I had a bit of an accident this evening, and despite the relatively mild consequences, I can’t slow my brain down enough to stay in bed yet.
I left work five minutes early to get a jump on the evening. I’m usually in at least ten minutes early, but try to not be visible cutting out before the whistle blows. Only I had things to do tonight, and while I wasn’t looking forward to the evening, I figured I needed to make some time to grab a bite first. I got to the intersection at 21st South and 13th East fairly quickly. Traffic wasn’t too bad and the snow was just dusting down. I pulled into the intersection to turn West onto 21st South and waited for the inevitable turning of the light to red to finally allow me to proceed. Traffic, you know. The light went yellow and I took my foot off the brake pedal. I watched the oncoming car slow and stop and I hit the gas to get through the light that had turned red, only out from the occultation of the car I watched come to a halt shot a little silver meteor of a car. In a brief second I thought, “I hope they’re not planning on turning into my lane”, thinking that it was going to turn right onto the two lane street I was aiming for. Only it didn’t turn at all, but plowed directly into the front passenger side wheel, grinding clear across the grill of my truck and ending up coming to rest lamely in front of me. It was one of those slow moment things where I had time to think of so many things.
“Where did she come from?”
“What did she think she was doing?”
“Why didn’t I stop at Taco Bell?”
I sat there for a minute trying to remember where I had my last save point. I got out only to discover that there was a car rammed into the back of my pickup.
The girl in the car that hit me from behind was pretty shaken, as was the one that came through the red light. The red-light-runner had a baby in the car. My heart sank. I got out my phone but my hands were shaking so bad I had a lot of trouble dialing the police. An unmarked police SUV pulled into the intersection and an off duty officer from Park City got out to check on everyone and said he’d called the Salt Lake Dispatch. After talking for a minute to the driver behind I walked around to the front. A guy who had been waiting to cross the street was making sure everyone was ok. He came and gave me his phone number, saying he wasn’t watching the lights, he was just focused on the crosswalk fixing to change, but would tell what he could. I picked up the large chunk of my front bumper that had my license plate still attached from the ground and tossed it in the bed of my truck. Another woman gave me her name and phone number. I paced back and forth in the snow a bit, painfully aware that we were impeding traffic across almost every lane.
I was glad nobody was hurt. I was amazed that no airbags had deployed. But my heart began to sink, because I’m a pessimist. I figured that it was probably going to work out that I was going to get the ticket for failing to yield. Ironically I had priced out new and used trucks earlier in the day and came to the conclusion that I couldn’t afford one, although I wasn’t sure if my ol’ beast would make it through the winter. Coincidentally, I had found the night before when clearing my desk, that I hadn’t put my new insurance card in my truck and had taken it out before I went to bed. Debbie had said I could just wait until morning, but I thought I would forget.
Time dragged on. Cars fought for position, attempting to merge or turn around the wreck against traffic to get on their way, beeping at each other, or maybe us. The temperature dropped. A fire engine showed up and purposefully blocked the intersection allowing fewer yahoo’s to skirt by on the wrong side of the wrecks. I had to sign a primitive digital tablet to the effect that I was ok to keep walking around in the frigid snowy drizzle and not be taken to a hospital. The firemen rode off to their next adventure as the police pulled up. I handed over my info and gave my side of the story. The officer seemed to not buy my (and the third party in the accident’s) story that the light was really red. I gave them the witnesses phone numbers. Another officer had the girl behind pull her car back and into the car wash parking lot. The tow truck drivers began to appear. I grabbed a couple items out of my vehicle. The officer that took my license brought it back and said that the woman who had given me her number was the woman who had stopped at the light. She said as she stopped (while the light was still yellow) the woman who hit me honked at her from behind, wheeled out from behind her and screeched into the intersection as it went red. The officer said he was giving the impatient woman the ticket due to her corroboration.
I was relieved that it wasn’t going to be my fault. And relieved that her and her husband who had shown up and given me several withering looks were not around. The officer dismissed me and I began to walk down the hill. I figured I’d have Debbie come get me, but I’d walk a bit so she didn’t have to get in the snarl of traffic. I dialed her up, and to my surprise she was just across the street from me coming to my rescue.
