Today’s date is significant for me. It’s the third anniversary of Ken’s hemipelvectomy. (You can read more about it in last year’s blog if you’d like.) Because of this anniversary–like so many that have come and gone, Ken has been heavily on my mind this week. More so than usual. And I think it would be fitting to hear his voice–in a manner of speaking. (If you want to hear his actual voice, head over to the Poop Song.)
What I would like to try doing today–and on any date that is meaningful in a Ken-specific way for me–is share a little of him with you. As I’ve said before he was a prolific writer, leaving behind more things than I’ve yet been able to read/catalog. I ran across this piece and brought it smile to my face. I well remember the incident described. And I think it’s a good representation of him. It’s from January of 2003 when he and I were living in his brother (Craig) and sister-in-law’s (Katie) guest house in Los Angeles. Craig installed a kitchen for us on this particular day.
[Please forgive any errors, I make any edits to it.]
Running on Empty by Ken Anderson (aka kenan derson) – Jan. 3, 2003
I empty my last packet of instant oatmeal into the amount of water meant for two packets. I stare into the cloudy, beige liquid imagining the little oats taking on more water than usual. Super oats. I take a sip. The warmth of the oatmeal juice is welcomed to my throat, but the whisper of oats in the juice make my tongue recoil, stand up, walk to the headmaster and say, “More?” Oh, Oliver!
My head is throbbing with the rhythm of this cursor on the screen. I leave work early and go home to rest, but I know full well my ‘rest’ would be like lying next to a cranky Thor since my brother and boyfriend are cussing at the god Ikea as they install a kitchen into our one-room guesthouse.
I descend in the elevator. Sixty floors down. The air is squeezing my head as if my horned helmet is collapsing my skull.
I get into Gypsy, my Toyota hybrid car.
“Ping” she says. “Add Fuel. Ping.” She repeats, haughtily this time, in French to cover her derriere, “Ajoutez Essence”
“Okay, Gypsy.” I tell her “We can make it home. You tell me this when there is about a gallon of fuel left. (And I get about forty-three miles to the gallon.)
I take it cautiously, the drive home. I coast as much as possible down the mountain foothills, all the time watching the fuel gauge. “Blink, blink” she whispers. I think, “Oh yeah, you told me this morning, thirty miles ago. Well, I can always stop off at a gas station sooner. I know where one is. The second exit ahead.”
“No way!” shouts Gypsy in her own “Ding Ding” way. “No Kenny, I am not feeling well. I am staaarving.”
Gypsy sputters. Then, “Ding, Ding.” Her warning lights flash all over the dashboard. I quickly ask Gypsy to tell me where the nearest fueling station is by tapping the touch screen with POI (Point of Interest). She quickly displays her fuel pump icons, indicating the locations of all stations in the area.
“Yes!” I say seeing a station close by. And click on Gypsy’s turn signal.
There was no traffic a second ago! But now, we are surrounded by cars. Tons and tons of cars. Fucking L.A. “I am not Custer! You can’t just descend upon me like a bunch of Indians. Get the fuck out of my way. Gypsy needs nourishment!”
“Ding…Ding…” “I can’t go on, Kenny. I…”
“I am sorry, Gypsy.” We pull to the curb and Gypsy rolls slightly back as I take my foot off her pedal. “Blink. Blink.” “I gave it all I could, Captain.” She whispers.
“Poor girl. I will be right back.” I salute her by pressing ’Lock’ on my remote, then turn to head uphill to the station Gypsy said was about a mile away.
“Geez, this is steep hill. My prosthetic leg is not fitting well at all. With each lift of my leg, my prosthetic slips slightly away then is shoved back on when I step forward. “OUCH! I just have to get up this hill, then make a left and it is, like, two block away. Gosh those flowers are pretty.”
I wait for the walk light to come on at the corner and I see a police car. I fantasize that they see me and know what’s going on, that I am a cripple walking uphill and then need gas.
“Oh, shit,” I think, “I have to walk back too. And walking downhill is always harder. Fuck. Oh, there’s the “White Walk Guy” on the crossing signal. “Yay for me!” I mouth.
