Tuesday, March 31, 2009


by Bill Fullerton

In the winter of 1971, Gwen Kaplan, a junior nursing student at the Hunter/Bellevue School of Nursing, faced the prospect of no social life. It was a radical change from a few months earlier when she found herself coping with the physical, moral, and emotional problems involved with having two men in her life.

Since then her four-year romance with Johnny DeAngelo had come to a dramatic, non-negotiable end, and the new man in her life, Mark, had been out of town for weeks. Not knowing when he’d be coming back made things even worse.

With nothing else to occupy her time, Gwen began concentrating on her studies. Back in high school, she had been a brilliant, straight A, honor student. In college however, she’d decided her goal was to become a nurse, not an honor student and had done little more than coast. While her grades were okay, for the first time in her life she had gotten a C in a couple of courses.

The main challenge this semester was the much dreaded, Pharmacology course. “I’m not believing we’ve got over 300 drugs and all that other crap to memorize,” complained Ann. The outspoken black militant suffered few things quietly. She and Gwen were sitting with two other friends in a big, overheated lecture hall waiting for their Public Health instructor who, it being Monday, was late.

“I thought I might have a jump on a few, but hash, acid, and grass aren’t on the list,” said Sue. Everyone looked at her in surprise. It was the first thing the group’s token hippie had joked since a major break-up with her latest boyfriend.

“Keep the faith, child,” said Ann. “I understand the list does have some uppers and downers.”

The instructor scurried in and began hastily laying out his papers. Robin leaned over a whispered to Gwen. “Do you think he’ll say it today?”

“Probably,” said Gwen, who had just finished glancing over her notes from the last lecture.

“I’ll bet you a Coke he doesn’t,” said the blue-eyed, blonde feminist. Back during the second week of the semester, she’d noticed their instructor, who had a slight speech impediment, recited his favorite principle of public health nursing at practically every lecture.

“You’re on,” said Gwen. “But why do you think he won’t say it today?”

“It’s Monday,” answered Robin with an air of self-assurance. “He doesn’t say it on Mondays or when he’s late.”

“Now ladies,” said the thin, courtly black man, “as I’ve told you before, in public health nursing, clean-zee-ness is next to God-zee-ness.”

“Shit. Can’t count on any man. I’ll get you that Coke after supper,” grumbled Robin.

“Make it a Tab, if you please.”

That evening, Gwen paused to sip on her victory Tab while the other residents on her floor in the nurse’s dorm continued pulling off the hall’s old, faded, floral print, wallpaper. “Who started this, anyway?” asked Robin, busy yanking down a long sheet of industrial green paper.

“I don’t know, but I’m grateful,” said Ann. “I’ve been wanting to do this since the first day I laid eyes on this depressing crap.”

Gwen sat down her bottle and rejoined the pulling party. “Do you think we’ll get in trouble?”

“What are they going to do?” replied Sue, as she attacked a section of the wall with a furious intensity. “They can’t throw everyone on the floor out of school.”

A few minutes later, the last of the old wallpaper was gone. After stuffing the shredded remnants into several laundry carts, four intrepid nursing students slipped it past an unsuspecting Eagle Eye Eastland, guarding nurse of the reception area and then out of the dorm.

The next morning, those same four wallpaper smugglers faced cold winds, freezing rain mixed with snow and, even worse, their psychology clinical lab.

Bellevue Hospital is a long collection of buildings stretching for blocks along 1st Avenue. Their dorm and most of the classrooms were located at the south end of the complex. Many blocks away, way up in the northern most reaches, was the institution’s famous psych unit. That’s where they were now supposed to go for the clinical portion of Psychiatric Nursing.

“Look folks, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m taking the tunnel,” announced Gwen. They were huddled together in the dorm’s lobby, looking out the glass doors at the miserable weather. “There’s just no way I’m going to walk all the way to 30th Street in this stuff.”

