The Life and Times of Keith Ross by Ken David Stewart
Two months ago in the year 2017 Keith Ross turned sixty-five. Most of the time he wished that he had died ten years earlier. When he was fifty-five, he still thought he was doing reasonably well. Although he was about forty pounds overweight at this age, he was still relatively healthy and was functional most of the time. He held a job he liked, although he hated dealing with his supervisor.
Although he had been in debt for most of his adult years, his financial liabilities had never seemed nearly as ponderous as they were at present. The thing was that Keith never expected to wake up one morning only to find that he was now officially a senior citizen. He didn’t mind being sixty-five years old, at least on paper. Keith just didn’t like all the negative baggage that came with old age. He wasn’t happy about the fact that he was now approximately ninety pounds overweight and that his stretches of good health were now becoming few and far between. The truth be told, he felt like shit most of the time. Besides the limitations that come with obesity, his family doctor had informed Keith that he now had a mild case of COPD. After forty plus years of smoking a pack a day of cigarettes what else could he expect.
Keith took hold of his Roku remote and found the Creflo Dollar channel on his tv. He had now completed his substitute teaching assignments for the rest of this year. Keith was exhausted and he really hadn’t been feeling well since January of 2017. His doctors could not properly say what ailed him so Keith had to come up with a diagnosis of his own. Left to his own devices, after hours and days of personal research, Keith concluded that he was suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia These medical conditions caused Keith to lack any significant and sustained energy to get done what he both needed and wanted to do.
He wanted to continue with his substitute teaching gigs in the fall, but this month he had found his assignments to be extremely exhausting to the extent that he was unable to do much but lie on the couch when he got home from work. Keith had managed to struggle through most of this year by relying upon sheer willpower, a doctor prescribed stimulant and a concoction of natural supplements. For a while his self designed treatment protocol appeared to be working. For about one month he felt relatively healthy and could occasionally string together two or three days in which he could actively pursue some of his extracurricular hobbies after work.
Unfortunately, he had ultimately neither discovered the secret to sustained energy nor the fountain of youth. He woke up one morning to find that his get up and go had got up and gone. He found this realization to be very troubling and depressing.
Keith surely didn’t need any more things to make him feel depressed. He suffered from what is clinically termed double depression for most of his adult life. Double depression means that one is mildly depressed most of the time, but will occasionally succumb to severe episodes of major depression.
This morning Keith Ross was hoping that listening to Creflo Dollar’s message would help to improve his mood and provide him with some inspiration. He did attend a local church occasionally, but preferred to stay at home and watch services via the internet.
Keith had many TV preachers that he watched including Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Joseph Prince, Patricia King, Jim Richards and Todd Bentley. Many years ago he got introduced to the Charismatic stream of Christian theology through the influence of one of his old girlfriends.
He preferred to believe in a positive, motivating theology. He knew that there were more mainstream theologies out there, but over the years he had become very disillusioned with them. Keith’s father had been a Baptist preacher who taught a very conservative view of the Bible and the Christian life. Keith had always thought that there had to be more to Christianity than this and his former girlfriend had shown him that that he could go much deeper in his relationship with God.
Keith wanted to believe that God loved him and wanted him to be blessed with good health and financial prosperity. He did not want to get rich. He only desired to get all his debts paid off death and to have enough money for a comfortable lifestyle.
The next morning Keith Ross woke up and felt miserable. It was another morning where he felt as if he had never slept during the night. He groggily got off his ragged, old, broken down couch where he slept most nights. He often fell asleep on the couch while reading or watching TV.
Keith frequently watched Fox News before he went to bed. When he was young man, he was very much a socialist, but as he got older, he began to see the negative characteristics of a totally socialized society. At first, he wasn’t crazy about Donald Trump, but during the first six months of Trump’s presidency, Keith was starting to really admire the way the new president took tough stands on issues that he strongly believed in.
He took out his favorite glass of water from the kitchen shelf and began taking his massive regimen of medications and dietary supplements. Keith followed this with a bowl of Raisin Bran cereal. He’s preferred Frosted Flakes, but he had recently decided to be more careful about his food choices.
As soon as he finished his breakfast, Keith felt so tired that he lied down on the couch. After about five minutes had passed, he got up and looked out the window. The sun was shining brightly. He promptly turned on the weather channel to check today’s forecast. The weather channel reported a high of 28°C with sunny skies throughout the day. He started to think about going for a bike ride. Keith looked up at his beautiful, black Giant mountain bike parked a few feet behind his large, flat screen TV.