I’m in one of those places where I know there’s nothing I can do right now. I’m not worried, I have friends and family that are always right there to take care of me. They’re all the best. I’m not sure I let them know that enough, but I try. I’ll work something out with the car. I have to talk to the insurance first and look at the options, but I’m fairly sure the truck is totaled. It’s been in zombie mode for 4 or 5 years anyway. Avenues always seem to open up for me. I just saw the other day that with our last house payment we should be eligible to get the mortgage insurance dropped. That’s at least a third of a car payment there. Funny how my silver linings always seem to be a couple yards short of a first down, but it’s better than nothing.
Yesterday at work I took my usual afternoon break outside, ostensibly to stretch my legs and get away from my computer, but additionally to hit the pokestop across the street. It was surprisingly pleasant for the time of year and I lingered a little longer than I have been since the weather turned. I crossed the street and headed back to my office and found a small dead bird lying on the pavement. I was struck by its beauty and it made me a little sad that what appeared to be a healthy creature had probably succumbed to the cold. Naturally, I felt I ought to take a picture of it. A bicyclist was coming my way and I felt a little obnoxious as I stood in his path protecting the small body at my feet. I’m sure he didn’t see the bird and wondered why I was just standing there in his way. After he passed I crouched down and took the photo, but I couldn’t bring myself to just let the bird lie in the road. I picked it up gently and it was still very limp and must have only recently died. I wanted to take it back and bury it in the back of our parking lot where there are a lot of bushes, and flowers in the spring, but the ground is frozen and I didn’t have any means to accomplish anything appropriate. It struck me as many things do anymore as unfair, or at least needlessly unfortunate, but I know that’s the way of nature. I laid the body down on a clean patch of snow just away from the road, and went back to the office.
The rest of the afternoon I couldn’t really shake the memory of holding the little bird. I thought of when Stan the cat died in the driveway a few years ago and how Debbie and I held him one last time before burying him. I also thought of the death of Carrie Fisher and the pain of losing someone around Christmas. My Dad’s brother had died just after Christmas not many years ago, the same Christmas as a close member of my wife’s Mount Pleasant family. I make a joke that Debbie likes to watch the sad Christmas movies, generally referring to them as “Everybody Dies at Christmas”. To me they seem cloyingly heart-wringing in a melodramatic way that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but I try to be understanding of other peoples entertainment choices. Heaven knows I have my own cinematic guilty pleasures.
But this is a hard season for me, although when I stop and think about it, that isn’t unusual for any season anymore. Maybe that comes with age. When the memories you have come back unbidden with every little neural nudge it’s hard not to be a little melancholy with memories, good and bad, that pile up over the years. Maybe with certain personalities like mine more than others. I guess the important part is not to dwell on the losses as much as the connections made in the times we have together. Now there’s a Hallmark sentiment if there ever was one. But melancholy as I may be, I do think I remember things fondly that happened, rather than dwell on the fact that they had an end.
And that little bird that came into my life as it left its own and sparked hours of contemplation on the nature of existence and our part in relating to those around us. None of us can see the extent of our influence, I only hope that I can see enough of myself to recognize when the things I do are not being beneficial, and hopefully change that.
Not many people are cut from the IT cloth, but I believe that the hurdles most people face when dealing with computer problems are largely psychological. There is something about computers that seems like it should require some insight more mystical than Google to solve. Now I’m not saying that the average person will feel confident in setting up an LDAP server, but there are a lot of small maintenance tasks that everyone has to go through just to bring these silicon beasts to heel. Nearly every day I’m faced with questions that leave the users looking sheepish over the simple tasks that just took me a minute to do.
