Friday, August 07, 2020

Reason 429,313 Why I Could Never Be a Doctor (and not just because I don't really like people)

International traveller among Niagara’s eight new COVID-19 cases 

Patient X languished in his hospital bed, sweaty, feverish, miserable.  

Dr. Gnaukweirst entered the room.

“Doc, you gotta help me!”  Patient X said.  “I feel like I’m dying!”

“Your tests have come back,” Dr. Gnaukweirst said.  “I’m afraid it’s not good news.”

“What is it, Doc?  What have I got?”

“You have COVID-19,” Dr. Gnaukweirst said.

“Oh my God,” Patient X lamented.  “But that’s impossible!”

“That’s always how it seems,” Dr. Gnaukweirst said. “But it is a certainty.  We’ve run several tests.  You have COVID-19.”

“But it’s impossible!  I’ve done everything right!  I check Facebook every five minutes.  I read and upload memes.  I take selfies.”

“Have you worn a mask when you go out of the house.  Have you practiced social distancing?”

Patient X mustered the strength to lean up on one elbow.  “Wear a mask?  And give away my freedoms?  Are you crazy?”  He fell back on his pillow.  Patient X would have then referenced Nazis and Jews, except he didn’t know enough about history to do so.  He had never heard of the Holocaust.

“And ‘social distancing’?”  Patient X said.  “Why would I do that if I don’t have COVID-19?”

“Except, you do.”

“But I didn’t!”

“You have it now,” Dr. Gnaukweirst said.  “Someone gave it to you.”

“Gave it to me?  That’s a conspiracy theory!  To make us wear masks!”

“Actually, it’s science.”

“I don’t know how that happened!”  Patient X moaned.

“We’re going to have to do contact tracing,” Dr. Gnaukweirst said.  “Have you been anywhere in public other than to grocery shop for bare essentials?”

“Been anywhere?”  Patient X said, mulling over the words.

“Yes, where there are other people.  We need to determine who you’ve been in contact with.”

“Well, I did get a really sweet deal on it trip to Europe three weeks ago.”


“Yeah, it’s that country across the ocean where they speak European and they pay for everything with U-ros.”

“You mean ‘Euros’?”


“So, you were out of the country.”

“Not for very long,” Patient said.  “Few weeks.”

“It didn’t dawn on you to maybe curtail travel outside of the country during a global pandemic?”

“And give away my freedoms?  No way!”

Dr. Gnaukweirst looked into the middle distance for a moment.  Here was yet another selfish, shortsighted miscreant who was too impatient to wait until the pandemic had passed in order to carry on with his life.  Whose actions, ironically enough, would prolong the pandemic that everyone was so weary of.

This is the specimen who has taken away my Chinese buffet, Dr. Gnaukweirst thought.  Who has made handshakes and hugs things of quaint old movies.  I'll never see Wayne Newton live, again, because of this son of a bitch.

“Come with me,” Dr. Gnaukweirst said.  “I have a special treatment for you.”

“What?”  Patient X moaned.  “I’m tired as hell and everything hurts!”

“Come on, you can do it,” Dr. Gnaukweirst said.  “I have exactly the thing for you.”

Patient X slowly, painfully shifted in his bed, eased his feet to the floor, wincing and gasping, squinting and muttering sweet self-pitying nothings to himself.  Dr. Gnaukweirst led him to the door.

Slowly -- ever so slowly -- they moved down the corridor.  Dr. Gnaukweirst led Patient X around a far corner to a disused hallway in the hospital.  At the end of it, there was an elevator.  As they approached, Patient X said, “Why are the elevator doors open, but no elevator there?”

“It’s not really an elevator,” Dr. Gnaukweirst said.  “There is a special prize in there for you.”

Patient X brightened slightly within his display of pain and discomfort.  “For me?”

“Just for you.”

As they got closer, Dr. Gnaukweirst stopped.  He coaxed Patient X to continue the final few feet.

“I don’t see anything,” Patient X said.  “Are you sure?  I should get back to my room.”  He moved to leave.

“There is a free iPhone in there for you,” Dr. Gnaukweirst said. 

Patient X’s face brightened.  “Are you kidding?  That’s great!”  He turned, wobbly, and moved toward the open elevator doors.  He looked into the darkened shaft.  “I don’t see anything.  Are you sure?”

