Jul 15 2010

Junkyards and Stitches (Final)

It was near midnight when we finally decided we should go looking for a part for my friend’s car. I’m not sure I remember the thought process or reasoning behind our decision to leave at that time of the night. I also don’t know why there was such a sense of urgency in our trip. Perhaps the car had broken down and we were planning on drag racing the next day, or maybe we just knew we’d never be able to afford the parts and figured that it was as good a time as any.

Admittedly, none of the above implications or thoughts really make much sense; but we were teenagers, we were stoned, and we were convinced that we were invincible–or very near to it. As I write this, I’m lying in bed, typing away on my laptop, listening to music and watching the time round very near to midnight. This was the witching hour that Rob, Tim, and I always looked forward to. It was the time we could visit graveyards and run through downtown and cause all manner of mayhem and almost always succeed in not getting caught. Almost always, that is.

On this particular night, as I said, we were on a mission: we were searching for a part for Rob’s car. I don’t remember what. Probably something reasonably cheap that would have been easily attainable, had we spent less money on drugs and alcohol and partying. But this story isn’t about reconsidering our motives. This is a story about survival of the fittest and every man for himself.

There are a few rules that every person should know when they’re out and getting in trouble with their friends. As the old saying goes, “There is no honor among thieves.” It is also true for when it comes time to run for your life. If you fall, if you trip, if you stumble in any fashion, you should be prepared to be left behind. You should know that, as much as your friends would love to pick you back up and help you get away successfully, they’re much more concerned with covering their own ass.

We threw a blanket over the barbed wire fence, climbed over, and were very easily inside the fence of one of the major junkyards in the Willamette valley. I won’t tell you which one, but it was very well known for having just about anything you could possibly imagine and more. We weren’t very concerned about being caught, as it seemed like alarms were fairly rare in most junk yards, and there was no way that an owner or operator was going to be hanging around at such a late hour. Everyone knew of the supposed “junkyard dogs”, but it was usually an urban legend and, if not, we were convinced that they’d been outlawed.

The thing about being stoned is, you don’t really realize how much noise you’re making. You try to walk lightly and talk softly, but you’re really just thumping around and carrying on like a drunk walking home with a box of firecrackers and a lighter.

We ended up getting that part fairly quickly. I think we’d only been over the fence for maybe ten minutes, which was lucky since it was such an enormously huge yard. In the dark, it could have easily taken hours just to find what we were looking for. Sometimes it truly is better to be lucky than to be skilled or smart. The only problem is, luck tends to run out at the worst possible times, and when you least expect it.

As we were walking back to the portion of the fence where we’d left the blanket still draped over the barb wire, that’s when we heard it: breathing and shuffling. And it was coming toward us.

Glancing back, and even as stoned as I was, I knew what was coming toward us: it was a junkyard dog, and it was a big one. It was some kind of hybrid mix from hell. I want to say it was a doberman with pit or something similar. I just remember seeing the glint of its eyes at it made its initial bark and started running flat out. It covered the distance at a frightening speed.

“FUCKING RUN!” I screamed, and bolted. I didn’t wait for my friends to figure it out. Screw that. You know why? Waiting for them wasn’t going to improve their chances any. If anything, seeing me run was going to make them realize that much quicker that they needed to get moving.

Running is hard when you’re stoned. Walking is hard enough, as the world seems to tilt one way or the other, your equilibrium is thrown completely off, and it’s difficult to really tell which way you’re going. On top of that, it was dark, there was very little moon, and we were panicked and hadn’t paid a whole lot of attention on which was it was back to the portion of the fence.

I risked a glance back to see that Tim was just behind me, and Rob was a little ways behind Tim. Behind Rob was the dog, closing distance and only 20 or so yards away. I could hear it breathing and plodding methodically in our direction. Even though the chase lasted for maybe fifteen seconds, it was an eternity. It may as well have been a year long chase from start to finish.

I was the first to hit the fence. Just as I started climbing at about 185 miles per hour over the top, I heard a loud thumping sound and Tim yell, “Wait!”. He’d tripped about ten yards from the fence, just as Rob was almost over and about to join me.

Through the chainlink fence, we could see the dog was already on top of Tim and had a hold of him by the arm. It was growling and shaking him pretty hard. I couldn’t leave him there to be eaten by a damn junkyard dog, even if my sense of self-preservation was stuck in overdrive. But as I went to climb over the fence, I heard more shuffling in the dirt heading toward us. People. At least two of them, and they had flashlights.

I backed away from the fence, and Rob and I both screamed, “I’M SORRY!” and we ran.

Hey, he knew what he was getting in to, and by god, we weren’t going to wait around to get caught just like him. What can I say? I didn’t want to get into trouble, and I was reasonably sure that Tim wouldn’t rat us out even if we did leave him behind. Rob and I peeled out of there like there was no tomorrow. At least we didn’t do some inane bullshit and tell Tim we’d come back for him. He knew that wasn’t happening.

So what happened to Tim, you may ask. Well, he didn’t talk to Rob or me for a few weeks after that. He seemed bitter about our “callous attitude”. But hell, he would have done the same thing and we knew it. And he only needed a few stitches in his arm. And his leg. And I think one on the top of his head. But that was it. Nothing major, or so I thought. The owners of the junkyard didn’t even press charges since they figured he’d been tortured enough.

The first day he talked to me again, I told him he was just being a pansy and overly sensitive. So all in all, it took another week or so after that before he talked to me again. But he came around. He always did.

Jul 15 2010

Zero Hour (Final Version)

It was a routine red eye flight from Portland, Oregon to Chicago. I was tired; I’d just gotten back from a business trip the day before and it was little more than eight hours before I was called to fly out. Again. It seemed ridiculous to be taking off so soon, but I needed the money and didn’t have the resources to be picky about which contracts I could take.

My wife—we’re divorced now—had never had a job in all the time that we were married. As a result, it was nigh on impossible to make ends meet unless I worked like a dog and then—after I was exhausted–worked some more. I was too stubborn to admit that my life was spiraling out of control and that the marriage was essentially over.

I packed my bag for what was supposed to be only a three day contract, said goodbye (which, inevitably started a fight), and began my drive to Portland, which was about ninety minutes North. I spent most of the trip thinking about life and how unsatisfied I was with every aspect of it. My job was exhausting and taxing; I could just barely drag myself out of bed most mornings. My marriage was dead or at least, it was on its way out the door. There were so many things going wrong there that there wasn’t any way to bring things back. The final nail in the coffin came later, but that’s not what this story is about.

I found myself spacing out as I drove. The whine of the highway became a dull thrum in my ears. The lines of the freeway blended into an endless cascade of yellow, white, and the taillights of the cars that I passed.

As I neared the city limits, the lights greeted me along the horizon; a pinkish amber glow in the distance that belied the mischievous nature of the metropolis that laid below. I took I-205 North toward the airport and lost sight of Portland again. It was like seeing the city of Atlantis splayed in front of you, only to see it sinking back down beneath the waves of the cold ocean. I sighed as I continued on my well traveled route to the terminal.

Twenty minutes later and I was putting my car in long term parking and preparing to flyoff for yet another city to which I did not want to travel.

I thought about my friend, Rob, and how much I missed hanging out with him. Rob had been one of my closest friends during those awful years that my mother was dying of cancer. On many nights I used to call him up and tell him I was depressed or exhausted from whatever had happened that day and he would come over—no questions asked—and cheer me up. I missed that support. I missed my friends. I missed having a life outside of work. I missed being loved. I missed feeling alive inside.

I casually wondered the difference between this and dying. As I walked through the airport I could see the walking dead whom were just like me. You’ve seen them. They’re the people wandering the airport looking like they’re in a half-zombie state. They’re the chronic travelers. The people who have slowly lost their will to live through repeated jumps across states and oceans and lakes and borders, spending more and more time away from the people and homes that they love.

They’re the people you see standing in the bathroom of random airports shaving and trying to talk on their cell phone at the same time. They’re staring into their own eyes in the mirror, trying desperately to convince themselves that they shouldn’t try to slit their wrists with the razor that they are holding in the one hand. They’re convincing themselves to hold on for just a little while longer… and so was I.

I sat in the terminal and waited for my number to be called. Terminals are a lot like doctor’s offices; you find your gaze circling the room, wondering why each person is traveling to their chosen destination and why, for the love of God, are they on the same 1AM flight that you are on?

I heard the announcement that we were being boarded, so I stood up, grabbed my carry on bag, and wandered toward the front desk to have them take my boarding pass. I could tell that the plane was going to be packed–yet again–and I dreaded the thought of the person I was going to have to sit next to this time.

I always seemed to have the uncanny ability to get seated next to the obnoxious business man. You’ve probably met him at least once. He’s the guy that believes his life is more important and interesting than every other person; he’s the guy whom would tell you about the million dollar deals he was brokering, or the Jaguar he would be buying soon, or the model he was banging.

