Me and filling stations have a history. First, they are no longer called filling stations but convenience stores. Not to brag but we here in Savannah we know our convenience stores. Two of the bigger convenient store/ gas station companies are located here: Parker’s and Enmarket. Which given my experiences over the years explains why I was destined to live in Savannah. My earliest memories of gas stations were the Stuckey’s filling stations where they had candy and souvenirs and of course gas. One of my experiences was an outing to Chehaw State Park in Alabama. Chehaw Mountain is the highest point in the state of Alabama. I had taken my date to the top of scenic Chehaw Mountain to see the world and have a picnic there. The only problem was I left my money at home and when we got in the car to return, I noticed I was very low on gas. The emphasis is on very. We had to coast down the mountain and roll into the nearest filling station. We then reached in between the seat cushions to find as much change as we could. We were blessed to find enough for a gallon and a half to make it back. Yes, gas was a lot cheaper in those days. The trip because of the seat cushion emergency fund was not a disaster but it did redefine a cheap date.
Gas is on everyone’s mind with the seemingly unending rise of gas prices. When will it stop? But all this angst has made me reminisced about the way things were. As far as gas stations are concerned. I am old enough to remember when air was free at gas stations. Now a days you must pay for it. I can remember how offended I was the first time I drove to a filling station to air my tires and found I must pay. I worried that the corporations may start charging for the very air I breathed. This was a scary thought and probably not far from the truth. I also remember the national crisis of the many lost gas caps. It may be hard to believe but once gas caps did not have an attachment to the car. This was before they were attached by plastic to the gas tank as we have now. Without attachment tended to disappear. Gas caps were left on the gas tanks or on the top of your car and when you drove away the fell. The gas attendants (I know another foreign concept) would discover the gas caps and no one knows what became of them. I believe that somewhere there are gas stations who made fortunes for their owners because of the lost gas caps economy of Americas’ car owners. This in turn caused of the advent of the billionaire class. But it amazes me to think that the person who developed the little plastic attachment is now richer than your grandmother’s chocolate cake.
One of my most horrendous incidents happened at a filling station. I was a teenager and very involved in the Church. The choir Director demanded I sing in the choir thinking it would increase members and attendance. What he had not counted on was the noise that proceeded from my mouth back in those days. Try as he might with all his years of training, he could not make me sing quietly or in tune. Until one day he gave up and told me to mouth the words to the songs. Which of course limited my interest in participating in the Choir until I heard about the upcoming choir tour. Away from home with all my favorite beloved female sisters in the Lord was an opportunity not to be missed. Yet the Choir Director had every intention that I would not sing of my rejoicing in the Lord on this tour. But he knew he had to allow me to go on the trip. What is a good Choir Director to do? Needing a vehicle to carry the sound equipment and instruments he approached my father and ask if they could use our van and if I could drive and oversee setting the stage. This solved the Choir Director’s dilemma and provided me a non-lethal to the ears way to participate.
So, there I was on the wide-open road with my best friend following the bus to our various destinations. I was cool I was driving while the rest were in the bus. My friend and I sang ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ having no clue what it meant and ‘I am Woman hear me now’ having a strange disconnect with two males singing it. It was a glorious trip. But afterwhile the van began to overheat in the summer sun of southern Alabama every few hours. I was constantly pouring water and antifreeze in the radiator. None of this was working. Finally, one day with the needle in the red I flashed my lights to the bus in front to pull over. We did at a filling station. I knew the routine by now: open the hood with rag slowly unscrew the radiator cap. But this time without warning the cap flew off water gushing out of the radiator as a geyser with the hot water landing on my stomach soaking my shirt. Instantly the hot water was burning my skin. I ran away in panic pulling my shirt off. All eyes in the bus were on me. I shrieked and ran around. But when I noticed the eyes of the bus were turned toward me, I bucked up and grimace and withheld my desire to continue to run in panicked circles. I realized I had pulled off my shirt and all my well-toned athletic muscles were now on display. The hot water from the shirt made putting the shirt back on untenable. So, I began to pose in muscle flexed positions and hid the pain. The counselors all came running and the choir surrounded me. I had everyone’s attention. My voice had alarmed them. Yes, I said my out of tune voice had demanded the attention of everyone. I thought impressive hunh Mr. Choir Director.
Luckily, the burns were only minor but did take a daily application of salve. The accident worked in my favor in two ways. First it allowed me to show my lean physique to all my lady friends. Something my modesty would not let me do ordinarily. I knew in my teenage fantasy world the women had to be impressed even if my shirtless form took on the writhing and shrieking of pain nature. Secondly, I had become the center of the trip. Forget the soloist. It was me at the center. Every day, I was asked to report on my healing and pain. The young ladies were expressly concerned. And then I was able to bypass all Baptist conventions and ask for the laying of hands on my body by women of my choice to help apply the salve to heal this broken soul. Afterall what good Christian would refuse to offer a fellow brother in the Lord assistance. Life was good. This was the closest I came to being laid that teenage year. And all this was achieved at a filling station.
