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Looking back over four years of columns

By Walter Jowers

DECEMBER 28, 1999:  This being my last column of the year, and the century, I feel an urge to reflect on some of the stuff I've covered here. First, some raw data:

First Helter Shelter appears: August 1995. Number of consecutive columns: 205. Streak busted: August 1999. Total Helter Shelters: 221.

Recurring themes include:

My three three-nippled friends
Proving that aberrations are the norm. I understand that three-nipplehood occurs in one out of every 200 people. I don't know 600 people, and I surely don't have 600 friends. I've got no business knowing three tri-nips. Yet I do. So next time you think you're safe from freakish things--like some dumb-ass burning down your apartment complex by tossing a flaming log out on the balcony--I want you to picture me lounging by the pool with Greg, Hop, and Bobbie Ann. Four people, 11 nipples. Burn that into your memory.

Wife Brenda, daughter Jess, and co-inspector Rick
Further proof of the three-nipple conundrum. There's nothing I could've done to deserve any one of 'em, let alone all three. I met wife Brenda at Myrtle Beach, S.C. Meeting Brenda led to the birth of daughter Jess, who delights us every day and makes me sorry I ever wished for an old hairy-legged boy child. Co-inspector Rick worked 22 years at the L.A. Times, then decided to move to Tennessee and be a home inspector. He literally showed up on my porch one day, and we've worked together ever since. He's been the best business partner and friend I can imagine.

My wretched pet luck
The yard of my old house in South Carolina is littered with the bones of my ex-pets. Daisy the dog got snake-bit. Nuisance the dog got intractable mange, and I had to put her down myself. Martin the dog got run over but made it back to the house, so he could flop over and die in front of me. Mess the cat got breast cancer. Right now, I've got cat Sassy, who'll sit with me only if I hold my legs a certain way. Cat Ivory will come near me only when I'm in the bathroom. Dog Stan is useless; he won't play with any of us. The only good thing about him is that his barking bothers the condo-dwelling art dealer two doors down.

My wretched immediate-family luck
My mother, Susie, woke up in the middle of the night with chest pain and died on her way to the hospital. She was 45. My father, Jabo, drank to excess, built illegal liquor stills, and soldered new VIN numbers into stolen automobiles. But he had a powerful love for me. In his own assbackwards way, Jabo was a perfect role model. Anybody with a thimbleful of brains would've looked at Jabo and thought, If a man could live the polar opposite of Jabo's life, but still love his child like that, he'd be all right. That's the big lesson I got from living with Jabo, up until he dropped dead while trying to bugaloo at age 48.

Then there's my hearing-voices, seeing-Jesus schizophrenic sister Ann, who's doing better these days with the new medication. Her husband, Vann, has loved her and kept her safe for 35 years now. If anybody's going to heaven, Vann's going. Finally, there's my redneck brother Geames, who was shot by a jealous husband and died at age 31.

My great good fortune overall
I know my parents had warning signs of the heart attacks that killed them, but they either ignored the signs or misunderstood them. I paid attention to that little band of pain between my armpits back in August, and I called my internist, John Gibson. He sent me to Dr. Fredi, who did a fine job of reading the angiogram, and to Dr. Lea, who did an excellent job of cutting and stitching.

But of all the docs, nurses, and techs who pulled my fanny out of the flames, Gibson was the one who beat even Brenda to my side in the recovery room after my bypass surgery. (He didn't have to wait for visiting hours.) When you're stuck in intensive care with a tube down your throat, and your internist shows up to squeeze your hand, you know you've got the right doctor. Gibson tells me I should do fine for many a year, and I do believe he's right.

Let me offer this final end-of-year reflection: Once a surgeon's been wrist-deep in your chest, once your heart's been stopped, replumbed, and restarted, it becomes abundantly clear that just one sweet breath--the way it goes in cool and comes out nice and warm--is worthy of much appreciation. The prospect of many more years of breathing, and looking into the beautiful faces of a loving wife and daughter, are beyond priceless. Doing all that, and being invited to write these little stories, and having the people who read 'em tell you they hope you get well soon.... I can't even start to tell you how good that is.

I am well. I could go bear hunting with a switch. Thanks for asking.

Y'all enjoy the new year.

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