It usually took all of my self control to keep from strangling them with their own seat belt. Or maybe their tie. I hated listening to them so much that I’d finally learned a tactic to get them to shut up: I’d look at them for a moment, make eye contact, and just as their ego massaging monologue was about to spew forth in a torrent of self-satisfaction, I would put my headphones on and blast the music as loud as my ears could stand. Their look of hurt was priceless and, dare I say, it filled me with a morbid sense of satisfaction.

I finally boarded the plane and found my seat near to the window, slightly in front of the left wing. I unpacked my headphones, my MP3 player, and settled in for what would undoubtedly be a boring three or four hours.

Right on cue, my greatest fear became reality: a well dressed businessman sat next to me and gave me that shit-eating-grin that seemed to say “I’m about to tell you my life story”. I sighed. Before he could say anything, I put on my headphones. I figured if the flight attendant was right and the MP3 player could cause interference that would crash the plane, well, we were screwed anyway.

The plane began to accelerate down the runway just as I hit play. The opening notes to the song “Zero Hour” greeted me with a sense of nostalgia and passing comfort. Soon, it was blasting in my ears as we moved down the runway faster and faster, and with the telltale feeling of the wheels leaving the ground and the added feeling of gravity, I knew that we were in the air.

I laid my head back as we began our climb, hoping I might get some sleep before having to get an early start at the client location in Chicago. I’d been suffering from insomnia for quite some time and found relief in even the shortest naps; a zip tie to sanity, as it were.

I slowly drifted off to sleep. The music faded in my ears as I closed my eyes, but the last lyrics I heard were:

This plane feels small.
This is like a dream gone bad.

“Zero Hour” is a song about a plane crash. I’d always thought it was a fitting song to listen to whenever I flew. Not many people shared my enthusiasm, but I smiled as I fell asleep.

I’m not sure how much time passed before I woke up again and realized something was wrong. My music was still playing and “Zero Hour” was still on repeat. I spent the first few seconds of consciousness trying to regain my bearings. It was like that moment when you wake up from a dead sleep and realize that there had been a loud crash somewhere in your house. There’s that initial sense of unease and panic as you try to decide on what to do.

Please observe the seatbelt sign,
For the moment we are all still alive…

The lights flickered for a split second and a vibration that seemed to rattle my insides traversed the plane. The heavy rumbling sound of the engines slowly descended into a whine as if they were struggling to regain altitude; people began to raise their heads from their sleep and their books and started to look around.

I could feel the entire fuselage begin to shudder harder and shake. A rumbling sound came from the far side of the wing when, suddenly, I realized I felt weightless. I could feel my stomach rise into my throat and people began to yell and panic. The yelling turned into screams and crying as all the passengers realized this wasn’t just normal turbulence.

I feel the panic begin to rise, and
My eyes are a little to excited…

I glanced out the window and realized that I could see lightning outside the plane. The lights shut off again, coming back a little slower than before. I couldn’t see anything as I looked down through the window; my eyes were still trying to adjust after viewing the last few strikes of lightning outside. Soon I saw amber lights directly out my window, through tiny gaps in the clouds. I realized that I was looking straight down at the ground. The plane was sideways. And we were falling.

The gentleman next to me began to talk quickly, hysterically.

“Is that the ground? Is that lightning? Are we crashing? We’re crashing! We’re going to die! Jesus Christ, we’re crashing!” He said, rocking back and forth in his seat.

I could hear him over the music that was still playing in my ears. I turned the volume down for a moment as I tried to hear what else was happening inside the plane.

I’ve got a crucifix
I’ve got a bag of tricks
I feel like a wrecking ball
I feel it
I feel it…

I heard prayers in all sorts of religions, cursing in several languages, whimpering, crying, anger and, most surprising, there was laughter. There were people behind me that whom were laughing. They were hysterical. Laughing and then crying. Laughing again. The engines continued to struggle and it became a high pitch whine that seemed to be resonating in the center of my skull. I could feel it in my bones.

The flight attendant came over the intercom and announced that we were going to prepare for a crash and asked everyone to get into the brace position. Her voice was shaky and it was obvious that she was as frightened as all of the passengers that she was trying to calm. As she completed her pre-crash spiel, everyone stopped their praying and their crying and focused their attention on her every word. When she was done, nobody said a thing. There was a stunned silence. Everyone had placed their head between their legs and all that could be heard was a few scattered moments of crying. But everyone was suddenly calm. They had something to concentrate on: trying their best to survive.

I didn’t get in the brace position. I’d been passively yearning for death for quite some time, and this was finally my chance.

I turned the volume back up and sat there listening to my music, looking out the window and wondering if we were actually going to crash. I could still hear the lyrics over the noise and the rush of blood in my ears. I was excited. We were still losing altitude. I could still see lights on the ground, but they were swaying back and forth and back and forth. It was surreal and unbelievable. I’d spent the last several months miserable and now, now I was really going to die.

I like the sound of it
I like the feel of it
I like the deep, deep calm….

I was going to die.

I remember thinking, “Well, this is it. These are the last moments before your death.”

I found myself excited, disappointed, and in some ways, relieved. I was relieved because I was finally going to be liberated from my misery. I could finally just be done with this train wreck of a life and go on to being dust or dirt or worm food. It didn’t matter much to me.

And as the engines fail
I keep on feeling higher
I think my future looks bright
Now that it’s all on fire…

I’d been near death quite a few times, but I’d never had the time to have my entire life flash before me. This time it did and when it happened, I was upset at what I really saw. In every scene and every time my life took a wrong turn, every misery and every foul mood had been of my own decision or my own making. I realized I’d decided to be a passenger and not a driver in my own life. I’d allowed myself to be victimized and used and treated badly, and I’d never taken charge.

My heart was pounding out of my chest. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins. I felt alive. I felt free and fearless for the first time in years. I glanced around the plane, feeling detached from the entire scene. I saw the passengers crying and sobbing. They looked helpless and out of control. Each one was bent over in their seat, quietly waiting for the inevitable and had little or no hope of survival. Everything that could have been and everything that they could have been was about to be taken away.

In that moment, I realized I’d been living my entire life in very much the same way. I’d been living my life like a plane crash in progress.

On the way you blush with terror
Suddenly it all makes you feel so alive…

I laughed. I’d just had the epiphany of a lifetime. I was finally aware of my failed and bad choices and decisions. I felt alive. I felt invigorated. I wanted to go back and change everything I’d done wrong. I wanted to go on living and live life like there was no tomorrow.

And now I was going to die.

I didn’t want to die. I realized that that wasn’t what I had ever wanted. I wanted to live and I wanted to live more than I ever had before. Why did it take until now to realize all of this?

And then suddenly, as soon as it had started, it was all over. The plane had leveled out its descent, the engines changed from a high pitch whine back to a simple rumble, and the swaying and shaking stopped. The passengers raised their heads from the brace position. Quizzical and cautious glances were exchanged by everyone. Nobody knew what had happened, what was going to happen, or if we were safe.

Everyone was wondering the same thing, “Am I dead?”.

We weren’t. We were alive and we made it all the way to Chicago.

When I finally made it to my hotel room at near to 8AM, I felt like I had been watching myself from the outside. I felt high and disconnected and, at the same time, the most connected I’d ever felt in my entire life. I was in a life affirming mood, happy to be alive. I ordered room service: fries, a sundae, some cookies, and a tall glass of milk. I ate it all while watching Looney Toons on the TV, laughing like I hadn’t laughed in years.

I didn’t get any sleep that morning even though I had had a few hours free before heading out. As I left the hotel to start my day, I smiled and said good morning to everyone that I saw. They each seemed surprised, but everyone seemed just a little bit happier for the exchange. I worked that entire day in a great mood, not worrying and not concerned with the things I couldn’t change. It didn’t matter that my marriage was dissolved or that my life was seemingly falling apart.

If I wanted a different life, I had to change it. I couldn’t be the outside spectator to my own existence. I had to learn to direct my life the way I wanted. I couldn’t be the passenger, I had to be the driver; it only took a near plane crash for me to realize that.

A few months later, I was divorced, I was hitchhiking across country, I was free from everything that I had allowed to control my mood and my happiness, and more importantly, even though life got much much harder after that, it didn’t seem like such a big deal.

1.) Floater, Album: “Alter”, Song: “Zero Hour”.

Apr 13 2010

Death Defiance

One of my girlfriend’s favorite things to say to me—usually after I’ve related a story of death defiance—is, “Andrew, thank you for surviving long enough to meet me.”

As a kid, I spent a good portion of my time trying desperately to kill myself. Well, okay, not quite kill myself, but I was certainly working toward being maimed or paralyzed or something equally awful. Between my friends and my penchant for dare devil stunts, it was only a matter of time—and to this day, I’m quite surprised it never actually happened.