Yes, filling stations have provided for all my needs throughout my life. Stay tune for more filling stations sagas in the next issue.
I sit alone. I wish a friend would pass by to divert my mind from the emptiness it is currently experiencing. A tale is a hard thing to tell when nothing comes to mind. Surely my stories have not ended. Maybe I am surrounded by dull people who are not making my life interesting. Maybe I need new friends. Maybe I do not travel or live in the places of stories. Whatever the cause I am drawing blanks, but I need to write a story. A change of venue might help. No, I am not talking about coffee shop. Okay I can try a coffee shop. I need pavlova. Sadly, here I am writing waiting for someone to do something that sparks a story, but they all conspire to be normal. Maybe normalcy is the story, but no one would read that. Wait there is that attractive woman over there. But alas we do not write stories from the head in the pants but the one on your shoulders.
Maybe I should yell that might create a story of renown. I do not like the word renown. A story of interest. No, I have already used interest too much. God now I am stuck here until the right word reveals itself. I have been waiting for five minutes the right word has not come. Geez.
Is this writer’s block? But that is so trite. What is the damn (my grammar correct alerts me that this word might offend you) right word? It is not writer’s block it is a damn vocabulary block. Note is that the word. No, it does not quite catch the essence of what I mean. A story of consequence. Although I would love a story of consequence I would be satisfied with a story of content. Damn I still do not have the word. I start listening to the conversations around me in the hope someone uses the word I need. No this is not eavesdropping. It is an artistic endeavor to improve the quality of my work. Oh, these heathens have no words of use only tales of affairs, workplace embezzlements, deaths, and yes you guessed it the weather. How pedestrian. But no word.
May be if I read the signs, the coffee cups, or other written verbiage around me a word that resonates will appear. Nothing but artisanal premium on the cup. Coca cola on the fridge. This place is empty there are no more conversations to hear or enough words to read. What kind of coffee shop is this there are not enough words in this place. I am not coming back here. Okay that is an overstatement. I love their tiramisu. Oh, hell what is the word I need. People rush out of the building leaving me nothing in return but a blank sheet of paper. All that hubbub and no stories. Writing is not easy. I might get their seven-layer bar it is superb. The staff is not behind the counter. Probably trying their best to not reveal the word I need or hide the story I seek.
Life is so amazing why can I not find a story to tell its triumphs and harrumphs. The stagnations and revelations. The mystery and misery. The Surprises and reprises. The devastations and celebrations. And yet with all this that life offers I cannot muster up one story. Wait a moment is one of these the word I seek. Oh hell, I forgot the word for which I was searching. Now I am totally lost in the box of no returns. I have nothing to say.
‘Sir’. Where is this voice coming from? It is not the voice of any of my fictional characters of which I am familiar. Wait, the voice is coming from outside my head. It is the voice of a frightened barista. What is he saying? You need to leave. ‘Why?’ I ask indignantly. ‘The building is on fire and everyone has left but you’ he replies. ‘You mean I need to leave’ I with an annoyance answer. ‘Yes’, the panicked barista states. I pack slowly up. I cough a little it sure is smokey in here I consider. The barista has long since left me alone. I walk out the building and rhe sounds of shrieking sirens accost my ears. Crowds are gathered. I think a story still has not disclosed itself to me. I depart not having my word or my story. Disappointing day.
It was to be the ‘big outing’. Our two daughters were graduating from high school and college and my wife was turning a celebrated and significant age. All the markers were in place to do something big. We discussed doing a grand tour of Japan and making a small foray into China. Research was being done and a great event was being planned. Covid happened. Japan and China would not be choices. But we were not discouraged thinking that other parts of the world would not be as problematic. We looked at a trip to Greece, Turkey, and Egypt. Chris who teaches Art history had taught about the Pyramids in Egypt, the Hagia Sophia in Turkey, and the Parthenon for over twenty years; yet had never seen any of these. It would be a great adventure. Covid continued. We would not be able to go overseas anywhere. So, I the eternal optimist said Niagara Falls and Canada. We had been to Vancouver and had a wonderful time. Now we could see Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City. But in the end even the very nice Canadians would not take us in. By this time, we would have to stay stateside and not even sure where we could go and what would be opened at any place stateside, we went. But never to be stopped we decided to spend the big year in Columbus. No not Columbus, Ohio but Columbus, Indiana.
