The Rules of the Game

So, she’s standing there, one hand on her hip, the other with thumb extended, pointing down the hall. Short, a bit stocky, red hair and an accent that would make anyone in Brookland, NY proud. Her face is not quite a scowl, but she is clearly exasperated. She has been down to the patient’s room, had conversation with him, and returned to confront me at the nurses station. “GO FEED HIM HIS DINNER FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!”

I’m standing in front of her, holding a meal tray that contains pork roast. My patient, who is decidedly Jewish, awaits his meal in a room down the hall. I’m almost dazed at the possibility of uncapping the plate, and visions of his recoiling are playing in my head. He was a home based patient that came into the inpatient center. I’ve know him and his family for some time. They are very committed to their faith and very active in their faith community. I can imagine all of their eyes on me, and Moses standing above me with a scythe ready to take me out for leading one of his faithful astray. I begin to shake.

On the command of this crusty nurse (who, unbeknownst to me is also Jewish) I make my way down the hall, uncap the meal, and begin to feed him his dinner. He eats quietly, knowing full well what is in front of him. When finished, he wipes his mouth and quietly says “Well, that was pretty good”. I make what apologies I think appropriate for the fare, and make my way back down the hall steeped in the guilt of the moment. A life long dedication has just been wrecked. It seems to be a good day for self loathing.

As I approach the nurses station I return the tray to the carrier and then approach my commander who is busy with her paperwork.

“If you don’t mind me asking, just exactly what did you say to him when you went down to his room”?

She looks up, smiles, and in a quiet voice, gives me the one greatest line I’ve ever heard in 8 years of hospice volunteering:

“Let me tall ya somethin’ fat boy. At the end of the game, the rules change. Don’t ever forget that”.

Boy. Was she ever right. I’ve learned countless times that at the end, the rules DO change. In fact, I’ve learned that the rule book goes out the window in most cases. I’ve also finally begun to understand that the rule book really does not matter anyway. Most religious rule books were written by egos that were more about control than awakening. More about money and obedience than seeing into the eternal. More about opression and less about freedom.

The only rule book that really matters is the one we write for ourselves, and as long as those rules are about helping those around us and making the world a better place for our neighbors and those that come behind us, then those rules are sufficient.

I wish you all peace.

As regards the Golden Rule, and that country lawyer from Eureka

I will have to admit that I am entertained and interested in lots of things that others consider strange.  I’m one to appreciate good oratory, any plenty of same can be found at college commencement ceremonies.  I suppose because often the speaker is not one given to speaking to large crowds regularly, so they make every effort to “get it right” as they are generally instructing the children of their peers,  and too, it is a critical moment for all involved.

One of the more interesting speakers I heard was some small town lawyer from Eureka Springs, AR whose name presently escapes me.  He was on the Board of Trustees for the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, and had attained a position of some prominence in his field of endeavor.

I recall that this man had undertaken some degree of research regarding the religions of the world.  He sought to identify common themes and patterns in all of the major faiths.  His thinking was, as I recall, that if we can find some common ground in our spiritual journeys perhaps we could use those ideas to forge more understanding between peoples.

It seems that after considerable research he found one idea that stood out in all of the major faiths, regardless of the deity, language or tradition, and it was this:  The Golden Rule.  In each and every spiritual discipline the Golden Rule found its way to prominence amongst the teachers or propagators of those respective faiths.  The balance of his address was on the virtues of the Rule and how all of us on the planet would do better to pay attention to same.

Just this past week I have given that address considerable thought.  I have considered same not really in light of this existence, but more so in terms of our next level of consciousness once we leave this planet.

Now I’ve been a student of near death experiences ever since I entered the path of the hospice volunteer.  With so many of my charges, they are straddling the space between this world and the next and the conversations they have, the music they hear, the things they see, can sometimes reveal themselves regardless of which side of the veil their Spirit is on.  Since they can and do have conversations with their brains and mouths with individuals that are no longer on this plane, I thought it best to study up a bit on what they might be seeing and sensing so I could better serve them as a departure coach.