I cross the street and look ahead for the station. I do not see it. “It must be just behind this building.” I assure myself.
I clear the building and “you’re kidding me. God dammit!” There is a station right where Gypsy said. All the pumps are gone and a chain-linked fence surrounds it. I walk on. I look to my right and look at the mountains. “Well at least I am not in Chicago. Where it would be ten degrees with a wind chill, making it feel like minus sixty. (Yeah. So my blood thinned since moving here. What of it? Fuck off.) In the Midwest there would be at least six inches of dirty, slushy snow on the ground. Here, it is seventy-four degrees (without the wind chill) and the sun is out and…hey, there’s Mt. Wilson.
“Hey. There’s a Shell station. It looks like it is only a few blocks away…which, of course, means it is at least six. Shit. I need a container for the fuel.” I don’t want to be ripped of by the gas station. “Albertson’s? What is that,” I wondered. I have heard of them and seen them before, but was not sure what they were. I thought it was a drugstore like Walgreen’s or Osco. But, alas, it is a dingy, dank every skuzzy-old-fat-or-drugged-out-person-in-the-area-shops-here grocery store. So as a cripple with a cold, I fit right in. They did not have a gas container. Which was just as well because I didn’t want to wait in line with those stinky people.
“A Do-It Center store. “ I proclaimed to Mt. Wilson. “They have to have a fuel container. I mean they have, I read, hardware, home decorating, lumber, x-mas dec half off, and garden.” Surely they have some manly, gas-powered, vroom-vroom, kind of thingy and fuel containers are probably right below them. “Yes. I was right.” I said to an old man who didn’t seem to care. I made my purchase and continued on my trek.
Now, of course, everyone that sees me carrying a fuel container will think similarly. “Oh that guy ran out of gas.” “Oh he is so stupid to run out of gas.” “Ran out of gas. That sucks for him. I love my Special Edition Survivor Land Rover. “ “Normal people call those things gas cans.” I try to appear as if they are all wrong. “I’m getting ready to blow some leaves. I am cutting the grass. I am a go-cart racer. Uh, my friend ran out, of gas, he is so stupid.” I swing the container gleefully. I look around and teeter on my feet at stoplights.
I, well, I look like and idiot who ran out of gas.
At the station many, many, many blocks later, I insert my bankcard, punch my PIN and proceed to fill my container. I put the nozzle in the hole and squeeze the trigger. Gas spills out. I put just the tip of the nozzle in and squeeze…nothing. The new fume-catching, foreskin-like device does not allow me to do that. I pull the hood back and begin to fill the can. I have to do it in short bursts then glance at the meter because it is only a one-gallon tank. I play it safe and stop filling at .754 gallons. God, I could really use a smoke. Oh…yeah.
For a change of scenery, I decide to take the other side of the road back. “Hey, there’s a Goodwill store.” I decide not to stop in as I am carrying a can of gas and this is probably frowned upon, yes, even at a Goodwill store.
The sidewalk has ended. “Great.” I take a side road with a sidewalk. The very first house I pass, a woman opens her door for another woman and a dog runs out and greets her happily. Then the dog sees me and runs at me. He stops to sniff the gas can, runs to my right side and smells my gassy hand and starts to bark and snap at me. The woman runs out of her house. “NO!” she yells. The dog continues its barking. “It is just gas,” I say “and I am going to pour it on you and sue her if you don’t go away.” The woman doesn’t even apologize. She simply yells at her mutt, “No! Bad dog. No. No. Bad.” I walk away and her scolds fade into the din of traffic.
“Gypsy. I’m back.” I say as I salute hello by pressing ‘unlock’ on my remote.
I climb into the captain’s seat. Key in the ignition. I turn the key. “I still don’t feel so well, Kenny.” Ding. Ding. I can tell she doesn’t feel so well because she is sluggishly lurching forward. I press on the gas and she coughs. And going uphill make me even more nervous for her. It feels like she is about to sleep again. I keep saying, “Just to this corner. Just a little bit more. Stay green. Stay green light, stay green.” I turn fast to make the green. Right in front of a cop. I think of course I will get pulled over. No. I ease on down to the station and pull up to the pump and realize the tank opening is on the other side. “Shit.”