“Oh, I’m sure,” Dr. Gnaukweirst said as he raised his right foot and placed it upon Patient X’s rump.  It felt good to do that.  Made him feel like Louis Armstrong when he first walked on the moon, and put one of his moon boots onto a moon rock and said, “I claim this planet in the name of Pink Floyd!”

Dr. Gnaukweirst launched Patient X into the open elevator shaft.  There was a momentary cry, but then it was gone.  Then, a distant thud, as Patient X landed on the pile of other COVIDiots and hypochondriacs Dr. Gnaukweirst had brought here.  One of the first to go in actually had an iPhone in her hand, so that hadn’t been a lie.

Dr. Gnaukweirst turned and went back to the ward and continued treating patients.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Donald Trump Photo-Op During Riots

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Forgotten Victims of COVID-19

As news media covers and world health experts combat the COVID-19 outbreak, there is a contingent of forgotten people who are left to suffer in silence and obscurity: the hypochondriacs.

"It's really hard," says Luc (not his real name).  "I'm usally in the ER two or three times a week because the tip of my nose is numb and I get headaches, and I just don't feel really good..."  He trails off, stares out the window of his rented room.  "But there's the fear."

It's a common thread among hypochondriacs -- fear of contracting an actual ailment by visiting the local hospital emergency room.  Under normal circumstances, it's a risk they are willing to take.  Since the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak, many are rethinking their ER visit schedules.

"It's hard," says Giselle (not her real name).  "I feel really, really... strange.  You know?  In my hands, and then the sensation moves up into my neck.  Sometimes I have to blink my eyes a few times to get them clear."  Giselle dabs her eyes with a tissue.  "What am I supposed to do?"

Federal and provincial governments have asked citizens to self-isolate, and to practice "social distancing" when in public.  News stories about hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases abound, as do stories of medical staff running low or completely out of supplies, such as masks, gowns and gloves.  Hospitals are soliciting donations from the public.

In the rush to treat the ever rising tide of COVID-19 cases, a major constituency of the medical landscape has been shunted aside -- the hypochondriacs who ordinarily populate the nation's ER waiting rooms with minor coughs, non-specific-non-life-threatening aches and pains, general malaise, minor rashes, strange taste in the mouth, a click in the shoulder when it's moved in a particular way.  The list of imaginary ailments is as varied as the hypochondriacs themselves.

One of the unforeseen consequences of the public anxiety surrounding COVID-19 is that the nation's ERs are much less busy.

"People are stressed," says Roda (not her real name).  "I don't want to go into my local ER, tell them my hair hurts and then get a fatal disease like coronavitis!"  She dabs her eyes with a tissue.  "So, if I want to stay alive, I have to stay away from the hospital!  That's so sick!  That's so backwards!"

At the time of publication, there is no word of an aid package for the nation's hypochondriacs by the federal government.

"We're left to fend for ourselves," says Xander (not his real name).  "Nobody cares.  It's like we don't exist."

There is talk in certain communities, among local activists, of opening faux clinics staffed by actors and volunteers to service the hypochondriacs, but currently efforts are hampered by self-isolation and social distancing orders.

In this time of need, spare a thought for those who believe they are afflicted.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Headbands In A Time Of Pestilence

"Let's enjoy these aimless days while we can..." Don DeLillo White Noise

It's all in the headband. I own a stretchy NBA headband and a bland blue stretchy headband. On this night, I choose to tie around my head a length of material torn from an old concert shirt that doesn't fit anymore.

People are not neutral about headbands.  It's one of the few statements in modern life that cannot shrugged away.  Strangers in the mall have gone out of their way to tell me: "You know, people don't wear those anymore."

I wear them.  While exercising, of course, but also to the grocery store, watching my kids at karate class, swimming, cutting the grass, checking the communal mailbox. I even have a smart black headband that I wear with my suit to job interviews.

My morning was spent trying to transfer funds from my bank account to my microwave oven. The unhelpful bank person on the phone told me it was impossible because my microwave oven does not have an email address. It does.

Because the markets are chewing the genitals off of my investments.  They are not, precisely, investments.  I think of investments as stocks that have been researched and then purchased after long sober thought.  I'm involved in funds, entangled in plans -- a plan.  A plan whose genitals are being chewed off by the stock market.

They're coming. They're coming for the toilet paper.  I crouch in the bushes in front of my house, headband secured around my head.  My hands grip an old shillelagh my grandfather brought back from Ireland decades ago. This is new Airborne Toxic Event. The Corona Virus -- COVID-19, which makes it sound like a video game -- is something else in this place that suffers no floods, tornadoes, hurricanes or earthquakes.  The worst we suffer are hard rains, terse looks in traffic, squirrels eating our tulip.