In all of my reading on these near death experiences, and all of my conversations with those that have experienced same, one idea keeps recurring over and over:  That is the notion that all of us will have to, at some point, experience whatever pains, joys, sorrows, fears, and other emotions that we propagated and perpetrated in the lives of those around us.  Conversely, those who brought into our lives similar enmities, strifes, joys and sorrows will have to assume life in our minds and experience that which was visited upon us.

Now I realize, having once been unembracing of the spiritual things, that this is a hard idea to digest for any who think consciousness ends with the cessation of brain activity, and I’m not trying to argue a point to sway anyone’s thinking.  As to matters of Spirit I embrace “believe and let believe”.  But, for those who do embrace extended consciousness beyond the grave, the Golden Rule takes on a whole new meaning.


Consider this:  If we do in fact, during our life review, experience deeply all of those things that we visited upon others, then in the long term view when we are kind, courteous and gentle with others we are, in fact, kind courteous and gentle to ourselves as we will, on some level, actually BE that other person during a life review process.

To further extend this, it also places forgiveness in a new light as well.  When we forgive another, we actually are forgiving ourselves, as we will one day trade places with their consciousness so we can experience on a visceral level that which caused them to do to us what they did.

Lastly, if one embraces non local consciousness as described in the above four paragraphs then the Beatitudes as written in the Gospel of Matthew suddenly take on a whole new meaning.  I realized suddenly in church this morning that the meek inheriting the earth, the sorrowful being comforted and those who hunger for righteousness having their fill seems completely rational.  After all, once we cross over everything is brought back into balance.

If you have the time in the next week or two, just sit down with Matthew 5 and 6 and while reading consider life reviews after departure that allow everyone to trade places with their neighbor in each and every experience while incarnate on the planet.

Dissenters, as always, welcome to reply.  To quote my dad, whom I had little time to get to know:  ”Always listen to those that disagree with you…. they might be right.”

I wish peace to all of you.


You Just Can't Rush It

I’ve been present for scores of departures.  It is so normal for family members and staff to be so focused on the body.  The counting of breaths, taking of pulse, concerned looks as the rhythmic cadence of the rising chest speaks out to the room.  As I sit quietly and observe the onlookers I’m constantly reminded that the whole body process is so unimportant in the grand scheme of the death experience.

It is primarily a Spiritual experience, for us and for them.  We have, however, been so focused on the body for so long, it is normal to consider that physical only in the death process.

My word to families now is to just relax.  Play some music, be at peace, just let go.  That is what the departing is about to do and that is what the family needs to do as well.  Our just in time, on demand, at the click of a button world has no congruence to what takes place before us as the body is shutting down.

The best we can do for ourselves and for our family members is to leave our instant gratification world behind and fall into the experience of the departure.  Maybe if we could get our focus off the body we might actually become open enough to hear what our loved one is trying to say to us and they are about to take flight.

I wish you all good things.


The Background Currents

I seem to think so often that I am the prime mover and that all of the decisions I make are purely from within my own thoughts.  Ego, I suppose, can take the credit, and normally ego has me convinced; then along comes a day like today to remind me of the plethora of things are running in the background that are not coincidence, but are synchronicity.

Yesterday, July 3, we finished our work experience early.  I felt the “tug” that tells me to go by the in-patient unit at Arkansas Hospice.  As is my custom, I stop by Target and load up on goodies for the nursing staff.  One can never go wrong with good chocolate, good coffee and those fancy Starbucks drinks in the glass bottles. I have my own little back way into the unit that involves the loading dock and the maintenance area.  I’m no more than 2 minutes from parking place to bedside.  Slipping in quietly through the back entrance I drop my packages and exchange pleasantries with the head nurse (Betsy) and the director of nursing (Diane), both of whom are angels without wings. Having no particular charge to attend to, Diane scans the roster and points me  to a patient that is having a hard time that day.  I whip out my music (Saing Kaur, Mender of Hearts.  Crimson Collection, Vol 4 and 5, good stuff), assume the meditative state, and off I go.  Two hours in the connections are loud and clear and things are smooth and quiet.  The nursing staff, as is their custom, peeks in on me quizzically from time to time.  They always seem to be curious and somewhat uncomfortable about my methods, but the boss lady likes me, so they just watch me from a distance.  After a few hours it is time to be on my way.  I kiss the patient goodbye and slip out the back door as quietly as I came in.

