i’ll tell you

You guys! You know who’s a fuckwit? I’ll tell you. Speaker of the House John Boehner, that’s who’s a fuckwit. How big a fuckwit is he? I’ll tell you. He’s a colossal fuckwit. A fuckwit of immense proportion. Do you know what this colossal fuckwit said yesterday? I’ll tell you. He said this:

“This idea that has been born, maybe out of the economy over the last couple years, that you know, ‘I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.’ This is a very sick idea for our country.”

And do you know what colossal fuckwit John Boehner did then? I’ll tell you. He ended the Fall session of Congress. Seriously, the Fall session. I know! It’s still officially summer. How big a fuckwit do you have to be to end the Fall session before Fall even begins? I’ll tell you. Colossal. That is fuckwittedness of herculean magnitude. And when will Congress return and get back to work? I’ll tell you. Sometime after the elections in November. November, you guys!

Massive Fuckwit, John Boehner

Colossal Fuckwit John Boehner

And do you know what’s even more fuckwitted than that? I’ll tell you. Congress just returned from its Summer vacation on September 9th. How many days has Congress been session since their holiday? I’ll tell you. Ten. Ten days. How many bills did Congress manage to pass in those ten days? I’ll tell you. One.

One bill. What was that bill about? I’ll tell you. It was to approve funding that will allow the U.S. to give money and training to Syrian rebels so they can fight ISIS. Or ISIL. Or Da’esh. Or Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn. Or whatever the fuck they’re calling themselves today.

One bill. Then they took off. Do you know how many days Congress has been in session this year? I’ll tell you. Fewer than a hundred. Ninety-seven, to be exact.

I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.

Jeebus. Jeebus on a fucking pretzel. You know what would have been nice? I’ll tell you. It would have been nice if they’d stayed away those last ten days and kept us out of another war in the Middle East. That would have been nice. I’d have liked that.


warm boot

Ninety percent of the work I do takes place in my head. The other ten percent involves shifting that work from my head to the computer through my fingers. Because so much of my work involves the creative writing of other folks, I spend a lot of time thinking about odd stuff, asking myself odd questions, researching odd topics.

Example? Sure, here’s one. Last week, I found myself exploring the history, function, and evolution of the lapel — complete with tangents on why we only see peaked lapels on formal evening wear, and the sad decline of the boutonnière loop on the reverse of the lapel. Here’s another issue I dealt with last week: at what point, in a science fiction mystery set in a massive orbiting space colony, does the number of sapient species living in the colony cease to create the illusion of the diversity of life in the known universe and begin to become a distraction from the story?

Where the gravel road intersects the line of trees is a bridge spanning a river.

Where the gravel road intersects the line of trees is a bridge spanning a river.

I do most of this thinking and wondering and questioning and researching in a small office with a window that looks out on a deeply uninteresting suburban street. I periodically shift to the kitchen table, where the windows look out on some deeply uninteresting suburban back yards. The absence of anything visually interesting is usually a good thing; it makes it easier to stay inside my head, where almost everything is interesting.

But I also need to regularly reset my brain, so once or twice a week I either bang into the city or I go lounge around the countryside — which I tend to think of as either a cold boot or a warm boot (do people even use those terms anymore to describe different levels of rebooting a computer?). The city is a cold boot. A complete re-start. The countryside is a warm boot. Restarting without going through the rigorous Power On Self Test.

Jameson and Peanut

Jameson and Peanut

A couple of days ago I did a warm boot. Got in the car late one afternoon, went looking for a bridge over a river. Any bridge, any river. It’s really a pretty easy task. There are rivers, creeks, brooks, and streams all over the Midwest. The same with roads. At some point all those roads have to intersect with all those rivers, creeks, brooks, and streams. And that means a bridge.

