23. Doogie's Story

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Without Shouter, it was only Doogie and Mason left in the bachelor pad. HotDamn and Skunkworks had their own lodging elsewhere.

As Mason tried to sleep, his mind wouldn't stop buzzing with the day's events. Even the lazy drone of the box fan didn't help. When he heard Doogie roll over in his sleeping bag for what must have been the dozenth time, he realized he wasn't the only one having trouble sleeping.

He turned to face the bio-engineer. "You never did tell me where you got your nickname. Doogie doesn't have anything to do with that old sitcom about a medical prodigy, does it?"

"You're too young to have watched that show," Doogie said.

"I saw it on the Netflix feed and I Googled it. It's surprising what the content filters let through."

"I wouldn't push your luck there. Big Brother—or Big Uncle Sam—is watching."

"You're dodging the question."

Doogie rolled onto his back with a sigh. "Yes, I got my nickname from Neil Patrick Harris' character on Doogie Howser M.D. Believe it or not, it's actually an improvement over my real one, which is Douglas Byron Merriwether III. I was five or six when that show came on. We used to watch it as a family and had some good laughs. My parents started calling me Doogie kind of tongue and cheek, but they were not-so-secretly hoping their only son would turn out to be a black Doogie Howser M.D."

"So did you?"

"Naw. I tried for a while but got burned out and partied my way through the second half of high school. Wound up with a three-point-one GPA. Not really Ivy League material. I got a girl pregnant but she miscarried so no harm no foul. I moved out of the house the day after I graduated. My parents and I weren't exactly on great terms by then. I kept the nickname though. I was used to it and it was my way of throwing their big ambitions for me back in their faces. I got a bartending job and enrolled at a local community college as an undeclared major. I didn't bother going to classes much except when I wanted to pick up girls."

"I sense a turning point coming up."

"You could say that. Halfway through my sophomore year, my grandfather dies. He was this big war hero, part of a black unit, the 969th artillery, that fought at this place called Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. He lost a leg to a German grenade and was awarded a Purple Heart. But I just knew him as this bitter, doped-up old man in a wheelchair. The most vivid memory I have of him as a child was of Thanksgiving dinner. We had just said grace and we're starting to pass the food around when grandpa lets out this loud groan and grips the table so hard he shakes the gravy boat onto the floor. I remember being pissed I hadn't gotten any gravy yet and would have to eat my mashed potatoes dry. Grandma wheeled him into another room and cleaned up the mess and we carried on like nothing happened.

"After dinner, me and another cousin sneaked down the hall and peeked into the room where grandpa was being kept. He didn't see us. His eyes were scrunched shut and he was shaking all over, groaning and foaming at the mouth. He would have fallen out of his wheelchair except he was strapped in and sandwiched between a bed and a big chest of drawers. He had a rubber mouthpiece like boxers use to keep from biting their tongues and thick oven mitts on his hands to keep from clawing himself. It gave us a bit of a scare at first, but then we got to feeling like it was just pathetic, a grown man losing control of himself like that. We would make fun of him when the adults weren't around. Whenever the conversation got too heavy or dull, one of us would ball up our hands, scrunch up our face and make these spastic motions until the other couldn't help laughing.

"When grandpa passed away, I had no intention of going to his funeral. I knew my parents and uncles were just going to lecture me on how I should get my shit together. But my grandmother got my number and called me direct. She had this way of sweetly asking where you couldn't tell her no and still call yourself a human being. So I showed up at the service and sat in the back pew. After singing a few spirituals, my grandmother goes up to the lectern to say her piece.

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