“Well, there’s no way in hell I’m ever going back down in that creepy tunnel!” shot back Ann. This emphatic response surprised no one. Ever since she’d encountered something furry while walking alone in the tunnel, Ann had hated the place.

Everyone could sympathize with Ann’s hostile attitude. The tunnel in question was an underground corridor running the length of the hospital. Built years earlier, it let students and employees move around quickly while staying out of the weather. While convenient, it was dark, damp, spooky and had dim, mysterious recesses where small, unidentified objects could be heard moving about.

Robin patted her friend on the back. “Come on, Ann. I don’t like that place either, but it beats going out in this crappy weather. Maybe we can try memorizing a few more drugs on the way over. Just think of it as one horror replacing another.”

Ann stared out at the late winter storm, apparently trying to will it into a warm, sunny day. Failing that, she accepted her fate. “Okay, I’ll go. Just don’t anyone tell me when they spot a rat.”

Their pharmacology mid-term was scheduled for Friday. The night before the exam, everyone convened in her room for a final try at coming to grips with over 300 pharmacology terms. Robin acted as chief inquisitor. “Okay Sue, here’s a toughie. Give me the low down on E.P.S..”

“Oh, that’s easy,” smiled Sue. “E.P.S. stands for extra pyramidal syndrome. Its symptoms are: Parkinson like tremors, pill-rolling finger movements, a mask-like face, shuffling gait, and rigidity.”

Silence followed as Robin, Gwen, and Ann stared at her in amazement. “This is unreal,” said Robin. “Let’s try another. Let’s see, if you got E.P.S. then Thorazine should be a snap.”

There was a blank look on Sue’s face. “Come on girl,” prodded Ann, “every freak on the lower East Side knows about Thorazine.”

“Guess that proves I’m no freak,” replied Sue, with an embarrassed smile.

“How can you handle something as weird as E.P.S. and not know an everyday drug like Thorazine?” demanded Robin.

“Easy,” said Sue. “I dated a guy once who had all the E.P.S. symptoms.”

The unexpected sound of someone yelling came through the open window, halting their laughter. In one day, the weather had turned from late winter to early spring. Unfortunately, the dorm’s heating system hadn’t caught up with the new climatic reality. As a result, everyone had their windows open trying to cool off the overheated rooms.

Ann stuck her head out the window as an unseen student shouted, “Pharmacology sucks!”

Ann’s response was immediate and instinctive. “Screw Pharmacology!”

By now, Gwen, Robin, Sue and everyone else in the dorm were craning their heads out of windows. Others were soon echoing the first cries of frustration. Within seconds, the entire dorm was screaming in protest at the mindless memorization and constant academic pressure. After days of endless cramming, the dorm was experiencing a collective explosion of pent-up frustration.

Gwen looked across at the VA hospital and saw patients standing inside their sealed windows, waving and giving them the peace sign and black power salute. “Hey, Ann,” she shouted, “the vets are on our side.”

After a few minutes, the shouting began to taper off. Several floors below, a lone figure walked out into the dimly lighted, run-down courtyard which separated the dorm from 23rd Street. Although she was a long way off and the lighting was bad, everyone recognized Eagle Eyes Eastland.

The noise dropped several more decibels as Eagle Eyes removed her stiff, white, nurse’s cap. Then she looked up at the boisterous student nurses and proclaimed, “I’ve removed my cap, my symbol of dignity as a nurse, before talking to you because your behavior is undignified, unladylike, and unprofessional.

“Please try to restrain yourself, if not out of self-respect, then out of consideration for those few of you who may actually be trying to study.”

After one last, disapproving stare, she carefully replaced her cap and walked back into the dorm. Some die-hards began singing, “Ding-Dong the witch is dead,” but the energy which had fueled the spontaneous outburst had vanished. After a few more half-hearted shouts, heads began to disappear from the windows as everyone returned to mid-term cramming.

