Friday, March 02, 2018

Lost in the Tall Grass

Probably the last photograph taken of J.T. Hurley, 
processed in March 1979, weeks before his death.
Whether it's Marilyn Monroe, Lenny Bruce, Jim Morrison, Anne Sexton or David Foster Wallace, I am fascinated reading about the final days of people's lives.

One of the first biographies I read was 'Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky: The Life of Jimi Hendrix by David Henderson. As I neared its inevitable conclusion, I pored over the increasingly sketchy accounts of Hendrix's final days and hours with an archaeologist's eye, directed by a strange sense that if his dwindling moments were given enough attention, Hendrix's death could be reverse-engineered, and possibly averted.  Ridiculous, of course, but there is a part of me that still doesn't know that, or at least, refuses to acknowledge it.

And so, revisiting the story of my childhood friend, J.T. Hurley's sudden and tragic death, I am doing it all again, visiting the main branch of the library, scanning through microfiche of our local newspaper, The Windsor Star, searching for the Easter weekend 1979 edition.  I found a grainy image of his obituary and a short article describing the circumstances of his death with all the heart of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

J.T.'s accident occurred on the one day his mother allowed him to go home by himself after school.  His usual after-school babysitter was out of town for Easter weekend.  As it happened, J.T. forgot to get the house key from his mother, and was locked out when he arrived home.  Never one to sit still, he went around the beachside of his home on Lake St. Clair and attempted to climb in through an unlocked window.  He was an agile, athletic boy for whom climbing was easy. 

Except it wasn't.  The window fell as he pulled himself through.  It's maddening to consider how easily it could have just thumped him on the head, leaving him with little more than a goose egg, or falling across his back, leaving him to wriggle his way in, possibly breaking the window with his heels as he swung his legs to propel himself forward... later suffering the harmless ire of his mother.  But the window came down upon the back of his neck.  The window frame was five feet off the ground.  J.T. was four feet, six inches tall. 

The details are as maddening as they are heartbreaking.

J.T. Hurley (left), Tim St. Amand (seated, center),
Matt St. Amand (right)
My mother shared her recollections of the event with me.  She was very close with J.T.'s mom -- whom my brother and I grew up calling "Aunt June" -- and she was the first person Aunt June called from the hospital.  My mother went and recently described to me seeing J.T. lying upon the examination table in the Emergency Room: A boy we were to see on Easter Sunday, whose diapers my mother had changed when he was a baby, aged nine at the time of his death, at the outer edge of adolescence, four and a half feet tall, a "big guy" to me and my brother.  All vital signs lost. 

My mother described how Aunt June, distraught and steadily descending into an inescapable circle of Hell, came and went from the examining room where J.T. lay.  She was waiting for her ex-husband, Michael Hurley, who had driven in from Sarnia to see J.T. on Friday and Saturday. Time passed.  He did not arrive.  According to the doctors, J.T. was probably gone before he was placed in the ambulance at his house.  EMS made every possible effort to bring him back.  As impossible as it still seems, nearly 39 years later, nothing worked.  He had died.

And here is where reality and memory disrupt the even flow of a story that smoothed over in fiction.  All the while Aunt June came and went from the ER examining room where J.T. lay, J.T.'s father, waited for her at her house.  He had arrived some time after the ambulance had left.  Police officers lingered, making notes on the scene, but for some reason said nothing to J.T.'s father about the severity of the accident.  It doesn't make sense now, but apparently, that's what happened.  They knew J.T. had died, but nobody could utter the words outloud.  All they said was that J.T. had an accident, giving no indication as to its seriousness.  In all likelihood, J.T.'s dad thought it was another fall from a tree, or some such accident, and that he'd just wait for his ex-wife to bring J.T. home.

Except, she didn't.

Finally, after literally hours had passed, a neighbor had mercy and told J.T.'s father that his son was at Metropolitan hospital in Windsor and that he should probably go there, too.  Michael Hurley arrived at Met Hospital ER, impatient from waiting, utterly unaware -- until he saw Aunt June and proceeded to freefall like a doomed airliner from the stratosphere of feeling irked and put-out at being kept waiting, to hearing his only child was no longer alive.

At some point, a woman who worked with Aunt June at the Children's Rehabilitation Centre, heard the news and stepped in and took over as needed.  My mother couldn't remember the woman's name, only that she was British.  She was not an especially close friend of Aunt June's, but she knew what to do.  She got Aunt June home, stayed with her, and set down to the business of arranging a funeral that had come decades before its rightful time.

And so the terrible weekend played itself out with a visitation at Windsor Chapel across the street from Met Hospital.  The burial on Easter Monday.  And then school on Tuesday.  I returned to school that day and I am sure most, if not all, of J.T.'s classmates went to school on Tuesday.  I can't help thinking of the newly empty desk in their classroom, sitting their like a bomb crater, containing half-filled notebooks of spelling exercises and math problems, geography maps as yet unmarked or looked at, all of which had dissolved into irrelevancy over the weekend.  The sharpened pencils, the used eraser, the smudged wooden ruler on the ledge just inside the desk -- never to be touched by J.T. again.

Next door to the school was the church where J.T.'s burial service was held.  Beyond the church parking lot was the cemetery where J.T. now lay buried.  The sounds of the school yard could be heard in the cemetery.

For weeks afterward, Aunt June stayed at our house.  My brother and I shared a bedroom.  We began each night in our own beds, but sometime in the middle of the night, I would roll over and find him next to me in my bed.  I remember looking up and seeing the sleeping form of Aunt June in my brother's bed.

And at some point, she returned home and went back to work.  We all tried to get back to normal, but there was no normal with such a gaping crater in the center of our lives. 

A mutual friend recently said to me, pondering J.T.'s death: "Can you imagine the pain?"

I could not.  She could not.  No one can, yet it exists and beyond all comprehension, it appears -- to one degree or another -- to be endurable.

Reverse side of final photo of J.T. Hurley.
When Aunt June died on December 8, 2017, her niece left me some photos of J.T. that Aunt June had close to her at the end.  One of them shows him lying in the middle of his living room floor with a boy whom I do not know.  They are playing with toy cars. 

