I saw Guns N’ Roses at the Superdome many years ago. They were notorious for their late starts, and they did nothing to live down their reputation that night. We waited three hours for them to appear on stage. I guess Axl needed a fully fluffed aura before he snake-danced for us that night. Or maybe Slash and Duff were too busy snorting Grade-A Peruvian marching powder. Perhaps Matt Sorum and Gilby Clarke were still in disbelief after winning the rock n’ roll lottery. All I know is that the videographers prevented a full-scale riot when they convinced inebriated girls to flash the crowd. We enjoyed a two hour montage of female pulchritude on giant screen monitors while we waited. Russ Meyer would have been proud.
Then our heroes staggered onto the stage around 1 AM. For the first thirty minutes or so, they almost lived up to their hype as the then-biggest and best rock band in the world. But then we got two more hours of meandering solos, lumbering ballads, costume changes, and several of Axl’s famed temper tantrums.
I was exhausted, a tad disappointed, and slightly deaf when I limped out of the arena around 3:30 AM. So count me out when G&R finally cashes in for the full-scale reunion in a few more years.
ANYWAY, I suppose my Guns N’ Roses concert serves as an allegorical comparison to Harold Camping’s band of apocalyptic meatballs who’ve been running around for the past few weeks. Just like everyone’s favorite glam band, the Family Radio campaign scared some folks, but they undoubtedly annoyed millions more. Unless God is pulling some Axlesque backstage antics over his tour rider (I said no brown M&Ms!), I think the Rapture/Armageddon/Divine Monster Truck Pull O’ Doom is indefinitely postponed. Or maybe The Hand of God just needs a manicure first. Flinging thunderbolts produces some gnarly calluses. How many angels are needed to operate a gigantic emery board?
I read a fair number of books about millennialism when I was in grad school. Heck, I even considered the Civil War-era movements as a possible dissertation topic. That should let you know that this latest wave of panic ain’t nothing new. As a matter of fact, comparable beliefs were part of Jewish and Zoroastrian eschatology long before Christ walked the earth.
If I felt like bothering one of these people, I have some questions. First and foremost, I’d ask them, “Really? Jesus has been slinging curveballs about his encore performance for almost two thousand years. Plenty of other movements hedged their bets on a return date and watched their reputations go poof when nothing happened. Are you sure you wanna apply a slide rule to Revelations and figure that one out? Because that book is chockfull of obtuse riddles, mysteries, and allegories. The monsters are awesome and the environmental disasters are scary and all, but theologians have been scratching their heads over its meanings for ages. What makes you so certain it’s this Saturday?
Well, since you’re so certain, do you still have long-term CDs in the bank? Did you pay this month’s mortgage? And what about credit cards? Well, then again, a shopping spree would be rather trite at this point. But would you feel guilty about your creditors holding the bag on a bunch of unpaid bills? Are you concerned about health insurance anymore? Do you worry about your food’s expiration dates? Do you even bother to keep the deep freezer plugged in these days? Are you annoyed that you’re going to miss a pretty awesome NBA Finals? The talent among the final four teams hasn’t been this deep in 20 years. And how are y’all paying for those billboards and radio ads? Did you have to sign a contract that runs past May 21? Or do you pay as you go? And what happens if the status quo prevails? Do you keep the signs up and just spray paint ‘Doh!’ or ‘Yeah, sorry about that’?”
Yeah, I guess I do have a lot of questions. But what if they’re right? What if there is a ginormous teleportation this Saturday? It would be wonderful if I got picked for that rocket ride, but what if I’m not? What happens next? Do the godless heathens left behind resume our fumbling, bumbling antics? Or do we have panic, mass hysteria, and dogs and cats living together? And if that’s the case, then I’m not happy about having to cast allegiances to either Lord Humongous or Mad Max. Do I side up with the steroid-fueled, hockey masked, and merciless Ayatollah of Rock n’ Rollah? Or do I tag along with an assuredly unstable Mel Gibson? Then again, he’s probably hedging his bets on this rapture, given his career’s recent freefall. Then again, he would be surrounded by a whole of bunch of Jews in the hereafter.
