The Fascinating Story of My Semi-Visible Scar

It is but a flesh wound!

Sometimes I like to pretend like my life is full of exciting stories.

But in the world of bleep-bloop, the life of the eternally-wired, where colloquialisms are replaced with words like “module” that make me sound a lot smarter than I actually am, my stories mostly range from keystrokes to page refreshes.

Bleep.  Bloop.

In a previous incarnation, I was a balloon pilot.  You may already know this.  The picture above features the wimpiest scar anybody ever got from anything.  Which also makes it the most bad-ass scar anyone has ever got from ballooning.

TO THE EXTREME!

Let me explain.

(EXTREME EXPLAINING?)

No.

(Okay…)

On an ideal day, the breeze is light and the weather is fair.  The clouds are scattered amongst the great dance floor in the sky, afraid to approach each other in the event the gaseous puffs across the horizon have cloud cooties.  There is a soft scent of freshly-mowed grass hanging about, lingering with the discarded clippings.  Strangers pass through guffawing in merriment.

I SAID guffawing in merriment!

On a perfect day, the soundtrack is birdsong and the featured presentation is 20 miles of fogless visibility, unmarred by a summer haze yet to set upon a soon-to-be-scorched land.  The world around is more than a still life but less than caffeinated by a crosswind.  There’s thunder to the north and rain to the south, gusts to the east and an electric sky to the west, but nothing inclimate in the immediate area.

That is a perfect day.

And that happens maybe once or twice in Indiana.

Because in Indiana, when it’s not storming, it’s windy.  When it’s not windy on the ground, it’s windy aloft.  When it’s not windy aloft, it’s going to be windy on the ground eventually.  And all throughout, it’s unbearably humid.

This is a story about wind.  And blood.  And a scar that has yet to impress a single chick.

(Thankfully, there are no chicks on the internet.)

We’d been flying all day and into the afternoon when the winds, out of nowhere and not forecast, picked up.  A lot.  Enough to initiate (*pumps shotgun*) emergency mooring time.

Let me explain, briefly and ineffectively, how mooring a balloon works.

Mostly with a picture.  Because if fourth grade sex-ed taught me anything, it’s that everything can easily be explained in pictures, no questions asked ever in an informative car ride to soccer practice.

By day, a mooring table. By night, a defense turret.

Mooring a balloon is a lot by mooring a ship to a dock.

(Minus the water and boat and dock part.  And really everything except the sailor knots.)

You begin by neutralizing the sway of the balloon by tensioning the outer mooring lines perpendicular to the sway.  Once stabilized, you can tension all the outer mooring lines and begin turning your attention to the inner mooring winches.  Yes, there are two levels of mooring.  I N C E P T I O N.

A lot of boring but important things happen in this process, including spooling the inner mooring winches and preparing the inside of the gondola for the balloon’s descent by attaching cradle straps perpendicular to each other, inserting the load bar in the shackles of the tether’s terminal and practicing barbarian war cries.

Mostly the last part, to the fascination of the gathering crowd.

On a normal day, it’s a relatively complicated process that requires a lot of communication between the crew.  On an abnormally windy day when the balloon is in flying position, it requires four or five people screaming like mad and running around from one place to another with seemingly no regard for human or animal life around them.

RIP Mr. Earthworm =(

In this particular instance, I drew the esteemed position of gondola grunt.  That’s not a real term we use at all, but it sounds cool.

Here is a handy diagram, much like the one that taught me where babies came from:

Not pictured: burrito self-serve station

My job, in this case, was to guide the load ring onto the cradle straps as the balloon was lowered and ensure nothing became snagged on the wire ropes inside in the process, as it could weaken the ropes that…you know…are designed to hold the gondola to the load ring (which subsequently holds the gondola to the balloon itself.)

What did this entail?  Basically bench-pressing the load ring and fighting those wire ropes.  The load ring is made out of tubular (RADICAL!) aluminum and weighs probably more than YOUR FACE.  Which is to say that both your hideous nose and the load ring are heavy.

You know that football drill where guys punch at tackling sleds?  It was a lot like that, except punching with both arms, holding with one arm and using the free one to untangle wire ropes from cradle straps.

Basically, I felt like something I’d never felt like before: a man.

So, anyway, I wrestled with things for quite some time before my co-workers started yelling at me to come out and help stabilize the balloon on the winches.  As I was climbing out of cable cone interior of the gondola, which is accessible via an unnetted window my size 36 posterior can just oh so barely squeeze through, I saw something in front of me.  It looked like my arm.