Across the back of the photo, in faded red script "MAR 1979" was stamped several times by the company that developed the photo.  J.T. died April 12, 1979.  As I examine what must have been the final photograph of him, and look at the microfiche scans from the April 14, 1979 Windsor Star, I somehow feel as though poring over J.T.'s final days, hours, minutes, I might find a glitch in the Matrix, a line of incorrect code, which, when corrected will bring him back.

After one of my countless Internet searches for April 1979, a photo from The Windsor Star came up -- a picture of a crucifix in St. Anne's cemetery, dated April 12, 1979.  J.T. was, in all probability, at school the moment the picture was taken.  I pore over the image and the date in the caption wondering if there is no possible way to transport to that place, to that moment, and to find my way to St. William elementary school in Emeryville...  It's all too ridiculous.  Of course I cannot.  Although I understand the sentiment, I don't understand the futile mental exercise of putting myself through that.

When a story ends far too soon in real life, it's difficult to end it in the retelling.  Whenever I visit J.T. Hurley's grave, I ask myself an uncomfortable question: Am I mourning his passing or am I mourning the passing of my own childhood and youth?  The easy answer is to say "a little of both", but I'm not yet decided.  J.T. is not the only friend I had as a kid.  In fact, he is not the only one whose life came to a premature end.  This is about the time someone would accuse me -- not for the first time -- of "thinking too much".  I don't believe there is such a thing, but at times I do feel like I'm working on an algebra problem that has taken me right off the page, across my desk and into the air.

And midair is where I have to leave this story.  I will not stop thinking about J.T. Hurley, nor will I stop visiting his grave.  After the spring, Aunt June's remains are interred there.  The house of memory at 784 Old Tecumseh Road now belongs to someone else. 

I thought I saw an answer to it all in the 1978 movie, Superman, starring Christopher Reeves, when Lois Lane appears to die near the end.  After finding her, a grief-stricken Superman flies out of the earth's atmosphere and begins flying around the world against its spin on its axis.  After a few dozen orbits, the world actually begins to turn backward.  Superman eases it back just enough so that the accident that claims Lois Lane's life doesn't have a chance to occur.  She's OK and impatient to be waiting at the side of the road with car trouble.  If only.

Home Movie Time Travel

Our life-long family friend, June Hurley, passed away on December 8, 2017.  As her nieces and nephews cleaned out her home, they located a box containing reels of Super 8 home movies.  Aunt June's nephew, Dan, had them digitized and shared them.

Everyone moves like silent film stars in Aunt June's Super 8 movies, so I watched them in ultra slow motion.  I was gratified to see numerous glimpses of my family throughout.

The first section of film must have been shot around 1974.  It shows Aunt June's son, J.T., and three other boys throwing a basketball and volleyball at a basketball hoop on Aunt June's carport in late afternoon sunshine.  At one point, J.T. stands, smiles at the camera and then does a crazy dance.

The home movies then flashback to Aunt June's wedding day in 1966.  As the camera frantically pans the reception, my parents come into frame, my father looking like a benevolent mobster with his slicked back, jet-black hair and Alfred Hitchcock suit.  My mother sits across from him, sipping red wine.

The film jumps ahead through the years to approximately 1975/76, showing J.T. and two boys playing in his rowboat at the shoreline.  One of his aunts tries to maintain control of the mutineers who scramble into the rowboat only to turn around and jump back out into the water.

Another jump brings us to a summer afternoon at Aunt June's beach in the same time period.  My family and I are in attendance.  The camera follows J.T. -- who appears to have just come from swimming in the lake -- as he runs effortlessly up the business-end of his slide, only to gracefully turn around and jog back down.  As he does this, I can be seen in the background, playing in the sand.  J.T. goes up the slide a few times.  One of the times, he lingers, standing there, a king surveying his kingdom -- whose plumber's crack peeks over the back of his teeny swim trunks.

There is a jump in the action and the camera is then focused on my mother pulling the bathing suit off my younger brother, as she chats with Aunt June and some other ladies.  My brother is crying for some reason.  My dad bends down to see what's wrong.  Then my dad sweeps sand off my brother's tan-lined behind.  After a moment, I stroll into the shot, wearing my reddish/orange Peche Island tank top.  Aunt June is seated on the stairs of her back porch.  She appears to ask me something, and then she scoops me up into her arms.  The love on display in that simple footage is breathtaking.  I squirm and Aunt June lets me down, but not before kissing me on the back of my head.  The camera stays on us long enough to see me wipe at the kiss from the back of my head, as I walk away.  Then there are shots of my brother and I with J.T. around a bonfire some dude is stoking.

The film footage ends on a surprisingly dramatic image: J.T. stands beyond the roaring bonfire doing karate moves, chopping handfuls of sand.  As he winds up and gives the beach itself an almighty karate chop -- the screen goes black.  The grainy, shaky portal into the past closes.
I don't know how many reels were found, but their combined footage adds up to 11 minutes of irreplaceable personal history.  For me, it's the video equivalent of the Shroud of Turin.  And it plunged me, happily, sadly, profoundly, into my own memories of John Timothy Hurley of Puce, Ontario, circa the 1970s.

"Cameron Avenue Crew" circa 1974:
L-R Johnny Bennett, Tim St. Amand, Matt St. Amand, Glen Cameron
(Painted wooden board replacing broken window shown by arrow)
One my earliest memories of J.T. was when he visited our house.  He and I and my little brother were engaged in our favorite activity: running -- inside, outside, around the backyard, back into the house, outside again.  As we ran out of the house by way of the back door -- a wooden framed door comprised of three or four panes of rectangular glass -- J.T. pushed on the lowest pane of glass and put his hands right through it.  Everything stopped.  The adults mobilized.  I stood stalk still, watching as J.T. held his hands up like a surgeon after scrubbing, looking at them.  His hands were covered with blood.  The blood shocked me, but I was instantly reassured by the look on J.T.'s face, an expression that said: "Ugh, how long is this going to take before we can get back to having fun?"

