Package Deal

Raw unedited excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral, the biography-by-fire of the life of Dave Linane. Thank you for all your comments and for sharing your stories of your loved ones! XO M 

As the time unfolded, the year-plus in the hospital, those early days and wild nights at our parents’ house and out on the town, everyone’s lives were simultaneously naturally moving ever forward. Brian met his first wife at the hospital. She worked in or on Wing 700; however, you say that correctly. You get the idea; she worked in the part of the hospital that Dave was living in for that first year following his accident. Dave was the catalyst for Brian and her meeting. Dave was half of the real and original dumb and dumber pastel tuxedo brothers. He was half of the inseparable fraternal twins conjoined somewhere deeper than flesh. He was an understood part of the life-of-Brian-ever-after package deal contract.

Brian bought a house for them, his future family on the not too distant horizon, three and a half blocks west of my parents. If 25th were a strait street, we could have seen his house from ours less than a quarter-mile away, but it jogged south with the few cross streets in between. His career as a Fireman for the City of San Bernardino began at the Fire Station located between his house and ours, two blocks west from us, one and a half blocks east of their place. It was a pretty sweet commute for Brian and lucky as hell for Dave to have his best buddy literally minutes away at all times.  As mentioned in earlier chapters, Dave drove himself around in his electric wheelchair, everywhere. Brian’s house was not surprisingly the first place Dave wheeled himself after receiving that first electric wheelchair and the sense of limited independence that came with it.

Brian worked on any number of house maintenance or repair related projects as everyone does. He washed their cars, mowed the lawn, painted, changed his oil, played with his boys, you name it, Dave was sitting nearby in the yard. When the end of the day came, he might BBQ something in the back. It was rare that Dave went into the house because he so enjoyed being outside as much as possible. In between and along with working on his honey-do list, Brian would take breaks, sat on the porch and chatted with him, fed him, and then continued about his work while they also listened to music. On occasion, they would get the giggles when his wife got mad at him or both of them with their teasing about whatever fill in the blank. I witnessed her slam and lock the front door once, and didn’t know what to think. The tense moment was broken by those two instantaneously bursting into laughter as soon as the door locked, cracking up at how mad they made her, leaving them outside where they wanted to be anyway.

Brian’s brood grew to three boys who climbed all over Dave like a jungle-gym and had wheelchair rides up and down the street with Uncle Knuckled Head Dave either on his lap or riding on the back. Dave was the voice-over actor starring as Santa Claus on speed dial at Christmastime. The boys’ mom would use the “I am going to call Santa!” threat as a form of leverage during the holidays when Brian was at work. She would pick up the phone, call Dave, have an introductory conversation with “Santa” and hand the phone to the offending wild child of the moment. Dave would use his best radio kind Santa voice to encourage them to remember to be good so that they would get toys for Christmas.

Dave and Brian spent some part of the day together on most holidays either at our house with our big extended family or at Brian’s home, including his older brother (also named Dave) and his extended family. One of the earlier Christmases Dave found the perfect gift for their oldest and only child, who was a little over two. He was at that point of the keen childhood awareness that Christmas is mainly about a guy who gives out toys and candy by way of the chimney, somehow flying deer are involved and was unquestioningly excited as hell about it. The previous year Dave had given him a battery-operated ladder truck with an operating siren with flashing lights. Not long after, the gift wore out his parents’ patience, and the batteries were permanently removed. This second Christmas, Dave bought a bright red fireman’s helmet with a battery-operated circling red light on the top with a deafeningly piercing siren. Dave had my dad install the batteries and glue the battery door closed so the siren could not be turned off. Well, like any two-year-old hopped up on Christmas, he was thrilled with his authentic-looking Fireman gear strapped on his little head as he ran laps around the many possible circular loops in the layout of our parents’ house. Those loops included Dave’s with doors on opposite sides of his room. Dave could not stop laughing at the entirety of the moment, the joy of that cute kid getting more wound up by the minute by his very loud gift running in and out of his room contrasted with the defeated look on the faces of his young and likely exhausted parents sitting on the couch across from Dave, beat from the craziness of the holidays. They could not help but give in and laugh at the hilarity of the entire scene. Their very smart little kid also learned all about batteries, that parents put them in or take them out to make things stop making noise, so he was not to be fooled by that tactic ever again. If anyone were keeping score, Dave definitely won Christmas that year by a landslide!

