Second In Line

I based this dark humor short story on what one of my hospice patients actually did:

Retired go-go dancer and hospice patient Victoria kept her spirits up by upending people’s assumptions, and the more she mixed people up the better. She startled even the most jaded staff when she announced she was using a dating app. Without revealing that she lived in a hospice residence, she wrote in her profile, “Short-term relationship highly desirable with freewheeling man attracted to the unexpected.” (She smiled and snickered as she wrote that.)

Retired antiques salesman Nathan, looking for a mutual carefree romp, felt he found the right match when he chanced upon Victoria’s profile. Her suggestive comment about men looking for novelties did the trick. He responded, “You mischievous gal! You sound like my type,” and straightaway offered to meet her at the address she gave. Her eyes gleaming with sweet victory, she wrote back yes.

As he neared what he took to be an apartment building, he saw a sign up front that read “Heavenly Hospice” in the most welcoming lettering possible. He stopped dead in his tracks, and wanted to sprint back to his car from that house of horrors. But he did not have it in him to break a promise, even though he was less than exemplary in other ways when it came to romance.

He got buzzed in and fearfully made his way to her room, located–wouldn’t you know it–all the way down at the very end of the hallway. The door to her room was closed, and as he put his ear to it, he could hear sighing and one deep breath after another. He said to himself, “Is this poor thing already drawing her last breaths? Is it already too late for that ‘short-term fling’ Victoria hinted at?”

He was too late, but not because of that. A male nurse had succumbed to her charms just as Nathan was forming his first seductive imaginings during his hurried drive over.

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Which part of the story do you think is true? Do you think you will act like Victoria in your last months? For more of my writing, both micro-fiction and micro-nonfiction, see me at https://twitter.com/chaplainkkaplan

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An Alligator Tale

Have you ever read about alligators on a blog like mine? Didn’t think so. But my hospice patient Fernando (not his real name) told me something about them that keeps sticking in my mind, which was but one of many offbeat subjects he brought up during his very long talk with me:“I like to stay here in New Jersey because it’s safe and I like cold weather. Out there in Florida you know what happens? During the dry season, gators go into people’s swimming pools.” I could not help but say, “Come now. How could that be?” Fernando replied, “No, no, it’s true. In the dry weather there is less water and so they look for it wherever they can find it.” I vowed that I would look this up after the visit.

Sure enough, the Internet yielded many stories about alligators in swimming pools, especially gators nine feet or longer. (You can see the videos for yourself on Youtube and elsewhere.) Well, okay, if you really insist on seeing one of them, here’s a sample link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8zZZcO1BHs

At any rate, since I wanted to know not only if this were true but why, I got an answer from a CBS News article published in May 2017 called, “Look Before You Leap: Massive Alligator Lurks at Bottom of Florida Pool”. As to why the alligator wanted to be there, “a public information officer for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office said, ‘Let this be a reminder that it’s mating season in Florida and these creatures, especially the females, are on the move looking for areas to lay eggs.’” Okay, I get it. There isn’t much water available during a dry spell and the pregnant or pregnant-to-be gators are desperate for any body of water, no matter how small.

Now you know. And now you know how I can still do hospice work after eleven years on the job. It’s not all about dying and funerals I look forward to talking with Fernando again, especially because at the end of that most recent conversation, he asked if I could have a volunteer come visit and read out loud Don Quixote to him. I can’t wait to hear why he asked for that particular book. If the answer  is um “novel”  I’ll let you know.

Hubby Survives Death Cafe

Being the husband of a hospice chaplain can have its odd and trying moments, as you will see in Steve’s darkly comical anecdote below:

 A few years ago my wife told me about a nearby event called a “Death Cafe.” I was instinctively leery of anything with such an ominous-sounding name, but she seemed enthusiastic about being able to promote her hospice book there so I decided to try it out. Even though it was already evening, it was considerably warmer and more humid than the average summer day. The event was on Park Street in Montclair, New Jersey in a fairly upscale neighborhood, so I wasn’t too concerned about a lack of amenities. Unfortunately, my original fears proved to be justified as the meeting was on the top floor of a house in what would be called an attic in a less swanky town–and which had no air conditioning. One of the primary topics of discussion was whether assisted suicide should be legalized in New Jersey, but I was distracted from concentrating on that matter. The temperature in that packed single room was near 120 degrees with almost zero ventilation, so I tuned out whatever weighty issues were being discussed and quietly lay on the floor. I looked up to a majestic vaulted ceiling with outsized musical notes, and realized to my surprise that it was the beginning of the song: “You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.” I remembered that Herman Hupfeld, the composer of this catchy tune featured in Casablanca, had lived in Montclair. I had no idea that I would ever be in his attic, or why he never had air conditioning installed.