On the other side of that coin, IT people sometimes take what is an easy problem and try to solve it through more arcane processes when a “normal” person would easily solve it. While solving a simple problem earlier I was handed one of the wireless handset phones our users carry with them. After a bit of confusion we decided it was one that didn’t belong to anyone present at the moment, so I took it and said I’d find the proper owner. I looked at the number on the phone’s display and compared it to the dead tree directory list on my desk, but failed to find the owner. My next thought was to log into the cisco administration server for the phones, and I proceeded to try to find the number there. Strike two. finally I looked up the phone’s IP address on the handset and started to look up IP’s on the server. It was only then I realized all I needed to do was call my desk phone from the handset and look at the caller ID for the owners name.
So, next time you see your IT guy struggling with some simple task please remember, he’s probably looking for the most difficult way to accomplish his goal.
Music means a lot to me. In high school I learned that it could be used to mitigate aspects of the worst of my mood swings. I’d listen to Judas Priest to burn through my rage, Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” as some sort of lyrical commiseration for alienation, and Oingo Boingo gave me somewhere to redirect surplus energy. Music got me through a lot of tough times, and still holds a near-mystical power over me as it does with most people, I imagine.
We had a small record player when I was very young and some kids records that I think came from the childhood of my mother. Disney singles of Cinderella’s “Bibbidi bobbidi boo” song and the like. My sister and I listened to them often and eventually we were allowed access to the bigger stereo in the living room and my dad’s LP collection. Oddly enough, other than the occasional Christmas album, I really only listened to a Roger Miller LP and the soundtrack from “Paint Your Wagon”. Still, it was enough to get me hooked and I began to feel the need to build my own collection.
By the time I was old enough to have an allowance I would usually spend some of it at the record store in Fashion Place Mall when my mom would cart us off shopping. Eventually I had a growing collection of 45’s. I vividly remember approaching the checkout counter at The Music Stop at the mall with the single for ELO’s “Turn to Stone” when I was about 10 or 11. A tall guy* waiting in line noticed what I was doing and asked why I was just buying a single when for the price of a few singles I could have the whole album. I remember feeling like I got caught doing something wrong. After about a minute I put the 45 back and started looking at the whole “Out of the Blue” album. I think it cost $8 and it was a real hit to my child’s velcro wallet, but I did have that much. I remember kind of sucking it up and making the decision to go with the cassette of the whole album.
You might have guessed that I’ve just finished listening to “Out of the Blue” for the first time in decades. I seem to have a couple of ELO compilation albums, but somehow “Out of the Blue” never made the crossover from cassette to CD. It seems to be beyond my abilities to get over the power of music to transport me across the ages. I haven’t heard (or thought of) “Night in the City” since my teen years, yet I find my mind leading the music by a half a second anticipating the lyrics.
My morning class in my freshman year in high school had a pair of talkative girls, probably seniors, who liked to tease the shy little freshman that sat across the table from them**. One day they asked me what my favourite band was and I told them ELO and they laughed at me. Ever since then when I admit to liking ELO I feel a bit ashamed, and sometimes even apologize.
That one little interaction from those girls as well as the one from the guy ahead of me in line at the record store both had huge repercussions in my life. I’m forever altered by something so seemingly insignificant that happened in passing. I have no doubt that anyone but me involved in those exchanges has any inkling of the conversation’s existence, much less their impact. Listening to the album today brought both instances back to mind and has made me wonder how often I’ve off-handedly reacted to something that’s had similar repercussions for someone else. My thoughts tend to roll off the tip of my tongue without much consideration, and I imagine I’ve done my share of damage, though over the last half of my life I’ve tried to excise any mean spiritedness from my personality. Hopefully, as clichéd as it sounds, I’ve had a net positive result. Although it’s possible I wouldn’t feel too bad if in 40 years someone feels a little ashamed of admitting to liking One Direction because of something I said.
* He could have been 16 or 36 for all I could really tell at the time
**When they noticed him at all, which, mercifully, wasn’t often.
About a year ago my friend Ken pointed me at the book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg. I finally got around to finishing it, and I’m finally getting around to writing about it, although I don’t think I’ll ever get around to finishing thinking about it. I’d made a post on Facebook about some habits I’d been making and Ken recommended the book and I picked it up, and so did my wife.