My dad replaced the broken window with a board and painted it green.  We had that door for many years afterward.  Whenever I looked at that board -- which was everyday, for that was the door through which we came and went -- I thought of J.T..

We visited Aunt June's in December of 1977, when ice from the lake had piled in a mountain along the shore.  Following an afternoon of climbing on the boulders of ice, we retired indoors where, among other pursuits, J.T. taught me how to climb a doorway.  Afterward, J.T. had Aunt June play his favorite Christmas record for us, over and over: "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron" from the Snoopy and His Friends album.

It was a great night of education: J.T. also taught my brother and I the age-old variation on "Jingle Bells":
Jingle bells, Batman smells
Robin laid an egg.
Batmobile lost a wheel
And the Joker got away!
We thought it was the funniest thing ever.  Topped only by his recitation of:
Chinese, Japanese
Dirty knees... look at these...
After which point, Aunt June gave him a playful swat.  That was all my brother and I needed.  We repeated the rhyme, too, and received the most loving swats that only Aunt June could deliver, as she laughed in spite of herself.

The thing I remember best about J.T. is that he was a genius of fun.  One night, he and Aunt June visited our home.  Down in our basement rec room, J.T. showed us how to build ramps with our wooden blocks and use them to jump our Fisher Price cars.  Then he put on a TV show that he enjoyed: CHiPs, about California highway motorcycle cops.  It instantly became our favorite TV show.  I watch it to this day whenever the retro channel shows it.

J.T. had asthma.  At one point, his doctor changed the medication he took to ease his symptoms.  There was one side effect: it caused J.T.'s skin to peel, particularly on his hands.  Being a kid, he picked and picked at it, though Aunt June told him not to.  My brother and I must seem like deprived children because, yet again, we thought it was so cool.  Around this time, I remember riding in Aunt June's car one afternoon.  It was winter, the time of year we battled chapped lips, and Suzie Chapstick commercials were everywhere.  As J.T. picked at his hands, Aunt June handed a tube of lip balm back to us that had a 7-Up label on it.  It was the 1970s, so we all took turns using it.  It smelled and tasted just like 7-Up pop.  As I wondered how it would taste if I actually took a bite, I noticed a furtive look on J.T.'s face.  He must have read my mind because he opened his mouth a moment later and showed me he'd bitten off half the stick.  As always, he was the trailblazer and told us that it tasted better on the lips.  The whole stick tasted like bug spray.

As it turned out, alarmed by his peeling skin and their doctor's lack of concern, Aunt June took it upon herself to research the new medication.  The doctor had dismissed her as an over protective mother, but Aunt June showed up to the next appointment with proof -- photocopied from medical journals -- that her concerns were legitimate.  The prescription was changed and J.T.'s skin no longer peeled.

The inimitable Felix the Cat.
No matter when J.T. came to our house, it was an Event.  At the risk of canonizing the dead, or turning him into a superhero, suffice it to say J.T. was wall-to-wall fun.  There was one P.A. day when Aunt June left J.T. at my house while she went to work.  J.T. had his broken leg at the time and he allowed me to examine what his friends had written and drawn on his plaster cast.  I thought it was the coolest thing that the leg of his pants had been cut up to the knee to accommodate the bulkiness of the cast.  After that day, I remember asking my mother if I could cut my pants in a similar manner -- at the time, not realizing the practical purpose it served.

On the P.A. day, J.T. brought with him a big sketch pad and a black marker.  Since I had last seen him, he had taken up cartooning.  A dabbler, myself, I was fascinated looking at the pictures he had drawn.  At one point, I was watching the old cartoon Felix the Cat.  Next thing I knew, J.T. had drawn a very close likeness of Felix the Cat in his sketchbook.  Now, Felix the Cat is not Vitruvian Man, but I have to say, for an eight year old boy, it was pretty damned good.

J.T.'s favorite movie at the time he passed away was Hooper starring Burt Reynolds.  I had seen ads on television for the movie, but it didn't look like anything my parents would take me to see.  I can't say for sure, but I would bet it was J.T.'s dad who took him to see it, as I could not envision Aunt June taking him, either.  J.T. spoke about if often.  Reynolds plays an aging stunt man.  J.T. loved anything related to stunt work.  I have since seen the film and can say unequivocally that it was made for nine year old boys.

On one of our visits to Aunt June's, we stayed into the evening and retired to her front room, which looked onto Lake St. Clair.  In there, she had a small fireplace.  After stoking up a fire, Aunt June unwrapped a waxy bar that looked like a large, white chocolate bar, that was separated into squares.  She broke off a few squares and tossed them into the fire.  A moment later, the flames turned a series of psychedelic colors.  We were mesmerized.  J.T. became instantly fascinated by the stuff.  After our experience with the 7-Up Chapstick, I wondered if he was going to break off a square and eat it.  He did not.  Aunt June broke off some more squares and let each of us toss them into the fire, watching the phantom colors dance across the waxy stuff until it melted into oblivion.

Among my final memories of J.T. Hurley was the day my mother gravely told me he had been caught stealing a bag of chips from a convenience store.  It was kind of a Scared Straight moment, that if J.T. could be ensnared by such temptation, who was safe?  And if J.T. could be caught, who could hope to get away with such a heist?

The next time I saw J.T., I asked him about it.  We spoke in solemn terms.  Yes, he had done it.  Yes, he had been caught (though, he was vague about the details).  Then the Big Question: "What did your Mom do?" I asked.  To put it succinctly, Aunt June was an excellent mother.  She chose her battles, she knew when to be tolerant, and she knew when the hammer should fall.  When it came to stealing a bag of chips, the hammer fell.

"She made me bring the chips back to the store and apologize to the owner," J.T. said.  I winced, imagining the awkwardness of the scene.  Then my mind ran through the calculus of criminality -- so, J.T. hadn't even gotten a chance to eat the chips!  Our parents and teachers had not been lying: Crime didn't pay.