IF A GREAT WHITE SHARK HAD BEEN SNACKING ON IT.

I was bleeding.  All over the place.  A quick glance over my shoulder allowed me a vision of blood specks on the wires and straps within.  I’d been bleeding for a while, completely oblivious.  It looked more like I was fingerpainting than wrasslin’ with a ring.

It looked bad.  But I had a choice: Bear Grylls or that wimpy soldier from that World War 2 movie…you know the one with Tom Hanks…oh what’s it called…it’s on the tip of my tongue…ah yes, The Da Vinci Code.

I went with Bear Grylls.

I sprang from the gondola like a wild cougar happening upon a town of antelopes where the mayor was inexplicably a walrus named Morris Bean.  Do cougars even eat antelope?  I mean, I’m sure they would.  But usually they just feast on trust fund kids.

ZING.

Mooring must be an awesome process to behold, because everyone gathers around to watch it.  I’d never before wondered what it would feel like to be an animal in a cage, a spectacle for fat kids to watch at the zoo in between consuming a melted ice cream cone and not being amused by anything except a monkey picking insects from its lifemate’s ass.  Now, thankfully, I will never have to wonder how that feels.

I was the ass-picking monkey!

Not only am I attempting to frantically pull in line, take tension, lock off rope and fasten sailor knots on the cleat (three coils, PULL, figure eight, PULL, inverted loops, PULL, two safety loops, LOCK, sir yes SIR!) but I am having every epiphany-raining spectator on the planet shout to me:

“YOU’RE BLEEDING!”

The blood must have just added to the dramatic spectacle.  But persist, I had to!  Blog like Yoda, I will!  I kept reeling and tying and locking and popping and dropping and eventually managed to assist in stabilizing the balloon.  From there, it was an easy process of bringing it all the way down via interior winches and re-tensioning outside lines.

Upon re-tensioning those lines, I realized that I had bled all over them.  Covered.  Coated.  Completely soaked and saturated.

I guess you could say I…

put my sweat and blood into that thing…

Afterward, an EMT was called.  Just for me!  I felt so special.  Like the time freshman year when I couldn’t find a ride to the hospital for a pinched nerve so I apologetically called an ambulance, was jettisoned to the emergency room, given an admixture of cocaine and unicorn blood and prescription for 20 pills of hydrocodone.  Because painkillers are like breath mints in college towns.

As my arm was bandaged, I’d like to say that a statue was erected in my honor, that I became the source of local legend.  Collin cut his arm off and still managed to save the world…singlehandedly.

I was told the wound was superficial and I would just have to wear a ridiculously large bandage and deal with it…GAWD!  So I picked the post ridiculously large Power Rangers bandage in stock and affixed it to my torn flesh, secretly hoping that I would vicariously gain the powers of the red Power Ranger.

(I didn’t, as an attempted roundhouse kick to a complete stranger later informed me.)

The crux of the story, though, is that something like six months later, I started to blog about this scar I had and remembered that the story behind it was completely uninteresting, so if I piled on as many pop culture references as possible, maybe, I thought, just maybe, it could be passable enough to justify an obnoxious run-on sentence in closing, like this once, for instance, but then I decided to close with something a little more appropriate.

But probably not.

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So I Went To San Francisco…

It looked like this, except with the moon from Majora's Mask.

So I went to San Francisco this week.  What…you didn’t?

Freak.

I ventured out left for a job interview, which I would gladly talk about if I wasn’t paralyzed by this fear of talking about a job I’ve only interviewed for and for which I have received no formal offer.  Because then when I don’t get it, I look like a tool.  And when I look like a tool, you get sick satisfaction.  I only support healthy satisfaction.  I won’t spread germs with any retrospective failtalk.

I was flown out on Tuesday afternoon…my first time traveling alone.  I’d previously been on maybe a total of six airplane trips: to Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale and New York.  All with friends or family or stupidfaced high school newspaper staff I still call friends.  So, in what some called “cute”, I was nervous to make this trip.  I don’t have a lot of travel experience under my belt (that would be an odd place to store travel experience anyway, though) and it turns out that the land of the golden sun is kinda far away from Indiana.  Unless plate tectonics have anything to say about that in the near future.