This morning I could hear her calling me.  I had things to do and I went about my errands fully intending to get there before noon.  Alas, the day filled up and I did not get back over until 4:00.  It was strange as the “tug” was more intense than normal.  I fully expected her to be on the planet and ready for me when I arrived.  As I moved on down the hall I could sense that her room was empty, and sure enough, as I got closer my suspicions were confirmed. Linda, another angel without wings, caught me at the nurses station and let me know that my patient had departed just after noon.  She sensed my disappointment then said “but it is good that your are here, because you need to visit with Mrs. D in this room over here”.

Sure enough, Mrs. D needed a visit.  I once again pulled out the bluetooth speakers, fired up the melodies and got busy.  Mrs. D was a highly educated woman, late in life college graduate, and judging by the visitors who had come and the stories relayed to me, quite a character.  I began to breathe and got connected to her.  Suddenly I began to loose concentration and thoughts began to wander.  I began to doubt myself, wondering if I was doing any good at all.  She looked no different than when I entered the room, yet I just knew that the tug of earlier had to be related to her.  Still, the doubts flooded in like a river and I began to question everything I was doing. Manic thoughts swam all around me telling me I really needed to question my motives.  Finally, in a fit a clarity I heard the voice in my head say “Enough.  Be still.  Cause and effect are not up to you.  It is yours only to do the work.  Do your job and quit worrying about outcomes”.  With that admonition and encouragement (yes, it was both), I got still again and got back to work.

Sure enough, as soon as I let go of trying to control things and trying to predict things peace filled the room and the angels began to coalesce.  Within minutes I caught the sign out of the corner of my eye that heralds a departure and she took her final breath.

The moral of the story is that I planned or scripted none of these events.  They just happened.  They certainly would have happened without my involvement, of that there is no doubt; but in these two cases I was involved.  I was involved not because of any plans I made, but because I listened.  I took time to listen to the noise in the background and pull out those things that were intended for me.  Even when the din of self doubt and guilt came up louder, I was still able to look deep into the background and get back on track.

How many times have I missed an opportunity to be of service to my fellow man only  because I was dismissing the background noise as just that, instead of listening closer for the whispers within?

Much love to all.

BH  7/4/2013

Regarding Towerdogs

John -

As always it was wholly a pleasure to read the product of your reflections.  I’ll spare the group my usual soliloquy and musings ad nauseam and stick to the topic at hand.  It will be a challenge, but I’ll do my best.

In regard to the crew that showed up to work with you recently.  There, friends, we have a perfect example of the creative destruction of Capitalism.  That particular crew, operating in a free market, will eventually run out of customers willing to exchange Federal Reserve Notes for their labor.  They will drift off into other forms of work, and their vacancy will create opportunities for others more willing and suited to take their place.  It is easy to see why the Soviet Union failed.

In a planned system, these guys would have continued in their respective capacities, and the resulting inefficiencies would have played out in the finished product.  Envision that process in the Soviet military industry and it is easy to see why they had such trouble keeping things running.  (OK, OK, I know.  I promised to stay on task.  Sorry.)

It was a poignant moment for me as I read the opening line of your next thought process after the story.  Yes.  The business is changing. And, like any other process in the Capitalist system, the changes are good for some and bad for others.  It all depends on perspective.  So – in terms of perspective I’d like to take a bit of liberty and look at this industry from the outside and share a few (!) thoughts.

Since the industrial revolution, when man had the opportunity to harness the power of the sun (via its distillation over millions of years and emergence as oil) and use it to do his work, there have arisen time after time opportunities in various trades.  Consider, if you will, the mining industry in the late 19th Century, the road building industry after Eisenhower created the Interstate Highway System post WW2, and the oil industry, especially in the 50′s in west Texas.

Those industries had a great deal in common with ours.  In each instance there was a stunning, marvelous, and life changing invention for which there would be an insatiable demand by American consumers.  There were pools of capital, offered by investment bankers ready to get rich.  There was an optimism and an enthusiasm experienced by the early visionaries who knew that they were involved in something that would change the world.  And of course, there was the utter dearth and emptiness in the talent pool necessary to make all of the above dreams comes true.  All of those listed above had all that it took except bodies.  They needed bodies.  Strong, willing, able bodies.  The demand resembled a vacuum and the available men were ready to fill it.  Investment bankers waved thousands of dollars in cash in front of everyone knowing that they could afford it in light of the spectacular returns. “Come one, come all, bring ye strength and willingness, fill your sacks with gold and become rich”.