It was the absence of toilet paper in the supermarket, that told me, Shit's flying.  In the past, I avoided making that purchase of household goods out of a childish embarrassment, the tacit public admission that I, too, use toilets. But the Panic inspired by the absence of toilet paper, the miles long empty shelf in the supermarket, had nothing to do with commodal works.

If they -- faceless, nameless, without conscience they -- have ransacked the toilet paper aisle, I thought.  What is next?

I use exercise to deal with stress. You can always tell how terrible I feel by how good I look.

This time of pestilence is causing everyone stress because it reminds us all that we are going to die, at some point.  That death will come like a thief in the night even if it comes in the form of a Honda during the day.

The virus is causing trouble not only by making people sick, it's challenging our distractions.  Professional sports are gone.  Public gatherings are finished.  Even going to bars and restaurants is against the public conscience.  We are left with 1970s-era distractions: TV, Internet, cell phones, board games... conversation...  No doubt, there are people beginning to think that death would be preferable.

One of my distractions is riding my stationary bike. Some friends say, "How can you do it, day after day?  You don't go anywhere."

And I wonder, How do you say if I don't go anywhere why am I always different when I get off the bike again?

I also hear: "You don't see people wearing headbands at the gym."

"People still work out at gyms?"  I said.

You are what you do for free. You are what you do when it cost you to do it. You're not a doctor, or a cab driver, or a landscaper. You're a stamp collector, hunter, or a ventriloquist. And when you do it while wearing a headband, you do it with verve.

My nightly vigil is nearly done.  I really feel like I've gotten to know myself while crouching in the bushes.  Who cares if I sleep away the day.  The toilet paper can keep itself safe in the sunlight.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Corona Virus Days - 1st Fiction of the 2020 Corona Virus Outbreak

Reddit "Shower Thought" 3/17/2020:
Due to the earth's rotation, it's orbit around the sun and the suns [sic] orbit in the galaxy, you are the only human who ever has, or ever will occupy your current location in the universe.
Corona Virus Date 0034 days:

Pod battened. Wife objects to my referring to house as "pod".  I apologize, but explain that science fiction times call for science fiction language.

Sixteenth angry tweet directed at Netflix has gone unanswered. Requesting they stream 60s and 70s era home movies made by their viewers.  No word.  They may be suffering.

Toilet paper toilet paper store: +2313 squares.

Progress of toilet paper shrine to Don Delillo is slow. Using far too much in its construction.  There are complaints, dissension.

Corona Virus Date 0037 days:

Idea for a story came while riding my stationary bike in the basement:
Family living in a house during Corona Virus outbreak (write what you know). One day, the hapless husband opens the fuse box for the first time since buying the house years ago. Finds it is not, in fact, a fuse box, but contains rolls and rolls of toilet paper in a cavernous gap in the wall. Corona Virus ravages society, family uses this found toilet paper due to shortages at the supermarket. It seems like regular toilet paper.  There is no indication who put the toilet paper in the fuse box gap, or how long it's been there. 
As the family uses the found TP, they gradually become smarter. How do they/gauge this? In the case of the hapless husband, small tasks around the house that once bedevilled and befuddled him are now simple fixes. He repairs the solid state television, going so far as breaking open the back of the set to access the electronics inside. Husband not only successfully repairs the television, he seamlessly repairs the back of it using his wife's curling iron and strands of her hair, which are the same graphite colour.
Corona Virus Date 0037 days:

Riding stationary bike in basement. Imagining I am pedaling across the ocean on a three foot wide track. Weather service indicates that I have one hour of clear weather before the wind whips up and the ocean swamps my track.

This technique gets my heart rate into that sweet zone.

Don't let me listen to anymore Don Delillo interviews on YouTube.

Corona Virus Date 0038 days:

Scolded eldest son for dismantling one of Don Delillo's wings on the shrine in order to wipe up after bathrooming.

Coronavirus Date 38.5 days:

Wife expelled me from pod, saying: "Get a hold of yourself."

Corona Virus Date 0038.75 days:

Returned to pod. Wife found Corona Virus journal. Objects to be referred to as "Wife" in narrative.

Corona Virus Date 0041 days:

The only benefit of civilization collapsing is that Netflix will be abandoned by its legal counsel and personal security.  I will make the journey to its headquarters in the Himalayas -- part spiritual journey and part customer complaint. "Why does Netflix Austria have so many more offerings than Netflix Canada????  Why so much British content?  I don't care about their Top 10 Conspiracies!!!"