"Then I had to say ten 'Hail Mary's and ten 'Our Father's," J.T. said.  He was then grounded for an unspecified period of time.  If there was one unspoken message that made itself perfectly obvious: J.T.'s life of crime was over before it began.

Somewhere around 1985, my mother took my grandfather -- Ted Hickey, originally of County Kildare, Ireland -- out to see Aunt June.  By that time, Grandpa Ted had had a stroke and he went from being a profoundly active man in his late 70s (at one point, digging up his own sewer when the city came to him and said repairs had to be made to the line serving his house), to a man with a half-paralyzed body whose only mobility was a wheelchair. 

If there is one thing about Aunt June that continually struck me all the years I knew her, it was her endlessly optimistic outlook.  Sure, she was a realist, and could certainly call a "spade" a "spade", but she was always so upbeat. It was no different the afternoon Mom and my grandfather visited.  At some point, Aunt June asked Grandpa (the most frugal man who ever lived, who never turned his heat above 50 degrees Farenheit in the winter) what he would do if he won the lottery.  It was a wonderfully preposterous question.  The idea of Grandpa Ted parting with a dollar for a lottery ticket was beyond the realm of reason, but I love that Aunt June asked him.  At the best of times, Grandpa was difficult to pin down and Mom later described how he demured and avoided answering Aunt June's question.  But Aunt June (who had known him for nearly 30 years by then) was having none of it.  She prodded him from every direction -- "Would buy a new car?  Would you move out of the nursing home and hire servants?  Would you travel?"

Seeing his chance to get off the topic, Grandpa said, "Well, I could never travel with this thing," indicating his wheelchair.  To which Aunt June goodnaturedly exploded: "Jesus, Ted, you hire someone to push the fucking thing!"  

It was 38 years before I knew where J.T. was buried.  Once I found out, I took every  opportunity to visit his grave.  By my third or fourth visit, I noticed many of the other graves had fresh flowers by them, indicating they were visited by someone who cared.  I didn't want anyone to think J.T. was forgotten, so I drove into Belle River to get some flowers.  As I looked around the small floral section of a grocery store, I suddenly thought, "What use would a nine year old boy have for flowers?"  So, at home, I found an image of Batman visiting his parents graves, holding a bouquet of flowers.  I know what Batman means to nine year old boys.  I wrote a note to J.T. on the back, saying we loved him and we missed him, and laminated the image.  My five year old son was with me when I mounted it at J.T.'s grave.  Then my son and I visited Aunt June at Seasons Retirement Home down the road.  On subsequent visits, I have been amazed that the laminated image remains standing at J.T.'s grave.  In fact, it proved an excellent marker for finding him in the snow.

In my last conversation with Aunt June, we talked about a play I had written called Sermon on the Ward, in which the actual, historical figure, Jesus Christ, is a resident in a modern hospital psychiatric ward.  Everyone around Jesus -- staff, patients, administration -- all accept that he is the Jesus of the New Testament, though no one is willing to sign the paperwork to that effect. 

Aunt June was a tremendous reader, devouring each gargantuan installment of The Clan of the Cave Bear in mere days, for instance.  She was kind enough to read my work, and was always very supportive.  I appreciated her feedback because she gave an honest opinion.  When she didn't like something, she told me why.  At one point in Sermon on the Ward, Jesus Christ uses profanity.  Aunt June didn't like that.  She felt it was beneath him.  I agreed, but my point in the play was that I don't believe contemporary Christians would recognize Jesus Christ if he returned.  Moreover, since the story of Jesus in the New Testament is hearsay, nobody knows how Jesus Christ actually spoke.  It was a fun and interesting discussion with Aunt June.  One of her many positive attributes was that she was always willing to listen to someone else's opinion.

And now all we have left are 11 minutes of home movies saved from oblivion by Aunt June's nephew, along with some photo albums and our memories.  It's not enough, of course, but they are, for me, much more a source of comfort and joy than of sadness.  For anyone who heard Aunt June's laugh, who could forget it?  For anyone who played with J.T., who could ever forget him?  The boy who was never too cool to get down on the floor and play with a toy car.
Last photograph of J.T. Hurley, taken March 1979, found
among his mother's possessions at the time of her death.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Counting to Infinity

My family's lifelong friend, June Hurley, is at the end of her life.  True to her singular, incorrigible way, June was given six months to live... more than three years ago.  There is little question now, however, that the Ferryman is on his way.  It's a long way from the time she and my mother first met while attending the School of Social Work at the University of Windsor, back when Senator John F. Kennedy was running for President of the United States.

Aunt June passed away peacefully at 5:30 p.m. on December 8th.  She was surrounded by loved ones and will be missed by everyone who knew her.

June was bridesmaid at my parents' wedding in June 1966.

She was the second friend in my mother's circle to have a child. John Timothy Hurley was born November 27, 1969.  New coaches and teachers called him "John", but the rest of us knew him as J.T..  He was the image of June: chestnut hair, eyes so brown you almost couldn't see his pupils. I was born eighteen months later and grew up calling June "Aunt June".

By his second birthday, J.T.'s parents had divorced. He lived with Aunt June in their little house on the shore of Lake St. Clair. The place was nearly swept away in the Flood of 1973, but Providence and a fortress of sandbags staved off the lake. The sandbags remained for years afterward. The great challenge for me and my little brother was to take a run at the sandbags and get over them without using our hands. In the initial years after the Flood, we couldn't do it. J.T. did it with ease.

My brother and I loved visiting Aunt June's. Her house was like a cottage. Nearly the entire interior was made of wood. It smelled of summer year-round.

J.T. once built a ramp for his bike with discarded wood from an old dock a neighbor was replacing. It was a summer day in 1977 and while our parents visited on the lakeside of the house, J.T. demonstrated the ramp for us.  He started off in the carport, sped across the gravel driveway, standing on his pedals, picking up steam as he came to the front lawn and hit the ramp.  It creaked, but held, and he was airborne for one momentous second.