And here they came:  Roughneckers in the oil fields, dozer operators on the highways, truck drivers in Iraq , gold miners during the California and Alaska rushes, hookers, cops, hoteliers, shop keepers, distillers, vinters, drug stores, concrete companies, lawyers, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers.  All willing, all feeding at the trough, all eager to get their piece of the pie.  All willing to undergo some discomfort and disruption in their lives to stake their claim in the rich fields of Capitalism, where a man is measured by his work, and not by the color of his skin or who his parents are.  For some it was greed, for some it was lust, and for others it was just a chance to make their dream come true.  Irregardless, they came, and they kept coming,  and the human drama that played out in their lives could fill countless volumes. Just like the stories of my life and yours.

In all of their coming, in all of their rush, in all of the frenzy, there were always legends born.  In the mass of people that came to claim their fortune, there were always those that I like to call “prime movers” (my apologies to Rudolph Otto, or whoever the philosopher was, that coined that term as a reference to  what most of us call God).  The Prime Movers were those that made everything else possible.  Everyone in the chain was important, all had a job to do, but some just stood out like giants among the masses.  These were usually men that had exceedingly dangerous jobs, or men that possessed some particular skill that was almost born in them, not learned.  These men (yes – they were men.  Not women.  Men.) were almost Spiritual in their zeal and zest for life.  They were big talkers, big drinkers, and big risk takers.  Everyone in the saloon and everyone in town knew who they were and usually allowed them the respect their positions deserved.

You know who they were.  They were the Roughneckers that worked the drill rigs.  They were the High Scalers that cleared the loose rock for Hoover Dam.  They were the guys flying the B17′s over the Pacific. They were the surveyors for the interstate highways.  They were the towerdogs in the early days of broadcast.  They were some of us in the early days of cellular.  Real danger, real guts, real courage, real men, and real death.

These were the guys that kicked in bar doors and bought a round for the house.  These were the guys with the big strut on payday.  These were the guys who marveled at how loose all the women were, who got more sex in a week than most men get in a month.  These were the guys with big boots, bit hats, and big hearts.  These were the swashbuckling towerdogs on parade.  These guys were the Prime Movers.  They did what others could not do.  It was fun, it was dangerous, it was magical, it was the past, and we hoped it would never end.

But, like John so clearly pointed out, it is changing.  It will change for us just like it changed for them.  The industry grew so blisteringly fast (to benefit the investment bankers, of course.  Can’t let little things like safety get in the way of their money lust) that the regulators did not have the time or resources to keep up.  Government is always a dollar short and a day late (Can you say Katrina boys and girls?).  Eventually they caught up.  And like a river of slow molasses, they began to envelope everything.  Demand also slowed a bit and with shrinking demand came shrinking margins.  We went from “I don’t care what it costs, get it done” to “Can you give me a bid on that job?” in a matter of a few short years.

I can remember that brooding feeling deep in my gut the first time I saw a full body harness. I remember standing there looking at all those pretty yellow nylon straps that went over, under, and all around ones torso, and wondering how badly they would chafe my skin.  I might even have t , perish the thought, wear a shirt.  As I sat and stared at it (“What the hell in there a “D” ring in the middle of the back for ?!?!?!?!  That’s about damn useless!”) my eyes slowly drifted over to my old leather lineman’s belt that had served me so well.  There was some emptiness, some loss, some sadness in me at that moment.  I could not put my finger on it.  Only now do I realize what it was.  John’s words were off in the future somewhere, but I heard them that day.  They came and found me.  It was changing.  Like the first rock of an avalanche or the first shudder of a volcano, it was all about to be different.

We were drug down a path.  It was a painful one in some respects, good in others.  It was a path of checks (“No boss, pay me in cash, I may not be alive to cash a check!”), W2′s. safety meetings, body harnesses, safety climb cables, OSHA inspections and citations, shrinking paychecks, Anritsu sweeps, close out documents, divorces, and shirts on summer days when their presence on our bodies seemed like blasphemy. We were drug down this path because indeed, the industry was changing.  It still is.  It will continue to. And what about us?  What happens to us?  What happened to the others?  I tell ya what happened……..