Now hear me out. My wife and daughters wanted to go to a wedding in Indianapolis, Indiana. It had been cancelled twice because of covid but with the new vaccine they had decided to try one more time. Many moons ago I went to seminary and worked in Louisville and had made a foray into Columbus, Indiana not Ohio. I had camped in the beautiful Brown County State Park (the largest in Indiana) and while there had discovered Columbus in Indiana not Ohio. As it was and always will be Columbus has one of the most significant collection of modern architecture in the United States. It is usually listed in any list of places with significant architecture in the United States. It is a small city with a population of around 50,000 people. One day the city was thinking big and decided that they would become a mecca for modern architecture and somehow, they have made it happen. Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Robert Venturi, Cesar Pelli, Richard Meier, and Harry Weese, to name a few. Once the modern architecture began to frame the landscape of the city, they began to acquire public art by some of the more accomplished modern artists of the time Dale Chihuly, Jean Tinguely, Henry Moore, Robert Indiana and others. This is combined with one of the best city parks in the United States (Landscape Management recognized this 85-acre riverfront park as one of the top 100 parks in the nation for design, reputation, and accessibility), a historic bed and breakfast (Irwin Gardens an 1860 building and a 1912 garden), and last, but not least a famous ice cream shop. What else could you want I said to three skeptical set of ears.
Things happened. A flood the week before we left covered a third of the park with water and made the highly anticipated canoe trip cancelled because the water had not receded. Oh yeah and the city known for its bike trails was not bikeable because of the flood. Of course, we knew none of this before we went. So now I panicked what the hell were we going to do. Two days of our itinerary were gone. Our trip to the historic ice cream shop was a disaster because it was Father’s Day, and the wait was longer than even the wait for Savannah’s famous Leopold’s ice cream. What I thought was an ace in the hole while good was neutralized by the crowd and we waited on a a very hot day. But, through maneuverings of a great planner I was able to find the one bike shop opened so they could go mountain biking in my beloved Brown County State Park. They had never been mountain biking before, and it turns out they will never go mountain biking again they enjoyed it so much. Everyone was trooping but the magic adventure I had planned was turning into dark magic. The adventure was turning into a Titanic one.
The eating was good Ramen, sushi, Indian, health food. The problem was the bookend meals were not and left a taste of bitterness in our mouths. At the first restaurant we had no air conditioning on one of the hottest days of the summer it was hot as a sweat lodge and the last dinner was at a Chinese restaurant which the food was not good, and the restaurant was more takeout than sit down (they had to clear the boxes from the one table for us to have a place to eat) and Styrofoam and plastic were the china set. The fancy dinner this was not. This was not the sendoff I imagined.
That was not to say everything was horrible. The Inn, T C Steele historic home (in neighboring Nashville Indiana not Tennessee), the architecture and public art was grand. But, of course, the architecture was one of the agenda items that the youngest would be vaguely interested and the oldest would enjoy but would do the walking as if it was a sprint. So, the youngest on a very hot day was rushed at top speed all over the city to see things she was not interested in. And the oldest enjoyed herself but the days activity took them less than two hours. My wife and I took the better part of the day blissing over the things we saw. Thank God they had two wonderful coffee shops to consume certain speedsters’ time. But even the architecture came with a major hitch. The Miller House designed by Eero Saarinen, the house and gardens showcased the work of leading 20th-century figures such as interior designer Alexander Girard and landscape architect Dan Kiley. It was a must see of Columbus and the architectural world. It was another of my ace in the hole events. But when I went to reserve tickets, I found much to my chagrin you had to make reservations three months ahead of time. No matter how much I begged and cajoled I could not acquire the tickets necessary. This was the one thing I had never done before so I was disappointed. Now the disaster had become personal. That was not right.
And is not that the whole concept of modern architecture as Frank Gehry says “Life is chaotic. Buildings (or vacations*) should Reflect it.” This was our vacation and yet in the midst of the vacation the minimalist architecture assured us that life does not need much and just a little can give you peace.
I now realized the three skeptical ears would remain skeptical of the next adventure I suggested. My two daughters now plan their own adventures. My wife has become a house body. And I fantasize about a never-will- happen return to Columbus when everything is working to redeem myself. Or there is this city called New Harmony I once visited, any takers?
But hey we survived the plaque, floods, and heat. We had maybe a decent time along the way. But the girls are already planning an adventure for next summer. One that does not involve any suggestions from me.
Roger Wright was in my dreams again. He is a recurring figure in my dreams. He is someone I was friends with in High School. We never spent a lot of one-on-one time together but belong to the same gang and played football together. Our big adventure was our football coach allowing us to run an errand together to some other local town or place. The chores gave us an official license to skip school and Roger a chance to hone his skills with a manual shift pick-up truck. Which shall I say tongue firmly in cheek were not the smoothest of rides. We would end up driving the rural roads around our hometown talking and enjoying the ride and the freedom. The chores at least for us were never the agenda. In fact, we returned at least once two hours later without what we were supposedly to have gone for in the first place.