After a few jumps, he rounded back to us, looking displeased.  He didn't have to say anything -- we knew what was wrong.  Those were the days of Evel Knievel -- a ramp was pointless unless you had something to jump.  He looked at me and said, "How 'bout you lay down in front of the ramp?"  Far from hesitating or being chafed at serving the same purpose a garbage pail might have served, I couldn't believe J.T. was including me in his stunt.  I lay down in front of the ramp.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little apprehensive hearing the sound of his approach, but the moment he hit the ramp was exhilarating.  It strained for a moment, but held and J.T. cleared me with ease.  He was smiling when he rounded back that time.

J.T. could climb anything. He wanted to be a stuntman or motorcycle cop when he grew up. While our parents visited on the lakeside of his house, he took my brother and I along the side of his house. He climbed onto the roof of his neighbor's small house (they were small houses then; they are all mansions now). Then, he asked me to shoot him. I made a gun with my hand and shot him. J.T. clutched his chest and rolled down the roof onto a smaller roof above the neighbor's dining room window. He rolled onto their shed and finally to the ground. A moment later, he sprang to his feet, unhurt.

When my brother and I asked to take a turn, J.T. said no.  But it wasn't like somebody telling us "no".  We knew J.T. was looking out for us.  And then he was off to the next fun thing. 

J.T. taught us how to skim stones across the water at the riverfront. He showed us how to climb a doorway by jamming our hands and feet against the frame. He came to our house one day when we had my mom's old typewriter out on the kitchen table for some reason. My brother and I drove our parents crazy by putting paper in the machine and randomly holding down keys and the space bar, enjoying the machine-gun sound it made. When J.T. arrived, we stepped aside, eager to see what he would make of the typewriter. He looked at it a moment and then sat down. With the deft touch of a seasoned newspaper reporter, he fed a clean sheet of paper into it, centered the page, and typed: UFO REPORT. He proceeded to type gibberish, but ever after, my brother typed up dozens of our own gibberish UFO REPORTS.
J.T. Hurley (left), Tim St. Amand (middle), Matt St. Amand (right). Puce, Ontario, summer 1978.
Easter of 1979, Aunt June invited my brother and I over for an Easter egg hunt. Earlier in the week, as she and J.T. were planning where to hide the eggs, June suggested putting one in their mailbox. They lived in the county and though their house was modest, they had a huge long driveway. J.T. didn't think the mailbox was a good idea because it was so close to the road and my brother was only five years old at the time.

As a working, single parent, June organized for J.T. to go to an after-school babysitter each day, until she got home from work -- she was a social worker who helped profoundly disabled children. On Holy Thursday, however, the babysitter was unavailable because she was going out of town for the weekend. J.T. begged his mom to let him go home by himself after school just that one day. June was reluctant, but J.T. was nine years old and he was a good, capable kid.  He would be alone for only about 90 minutes.

Climbing a tree at the Windsor riverfront.
J.T.'s right leg was broken at the time and
he wore a cast up to his hip.
When he got home that day, J.T. realized he forgot to get the house key from his mom. Around the same time, Aunt June had finished work and was getting her hair done and had the same realization.

J.T. was a resourceful kid, so he did what any of us would do -- he climbed into the house through a window. After all, he was a pro. I'd seen him climb unclimbable trees. He had climbed neighbors' boat lifts and onto the roofs of their houses. Climbing through a ground floor window on the lakeside of his house was nothing. The windows were five feet off the ground. Almost too easy.

Aunt June called a neighbor, explaining that J.T. was locked out of the house and asking if she saw him outside, waiting, or wandering around the house. The neighbor went outside.  As she walked around the lakeside of Aunt June's house, she beheld a scene that would haunt her the rest of her life -- the window J.T. was climbing through had fallen on the back of his neck, pinning him there.
An ambulance was called and J.T. was rushed from his home in Puce to nearby Windsor. The hair salon where June awaited her neighbor's call was very near the hospital. She heard the ambulance roar past, having no idea that her son was inside. The neighbor finally called and told June that J.T. had been hurt and was on his way to Metropolitan Hospital.

June went to the hospital, where she called my mother. My mom arranged for my favorite aunt to come and get me and my brother, and then rushed over to Met Hospital.

The next day, Good Friday, my brother and I returned home and were playing in the yard when our dad called us into the house.

He brought us into the living room and sat on the floor with us.

He said that J.T. had been in an accident.

I remember the words actually igniting a moment of excitement in me because it hadn't been so long ago that J.T. broke his leg while climbing a tree with his friends. His fourteen year old neighbor had been there, too, and had splinted his leg with sticks and tape.  Then J.T.'s friends had brought him home in a wheel barrel. He had a cast up to his waist and on a visit to the riverfront soon after, he put his crutches aside and climbed a tree with me. So, I figured he'd have some cool cast on his arm or an even cooler black eye. But when my dad said, "J.T. has gone to Jesus," I knew it was terrible.

I said that I wanted to see J.T.  My dad said no way, no how.  I began to cry.  My mother asked me why I was crying.  I don't recall it, but she remembers me saying, "I want to say goodbye to J.T.."

She talked to my dad and somehow it came about that my brother and I went with them to the funeral home.

Seeing him in that coffin, the only thing that looked strange about J.T. was that he wore his "good clothes". I'd only ever seen him in cutoffs or jeans or his pajamas. He looked like he was sleeping.  I watched his chest, waiting for it to rise.  It did not rise.

Aunt June was shattered, as anyone could imagine. Somehow, through her tears, I remember her smiling. No doubt it was to keep herself from coming completely undone.

My brother and I didn't attend the burial at the cemetery. We spent the weekend with our favorite aunt. At one point, she took us to our grandfather's house. Stepping through his door was like stepping into County Kildare, Ireland circa 1928. The smell of stew, pipe tobacco and lighter fluid always hit me in pleasant, equal measures. While there, we listened to news on the radio. At one point, a report about a nine year old boy dying in a bizarre accident in Puce came on. It was the first time I'd heard the word "bizarre" and asked what it meant.

