Sometimes the most obvious things elude me and then, when I least expect it they hit me like a fist in the face. As children we were told that humans live to be seventy-five or so and most of us took the arithmetic for granted. I completed eighteen revolutions around the sun before I realized that the seventy-five year thing was an optimistic generality, a statistical ideal. When the Queen Mum expired at a hundred and one she cleared the way, mathematically, for a forty-nine year old to blow a gasket on the golf course.
Another thing I mistakenly took for granted, as a child, was that hospitals were places where people went to get better. The fact is that most people don't go to the hospital unless they are bumping up against the abyss so it stands to reason that many will fall. A significant percentage of the people reading this essay will go to the hospital to die.
Each of our individual realities will defy statistical analysis and I suppose that's half of the fun. If you can imagine such a thing as an unlimited life span, unfettered by chance or disease, you can picture abject boredom.
In such a world the suicide rate would be one hundred percent.
Every Friday was "Buck Pitcher Night" at The Spud
. From four-thirty in the afternoon until closing time, one dollar would pay for six beers and a fiver would knock you on your ass. Upperclassmen usually went on Thursday nights for "Thirty-five Centers," when each cocktail was just a quarter and a dime but they could afford to blow off class on Friday morning. Friday night was amateur night and the tightest budget could buy a buzz at Buck Pitchers.
It was the Friday before Spring Break and most of us were eager to bug out of town for a couple of weeks but The Spud was packed. A dollar pitcher of beer is a siren song to the impoverished student so Daytona Beach would just have to wait. I pissed away almost ten dollars that night and missed my ride home to Minneapolis altogether.
Walsh Hall was the largest dormitory on campus, housing more than three hundred students, but when I got back from The Spud that night it was eerily vacant. I was shit-faced, bouncing off the walls on the way to my room to pass out, when I ran into the only other soul in the building.
Scotty was the Resident Assistant on our floor and Scotty was a humorless f**k. Each wing of the building had an "R.A." to make sure we didn't have too much fun in college and our boy worked overtime. The annoying little twit wasn't even going home for Spring Break. It was no accident that Scotty Timmons was transferred to the party floor and he relished his situation as the new sheriff in town.
My suite mates and I were liberal arts majors with an emphasis on bong technology and beverage consumption, so Scotty focused his redemptive efforts on us. He'd write us up every time he'd catch a whiff of burning rope and he actually called the cops once when we were testing the limits of my roommate's new stereo. How were we to know that Bose 601's could achieve enough bass thrust to dislodge ceiling tiles?
It's humanity's saving grace that all of our wishes aren't granted because we are prone to wish for stupid things. Scotty Timmons was a thorn in my side for more than two years and I often wished the nosy little weasel would come to a bad end.
There is no doubt that Scotty saved my life that night so I'm necessarily ashamed to have ever wished him away.
The R.A. was cracking a book in the study carrel on our wing as I wobbled serpentine toward my room. What a weenie, I thought to myself. What kind of freak of nature would be studying on the Friday before Spring Break?
"Hey Scotty...hic...rock and roll, baby...hic."
The sober resident assistant didn't bother looking up from his Trig textbook. "Another late night at the library, Mr. Shute?"
"Nah Scotty...hic...just a little extra-cur...hic...ular at The Spud."
"Your parents must be proud."
"Aww f**k you Scotty...hic...your parents must be looking into retro...hic...active abortion."
Then it hit me, like a baseball bat to the stomach. Wham! Scotty weighed all of a hundred and fifty pounds with full pockets but he somehow gathered the strength to carry me to his car and drive me to the Emergency Room.
I was unconscious and the ER physician feared the worst. He sent Scotty back to the dorm to gather my personal information so that my parents could be notified. Scotty returned in twenty minutes with my file and spent the entire night at the hospital awaiting news of my fate. He decided that he would be the one to make the difficult phone call to my parents if things should take a bad turn.
Scotty felt it was wrong that I should die hundreds of miles from anyone who gave a shit about me so he stayed by my side and gave a shit. When I woke up two days later he was asleep in the chair next to my hospital bed.
The prairie emergency team felt they were out of their depth and so packed me off to spend Spring Break in a Minneapolis hospital.
I was born with a structural flaw that guaranteed the eventual explosion of one of my internal organs, Buck Pitchers just speeded things up a little bit. The tiny hose that was meant to vacate one of my kidney
s was too narrow and the suds from The Spud popped the organ like a water balloon
I was eighteen years old but for some reason they put me in the pediatric intensive care unit. The cartoon characters on the wallpaper and the big blue bunny on my door conspired with the massive doses of Demerol to make me believe I had fallen down the rabbit hole. After about a month of various surgical procedures and pharmaceutical smack I didn't know my own name.
When I came to my senses I felt nothing but self-pity, "I'm a kid, for chrissake, why me?" When the specialist showed me his plan for the final surgery, with a flair pen on a paper towel, I knew that the curtain was coming down.
My roommate in the hospital was a couple of years older than me and considerably more mobile. Bobby'd pace around the room, bitching about being put in the pediatric ward and bitching about the food and bitching about the nurses, whom he referred to as simply "those bitches."
He seemed pretty damned healthy to me and I wondered why he was in the Intensive Care Unit to begin with. He told me that he had Hepatitis C and that it was as serious as a heart attack. Bobby was drinking at Moby Dick's, the notorious watering hole on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, when a stranger accosted him.
A panhandler grabbed his shoulder as he exited the bar and demanded twenty-five cents. My ICU roomie resisted and told the bum to "get a "f**kin' job." The moocher spun Bobby around and punched him square in the teeth, cutting his fist in the process, and bleeding into Bobby's mouth. A tiny blood born pathogen hopped from host to host and the next thing Bobby knew he lived in the kiddie wing at North Memorial Hospital.
I had a fourteen inch, half-sutured, gash in my abdomen, with what looked like garden hoses tethering me to a wall of hissing machinery. I thought that Bobby had a lot of damned nerve to whine about his little punch in the teeth. He once told me that I had it made because I was allowed to self-administer my own morphine
and he had to beg "those bitches" to get a Tylenol
Almost every night we'd see the blue lights flashing in the corridor of the Intensive Care Unit and a crash cart would be summoned to attempt a miracle. Bobby had a dark sense of humor and he used to start singing "Another one bites the dust" every time the Code Blue Team ran past our room.
"...and another one gone and another one gone, another one bites the dust"
We were the only residents of the pediatric ward with pubic hair so Bobby was whistling past some pretty young graves. In the fog of my pain medication I came to believe that he was the Devil incarnate. I wished Bobby would get dead himself.
This life is funny and I don't mean "funny ha-ha." Bobby would sing his song to dying babies and I'd fall deeper into doubt about our existence and its value. Toward the end I concluded that our lot as human beings was entirely arbitrary and without any definite meaning or worth. Bobby proved me wrong when the crash cart came for him.
His life was worth exactly twenty-five cents.