Jeff called me at three in the morning, saying he wanted to shoot himself with the shotgun he claimed he had beside his bed. He was just 14. I’d had a long day, transporting kids to school, to juvenile court, to drug treatment, and when I got home, I fed my three dogs and my 11-year-old foster son, read him a story, and put him (and the dogs) to bed.
So when the phone rang at 3 AM, I was dead-tired. But I hung in there with Jeff as he shared with me the reasons why he wanted to shoot himself. Those reasons centered around his severe mood swings and his constant turmoil of being depressed.
All the time he was talking he kept working the pump of his gun, so as the talk continued, I thought he was playing me just to get attention. When none of my soft-talk got through to Jeff, I tried a hard-line approach and told him if he was scamming me, to just knock it off. Jeff went silent for long moments, and I thought I was going to hear a thunderous blast.
Several seconds later, Jeff came back to the phone, his mom trailing behind him. I heard her gasp and Jeff came back on, saying, “Talk to my mom. She will tell you I really do have a shotgun!”
She did, and then asked me what the hell was going on. I told her he had wanted to shoot himself. After she talked to him for a few minutes, she came back on and told me that Jeff was going to sleep, that she was taking the shotgun with her when she left his room.
She called me the next morning, and asked if I would come over and help them unload the gun because neither one could figure out how to eject the shell he had pumped into the magazine. I drove over, removed the shell, and had a long talk with Jeff.
Later, I learned that Jeff was diagnosed with depression and Bi-polar disorder, and he was placed on meds. I didn’t hear from him again until 9 years later. Jeff called to say he was doing fine. He asked me to meet him at Barnes and Noble so that I could give him a CD of my music. So we met there, chit-chatting at the door.
Jeff asked me a loaded question: “Do you still speak for groups like you used to do at Camp Kitaki? That magic you did back then was really cool!”
The magic he spoke of was my flash string, flash paper, and sparkle additive that I loaded my swords with to perform my knight and dragon stories. So I got to telling him one of the strangest stories of my career: The day I set the pool table on fire at the Regional Center.
Sandi Delano, the principal of Morton School had a grant to have me as a Guest Artist for several weeks with her students. She said, “What we need is 10 kids who will sign up for your writing class. So really wow them when you first perform one of your stories.”
I really wowed them all right. I flicked my lighter taped to the hilt of my sword, the flame crawled up the flash string on the blade, ignited the flash packet I had taped on the tip of the sword, and the whole sparkling, flammable contraption flew off, sailed over my head, and landed directly in the side pocket of the pool table behind me!
Soon the 50 kids in front of me began pointing and saying, “There’s a fire!” I calmly said, “No, it went out.” But when I glanced back behind me, I discovered some kid had stuffed his homework assignment into that very pocket, and the whole wad of paper caught on fire! One of the teachers ran over and blew on the six-inch high flame, and caused it to leap even higher! So finally Mister Lyford, a Walter Matthau look-alike, ran over and dumped his can of Mountain Dew into the flaming pool table pocket, and the fire went out.
Sandi Delano rushed out of her office, and the students gaped at her, wondering what her reaction was going to be my flaming accident, and without missing a beat, Sandi made a dramatic flourish with her hands and said, “Goodness gracious! Great balls of fire!”
Afterwards, 30 kids signed up for my writing class to see what I was going to burn next.
Now as I stood there 8 years later, telling Jeff that story about the pool table fire, I heard the theme to the Twilight Zone inside my head, because in the door walked Mister Lyford, the hero of that day! I shared with him that I had been just telling that story, and we all three stood there amazed to think that Fate had us standing there at that moment in time.
On any given day, I stumble my way through this life, not knowing where I am going or what I should be doing next, but on that day, I felt like God was letting me know I was on track and exactly where I was supposed to be.
And it felt pretty good.