The Scrivens Brothers

Anyone who ever attended Sacred Heart Catholic High School knows about the Scrivens Brothers. Two corn-fed, rural-raised twins, who were trumped only in stature and intimidation by their younger brothers, the triplets. With shoulders like small trucks, and an inclination to use those shoulders as weapons while they walked the school halls, no one was safe from the triplets. Boys, girls, teachers, even the school priest I’m sure, had their backs slammed into a locker because they made the oh-so-common mistake of trying to use the hallways while one of the Scrivens brothers was in the building.

Now, there was never any sense of security in the halls of Sacred Heart for a number of reasons, but the most obvious being that there were five of these brothers, each just as ruthless as the next.

You may have successfully eluded through the hallway next to the tech room – you were more likely to find them here than outside Mrs. Curry´s Calculus class – where Mark was busy antagonizing some hapless soul, only to find yourself within a ten-foot radius of Paul. Big mistake.

“Whoomph.”

Your shoulder is sent flying into the locker as you hear the familiar sound of ligaments, bones, and ego shattering to bits. You look up to see a few sympathetic glances, but for the most part, no one sees, given that the beast without remorse could – and would – strike again at any given moment.

If you ever wanted to see the crumbling of social order, you only had to look at a school hallway occupied by one of these brothers. As soon as you saw a figure resembling a cement mixer in construction boots and a John Deere t-shirt turning the corner, the decorum and composure of a Catholic school were swiftly replaced by one pure, primitive instinct. Survival.

“Boom,” There goes Kevin Gaines.

 

“Thud,” A small grade nine girl hits the ground after brushing into the knee of Matt.
“Wham,” Mr. Picard gets flung into a locker.
I once chatted with one of my friends who had played hockey against the Scrivens triplets.
“It’s like the puck didn’t exist. You could remove the puck from the game and the Scrivens probably wouldn’t notice.” They were the original bash bros.

The absolute worst part about the brothers, however, was that adults were completely oblivious to their antics. This was because the only time parents would see the brothers would be at church, where the triplets were all altar-boys.

“What happened to your shoulder?” My mom would ask when I’d return home from school.
“Paul Scrivens pushed me into a locker”
“Paul Scrivens? The altar boy? I don’t think Paul would have done that intentionally. It was probably just an accident.”
“No, Mom, he walked from one side of the hall to the other, shouldered me into the locker, then returned to the other side and looked for his next victim.”
“Well that doesn’t sound like Paul Scrivens, are you sure it was him?”

She had a point. You never really could be too sure which Scrivens triplet was approaching you. And although all three of them had the capacity and willingness to make you into a human pancake, there were varying degrees to their demeanor. Matt was the closest to having the human emotion of empathy, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to keep a stiff shoulder if you got in his way. But still, he wasn’t a tyrant looking for conflict. In a way, you almost wished he was though because the anticipation of not knowing which of the Scrivens you were about to encounter made it all the worse. It was like playing a game of Russian-roulette with only one chamber missing a bullet. There was still a 2/3 chance you were hitting the ground. Not great odds.

As a student body, we were all exceptionally vigilant. Being in the hall meant making yourself vulnerable so no one dawdled on their way to class. Come to think of it, I think that´s why the teachers turned a blind eye to the antics of the Scrivens brothers; they had never seen such order. And they had their own little Gestapo to thank.

My constant apprehension began to feel wearisome. I had become tired of constantly having my head on a swivel and decided on a different approach. I would befriend one of the brothers, in the hopes that the group would leave me in peace. So when I signed up for senior football, the fact that Paul and Mark Scrivens lined up in the secondary, didn’t escape my notice. From then on we would be teammates, brothers of the gridiron, and instead of a firm shoulder, they would greet me with a casual head nod, or maybe even a “hey buddy.”

Eventually, as the season got under way, I became familiar with Mark and Paul, and the Scrivens brothers stopped shouldering me into lockers. And although I was forever grateful for that, I couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated. The Scrivens had stopped hitting me into lockers, but every day at 3 o’clock they were given full freedom to flatten me into the hard dirt of the football field. I guess I hadn’t thought my plan all the way through, otherwise, I would’ve decided against playing Wide Receiver, the position that lined up directly across from Mark Scrivens.

Mark recognized early on that he was bigger, stronger and more aggressive than his inexperienced opponent and thus his job as DB didn’t really require much effort. He would jam me at the line of scrimmage and manhandle me for a few seconds before losing interest, similar to the way a cat might torment a mouse. Sometimes though I would sidestep Mark and catch the ball. On the rare occasion that that happened Paul would promptly fly over from his Free-Safety position and, without breaking stride, drop his shoulder pads directly into the soft tissue that surrounded my ribs.

As I awkwardly limped home every night after practice, my gait suggesting a bad case of early-onset arthritis, I would thank the high-heavens that the Scrivens brothers were now my friends, and I no longer had to face their abuse.

A Day with Texas´Most Wanted

On one especially hot day in July of last summer, I found myself walking through Big Spring, Texas. My plan of attack was to walk down to Highway 20, and from there hitch a ride up to Odessa. I was in the midst of trudging down the city´s main street, in the trancelike state I tend to adopt when walking long distances when I heard someone shouting.

“Hey guy,” the shout came from across the street.

Being the only person dim enough to be walking around outside in the heart of the Texas summer, I knew the shouting was directed at me. I looked over and a tattooed gentleman standing atop a roof signaled me over.

As I got closer I noticed that the tattooed man was not alone atop of his roof. Four or five other shirtless individuals, no less tattooed than he, were nonchalantly performing tasks with hammers and shingles.

Ah, roofers.

“What are you doing?” asked an especially inked fellow, evidently the one who had initially called me over.

“I´m walking to the highway” I responded.

This caught the attention of a few of the other workers. I could tell because they had suddenly stopped attending to their tasks, and were evidently trying to decide if what they had just heard was worth any further attention.

