy noticed something in his dad’s eyes. He saw fear and worry. It made the boy’s stomach flutter. He did not like to see his daddy scared.
I turned away and went down the hallway to the bedrooms. I peeked in the first one on the right and saw the dad years earlier, holding the boy as a baby as he rocked him to sleep. The father’s face was pure contentment. The baby was asleep, but it felt so wonderful to hold his first child in his arms that he just wanted to keep rocking that baby forever here, in this beautiful house that they had just bought and moved into.
I felt this pain inside me. The father’s pain. Grief and a sense of failure. I walked into the parents’ bedroom and walked over to the window. I needed a break. I had hoped to see a bird or squirrel, something to change what I was feeling.
Instead I saw the father again. This time pushing the lawn mower. His back was slumped. Defeated. He was mowing the yard one last time before they left. He trimmed the edges carefully. He pulled stray weeds from his flower beds. He didn’t know what else to do. They were taking his house from him, but he was doing it his way. He sat on the back steps of the house, surveying his yard. Then he put his head down and wept. Big, racking sobs where he knew his family couldn’t see him.
I turned away from the window, eyes wet.
I was met by scene that I was never meant to see. The mother and father making furtive love, trying to be quiet and not wake their sleeping children. Passionate kisses. Bodies with a fine sheen of sweat. She stopped him mid-thrust, putting her index finger on his lips as they paused, listening intently for the stirring sounds of a baby. He giggled and she shushed him, smiling. Passion resumed, quietly intense.
I left their room, with a blush that they never would have imagined.
In the last bedroom, I saw the girl at 5, carefully and gently laying her dolls in a white banker’s box. She wasn’t sure why they were leaving this comfy house, it made her sad. Mommy and daddy had tried to smile and tell them that it was an adventure. They were moving to a new neighborhood with a new school for the fall. It sounded fun, but was scary at the same time.
I spun and walked back down the hall towards the front door.
I could take no more, it was time to close up this shop.
I put the key in and locked it. As I walked to my car I saw the family carrying their belongings, arms loaded with boxes, heads swiveling from side to side to see if neighbors were watching their walk of shame.
I slid into the driver’s seat and keyed the engine. The sun was setting over the roofline. I turned on the radio and hit the scan button, hoping for relief. The second station it landed on was a country station playing “There’s No Place like Home.”
No. There would be no relief tonight.

Will you celebrate with me?

Tomorrow is a momentous day… for me at least.

One year ago tomorrow, I launched this blog, with the purpose of amazing, entertaining and astounding you.

I may have fallen a little short. I re-read some of those early posts, full of the green sap of hope and enthusiasm. I even placed an expectation of “3 writings a week” in one of them.

Can you hear the manic laughter? That’s my Muse. Saying something along the lines of “Bitch, please.”

But I stuck with it, submitting 30 or so writings for consumption (and/or regurgitation).

Some obviously resonated more than others. I saw lots of hits at first, then slowly tapering off to the occasional hiccup bump. My band member friends call empty rooms “playing to the crickets.” It seems as though I’ve been writing for the crickets.

Hey, I get it. Life gets in the way. Many things vie for our attention these days, especially things like assertive offspring who somehow feel entitled to my free time.

Who am I kidding? I have very little “free time” and even less time to write.

But I feel like a success. I maintained some steady output of words despite long separations from the Muse. Sometimes, I wrung the words out of whatever life happened to be handing me at that moment.

And some of you read them. A few of you even read them all. Fewer still were exceptionally kind enough to comment, like or share them via Facebook, et al.

For that, you have my undying gratitude. I got just enough feedback to keep me going during those barren days at the keyboard.

One year. 30-odd posts. Hundreds of views. Thousands of words.

Finally, those gibbering spirits of my long-dead writing coaches (Bukowski, Papa Hemingway, the good Dr. Thompson) have abated some. And I can look in the mirror with confidence and say,

I am a writer. A writer who stuck to something for an entire year.

So I will celebrate Bloggerelstl’s birthday tomorrow. With a toast, and perhaps a cigarette or three.

And I will celebrate all of you, who continue to stick with me.

I thank you. I. Thank. You!