None of the students knew it, but they’d just seen the last stand of the old order. Next year, Eagle Eyes Eastland would have a new assignment with her place at the front desk taken by student workers. Their job would be to monitor the arrival of male visitors going to the previously sacrosanct upper floors of the student nurses dorm.

For the first time in school history, students would be able to have anyone they chose, including boyfriends, in their small, private, rooms.

By the end of Gwen’s senior year, hostility between students and those running the school mirrored that in colleges all over the country. No member of the administration would be invited to attend, much less participate in, the various graduation ceremonies marking the transition from student to nurse.

But this evening the students’ immediate concern was Pharmacology, not social or academic change. They’d be up all night cramming. As Gwen reached for her worn note cards, she allowed herself a brief moment to wonder what Mark was doing.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Just in case some agent or editor happens by, looking for the next best-seller, this is taken from a scene in my secone novel, We Dance To Ray Charles.


by Bill Fullerton

Naked and a bit self-conscious, Mark stood waist-deep in the lake’s cool water, watching through the last ray’s of twilight as Amy began unsnapping her jeans. “Okay you clowns,” she yelled, “I don’t care how long we’ve known each other, y’all turn around till I get in the water."

It was an unnecessary gesture towards modesty. With clouds hiding the full moon, the only light came from the campfire she stood in front of while hesitantly undressing. All anyone could see was her silhouette.

The request triggered an irreverent round of boo's, whistles, and cries of, "Take it off. Take it off." A voice cut through the din. "Come on, Sis. Don't play shy just because you're the scrawniest person here."

"Walt Marshall, you'll pay for that!" Amy turned her back to them, shucked off the jeans, and began tugging at her sweatshirt. In Mark's opinion, that silhouette in the firelight looked anything but scrawny. Maybe it had been back in junior high, but not now. Scrawny girls didn't become homecoming queens and fraternity sweethearts. Still, count on Walt to come up with the perfect line to get his kid sister moving.

Once she joined them, there was a lot of horseplay, even a short-lived football game featuring an old sneaker Willie found on the shore, but very little swimming. During a lull in the action, Amy suggested Mark "toss" her, an acrobatic stunt that would involve him heaving her straight up out of the water. If done right, she'd have time to arch forward and re-enter in a controlled dive. They'd done this many times in the past, but never in the dark—much less while skinny-dipping.

"Are you sure?" Mark was both surprised and a little dubious.

"Of course, I'm sure." She moved so close he could see her familiar, teasing smile, and notice the top of her pale breasts just breaking the surface of the dark water. "Come on. It'll be fun."

When everyone else began urging them to give it a try, he agreed. "All right. But you guys aren't fooling me. All y'all want is to get my head under water."

He took Amy's hand and helped her move into position standing in front of him, facing away. The dark water lapped at her bare shoulders. When he asked, "You ready?" she nodded.

After positioning his hands on Amy’s waist, Mark exhaled to offset his body's natural buoyancy and then began pushing his way down toward a squatting position at her feet. To reach that goal, he had to use her body to help propel and guide his descent. As his hands slid over her hips and his body brushed against her skin, Mark found himself struggling to ignore the feel of that warm, silky, and very naked flesh.

Once in position, he tapped on her feet, the signal for her to rise up on tiptoe so he could cup a heel in each hand. When everything was in place, he shifted forward slightly and she leaned back against his shoulder, letting him know she was ready.

That's when Mark lost his struggle. The touch of her thighs on his chest, the smooth contour of her hip nestling against the side of his face, and the incredible sensation of her bottom resting lightly on his shoulder; it was all more than he could ignore. An excited churning began in his stomach and a dizzy confusion filled his skull. His mind wouldn't work. His body couldn't move.

Amy twitched her legs as a reminder she was ready, but he couldn't respond. It took oxygen deprivation to break the spell. Almost out of air, he began propelling her upward. But the long pause had gotten them out of synch. A knee buckled, a hand, or was it a foot, slipped and while only halfway out of the water, Amy began falling awkwardly back into the lake.