“Why?” he asked, a tad befuddled.

I began to think about how I was going to answer when he interrupted again.

“You want a job?”

Recession my ass.

“No, thank you though, but I really need to be making my way up to Odessa,” I responded

“How are you getting to Odessa?” came out as “How you gittin’ ta Dessah?”

“Oh I´ll just try and hitch a ride somewhere near the highway” I exclaimed.

This caught the full attention of the entire work crew.

“What?” asked the gentleman.

I frantically began searching for a way to tell my new friends that I wasn’t, in fact, crazy, and that I had been relying on hitchhiking for the last six months to get around. Suddenly I became very conscious of the five men staring down at me – literally and figuratively – when one of the workers positioned on the roof’s crest piped up.

“I´ll take ya” he proclaimed.

“What?” I croaked out.

“Yeah, I got a meeting with my parole officer in Midland so I´ll drop you off”

Before I could comprehend the significance of what was just said to me the initial gentleman interjected.

“Perfect, you can work half the day, make a little money, and ride up with Keith.”

And so I found myself atop a roof, in Big Spring Texas, pulling shingles, where, at the day’s end, I would depart for Odessa with “Keith.”

I began contemplating if this was, in fact, an intelligent decision. I knew I´d be taking a chance, with Keith. Who, let me just say was “All-American” in the sketchy department. But then again, I was sketchy and Keith would be taking a chance on me. Despite not having a mirror, I knew I looked and smelled like someone that Jeffrey Dahmer might associate with. Besides, hitchhiking had proved to be rather difficult in Texas, who knew if someone would pick me up.  So I said “to hell with it” and decided to take the ride.

As it turned out, the roofers were all quite friendly. The work was hard and the fiberglass from the shingles was forever penetrating into our skin, but it felt good to be earning some money. I felt like a productive member of society once again. It was also painstakingly hot. The black tar paper appeared to crave the sun´s attention, and the sun seemed more than willing to satisfy. We cooked like the contents of a stir fry until our fleshy pink backs had been seared to a nice candy-apple red.

At one point I inquired about the weather in Texas and to my surprise, the group became rather confounded. They acted as if I had inquired about the conditions in Honolulu. This I didn’t understand because one of the guys had told me that he had never left Texas, hadn’t even seen the ocean. This guy, who was similar in age to me, then answered.

“We don´t really know, we´ve all been in jail for the last few years.”

Ahh. Terrific.

Eventually, the conversation turned to me, and I was asked where I was coming from. I told them that I had spent the last six months backpacking around South America, but instead of getting the standard “Oh cool, which countries?” response, I was greeted with a very genuine “Why?” His tone suggested that I had just confessed to voluntarily peeling my eyelids back with a can opener.

“I guess I wanted to see the world” I responded.

Group consensus was that this wasn’t a viable motive, and the topic was then directed back to something more interesting.

Eventually, the time came for me to depart with Keith. I entered the front seat of his truck and we drove off. He turned on the radio to a country music station and we listened in silence for a few minutes before he turned to me and asked.

“You like country music?”

I did, but even if I didn’t I wasn´t going to tell him otherwise.

We rode in silence for a while until we arrived at a house, where we stopped, and were joined by Keith´s girlfriend Misty. All of a sudden Keith wouldn’t shut up. It was like he was a battery-powered toy and his girlfriend had turned the switch on. He was animated, he was witty, he was everything the previous Keith wasn’t, and it made me rather anxious. It appeared that Keith was rather excited to tell his girlfriend all about his new friend in the front seat.

“He was just walking down Simler and decided to work with us for the day. He´s from Kansas!”

“Canada” I interjected.

“Right, Canada, and he has a backpack with a tent and everything.” He rambled on.

Misty wasn’t listening, I wasn’t listening, but I don’t think Keith noticed, or he simply didn’t care.

And so, the ride dragged on just as the summer days in Texas do. The gregarious Keith continued his soliloquy, as Misty and I sat in silence, waiting – unsuccessfully – for an opportunity to enter the conversation. Unfortunately, Keith´s mouth was a faucet and his dialect held a steady stream absent of interlude. He also shifted between topics so rapidly that if finally, an opportunity did arise in the conversation to speak, your point was about three topics passed its prime, and was thus irrelevant.

Eventually, we reached Odessa, which Keith had called “The Murder Capital of Texas.” I really wished he withheld that remark though because I was to be camping there that night. I said my goodbyes and thanked Keith again for the ride. He really was a nice guy, despite what his file at the Texas State Police Department might say. He didn’t tell me much about his time in jail or his crime. All I found out was that he had tried to smuggle a copious amount of marijuana across the US-Mexico border. He told me that, had the border patrol officer not looked in the bed of his truck, he would be rich.

Had Keith looked in a mirror, he would’ve seen the type person who you distinctively do not trust, looking back at him. So it didn´t really come as a big shock to me a that the border patrol asked him to pull over to the inspection area. Furthermore, Keith was quite loquacious. I´m sure after being asked if he had anything to declare he stated that he did, taking a long and convoluted story that touched on a few topics before mentioning that he was, in fact, trafficking some narcotics, but to keep it on the low on account that it wasn’t exactly legal.

I´m not too sure what the logistics were, but either way, Keith ended up in a State prison and I ended up in the front seat of his car. Even more so, I´m glad that he didn’t feel it necessary to add first-degree murder of a Canadian hitchhiker to his sentence. And because of that, Keith is going down as an alright dude, maybe not in the books of the law, but in mine, he´s doing okay.

So by the off chance that you´re reading this Keith, maybe you´re doing alright for yourself, or maybe you´re back in the slammer. Either way, if you ever need someone to speak on your behalf, whether it be a reference for a job or a parole hearing, I would be more than happy to vouch for you. Texas forever.