If you know where Tyler Hill is in Lebanon, you know it’s the steepest, tallest, longest hill that probably exists anywhere in the Willamette valley, with a lovely straight road that goes all the way to the top. That road, as you might imagine, has an extremely steep grade when you’re traveling down. How steep, you ask? It drops in elevation by eight hundred feet over the span of five thousand. If you were to use ODOT grade calculations, that would make this particular road an 18% grade.

My friend, Jack, and I were crazy enough to ride down the hill on our bikes; but it was so steep going up that we had to walk. We couldn’t keep our balance. It was seemingly impossible for our short and relatively weak eight year old legs.

We’d done this ride on several occasions, and we usually only made one or two runs in a day because of the distance from town and because, well, it was a long walk to the top! We were tired when we finally got to the bottom. Each ride was magnificent and scary and, incidentally, we were always traveling faster than the cars on the road when we reached the bottom. I estimate we were probably topping out at very near 35 miles per hour. This was serious business.

As if that wasn’t enough, I’d finally decided—in my dare devil eight year old routine—that riding down the hill wasn’t fun anymore. It was just too ordinary and run-of-the-mill. By now, a lot of other kids were following our lead, and I was getting tired of being copied and imitated. We needed something fresh and different.

That’s when I invented Skateboard Surfing. Or at least, I thought I’d invented it. I’d never seen it done before.

In true redneck fashion, on the way up to the hill that day, I bought an old extension cord from a garage sale for fifty cents. Once we arrived at the top of the hill, I tied it to the seat of Jack’s bicycle, put down my skateboard, wrapped the cord around my hands, and stepped on.

Jack had a peculiar look on his face. It was the first time I’d seen him reconsider a plan that I’d come up with. But, in tried and true death defiance, he shrugged and started pedaling down the road and he didn’t look back.

Now for my part, it was a fantastically fun ride for the first couple hundred feet. But I was gaining momentum at such a fast pace that, at some point about half way down the hill, I was going faster than Jack was on his bike! He glanced over at me in horror, but he didn’t dare pedal harder to try and keep up with me. That was suicide. Most kids held on to the brakes to keep from flying out of control on this road.

I was on a skateboard, I had no brake. In fact, I had no way of stopping at all. I could barely steer. I hunched down on the board and grabbed both sides with my hands. I was going so fast that I was afraid that I’d get bumped off and have a long sliding stop on the pavement. Since I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, it didn’t sound like an altogether pleasant experience.

I’d let go of the cord at this point. I obviously didn’t need to be towed. I needed to hold on for dear life. The wind was wooshing past my head like I had it stuck out the window of a moving car on the freeway. The board was wobbling back and forth, and I could feel the wheels trying desperately to stay on as they plodded down the road.

If I could just maintain my balance a little bit longer, I could get to the bottom of the hill and—well, it didn’t matter. Over a short rise in the road, there stood a goat. Horns. Hooves. Fur. Goatee. A goat. Staring at me as I was flying toward him. I tried to stop. I tried to turn. I leaned as far as I could, but I was going too fast, had too little distance to maneuver, and there was no turning back.

The goat fell toward one side. Then, contact. I hit the stupid goat, right there, in the middle of the road.

Not many people can say they’ve hit a goat at thirty miles per hour with their skateboard, but I can. If I would have lived in any other town besides Lebanon, I think seeing a goat in the middle of the road would have been unusual. But not in my town. Nope. A goat blocking traffic seems perfectly normal. Even with all my hard work to make it this far down the hill (alive), I guess there was just no accounting for a dang goat.

The skateboard hit his little feet, and my knee smacked into his side as he sort of rolled sideways onto the skateboard with me. I’m sure it looked pretty comical, since the goat was riding on the skateboard with me for a short distance before the whole mess capsized. The front side of the board touched down from the extra weight, skidded along the pavement, and goat and rider were flung sideways to the ground.

If you’ve never had road rash, I suggest—very highly, in fact—that you avoid it. I scraped the ground on my side for a good fifty feet along the road before coming to a stop in a patch of blackberry bushes. This just wasn’t my day.

I thought the goat was dead. Not because I’d hit him so hard—which I had—but because he wasn’t moving or doing anything. Just lying there on his side, legs straight out, and staring vacantly into space. Well, until he spontaneously jumped up, leaped across the road (almost hitting one of the other riders going down) and back to whatever field or home he came from. I’d hit a fainting goat. If he hadn’t of fainted right before I’d hit him, I almost certainly would have been hurt a lot worse than I was.

Taking stock of my injuries, I had road rash down the entire left side of my body. My jean shorts, my t-shirt, and my socks on that side all had holes in them. Blood was trickling and was visible wherever skin had been in contact with the ground.

I had a fair amount of thorns stuck in my arms, mainly because I was trying to keep anything from hitting my face and had had some success.

Nothing was broken from what I could tell, so I stood up and realized that I would have to walk all the way back home to get my wounds taken care of. It was at least two or three miles away, and I was already worse for the wear.

I met with Jack at the bottom of the hill. As I walked toward him, I could see the shock in his eyes from looking at the sorry state I was in. Blood was everywhere. Nothing serious, no major bleeders, but I was messed up. I had a fat lip from smashing my face against the goats forehead; between that and the scratches from the blackberry bush and the road rash, it looked like I’d been through a few boxing matches on the way to the bottom of the hill.

When I finally got home, my mom was waiting.  “I had a feeling you were going to get hurt today.” She said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you took your skateboard with you and you had your usual mischievous grin.”

“Why didn’t you stop me?” I complained.

She shrugged, “You wouldn’t have learned anything then.”

She had a point. A very painful point. But it didn’t matter if I’d learned anything. I tried the stunt again a few weeks later after I’d built a “go-kart” out of wood and *two* of my skateboards. No goats that time, but I still ended up with another story. And more scars. And I still didn’t stop trying to make the trip down more fun and dangerous.

Some kids just never learn…

Jul 27 2009

Will you be the one? Will you come and save me from myself?

 I was ten years old when I first decided I wanted to be a scientist. I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of scientist, but I knew that I wanted to work with things that could go “BOOM!”, and technology that could do amazing things. I wanted to be the first to invent the flying car (Hey, it’s 2009, where is my flying car, anyway?), and I had dreams of going in to space or creating a cure for cancer.

It all seems pretty ridiculous now, but that’s what makes being a kid so wonderful; there’s no limit to our imagination and we never question whether or not we can accomplish something. We just assume we can do it.

This naivety is not only a marvelous byproduct of being a kid, but it’s also why I just barely survived childhood in the first place. Since I was always convinced that I could do anything, I tried to do everything. Swap out an engine block from a car? No problem! I’ve seen my dad do that a hundred times, why can’t I? Well, in that case no. Let’s just say that there are certain things you tend to overlook when you’re ten. Like gravity for instance.

Thankfully my reflexes were good enough that I was able to dive out from under the car before the engine block fell on me. And that was only one in a long series of fairly stupid mistakes when I was a child.

But back to the point, though: I wanted to be a scientist.

In the back of my Popular Mechanics magazine there were articles for chemistry sets and prices and the things to look for. I researched and finally found the exact set I wanted and gave the information to my parents.

When my birthday finally arrived when I turned eleven, I finally got my chemistry set and my microscope. This was surely proof that this was all I needed to become a scientist. I mean, even Louis Pasteur didn’t have most of what was in my arsenal. Surely it made me more qualified than he.

My parents–in what I assumed was their ignorance of my brilliance– encouraged me to work through some of the lab sheets and problems in the booklet. “Bah!” I say. No matter what I do, it’ll all work out great. I am Andy Attebery, brilliance incarnate.

My first experiment was to create my own formula for super human strength. Now, as I’m sure you’ve already deduced, I was planning on ingesting whatever concoction I came up with. I imagine that I made sure that whatever I came up with was safe to ingest, but that’s assuming a lot. And geez, c’mon, I was only eleven. Give me a break.

I don’t remember everything that went in to the “formula”, but I do remember a few kitchen ingredients– vanilla extract (hey kids, it doesn’t taste as good as it smells), baking powder, sugar (to fix the taste, blech), and of course methylene blue (from the chemistry set).

The end result was that I didn’t get the super human strength I was hoping for. Instead, I got an extremely upset stomach, and one super ability, or at least, what I perceived as a super ability: my urine turned blue. I wasn’t sure how useful that ability was going to be, but you never know. Maybe I could use it as some kind of glow in the dark guide if I ever got lost in a cave. Who knew!

My “ability” did eventually fade, and I didn’t have the guts (or the stomach) to take another drink of my formula. Interestingly enough, as I was writing this and looking up the chemicals that I’d used, I’ve found that my concoction would have been good as an antidote for potassium cyanide poisoning, carbon monoxide poisoning, as well as a treatment for ifosfamide neurotoxicity. How about that?

