1984, what a year

1984 was a year of changes for me. No I didn’t run for president of the United States campaigning for changes, I’m not into politics. I think ALL politicians are self serving egotistical individuals that are there to control the lives of the rest of us while paying themselves millions. If the founding fathers seen the government we have today and how it created a society that has become dependent on them, a government, for daily survival, they’d be rolling over in their graves. I look forward to your surveillance, wiretaps, audits, etc. etc. ect. …

That’s about as far as I go. I don’t care! I like my own little world. I have great friends. I’ve made a living for myself. I’ve done and seen so many wonderful things in this country. I’ve traveled to 46 of these 50 great United States. The PEOPLE in America are great. I’m happy. I’m surviving. Crap! How did I get on politics so I need to apologues?


1984, not just the title of an album, can you name the band? For me, my adjusting to my new life was finally on track. I had found out that the diarrhea I had been living with for nearly two years was caused by one of the prescription medicines I was taking daily, so I switched to one with less side effects. You’ve seen them ads? Take my pill and you’ll be cured of whatever ails you. Some will experience weight gain, weight loss, liver spots, loss of hair, growth of hair in unusual places, night blindness, glowing in the dark, skin growth between your toes, growth of additional toes, the belief that you can sing, erections that won’t go away until you sleep with everyone in the Wooden Nickel on a Tuesday night! Oh, and some will die, so please see your physician before it happens.

Well it turned out I was one of the 1% that suffered from one of the side effects of a prescription medicine I was taking. My new doctor in Denver didn’t believe me when I told him my problem. The next year when I went, I didn’t drink the half the bottle of Pepto-Bismol before seeing him. Within a few minutes, he believed me. But even after several tests he didn’t know what was causing the problem. He just gave me a new prescription to combat my problem. It was on a trip to visit my sister and brother-in-law, Connie and Mark, that I forgot a prescription medicine. WOW! Within a day my problem got better. I went back home to Marquette and bought a car. Why? I had the worst case of cabin fever known to man. I finally felt like I could leave my home.

It was in October when my brother John told me he had a friend, Todd (?), whose next door neighbor had a car for sale. After a quick call to find out if it was a two door, I need a two door car so I can put my wheelchair behind the driver’s seat, off we went to look at it. Todd didn’t know what kind of a car it was on the phone, but I saw those three lovely letters, GTO, on the front grill when we drove up. The car looked in good shape. It was a faded white car with a blue vinyl top. Looking inside the car, I seen right away it had electric windows and door locks. A quick look to the dash and yes, A/C! Although I later learned it didn’t work. Add in tilt steering wheel, bucket seats, hide-away headlights (it’s the later models that had the headlights that were side by side, not above and below each other), 400 cubic inch motor, near new snow tires on the rear and new battery. I knew I was leaving with this car. I did have one concern. I was taught to transfer into the passenger side of the two door car with a bench seat. I was then taught to slide across and to fold my wheelchair up and pull it into the passenger side back seat. This car had bucket seats, a center console and a floor shifter. What I was taught wasn’t going to work. But I wasn’t going to worry about that until I got home. It was now time to buy the car.

The man showing me the car was a doctor and said it was his wife’s car that it had high mileage, 80,000 miles, because she often drove it to California. When the guy asked $275, I responded with $150. He said his wife wanted $275. I pretended to think about it for a few seconds, but I knew I was buying it at $275. I had brought $500 with me. Todd drove me home in my new 1969 Pontiac GTO. I was all smiles! My brother John installed the hand control on the steering column so I could work the throttle, brake and toggle switch for the headlight dimmer switch and a knob on the steering wheel so I could steer. I use my right hand to steer and my left hand to work the throttle and brake. It’s one lever. I pull the lever down towards my lap for the throttle and push it straight towards the brake peddle to brake. As for the rest of the controls, heater, a/c, stereo, light switches, etc., it’s a little tricky. Often I’ll just pull over. I love those historical road side markers. I’ve read hundreds of them when stopping for a drink of water, piece of beef jerky, adjusting the radio, etc. whiling traveling the U.S. Do you know the center line on roads was first started on hwy 492 between Marquette and Negaunee? Old 492 had a corner know as dead man’s curve.

That winter I only drove the car 5 or 6 times, but I spent hours and hours practicing how it get, not just myself, but my wheelchair in and out of my 1969 Pontiac GTO. Spring came to Marquette and I never looked back. I had a car, met Danny Joe, I was going out of my house at the drop of a hat, I was stronger and I had built up endurance, I was ready for the world.