Fifteen — maybe twenty — minutes later I was standing on a classic steel truss bridge spanning the South Skunk River. These used to be pretty common bridges; easy to build, practical, sturdy. They began making them out of wood in the 1870s, moved to cast iron a few decades later, then to steel in the early 1900s. Engineers still make various forms of truss bridge, but these old steel units on secondary or gravel roads are gradually being replaced by safer, more easily built, less expensive (and much less interesting) concrete beam bridges.

Perfectly understandable from a governance perspective. But it’s still rather sad. There’s simply no romance in a concrete beam bridge. No struts on which Peanut and Jameson can record their love.

Skunk River

Skunk River

It’s a nice river though, the South Skunk. Hundred and eighty-five miles long. Add another ninety-five miles after it joins up with the North Skunk and they both meander down into the Mississippi.

It’s not actually named for skunks, by the way. Back in the mid-17th century when the French coureurs de bois and voyageurs were wandering around in the wilderness, they often (and I mean seriously often) failed to properly translate the names given to local geographical landmarks by the native peoples. The local Sauk and Meskwaki tribes told the French explorers that the river was Checaqua, a term meaning ‘having a powerful smell.’ The Indians were apparently referring to the onions that grew wild along the banks. But since they’d also used the same term in describing skunks…well, there it is. The Skunk River.

Long and straight, heading due east.

Long and straight, heading due east.

I noodled around on the bridge for a while, no longer thinking about aliens or the sociology of fashion, then got back in the car and headed farther upriver. But this is the Midwest, and the roads rarely follow the course of geological features. The secondary highways and gravel roads are long and straight, laid out east-west and north-south on a grid.

That’s the work of Thomas Jefferson. I don’t mean to suggest Jefferson was out in Iowa with a surveyor’s theodolite (that’s that little telescope-looking thing). It’s just that he came up with the concept of the Public Land Survey System. After the Revolutionary War, the new U.S. government needed to raise some cash, and find a way to reward the soldiers who’d fought. The solution was pretty obvious: there was a whole lot of land unoccupied by white folks — give it to the troops.

But first that new land had to be surveyed. It took years to actually implement the system. It wasn’t until white folks began to ‘civilize’ Ohio that the government began to apply the system. It’s really pretty simple. They established east-west baselines and north-south meridians, divided the territory into square townships (never mind if there were any actual towns there yet), made each township six miles by six miles, divided the townships into thirty-six sections of 640 acres each, set aside one section (always Section 16) for a school, and when it came time to lay down roads all they had to do was follow the grid.

Canoe access farther up the South Skunk.

Canoe access farther up the South Skunk.

Which is what I did. I followed the grid. A couple of miles east, eight miles north, a few miles west, cross over the soulless, ugly little concrete beam bridge, and there’s the river. With a canoe access marker, telling me how far downriver the next canoe access point is.

The brain is rebooted. I go home and the problem with the alien species saturation point seems a lot more clear. Later when a friend asked “How was your day?” I replied, “It was busy.” “Yeah? What did you do?”

And really, what could I say? I drove on roads laid out on principles designed by the third President of the United States, and stood on a bridge probably built during the Depression of the 1930s over a river mis-named by French explorers a hundred years before Thomas Jefferson was born — all to distract myself from thinking about aliens and lapels.

Instead I said “I went for a drive and thought about some stuff.” Which sparked a long, long silence during which I swear I could hear my friend thinking “What? Are you fucking kidding me? That’s what you call busy?

“And I made my final selections for my fantasy football team,” I said. That seemed to satisfy him.

it could be all three

There’s really no polite way to put this. Texas Senator Ted Cruz is either 1) totally lying, or 2) completely delusional, or 3) a fucking idiot.

Allow me to ‘splain. Back in 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In 5-4 decision, the court stated that corporations (and labor unions and other ‘associations’) have certain free speech rights. Since the court had ruled earlier that financial contributions to political candidates or parties are a form of speech, the ruling made it legal for corporations to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate.

Totally lying, completely delusional, or just a fucking idiot?

Totally lying, completely delusional, or just a fucking idiot?

