Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tales of the Temporary

Americans are twice as likely to kill themselves on a Wednesday. At work, the stapler eyeballed me, beckoning me to punch little bits of metal into my skull.

The recession doubled the competition for jobs in the Bay area; I fought with hundreds of other applicants to file papers for the California State Bar. At 8 am, during the hump of the week, I started shredding, filing, faxing, and copying. During my fifteen minute break, I sat on the curb, watching San Francisco's financial district's honking traffic. My head fell into my hands and I was in Yosemite climbing for a moment. The glacier polished cracks swallowed my hands and the Merced flowed lazily beneath me. Then the exhaust from a Greyhound tore me from my day dream. Those ten seconds of dreaming were the highlight of 120 hours of work. I shuffled back inside to shred, staple, file, fax, and copy. I hoped that the stapler would kill me. The job was death by paper cut and I was bleeding out.

The temp gig lasted three weeks. The job before that lasted three months. I ran food at a bar and restaurant in Berkeley. The restaurant manager eventually sat me down. I expected a raise or a promotion. There was nothing of the sort.

"James," he crossed his legs. I wondered if the stench of beer and pizza would ever wash off him. "Why are you here?"

I needed a job to get established in the Bay area, and to "springboard myself into a corporate environment." I wondered if the bullshit was thick enough. Maybe he wanted something more philosophical, more Zen. It was Berkeley. My mind raced through vague memories of Plato's Symposium, of Siddhartha, and of the stories I'd heard at the few Yoga classes I'd been to. What should I say?

Whatever he wanted I wasn't quick enough to answer with so he said, "You walk without a sense of purpose."

I didn't know how to respond. This was not exactly a promotion- actually it was the opposite. I stared at him. Maybe if I didn't blink for thirty seconds my eyes would start tearing. How could he fire a crying man?

At 8 am, in Saturday morning, I started my regular job or rather the less temporary one. When the sun came over the top of Half Dome and hit Washington’s Column, I began up the Enduro Corner of Astroman. The rack felt anorexic as I thrutched my way up the splitter crack. With his tube socks, mullet, and passion for classic rock, Mad Dog defines hard trad climbing. With an associates' degree from the Yosemite Valley Community College, and solid work on his bachelors at the University of Patagonia, Mad Dog could run it out with a thin rack. As an aspiring rock jock, I wanted a piece at my knees, waist, and chest. Instead, I punched it through the greasy splitter crack. I thrutched, fell on my jams a few times, and made a half dollar sized gobie on my hand. Mad Dog hiked the pumpy crack. At the belay he attributed his skills to his high sense of fashion

"It's important to go acrylic. Stripes help too," he yarded up his socks and fired up the Harding Slot.

Though there seemed to be truth his words, I suspected that Mad Dog's skills came more from years of climbing. He'd been working on YOSAR for four years, freeing the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome, Free Rider on El Capitan, and managing an ascent of the hairball aid climbing test piece, The Reticent Wall on El Cap. He spent his winters in Patagonia. In his free time he traveled to Alaska and the East Coast with his lady friend. He'd made a commitment to the climbing lifestyle. If successful and dirt bag could be used in the same sentence to describe someone, they’d fit with Dana “Mad Dog” Drummond.

I moved to the Bay area 9 months ago in an attempt to solidify my life. Big words and phrases like “career”, “professional development”, and “paycheck,” had a sudden pleasant ring to them. A move from the transitory life of a climber towards one of successful city dweller. It hasn’t happened. First I walked without a sense of purpose and then I wanted to put staples in my head.

My skull bonked against the rock behind me, snapping me back to the moment. “Get a piece in,” I told myself. A long stream of blood flowed down my arm. The Harding Slot had not gone well. I fell. And I gobied. We finished the route, ran down canyon, and now as the sun started to fall over the western end of the ditch; I struggled up the off width of The Rostrum. I stacked my hand against my fist, slotted my knee and looked at the cracks’ wide jaws. I had no gear for twenty feet and a strong desire to pass out on lead. Suddenly, taking a stapler to my temple didn’t sound so bad.

I struggled to the belay, clipped in, and fell against the cold granite. Mad Dog hiked the crack behind me, grabbed the rack, and led to the top singing The Scorpions’ “Rock You Like A Hurricane.” At the summit, I thanked him for dragging my carcass up the Astroman-Rostrum link-up. “You didn’t do too badly for a weekend warrior,” he shouldered the rope and sauntered off to the car. I followed slowly behind.

Though the climbing had been hard for me, I’d move with a sense of purpose- a task I’d been totally incapable of in the restaurant, too apathetic to try in the office, and too despondent to attempt in the city. Cementing myself to an urban lifestyle, attaching myself to that lifestyle was too hard. I’d tried. I walked back to my car and started to run a mental budget. This plus that plus this and that…I could make it out of the city at the end of October. We drove to the Swinging Bridge below the Sentinel and in the dark, we dove into the cold Merced. The water stung the cuts on my body but they would heal. A few more weeks of work and that pain would be over too. I could become a gypsy, get tube socks and be a hard man like Mad Dog. At least return to the dirt bag lifestyle...even if it was just temporary.

1 comment:

Bryce Breslin said...

I don't laugh out loud at the hands of the internet often, maybe once in two months, but this one got me there. Killer sense of humor laced with a weird type of unexpectedly poignant self-deprecation. How easy it is to relate to the struggle you shine a light on here. Thanks for sharing it.