A while ago, I fell down, hit my head, and suffered a subdural hematoma, which is bleeding of the tissues around the brain.
The doctors said I was extremely lucky. I could have died, been a vegetable, or spent my golden years in a wheelchair, drooling and wearing diapers. Fortunately, they caught it in time. The brain surgery went smoothly and there were no complications. They told me I should make a complete recovery.
This all happened three and a half months ago and, despite what the doctors said, I still don’t feel right. I sense I’m about 90% of my normal self.
Oh, sure, people tell me I look great. They say they can’t see any difference in me, that I look and act exactly the same as I did before the accident.
But I know better. I may be okay physically, but mentally, I’ve still got a ways to go. In the last week, I…
Caught myself calling my daughter’s dog by my recently deceased cat’s name.
Put food in the microwave and forgot about it until the next day.
Spent 20 minutes looking for my reading glasses, when, all the time, they were clipped to the neck of my tee-shirt.
Couldn’t remember my zip code when I used a credit card at a gas station.
Walked to the corner convenience mart to buy cigarettes and forgot to take the pack with me when I left the store.
Did laundry and left the clothes in the dryer overnight.
Developed a slight stutter that friends and family claim not to notice, but I do.
There are several other issues that I blame on the head injury, but at the moment, I can’t remember them.
I complained about the situation to my wife and her advice was to be patient. “The doctors said your recovery would take six-to-nine months. The surgery was a little more than three months ago. You have to give it time.”
“Yeah, but I’ve always been a fast healer.”
“Honey,” she said, “you’re not a kid anymore.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“At your age, you can’t blame every little lapse on the brain surgery. It’s natural for an older man to be a bit forgetful.”
“Good lord! You don’t think I’ve got Alzheimer’s, do you? I mean, who forgets their zip code.”
One thing I didn’t forget was my youngest daughter’s birthday. She turned 24 this past Sunday and my wife planned a dinner party in her honor.
The lovely Mrs. Milo asked me to run a few errands. I picked up a birthday card, a present, and some beer and wine. I also had to stop at the bakery to pick up a cake.
When I arrived at the bakery, I realized I didn’t know what kind of cake my daughter liked. So I called my older daughter and said, “What kind of cake would your sister like for her birthday?”
There was a moment of silence, and then she said, “Ah, Dad, you asked me that same question yesterday.”
For the most part, Milo–my partner in this glorious, Third City blogging empire–has been a sedentary creature who rarely strays from home.
In fact, as boring as his life has been, I must confess mine is even duller.
Just think of where we’ve lived.
Milo’s lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Gary, Indiana; and Terre Haute, Indiana.
He did have a not-brief-enough-stay in Vietnam. He survived by consuming heaping helpings of marijuana and Jimi Hendrix.
Which, come to think of it, sounds like what he did last weekend.
Similarly, I’ve lived in Providence, Rhode Island; Evanston, Illinois, and Appleton, Wisconsin.
Not exactly Paris, Rome and London.
Two years ago, I ventured out of the country for a two-week visit to Argentina. As you recall, I entertained the locals with my attempts to order various meals in Spanish.
This is all my long way of saying that Milo stunned me the other day when he announced that he and his wife–the lovely Mrs. Milo–were taking a road trip to Duluth, Minnesota, of all places.
“You can’t go,” I told him.
“Cause I’ll be going out of town that same week and who will run the mighty TTC empire?”
“Fuck it, Benny, we’ll just shut the fucker down!”
Think of it. The two guys who never go anywhere leaving town–at the same time!
The good news is that we survived, though not without a few bruises.
Immediately upon his return, Milo called to complain about his aching back.
Apparently, he messed it up with all the driving he’d done.
“I used to drive day and night and never feel a thing,” he said. “Now my fuckin’ back is killing me.”
When I was done listening to him bitch about his back, I started in about my energy–of which I had none.
Apparently, I’d lost it on some beach in northern Michigan.
Sad to say, Milo and I have reached that advanced stage of life when even our vacations are hard work.
All in all, it’s good to be back home.
In my endless search for the perfect bottle of cheap red wine, I’m in the wine section of Trader Joe’s as a salesman approaches.
“Looking for anything in particular?” he asks.
He thinks: Duh, dumbass.
He says: “You’ve come to the right place. Anything in particular.”
“Red wine. But not too pricey.”
He thinks: Cheap muthafucka…
He says: “I got just the thing.”
He plucks a bottle from the shelf and drops his voice, as though he’s about to divulge a secret.
“This is a $45 bottle of wine.”
“But, I’ll sell it to you for $15.”
“For a $45 dollar bottle of wine?”