I started paying close attention to the behaviors I had fairly early in life, around 10 years old or so, when I ‘figured out’ I wasn’t human and needed to learn how to fit in so the townsfolk wouldn’t discover and burn me on a pyre. It all started with a close call when one of the young humans noticed I had to touch things equally with both hands to balance out the sensation. But that’s another story.
Last spring I’d decided that I really needed to get serious and lose some weight and I decided there ought to be a good app for my phone to track calories. I downloaded and began to use “myfitnesspal” to track how much I was eating and the progress of my weight. I knew I consumed way more than I should but didn’t know, really, how to change it. The strange thing was that in keeping track of what I ate with the app I was able to put the brakes on the amounts and types of food I was eating very easily. I’d know that if I got seconds for dinner I’d be way over my goal and was easily able to pass on the extras I’d normally have between meals. Within 6 months I was down 30 pounds without even really noticing that I’d missed much. I still drank the occasional soda, but stuck to mediums instead of larges when I ate out. And I ate out less frequently than I had been.
In the book it talks about habit cycles, the que->routine->reward cycle that people slip into. In my case, dealing with being bipolar and not being able to be medicated, led to the creation of a lot of habits, and the eating ones are fairly problematic. Early on in my diagnosis and treatment it was impressed upon me that i needed to eat regular meals and stop skipping them because I didn’t feel like eating. This habit had a couple effects on me. I ended up eating all the time whether I was hungry or not, which led to weight gain, but it also kept me eating through the cancer treatments no matter how sick I got, so kind of a mixed blessing.
To modify an already present habit the book says to recognize the que that triggers the habit and then to alter the routine that will lead you to a reward. Looking back at what I did with my app was inserting a step where I recorded what I was planning on eating and modified the amount or type of food I was consuming to stay within constraints I had set. I didn’t improve the quality of my meals as much as just recognized where I stood in relation to my goals, but in the end it had the desired effect.
Around the middle of last November I got smacked by the usual winter depression that seems to come with the shorter days. This year it seemed to be worse than it had been in a long time and I ended up abandoning all caloric tracking. It’s kind of a survival method I’ve got where I jettison all the excess baggage and just concentrate on making it through the next day. I’m not sure it’s a healthy habit, but it’s one that has kept me around this long. The surprising thing was that the habits I’d built over the previous seven or eight months didn’t suffer too much. I gained back seven pounds I’d lost as I overindulged in the holiday snacks, but despite the occasional overindulgence new routines held up despite my lack of supervision.
Now that it’s spring and the depression has mostly passed I really need to fix some of the habits that died over the winter. Somehow I’ve just been wasting my evenings in front of the computer or the TV (with a tablet in hand). I’ve needed to get back into the studio and get back to creating, or doing yard work, or exercising. It’s things I plan to do all day, but somehow lack the gumption to go after once I get off work. I suppose I need to look at the que in the evening that gets me on the couch and replace it with actually accomplishing something.
A few weeks ago I briefly took part in a discussion on Facebook that got me thinking about how I started down the road of prose I’ve been following for a really long time now. I don’t remember exactly what the post was about, or even who originated it, but I do remember that it sparked a memory of an early love of parody and farce that I think I can trace back to Mad Magazine. I remember my introduction to Mad came from my father, unlikely as that sounds. My dad used to travel a lot for business, and he’d often pick up some light reading for the flight that usually ended up in the hands of his kids. Often it was a Johnny Hart pocket paperback of comics like “The Wizard of Id” or “B.C.”, but on this occasion it happened to be the Mad Magazine “Jaws II” issue from January 1979. I was just 11 years old, and I remember my mom’s concern and asking my dad if it was really ok for me to read it. He said he thought it was, which upon reflection makes me wonder if it was really my dad, or possibly some time-traveling hero hoping to bend my path away from evil. It just doesn’t feel like something of which he would approve, but that one incidence has had a profound effect on the way I perceive and deal with my world.
