fter he had called in sick to work Ralph sat on the couch and flipped through the TV Guide. Let's see, Good Morning America. Seemed about right as a start to this day: Good Morning, America—how's everybody doing this fine day? Later he'd have to make decisions, which channel. His finger slid down the grid underneath the twelve noon slot: Days of Our Lives, sounds OK. Guiding Light, exactly what I need. General Hospital, seen that a bit too much. One Life to Live. Felt as if his own life had merged with these daytime soaps.
What to watch this fine morning—decisions, decisions.
Earlier while getting ready for work he had passed by the open doorway to Bobby's room and paused. Bobby usually kept the door closed because of his horrid grating cough. Today the door stood open. Ralph heard a slow cadenced counting, ``eleven, . . . twelve, . . . thirteen.'' Looking in, window shades were up, morning light filled the room. Bobby was sitting with back against the headboard, a water glass in one hand and a bright yellow capsule in the other. He was methodically swallowing pills from a pile scattered on the nightstand, a little pot of gold at the end of his rainbow. He'd pick up pill, place in mouth, sip of water, tilt head, swallow, pick up pill, mouth, sip, swallow and repeat. Announcing each one with a number, drama queen to the end.
``Today's the day?'' Ralph asked.
Bobby raised a finger, Wait just a second, took a sip, swallowed and looked over smiling, ``Fourteen—didn't want to lose count.'' Then, ``Right, today is the day.''
As Bobby picked up another Nembutal Ralph asked, ``Anything I should do? Guess you won't be wanting any coffee.''
``Peace and quiet. You go on to work. Just another day, OK.''
That's when Ralph called in sick, he didn't know why, he just figured he should stick around. He went into the kitchen and started a pot of coffee then went back to the living room and sat down in front of the TV and picked up the Guide to plan out his own day.
Around noon Ralph checked in on Bobby and found him sleeping quietly, completely at peace, his breathing smooth and untroubled with none of the spasmodic cough and violent eruptions of the past months. This was not right, the pills should have done their work by now. Ralph dialed the number for Emergency Services at SF General and explained, ``My roommate has AIDS and took a bunch of barbiturates to kill himself but he hasn't died—he's not going to become a vegetable or anything?'' Ralph knew he probably wasn't making a whole lot of sense but when the person got excited, almost yelling, Give us your address, we'll get an ambulance over immediately!, he hung up.
At five that afternoon, after the soap operas ended, as the evening commute home had begun, Ralph checked again. He stood in the doorway and scanned the silent room, everything clean and in order in the fading light, that's Bobby, the empty bedside table, the water glass, hesitant to enter, wondering if he should feel something more than he does: drained. The body lay motionless under the sheet, the distant voices of a television commercial now more present and alive than his roommate. From a birth 32 years ago to this room wrapped up neatly. Bobby had been successful in his last endeavor, maybe Ralph should feel proud.
One life to live.
❖ ❖ ❖
n Thursday, July 1, 1993 about 3 p.m., pudgy, moustache sporting Gian Luigi Ferri, age 55, wheeled a sample case strapped to a dolly into an elevator of the 101 California Street building in downtown San Francisco and rode to the 34th floor. He appeared to be just another salesman making his last call of the workday. He pressed the red Emergency button to hold the elevator, stepped into the empty hallway and located the door to the conference room of the Pettit & Martin law offices. He paused outside the door to insert ear protectors and then he pushed it open.
Before settling down to business that afternoon the people in the room would have talked of their plans for the long weekend, kids, barbeques, fireworks displays. Not one would have known Gian Luidi Ferri as he entered, the only dealings the firm ever had with him had taken place over ten years before. Somehow Ferri got the demented idea that all his current problems had begun compounding from that single encounter.
The case he towed contained hundreds of rounds of ammunition for the two Intratec DC9 semi-automatic assault pistols with Hell-Fire trigger systems and the .45 caliber Colt holstered under his suitcoat. He sprayed the room with one of the TEC-9s and then moved to two lower floors firing at anyone he saw on each. Eight of the 14 random people he shot that afternoon died. He then used the .45 on himself when trapped in the raw concrete stairwell as over one hundred SFPD stormed the highrise. Ferri had been in the 101 California building about 15 minutes total.
