Finding My Stride

22 Jun 2006

Well, there's little time to write tonight, as it's the shortest night of the year. Neo-druids have flocked to Stonehenge, I've heard. Perhaps I have time to recall a story that's somewhat related to the Summer solstice. [Turns out I didn't have time ... Just finished this up today. But anyway ... ]

The flipside of the shortest night, of course, is the longest day. And, it did seem long to me.I worked all day, came home around 5:45 p.m., and ate organic greens with my wife and daughter -- fun to handle the swiss chard, its blood-red stalk extending rather fractally into the outer reaches of the giant leaves like a network of veins. (Not so fun to eat, though. But the yellow string beans hit the spot.) My daughter then hit the pool -- essentially a 2,000 gallon bag of water that I installed on our driveway this weekend despite a slight acclivity and the packaging's boldface warning to install the damned thing *only * on completely level ground.

Then I moved an old buffet out of our garage, as a woman was coming to pick it up. I'd sold it on Craig's List recently in an effort to reduce the degree to which the garage resembles the set of Sanford and Son. A couple of years ago, an elderly lady on my street put that buffet to the curb on trash night. I happened to walk past her house and remarked to her that it was a shame to simply throw out such a work of fin-de-siecle beauty. Just then, some young relative of hers asked if I wanted it and even offered to help carry it to my house.Well, hell, who am I to pass up free junk? So, sure, I took the thing -- and it sat for two years, taking up valuable space that I didn't have to spare.But now, thanks to Craig's List, it's been converted into roughly enough money to cover the water bill for that 2,000 gallon pool. Funny how these things work out rather cosmically like that.

I played the piano for a half-hour, then helped the woman and her Irish father load the buffet onto a particularly crappy blue pickup truck. If my ears heard right, he said something in Gaelic as he roped the thing into place -- or maybe he was just mumbling. (We have a lot of mumblers here inPittsburgh -- not to be confused with the Mummers of Philadelphia, of course.)I then sat around in the living room for a while, played the piano some more, and ran to the store for Advil and carrot cake. It was still quite light out.

These details are of no importance to the story, of course. They simply demonstrate, hopefully, how long the daylight lasted. With a half-hour or so of light left, I decided to go for a run.

As I was chugging along, I first considered how strangely eclectic my taste in music has become. Most people probably think that about themselves, I mused. But, in the span of a few hours, I'd been listening to 80s pop radio, had played some folk ragtime, had started considering composing a waltz, listened to a few Latin habaneras, and was now cruising along listening to a very young, highly dramatic and overproduced hard rock band called My Chemical Romance on my $20 MP3 player. (They're fromJersey, I read -- kind of the yang to, say, Evanescence's yin, if you will. Excellent high-energy music for jogging, even though I'm probably well beyond their target demographic. All courtesy of my local library, btw.) The only "music" I simply can't abide, btw, is country -- and that's a direct result of being over-twanged during my Midwestern upbringing.

And then I suddenly remembered running about five years ago in Salt Lake Cityaround the same time of the year. Some back story before I get to my Deep Observation About Life ...

I'd gone there for a conference of 4,000 environmental scientists (as a conference staffer, not a scientist). The (sorry ladies, don't read the next few words) absolute fucking cunt in charge of placing the organizational staff in hotels decided to place me in literally the furthest available hotel from the convention center. We never got along, as you might have guessed, and she used her position to ensure that I'd have a rotten time for the week. All 20 of the others had only to roll out of bed and casually cross a street.For me, it was a 25-minute walk. (It's highly unusual for me, by the way, to have "enemies" in the workplace, though I had two at that office. In an odd way, I kind of miss having someone around to actively hate. But, that's another story, I guess.)

We'd done some interesting things during the week, even though the bar scene inSalt Lake City was practically nonexistent. Last call, as I remember, was sometime around 11:00 p.m.And there were other strange Mormon "rules" about alcohol that I can't recall now.