Once the choking and gasping ended, neither of them got any sympathy from the onlookers. "That has to be the most pathetic excuse for a toss I've ever seen," said Willie, his voice thick with feigned disgust.

"Yep, that was pretty sad, you two," agreed Frank.

"You two nothing, it was all his fault." Amy pointed an accusing finger at Mark. "He even looks guilty."

It'd become so dark she was the only one close enough to make out his expression. But Amy was wrong. The look on Mark's face had nothing to do with guilt. Its source was a storm of other emotions so strong and unsettling he could barely breath. It wasn't easy, but he managed to croak, "I'm innocent. And I must have swallowed at least half the lake."

Amy drifted closer and put a hand on his shoulder. "You poor thing." She leaned close, giving him a wink that belied her teasing tone. "Do you need help? What about some mouth-to-mouth resuscitation? I think Frank got a merit badge in first aide. Would you like for him to come help?"

"Nothing personal," said Frank, "but if I've got to give him mouth-to mouth, I say let nature take it's course."

This strong show of compassion continued until Walt broke in. "I can't stand it. I promised myself I wouldn't do this. But seeing what a shambles you and Mark made of things, I'm wondering if you want to try that overhand toss we used to do?"

The overhand was tougher to pull off. The thrower had to squat with his hands held shoulder high like a weight lifter about to thrust a barbell over his head. This made it harder for the person being tossed to keep their balance. But since the thrower could extend their arms straight up during the toss, if everything worked just right, the results could be a high and spectacular ascent.

Everyone but Mark agreed he was unfit for duty. After a feeble protest, he moved out of the way so Willie and Frank could get into position on either side of Amy.

The clouds that had promised, but again failed, to deliver any rain were breaking up. Bright moonlight now bathed the lake. This made it easy for Mark to watch as, after a good deal of talk and shuffling about, Walt disappeared beneath the surface. A moment later, Amy went soaring into the warm, night sky.

It was a high, absolutely perfect toss. The spray covering Willie, Frank, and Walt partially blocked their view. Mark was the only one who saw all of Amy's moonlight flight, and he was transfixed.

Whenever he remembered the event, it was in slow motion. The sight of her wet, nude, nymph-like body soaring gracefully above the lake was beautiful, and erotic, and devastating.

The emotions still battering him instantly coalesced into a total and all-consuming love for Amy Marshall. Since that levee party last spring when, both a little drunk, they began to kiss, he'd fought against being in love with her. Before tonight, he thought he might be winning. Now he knew better. He'd lost--big time.

But a guy like him didn't stand a chance with a beautiful girl like Amy. Making a move on her was doomed, and their life-long friendship would never be the same.

Mesmerized, he watched the graceful, moonlit form arch slowly and then begin heading back toward the lake. As it sliced through the smooth surface, Mark knew he was in trouble. He could have someone else, the girl he always thought he wanted. But now and forever he was in love with Amy Marshall, the girl who’d always been his friend, the girl he could never have.

Or could he?

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Thursday, March 12, 2009


This very short story (1000 words) is adapted from a scene in my first novel, the still to be discovered and published, A BRIEF AFFAIR.

Bayou Bill


by Bill Fullerton

In Mark Malone’s considered opinion, things could be a helluva lot worse. It was a beautiful, early fall day in New York. He’d gotten out of the VA hospital and now sat in a coffee shop on Lexington Avenue staring across the table at Gwen Davis. The third-year nursing student at nearby Bellevue seemed to be talking about school. This is damn tough duty, he thought, but someone’s got to do it.

With just a touch of autumn crispness in the air, Gwen had on a long sleeved, burgundy turtleneck with a navy-blue vest and matching mini-skirt. Mark didn't know fashion, but knew what he liked, and he liked what he saw—a lot.

