Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Savage murders of teenagers, memories of friends past and lost and the April 1 miracle battle with fear inside the ferocious MRI tube

Visions of two teenagers, savagely murdered, stung my brain as it was being magnetized and resonated and otherwise probed by kindly science wizards and their crypt-like device.
Perhaps those memories, which danced with other flashbacks good and bad, were set off by that MRI’s sounds, the incessant beeping, thudding, growling, crunching noise – robots dancing in the dark -- crushing my brainwaves. And what could I do?
The sounds surrounded me, as my head was locked dead-still in a device that seemed like a hockey goalie’s helmet. My only view was the top of the tube in which I was being tortured… or examined … just inches from where the tip of my nose would be had it not been smashed inside the goalie’s helmet.
I thought about those dead kids. But other things flooded my mind. I smiled when I thought about Charlie Chaplin in “Modern Times,” and the cacophony and confusion of the industrial revolution in that old B&W flick. Saw that movie in Dr. Perkins class at Iowa State University, circa 1971. “Damn near publishable in academic journals,” he wrote on my term paper that compared the movie “M*A*S*H” with the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup.” Did I ever tell you I met Groucho Marx? Another story, another show. What’s the secret woid?
After film class, I’d go take a steam and then allow myself to be the “dummy” – literally and figuratively -- that Olympic gold medal wrestler Dan Gable, then a workout chum, would toss around the mats. Nope, never beat Dan….
The dead teenagers came back to my mind briefly.
But then, as the magnets ripped into my brain, I was adrift in waterfalls of color, reminiscent of the night Smokin’ Joe and I went to see Leon Russell and the Shelter People after hitching from Ames to Iowa City. Freddie King was the opener. Watch out now…..
The fact that I kept thinking about Rodney Wayne Long and Kathy Jane Nishiyama, the two slaughtered teenagers, isn’t surprising. When my mind wanders, taking inventory of my life and where I been, those handsome faces often reappear.
As do the faces of friends, a diminishing list, either due to age, death or, far too often, corporate fear.
In a phone call not long before he killed himself in a lonely Coast Guard barracks in Alaska, Tony Durr, who really was among my truest friends – oh, he lied, but he loved as well -- told me this truth.
“Tim, if you can make it through life and look back and have enough real friends to fill up the fingers on one hand, you’re lucky,” or something like that. When he emptied the pharmaceutical bottle, I lost one finger, I guess.
Anyway, I couldn’t help thinking about friendship and dead teenagers … two topics which seem to coincide in my sometimes blood-spattered life … when I was in the MRI the other day. This was the most recent reminder of the summer that won’t go away, the summer of 2010, when I lost half my house to a flood and then, before it was even finished being rebuilt, was T-boned at an intersection.
For a day or so I stumbled around, like my closest pal, Champo, used to do back in his college days as dawns approached. He and his friend, Jocko “the hippy hippy shake” expert, had good times chasing windmills and damsels who would be in distress. Of course, I was and remain Champo, though you may call me Flapjacks.
Course, I don’t drink anymore, so the stumbles bothered me. I went to the doctor last July and he said “man, you have one effin’ bad concussion, Flap, old boy.”
I said “doctor, ain’t there nothing I can take?” But there wasn’t. Time heals all wounds, even badly concussed noggins.
It was checking up on the healing process all these months later that had me jammed into the MRI the other afternoon at one of our finer Nashville hospitals and legal drug dispensaries.
I am a claustrophobic, which may account for aspects of my life, the seemly and the less-so and my reactions to smothering authority of all stripes. The likes of Shotgun Dick, Korporate China (owners of the land of the free), George W. and “Big Mac” USA Newspaper Giant – all who/which think Amerikans should be happy with “special sauce” rather than substance … almost as bad as those who allow them to continue to run the country without question.
Hell, I get almost as angry when my basketball-playing pal the Big O says he’s going to cut the budget by taking away heating supplements for the indigent, allowing old people to freeze in order to please the likes of Mr. Bean or whatever that worthless Joker of the House calls himself. Doctor, doctor, ain’t there nothing I can take?
Claustrophobia in the little tube for a half-hour is only easy with eyes closed. But to keep the thought of where I am from turning me into someone resembling the mentally twisted who think it was good to get rid of Mubarak, but we ought to back up the crown prince/emperor/torturer of Bahrain… could it be oil? Black gold? Texas tea? … Well, the first thing you know, old Jed’s a billionaire…. And there’s blood on the sands.
But the bouncing magnetos kept bringing me back to the two teenagers. Murdered. Their deaths scarred me as I orchestrated coverage for the newspaper up in Clarksville. My boss at the time was Tony Durr, by the way.
