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Omega Diary & Articles

IMAGES OF THE PAST

After Monday’s class, I strolled across campus aimlessly in circles. From the Chrysler Building to the Student Center, around Dillon Hall, stopping momentarily, here and there, to check the level of my sanity.

The early January sun warmed the sidewalks as college students hurried to their next class. The eclectic array of buildings, surrounded by barren maple trees, stood in sharp contrast to the pale-blue winter sky.

I have to be out of my ever-loving mind. Do I really want to drive from London to the University of Windsor and back, once or twice every week? I’m on workmen’s comp. Put ‘out of service’ by the New Mexico Department of Transportation. All because of that seventeen year old! What in the hell was she thinking? She drove a late model extended cab Nissan pickup truck with her grandmother who was an elementary school teacher on the Navajo Reservation. Four youths were also in the vehicle—two brothers, a sister, a cousin and a twelve month old whom she was babysitting. My eighteen wheeler was empty, but it still weighed forty thousand pounds. She tried to make a left turn onto a side road flying across the highway into my lane and dead-center in front of me. There was nothing I could do.

The pickup was turned into a pretzel. Actually, a pretzel has form and function.

That seventeen year old driver was the only one wearing a seatbelt, no restraining device for her twelve month old cousin. What in the hell was her grandmother thinking? Who in their right mind allows an infant to ride in a vehicle without a car seat?

Five dead! The last thing they witnessed, while living on this planet, was my black and gold Western Star big truck blasting out of hell as a banshee followed by the headless horseman under the portentous midnight sky on the bleak Navajo landscape.

Mary Shelley always quoted her husband’s work, while they lived on the coast of Italy. Even Lord Byron was enthralled by her recitations. ‘Never wake the serpent, Least it knows not were to go.’

I’ll never forget the expressions on their faces of absolute horror. SMASH! I’ll never forget that sound—metal hitting metal at 60 mph. Death and hell exploded out of Pandora’s box with a merciless fury that even the three Fates couldn’t stop. The pickup flew one hundred and twenty feet before the dust settled.

Maybe there is mercy. The seventeen year old driver was very pretty, the same age as my daughter, Michelle. I know she was pretty because I was the one who ripped open the dash with my bare hands before lifting her out of that mangled metal of death and destruction. To this day, the last thing she remembered was shopping in Gallup, New Mexico, before driving thirty-seven miles north on Highway 666 and onto the Navajo Reservation. Highway 666, the Devil’s Highway. That’s what the locals called it. But, maybe there is mercy. She’ll never remember how it happened. The collision erased family and memory as sure as a blackboard brush removes chalk.

Thank God, even the Navajo police said I wasn’t at fault. But that doesn’t change a hundred other things—blood, gore, mayhem and that twelve month old infant sprawled across the dead in the backseat as I witnessed the taking of her last breath.

I was out on Highway 401 heading east when I shook off the nightmare. Snow, then a break in the dark gray ominous clouds and then more snow as darkness engulfed winter’s barren landscape.

Yes, I will take English 304. Driving back and forth will be good for my psyche. The fear of driving haunted me like a heroine addict’s monkey on my back.

What will I write about for the next twelve weeks? In the past, I’d get hit by an idea—a simple, non intrusive thought. Somehow it finds root in the fertile soil of my soul. Furtively, it grows over the following months; maybe it’ll take a few years. Then without warning it explodes inside my heart forcing me to the keyboard, punching out words and suffering through a gauntlet of emotions until its birth.

Four days later, I found myself back in Windsor taking random snapshots of this site and that—the casino, a beach on the eastside, a park nearby and a totem pole, as a sentinel, watching the ice flowing down the Detroit River anxiously waiting for winter’s thaw. Thinking, thinking, coming up with nothing concrete. There wasn’t even a whisper of hope in terms of direction. I needed a story line, a plot, settings and characters. And I’m freezing my butt off gazing at Belle Isle across the Detroit River. I knew I should’ve worn my ski parka.

Hey wait! I remembered the pretty coed in class mentioning how she killed off some of her characters when she wrote. I could do that. Nothing like a good death scene. Okay, someone will die. It’s not writing on the island of profundity, but death will always keep them guessing and on the edge of their seats.

Click, click, click. If I kept taking pictures, something else will have to give.

I lit a cig heading into the center of the city. I was so apprehensive about taking English 304 with all of its ramifications that I started smoking again last Saturday. I graduated from university before any of my new fellow-students were born. I better place ‘stop smoking’ on my list of things to do. I need a drink.

The gulf stream had whipped up the Alberta Clipper streaking unabated across the prairies and Lake Superior. How did it find me? It struck like an unforgiving vendetta as I stepped from the Taurus at Dieppe Gardens. I pointed my nine-ninety-five camera at the Detroit skyline. I’m freezing my butt off!

What did Dorothy Parker say sitting at the Round Table in Manhattan’s Roosevelt Hotel during the Depression? Oh yeah, now I remember. ‘I need to get out of these wet clothes and dive into a dry martini.’

Click, click. The Ambassador Bridge, the sterilized steel and glass of the Renaissance Center—monoliths of uncensored immortality. If nothing else, I’ll get it all down for prosperity. Where’s that drink?

I hurried back to the car seeking warmth and comfort as a chill entered the marrow of my bones.

The intrusion pierced the frigid air. “Excuse me, are you Gerry Grondin?”

