Stardust

Robert Williams Kirkpatrick August 11th 1947-June 7th 2015           Engineer, inventor, father, husband, story teller, man of piss and vinegar to his last breath

My dad was a great story teller, and I don’t want to tell a sad story here.

He fought with unprecedented will, and will always be remembered for his fierce determination, sense of humor, and being a man who does things his own way.

He died on Sunday afternoon at 12:54 pm. He had been under palliative sedation for nearly a week because the pain was so great that medicine could not really touch it anymore, not for any length of days anyway, and we knew the worst was yet to come.

I tried to imagine what the moment of his death would be like. My dad and I talked about this many times over the last year or so, commenting to one another that it would be nice if it ended in some poetic way…just falling asleep, drifting gently after a number of satisfying last moments that we imagined. The reality was, because of the way his pain had been growing exponentially, we expected his last moments to be less than poetic.

I had been giving my dad medication to keep him comfortable every 2 hours, watching his breathing, checking his vitals, waiting to watch a horrible ending.  Sunday afternoon I was sitting in my his room working on my computer and I felt strongly compelled to put on one of his favorite songs: Pink Floyd’s “shine on you crazy diamond” from their album Wish You Were Here. It seemed fitting on so many levels. Bassist Roger Waters commented while recording this song that “at times the group was there only physically. Our bodies were there, but our minds and feelings somewhere else.” If you know the song, parts I-III are instrumental, and part IV is where the lyrics come in. This takes a while, about 8.5 minutes. I told Karen that I put the song on and she came in to the room and sat down with me and we held his hands. Toward the end of the instrumental, as I held my dad’s hand, I told him that I loved him so much, and many other things that I don’t need to write here.  He took two, sweet last breaths and almost looked like he was smiling, and then he died.  Just then in the background Roger Waters began to sing:

“Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun                                        Shine on you crazy diamond.                                                                                              Now there’s that look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky                                Shine on you crazy diamond. “

So his dying was horrible, but his death was almost magical. It is silly to say, but after all the wondering, worrying, talking, laughing and crying, wondering what it would be like, it is just too bad that he is gone, because he would have loved this story.

Love,

Moosie

Bright Star

I wake in the morning to the stirrings of my wife who, before the light comes into my room to make sure I’m covered and warm before waking me gently to take my morning medications. She silently slips out leaving me to fall back asleep. When I later wake on my own she seems to know and greets me with a smile and caress, standing ready to fill my needs. I ask for milk to steady my stomach and consider the bland fare my digestive system will tolerate, thanks to the cancer ravaging my body. My fortunate remission is over and the cancers appetite has turned voracious as it grows pain inflicting tumors throughout my body trunk. With the milk she  gives me a booster morphine pill. I am now needing 120mg to hold the pain at bay. It doesn’t make it go away, just keep it tolerable. She is frustrated that she cannot help more. It tears at her. I try to hide my pain but I can’t, my wimpering gives me away. Nor can I stop the tears I she’d as I watch the clock tick towards the time I can take more pain meds.

My wife lost her mother two years ago, her father a year ago and her daughter turned her out of her life, taking my wife’s grandkids with her.  Her mom’s sister had a nervous breakdown  and, of course, she’s watching her husband perish in a grotesque way. Yet this woman has a ready smile and endless empathy. What a joy she is to have in my life.

I feel a deep guilt about what my death will do to this beautiful angel. I am, she says, her bright light, her anchor and best friend, and I am about to take that from her after she has suffered so much loss already. I have provided for her at my loss, she will have a home and a car and van, all late model. As I try to comfort her about the future,  she snarls and says she would throw it all away if she could have me instead.

I  hear her in her room quietly singing “Someone to Watch Over Me” like a lullaby, her voice hitching as she fights back the tears. Someone so kind, loving and giving doesn’t deserve this. It’s emotional torture is what it is. I asked the VA if they had any programs to help spouses and was pointed to CHAMPSVA, medical coverage similar to medicare. My wife has been on it for a few years and it saved us a fair amount of money. They had a program where once a week someone would come to the house for four hours, letting my wife take a break. She tried it a couple of times and she was so stressed something would happen while she was gone that she was more at peace staying with me. Isn’t she great?

We do have moments where we will hold hands and weep together. We would hug and hold each but my pain sensitive body disallows such things.

she fetches things for me all through the day, getting angry when I call myself a taskmaster. She enjoys it, even helping organizing my hobby projects. Right now I’m trying to design a fixed wing camera platform with long hang time over target. Without my wife I’d be a toadstool.

But it’s her continual buoyancy that makes my day to day life livable. She’s the brightest star in the universe.

 

Parting shot

I,’m retty sick of medicine ads. They’re filled with fallacoious information essentially invented by people with no connection to medical research and often aren’t even CPR or first aid techniques. Yet these Lian’ ass promo specialists rake in the bucks with their alarmist cannon fodder.