This is not a good thing. It is, in fact, a very bad thing. In response, Democrats in the Senate have proposed a Constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money. Seems pretty reasonable. But then… Enter Ted Cruz.

“I grew up watching Saturday Night Live, I love Saturday Night Live. Saturday Night Live over the years, has had some of the most tremendous political satire. Who can forget in 2008, Saturday Night Live’s wickedly funny characterization of the Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin? It was wickedly funny and also [had] a profoundly powerful effect on people’s assessment of Gov. Palin, who’s a friend of mine. Congress would have the power to make it a criminal offense, Lorne Michaels could be put in jail under this amendment for making fun of any politician. That is extraordinary. It is breathtaking and it is dangerous.”

What’s extraordinary and breathtaking is Cruz actually said that. Out loud. He’s really and truly arguing that because NBC is a corporation, the proposed amendment would prohibit Saturday Night Live from engaging in political satire. And that, of course, is utter bullshit. (What kind of bullshit is it? Utter.)

Now. Back to the beginning. Ted Cruz is either lying, delusional, or a fucking idiot. If he actually knows the amendment doesn’t prohibit political satire, but he’s claiming it does anyway–he’s lying. On the other hand, if he truly believes the amendment would outlaw political satire on television, despite the reality of the amendment–he’s delusional. And on the third hand, if he simply doesn’t understand what the proposed amendment would do–he’s a fucking idiot.

It has to be one of those three, that’s all there is to it. It’s pretty simple. I’m just not sure which of those three applies. He might be lying. He might be delusional. Or he might be a fucking idiot. Or, of course, he might be a delusional fucking idiot who is lying.

It’s Ted Cruz. He’s a Republican from Texas. It’s possible he’s won the Trifecta.

what i learned

This morning I waded into the waist-deep pool of bile that is FreeRepublic.com. I do this on a moderately regular basis; it’s like injecting myself with small doses of snake venom in order to develop a resistance to being poisoned. This is what I learned today:

I learned conservatives are furious that President Obama visited Stonehenge following the recent NATO summit. Doubly furious that he wasn’t paying for the entire trip out of his own pocket, and trebly furious that he was allowed inside the ropes. Knowing Obama visited Stonehenge has completely ruined every previous visit to the site.

– Why not? Not his dime and not like anything is going on.

– He wanted the taxpayer to foot the bill. What a narcissist.

– I was there. Now when I look at my photos, I may have the misfortune of thinking of him. (vomit).

– Pagan ritual site, possible human sacrifices … right up his satanic alley.

Apparently pondering a human sacrifice

Apparently pondering a human sacrifice

I learned conservatives still love Sarah Palin and Phil Robertson, the oldest bearded guy from Duck Dynasty (who said Palin ought to be in the White House, though he didn’t say what he thought she should be doing there). Also, I learned it would be cool to kill a lot of ducks at an inauguration. Also too, it’s fun to piss off liberals.

–  Phil Robertson endorsement is as good as it gets. Besides, Sarah IS the best person for the job.

– HeHe! I just invisioned at the Inauguration ending with a “Release of the Ducks” and Sarah & Phil whip out shotguns and blast lunch out of the sky.

– Not only would she be a fantastic President, but best of all she drives liberals into seizures. Oh man, to see that everyday, see them walking around red-faced with steam coming out there ears? Like winning the lottery! And any and all criticism of her we can say it again: You libs are sexist!

Apparently the best person for the job

Apparently like winning the lottery

I learned many conservatives see Scotland’s independence movement as a model for Texas independence. Also, Scots hate Islam more than the British do. Also too, there is something ‘different’ about Texas. Also too plus, people who live in cities suck.

– Get-R-Done Scotsman. May be awhile, but Texas may be heading down this path as well.

– Why are they going for independence? Because they are fed up with England allowing radical Islam to take root? Good enough reason for me.

– We were a country before we made the decision to become part of the union. It was mexican citizens that kicked that punk Santa Anna out in the first place. There is something different about Texas. We don’t seem to be as eat up with ignorant liberalism as the west coast and the north east. We have a couple of blue spots here and there, but nothing that can’t be taken care of over night if need be.

