Rocket O mine
I answered the door and there stood six foot six officer Murphy and a man dressed in street clothes named Smith. “Come in”, I stammered.
“You mister Goddard?” Murphy asked.
“Yes, is there anything wrong?”
“You have something in your back yard that has your neighbors concerned, Mr. Goddard.”
I looked at Smith but he was busy memorizing my front room. “Oh, you must mean my rocket”, I admitted proudly.
“That’s exactly what I mean”, was Murphy’s stern retort.
Before I could respond, Smith broke in,
“I’ll take it from here Murphy”. Murphy nodded and stepped back with his fingers dancing a jig on the grip of his pistol.
Smith looked at me, squinting like uncle Max, after he’d had a snoot full, “So you admit you have a rocket on your property?”
“Well, yeah”, I offered, “Frank next door has a skateboard trough in his backyard, so what?”
“So nobody’s going to blow something up with a skateboard is so what!” hissed Smith.
“Have you ever been hit in the chins by one of…” was all I could get out before I was staring into Smith’s sweaty palm.
“Shut it!” boomed forth from an obviously agitated Smith. “You have a serious problem here, pal, the FBI and the local SWAT team are outside waiting for my signal!”
I began to realize that my wife’s warning about my plan to travel to the moon was much more prophetic than her usual, “Just keep overcooking your bacon and your liver will resemble lychee nuts!”, although I suppose she could be right about that too.
My space obsession began when, as a boy, I watched the TV show, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I should be honest by stating that I was really obsessed with Erin Grey, occasionally hyperventilating during scenes in which she was sashaying around some very obviously chilly planet. My parents finally required that my viewing be chaperoned by great aunt Milspickle and it was then that I noticed the show was about space travel and that there were other characters involved as well.
Since that time, I have dreamed of traveling through space. I built model rockets and space stations as a boy and hung them from strings in my bedroom. I brought home library books on the subject of space travel. I built and launched model rockets from my back yard, only occasionally setting afire a neighbor’s roof. My hobby became so expensive, I got part-time jobs in the mornings, evenings, and weekends to support it.
My parents became concerned when, one day, I tried to go to school dressed as Gort the unpredictable but obedient robot. They were further troubled when I insisted on calling our dog, Jud, Captain Kirk, and the goldfish, Death Star.
Upon my eighteenth birthday I changed my name from Frank Hutsenfruth to Bob Goddard for obvious reasons. Apparently that was more than my father could endure for I was raised to bear proudly the Hutsenfruth cognomen. The source of this pride was that the family had traced the Hutsenfruth surname to a 14th century itinerate barber, Clum Hutsenfruth.
I can clearly recall my grandfather, Kurt Hutsenfruth, when reveling at holidays, saturated with whatever libation he could get his hands on, “You think Galileo took a chance sticking the sun at the center of the universe? Ha! What do you think your forebear risked when he invented the flat-top hair style in renaissance
You watch, one day movies will be made about Clum Hutsenfruth, staring Marlon
Brando or Charles Laughton!”. After which my grandfather usually feel face
first into the mashed potatoes. Florence
“How,” asked my father, shaking with shame, “could you end the Hutsenfruth line here?” My father was the lone male Hutsenfruth direct decendent and expected me to litter the future with male Hutsenfruth breeders. I was forthwith banished from the home and family until I might come to my senses and once more bear the Hutsenfruth appellation.
Homeless but not penniless I went forth to face what I expected to be the great adventures of my future. I still retained a part-time job but weeks sleeping under an overpass with Shaky Joe and Gimble Foot Frank jarred me to the realization that, although shopping-cart rodeo and games like what’s-in-the-bindle had been fun, I should probably be more serious about my future.
Tearful good byes were exchanged with my overpass mates, with Frank reminding me that grab-ass is a sign of manly respect. I then straightened up, squared my shoulders, and assertively pushed my shopping cart to the employment office.
Once the cart was secured to a light pole with a bicycle chain, I entered looking to score big in the job market. An office worker approached me smiling, but when he entered my olfactory orb he started to gag and mutter something like “rotting offal is not a scent that is likely lead to gainful employment”. I was then deposited upon the curb, the noise of the office door slamming and locking behind me.
So this is what is meant by rock bottom, I thought. Why had my employer at Hal’s Limburger Emporium not discussed my toilette? I must muster my wits and think my way to a better life, surely things can’t get any worse; at which point I stepped into the street and was sideswiped by an express bus.