In my mind, fear is the worst handicap you can have. I know, I lived with fear, and still I’m afraid of things. When you wake up one day paralyzed and don’t know how to do things, I.e. hold a fork to eat, a brush to fix your hair, put on pants, etc. so when someone else starts doing it for you, it becomes very easy to let them. Even though after a while you learn how to perform some, many or most of those tasks, fear sets in. If you start showing people you can do things on your own, maybe dress yourself in the mornings, fear sets in. It is so easy to let people do things for you. I won’t lie to you; I had that fear in the beginning. Then when I was on the wrong medicine and had the diarrhea for close to two years, it’s easy to give up and let the world take care of you. Then that fear keeps you from becoming independent, being able to make it on your own. Some people crawl into a hole and never come out. Some people blame others or the world and use that as an excuse. Others use drugs or alcohol to hide from the fear. For me, I’m the luckiest man on earth. I hit rock bottom. I was in an accident and became paralyzed for life. I lost all my disability money due to a poor investment. I developed diarrhea for close to two years that no one knew why. Finally I let fear control my life. But I’m a lucky man.

Last week I was at the dentist office. I finally found a good dentist that I trust. When he was pulling me, my wheelchair out of the tight exam room area, he continued pushing me towards the door leading out to the waiting room. Vanessa, a lovely young lady with a brittish  accent told the doctor to quit pushing me, that I could push myself. When I didn’t protest being pushed, Vanessa than looked at me and made the comment, ”You like being mothered?” I just smiled. I knew where I’ve been fore the past 33 years. While yes, for a short time, I accepted more help then I needed during the first couple of years, I made up for it by refusing help from anyone when I absolutely didn’t need it for decades. Now, I’m 50 years old and my body is sore, tired and wearing out. I don’t think of it as being mothered. I look at it as a sign of respect. Something I’ve earned.

I went to Kentucky to visit my sister and her husband. I went there to visit for a week. I’m paralyzed from the chest down, which means I cannot feel, move or control anything from the chest down. That includes going to the bathroom. Its different for me, not by much, more that I need a commode chair to go. When I visited my sister Connie, she rented one for me. I had one at home, but it didn’t travel well. So until 1984, the one trip to Kentucky was the only time I left Marquette since May 12, 1979 for more than three days. That was the longest I could go without going, especially more than an hour or two drive from Marquette in case I was wrong. Then in January of 1984, my parents said they were going to Vegas in a few weeks for four days. Even though it was one more day then I could possibly make it and an airplane ride away, I called up my best friend Mike and asked him if he wanted to go to Las Vegas? When he said yes, I was a happy man. It was time to conquer the last bit of fear I had from getting on with my life.

I went to JC Penny’s and bought the largest suitcase from their odd lot selection they had. It was a pinkish rose color, but I didn’t care. It was cheap. I then went into my workshop and set about making a commode chair that easily unassembled/reassembled and that fit in my new rose colored suitcase. It was crude, made from the back part of a wooden kitchen chair, parts of hockey sticks and the seat off of my commode chair from home. After one quick transfer on and off, I was off to Las Vegas.

Vegas was fun, the weekend we went turned out to be on super bowl weekend. I honestly didn’t have a clue when I decided to go. Vegas turned out to be the ideal place for my first soiree for more than three days away from Marquette. We stayed in the El Cortez hotel casino in downtown Las Vegas. I wasn’t smart enough to book a hotel room right away, so I slept on the second bed in my parent’s twin room. We didn’t sleep much, so we barely seen them. Back in 1984, there weren’t many casinos on the strip. There were so far apart you needed a car to travel between them, there weren’t even sidewalks connecting them. Back then, the downtown was the place to be if you wanted to hop from casino to casino. And Mike and I did, for four days. We played mostly quarter slots on that trip. We realized quickly the $20 roll of quarters can disappear in minutes. But we also noticed that the professional slot players stuck to the very few machines that were paying out on a consistent basis. When we’d find a slot machine that was hitting jackpots on a consistent basis, we’d play it until we’d make as much money as we could. That was often more than $100. Then we’d wonder around giving it back until we’d find the next winning machine.

Las Vegas was fun! The one memory I’ll always have from that trip was how many 50 year old fat bald men had young gorgeous wives. These men must have had to be very rich, because their sexy beautiful wives looked so bored standing next to them. Some of these beautiful young women even smiled and flirted with me when their husbands weren’t looking. Yes, I was young and naive.