Corona Virus Date 0045 days:

Despair. Cat demolished Don Delillo shrine.

Corona Virus Date 0045.25 days:

Where are our celebrities in this time of crisis? Why have they not mounted webcams in their homes and livestreamed their own self isolation? I would feel less isolated if I could watch such a thing. Also, no word of comfort, yet, from Don Delillo.  I imagine thousands of people gathered outside of his apartment in New York City, waiting, staving off despair.

Corona Virus Date 0045.75 days:

Why can't I find a secret trove of intelligence-generating toilet paper in my house?

Have dreamed for months of connecting my stationary bike to a generator. Tried today. Ruined wife's curling iron in the process. Looking for secret gap in house in which to hide it.

Corona Virus Date 0052 days:

At least I do not have to cut the grass.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Due to the time distortion wrought by the Corona Virus, all mentions of time in increments of days are in fact increments of hours.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

The Bad Future is Here -- I Hate New Technology

Cineplex ticket counter. Computerized kiosks sit in five spaces
where actual human beings used to work.
I am a standard issue North American suburbanite.  Buying things used to be fun.  My first CD player, first DVD player, the tank of a desktop computer in 2004 that I still own, the Apple Mac Classic from 1991, which I still have in my office (and booted up when I turned it on in 2016).

The last laptop I purchased was a run-of-the-mill Windows machine in 2013.  Soon after it arrived, I installed an SSD and the thing just hummed along as I used it to write half a dozen plays, dozens of articles, a few screenplays, worked with Photoshop, and even tried creating a graphic novel.  It was only when I recently had need to edit video on a level beyond Windows Moviemaker, that it was time to expand beyond my old reliable.

After buying a Ford Escape in 2013, I realized the world had passed me by.  With all the attention now placed on "distracted driving" what did Ford put right in the middle of the dashboard?  A video console.  No longer do I have radio buttons that I can feel and know which preprogrammed station will come on.  Now, I must look at the flat screen and press buttons on an interface created by a committee in which not a single soul had usability training.  Yes, the car is equipped with voice command capability.  I do not have time to teach my voice and my worldview to my vehicle.

The Ford Escape will not allow me to close my own trunk door.  I must push a button to have the vehicle do this for me.  The car beeps when I back up.  The beeping grows more urgent and harried if there is something behind me.  There must have been high fives all around among the Ford Motor Company brain trust when that feature was implemented.  Think of all the grateful garbage cans and light posts and fire hydrants.  "Won't anyone think of the fence post?!!!!"  I can almost hear one of the geniuses exclaim with emasculated ebullience.

So, I recently purchased a new Windows laptop.  Reluctantly.  Apprehensively.  Out of necessity.  Still, I hoped there might be a semblance of the old excitement of getting a new machine.  There wasn't.  You see, technology makers are now convinced they know better how I will use their product than I do.  They are wrong, of course.  But like all people with a bad idea, they run like Jim Brown with it.

Within seconds of turning the new machine on and beginning the arduous, needlessly complicated and convoluted set-up process, I was forced to create a Microsoft account.  I have no use for a Microsoft account.  I have tried in the past to create Microsoft accounts after they purchased Skype.  I couldn't figure it out.  It sounds ludicrous, but the manner in which Microsoft insists people create accounts is so confusing that -- in the case of Skype -- I couldn't complete the process.  There was no getting past this step with my new laptop.  That moment soured the entire experience.  I muddled through, gave Microsoft information I didn't want to give to it, and created one of their execrable accounts.

When I had finally hurdled enough hurdles and jumped through enough hoops, my laptop's screen went dark and suddenly a single word appeared in the center of it: "Hi".  I wanted to throw up.

Then the laptop proceeded with its own internal set-up process.  Read: the installation of boatloads of bloatware and bullshit that I would spend the next few days uninstalling.

McAfee Anti-Virus was on the machine.  Really?  I mean, fucking really?  First off, Windows 10 comes with Windows Defender Security Center, which is said to be (in my research) an effective and comprehensive anti-virus program.  So, why put McAfee on, in addition to this?  I can only guess that mega-billion-dollar Microsoft was paid a few more dollars to add this crimp to its customers.

