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A Story About Waterbeds, Beetles and Ether

Long, long ago in the mid-80s, when hippies still slept in sloshy water beds with tacky wooden frames designed to contain the watery sack and its occupants, My Royal Consort and I had a little game we would play that involved a plastic beetle the size of a half dollar.

I must have given this item to My Royal Consort in his Christmas stocking. Once the beetle pupated, we were both quite impressed and named it The Bug.

I am a little foggy on who was the first to hide The Bug for the other person to stumble upon, but somehow that game began and evolved into a contest to see who could find the best and most creative hiding spot.

One day, after I had found The Bug, I decided that the perfect place to hide it would be in the ceiling light above our bed. Determined to get The Bug into the light fixture, I stepped up onto the narrow edge of the 2″ x 10″ bed frame and stretched myself up while leaning out. Losing my balance, I belly flopped into the bed, smacking my head and finger on the far side of the bed frame. I saw stars, my middle finger blew up and The Bug squirted out of my hands.

Back then I didn’t have my own doctor. My finger and head were throbbing, but instead of being sensible and waiting to see what happened, I freaked out and went to the ER, sure that I had broken my precious artist’s hand and would never draw again.

During the time of The Bug and my unfortunate decision to balance on the edge of the bed frame, I was rocking a sort of hippie/Hell’s Angel look entirely of my own devising. I really liked my men’s cotton union suit from the army navy store. I also very much loved my filmy cotton skirts from India Imports, so much so,  that in the winter I would layer several at once over my union suit.

I was also partial to those woolen mukluk bootie things with the leather soles cut off, steel-toed boots and my black leather biker’s jacket.

After rebelling against the Dorothy Hamill wedge haircut that my mother had inflicted on me until the 7th grade, I had vowed to never cut my hair again, so at the time of The Bug, it was freakishly long.

Around that time I weighed 109 pounds soaking wet and was 5’9″ tall. It was a carefree time—My Royal Consort and I lived on love, beer, coffee  and toast.

When I visualized myself, I pictured a lithe vision of eclectic coolness.

What the nurse at the ER pictured when I came in following my mishap with the bed, was a drug addict waif with a black eye, a giant middle finger and too much hair, a person who she quickly decided, smelled suspiciously of ether.

That’s right, ether.

The triage nurse at the ER took one look at me and literally barred my way, straight up accusing me of being high on ether.

Because I was only 20, the starched old battle axe had me completely buffaloed, but instead of telling her to step off, I attempted to explain myself the way I might have explained myself to a teacher in high school.

At that time of my life, no one would have been going too far out on a limb by suggesting that I had experimented with drugs. Weed was a given, and I wasn’t above taking a mushroom or two if the star aligned properly, but I had long ago forsworn ingesting LSD, and I had never even considered trying anything that came in a pill form. I earnestly tried to explain all this to the nurse, as if it was any of her business, but I was too intimidated and distracted by the way she was sniffing me up and down and circling me like a dog.

You reek of ether! There is no way you aren’t high on ether! I can smell it! she shrieked. Of course, I knew differently because until meeting her I had never in my life met a single person who had even hinted that  huffing ether was a fun thing to do.

Curious George, you might remember, got into trouble when he sneaked into an empty apartment and decorated the walls with paint that the lazy house painters had left lying about. When the painters returned from lunch and saw Curious George’s handiwork, they chased him and he jumped out the window of a high rise.  Unfortunately, he did not stick the landing and ended up breaking his leg. After his cast was removed and he was finally out of traction, he wandered into a hospital storeroom where he found several large blue bottles of ether. Being curious, he opened one, sniffed it, found it to be delightful and then passed out, giving the nice nurses quite a scare. That is the one time that I know of when he fooled around with drugs.

I think that being distracted by the pleasant memory of Curious George robbed me of my ability to form a sentence or comport myself  like someone who was not high on ether, which made things go from bad to worse.

Instead of asserting myself, I abruptly changed course and tried to explain to the nurse about The Bug. Her eyes widened incredulously as I told her that there was this big, green bug that my boyfriend and I liked to hide from each other. She sniffed and circled me even more furiously.

“Can’t you smell it? Tell me you can’t smell that!” she hissed.

I could smell the hospital smell, and the satisfying tang of my leather jacket. “My jacket kind of smells” I offered up lamely. By now, because I was scared and she was outraged at my audacity for coming to the ER after huffing ether all morning, we began to circle each other like partners in a gavotte—the nurse sniffing at my jacket while I backed and turned away from her. In this fashion, we slowly made our way back toward the door. At a critical juncture in one of our stately pirouettes through the ER waiting room, I saw that I was very close to the exit so I bolted and ran for my car.

EPILOGUE

It was later determined by a consensus of friends that the nurse was mistaking the smell of my leather jacket for ether. Since none of us knew what ether smelled like, this was pure conjecture, The Bug was found a few days later behind the bureau and was pressed into service until My Royal Consort and I both got sick of the game and one of us hid it  permanently. My finger was just a little jammed, and my face temporarily rearranged. Eventually I developed a spine.

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