Another "post" to the blog that doesn't add chapters to the Laos Experience!
I have been nearly psychotic the past week or so due to obsession with the fate of friends (one old, one new) affected by what has been going on in New Orleans. Most recently, our dearest friend Quoc (pronounced more like "wok"
in English) went to New Orleans to take advantage of reasonably good wages for doing the kind of work he does best; if he advertised, he'd probably call himself "handyman." He worked for a small residential remodelling company in St Petersburg, but injured his back on the job and, of course, was promptly fired. That's one of the consequences of Florida's "growth friendly" labor laws, loosely defined as "Employment At Will."
Basically, both employer and employee have the right to terminate employment at any moment for any reason with no prior notice -- the essence of Donald Trump's "Your Fired!"
"Use 'em up, then trash 'em" is another way of putting it.
So Quoc is now a self-employed "remodelling specialist," seeking independent jobs that fit his abilities. And his repertoire of skills is prodigious!
Ban, my lifemate, first met Quoc at his gym. At that time, Quoc could best have been described as an "angry young man." Or, less attractively, he might also have been described as "street punk." Under Ban's mentorhood and with my encouragement, he became a responsible family man: attractive wife and three young daughters. With perseverance he worked his way from publicly subsidized housing to buying a small bungalow in a neat neighborhood.
Then, his first disaster, the back injury, occurred.
We got word of his second disaster early in the evening of December 1: two members of the New Orleans Work crew he organized were dead; he and two others were in comas. Someone, perhaps Quoc himself, had started up a generator in the building where they were working and (as is pretty necessary in today's New Orleans) eating and sleeping. The police had found him collapsed over the generator, which he appears to have been trying to stop. The two dead guys were nearby.
Quoc is bright enough to have heeded the warning (not really required, but usually present on generators) only to use the machine in a "well ventilated area." Open a window, right? WRONG!
After every hurricane that passes through Florida several people, anywhere from three to ten, pay the price of thinking a garage or carport is "well-ventilated." For internal combustion engines, only a location outdoors or in another uninhabited, ventilated building is safe. Carbon monoxide is deadly. It is an invisible gas, but flows through space like a liquid, with currents and "water levels" all along the way. If you are inside a building, for example, it will fill up a room until the "water level" reaches the windowsills, then it can overflow to the outdoors. Anybody whose head is below the level of the sill of the open window will first experience a sense of extraordlinary well-being and relaxation. If the person gives in to the urge to take a nap, he probably won't wake up. That is why suicide by carbon monoxide is so popular: mild nausea at first, but then uncontrollable euphoria and that feeling of well-being and relaxation. What a way to go to heaven!(No, I don't have this info from personal experience -- I'd be dead then, wouldn't I? It comes from a book Self Deliverance - The Good Euthanasia Guide by Derek Humphrys, updated regularly. I read it avidly at a time when my numerous medical problems made "self deliverance" seem to be the best option for me. Carbon monoxide was the method I had chosen for myself.)
Quoc somehow managed to overcome the euphoria and think to try to save his friends. As noted, the police found him collapsed over the still-running generator with his hand near the "kill" button. Ban immediately made arrangements to accompany his wife and two of his brothers to New Orleans. Due to my own critical medical problems, I had to be the one to stay home alone and take care of Skippy, our canine "son." As some of you will know, I almost lost my mind worrying about both Ban and Quoc! Ban told me as he packed his little travel bag, Quoc is my younger brother! And on reflection, I thought, "Yes, Quoc is 'favorite nephew' to me too."
During my despair, I made a personal pledge -- a possibly bad habit left over from my Christian upbringing -- that I would somehow involve myself in a spiritually oriented organization, perhaps a church, perhaps the little Buddhist Temple that Ban and I have informally supported in the past. I haven't been able to implement that goal yet, but perhaps it will be one of my first major projects in the new year to come. But to whom would a Buddhist make such a pledge? One wit proposed a Buddhist definition of "God the Omnipotent and Omniscient" as a "socially acceptable imaginary friend for those over age 12." A person can have one god, no god, or thousands of gods as far as the teachings of the Buddha are concerned; the "god-concept" just isn't particularly central. So somehow, I'll drag my hybrid (but probably nonexistent) "soul" to one religious establishment or another until I find one that seems to "fit."