Keith decided to make himself go for a bike ride. He now had too many days when he had to ‘push himself’ to do anything. Was he getting old or was it just that he’s out of shape and not eating nutritious meals? Probably Keith’s chronic fatigue was due to a variety of factors.
There was beautiful weather outside and Keith enjoyed his morning bike rides. He rated his physical stamina by his ability to keep going for bike rides year after year.
When Keith returned from his ride, he returned to his old, broken down orange and yellow couch. Keith didn’t know if it was just psychological, but Keith found that taking short power naps during the day allowed him to get more accomplished.
One of Keith’s favorite avocations was writing fiction novels. He had self published three of his original works so far, but none of them had made him any money. Nevertheless, Keith enjoyed the writing process and he found it to be very therapeutic. He found it amazing how the act of writing dredged up memories from the past and old traumas that you thought you had forgotten.
Keith was presently working on a novel that he had temporarily given the title, Chaos. Keith had just started his first rough draft of chapter five after re-reading and self editing chapter four.
Keith was just about to begin work on chapter five. Keith was startled by a loud knock on his front door. When he got up from his comfortable, black leather office chair, he saw a young woman who appeared to be in her late teens or early twenties. The young female was dressed all in black and was probably a goth. Keith had run into the odd goth here and there when he subbed in some of his local high schools.
“Hey, I’m Tamara. I’m your new neighbor. I’ve been dying to meet you so I brought over some spicy broccoli soup and sandwiches. I thought that maybe we could have lunch and then hang out for a while.”
Tamara’s voice was a bit shaky and she probably had to really pump up her courage to knock on her new neighbor’s door. Keith noticed that Tamara was wearing the classic black Nirvana tee shirt, the one with a smiley face and gold lettering on it. She wore extra large, round, gold earrings and had several piercings through her eyebrows, nose and lips.
“Tamara, I’m pleased to meet you. My name is Keith Ross and I’m a senior citizen. There’s just me and my dog Rex living here now. I’d like it very much if we could have lunch together.”
“Cool,” Tamara said as she started arranging her food on Keith’s kitchen table. Keith’s furnishings were very modest. When he and his last girlfriend split up, she took all the good, newer furniture for herself. Keith and Tamara could hear loud barking coming from the backyard.
“That’s my dog, Rex. Do you mind if I let him come in the house?” Keith asked.
“No problem. man. I love animals. What kind of dog is it?”
“Rex is a German shepherd with a very sweet disposition. Rex loves people, especially young people.”
As soon as Keith opened his back porch door to let Rex in, the dog immediately started to bark at the stranger. Tamara held out her left hand for Rex to sniff. He handed over to Tamara a plastic baggie filled with chopped up Rollover Sausage and asked her to give his dog a treat. Rex jumped up for the treat so fast that he almost bit Tamara’s fingers.
After receiving his treat, Rex was now ready to make friends with Tamara and to get some affection from her. Rex turned over on his back signifying the canine submission position.
“Are you ready to eat lunch now, Keith?” Tamara asked as she moved towards Keith’s black with orange polka-dots kitchen table. Which drawer is your cutlery in?”
“The second drawer on the left-hand side,” Keith answered. Tamara found two soup bowls and dished out some soup in Keith’s red bowl.
“Thanks, Tamara. It isn’t very often that someone brings me lunch,” Keith said as he put a large spoon in his bowl of soup.
“Don’t you have any family or friends?” Tamara asked.
“No one that visits me much anymore,” Keith answered.
“Why is that?”
“Well the truth is that I outlived my only real friend. He passed on from lung cancer last year.”
“Were you close friends?” Tamara asked while putting some crackers in Keith’s soup.
“Yes, we were. I knew Paul from our elementary school days. We lived on the same block and sort of grew up together,” Keith added.
“That must’ve been a terrible loss for you,” Tamara commented as she put one of her hands over Keith’s left hand. Keith wiped a tear from his eye.
“How about family, Keith?” Tamara asked.
“I don’t see or hear from any of them very often. I have a brother and sister who are quite a bit older than me. Both live in managed care facilities now,” Keith said.
“Did you ever have a wife or kids?” Tamara asked.
“Yeah, I was married once. About thirty years ago. My ex-wife and I had one son together,” he said reaching for one of Tamara’s homemade corned beef sandwiches.
“So, you’re divorced?” Tamara asked.