The sound of hushed voices and rumbling carts awakened me to the glories of The Angel of Poor Souls Hospital, ensconced between the city’s rail yard and the heavy industrial district. This once proud establishment had devolved into an operation run, on a shoestring, by the city in conjunction with various unnamed charitable endeavors, obviously for tax sheltering reasons. Doctors and nurses alike carried out their tasks with the enthusiasm one would expect from teenagers forced to discuss their homework.
My attending physician, doctor Dailide, phlegmatically reported my assorted injuries including minor contusions and a minor hematoma of the skull. He said I would be fine after a few days of bed rest, and plenty of hot soup, which I learned to choke down by pinching my nose and thinking of Boris Badenov’s curvaceous cohort, Natasha Fatale.
My nurse, Hilda Freidericschnitzle, was a humorless leviathan with a bedside manner reminiscent of Josef Mengele. She insisted on using a rectal thermometer the size of a billy club and administered it as if she was stuffing sausages. I was informed by her of my pre-registration regimen that involved being bathed in the parking lot with lye soap and three waters of flea dip. She appeared crestfallen when I informed that I had no memory of the event.
On the fourth day of my incarceration, I mean, stay, a pretty young nurse came to take my vitals. “Oh you poor thing”, she exclaimed upon entering the room. She clearly had missed the concentration camp guard indoctrination the other nurses seemed to have completed. “Don’t you worry, I will take good care of you and get you back on your feet in a jiffy”, she warbled.
Stunned by my good fortune, but suspicious that this was a joke, I whispered, “Are you new?” She informed me that she was the replacement for Frau Hilda, who had come down with bubonic plague, apparently the result of numerous flea bites.
“What’s your name, have you met the other nurses?” I inquired.
“I’m sorry, I’m Carla, and, yes, I have met them,” she pronounced, “They don’t seem to be real talkative, though; but I think I will fit in just fine.”
“You will if you have worked in a slaughter house” was my response.
‘You’re surely joking” was her timid rejoinder. “They can’t be that bad, can they?”
I proceeded to describe, for Carla, the various Torquemada inspired treatments delivered by the doctors and nurses while she shook her head in disbelief.
She finally accused me of over exaggerating and left the room.
Her dismayed looked forced me to re-examine my charges. Maybe putting my tongue in traction did prevent bed sores and, who knows, I suppose laying under the iron lung attempting to bench press it, is better for my lungs than being in it. I was now uncertain.
My uncertainty began to evaporate as, each time Carla entered my room, she carried a more concerned look. Finally after a few days, Carla whispered to me, “How’d you like to get outta here?”.
“You mean I’m being released?” was my surprised response.
Carla looked around furtively and winked, “Well, not exactly, let’s just say I’m releasing you, OK?”
“Oh, you can do that?” I asked, apparently looking and acting much like Alfred E. Neuman.
“Oh for God’s sake, Bob, you were right; this place is a hell hole.” She confided. “I began noticing little signs, like the wheelchair, that’s used to move released patients to the curb, is covered with dust and cob webs. And that truck with the name on the sides, Body Bags R US shows up every day and brings in bundles of them. But the kicker was when a nurse asked me to get her 500 ccs of blood and I asked her what type? She said, ‘Doesn’t matter’.” Carla shuddered.
Carla had hustled up some scrubs and shoes and left the room to return with a gurney. She instructed me to climb aboard and lay on my back. She then covered me with a sheet and wheeled me out the door. In more upscale hospitals, pushing a dead patient down the hall would likely draw some attention, but in Angels of Poor Souls it was a common scene.
As Carla proceeded down the hall I peeked out the side of my covering and saw several people wheeling a machine with several wires dangling from it. Carla noticed my glance and bent down and whispered, “Trainees, they were going to use you as a subject in some shock treatment demonstrations.” With this, my heart began beating like conga drums, and when I jumped off at Carla’s signal, my knees nearly buckled.
Down the stair tower I ran, passing no one, and out, I entered the hospital lobby. I grabbed a brochure from a stand and feigned absorption in its contents while walking briskly to the entrance.
Just before I was to dart out to the street a nurse approached me, handed me a clipboard, and asked, “Doctor, what would you recommend in this case?”
I glanced at the chart and said, “Amputation?”
Astonished, she blurted, “For pneumonia?!”
“I suppose that is a little severe,” I murmured, attempting to avoid drawing a crowd, “give him two aspirin and have him call me in the morning.” At that I pushed through the revolving door and rushed down the street.
Do Bob and Carla get together? How does Bob become able to build his rocket? We will find out more about these two in the second installment of “Rocket O Mine”.