My first flight featured a baby that screamed from the departure gate to the destination gate.  I think they should charge a screaming baby surcharge.  The parents also kept taking pictures of it — and yes, it was decidedly an it — crying in its seat like it was doing something really cute or something, which bothered me.  They have no idea how close Baby’s First Plane Ride came to being Baby’s First Skydiving Lesson, courtesy my window seat and all the brute strength summoned by a tantrum-emboldened migraine.

My second flight, from Denver to San Francisco, featured something that aggravated me even more: clueless movie conversation.  As you may know, I’m a bit of a film buff.  A walking IMDB app, if you will.  Film is one of my things.  So whenever people say really dumb things about really obvious films, it tends to bother me.  Scratch that, it unnecessarily enrages me.  Irrational as that is.  It does.  So the conversation of the strangers in front of me began like this, as the woman engaged a man attempting to watch some World War 2 documentary.

Woman: I haven’t seen a war movie in ages!  Not since that one…it was set in World War 2…

Man: Yeah?

Woman: Yeah…I can’t remember it…I can’t remember the name for the life of me.  But it was set in World War 2 and it had Tom Hanks in it.

Man: Yeah, I think I know what you’re talking about.

Woman: What’s the name of it?  It was about this guy and his three brothers died so they sent these soldiers to find him…oh, what was the name?  It had Tom Hanks in it!

Man: I know what you’re talking about, but I can’t remember the name either.

Woman: Oh, this is going to bother me now!  It had Tom Hanks and it was in World War 2 and he was looking for this guy because his brothers died and there was some rule that if three of your brothers died that they had to go out and rescue you…darn, what was that movie called?

Timeout.

I tried to telepath her the answer so she would shut up.  I wanted to scream it in her ear.  I wanted to etch it in her forehead so she might take it to her grave!  Okay, the last one was a bit extreme, but still.  It’s.  So.  Obvious.  So, so obvious.  I mean, there’s like only one World War 2 movie anyone ever talks about, and the Tom Hanks part should absolutely seal the deal.

(It’s The Da Vinci Code, by the way.)

But she just was not guessing this film, and worse, the man sitting next to her was equally clueless despite apparently being invested enough in World War 2 to be watching a documentary on it, or attempting to before this woman’s inane 30-minute rambling search for the world’s most obvious film title.

Social courtesy, though, kept me from leaning over the seat and entering a conversation I was not a part of to essentially end it and spare my sanity.  Thankfully, though, the lady in front of them — ballsier than I and apparently equally agitated — turned around and said four words with no friendliness in her voice:

It’s Saving Private Ryan.”

I could have kissed that woman.  In fact, I did.  It was love at first sight and we married before we even broke the Nevada border (which meant we were in Utah, where, little known fact, mid-air pretend marriages are completely legal and recognized by the federal government…really, any marriage works in Utah, unless it’s gay, and even then it just can’t be over-18 gay…SOURCE: THE LAW!)  But that’s another story and not really related much to San Francisco other than the fact I’m now wed to some business traveler who lives somewhere I don’t know but also lives in my heart for her heroic conversation-ending title reveal.

Unfortunately, the conversation continued after the itch on the woman’s tongue tip was sufficiently itched.  And I spit you not, this is how it continued.

Woman: That’s right!  Saving Private Ryan!  Yes!  That was the name!  Oh, thank you.  Yeah, that was the last war movie I saw.

Man: Oh, yeah.  That was a good one.

Woman: Yeah, about Tom Hanks saving the guy…I think he was Private Ryan, the guy he was saving.  And I forget who he was played by.  Some young guy, I remember.  Blond hair.  Oh, I just saw him in something!

Man: Yeah, I think I know who you’re talking about!

Woman: I can’t remember for the life of me!  Oh, who was that?

[MATT DAMON, my mind pulses.]

Man: I’m not sure, but yeah, I can see him in that.

Woman: He was in something else I saw recently too, but oh, what was it?

[MATT DAMON, my consciousness ebbs.  It was MATT DAMON.  MATT.  DAMON.]

Man: Was it Brad Pitt?

[NO, YOU MORON!  MATT DAMON!  IT WAS MATT FRICKIN’ DAMON!]

Woman: No…I don’t think so.  And I know it wasn’t George Clooney, ‘cuz he was younger.

[GEORGE CLOO…LADY!  WHAT IN PLUPERFECT HELL?  WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!  GEORGE CLOONEY?  DID SOMEBODY NEED TO CHARM THE PANTS OFF THE NAZIS AFTER THE AMERICAN BROKE THE BEACHHEADS OR SOMETHING?  WAS THERE A FREAKING SAUERKRAUT HEIST GOING ON?  WHY WOULD YOU EVEN MENTION GEORGE CLOONEY AND SAVING PRIVATE RYAN IN THE SAME SENTENCE?!]