Keith nodded his head.
“What about your son? Do you ever hear from him?”
“Not very often. Maybe once or twice a year. I think he still blames me for the breakup of our family.”
‘How about you, Tamara?” Keith asked. “I don’t know anything about you yet.”
“Well, I just moved in with my grandmother,” Tamara answered.
“You mean Brenda Reese? I’ve talked to her many times. She’s a nice lady. She is still known as the pet rescue lady in the neighborhood. Brenda always has at least two stray animals that she keeps until she can find good homes for them. Where were you living before you moved in with your grandma?” Keith asked.
“I was living with my boyfriend, Blake Edwards in Orlando, Florida, not too far from the Everglades,” Tamara answered.
“Where’s Blake living now?”
“He’s in Manitoba right now getting free room and board in The Headingly Correctional Facility. He originally moved to Winnipeg with me and got himself a bachelor suite on Furby Street. After living there for only two days Blake tried to rob a Chinese restaurant two blocks away. The truth is that Blake is not a very smart criminal. It only took the cops about an hour to arrest him,” Tamara answered.
“When is he going to be released from jail?” Keith asked grabbing another corned beef sandwich.
“They’ll probably keep him for a few months as Blake gets into trouble with the law a lot. I think that Blake made a poor choice when he decided to be a career outlaw. The truth is that he is not very good at it, but he hasn’t figured that out yet.”
“Are you in love with Blake?” Keith asked as Tamara took a sip from her glass of water.
“It’s hard to say. I don’t really know what love is. If you are talking about a physical, chemical attraction to Blake, yeah, it’s there. I don’t approve of his lifestyle though. I wish he’d grow up, get a job and have some positive direction for his life.”
“It sounds like you want a good quality life. How did you end up moving to Winnipeg?”
“That was Marilyn’s idea. She’s my stepmother. She didn’t want me living that close to the Everglades. Marilyn is worried that it’s too dangerous a location for me. About a month ago, she was watching tv and saw a news story about a nine- foot Burmese python that wandered into one of our neighbor’s yard in Orlando. The snake had eaten their dog. Marilyn phoned Brenda, my grandmother, and asked if I could live with her for awhile until I found a place of my own in Winnipeg. Marilyn didn’t know that Blake was coming to Winnipeg with me.”
“After lunch do you want to take your dog for a walk? We can take mine too. He’s an American cocker spaniel. I left him at Grandma’s house,” Tamara asked.
“That’s a great idea. I usually take Rex out for a walk just about every day. We only walk for about ten to fifteen minutes. Rex is strong and I’m an old man. I’m planning to get myself in better shape this summer, though. Do you have a bicycle, Tamara?” he asked.
“Yes, I have a red and white Trek,” Tamara answered.
“Would you like to go for a bike ride with me? I like to cycle around St. Vital Park.”
“I would love to. That would give me more motivation to exercise,” Keith responded.
Just as Keith took a long sip from his glass of water, he saw two police constables walking up to his front door.
“I wonder why the police are coming to my house. I didn’t call them,” he said looking puzzled.
When Keith opened the door for the two police officers, a young male constable looked Keith in the eye. “Do you have a young lady named Tamara Cameo staying with you?”
Keith shrugged. “Yes, but I just met her. She just came over for lunch.”
Tamara stepped in front of Keith and confidently confronted the constable. “I know why you’re here. You’re going to pick me up for breaching my parole last night.”
“That’s right,” said the other constable, a young, attractive female police officer. We were just at your grandmother’s house and she told us you might be here. Place your hands behind your back. I’m going to have to handcuff you.”
“Just as the police constable was putting the handcuffs on Tamara, her grandmother crossed into Keith’s yard to see what all the excitement was about.
Brenda Reeves had a slim build and was an attractive lady who had just celebrated her fifty fourth birthday. She presented with a calm demeanor as she approached the police officers.
“Sorry about this, constables. I was just telling Tamara yesterday how important it is to meet with her parole officer.”
“I didn’t think that they would arrest me today. I just got caught for selling a little bit of weed,” Tamara said as an annoyed look spread across her face.
“The court takes skipping mandated appointments very seriously, my dear,” the young, blonde police officer said as she checked to see if she had positioned the handcuffs correctly.
“We came over to your grandmother’s house as soon as we were notified by your parole officer that you failed to attend this morning’s meeting.”
“I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I was going to phone Sarah, my PO, to find out if I could meet with her later today. What the heck. Prime Minister Trudeau is going to legalize marijuana next year anyway,” Tamara protested.