Early last week, Quoc was simply discharged from the hospital in New Orleans, the only hospital that reopened in the city after Katrina. Though he was probably very obviously in need of further attention, no referral was made. Ban kept probing me with regard to what options are available to someone with no insurance. Well, in Florida even those WITH
insurance are well advised to invoke the state law that anybody who manages to stagger into an Emergency Room MUST be accepted for treatment, as Ban and I found out on numerous occasions when I myself was near death. Neither hospitals nor doctors are particularly pleased at the idea of accepting patients, unless the law forces them to.
This is the nearest present day concept I know of that parallels the medieval concept of "Sanctuary." If you make it to sanctuary, you live. If you don't, you die.
So we had no option but to wait: knowing that Quoc would get sicker and sicker without treatment, hoping for some crisis that would qualify his case as an "Emergency." He spent last Thursday, Dec 15 "dizzy," then collapsed on Friday Dec 16. They rushed him to the Emergency Room at a county hospital (I won't say which one) that has the reputation of "sanctuary of last resort" for the poor, the homeless, and the uninsured. Hallelujah, they accepted him as a patient but immediately referred him to St Joseph's hospital in Tampa, where they knew the high tech equipment and the medical specialists needed for "brain cases" are available.
At St Josephs, they got him to the point of being "stabilized" and sent him home. He is still officially a patient and his orders are to return Monday morning, when the brain specialists and the staff who run the brain-related diagnostic equipment will all be present. We, his "family," are on pins and needles, but at least we managed to get him to an Emergency Room in critical enough state that law required them to accept him, but not in that old critical medical state known as Death!
Lately I have spent much more time in front of the Buddha, "sitting." Those of you who try to practice the Buddha's teachings in their starkest form will know what I mean by "sitting." It is all there is for me to do. And even if it doesn't do anything to heal Quoc, it helps to heal me.
The older New Orleans friend? He arrived in St Petersburg several weeks after Katrina as a refugee. He is a very attractive young man and has proven to have both the education and the work experience necessary for survival. The one requirement he did not have was a white skin. Back in New Orleans, he had had to sit on the rooftop of his building watching the helicopters go by to "whiter" places. He and the people on top of his building lived out a nightmare of trying to protect themselves (without weapons) against those who had weapons to take away.... what? All that was left for them was the clothes on their backs.
When the water went down to chest-deep, he made it to the Superdome. He loses the ability to speak when he tries to describe what went on there. Having undergone my own little "post traumatic stress," I predict it may be years before he can verbalize those memories in an attempt at self-healing. Or he may never be able to access all of them. Every time we meet, those things hidden from us become the topic of conversation. Our brains are remarkable in being able to file the unthinkable in separate compartments, each small enough not to kill if accessed. Somehow he managed to be evacuated and just happened to end up in the Tampa Bay area. Volunteers tried to help him get settled.
The first 51 phone calls to prospective landlords -- developers and property owners who saw potential for making a buck out of Katrina -- turned out to be interviews mainly oriented toward determining his race, which most would classify as "black," a hangover from the old miscegenation laws that defined "Negro" as anyone who had "even a fraction of a drop of Negro blood" in their veins. (I get this mental picture of a ghoulish coroner dissecting out the circulatory system one vein or artery at a time, trying in vain to find that fraction of 'black' blood." I think I would call it hybrid, a delightful melding of racial qualities that make him the deep south equivalent of Hawaii's "Golden Man."
As fate would have it, this man is, like me, a gay alcoholic. And, as fate would have it, the largest and, in my opinion, least idiosyncratic gay meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in St Pete sits across the street from the most upscale gay bar in St Pete, Georgie's. I've made it a personal crusade to make a turn northward toward the meeting and continued sobriety more alluring and enticing than a southward turn toward familiar ego-validation and the subsequent oblivion at Georgie's, the familiar bar environment.
In truth, my contribution has been next to insignificant. This man is self-motivated and, no matter how emotionally scarred by his experience, will succeed! For me, in fact, it is a privilege that he allows me to share as a spectator and self-appointed head cheerleader as he pushes toward success. His current job involves work shifts of at least 12 hours out of every 36, so he has little time at present for his passions. Maybe that's a good thing right now. Passions can drag a person upward toward heaven, or downward toward the various hells of despair.
But, at his direction, I've made up business cards for his lifelong dream: a martial arts salon.
Somehow, this man's fight uphill against heavy odds and Quoc's fight just to remain in the world as a human rather than as a vegetable are inextricably intertwined in my mind.