– It is when you get out in the country you meet the die hard native Texan. Only paralleled by Native Tennesseans, Native Scotsman. These are the folks with honor, vision, heart and determination. I’ve been to Scotland many times. I have good friends residing there. Scrapers.

Apparently Scots are almost as good as Texans

Apparently Scots are almost as good as Texans

I learned conservatives are opposed to gay folks marching in the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade. Also, parades are the work of Satan. Also too, they’re boring. Unless they’re for Alvin York or Charles Lindbergh (which is rather peculiar, considering York was a life-long Democrat who supported government assistance for poor folks, and believed Lindbergh should have been arrested for being a Nazi sympathizer). Also too plus, Democrats like parades. So do tarty celebrities.

– St Patrick deserves more respect than this. It’s a shame that this Godly man’s memory is associated with what he and his God knew to be sin…behavior that brings personal, social, and spiritual death.

– St. Patrick’s Day parades in general have become more about getting plastered and less about celebrating the good works of the saint. By adding the LGBT crowd, the parade in New York is now completely a work of Satan.

– I never liked parades, even as a child. Always thought they were boring. These days parades are all about politics and unions. Democrats love parades. Sort of like the “circuses” in “bread and circuses.” A distraction for the masses from life’s miseries actually created by the Democrats.

– The parades of the Twenties, say the ones for Lindbergh or Sergeant York, would probably have been more exciting. They were actually celebrations of real spontaneous human achievement, people were truly thrilled.

– The older parades likely had more interesting people in the parades as well instead of tarty celebrities and asinine beauty queens.

Apparently parades are boring and Satanic and full of tarty celebrities

Apparently parades are boring and Satanic and full of tarty celebrities

I learned that Barack Obama has declared himself King of America, first by using his authority as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces to attack ISIS and then by considering what he might do about immigration.

– At the very same press conference where he promised to destroy the Islamic State, Obama again promised to act unilaterally on immigration. “My expectation is that fairly soon, I’ll be considering what the next steps are,” Obama said in response to a question about when he will act on the issue.

– He’s barely qualified to be President of an 8th grade class.

– Will he wear Purple Robes or Leopard Skins ?

– The purple robe would match his purple lips, wouldn’t it?

– Obama is untouchable. He has made the Legislative branch of our government irrelevant. Not one person in Congress will lift a finger to stop him. The news media will not call him out and report the truth. His useless wife has declared herself queen. America now has their own despots like a third world country. I think it is a 50-50 chance these despicable people will ever leave office.

Apparently the president is the king

Apparently the president likes knee-high boots

I learned that it’s imperative that all Americans need to be armed all the time. You know, in case ISIS attacks a local shopping mall.

– ISIS could launch selective sudden violent catastrophic attacks and then withdraw before most of them could be caught due to the massive confusion and chaos. [A]rmed citizens CAN BE EVERYWHERE! What is lacking are policies to integrate the capabilities and willingness of armed citizens to react quickly to support or augment the police or the military in the event of terrorist attacks. And that MUST be a serious consideration going forward!

– When the crap hits the fan and these terrorist animals decide to attack a soft target,Shopping mall,School,Hospital.The Police will not be there to protect the Public.

– The thought that an attack could come at virtually any time and any place is enough for me. Efforts to disarm citizens while downplaying the risks is nothing short of sinister in my mind. Add the “open borders” policy and it actually looks like this administration is not only inviting terrorists, but is hoping they attack.

– Imagine the guilt you would feel if you came upon a terrorist act about to begin and you didn’t carry that day.

Apparently ISIS has plans to assault the shampoo aisle

Apparently ISIS has plans to assault the housecleaning aisle

I learned that the risk of ISIS attacking a major shopping mall in the United States can be thwarted by ordinary folks toting firearms and by refusing them parking spaces.