I hope our nuclear power plants have some pagans on standby, otherwise we’re gonna have scads of simultaneous meltdowns which would yield the environmental cataclysms promised in the Good Book. And to avoid mountains of flaming wreckage, we’re going to need some Buddhist copilots in our airplanes, Hindu train conductors, and Muslim barge captains. Do we have enough Wiccans, Scientologists, and Satanists on standby? Someone will have to take the wheel when all of those automobile drivers vanish.
I hope CLECO has enough qualified people actively praying to Thor, because I plan on having a post-rapture looting spree. While everyone else is hitting the gun and liquor shops, I’m going to use a mega-church’s P.A. for my band’s rehearsal gear. I’m playing demolition derby with Greyhound buses. And I’m going to turn the zoo critters loose so Alexandria can resemble the opening sequence from I Am Legend. And who among you could resist this pickup line – “Hey babe, c’mon back to my mansion. I’ve got some pet lions and alligators.” It’s gonna be awesome.
Whenever I have questions about religious issues, all I have to do is look across the dinner table. I asked my grandmother what she thought of this latest movement.
“Well, I hadn’t heard about it, but no one knows. That’s not up to man. The Father is the only one who knows when it’s time. But we should all live everyday like it’s our last anyway. Because The Lord does come for someone every day…every few seconds, as a matter of fact.”
Smart words from a smart lady. But I’ll do a bed check on her this Saturday. Just in case.
There’s very little from the past two months that I want to hang on to. But it wasn’t all bad. I’ve already documented some of the times I made my grandfather smile or laugh, as well as some of his more amusing and weird moments. I enjoyed spending time with my Aunt Margaret, who was his sister. I’ve always relished visits with her, but they’ve always been sporadic. Beforehand, circumstance and distance always seemed to get in the way. Well, we had plenty of time to catch up over the past two months. I enjoyed hearing her stories about our family, even it was the fourth or fifth time I’d heard them. I’d just smile and pretend it was a brand new anecdote whenever she’d start.
But there’s too much that hurts if I dwell on it, so I’ll try not to do that anymore. It will take me a while to bounce back from all of this, but I will. I have to. What I’ll try to focus on are the good memories of him, because there were so many of them. That’s one of the things that sustained me during this period. So I figured I’d share some of them with you.
I’ll always remember that shuffling, shambling walk of his after his back gave up on him. His body moved in ten different directions, which produced a cacophony of jingling coins, clattering keys, and creaking joints. But no matter how much he hurt, he always had a big, joyful grin whenever he saw me. He’d utter “Hey boy!” and give me a crushing bear hug. His north Louisiana hick accent made “boy” sound like “bwah.” I loved that smile and I loved that goofy accent.
When I was little, he and I always woke up before everyone else. We sat on the front porch of their old house on Barrister Street, where we drank black coffee, watched the morning dew glisten, and listened to the birds sing. Then we’d go inside and watch “The Three Stooges.” Our laughter always woke up the rest of the house. Every afternoon, he loaded my brother, sister, and me into a Radio Flyer wagon. He hauled us to the corner store and bought us Icees. I loved that red wagon.
Every Friday night, we went to the movies. He always got a big tub of popcorn and Raisinets and mixed them together. I sat in his lap while we shared our snack. Our faces and fingers would always be smeared and sticky with chocolate by the time the movie ended.
Every Saturday, we’d hit the local garage sales. My grandfather drove, my grandmother hollered directions to the next sale that had a particularly juicy ad in the paper. Hank Williams and Marty Robbins provided our soundtrack. My grandparents collected antiques. My grandfather and I collected old comic books and history books. We’d go home, break out the price guides, and figure out how impressive our haul was.