The young, handsome male constable took Tamara’s right arm and started to move her towards the police car.
“That’s all well and good, but you still have to wait until next year. Maybe by then, you can get a license to sell weed legally and maybe open up your own shop,” Constable Williams said with a grin.
Tamara started to chuckle. “That sounds like a plan, but I guess you guys have to take me to jail today.”
“That’s right,” said Constable Humie, the attractive blonde female constable.
Keith and Brenda watched as the police car drove away with Tamara. As soon as the car turned a corner and was out of sight, Brenda sighed and looked desperately up at Keith.
“Keith, I need a hug,” Brenda said, as tears starting to run down her face. He hugged her and the two neighbors stayed in a close embrace for over a minute.
When Brenda finally let go of Keith she asked, “Keith, can you come over to my house for coffee and maybe some pie or cookies?”
“I’m not working this afternoon. I’d be glad to come over. I think you need someone to talk to, my dear lady,” he answered.
“You couldn’t be more right about that,” Brenda said letting out a huge sigh of relief.
Brenda owned a beautiful house in the Norwood Flats area of Winnipeg. She was now the sole owner of Brenda’s Cleaning Service. She had contracts with many major business offices in the city as well as having a solid base of residential clients. Brenda ran a successful janitorial service business that was known for its efficiency, reliability and charging reasonable and affordable prices for services rendered.
Before she set up her own janitorial company, Brenda had been a very successful and respected grade six teacher up until her last teaching assignment. During this time, Brenda was hit with a bombardment of both personal and professional crises. Her father had recently passed away after a long battle with prostate cancer and shortly after, the brother that Brenda felt the closest to was killed in a car accident by an impaired driver. That year the school where she worked at underwent a change of administration. Brenda now had to adjust to two administrators who had both decided that Brenda’s performance as a teacher was now below the minimum standards.
This series of crises, all coming together around the same time -period, eventually pushed Brenda over the edge.
Things came to head on the day that one of Brenda’s colleagues found her in the staff shower room trying to hang yourself. A one -month compulsory hospitalization in a psychiatric ward, followed by two years of staying at home collecting long-term disability benefits effectively ended Brenda’s teaching career.
Brenda asked Keith to take a seat at the center bar in her kitchen. It was made of marble, had a speckled design of silver and black and had the capacity to seat up to eight people.
As Keith started to lower himself into a stylish, modern chair, Brenda noticed that he was having a difficult time seating himself. She could hear him utter an audible groan.
“Keith, are you in pain?” Brenda asked, her voice registering noticeable concern.
“Yes. Unfortunately, I’m in a lot of pain. I have my good days and my bad days. Sometimes I have good months and bad months,” Keith answered.
“How long have you suffered like this?”
“For most of my adult life. I think it began in my mid-thirties. One day I was performing a weight resistance exercise at the gym, when I felt a horrendous shot of pain in my lower back. From then on, I’ve had nothing but trouble with my lower back. Fortunately, it will sometimes go into remission for two or three months. Just to make the pot a little bit sweeter, I also developed a serious case of fibromyalgia in my forties.”
“Is fibromyalgia what they used to call the yuppie flu”?
“Actually, chronic fatigue syndrome was usually the condition that earned that unfortunate moniker, but I’m sure that fibromyalgia would also fall under the same umbrella.”
“So how do you cope with the pain?”
“By God’s grace and the compassion of my family doctor, Dr. Rickland who prescribes a daily dose of Tylenol threes and naproxen to treat my chronic pain syndrome.”
“Does it work for the pain?”
“To some extent, but not entirely. It helps to numb the pain enough so that I can continue working on a part-time basis. When my condition really gets bad, I have to take a month to six weeks off work and see my chiropractor on almost a daily basis.”
“Has chiropractic helped?”
“I believe so, but doesn’t stop the pain right away.”
“Have you ever smoked marijuana, Keith?” Brenda asked. Oh, before you answer, I’m going to make some Tim Horton’s coffee and bring out a plate of home baked oatmeal and raisin cookies.”
“Are they big?” Keith asked.
“I haven’t heard any guys complain about the size?”
Keith looked startled for a second and then burst out laughing.
“I was referring to the cookies, but I enjoy them large and firm in both contextual meanings.”
“My God, Keith. You are a funny man. I think we both needed a good laugh.”
“Now back to my original question. Have you ever smoked marijuana?