Three decades have passed since Kathy Jane and Rodney Wayne were killed by the slugs who populate society’s darkest underside. I learned, first-hand about that underside.
So, the two dead teenagers often visit me when I’m just sitting there watching the wheels go round and round. Or, perchance, if I’m lying in a contraption that’s taking magnetic images of the brain of a man who has seen too much and forgotten too little.
Fortunately, the deaths also bring back images of my closest friendships, the News Brothers, a gang of hard-smoking journalists who, by fate, had to cover the two murders as they unfolded and were solved and tried at almost the same time.
Then, as I lay there, trapped in this chamber like some sort of Michael Jackson wannabe, the brain-crunchers not only squeezed my head but began lifting my fillings … nah, I made that up …. Just my ‘magination, runnin’ away with me.
Anyway, my thoughts about the dead teenagers led me to my thoughts about that April 1, 1982, when my co-conspirator, cops reporter Rob “Death” Dollar, co-founder of the News Brothers, and I dropped our pants in the newsroom while the whole building watched.
Well, at least that’s what everyone thought was going to happen that day in history.
The word had spread, Lord knows how …. that the two young men, the associate editor and the cops reporter, were going to bring their nighttime, do-anything-as-long-as-no-one-gets-hurt, frivolity to daytime. Were these boys ready for prime time?
In those days, the hundred-plus in the building believed that we, indeed, would do anything to perhaps take the edge off what had become more Korporate-style management. My pal Tony had disappeared to San Antonio (the scene of one of his many marriages and career stops before he killed himself), Max “the Silver Hammer” Moss – a damn nice guy and great editor -- was sort of shuffled off to a second-in-command role.
Korporate crackdown had brought a new tone, where an editor, whose introductory words to the staff included “reporters are a dime a dozen” would complain that “you boys need to cut your hair” (I didn’t, of course) and perhaps we should join the Chamber of Commerce. Nothing wrong with the Chamber, but when I was back there in journalism school, they put forth the proposition that you should never be a member of a civic organization if you are a journalist. Fear of conflicts of interest. Lots of publishers and editors are Rotary and Kiwanis presidents and Chamber board members these days.
All of these stories are told more in a book I’m trying to write. And, of course, the adventures of Flapjacks and Death are spoken of, softly, whenever unemployed journalists gather over canteens of white lightning in train yards and a toothless man with one leg blows on his harp while his blue-tick hound barks and the wind begins to howl.
Anyway, back to our story: The two News Brothers, it was said, were going to come into the newsroom at 2 p.m. (the official start of our workday) wearing only boxers with hearts on them.
I don’t know how the rumor started. Of course I do, as we had assistance. Still, people believed. Perhaps even hoped, that this would happen. Some wanted it to be the act that would lead us to the door. Others wanted to just be there to witness this strange chapter in the history of two good journalists who did anything they could to get the story.
And even more than anything to try to both celebrate and forget the two murdered teenagers.
Anyway, there’s more to it. But everyone from the Big Guy, our publisher, to the composing room crew to the ad department to the circulation and press room guys showed up at the precise hour, lining the newsroom, looking in the windows from the hallway.
Fully clothed in our high school letter jackets and jeans, Rob in a top hat and me wearing my yellow fedora, we just walked through the crowd, looked at those gathered, shrugged and lighted up our smokes. We sat down at the computers and began to write stories before looking up and saying “April Fools.”
I’d like to say the event ended this way, with a subtle dash of cool. But suddenly two friendly coppers burst into the newsroom with a warrant for my arrest on charges of, I believe, “failing to amuse the public.”
I was hauled off in handcuffs and all who gathered were stunned as the squad car whipped away from the curb.
Actually I hadn’t been in on that part of the gag. Rob had arranged for his friends in the department to come and “arrest me” as the clincher on the joke. (I was glad the gag didn’t include the one cop we liked who enjoyed back-shooting fleeing felons and singing “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” Again, another story.)
A few minutes later, after my release a half-block away, I strode back into the newsroom and saluted my comrade for getting the better of me.
And I waited. … for hours … for retribution …. You see, sometime in all the commotion I had stuck a “load” in one of his Kools….
So well into the evening, that cigarette exploded and my pal dropped from his chair.
We laughed. It had been a good day. For a few hours we had forgotten the faces of those dead teenagers.
Then we went back to work. Hoping the day would end so we could get to Camelot where the chief deputy would buy us drinks and spill his guts about crimes and about why he hated most journalists.
The only problem with having memories like these playing in your head while you are being scanned for brain damage is you wonder perhaps if the images will reflect years of wear and tear … and even show pictures of the dead teenagers.
The scans, surprisingly, showed I’m "normal." Doctor, ain’t there nothing I can take?

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