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Rolling with the Waves

Life is all about rolling with the punches, this I´ve learned. How do you respond to a setback? You need to have a balls-to-the-wall attitude towards everything you do, and if things don´t work out you still maintain that mentality.

Here´s an example from today.

I was working until 3 pm, and upon finishing I would head to the ocean to meet a couple of the other workers, where we would go surfing. When 3 o´clock rolled around, I packed up my things, grabbed my board and shuffled on down.

Now, since the waves are so large on the Osa Peninsula, I have often found that getting past the breaking waves is, in fact, more difficult than the actual surfing itself. In fact, I’ve had sessions where I never make it passed the break.

So today, I entered the water, immediately getting my feet cut, scraped and battered by the thousands of baseball sized stones that are carried back and forth with each wave. This I’ve taken to be an unavoidable constant, a sort of penalty you pay in order to surf the renowned waves of the peninsula.

I ventured a few feet out, hastily hopped on my board, and started paddling. Almost instantly I was met head on by a wave and was thrown heedlessly back into the rolling rocks. With some fresh scrapes and bruises, I hopped back on my board and tried again, same result.

I watched how the Ticans (local Costa Ricans) approached the wave head-on. They would dive under and gracefully reappear on the other side of the wave a few seconds later. This I couldn´t seem to fathom, let alone master. Every time I attempted, I would be carelessly picked up by the wave and promptly deposited somewhere near the shore. So not only would I make no progress, rather I´d find myself back to where I started, usually with an unhealthy amount of seawater intruding into my sinuses. The whole process was quite disheartening.

I´d try to convince myself that I was just experiencing a series of abnormally large waves and try again. Same result. And again. Same result. And again. Same result.

Today alone I must´ve withstood a beating from sixteen different waves, all of which would bring me right back to my starting position, like some cruel board game.

Eventually, I decided that my fight against the ocean was a mismatch and that, giving up and retiring to shore might be in my best interest. But here’s the thing, just because you’ve decided to leave the water, doesn’t, in fact, mean you’re safe. You don’t get to decide when you’re done with the ocean, that’s her domain.

I was carried back and forth with the tide a few more times before I finally got my footing. At that point, I dropped my board which got sucked into the tide itself. Fortunately, it is attached to a leash which is attached to my ankle. That ensured that, when the tide came back in, the board came right back to me, knocking me off my feet in the process. I was once again sucked back into the tide and the punishment continued. I tell you I have never felt so helpless.

Finally, I made it to shore and positioned myself at what I thought was a safe distance away from the ocean. I stood there for a few seconds pondering my own incompetence when, as if trying to underscore my inferiority, a wave came crashing in, picking up a thick piece of driftwood and swiftly depositing it into my right shin.

“YEEEOOOOOW” I screamed out in pain.

I couldn’t believe all this was happening. It was like being a fish flopping around out of the water, but more pathetic.

I eventually retreated to higher ground where, as if nature itself was conspiring against me, I got my leash caught on a branch, and stepped on a cactus.

It took all my forces to retreat to the path that would lead my languid self back to the innocuous comfort of my room.

Before departing I stole one last glance at the ocean and took note that the waves had in fact subsided, if just for a few moments. Before I had the chance to dissuade myself I was in the water and paddling out. And here´s what happened next.

I caught a wave.

I mean, I surfed a wave, quite deftly too, I might add. Whereas before, all the waves I had ridden were caught head on, so the already broken wave would push me straight into shore, where, after a few seconds of stability, I would progress to standing.

This wasn’t like that.

This time I caught the wave on the angle, positioning myself always a few feet ahead of the crashing white cap, cutting and carving, and riding it all the way.  It was incredible.

I was in such an ecstatic state that I hardly took note of what one of the guys was trying to say to me.

“Viste el tiburón?” meaning “Did you see the shark?”

I didn´t see the shark, nor did I care that much. I had already fought a brutal battle with nature and persisted. I knew she could have vanquished me then and there, in a rather gruesome fashion I might add, but I think she had proved her point.

I´ve learned a lot of lessons in life through persistence. When life throws punches your way you roll with them.  You be smart, you be brave, and you take chances. And though you can´t avoid the trouble, the pain, the misfortune, or the discomfort, you can dictate how you respond to them. When your chin is held high, and your faith persists, that is when lessons are learned, clues are revealed, and growth is achieved.

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Racing Through the Andes: the Reaper Drives Standard

I had just received a job teaching English in a remote jungle town in Peru, and to reach the almost-isolated town I was forced to take a small transport van through the Peruvian mountains. The following is an excerpt from the trip.

“The route from Cusco to Quillabamba rivaled a vomit-inducing theme-park ride, minus the safety regulations. What first became very evident was that our driver thought himself the Mario Andretti of the Peruvian taxi industry. A point he was so keenly willing to demonstrate in areas where the rational human-being would think “I should probably be extra careful here.” And this route had them in abundance.
The route requires the driver to ascend a large mountain in a process that is agonizingly inefficient. The road stretches horizontally across the mountain until it reaches the other side, then loops around sending the driver back in the opposite direction, only slightly higher. If you were to step back and look from afar, the route would look to be a series of continuous S’s stacked atop each other, while slowly winding up the mountain. Five days a week, the route is tedious and painstakingly boring. Fortuitously, I was making the trip on a weekend and had the good fortune of driving with our friend the drag racer. Tedious and boring gave way to terrifying and downright dangerous.