Since it was super bowl weekend, Mike promised a few of his co-workers he’d place a few bets on the Washington Redskins. I believe they had won the super bowl the year before. In 1984 they were playing against the Los Angeles Raiders. For a few years the Oakland Raiders were playing in L.A. Since Mike was going to place a bet, I decided to bet myself. But I wasn’t going to bet on the Redskins, even though they were heavenly favored by 2 touchdowns, I was going to bet on the Raiders. Neither Mike nor I have ever placed a sports bet, so I went first. I waited 10 minutes until there was no one in line to place bets, than I went up with my $20 bill. I told the cute young woman behind the betting window I wanted to bet $20 on the Raiders. Right away, she asks me how I want to bet it? How? For the Raiders to win? I responded. Again, she asked me how I wanted to bet it? I turn around to see at least 8 people in line to place their bets. I turn back to her and she starts saying something like plus 1, plus 2, etc. I have no idea what that means, so when my mouth opened and words came out, I said, how can I win the most money? She punched something on her keyboard, took my $20 and handed me a betting slip. An hour later Mike and I watched super bowl XVIII, a little while later I cashed in my $20 betting slip with Los Angeles Raiders in bold print on it for $52. I made the right bet….

I arrived home from Los Vegas excited and exhausted at the same time. I was excited because I finally traveled away from Marquette for more than three days, exhausted because the carpets in Vegas are thick and soft. Mike and I went from casino to casino for four days. We never stopped. We did however watched the super bowl in the hotel room. I needed to rest my rear. I was starting to develop red marks from sitting too long. If I develop an open pressure sore, I’m lying in bed for months. Knock on wood, it’s been over 33 years and I’ve never had one. I was promised by a doctor in Marquette when I was 17 that I’d have one. I do feel I’ll have one before I die. As my body ages, it’s more likely it will happen. But I am proud it hasn’t happened yet. I wish I could put into words how much that trip to Las Vegas meant to me in words, but words will never do it justice. Oh, just before leaving for the air port to leave, Mike asked me how I did? I looked in wallet and counted my money. I had a bunch of ones, so I didn’t count them all, but my guess was I was within $5 of how much money I started with. Oh, did I tell you Las Vegas gives free drinks when you’re gambling? Vegas was fun.

Two months after coming home from a wonderful trip to Las Vegas I was driving my 1979 blue Chevrolet Monte Carlo to Florida. Fear to me is a bigger handicap than being paralyzed. Once I knew I could leave home for more the a couple of days, I never looked back. My brother John had a friend living in Miami Florida. I bet we didn’t talk for more than 20, minutes when we both were excited into going to Florida. John was going to join the U.S. Marines, but within a week, we were driving South on Interstate 95. Our welcome to the South wasn’t what I was hoping for. I had a CB radio in my car. I think it was in Georgia when some southern gentleman told this Yankee to go home. In my defense, another Southern gentleman got on the CB and scolded him. He went on to say how us Yankees coming to the South were spending our money down there so those rednecks could have jobs. His words not mine. I quit talking on the CB.

Florida is the longest state you’ll ever drive in if you’re going on spring break. When we crossed the state line entering Florida, we got excited. Then five hours later we were still a couple hundred miles from Miami. John had a best friend that lived in Miami, Spencer. Spencer had a head on his shoulders. He was working for the home improvement store, Home Depot. He was also buying stock in the company out of every payroll check he received. By the time he reached his 30’s he was managing his own store, and if I heard right he was retired before he was 40, a multi millionaire. But I knew Spencer when he was a young wild and crazy guy. He was living with two roommates. They worked hard and they played hard. I think we were there for 3 weeks. We hit every beach we could, Ft Lauderdale when it was ‘’the’’ spring break place to go, bars, clubs, tourist places, you name it. Every day we were there we did something. When one roommate had to work, another took us out. If they all had to work, John and I found things to entertain ourselves. The highlight would have to be Ft Lauderdale. Growing up in Marquette, then in one day seeing 10s of thousands of beautiful women wearing bikinis on a beach on a daily basis was a young man’s dream. I was talking to so many women everyday that they nicknamed me Casanova.

The first few months of 1984 changed my outlook on life. I could wakeup, get out of bed, dress on my own. I could cook my own food. I could drive a car. I could work for money. And now I could now travel for more then a couple of days, and flirt with beautiful woman. There was very little I was now afraid of trying to do. Life was great!