 

I mean, restless leg syndrome, dry eye syndrome and dry mouth syndrome. Save one, all of these can be relieved with Visine, a piece of hard candy or a little light exercise of the offending leg. Or, quite often the leg can be calmed by bending the knee to a figure 4 position.  Big pharma has be selecting common body attributes for ages and applying spooky name and generating paranoia among the masses who are gullible to believe something they’ve seen their whole lives and never gave it a second thought. Face it, through our lives we’re going to pull muscles, slam our fingers in doors or drawers, stand too long on a hard surface and we’re going to suffer from one of the new so called diseases. Like sunburn is virtually calmed by drenching the burn with white (or even) apple cider vinegar, and a quarter t-spoon of baking soda will eliminate heartburn in a minute after it makes you emit a most satisfying burp. Sure, you can over use the baking soda and over inflate your gut and do some internal damage. Stay with 1/4 teaspoon and you’re too to go.

 

It bugs me because they could be spending money and time on cures for the world’s heinous disease insteading to work to add to their already staggering

A Final Note

This is the last post of my blog. I may put something else up here or maybe leave it as an archive…  a legacy or something. But it has become too difficult to keep a schedule or sit at my desk to conjure something to say that’s worth writing. I note that in the last few months my work has deteriorated with lots of typos and grammar errors that wwould give my elementary teacher apoplexy. Everything must end eventually and it’s that time for Deludia.

I’ve been getting transfusions to keep me alive. Multiple Myeloma attacks the bone marrow and my marrow has finally shut down. They gave me three pints this last time and a total of six over the last few weeks. There’s a point of diminishing returns involved, not to mention a large draw on A Negative blood, a rare type.

All of this is happening as the VA makes sweeping changes. They have closed their ER and turned it into a day clinic with business hours, leaving we vets to seek help at civillian hospitals. I worry about billing issues with the vet responsible until the VA system gets around to paying. The last time the VA sent me to a civilian hospital I got stuck with  few hundred bucks worth of bills for lab service they didn’t pay. Being 100% disabled and 100% service connected, they’re supposed to pay 100% of my medical costs. So I’m nervous about a sudden change in my emergency service provider.

Tired and with lots of time on my hands has given me a lot of opportunity to reflect. I find things I’m proud of and things that I find despicable, between which I find a fully lived life. My wife called me her Forest Gump the other day because of the number of historical events I wasn’t just alive for, but witnessed or participated in.

In my life I have drivenjust about every type of vehicle there is and built as good number of them with my own hands and tools. I’ve been a radio announcer, a mechanic, a pilot, a software engineer, and built my own company selling wireless networking before the internet existed. I worked with a company that gave me access to ARPAnet and rolled with it as it became the internet, becoming one of the first internet service providers, the second one in Washington state. I’ve built scads of robots and remote control devices and vehicles, and an early player in the field of drones;, UAVs.

I’ve tried to be a good and decent man with empathy for those around me, two legged or more. Except I have never been able to appreciate spiders, even knowing their place in ecology. This probably disqualifies me as a candidate for alien first contact if the visitors don’t look enough like us… Like Vulcans or something. Sure, it’s racial profiling but that’s the way it is. I’m probably the victim of too many Saturday matinees as a kid in the fifties.

I have had some truly great friends in my life. A true blessing that made so much of my life unregretable, even when I was doing something less than angelic. I would name them all here but it’s not necessary. They know who they are and losing them will be the saddest part of my demise. Of course, it will break my heart to leave my wife. I know the pain and disorientation she will experience and it’s crushing to know I caused it. But losing her will be the greatest pain I feel as I return my energy to the universe.

So that’s about it.Thanks to those of you who’ve read my missives and were perhaps entertained or informed or was able to take away something positive.

 

Precious

It was cold. The gunmetal sky looked like clouds and been finger smudges and the clouds moved quickly from eight to left. A seamist green panel filled my vision and I backed my scooter away so the extending ramp wouldn’t rest on my lap. After a maneuver or two I rolled inside the van and my wife attended to my tie downs with the precision of the Thunderbirds ground crew. I nestled myself into the passenger seat and my wife put us in gear and took off. “So, that was depressing.” she said.

“Well, it couldn’t last forever.”

“At least he didn’t say six months like the last prognosis’ did. ”

“Well, I think they’re a bit gun shy after me sticking around for six years instead of six months. Had to be embarrassing.”

I think the next estimate they make will be to pronounce you.”

“Heh, you’re probably right. There’s still tricks in the bag so I’m not giving up.  just wish I wasn’t flat on my back. ” I sighed.

“That was a nice letter you got from Frank.” said my wife. “Yeah, well Frank is a special guy. Both of us have gone to great lengths to find each other after separation.”

“Yeah, you transferred from the riggers in Vietnam into the infantry and he spent years seeking you till he found you through twitter.”

“He and I had some very similar family dynamics and we just clicked. Plus, the army helped by assigning each other to the same schools and the same time. It’s like it was written or something.”

“how come you like him so much?” asked my wife.”

How come you like me so much?”

“Well, that’s different. We’re mates.”

“Well, except for sex, so are Frank and I. He’s good people and I get something from him. A sense of peace kinda. Just knowing he’s out there makes me feel like something is right with the world. Plus that, you fight next to someone you literally put your life in their hands. People can imagine what that’s like, but they can’t get it till they’ve done it.. When on top of that, you know you can talk to that person about how you feel about it -more so than other guys you fight with- and there’s no judgement, just understanding, it’s the closes you can get to someone.”

“I think I get that.”

I just looked at her out of the side of my eye. There’s no way in hell she could know. It’s an experience only club. Takes the right situation, right people, right relationship and an unflagging trust. More than that, it takes things that can’t be expressed.