There was something special about her today, something he could sense, but not identify. Not only did Gwen look good, she seemed brighter, happier and, if possible, even more desirable.

Since they met back during the summer, she’d become a regular visitor to his room. Whenever possible, they'd leave the hospital. She’d always made it clear, however, that to keep both her family and Johnny, her long-time fiancé, happy, she needed to spend time home almost every weekend. This often resulted in serious schedule juggling.

Well, I hope she thinks it's worth the strain, he thought, while half-listening to Gwen's complaints. After days of hospital boredom, he liked going out with her and splurging on a good time, something she also seemed to enjoy.

Last week, she’d warned him a major exam in Medical-Surgical nursing was coming on Monday and she had to put in some serious book time. A special study group would meet Sunday night in the dorm. She promised to try and get back early enough so they could go out for a few hours.

While Mark admitted to being disappointed he said that, having battled higher education for three years before volunteering for Vietnam, he understood. To his relief, she’d managed to come back in time for them to catch the new Mel Brooks film. Now they were in a small booth at Milton’s Coffee Shop near her dorm eating hamburgers and talking.

"Are you listening to me?” She gave him a look of tolerant exasperation.

"Not really. I do believe you were in the middle of a major rant and rave about the idiocy of one of your teachers, but don't press me for details."

She nodded. "So if you weren't paying rapt attention to my every word, what were you doing?"

"To tell the truth, I was thinking how great you look today, and how I'm glad you got back in time for us to go out, and how much I wish you didn't have that damn test tomorrow."

"Why, thank you." Gwen seemed both pleased and surprised by the unexpected compliment. "I'm really sorry about the test. Believe me, I'd much rather be spending the evening with you than with a study group."

"I think that's what they call a back-handed compliment. But I'll take whatever compliments I can get."

They both laughed. "Who knows,” he said, “maybe it's a good thing you're busy. You look so good today, you might run the risk of me trying to seduce you."

Gwen’s enticing brown eyes studied him until, in a calm, almost matter-of-fact voice, she said, "Well, if you want to do something like that, you'll have to ask."

Mark sat dumbfounded. He had been joking, well, maybe half-joking. It was supposed to be one of those things you said to a girl to let her know you wanted to make love with her without having to come right out and say so.

According to the small town, southern script he’d always followed, the boy asked. The girl then ignored the remark, acted insulted, or smiled coyly while shaking her head, hinting that while not now, maybe someday.

For whatever reason, this girl hadn't followed that time-honored script. Instead, she’d all but dared him to proposition her.

Over the past few months they’d gotten into some heavy make-out sessions, but nothing more. After all, she was the proverbial nice Jewish girl from Queens, and engaged. Making out with a beat-up vet you liked and felt sorry for might be okay, but nothing more. Now this.

Wish I understood what the hell’s happening, he thought. But if this is how they do things up here in the big city, I'll try to go along with the program.

With Gwen’s gaze still boring into him, Mark stammered, "Sure. Well then, uh, so how about it? I mean, would you like to, you know, spend the night with me, some weekend?"

To his astonishment, he heard her say, "All right. But what were you thinking about in terms of when and where?"

It all seemed a bit unreal. After practically inviting him to ask, Gwen had said, yes, and now wanted to know when and where.

"As soon as possible, of course," he said, rushing his words. He paused, smiled at his own nervousness, then continued in a more normal voice. "But as I may have mentioned, I'm a stranger here myself. I've got no idea about the where part."

For just a moment, she seemed to analyze the situation. "Next weekend should be okay. Johnny's going out of town with his mother, so there’ll only be my parents to worry about. And I think my friend Sue once stayed in a hotel around here with one of her boyfriends."

"I’ll try to check on the hotel with her tonight. But for now, the Fundamentals of Medical-Surgical Nursing calls. If I don't get back to the dorm and hit the books, I'll be an ex-nursing student."