McAfee is the syphillus of software.  I have never had a machine even remotely run well with McAfee on it.  McAfee is not meant for computers.  I don't know what it's meant for.  Maybe it was intended for toaster ovens or certain mid-90s electric sex toys.  Who knows.  Whatever.  McAfee should not be anywhere near a computer, and there it was in the bowels of my new laptop.  It was the first thing I uninstalled.

My new keyboard has LED backlighting.  I love it.

The mouse trackpad buttons are part of the live trackpad, so I am endlessly clicking the wrong buttons, folders, drives and links on my computer.  I'm continusouly, unintentionally enlarging web pages by using the trackpad as I have since 2003 when I purchased my first laptop.

The speakers and/or my headphones don't work with any regularity.  I have to continuously go online to troubleshoot both.  Yesterday, neither worked.  I got the speakers working after watching a few YouTube videos.  Today -- the computer won't recognize that there are headphones plugged in.  My old laptop?  Plug in headphones, music played through the headphones.  Never in my computer-using life have I had to delve so often and so far into arcane settings deep within the machine in order to simply make it work the way it should, out of the box.

UPDATE: Fixed headphone issue after going to the Dell forum about headphones jack not working.  Found the fix, but still pissed that I have to dig so far into this wretched machine to make it work like is should.

There are endless notifications popping up as I try and use my new laptop.  I turn off and deactivate the notifications as quickly as they arise, but it's almost like a full-time job beating back this computer's continuous badgering.

Windows Updates are now whole day events, like Armistice Day and Columbus Day, like the SARS concert.  I succumbed to an update this morning and it took hours to complete.  I just received notice that another update is on deck, sighing loudly and shuffling its feet, like an impatient guy behind me in line at the grocery store.  Fuck you, Windows!  I am a human being!  We will update when I say we update!

The most maddening of these maddening glitches, bugs and pains in the ass is the Lock Screen and Login.  My laptop's set-up process forced me to create a login for my personal laptop.  Which means, when I restart my computer, it comes to a "lock screen" where the boot-up process comes to a complete halt until I login. Meaning, I must wait that much longer to actually use my machine.  My laptop is for home use.  I do not want a login.  There is no reason for it.  I'm willing to assume the responsibility that if my laptop were to fall into the wrong hands, that wrongdoers could access everything on it.  It's my stuff.  I'm willing to take that risk.  But Microsoft will not allow me.  Microsoft thinks it knows better.  It does not know better.

And if you decide to actually telephone Microsoft, their automated phone debacle simply directs you back its useless online resources (which led me to call, in the first place).  The Circle of Microsoft!

Somewhere in the early 2000s, technology bounced off the wall and has become increasingly less useful, less user-friendly.  The makers of technology think their customers are idiots who need the jaunty greeting of "Hi" from their new laptop as bloatware and bullshitware are installed behind the scenes.

The only consolation is that Built-in Obsolescence, shitty workmanship and the general engineering of the early demise of products, just as their warranties expire...

Wait.  There is no consolation.

That brief window where new technology was actually interesting and exciting is gone -- just like the ticket sellers at the cineplex.  Now, it seems, Rube Goldberg has gotten a hold of applets and dynamic link libraries.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

April 12 Pilgrimage - J.T. Hurley's Anniversary

The J.T. Hurley Chronicles

St. William Cemetery
There is a temptation to canonize and rhapsodize about the dead.  Thirty-nine years ago, my friend, J.T. Hurley, died: April 12, 1979, the Thursday before Easter weekend.  At the time, my little brother and I were looking forward to going to J.T.'s on Easter Sunday for an Easter egg hunt.  Then came the phone call for my mother from Metropolitan Hospital.  It was J.T.'s mother.  She was frantic, but she was clear -- J.T. was dead.  He was nine years old.

I was seven years old at that time, and remember playing in my back yard when my father called my brother and I into the house.  An ice storm, days before, caused a neighbor's tree to collapse across a couple of yards -- the topmost tangled part of the tree (the part we could never climb to when it stood straight) rested in our yard and my brother and I were exploring it when my father called us.

Dad led us into the living room and sat on the floor with us, which was unusual.  His face was in turmoil, but at seven, I had no way of reading it.  Adults were strange creatures to me, then, who confused and bewildered me on an hour-to-hour basis.

When Dad said, "J.T. had an accident," I remember smiling inward, excitedly preparing to hear about the latest cool cast J.T. would be wearing on Easter Sunday.  Months before, he had broken his leg, and I remember examining his plaster cast with rapt fascination, running a finger over the inscriptions and drawings left in multi-colored pen by his friends.  Maybe it was his arm, this time, or maybe he had a black eye.  Or, a bandage wrapped around his head like those guys in TV shows who had amnesia.