“Maybe you can see Frank sometime.” my wife said, questioningly.

“Well, cancer aside, I’d like that. But as a one on one kind of thing. Him and me uninterested in the beer in front of us talking and firming the connection.”

“You don’t want me to meet him?”

“I didn’t say that. But Frank and I have a friendship that transcends all that. Like, I fell into the pit and started sending him gifts on his birthday and Christmas and he asked me to cut it out.”

“Hurt your feelings?”

“No, I realized that if I was walking around and saw something that was just Frank all over, get it and send it along. But let’s not spoil the special nature by making holidays a chore or competition or something. He was dead right. I cut it out feeling a bit embarrassed that I’d lost sight.”

“I don’t get it.” said Karen.

“Exactly.” I replied. It’s very special and very fragile. See, I can tell Frank how scared I am and he take it in with no judgement or petty sayings. He’s keeping it for me like I’m keeping a few of his things.”

“So, when do you talk about them?”

“You don’t. It’s just a weight we tote for the other. Nothing more, nothing less.”

“That sounds, I don’t know, kind of precious.”

“It is, because Frank is. He’d say something similar I think.”

“We’re passing Caruso’s, you wanna get a meatball sandwich for dinner?”

“Sounds good.”

 

Living Near the Painted Ladies

I was disgusted the minute I stepped into the door. I’d been away for five days up on Long Island visiting friends and taking in the summer. I had a nice tan to prove it. The house smelled like cigarettes, beer and urine. The little cactus that sat guard by my front door was withered. The soil, supposed to be kept barely damp was soaked with what smelled like piss. The living room was no better. The cushons on my couch were on the floor, stained with beer and god knows what else. My collection of vinyl records was strewn across the floor, none of them in their sleeves. There was beer spill there too. Throughout the house it was the same thing. The normal life I was trying to live post-Vietnam had been vandalized. My kitchen was a tragedy. Appliances had their doors sprung. Flour was everywhere. If I had to guess, someone who really hated my guts had been given carte blanche to express his opinion.

I was still staking stock when there was a double knock at my door and my friend Steve marched in. He was more a former friend, having spit in my face and calling me a baby burner when I came back from the war. “I knew you wouldn’t mind if we partied here.” he said.

“What made you think that?” I asked.

“Whoa, brrr. Lighten up man. We’ve been friends too long to hold grudges. You’re my best friend and always will be.”

I said I doubted it and before I knew it, I’d blackened his eye and had him on his butt in the flour. “We used to be friends, but then you proved that was no longer true when you stole the Akai 4 track recorder I bought overseas, emptied my wallet while I slept and gave the money to some chicks to get them home, and now you and your retarded friend squad have done a ton of damage to the house I’m renting. If the landlord sees this, I’m out on my ass without my deposit.”

“If it makes you feel better, I’ll help you clean up.” he said.

“Fine start by stripping all of the beds and pillows upstairs and get them in the wash, then vacuum the place and use all the attachments to get the corners, sills and all that stuff. Oh, ad wash the windows. There’s Windex under the kitchen sink. Or there was.”

“I didn’t mean right away, man. I gotta meet some chicks over at Bryn Mawr. Gonna see Theresa, Penny, Marily and Albright.”

“Albright? Wendy Albright?” I asked, my voice rising. Wendy was my new and supposedly exclusive girlfriend. “Just get off my floor and get your ass gone. And tell Wendy I’ll see her when I do and not before.”

“Shit man, Vietnam has made you cold. I wonder if I was right about you burning villages and babies. Maybe shoot the heads off of old ladies and shit.” I grabbed him by his shirt and dragged him to the door and sent him somersaulting down the back steps. I slammed the door behind him and went upstairs to start cleaning.

We’d been great friends; going to Canada and bushwhacking the Ontario forests from Roberval to Lake Mistassini. A two week 90 mile journey carrying all of our supplies, a canoe, paddles and fishing equipment.  We were gone a month and a half total by the time our haning out at the Hudson’s Bay Post at Mistassini with the Cree indians. It was a different time. Back then parents not only allowed but encouraged their 12 year old kids to thrash their was through animal infested woods. We saw a couple of bear and a lynx, but mostly we saw squirrels and chipmunks. Steve shot a wild rabbit with his .22 and we had to chase it for three hours before it finally had a heart attack and quit running. We skinned and ate it, but while rabbit was usually pretty good, this one was gamey and sour. No doubt from all the adrenaline and exercise just before it died. Plus. we didn’t feel it was particularly sporting of us, the way we got it.

On the whole, the trips were great. We did two of them subsequent years. But Steve got jealous when I won a hand carved paddle awarded to the camper who learned the most during their portage through the woods. He stole the paddle from me when we got home. Where my name had been painted in a circle around the camp logo, he’d sanded it off and tried to forge him name there. The red paint didn’t match, the letters were amateur and childish, and it looked just like someone had swiped it and tried to forge it as their own award. Maybe I should have gotten the message back then that our relationship had turned in him exploiting me every chance he took.

I ran into his girlfriend later and asked her if she was ito revenge sex. She said she was and so we did the deed in the back of my Ford Fairlane wagon and she toddled off to tell him. I ran into Wendy a little later and she made reconciliation noises. I asked her for the number of this cute girl who worked backstage at the Bryn Mawr College theater. She was miffed and I found that ingratiating.