They grew old, their bodies worn and broken, their minds pickled from the whiskey, their skin fried by the sun. Their thinking was scarred from too many restless nights fighting pain, their eyes dim from too much time squinting at the sun.  Some were comfortable, some were broke financially.  Some had families they loved, some had families they lost, some died with no biological legacy.

But they all had one precious thing.  Each and every one had the ability to look up and see that bridge, see that oil refinery, see that tower, see that Dam, and see that mine.  And when they did, they had something in their heart that came alive.  And that one thing, that one feeling, that one moment of warmth, let them know who they were, and was a testament to the part that they had played in giving birth to something great. And that, my friends, is not only priceless and worth all the pain, but it is also one thing that they will take with them when they leave the planet.  It will live on with them in the next life.  It is eternal.

I am lucky enough to have it.  I remember the day that I got it.  It was my 40th birthday.  There was a failed DB 812 in Jackson Mississippi at 800 ft.  I got a crewman and we had carried a DB 810 up, replaced the bad one, and carried the 812 to the ground.  Did not have any ropes long enough, just had to do it the hard way.  We got it done, I got to the ground, and we got a call of a failed Bogner at the 500 ft. level in Desoto County, MS .

We loaded the truck, made the drive, and got it done in the same day.  I got it that day.  Whatever that thing was inside of me that said “I’ve got it” came to me on my 40th birthday.  There had been plenty of great days before that and there have been plenty of great days since, but that one day was my demarcation point.  I will take that day with me forever.  I’m a loser in some respects, and plenty deficient in lots of areas in my life.  I could list my faults and they would stretch a long ways.  That notwithstanding, I can still look back at my 40th birthday and be filled with joy and satisfaction for that event.  Not a big deal by some standards, but it was a big deal for me.

My prayer for you today is that when you draw your last breath you can have it too.  If you don’t have it now then you can go get it.  Some of us got it at the top of a 1000′ broadcast facility, some get it in a ditch. some get it in a truck in Iraq .  Some get it in a mine.  You will get it in whatever place you are called to.

I hope you have it now, or get a chance to get it before you cross the River Styx.  And on that day when you get it, I’ll rejoice with you, because I know what a great thing it is to be part of the greatest group of guys in the world, the towerdogs on parade.

Yeah John,  this business sure has changed.  I’m sitting here asking myself if I can change with it.  My Anritsu is old, my bones are old, my skills are not as sharp as they used to be.  I don’t have all of the training and certifications that they require now.  I’m just sort of an old 69 Chevy truck that somehow found his way into a field of Hummers and F350′s.  I guess I’ll just hang on as long as I can.  I could probably make the leap, probably do what it takes to run with the youngsters, but I have to ask myself it it’s worth it.  I dunno.  But I do know one thing…….

Somewhere out there is the next “deal”.  Somewhere is the insatiable demand, the hungry bankers and vacuum of talent and labor.  Somewhere out there is some kid that is tired of his ho-hum existence.  He has a twinkle in his eye and money lust in his heart.  He sees the opportunity, he wants to take the risk, to him the danger looks exciting, not hazardous.  Yeah.  He’s out there.  I’m excited for him and I grieve for him at the same time.  He, like us, will be like those that go to 12 step programs.  First time he sees that window envelope in his mailbox, and he opens it and sees those big numbers, he’ll know what addiction is, just like we do.

I’ll ride this horse as long as I can.  The youngsters are already starting to take over my market.  I’m happy for them.  They have kids, wives, truck payments, and credit card bills.  They need the work and they need the money.  I am happy for them and wish them well.  I wish everyone well.  This business has been good to me for a long time.  I hope it is just as good to them and all the other young ones out there making it happen.

Good luck to all,

Bruce Holsted

Into The Zone

We got the call on Sunday afternoon.  I expected it, of course.  Eighteen years of doing this, and I can always sense when the call is about to come.  Everyone knew hurricane Katrina had come ashore at New Orleans.  The ring of the phone only affirmed that the damage was bad, and that we would roll.