They say you never appreciate something until it is gone. Lives were lost, school, movies, and many other things were lost in the year of Covid-19. But the most significant thing I lost was a room. My daughter could no longer do school in the building created for such activity. It was her senior year of high school. She now needed room for her ‘School’ in our home. We have a small but nice home In Savannah. Our space was limited. But she not only needed a space for her desk and books she was a dancer and needed room to dance. This left only one room in the house with room enough to fulfill this need: our living room. So on a frenzied day in Spring 2020 we rearranged the room into a classroom/dance studio. While it was not a perfect space it was more than adequate for her needs. This would be her last year with us before she went off to college. I was saddened that she would not be face to face with her friends doing those things we all did during our senior year of high school. But health and safety were more important during this pandemic that no one knew when it would end.
The space was hers for sixteen months. She guarded it fiercely. She did not like through traffic. She found it hard enough to be dancing alone in her home without parents traipsing through at any given moment. Any semblance of ‘attending class” was lost if I poked my head in the room to ask ‘one of my million dollar’ questions that occurred to me during the day. She was a teenager transforming into a woman. She was declaring her independence more each day. She was not mine; she was now her own.
The room became the forbidden room for me. I only went in on weekends or at night. But there was basically only her chair and desk as furniture. There was no other furniture to sit on because she needed the floor for her dancing. Even if I wanted to sit there was no space.
Not only did I lose the room I lost the door. The front door opened into the living room. I was now coming in and out the back door. It was the lost of the room and the seeing of our home from literally another perspective that I realized how much I had lost.
This was the room of my first sex with my wife, family Christmases, family meetings to plan chores or adventures, birthday celebrations, reading of books, my meditation, and many of my favorite family activities. But the room was also the place where we invited the world in. I not only lost the room I lost the world. The room was always kept clean for company to come expected or unexpected. We entertained people for Thanksgiving and other future friends for the first time in this room. There was the slash and burn dinner where the stove caught on fire and I sliced my finger at dinner bleeding everywhere. There was also the dinner where I inserted foot into mouth over an ill-timed architectural observation. There were more successful dinners but always a room filled with friends and family.
It was the place of dreams and efforts to change the world. We hosted our bookclub which has met for over twenty years in there. We hosted the small body of people of the Unitarian Universalist Beloved Community there. With that group we planned World Peace Day, held services in between our church buildings, and hosted social times with this group of people. UUBC which for eight glorious years held Peace Festivals, fought for the life of Troy Davis on death row, offered a liberal religious education for children, presented a place for a few radicals to come together was an integral place in that room. It was also the place on an excruciating night over dinner we decided to disband as a church. That night harsh things were said to me justified or not. The last service of our group was held in that very room. It was a good service of affirmation and love with a tinge of sadness and loss.
Some of us took the proceeds left from that meeting as seed money to start Joined In Giving. A small group that meets once a month over dinner to socialize, share a meal, and decide out of two non-profits in our community who we will give $800 to that month. We have learned so much about the good people are doing in our community and have been able to assist and show our appreciation of what they are doing through this one simple act. It was planned there and meets regularly in that room. It has given over $50,000 to the community.
This room was a regular meeting space for a ragtag group of men who came together for over ten years to provide a safe place to discover themselves and find healing.
This room was the place where an attempt to start a group called Savannah Think Tank was started to create new ideas for my beloved city that would make it more whole. We were a black and white female editors, a popular pastor and former Broadway performer, an artist and entrepreneur, and more involved. But that attempt was cut short by the advent of my struggle with cancer. It was too young of an effort to survive on its own and I was unable to live the life I wanted while struggling with Cancer. It became a room where we stood in the darkness of cancer and came through on the other side. The room seemed to hold us together in the midst of cancer.
It seems odd that so much of my life could have taken place in that room. Life was not put on hold but it was rearranged in ways that I did not want or ask for. But it was through the back door that I realized I wanted something of beauty in the back yard. I wanted to see the beautiful and peaceful things of life. A battle hard won over cancer and Covid had left me in need in ways I never realized before. The yearning need for color, life, and beauty. I was transitioning into a new phase of life. So gradually yellow and bright purple has sprouted. A design has developed that offers symmetry and small surprises along the way. It too is a small place. But I sit on a bench in the garden or a chair on the raised back porch and marvel why the small place can slowly speak to something going on inside of me. The rooms up front were filled with activities to change myself and the world and hopefully that will return but the back small garden reminds me in a world full of pain and suffering I have a need to see a little of the quiet beauty that exist. I will never have much by design (a privilege everyone does not have) but most of what I need is found in a small room and a small garden in my backyard.
My daughter will go off to college. I will continue to reenter life. Things will change. Life will go on. I will meet challenges that will sometimes call for rearranging furniture, growing a new garden, continuing to open doors to the outside world, and making room for life in all of its goodness and harshness.
We are continuing to look at some of the intellectual capital that Savannah State University has brought to Savannah. The next professor is one of Savannah’s seminal musicians and influencers of contemporary music. His stage name was Duke Bootee and his real name was Edward Fletcher. He is known best for his hip-hop hit ‘The Message’. Fletcher grew up in Elizabeth, N.J. and came from a hip-hop environment. “The neighborhood I was living in, the things I saw — it was like a jungle sometimes in Elizabeth,” Mr. Fletcher told The Guardian in 2013. In another interview, with the hip-hop historian JayQuan, he recalled how often someone would “ride by and you hear a bottle get broken.”
