I Got Over It……For 3 Minutes.

I’ve got a few fears.  Some may argue I’ve got too many fears. But  #1 is snakes, and #1A is heights. Being afraid of heights is a bit complicated.  Those who don’t share the fear are mystified at understanding it, and those who are cursed with it haven’t got the words to really convey what it feels like. Knees rattle, chests tighten, and throats swell. And flying doesn’t really count.  Being enclosed in a massive tube powered by jet engines 20 thousand feet off the ground doesn’t necessarily pack the same fright-induced punch as standing on an observation deck, or dangling from a tree with a climbing harness on. (Did it once. Won’t ever do it again.) And for those who share this fear, you know what I’m saying. Those who don’t, well, you just won’t understand.  I’ve spent 25 harrowing minutes inside the London Eye.  I’d come dangerously close-no, really, all kidding aside-to passing out on the Stone Mountain cable gondola.  And once, battling a fit of insanity, I’d ridden the glass elevator at the Downtown Atlanta Westin.

This past week I found myself alone at Disney World.  My wife was working in Orlando, and with the opportunity to dip my toe in the Disney World waters for the first time, I wandered through the  Animal Kingdom theme park solo. Once I got past the bizarre and very creepy feeling of being a grown man alone in a theme park with at least 6 million children, I stood at the entrance to the park’s largest roller coaster, Expedition Everest. I hadn’t ridden a roller coaster in easily 20 years, and as I contemplated getting in this rolling metal chamber of death, I realized that at the age of 33, maybe it was time to take this fear on.  I had enjoyed roller coasters in the past, primarily because they go to fast and are over to soon to even worry about heights, but this time it was different. Hearing the blood curdling screams of its passengers certainly didn’t help matters. And while the lines for rides at Disney World can stretch just north of 3 miles long, I noticed the line for single riders was claiming a five minute wait.  And before I had time to dwell on it, I found myself in line, with just four people between me and the peril that awaited me on the other side.  Four people became three, three became two, and then I was up.  Gulp.

Seriously, when was the last safety inspection?

Seriously, when was the last safety inspection? Why is no one asking these things?

Climbing into the car, I pulled down the safety bar, and couldn’t help but have a little worry when the 16 year old kid who was working for 7 dollars an hour walked by during his safety check and said “that should be fine.” Right. Thanks, Tommy. Glad your concern for my safety is paramount here. The guy seated next to me said if I was going to get back into roller coasters then this was the one to do it.  Thanks bud, but I’m not in the mood to chat.  His sage advice meant one thing to me: time to change my pants. And in mid thought, the cars lurched forward, ripped us around a turn, where it began the slow, torturous climb up the first hill.  It’s the hill all roller coasters have, just long enough to allow riders like me to contemplate the little things, like what we’ve done with our lives, who will get all our worldly possessions.  Creeping up the hill, Disney World’s Animal Kingdom grew smaller and smaller below me, with each hair raising click of the tracks. And as we crested the hill, we were thrust into a lightning fast series of turns, curves, and stomach shredding falls.  And as we got through the first half of the ride, something weird happened to me.  I was alive, my heart hadn’t stopped, the cars were still attached to the tracks (i figured) and as we were tossed from one side of the ride to the other, I smiled.  I’d been thrashed with fear, but with each turn, I couldn’t help but laugh.  The safety bar across my lap stayed intact, the tracks hadn’t collapsed, and the bolts holding the ride together hadn’t rattled loose-all things I was sure would happen.  I realized this was not in fact the certain death I thought it would be. I’d live. I wouldn’t need to find a home for all my possessions, and I wouldn’t have to change my pants.  As the cars came to a screeching halt at the end of the ride, I turned to my partner, and laughed.  I’d learned to let go a little bit. 16 year old Tommy, who was responsible for hitting the ride’s start button every two minutes hadn’t let anything happen to me.  He cared.  I think.