Then my father said, "J.T. has gone to Jesus."  It took nothing more for me to understand that something terrible and irrevocable had happened.

The most galling, scalding detail of J.T.'s death was that he died while climbing through a window into his house.  It was the one day he was allowed to go home by himself -- his regular after school babysitter was out of town for Easter weekend.  After a week of concerted lobbying to be allowed to go home by himself just this one time, J.T.'s mother relented.  Except, J.T. forgot to ask for the house key, or his mother forgot to give it to him.  When he got home, he was locked out.

J.T. was a natural athlete, graceful and agile.  He could climb anything.  Climbing through a window into his house -- which was all of five feet off the ground -- was like a starting basketball player shooting a balled-up piece of paper into a garbage pail.  Except, the window fell as J.T. climbed through.  It seems he didn't raise the window high enough for the clasp at the top to catch and hold.  It should have just clunked him on the head when it fell, leaving nothing more than a goose egg.  If it had to fall, it should have fallen on his back.  But on April 12, 1979, the window came down on the back of his neck, pinning him in place, his feet bare, excruciating inches from the ground.

So, it's 39 years later, and though I have thought of J.T. many times during the intervening years, visiting his mother numerous times at their house, this anniversary has landed on me like an anvil.  The 2018 calendar aligns with the 1979 calendar.  Not perfectly.  Easter was a couple of weeks ago, but April 12 is a Thursday, once again.  And here I find myself on a self-guided pilgrimage.

My first stop is J.T.'s grave.  It is lunch time and, sure enough, the sounds of the students in the St. William school yard, nearby, are completely audible here.

I never get used to seeing J.T.'s grave marker.  There obviously has been some kind of mistake, and the more I visit, the more I'll draw attention to this flaw and something in the Time/Space Continuum will jostle itself and the whole tragic accident that claimed J.T.'s life will be undone.  The utter ridiculousness of such a thought is apparent to me everywhere, except when I stand at J.T.'s grave.

One afternoon, a few weeks ago, while visiting, I strolled around to see who his "neighbors" were.  I was taken aback to find the graves of two other boys -- in a cluster of Robitaille family tombstones -- who had lived 1966 - 1976 and 1968 - 1978, respectively.  I am no demographer, but I marveled at the slim odds of three boys, buried within 25 feet of each other, who had all died at the same young age outside a time of plague or pestilence.

Following an unspecified length of time, graveside, I drive eight minutes to J.T.'s house -- though, it is no longer his house.  After his mother's death in December, a new owner took possession (though, the house remains empty), so I am technically trespassing as I walk around the property, taking pictures.

I start at the open carport where I had watched J.T. perform one of his "stunts" -- crashing his bicycle into a pile of boxes, garbage cans, a hockey net and other, assorted garage debris.  He had choreographed it to look and sound as dangerous as possible.  It had worked.  My brother and I, standing at a safe distance wondered, briefly, if he'd broken his neck, only to see J.T. jump to his feet without a scratch.  After his death, the carport emptied of anything that looked fun.  All that was left were garbage pails, an ancient extension ladder, various unused flower pots.  The only thing, possibly, from J.T.'s era is a dirty, old plastic bin that used to be situated at the top of the back stairs -- a quarter-filled with water -- for us to swish our sandy feet before going into the house.

I pause at the small front porch.  Next to it is a winter-ravaged plant of some variety I can't readily identify.  My last visit here with Aunt June, J.T.'s mom, last September, she offhandedly pointed to the plant (flourishing at the time), saying, "I planted that right after J.T. died.  It's doing well!"  And it was, and it probably will, again.

I look through the narrows windows on either side of the front door.  There are no surprises inside the house.  It is vacant; door of the fridge hanging open in the kitchen, sunlight streaming through the windows.

Halloween 1970s
Then, around to the lakeside of the house.  Long, long ago, Aunt June had the windows replaced, so the one that had claimed J.T. is long gone.  My mother said that people would ask Aunt June how she could stay in the house after what had happened.  It's a reasonable question, but to my mind, highly unreasonable to ask of a woman who lost her son in that house.  I go around and look at the windows.  I turn and look at the beach, which has receded greatly since I visited as a kid.  The day is sunny and the winter chill that has stubbornly hung on has released its hold -- for this afternoon, at least.  I go to the water and let a wave run up onto my shoes.  My parents have Super 8 footage, somewhere, of me sitting on this shore as a baby, slapping my hands down on each small, lapping wave, attempting to catch them.