Apparently terrorists prefer free parking

Apparently terrorists prefer free parking

Basically, I learned that an awful lot of conservatives are pretty much scared of everything. Except guns. And white folks with guns. And Scotland. They like Scotland. There are a lot of white folks in Scotland. Not many guns, though. So there’s room for improvement, I guess.

But let me also say this. Mixed in with all the Second Amendment Nutjobs and the Racists and the Anti-Feminist Women Haters and the Conspiracy Theorists and the Virulent Homophobes and the Climate Change Deniers, there are a few intelligent, principled conservatives. There are people who accept evolution as a fact, people who see no reason why gay folks shouldn’t get married, who acknowledge that human activity really does influence the environment, that Muslims have rights, that working class women ought to get paid as much as men, and that Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen.

Of course, they still hate Obama with a white-hot fury. But hey, it’s a start.

ghost bikes

You know how you scan the news headlines and something catches your eye? Back in June, this caught mine:

Bicyclist dies in Calhoun County crash

It caught my attention because I’m a bicyclist, and because years ago I lived in Calhoun County, Iowa while I was working as a counselor in a prison for women. It’s a fairly small connection, but it was enough to get me to glance at the article.

Shawn Gosch, 47, of Onawa was riding west on Iowa Highway 7 west of Manson when a station wagon struck him from behind shortly after 8:30 a.m. Friday, the Iowa State Patrol said in a news release. Gosch was pronounced dead at Pocahontas Community Hospital.

I’ve ridden that road. Classic Iowa highway — flat, straight, moderately good shoulder, not terribly busy. It’s a pretty good cycling road unless the wind is in your face.

Salina, Kansas

Salina, Kansas

The article said Gosch was riding with a friend, who was also injured; the driver struck Gosch from behind, hurling him and his bike into the other cyclist.

Eric Meyer, 30, of Lake View was the driver of the station wagon. Meyer told authorities he tried to pass the bicyclists, but was unable to get around them…Iowa State Patrol Lt. Kelly Hindman said he did not expect charges to be filed, although the results of the investigation could change that.

Unable to get around them? How difficult could it be to get around a pair of cyclists riding in single file on a straight highway? They were riding west at 8:30 in the morning, so the sun wouldn’t have been in the driver’s eyes. And how could charges NOT be filed? I mean, this guy killed somebody. As a criminal defense investigator I worked cases in which people who’d done a lot less were charged with negligent homicide. I’m thinking hitting a cyclist from behind with a station wagon is pretty damned negligent.

Brooklyn, NY

Brooklyn, NY

Eventually, the State decided to press three charges against Meyer. Nothing serious, though. Unsafe passing, failure to wear a seat belt, and failure to provide proof of insurance. That’s it. One guy is dead, another guy is injured, and the driver gets charged with unsafe passing. He didn’t pass at all. He failed to pass. He hit the fucking guy. Lawdy.

Equally disturbing is the response to this news report. Many of the comments were hostile. They were dominated by complaints about cyclists slowing down traffic and suggestions that bicycles be banned from the roads. It was as if drivers were blaming the cyclist for being on the road.

Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis, MN

That was back in June — but I tend to let a thought bounce around in my brain for a long time. As far as I can tell, there have been four Iowa cyclists killed by motor vehicles so far this year. That’s one every other month. Those are the ones who are killed; who knows how many suffer non-fatal injuries? And this is in Iowa, which is a bicycle-friendly state. If it’s this bad in Iowa, how bad can it be in the rest of the United States?

Brookline, MA

Brookline, MA

Pretty damned bad, is how bad. According to the most recent data (2012) there are about 700 bicycle-versus-motor vehicle fatalities a year. Let’s say two a week. More than 50,000 are injured. Most of the fatal accidents (around 40%, according to a recent report by League of American Bicyclists) involve cyclists being struck from behind. Very few of the fatalities result in a criminal charge. When a criminal charge IS brought against the driver, it’s most often for some sort of traffic offense.