After police verified the building was secure (a time consuming procedure during which people bled to death that otherwise could have been saved) paramedics moved most of the victims to the place best suited to handle emergencies, San Francisco General Hospital. The ER there has had a lot of experience with gunshot wounds.
A nurse on duty the afternoon of the 101 California shootings related how the next day a team of trauma counselors went through that building to assist those who worked there and later came over to the hospital to provide the same service to those on the floor that day.
The nurse remembered another afternoon when things were slow and she and a coworker were able to take a break to eat the sandwiches they'd brought for lunch. They sat across from the glass doors of the entrance ramp at the rear of the building in a pleasant, warm area lulled by the sleepy drone of routine hospital sounds. They watched as a large Lincoln with dark windows swerved into the parking lot and slammed to a halt near the delivery area. A black kid jumped out of the car, grabbed a gurney from beside the doorway and pushed it to the sedan where two other young blacks hauled a body onto the palette. All three then wheeled the gurney up the incline to the doorway, rammed the doors open and gave the gurney a hard shove inside as they turned and raced back to the car.
The gurney rolled across the floor and hit the wall next to where the two nurses sat eating. The body of a black kid rolled off and landed in an awkward crumple at their feet, wide eyes gazed at nothing. He'd been shot in the head and much of what had been inside was now oozing out from the blood caked hair and misshapened skull as they stared down holding their sandwiches.
The nurses didn't get to finish their lunch and later no one came to give them any trauma counseling either.
❖ ❖ ❖
weat crawled from his forehead and funneled into his eyes where he tried to blink away the sting. Tommie was standing guard duty in the heat 50 yards beyond the edge of the tarmac. He could see the dark treeline shimmer across a wide stretch of dried vegetation and he felt about as useless as a scarecrow in December. His C.O. had ordered him out here, out where no one ever stood guard, exposed to any VC sniper, listening to the dull whine of insects that sought the moisture on his face. From the airbase far to his back Tommie first heard and then felt the thump of the rotors and watched a Cobra swing around the perimeter and turn in his direction to settle into a lazy hover and slowly advance, scattering a circle of dust and grit that speckled his face. He squeezed his eyes shut and when he could open them he saw the grin of the forward copilot/gunner as the turret minigun swept back and forth across his position.
Tommie had joined the Marines at age seventeen at the height of the Vietnam war, his parents gave consent and all concerned were glad for him to be out of the house. He had been in-country nine months when he was caught having sex with a sailor. The Company Commander was livid, ``Son, if it was up to me we'd put you in front of a firing squad, toss the body into a paddie and be done with it.''
Standing at attention in front of the desk Tommie watched the man in starched fatigues barely able to control his rage, ''But the Marine Corps doesn't see it my way, the Colonel just wants to give you a bad conduct discharge and get you out of here soon as possible so us soldiers can get on with this war.''
At first confined to quarters, then billeted alone and separate in a tent with no sandbags and now given this special guard duty, to stand all day alone, almost off-base while two Marines in an attack helicopter hover and glare at him. The expedited discharge came through and when the C.O. realized it meant Tommie was going home he tried to rescind the orders, wanted to keep Tommie there a little longer, send the little queer home in a body bag.
But he was unsuccessful and on Tommie's last day with the outfit he stood again in front of the desk with two MPs waiting outside the door. Even now the C.O. was trying, on the phone, ``Yes Colonel I'm aware of that but the situation here has changed and we'd like to keep him a bit longer.'' A silence as he listens and then, before hanging up, a dejected, ``Yes sir.''
The man signs along the bottom of the sheet of paper on his desk, pushes it in Tommie's direction and finally looks up, ``Get out! Get out of my sight!''
Tommie made it back to the world and at some point moved to San Francisco with the great influx of the late 1970s. There, a bit over a decade later, what the VC and the NVA and the USMC had been unable to do HIV accomplished.