Our driver’s erratic style suggested that he was trying to elude some threatening vehicle forever encroaching from behind. We accelerated out of corners almost as fast as we accelerated into them. A process that ensured I was quite familiar with my neighboring passenger, as well as the hard glass window on the other side. The ride was torturous. The only sound being omitted was a constant crying from a baby two seats ahead of me, who only sometimes stopped for a few seconds to throw up all over himself, but for the most part, it was a constant. The rest of us remained in that quiet, sullen state that humans tend to adopt during periods of prolonged suffering. No one snacked, no one talked, we just unanimously entertained the idea that death might, in fact, be looming.
On one of my all-too-frequent trips to the right side of the car I happened to catch a glance out of the window and what I saw was quite unnerving.  Rather, it was what I failed to see, that rose concern. There was an absence of, not only guardrails but any visual confirmation that we were in fact on a road. To peak ones head over was to look out into the void. This was a place where objects tumble and fall for periods of time that are inconceivable to anyone who isn´t educated in physics and classical mechanics. Once, while turning a corner that our driver friend hadn’t appeared to have taken notice of until the last microsecond, I witnessed a group of small rocks fly out into the abyss. I believe they are still falling to this day.

Every so often I would try to steal a glance at the ancient lady beside me to see how she was handling her affairs. She was by far the oldest and thus the most likely to die first in the car, should we arrive alive or not. I assumed she had some experience in the matter of confronting one´s own death so I tried my luck at giving her a sympathetic glance. I was hoping to start a conversation but every time I turned towards her I saw the same ambiguous look. This was the look of someone who was either plotting their own inglorious suicide or wondering what they were going to eat that night for dinner, I just couldn’t decipher her. So since I was confronted with an unnerving drop of considerable height to my right and an emotionally detached crone of impressive antiquity, to my left, I settled on keeping my eyes locked forward for the remainder of the trip.

At one point in the ride, our driver screeched to a sudden halt, sending all of us, nose first, into the seats in front of us. Fortunately, most of us were already acquainted with this process and had our arms cocked and ready to cushion the impact. Some of the more careless passengers, who made the timely mistake of tending to a puking baby, or blinking at the wrong second, were sent skull-first into what appeared to be a car seat cushion induced concussion. But that wasn’t important. What was important was that, to the disbelief of all of us, the driver had stopped the car, giving proof that if eleven people all pray simultaneously for something, even God can´t turn a blind eye.

To the implicit behest of the entire group, someone opened the van door. The girl, who was situated in front of me for the ride, fell out and instantly collapsed. She lay on the ground, defeated, for a moment then gradually began the ordeal of picking herself up. At some point during the process, she decided that the task wasn’t possible, or otherwise wasn’t worth it. She remained in a hunched position, on all fours, for a few seconds then dry heaved twice. Although we were all privately attending to our own wellbeing, this caught the attention of the entire van.  We had adopted the mentality and demeanor of a platoon and here was a soldier on the cusp of a breakdown.

The young fellow who she had been traveling with, after attending to his own convalescence, reluctantly approached his, what appeared to be girlfriend and helped her up. It must be noted that at the start of the ride I had keenly observed at how passionate and vigorous this couple had appeared. Flirting, tickling, and kissing had given way to suffering, moaning, and if the girls face held any indication of what was to come, vomiting. Gradually, and cautiously the girl was helped to her feet, where she stood, almost tolerably, for a few seconds, then, quite suddenly, her face adopted a look of severe discomfort, even more so than before.  A sense of trepidation held in the air as we awaited what was to come. If someone had dialed 9-1, in his phone for safe measure, I would’ve commended him on his sound judgment. But no one did that, we just waited.  Suddenly, her body sprang to life in a convulsive, spastic manner. Whatever lay in her stomach, it was beginning its ascent to daylight. Then, out came a burp. A burp, equally impressive in volume and duration. A burp, so undoubtedly similar to vomit that the two could pass for cousins. It appeared that the body had summoned vomit to make a timely appearance but a biological misunderstanding sent burp to answer the call. We were all quite grateful, but no one more so than the girl herself. The driver was insouciant about the matter.

It appeared the intention of our stop was to attend to a frail, yet animated old lady selling oranges and baked goods. What confounded me was that we were in the middle of the mountains, nowhere near any sort of established community, and here was a lady selling insipid treats from a basket. Who on earth was her market? I, myself, had no appetite whatsoever, and I knew any food ingested would, in minutes, be making its way back up but I figured a small purchase might defer our return to transit, if only for a few extra seconds. So I indulged and bought myself a mysterious looking cube with the texture and colour of dog shit. But if it kept me off the road for a few extra seconds, I was all for it. Gradually this notion became evident to the group, as just before departing, someone new would vocalize an insatiable desire for a squash based treat. I was starting to see why this lady was in business.

After everyone had stocked up on treats they had no intention of eating, and a few dozen pleas to hold off on leaving were ignored, we promptly and impetuously departed, but not before the old lady inconspicuously handed our driver a brown cube, which he devoured with a lingering appreciation. The driver then whispered something to the lady in Spanish. ¨Te veré en unas horas Mama¨, which translates to ¨I will see you in a few hours Mom.¨

Touché Peru.”

Apparently it does rain in Texas

When booking my flight to leave South America I noticed that I was scheduled to have a brief layover in Houston, Texas.

¨Interesting.¨  I remember thinking.

It must be stated that I have had a fascination of sorts with the state of Texas ever since seeing the movie Friday Night Lights. I explored my options a bit and discovered that, at no extra charge, I could turn my two-hour layover into a two-week layover. Done deal. I was beginning to consider myself a bit of a backpacking expert and figured a few weeks in a first-world country would be a walk in the park. Remember that phrase, it becomes quite ironic.

Now one of my quick discoveries upon landing in the Lone Star State was that I was by no means willing to spend $100 USD to spend a night in a motel. I had just come from the land in which a room would cost no more than $3, and even then I was hastily ready to decline if a more suitable option was present.

So my frugal nature dictated that I continue where I left off in South America. Hitchhiking between cities and camping in any spot I´d deem reasonable. This pertained, but did not limit me to, forests, fields, parks, hidden bushes, and in one of my lower moments, a small patch of grass behind a Dick´s Sporting Goods, which, to my sleepy-eyed discovery, bordered a set of train tracks, quite literally. So you can imagine my dismay when, at about 3:45 am, a freight train came barrelling through with the speed and noise of a Boeing 747. I thought it was the apocalypse. But even an early morning soiling and repentance wasn’t enough to deter me from my practice. I really am quite cheap.