Reading was always important in my family. My dad often read stories to us. “The 500 Hats of Bartholemew Cubbins” by Dr. Suess, is one I remember hearing frequently. We had the usual children’s books, a whole bookcase full of them in our room, and I remember my mom frequently carting us off to the library to get an arm full of loaners. I went through the usual kid path of reading. It seems like someone in my elementary school would discover race cars, then all the boys would check out all the race car books in the tiny elementary school library. Then it would be skyscrapers or some other little-boy fad subject.
I remember running out of dinosaur books and turning around and hitting the small science fiction section. That was the first big turning point to me. I’d seen Flash Gordon serials and other sci-fi shows, but I hadn’t really ever given much thought to fiction. I think “Elevator to the Moon” was the first one I read, and in short order I’d plowed through the two shelves of science fiction in the library, including Wells’ “War of the Worlds” (possibly dumbed down for kids).
Then came that Mad Magazine. Not only was it dealing in a large part with popular fiction, but also parodying works I often hadn’t even experienced first hand. Mad Magazine was way over my head, but somehow I filed away those parts I didn’t understand to come back in a flash of understanding years later when the context presented itself. I think that it introduced me to thinking above the threshold of my understanding and caused me to stretch out and really consider the meanings of what I was reading. Maybe it’s presumptuous to attribute so much to a juvenile rag like Mad, but I don’t think I’d be the person I am today without it. In fact, I know I wouldn’t. Remind me to tell you about The Rainbow of Texts someday if I haven’t already.
Debbie loves fresh fruit, and I know that watermelon is one of her favorites. The only problem is she often buys the fruit she thinks she’ll want and then lets it sit until she’s really in the mood for it. Usually this is two weeks longer than the lifespan of the food. A few minutes ago she started calling me from the kitchen asking if I was dressed because she needed me to come to her with my shoes on. I found her laughing and saying the melon that has been on the counter for quite awhile was hissing. It was sitting in a small puddle of clear liquid like someone had spilled a cup of water near the sink. She warned me it was really soft and grabbed a plastic grocery bag. She was about to lift it but I pulled a reverse-abracadabra and pulled the bag under it and headed for the back door. I never heard it hissing. as I got near the yard waste container in the driveway where I intended to abandon it, the handle on the bag broke as I was lifting it to the top of the can. It seemed to fall in slow motion while my hands, now holding tiny scraps of cheap plastic shot heavenwards. The misshapen orb rotated as it plunged towards a skiff of crusty ice and snow. Upon impact I discovered that the entire fruit had turned to liquid inside a tissue-like green and yellow husk. Astonished at this revelation I watched, probably with the most startled look I’ve worn in weeks, as a massive fountain of red shot up chest high and cascaded back towards my shoes as I leaped backwards flailing and nearly avoiding the spray of juice. It was one of those times when I wished I could DVR with my eyes. I ran back in and rousted Kayla and got Debbie to go view the carnage. It was still quite the sight to behold, but I’ll never forget the fermented fountain that I witnessed this night.
I used to climb. I wasn’t very good, but I had a lot of fun being out in the Big Blue Room and doing something unusual with my friends. Back in 1991, due to some remarkable turmoil in my life, I was fortunate to fall in with a good group of people that tended to do a lot of rock climbing. Joe Hallman asked if I’d ever been climbing and I told him I’d done some climbing and found it cathartic*, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. He said there were plenty of people in our group who could teach me, but I might want to take a class.
Luckily it was the start of fall semester and I really didn’t have anything going for me in the way of classes, so I found that there was a Rec and Leisure class being taught by Harold Goodro, who is a bit of a legend. I had no idea when I signed up that I was going to get instruction from someone who had been doing first ascents back in the 1940’s. I really liked the class, and I liked going with my new friends even more.
For the next several years I climbed as often as I could. The Saturday morning meet-up at the mouth of either Big or Little Cottonwood Canyons was almost a religion. And almost every year seemed to start with a misguided attempt to climb Bongeater Buttress before the snow was off the low elevations. There were epic moments and tales that went near legendary among us, getting retold and morphing into running inside jokes, but the era seemed to end too quickly. I took a big leader fall on the second pitch of The Thumb, hitting the deck and breaking both ankles.