Mark took the hint, stood, and then watched as Gwen collected her purse and slid out of the booth, the movement revealing most of her long, shapely legs. It might still be a beautiful, early fall day in New York, but in his considered opinion, things had somehow just gotten a helluva lot better.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

LEON BARMORE: the coach keeps on coaching

Leon Barmore with my daughter Betsy and me after the game.
This is a feature I wrote for the current edition of the Morning Paper of Ruston, La. in exchange for publisher John Hays providing a press pass along with some extra tickets to the game. The target audience live in and around Ruston, the home of La. Tech University, and are familiar with the school's storied womens basketball program, The Lady Techsters, and former head coach, Leon Barmoer, the subject of this piece.

Bayou Bil



by Bill Fullerton

For just a moment, it seemed like old times. With 2:30 left in the game, Leon Barmore’s nationally ranked team had lost its best player and seen the University of Texas Lady Longhorns whittle a 16-point lead down to three. The Texas fans at UT’s Ewing Center were noisy and excited, sensing their team was on the brink of taking the lead. It was time for a time-out.

Trademark scowl in place, Barmore stepped into the huddle and spoke to the tired players with his familiar intensity. The man who had a 7-0 coaching record against the Lady Longhorns in their own gym, did not want to leave town with 7-1 record.

Then the moment passed. Barmore stepped out of the huddle and, Kim Mulkey, no longer his assistant at Louisiana Tech, but now head coach at Baylor University, took his place. Whatever they said must have worked. The fifth-ranked Lady Bears held off the Texas charge to record a hard-earned nine-point victory.

For long-time Lady Techster fans, the sight of Leon Barmore sitting passively on the bench with the other Baylor assistants while Mulkey squats in front of him directing on-court play is disconcerting. It’s as if Jerry Rice had starting throwing passes to Steve Young or Joe (not Hannah) Montana.

It just don’t seem right.

After all, this is THE Leon Barmore, the hall of fame member who served as head women’s basketball coach at Louisiana Tech from 1985 to 2002 -- retired with a .869 winning percentage, the best in women's basketball history -- led Tech to 20 straight winning seasons, including 13 with 30-plus wins -- coached the Lady Techsters to 20 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, nine Final Fours, five national championship games and the 1988 national title.

Now the same man sits on the Baylor bench, seldom standing or gesturing, apparently saying little, and remaining on the fringes of team huddles. That was the pattern Saturday afternoon until a second half scuffle for the ball had him jumping to his feet and yelling at the officials. Nobody picks on Barmore’s players. Then with 2:30 left in the game, he said something to the team during that fateful time-out.

After the game, Kim Mulkey moved through the throng outside the coaches lounge, looking every inch the harried head coach who, with the Big-12 tourney looming, had just lost her best player for the rest of the year. Moments later, Leon Barmore stepped out into the hallway with the relaxed, pleased look of someone who’d just finished an unusually good round of golf.

Barmore, who has been a basketball player or coach all his life, clearly missed the competition, but not the stress. Now he has the best of both worlds. “I’m having fun,” he said, “but I wouldn’t want to do this full-time. (Barmore’s contract runs from October to April).

The job lets him stay around the game he loves while doing sometime he excelled at, coaching, and he gets to socialize. Amid the post-game bustle, he bumped into former Texas head coach, Jody Conradt. The two long-time combatants, both with national titles to their credit, chatted companionably like two former neighbors who’d just met in a busy airport.

The man who dislikes flying has even learned the joys of chartered flights. “We go to the airport in Waco, and 55-minutes later, we’re in Lubbock.”

Talk of basketball and grandchildren stops when the mother of the Lady Bears’ point guard walks past. Barmore introduces her and asks if she’d mind taking a picture. Nothing would please her more. There are smiles, a flash, a round of thank-you’s and congratulations on her daughter’s play.

Leon Barmore has posed for many such photographs over the years. This time, his smile is that of a man who’s having fun, and an old coach who just saw his record against Texas on their home court go to 8-0.

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