Immediately, I knew the unrecognized voice was out of the long forgotten past. I now use my middle name, Paul. I hate Gerald or Gerry. Well…when I was a kid they called me Mr. G. That wasn’t too bad. Gerald had married my father’s sister, Geraldine, and someone had to get stuck with the name. Actually, ‘the long forgotten past’ is a lie. I say that because it’s not always fun remembering how stupid I was when I was a kid. I’m not claiming I’ve cornered any degree of wisdom over the years. It’s just that I no longer rush in like a fool where angels fear to tread. As thirteen-year-old kids we rode on the ice flows down the Detroit River. In the summertime, we swam across to Bob-Lo Island dodging lake freighters and undertows that could suck you under and make a swimmer disappear from the screen of life. The Fates are still refusing to tell me why they’ve kept me alive for so long. Maybe I should take Atropos, Clotho and Lachesis for a drink to loosen their tongues.

I turned in the direction of the female voice. In the late sixties, Maria had been an extremely good-looking teenager. Back in high school, twenty miles south from where we now stood on the waterfront of Dieppe Gardens, Maria was captain of the high school girls’ gymnastic team. You can imagine the body she had. She had moves even Britney Spears would envy.

Anyway, I ruled over the boys’ gym team, and we loved competing against the teams in Windsor. If a county high school was ever fortunate to defeat a Windsor team in any sport, the city kids felt like scum, and not once were we ever beaten. Got my picture on the front page in the Windsor Star’s sport section to prove it.

“My God, how long has it been?” asked Maria.

I’m not answering that, but I’ll say this: the blast from the past was interesting. The image ran across the screen of my mind’s eye. Maria and I reclined on the sofa in her living room getting hot and heavy. In walked her mother. I fell off the sofa with a thud onto the hardwood floor as any self-respecting gymnast would do. Maria and her mom laughed, while I performed skewed dexterity by jamming the buttons of my shirt into the wrong button holes.

When you hear people say, ‘if I was only young again,’ they’re lying. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about. I’m totally convinced that if we could do it over again, we would take the easy way out and do the same old dance. Moses never showed anyone what was written on the back of those two tablets he had slugged down from the mount—“History will repeat itself.”

Wait. A miracle! I have another idea! Two in the same day—move over Einstein. Dammit, what was I just thinking? Oh, right, now I remember. My protagonist returns to Windsor and meets an old girlfriend. Life in Windsor, then and now. That’ll be the underlying theme, but I still need a plot. I hate staring at inviolate white paper.

Maria’s ex-husband had made a fortune over the years. Two of her kids were away at university, while the third worked in the Windy City on the other side of the Great Lakes. Maria lived on the outskirts of Windsor, across from a golf course, alone, in a sprawling brick and glass two-story country estate with eight thousand square feet. The palazzo dominated seven acres of manicured woodland with its resident birds and squirrels. The home was for sale as dictated by the divorce settlement. You could pick it up for a mere four and a half million.

In the drawing room with its expansive cathedral ceiling and teakwood paneling, Maria and I sat on the floor at a custom-made coffee table from the Carolinas. The view of the north garden was impressive even with its barren maples, oaks and snow-covered gazebo. We munched on crackers and crème de brie with a hint of herbs. I had sampled a bottle of Pilsner Urquell, originally brewed by Josef Groll in the Czech picturesque town of Pilsen. It’s a hundred and sixty-five years later, and the world is still trying to copy Groll’s pilsner brewing method. And yes, if you must know, Maria’s ex-husband had dropped off the beer after bringing it into the country on his private jet.

Now we shared a bottle of red wine from the small village of Auxey-Duresses wedged into the slopes of Burgundy’s famed Cote d’Or. The wine was famous for subtle hints of delicate flavors, but they were lost on my Swiss Chalet chicken palate, although it sure tasted great. The welcoming heat from the enormous fireplace with its mantle of flagstone and granite accentuated the perfect ambiance, while the alcohol charmed our hearts, as it numbed my aching writer’s soul.

We nourished our lost friendship midst laughter and fond memories, while my eyes were constantly being drawn to an amethyst crystal cathedral perched on a Nineteenth Century Russian alter table. When Maria scampered off to the wine cellar for a second bottle of wine—we had to try a bottle from the famed vineyard of Montrachet—I found myself gazing into the amethyst cathedral, my attention having been drawn by its hypnotic powers of imaginary possibilities.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could enter the cathedral, transcend time and space and emerge onto the other side of life to a land that no one had ever seen, I thought, or was it the wine talking, creating a delusional and alternate form of sanity?

Eureka! I’ve discovered my plot. I have my story. What? What exactly do I have?

Images flashed as rapid-fire across the screen of my third-eye. Death? Yes. I’ll kill off the antagonist, while he tries to knock off the protagonist. Good verses Evil. The underlying plot will be the quest for immortality. I’ll even throw in a long lost grandchild—keep the audience guessing as to his or her identity until the last moment. There’ll be a flavor of romance, but there’ll be stumbling blocks to trip over. During last week’s class, someone mentioned leaving and returning home to live in Windsor, permanently. That’ll come in handy. Windsor then, Windsor now. What else? The antagonist will have an enormous ego. Maria’s home should be large enough to house it.

Arriving with the second bottle of late afternoon delight Maria rescued me from the onslaught of ambiguity and confusion. After all, most of my current ideas were only wisps of illusive imagery. Intuitively, I could sense more than I could see, feel more than taste. I needed to chew a mouthful, spit out the distasteful and swallow what was useful.

Maria didn’t object to being used as a sounding board, while images, veiled in a shroud of gossamer, blossomed into ideas with the certainty that Winter will kiss Spring before it dies. Thoughts, glimmers of hope, compelled my hand to scribble in a virginal journal of unborn genius. There’s nothing like killing trees in the name of contemporary literature. Finally, she asked if I had ever written a screenplay. Yes, although calling it a screenplay was somewhat debatable. She was overly kind to add that the story would make a good movie. I thought, why not? I only have my sanity to lose, but I’ve lost that before.

As an epilogue, I must confess to an untruth in this little tale. The crème de brie didn’t have any herbs in it.

G. Paul Grondin
September 2011

 



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