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Stretching It


Harry Buschman

I was not drunk, you have to understand that. Inebriated, maybe -- even tipsy perhaps, but certainly not drunk. For example: I knew precisely what time it was by the dashboard clock, even though I'd left my watch on the shelf in the men's room of the Shangri-la restaurant and Bar, while attending Sam Jackson's retirement party.

It was a quarter to four in the morning, a compromising hour I have to admit for someone my age. Fishermen, railroad engineers, and expectant mothers may be found up and about at that hour, but there are occasions when an elderly retiree can be seen coming home from a party.

The drive home was accomplished without incident, and some people might say it reinforces the age old axiom that God keeps watch over those who have had one too many. Granted, I did lose my way twice, but that was due entirely to the defective signage along the thruway. That fact alone would account for the lateness of the hour as well. It was somewhat comforting to note that dawn was not as yet ready to come up like thunder. With luck, perhaps my wife might discover me in the spare bedroom when it did.

Had it not been for the dashboard clock, I must confess I would have had no idea what time it was. I took note of it as I switched off the ignition and lights and coasted silently up the driveway. A drunken lout would not be that considerate of his spouse's rest, I assure you. That's why I insist I was at most, inebriated. It was that same family interest, I'm sure I share with all of you, that eventually did me in.

When the darkened car rolled to a stop, I quietly opened the driver's door and stepped out. It was spring, and even in the dead of night, the maples were busy helicoptering their seeds to the ground. In this meditative state of mind, I sensed I was under the watchful eyes of nesting parents of Baltimore Orioles, cardinals and abominable squirrels.

I remember thinking how nice it would have been had my wife chosen to share Sam Jackson's retirement party with me. After all, Sam Jackson doesn't retire every day, and the invitation was for two. But, on the other hand, Sam's wife wasn't there either. What is it with wives anyway?

When my philosophical conjectures subsided, the first feelings of resentment set in, and although mellow in the extreme, I began to feel sorry for myself. Thoughts like these are the first indications of returning sobriety, (I'm sure you know them well). There was also the secret and clandestine joy in savoring the recollection of my friends making fools of themselves at the party while I stood by, a model of sober decorum.

I had such a good time! how great it was to see all my old yoke mates again, and what a warm feeling it is to know the company is going steadily downhill without this old helmsman at the tiller. Of course I'd tell my wife all about it in the morning, but that's not the same as hearing it for herself.

It was with this feeling of self-esteem, mixed with a measure of conceit and a growing bladder urge, that I reached in my side pocket for the latch-key. It was not there.

Time and again I have lectured myself to be orderly. As one grows older, it is imperative to be orderly and disciplined. I always put my keys in my side pocket. The moment I remove them from the ignition I put them in my side pocket. They weren't in my side pocket -- ergo, they had to be in the ignition. Yes .... ergo, they were .... I could see their dull gleam inside the car by the faint light of the street lamp. But, ergo! the car doors were locked! Making sure the car doors were locked when I exited the car was another orderly
discipline I followed religiously.

There were decisions to be made, but elderly people should be told what to do, they should not be allowed to choose. The choice I made was one I would have been able to accomplish with grace thirty years ago .... but not tonight. I chose to climb through the window to the den. The sill of the window is five feet above the patio floor and the window is about two feet high by three feet wide. The window was never locked. No intruder would have chosen to break in or out through that window, so we never locked it.

I knew there was a little Deacon's bench in the den just below the window which would permit me to lower myself gently from the window sill to its cushioned seat. I knew there were plastic chairs on the patio outside, and by stacking two of them together I could probably get my first leg through the window, then my second .... Voila! It all seemed so simple. Deceptively simple.

Almost immediately, Rasputin, the neighbor's elk hound heard me fiddling with the plastic chairs and didn't like the idea at all. He commenced barking. My soothing words were ineffective because, in my semi-inebriated state, the name Rasputin did not fall trippingly from my tongue. This forced me to assemble the plastic chairs hastily, and by the time I managed to get my first leg through the window, they collapsed in a noisy tangle which convinced Rasputin that something was definitely brewing next door. At that moment, my position on the sill was similar to that of an overweight and elderly jockey, agonizingly crouched on the back of a very thin horse.

I realized haste was of the essence if I were to gain access to my own house without waking the neighborhood. Nevertheless, at such times the mind drifts, and is able to escape the narrow confines of the body and it will amuse itself while the body tries as best it can to cope. My mind wandered too. It postulated how it should feel encapsulated in a barrel with its physical host as it went over the brink of Niagara ... would it have second thoughts? Would this mind say, "What in the hell is wrong with me? I've got to be out of my senses to get into this contraption with a nut like you!" My mind had a few caustic remarks for me as well, the most profound was, "You know you should have emptied your bladder by the juniper bush before you got yourself into this fix."

Yes, that was one of the problems. Getting my second leg over the sill was another. Then a sharp sciatic stab of agony arose to became the most pressing problem of all, and I was forced to use both hands to bend the second leg until it would fit through the window. I was now in somewhat of a fetal position, looking for all the world like a Pompeii figure baked in lava dust. It was imperative that I get inside and safe in bed before I strained something beyond repair -- and soiled myself in the bargain.

My game plan was to twist my body and heist my bottom end enough to clear the window sill. By doing so I was sure I would land safely on the upholstered seat of the Deacon's bench. A good Catholic always invokes the Almighty before attempting the impossible. I know I did .... and I know He did everything He could to help me. But how was He to know my wife had sent the Deacon's bench out to be stripped of its mahogany finish, she was presently in love with blond oak.

Five feet may not seem an extraordinary height to you. I can remember on a Continental flight to Dallas, the pilot told us we had hit an air pocket and dropped thirty five hundred feet. No one was any the wiser, however, under different circumstances, one's life can easily re-run itself in the time it takes to fall five feet.

It seemed to take forever.

My mind had ample time to consider my body's known weight of one hundred and eighty pounds, or roughly eleven stone and four pounds in British avoirdupois measure, certified only last week by the carefully graduated scale for periodical self weighing in the premises of Bernie Shapiro, pharmacist of 19 Westwood Avenue. Yes it was on the occasion of the last feast of the Ascension -- to wit, the twelfth day of May of the bissextile year one thousand nine hundred and ninety eight of the Christian era (Jewish era five thousand seven hundred and fifty eight, Mohammedan era one thousand three hundred and eighty six). It also considered my dear wife upstairs snug under her blankets. It further recalled our placid and peaceful coexistence, (until now) in the little town of Westlake Village. Finally, it even managed to dispute, in harsher terms, her decision to choose yesterday of all days to have the damn Deacon's bench stripped.

©Harry Buschman 1998

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