Friday, September 24, 2004

Richard's Song

So I promised an intro and an experience that not everyone here already knows.

Yeah, I’m Jake. I’ve been really chatty lately on this blog, and I hope to make a habit of it. This is a really good creative outlet for me, but only when I use it.

I like computers and I want one of my businesses to put me in a position where I never worry about money again.

I don’t mind working to learn things on my own that someone else might learn in a classroom. In fact, I feel that the quality of my education in the areas I’ve done this are higher than otherwise.

I like gadgets and toys. I marvel at the world around me. I want to know more. I want to be as useful a person as I can be. I want to live my religion better. I want to be a better daddy. I want to listen to more music. I want to be better at math. I want to play my bass guitar more often. I want to drive fast with the windows down on a sunny day with classic rock blasting through the stereo. But I also want to listen to NPR quietly.

In a word, I’m complex. I value my youthful indiscretions and I love who I am. And I also want to be a better me.

Before I get to my story, a quick note: I am not the central character in this story, but I was there and it left a strong impression on me. I think that the story’s effect on me is telling regarding my character, in spite of the fact that I was mostly just an observer. And I think I told this to Leon once, so I hope you’ve forgotten by now. Here we go.

The first year I worked at scout camp was the summer of 1995. I still wasn’t quite sure who I was yet, so I didn’t know what to expect at camp, as far as making friends goes.

Somehow, I managed to steer clear of most of the staff scandals, and when I was involved, I came out smelling rosy. The camp director and his family were starting to feel like family to me, and they came to trust me. It was a funny kind of trust, though—they trusted me not to do anything fantastically stupid or destructive, but at the same time they knew I was a little crazy, and so regarded me with some caution. A good strategy then as now.

Things were really going well for me at camp, and I began to make some friends that I’d never imagined I’d have. One was named Richard. Yes, that’s his real name, and no, I won’t be writing his last name online.

Richard was a little younger than me, and crazy in a kindred way, but we had different areas of interest. So we had a lot to talk about.

One day late in the camp season, Richard pulled me aside and asked if I’d like to see something. I made a note of the nutty fire in his eyes and quickly said yes.

Richard and I went on a walk to an area that was technically inside our camp, but was far out of the area that anybody went.

We ended up on a mountain slope that had a tree on the higher end of the slope and one on the lower end about sixty feet apart.

“BSA won’t let us have a zip line because we’re not a high adventure camp”, he told me. “So I made one of my own. I’ve been scrounging stuff from around camp to make it, and you’re the only person who knows why now.”

The trees had a steel cable stretched between them, and Richard had a handle/pulley contraption for riding the zip line with.

The slope of the mountain was such that top tree’s connection to the cable was only about four feet high, and the bottom one’s connection was somewhere around twenty-five feet. About halfway between them, where the cable was a good twelve feet in the air, there was a big stand of brush, about five feet high and ten feet around. From there, the ground sloped a little more sharply, and the height of the cable sharply increased until it reached the tree.

Richard told me that he hadn’t tried the zip line yet because he wanted someone around to share the fun. He made me re-commit not to tell anyone about it and prepared for an inaugural run.

The line at the first tree wasn’t high enough for him to hang from it, but he wanted a running start anyway, so it off he went.

Time slowed down as I watched Richard get running, and then lightly hopping, and then dangling completely as he went.

The steel cable sagged considerably, and when he picked up his feet, they were only a foot or two off the ground. Too soon, the bushes in the middle were coming up, and Richard wasn’t high to clear them.

I watched in worry and amusement as he whipped right through the middle of that bush, speeding up as he went and beginning to turn.

The ground quickly dropped away and Richard was moving alarmingly fast. His journey through the bush had put an awkward turning movement on him, and his approach to the tree was clearly going to be challenging.

At the moment of impact, he managed to face the tree. This should have been good, but he was moving fast and still turning, so only his torso hit the tree. His legs swung down and around to the other side of the tree.

The force of being wrapped around a high tree at high speed pulled Richard’s hands off of the bar he had been holding on to, and he began to fall down the tree, but not out of it. He tumbled down the trunk of the tree, and I wondered if I’d see any more movement from him ever again.

He was still for a moment, and I rushed over to the brush at the base of the tree. He sat up slowly, moved his arms and legs deliberately, checking for damage.

I don’t remember saying anything, but I remember looking at him, concerned. Richard looked back, and a smile spread across his face. I smiled back and said “Don’t do that again.”

“No, I don’t think so,” he replied.

We laughed (and he limped) all the way back to the main area of camp.

What stands out to me is how easily that could have been me on the zip line. We had a tractor at camp that we’d pull a trailer around with to move junk around. You had to be 18 or 21 to drive a camp vehicle, and I was only 17, so I’d usually stand on the trailer hitch and ride behind the driver.

Once I was standing on the hitch and the driver hit a bump, which sent the hitch off of the ball. We were driving down a hill, so the trailer immediately began moving toward the tractor. I grabbed the outer wall of the trailer, pushed down hard and used it to hoist myself up and over the wall and into the trailer. It’s a good thing I did, too, because the trailer smashed into the back of the tractor HARD.

If I hadn’t got off that hitch when I did, I would have been mashed and then run over. Thank goodness for my crazy days.

I’m no good at just typing up a little blurb on something. It’s a gift when I need to pump out an essay, but maybe it’s a curse for a blog.

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