As I climbed out of the car, I got back in line for another go. And then another. And another.  And then two more.  7 runs in 40 minutes.  And just as I was beginning to accept the change that had come to me, on the 7th run, the cars stopped on that first hill.  A complete standstill. Seated, with just a silver bar between me and the park 13 stories below, the panic was coming back. A malfunction? I was sure of it. Waiting for the other riders to finish? Maybe.  After all, I hadn’t considered a mid-ride collision with another set of riders.  And sitting there, for what seemed like ages, i shut my eyes, and started counting.  And just like that, the ride was off again.  As long as this thing was moving I was aces, and my stomach was returning to it’s normal state.  Expedition Everest certainly didn’t rid me of acrophobia.  It’s still there, and in a very big way.  But its possible it got me one smaller step towards getting on this thing one day.

7th Grade, Baseball Cards And A Lesson In Perspective

In the 7th grade, I was obsessed with baseball. Like all the other 7th grade boys that have ever existed in the world, I was less interested in my math homework and more concerned with the batting average of Juan Gonzalez.  (.310 in 1993 with 46 home runs-the guy could RAKE it.)  I was a Baltimore Orioles fan, and there wasn’t anything that looked more regal to me than the Orioles uniforms. White jerseys, with Orioles written in script across the front, they were stop-traffic awesome to me. And specifically, #8.  Cal. Ripken. Junior. There were posters on my wall, Wheaties boxes on my dresser, and to that point, I’d managed to get every Cal Ripken baseball card that existed. There were hundreds of them. I woke up in the morning wondering what he had done the night before, since I was usually in bed by the time the games ended. In my house, he was just Cal.

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I’m over it now. Really.

There was no way I’d get control of the main television in the house, so I holed up in my parents room watching games on a small television, with my baseball glove on. This was my existence. Some time around the winter of 1993, I managed to get an address for Cal Ripken’s home after a trip to the library. And as soon as I realized the wonders of the US postal system, I put a 1991 Topps Cal Ripken baseball card in an envelope, sent it off with an autograph request, convinced it would return in a week.  My parents tried hiding their skepticism, but I knew. They were encouraging, telling me that of course Cal will sign the card, and that of course it will come back in a week. But they knew. They didn’t say it, but I knew. Good luck with that, son.  My plan was foolproof though, because after all, it was the offseason. What else did Cal Ripken have to do but sit around and field autograph requests from 7th graders all over the country? My timing was everything.  I’ll show them.

Weeks passed. Winter turned to spring. Spring training began and I checked the mail every day finding only coupons, flyers, and mail not addressed to me. With each passing day, my hope began to diminish, but it never disappeared. And every night I watched those same Orioles, and I watched Cal, wondering if he’d gotten my card, with his address scrawled on the front in pencil. And whenever I began to give up hope, he’d hit a home run or go 3 for 4 with two RBI’s, I’d forget about it, and all would be right with my 7th grade world.

One afternoon in the middle of the school year, I came home, and before I started my homework, my mom pointed to an envelope on the table. I never got mail. 7th graders don’t get mail. But this afternoon, it was different. It was simply addressed “Andrew Iden” with my address written out on the front. And as I opened the envelope, there was a feeling of euphoria that I hadn’t experienced before. There in the envelope was the baseball card I’d sent away months ago. And in blue marker, splashed across the front of the card, was the name. The signature. Oh, the signature. Cal. Ripken. Junior.  It was otherworldly.  There was no note, no accompanying letter, nothing. There was a certain beauty in that, because the signature said everything.  I’m not sure what happened the rest of the evening, but the card never left my sight. My parents didn’t say it, but I think they were as shocked as I was.  Good luck with that, son. 

The next morning, I woke up and looked to make sure the card hadn’t been taken overnight. And as I packed for school, I faced a moment that would haunt me for years. Of course I had to take the card to school. Of course the entire 7th grade class needed to know what I possessed. I was IT. I put the card in the front pocket of my backpack, headed off to school with what was and would still be, my most prized possession. You’ll notice the past tense.  This is one of those stories.