This was roughly eight months before the 2002 Winter Olympics, so the city was being almost entirely refurbished. The guy in charge of it all stopped in one day, and I had to show him around for few minutes. You might recognize his name -- Mitt Romney, the current governor of Massachusetts. Personally, I found him to be kind of an asshole (which was sort of unusual, as most Mormons in Salt Lake Cityseemed to walk around in a continual daze, as you might expect of so many brainwashed members of a religious cult). I only mention this because Romney apparently has even higher political ambitions. Who knows, this could have been my extremely boring brush with a future POTUS.

TheGreat Salt Lakeexcursion was a major letdown.What looks like a fun destination from afar turns out to be quite a disgusting, bug-infested shoreline with absolutely nothing to do but look quickly and then go away. It's the worst lake I've ever seen, as a matter of fact.

TheParkCityexcursion was unforgettable, though.I didn't care too much about the Olympics, but I figured it was the closest I'd ever likely get to seeing what the Sundance Film Festival must be like. Robert Redford owns a restaurant there called Zoom, at which I wanted to eat. But my group decided on a different place to blow our per diem. I think it was called the Gamekeeper Inn. (We had some hard-core meat lovers in the group.)I'll never forget sitting out on the deck that evening -- late June in the mountains ofUtah, and so cool that they turned on one of the outdoor heaters normally used during ski season. When they delivered the dinner, it was tough to escape the remarkable juxtaposition of atmospheric elegance and yet meat dishes that resembled the enormous brontosaurus-sized portions always served on The Flintstones. I think I had a rack of ribs, but the IT Guy ordered something that was roughly the size of a basketball. His eyes shone like shiny new silver dollars when they set that hunk of beef before him. He just smiled and took it all in for maybe a minute before carving it up.

I was in their marketing department at the time. Originally, I'd come on board at that association as their web manager, but then someone found out that I understood where capital letters and periods go in a sentence. So, they immediately offered me another position there, reporting to Mr. Maraschino -- probably the biggest a-hole I've ever had the unfortunate experience of working for. I hated him so much that, upon their offering me the position, I stated in plain terms that, if they wanted me to work for him, they'd have to give me about a 40% raise. Amazingly, they gave in to this ridiculous demand.(It wasn't the first time I'd pulled a mercenary-like move in the corporate world.)Still, it was an agonizing couple of years. Every time a project got fucked up (and, they *all * did), I'd laugh along with my coworkers and deem it Marascheenafied.

Mr. M. had a special way of being an asshole that made most folks' heads explode, which I think explained all of the organic stains on the home office's walls and carpeting. Here's a fictitious, yet typical, example of the kind of exchange I'd grown used to experiencing with him:

Me:"Cool looking moon, tonight!"

Him:"Patrick, you can't just unilaterally assert that we're in fact viewing 'the moon' as you say. What we're viewing is apparently a brightly illuminated night-sky object in roughly the shape of a crescent. If, after careful examination and consideration, we deem with certainty that it is our Earth's natural satellite, then and only then may we refer to it as 'the moon.' "

I suppose I've had quite a few bosses in my day, but no one else before or since Maraschino has been able to draw out such an urge to smash his god damned fat face with a large wrench.

So, we're in the convention center one day attending to the 4,000 scientists, and Mr. M. said something to annoy me. I simply wanted to get away from him for a while, so I announced that, once we wrapped up for the day, I was going to go jogging.

"Yeah, where to?" another guy asked.

I turned and looked out of one of the immense convention center windows and pointed at what looked like the nearest peak. "To the top of that mountain," I said.

No one believed me, of course. They insisted that those mountains were farther away than I thought. But, I figured I could do it anyway. I invited anyone else to come along, knowing that the 300-pound Mr. M. would almost surely have a heart attack if he agreed. But, I had no takers.

After a 25-minute walk back to my hotel, cursing our meeting planner under my breath the whole way, I changed and set out toward the peak, thankful that I had a couple of hours of daylight left still. (Admittedly, my goal wasn't to summit one of the jagged cliffs clearly out of range. This one was considerably closer. It probably doesn't even count, in most Salt Laker's minds, as a mountain.)

