Sunday, May 13, 2007

Trudy Makes Lemonade

John fell down again.

The first time he fell was last September, when he walked out of a gas station mini-mart, tripped on a short step, and broke his neck. A specialist in Utah repaired it with a metal pin, and he has been wearing a hard plastic neck brace ever since. Recovery is slow because of his age (86), and because 45 years of smoking have left his bones in not-so-good condition. Even though he was supposed to be up and walking around by now, he mostly lies in bed watching westerns and war movies on Turner Movie Classics, chewing on an unlit cigar.

Last Saturday night he fell down again. Trudy found him flat on his back after he tripped over a decorative log in the nautically themed parking lot of a Mexican restaurant in the Marina del Rey. A security guard helped her to lift him into the car and she took him to a nearby emergency room.

I had been at a comedy show and accidentally left my phone turned off, so Trudy sat for hours alone in the waiting room while doctors took x-rays and evaluated John's injuries. At about 4:00 AM, Trudy noticed a man with a British accent talking to the nurse at the front desk about getting a taxi. He had a bandage around his head and blood all over his shirt. The nurse explained to the man that since it was Cinco de Mayo he would have a long wait for a cab. Instead of making his way back across the room to where he had been sitting before, he walked the shorter distance to where my mother was, and sat beside her. "But he wasn't hitting on me," Trudy felt the need to assure me.

The man asked Trudy why she was there and they struck up a conversation. It turns out that Derrick is from Manchester, and like John, he had fallen down that night. Coincidentally, he was also a bomber pilot in World War II, but for the Royal Air Force. Derrick is only 83, which made him just 18 years old when he started flying planes. This impressed Trudy. She offered that John flew missions over the oil fields in Ploesti, "and wouldn't you know it, so did Derrick!" Derrick described his adventures during WWII, his emigration from England to America, and the passing of his late wife, all quite dramatically and with tears in his eyes. ("I was having such a good time I forgot all about John!")

Once Trudy did remember John, she decided it would be a great idea to bring Derrick back to where he was sprawled out on a gurney to introduce the two. "Your father needs friends." After a brief introduction, that I'm sure went over very well with John, Trudy said goodnight to him and announced that she was leaving to give Derrick a ride back to his place in Venice. ("He was so charming I would have driven him to Azusa!")

Trudy regaled me with this story the following day as we sat at John's bedside in the orthopedic wing of the hospital. It turns out that during this fall, John suffered a broken arm, two compressed fractures in his lumbar spine, and a fractured pelvis. His clothes from the night before were covered in dirt and grease, an indication that he must have rolled around on the ground, struggling to get to his feet before help arrived.

I asked Trudy if she knew why Derrick had fallen. She didn't. I proposed that, given his chattiness, his sentimentality, and his inclination to weep openly in front of a stranger, perhaps he had fallen down drunk. She thought about it and said, "Well, he did smell a little like alcohol, but not like, alcoholic-alcohol-smell, just like alcohol." Did she get Derrick's number when she dropped him off at home? She didn't, which she regrets. "But," Trudy added, "I didn't want to give him the wrong impression."

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