I'm Not What I Used to Be

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Slow,

Desc: : It's not the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It's the slow decline of a proud man as his health takes away his choices.

Or The Saga of Three Time Charlie

The doctor told me that I had a blood clot form and then another behind that. It was enough to give me a stroke. I walk a little odd but I get around all right. I had to stay in the hospital while I learned to walk and to shape words again. I could see them in my head and hear them all right, but I couldn't make the shapes that made the sounds. For a while the shapes on paper didn't make any sense either. Now that bothered me!

I soon learned that I lost more than that.

A lot of people came by to see me. I didn't know who any of them were. They said that I'd been working with them for ten years! Imagine that!

My reading came back, thank God. It gave me something to do. I can't believe that I ever held television programming to be anything other than despicable, and being unable to read meant that there wasn't much else to do except watch TV. Let me tell you, that was a great motivator!

I've read a few autobiographies lately, by people such as W. C. Fields, Samuel Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt, Vincent Price, Alfred Hitchcock and Peter Lorre. They had some fine minds. I am not embarrassed to admit that I have learned a lot from them.

I understand that I had a lot on the ball when it came to computers. Well, all that seems to be gone now. Oh, I can type and make my way around on the internet well enough, but the rest confuses me. That's all right. I've learned not to be as frustrated by my limitations as I was at the beginning.

A lot of people have helped me unasked. A man I used to work for bought me a 1977 Ford Courier pickup that he had set up for LP-gas fuel. The fuel tank was where the gas tank used to be, so it didn't take up space in the bed of the truck. He said that it had been gone over from end to end and nothing was wrong. I thought it very nice of him as he had just retired himself. I wondered what his wife had to say about it. I accepted his gift as graciously as I could. It was a boxy little thing and quite powerful for its size. It had been repainted dark green. I looked it up on the internet and yes, it did have the largest factory engine installed at the time.

Another fellow, older than I yet also from the same place, bought me a used 2005 Northstar Igloo slide-in camper and showed me the ins and outs of using it. He stated that I'd showed him enough things over the years and that it was his chance to return the favor. I smiled and shook his hand in thanks. Then I harvested what I wanted from my apartment.

Since I had been medically disabled I was told that they were forced to hold the contents of my apartment for me, even if they re-rented my place, which they did. I thought that it was quite nice of them and told them so, as I'd been in the hospital for over two years.

As I'd come to expect, I didn't recognize anyone from the apartment complex and told them why. I must have been friends with a big Latino guy in maintenance because he cried and hugged my shoulders. He helped me go through my things and move what made sense to the camper. I stocked the kitchen with a few pots and things, a crock pot, more canned food than I knew what to do with, some knives, kitchen tools, flatware, dishes and cups. Next I skimmed off basically what struck me as being useful in a camper, such as a swing-arm lamp, blankets and bedding, cleaning supplies and paper products, a ten-inch electric fan with a built-in heating element and some camping furniture that I could set up outside when I wanted to enjoy the weather. I kept an old laptop along with an external keyboard and mouse for writing. As a matter of fact I'm using it now.

I remembered something about having and using two oil-cloth tarps. I found them in my storage boxes and took them with me, as well as the ropes and the big iron tent-stakes that were stored with them. There was a huge 12'x12' oil-cloth tarp that I could make into a wind or rain shelter for several people. The other one was 9'6" square. I remembered drowsing in the tall grass next to a lightly smoking fire while under that tarp-tent. Those were good memories. I wanted to do some of that again. I found some candle lanterns and beeswax candles stored away. I found my old copper pots and cups. They all went with me. I found a small hard-side suitcase with some things in it like fresh underwear, socks, good shoes (stored in socks) and a set of clean shirt and pants. It only made sense to take that as well.

I found some clothes set aside in a separate bag. They were made out of leather, wool and linen. There was something about them that both called to me and made me feel comfortable. I bought a good suit-hanger bag to keep them in. I found my old 'possibles' bag. I remembered! I remembered my bag, what it had held and how to start a fire with flint and steel! The things I did with my hands I seemed to remember more easily. I discovered my old photo album with pictures of different camp sites, people at rendezvous and me all dressed up in camp gear.