When he proposed the song he worked for Sugar Hill Record Company, they were at first reluctant to produce it. They eventually gave the song to Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five who were baffled with what he was doing. He played all the instruments except for the guitar and offered his baritone for several of the verses.
Why the Message is so important when it came out in 1981 before it was produced hip-hop was all about the party scene and creating dance music. The Message took hip hop in a different direction with its realism and social commentary in the song. The rhymes included “Got a bum education, double-digit inflation/Can’t take the train to the job, there’s a strike at the station.” Or this verse “Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge/I’m trying not to lose my head/It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder/How I keep from going under”. Mr. Fletcher wrote most of the lyrics and the lurching, ominous electro melody.
According to Rolling Stone the Message was the greatest song in hip-hop history and a major influence on rappers like Jay-Z and the Notorious B.I.G. It also helped earn Grandmaster Flash and his band a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, even though Melle Mel was the only one of them to appear on what was called “their masterpiece,” aside from a short closing skit. The song is number one on Rolling Stone's list of 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time. “The world (me included) absolutely froze in its tracks the week it debuted on radio,” the musician and songwriter Questlove wrote in Rolling Stone. “Hip-hop was once known as party fodder, a fad. ‘The Message’ pulled a 180 and proved it could be a tool of sociopolitical change. The Message was the first hip-hop song added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.
In 1984, Fletcher ever the individualist recorded his solo album as Duke Bootee, "Bust Me Out." He formed his own label — Beauty and the Beat Records, which released his single “Broadway” — and appeared alongside Melle Mel on the all-star Artists United Against Apartheid single “Sun City."
He wrote for, produced, and mixed for artists like Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, P. Diddy, Dr. John and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones.
He was one of the bosses when it came to hip hop music. But he gave up his musical career to teach. He explained the money he was making was not worth all the travel and the time away from his family. He said his family, full of teachers, was in the business of teaching and he wanted to support the family business. He went back to school received a master’s degrees from the New School in media studies and from Rutgers University in education. He worked at a juvenile detention center, a high school and two colleges. He came to Savannah in 2007 and spent the last decade of his career as a lecturer in critical thinking and communication at Savannah State University. In a statement, SSU said, "Savannah State University is saddened by the death of Edward Fletcher. He came to Savannah State University as a lecturer on Critical Thinking & Communication educating countless students after his career in the music industry.”
A friend in His obituary in the Savannah News said he “loved his cigars, coffee, jazz and the beauty of his wife's natural hair,". A former student in the same obituary said. "He gave us a whole lecture one time about embracing your natural self." in an interview He propounded what he called the Fletcherian Principles. In the Channel 28 interview, the rap godfather explained the ultimate Message he had worked out for young students: “Figure out a way to take care of yourself, legal. Find somebody you can stand that can stand you. Pay your taxes. Take care of your teeth.”
Fletcher retired in Savannah in 2019 and died in 2020. Obituaries of his death could be found in every major U.S. Publication from the New York Times to Variety. He was yet another man that contributed to Savannah’s intellectual capital.
When I was in college, I had my share of unusual roommates. One would sleepwalk on the first night I found him in the dark with bended knees and swinging his arms back and forth. He was talking out loud ‘Let us see who could jump the longest’.” He then jumped a millimeter in the air and proclaimed triumphantly, ‘I won. I won.’ Then he crawled back in bed and slept the rest oof the night. The next night I woke with him banging on the door screaming, ‘Fire, Fire.” I woke up fast and looked all around the room and there was no fire to be seen and I realized he was sleepwalking again. When I confronted him the next day, he confidently stated he did not sleepwalk. In awake life we did not get along. I thought he was a bit weird, and he appeared to hold me in disdain. Between the awake dislike of each other and his sleepwalking I looked for another roommate.
My second roommate was a drum player who every time we were alone, he needed to wrestle. I was stronger and quicker and always won but he would provoke me to no end until I would subdue him. But as soon as I would let him up, he would come after me again. Years later (Yes years later I am a little slow on the uptake) upon reflection I have concluded it was serving some homoerotic purpose for him.
But the roommate who was the most memorable introduced himself as Sherwood Tidwell from Wadley, Alabama. Sherwood had never been away from home overnight without his mother. Whenever he was upset at something someone said or did, he would say in his almost lisp how waffle. The words that would upset him were any curse words. So of course, some chose to rib him with specially selected curse word laden conversations. Everyone loved to see the tizzy he would throw. Pacing back and forth and with the eventual how waffle. Because I was the resident assistant, he expected me to censor his hallmates. But he lost me when someone said damn in his presence and he became a nervous wreck demanding the death penalty for such a heinous crime.