Musings on Scooters and Frogs…

Years ago, I can remember the young, stupid, single & childless me boring some poor soul with ruminations of my ambivalence towards children and fatherhood.
But secretly, I was/am a baby FREAK.
My wife calls me out when she catches me mugging silly faces to coax a smile from an infant. Calls me a baby creeper.
My stepsister gave me the honorable moniker of “The Baby Whisperer.”

I do love me the little ones.

When my daughter (now a presumptuous 12 year old) was born, I made a quick run to buy a warmer for her diaper wipes. I was mocked by the wife, who asked if my daughter was too fragile for cold diaper wipes.
And she was.

I loved every diaper change. Every bottle. Every bath. Every Baby Einstein video. Every 2 am session in the rocking chair to put her back to sleep.

Her bright eyes and easy smile made her a dream baby. I would give her the bedtime bottle and rock away hours with her asleep on my ample belly, listening to Delilah on the radio, a silly smile on my face.
My Scooter. We wanted to be surprised, so we made everyone’s baby shower shopping a unisex pain in the ass. My father-in-law dubbed the baby in utero as “Scooter.”

It stuck. I still call her Scooter on those increasingly rare occasions that she wants me to hold her.
Scooter is now 5’7. Not quite as easy as when she was born (9lbs 5oz and 21 1/2 inches).
I never imagined that I would feel the love that I felt for her. I now know what some older guy meant when he said “I would hurt someone for my wife, but I would kill for my kids.”

A beautiful girl. A natural athlete. Neither of which she got from her old man.

Nineteen months after Scooter made the scene, a giggly baby boy showed up. Judging solely from his date of birth, my best guess is that he was a birthday present that I gave the wife. Yeah baby, the best gifts don’t cost money.

He was a surprise.
Actually, he was a gift. The souls of Chris Farley & Carl Sagan in a tiny package. He would walk into wall on purpose and just laugh.

He picked his own name. I wanted to name him Grant Preston. Wife wanted Samuel Joseph. We argued good naturedly for several months prior and several hours after his arrival. Finally I walked over to the hospital bassinet where he was chilling out and said, “OK pal, are you Grant Preston or are you Samuel Joseph?”
When I said “Samuel Joseph” he turned and looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders and told the wife that she won.

I love that little guy. We do guy stuff, and some of the best days of my life have been spent riding trains, building campfires, and philosophizing with this tender-hearted little oddball Buddha.

But that boy also has a pretty wide ornery streak in him. There were times during his toddler years that he would be so infuriatingly stubborn. I’d get so mad I would yell “You little FROG!”

It was strangely satisfying. All the benefits of cursing and none of the guilt. For those of you with kids, I highly recommend this method.

Except when he was learning to talk. I asked him what his name was. He looked up at me proudly and said “FROG!”

I scaled back my amphibious invective after that.

I fear the kind of world they are growing up in and especially the world that they will face alone as adults. It seems that every day, people invest immense energy to find new and better ways to be ugly and vile to each other. My heaviest burden is trying to teach them to love and respect others when “others” seem to be unresponsive or unworthy of it.

And, as one might imagine, I think of another child of mine. One that I never got to hold. One who died before he was born. Buried in a lonely grave in the shadows of the mountains that captured my heart and soul many years ago.
A little part of me died with him. He would have been 25 this October.

On this Father’s Day, I hope to forgo ugly ties and “World’s Best Dad” coffee mugs for some moments. Moments that I will carry along in the magical wagon that holds the jumbled up memories of their whirlwind infancy, toddlerdom, and early childhood.

My Scooter. My Frog. One girl. One boy.

One proud, worried and occasionally cranky dad. Looking to grab all of the moments that I can.

Happy Father’s Day to all of you dads out there.

Taxicab Confidential aka The Devil in the Backseat

Babes, barf, bullets…

3 words that summarize the gig of taxi driving.

Some of you know that a few years ago (during a mini-retirement) I was in need of income, and the best laid plans that I had amounted to diddly. Jobs were damn hard to come by, so I sucked it up and got behind the wheel of Taxi #638 for 9 months or so…

And my oh my, it was a crazy, dirty, dangerous job (that I also had more fun doing then by rights I should have).

A few of those days stand out more than others. The New Year’s Eve that I spent driving #638 was the night I made the most money ever.

It was also the night I almost died.