I must have known a fellow named Trevor fairly well. He came to visit me as I was going through all this stuff.

He understood about me not knowing him. He told me some places to look and things to read that I'd not noticed, such as the Introduction to Buckskinning books from Scurlock Press and the Foxfire books. He showed me things that I had that I really should keep, because I'd have to buy them again if I decided to continue in that vein.

I decided that I really shouldn't be the kind of person to own a firearm. I took all my rifles, shot-guns, pistols and ammunition to the police department, along with my FOID card. (Firearms Owners ID. Thank you, Illinois.) They thanked me for my foresight and took them from me, along with my FOID card.

I asked the Sergeant what I should do if I were assaulted. I realized that they couldn't be everywhere all the time, but I didn't want to be a victim. Despite all my problems I'd rather stand up and fight back.

He smiled at me, and then dug back into the cage where he worked. He came back with a really big pistol with six barrels and a second grip in front. The barrels were big enough for two of my fingers! He laid it on the desk. "This is a four-gauge street-sweeper. It fires a flechette round, like little razor-edged darts. It holds six rounds and has a range of about fifteen feet. If this doesn't stop your intruder, you'd better run away, because that's what we'd do!" He gave me a gym bag with the gun and close to eighty rounds in it. I blinked as I looked at it.

"Where do I aim this thing?"
"Aim low. Don't aim for the face unless you have to." I nodded that I understood and thanked him. Go figure. I wanted to get rid of my fire-arms and here he presents me with one!

When I got back to the warehouse holding my possessions, I hooked up with Trevor once again. I didn't realize how much he put himself out for me at the time. He gave me a .50 caliber 'barn gun' flintlock and a shoulder bag full of the stuff I'd need to shoot it. He hugged me and said "Good Luck, Charlie" and left. It seemed that I was destined to own things that go 'Boom!'.

I had most of my memories of old science fiction stories. In a way it was good because I got to enjoy them for the first timeā€”all over again!

I didn't sleep too well after reading "Flowers for Algernon".

I kept a lot of music CDs and a 'boom box' to play them on. I left all the movies behind. They were all too violent for me.

I wrapped my head around what I had to. Nobody else was going to do it for me. If I didn't want to live under a bridge then I had home economics to deal with. I bought a new laptop that I hoped that I could depend on and installed Quicken on it. I proceeded to track my income and expenses.

I received half my old paycheck per month from an Illinois teacher's retirement fund that I'd been paying into for the last twelve years. Since I was considered disabled, my federal retirement pay had kicked in to help fill in the rest of my needs.

During my stay in the hospital my checking account had grown to a little over sixty thousand dollars. While I was disabled the court had directed someone to act as my agent. They got all my payments redirected to my checking account, closed my utility accounts and car insurance out, disposed of my old Jeep and paid off a twenty-thousand dollar visa account that I had hanging over my head. I found out that a court appointed firm did this for one hundred and fifty dollars a year. I know that I got my money's worth. Once I was declared competent I took back control. That was a scary feeling.

During the few months that I was living on my own after leaving the hospital, I managed to sock away some money each month despite having to pay for LP gas, drugs, food, insurance, site rent, electricity and various small 'living expenses' like buying toilet paper. My old apartment cost me over a thousand dollars a month and a hundred in electricity. Now, not so much.

The guys at the apartment complex auctioned off my stuff and sent me a check! Damn, but some people prove that they're good guys whether they need to or not!

There were several computers, a new, in-warranty queen-sized bed, a huge hi-def monitor and a new futon couch in my stuff. Jeez! I made $1,400.00 from the auction!

I'm glad that I kept the little book-shelf speakers, though. They were made by Bose and sounded good in that little camper.

Out of the mass of books, papers, journals and notes that I'd been sitting on I kept three cook-books, a hand-full of ham radio books and an old chemistry notebook that I remembered having a lot of trouble putting together.

.... There is more of this story ...

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