One day after the fall, both legs went black pretty much from the knees to the tips of the toes.
Within a few weeks I tried hobbling along (on crutches, no less) to be a belay-slave and try to stay connected with the group. On one of these ill-conceived ideas Dave and I went up to Hatchet Crack so he could get a climb in and I wouldn’t feel like I was missing out on the rest of the summer. I say ill-conceived because Dave suffered a serious fall of his own and I was in no position to do anything to help. It was one of those “Now we know never to do that again” rule making moments. But Dave got down ok (sort of)
Those were only two of the three semi-serious injuries sustained in my time of climbing . Usually it was a really great time.
Bryce on Mr. Sandman, Big Cottonwood Canyon 1994
Dave on Dreamscape, Big Cottonwood Canyon 1994
Jack on Lisa Falls, Little Cottonwood Canyon 1995
I climbed a handful of times after my fall, but not enough to really get my confidence fully back. I led an easy pitch on Lisa Falls in the fall of 1995 and was excited for the next year. But by the next year I was working mostly full time and marriages and real life kind of split up our climbing group. I was discovering a talent for making pottery and that seemed to take my time in a big way. But every time I drove past a crag on a road trip or took a drive up the canyon and memory lane I always assumed I’d get back to it. As the years turned into decades I figured it was just one of those “I usedta do” things. I met a young married couple that was lamenting the expense of gear and how they could only do bolted routes. I gave them my rack, because it wasn’t doing any good in my closet. I did hang on to my shoes and harnesses out of some sort of nostalgia.
Last (recorded) lead climb on Lisa Falls
Then recently I began to have such an itch. I wrote it off as midlife crisis time, but I’d awake thinking of climbs in the past and have to dig out my trusty climbing manual to find out what the name of my favorite climb was, because I’d forgotten it in my dotage.
Then a few weeks ago I ended up calling Bryce to see if he could help me solve a social conundrum. We chatted awhile and he mentioned that he still climbs some, but he thought we’d probably all grown a little more tame in the intervening years (and he actually had a helmet yesterday, something that we’d never taken any sort of liking to). He said he’d like to go out because he hadn’t been much this year if I was willing to go along and see what I could do. I was under no illusions that I was in shape enough to do very much, and I was right to assume so, but I thought I’d give it a whirl.
I drove us to Creekside Wall and Bryce led an easier route on it, and I followed. Or at least I tried. I slowly got to within 8 feet or so of the chains before my arms and legs gave out fully and I had to be lowered off. I glimpsed the edges of the excitement I used to feel, but my mind rebelled at the knowledge that I used to stand on these 3/8″ lips jutting out from the wall as impossible. I called down to Bryce with the old standby, “It’s like stairs!”, which did elicit a laugh from below.
Bryce thought we should go upstream a bit and hit the Salt Lake Slips and try an easy one there, so my pack back on, a big monster with an ugly rope that probably out to be retired, due to its age. I took a few steps and fell into the creek bashing my elbow, but somehow sparing my camera. My legs still hadn’t recovered from the climb. Eventually we made it up to the Slips and there was quite a crowd there. Bryce picked out a climb, but I knew I wasn’t even going to be able to get my shoes back on. I was willing to continue to play the dedicated belayer, but Bryce said if I wasn’t into it we could just bail. I looked around at what seemed like unusually clean-cut kids, for the climbing crowd and realized the harness I was wearing was possibly older than most of those that were there. I rested a bit more and realized that the ratio of boys to girls in the groups was closer to even than it was in my day, which I think says something positive about the growth of the community.
Creekside Wall from yesterday, somebody has gone through all bolt-happy.
I’m not sure that I’ll be able to put in the time to get strong enough to really climb again. My blown-out ankle wasn’t a problem yesterday as it had been in the past, and I’d always considered that the weak spot for my future. But maybe it’s something I need to do, and seeing that picture of Harold Goodro climbing in his 70’s might shame me into it.
* I wrote about the first time awhile ago, but I wouldn’t recommend going back to it if you missed.