When we were kids, my brother and I had a three and a half horse Briggs and Stratton engine. That engine went into everything; the mini bike, then into the go-cart, to a boat, to the go-cart, then back to the mini bike. We’d bolt the engine to a frame and if there was time, hook up the brakes. We lived by the theory of why stop if you can’t get going in the first place. This tactic usually ended up with one of us in the emergency room, where we were on a first name basis with most of the staff. If my brother were getting stitched up I would sit back in the waiting room and read Highlights Magazine. In it there were cartoons like the Timber Toes, the Bear Family, a family of bears so perfect they made the Family Circus look dysfunctional. There was a page where one could search for the hidden objects such as an anvil, top hat, and hatchet, in a field of dancing unicorns. But best of all was Goofus and Gallant, a story based on the lives of two boys, Goofus and Gallant.
Gallant exemplified good, Goofus bad. Bad behavior and good; Goofus and Gallant. The story was written in the present tense; for example: Gallant cleans his room. Goofus sees if oily rags will burn in a window well. Gallant eats his vegetables. Goofus wonders what’s inside a squirrel. What I liked was there was no recourse to either behavior. They were simply different approaches to life. I was naturally drawn to Goofus. But I realized we are all made up of a little Goofus and a little Gallant.
On August 11th, my Goofus got on his motorcycle, and Gallant put on his helmet. When I came to the intersection of Lyndale Avenue and Lake Street a car pulled in front of me and before I or Goofus or Gallant could touch the fully functional breaks, I crashed.
Over the next several hours I was in sections of the newspaper I’d never known, and headed for one section I very much wanted to avoid. I felt death brush twice, and had one full-blown conversation. I remember very clearly having the choice to come back here, or move on. Neither seemed like a wrong choice, but I decided to come back, even though I knew there would be consequences.
At this point, I know people were praying and sending well wishes. It’s hard to deny the power of prayer when you’re on the receiving end of it. I know it helped me heal. At times it was like skiing behind a powerboat. All I had to do was hang on.
I was also on Morphine. Oh Morphine, you wonderful evil. Morphine is great because there is no pain. From running marathons, I know when someone says you’re looking good; you’re probably not. But on Morphine people would say you’re looking good and I’m thinking I already know it. And if I could get up or open my eyes, I’d bust a move right here. But oh, the price you pay. When Morphine takes over, it takes over everything. It falsely takes charge like Alexander Haig, when Reagan was shot. It says, “I’m in charge now.”
All reality is Morphine reality. I had no idea what was real. You cannot convince me that half of my stay was not on an Italian mountaintop, or that Gianni Versace didn’t visit me to discuss face lifts. Or that there weren’t two guys in the room spying on me dressed up like televisions. So while Versace and I discussed the intricacies, my girlfriend Mary brought in photographs, so the plastic surgeons could put my face back the way it was. There was some concern from my buddies, because in one picture I was holding the dog. As terrible as this was, and as scared as I am sometimes, I still feel blessed. I’m happy to be alive and have such incredible people in my life.
My buddy Steve Alter wrote to say I had done what his wife had been trying to get him to do for seven years. He went to the synagogue to pray, just in case they were the chosen people. My buddy Herringbone from up north wrote to say all this time on my back was actually good practice for ice fishing. Friends started showing up. They brought books on tape to help me through. I found Harry Potter got me to sleep at night, and when I couldn’t go to the bathroom, Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation got the nation moving again.
Through all this time, my family has been at the front. My mom, my sister Laura, and my brother Steve who got me off a liquid diet by saying, “Wouldn’t a cocktail weenie taste good right now? You know in that red sauce?” At the time, my mouth was wired shut, but God I had to have a cocktail weenie. I was out of those wires in a week. The doctors couldn’t believe it, but I had to have a cocktail weenie.
Now most of my life revolves around rehab and Velcro. There was extensive nerve damage to my right arm, so I don’t have feeling or motor skills yet. And I have a congenital birth defect with my left arm, so up until now it’s never done much work. I’ve taken to calling my left arm Scarlet, as in Scarlet O’Hara. Because before this, it was like “bring me a Coke with some chipped ice.” But now it’s got to do everything, poor Scarlet.
When I get depressed, I just take a look at our two wiener dogs. You’ll never see more of a “can do” attitude, in a “can’t do” body than a wiener dog. I know it doesn’t matter whether you’re Goofus, or Gallant. You never know when something will happen. It’s been said that God loved stories so much that he created people so there would be an endless supply. And I’m thankful I’ve been given the chance to rework my ending.