Every football season, we lived and died with LSU and the Saints. We did a lot more dying than living most years, but that was okay. We had each other to share the disappointment, and we always looked forward to next year. And “next year” finally happened. He stuck around long enough to see both of our teams become winners. No one wanted to strangle Nick Saban and Les Miles more than he did (but not nearly as much as he wanted to throttle Carl Smith for his “run & punt” offense during the Jim Mora era). And no one loved Drew Brees more. “Bwah, he’s better than Archie ever was,” he’d always say. “I can’t believe we got him.” And I’ll never forget when we held each other and cried when the Saints finally went to a Super Bowl and won it.
I’m really going to miss him this upcoming season. No more Sundays with a big box of Popeye’s when I’m home. No more excited phone calls after a big play when I’m out of town. I’ll never again hear him ask “Did you see that, bwah?!”
He was my biggest fan. He’d rave over my artwork. His office walls were covered with my drawings. He bought my first guitar. He let my bands use one of his school’s classrooms as a rehearsal space. He’d let us play so loud that the walls shook. He welcomed my friends over to his house, where we’d write songs and record demos. The bathroom tiles made for great plate reverb. And he gave us enough quilts that we could smother a mic’ed amplifier, crank it to 10, and record it without getting arrested for noise pollution. It didn’t matter if we playing country music or death metal; he’d always pop in with a big grin and say “Sounds good, bwahs!” And he was there for most of my concerts. He’d always be up front and slightly to my right. He videotaped us while he dodged mosh pitters and drunks. If the noise, heat, and my obnoxious stage banter ever annoyed him, he never told us.
I’m glad he was still alive and alert both times I came home from Iraq. I didn’t think I’d see him again when I took that job. But he was still kicking during last October’s R&R. I came home for good on February 14. His birthday was the 15th. He didn’t know I was coming home yet, so I gave him a good and proper surprise when I knocked on his door that morning. “Well, there you are, bwah!” He was so happy that I was back in one piece. I was so happy that he lasted another year.
More than anything, I’ll remember him being someone who would drop everything for someone in need. If someone was hurting or desperate, he could always be counted on for some money, some food, a bed to sleep in, a job reference, a phone call to a local politician or businessman, a receptive ear for counsel, or a shoulder to cry on. He gave freely to so many people for so many years, and he did it without expecting anything in return.
He gave me so much over the years. He meant the world to me. That’s why I couldn’t let him die alone or in pain. I made that vow to him when he got sick. I had the time and resources to fulfill that promise. I hope I did enough. I hope I made him proud. I just hope I get to see my Pawpaw again.
There’s one question I have for many of the staff members at my grandfather’s nursing home.
If these idiots spent half as much time working as they do goofing off and finding justification for not doing their jobs, Natchitoches Nursing and Rehabilitation Center would be first rate. But alas. Getting these people to bring a pitcher of water or pain medication is like getting blood from a turnip.
I’ve had two major blowups in the past three days. The first one came a few days ago, when one of the nurse’s aides popped into my grandfather’s room. It was the first time all day I had seen any signs of life from the nursing home staff.
“We’re having a bingo tournament for the residents. It starts in 10 minutes.”
“Thanks,” I said. “But I think we’ll decline.” I motioned to my grandfather, who’s bedridden and barely responsive.
“Well, it starts in 10 minutes in the activity room.”
I threw my hands up in the air. “Ma’am, he hasn’t left his bed since he got here. I’m not wheeling him out for a parlor game.”
“Well, I just wanted to let you know.”
“Jesus Christ, lady! Look at him! What would he do at a bingo game?! Serve as an ink blotter?!”
She bolted out of there. Good riddance.
I almost snapped a couple of times on Tuesday and Wednesday with a nurse who has an utterly piss poor attitude whenever we ask for pain medications. GOD FORBID she administers a dosage 10 or 20 minutes early. Every single time she comes in, she has a nasty disposition. I growled at her a few times, but now I just walk out of the room whenever she walks in.
