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The Florida Years / Chapter III & Virus Vexation

When I lived in Texas, no one ever cut my throat although I was twice threatened with such action. My throat was completely off-limits in California. And during our time in New Mexico, I experienced pneumonia but my throat remained untouched. And then I became Florida Man! How quickly the knives come out on this ultra-flat peninsula of gators, crackers and Disney characters.

At 5AM on the morning of my neck surgery, Lynn proclaims, “It’s 60 below outside!” Our dogs, Baby Doll and CowBoy, seem puzzled as they perform their morning rituals in the backyard. My faithful cell phone tells me the temperature is 60, not 60 below, just 60. But Lynn was born a Floridian, and to Floridians 60 degrees is the equivalent of an Arctic Blizzard. Baby Doll and CowBoy sniff, pee, poop and return to the house eager to be refilled.

I was thirteen the last time I was admitted to a public hospital. My attempt to hurdle Mrs. Wilson’s fence on West Twentieth Street in Odessa, Texas had resulted in a broken arm. My roommate in the hospital was Carl Hickerson, who became a famous flower salesman on The Drag in Austin. Was I required to go through such an extensive showering and cleansing process back then?

When I returned from my misadventures in Vietnam, I was operated on four times. But that was in an Army hospital. There are gaps in my memory from that period. To be honest, there are gaps in my memory from every period. Perhaps I was scrubbed down, rescrubbed and scrubbed again. That is most likely, since Doctors at Fort Sam Houston told me the severity of my wound was compounded by an infection suffered at the Chu Lai Evacuation Hospital.

(Photo, below; Baby Doll on left, CowBoy on right, Mr. Medlin in-between / Photo: Lynn Medlin)

Baby Doll on left, CowBoy on right.  Photo; Lynn Medlin

So confidence in my sanitation was sky high when my doctor spoke to me at Sarasota Memorial. “This procedure is pretty routine for me. We’ll just make the incision here, left of your Adam’s apple, fold back skin and muscle, go in and move your esophagus over, remove two discs and replace them with bone grafts. Shouldn’t take more than a few hours.” The surgeon’s intention was to be reassuring. I hoped he would be more successful at surgery than at reassurance. After all, my esophagus had not been moved over in 75 years. How would it react to this intrusion?

Spoiler alert: my esophagus reacted just fine. After I’d been turned off for four hours, a jolly nurse turned me back on from the non-consciousness of anesthesia. I was already wearing my neck brace and the nurse was eager to offer me a glass of water and an opioid tablet, my ticket to dreamland. The next time I opened my eyes, a roommate was being moved in. Mr. Jackson had collapsed outside a bar not from intoxication, but a stroke.

A few hours later, Mr. Jackson and I were able to have a brief conversation. Fearing that I was hallucinating from all the drugs, I doubted my perception when informed that Mr. Jackson and I had the same birthday. It was additionally confusing to learn (if I really did) that we were in Vietnam at the same time.

If you ever meet a mature 5’7’’ Black gentleman weighing about 130 pounds, ask him if he was born on November 20th and if he served in Viet Nam in 1969. If he responds in the affirmative, please let me know. It could greatly aid my fragile relationship with reality.

The story of my three-month recovery is, if possible, even more boring than most of what I write about. But I did sleep and dream the lesser dreams of Coleridge & Blake. Awakening from such dreams, I rapidly jotted down all that I could recall:

One night I found myself hovering above the Garden of Eden. It was a sight to behold! The flowers were beautiful beyond description. The trees, the birds, the bees, even the dirt shone with a brightness I had never witnessed. Through the radiant green grass a serpent of spectacular hue slithered. Adam and Eve had just seen each other for the very first time. Adam stared in awe as Eve’s lips moved and a musical sound faintly emerged. I couldn’t discern what she was saying. Would she speak English? Some ancient form of Hebrew? Or perhaps, just musical notes? I tried with all my might to get closer to the couple in the garden. Closer, closer, must get closer! I had missed Woman’s first utterance but I was determined to hear Man’s first word. Just as Adam was about to speak, I managed to get close enough to hear. Adam cupped his hand to his ear and delivered Man’s first response to Woman — “Hunh?” And so it has been, on through time.

Another night my nemesis, Travis Redfish, had located me in Florida. The grinning loon claimed to have been working in a Think Tank for TV Evangelist Jim Bakker. They had hatched a plan to replace Trump and Pence with any two actors who play doctors on TV. No, wait, it kept changing — they would be replaced by Rocky and Bullwinkle, no, by Laura Ingraham and Pee Wee Herman, or John Goodman and John Slattery from MADMEN, no! — wax figures of Napoleon and Marie Antoinette …. I screamed for the endless stream of insane images to stop. They did. “It don’t mean nothin,” chuckled Redfish, “I’m delivering a magic mushroom pizza to the White House tomorrow evening. That’ll change everything!” His laugh became maniacal! He began transforming rapidly, first into a braying jackass, then into a Redfish statue on Mount Rushmore. I screamed again and woke up. Lynn was staring at me. “That’s the last time you have cough syrup and key lime pie just before bedtime.”

