Don’t Hold Hot Things: A Melt-y Thumb Tale

Sup, everybody.

If the title didn’t give it away, I have a lesson to share, one I earned myself the other day on account of a terrifically dumb mistake.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I day-job as a carpenter. Not a day at work goes by without me having a 50/50 debate in my head on whether or not the job is worth it. Some days, it’s fulfilling, good work that leaves me feeling grounded (in the good way); others, it’s just…fuckin’ hard.

And dumb. But sometimes that’s my fault.

So the other day, we were…hmm…reconstituting an old concrete barbecue setup. It was built out of bricks and spackled over, but the years had worn it down, cracked parts of it, and generally had it falling apart. Job was to remove all the old framing, reinforce the body of it with rebar, and build out a new framing for it.

Wielding our mighty angle grinder, I set to work cutting down all the exposed, rusted bolts sticking out of various parts of the structure. It’s fun. It’s a spray of sparks, some “nnnn’eeeeerrrrrrrrrggh!” from the grinder, then I sweep away the debris with my hand and onto the next.

Now, I KNOW two things: 1) Friction, like that built up by grinding metal to nubs, creates a lot of heat, and 2) not to touch hot things (burned my hand pretty good as a kid getting Snoopy cookies out of the oven, and thought I learned my lesson).

So, obviously, as I’m picking up the heads of these freshly-cut bolts and screws, it’s a quick engagement so I don’t burn my fingers. But here’s the thing: they weren’t hot. I thought it was weird, but was busy so didn’t give it too much mind.

There I am, grind, sweep, grind, sweep, repeat; until something weird happened.

I pass my thumb over the nub of a fresh cut, and it feels like…hmm, picture dragging your fingertip over a Elmer glue stick. Kind of tacky, bit of resistance, and just a ‘sticky’ sensation, right?

Immediately, my brain goes, “Uh-oh, the only thing that should be kind of all melty is the nail, which means- oh, shit, I have molten steel on my thumb!”

So I bite down and brace for the burn to catch up to the thought, but it doesn’t happen.

No molten metal? Then what…?

I look at my thumb, see the browned, whitened, bubbled, and crackling skin describing the line that had passed over the nail and quickly realize two things: 1) “Ooooh. The steel wasn’t melty. My THUMB was melty…shit.” And 2) “It doesn’t hurt now…? Oh…it doesn’t hurt now because this is one of them gonna-hurt-later’s.”

Heh heh heh, aaaah…I still just kind of chuckle at that phrase: “One of them ‘gonna-hurt-later’s.'”

So, yeah. Don’t touch hot things.

Take care of yourselves, y’all.

Fight Club! – Fringe League

Happy Tuesday, everybody. Wanted to post earlier, but got held up by errands and ran into a…well, an adventure.

Y’all, this one is fresh off the presses!

So, allow me to set the scene:

I’m with my mother at a local Grocery Outlet (one of those errands I mentioned and for previously stated reasons) doing what you might expect – grocery shopping. We’re browsing the produce and cold cuts, when a white chihuahua runs by without a leash. My mom sees it and laughs. She asks me where it could have come from, but I told her about the man I saw holding it a minute prior. He was a bigger dude (around, not tall), with stringy brown hair, and a white shirt – details that will come back later. Just picture a Brett Gelman with about fifty pounds and twenty years of heavy drug use on him.

We finish up her shopping and are heading up one of the aisles towards the checkout lanes when I see that same white chihuahua run passed up ahead. I hear a grumbled voice say…something, and then see the dog run back the way it came. What was a grumbled voice grows pretty suddenly into adversarial shouts.

My mom stops and I walk ahead to the cross-section of aisles where an older gentleman who looks exactly like Michael Harney (I’m serious, I almost stopped for an autograph) is shouting a good ol’ Mr. White Shirt.

I don’t quite hear what was said at the beginning, but the pretty unmistakable gist was that Grandpa Michael said something about Dirty Brett’s dog, and Dirty Brett wasn’t having it. A store manager walked up to the commotion and she started doing managerial things – asking what the problem was n’ so forth.

Dirty Brett, like a gentleman, starts raining F-bombs on her like it’s the Shelling of London and he’s psyched to play Germany. Grandpa Michael steps up, calling him an asshole, presumably to defend “the lady’s honour.” Dirty Brett decides he’s totally right and directs all his further barrage of cusses right at Grandpa Michael. Grandpa gives him the ‘put-up-your-dukes’ posture and Brett does the same.

A couple of things before we go on.