My biggest blowup came yesterday. My grandfather is going downhill fast. His kidneys are shutting down. His breath is labored and rattles. He’ll go 5 to 10 seconds between breaths. As soon as I saw him this morning, I immediately called my mom and my great-aunt, because I didn’t think he’d last much longer. But the old goat fought through another day.
Shortly after my mom arrived, one of the nurses stormed in. She’s already on my bad side. She previously admonished me for holding my grandfather’s hand when he trembles or moans (which usually happens when it’s time for his pain meds, which never arrive on time because her buddy is too busy sitting on her ass).
“Who called hospice? Why did she take his vitals?! We’re supposed to take his vitals! Don’t you know you’re supposed to come to us first before you call hospice?!”
“NO,” I bellowed. “I DON’T.”
Of course, I was being utterly sarcastic. My aunt probably called them, because she deals with these fools every day. Any request for water, food, or medication requires multiple calls or trips to the nursing station. So to hell with the process. I don’t care who’s looking after him, I just want someone – anyone – to tend to him when he’s hurting. But this twit didn’t notice. She walked over to me and resumed babbling.
“SOMEONE called hospice and told them that his kidneys are shutting down and that his breathing is bad. That’s not true! He’s fine! He’s resting comfortably!”
“Lady, look at his catheter bag! There’s hardly anything there! I’ve been here all day and he’s produced nothing! Listen to his breathing! How can you say he’s comfortable?!”
“Nevertheless, WHOEVER called hospice was supposed to contact us first—-”
“You’re trying to justify your job. We get it. Now dial down the tone of your voice.”
“There you go again. I find your tone and presence offensive. Please leave.”
“Sir, I’m sorry if my tone offends you. I know you’re upset because your grandfather isn’t well—”
“You just said he was fine.” Then I turned to my mom and aunt. “Since she won’t leave, I’ll leave. Let me know when this #$%@ing idiot is out of the room.” I then sat out on the front porch with my brother’s girlfriend and ranted like a lunatic. The old codger next to me didn’t seem to mind.
So I guess I’m the resident malcontent now. For the rest of the day, I noticed that the nurses averted their gaze or walked past me with their heads down. They seemed to have a little more snap in their step when they tended to my grandfather. Whatever. It’s pretty crappy that it took a minor meltdown for them to adopt a pretense of concern. We’ll see how long that lasts. Hopefully this is all over soon.
Most of y’all know about my current ordeal. No need to rehash that right now. But I did want to thank my friends who’ve reached out to me via facebook, emails, phone calls, and sitdowns. Y’all have been great. I’m thankful for your well wishes and prayers.
One of the most commonly uttered sentiments has been “whatever you need, just let me know.” I certainly appreciate the gesture, but are you simply offering me your best wishes? Or are you really offering to do anything? Because you never know how I’ll try to take advantage of that offer.
That dreaded phone call in the middle of night? That probably won’t be a cry for help. That will be a demand for more beer money. So you’ll need to hightail it to some fetid watering hole ASAP, lest an empty wallet thwart my attempts to pickle my liver. You offered to do anything. Now cough up some filthy lucre.
Or it might be a request that you come over and mow my lawn immediately. I don’t care about the time, noise ordinances, or the utter triviality of said request. You offered to do anything. Now start edging my sidewalk.
I already asked for a flamethrower and a jetpack. I’m still waiting. For the past 20 years, I’ve wanted to wreak havoc like Fireball in “The Running Man.” My grandfather would beam with pride if he could see me fly around and burn crap simultaneously. You offered to do anything. Now get on the horn with General Dynamics and Blackwater.
And he definitely would want a bus full of babes dressed in superhero costumes to whisk me away to some fancy Japanese restaurant, where spandex-clad honeys would feed me sushi and sake until I puked. You offered to do anything. Now start cyberstalking some of those attention-needy gals who torment nerds at comic cons.