It was definitely time for a sea change. Woodstock, the Moon Landing and  hundred other things told me the world was in flux and so after getting righteously stoned and listened to Janis Joplin’s Cheap Thrills album fifty times in a row while searching the R Crumb cartoon on the rear cover, I decided there was, in fact, a secret message for me. So I sold all of my worldly goods (the better part of a pound of cheap mexican grass) I stuck out my thumb and hitched my way to san Francisco in a mere 40 hours. I went down to Market and Fillmore and found the Fillmore West. A Hell’s Angel stood lazily by the door. He seemed alone, what with the shows not starting until nine at night. I asked for Bill Graham, the producer, and the biker told me to go all the way to the back. I found the potential icon in a room where every surface was covered with band posters, correspondence and god knows what else.

“I just hitched from Philly to San Francisco in forty hours just to ask you for a job, sir.”

He looked at me a moment and picked up the phone. Thinking of the Hell’s Angel I started backing towards the door. He exchanged a few words on the phone and hung. “Okay,” he said. “We can’t disappoint that kind of industry. He scribbled on a piece of paper. This is Love Potion Number Nine. They do lighting for the shows here, the Avalon and a few other venues. I thanked him and groveled my way out of the office. The biker was standing by the concession counter when I came out. He drew me an orange drink and handed me a Payday. “On the house.” he said. By the time I left I’d gotten over my white boy fear of bikers and held the address of Little Princess. They paid a buck sixty and I was glad to have it. I ended up seeing literally every milestone band in my short history. I found an apartment; one oth the other light operators needed a roomie in case his landlords ever came back and wanted rent. It was a three story building on McCallister a few blocks from Alamo Square.

Life was a breeze back then. Every day an adventure. But like my adventures in the Quebec woods, all adventures have to end.

My next one started in Portland, Oregon not to much later.

Holidays through the looking glass

I’ve seen most of the movies that try to depict the Vietnam war and only Platoon seems to call out to me. It’s like frozen orange juice made from concentrate; there’s pulp in there but it’s still orange juice.  It shows the snakes, ants, leeches and the other cast of supporting characters, plus it taps into the hysteria that adrenaline can contagiously infect a group, taking them way beyond the borders of what they would consider unacceptable in the ‘sane’ world outside of the war.

I can’t help but find my mind drifting back to a technicolor reliving of an incident I see paralleled in the movie. The memories of the war are so strong that they blank out all the rest of my time in the military, save one. That was patrolling Washington DC after the assassination of Martin Luther King. I recall it because some of the attitudes and orientations of the war reared their ugly heads. The incidents were lightweight compared to Vietnam, but the fact it was happening in the US Capitol made such a non-sequitor. I’d gone to Vietnam to fight in a foreign land to keep it all away from our own country, yet here I was, armed with the very same weapons, patrolling on foot or in jeep with orders to fire on looters. Other Americans who were stealing, but it seemed a harsh punishment for what people normally would do a few years in prison for. But strange times bring strange situations.

by the time I got home, little of the negativity I encountered had a lot of impact for me.  had become blase towards violence and the pain that armed conflict could produce in wholesale quantities. i could feel myself slipping more and more into the edge on reactions of offense when my orders came through that sent me to Frankford Arsenal. A good thing, not just because of Washington, but because I stood out like a neon sign in the darkness, comparing my uniform insignia to the totally inexperienced soldiers who country clubbed their was through the wartime military at a 9 to 5 job in a plant where civilians did the cooking, cleaning and yardwork that grunts were routinely assigned to on regular military bases. My biggest conflict was with my CO who didn’t believe (regulations be damned) that an enlisted man should have more acknowledgement of real military service than he, and subsequently the other GIs assigned there.

Of course, I gave him leverage for his complaints by talking to him man rather than subordinate to superior. “Call me Captain, goddammit!’” he was heard to say when I called him by his first name; John. I also had a screw this attitude and so I shunned assigned quarters for my home in a month to month hotel three blocks from the post. That also meant I was late to arrive and early to leave. What was being done at the arsenal was unimportant and we all knew it. The place was being shut down and it’s time remaining in the military was five months to my three. I arrived a sergeant E-5 and left a private E-1, the victim of multiple Article 15 infraction conferences with my CO. When I was discharged early, the personnel review board called bullshit and reset my record, leaving only the fines I’d paid as my cost of doing last minute business with Uncle Sam.

Today, caught in a heavy down pour, gun ranges and hikes through trailless country seem to be the only thing that makes me feel the shakes of adrenaline, but still, it’s been what? 40 years and I still can’t get rid of those reactions or the occasional nightmare that makes me relive this or that thing that happened.

In Vietnam my Thanksgiving dinner was fed me through a tube and my entertainment was a personal visit from Raymond Burr, my hero, Perry Mason. It took me a bit to recognize him with a burr haircut and 20 extra pounds around his middle. But I felt honored that he came to see me. Actually pulled up a chair and talked for an hour with me before going off to spend time with more of the guys.

It took three weeks to get my health back to where I started when I arrived in country. The last week in the hospital was in the wards without air conditioning or even ceiling fans, and when the chopped flew me back to my unit I was dropped at the bottom of the steep hillock upon which the tactical ops center sat, directing traffic of the fire teams and supplying artillery support. The was up was part of my conditioning and it kept up for a month as I got send with every day patrol that monitored the TOC perimeter.