Filled up I back the car from the pump into a spot by the station and pull out my owner’s manual for Gypsy because even after filling her, she is still warning me. The manual says when certain lights are on, “Pull over as soon as possible and contact your Toyota dealer immediately.”
“Oh my god,” I say. “Okay, what do I do? God! And of course I do not have my cell phone.” The boyfriend’s voice plays in my head, “It’s called a mobile phone for a reason.”
I find some change in my bag and pull over to a pay phone. I call Ron to tell him I will be late and ask for advice. He doesn’t know what I should do either. I am really just calling for a voice. Other than Gypsy’s “that’s not right, Kenny”. So I get “Please deposit twenty cents.”
“I don’t have any money. The manual says take her in immediately. The lights are still on. I don’t feel so good either. I am tired. I have no more change. I will ca…boooop.” Dial tone. I’ve been cut off.
I decide I will get in the car and go to another payphone and call AAA or the dealer. I turn the key and Gypsy is fine. “Ping” Fasten your seatbelt. No dings. No warnings. She feels better. And she sounds better. Maybe I don’t have to do anything. I will call home to say I am on my way. I stop at a convenience store and park by the phones. There are two derelict looking guys. Homeless? Maybe? Are slouched against the phone. Find my quarters and proceed to go ahead and back out of the lot and find a different phone.
I find a phone near a Ralph’s. I call home find out the dealer said I can bring it in tomorrow. I want to be home. I have to go into Ralph’s to get fixings for margaritas. I want to go into that place like Gypsy wants to run out of gas again. I, however do. Once I get to one of the three checkouts that Ralph’s ever has, I discover that the bottle of tequila that took a solid ten minutes to find in their fucked-up organization of liquor, where some is even under lock and key. Skyy under lock and Key? God dammit. I fucking hate Ralph’s.
Back in Gypsy–still feeling good she is–I head home, following a sign to the freeway. I look for another, “oh there it is …in my rearview mirror. Shit. Fine, Gypsy is there another way to go? I look at the map and decided, “no fucking way. I will turn around at the next street.” I turn right onto the street and the bottles of beer that I bought come tumbling out of the bag onto the seat. “Shit. “ I secure the bottles in the back seat and finish my u-turn. I turn right. “goddamn it. What the fu…. I have got to get home. “
As not to screw up again, I say, “ Okay. Turn left. There you go. Good, no cars around because you probably would get hit is there was even one. Okay. Make a u-turn. Now since we went left, the direction we need to return to is to your right. To your right. Your right. Right. I made the right.
Now I am free. Just a quick jaunt on the 210 then to the 118 and we are pretty much home. Gypsy and I are behind a truck he is going so slowly. Like 59 mph, and the speed here is normally, like, 80. So we change lanes to get around him and the asshole moves over too. We beep at him to let him know he is going to hit us. Then he flashes his rear work lights at us. Like it is our fault. I pass him and want to flip him off, so I get into the next lane, pass him get up to his driver’s window and give him my patented ‘retard’ look, eyes crossed and tongue hanging out, mouthing, “Only wetarwds flash theiwer lights at people.” I leave him confused and disarmed, I pull ahead and make my exit off the freeway and make my way home.
I park Gypsy in front of the house grab my loot and go to the guesthouse where my nephews greet me.
“Uncle Kenny!” shouts Nathan, my two, almost three, year old nephew. Then he runs throwing his little arms around my knees and squeezes.
“I am sorry you had such a rough ride home,” my sister-in-law Katie says.
“You don’t know the half of it,” I grin.
“Uncle Kenny. Close your eyes,” says Jack Henry. He leads me into the guesthouse and says, “Open your eyes.” I do. “You have a new kitchen!”
That I did.
I love that my home was in my brother’s backyard.