But I jump ahead: here are a few of the highs and lows of hurtling towards mayhem behind the wheel on St. Louis’ streets.

1- The Devil in the Backseat

“I’m not the Devil, dude.”

Aw fuck, no good conversation EVER starts with that sentence. I picked him up at the South County Mall. His destination was unclear. Bad sign #1.

He talked to himself. A lot. And screamed. And cursed.

When I asked him where he was headed, he hemmed and hawed and had trouble forming a coherent sentence.

Drugs, I thought. Or just mentally ill.

Call me a bad person, but I really didn’t give a shit. After 2 minutes, I was ready to throw the crazy sonuvabitch out on Lemay Ferry and take the hit from the dispatchers.

I finally understood that he wanted food first. He directed me to the QuikTrip and got out to get a couple of hot dogs. Or so he said.

He actually just stood inside the door at QuikTrip and stared at me.

There are moments in life when one wishes that they had ready access to a gun. Or mace. Or Chinese throwing stars. This would have been one of those times.

He came out empty-handed and just sat in the back seat. Silent. Brooding.

Where to next?

He tried to tell me that he wanted to go to a hotel in an area where I knew there were no hotels.

It was at that point I knew that he was up to something. Fortunately, I was the one driving. I cranked up that old bad-ass Police Interceptor and screeched out onto Lindbergh. I pulled in to the lot of that crappy Motel 6 that used be there (Now thankfully demolished) and said,

“Ride’s over. Get out.”

He argued. I told him to get the fuck out on his own or I would come get his ass out myself. And he’d be staying overnight in the hospital instead of a cut-rate dive motel.

He looked at me and I stared right back into his eyes with the scariest look I could muster, even though my innards felt like jelly.

He got out and then tried to get back in so I laid some rubber down on that parking lot. Time to call it a night.

2 – Talisha

The area public schools have to provide transportation to certain types of students. There aren’t enough buses to do this so taxis do a lot of school runs. Some are fairly lucrative tickets and some aren’t. Talisha was a $8 fare that I grabbed every chance I could, even if it meant missing a higher paying trip.

She was a sweet, beautiful 7 year old with brown skin and dark eyes. I had to go into the school to pick her up and sign her out, and I always walked her to her grandma’s apartment door. She would hold my hand and skip down the school hall. I would tie her shoes for her and carry her books. She would make things for me at school: paper snowflakes, crayon drawings. We’d talk about her day on the short ride home. She’d tell about the things that her mom and grandma were up to. (I had given multiple rides to both over the months and we knew each other by name).

One day she was sad. It was “Wear your pajamas to school day” but she told me that she didn’t have any “bajammies” so she didn’t get to participate. That broke my heart. I wish I would have known about it the day before, because I would have bought some for her.

Of all the people I met driving, I miss her the most, and hope that she is doing well. I hope that she finally had some bajammies to wear to school on Pajama Day. Love you, T!

3 – For Auld Lang… holy shit, what was that?”

New Year’s Eve was drunk with the promise of lots of cash and lots of drunks. I had a core group of regulars who called upon me to guarantee them a safe ride that night. I started about 4pm and I knew that I’d be lucky to be home by 4am. I was all over town. Brentwood to Downtown. Webster to the West End. Affton to the Ritz-Carlton. Lots of sharp-dressed folks ready to get their party on.

The a slow spell. I started picking up fares from dispatch and I drew a short run in South St. Louis. State street to state street. As you STL folks know, the state streets can be kinda sketchy. I picked up a nice young woman and she told me her destination. I believe it was on Oregon Street at a dead end. It was about 9:30pm.

I pulled up in front of her building and as she was paying me

WHUMP!

It sounded like somebody threw a chunk of asphalt at the car.

Her eyes were big. “Where they shootin’ from?” she asked.

I told that I thought it was just a kid throwing rocks. “Naw, they shootin'” she said again.

Foolish or not, I decided to get out and make sure that the young lady got in her door safely. I opened the door and glanced across the roof of the car. A fresh, shiny divot in the steel showed me exactly where the bullet hit. 2 inches to the left and an inch or two down and that sucker would have been in the back of my head.

I got her to the door and ran back to the car.