We got lit up heavy the night before I was due to find a ride to Tan Sun Nhut airport and onto a charter 707 to take me home. Home to Ft. Bragg and riot patrol, then home to Philadelphia and Frankford arsenal.

Lots of things remind me of the war; the smell of dirt caught in dust devils, the smell of soaking old growth forests, the way an ovehared conversation would remind me of whispered confessions of desperation between guys who want out of the war and back to the world badly enough to self inflight an injury. Few ever went that far, but I know some did. It’s just a matter of numbers.

The holiday season depresses me because of this, recalling how I spent the last of 1967 and the first of 1968 earning the contempt of former friends and even strangers, especially the ones angered that I came bck alive when their friend of loved one didn’t.  These people don’t make me angry. They make me feel relieved that that don’t know the horror of war and how the VC were only one of the enemies we had to fight to make our way home. The rest of the enemies were inside us, like a parasite that would never be flushed from the system, but eat away at us until we died.

 

Sung and UnSung Heroes

Watching the Concert for Valor I had to think about the concert that plays every day in the Veterans Medical Centers all over. Judging by my hospital I see a symphony of effort and dedication that rarely strikes a sour note. Sure, in an organization that size and overburdened by the rising tide of returning vets in need there will be oversights. But the staff moves quickly to get things back on track.

I have my own personal doctor to oversee my case, my own doctor to deal with my cancer and those who support me in cardiology, radiology, respiration who’re familiar with me and call me by  my first name. I’m not just another face, I’m a person and they show me that I’m important. I have value.

The veterans like me who fought are seen as heroes, but so are the doctors, nurses and technicians who support our desperate need once we’ve stepped from the battlefield and back into a world that can be mystifying, painful, and confusing. He was used to the world of the military unit, a band of brothers and sisters who had his back whether it was oversight under fire or even sharing water. Veterans come back to a world that speeds by with self involved lack of awareness and needs of others. It’s not that the people are bad, they just live in a different world where they can be be free enough to focus on their phones rather than situational awareness because of the efforts of the veterans who suffer nearby.

Vets are people just like you. They want to feel connected, to have value. Many communities have VA Hospitals. Stop by and drop by a card and flower that says Thank You. Drop them off for the vets, but drop them off for the doctors, nurses and techs as well. They’re heroes too and just as deserving of having their gifts rewarded. They work long hours and reduced wages and are immersed in a sea of daily suffering when they could have it easier elsewhere but chose to support needy vets.

Reach out. There are deserving heroes everywhere.

Tick, Tick, Ti…

He shuddered and twitched where he’d fallen. I stared at him in shock; this good friend of mine leaking his lifeblood in large volumes, soaking his flack vest, Jungle Fatigues, web belt and the ammo and grenades clipped to it. Tamlin Brussard had made the Northwest Orient charter fight with me to Tan Son Hut and was assigned as a rigger just like me. It was a routine flight in a C-130. No special drops, we’d land and workers would use forklifts to empty it.  The base had the name Tuy Hoa and neither of us ever saw it before, but were told it wasn’t all that scary a place. The offload went smoothly and we’d had time to scrounge some chow and even a cold beer. We were then dead heading to Bien Hoa, a major port in constant upgrade and extension. There were lots of planes there and was pretty well protected, suffering random and ineffective mortar attacks. It was at the point that people would’t even break up a card game played outdoors.  Since our last few missions had sucked, we looked forward to a day or so of lounging on the beach our checking the big cargo and warships come and go.

We took off, the pilot holding the plane down and accelerating to the departure end of the runway and then popping up to 200 feet trading the accrued airspeed for altitude. e turned south-southwest and looked out over the undulating sea of jungle canopy that seemed to go on forever. We were startled from our sightseeing by an exploding amidships. The aircraft began  slow roll. We could hear the pilots swearing and calling out a MayDay, the universal distress call. They spit out map coordinates and ad terrain features to let rescue khow were we were going down.

The aircraft took another hit and I was able to look through  a hole in the fuselage where the wing had once taken root. About this time I tarted shouting curswords too. Tamlin looked at me and pantomimed tightening my seat belts. I followed the suggestion. The aircraft struck in a spin and flend skittered across the tree tops like a rock skipped over a calm water, except without the calm. We came to a top and we unhooked, carefully letting ourselves down to the wingless side this was now the floor. Bullets seared through the aircraft’s carcass and  scattered shrapnel everywhere. We made our way back to the rear ramp which the pilots opened before they sere shot to death by a few of the machine gun bursts raking the plane. We dumped ourselves and rolled out of the plane and immediately took fire. We were able to find cover, but not before a burst of AK-47 fire on full auto hit Tamlin on the kidney area and walked across his back. He took four rounds. I tried to stem the blood, but everything I did seemed to gush more blood from his fading body so I quit.

“Basket, this is Basket 1-5.” I called into our TAC command. “We have taken heavy fire and the aircraft is down, pilots down and we need dustoff for one o the crew.”

They had repeat souls aboard and souls surviving and told me that rescue was on the way. They asked if I had smoke. I did. Three canisters of red. They told me to stand by and that when I heard choppers to throw a red and contact Tarfoot for further instructions. They gave me the frequency and cut loose. I was taking fire from all directions and tried to figure out  a place where the helicopter could land.  There was no place I could see.