I soon jogged directly through the flowery main campus of the Mormon cult, where the devoted followers stood around like well-dressed automatons waiting to answer any questions that curious visitors might have about latter day sainthood or the Mormon tabernacle choir. I'm sure many find it a peaceful and sacred place, but it skeeved me out a little. I remember jogging around their state capitol, up through some lush canyons, and then steadily upward on some mountain road for a good hour or more. Little daylight remained in fact. It didn't seem, for quite a while, that I'd realize my goal. But then I saw that peak clearly within range.

The road led to a small, very exclusive-looking neighborhood. At first, it looked like the peak itself might very well be situated on private property. But, I managed to find a parcel of what appeared to be undeveloped land between two houses, far enough from either to arouse much suspicion from any people inside. Two much larger problems presented themselves. First, I knew there was no more than a half-hour of daylight left. Second, the field in front of me quickly steepened into what would amount to a near-climb for 50 or so yards, and then a full vertical climb for the next 25. This wasn't going to be easy, I thought, especially in my current state of near exhaustion.

Several months later, I was out on a business lunch with my friend PM, a local print shop owner. He's a good egg and, I suspect, probably a fine writer. We rarely talk business when we do lunch meetings. We more or less use them as an excuse to hang out and see how much we can eat at the Olive Garden while we discuss subjects like creative nonfiction and how much of an a-hole Mr. Maraschino was. So, I was telling PM this story and, at the point where I just stopped, he assumed that I simply didn't finish. I suppose I had been even more verbose and certainly more dramatic than I have, above, and painted it as a lost cause.

"So, I assume you said to hell with it?" he asked.

"No, P, I went for it.I god-damned went for it."

It began with a run into a field of waist-deep brush.Then it got all gravelly on me as it inclined a bit, but I eventually scratched my way up to the boulders. From there, it was an all-out climb, 25 yards or so straight up from rock to rock. I'll never forget reaching for that last ledge and pulling myself atop the peak just as the sun fell below the horizon out past theGreat Salt Lake. What a view! I sat there exhausted in the twilight admiring the panorama -- mountains surrounding me, a small residential neighborhood looming almost directly below my feet, and the entire city ofSaltLakelit up in the murky distance. As keepsakes, I picked two small white flowers growing from a crevice next to me.

As beautiful as it all was, I was now facing a significant new problem: getting back down again. The rocks I barely managed in the twilight, but it was fully night by the time I reached the gravelly incline.To negotiate that part, I simply crouched down onto my right foot, extended my left leg outward, and pushed off. I slid all the way to the bottom in about 10 exciting seconds. (Looking back, this was probably highly dangerous, but it was also a bit of a rush at the time.) From there, I spent the next hour or so running back down the mountain, through the town, past everyone else's hotel, and into the courtyard of my own where a giant pool awaited.

PM looked at me that day at lunch and said something like, "Well, it sounds like it was worth the extra effort, but why didn't you just bag it and go home instead of all that climbing in the dark at the end?"

"I'll tell you why, P," I said."Because, I knew damned well that, if I didn't get to the top of that mountain that night, it would have bothered me for years. And, someday -- much later in life -- I'd have to get on a damn plane, fly toSalt Lake City, and climb the damned thing just to get a little satisfaction."

That's really the whole point of this little tale. The summer solstice is, for me, perhaps a time to reflect on accomplishments. What do you want to do in the future, during the "long days" ahead?And after the long days have passed, perhaps it's useful to also look back and consider what, if anything, you left unfinished in the past? And, if applicable, how do you feel about that? Those are all questions for future posts, I suppose.

(ps Yes, Mormon-opoly is real.)

Original Comments

Below, are the original comments on this post. Additional comments may be made via Facebook, below.

On June 23, 2006, Simon wrote:

Great story mate!

On June 24, 2006, myclob wrote:

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