According to a news release by the Taylor County attorney, bicyclist Gerald Williams of Lenox was struck by a vehicle driven by Jessica M. Brown and killed. The car was damaged bad enough that it couldn’t be driven. Brown reported that she thought she hit a deer. A day later, the body of Williams was found in the ditch. Brown was convicted of failure to stop at an assured clear distance on Jan. 3. She was ordered to pay a fine of $500, a statutory surcharge of $175 and court costs in the amount of $60.

That’s a total of US$735 for killing a bicyclist. Well, no — for failure to stop at an assured clear distance. Whatever the hell that means. If you ever want to kill somebody and get away with it, your best bet is to hit them from behind with a car. The odds of picking up a felony charge are slight. Of course, you may have to pay a stiff traffic fine.

Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles, CA

These deaths aren’t murders, of course. They’re just accidents. Accidents for the most part caused by either negligence or recklessness. But here’s the thing: if you’re driving your car and you crash into another car and kill somebody, you’ll likely be charged with negligent homicide. If you kill a pedestrian, same thing. But for some reason, crashing into a bicyclist on a public road is only a traffic offense. Somebody please explain that to me.

There are lots of cycling organizations out there lobbying for stiffer punishments and more consistent enforcement of existing laws, but they’re not getting much attention or traction. It’s not that I want to see people punished; it’s that I’d like to see some equity of treatment. I’d like to see the deaths of cyclists treated as seriously as the deaths of drivers and pedestrians.

But amid all the bullshit, there’s one group — a small, rather informal group — paying their respects to the dead. Ghost Bikes.

ghost bike 1

The Ghost Bike project was started in St. Louis, Missouri in 2003, apparently after Patrick Van Der Tuin witnessed a fatal car-bike accident. He took a cheap-ass bike, painted it white, stuck a hand-painted sign on it (Cyclist Struck Here), and placed it at the location of the accident. When he saw the effect it had, he and some friends began to do the same thing at other locations where bike-car accidents had occurred in St. Louis.

Now there are more that 600 ghost bikes all over the world. That’s a lot of ghost bikes. But not nearly enough. Not nearly enough. Most people — even most cyclists — have never heard about ghost bikes. Even if they see them along the road, they don’t know what they are. To my knowledge, there are no ghost bikes in Iowa.

I may have to do something about that.

you can’t make an omelet without…

Years ago, when I was a working P.I., I had a client who was wanted on a drug charge. When the police went to pick him up, he barricaded himself in his house and told the officers he was armed with a fully automatic Ingram MAC-10. The police wisely backed off and implemented a Full Gary Oldman. “Bring me everyone.”

Almost the entire local police force arrived, surrounded the house, evacuated the neighbors, and waited patiently for my client to decide what he was going to do next. What he did next was fire off a few rounds on semi-auto, after which he realized he’d totally fucked himself and he surrendered.

There wasn’t any real investigating to do in the case; the guy was blatantly guilty. But a good defense lawyer will grasp at almost any straw, even if it’s only useful in sentencing. So I was sent to test the weapon and determine if it was completely operational. In other words, to see if actually was fully automatic. Which meant I’d get to shoot it.

I did, and it was. It was the ugliest gun I’ve ever seen — just a foot-long slab of black metal, with a strap attached near the barrel. The strap was necessary to keep the barrel down while firing; otherwise the recoil would force the barrel up and you’d be shooting sky. The police allowed me to fire off two 30 round magazines — which maybe took a total of five or six seconds. The stubby little bastard could fire just over a thousand rounds a minute. That’s 1000 9mm bullets in 60 seconds. Do the math. Even holding the strap, I found it difficult to control the barrel.

Why am I telling you this? Because on Monday a shooting instructor at an Arizona firing range allowed a nine-year-old girl to fire a similar weapon — and Uzi — on full auto.

Let me repeat that. A shooting instructor — a military veteran with lots of experience with firearms — having watched a nine-year-old girl fire one 9mm round on semi-auto, decided to allow her to fire the weapon on full auto. She lost control of the weapon. The instructor took a round to the head. Killed him.