I heard the rotors and popped red smoke. “Basket 5-1 we see your smoke. We need you to move a half click east..”

“Negative, negative. I have a wounded man and VC is all around our position.”

“Roget Basket 5-1, hold your ears and keep your head down.”

All hell broke loose. There were four Hueys in the flight, on, the medivac was a slick, the other two were armed with rockets and machine guns. I think they emptied it all in a circle maybe 50 feet away from me. Ropes then dropped through the canopy with a litter tied to one end. There was a large D ring sewn into the end of the rope and to that, I hooked for clevises  attached with steel cable  to the Di ring and stuck my leg through a 3 foot loop of rope about 10 feet about the littler. “Basket 5-1 is ready to go.”

Instead of an acknowledgement, the free rope cold on the ground whipped like a striking snake and the first I and then the litter flew suddenly up above the top canopy. I could hear Brussard screaming and saw that he was leaving a trail of running blood that broke into droplets as the rivulets of it fell. After a couple of minutes, the slick carefully landed and medics came to help  Brussard. I ran over to my crewmate. They had his vest and shirts cut off of him and were sticking clamps into the large exit holes in his back, they ignored the penetration areas Where the bullets struck. I took Brussards hand in mine and he sueezed it hard enough the hurt. He was muttering, occasionally saying my name, his wife’s name and he word children. I think he was pssing me messages and requests but I have no idea what he said.

The medic’s pace slowed considerably and they began to reclaim the equipment and devices from his body. “I’m sorry, man.” said a Spec 5 medic. “He’s gone.”

He wa yelling at me and then talking to me, he couldn’t be dead. I touched his neck feeling for the carotid artery. Nothing.

I wondered what he was saying to me and I hoped it wasn’t something like ‘the family savings is all gold and buried under the northeast corner of the house’s rock foundation.’ Or worse yet ‘I killed a man in Memphis just to watch him die, here’ s his contact info.

I truly wonder what it is that so many dying people say as they expire. I wonder what I might say as the day rushes the me at such an accelerated pace. I’m trying to get everything in order and I know I will forget to deal with it, only to remember it like leaving on the water as the family is flying happily to Hawaii or somewhere.

Tamlin, I hope I didn’t leave your water running.

A Long and Chilling Tale

All of us were in great moods. My friends and I were meeting for a week at modern cabin near Mica Peak. It wasn’t all that far from civilization, with Liberty Lake on the opposite side of the mountain west of us and State Line just to the north with I-90 bisecting the little tow. State line was home to a few bars and sex shops and thrived selling cigarettes to Washington residents looking to avoid the $32 per carton tax levied by Washington on a carton. So here we were, some 30 miles up a rocky, dusty track which some with a sense of humor called a road, but living in the lap of luxury.

The cabin had a large living room and a den downstairs, where a full bath and a well equipped kitchen stood. The living room had a large fireplace, perhaps six feet wide and four feet tall. It worked really well. It was built into a central pillar of mortared river rocks which radiated the heat both up and downstairs. The pillar was hollow, forming a chimney. The walls were sheathed in sheetrock, painted and decorated with huge paintings of Washington natural scenes of waterfalls, deteriorating barns still handsome to admire, forest scenery. My favorite was an 8 foot by 6 foot painting of a wildfire being fought by all of man’s tools. The artist captured everything, yet in a way that demonstrated the state’s vast wealth of evergreens.  Another favorite was an oil that captured Indian fisherman at work with nets working rapids on the Columbia atop frail scaffolds.

I was lucky to draw the bottom room. It had a single bed with the rest of the furniture hand crafted from Colombia driftwood and well seasoned birch. Save for linseed or tong oil, none of the furniture was finished in anyway, but the oils brought the grain into stark and lovely relief.

“Check this out, guys,” said Mikey. He was an excellent chef and getting him to prepare our means was a coup in the highest order. He called out to those of us unpacking into out rooms that dinner would be served in two hours with drinks on the protection porch running around three sides of the house an hour earlier. “We’re having antelope.” I wasn’t sure I should take him seriously, but the last time he cooked he said we were having llama and we by god had llama and it was great.

We weren’t expecting paradise. We expected cold weather and snow and ha brought cross country skis and four snow mobiles to cart us around taking pictures you just couldn’t get unless you took them in the mountainside forests. I cranked up the snow mobiles and backed them off the trailer, putting them into a fold away canvass quonset hut supported by a folding frame of steel tube. It wasn’t going to stave off an indian attack but it would keep the majority of snow off of the gizmos inside.

Things unpackd, we collected on the porch for that drink we’d been waiting for to warm us up and soothe our insulted muscles. “You goys are such pansies.” said Mike. “Why, when I was your age and just starting out I had to push a 20 mule team to tote the barrels of flour, sugar, dried meats and vegetables it took to feed a 1000 man cattle drive crew. Mike was pelted by drink coasters, wadded up cocktail napkins and a hearty booing and hissing. “You’re no older than we are you faker and most of us here attended your graduation from Gordon Blue.” said Aron, my friend and fellow mechanic at the local Fiat dealer.