We gathered supplies on Monday.  Got out the tents, Coleman fuel, cook stove, lanterns and bedrolls.  Becky graciously went to the store for our provisions, then to the bank for cash, and by dark we had all in order.  We went by to see the customer on Tuesday morning to equip ourselves with radios, site maps, and lists of those that we would be reporting to.  As we departed on Tuesday mid day I knew that this would be another great adventure.

All was good through Pine Bluff and lake Village.  Greenville was even tolerable.  By the time we got to Yazoo City, however, things had changed.  No ATM’s, no gas, no ice.  I knew we were in trouble when the lines at the check cashing places were longer than those at the banks.  We had half a tank.  I had stopped in Dumas and bought 12 half pints of whiskey knowing that with such legal tender a full tank could be mine whenever I wished.  We pressed on.

We arrived in Jackson to the sight of long lines at the gas stations and grocery stores with crowds gathered outside.  How wonderful it felt to have the secure gates of the Entergy compound locked behind us. There was little electricity and no hotel rooms.  We readied the camping supplies and checked the map for a good state park.  A little fuel from the Gods at Entergy and we were on our way.  We found a decent park (no electricity, of course) and pitched camp.  Dinner was chicken helper, mashed potatoes and tea.  It began to rain but thankfully we had brought a huge roll of visqueene and a large tent was erected above our sleeping bags in no time

Wednesday morning found us nursing our mosquito bites and eating oatmeal.  After that it was off for a day in the air.  I should mention at this point that I brought my stellar lead man, Paul.  Paul spends too much time in jail, too much time in the sauce, and too much time attending to women that can’t take care of themselves.  He is constantly deep in debt and out of a place to live, and good transportation.  He is also the best, and highest paid towerdog in the state.  An average week for him is $1000.00 gross.  He’ll easily double that during his tenure here.  In fact, I’d imagine that he may have a $2500.00 week before its all over.  He has worked for me over 8 years.  He can’t last working for anyone else more than 10 days.

We take off Wednesday in a search for fuel, ice, and towers on our maps and find all of them.  It is another long hard, hot day.  We are constantly greeted with bewildered folks looking at trees impaled in their roofs, cars mangled and electric lines in their yards.  We have Entergy signs on the side of the van at this point and when they see those signs their looks are heart wrenching and desperate.  We look back with sympathy.  They do not understand.  They want us to have the answer. They want us to make it all better.  They want relief which we cannot give.  We give 100% that day and many sites come back to life.  We see the line trucks begin to roll as we leave town.  We are glad to have played a part in this process.

Thursday finds us in the office.  The telecom crew is going ballistic.  There are people everywhere barking out orders.  So and so needs 19 phones installed at the office in Hattisburg, the computers are down at thus and so, the radio system has died at Tylertown and the line crews can’t work.  The locals see the trucks sitting idle and they are getting angry.  The locals don’t understand that the line crews can’t work unless they know for sure that lines are not energized.  The line crews can’t be assured of that unless they have good communications.  They can’t have good communications unless the telecom guys do their jobs and in turn, unless we get the antennae fixed.  So the locals are mad.  Mad as Hell.  We listen to all of the banter going back and fourth then suddenly someone is shoving a piece of paper in my face and screaming loudly…… Generating station (power plant) south of New Orleans….. radios off line…….. no output…… city is dark enough as it is…….. something has to be done….. they need a 20 KW generator ASAP in order to have power so they can get the radios back in service.  Someone has to go.  It is a war zone down there.  The system must come back to life…… And then the inevitable question……. “Will you go?”  It echoes in my mind……  Will I go?  Will I?  Can we take that chance?

I smile.  Actually, I grin.  yeah.  I’ll go.  I give them the inevitable response to their inevitable question……. “You bet your sweet ass I’ll go……. Press hard pal, Five copies”!!!

We top off the tank, load the shotgun, holster the pistols and hit the road.  This is going to be a trip to remember……

As we head out there are few cars on the road.  No gas.  The traffic is minimal and we set the cruise on 60 so as to conserve gas.  Getting there will be easy.  Getting back will not be as assured.  I know, however, that we have enough gas to get to the plant and at least back to the Mississippi/Louisiana state line.  I’ve got food, maps, tents and lots of water.  If I get stranded I’ll be ok.  We drive along saying little.  We know that one wrong turn or wrong word at the wrong time to the wrong person could change things real quick.

