The Cheek of God

I definitely inhaled . . .

Tag: Just A Little Crazy

Rubbing Shoulders with Doom, What My Tattoo Really Means, and a Poll

The follies which a man regrets most in his life, are those which he didn’t commit when he had the opportunity.

~ Helen Rowland

When I think of crazy, I think of Chris McCandless. He would be almost nine months older than me, and alive, had he been not a little less crazy but a bit more prepared. Instead, he walked into the Denali National Park and Preserve without a compass, without a map, and with a plan incomprehensible to anyone but himself. I can appreciate his passion, the way he made the deliberate choice to abandon the upside of advantage and hit the road in pursuit of something besides what others envisioned for him. But in attaining the rewards that accompany the follies of youth, he paid the ultimate price.

I first encountered his story within the pages of writer and mountaineer Jon Krakauer’s 1996 book Into the Wild. Still in my 20s and on the verge of major changes both professionally and familial, the story of Chris McCandless struck a tender nerve. Perhaps it was because at that point I knew my chances of experiencing a personal hiatus of the sorts he chose were slim to none. I had a kid and a wife. Doors were opening for the career change that I’d been anticipating. And people in my position didn’t just drop everything and go on a walkabout looking for inspiration. I’d never had the mental and physical resources for that sort of adventure anyway. But a part of me secretly wished that an opportunity to do what Chris did had come along. Without the tragic ending.

The best part of Krakauer’s book, however, is his own account of climbing the Devils Thumb. These two chapters, sandwiched between episodes of Chris McCandless’ unfolding journey, spoke to me for the simple reason that he had survived, and come off the mountain wiser about our primordial hunger for all-things-crazy. Krakauer writes . . .

All that held me to the mountainside, all that held me to the world, were two thin spikes of chrome molybdenum stuck half an inch into a smear of frozen water, yet the higher I climbed, the more comfortable I became. Early on a difficult climb, especially a difficult solo climb, you constantly feel the abyss pulling at your back. To resist takes a tremendous conscious effort; you don’t dare let your guard down for an instant. The siren song of the void puts you on edge; it makes your movements tentative, clumsy, herky-jerky. But as the climb goes on, you grow accustomed to the exposure, you get used to rubbing shoulders with doom, you come to believe in the reliability of your hands and feet and head. You learn to trust your self-control . . .

It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it. When I decided to go to Alaska that April, like Chris McCandless, I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic. I thought climbing the Devils Thumb would fix all that was wrong with my life. In the end, of course, it changed almost nothing. But I came to appreciate that mountains make poor receptacles for dreams. And I lived to tell my tale.

Do I regret that I have no such story to share? That I never went skydiving? Never sang before Ed McMahon? Am I sad that most of the crazy things I’ve done occurred vicariously – adventures lived through the lives of others? Maybe just a little. But unlike Chris McCandless, I have lived to tell my tale. If you’re reading these words, then so have you. Crazy is as crazy does. And though my crazy is not terribly exciting, it is my crazy. These are my hands and feet, clinging to the slippery slopes of my pathway up the mountain of life, and yet this mountain doesn’t define me. It’s what I’ve learned along the ascent that matters . . .

*****

Remember my tattoo? Well, I am sad, though not completely surprised, to report that it doesn’t mean what was intended. I did some digging online and came across a Chinese forum with an entire section devoted to translating tattoos. I posted a photo of my tattoo and the moderator very kindly wrote, “Sorry, you’re a victim of the gibberish Chinese font. Interestingly enough, the first two characters (i.e. those corresponding to GJ) are 武術 (wushu) which is a word, and means martial art. Unfortunately though they are badly drawn. The third ‘character’ is actually not a character in its own right, rather it is what is called a radical (a common part of many characters). The radical is known as “three drops of water” and if a character contains this radical, it usually is related to water in some way.

So I have a poorly-drawn tattoo that means, literally, martial art, hydro-.  Sweet!

He continues, “It looks like they were going to write a word related to water like perhaps hydroelectic or hydroponic or hydrate, but then stopped before they finished. And then imagine that maybe all the t‘s were written backwards, or the rt of ‘martial’ was combined into one letter that looked more like a backwards h rather than two separate letters rt, and that the l in martial looked more like a backslash \ than an l. That’s kind of what you’ve got tattooed.” So I think a new tattoo, one that actually means something, may be in order . . .