“Well, it’s true in SPIRIT,” said Mikey. Okay, we could grant him that. All of us were Walter Mitty types in our own right. Besides, sitting outdoors was starting to get too cold for the group to sit around talking and so we took it inside. Dinner was, indeed, antelope, and it was great. I think we ate a leg along with some baked potatoes with everything, some peas and carrots, a great salad and creme brulet for dessert. We all curled up in front of the fireplace and began to scan the bands to see if we could find someone in an exotic land to talk to us. No such luck. Phil stepped onto the porch and said “Holy Crap!” We bustled up behind him and marvelled at the sight. Outdoors had become a fantasy land. The trees sparkled as if decorated every inch with diamonds.

Not just the trees, but the bushes, saplings, grass knots and the ground itself. It was as if glass particles of dust were heavily sifted as far as the eye could see and then suddenly exposed to a kiln. The result being a world sized sculpture of beauty and wonder. Yet a damp cold surrounded us, causing our interest in the magic to wane and we shuffled into the cabin and took positions near the giant fireplace. Another pair of logs were placed on the fire, seasoned oak cut into four and a half foot lengths and eight inched at the thick side of the split log. The fire would burn through the night, needing little to burst it back into life. The rocks and granite of the chimney and the firebox carry on the disbursal of heat as the flames consumed the huge fire logs and turned into glowing coals.  We gathered blankets and cushions and sat in front of the fire talking about everything and nothing, sipping brandy until our eyelids grew heavy and we fell asleep there in front of the fire.

During the night we were occasionally wakened by what sounded like muffled gunshots. It wasn’t alarming, something in our subconscious told us to go back to sleep. And we did.

The morning brought us awake to a shout from Mike. He’d stepped on the porch to fetch a couple of logs to rebank the fire, but stood staring out the door, seemingly mesmerized. We all woke up and with our blankets wrapped around us went to look out front. Phil’s Outback was covered in a four inch shell of clear ice. Around us, tree branches sagged to the ground, they too covered in the mass of ice that had fastened itself to everything in view. We sat entire trees, broken and laying across their neighbors, and many branches were snapped off within a foot of the trunk. None of the evergreens stood with their proud pointed tops pointing a finger at the heavens, but were bent over like a witch’s hat. Bushes that stood six to eight feet the day before wee turned into glass topped mushrooms, squashed to a height of three feet -if that.  The ground was a rough hewed skating rink that Phil challenged to go look closely at his car.

“Wait!” I yelled and stepped inside. I returned and held out his camera. “We gotta get a lot of pictures of this. No one’s going to believe what happened up here.” Or so I thought, unaware that the same blanket of ice covered the entire Spokane area -and more. Below, in the city, most power lines were broken and lay on the ground along with their cable and telephone counterparts. Cars were kitty-whumpus all over the roads and freeways as people were sure they were better drivers than nature was a malicious goblin, casting spells of mayhem everywhere. We didn’t know that people had moved into schools and other large scale buildings as shelter from the cold that had quickly permeated and taken possession of their homes, apartments and condos. Later, we would hear a growling noise that seemed to come from all directions that we would come to realize was a symphony of generators.

“We need to get below, off this mountain.” said Mikey.

“Screw that,” I said. First, we arent going to be able to chip the ice off of Phil’s Subaru, and even if we did, do you remember the ‘ahem’ road that brought us here?”

“No one’s chipping my car said Phil. We can wait this out and the ice will melt off.” We looked around and saw no signs of anything dripping, save for a few rivulets from the cabin roof. “We came up here to spend a few day just hanging out. Let’s just stick to the plan. We have a ton of food, plenty of water and we have satellite TV.”

The TV dish stood on an 8 foot post at the corner of the house. Phil went inside and returned with a hammer and a wooden crate he used to hold rolled newspaper for starting fires. He climbed up on the box using one hand to steady himself and the other hand to smack the ice coated dish. He made a dent but that was it. I suggested we heat some water in pans and pour it over the back of the dish. “What, lay the pans in the fire?” asked Mike.

“Naw, we’ll use the stove. I have an 8 foot propane tank. It can completely run the house for 25 days or so. Thus, we have hot water from the water heater and power for the TV, among other things.” A round of congratulations twittered through the group and Mike and I went to fetch some hot water. A half hour later, the dish was clear of ice and our now chilled to the bone group retired to the house.

We were starting to wear on each other after four days. Stupid arguments got heated over what to watch on television. We ended up watching the news and found that much of the city was functional, but it would be a couple of week before all homes had power. A check on Phil’s Outback showed it still entombed in ice and so we used the hot water method to unseal the driver’s door. After twenty or so minutes of work we were startled when a door shaped piece of ice separated from the car and crashed to the ground. We muscled it out of the way and Phil opened the door to a freezer-like interior. He tried the key and the car started immediately. Turning the heat controls to full hot, he stepped out and proclaimed we would wait and see if we could clear the ice in big chunks like happened with the door.