I concluded soon afterward that I didn’t want to remain in the house, so I went outdoors to walk around the back yard. The old construction hadn’t been modernized, and as it was getting dark, I didn’t realize that there were some sharp black iron pipes located in unexpected places. I banged my head against one of them and soon began bleeding profusely. Not knowing what to do, I remembered that in the uncomfortable attic were several tubs of ice cubes for the drinks, so I went back to put ice on my skull. When I walked in several people screamed when they saw me: blood was pouring out of my head down my body and looked much worse than it actually was. Fortunately more than one physician was present; two of them poured water over the wound and applied ice with towels, and within a short while the flow had mostly subsided. When they saw that I was recovering, a few people remarked that it would have been ironic to have an actual death at the Death Cafe. My wife never got the opportunity to mention her book to the other attendees. I had mostly blocked this experience from my mind until I heard on the radio that assisted suicide just became legal in New Jersey a few days ago, when I immediately recalled the details of that sweltering evening. The fundamental things apply as time goes by.

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Steven Jon Kaplan regularly writes quirky stories on his website, true contrarian, as a side show to his main focus on contrarian investing, which is about unfollowing herd behavior in the financial markets.  He is a financial planner. The link to his site is https://truecontrarian-sjk.blogspot.com/

For more of my own writing, check out  my microblogging on https://twitter.com/chaplainkkaplan

Barnyard Stories

Former farmer race horse trainer and bar owner Trisha regaled me with some “stories I swear are the truth.” Who wouldn’t want to listen to a story teller with a triumvirate of careers like that?  This is when visits with my hospice patients get entertaining, which in turn feeds this blog. Her first story was about three ducks. “I was in a gardening store and I saw three ducks there, looking like the owner wanted to sell them soon or who knows what might happen to them. So I was worried about them, and I offered to pay whatever he wanted. And when I offered to do that, he said I could have ‘em for free. For free? I couldn’t believe it; I was ready to pay whatever he wanted. So I took ‘em. Well I knew there’d be trouble with my husband when I brought them home, but you see I was worried about what would happen to them. Anyway, when I got home, I put ‘em in the bathtub.” At that point I did become skeptical, so I said, “In the bathtub? Well what about bathing?” Trisha just went right on. I guess she took literally the idea of associating ducks with bathtubs. “My husband wasn’t so pleased with that. Well eventually I got one of those outdoor plastic pools, you know, and I put the ducks there.” I could just picture the cute little darlings splashing around, and the husband (now her “ex” go figure) grunting his displeasure mixed in with resigned tolerance.

She had one more story for me: “I saw this chicken dragging its leg along, and I took it to our farm because I wanted to rescue it. I was so stupid; I put it on the ground to let it do what it wanted. And then nine vultures came down from all around, and then there were feathers all over as they grabbed it and tore at it and hauled it off. They went and killed it,” she said shamefacedly. Maybe after that she stuck with caring for horses.

I wanted to hear more stories, but by now Trisha had run out of energy. Next time, though, and if she is game, I hope to hear about the horses and her bar, and then make you privy to her anecdotes as well.

Speed Visiting

On a short-term experimental basis the hospice I work for has decided to try out a new system for chaplain visits. It is called “speed visiting” (after the concept of “speed dating”). We know the advantages of speed dating, where we quickly screen out the folks we are not interested in and zero in on the most likely candidates. Why spend lots of time trying to unravel all sorts of deep and convoluted layers of meaning when a truly skilled chaplain can size up a person in a matter of seconds? After all, we know the signs of sadness, anger, disgust, ennui, denial and all the rest. And we know how to instantly respond to their need to be heard. We just have to urge them to express their distress in a sound-bite appropriate length, just as they do in other areas of their life. We just have to reassure them that we get what they are feeling almost as if we were inside their brains, so they don’t have to elaborate.  And why waste gobs of time with patients who really are not the least bit interested in seeing a chaplain just to have more to say in our medical record notes? And if we need to vent, we really are desperate if we have to do so in our clinical notes, I mean really!

Really? Speed visiting? April Fools!!

Love Story, Hospice Style

An online fiction magazine editor said I could not reprint in its entirety a story of mine published there, but that I could summarize it. Summarize it?  How amusing since the story in question is only 101 words long! God forbid I would cross a publisher’s request and reprint it here, so I invite my readers to see “Beaten to It” in the place it was born (101words.org; November 27, 2018)) and raised (i.e. commented upon). The premise is true, but the rest is fiction:  https://101words.org/beaten-to-it/

Not an April Fool’s Joke

If you can’t wait to see even these unpolished and brusquely edited posts I have been sending since last July, then you may very well be um, “dying” to get your hands on my book, Encountering The Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died. I lovingly polished and buffed everything in it from periods and commas to entire chapters (with the help of friends and editors). If you are so lucky as to have a U.S. or Canadian shipping address, [Dear Canada! I talked the publisher into including you as well in this offer.] then you can get a 15% discount by preordering the book through April 22nd. Due to the complexity of having various shipping charges, Pen-L unfortunately cannot extend this pre-ordering to anyone else.

Everyone can see my author page right at the publisher’s site, including a free excerpt. and picture of the cover. The site is, http://pen-l.com/EncounteringTheEdge.html

I look forward to resuming my regular posts  reasonably soon. As always, I am  open to suggested topics and to written contributions, as well as to the insightful comments I have been receiving.  Inquiries for candid reviews of the book are welcome.