“Since you asked, I’ll let you in on a little secret…”
He leans toward me. We’re talking very quietly. I’m thinking–this must be how Madoff lured his suckers down the path to ruin.
“The manufacturer sold us the right to sell their $45 dollar wine in our bottles for $15…”
“Why would they do that?”
“Apparently, they’re hard up for the cash…”
“So, it’s like–they gave you the right to put his $45 dollar wine in a Trader Joe bottle and sell it for $15?”
“And, in exchange, you gave him a hunk of cash?”
“You got it.”
“But why would anybody buy his wine for $45 if they know they can get it for $15 from you.”
“Cause as long as we put it in our bottle, they don’t know it’s his wine.”
“But it’s only a limited offer.”
I flash back almost 40 years, when Irv, the used-car salesman, pounded the hood of a `73 Celica and told me: “It’s sticker price is three grand. But for you? Twenty-five hundred.”
“I’m in,” I tell the wine salesman.
Fast forward about 30 minutes…
I burst into the kitchen, where my wife’s cooking diner.
“See this bottle of wine,” I say holding it up.
“It costs $45.”
“You spent $45 on a bottle of wine?”
“No, I got it $15.”
I tell her the whole story. And we agree that since it’s such a special bottle of wine, we’re have to save it for a special occasion.
Days pass and it sits on the table unopened, waiting for that occasion so special it’s worthy of a $45 bottle of wine.
Dinner at the local BYOB Italian restaurant? Pasta dinner at home? Dinner at the BYOB Thai joint? Nope–not special enough. And so the wine stays home.
And then one day my wife has a party. And the next day I come down to the kitchen to discover that…
The bottle of $45 wine has vanished.
Apparently, some friends, having plowed through all the other booze, consumed it. I hope they realize how special it was.
Alas–so close to oenological excellence. And, yet, so so far away…
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I’ve never been a cat person. But that changed about 15 years ago, when, on an otherwise uneventful day, a tough-looking, stray tomcat followed my youngest daughter home.
“Daddy, can we keep the cat?” my daughter asked. “Please.”
“Hell no! I don’t like cats. I don’t trust them. I refuse to have one in the house.”
Of course, as is usually the case, my daughter didn’t pay attention to a word I said. In fact, she enlisted her sister and my wife, a woman I thought I could trust, in a fiendish counter-insurgency campaign designed to undermine my insistence on getting rid of the cat.
They bought feeding bowls and started leaving food and water for the cat on the back porch. They bought him a collar, toys, and catnip. The cat was even given a name. My daughter began calling him “Otis,” and the name stuck.
Despite my family’s efforts to provide a home for Otis, I was determined to get rid of him. When I spotted him in the back yard, I’d yell at him, throw rocks, or squirt him with the water hose. Once, I was even going to fire a couple of shots in his general direction, but Otis was obviously familiar with firearms because he ducked out of range when he saw me come out of the house carrying a pistol.
But Otis was a stubborn cat. He wouldn’t leave. No matter what I did, I couldn’t chase him away.
And then I got drunk and caved.
I was opening a second bottle of wine when my daughters and wife confronted me. They didn’t have to say anything. I could read their faces. They had that “if we don’t get our way, we’ll make your life a living hell” look that I knew so well.
“Okay, okay. You can keep the damned cat.”
A few moments later, Otis strutted into the house, looked around, found himself a cozy spot by the window, and settled in.
Surprisingly, Otis and I got along. We didn’t actually become friends — it may be impossible to become friends with a cat — but we tolerated each other. I would have liked him a lot better if he wasn’t in the habit of slaughtering bunny rabbits, song birds, and other helpless creatures.
Otis became a minor celebrity when I began writing about him for The Third City’s blog. I put him in humorous situations in which he always prevailed. People seemed to like the stories. I wrote more than a dozen of them.
And then, after living with us for 15 years, the inevitable happened. At the ripe old age of 17 or 18 — we never knew his age for sure — Otis got sick. He spent most of his time hiding in the basement.
He had a lot of minor issues, but the main one was a lump on his head. The vet said it was an inoperable tumor and that, at most, he had a couple of months left.
For a few weeks, Otis carried on valiantly. But then his back legs gave out and he could barely walk. It was time.
Last Tuesday, we took him for his last trip to the vet. The good doctor gave Otis a shot that made him higher than a kite. He lay on a table for about 20 minutes, stoned, drooling, having a high old time. He was probably wondering what was for dinner when the vet gave him the kill shot, and poor Otis was dead and gone.
My daughters were crying, my wife was teary-eyed, but I figured, everything considered, it was not a bad way to go.
