The Coastal Post - September, 1997

Dying Dads, Flying Lights, Hot Fun In Florida


When I got off the plane in Florida, the heat shoved at me like a horde of senior citizens in an Early Bird Dinner line. I flew home to Florida in August to see my Dad in Fort Lauderdale. Every time I called he wanted to know when I was coming home. I felt like he was waiting to see me once more so he could die.

His doctors can't make up their minds what he has, but he's 83 and ready to cross the bridge on over to the other side, as they say. Everything that used to give him pleasure is behind him now. He liked to get up before dawn, go to McDonald's, drink coffee, then go to the beach and collect aluminum cans from Spring Break. It's been 10 years since the Spring Break bacchanalian rites moved to Daytona Beach, and there aren't as many beer cans any more. He stopped driving around the same time and started riding the bus around for his daily adventure.

This last year he can't even do that because he's fallen a few times from dizzy spells. Now he doesn't even watch TV and he used to love the crime news and Cops-the one with the "Bad Boys" theme song, where they usually break into people's homes and find drugs hidden in the baby's bed.

While I was home he was reduced to shuttling from his couch to the bathroom to the carport to smoke a cigarette. He was frustrated with his infirmities, but he could hang on for a while; he has an amazing tenacity. Ten years ago the doctors told him he had cancer, but he refused to do anything about it.

He's still alive, some of his doctors aren't. They don't have a diagnosis for him now, I was told by his home health care worker. I tried to call his doctor. The guy's been on vacation since June, somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle.

My brother told me they think maybe Dad's condition is congestive heart failure, but his feet weren't swollen, just yellow and clawlike. When we asked him what was wrong, Dad said his bowels were all bound up. The Fleet enemas my sister got him didn't seem to help.

Drug war on the dying

Constipation could be a side effect of the narcotic pain killers he has to take at night to get some rest. My cousin, a doctor in Miami, prescribed them for him, because the VA doctors wouldn't. I guess they are worried about sending the wrong message in the War on Drugs.

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled in August against an individual's right to smoke medical marijuana to relieve suffering because the right of the state to protect citizens takes precedence over their right to reduce their pain. Misery is good for society.

My dad wouldn't smoke it anyway, he relies on medical tobacco, but my sister took it up to relieve her depression. She was feeling better. I'm not sure about the Amway sales.

My dad hates his doctors, and that may be what's kept him alive this long. They'd love to do some more cutting, try to figure out why he's dying. I asked him for their number. He wouldn't tell me, ordered me not to call, just leave him alone. He didn't want any help.

I called anyway. I was worried because he kept having to shuffle to the bathroom with diarrhea, but he was constipated. He told me he hadn't eaten or drunk anything for a day. He wouldn't let me or my brother help him take a bath or shower, and he needed one. My brother bought him some Depends instead.

The dying shuffle

I found an appointment letter and tried to reach his doctor after the hospice center told me they would need his doctor's permission to provide help. He can still get angry, like when he saw me on the phone. Just can't keep it up as long before he has to go back to his couch.

I never got his doctor, obviously. After finally talking with his home care supervisor, he told me it was all quite complicated, but basically they could send an ambulance, and if he made it out of the hospital alive, then the only thing they could do was to put him in an assisted dying center. He spent some time in one after his last surgery and they tied him to the bed so he couldn't get up and maybe fall.

Dad's best option was to slip away quietly in his sleep. In the old days of swampy Florida, the senior Tequesta Indians could just paddle their dugouts into the Everglades, the wilderness. Now it's more like take a bus down to Miami and walk around Liberty City. Liberated from this mortal coil.

We're so afraid of Death in this materialistic culture. I like the concept of the Irish wake, where they prop the corpse up in the corner and party like hell in honor of their entrance into the Summerland. Personally, I'd rather have the party before I die. I'd rather tell him I love him while he's still alive.

My dad's almost deaf. Kind of hard to convey tender emotions like "I Love You, Dad," when you're shouting. I tried my best to show I loved him, but I felt like I blew it just trying to help on my last day there. I had to lie, deny that I was calling his medical team while I was on the phone to them. Reminded me of my teen years when I borrowed his car. "No, Dad, we're not going to drink. No, I'm not doing drugs. Honest, we're only driving to the bowling alley. What scrape?"

