Friday, August 12, 2011


04:30 a.m.
Alarm clock. Oh, god. Okay. Metamucil? Check. Espresso? Check. Lunch? Out of the fridge, into the backpack. Hot shower. Wife and kids snore merrily, while I get dressed in the dark. The Basset Hound lifts her head, gives me a sad look that says, “See you in 14 hours.” and goes back to sleep. Hope the Jeep starts (I really, REALLY need a new SUV).
05:26 a.m. come to a screeching, sliding stop at the Claremont train station. Huff, puff, huff. Quick, punch the ticket! Kersleeck! Now I’m legal. HOOONNK! Whoosh. The train glides to a stop. Now, what page was I on last night, on the way home? Oh yeah, the girl doesn’t know that the bad guys swiped the hero's phone, and sent her that text message, to lure her to that alley.

06:40 a.m.
Metro Purple Line subway station, deep under Union Station. Yes, boys and girls, L.A. really does have a subway system. We Pelham 1-2-3 all the way to the corner of Wilshire and Western: Koreatown. Quick! Up the escalator!
Bus stop.

Mexican ladies pretending to be homeless, so they can sell tamales and horchata out of their shopping cart. Maybe I’ll get one, tomorrow. Here comes the express Santa Monica bus. Time to elbow all of the El Salvadoran housekeepers aside, lest they do the same to me. Here you go, ma’m, $1.50 for you. Clink, jingle clink. Today I use a bunch of quarters. Yesterday, for laughs I used all dimes. Is there a seat? Can I sit somewhere? No? Okay, I’l stand in front of the young Filipino dude with porcupine hair who is always asleep by the time I get on the bus. His shirts are perfect. Each day, while he snores, he amazes me by not falling to the ground. Miraculously, he wakes up every morning as the bus stops at UCLA. Later, dude!
07:15 a.m. Well, I’m here at the Westwood Veterans Administration Hospital 45 minutes too early. Problem is, if I take the 05:48 train, I’ll get here late. Okay. Walk out onto the huge grassy lawn, and get the binos out. The Cassin’s Kingbirds fight in the eucalyptus with the Mockingbirds, while Yellow-chevroned Parakeets squabble with House Finches in the white ash. Uh, oh. Here comes Angry Young Veteran Dude, rolling down the sidewalk in his Iraq War wheelchair. Go ahead, don’t come to a full stop at the crosswalk, in your car. Make him wait while you turn your steering wheel to the right. Piss him off. He’ll give you the finger and scream, “ASSHOLE!” in a heartbeat. Same as yesterday morning. And the morning before that.

07:30 a.m. The cute Starbucks girl on the hospital’s first floor smiles at me and asks, “Double espresso with two packets of brown sugar?” I smile, and nod. I am surrounded by men in baseball caps. Each cap informs the world what war or what service—sometimes both—the wearer was in.

Vietnam. Korea. Vietnam. WWII. Korea. Vietnam. Marine Corps. 101st Airborne. Navy SEALs. 1st Armored Division.

To wear one of these hats, you have to have gray hair. There are young veterans here (some of them are girls), but they don’t wear baseball hats that say “Iraq” or “Afghanistan”. They will, one day. Right now, their heads are still spinning. They can’t believe they’re alive, and in West L.A.

A man in his late 70s passes me in the hallway. He is wearing jungle boots, tiger stripe camo, and his green beret is perfect. Fifth Special Forces. Shit. Did he know Sergeant Major Gatewood? Do I dare ask him? I play it safe, and wimp out. Don’t laugh: he can still kick the ass of anyone reading this blog.


08:00 a.m. Down to the basement, where cell phones don’t work. The next 8 hours will be a blur. Because I am the registry tech, I get worked like a dog.

The three nuclear radiologists are a Korean, an Iranian, and an Iraqi:

I do cardiac scans all day long, humping old guys onto and off of TWO scanners, in two rooms. My whole day is spent runnning in a nuclear cardiology version of the triangle trade: Go to the injection room, start an i.v. on Mr Goldberg. Is the i.v. good? Good. Inject him with 8 milliCuries of Technetium 99m labelled MIBI. Let me see, I injected Mr Jones 10 minutes ago. Let me get him on the scanning table. Pull up your shirt, Mr Jones, I need to put three EKG leads on your chest. Do I have a signal? Good. Now the computer can use your EKG like a timing belt, to make sure your cardiac scan comes out right. Wait, let me type in your info. Okay, don’t move, it’s only 16 minutes.That’s right, you need to keep your left arm up, the whole time. Don’t move! Keep your arm up! DON’T MOVE! Mr Jones, I need to go check on the patient next door. Yes, sir. I’m scanning patients in two rooms. Mr Conti, how are you? Your scan is amlost done. Okay, we’re done. You can put your left arm down, now. Stay on the table, I need to look at your scan, and make sure you didn’t move. Okay, click, select, click, re-select patients, select Conti, proceed, cine. Yes, Mr Conti, that’s your chest on the computer screen. You did a good job of not moving. Now let’s go back across the hall, and do your stress test. But hold on, a second. I’ll be right back. Mr Jones? Yeah, we’re done. Put your arm down. I’ll be right back. I promise. Unless I forget. Oh, god, I need to get Mr Goldberg onto the other camera.

I help Mr Conti off the scanning table.  He says, "Thanks for puttin' all those extra pillows for me.  My back is full of shrapnel. I was in the first wave on Omaha Beach.  The Germans got me in the back. I laid there in the sand for 28 hours." 


4:30 p.m. Oh, god, I gotta catch that 4:40 p.m. express bus. If I don’t, I won’t get to Koreatown in time to catch the right subway train to Union Station and I’ll miss the 6:00 p.m. train. If I miss the 6:00 o’clock train, I’ll have to hang out at Union Station with crazy homeless guys and tourists from Arkansas until I get on the 7:00 p.m. train. Whew! Here comes the big red bus! I’m gonna make it!

Every afternoon, as I run through the parking lot, I see this sign in the driveway. Am I the only person who sees the irony in it?

7:20 p.m. I turn my key in the kitchen door. The Basset Hound runs up to me, and barks three times, to inform me that she needs to poop, and I need to hurry up and hook the leash onto her collar. I have been wearing these sweaty, salty, sticky scrubs since 5:00 this morning. Ah, forgetaboutit. I’ll get out of the scrubs when we get back, I feed the dog, and take a shower.

10:00 p.m. I need to sleep. I need to fall asleep. I can’t! Shit, I’m wide awake. Now I’m getting worked up over the fact that I will be tired, tomorrow, because I will get less than 6 hours of sleep. This, of course, keeps me awake.

11:35 p.m. Jay Leno is making fun of his usual targets. The president, congress, and Michael Jackson. I grope for the remote control, and turn off the tv. Oh god, somebody help me off this sofa. I’m sooo tired. Why didn’t I go to bed at 8:00 o’clock?

04:30 a.m. Alarm clock. Oh god, here we go, again…


Ray said...

Watch Conan. He comes on earlier and is funnier. (Eight and or ten)

Bill Thompson said...

You ALMOST make me feel guilty about being retired, but I did the 3am thing for 34 years. Now I never complain about getting up at 5 or 6 to chase a bird.