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Most of you know Milo–my partner in this vast blogging empire–as a drunken degenerate who spends his days in a ratty bathrobe down in the basement, watching TV and smoking reefer.
All of which is more or less accurate.
But what you might not know is that his orthographic skills are second to none.
That is–he’s a great speller.
I’m not sure how this is possible, given the vast quantities of brain-killing substances he’s imbibed down through the years.
The guy’s just a freak of nature.
In contrast, I can’t spell for shit.
To this day, I can’t remember if it’s i before e or the other way around. I break into a sweat just thinking about whether becoming is spelled with one or two ms.
As such, I turn to Milo for all matters regarding spelling.
For instance, just the other day he told me “dumb fucker is spelled with two words.”
By the way, you might wonder how this matter came up in conversation.
It arose at our daily staff meeting where we come up with new and insight thoughts to help you, the reader, get through life.
Me `n Milo, walking down the street…
In this case the thought was: “After giving it a great deal of thought, The Third City has come to the conclusion that there are a lot more dumb fuckers in the world than there used to be.
An observation I don’t think you can dispute, given the vast number of people voting for Donald Trump.
Anyway, as I was typing that great thought into our blog, I said…
“Dumb fuckers is spelled with one word–right?”
And Milo said…
“Wrong. It’s two words.”
With that, we were off…
“Hold it, Milo. Didn’t you tell me all obscenities are spelled with one word?”
“For instance, dipshit–is that one or two words?”
“So, therefore, dumb fucker should also be one word,” I said.
“Benny, you’re just going to have to take my word for it.”
“But it’s illogical…”
“Benny, how many times do I have to tell you–there is no logic to the English.”
“It’s like love, Benny. You can’t start it like a car or kill it with a gun.”
“Whoa, man–what does that mean?”
“Fuck if I know. It’s like spelling dumb fucker with two words. There’s just some mysteries we’ll never understand.”
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The first celebrity I ever met was Duncan Renaldo, who played The Cisco Kid in the 1950s TV series of the same name. Mr. Renaldo must have been down on his luck when I met him because he had been reduced to appearing at a third-rate county fair in Lake County, Indiana, just outside of Gary, where he was selling autographed photos for two dollars each.
If I remember correctly, Mr. Renaldo charged a little extra if you wanted him to pose for a picture with you.
Before Duncan Renaldo paid Gary a visit, the most well known people in town were Fat Willie Bosco, whose claim to fame was eating 22 Coney Island chili dogs during a half hour lunch break, and Harold Wozniak, who became a prominent professional wrestling referee. So, it was understandable why even a minor TV star, 15 years past his glory days, would draw a crowd.
There was, and probably still is, a severe shortage of celebrities in the old steel town. So, you can imagine my surprise when I ran into Elvis Presley on the streets of Gary.
It was an early Saturday evening and I was walking home after spending the day at Gene’s Billiards. I was nearly home when a flashy maroon Cadillac Eldorado, with Tennessee license plates and carrying four passengers, pulled up to the curb in front of me.
One of the Cadillac’s tinted windows rolled down and a voice with a distinct southern accent said, “Son, can you help us out? We’re having trouble finding an address.”
I was hesitant to approach the car. I intuitively understood that a Cadillac filled with hillbillies is something to be avoided. Still, I didn’t want to be rude, so I said, “What’s the address?”
When the man told me the address, I said, “I know where it is, but it’s a rough neighborhood and real hard to find. I doubt a map would help you.”
“Do you know how to get there?”
The man quickly conferred with his fellow passengers. “Why don’t you hop in the car,” he said to me, “and show us where it is. We’ll pay you for your help.”
“Do I look like some sort of dumbass? What makes you think I’d get in a car with a bunch of strangers from Tennessee. You’re probably all perverts.”
When I said that, the guys in the car started laughing. Then the rear passenger door opened and the guy I had been talking to stepped out of the Cadillac. I was getting ready to run when another guy followed him out of the car. To my complete amazement, it was Elvis Presley.
Elvis stood on the sidewalk for a moment, looking around and sniffing the fetid Gary air. “Man, this place is a real shithole,” he commented. Turning to me, he said, “You know who I am, don’t you?”
“The address we’re looking for belongs to Mr. Jimmy Reed. He’s a famous blues musician. I want to visit the man and pay my respects, because I’m putting one of his songs on my next record. I would consider it a personal favor if you’d show me to his house.”
I got in the car, sat between Elvis and a 300-pound man named Lamar, and gave the driver directions. After a while, someone asked if we were getting close to Jimmy Reed’s house.
When I said “We’re in shouting distance,” Elvis began singing a tune.