I was glad I did, because after I flew back to California, he had to go into the hospital for four days to deal with his bowels. I'm glad that he lived and is still alive, but I don't want him to suffer any longer than he has to. What's so hard about allowing people to die without pain?

My dad called me home to give me something. "I never gave you nothing, out of all seven of my kids, you're the only one who never caused me trouble or cost me money," he told me. I wasn't about to remind him of certain incidents he was forgetting.

I felt stupid standing over him shouting trite cliches, "You gave me a roof over my head. You fed me and clothed me, you did plenty." He was so shrunken and yellowed, he didn't look much different than my Mom the last time I saw her, except he was alive. He gave us more than the basics, but all his dreams dried up working as a janitor to provide us with those.

Lights in the sky-mosquitoes on the ground

My sister and I went over to relieve some depression at the apartment of a friend of hers from high school. She's been sharing my articles with him, and he's a total fan, especially the one about UFOs, because of his weird experience when he was in high school.

It turned out that the UFO I and my younger brother witnessed when I was ten was probably the same one that he and his high school senior buddies had a much closer encounter with. They had recently all talked about it at their 30th reunion, so the details were fresh in his mind.

He recalled that two friends in his group of buddies told the others that they had seen a UFO the night before at the end of Broward Boulevard, at that time swamp, now a mall. So the next night the rest of the gang, him in the back seat, drove out, parked, and walked along the raised dirt road.

They walked a ways, but the mosquitoes were fierce and they started back. Then, in the road in front of them they saw a pyramid-shaped UFO hovering a few inches off the dirt. They stopped and stared at the glowing object, until it moved off the road and disappeared in the swamp.

They walked to where it had been, when suddenly a brilliant light above them, with waves of rainbows undulating from its center out to its edges, illuminated them. The boys stood transfixed until the light streaked away to the north over the ocean at an incredible speed.

When they reached their car, a sheriff was parked there, lights on, with his radio squawking about sightings being reported from Dade county to Palm Beach county. They told the sheriff what they'd seen at the western edge of Broward County. My younger brother and I were somewhere to the southeast of them witnessing it from our front yard.

The sheriff made them walk back to where they'd seen the pyramid, while he drove alongside them, more reports coming in on his radio. They couldn't see anything in the darkness, and the sheriff wasn't about to go wading out. He told the boys to throw rocks out in the swamp to see if it would fly off like the other one.

Turns out the first two buddies had fabricated the pyramid in their garage, spray painted it with fluorescent paint, and tape recorded weird noises. They were out in the swamp, mosquitoes swarming them, water up to their black socks, and rocks raining down on them. Trouble is, they had seen the overhead UFO too, and were petrified that they'd somehow attracted it.

The next day it made headlines. The next night hundreds of people drove out to the end of Broward for a repeat show. The friends had to draw diagrams on the blackboards at school of their sighting and were media stars for a day or two.

Later in the week Men in Black from Project BlueBird, the UFO discounting team, came down from Washington and interviewed the whole gang, including the two who had originally reported seeing a UFO. They confessed and newspapers reported the hoax, as if it were the cause of the sightings. That was the end of it, except for people who had seen the streaking light.

My sister's friend told me he was going to go down to the library and make copies of the stories, including the picture of him on the cover of Village Voice the summer after he graduated from high school.

He was in an anti-Vietnam peace demonstration in Washington, D.C., stark naked. Maybe it was the UFO experience, or maybe just the LSD he took every day that fine Summer of Love.

In some ways it's like who the hell cares about UFOs until they actually do something, not just flutter about like fairie lights of old. If our government already has alien technology, then how come NASA and the military are still designing plutonium rockets? Until the UFOs actually create some change, then they are only an entertaining diversion, like cop shows.

Dad might appreciate it if one came along and abducted him, better than the bus. Meanwhile he can't even get a damn doctor to treat him like he's human. What are they learning in medical schools? Probably how to do autopsies on aliens, by videotape.

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