Nine. The girl is nine years old. Her parents, of course, were recording it with their phone. (The video, released by the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office, stops before the instructor is shot.)

Just an accident. No charges will be filed. These things happen. Sure, a few lives were destroyed. The shooting instructor. His family. The poor girl. Her family. But hey, what can you do? Nobody to blame, nobody is at fault. Second Amendment, and all that. Nothing left to say, really.

What a stupid fucking country this is.

uncomfortable confessional crap

You know, you get so used to your life that sometimes you fail to recognize how odd it is. Or how odd it seems to other people.

I was reminded of this recently. It was a pretty ordinary situation; I was with a friend in a dimly-lit hallway and there was a bit of light peeking out from beneath a closed door. I must have hesitated a bit before opening the door. Well, no, I know I hesitated a moment. I always do.

“What was that about?” my friend asked.

“What was what about?”

“That pause before you opened the door.”

pause a moment

I don’t talk about myself very often. I don’t really spend much time thinking about myself. I’m not very self-reflective. I’ve lived with myself my entire life, so there’s nothing really new there for me to learn. I’m aware that other people don’t hesitate before opening a door that has a light shining underneath it — but it doesn’t occur to me that it’s odd that I do it.

But when somebody else notices it, you sort of have to explain. And how do you do that? How do you tell somebody that when you approach a door in a dimly-lit hallway — a door with a light shining underneath it — that you hesitate because you always remember opening a similar door with a similar light and finding a dead guy hanging from a pipe? How do you do that without sounding all dramatic?

Because it’s really not dramatic. There’s just a moment — and seriously, it’s just a very brief moment — when you have to suppress an old spark of fear. I know I’m not going to open that door and see a dead guy hanging from a pipe. But my brain always says “Okay, prepare yourself for something horrible, then open the door.” And I open it and everything is okay.

I was a medic in the military. For most of my military career I was assigned to a large medical center, in a unit called Special Functions. I was part of a team that responded primarily to respiratory and cardiac emergencies. Most of what we did took place within the medical center; cardiac arrests, respiratory arrests, that sort of thing. But sometimes we’d be sent out on ambulance runs.

I don’t recall what sparked this particular run; somebody must have assumed there was a living person in some sort of respiratory distress. But there wasn’t. We responded to a hotel where somebody from the base worked part-time on a maintenance crew. The hotel staff directed us to the basement. Some sort of heating and air-conditioning facility.

So…dimly-lit hallway, light shining out from under the door.

The guy had been dead for a few days. All the bodily fluids had drained to his extremities, so his arms and legs were bloated and dark purple. His neck had stretched about a foot, so his feet were almost touching the floor. We were afraid that if we cut him down, the impact would cause his bloated feet to explode, so another medic and I had to support him while a third cut the — I don’t recall if it was a rope or a belt or a cord. Whatever he’d hung himself with. And, of course, there was the stink of putrefaction.

The whole event was pretty ghastly, but really it was just one of a number of ghastly things I’ve seen or done. I won’t say you get used to ghastly stuff, but you do become sort of inured to it. There have been other experiences that gave me nightmares for years, but that wasn’t one of them.

And yet I still flash on the image when I’m in a dimly-lit hallway and I see light under a doorway. To me, it’s not a big deal. Explaining it to somebody, though, is sort of embarrassing. Not because of what happened, but because of the way they look at you.

My friend said “You should talk about that stuff. You should write about it. Maybe you’ll get over it. Put it behind you.” So I said I would, because that was the easiest thing to say.

But here’s the thing: why would I want to put it behind me? Ugly things happen. They happen to everybody. I don’t want to forget them. I don’t mind that the memory of ugly things sometimes cause some minor disruption in my life. Ugly things are supposed to cause some disruption.

I know now what I should have said to my friend: “I still open the door. I always open the door. I’ll keep opening the door.” Because as long as you can open the door, that’s really all that matters.