“Big Boss man,
Can you hear me when I call,
Big boss man,
Can you hear me when I call,
You ain’t so big,
You’re just tall that’s all.”
When we parked in front of Jimmy Reed’s house, Elvis went up the door, knocked, and went inside. He spent about 10 minutes in the house. When he came back to the car Lamar asked if he had seen Jimmy.
“Yes I did, but the old boy was passed out drunk in his easy chair. I heard he has always enjoyed hard liquor. But I had a nice talk with his wife. She’s a real sweet lady.”
After we left Jimmy Reed’s house, the guys gave me a ride home. Before I got out of the car, I said, “I recall someone saying I was going to get paid for showing you where Jimmy Reed lived.”
Elvis laughed. “Just give your address to Lamar. I’ll make sure you get paid for your trouble.”
Two weeks later, a sleek, cherry red Cadillac Eldorado was delivered to my door, compliments of Elvis Presley. I wasn’t old enough to drive, but my father enjoyed tooling around town in the Eldorado. Unfortunately, shortly after Elvis’ Cadillac arrived, the Old Man lost the car in a poker game in East Chicago.
I wrote Elvis a letter, explaining what had happened to the Eldorado, hoping he would send me another, but he never wrote back.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to numerous complaints from readers about the frequent exaggerations and outrights lies in Milo’s blogs, The Third City’s fact-checking department has been keeping a close eye on his posts. After weeks of painstaking research, we have been forced to conclude that there is absolutely no evidence, factual or anecdotal, that Elvis Presley ever set foot in Gary, Indiana. And although Indiana’s municipal record keeping is notoriously unreliable, it appears that during the period that the Elvis Presley incident allegedly took place, Milo was serving a lengthy stretch in a downstate reformatory.
However we were able to verify, through employment records at the Armour & Company meat packing plant, that Jimmy Reed did, indeed, live in Gary, Indiana, during the period in question. He was also known to have a drinking problem. Finally, we were able to ascertain that Duncan Renaldo did, in fact, once make an appearance at the Lake County Fair.
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I’ve been spending a lot of time at the Jesse Brown VA Hospital recently, dealing with some issues that the doctors tell me are pretty much under control. I had my last therapy session two weeks ago and the medical professionals informed me I was 90% recovered.
Time, they said, would take care of the other 10%.
My doctor said he didn’t have to see me for six months, which was good news and bad news.
Good, because it means I don’t have any pressing medical problems. Bad, because I won’t be able to hang out with a lot of my fellow veterans.
I enjoy spending time with old soldiers. I understand them. I know what they’ve been through. I speak their language.
A few months ago, I was sitting in the reception area, waiting to see my doctor, when a man in a wheelchair rolled up next to me. He was an elderly black man with a blanket covering his legs.
“How you doing, brother?” he asked me.
It was a question that veterans understand on many levels. It wasn’t simply a conversational ploy. It was an existential question about the state of your universe – your mental, physical, and social well being. The old man wanted to know if I was suffering from horrors or sweats. He was asking if I was eating well, getting enough sleep, making ends meet, having nightmares, or suffering from any of the monstrous post-war afflictions associated with combat.
“I’m doing fine,” I answered.
“Glad to hear it. Where was you at?”
“I was in Korea.”
“That must have been tough.”
“It was, brother. I never been so cold in my life. Lost all the toes on my right foot. Had a hole in my boot.”
“I understand ‘Nam was hot.”
“Yeah, real hot. Rained a lot, too.”
“I’d take hot over cold anytime.”
“I would, too.”
“You can hide from hot but you can’t hide from cold.”
“You’ve got a good point there.”
“I live with my daughter. She always keep the thermostat too low. I tell her, ‘Turn up the heat,’ but she say it gonna raise our electric bill. I tell her, ‘Fuck the damn electric bill. It’s way too cold in here.’ Man, I hate the cold.”
A few moments later they called the old man’s name and he rolled away to meet his appointment.
Another time, I was in the phlebotomy room, waiting to get my blood drawn. The young woman at the reception desk called the next name in line.
“Mr. Wilkins,” she said, loudly.
Nobody answered. “Mr. Wilkins,” she said again, even louder.
Again, nobody answered. Then someone pointed at an old man, maybe a WW2 vet, sitting in a wheelchair. The receptionist approached the old-timer and said, “Are you Mr. Wilkins?”
The old man cupped his ear and said, “What?”
The girl bent over and shouted in his ear,” Are you Mr. Wilkins!”
The old man shook his head and replied, “No, no, my name is Wilkins.”
All of the guys in the blood draw room got a good laugh out of that one.
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