“Someone is here to see you,” the nurse said, in a voice that was more or less indistinguishable from the battle cry of a bull elephant. It was March 26, 1988, and I was lying in a hospital bed near the top of what was then Riverside Methodist Hospital’s only tower. Four days previously, I’d been smacked by a 10-wheel Mack lumber truck during a brief street ride on my Free Agent Limo. The right fender had broken my neck then I’d been tangled in the back wheels of the trailer before being gored in the back by the recurve of the rear bumper which then dragged me a hundred feet, face-down, along the gravel shoulder. No, that’s not the reason I’m ugly. I was born this way.
At some point my right femur had shattered into four pieces, allowing me to kick myself in the face with my blue-and-white “Big Nike” high-top during my merry trip. When I came to a halt, I had a brief chat with my pal Woody, who was riding with me, as to the state of my bike. After they loaded me in the ambulance I had the good luck to pass out and stay that way for a while.
It hadn’t been certain that I would survive the thing but I was helped both by my cockroach-like nature and the willingness of a hotshot 31-year-old orthopedic specialist to cut open my right leg, scoop out the garbage, and install a shiny new titanium femur nail in its place. Top billing, however, has to go to Dr. Janet Bay, who happened to be walking by as they were bringing me in, diagnosed the spinal injury from looking at my pupils, and immediately stabilized my neck. Otherwise I’d be a “quad” with a breathing machine today. Then, as now, Dr. Bay wore a crew cut; I repeatedly called her “sir” during our initial interactions, mostly because I’d had my head dragged along the road. What can I say. In her place I’d have let me die.
Anyway. Four days later I was sitting in the hospital with a mind-numbing amount of pain but some not inconsiderable satisfaction from the brand-new Sony D-2 Discman sitting in my lap. My father had arrived with it shortly after the femur surgery. Something about his time in Vietnam must have told him that my biggest enemy in the weeks to come would be boredom. He’d also brought Eric B. and Rakin’s “Paid In Full” so I would have something to play in said Discman.
When the nurse announced that visitor in a voice to vibrate my deeply-injured head like a struck bell, I was surprised but not shocked to see my Honors English III teacher, Scott Weber. If any of my teachers would have bothered to see me, it would be him; after all, his class was the only one I didn’t spend either talking back or sleeping through. In truth, he was more than a little bit overqualified to be a high school teacher and he would go on to be a significant landholder and gun dealer in Cody, Wyoming, where he has made plenty of enemies. His debut novel, Plain People, is a joy to read.
But I digress. Mr. Weber brought me his condolences, and he also brought me two brand-new CDs. One of them was the fourth Led Zep album, the other was Now and Zen, Robert Plant’s oft-panned Eighties electronica record complete with a DJ merrily scratching his way through tracks like “Tall Cool One” and “Walking Towards Paradise”. It was a nontrivial gift, $32 spent on an injured kid in an era where a high school teacher was lucky to earn $300 a week after tax. Mr. Weber recently told me that he’d bought himself a loaded Audi A8 with the money he made selling guns; as far as I’m concerned he deserves a Phantom EWB.
Needless to say, both of those CDs are etched in my head from the hundreds of times I listened to them in the weeks that followed. About a decade ago, I “ripped” them into my iTunes; six years ago, I uploaded those MP3s to Amazon Music. It has been a long time since I actually played either disc. But I still own them, I have unlimited license to use them as I like, and at any time I like I can pull them out and listen to them, even though it has been thirty years since Mr. Weber bought them for me.
I’m telling this rather long story because of a notification that Amazon Music just served me regarding my Amazon Music Player and the “250,000 song service” for which I currently pay. There’s a difference between ownership of an item and the use of a service, and Amazon has decided to forcibly remind me of that difference.