The Fetus from Milpitas

For the first years of our lives, from the time we were infants in the early ’50s, Randy and I grew up together in a Philadelphia duplex. Our moms were closest friends and remained so until each of them died from unusually rare (and different) debilitating cancers, my mom in ’73 and Randy’s some time on. It was said of us that our mothers strolled us together as babies several times a day, and we grew, as toddlers, tweens ‘n teens, continually in one another’s presence. We enjoyed one another’s stuff–MAD Magazine, Twilight Zone, American Bandstand, Victor Mature’s just awful gladiator movies, Lenny Bruce, doowop, baseball.

     

     Randy and I shared a bent for dark and absurd, socially subversive humor, and for torturing our mothers. Our humor, at its worst, included terrible pranks, reward for which we typically enjoyed miserable punishment, separate and alone in our homes/bedrooms and for eons. One prank found Randy’s mom brushing her teeth with Bryl Creme (A Little Dab’ll Do Ya). A far worse one involved the decapitation of two of his sister, Denise’s, dolls. We were then six or seven and were stunned that no one else saw the humor and Randy was even moreso when his answer to his mother’s and my mother’s thunderous and scowl-laden WHY was, “But it’s DENISE!” — didn’t result in immediate maternal understanding. Randy found himself having to work off the cost of  new Chatty Cathys and Betsy Wetsys. I, too, was barred from outdoor play.

     We were told, as we grew, that we shared similar tastes and penchants, as twins might, particularly for seeing bizarre humor in nearly everything, although we never again took such terrible of paths of destruction. The worst we ever did after that wreckage at Denise’s expense was, at eighteen, to return our draft cards to the people who had them sent to us. Our parents may have been silently proud but they were vocally not altogether pleased.

 
 
     After college we both went to the Bay Area, Randy to stay on in various places and with numbers of jobs until today, where, a film producer, he lives with his family in Marin. I returned home to take a position teaching humanities in a Jewish Day School near where we grew up, outside Philadelphia. We’ve never lost touch and we visit one another as we’re able. We are in a wondrous way, still best friends.

 
     When he first decided to stay out there, a year after Roe v. Wade was decided, Randy determined to take anything that would keep him there until he could use his film degree to earn a living so, at twenty-two, he took a scut-job in a San Francisco hospital. As low man it fell to Randy, for instance, to carry sawed off and bagged limbs and extracted, necrotic kidneys from the OR to storage. State law required tagging then storing everything that became separated from a patient.

 
Including fetuses.

        

     One summer day, as on many days subsequent to Roe, organized protests visited many hospitals where abortions were known to take place. Today’s started just after noon and swelled to several hundred by three, mostly women with signs and perhaps a dozen or so pastors. By 2:30 the TV people were taping and interviewing, though Randy didn’t know it.

    

     That’s when his supervisor told him they were out of the nondescript jars typically used for fetus-storage and handing him a tray of what looked to all the world like re-labeled Gerber jars (because they were), told him to cross campus and check into refrigeration maybe a dozen fetuses. To do that he’d have to cross an open quad, the demonstrators’ path.

    

     As Randy crossed the quad, three demonstrators rushed to him to ask his opinion on the recent Court decision. It’d have been quite a coup, he supposed they’d thought, to get a supportive sound-bite from a hospital employee. When they saw that Randy carried a tray of Gerber jars, two demonstrators gushed, fawned, swooned, and one hugged him, calling over a cameraman.

    

     Before Randy knew what was happening a microphone was in his face and a man had asked him what he thought of the demonstrators, of the Court’s decision. An enthusiastic woman pointed to the Gerber Baby Food jars as evidence of Randy’s obvious good will and care for the Cause. The TV man asked Randy, “What do you have there, son?” Randy didn’t skip a baby’s heartbeat: “We’re making a Spaghetti Western here, sir”, he said, smiling into the camera, “The Fetus from Milpitas.”

    

     Bless the lad, Randy was pounding pavement by evening.

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