Firstly, I got to recognize, in the moments to follow, a particular privilege I enjoy in life. I’m 6’4″ (a question I get asked all the goddamn time by strangers) and float anywhere between 200 lbs and 245 lbs depending on motivation, the time of year, alignment of the stars (you get it). When it was “dunk a freshman in the garbage day” in highschool, I got passed right over on account of my height. For context, the only other fight I’ve been involved in or have had to break up since grade school was defending my girlfriend Amanda from a crazed neighbor (Short version: diagnosed schizophrenic off her meds, shouting “You bitch!”, charged Amanda in our apartment complex’s laundromat. I got in between them immediately and the imposing height was all I really needed to diffuse the situation – or at least keep Amanda safe.).

Secondly, in real life, people that think they’re so ready to fight do not know how to fight. This is coming from someone (me) who readily accepts that he’s utterly delusional in his martial prowess. Does the voice in my head tell me I could bite the ass off a bear and stop a charging leopard with a well-time front kick? Yes! And that’s the problem! But I accept that I’m probably incorrect here!

So Grandpa Mike takes his stance, Dirty Brett wastes no time in throwing a punch, and the two clash.

Now, when I say “clash,” I really mean- well…picture a fight between seven-year-old’s on the playground. Are you imagining how they throw “punches”? Do they have their heads way back, faces pointed away, throwing sideways hammerfists with their fingers half-curled? Then you got it. That’s precisely how the first and only “punches” of this Seniors’ League brawl were thrown.

That’s partly what made me feel safe jumping in between them to break it up. I sure as hell know I’m not trained in how to throw a well-executed punch, but now that I’m just as sure these yahoos don’t either, well…those are odds I’m happier with.

I stand between them with my back to Grandpa Mike looking at Dirty Brett. I found this moment fascinating for a couple reasons. For one, it was oddly reminiscent of the laundromat incident. Having about nine inches of height on Dirty Brett, his eyes never came near mine (I mean that in the way of eye contact, but I guess physically too- ah, you get it). Secondly, I shouldn’t be in between these two guys, but I was. Like, what the hell? I’m not the type at all to intervene in public brawls. I lay all the credit with them both being long in the tooth and little-kneed, respectively (and we’ll get to what I mean in a second).

Management and customers are around us now, and Dirty Brett tries to throw a kick passed me at Grandpa Mike and I slap it out of the way. His bones must be hollow like a bird’s, because even though he really put his body into it, there was zero power behind it (hence my theory about his little knees).

And it was at that moment that I felt my ego squirt itself into the situation. I’m not fucking kidding you when I say that Jason Stathem’s voice began narrating my thoughts. They went as follows:

“Okay, you son of a bitch. The punch was strike one. That kick? Strike two. Try something else, anything else, and I get violent.”

Now, that was about the end of the fight anyway. In total, you had some shouting, a failed punch from either side, a kick from Brittle-Bone that got swatted away, and that’s it. Management told both men they had to leave, we got in line, mom got her groceries, and we left.

The real point to this whoooooole thing, the real meat of it, was the examination of the immediate aftermath and the perceptions of the event, including my own.

Remember that Stathem soliloquy we had a few moments ago? Well, the way I figured it, I was serious. Now that I was between them, if he threw another aggressive action my way, intended for Michael Harney or not, I was going swing back. The way the mental movie played out in my head is that Dirty Brett moves forward, I plant, and front-kick him to his tummy; or the same, but I drop and take him down, swing to his back as he tries to stand, and I snatch his neck with a rear-naked choke.

“Evan,” I hear you begin with a questioning tone, “are you a fan of the UFC?”

“I follow combat sports, yeah,” I would say back. “MMA being the big one. And there are other promotions out there – Bellator, ONE Championship, Rizen, WSF, PFL, etc – but that’s besides the point. Yeah, that’s why I know some of these terms and think I could look-see-do recreate them in a street fight. But, I would also stress that earlier (and much more grounded) point of ‘I’m super goddamn delusional with regards to my martial capabilities!'”

That leopard example? That wasn’t a joke. That was a real-life reference. Coworkers and I had a MONTHS-LONG debate over whether or not I could physically fight off a mountain lion.

But back to the point at hand. Let’s examine any of the outcomes Jason Stathem’s voice told me to try:

  1. I take him down and choke him out.
    Likely ways that plays out: I grab his legs, he falls, and he cracks his head against the linoleum. Now I’m part of the police report this just turned into. Or he goes down, I take his back, but since I’ve never applied an RNC, I get over the face instead of under the chin, and he bites into my arm with his dirty-ass teeth.
  2. I front kick him as he charges in.
    Likely ways that plays out: It works. He comes at me now angry, but I channel my inner Darren Till, elbow him upside the head, and he drops. That’s bad because a) if we’ve forgotten, I have my mom with me, she doesn’t need to see her son like that; b) it’s another scenario where I become part of a police report; and c) I don’t need to know what that kind of deliciously terrible power feels like just yet.
    All of that, or, I go to kick him, I slip (because I’ve never fucking done it before), and Dirty Brett soccer-kicks me in the head. Again, my mom doesn’t need to see that, plus now my glasses are probably broken and I can’t drive us home.