I take pictures with my phone, and look into windows. Yes, I am looking for ghosts.  I find none.  All the furniture is gone. J.T.'s room has been devoid of his belongings for decades.  On visits to Aunt June's, those first few times after J.T. died, my brother and I would approach the open door of his bedroom, never entering, and gaze at his stuff: sports pendants, a granite chess board, books, toys, his old bedspread on the bed.  Far sooner than I was ready, the room emptied of J.T.'s belongings. No one could begrudge Aunt June for doing whatever she needed to do to make life livable in his absence.  As it turned out, far from simply donating all of J.T.'s possessions to Goodwill, Aunt June allowed his friends to come over and pick out mementos.  Of everything J.T. had owned, Aunt June held back his favorite jean jacket, an odd stuffed monkey with which he slept as a young child and his baseball glove.  All of which I now have.

Hoping to indulge my over-developed sense of nostalgia with this visit, I'm only reminded of Thomas Wolfe once wrote: "You can't go home again."

As I take a few final photos at the front of the property, a curious neighbor approaches and asks what I am doing.  I explain my relationship to Aunt June and that it's J.T.'s anniversary; that he was once my friend.  I am relieved to see the suspicion disappear from the neighbor's gaze.  He remembers Aunt June fondly, though he never knew J.T..  He marvels that 39 years have passed since J.T.'s passing.  "As we got to know, June," the neighbor says, "she would talk about him from time to time..."  The thought drifts away.  He goes back to his yard work.  I go to my car.

And drive to Metropolitan Hospital.

* * *

We should honor how people lived, not dwell on the circumstances of their deaths.  My memories of J.T. are filled with happiness and fun.  There is a temptation to canonize and rhapsodize about the dead.  Suffice it to say that J.T. Hurley was wall-to-wall fun.

As a middle-aged father of two boys, my youthful delusions of invincibility are long in the past, shed like the jeans that no longer fit me.  My mind dwells on the circumstances of J.T.'s death.  He died alone, the silence of his childhood home surrounding him in mute helplessness.  The waves of Lake St. Clair lapping against the shore with metronome regularity, utterly indifferent.

According to Hourly Data Weather Report for April 12, 1979 it was a cloudy, hazy day in the area with a high temperature of 13 degrees Celsius (55.4 Fahrenheit).  Jacket weather.  There is every chance that J.T. was wearing his favorite jean jacket that day, which his mother gave to me last September.

In his book Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, author David Eagleman says, "There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time." 

Mr. Eagleman offers some comfort that I can, at least, save J.T. Hurley from one death.

The image that keeps returning to me centers on the first day back to school following Easter 1979 -- the day after J.T.'s burial.

J.T.'s final resting place is in St. William cemetery, which was next to St. William Church (now defunct), which was right next to St. William elementary school, where he was a fourth grade student.  The first time I visited J.T.'s grave, I was amazed to see that the school was visible from the cemetery and wondered if the sounds of kids playing in the school yard were audible there.

Students in the St. William school yard beyond the cemetery.
I imagine that first day back, Tuesday, April 17, 1979, the students of fourth grade filing into their classroom following the morning bell, taking their seats, a somber silence hanging over them.  And when finally the last student was seated, there was that one, lone, empty desk among them.

J.T.'s desk.

The morning announcements would have mentioned his death, prayers asked for.  Many of his classmates, no doubt, arrived that morning already knowing of the accident.  How sad and surreal it must have been to know that J.T. was gone, but nearby, that he lay within a grave that was five minutes' walking distance from where he sat through Math and Geography lessons.  How circumstance had forced the trade of a student desk for a grave, a classroom for a coffin.  That, on the previous Thursday, he was among them, laughing, running in the school yard, taking notebooks out of his desk, shoving them back into his desk, dropping pencils, chewing on erasers, talking, joking, listening, drawing.

On that dismal Tuesday, the books in his desk, and the lessons they contained, had been exploded into irrelevance by his death.  All of J.T.'s school things sat stuffed in that desk and the task of emptying it lay ahead.  The desk must have been like a bomb crater in the room.  I think of the student sitting behind J.T.'s desk, with that empty, gaping space before them the rest of the day, the rest of the week, the rest of the school year.  Or, the student sitting in front of J.T.'s desk.  Did they ever experience a superstitious tingling on the back of their neck?  J.T. would mean no one any harm.  He wouldn't haunt or frighten anyone.  Our own minds do that job.