Anyway, so my Dr. Jekyll scheme didn’t pan out quite the way I wanted to. I decided I’d read through some of the lab book. You know, just to get some ideas. I wasn’t stuck or anything.

I ended up skipping any page that didn’t include the word “fire” or “smoke”. I ended up on an interesting article about heating sulfur in a test tube and watching the chemical turn from one color to another. I thought that that sounded like a good place to start, but overall pretty boring. So my next brilliant idea, of course, was “What if I combine sulfur and about seven other chemicals in to a beaker and hold it over a flame?”

Ladies and gentlemen, if your child ever receives a chemistry set from you or someone you know, make sure they don’t have any aspirations of world domination and/or scientific discovery. I had both, as I’m sure you’ve probably realized by now.

Most of the labs in the chemistry book described the chemical reactions as “subtle”. I wasn’t interested in “subtle”. I was interested in “BOOM!”. The reaction of those eight random chemicals together, heated in a beaker, and over a flame was not what I would call “subtle”.

To this day, I often wonder what my mom must have thought when she heard my experiment go awry. She was in the kitchen just one room over, cleaning the dishes, when she heard the “BOOM!” from my secret laboratory (the closet). Her eleven year old (me)– terrified and covered in glass, chemicals, and various bits of drywall– came running toward the kitchen with his eyebrows and a few parts of his hair on fire. The chemicals were all over me, and a good portion of them were on fire. And more of them were catching on fire. I was afraid I was about to go up like a match.

In what I’m sure was simply an act of mercy, my mom picked up the tub of dirty dish water, and flung it on me.

I was no longer on fire, but now I was covered in two day old food, water, and grime. If that wasn’t bad enough, I was still shaking and scared, and my mom was standing there laughing.

Now to be fair, she was probably nervous and relieved, but c’mon mom! SHE WAS LAUGHING!

Honestly, that wasn’t the last time I caught myself or the house on fire, but it was the first and the only time I was surprised when it actually happened.

May 1 2009

Tell me all your thoughts on God, cause I’d really like to meet her

Cats cannot fly. I know this because I’ve done extensive research. Well, actually, I used to make little parachutes for my cats when I was seven, so it would be more accurate to say that they don’t fall in style.

Now before you say that I was cruel, let me tell you something: I was seven. I wasn’t entirely aware that dropping them from my tree fort was going to hurt them. I’d grown up on Tom & Jerry, and thankfully had the presence of mind (or perhaps, just lack of resources) to know that taping a stick of dynamite to one of my cats would have been a bad thing.

But the parachutes were amazingly well designed for a seven year old. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized that the reason the poor animals were not landing on their feet was because they were tangled in the parachute lines.

Plus, I usually tried to have someone ready to catch them if the plan went awry (which was always). The victim was usually my brother and, well, let’s just say he wasn’t the best at catching those cats. And when he was, he usually had a good set of scratches to show for his trouble.

Predictably, when a cat got away, we’d spend at least half an hour looking for him again. It was lucky that they came in litters, though. That way, you could lose one kitten for a while and its brother or sister would admirably fill in; once you lost your backup feline, your original tester had returned, having forgotten all the fun he’d had just an hour or so ago!

What can I say, I was a child of the eighties and I had time on my hands. When I got discouraged with creating parachutes for the various felines in my house and the neighborhood, I usually started testing them out myself. Which, as you can imagine, was a reasonably stupid mistake. I wasn’t the brightest kid out there.

The first time (yes, as in, I did this on multiple occasions) was from the same tree fort that I’d been dropping the 121st Kitten Airborne from. I figured (incorrectly) that if they could survive that fall, why couldn’t I?

And besides, all the action movies and cartoons had told me that it was perfectly fine. No problem! Just fall from a big height, roll, and you’d be A-Okay. Rambo II later taught me that I could be a Vietnam infiltrate without much trouble, but right now, let’s just stick with my parachute fantasies.

I stood on the top railing of the tree fort and, with a moment of hesitation (as it really seemed a lot higher standing on the rail!), I leapt into space. I don’t remember much of the fall, mainly because it took a lot less time than I’d anticipated. I was expecting a light glide to the ground, but instead, I received a stomach churning rush of wind and the dull sound of my legs and then my head slapping the ground.

I opened my eyes to see my brother standing over me. He looked a bit concerned, like I’d just fallen fifteen feet to the ground (I had). But the first words out of my mouth were not, “Could you call an ambulance?” or “Call 911!” or “Get mom!”. No no, they were, “Did it work? Did I slow down?”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Because I’m thinking the same thing, too. You’re thinking, “Okay, so you fell and learned your lesson. WHY DO IT AGAIN?!?!”

Come come now, you don’t expect that a seven year old is going to expect the forces of gravity to operate the same way twice, now are you? I figured maybe I had done something wrong. I was sure that my design was right. Why, I was the great Andy Attebery, seven year old engineer. I was going to skip school and work for NASA. Duh. Don’t doubt me.

The next time, I climbed to the tallest branch in our tree. A very tall tree. I imagine it was three or four hundred feet tall. Which in non-kid terms means that it was probably about thirty feet to the largest branch I could get to.

This was serious business now. It was either fly or die, and I was confident that I… well, that was about the point that I slipped off the branch before even trying to make the jump. I hit every branch on the way down, and I really mean it. Every. Single. Branch.

I felt all the leaves and pieces of bark slapping me and hitting me, and then I landed on something fairly hard: the ground. Well, I imagine that’s what happened, because I don’t really remember much after that.

I “came to” when I heard my brother asking me if I was okay. I’d apparently gotten turned around by one of the branches and landed straight on my butt, legs extended in front of me. There I was, sitting upright with my eyes closed, and I’d bitten my front lip (a scar I still have today).

My parachute was undeployed from my backpack, and other than a good number of scrapes, bruises, and a bloody lip, I was perfectly fine. It occurred to me that the cats had been fairing much better than I. Of course, they’d lost all of their whiskers from the stress of my little “tests”. I, on the other hand, at least still had my hair.

The problem was obvious: I needed to jump from something much much higher that had the most reasonable landing platform possible. Immediately, the answer came to me. In my seven year old brain, I had concocted a plan so amazingly awesome and grand, so devious and befitting my parachute, that it would outdo any of my previous schemes.

It was going to be even more amazing than the time that I put my brother in the dryer with the safety disabled and turned it on. It was going to be more exciting than that time I set off a bottle rocket and it flew into a huge box of fireworks (it sure was awesome, though).

My plan was simple: jump from the top railing of the railroad trestle that went over the Santiam river.


How could it possibly go wrong, am I right?

For reference, I was able to dig up some old pictures of the bridge over the Santiam River. Here they are:

Trestle #1



Trestle 2


Standing at the very top, I was understandably quite a bit more hesitant to take the leap. Sure, I’d leapt off the bridge before, but not from the top. It seemed like it should have been fine, but my brother and my friends Jack and Michael couldn’t tell me for sure.

They all just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Go for it Andy!”

With parachute in hand (I’d decided to throw it upward just as I jumped, just like Rambo would), I leapt forward expecting my fall to slow almost immediately.

It didn’t.

To say that I hit the water hard is a mild understatement. My not-so-elegant parachute had done nothing for me, and in fact, had only provided me with lines and material to tangle up in when I went under. But that was only after the full on belly flop of amazing proportions had provided my brother and friends with the loudest clap of sound they’d ever heard.

My brother later described the sound as a watermelon being crushed by a falling piano. Honestly, that’s pretty much what it felt like. I remember the air being knocked out of my poor little body and, as I surfaced, I was acutely aware that I was no longer wearing my shorts.

Now, I was never a very bashful child. I’d lived most of my life trying to get out of wearing much clothes. But clothes do offer a certain modicum of protection in certain areas when you do a belly flop. In this case, not so much. I’m still not certain if they came off in the fall or when I hit the water… but they essentially did nothing.

I walked home from the river (about three miles) wrapped in my parachute. My brother beside me, laughing hysterically and pointing me out to every car that passed. I would periodically stop and punch him in the arm, but it didn’t matter. He was never going to let me forget about it (though, I never let him forget the time he lit my legs on fire with a propane tank, either).

My friends were equally merciless, and responded about as equally well to my punching of them.

The next day after jumping off the railroad trestle, I had a bruise that went from just below my neck, all the way down to the middle of my thighs. I was sore like I’d been beaten up, but otherwise okay. I never explained to my mom or dad what happened, and frankly, they both appeared like they didn’t want to know. My dad usually just shook his head when I came back in the house bleeding or bruised up. But I think he understood.