And I can assure you, my grandfather would want those cosplay cuties to look like this:
But I realize that’s a high standard. The next one is kinda scary and she violates my general rule about not cavorting with gals with biceps bigger than mine, but she’ll do.
And this is clearly unacceptable.
It’s time to call these bluffs. You offered to do anything. Now get to work.
My grandfather’s encounters with coherence are increasingly sporadic and short-lived. During his last fit of lucidity, he ordered my family to remove his feeding tube. He was moved to a hospital in Natchitoches last night so that process could begin. His physicians then rushed him to ICU because he’s so infected and time is short. I was about to dash up I-49 to see him, but then my mother told me that the doctors might release him back to the nursing home once the tube is out. My brother and I are sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. From there, we’ll figure out where we’re supposed to go.
So here we are. We’re down to the last days. There might be a few hours left. Is it awful for me to wish that it’s quick? I just want the old man’s suffering to end. I made my peace with his eventual death weeks ago. I got one last good day with him. https://dorquemada.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/a-better-day/ Since then, it’s diminishing returns. I know he didn’t want to die an invalid. He was insistent about that. But we very well couldn’t just sit there and let him starve to death during those first few days. There was still a chance he’d recover…a slight one, but a chance all the same. But he made the call to end all of this, so we have to respect that.
These final moments will be tough. Like I noted earlier, I hope it’s a swift passage. It’s such a helpless feeling to watch someone you love suffer, especially when there’s very little you can do to comfort them. I’m reminded of one of my favorite Lucinda Williams songs, “Lake Charles.” When I heard her sing it Tuesday night, I thought about my grandfather. I broke down and bawled, because the chorus encapsulates my remaining hopes for him:
“Did an angel whisper in your ear
And hold you close and take away your fear
In those long last moments”
One of my old professors labeled me a “storm chaser.” She gave me that moniker after she pointed out that many of my jobs were located in fairly dangerous or unhealthy work environments (such as the 9th Ward post-Katrina, submarines, boats during hurricane season, Iraq, and so on). I never saw it that way until she made note of it.
I always thought I took calculated risks. High percentage risks, actually. I’ve thought I was actually a little skittish with most of my endeavors. I was never in the first wave of any of those “dangerous” jobs, save the one time that I was on a crew boat that beat Hurricane Ike’s landfall by six hours or so. Parts of post-storm New Orleans were still scary when I got down there, but you stayed away after nightfall. Iraq could still be pretty hairy at times, but it was nowhere near as rough as it was in 2004 or 2005. You get the point.
And there are still plenty of crazy things that I won’t ever do, like gator rasslin’, skydiving, bungee jumping, or dating a woman who belonged to a sorority. So I actually think I’m a bit a milquetoast, when you get right down to it.
Additionally, I have no interest in outstaying my welcome or putting people I love in an uncomfortable position. I’ve been living with my grandmother since I came home from Iraq. I help out with the expenses, buy groceries, etc. But my presence and my opinions have grown so loathsome to certain people that it’s put her in a terrible position. They want me gone. She’s been firm in her resolve, but I know it has to exhaust her.
I need to get out of here. But there’s not much of anything in Alexandria. Besides, it appears I need to be far away from certain people, lest I have a repeat of this morning’s ordeal (which involved being blocked in my driveway and screamed at). Baton Rouge has gridlocked traffic, violence on par with a Third World nation, and too many reminders of past failures. I’ve had my fill of New Orleans. I’d rather visit it occasionally and not grow to hate it again. Working offshore again holds no allure. Iraqi jobs are drying up rapidly; the pullout there is all but complete by year’s end. So I went ahead and applied for some jobs in Afghanistan. Maybe I’ll get some calls. Maybe I won’t. But it’s painfully obvious that I don’t fit in around here anymore. Maybe it’s time to start chasing storms again.