Man: Oh, wait, you uncultured wench!  It was Matt Damon.  You stupid doodyface.

[Okay, he didn’t say this.  But I wish he did.  I almost mindjacked him and made him.]

Woman: Wait, I remember what I saw.  He was in those Bourne movies.  You know, where he plays the spy and…

[I swear to God, if the man hadn’t interrupted her with his own eye-rollingly obvious epiphany, she would have gone on to explain the entire plot of a ROBERT LUDLUM novel for all the patience-exhausted passengers gritting their teeth in the back of the Boeing 777.]

Man: Oh, Matt Damon!  You mean Matt Damon.

Woman: Was that him?  Hmm…maybe it was.

[No maybe, lady.  It was Matt Damon.  Before he was Jason Bourne, he was Private Ryan.  Ball don’t lie.  Neither does a Southie’s film credits.]

Man: I’m pretty sure it was.

Woman: I think you’re right.  Matt Damon.  That was a good movie, though.  I just don’t watch a lot of war movies ‘cuz of all the killing.  There’s enough killing already, you know?

[Yeah, I don’t watch a lot of romantic comedies because there’s enough stilted, cheesy dialogue and end-of-date doorstep cliches already, you know?  I don’t watch a lot of Paul Greengrass films because there’s enough motion-trigged visual interruption already, you know?  I don’t rent a lot of Gus Van Sant because there’s enough latent sexual angst already, you know?  I don’t watch a lot of Nic Cage movies because there’s enough bad hairlines already, you know?  I don’t dabble much in avante garde because there’s enough abstract mis-en-scene in basement coffee shops before the black-and-white and deliberate self-referential scenery and tilted angles, you know?  I don’t watch a lot of documentaries because there’s enough reality already, you know?]

I did make it off that flight without committing any degree of homicide, though, and into the welcoming arms of San Francisco San Mateo County and a Jamaican cab driver that the robotic PA lady at SFO warned me against whilst waiting in baggage claim.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure I got in a gypsy cab.

How does this happen?  Simple.  You’re tired, it’s been a long day of flying.  You follow the crowd to baggage claim, wait 20 minutes for your lone suitcase to round the bend and shuffle along to the area marked “taxis.”  You’re realizing at this point that you really have no plan to get to your hotel other than “taxi” and some tall, island nation-sounding man approaches you offering just that service.  Part of you wonders at first if it’s some sort of scam, but he has a Bluetooth headset in, so he must be legit.

After politely excusing yourself as needing to collect more luggage, you inquire at information about modes of transportation that will get you to the hotel.  There’s BART, but you don’t know the routes well enough for that to be realistic.  There’s an airport shuttle, but that might take up to an hour to get you back, costs twenty bucks for the inconvenience and you’re tired as hell and needing to collapse into a king-size bed sometime in the next thirty minutes.  And then there are cabs.

So, fine.  Cab it is.  You go back to the guy and he leads you the parking garage basement.  Despite the fact that you see cabs freely commuting outside at ground level.  Warning sign no. 1.

Warning sign no. 2 should be that your cab isn’t a cab at all.  It’s a slightly cleaner version of the car your parents gave to you on your sixteenth birthday less of a present and more as a “we love you enough to let you dent the living hell out of this” gift.  It smells like Cheerios.  WHY DOES IT SMELL LIKE CHEERIOS?!

I spent the ride mostly convinced that this driver had every intention of taking the Oakland Bay Bridge, taking my wallet at gunpoint and leaving me to fend for myself to fend in a neighborhood full of drug dealers, prostitutes and, worse, Raiders fans.  I’d seen this movie before, you know?  It was called Saving Private Ryan, starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon.

Matt.  Damon.

These fears weren’t exactly comforted by the fact that the drive from SFO into the actual city of San Francisco, as the airport is south of the city, proved to be a scenic tour of San Francisco’s entire homeless population.  I’ll give homeless San Franciscoans this: they’ve got the right idea.  It’s like passing out in a lawn chair in mid-May Indiana, but with way more needles in your arm, less to live for (arguably) and the pending threat of an earthquake that will probably destroy the vast majority of the city at some point in the near future (in Indiana, of course, the word “earthquake” is replaced with the word “governor.”)