I never did get that parachute to work the way I wanted. I did eventually have a plan to jump off the 100ft high cliff outside of Lebanon, but it never came to fruition. My mom wouldn’t drive me out there, and I could never figure out why.


Apr 22 2009

Even the best fall down sometimes, even the wrong words seem to rhyme

 One of my first “real jobs” after I got married (and before getting divorced) was working at a computer store in Corvallis, Oregon. It was just a standard, run of the mill, anywhere USA small shop. We built customized computers and repaired ones that came in with hardware and software troubles. It was the same place that I became certified to work on and service IBM laptops. And no, I won’t work on yours.

There was a salesperson that worked in the front office. We’ll call him Rich. I didn’t like Rich. In fact, for lack of a better word, I rather hated Rich. He was insensitive, rude, and generally treated people like idiots. As one of the geeks stuffed in the back room of the store, away from light and the general public, my only interactions with Rich were when he needed something worked on or built.

In the time that I worked at this particular shop, I received many requests to fix older computers. Really old computers. We’re talking about computers that didn’t quite have punch cards and hard drives the size of coffee tables, but they were pretty close.

One gentleman came in with a computer problem on a 286 computer. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry. Let’s just say that it was a paperweight, and a substantially large and heavy one at that. The thing had to weigh almost 50lbs, had two floppy drives, an incredibly small hard drive with twenty years of accounting data stored (and not backed up), and an ancient monochrome monitor.

The computer wasn’t holding the correct time and, as it turned out, the battery inside had died at some point in it’s incredibly long lifespan. To fix it was going to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $200, parts and labor. It wasn’t even worth the $5 in scrap metal he would get for it. I told him this, but he was insistant upon bringing this computer back from the dead.

After I opened the case, I discovered that the battery was soldered in. I couldn’t replace it, which meant that this computer was done for. Rich, in his infinite wisdom, said that he would take care of the customer. Putting together a work order for a new PC, Rich was able to convince the customer that he needed a brand new $2,000 computer. To do accounting. The same thing he used his old 286 computer for.

But whatever, I wasn’t about to argue with a sale.

I built the new PC for the customer and, when it came time to restore the accounting data from his old computer, I went to the front of the store and asked Rich where the old PC was. The interaction went something like this:

Me: Hey Rich, where’s <customer’s name>’s computer?
Rich: Who is that?

I explain, patiently, the entire scenario of how we ended up building a new computer for the customer.

Rich: Oh that guy? Why do you need his old computer?
Me: So we can restore his data…
Rich: No. He said he didn’t need it. I checked.
Me: Really? Because I just talked to him on the phone five minutes ago, and he was pretty concerned about getting his twenty years of accounting data back.


Rich: Oh, that data. Yeah, I completely forgot about that.
Me: I’m sure that you did.
Rich: I threw his computer in the dumpster out back.
Me: You… you what?
Rich: Yeah, you’ll have to go fish for it.
Me: Why can’t you get it? You threw it away.
Rich: Because I have to stay up here and help the customers!
Me: Kim (my boss), can you cover for Rich so he can go get the computer?
Kim: No, just go get it yourself. It’s not a big deal.
Me: It is a big deal.
Kim: Just go take care of it.
What’s the big deal, right? It’s just a dumpster, right? Wrong. You’re wrong. So very very wrong.

You see, there was only one dumpster in the back. We shared it with two other businesses on either side of our store. One was an asian market, and the other was a chinese restaurant. You read that correctly. A chinese restaurant. They routinely threw their old food out. The stench and smell from the fermenting whatever could be smelled from fifty yards away on many days.

I walked out the back of the store, and already I could smell the food permeating from the dumpster.

I began walking toward it, somewhat like a prisoner on his way to the electric chair. The smell intensified with each and every step, and by the time I  reached the side, I was gagging. My eyes were watering. I could feel every cell in my body screaming, “This is not a natural smell! RUN AWAY!” Every fiber in my being was begging me to move away. I could feel my will to live withering up inside of me, and shrinking beneath the burning sensation in my nose.

With one hand over mouth (and no doubt trying to manually hold down my lunch), I used the other hand to pull open the top of the dumpster. To my horror, it was three quarters of the way filled with week old chinese food. The computer, just barely visible toward the middle of the mess and mire, was completely covered in a fresh batch of thrown away chinese food. Noodles and rice and beef and chicken, oh my!

There were thousands of flies swirling and circling around me, my stomach was whirling somersaults like olympic gymnists, and I could barely see anything through the tears in my eyes. The dumpster was more effective than a canister of tear gas.

I reached down to try and fetch out the computer from beneath the filth. Unfortunately, the computer weighed a lot, as I said before. I couldn’t get enough leverage to pull it out of the dumpster, and my arms couldn’t deadlift it over the metal side. I was going to have to climb in to the dumpster to pull it out. I could feel my legs tremble beneath me as I contemplated that horrific fact: I was going to have to climb in.

While still trying to hold down my lunch, I climbed up and over the side and in to the dumpster. Standing among the old discarded food, I realized another much more horrible and disturbing fact: the food was moving. A good portion of that “rice” wasn’t rice. As quickly as I could manage, I grabbed the computer and threw it over the side of the dumpster, and leapt back out.

I was completely covered, from about stomach level to toes, in chinese food and other various things that I won’t mention here. To say that I was angry at Rich is an understatement.

I plugged the old computer in when I brought it back in to the shop. The whole place smelled like chinese food, and I couldn’t be sure if it was my clothes or if it was the computer that was causing it. When I flicked the switch on the computer, it wouldn’t turn on. I was dumbfounded. After all that, I wasn’t even going to be able to restore the data.

I figured I’d open the case to see if there was anything I could fix. With the computer still on, I opened the case and found not one, not two, not three, but about a dozen maggots frying on the circuit board and, in a last effort to thwart my plans, they all caught on fire.

Eventually, I was able to take the hard drive out of the computer and get the data off using another computer. But it was a day that the universe seemed to align against me. That is, until Kim told me to take the rest of the day off, since I most decidedly needed to at least change my clothes.

On my way out the front of the store, I stopped at Rich’s desk and said, “Hey Rich, how about a hug?” I was grinning like a madman. I was dead serious, and for a moment, he thought I was joking.

His smile turned crooked, he stood, and shouted, “No! No thanks!” But by now, I was already walking toward him.

He began walking around his desk in an effort to keep it between me and him. I think it was at this point that he decided it was in his best interest to bolt, and just as he got about to the middle of the store… I tackled him to the ground in front of five or six customers. As I stood up, much to my satisfaction, he was covered in noodles and rice and chicken and beef. Oh my!

Can I still eat chinese food? You betcha. But I can’t look at a 286 without my stomach at least turning a little bit.

Apr 16 2009

Some day, some way, you’re going to finally see, how you treated me, so carelessly

One night in May of 2003, I was in Missouri and not too happy to be there. I’d been flying all over the country for the last several months, almost non stop, and I was completely miserable.

My marriage at the time was on the verge of complete collapse (and eventually did), my friend had recently died just after I was the best man at his wedding, and I was completely burned out. I was making a lot of money, but I was ready to explode.

I had a common routine during those days: I’d fly home on Friday night, drive home from the airport (since nobody was there to pick me up), wash my clothes and catch up on bills and things around the house on Saturday (which usually involved at least a half dozen fights with my wife), and fly out again on Sunday afternoon.

I was on the road for the rest of week, and usually had several flights before coming home again on the following Friday.

Sometimes I’d be in four or five different states before coming back home. I used to have trouble remembering what town I was in, and I’d usually figure it out by glancing at the business cards of the offices I worked in.

Everytime I sat in an airplane and waited for it to take off, I’d listen to a song called “Weary” by Floater, and would wish for the plane to crash. Everytime I’d land safely in another city or another state, I’d have the tiniest bit of disappointment.

At about one o’clock in the morning on this particular evening in Missouri, I was sitting in a bar in a little no name town almost two hours outside of St. Louis. I was staying in this particular town for three days. I was taking advantage of that, knowing I didn’t need to quickly recover from whatever hangover I was exacting upon myself at that very moment. I was going to stumble back to my hotel room and, with any luck, puke.

The office I was working out of, and in turn, the hotel I was staying at for those three days, was as far away from anything as one could get in Missouri. We’re talking rural. Beat up pickup trucks, a country store, and maybe a post office. All that, the hotel, the bar, and you had a town. Or a Missouri version of a town.

I paid my tab at the bar and wandered outside, in to the wind. My hotel was about a mile or two down the road, and was really just a converted old farmhouse. It was at the end of an old dirt driveway in the middle of a field, tucked back from the small rural highway.

The hotel was touted as a bed and breakfast: luxurious, stately, careful and clean. It reminded me a lot of an old Southern plantation every time I walked down the driveway among the grove of trees on each side.

