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Short Stories: | A Perspective | The Gardener | Family Dinner | The LNore Death Run |

A PerspectiveMarch 1, 1993-Thoughts on my sister's, Sinda, ventures into med school

March 1, 1993 1:30 AM.
The doors fling open at the emergency center Los Angeles County hospital in Compton, Los Angeles. The victim, Malea, a young Hispanic woman is suffering from abdominal pains and she is crying softly. She is with her friend, Elise. They approach the admissions window with the terror and trepidation of a child who has stolen a toy. Undaunted, they ask the receptionist what they can do for help.
“Do you have Blue Shield,” the receptionist asked with an accusatory tone, knowing they did not.
“No, but we have a little money,” Elise says, dangling her Virginia Slims Ultralight Menthol cigarette, ringed with vermilion lipstick.
“How much?” the nurse barked back
“About two hundred dollars” Elise said
“Well whats wrong?” asked the nurse
“I’m pregnant and I hurt real bad. My home boy jus’ kick shit outta me.” Malea said, lifting her shirt, exposing a large welt, “please, choo gotta help me.”
“Well, fill out this form and have a seat.” said the nurse.
They go to the dirty orange couches, lined in a row. A man sits with his hand in a makeshift brace. A black man has just been wheeled away, convulsing in pain from a gunshot wound to his shoulder. An orderly says to the other “He’s so high, he can’t feel it. He’s yelling at the hallucinations.”

The two finish the forms and Elise brings it up to the counter. The receptionist casually takes the board and asks Elise to return to her seat. A Caucasian man comes to the counter, complaining of heartburn that feels “much worse.” Luckily, he has blue shield and is admitted within half an hour. One hour later, Malea and her friend are still sitting. Malea is coughing and her mucous is cloudy with blood. She starts to moan in her pain. Elise panics;
“I axe you, wha’s up? My friend is hurt. Damn It, help us!” The nurse, sensing the tension, pages an orderly.
“Somebody gotta do something for me.” Malea says. The condition escalates. Malea starts to nod towards unconsciousness. Elise is frantic.
“Shit, bitch, you callen somebody? God damn, this is some nasty shit. You gonna help?" Elise is yelling. The orderly rushes forward and tries to calm her. Malea’s eyes roll up and she slumps off the couch. Elise screams as the orderly tries to restrain her.
“Get your fuckin cholo hands off me, you motherfucking bastard.”
Concurrently, Dr. Sinda Mein has come to the counter to find some patient records. She hears the screams and questions the receptionist. “What’s going on here?”
The nurse responds “Some Hispanic woman. Got beat up. Doesn’t have insurance. Claims she has cash. Doubt it. Oh yeah, she’s pregnant.”
Dr. Mein grabs the file and rushes to the waiting room. “Let go of her” she says to the orderly in a calm yet stern manner. He releases abruptly. “Get this woman to room 6. NOW.” As they rush by, the receptionist says “Doctor Mein, she doesn’t have insuran....”
Doctor Mein can feel Malea’s pulse. It is high, over 150. She doesn’t understand. The woman is unconscious yet her pulse is escalating. She treats her for trauma. Elise tells her Malea is three months pregnant and she has two children, two and 1. Malea is 20 years old. Elise says “Her fuckin homeboy jus beat shit outta her, he don’t own her or nothing, he jus come around when he drunk or high or you just wants some piece.”
Dr. Mein asks, “is she on crack or methamphetamines?”
“Meth? you mean speed? Shit no. she don’t do that shit. She does ice when he come around. He make her. Says its good for sex.” 2 hours later, Malea has died of a heart attack. The fetus is too young to be saved. It was probably dependent on crack. Dr. Mein has done all she could, but it was too late. Sinda sits back in her chair and wonders how long she can keep this up. She knows she will get another warning for accepting high risk patients. She wonders if the 9 lives of 10 she saves are enough.