The train was a one-time occurrence – thank the Lord – and more often than not it was the sheer pain in my joints and lower back that awoke me. And on a couple of occurrences, it was a pair of Texas Police officers who were wondering ¨just what the hell I was doing¨.

That was another thing, no one could grasp the notion that I was ¨Backpacking.¨ It just wasn’t a concept in the Great State of Texas. People were constantly offering me money or perishables due to the assumption that I was homeless, police officers were always questioning my motives, even bus drivers would inquire, with a sense of inquisitiveness, about the contents of my backpack. Then they would listen with utter fascination as I listed off my supplies.

I even met one gentleman, who at his behest, made me repeat what I was doing to an onlooker because he couldn´t remember the foreign and novel word he had just learned.

¨I´m backpacking¨ I stated.

¨That´s right, he´s backpacking!¨ He pronounced with conviction. I think he felt proud just to be associated with me. The whole state of Texas seemed to adopt this utter fascination with what I was doing.

My routine would include exploring different cities in Texas, in insufferable heat, then at nightfall, I would find a covert place to pitch my tent, and after a few hours of extreme discomfort, I would fall asleep. I would indulge in as much sleep as my uncomfortable body, or the Texas Police Department would permit me, before packing up my tent and doing the whole thing over again.

That´s why, on the morning of June 20th, I was surprised to be awoken, not by discomfort or constables, but by water. A whole shit ton of water.

I was camping in a park in San Angelo, like I had the previous two nights. The park was atypically verdant, with trees and a small pond. Through the park, there weaved a paved trail, that, by day, was occupied by families walking their dogs, cyclists, casual strollers and the like. The traffic was a constant throughout the day, but come nightfall it was barren. Thus, without too much hassle, I was able to wander into the shrubs and pitch my tent.

I asked an elderly couple who I caught strolling if the park was a safe place to camp, and they assured me it was. This had become an inherent concern of mine after discovering that someone had been stabbed, no more than 100 meters away from me, one night while I lay snoozing in a park in Dallas. The information was shared with me by two men the next morning at a local bus stop. We were awaiting the bus that would take us to the city center, and me the hell out of Dallas. One of the gentlemen – who had the good fortune of finding a place that supplied Rum Slushees at nine in the morning – pointed out crime scenes like they were landmarks worth observing.

¨Yep, someone got stabbed outside the 7/11 last night, and over there, there was an assault rifle attack in which eight people were killed…that was last week¨.  He retold the events with a level of concern that dangerously teetered along absent.

I was quite taken aback by this. These were scenes of violence of the highest degree, and I could throw a baseball from where I slept to either of the two.

The man continued ¨The Bloods have their territory up here, the Crips over there…but the worst gang of all, is the cops¨.

At this point the other man, who hadn’t mumbled a single word, began nodding vigorously in agreement. At that moment I made a pact to myself that I would 1) Get the hell out of Dallas and 2) Never camp again.

I camped that very next night. Apparently, the threat of imminent death is more appealing to me than parting with my money.

So, fortunately, when I awoke the morning of June 20th, it wasn’t to an assault rifle, or the Bloods or the Crips but to water. Lots and lots of water. The events proceeded as follows.

1:30 am – I awoke and took note that it was raining. I knew this on account of the water that was dripping on my face from a hole in the top of my tent. This was a tent that I was previously over-ecstatic to have purchased for a low sum of $34.99. I then took the hoodie I had been using as a pillow, put it on, mumbled a few incoherent profanities, then drifted back to sleep.

3:14 am – I rolled off my sleeping pad and into a quantity of water that a small child might go snorkeling in. I was then very much awake. With the water and the cursing becoming a bit more prevalent, I sat up and weighed my options. Suddenly a big flash of white light filled my tent, followed instantaneously by what could only be the sound of someone firing a nuclear warhead into a series of megaphones. At this point, I took note that I was in the midst, in the heart of the midst, of quite the thunderstorm. As if being tired, cold, miserable, and soaking wet weren´t enough, I now had to contest with the possibility of instant vaporization from one of the lightning bolts that accompanies TNT-on-steroids-type thunder.

From 3:30 onward I sat huddled up, cold, sodden, and tired. I did nothing but stare at my watch, awaiting daybreak or hypothermia. The latter sounding more and more pleasant as time progressed.

4:39 am – An apparent break in the thunder and lightning. The rain had also died down. It was still pouring by the standards of anyone who has ever existed mind you, but it definitely tempered. This was my window. I could see that. I would leave this park and go find a motel or hotel with towels and a warm shower, and I would pay whatever insurmountable sum they demanded. I didn’t care about the cost.

4:40 am – I recognized that the hypothermia had taken its effect on my judgment. This became evident upon discovering that I did not care about the cost of something for the first time in my life. I then recognized the urgency of the situation I found myself in.

4:43 am – after collecting my belongings and taking note that the ones who had the capacity to absorb water – which was most of them – had in fact done so, I shoved them carelessly into my bag, unzipped the tent flap, and stepped out. Although it was dark, I could tell something was askew. The foot that had stepped out of the tent was now submerged, along with half my leg, in water.

4:51 am – After packing up my tent, and breaking it in the process, I left my hallowed campground in search of the paved path that would lead me the fuck out of this park. I trudged through the shin-deep water towards where I knew the path was located. Being in shin deep water didn’t escape my concern, in fact, I discovered it to be rather odd since I was camping on a somewhat elevated mound. Gradually shin-deep water turned into knee-deep water which turned into waist-deep water. This was becoming rather disheartening. And to make matters worse, it appeared as if the lighting had returned in full force.