And there was something so surreal and appalling in how life returned to normal after that. My brother and I returned to school after Easter Monday.  My father went back to work. I have a photograph of me in my second grade classroom during Education Week -- two weeks after J.T. died -- a math test of mine on the bulletin board next to me with a score of 30/30 on it. The test was dated 1979-04-24. Looking at the photo all these years later, something in me is appalled that I got a perfect score on a math test 12 days after J.T. died.

I made my First Communion shortly after.

That summer, we returned to our cottage outside of Peterborough, Ontario. My brother and I swam and waterskiied. And though undoubtedly crushed in ways no human being can really withstand, Aunt June carried on. She returned to work. She continued birding. She invited us to her house. We often went there in our little waterski boat. She was always so gracious.

The first few times, after J.T. died, I remember looking at the lakeside windows of Aunt June's house, wondering which one... My brother and I were fascinated with J.T.'s bedroom (which was just off the living in the little single-level house), though we never entered. All too soon, we noticed it emptied out of J.T.'s belongings.

My mom remained in touch with June.  They traveled to Ireland together in 1985.  I visited, occasionally, as I got older. It was always fun and nostalgic seeing her house. It hadn't changed a bit since I was a kid. Three years ago, we learned Aunt June had been diagnosed with cancer. She was given six months to live. She is still alive, though it's clear she really is near the end. Her mind is sharp and she always looks sharp. She resides now in an assisted living home, which is leaps and bounds more pleasant than any nursing my grandparents had lived their final days.

Over the years, I have run Internet searches on J.T. He died long before the Internet, but I wondered if maybe his obituary was online or an errant, scanned news article from so many years ago. I could just as easily go to the library and find a copy of The Windsor Star from April 1979, but I have simply not gone.

On September 1st, my search found a link to the cemetery where J.T. was buried. I never knew where he was buried. I never asked anyone, fearing I would upset my parents or Aunt June. In fact, I was never even clear on the date. I somehow thought he died in 1978. As it turned out, he died on April 12, 1979. Oddly enough, my eldest son was born on April 12, 2012.

Alan Ginsberg once wrote about Bob Dylan being so focused during a performance, that he had become a "column of air", "where his total physical and mental focus was this single breath coming out of his body."  In the moment I saw the photograph of J.T.'s gravemarker on my computer screen, I became a column of air.  The years between the present and 1979 suddenly knitting together.  The event -- J.T.'s accident -- that had hovered so distantly in the back of my mind for so long moved into the light.  It was real.  It had actually happened.

That day, after work, I drove to Emeryville to find J.T.'s grave. I couldn't get there fast enough.  Thirty-eight years had gone by and I didn't want another moment to be lost.  I was surprised to see how small and sparsely populated the cemetery was.  I started walking from one end, looking at every marker and soon, I stopped.  Soon, I found J.T..

And at the risk of stating the obvious, it was just the saddest goddamned thing. His grave marker is a slab that shows Jesus/The Good Shepherd sitting on a rock, facing J.T.'s full name: John Timothy Hurley. Jesus/The Good Shepherd holds a lamb. The inscription is "IN HIS ARMS HE GATHERS THE LAMBS." And being forty-six years old, now, a father of two young sons, I could see J.T. not only as the "big guy" he once was to my brother and I, but also as the nine year old boy he was -- as a kid, a child who would never shave, drive a car or lose his virginity.

A couple of weeks later, I visited Aunt June on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We planned on having lunch, but my mom (who sees June about once a week) said that Aunt June didn't have much appetite anymore. Thinking, "Who the hell wants to sit back and watch me eat?" I asked if we could go to her house, instead. Aunt June was reluctant, mostly because one of her nephews was helping pack the place up. "It won't look anything like you remember it," she said. I said that was fine -- I just wanted to see the place. She goodnaturedly relented.

Much of the furniture was gone, but the kitchen doorway where J.T. taught me to climb was there, of course.

I photographed the front room and the lakeside windows. I photographed J.T.'s long-empty room. The single bed that I am sure was his was still there, stripped and piled with a suitcase, a Scrabble game and some pillows.

I made my way into the laundry room where I found some boxes and a trunk.

I opened the trunk and felt the breath leave my body.

Inside, was a McDonaldland calendar from 1979.

A picture of actress Kristy McNichol from a 1978 teen magazine and pictures of muscle cars with ancient scotch tape still on the corners.

An unfinished Star Wars model.

Sports badges for Essex County Minor Hockey and tee-ball and little league from 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978.
Aunt June sat in the front room as I looked around. Eventually, she told me she had something of J.T.'s she wanted me to have. I figured it might be toy or maybe a Dr. Seuss book -- anything would have been a treasure.

Instead, June gave me J.T.'s favorite jean jacket.

I couldn't believe it. It was as cool as the Fonz's leather jacket when I was a kid. She also gave me J.T.'s baseball glove, along with the McDonaldland calendar, and other items I'd found. I was blown away and more than a little emotional. June was very Zen through it all. We have come to know her as an incredibly strong person, doing far too much on her own, never wanting to be a bother to others.

It was good that we went to her house because her nephew had not yet rescued any of her photo albums. We went through many of them and I photographed J.T.'s life in pictures with my phone. June was so used to giving, so used to others being more important, that I worried I had barged into the most painful corner of her life for my own purposes.  I kept an eye out for any sign of upset, but she seemed all right.

Finally, as with all things, it was time to leave.  I wiped my eyes, put my cell phone away and carried my treasures to the car.  Aunt June took for herself the furry toy monkey J.T. slept with as a young child and two crucifixes -- one from his First Communion, the other from his burial.

I drove her back to her new home.  She assured me she had enjoyed our afternoon together.  I thanked her, I hugged her, I went out to my car feeling myself outside of time, caught between the 1970s and the present.