*****

My heartfelt thanks to Pamela, Sally, Travis, Christine, Ed and Erika for their contributions to the “Just A Little Crazy” series. I hope you enjoyed reading their posts as much as I did, and that you took the opportunity to contemplate your own craziness. So, a question: Would you enjoy reading more Crazy posts? I’m thinking about making this a by-weekly thing and inviting a few more folks to contribute. Let me know what you think by registering your vote below. And if you feel led, leave a comment or send me an email to share further thoughts about the series. In the meantime, have a great day . . .

[photo credit]

Out of the Box, Into the Air

In a word, Erika is passionate. About life. Love. Things that matter. And she writes about each, with sentences that sing, at Be Gay About It. In our final guest installment for the “Just A Little Crazy” series, she takes us two miles into the air to teach us a lesson about living with passion right here on sweet terra firma. Take a moment to visit the new Crazy! page to read previous entries in this series . . .

My earliest memory set the stage. In the first part of the memory, I’m wrapped in a blanket burrito-style at age two. I can see through the face-hole that it’s my mom, all nineteen years of her, cradling me as she runs, panting, alabaster against the coal black sky, her strawberry hair ablaze with each whipcrack of lightning.

In the second part of the memory, I’m being unwrapped by my slightly calmer mother on our neighbor’s velour sofa. The room is golden warm and there are pictures of the sweaty, later-years Elvis everywhere.

Two fragments of one event, equally traumatic.

It’s no wonder I grew into the hyper-aroused, hyper-prepared adult that I am today. Caution is an occupation and art form for me.  I walk across parking lots with my keys splayed between my knuckles like a claw. I fill my tank at the halfway mark. I cut my fruit before I bite into it. Thanks to my sixth sense of foresight, I’ve lived a pretty safe life (touch wood). Sometimes, though, my sixth sense of foresight becomes my cross and I need to leave it by the side of the road while I meander off the path for a minute or two or, on especially confident days, longer. These meanderings are few, but conspicuous.

It makes sense, given all this, that my greatest out-of-the-box moment, my boldest foray into crazy, was both planned and prepaid for months in advance, and involved a single engine prop plane, a parachute, and 12,000 feet between me and the earth.

Never, never, never did I imagine that I would skydive prior to meeting my lobster, Jenn. It was on our second date that she showed me her skydiving video; it was during that 12 minute run-time that I fell in love. Not only with her, but with what is possible when risk is given a second glance. In the video, she’s charming and dangerously badass. I held my breath watching her arc out of the plane to Rusted Root’s Send Me On My Way and I wondered what it would take for me to do it, to skydive. We struck a deal: if she could convince my mom, warrior protector of my life, to tell me to do it, then I would. If only foresight had told me that this would be one of those rare times my mom would surprise me.

It’s July 2005. I’m 28 years old. I’m wearing a jumpsuit, a harness, and flight goggles.

I’m scared shitless.

My tandem instructor is Howie. He and the rest of the crew at AtmosphAIR are amazingly Zen human beings; such is their approach to flight. They talk to me about fear management, about letting go, about breathing and being aware. I’m like, “Yeah, okay. Right. Let go. No problem.”

We hike out to the runway and load into the plane. The noise of the propeller is enough to overstimulate me. How in the hell am I going to handle falling two miles to my death?

We taxi, we gain speed, and – lift off!

Howie offers me a Tic Tac (my last meal?). At this point, I’m secured to the plane by one questionable seat belt around one questionable strap on my harness. We’re ascending and I realize what’s about to happen. I make a decision right then and there – I will go through with this. I will leave all my emotional baggage, all my rules, right here in the plane. It will be good. Yeah. It will be therapeutic!

At 10,000 feet, the door flies open. The noise is unbearable. It’s cold and dry and – OH! – my friend Steve and his instructor fall out of the plane! Just like that! Gone! Howie shuts the door and I have serious second thoughts.

But Howie is already walking me through the steps. He’s fastening my goggles. He’s fastening the clips, snuggling our hips together. The engine stills. Howie whispers (shouts?) that he’s going to open the door and then does it. My heart screams out of my chest. Bulls thunder in my ears. Howie tugs on my sleeve. I will not let go of the plane! He tugs again and I think, “OKAY, OKAY, HERE WE –

HOOLLLLLY SHHIIIIIIIIITTT!!!”

You can actually see me mouth this on my video.

To be honest, the rest of that jump is a blur. I have the video, which retells the story of a typical freefall, typical parachute opening, and typical landing.

All I remember is being cold and unable to think anything at all.