4:59 am – I arrived at where I thought the path to be. But instead of a path, there was a fucking river. This confounded me to a concerning degree. Had I wandered the wrong way after disassembling my tent? Had I mistakenly wandered into the pond? No, because I remember taking note of how the lights of the houses shone off the water. If I was in the pond where were the houses? Had I wandered into the forest and stumbled across another lake I hadn’t taken notice of earlier? Again, no not plausible. I wasn’t sure if I was disorientated or simply losing my mind on account of hypothermia. One thing I knew for sure was that dead or alive, I was leaving this park.

5:09 am – After wandering around aimlessly, wading through water, in search of a path that I wasn’t even sure existed anymore, I tripped on something that was unmistakably concrete. I had found the path. Submerged in water, the location was just a few steps further than where I had initially thought the path existed. So I wasn’t losing my mind, I was just trapped in a flood. Hooray.

Now my task became simple: follow the path until it leads you out of the park and onto the main road. The whole concept seemed so straightforward that I think I might have even shed a smile. So I followed the path, traversing the water until it led me around a bend, and into a river. A river with currents, literal currents that looked like they could wash away a village, or at least a 185 lb. me without so much as a wisp in the current. As if the sight wasn’t ghastly enough, a log, which I´m only assuming stood a proud tree just a few hours before, sailed by with a speed familiar only to those who frequent auto tracks. This was a tree who, undoubtedly, for the last few months, was praying for rain. Poor fucker, irony sucks. Then I realized those could’ve very well been my famous last words. If that tree wasn’t in the next state by now I would have knocked on wood.

Eventually, I was able to traverse the water with my pack over my head, whilst taking very small, yet careful steps. The water got deeper and deeper until it reached nipple-level and stayed constant. For that, I was very grateful. Eventually, I made it out of the park and to the main road. I knew there had to be a hotel somewhere so I picked a direction and started walking (left: because I shoot left in hockey).

Every so often cars would pass, and I would try to give them my most sympathetic look. Occasionally I would catch a glance of ¨Oh you poor soul, I hope you have somewhere to be tonight¨. More frequent was the look that said ¨Ha fucker, look how warm I am in my warm car, which I´m driving to my warm house, where I´ll sleep in my warm bed¨.  A few kind souls in a white truck even felt it necessary to slow down and flip me off. But more often than not people didn’t bother to look. Even a cop car passed without so much as a glance.

God I hate people.

At around 5:45 am I reached a motel. It was seedy looking, it was rundown and it was called Motel, just Motel. Perfect, I thought, it must be cheap. I bounded ahead with a sense of something that wasn’t quite faith but was stronger than hope.

I entered the lobby in a way that I assumed Jesus did upon returning from forty days in the desert. From the looks the staff gave me, I must´ve looked the part. I could tell they didn’t know whether to run and assist me or call the police. So I trudged my way up to them, making a mess out of their lobby on the way, and inquired about a room.

The cheapest room was to cost $75, and check out was at 11 am, which was five hours away. Although it included a breakfast, I couldn’t do it. I simply could not spend the equivalent of $100 CAD on a room I was going to spend all of five hours in. It had appeared that the warmth of the lobby was fending off the hypothermia and returning me to my old self once again.

What was then agreed upon was that the friendly staff would let me use the laundry room so I could dry some of my clothing. I shuffled over to the laundry room, with branches, leaves, and mud trailing in my wake. I put my clothing in the dryer and sat atop of it for a few conscious moments before falling, no collapsing, into a slumber.

The next thing I knew, I was being tapped on the shoulder, and I awoke to a creepy man in very close proximity to my face.

“Come with me” he whispered. “And bring your things”

I´m not sure if I was still half asleep, or just beyond caring, but whatever the motive, I followed the ominous man, who I recognized to be the custodian.

The man led me to a room, which he opened and gestured for me to enter. I did. It was a typical hotel room, clean, comfortable, and in surprisingly good taste. I was beginning to wonder why the janitor had brought me here when he spoke, interrupting my thoughts.

“I was watching you sleep, you looked pretty cold. Why don´t you sleep here for a while, and when you´re ready you can come down to the lobby for some breakfast.”

I was very much surprised by this. What did he say? I was watching you sleep? No, no after that. You can sleep here for a while? Yes, that´s it.

After some feeble protests on my part, I was encouraged, practically forced to go have a sleep. Which I did. It was comfortable, it was peaceful, and best of all it was warm.

After waking up, I packed up my sodden belongings and headed for the lobby to thank the mysterious janitor for his gracious hospitality. Unfortunately, though he was nowhere to be seen, and upon inquiring at the front desk, the receptionist told me he had finished his shift and gone home to sleep. True to his word though, the man had informed the receptionist, and at her behest, I indulged myself of the breakfast buffet.

So as I sat there, flooding my Texas state-shaped waffle with syrup, I wasn’t thinking of the irony that encompassed my breakfast plate, rather I was thinking of a man. One man, who, through one act of kindness, had changed a terrible situation and made it into a memorable one. For all the cars that drove passed that night, so long as there is at least one man like our custodian friend, humanity will be alright.

I stated earlier in this post that I hate people, and now I have to retract that statement and leave you with a new one.

I hate most people.

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A sign I stumbled upon the very next day. 

Cliff Jumping 101

2010_07_10-10_49_07-1371_Zadar

I was recently in Zadar, Croatia, a coastal city in which a lack of sand – give the stones a few more million years of erosion – has given way to an impressive concrete beach scene. I´m aware that the term “concrete beach” might bring about a dissonance, let alone a desire to go anywhere near the place, but I must say I found the place to be in good fashion. I think that, when designing the place, the project planners recognized that they were already playing with a significant handicap, so they stockpiled the place with a surfeit of enjoyable services. The beach is brimming with basketball, volleyball and tennis courts, water polo arenas, restaurants, shops, swimming lanes, wading pools, and my personal favourite, a series of diving towers.