“Ah, hell. That was decades ago. When I was going to high school I’d take a toke off a joint as it was passed around at a party. I never liked weed enough to even buy a nickel bag for myself. Besides I couldn’t roll a decent joint by myself. I never thought of using a pot pipe. No one I knew had one,” Keith answered.
“Did you enjoy smoking grass when you were young man?” Brenda asked
“Not really. I much preferred drinking beer. I was quite shy when I was young guy and found it difficult to have a conversation with anyone when I was sober. All that changed after I had about three beers. Suddenly, I became loquacious and was the life of the party. When I got stoned on pot it had the opposite effect upon me. I would try to carry on an intelligent conversation with someone and would find that I had trouble getting the right words out.”
“The new cannabis products that are available are much better than the pot we used to smoke in the seventies. Would you like to try some?” Brenda asked.
“You mean right now?” Keith asked.
“Yes, I use cannabis often. It helps to relieve my anxiety. I have a couple of joints rolled already.”
“Yeah what the heck. I’ve tried almost everything else to treat this chronic pain,” Keith replied.
“Let’s move over to the living room and watch a video while we have our snack and smoke some weed. Are you okay with that?” Brenda asked.
“Sure, is there a particular video you had in mind?”
“Did you ever like Led Zeppelin, Keith? I mean when you were younger.”
“I love Led Zeppelin I still listen to their music now. In fact, I’m trying to learn some of their songs on my bass guitar. I’m not that good a player yet, but I enjoy learning to play the bass riffs of classic metal songs.
“Wow! You like Led Zeppelin and are a bass player too. I didn’t know we had so much in common. I love Led Zeppelin’s music too and I play guitar. Like you, I don’t think I’m very good yet, but I really enjoy practicing. The video I’ve got in mind is Celebration Day, Led Zeppelin’s reunion concert.”
“Fantastic. Put it on,” Keith said.
Brenda took a look at her DVD collection on one of the shelves of her solid oak bookcase. She was very organized and had her videos arranged according to alphabetical order. It didn’t take her long to find the Celebration Day video. Keith took a seat on Brenda’s red leather sofa.
“I can’t believe it Brenda. Everything in your house is so neat and organized.”
“Why, thank you, Keith. You need to give my mother credit for that. That’s how she trained me.”
Before Brenda put in the video in the DVD player she walked over the kitchen to get the oatmeal raisin cookies and the coffee.
“Let me give you a hand Brenda. I’ll get the coffee and the smoking supplies.”
“Thank you, Keith. I sure appreciate all your help.”
After she set herself down on the sofa Brenda filled a small orange and silver colored pipe with some Killer B. Kush, a high-grade hybrid strain of cannabis. She took a couple of tokes from the pipe before passing it over to Keith. She intentionally slid very close to Keith on the sofa. Keith was a little surprised but having Brenda’s body so close to his made him very happy.
Keith reached over to the coffee table and immediately started to devour an extra large oatmeal raisin cookie.
“Two tokes and I’ve got the munchies already. This isn’t going to help with my weight problem Brenda.”
“Don’t worry. If I know my daughter, she will be offering you plenty of opportunities to work off that excess weight. Tamara’s very athletic. She gets up early every morning and goes jogging with her dog. She also likes to go for long bike rides on her Trek. When that’s not enough for her, she goes to Shapes gym for a workout. I can tell that she likes you already Keith.”
“Even though I’ve only just met Tamara the feeling is mutual. She seems to be a really smart kid. Very cool.”
“I would greatly appreciate it if you could spend some time with her. Tamara really needs a good male role model in her life. Her father left his family when she was only five years old. She’s been hurting over her loss ever since. And she doesn’t always make the best decisions when choosing boyfriends.”
Keith Ross was an early riser. This was not by choice. His faithful black lab, Rex would wake his owner up by licking his bare feet. Keith hadn’t slept on his king-sized bed since the night his ex-wife left. He didn’t like the dark. It scared him. Every emotion attached to living alone scared him. He chose to sleep on his old worn out leather sofa with Rex right beside him. Keith didn’t own a pair of pajamas. He preferred to fall asleep on the couch in his street clothes that usually consisted of one of his favorite tee shirts and a pair of black sweatpants with white stripes running down both sides.
Keith bore a strong physical resemblance to the late, great Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. He was actually a big fan of Jerry Garcia. Keith just wished that he could master a musical instrument the way the Grateful Dead’s American icon did with ease.