He was upset by sexual language. Need I remind you that this was a hall of college men. Whenever I would ask his floor mates to lighten up, they would explain it was for his own good. And I realized they were sincere, maybe wrongly so, but heartfelt. They always included him in any of their games and shenanigans. Though, sometimes his easy offense drove them crazy.
He was meticulously clean. Always wearing khaki pants and a button-down shirt with penny loafers. He would also incessantly wash his hands six or eight times a day for at least five minutes. When I questioned him about his handwashing, he said he had oily skin. Which he did so I no longer question his dorm behavior His bed was always made and the sheets always clean. He took showers at least twice a day. The floor shared a locker room style shower room. He always went in the shower stall entirely dressed and left the shower stall entirely dressed.
Regretfully, he made the perfect target for bullying. They would hang naked pictures of women on the hall door and our room door. And he could not enter the hall or his room. I would find him sitting on the hallway stairs when I would return to the room. He would explain to me the horribleness of the pictures. When I asked him why he did not tear them down. He would explain to me he could not touch them. I guess they would pollute his body. Apparently, he thought my body was beyond polluting as he asked me to tear them down for him. I try to convince him if they saw him tear them down, they would be unlikely to put more up. But he would pace back and forth on the landing saying he could not touch them and would I please remove them. So, I relented and taped them to the door of the person most likely to have posted them in the first place. Then as the resident assistant for the hall wrote him a note that nude pictures on his door was against the rule. That seemed to stop that harassment.
Every night he would call his mother always at the same time. The conversations could last for over thirty minutes. Every Friday he would head home for the weekend. This would upset some when suddenly he would have to stop in a middle of a card game to call his mother. The other players would insist that he finish the game before he called but he never could which would bring an assault of some cursing and him exclaiming how waffle.
The residents of the hall had decided that Sherwood needed to stay at the dorm for a weekend. They began to prod Sherwood to stay. They even resorted to bribery. A free meal out and no curse words for the weekend. But Sherwood was not going to stay. It had been over a year and still he had never stayed a weekend. One day they inquired from Sherwood what he was going to do that weekend. He said study. They insisted he could do that here. Because he was struggling, one of the other pharmacy students offered to help him study over the weekend if he stayed. I could see the storm developing but knew I could not stop it. A Friday came and Sherwood was in a panic he could not find his car, car keys, or suitcase. He was pacing and shaking his head and washing his hands when I came on the hall. He insisted that I demand his keys from whoever had taken them. I said have you asked for them. He said it was not his job too. When I required of his other hallmates what was going on. They said he needed to promise to stay one weekend on campus and they would ‘find’ his keys. They stated if he came to them in two hours and demanded the keys, they would help him find them. I reported back to him he needed to promise to stay a weekend or wait two hours and demand the keys and they would give them to him. Although he was in a panic to get home, he would not promise to stay a weekend. He was reaching a breaking point. I told him than wait two hours and go ask for them. If they did not at that time ‘find’ them I would start penalizing them. He insisted that he would not ask for them they would give them to him. I agreed this would be good, but I sincerely doubted this would happen. He was now not so much in a panic but a power struggle. I looked at him and shook my head. I was slowly getting curious would panic or his desire to win the power struggle win. I had never seen this side of him before. He was in anguish, but he would neither promise to stay a weekend or ask for the keys. I asked if he wanted to file a formal complaint although he would have to file it with the whole dorm hall. No apparently, he was above that. He liked the guys too much to get them in trouble.
For two hours he was in a total frenzy. I thought he would have to cave. But he waited another hour. Pacing up and down the hall. The guys were tiring of the game. They wanted to start their weekends. To my amazement they were caving. It started with grumblings among his hallmates about whether they should give Sherwood his keys. But the ones with nothing better to do held fast. Sherwood washed his hands and told me a few times they and me were waffle. Another hour passed only two remained. I looked at them and said I would pay for a pizza outing but they would have to find the keys before we left. This picked another one off. Now the contest was between Sherwood and the most harassing member of the hall. Sherwood and he had good times although he was the most vulgar and sent Sherwood rushing down the hall saying how waffle more than once. I had no hope of him caving and to my amazement I did not see Sherwood caving. I was also ready for this standoff to end. I had things to do but could not leave Sherwood. Sherwood looked at me and said I could leave. He would wait. I went down the hall and said he had proven his point (this was six hours later) give him his keys. He looked at me and said he is not really going to cave. I said I did not think so. He looked totally puzzled. I shrugged my shoulders and said surprises are found in everyone. He sighed and said, ‘if he comes to the room I will give them to him.’ I told Sherwood this and he said he needs to bring them to me. I relayed the message to the key holder and said it was time for him to give up the keys. He looked at me and said you are no fun. But because you are making me, I will give them to you. I took the keys and returned them to Sherwood. I detected a smile on the corner of his lips. ‘Thanks Mike’, he said. I laughed inside Sherwood had battled the whole hall and he won, who would have thought this. Sherwood said,’ You know when I am at home I am going to talk to my mother about staying for a weekend.’