As it turned out though, at least according to my present pulse, I was delivered to my hotel doors and felt foolish for ever having assumed I would be left on Grove Street to meet the Los Aztecas and all six Oakland As fans (seriously, bashing Oakland sports never gets old.)

The hotel was quite nice.  Built in the 1920s, I was told.  The decor matched.  I read it was haunted, but saw no ghosts, phantoms, specters or Scooby Doo villains during my stay.  This was probably because I slept with the lights on just in case.  I really wish I was joking.  But ghosts, man.  They will ruin your ability to interview well the next morning just because they have an eternity to kill.

<<<who is to say we can’t just turn off the light for you>>

I didn’t write that.

Since I’m not talking about the job or the interview or the happy hour or the dinner or cocktails that followed in fear of jinxing myself and/or remembering what a few too many Folsom Street Sours taste like, I’ll talk about the city some.

I didn’t see much of it.

It was night when I flew in.  I hustled back and forth between Union Square and Lower Nob Hill the next day, only stopping in the afternoon at Union Square Park to catch my breath and watch inebriated Art Institute students play “ninja” more seriously than any third-grader I’ve ever seen in summer camp.  I thought about joining in, but I feared my rippling biceps and rock-hard abs may have tipped them off to the fact I already had a B.A. in being a B.A. and would probably take the kickassery (or the slaphandery in this case) to the next level.  A level nobody comes back from.  With their face still on.

Oh, right.  The Hat Man.  How could I forget The Hat Man?  Like any city teeming with awesome, San Francisco has its share of crazies.  I suspect The Hat Man was a crazy.  I saw him on the corner of Post and Montgomery, I believe, gleefully announcing his insanity to passersby.  In my quick glance, I could tell that he looked like a 40-year-old African-American child wearing a cowboy hat whilst (am I allowed to use the word ‘whilst’ twice in one entry?) jumping for joy and pretending to swing a lasso high above his head.

“HATS!” he announced, like it was a completely normal thing he was announcing.  “HATS!”

(To my knowledge, The Hat Man was not selling any hats.  He was just jumping up and down in a cowboy hat, pretending to twirl a lasso.  Had he been selling hats, though, he would have had one hell of a sales pitch.)

Like any out-of-towner attempting to not resemble an out-of-towner, I straightened my tie and marched past.  Thankfully I blended into the business crowd bustling about, and thankfully this was Wednesday, because had it been the previous day, I would have been wearing an IU hat, my Indiana Captain Morgan shirt and the look of a visitor sure he had just escaped a gypsy cab.  The Hat Man assumed me to be a San Franciscoan.  I was happy.  So was he, but for completely different reasons (mostly that he thought he was a cowboy.)

In summation, this trip brought me great memories, jet lag and probably a few bedbugs.  San Francisco was a beautiful city.  Probably still is, though slightly less so without me there.  I loved the architecture and specifically the architecture as it corresponded with the geography.  I loved the weather.  I loved that the Louis Vuitton chicks drinking Starbucks at Union Square Park looked exactly like the pampered princesses I always imagined them to be, that the business types hurrying to and from work were all as airy, dismissive and self-important as I hope to be one day, that everybody rode bicycles and recycled their Zima bottles and that the majority of San Franciscoans are cute pocket-sized Asians who could fit in my backpack and survive on the scattering of stale M&Ms littering the lining if need be.

The trip back wasn’t nearly as eventful.  I ate some eggs at the airport, read a Dennis Lehane novel and caught some shut-eye in the thirty minutes between Chicago and Indy where complete daylight turned into complete darkness.  I’ve given up trying to figure how that works, but I think it has something to do with the NFL Players Union decertifying.

I don’t think I’m forgetting much.  I didn’t see a town between San Francisco and Chicago on the way back, flying over Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.  I guess there’s still a lot of nothing in this country.  A lot of nothing Native Americans used to live on, I think.  I never got upgrade to First Class, but really want to now that I see there’s actually so much leg room that they give you a remote control because you’re too wealthy to lean forward the five feet between your seat and the flat screen.  I also want to be subtly hated when I’m first on the flight and all the petty commoners have to pass my shrine of stretch space in order to cram themselves into economy class next to people who don’t watch war movies.

So I went to San Francisco.  Now I’m back.  Maybe I’ll talk more about it in the future.  Maybe I won’t.  But for now, I leave you with…

HATS!!!