The structure was very obviously built during the very late 1800′s, or possibly the early 1900′s, with its wraparound porch and second story balcony. I’m not sure how many guests were staying there at the time, but I imagine the place had a maximum occupancy of perhaps 6 or 7 couples.

The wind was blowing something fierce as I made my way back to the hotel. In hindsight, I suppose I should have paid a bit more attention. Afterall, I’d been through several tornadoes before. Being from Oregon, though, whenever I felt a strong breeze, my initial thought was only, “Storm”, and not, “Oh god, where’s a shelter?”.

I had just about gotten to the driveway when the hail started coming down. It started out small enough; perhaps the size of a marble, which honestly, hurt like a bitch. But I noticed they were starting to get larger, and I very quickly became alarmed. I was drunk, but I’d still managed to notice a few baseball sized hail stones hit the ground nearby.

There’s nothing quite like the threat of death to sober a person up. It really kills your buzz.

Drunk, and completely in the dark, I was now in a full on sprint toward the light of the hotel. It was only about 50 yards away, but it might as well have been a marathon to my drunken brain. When I finally got to the porch, I saw that the hail was now smashing onto, and cracking, the windshields of the cars parked in front.

“Holy shit.” I said to myself, as I went inside.

There’s something eerie about an old farmhouse, over one hundred years old, being pelted by baseball sized hail and completely devoid of any human life. The attendant, an older gentleman who I’d talked with briefly when I’d checked in, was nowhere to be found. In fact, every single guest room door was open. All of them.

The place was empty.

“Hello?” I called out. “Anyone here?” And that’s when I heard it. The siren from town. It was the tornado warning. I noticed the television behind the attendant’s desk, and the cable was out.

“Hello!?” I yelled.

I heard, very faintly, a reply. It sounded like it was coming back through the kitchen. I walked back there, but saw nobody.

“Anyone here?!” I called. Again, a reply. It was less faint, but still difficult to tell where it had come from. I went out the back door in the kitchen, and there it was: the storm shelter door. It led into the ground, an upward facing door that looked like it belonged to part of an old fallout shelter. It looked like it’d been there as long as the house.

I ran up to it and called out again, “Hello?!?”

This time I heard the reply through the door, even over the screaming wind that had now picked up to an incredible speed and force. The hail was still coming down, but was becoming smaller. I realized that that was what usually happened when the tornado came.

In the darkness, I pulled on the storm shelter door and it opened up without much issue. There was apparently no latch to lock it from the inside, which honestly, concerned me right from the start.

But over the wind, and in the darkness, I heard something else come from within the belly of the shelter. I heard a voice say, “Get in here!” and just after that, a subtle, low sound. Something… familiar.

I knew the sound. I knew it. But it took a few moments for my brain to process it clearly. I was still feeling drunk, it was dark, but I knew that sound… what was it? And that’s when it hit me: It was a rattlesnake.

In my drunken stupor, not only could I not see where it was, but I could distinctly hear there were several of them rattling in the darkness below me. It sounded like a chorus of rattlesnakes. My mind recoiled, and I involuntarily stepped back from the door.

“Are you coming in here, or what?!” I heard someone yell over the wind. I thought I heard one of the guests sobbing in the back.


“Yes, but they won’t hurt you!” Someone replied. You know, I hate it when people tout pointless rhetoric that they know isn’t true. They’re god damned rattlesnakes. They are designed to hurt people. Just because these people were in there without being bitten (yet), didn’t mean I was going to be as lucky.

“FUCK THAT! I’LL TAKE MY CHANCES WITH THE TORNADO!” I yelled, and with that, I slammed the shelter door and ran back in to the hotel. Nobody came out for me.

Initially I felt panicked being back in the hotel, but an overwhelming sense of calm fell over me. It just didn’t seem like a big deal that a tornado was coming. I walked up to my room, and I turned the television. All the channels were static. I turned it back off and sat down on the edge of the bed.

I could hear glass breaking outside, probably windshields being hit by debris, along with breaking branches and the wind causing every joist and seam in the house to groan and creak in agony.

I grabbed a voice recorder from my laptop bag, and sat out on my balcony. I hit record and just began talking randomly about whatever came to mind (I still have the recording somewhere). I watched the hail turn to rain, and the wind pick up and become a torrent of chaotic debris, branches, and leaves.

It wasn’t a plane crash, but it would do.

It’s amazing what you can and can’t see in the darkness when all the power is out for a hundred miles in each direction. I’d always heard that a tornado kind of sounded like a growling lion or some kind of feral beast.

Until that night, I’d never believed them. But to my surprise, the sound is amazingly similar to a freight train flying past completely loaded with thousands of snarling tigers. I never saw the tornado itself that night, it was too dark and there were far too many trees trying to fall down around me, but it wasn’t without trying.

The next morning, I could clearly see the damage path that it had followed. It’d travelled only about a quarter of a mile from the backside of the hotel.

If the news reports are to be believed, it had been an F3 tornado that had torn through the area. And in fact, it was part of one of the greatest outbreaks of tornadoes in a seven day period, with a total of 401 reported.

To this day, I’m kind of disappointed I never actually saw that tornado. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because I almost died in the process of trying to see it. I guess it just came to symbolize a lot of what was going on in my life at the time: chaos, destruction, and disappointment.

I’m glad to be alive now, don’t get me wrong. Next time, though, I’m still not sure I would get in to that rattlesnake infested storm shelter.

Apr 15 2009

And when all my bridges burn, she’ll finally be the only road I know

I was sixteen the first time I ever had a major “blackout” from drinking too much. Previously, I’d had a few nights where I couldn’t remember an hour or two, or had a few events relayed to me later that were humorous, but nothing on par with that time when I was sixteen.

First, let’s setup the scene, because a story is only as good as its backstory, right?

My mom was dying from cancer. I’d just listened to her cry for several hours, whimpering and asking me to end the pain for her, before she was mercifully knocked out by some much deserved morphine.

Needless to say, the night was already going badly for me.

I called Rob, one of my best friends at the time, and told him what was going on. Without even asking, he said, “I’ll be over in a few to pick you up. Be outside.”

Sneaking out was pretty easy; I had a fire escape ladder that I could just sling out my second story window, and climb down to the ground. It was nearly ten o’clock, the house was asleep or preoccupied, and I was leaving by whatever means necessary. At that point, I’d had it. I was done.

Rob arrived shortly after that, and found me standing at the end of the driveway. I hopped in, we exchanged our usual nod, and we were off. I asked him what he wanted to do. He said, with no reservation and no bravado, “We’re going to kill the pain.”

I knew what that meant: we were going to have a lot of booze. We were going to do what we did best. We were going to go completely crazy and have no reservations whatsoever.

I nodded and said, “Cool. Did we want to go pick up Tim, too?”


And that’s what we did. We stopped at a payphone, called Tim and asked if he was up for partying. It was a Friday night, after all. He agreed, we picked him up, and headed back to Rob’s place.

Rob’s parents were our main suppliers of alcohol and drugs. They were hippies, didn’t especially believe in rules or boundaries, and generally were just very cool people to us sixteen year olds. Would I trust my sixteen year old with people like that? Hell no. Luckily, my parents didn’t know what kind of people Rob’s parents were.

We arrived, and the drinking began. Of course, this is where a lot of the memories start to get pretty fuzzy. I remember distinctly that I finished at least 15 shots of vodka within a few hours. I remember that it was right around eleven o’clock when we started taking acid.

In my mind’s eye, I can see the sugar cube (with four drops of acid) and I can see that I placed it in my mouth. I chewed it, and washed it down with some rum. I remember that I kind of gagged for a moment, probably on the rum, and then everything was fine.

About thirty minutes later, the walls started to distort, warp, and the hallucinogenic effects of the drugs were starting to kick in. I remember glancing over at Rob, who was also tripping, I opened my mouth to say something… and that’s where my memory ends. Nothing. Absolutely nothing remains of that memory. At all.

The next thing I remember was nine or ten hours later. The mystery of what happened that night has vexed Rob, Tim, and me since then. We have no recollection of any events that transpired between 11PM and 9AM or 10AM the next day.

I woke up in a ditch that next morning. I was covered in water (or at least, what I hoped was water), and my car was about 30 feet away from me, up an embankment. I was freezing, because it was the middle of January and I was wearing a T-shirt and jeans.

My head hurt like hell, I was muddy from head to toe, and for the life of me, I had no idea why I was so far from my car (which was parked in a small gravel area about 20 feet off the main highway).

Apparently, at some point in the night I’d stumbled out of the car, fallen in to the ditch, and simply never climbed back out.

I couldn’t get my bearings, had no idea where I was, and decided I might as well figure out what the hell was going on.

