July 2009

I’m not supposed to tell you this, but I’m a former assassin for various agencies of our government. I was cut from the program in my mid 40’s when I developed diabetes and bursitis in my right shoulder. Ever try to throw a knife or fire a high powered rifle with bursitis? It’s no fun, let me tell you. Being an aging assassin is worse than being an aging football player. And we don’t get paid to do any endorsements. Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan would really take on a different meaning for us.

Many of you have seen Kill Bill and the Bourne movies where they show assassins trying to get out of the business being hunted down by other assassins. Not accurate at all. Think about it. If that got around, who’d want to be an assassin? “What’s your retirement program like?” “Um. We kill you.” Here’s what really happens. You’ve heard of the witness protection program? Where criminals who agree to testify against other criminals are given a new identity and relocated? It’s a similar program. The Former Assassins Reintegration Program (FARP). We get some plastic surgery, maybe get some vocational training, get relocated and set up in a business, etc. And then we live a normal life. The agencies we used to work for are behind the misinformation you get from the previously mentioned movies and spy novels. It’s easier to let you think they’re all killed than to think they might be your neighbor or coworker. Or the cook fixing your dinner. That kind of thing makes people nervous.

One guy I used to work with got set up in an exterminating business. We all got a good laugh over that one. The motto on his truck said: “I’ll kill ’em for you.” He figured it had been a good motto for the last 23 years, why not keep it?

Occasionally things go wrong. Like the guy in a southwestern suburb who got tired of his neighbor’s loud music and assassinated him–three bullets to the head, point blank. Very effective. After that they added a psychological dimension to FARP–Conflict Management Without Elimination. It’s always a very interesting class, especially the role playing portion.

As former assassins get older they sometimes have some special needs beyond those of normal senior citizens. To help, there are special nursing homes for them, although to be honest, they don’t live very long there. A lot of them are crotchety, set in their ways, suffering from various levels of senile dementia, and they keep killing each other.

You’re probably thinking I could get in trouble for telling you all this. Well, that’s true–if they caught me. But with all the cut-backs there’s currently only one guy monitoring the media for any leaks on this program, and he spends most of his time reading movie reviews and examining Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues. He’s pretty sure some day there’ll be a security leak there and he wants to be ready. So I’m relatively safe. Plus I owe him money, so he’s not going to take me out of the picture any time soon. Besides, most of the people who could make trouble for us are afraid of us–who wants to anger a professional killer? I don’t mind angering my accountant or the receptionist at my doctor’s office, but I think twice before I get a former coworker mad. I don’t need one more reason to be looking over my shoulder (which is getting more difficult, thanks to the bursitis).

Speaking of my doctor, that’s always a touchy area for us old assassins. I mean, I’ve got a jagged knife scar on my left shoulder, a bullet scar on my ribcage, and a long, white scar on my right calf that came from a pen (Bic, I think, but that’s a long story). Those things make a doctor curious, and we’ve got to come up with reasonable explanations for all them. This French assassin I knew was bitten by a guy on his forearm years ago and had a very noticeable scar. His doctor asked him about it and he said a dog bit him. The doctor said, but those are human teeth marks. Oh-oh. Trapped. He finally just said, “Oh. I could’ve sworn that was a dog.” And left it at that.

I thought that was a pretty good answer.



Wolf wondered why his parents named him Wolf. 

“Mom, why did you name me Wolf?” he asked his mom.

Mom sighed.  “Go ask your dad, it was his idea,” she said.

Wolf found his dad sitting in front of the TV.

“Dad, why did you name me Wolf?” Wolf asked.

Dad glanced up.  “Huh?” he said.  Then his eyes returned to the TV.

“Why did you name me Wolf?” Wolf repeated.

“It’s a cool name, isn’t it!” Dad said with enthusiasm.  “Tough!  Masculine!”

“It’s kinda different,” Wolf said.

“You bet!  That’s what I like about it!  If  your mom had her way you’d just be another Jerry.”

Wolf nodded and went back to his mom.

“Dad said it’s a cool, tough name,” Wolf told her. 

Mom sighed again.  “It was between Wolf and Butch, and Wolf won.”  She stopped her veggie chopping and looked up at him.  “If you don’t like it you can always go by your middle name, you know.”

Wolf’s lip curled slightly.  “Leland?” he said.

Mom nodded.

“No, I think I’ll stick with Wolf.”