Brian is one who loves driving, exploring, the open road, a road trip, camping, trips in general. He is really good at researching details of how to get somewhere and what one might see along the way. This time period was WAY before the internet. He and his wife, at the time, had created two of their three children. They left their baby with my sister Anne to care for and took their toddler along with Uncle Knucklehead on a road trip to Sequoia National Park. My parents’ friends Billie (creator of the sophisticated crowd planning math introduced in our funeral planning earlier) and Jim Daniel loaned them a motorhome for the trip. Dave could be placed in a made-up bed near the front, enjoy the scenery on the road, and be moved to his wheelchair to cruise around the paths of the forest floor during the day.

I took a road trip caravan with Brian in the lead vehicle (truck) that I followed decades after that Sequoia trip. It was just the two of us adults, and my elementary age son Sven with me in my car. Brian was escorting me to Colorado to meet my son’s father, Brian’s former fire captain, from many years ago in our theoretical backyard Station 4. He handed me a walkie-talkie, also a bit before cell phones. At least once an hour, he would tell me an interesting detail about something. Once it was about the vast desert aquafer we were driving over at that moment, the one that serves the Mojave desert. Another time he explained the composition of those mountains that way were off in the distance that looked like dinosaur turds. Each random fact sparked a bit of Q & A back and forth. It made our long day trip between Southern California and Colorado go by pret-ty fast.

Every time the walkie-talkie crackled with info, I couldn’t help but laugh at Brian’s use of ultra-professional radio etiquette on our silly road trip. When I advised him, “Hey, I need to pee!” There was radio silence until I said, “O.H.! Y.A.! OVERRR!!!” His immediate response, “Copy that.” Of course, as the drive continued, I could not resist formulating lame phrases in my own Hollywood fantasy rando radio code-mixing old T.V show call signs. I blurted out, “one-Adam-twelve…did you see that Chupacabra back there?” or “Rampart this is squad 51…” followed by telling him something Sven wanted me to say over the walkie-talkie that was also silly and ridiculous. I repeatedly forgot to add the I am done talking signal, “Over.” He would respond to my silly statements with, “uhhhhh (sounding like an airplane pilot) that’s not a thing. Over.” I knew he was rolling his eyes at me and that if I worked for a Fire Department, I would be banned from the airwaves. I could see him shaking his head at my pathetic failed attempts at humorous radio speak, watching me cracking up at myself via his rear-view mirror. Ever the professional that guy.

That entire drive, I couldn’t help but extrapolate as to what that trip to Sequoia with Dave must have been like way back then. Of course, they were all in the same vehicle, so minus the radio chatter. Brian, would have been pointing things out along the way, making sure everyone saw everything there was to see, definitely making it fun and exciting. I am sure they had good music playing on the eight-track tape player. It is an unwritten, well-known, rule-of-law that they had to have rollin’ down the road music playing.

I have no doubt that it was physically HARD work getting Dave: in and out of bed, in and out of the R.V. with its narrow door and corridor, especially considering the combined weight of Dave and his wheelchair.  Dave had the time of his life in the gorgeous setting of the Sequoia. I can only theorize about how freeing it must have felt for him to be away from his bedroom for a few days. A beautiful profile photo was taken on that trip that hung in our den. Dave was looking up, the dappled light in the green of the trees is a blurred backdrop. That photo was so revealing. With less than half his face showing, it captured the general wonder and amazement of him taking in everything of this beautiful forest.

I called Brian for the details of how in thee hell they got Dave in and out of the motorhome. I remember that the door opening was only 22. I clearly remember people in our driveway the day before they left, Dave in his wheelchair, my mom and dad, Bille and Jim Daniel, and Brian with his measuring tape open across the doorway from jamb to narrow jamb. All the men were theorizing as to how things were going to work. Dave’s wheelchair was wider than the doorway. They left early the next morning, so I didn’t see anything in action. I wondered if they picked Dave up out of his wheelchair to move him in and later out of the motorhome, placing him in his wheelchair outside the motorhome or what. Brian breathed in a long breath of remembrance, just thinking about it. “No. We put him in his chair while inside the motorhome and then had to use a pulley system wrapped around the chair to close it in on itself a few inches, making it narrow enough to fit through the door. The ropes of the pulley system went around Dave too, so he was part of the being sucked in part—and he would make that sound like ‘HUUH’ like we were squeezing the air out of him when we cinched it down tight.” We both cracked up hearing the sound we both had filed away in our separate memories collection. I breathed in a deep breath, just thinking about how hard all of it had to be, lifting him, getting him in and out of that motorhome, no wheelchair lift, more than 300 combined pounds of deadweight every day for a few days. The Dumb and Dumber Pastel Tuxedo Brothers Life Package deal in action for sure.