I hadn´t seen many people venturing to the highest of the three towers, and if they did, they inched their way to the edge, had a cautious peek, then hastily returned to the ladder. The tower was high enough where someone’s presence would bring about the curious gaze of onlookers. You see, people love the possibility of someone injuring themselves, or even more so, killing themselves.  So upon summiting the behemoth tower, you had a few seconds to yourself, before rapturous shouts would indicate that there was a fool atop planning to jump. Within seconds you would have yourself an audience of hundreds of people, all of whom are hoping for an impalement.

So when I reached the windy summit of the top tower I was surprised to be greeted by another being. He was roughly my age, and build, but his demeanor didn’t indicate much in regards to his intentions. I quickly joined him on the far side of the tower which concealed us from the sight lines of the spectators.

Instantly we started chatting, because if we´re chatting, we can´t be jumping, so the banter benefited the both of us. Eventually, the conversation turned to the jump, as was inevitable. He asked if I´d jumped off yet and I said that I had, rather proudly too.

A little while earlier I had climbed up and jumped off without so much as a concern towards the consequences. You see I was trying to impress a girl. This is one of the sure-fire ways to get me to do things I would by no means be doing under normal circumstances.

So when the fellow up there with me told me that he had previously performed a back flip off where we were standing, I became concerned. Not that he was lying, hell no, people don´t lie about doing flips off a tower they´re still suspended on. What worried me was that the girl I was trying to impress might see this acrobatic display of athleticism and thus recognize this fellow for the superior being he was. We couldn’t have that.  But at the same time, I wanted to see a backflip, or better yet an impaling.

You see this fellow was the last type of personality in my list of cliff jumpers, he was fearless.

You can learn everything you need to know about a person by placing them on an elevated perch above water and telling them to jump. You really can. If there were ever a place that exposes the discrepancies in human personality and thought processing, it´s a dive tower.

For simplicity´s sake let´s narrow the wide variety of jumpers into five distinct categories.

  • Number One won´t even consider jumping, but will gladly encourage you to do so.
  • Number Two wanders up to the tower or cliff in question, takes a peak, and instantly decides against it.
  • Number Three spends a great deal of time planning to jump and eventually does.
  • Number Four recognizes the presence of discomfort and fear but pride reigns over so he jumps.
  • Number Five is not subject to fear, he jumps without question.

Most people fall into category Number Three. They will in fact jump, but only after a period of time spent agonizing and playing out every possible mishap in their heads. Number Three, is actually, ironically, the most irrational. You see person Number One has his priorities straight from the get go. Number Two is curious but still sensible. He won´t let peer pressure dictate his actions. Number Four may have faulty motives but he spends a fraction of the time agonizing. Number Five is just born with an inherent lack of concern for his wellbeing. You can´t punish him for it no more so than you could punish him for his blood type, it´s intrinsic.

The trouble with Number Three is that they will end up jumping, and they know that. So why not omit all the suffering and agonizing and jump right from the get go. The hardest part of jumping off a peak is the time spent before jumping. Once you´re in the air, the suffering ceases, the adrenaline kicks in, and time passes slightly slower while you descend through the air, and plunge into the water. Upon surfacing, you are happy, and you admonish yourself for all that time spent scrutinizing. This is a fact. This will happen. I am just as confident in saying this as I am in stating that the sky is blue.

Unfortunately, the following is a fact as well – This isn’t news to people. Everyone knows they will jump and everyone knows they will suffer for longer than they should beforehand. It just can´t be avoided. It´s just of humanity´s quizzical quirks.

So with that setting in let us return to the top of the dive tower in Zadar.

We were still standing about, I was hyping up my newfound friend to attempt another flip when I heard a shouting from the water below.

“Hurrrrrrrrrry uuuuuuuup.” It was my friend Tijana, or more appropriately, the girl I was trying to impress.

I followed the love-stricken urge all the way off the end of the tower and soared through the air with limbs flailing and a smile on my face. When I surfaced I didn’t have time to savor the moment, rather I was more concerned with maneuvering Tijana back towards our towels and away from the tower. Not for safety´s sake, rather to steer her away from my friend the badass. All was going well until she caught glimpse of a bystander pointing towards the tower. She turned around just in time to witness the miraculous display of acrobatics from my newfound friend. With grace and refined skill, he entered the water flawlessly. It really was quite a feat.

“Wow, he´s crazy” she pronounced.

“Yeah, yeah he is…”

Hermit Crabs Pt. II

As I sat in the sand that night, accompanied by my head torch, watching the large crustaceans roam around the sand like Zamboni’s, I encountered one who was significantly larger than the rest. I took him to be the alpha and monitored his movements for longer than I should have. His status as alpha, I assumed was costly. Won through glorious battles in which limbs were carelessly discarded and permanent scars were welcomed. This crab was a tyrant, a primitive scavenger not subject to the helpless pleas for mercy coming from his prey. I watched as a cricket crossed his path. Poor oblivious bastard. I feared for his fate, and for his sake prayed that the massacre would be quick. The cricket then wandered away without much, actually without any resistance coming from the crab. ¨Smart¨ I thought. Conserve your energy in case you need to fend off a howler monkey. No sense wasting reserves on the likes of a helpless cricket.

After watching the crab for a little while longer I discovered that he wasn’t the tyrant his stature made him out to be, so I set off to find a new subject of interest. I happened upon a hermit crab fight club which proved to be good for a few minutes of diversion. Eight or ten smaller crabs had encircled two behemoths (by relative standards) engaging in some gladiatorial style combat. I monitored the fracas with intense scrutiny, playing the role of commissioner, case anything get out of hand in this heavyweight bout. Unfortunately, when I tried to get closer to the action, I frightened the lot and they scurried off into the cacti.