My Grandmother Freeman was the ultimate lady. She was always dressed to the tee. Her house never saw a speck of dust much less dirt. No item was ever out of place. She never spoke out of turn or unkind words. She was a Pankey which meant she was tall and lean. She had the best social skills of the day. Her taste while narrow was impeccable. She was every bit the force my Grandfather was. I now realized why she was grandmother and never grandma. Grandma is not quite enough respect for such a proper lady as she.
Holidays and other events could be interesting. She would always fix my favorite cake and I would always wait and see what type of cake my favorite was that year. Red velvet, apple, German chocolate, carrot cakes were my most frequent favorites. Fortunately, I liked all of them. She would with much fanfare cut me a large slice and serve me first. I always lived in fear that one day my favorite would be something I could not stomach but I would still have to eat so as not to hurt her feelings.
When Grandad died she insisted I have as my inheritance a Waterford crystal ash tray my Grandfather used. It was one of his prized possessions. But it was also a reminder of how he died in pain from lung cancer he developed after years of smoking. She gave it to me despite the fact I was an avowed anti-smoker. It was an heirloom that she knew he would want me to have. Today it sits on a bookshelf in my bedroom.
After Grandad died she became a bargain shopper. Bargains were all she could afford on her fixed income. Her favorite place was a local department store called Hammers. She could walk downtown from her apartment to the store. They had bins where they would put clothes that would not sell at offers you could not refuse. And refuse she never did. Now of course she would never admit that she purchased from these bins especially for presents. Yet some of the presents could not have been found anywhere else in America.
So, dozens of socks could be found inside of our meticulously wrapped presents. Many times, the socks would have small defects. Such as the pair did not match. She would have been appalled if she knew this and we would never tell her about it. So, this condition continued until her death.
But one year she out did herself. She was proud of what she had discovered for me. She made it clear to me this would be one of my all-time favorite gifts. Now one would need to be reminded that I was a young man in an age when men were not allowed to venture outside of dark neutral colors in their dress. Gender fluidity was not flowing as a term we would have recognized. One of my shirts was a pale pink shirt. This caused quite the discussion whenever I wore it. I was ahead of my time.
When I opened the gift a verbal gasp or quiet snicker could be heard as everyone witnessed what I withdrew from the unwrapped box. It was a bright oversized purple sweatshirt. After making sure I had not misidentified the object I quickly removed my jaw from the floor. I looked at her to see if I could detect a smile to let me know this was a prank. There was no such smile on her face. I knew what I had to do next, smile the biggest grin of appreciation and eventually before the day was over model it for all to see. This was not a thing you want to do in front of your two brothers. But I did.
The shirt through the years grew on me and I would wear it more frequently especially around the house. It always reminded me of grandmother. And strangely although it was most certainly from the bargain bin of Hammers it never aged. One day my oldest daughter needed to have something to wear around the house and she found my purple sweatshirt and wore it as an oversized pajama top. Slowly through time it became hers. Later my youngest daughter absconded it from her sister and now wears it around the house. It is not faded, thread worn, and has finally found its glorious time in the fashion world.
When I see my daughter wearing it now I am reminded of grandmother. I also smile to myself because I am certain that the shirt will one day be worn by a grandchild and maybe even a great grandchild. Who would have thought that such a thing could become an heirloom. Probably, my grandmother.
Five months later, the spots on my spine are almost gone. This was done through the renown advanced technique of doing nothing and seeing what happens. This medical procedure is more expensive than you may think. The pain I originally felt when I was in the hospital is still here. It appears that I have two ruptured discs in my spine which are pinching my nerve. They blame it on arthritis. I blame it on the doctor’s yachts.
They want to give me a shot in the back to see if the swelling will go down. I said yes to this because the other two alternatives were a back operation or live with the pain. Living with the pain did not seem as painful as the shot, so there you have it. When the doctor took me to the appointment secretary he stated,’ Mr. Freeman would like to be scheduled for a shot in the back” I stated,’ Like is a pretty strong word. ’So, in a little while I will receive the shot and feel better or explore surgery to sand down the spinal bone that is piercing the nerve. My doctor says this is a normal procedure. I think he has a unique ideal of what is normal.
It is time to talk about other things besides my medical problems. I am going to have to think of things to do and places to be so I can liberate my mind from the dullness of illness. One of the things that is taken place without my permission is: while I was ill one of my daughters is graduating from college and wants to move across the country and the other graduates from high school and is moving to college and after college wants to go to culinary school in Singapore. It is as though my illnesses have not slow them down a bit.
It is Spring in Savannah and who can not be mesmerized by the beautiful weather. Savannah also has not slowed down either, the arena is quickly being erected, as is Eastern Wharf, as is two major buildings on Indian street, as is the new federal building on Telfair Square. Now I hear the Savannah Repertory Theater is building/renovating a theater on Broughton Street and the Tybee Marine Science Center’s new building is completed. I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle except I have had my eyes wide shut. This was all revealed to me as I took a drive around Savannah and to Tybee Island.