I’ve skydived five times now. I’ve somersaulted out of the plane, I’ve parachuted through a cloud. I’ve landed on my feet and on my ass. My last jump, however, put me into indefinite retirement; the chute opening was a bit rough and I experienced whiplash (not to mention my life flashing before my eyes at 120 miles per hour). Also, a dear friend who had also been one of my tandem instructors died during a jump last September. It was a medical incident and had nothing to do with skydiving, but it rattles me just the same.

Retirement or no retirement, my initial foray into crazy changed me. I’m much better able now to let go, to find my breath, to mark time without anxiety. I’m better able to forgive and to resolve emotional conflict, internally and externally. I’m at least capable of proceeding without caution.

And while my habit may be to plan like crazy, thanks to my five times out of the box, I’m now just crazy enough to go without a plan.

Once in awhile.

Dude, That’s F***ed Up!

Ed was one of the first “daddy bloggers” I ever read. I was immediately drawn to him because we both have daughters named Zoe. Well, actually, his daughter is Zoë, with the umlaut, because that’s how she rolls. In addition to sharing his generally G-rated tales of fatherhood at Zoë’s Dad, he has also written for the UpTake Vacations Blog, and is a contributor to Quirkee.com. For the “Just A Little Crazy” series, however, Ed tackles crazy from a completely different angle, and, as you may have gathered from the title, there are salty words and shenanigans aplenty. You’ve been warned! And while you’re here, be sure to visit the new Crazy! page to read previous entries in this series . . .

The only difference between myself and a madman – is that I am not mad.

~ Salvador Dali

I find it particularly telling that when posed the question, “What is the craziest thing you have ever done,” I was unable to immediately call to mind any specific examples. None. I drew a blank. Now don’t get me wrong here. I’ve got a past, a history, if you will. It’s just that quite a few of the details are a bit cloudy.

So I asked a few of my old buddies. “Simple question, guys – what’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done?”

I guess I was expecting a rousing round of “remember when” chock full of juicy examples and tantalizing tales of misspent youth (or early adulthood).

I was expecting them to share stories like . . . “Remember when we were in that car wreck? We were hosting those kids from the missionary choir and they were in the back seat. When we got hit you jumped out and started screaming, like a madman, ‘Oh, you fucked up now, dip shit!’ You stood there just freaking, expecting all of us to be your backup, only to turn around and realize our doors had jammed on impact. You were alone with two of the biggest, baddest dudes I had ever seen and these guys were getting more and more pissed with every obscenity you hurled at them.”

Or a story like . . . “Remember the time we went to the LSU game and decided, ‘What the hell!! The Saints play tomorrow at noon; let’s just go to New Orleans.” You got so drunk at the bar that we just left you. You told us you woke up thirty minutes after kickoff at that stripper’s house. She and her roommate were doing lines of coke off of your penis.”

Or . . . “that time you gambled away the $900 postdated check for the deposit on your brand new Mazda Miata. The Miata you bought before you had found out if you passed your nursing boards. And then you borrowed fifty bucks and won it all back!!”

Or they might have said something like . . . “Remember that time we went egging cars and you threw eggs into the open window of that one car – the police squad car – on surveillance.”

Little stories like these I was expecting. I got nothing. No answers to my e-mails. Maybe I was crazy to think these guys would answer at all. The more likely scenario is that their wives – wives very long on memories, quite short on forgiveness – intercepted the e-mail. They most likely saw my name on an email to their husbands and said, “Oh Fuck No!! You aren’t about to talk to that loon! I don’t care what he wants!!”

DELETE!!

So I asked my wife. Straight up just out of the blue. “Honey, what’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done?” Without missing a beat her face lit up, she looked at me smiling and said, “Ooh, that thing. That thing with the beads. And the feather!”

(I kid. I don’t know you guys well enough. And it was Cool Whip, not a feather. I kid, again!)

Honestly, she thought a minute and said, “Well, the story about you going out drinking and gambling in Baton Rouge the night before you sat for your nursing boards and getting stuck on the riverboat until 4 in the morning – (I had no idea it left the dock) – that shit was pretty crazy. I mean damn, Ed, that is your livelihood, your future.”

Then she thought a bit more and said, “You know, there’s still not a week that goes by that someone doesn’t say something to me about the time you loaded up all five kids and drove them across the country by yourself. That was pretty crazy.”

So here’s the thing: I guess I have done some pretty crazy shit in my day. Or stupid. Either way, I just don’t see it that way. I’m just living. I’ve always been the dude that was ready to go. Scenario: A call from a buddy that says, “Dude, we’re heading out to X Marks the Spot. It’s going to be great. You coming?” A typical response: “When are you going? Now? Let me see . . . it is a work night. I’ve got a test tomorrow. I don’t know.”