Afterward, I emailed my mother describing the afternoon and sharing my misgiving that I might have been selfish in asking June to return to her home, as I had.  My mother wrote back:
I just talked to June to make a date for lunch and she loved your visit.  She said she is so touched by your response to the things you found in the chest and your reminiscing about JT.  To know that a child loved her little boy enough to remember him all these years and have his things mean that much to him is almost overwhelming to June.  She is so happy and thankful for that.
My brother and I shared a bedroom at the time of J.T.'s death.  We used to talk before going to sleep.  I don't remember how often, but I recall us talking about J.T. a few times.  In our own inchoate way, we tried wrapping our heads around the idea that he was gone forever.  More in an effort to reassure myself than my little brother, I reverted to my know-it-all self and said to him one night, "If we start counting, J.T. will be back by the time we reach infinity."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

President Trump's Cabinet

Sources close to Team Trump are reporting that aides have discussed tapping Sarah Palin for Interior Secretary.

"Governor Palin has experience with firearms and has slaughtered small animals with her bare hands," says Team Trump head, Karl Kralweiler.  "She was the one who spotted Vladimir Putin off the coast of Alaska.  Until then, we didn't know he was there."

More shocking than Sarah Palin's name being thrown into Team Trump's bingo ball cage, is the name Bristol Palin, who is being considered for the position Surgeon General.

Responding to surprise at this leak, Kralweiler said, "Sure, Bristol has been recognized across the country for her good looks and chastity campaign.  Sure, she's had her second child out of wedlock, but it's not like she's going to perform actual surgeries!  Among other duties, she will map out the parts of a woman's anatomy that Congress can work on outlawing, once and for all."

Other tantalizing leaks have hinted at Newt Gingrich being tapped as Secretary of State.  "And we know where we can get a good deal on a private email server," says Kralweiler.

There is talk of Rudy Giuliani being nominated to the Supreme Court, and an entirely new Cabinet position is being considered for broadcaster and entertainer -- working title is "Bitch in Chief".

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

First Three Initiatives of President-Elect Donald Trump Presidency

After his stunning defeat of Hillary Clinton, President-Elect Donald Trump's Transition Team is losing no time in distributing Non-Disclosure Agreements to every person living in the United States.  Beginning November 22nd -- coinciding with the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy -- waves of mailers will flood the country.  Every recipient will be  legally obligated to sign -- based on future legislation.

"We want to get this house-keeping item out of the way, early," says Karl Kralweiler, head of the Team Trump, the President-Elect's transition team.  "We want this wrapped up by Inauguration Day. That's when we begin rounding up every voter who didn't for the Fuhrer... I mean, President Trump."

Once the recalcitrant voters are out of the way, Team Trump will turn its attention to members of the media who did not support their leader's campaign.  "It'll be time to pay the piper," says Kralweiler. "We don't plan on hurting anyone.  We just want to re-educate them.  This will take place in camps.  What could be a more friendly setting for re-education than at a camp?"

Once every dissenter -- down to the grandmothers who published disapproving paragraphs in church bulletins -- the Team Trump will roll-out an extensive infrastructure program.

"We're going to rebuild the entire country," President Elect Donald Trump says, stepping out of a nearby lavatory, to the chorus of a flushing toilet.  "It's going to be the most terrific infrastructure this country has ever seen.  The best.  Nothing ever like before anywhere in the world... maybe even in the universe."

When asked, "How do you plan to pay for the program?" Trump placed his hands on his hips and smiled.

"We're going to hire every small-time contractor in the country -- tens of thousands of people," he said.  "We're going to put them all to work.  And when it comes time to pay them... Well, we'll just have to re-open negotiations with them, that's all.  It'll be great.  We'll have tremendous infrastructure.  The best..."

Friday, July 29, 2016

Trumponium Epiphany - His Presidency Won't Be So Bad

Donald Trump is going to win the American Presidential election, and it's OK. 

America and much of the world survived George W. Bush, arguably the worst president in American history.  If W. didn't launch the nukes by his first Valentine's Day in office, Trump is even less likely.  Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, no doubt has a list of enemies sewn into the lining of her favorite pants suit.

There is a fundamental difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Show Donald Trump a map of the world, and the first thing he thinks about is where to build  casinos.

Show Hillary Clinton a map of the world, and the first thing she thinks about is where to start bombing and bring FREEDOMTM.

Compare Hillary's history of "pay to play" versus Donald Trumps ventures, and the casual observer would be hard-pressed to identify who is the actual huckster.

Donald Trump is that loud, drunk guy at the company golf tournament, with the crazy, slashing sunburn across his face because he was too short-sighted to wear a hat or sunscreen.  He's loud and laughing at stuff that's not funny, making jokes that aren't funny.  He's got his arm around people who politely peel themselves out of his sweaty clinch.  He scans the room looking for a kindred soul, and finds none.  But a strange kind of hilarity coalesces around the guy, that even though he, personally, is not humorous, there is humor in his existence, in his spectacle, in how few fucks he gives about creating that spectacle.  And if you're able to remain outside his vortex and observe from afar, soon the clownish asshole is greater than the sum of his parts, and you're laughing, imagining telling your friends about him the next day, thinking about how you'll describe the ridiculous sunburn he's got that an eleven year old would be smart enough to avoid getting.  And his once-obnoxious guffaws roll in like waves.  One or two or a handful of such laughs are intolerable, but the sheer onslaught of them, the magnitude, the plenitude, the unendingness of those humorless guffaws -- is hilarious.  The man's commitment to being The Asshole, at some point, becomes almost admirable.  That's he's willing to be Loud Guy, Drunk Guy, a Figure of Fun, with the blazing red stripe across his sweaty, leering face, the mask of Comedy and Tragedy all at once.  And then you contemplate the hangover he'll doubtless have the following morning, and you feel a rush of compassion for the lout, that he would take on the mantle of Town Foole for the rest of us, have his blow-out in the most inappropriate of venues, sweat stains under his arms, crude remarks mixed with the odd, insightful insult spill from his lips.  Slip into his vortex and you risk a sweaty hug.  If you're a woman, you'll surely have your ass pinched.  A man would endure an avalanche of backslapping.  But as long as the proper distance is maintained, observing That Guy, The Fool, The Figure of Fun is cathartic.

That is Donald Trump.

And then there is Hillary Clinton, who would build a nest in your ear and charge you rent. 

The real reason Donald Trump would make an excellent president is because he doesn't want to govern.  He just wants to be president:
One day this past May, Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., reached out to a senior adviser to Gov. John Kasich of Ohio... (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), [saying] Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer... Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?

