Hospital 07, August 2012
When I was entering my Troublesome Teen Years, my dad was around 45 years old. I thought of him as an Adult (capital A intentional), Godly authority given human form, possessed of a gravitas and wisdom that was unquestioned. Despite the fact that he made his living hefting garbage cans and delivering newspapers, he exuded a kind of dignity that I’ve never been able to match. His self-assured bearing led to the general assumption that he knew what he was talking about, no matter the topic, and he usually did.
Given the fact that I’m a product of his loins, and also the fact that I am as old now as he was then (45), I often catch myself comparing father and son. “Would he have responded as I did?” or “Would he like this movie?” or – this is the thought I had early last Saturday – “Would he climb over a chain-link fence to break into an abandoned tuberculosis hospital?”
I had that thought when I was about halfway up the fence in question, just as the chain-link started pulling away from the frame, at the moment when I realized that I could not gain a toe-hold with my boxy hiking boots, just as the panic was taking hold, and just before the security patrol turned the corner. This is not just a convenient intro. These were my actual, simultaneous thoughts: “I am not going to make it over this fence.” / “I am a bad son.”
Intelligence from highly-placed sources indicated that there would be a human-sized break in the wrought-iron fence, and then a human-sized space beneath the chain-link fence, but neither were visible. So we were stuck in the woods, looking through one fence at another fence, with a heavily-traveled security access road separating the two. My colleagues were inclined to call it a wash and head home, but I was not. “I’m going,” I muttered as I pulled on a pair of gloves and clumsily scrambled/fell over the first fence. My plan? Quickly locate the hole under the second fence and dive through. But a car came around the bend, so I dove behind a bush of stinging nettles instead. I decided that I didn’t have time to dither around looking for that hole under the fence, so I tried to climb over it. I’ll just say that it was quite a bit more difficult than I thought it would be, and that barbed wire easily cuts through $2.99 Home Depot gloves, and leave it at that. I eventually did find the (almost-)human-sized hole under the fence, motioned for my colleagues to join me… and we were in!
Good thing, too, because this is now one of my favorite hospitals we’ve visited. Beautifully detailed architecture, plenty of lung pumps and other creepy medical equipment, a treasure trove of patient records, tile mosaic murals on the outer walls, dense leafy forest in every direction, relatively clean utility tunnels connecting the buildings, easy access to the roof and a view of the ocean, all mod cons. Very photogenic.
Some odd wildlife encounters this time around. I stuck my head through a window, realizing a moment too late that the window was criss-crossed by a spider web. Turned my head slightly and saw the well-fed owner of the web a couple inches from my eye. I hurriedly jerked my head away, shuddering, heard a buzzing, looked up, and saw the fattest dragonfly I have ever seen in my life. Six inches long, and as thick as two of my fingers. Insects only bother me when they’re meaty. I also don’t like it when I can see their eyes. Or when they wiggle their antennae. I fucking hate that.
The most surreal moment happened during lunch. We ate on the top floor, sunlight streaming in through the windows, steam rising from the impenetrable jungle around us. My friend’s eyes got wide as he pointed over my shoulder. We all turned to see an enormous bird (buzzard? falcon? I have no idea) perched at the top of the turret on the next building over. He stared at us, black eyes unblinking, and slowly extended his wings to their full length. He could simply have been drying his feathers in the sun, or stretching after a nap, but it felt like a defiant territorial claim. I imagined his voice booming across to us: “GAZE UPON MY MAJESTY, HUMANS! I AM THE DESTROYER OF WORLDS!” He stayed in this pose for several minutes, long enough for me to take a picture.
On the way out, we set off an alarm.
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