Or, did the teacher reconfigure the seating arrangement and have J.T.'s desk removed?  Did a new student arrive in the weeks following, to occupy the desk with no knowledge as to why it was empty?  Kids being kids, there is no question someone would have stepped up to inform the new student.  Not necessarily with malice, but with a kid's guileless desire to inform.

Or, had the empty desk simply remained, as is -- sadder and starker than any grave marker could be.

So, today is April 12.  It is my eldest son's birthday.  He was born in the hospital where J.T. had been taken.  Although today is J.T.'s anniversary, it is first and foremost, to me, my son's birthday.  J.T. would have no objection to that.  Today, however, I am allowing myself to split it.  This is the first anniversary on which I am actually aware of the date J.T. died.  For 38 years, I only knew that he died on Holy Thursday, a moving target date that changed from year to year.  Then came the day I finally located J.T.'s grave.  The date engraved on it was suddenly engraved in me.

As I write this, it's 4:03 p.m.. It is hard to say with any accuracy, but J.T. would have arrived at his home sometime around now.  He would have found the front door locked and realized he didn't have the key.  There is a part of my mind that is certain if I only pore over the details of J.T.'s final moments, some detail can be found, some glitch in the matrix that would allow me to reverse engineer the accident and save him.  Impossible, of course, but part of me won't give up.

The rest of me, however, knows the ending to the story: J.T. found an unlatched window, raised it and attempted to climb into the house.  The window fell on him, pinning him, causing him to suffocate.  At some point later, J.T.'s mother realized she hadn't given him the house key.  She called a neighbor, asking if the neighbor could check on J.T. and see if he was wandering around the house, or sitting on the front steps.  The neighbor found J.T., got him down from the window and attempted CPR.  An ambulance was called.  J.T. resided in Puce, Ontario, on Lake St. Clair, a 40-minute drive from Metropolitan Hospital.  The ambulance arrived and took him to Met.  The EMS tech worked on J.T. during the frantic drive, fishing an intubation tube down his throat and attempting to get him breathing again.  Finally, J.T. was rushed into the ER, but it was apparent to all who observed him -- he was no longer alive.  The ER doctor pronounced him dead at 5:55 p.m.  His mother arrived.  My mother was called.  As they waited for J.T.'s father to arrive, Aunt June came and went from the examination room where J.T. lay with the intubation tube protruding uselessly from his open mouth.

Evening of April 12...

J.T. Hurley, March 1979.
My friend is gone, and the day of his anniversary is nearly done.  I'm sure there are those who would accuse me of not allowing J.T. to rest in peace.  Nobody questions my thoughts and motives more than I do.  What do I hope to find?  What do I hope to resolve? 

When I push to divine my motives, a phrase recurs in my mind: "He was us."  

One summer day when I was two or three years old, I was outside with my parents, hunting for bugs in the grass as they did yard work.  It was a Saturday and it was sunny and at some point a sudden impulse took hold of me and I ran into the street.  At the same moment, a car approached.  There was a great shriek of tires, which seemed to wrench the flow of time right off its rails. The air was sucked out of the world.  In that sliver of a moment, I looked at the car ten feet away from me -- I stood eye-level with the wide, round headlights -- and saw the startled expression on the face of the driver; he was still bobbing back and forth from the sudden stop.  He was in his twenties with floppy blond hair.  A girl with long hair parted in the middle sat in the passenger seat.  The look on the guy's face was a mixture of terror and confusion.

Then, air blasted back into the world, I took a breath, the sounds of the neighborhood reasserted themselves, and a pair of hands wrapped around my torso.  I was lifted off the ground and I didn't return to solid footing until my father set me down in my bedroom and shut the door.

Had one or two actions occurred differently that day -- had the floppy blond-haired guy left the house a few seconds later or my sudden inspiration to run into the road come a second later -- it might well be J.T. Hurley writing a blog post about his three year old friend who never made it to school, never lived to see Star Wars, or to write his name.

He was us.

And it would be my time-faded photograph on the wall, the memory of my voice and laugh and running footsteps that would haunt and harangue my parents the rest of their lives.  I would have been little more than a ghost to my younger brother.  But the world worked as it should have that day: the car stopped in time, I spent the afternoon in my bedroom, my parents thought twice about letting me so close to the road, again.  And life went on.