That maiden voyage paved the way for a series of annual overnight Las Vegas runs in that same motor home with a handful of guys who found themselves itching to gamble, go to dirt-cheap buffets, and strip-clubs, all the stuff that Las Vegas was famous for leaving. More chat about Las Vegas stories later.

When Brian was at work, if Dave was up in his wheelchair that day, he might stop by to visit him in the evenings (usually in the summertime because it was still light out) after chow time. Food is not food in a firehouse; it is chow FYI. Firefighters have training, inspections, equipment maintenance, or other duties to carry out during the day in between the priority of responding to emergency calls. Their evenings, again, in between responding to emergency calls are flexible in how they spend their time.

The guys on Brian’s or almost any fire crew ate together. Sometimes they played sports after chow time when the weather was right. They had a backboard and hoop on the back wall of the station and hybrid half-basketball-volleyball court lines painted in the parking lot back there. They also watched sports on T.V. or just did what guys do…sat around joking and shooting the shit about typical life matters du jour.

The station on E street in San B was a very busy place with nearly 20 or more calls a day on average. That is a lot for those of you who are not familiar with how active a fire station might be. Dave’s visits were not usually very long. The guys would almost always get a call, and Dave would head home. Different guys substituted into the rotation covering vacation or sick days, plus Dave knew a handful of other guys from high school, as I mentioned in an earlier chapter that he visited at different stations as they moved around any of the ten stations. The city employed just over a hundred guys, and they wanted to work the busy stations for exposure to a wide range of experiences at some point in their career, so he met a lot of guys over the years at our neighborhood station.

When Dave was out and about in the mean streets of San Bernardino world cruising in his wheelchair, if a firetruck passed him, they would almost always give him two short blasts from the air horn in recognition. Dave would give them the nod-the one part of his body he could pretty fully control, his head. When Brian was on duty and driving the rig in the earlier days of his career, he always blasted the airhorn twice when the crew happened to return from a call by way of our corner heading back to the barn. Whether anyone of us was at the kitchen window or not, we would wave. He knew Dave heard him and that the rest of us were waving from the couch.

When my mom’s house was in escrow, Brian had been retired a few years; Dave had been retired from this life more than a few years, she and I were packing up her kitchen when a fire truck rounded the corner of 25th street on it’s way back to the station. The driver gave out two quick airhorn blasts, my mom instinctively smiled and waved through her big kitchen window over her sink that faced the street. I looked up to only see a blur of headphones with curly wires hanging off them and hands waving back at her from the cab of the enormous beast of the red ladder truck as they roared past. I was surprised at the unexpected honk and pointed the direction of the now back of the truck with my thumb with questioning raised eyebrows. She said, “Oh, Edward, (Brian’s stepson) is stationed at fours.” For whatever weird reason, each fire station in S.B. is shortened to its station number, and the number is pluralized. It makes no sense grammatically or numerically, but it is a thing.

My mom, being in the know referred to it as fours instead of just Station 4 like I do based on the sign in front of it and a general understanding of grammatic and numeric rules. Maybe it’s radio lingo? It is easier than saying all those syllables Sta-Tion-FOUR. I’ll have to ask Brian. My mind went to wondering if any members of that crew that just flew by were among those who responded the day none of us could keep Dave on this planet. Then I realized it was impossible. The city, if you can believe it, is so terrible with money management that it had lost its entire fire department since Brian retired, the county had taken over. It was a complete fluke that his stepson Edward, who worked for the county, a huge organization, had ended up randomly being assigned to that station. I hugged her and said, “That’s really sweet that they still honk at you, mom.” She said, “I know, and Edward stops by on his way home if he sees my trashcans out and offers to help me bring them in.” For guys, the fire department is like a cross between a fraternity, summer camp, and a really organized military sports team that helps people. For Dave, a total man’s man, a team player through and through, he always appreciated the nature of their hard work, helping people, their brotherhood, chili, and horn blasts. Small nods of connectedness like that can mean a great deal in a mad, mad world.  Brian was the catalyst to all that connectedness.

© Mardi Linane Copyright 2020

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