A little later on, I encountered a dinner sized crab who reminded me of Halloween. He was black and orange so I felt it was rather fitting. In fact, upon further research, I discovered that they are suitably called Halloween crabs. I had witnessed a smaller version of this exact species, vertically suspended on my bathroom wall, and since this particular fellow was much larger, I surmised that his skills were worthy of praise. I figured I was about to give witness to something of similar magnitude to witnessing Jerry Rice in his prime.

He started to crab-walk horizontally across the beach plane so I eagerly followed with my head torch. He was in the midst of passing a pair of hermit crabs who, stoically observed their neighbours gawky gait, when suddenly, unprovokingly the smaller of the two crabs kicked into a fifth-gear dash forward. Whether it was intentional or whether his reality subjects him to the occasional unprovoked burst of movement, I´m not too sure. What I am sure of is that his timing was absolutely perfect. He intercepted the lateral moving, and much larger crab, by ramming into his rear. The Halloween crab threw his claws up in defense or surrender, but it looked more like the latter. He probably assumed he was done in by some jungle dwelling mammal, hungry for tasty crab meat, but rather it was a very audacious or very stupid hermit crab, an eighth of his size. It would be the human equivalent of fighting off a toddler, but this guy was paralyzed with fear, waving his pincers frantically above his head. The whole thing was better than TV.

After escaping the situation, the grateful crab retreated to the safety of the cacti. So after losing faith in what I thought were ninjas of the beach, I turned my attention back to the hermit crabs. Whereas the smaller day dwellers, used their shells as a portable house, the shells of the larger night crawlers was a piece of armour at best. The shells, although larger than the ones found on the backs of the day crabs, were not big enough to house the entire crab. Their initial defense mechanism was to retreat cautiously, then, if the situation worsened, they would do their best to retreat into their shell. I experimented with one fellow in an attempt to further my understanding. If I placed a finger in his vicinity he would casually start to back off, but if I laid a hand on him he did his best in trying to retreat into his shell. He wasn’t exactly efficient in the matter, if I wanted to I could still pick at his meaty flesh, but he had an aesthetically appealing curvature to his technique, which I´m assuming he had spent a lifetime honing.

And so I stayed on the beach a little longer than the average person would, and since I was quiet, more and more of these mysterious creatures started to come out and join the festivities. What I noticed too, is that they would communicate with each other in passing. The meetings would always be brief, and it appeared as if they were always on the brink of a violent altercation, but nothing ever panned out. Two would cross paths, square up face to face, go through one full second of pre fight mentality then return to utter indifference. One second and it was decided, just like dogs. Imagine if humans could be that efficient in their interactions. Upon being introduced to a stranger, both of you would take a second to explore each other´s scent and make your corresponding decision. A ¨hi there¨ would be followed by a quick smell, then further conversation or a violent fist fight. I think it would save some time with some of our relationships.

But the crabs appeared to be rather peaceful in their interactions. It never escalated to anything more than the occasional grab and release, which was entertaining but by no means malicious. Once I saw an albino looking crab, attack another from behind. He had pounced on his prey in a way that suggested sexual activity. ¨He was mounting her¨, I thought. Then I made the discovery that there was a shell impeding his crab penis. So I sat on the beach pondering the logistics of crab sex for longer than any human should before gathering my things and wandering back towards the resort.

On my walk back I pondered my newfound appreciation for the hermit crab. I loved their helplessness, their ability to carry their homes on their backs, I loved the fact that they engaged in ¨vacany chains¨ in which, if finding an abandoned shell, crabs will begin to congregate and organize themselves in a line according to size. When finally a crab arrives who fits the proportions of the new shell he discards his old one and the crab first in line takes his abandoned shell, while the second in line takes his. This continues down the line until everyone has upgraded and all that remains is the tiniest crabs previous shell. Furthermore, I love how the crabs come together and feast over a piece of fallen beach fruit. And, in terms of crabs, which is a D-League of a category if there ever was one, the hermit might even be considered cute. With his beady black, cartoon eyes and his ineptitude at retreating to his undersized shell. In fact, I was on verge of titling the hermit crab my favourite crustacean when something caught my eye.

Further up the beach, I noticed some iridescent scatterings that caught the attention of my headlamp. As curiosity gave way I wandered up to find something very disturbing. A banquet was taking place, that much was evident. Hermit crabs and Halloween crabs alike appeared to be the distinguished guests. I found the whole thing to be in good fashion. In fact, I was actually quite glad that there existed no prejudice in crab world that prevented these two species from coming together and feasting convivially on…what exactly were they eating? The comic sight of the feast distracted me from the food upon which they feasted, which looked like cracked eggshells. Oh no. Turtle eggs. Sea turtle eggs. These sons of bitches were feasting on the tender flesh of baby sea turtles. I could even start to make out some of their exoskeletons. This wasn’t a feast, it was a pillaging.

I had seen enough nature documentaries to know that baby sea turtles were practically helpless. 90% of hatchlings fail to make it to the ocean, and even the ones that do aren’t guaranteed to live. If the powerful ocean tide doesn’t claim victim to them, then one of the many predators of the ocean will. Turtle eggs are a tasty treat for seabirds, fish, raccoons, dogs, snakes and now as just became evident, crabs. When you think of something as majestic as a sea-turtle, who has the capacity to outlive a human, it seems unfair that they should suffer this fate to a few dozen punk crustaceans. There were still a few eggs intact, buried in the sand, so I thought about playing the hero, picking up and tossing the crabs into different directions, when I decided against it. What held me back was the realization that sea turtles have been around for about 65 million years, and have done so without the help of man. In fact, since man´s recent arrival on earth, we have managed to endanger every single species of sea turtle due to our selfish exploits. So instead of playing God, I retired to my room. Only now with a hatred that was stronger than ever towards those bastard hermit crabs.

As tribute, here is a photo of the magnificent sea turtle. Those punk crabs don’t deserve the recognition.

sea turtle