My life as a man #23

Funny story written by Francois Dubois, S.J.

Monday, 22 October 2012

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Rocket Man

A tribute to the best friend I ever had

For a man who has a generally disagreeable disposition, I manage to retain a goodly number of close friends. Admittedly, not many of those friends are women (as you are already aware of if you follow this series at all), yet enough are women that I know I'm not a total loser with women although I have done my damnedest, most of the time.

Though, as I age, there are far fewer new friends and, sadly, fewer old friends than there were the previous year: some have drifted away, or worse still, some have died. But that is the way of life; I don't complain as much as mourn.

We hate it when those we love and consider dear to us pass on. We hate to say, "My good friend so and so died," don't we. We categorically despise the idea that a loved one is dead, gone for good, is no more.

I'm no different than most folks, believe me. But for myself, from about the age of 19, I've not feared dying, my dying. I've been to war; I lost friends; I was shot up and left for dead. Death is an old acquaintance that shall surely come round to see me again. I do not fear that reunion.

Let me share something with you readers: a year ago, in October 2011, I was a patient in a hospice house, trying to die. For a year, I'd been in and out of hospitals and ICU's. My blood was bad and my lungs were worse. I spent the better part of three weeks in a coma.

My family and friends sat death watch after death watch at my bedside and by phone. I was in and out of consciousness and assured my folks that I was fine with dying; I was more than ready. More than once, I was accused of being afraid to live.


In my life as a man there have been times that I just wanted to die (not in a suicidal way). Not to put too fine a point on it though, I was very sick, weak, unable to think, and just very tired of living.

Yet I lingered on and on and on, until the entire hospice house held prayer vigils outside my door praying to God that I would finally die and get out of their hair. You have to be caring to work in a hospice house; but above all, you must have the patience of a God. I wore out that God for damned sure.

Nope, I didn't die.

Instead, the best friend I ever had in my entire life, Bert Hughes, contracted pancreatic cancer and, in a little over fourteen months, died while talking to me on the telephone. His last words were, "I love you." His wife took the phone from his hand and said the words Bert had not been able to speak: "I love you, but not in a gay way." Bert learned that phrase right here on He cherished it.

Bert Hughes was a short, skinny, tubercular looking nerdy kid who moved from Mississippi to West Virginia the year John Kennedy died. We met in junior high science class and found we shared many things; chief among them was a hatred of science and mathematics teachers.

Bert Hughes was the first kid I knew who wore a pocket protector. He had a cool TI slide rule hanging from a pouch on his belt (later a cool Texas Instruments battery powered calculator would replace the slide rule). His one abiding hobby was astronomy. He had several homemade telescopes. He even ground the glass mirror on his five inch reflector scope.

We looked at a lot of stars, planets, and nekkid teenaged girls with those lovingly hand crafted telescopes!

Now, let's talk pre-Jesuit Francois Dubois: I was a tall, skinny kid who had only one redeeming social value. I could hit a curveball, a slider, a knuckle ball, and there was little heat that could get by me. Additionally, I was willing to play catcher and could throw out base runners.

Other than that, I could not walk and chew bubblegum at the same time. And if baseball came between me and science or Boy Scouting, baseball lost. I rode a crest of popularity when I played and dived deep into social hell when I refused.

Girls hated Bert and girls hated me, at least until they needed help with class work. Then, Bert and I were able to work out "arrangements" with the gals-to both sexes' advantage.

Other guys hated Bert and they hated me, at least until we showed them how to construct various improvised explosive devices, that is. Then, we were very popular and worked out arrangements for personal security services from some of the very guys who'd wanted us dead.

Left to our own devices, we were Mad Scientists, inventors, and true to our southern Appalachian roots, distillers of fine ethanol.

One of our best sellers, at least between 1965 and 1968, was Green Goddam, 120 proof pure grain neutral spirits mixed with lime kool aid. And, let me never forget Bert's finest concoction, Purple Jesus, 150 proof PGA mixed with Welches Grape Juice." We made a mint.

But we got a little too much attention from school authorities. They had Bert and I tested, psychologically and scholastically. We were over the top in both areas: too crazy to be around other kids, and too smart to benefit from high school classes such as they were back then. So they isolated us and gave us "projects" such as building a functioning AM radio station from a bunch of old TV sets and junk WWII radio transmitters.

Well, hell yes we built a goddamned radio station. It was so good it blew three Charleston stations completely off the air-and I'm not talking about our programming either.

About the time the agents from the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission showed up to find the whammer-jammer that was fucking with the airwaves, the school gave us a laboratory, WITH REAL FUCKING CHEMICALS TO PLAY WITH!

Well, what the hell do you think Bert and I did with the chemicals? Well, there was the time we took pure potassium out of the oil in which it was kept to see how long it took to ignite (NOT LONG). Gee were we surprised when the entire room was filled with smoke from a sugar cubed size piece of potassium.

Were you aware that a CO2 canister is useless against a potassium fire? We opened the windows to vent out the smoke and when we looked down we saw thirty cop cars and four dozen cops standing around in the parking lot, smoking ciggies and we thought our gooses were surely cooked. But no, the Mad Scientist's God was smiling down upon us because not one fucking cop ever looked up to see the smoke billowing out of the chem lab.

Next we moved on to applied rocketry, but not the kind where a nerdy asshole builds a little rocket that he fills with commercial propellant. Oh hell no, not me and Bert.

We robbed banks, not for cash, but for the metal ball point pens they passed out.


We shoved a metal plug through the tip end so no gas could escape there, then jammed paper match heads into the barrel of the pen and into the top of the pen (after removing the clicker, of course. Next we glued plastic arrow fletching to the "rocket." And we put a little alcohol soaked fuse in the business end of the craft. All that was left to do was to light our creation and see how high it would fly.

For some reason, maybe because Bert was a bit afraid of matches, I always ended up lighting the fuses. At first there were some setbacks: the fuckers exploded. Have you any idea the amount of shrapnel put off by a ball point pen?

Well, it's all about mass, not volume. We started stealing metal trash can lids as protection after the first couple of explosions. Several actually flew a bit prior to exploding. Some flew very fast and with a surprising amount of armor piercing ability, if you consider how hard it is to tear a hole in a fire door, that is.

Well enough of all that. What I am trying to say is that due to our closeness as kids, we became even closer as adults. Women calmed us a bit when we were apart from one another, but whenever Bert and I got together as adults; the women, they say became invisible: the only difference in our "scientific" activities was our financial ability to buy more stuff to blow up. We were doing Myth Busters long before those Discover guys. But I would bet good money they started out the same way.

But back to dying: When it became obvious that we were both dying, our respective mates asked how we wanted our ashes scattered. It was a no brainer for Bert and me. After Bert's cremation, I received a one-once vial of his ashes.

I'm actually very healthy now, but when I die, my will states that a one-once vial of my ashes will be mixed with his and the two ounces of Bert and Francois will be launched, in an exploding rocket, over the Kanawha River, above Gauley Bridge. And me and Bert, we'll go out together, in one hell of a gay explosion!

The funny story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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