Meanwhile, as the world turns my vertigo is back. But that is okay, I see a light albeit a swirling light at the end of the tunnel. I am feeling the most energetic I have felt in the last three years. I am ready for the world. Oh, I forgot we are living in a Covid-19 pandemic. The world is not ready for me quite yet. But, then again, my wife says the world is never ready for me.
The MRI had shown lesions on my spine the Neurologists had apologized and suddenly I was overcome with every type of doctor known to humanity. Even my cancer doctor had made his way to my door. But instead of his self-confident dry humor he was somber. I liked his other version better. Physical Therapists were now ever present. They even gave me playdough to play with. And now I even had my own Neurosurgeon. The lesions made the hospital allow my wife to visit me once a day now despite Covid-19 rules. The nurses became even more vigilant. One nurse refused to let me out of bed without assistance. I had been roaming freely throughout the room until her. I even had a nurse puncture me with a needle in the stomach once a day. Things were looking up.
The lesions were causing a problem for the doctors. They did not know what to do. Physical therapy was fast assisting me to regain the use of my hand. The stomach puncturing nurse had to be told to desist by me. I had been told by the doctor that I should not be receiving that medicine anymore. My nurse gave me one last shot justifying it to the other nurse by saying he would give me one more shot because it was the ‘Candler way’; whatever the hell that meant.
The doctors were arguing back and forth about my treatment. The Neurosurgeon did not want to operate because of the precarious positioning of the lesion on my spinal cord might cause another neurological issue if he took a biopsy. The cancer doctors said they would not treat until they knew if the lesions were malignant or not. I stood in the middle of this ‘debate’. Finally, if I agreed they would do a spinal tap on me to see if the fluid from my spinal cord would show them what was happening.
Then came the big debate of 2020: what hospital would perform the spinal tap and which would house me after the procedure. This great debate cost me another day in the hospital. I call it my expensive lost day. The next day was in my former life as an AIDS and Homeless advocate known as the day of dumping; Friday. Because hospitals are not as staffed during the weekend and doctors are only on call if possible the hospital will discharge patients to have less people to care for. They decided it was time for me to go home, after my spinal tap.
Now spinal taps are not my thing. In fact, I had never had one before. The doctors seemed confused when I asked them to explain this procedure to me. I thought needles in my spine was a good time to ask questions. They explained the procedure to me and let me explain simply what I gathered from their answer. It was a ‘routine’ procedure with little pain unless you moved the wrong way and then you might have an excruciating headache that might last for a while. I decided I would not even flinch.
The wheelchair came and they pushed me to the ‘spinal tap’ room. There were three women a technician, maybe a nurse, and the one who performed the procedure. All three were chatty and did that flirty thing that women do to make men feel comfortable and not stressed out. Then they told me to take off my shirt lay on my stomach on the cold steel slab and turn my head to the side. They gave me drugs to help me not feel anything. I was not feeling sexy but they continued the chatter. She stuck the needle in the back and told me if I felt any pain down my leg to let them know. Several times I expressed my discomfort being careful the whole time not to flinch. The fluid was not draining so they asked me to tighten my stomach muscles. Still nothing much came. I offered to flinch my stomach muscles again. They joked I was trying to showoff now. I laid on the steel slab with a needIe in my back, stating firmly on several occasions I was in pain. No, I have long lost any ability to think I had anything to show off.
The bad news came this puncture was not working and they would have to take this needle out and reinsert a needle lower in my spine to see if they could get enough fluid from there. This did not cause me to flinch a bit. I was determined not to have an excruciating headache. They had to pull my sweatpants down to access my lower spine. This was when the laughter started and the doctor made sure the other nurses got the joke. One of the medical professionals wondered if the nurses had seen it. Which they laughed and said I am sure they have. Now I did not know what was so funny about my butt crack. I was feeling totally humiliated but I did not flinch. After the second puncture they said they had enough fluid.
They told me they would roll me back to my room and I should wait at least an hour before I moved. I thought this is not the most comfortable position to be stuck at for the next hour but I was not going to flinch. So, humiliated by their laughter and unable to move for an hour which I stretched to two hours so as not to have the headache. The whole time laying on my stomach not knowing what the hell was so funny. Eventually, it was time to dress and ready myself to go home.
I started to dress. It was during my change of clothes that I caught what they were laughing at. It was a tradition on my birthday, Father’s Day, and Christmas that my lovely daughters gift me with humorous boxer shorts. I was currently wearing a pair of these. It was underpants covered with money. But the band of the underwear which would have been the only part they would have seen read in big black lettering the word Filthy. I too laughed and slowly my dignity returned.
Finally, I was dumped (I meant discharged). They rolled me downstairs to the car where my wife appeared as though she was glad to have me return home. I wondered what honey-dos she must have for me. No matter my inpatient medical trials were over.