With the Entergy signs on the truck we glide through every road block with ease.  Cops don’t ask for ID or license.  They don’t search us.  They really don’t even look at us.  We are riding on a magic carpet.  No one will mess with us.  They can see what we have in tow.  Ah yes.  The generator.  The magic elixir that everyone wants.  Generators make oxygen systems work, they bring food refrigeration units back to life, they bring light to the darkness, life to the newborns at the hospital.  We have the generator.  We are the stewards of all that the citizens hold sacred at the moment.  We are the golden boys.  They smile at us and we smile back.

We get onto I-310 and then onto US 90 headed for the plant and suddenly our swollen heads and large egos begin to shrink.  We are greeted by bands of wandering residents about 15 to 20 in number.  Every store front is destroyed.  Some buildings are burned.  All of the glass is gone from every window.  We do a quick mental calculation as to wind direction during the storm.  We realize quickly that many of the broken windows are on the downwind side.  We see the crowds…… it all makes sense then.

We get to the end of US 90 and make our turn towards the plant.  We are confronted by a policeman in full riot gear. The intersection is desolate save for him.  An industrial wasteland with this one shred of order standing in the road.  He reminds me of some cavalryman in Oklahoma in the early 1800′s or some sheriff in a town of lawless criminals.    He looks over our cargo curiously and gives us a halting look.  “Are you armed?” he asks in a serious voice.  I am ambiguous in my answer.  He responds “Entergy trucks have been taking fire in this area.  I suggest you remove or cover your decals”.  We remove the signs.  He smiles at us…..we depart with these words from him…… “OK boys…. remember….. shoot fast and shoot often!”  I can’t resist smiling back at him.  We hit the gas and move on.    We see the plant up ahead.  The signof the policeman lowering his shotgun is a welcome one.

We make our delivery and point our truck  for Jackson.  The men at the plant we visit with are worried.  They don’t want to risk the ride home.  Some have wives and kids they must attend to.  They have no choice.  The others opt to sleep in their trucks to avoid venturing from the perceived safety of the 12 gauge in the hands of the policeman.  I envy neither of them.  Either choice is dangerous.   The gangs in the streets are hungry, thirsty and angry.  Neither the guard, or the men on the way home, are any match for them.  The gangs know it and the men know it.  For the first time I understand the delicate balance between prison guards and their charges.  The criminals really do have the upper hand at some moments.   Everyone just allows the perceptions to be different than that.

As we head home among fallen timbers, power lines and buildings we come across a group of cops with side arms drawn and pointed at a group of men.  On the ground are 15 or 20 individuals cuffed and laying on their faces.  There are 9 or 10 cops and only 5 or 6 in the crowd, save those on the ground, so we figure the cops are winning and we punch it and move on.

Every store has the front doors kicked in.  One shop keeper had the brilliant idea of putting his coke machines in front of the doors to prevent entry.  The thugs were offended and responded by putting a truck through the windows.  After they finished their shopping they left their calling card by way of a Molotov cocktail.  How quaint.

I thought we were going to burn a hole in the gas gauge on the way home with our eyes.  We calculated and recalculated.  Every road sign showing mileage to the next map point was checked and rechecked.  We were always cognizant of the five gallon can in the back.  The fumes it emanated were like sweet perfume to our olfactories.  That was the sweet smell of a soft landing.  We knew that we could make it back.  We felt good about that.  I thought of the B-29 pilots flying missions over Japan in 1944.  Their calculations were much harder and there was much more at stake.  I wondered what it was like for them when they ran the numbers and the result was death.  What were those last hours like?  What did they say to one another?  I said a prayer for their souls and paid my respects.  Real men.  Let me never forget that.

My air mattress coupled with the floor of the Entergy Radio shop at Jackson, MS felt like a welcome relief.  I looked forward to a good nights sleep only to be haunted by the looks of those on the streets.  Why them and not me?  I guess I’ll always ask that.  I always have.  Why am I even here?  What drives me to do these crazy things?  Why would I put my best lead man along with the father of my children in harms way?