Ten minutes later showed water running off the car and we all set to trying to lift or slide ice and after a time, we’d cleared it.  Leaving the car running, we went back inside and collected our things and got the house set up to fare by itself until the next use. Throwing our stuff into the cargo hold, we hopped into the car and Phil se the vehicle for all wheel drive. We crept across the ice and got onto the road, in a good mood. Until we reached the first of twelve downhill patches of road. Phile took it very slow but gravity relentlessly pulled us until we were fairly flying down the hill. We reached the bottom and still under very limited control, slew up the slight incline to its top and then carried us down a mile long downhill. The road leveled and Phil managed to keep the car in the center. Then another downhill came along and soon we were careening down it. At the bottom was an intersection. The government had some domes that were part of the air navigation system that sat on a peak adjacent to the one the cabin was on. Apparently they’d had reason to visit it, because a layer of sand had been not only dusted up to the peak, but downhill all the way to the state line road. We flew down the hill and onto the sanded section and Phil carefully applied the brakes. “Ha!” he yelled. “Yes!”

The rest of the trip to drop each of us off at our homes was uneventful if not slow. Phil didn’t push his luck and none of us blamed him. I crawled out at my place and told the guys ‘thanks, it’s been real’ and snagged by bag from the locker. I didn’t watch them drive away instead trudged up to my door, slipping and falling twice, to see what nature’s goblin had done to me. Broken pipes? Vandals wrecking the place? Anything was possible.

Nothing was wrong in the house. It was cold and I turned on the only heat source I had; a gas fireplace in the living room. I turned it on full blast. From there I went to the garage and fetched my little Honda generator. I put it on my porch and ran a cord under the front door into my living room. I hooked it to my cable box, my TV, and my convection oven. It could handle a bit more than that but I figured why press my luck? I opened the doors to my fridge and was pleasantly surprised that odor of rot didn’t assail me. Warming the house would no doubt cost me some food. I got my car out of the garage carrying a couple of coolers and and got a weird look from the cashier when I asked for a bag and a block of ice. I picked up a few cans of stuff like spaghetti-os and beef stew, soup and a case of Cokes. I took it all to the counter and after a thought, picked up some peanut butter and white bread. From the pumps I filled my car and a pair of two gallon gas jugs.

Home again, I set up food storage on my back porch. The temperature there being about 28 degrees F. I put the block of ice into the freezer section of my fridge. After that, I took a nap.

It was 9pm and I was watching TV when someone came knocking at my door. I opened it and there stood a guy I thought I recognized as a neighbor. “Hey, man. It’s me. Jim Akerson two houses down?”

“Hi Jim, what brings you at this hour? I asked.

“Well, I see you have a generator here and I was wondering if I could, you know, tap into it.”

“Jeez, Jim. It’s only a 400 watt generator and I’m using all of that just for my absolute basics. If I shared it with you, neither of us would have enough power to do anything but light a light bulb.”

“Basics, huh?” I can hear the tv and see the light from it.” snarled Jim.

“The TV is battery operated and I don’t know how much longer it will work, and where do you get off judging me anyway?” I snarled. “You got kids?

“No, just me and my wife.”

“And you didn’t think enough of her to take at least SOME precautions against emergencies? Winter power outtages are common here, Jim, anyone thinking would lay in stores of a bit of food -a few days worth, and some water and a generator. ”

“Those things are expensive. I’m obviously not in your economic class.” growled Jim.

“I bought that generator at Goodwill for $25 bucks. You can’t tell me you live in a house and can’t find $25 lousy bucks to protect your wife.”

“Easy for you to say.”

“You got  a job, Jim?”

“Yeah, not much of one but I work security.” said Jim.

“Well, I’m unemployed and trying to find work. So I guess it’s good I spent that $25 when I had a little extra money. Let me tell you, Jim. The economy is in the trash, you got a job while guys like me have to stoop to the foodbank to eat and you want to give me crap like I’m Bill Gates or something?  Actually, that was a lie: I owned my own company and we were doing reasonably well. But the less Jim knew, the better.

“Jim?” said a woman’s voice behind him in the dark. “Leave him alone. He’s obviously not in a position to help. It’s not his fault.”

“You stay out of this Marcia.” snapped Jim. “You nag and nag me how you’re cold and hungry and now I’m doing something about it. Just shut up.” While his attention was misdirected I picked up my cell phone and dialed 911, hoping I had signal.”

“911, what is your emergency.” asked the operator.

“I live at 237 Oak and I have a man threatening me if I don’t turn over my scan supplies. I don’t know if he’s armed.” I said. I had the phone on speaker.

“Officers have been dispatched, can you describe the intruder?” she asked. I replied with his name and his address.

“Jim, let’s go!” said his wife. Jim spun around and slapped her hard enough she slipped on the ice and fell over. At that moment a cruiser pulled in front of my house and two police officers jumped out and carefully but firmly moved up and took Jim by and arm. After patting him down, the cuffed him and one of the officers moved to help the woman trying to get to her feet.

In the end, the cops took Jim to jail, charged with home intrusion, assault and domestic violence. I invited Marcia to stay with me. At least she could be warm and fed. She turned me down and said she was calling her sister who lived across town. The sister didn’t like Jim at all, and knew of his propensity for hitting Marcia.

I moved my generator to the back steps to make it less obvious and went back to watching TV. It took three more days before my lights came on and my baseboard heating began to warm the house. Power at my office was returned the following day and before long it was business as usual. It was an historic ice storm, felling thousands of trees and limbs, crushing homes and vehicles and killing some elderly through hypothermia. It took electric, phone and cable crews from three states to get the infrastructure back to a serviceable condition.

I bought a larger generator, one that could run my whole home on a limited basis and got the kind that hooked to my gas line, taking away from the need to buy gas. I also bought a gun.