I got up, walked back to the car and climbed in to the driver seat. Everyone in the car was asleep. Rob was sitting in the passenger seat, Tim was in the seat behind me, and male unknown passenger #1 was in the seat behind Rob. That’s right. There was someone else in the car. And I had no idea who the hell it was.

I woke Rob up, which in itself took about ten minutes. He was completely out. Tim and the unknown passenger were still fast asleep in the back when I finally got him conscious.

“Rob, what the fuck happened last night?” I asked. By then, I was starting to panic. I hadn’t even looked over my car to see if there was damage or not. I was confused, and I just wanted an explanation on how we got to wherever we were, and under what circumstances.

He glanced around, looked at me, and I shit you not, the first thing he said to me was, “What are you doing in my room, man?”

Of course, after he figured out that I hadn’t broken in to his house to wake him up, he was as mystified as I was as to what the hell had happened the previous evening. He didn’t remember how we got there. In fact, neither one of us even knew where “there” was.

We both got out of the car and walked around it, inspecting it for damage. After we decided there wasn’t any blood or body parts attached to the bumper, and that there wasn’t any scratches that weren’t already there, we got back in to the car. We decided we might as well wake Tim up and find out if he remembered anything.

When Tim finally came around, we were dismayed to find that he didn’t remember a thing either. He did have a vague recollection of us planning a road trip at some point in the night, but that was all he had. None of us could remember how we got the unknown fourth person.

Reluctantly, we woke up our mystery passenger to see if he knew what the hell had happened, or at least give us an idea of where we were. He provided us with some details that seemed rather eerie when we all considered them later.

At some point in the early morning hours, we had picked up this gentleman at a rest stop just south of Weed, California.

Yes, you did read that correctly. We had driven in January through a notoriously difficult mountain pass, with no snow tires or traction devices, to California, picked up a hitchhiker, and were now in some unknown location.

Unfortunately, our passenger had fallen asleep shortly after being picked up because, as it turned out, he had gotten very stoned just before we met him at the rest stop. Wonderful. I asked if anyone knew how I’d ended up outside the car, or why I’d spent the night in the ditch. No one knew.

The only decent explanation I’ve ever come up with was that I had had to pee, went outside, and at some point felt like I was going to pass out or throw up. At that point, I must have laid down on the ground and fallen asleep. To this day, I have no idea if that’s correct or not.

Since we didn’t even know if it was just the next day (Saturday), or if we’d gone on a several day binge, we decided we should find out pretty quickly where we were and what day it was.

We got back on the road and started driving. Besides being fairly hung over and very sore from spending the night on the ground, I wasn’t in too bad shape. My passengers, on the other hand, were horribly hung over and we had to stop fairly frequently for them to throw up at the side of the road.

After wandering along on the country roads for almost an hour, running dangerously low on gas, we finally figured out where we’d ended up: Sacramento. Eight hours south of where we’d started.

Our hitchhiker was overjoyed, as that was where he’d been heading. We can only assume that that’s why we went in that direction. I don’t think I’ll ever know.

We drove back that day, almost crashing two separate times in the Siskiyou pass going through the snow, all the while wondering how we’d managed to traverse the same path the night before.

To this day, I have no idea what happened that night, or why we decided we were going to travel to California. My favorite explanation is that we were kidnapped by aliens, and they made it look like we’d driven there under our own volition.

I wish this particular story was an isolated incident, but alas, a good portion of my life is nothing but a blur and for similar reasons.

Apr 15 2009

Just because I’m sorry doesn’t mean that I regret a thing…

I lived in a small town through most of high school, so the local constabulary knew me by name. I imagine that if we’d lived in a larger town we would have gotten in to far less trouble. The problem with living in the country is that there’s so little to do. And where there’s little to do, you come up with your own types of entertainment. It didn’t help that my grandfather was a sheriff’s deputy.

Now Rob, one of my best friends in high school, was a good kind hearted person. He took a dim view to violence, loved intellectual conversation, and had a ready quip for just about anything you could say. And he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind at a moments notice. We’d been friends for a few years, and generally kept each other from too much harm or too much trouble.

For most of those years, Rob and I were friends with a girl named Kelly. Rob was incredibly infatuated and completely in love with Kelly. As best as I could tell, she had no idea. The three of us spent a lot of time together, and he made it incredibly obvious… or at least, I thought so.

But alas, if she did know, she never let on.

One day, Rob and I were driving around Albany and, just as we were turning on to Queen Avenue, he glanced at me and said, “I’m going to tell Kelly.” He didn’t need to expound upon his statement at all. I knew exactly what he meant.

And to be honest, I was shocked. Rob was pretty good at getting dates back in those days, but he was horrible about telling a girl how he felt. In fact, the last time he’d tried to do so, she ended up slapping him, running away, and never speaking to him again. When it came to love, Rob was a lot like me: a walking disaster area.

“Are you sure?” I asked. He nodded. He’d made up his mind, and he wasn’t going to turn back.

“What are you going to say?”

“That’s just the thing. I have this idea: I’m going to play a song for her and tell her that that is how I feel.”

Gentlemen, let me explain something to you, okay? We don’t get in to trouble when we’re honest and straightforward. Do you know when we get in trouble? When we have a plan. Or an idea. Or anything even remotely approaching what we would call “brilliant”.

Anyway. It was probably at this point that I burst out laughing. His “brilliance” was always pretty stupid, or at least, it was when a woman was involved. I knew with Rob’s luck, it was sure to backfire. Something was going to go horribly wrong. Defensively, he yelled, “She’ll understand!”

I nodded, but I was still laughing and wiping tears from my face.

“Well, let me know how it goes.”

A few days later, Rob drove over to my house. Depressed. I jumped in the car and we started driving. I was afraid to ask, but I hadn’t spoken with Kelly yet that day, and I was dying to know how horribly it had gone.

“So… what happened?” I asked.

He pulled the car over, and slumped over. I was kind of surprised. I’d figured things would go badly, but I didn’t think that they would go quite that bad. He proceeded to tell me the details of his love seronade, and how it went from a good idea to a train wreck in the course of only a few seconds.

He had taken her out for dinner and stopped at one of the local stores to pick up something to drink on the drive back to her house (which was about twenty minutes outside of town). Sadly, before going in to the store he decided that the moment was right.

He placed a cassette tape (You know, those things that happened before CD’s but after records and 8 tracks?) in the deck of his car and hit pause. He explained to her that the song was about how he felt, and asked her to hit play when he got out of the car.

Yes, you read that right. He got out of the car. Sigh.

What song was he using? I’ll sigh again: Sigh. It was bad enough that the song was by Aerosmith, but the song name was “Angel”. Yeah. I know. I can hear you groaning out there. But it gets much much worse.

As Rob climbed back in to the car, Kelly was giving him the weirdest look he’d ever seen. She asked him why he wanted to tell her that, and why use a song? She was visibly upset, and Rob was heartbroken.

“I really like you Rob, I thought we might end up together someday.” She said to him.

Now it was Rob’s turn to be confused. What was she talking about? He was using the song to try and tell her that he wanted to be with her, and he loved her. What was going on?

Here’s a tip for all you guys out there: if you’re going to use a cassette tape to tell someone how you feel, be sure you put it in the right way. You know, tapes have two sides.

As I said, Rob’s luck was awful. So what song came blaring through the speakers when that poor girl had hit play? None other than the song, “Dude looks like a lady”.

She thought he was either trying to tell her she was ugly, he was a crossdresser, or he was gay. None of which worked out well for Rob.

The whole time Rob is telling me this, I’m laughing so hard that I’m crying.

“Well, how did she take the real news once you told her?” I asked.

He finally smiled, “We’ve got a date next weekend.”

Apr 3 2009

There’s a boy in the bathroom who talks to the blade, choking back the rage for it all

As some of you may have noticed, most of my stories involve either a great deal of stupidity on my part, or a great deal of pain. Or both. This story is no different.

About twenty years ago, I had a go-kart. It was red, it was beautiful, and it was fast. The kart had a 150cc motorcycle engine on it, which probably tells you a lot about the family that I come from.

Besides the obvious redneck jokes that could be said about my family (and please don’t get me started), my family is also full of mechanics and perpetual tinkerers. We make things that go fast. We make slower things go faster. We make small things that make big booms. We’re a family that gets in to a lot of car accidents and end up dodging shrapnel from exploding engines in car garages. I’ve even had the opportunity to watch a car or two burn to the ground.

These are the same people that have been known to stand behind a jet car at a drag race and wonder why all the hair on their arms was singed off; they think it’s normal to have a car that gets 7mpg, that rocks back and forth at red lights to the point that windows have broken out, and they wonder why they keep getting pulled over every time they accelerate to highway speeds… in 5 seconds.

These are also the same people that I’ve watched set off fireworks near a 100 gallon propane tank, have leaned on flag poles during a lightning storm, and caused explosions in their backyard that was heard several miles away in every direction. I got to meet the fire department from three neighboring towns that day.