When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.

Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of?

“Making America great again” was the casual reply.
If Trump took it into his mind to govern -- unlikely -- his ideas are so radical and unhinged, not even the Republican House and Senate would pass his legislation.  There is a reason why most Republican Congressmen and Senators were reluctant to endorse Trump and why they still find it hard to like him -- because he forces them to be responsible human beings.  His prejudice is so overt that they're in the uncomfortable position of asking a fellow rich white guy to "reel it in".  And this is painful to them.  His alienating ideas of how to bully the rest of the world cause even war hawks to demur. 

Most of all, the outrageous egos of the House and Senate Republicans have now met their match and have been found wanting.  Against the flashlight beam ego of your average citizen, the Klieg light ego of a politician is blinding and overwhelming. 

Enter Donald Trump's ego -- the dual suns of Tattooine!

What would Donald Trump legislation look like?
  • Putting his face on all United States currency.
  • Sales tax amnesty one day per year for all American men named "Donald".
  • Making Twitter the national bird. 
  • Wet T-shirt contests on the South Lawn of the White House. 
  • Taco Tuesdays.  
I say, give him a chance.  It's his turn.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Criminal Syndicate Seeks to Join Fraternal Order of Police

          Bluffer Street Boyz in new gang attire; hoping to impress F.O.P. by standing in line.
A criminal syndicate known as the Bluffer Street Boyz announced today that it is seeking to join the Fraternal Order of Police. "We consider ourselves an elite criminal gang," said masked Boyz spokesman, Toggle, "and joining the cop union seemed like a natural fit. We are expert at committing the crimes. They are expert at keeping criminals out of jail."

To prove his point, Toggle pulls a tattered, folded, soiled news clipping from the Star Tribune from the rear end of his low-hanging jeans.  It begins: "Since 2000, at least 143 people in Minnesota have died after being shot, Tased or restrained by a police officer. To date, not a single officer has been charged in any of those deaths."

"Those are the kind of results we're after," Toggle explained.  "And remember that cop in Baltimore who slit a restrained dog's throat?  He was let go.  Free -- and got almost fifty grand in back pay!  Boom!  That is what I'm talking about!"

Toggle regains his composure: "That would be gold for the Bluffer Street Boyz.  We kill a lot of family pets to, you know, 'send a message.'

"Or, look at the cop in New York who ran over a pedestrian who had the right of way," Toggle opined.  "It was on video, for fuck's sake!  Even the boyz at the clubhouse thought for sure the cop would at least be charged, to, you know, at go through the motions.  But nah!  She walked.  She wasn't summonsed or charged by NYPD, nothing.  That would really work for me and the Boyz, cuz we get tied up a lot with traffic violations.  Number of times I tell those motherfuckers to take some driving lessons, they get they asses pulled over all the damn time.  And that's where the cop union'd come in and make everything ah-ight."

The Fraternal Order of Police had no immediate comment regarding the Bluffer Street Boyz request for representation, though an insider who asked to remain unnamed says the gang's chances of being accepted are better than they think.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Tiniest Trigger Fingers

FAIRFAX, Virginia -- Yet another expectant mother was rushed to hospital earlier today after suffering a gunshot wound -- part of what appears to be an epidemic of attacks upon pregnant women.  Ever since the Fetus Defense Act (FDA) was made law, giving a green light to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and anti-abortion organization, Stop Abortions Now! (SAN), to arm fetuses, there has been a troubling spate of accidental, in utero shootings.

"The unborn have every right to defend themselves, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the Constitution," said Constance Goldschmirk, executive director of SAN.  "When the NRA reached out to us about this issue, it just made sense we join forces in the current political climate where the rights of the unborn are under constant challenge."

With fears of crime and terrorism on the rise, pregnant women have been standing in long lines at FDA kiosks at discount retailers, DMV offices and private clinics specializing in the procedure, seeking extra protection for their unborn children.  Ironically, the medical procedure that actually places the miniaturized firearms into the hands of fetuses is hauntingly similar to the very abortion procedure FDA advocates seek to prevent.

"The in utero firearm-discharge incidents are regrettable, but a very small price to pay in order to protect our most valuable natural resource: our unborn children," says National Rifle Association CEO, Wayne LaPierre.  "On the whole, the NRA's mantra is being proven true every day: more guns equals more safety."

Not everyone is convinced.  Pro Choice advocate, Kathy Rebar, is incredulous.  "Arming fetuses?" she says with an obvious air of disbelief.  "I mean, they are putting guns into the hands of unborn children!  We believe expectant mothers have every right in the world to protect their babies, but why do this with lethal weapons?  Why wouldn't the FDA have mandated the use of brass knuckles, pepper spray or telescoping batons, instead?  Why was the lethal option the first one FDA advocates went to?"

Surprisingly, few expectant moms who've been injured by fetal misfirings express any regrets.  "It's my right to arm my baby!" says Cindy Trifle, of Corpus Christi, Tennessee.  "I just wish her little hands could hold a bigger gun!"

"I firmly believe my baby pulled the trigger because he sensed danger," says Meredith Medak of Blood-on-the-Cross, South Carolina.

"Some people say, 'If God wanted your unborn baby to have a gun, He'd a put one in your womb-place to begin with!'" says Taila Meechum of Judas Iscariot Falls, Arkansas.  "Well, I tell those big mouth liberal pansies, 'Yeah? God don't need to put a gun in my baby nest. He sent Wayne LaPierre to do that!'"

If the issue of arming the unborn were not contentious enough, civil rights groups are entering the fray with charges of racism.  There is a growing number of cases in which non-white babies have been arrested for possession of firearms upon being born.

"There are cases in which hospitals offer to bronze the guns that white babies are born with," says Jamal Shaka, communications director of the Black Frontier movement.  "But babies of color are being arrested, sometimes tasered, even before they are placed in their mommas' arms!  This is an outrageous double-standard!"

Numbers backing up these allegations are sparse.  Much of the data is anecdotal.  And still the debate rages . . .