Just then his little sister came in.  Mom’s face lit up.

“Hi Chiffon, honey!  How’s my little sweetheart?” 

Wolf rolled his eyes.  “I’m going to Rock’s room,” he said.

Here’s the whole, unedited story of a very nasty mountain biking accident…

On a sunny–but very windy–Sunday afternoon I was taking a route I’ve taken before.  Initially there’s a lot of uphill trails, so I really enjoy the downhill part when I come to it.  I was going through fields filled with bright sunshine and wearing my safety sunglasses.  When I reached the top of the downhill section I gratefully got up some speed and felt the wind in my face.  The best part of mountain biking!

About two thirds of the way down this hill, the trail enters some woods and turns a little to the right.  Plunging into the heavy shadow of the trees, I experienced about 5 seconds of blindness (very bright to very dark instantly–with sunglasses).  I kept going fast because I knew the trail–or so I thought.  As my eyes were adjusting, I noticed a dark shape ahead of me.

What is that?  Something in the path? I wondered, squinting.

Yep.  A little bit closer and I realized a tree had come down and it was blocking the path.  I hit the brakes, but I was still going downhill and still going fast.  In my mind’s eye I can see that tree rushing towards me, and I can see my hands squeezing the brakes even tighter.  Almost there, the thought went through my head: I’m not going to be able to stop in time.  Oh man, this is going to be bad.

Just before I hit the tree I could feel my back tire lifting off the ground–stopping so suddenly while speeding down a hill caused my bike to go into a somersault.  The front tire crashed into the tree trunk and I was catapulted over the handle bars head first.  I was wearing a helmet, but still turned my head to the right to avoid landing directly on it. 

So I landed on my left shoulder instead, followed quickly by my left knee touching down.  Then I think I bounced, came down again (God knows where), and slid along the rutted, dirt and rock trail.  

You know how sometimes when you fall it takes a minute to figure out how badly hurt you are?  You sort of take a physical inventory.  No need this time–the crash landing was unmistakably hard and the pain was immediate.  I knew I wouldn’t just get up, brush myself off, and ride on.  In fact, my initial reaction was to writhe on the ground moaning (not very original, I know, but I wasn’t thinking clearly). 

I looked behind me at the tree and saw that my bike had followed me over it.  The downed tree was unable to stop our forward momentum, so we both flipped over it.  I guess I’m lucky my bike didn’t land on top of me. 

I tried to get up but got dizzy right away so I sat back down.  I noticed that not only did my left shoulder hurt a lot, but it felt lower than the right one.  I also noticed my left knee was pretty torn up and bleeding a lot.  Then I heard another biker coming.  Please God, I thought, don’t let him duplicate my actions and end up on top of me.

He didn’t.  He stopped in time, then came around to check on me.  I tried to stand again but still couldn’t.  He rode off to the ranger station for help, while I dug out my undamaged cell phone and called my daughter for a ride. 

The third attempt to stand up–about 10 minutes after the accident–worked, and I started walking my bike in the direction of help.

I went into the emergency room a few hours later, and ended up spending 3 days in the hospital.  The ground had been very unkind to me: separating my shoulder, bruising and gashing my knee, partially collapsing a lung, and slightly spraining my right wrist.  Without my bike helmet it would’ve been even unkinder, since the helmet was dented and cracked.   

I’ll spare you more detail and end here.  I’m mending, but still have a ways to go, although my doctor thinks I can be back up on a bike before the summer’s over.

Do I still like mountain biking?  You bet.

Short answer: deep in the wild, then in the hospital. 

I spent 5 days in the Boundary Water Canoe Area (in northern Minnesota along the Canadian border–“boundary” waters, get it?).  Me and my son and one of my sons-in-law went hiking and camping–the most rugged such trip I’ve ever been on.  Of course, carrying a 50 lb backpack through real wilderness can do that….

Then a few days after returning I went mountain biking and was one of the first to discover a tree had come down across one of the trails.  I noticed it when my bike crashed into it and I was thrown over it.  I landed very hard on my left shoulder, then ended up in the emergency room, then was admitted into the hospital with a partially collapsed lung.  Not to mention a very sore and stiff left shoulder and knee.  Spent 3 days in the hospital, and now I’ve spent a few days hobbling around the house with a cane.  I still can’t get out of bed without help, I’m like a beetle on its back–except I can’t wiggle my arms and legs because it’s too painful.

A lot of sympathy would be nice…