Then there was the dream of the Little Virus That Could. It was on a mission from Mother Nature to save the earth! It would infect enough humans to shut down airlines, cruise ships and many other major users of fossil fuel. Then, when our carbon footprint was reduced to Greta Thunberg’s shoe size, the virus would float back to WHEREVERLAND, and Climate Change would be reversed. I felt optimistic! Turned down the air conditioner; chug-a-lugged a bottle of water through a plastic straw and threw the container in the trash; drove my Dually Pickup Truck to a station to fill up with premium, and got in line for two double-meat jumbo burgers at CARDIAC ARRESTERS BE WE.

Art: Dan Hubig © 2020

Strange and wondrous is the conscious altered. Just as I was cleared to rejoin the outside world, The Virus Circus became a Three-Ringer! So I am now joined in quarantine by millions. My experience in isolation might be of help to others. Not only did I dream, I ate. Slowly at first out of respect for my esophagus. Then more quickly. Then more ravenously. And I watched TV. Just a little at first out of respect for my brain. Then more purposefully, avoiding political news whenever possible. Sports, old movies, British Detective series Vera, Endeavour, Dalziel and Pascoe, Taggart, No Offence, Inspector George Gently, Line of Duty, Scott and Bailey and Zen. Not to mention the completely obvious such as: Poirot, Inspector Morse, Father Brown, Foyle’s War, Prime Suspect, and so forth.

Some of the elements I enjoy in the British shows: the cops, and most of the crooks, don’t carry guns; very few of the characters look like swimsuit models; they actually develop characters and tell stories; most of the chases are not in cars; many of the cops and criminals hang out in pubs; and everyone is flawed.

Since we are discouraged from visiting grocery stores, my distraction through gluttony might not work. But most of the TV shows posted above are available on Amazon Prime or Britbox, maybe other outlets as well. Suggestion: Closed Captions are of great assistance, particularly with strong Cockney or Scottish accents. Personally, I find closed captioning to be of help during all programs. Many folks my age read television as much as watch it.

Old movies, new movies, even newish Oscar-nominated films seem to be gettable on TV these days. The absence of sporting events is going to be very tough on some of us. Normally (if such a condition ever existed or ever will again) this is my favorite sports season. March Madness, the race to the NBA playoffs and the start of baseball. Hopefully the televising of curling, bowling and corn hole will not be curtailed by the pandemic. If only Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless could be disappeared from view, all would not be lost.

Alas, as I write this, even beaches have been declared off limits in Florida. I fear Lynn may require a straight jacket. But no, she has rediscovered gardening and tasks geared toward so-called "home improvement." These tasks generally consist of her providing guidance while I move some heavy object from one place to another, only to soon be summoned to move the object yet again. She has also discovered a miracle recipe for lemonade. Our lemon tree has become a central focus of our quarantine. Not only does it produce fruit for a delicious and delightfully refreshing beverage, it has also become a gathering place for squirrels and birds (particularly blue jays). Egrets peck at the rapidly browning lawn around the tree. Numerous colorful woodpeckers hammer away on our palm trees. Mockingbirds search for whatever it is that motivates mockingbirds to search. Parrots fly overhead almost every day. Sometimes an enormous hawk sits menacingly on the back fence.

We have taken to throwing handfuls of peanuts under the lemon tree and watching the creatures divide them up. This indulgence may have gone too far. Two days ago 10 blue jays, two cardinals and 6 squirrels joined the feast. The tree was alive with swirling images of blue and red. Then yesterday morning, Squiggy, our original squirrel (we think), was waiting for me at the front door. When I failed to immediately offer her a treat, Squiggy gave me an evil-eye worthy of Agnes Moorehead or Eva Green. Last night I was awakened by a telltale scurry of squirrels on the roof. A blue jay’s cry sent a chill through my recently repaired neck, and a thought carried the chill deeper into my soul: What happens if we are unable to purchase enough peanuts during the quarantine?

Reading more than just closed captions on television is a good outlet for the tedium of isolation. I would appreciate some suggestions. I have read all the classic noir tales from Chandler to Thompson to the MacDonalds to Highsmith to Crumley to Mosley to Nesbo. I have read Hiaasen, the pre-gonzo-gonzo of Terry Southern and the works of contemporaries Michael Ventura, Joe Ely, Jesse Sublett, Cynthia Heimel and Sarah Bird. Plus, I highly recommend SLAP NOIR and await your comments.

Although they may provide entertaining dreams, I do NOT recommend the use of Opioids to get though the tedium of isolation. They should be reserved for times of great pain. Otherwise, just as tax cuts for the rich and reducing interest rates to near zero during times of prosperity will eliminate those safety measure in times of true crisis, so will the casual use of opioids minimize their remedy in times of true pain. And Hey, they ARE addictive! Marijuana is much safer. Legal in many areas. But it does present two potential problems. Number one is THE MUNCHIES. Be sure you have enough snacks handy to feed your face while feeding your head. Number two is the potential for developing a cough. Every time you cough, you’ll probably wonder, “HAVE I GOT IT?”

So stay safe and protect the health of others during this crisis. Just think of this event as your participation in history. The pandemic, and how we respond, will long be talked of, written about and then become the subject of an award-winning film starring an actress not yet born. Go for a walk. Do some stretching. And befriend Squirrels and Jays at your own peril.


James BigBoy Medlin © 2020

James BigBoy Medlin was the sports writer for the original Austin Sun. His column was called "Why Not?"


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