The doors fling open at the public health center in Compton, Los Angeles. It is early February, 1993. Sinda Mein, public health director for Women Against Abuse Right Now (WAR) is leaving her office. She sets off, down third street to the “bad” part of town. It is 4 pm, towards twilight. She wades through the leering men, the smell of urine and the broken down projects. She looks forward, her face set against the environment. A teenage boy, reclined on a door stoop, says “ooh what you want, bitch?” She ignores him and turns to the next building. The bell has not worked in years so she proceeds up the stairs. The paint is peeled and the banister sags. She works her way to the third floor; down the hall there are children running and screaming. Amidst the squalor, there is some happiness in these youths. She gets to room number 612 and knocks firmly.
“Malea, are you there? It’s me, Sinda.” Sinda hears children running to the door. The two year old recognizes her and opens the door. Sinda walks into the room, taking off her jacket. She is interrupted when she sees Malea sprawled on the floor. Dropping her jacket, Sinda runs over to Malea. She feels her pulse. Malea is dead.
After the cops leave and Sinda is home, she thinks to herself: “After six months, I thought I had made a difference. All of those other women got sober. They began to use birth control. They stood up for themselves. What happened? Malea seemed so bright. She was so pretty. Why did that bastard give her heroin when he knew she was on methadone? She was coming out of it.”


The Gardener— A Short Story
August 27, 1993 (unfinished)

My name is Leo Polanski. I’m not really Russian or Polish or Hungarian or nothin like that. You see, my bloods the color of gold and red; I’m a direct descendant of Sonny Risoni, Sicilian pure bread. Yeah, Mafioso, that’s the name of the gig. Anyhow, my Grandpa, Joey Risoni, saw the shit goin’ down in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s and he had the good sense to do somethin before it was too late. So he changed our family name, after 300 or so fuckin years, to some Polak name he heard on the news. Actually, it was a pretty smart move, I guess. Anyhow, you’ll never guess what we’re into now. Polanski’s Feed, Mulch and Landscaping is the largest of its kind in Jersey with operations in Cuba, Miami, New York, Maryland and get this—California.

I landed the job out here. I thought—fuck the humidity, stinkin pollution and bitchy broads. I’ll go to Cali and work for the family there. I’m only fuckin 20 years old, but I seen what its like before I moved here. I watched that Hollywood shit and all that. I just couldn’t wait to floss my teeth with one of them string bikinis. Anyhow, I’m gettin distracted. There I was, July 20, 1993, workin for Polanski’s Landscaping, Inc. (we shortened the name; Bobby my cousin, went to college and took some business classes. He said it was smart marketing to use the shorter word—more “appropriate to the target” or something. I didn’t know we was shootin’ anything, but that comes with the territory, I guess.) So, I’m dressed up for my first day of work. Frankie, the cousin who started the operation here in San Jose, CA, told Ma and Papa that he’d set it all up for me. All I’d have to do was be the boss to some dirt bag wetbacks that was locals but really illegal from Mexico. He told them I might have to talk to customers too. That sounded aces to me; I was already gettin groomed to be the BOSS!

So, I’m stayin at a motel on this street called Alameda de Las Pulgas. I pulled over at the Exxon station and the guy told me it means avenue of the flea. I’m distracted again. Like I said, I’m dressin for work. I got my new shirt, pressed with creases sharp as a blade. Black pants with pleats wider than my legs and the shoes: white and black wing tips. I figure I’ll wear my black coat too, you know, to impress old Uncle Frankie at the store. This is what happens: I drive down some fuckin freeway and get lost for about 20 minutes. Finally, I find the joint, at the end of some construction road. They got car parts, truck equipment and all these other shit companies there. And there’s Frankie in his goddamned undershirt, smoking a Parliment. His hair looks like he aint washed it and he smells like a sow in heat.

“Leo, where the fuckayou been? Your first day and your already late. For chissake.” I step back, thinkin, what does this asshole want for free. I start to open my trap, but he says, “I’m only bustin your nuts, give your Uncle a fuckin hug.” We talk for a while about family, business and all that. I try acting cool; pull out one of my Benson and Hedges, gold, of course, and take a drag. Frankie don’t know it , but I never was that good at smokin’. But I suck it down ok.

“Leo,” he says, “We’re doin’ alright here on the West Coast. We just need to make sure that business doesn’t get messed up, ok? We need you to supervise some of our covert operations. You know, cover for the dirty business. ok? It’s really simple. Just boss them around, make sure no one gets hurt and no one knows. If they squeal, their dead. Understand? Just don’t fuck it up.”

I thought his instructions were pretty clear so I said, OK, no problem. I was in charge of four fuckin Mexicans who came to the garage at exactly 8:30, like Frankie said. They was Rigo, Dovid, Diego and Jesus. Jesus who does he fuckin think he is, calling himself Jesus. Anyhow, they didn’t say much. They just sat around waiting for me. So, I says to them, where the fuck do we go? Rigo understood and said something about a place in Palo Alto. I sure as hell didn’t know where that was, but I wasn’t gonna let on.

So I said I’d follow them to, you know, boss them around some.