All right, assholes, if you want a second shot, it is going to be at a fast-moving target. I cranked 638 around back in the direction that the bullet came from (dead end street, remember) and romped on it. The beautiful thing about police model Crown Vics is that even with a 120,000 miles on them, they can still flat out burn up the street.

I roared through the streets and didn’t stop until I was a few miles away. I pulled into a mini-mart and calmed my nerves by watching drunks stagger in and out, with one occasionally displaying what they had most recently enjoyed eating by spray-puking in front of my car. I came within a hair of calling the cab company, telling them where the bastard would be parked and that they could come and get it, that I was done. Instead I drove home, took an hour break and dropped off a lot of cash. And I hit the streets back around 11. I wisely decided not to tell my wife about the bullet until the next day.

Friends I have more of these to tell, so look for part two. It will involve sexual propositions and cocaine. Those two elements always lead to good experiences.

Happy New Year! Be safe out there.

September Requiem

At risk of sounding like a moody sentimentalist, days like today always bring out the pensive thought.

Many people will look at today with somber reflection, if not reverence.

Just as many will say “so it happened.  Get over it and let’s move on.”

But I can’t.

I remember this day in vivid detail.

I heard about the first plane hitting the first tower on some banal syndicated radio show (Bob and Sherri-some piped-in pathetic attempt to make up for the station’s own lack of local talent).

They talked of tragedy and unfortunate accidents…

then the second plane hit.

You could hear the fear and disbelief in their voices.  After all, I believe that their own show was broadcast from New York.

I ran from my car into the lounge where everyone was huddles around the television.  Raw footage was being sent in from every direction, and raw misinformation was pouring in from the same vicinity.

I think if one moment defines this days immortality to me, and perhaps me alone, it was the filming of one person clinging to the window frame of one of the towers, and then jumping.

The camera followed him down, but we were spared the impact shot by another building screening the streetscape from the camera.

How does one forget that mental picture?  How does one move on?

I admire those who can.  These strike me as being similar to those who make hasty, simple funeral arrangements for their own in a weak attempt to avoid the pain and grief that ride shotgun with the Reaper.

I have never believed this to be effective method.  Pain and grief are patient and calculating.  You may dodge the bullet for a moment, but that sucker has radar and can lie in wait, for months or years if need be, until you decide to poke your head up to see if the coast is clear or not.

It can and will hit you, when you aren’t looking or expecting it.  It might manifest itself in the destruction of a relationship, or the overindulgence in drink and/or agriculture.

But you will feel it.  Like the bite of a razor sharp knife whose initial sting is mild and the blood doesn’t appear immediately.  But those wounds always need sutures to heal.

The skyline of Manhattan is like a gap-toothed hockey player’s smile.  It’s still there, but with obvious subtractions.  The psyche of the nation is very much the same.

But for a short while, we were like a dysfunctional family in a bar fight.  Someone punched my sister(and I might hate that bitch) but you are not going to hit my family and get away with it.  Differences are set aside and the family fights as one unit against everyone outside the family.

We were able to do that as a nation.  Politics, race, economic status were finally taking a back seat (albeit temporarily) to us being the America that we always wished we would be.

For a very short time…  and then it was back to business of bashing each other as per the usual protocol.

As a people, we each stand at different vantage points, scanning the skies and heavens to wonder if something like this might ever happen again.

Maybe not today.  You’d sound crazy if you walked into the Hancock Tower in Chicago with some Chicken-Little tale of doom.

But then again, you would have sounded just as crazy if you would have walked into the lobby of WTC 1 on September 10, 2001 with a description of what their tomorrow would bring.

And I think that’s why I choose not to let go, move on and forget the falling man.

I wait and soothe my children with nonsense to ease their own fears of hijacked planes and school shooters.  Because they deserve their childhood, and because their fate is not always in my hands and my mind will not allow me to consider the unthinkable.

The falling man reminds me every day that we know not what tomorrow brings.  To live in our moments each and every day.  To give our loved ones real hugs and passionate kisses.  To look them in the eye and speak the words they crave.

The falling man deserves more than just being an anonymous footnote on some Wikipedia entry.  He had a family that went through his mind as he fell.  A family that waited in vain for him to come home that night, just to see, touch and speak with him one more time.

The most valuable lesson, and unforgettable teaching of the falling man is to always remember what is the most treasured part of your life.

That, friends, is why today is worth remembering.