Pose the question to me and my typical response was, “Pick me up.”

I just did shit other people wouldn’t normally do. Or would fucking wrack their brains deciding whether to do it or not. I don’t consider that crazy. Spontaneous? Sure. But not crazy. I just did stuff without thinking of the consequences.

(To my enormous fortune I now have children and the spontaneity has been significantly curtailed. That, and no one calls anymore.)

Truth-be-told, the majority of the things I do now as a matter of common occurrence most people consider crazy.

Taking five kids to the grocery store would be an act of lunacy to most of the people I know. I’ve got no choice. Why should it be crazy, then? Or what about packing the kids and their bikes up for a day on the trails? Why should that be considered crazy? They’re my kids! We’re a family and families are supposed to do stuff together, right? It’s not crazy. It’s just how it is.

Hell, what do I know?

OK.

So you want crazy? All right, here’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done . . .

Long after I was drunk, I continued to drink. Countless times I drank despite my wife having clearly enumerated the consequences for my actions. Severe consequences and I just said, “Fuck it!”

I would load my children into the car after more than several and drive them home. I’d put them to bed with alcohol kisses and continue to drink long into the night, cursing life and my depravity. I was angry with no one. And everyone. For no reason. For every reason.

I continued to drink despite what it was doing to me physically and emotionally. Most horrifically, I continued to drink despite what it was doing to my marriage and my family.

Now THAT is crazy!

(This October 23rd will mark the third year of my sobriety. I still have some issues with lingering anger but have opted instead to treat them with peanut butter. Oh, and for the record, some of the events described above may or may not have actually happened. Details were quite possibly embellished – except for the Cool Whip. That shit is real!)

Wherein I sing with a sock puppet and in front of Ed McMahon

Christine and I go way back to the beginning of The Cheek of God. Her own blog, Flutter, was one of the first I ever read, and with her entry for the “Just A Little Crazy” series, she continues to inspire me . Be sure to visit the new Crazy! page to read previous entries in this series . . .

I can sing.

No, really I can.

The problem is, while I can sing, and well, I get immensely embarrassed when someone asks me to. About a year ago, someone asked me to sing on my blog. I did, but I was so shy for someone to see the absolutely mental faces I imagine that I make when I sing, that I made a sock puppet to sing for me. Out of a cashmere sock. And dreadlocks.

Oy.

So, there is a voice, hidden beneath a cashmere sock, just dying to be heard. When I was 19 I decided it was time for the world to hear it. I got a ginormous hair up my arse to audition for Star Search. Star. Search.

Ed McMahon.

Cheesy stage lights.

Copious amounts of make-up.

Bad, bad BAD costuming and enough pre-teen squeaky Whitney Houston wannabes to choke a moderately sized horse. Maybe even a big horse, although I haven’t done the calculations as to how big of a tween star it would take to bung up a Clydesdale. Not that you’d need to worry about a tween star being born purely Star Search.

For which I made my friend Jenny drive me to L.A., singing Madonna no fewer than 7034 times. She was a trooper, but to my credit I was on FIRE. Seriously? A 19-year-old white girl, wearing denim shorts, a button down denim shirt (of precisely matched washes) more hairspray than a southern girl’s wedding, and the reddest lipstick allowable by law, singing Madonna, with an entire verse en espanol? SO cross cultural. So fabulous.

[/end sarcasm]

We walked in to the auditorium where auditions were being held and without the benefit of my name or intent, I was given a number to wear when I reached the stage. I sat, watching a group of 6 girls, 3 guys, 2 dogs and a small Volvo do a rousing juggling routine, during which one of the dogs decided to crap onstage.

I shit you not (insert rimshot here).

Said shit was not yet removed, three excruciating acts later, when my number was called. I handed over my background music and took my very denim self up and positioned myself behind the mic. Then, I looked up. Ed McMahon (God rest his soul) was at the judge’s table, drinking coffee and picking his nose (so totally not speaking ill of the dead! It happened!). Literally. With his pinky. I took this to mean he was bored and I better hurry the hell up.

I waited for the music to start and opened my mouth, fully expected a belch, a crack or an “um” to betray my nerves. But, none of that happened. My voice, strong and true and beautiful came spilling out of me. Perfect in pitch and intensity, I rocked it. Until I reached one line.

I should have sang, “Te dijo, te amo”. Which means, “He told me, I love you”. What I sang was “Te dijo, me amo”, which means “He told me, I love me.”