Billy Harper wasn’t a good kid.  A daily discipline problem, he spent most of his time in detention, and looking back now, he almost certainly had a tough time at home. It explains why he lacked any moral compass and in one swift act, pulled the card from my backpack when my back was turned, slid it into his pocket, and took off with it during recess. As I turned around, and caught him in mid-act, I knew what he’d done. I knew what he’d stolen, and in a split second, overcome with confusion, heartbreak and anger, I did what any 12-year-old would do. I told the teacher. Clearly annoyed, Mr. Thompson asked Billy if he took the card, Billy denied it, and that was the end of it.  Billy was a rough kid, and I certainly wasn’t going to take things into my own hands. The scales of justice were certainly not tipped in my favor. In fact, there were no scales of justice here at all. I stood on the playground dumbfounded and confused. And there, in big bright shiny lights, was my first indication that life is in fact, not fair.  As I walked to my mother’s office after school, heartbroken and in an unconscionable state of despair, I began to cry. I’d held it together throughout the day, but the weight had become to great.  For a fleeting moment, I owned the holiest of grails in my 12-year-old world. And like that, it was gone. Poof. Billy Harper had ripped me of happiness, stripped me of pride, and most importantly, made me feel like a fool.

I rehashed the story to my mom through a foggy haze of heartbreak, tears, and snot.  As she looked at me with equal parts sorrow and sternness, she explained to me that my decision to take the card to school was a choice rife with consequence. And now, I’d have to live with that consequence. She was against me, I was sure of it. I stood sobbing, and as far as I was concerned, my mom had failed to see the true tragedy here. She was of course, right. As she always is.

11 years later, I still wasn’t over The Theft.  I know, I know.  Get over it, Andrew.  I was a grown man, and the thought of what happened that day still would give me an uneasy feeling when it crossed my mind. Through circumstances of my job, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet Cal Ripken.  I thought a lot about that day in 7th grade, and whether meeting Cal Ripken would be the antidote that would allow me to shut the door on Billy Harper. As I stood there shaking Cal’s hand, I realized that indeed life is fair.  Because somewhere, Billy Harper was probably struggling. I’m not sure how, or where, but Billy was likely having a rough go of it in his adult life.  The playground injustice had gnawed at me for over a decade, and I’d found closure.  I told Cal what he had meant to me as a kid, and he looked me right in the eye and simply said “Thanks Andrew.” Was it his standard, canned answer to the thousands of 30-year-old men who have said the same thing? Probably. But it seemed genuine to me.  11 years later, I’d gotten the note that he hadn’t written in that envelope. This moment was mine. And it wasn’t Billy Harper’s.

Crazy Eyes And The Fight That Never Was

I’m not hot tempered.  Never have been.  In fact, looking back over my years, I think I can say with absolute certainty that I have never once been in a fight.  My fists have never been used, and truth be told, I loathe confrontation.  I’ll go miles out of my way, taking the long way around to avoid confrontation.  That is, until I see something like I saw this past weekend.

I stood in line for a beer at a local festival here in town, and understanding the normal human trait of courtesy, I got to the back of the line, and waited my turn.  As I approached the table, and my number was up, a large, shirtless guy-who probably shouldn’t have been shirtless but that’s a whole other entry-walked right up to me at full speed, stepped in front of me, and ordered his beer.  Or beers.  I got the feeling he was doubling up, based on his walk.

Before I get too far-the picture of this guy needs to be painted accurately.  Sweating profusely, and clearly walking a little wobbly, this wasn’t his first trip to the beer line. And while there is no real way to describe how he actually looked, he was carrying a handful of crazy.  His eyes were wide, and it was obvious he wasn’t all there. The guy had a look of being just a shade unhinged.  And I probably should have taken that into consideration before I opened my mouth.

Failure to understand common courtesy and blatant disregard for others in social and public settings irks me.  It REALLY irks me.  Not wanting to cause a scene, but also wanting this guy to know he had irked me and probably the 30 or so people behind me, I merely opened my mouth and uttered two words: “Really guy?”  Apparently, when dealing with the unhinged and incredibly intoxicated, it was the spark needed to light the fuse.

He turned around, and looked me up and down with his crazy eyes, and unleashed a torrent of profanity that truth be told, I lost track of somewhere along the lines of “try to regulate” and “what you gonna do.” I turned to my fiancée, who stood next to me, in an attempt to ignore him, and she, as well as the guy behind me both looked a bit dumbstruck at what had just happened.  I kept an eye on the guy out of the corner of my eye. I was ready for a random uppercut to the eye, as I assumed his stellar upbringing probably told him such actions were acceptable in this scenario.