Needless to say, I come from some homely and dangerous rural stock. At seven, I felt like I was prepared for anything.

My father, whom I love to death, is a mechanic and has been for my entire life (and most of his). In fact, I’ve built and rebuilt engines, transmissions, and pretty much anything else you can think of because of him. Ever since I was old enough to hang around automotive shops and garages, I’ve been working on cars.

Now, my father, being the consciencious man that he is, decided that he should put a limiter on my go-kart to make sure I wouldn’t drive it too fast. He knew that I was a bit reckless and had no real regard for my own safety. He couldn’t imagine where I got that from.

Without the limiter, my go-kart had a top speed right around 60mph (and probably faster if there wasn’t worry about the wheels flying off). He had throttled it back closer to 20mph, which, to him I’m sure seemed reasonable. To the reckless Attebery that I was… well… not so much.

One hot summer day in July, I had taken my kart over to a friend’s house. He lived on a plot of land out in the middle of nowhere, because honestly, most of the houses in Lebanon were out in the middle of nowhere. There wasn’t a “somewhere” within 50 miles.


He had a huge backyard with plenty of hills and tall grass to drive through. Needless to say, it became a favorite place to take my kart.

As I said, I was seven, but I’d been in automotive garages for a long time. I knew what a limiter was, and how to disable it. I’d watched my dad put it on the engine and he had assumed that I didn’t know what he was doing to my precious throttle.

This is a lesson to parents: Never assume your child’s ignorance. Your kid knows.

After freeing my kart from the shackles of the limiter and poor performance, I decided to start it up. I’m not sure I can say I knew what an adrenaline rush was when I was seven. I know what it is now, but back then, I just remember liking the feeling of starting that engine up. It purred lovingly, and I loved the way it made me feel to just sit there and anticipate taking off.

I sat there a minute, just enjoying the rumble of the little kart. My friend, standing nearby, was starting to get impatient; I could tell by the annoying way he kept asking if I was going to take off. He started to beg me to go. He was breaking up my zen moment.

It was at this point that I started getting upset at him and, in a moment of carelessness and lack of judgement (which was fleeting to begin with), I stomped on the gas as hard as I could.

That, I believe, was my first mistake.

Very few seven year olds are experienced at driving at 60mph, and driving a little kart that low to the ground makes that speed really feel like I was doing Mach 2. I was scared out of my wits and, much to my surprise and my horror, I’d jammed the gas so hard to the floor that the throttle spring was caught.

The engine was completely stuck at full throttle. I was only ten seconds in to my ride and I’d already managed to get myself in trouble. I realized that I was going to have to bail out or figure out some miraculous solution to my problem. There wasn’t any way to drop out of gear, and holding the brake was only going to start a tire fire. I was sure I was going to die.

Then it came to me. My genius seven year old brain, running on pixie sticks and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, had formulated a plan. My plan was simple and stupid: turn around and fix the spring. You know, while I was still driving.

I know, I can hear you folks out there shaking your head at me. Believe me, I know. But what seems reasonable at one point, is not always perfectly cromulent ten minutes later.

I straightened out the steering wheel, aimed the kart for what I thought was a reasonable straight plot of land with few obstacles, unbuckled from my harness, and turned around to see if I could unhook the throttle arm on the engine.

I came to find out that looking at an engine and finding a certain part of an engine is much more difficult at what seemed like 700mph.

It was summer, so there were six million bugs flying through the humid Oregon air, and they were slapping me like little exploding insect missiles. My face and shirt were beginning to look like the front grill of a car driving through the rainforest.

I’m not sure if I was holding the wheel with my feet or if I had just assumed that the kart was going to stay in a straight line while I was turned around, but either way, it didn’t work out quite the way I’d hoped.

Mind you, I got that stupid spring unstuck. I did. It was fixed. It had taken all of five seconds, but it had seemed like three eternities, and the kart just starting to slow down. I even managed to feel elation for about a second and a half before the kart went down the embankment, over a hill (which was quite spectacular, might I add… I caught at least a full second or two of air), and in to the river.

My beautiful, wonderful, and red go-kart, was now a wet pile of metal and anguish in the Santiam river. But at least it had stopped, and I, aside from being shaken (not stirred), was fine. Bruised, wet, scratched up, and a bit upset. But fine.

The real fun came a few hours later when I called my mom to explain what had happened. I didn’t lie because, well, let’s face it, she would know better. She was upset at me, I could tell, but she said that she would come and get me. And the kart.

I found that last little bit confusing because it wasn’t like the kart could be driven back, and our little Volkwagen Rabbit wasn’t going to be able fit the kart in the trunk. I’d driven the kart to my friend’s house using all the little backwood dirt roads and side streets that I’d learned living in that little town, and now it was stranded as far as I was concerned.

But to my horror, my mom showed up in the Volkswagen Rabbit, visibly upset and carrying a tow chain. To this day, I’m not sure if she was trying to teach me a lesson, or if she honestly thought that using a tow chain was the best course of action. I knew it was a bad idea. I was seven years old and I knew; but I also wasn’t going to argue with her after all the stupid mistakes I’d made that day.

With tow chain attached firmly to the bumper of the VW Rabbit, and the other end anchored to the front right and front left part of my kart’s chassis, we were off. I was sitting, reluctantly, in the kart as my mom drove the car. I already had a bad feeling about the entire situation, but I didn’t seem to have a choice.

She took the same country roads back to our place, along the dirt paths and hilly uncharted areas that nobody seemed to take any notice of. We were a few minutes in to the ride and I was just beginnging to believe that I was actually going to make it home in one piece. I’m of the opinion now that either life or parents detect hope in kids. And they squash that hope.

The car started to speed up and I, being more than a little uncomfortable with the pace that we were going, began to wave my arms wildly in my mom’s rearview mirror.

She apparently took that as a que to go even faster, because in my mind I could hear Rick Moranis scream, “Ludicrous speed! GO!” and we were off. We’d gone to plaid, as it were. The poor go-kart, an already wet and unrunning heap of metal and discomfort, was shuddering and wobbling all over the dirt road.

I could feel every bump, every rock, and every tiny little hill along the path. I was catching air left and right. I was hitting mud and sticks and bushes and could swear that at some point I ran over a rat or a neutria or something. I was seven years old and I already had my first roadkill.

I tried to keep the kart straightened out as best I could, but after a few minutes I realized the futility of my efforts. It was apparent that I was only along for the ride, and that it was going to be one heck of a ride.

My mom took more than a few sharp corners at about twice the speed recommended; the chain was long enough that I swung out and, just on the edge of being enveloped in blackberry bushes, the kart pulled back toward the middle of the road at the last second.

I began to yell, “Mom! Mom! Slow down!” and flailed my arms frantically in an effort to get her attention. But it only seemed make her more angry.

I’d forgotten that the reason I’d left the house that day was because she had a migraine. A bad one. So each scream from the stupid kid in the kart behind her was only a reminder that she’d had to pick up my sorry seven year old self. Each time she heard me screaming, she sped up even more.

We were approaching warp 9, and Mr. Sulu wasn’t exactly around to apply the brakes. We’d lost Scotty at that last speed bump, and I was pretty sure that portions of my liver and at least one of my kidneys was lying on the side of the road somewhere.

We approached the last big turn on the way home and, not being a religious child, I still prayed fervently that she would slow down and allow me to survive long enough to get home and be punished. She didn’t.

The go-kart swung wildly toward the side of the road and me, wide eyed and terrified, screamed like a little girl. A high pitched wail at the top of my lungs that I’m sure sounded like nails on a chalk board to most of the feline population within miles of the incident.

My right tires approached the edge of a river bank, and I could see the water was a full twenty feet below. All I could think was that I didn’t want to crash for a second time that day, and worse yet, she seemed determined to make sure it happened.

As I screamed from behind that Volkswagen Rabbit, I could hear through the open driver’s side window what sounded like muffled laughter. She denied this for years later, but I could hear her. The muffled laughter grew to a full on riotous cackle, and from that a laugh that would transcend the laugh of any animated witch in any Disney cartoon. I felt a chill run down my spine. She was enjoying this.

The person that had given me life (and was in the process of trying to end it), was enjoying this entire ordeal that was likely going to scar her offspring for life.

We rounded that final corner, mercifully coming to a stop outside my house. As my mom got out of the car she no longer seemed upset at me or in pain. She said, “Well, get that in to the garage so you and your dad can fix it tonight.”

And with a smirk, she walked inside the house and left me sitting in the go-kart, white knuckles still gripping the steering wheel and feet braced against the front side of the metal chassis.

It wasn’t the last time I messed with that stupid limiter (I was always a slow learner), but it was the last time I ever called my mom for help when I knew I’d be in trouble.