Every Spanish-speaking person in the audience burst into applause and laughter.

Mortification grabbed me by my fallopian and yanked me off the stage, down the hallway and out to Jenny’s car. I didn’t wait to give them my name, I didn’t wait to get my tape of background music. I didn’t wait to get judge’s comments. I just hauled ass. I was at once thrilled with my nerve and mortified with my gaff.

Jenny and I drove home, me barely containing tears and her afraid to tell me that the judges thought I was great and had asked who I was. But it didn’t matter.

For three minutes, I moved. For three minutes, I shook. For three minutes, I let a room full of people see me . . . and I was a Spanish-challenged rock star. For three minutes, I dropped my chains and let the world hear my voice.

I’ve been dying to get back there ever since.

The Doctor Will Be With You . . . Shortly

I met Travis, aka The Holmes, a few months ago through the DadCentric blog. His writing is brimming with brilliance, and his comedic chops are honed razor sharp. As we continue our “Just A Little Crazy” series, he shares a story of getting a little crazy in a lab coat. Visit the new Crazy! page to read previous entries in this series . . .

I blame Doogie Howser. You know, M.D.? I mean the TV show, of course, not Neil Patrick Harris. I can’t think of anything to blame on Neil Patrick Harris. Neil Patrick Harris is the shit. And Doogie Howser was the shit as far as I was concerned back when I was young. Here was this freakishly smart kid doing these big important grown-up things, but still going through all the same agonizing teenage bullshit as I was. His girlfriend was hotter and his best friend was dumber, but still, it put the idea in my head that even as a kid, a pre-man if you will, I could insinuate myself into the adult world and do the same things they were doing.

I had decided that I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up. That’s the fourth thing that I can ever remember wanting to be, the first three being a carpenter, a lawyer, and an actor. Rock star and dope M.C. would come later, but at this particular time, I wanted to be an animal doctor, to help people’s pets feel better, to heal their wounds, to assure their owners that, indeed, everything was going to be all right because Dr. Holmes was on the case. My mom, ever supportive, called up the vet where we took all of the non-human inhabitants of our house when they were under the weather and asked if perhaps I could spend the day with them, just hanging out, observing, helping out where I could. Being the good fellows they were, they agreed to it.

Foolish foolish men.

As it happened, I ended up spending more than one day with the vets. I liked being there and they seemed to like having me, so they welcomed me to come pretty much any weekend. I got to sit in on appointments, help clean up exam rooms, help feed the boarded animals, all kinds of stuff. And I picked up on a lot. Like the fact that some pet owners are pretty shitty towards their pets. And the fact that the resemblance between some pets and their owners can be uncanny. I’ll never forget lizard man, but that’s another story.

Their mistake may have been in giving me my own white lab coat to wear. I know their intention was just to help me feel like one of the crew, but I think it may have contributed to me forgetting where I belonged in the order of things. So really, I could you could say it was their own damn fault.

So this one day, there’s some lady waiting in one of the exam rooms with her little dog. I knew she was in there waiting for one of the doctors. I also knew that the docs were presently tied up with other business, and that she was going to be waiting for a bit. I also knew that I had watched the doctors examine people’s pets dozens of times. I’d seen how they held them, how they felt them, I’d heard the questions they asked, the little details they pointed out, the measured way they offered diagnoses. So I decided, hey, why not?

I walked into the exam room and introduced myself as Dr. Holmes. I asked her dog’s name, what problem brought them in to see us, plus a few other questions that I’d heard the docs ask. I assumed that the lady had seen Doogie Howser, so she knew that doctors were getting younger these days, a trend which extended to veterinarians as well. I assumed this was the reason why she wasn’t asking me what the hell I thought I was doing and where the hell was the real doctor. I assumed I had this lady fooled, and her little dog too.

Of course, a few minutes into the exam, I quickly realized that no matter how well I might play the part, I had no idea what I was doing and I didn’t know how to make this lady’s little dog feel any better. I wasn’t Doogie Howser, I was just some kid with a white coat and a dramatic streak, and we needed to get a real vet in here stat.

“Okay,” I said to her. “Somebody will be right in to see you.” Or something like that. I ducked out of the room, thankful to be out of there, thankful not to have been called out on my bullshit. I resolved to never pull a stupid stunt like that again. And when one of the docs asked me about it, I swore up and down that I wouldn’t ever do it again. They were so cool about it, they even let me come back again.

Yep. All Doogie’s fault.

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