I don’t know the answers to those questions.  Frankly, I don’t really care about the answers.  I’m just glad to be safe and alive tonight.  I feel bad for those that are without homes and families tonight and wish I could do something to take away their pain.

I think when it is all over I may go back down to that stretch of Highway 90 where the shops were burned.  I think I may go back there and meet with the owners.  Yeah.  That’s what I’ll do.  I’ll meet with them.  All that they have worked for was taken away from them by one violent act of nature and many lewd acts of men.  I’ll go meet with those men and women and engage in commerce with them as I can.  And when I do….. I’ll tell them that I understand.  Because I do.  And they will know that I do.  And in the end….. I will know that everything will be OK.  And they will know that to.

The Fallen

I came to see you today, but you were not there. You left. It must have happened quickly as those things usually do. You were there just a few days ago, standing on that same ground, looking at the same hoist, casting your eyes over what seemed to be a wasteland during the winter but completely alive during this time of year. So many calls there had struggled for a hand-off and you were there to give it to them.

Only problem was that you are not there now, nor are you here, nor will you ever be, at least, not in the flesh. Your wife will lay alone tonight, as she will for many more. Your kids will look up when the door opens and expect to see you walk in. In time, however, they will get used to it being someone else that walks in, and in further time, that someone that walks in will be their new dad,
because for whatever reason, you dismounted earlier in the week and you won’t be around to do that job yourself.

It was windy today. I stood for a while and just felt the wind and looked as the grass bent. I studied the hoist, I looked at the feedlines and the other antennae on the tower. I tried to surmize what brought you to that point. I stood and stared at the narrow cleft in the gravel where the gurney had attempted to roll, only to be tormented by the gravel as it tried to keep you close.

Earler in the day in a tacky dollar store in a tacky, worn out Mississippi delta town, surrounded by legions a different color than I, standing with red eyes and a handkerchief in my hand, I bought a tacky, synthetic wreath and sympathy card. While bearing witness to the wind and the thought of your spirit riding upon it, I took out my trusty leatherman tool, wiped the vapor wrap off of it, and wired that little wreath to the fence.

As I turned and cursed the demons of gravity, I could only wonder. Was it your proclivity for morning herbs that took you? Was it a sense of courage that robbed us of you? Was it just plain carelessness? Did a normally steady piece of steel have a missing bolt or nut? What was it Shane? What took you?

After a while I just started the car and slowly eased on down Highway 82. As I passed the big 400 footer behind the old K-Mart I looked up at the DB812′s and remembered the howling wind in my ears as I tried to seat those 24 foot monsters. God knows, I’ve been stupid a hundred times, and I did stupid stuff on that install, but somehow I made it through one more day. You, however, did not.

I’m sorry for your kids, I’m sorry for your co-workers who had to witness it. I feel for the owner, for you see, I too have had to endure the OHSA investigation that comes with a fatality. I too have had to open the citation envelope and have not only the guilt that comes from the loss, but the financial pain that goes with it.

In some states (Arkansas included) the workmens comp death benefit goes out the window if the deceased tests positive for chemicals. I hope that is not the case in Mississippi, or at least I hope that your screen came back clean. Being a widow surely is not fun at such a young age. Being broke in addition would only make things worse.

I’m sorry I missed you today Shane. I’m sorry I won’t ever get to meet you in person, but will have to depend on the stories of your fellow workers to describe who you were. I’m sorry that your accident happened and I wish I could turn back the hands of time to take it all away, but I can’t.

So today Shane, since I did a few things for you, you can do a few things for me. Next time some 28 year old kid decides to hot shot it or big dog it while on the steel, I want you to show up and whisper loudly in his ear to get that decel clamped down in a good spot. I want you to help him give a damn about his wife and three kids at home, and I want you to let him know that even though he
has hit a home run a thousand times in the past, he could strike out this day, and this could be his last time at bat, as it was yours.

I hope you’ll do that for me Shane. I really don’t want to buy any more cheap plastic wreaths at smelly dollar stores in dirty little towns and I don’t want to stand on gravel driveways with the wind whistling by me as I try to make sense of why we do what we do, and why we can’t seem to do anything else and be happy.