He stood there for what seemed like hours, waiting for his beers to be served, because naturally, that’s what he needed.  More beer.  And surely he was in a hurry to get back-you know, to the Cro-Magnon men he was with who were likely high-fiving over chugging beers and yelling at the women who may or may not have been standing around them.  Just as I thought the whole charade was over, he turned to me again.  And again, he unleashed another tirade on me as he walked away, calling me any number of names, questioning my manhood, and generally mocking the fact I did nothing to stop him from jumping in front of me.  I turned to the guy behind me, who was half smiling at the absurdity of the whole situation now, and he simply uttered, “stupid inbred.”  Indeed.

I’ve never been in a fight, and for my streak of 31 years of non-violence to end over something that trivial, well, it would have disappointed me to say the least. And sure, maybe I should have kept my mouth shut, and let the idiot go about his idiotic ways.  But no, I had to say something.  As he walked away, a small part of me felt victorious, as I’d called the guy out on his behavior and his reaction was nothing more than his deep seeded feeling of embarrassment over his actions.  At least that’s what I like to think.  I’m sure he wandered off into the sunset, leaving a long trail of idiocy in his wake.

I wasn’t out to pick a fight, I swear. I certainly wasn’t trying to get into a fight with someone larger and probably a little more experienced in the fisticuffs department than I.  Yet, sometimes, when you see something that’s wrong, you have to say something. And judging by the reaction of the people behind me on this day, there would have been a host of folks willing to jump into the fray.  So maybe it’s a good thing crazy eyes walked away, because I’ve never fought in my life.  But HE doesn’t know that, right?

No, I Don’t Have Kids. And Yes, Yours Are Being Brats.

I’ve said since the start that this blog has no theme, and has no central focus, and I’ll write whatever strikes me.  Well earlier this week, I was struck. Awestruck in fact, by the complete disrespect and lack of attention a woman was giving her two sons who had made a local coffee shop their own playground.  I know it’s a hot button issue being told how to parent. No, I don’t have kids.  Maybe I don’t understand. And yes, I will tell you when your kids are being a pain in the ass.  I’ll just do it via an open letter in a blog post you are likely to never see. Showed you.

 Excuse me, mam?

I hope that contract you are trying to get processed by next week makes it through, I really do, but I’d like to remind you that this coffee shop, while yes, it is a public place, probably isn’t the best spot for your two sons to engage in a light sabre fight.  Yeah, I mean, most of the people around here have work they are clearly doing, not unlike yourself of course, but I am going to venture a guess that they would probably be able to focus just a bit if little Tommy hadn’t just smacked that guys’ briefcase with his light sabre.  Just a thought.

Also, I really appreciate you are trying to get the boys out of the house, I really do, but wouldn’t they be a bit better served if they did this outside, you know, in the park that sits right outside the coffee shop? Besides, I mean, it’s a beautiful day, and they could probably use some time in the sunshine.  Ohhh….that was a stroller Tommy just hit.

Ok, mam, we’ve tried.  And I know that contract you are on the phone about is really important, but this is a place of business, and clearly everyone in this room has been giving you and your two hellion sons the evil eyes since you walked in, and they began to reek havoc all over this place, you know, a COFFEE shop, where there are hot liquids being carried in and out of the doorway.  I’m sure when your son is severely scolded with coffee, you’ll be the first to jump up and proclaim that the establishment fork over thousands of dollars in medical bills.  But you were so oblivious to your little Luke Skywalker that you never saw it coming.  Great. 

No, mam, I don’t have kids.  And yes, you are right, I don’t understand what it’s like to be a mother.  Whether or not I have kids certainly doesn’t limit my ability to judge what is incredibly rude and disrespectful.  THAT is what you don’t understand. But what I do know, is that growing up, my mother never once would have allowed me to act this way.  And truth be told, I turned out A-ok. So if you would please put down the telephone, pay attention to your children, have some respect for the other folks who are here also working, I, as well as all the other people here on a Wednesday morning would probably appreciate it.

 –Angry because now my coffee is cold

Just as an aside, let me be the first to say, that of course parenting is difficult.  And I get that taking your children out in public is certainly something that is permissible-But regardless, your duty as a parent is that if your children begin to become a menace to the environment and the people around them, they need to be eliminated from the establishment. So get off the phone and pay attention to your kids. Because they just knocked over another cup of hot coffee.