Family Dinner --August 23, 1993
After a dream/weekend with Nancy in San Diego

It was a familiar place; we had all dined there frequently. The entourage included my father, mother, sister, my best friend and myself. Happily and noisily, we powered to the rear of the restaurant and assembled ourselves into the booth. At the table, we found ourselves with restaurant evaluation cards— cards that ask you to critique or commend the quality of the food and service of the wait person.

An old man, or rather gentleman, of large proportions came to our table. The waiter’s huge hands were aged and imperfect from the assault of history. He was proud and dignified yet somewhat sheepish and almost apologetic. That man, the waiter, was my grandfather.This man, at age 83, had piloted the life of luxury and despotism. He and his beautiful wife had led the millionaires privilege of Kennedy-esque proportions. Vacations to Europe, apartments on Nob Hill and the Ritz, Club memberships in the Caribbean and parties and events every night.

The legacy of their travels was receding with the eddies of time. Grandmother was now wheelchair bound, her mind and body dulled by alcohol, prescription pain killers, and Alzheimer’s.

Grandpa’s sickness had come gradually with time. Finally, it cumulated in fear and resignation. We looked at Gramps. His situation was described by few words, “I’ve got to pay for the [his] treatments,” and editorialized by knowledge from our past experience.

This great man had been humbled by the Almighties. The continuous erosion of the Almighty dollar and Almighty time sapped the power and strength of his existence and will. Everyone at that table had been affected by the ship-like movements of this great man.

We sat shamefully, the legacy of codependence coming up like waves of nausea, finally kept down by twisted feelings of conflict from newly realized power, ability, and opportunity bequeathed by life.

Amazingly, the evaluation cards materialized with answers, rebuttals and apologies. They were written in Grandfather’s wavering yet stoic and direct handwriting.We were all torn apart, liberated with a sense of victory diluted by guilt, memory, duty and pity.

No one spoke as father steered home.

The LNore Death Run
November 10, 1993 - reflections on a 32 mile run through Yosemite Valley

The moisture of the air pressed with suffocating weight as I stirred in the mummy shaped sleeping bag that constricted my hips, feet and shoulders in a claustrophobic hug. My breath reeked out, spawned by onions and heartburn and tempered with pine fire smoke. Gritty fingers, swollen with altitude, rubbed my bloodshot and scraping eyelids. Mildew and body odor pressed down like a heavy blanket as the vapor from our breaths fogged the tent like an ancient humidifier.

Like clockwork, my compatriots awoke.The noise of animalistic stirring and challenge to their like mummy sleeping bags was punctuated by explosive gastric expulsions of last night's meal. Machismo, humor and dare increased the frequency and decible level of these vile gastric expressions. Derril, the oldest, at 30 years, rose in a quick exercise after this morning preamble. He excitedly donned clothing to greet the 7am, 40' chill that would embrace us with a shocking and painful call to arms. Wayne, an old timer of 55 years, had been hibernating with his significant other, but, as all "older" people seem capable of, he had already risen and prepared the evergreen and old Coleman stove that hissed life in the form of heat. Coffee, the human jumper cable, was already on its' way.

I fought for possession of my blissful romance with dream sleep and clung to the cocoon-like comforts of my sleeping bag which were finally afforded when I had become comfortable once again. My brain evaluated and compared the rationale: What feels good? Staying in this womb or stepping out for a 32 mile run through Yosemite? Larry, in between Derril and myself in age, rose next, chiding me to get up for "a little run." Finally, I came to, mentally deciding what I would wear on the run but confused and preoccupied by the coldness of the morning that saturated us like the ocean.

The water was at boil and I poured a cup of realism, forced a banana and two kiwi fruit down topped by syrupy Exceed carbohydrate drink (the equivalent of 25 plates of spaghetti in a convenient 8 ounce serving.) Luckily, the coffee did the trick and all of us trundled off with a combination of excitement and anticipatory relief, to the bathroom. Mission accomplished, we checked our gear in a sleepy yet hurried pace that took no heed to the severity of the venture at hand. My new double- holstered-large-capacity-hip-pack, unused prior to the trip, proved ungainly, noisy and uncomfortable.

Running challenges the mind and illicits the body like nothing else. This morning, we started off, our full water packs mounted like missiles to our torsos. The inevitable fears "I'm going to cramp" or "My ankle is going to hurt" welled up like waves of nausea only to be put down again by the excitement of the adventure and exhilaration of rapid movement.

Being able to hold pace is incredibly gratifying.