Now, as I’m going over all these reasons in my head as to why I’m glad the fight didn’t escalate, we pass by a gentleman who saw the whole thing standing in the parking lot talking to management.

“And here’s the young man who got between them,” he says as we pass by. “Deflected that kick, too. Like some of that UFC, eh? Ha-ha-haaa!”

(Quick side note, here. While after he said that, I just laughed politely and nodded at his joke…y’all, I wanted to hug that man, take him to the side, and start asking, “Did it really look that cool?? Was it like this? Or like this? Do you think I could have taken him?” Probably one of the best compliments I’ve gotten in months.
Anyway…)

While we laugh, another older gentleman who saw things unfold came up. “Yeah,” he says, “I was just thinkin’ that if he tried anything else, I’d jump in there and knock him one.”

“Yeah?” I laugh with him, thinking he’s joking too.

“Oh, yep. And I’d ask him, ‘how’s it feel to get punched in the throat by an old man, huh? Haha! Punch him right in the throat, yep.”

I…I just…

I solidly learned a lesson today, and that lesson is this:

As people on the street, as a whole, we think fighting is way easier than it actually is. Just like Grandpa Michael Harney, most of us think we can just walk up with the option to kick someone’s ass. If you try that, that someone will probably kick your ass right back. I am supremely confident that Grandpa Harney thought he’d crack this disrespectful prick and that’d be the end of it. I’m just as supremely confident that, if left to their own devices with no intervention, Dirty Brett – even with his light-ass bird bones – would have set his chihuahua down and gorilla whomp’d on Old Man Harney until we needed all the king’s men to put him back together.

So, just, unless you’re actually trained in self-defense, be careful about your estimation of your abilities; and I’m guessing that if you’re a trained fighter in any capacity, you don’t need me telling you any of this.

Anyway, that was today’s adventure. Take it easy and we’ll be back Thursday!

Ciao!

Let’s Get Real #1: I Was a Real-World Infiltrator (That One Time)

Happy Thursday everybody!

This whole thing was pitched as “fiction and comedic true tales”, right? So, let’s get to some real stories. And I figured I couldn’t think of a better way to start than with one that might still get me in trouble.

So let’s set the scene: Northern California, Fall of 2016, three early twenty-somethings in a two-bedroom apartment – my best friend (who, for the sake of the story, we’re calling Pierre), my girlfriend, and I. (Also, I’d like to note here just how heavily I was advised against a living situation like that by pessimistic-ass members of my family, but even now after that chapter’s closed, I look back on it fondly.) Anyway, we’d all recently moved out together and used our newfound freedom pretty predictably: drank too much, went on a lot of trips, and started an apartment-wide, Nerf Gun arms race.

The main driver or impetus behind that last one – and a lot of other innovative trends in that house – was my buddy, Pierre.

The story, as I remember it, was that that summer, I knocked on his door to ask him about something I’m sure was important and when I stepped in I saw he was working with a set of lockpicks. I asked him where in the hell he’d gotten those. He shrugged and dismissively said, “Amazon, dude.”

I was floored. To my mind, lockpicks were called “Thieves’ Tools” on account of my D&D experience and one did not simply acquire Thieves’ Tools out in the open. Or legally. But I’ve been wrong before.

As the story goes, Pierre’s sister had called him up with a problem, having misplaced the key to their family trunk. That trunk reportedly held a number of important family documents, papers, n’ things they kind of wanted back. Pierre’s solution? No key, no problem.

This was right on the heels of the Nerf Gun zeitgeist that had taken ahold of the house and that same energy carried us right into lockpicking soon after. Next week, Mandy and I both had our own sets of picks as well as a couple of locks to practice on and the new hobby was born.

A few months later, Christmas rolls around (as it does) and I straight up told Pierre: “I’m at a loss as for what to get you, dude. What do you want this year?” He sat at his desk for a quiet moment, holding his chin, then said, “You wanna just get me a fuck ton of locks?” “Deal!” right? It was a super easy list, just turns out that locks are pretty goddamn expensive when you buy in bulk.

However, not only do I NOT regret it, I treasure him making that request because of what came of it.

I wound up devising what has probably been the most intricate and thoughtful gift I’ve ever given anybody for Pierre that Christmas. For those that didn’t know, locks apparently come in varying degrees of security (or “difficulty” for our purposes). Pierre and I both were and are avid gamers and I thought of no better way to package his gift of locks than as a video game-themed challenge. I arranged the locks in ascending order of difficulty (1 to 10) and named them after bosses in Dark Souls. At the end of the ladder of locks, there was an envelope labeled “FINAL BOSS”.

Pretty ominous, right?

Inside the envelope was a handwritten note containing the address of a particular Peet’s Coffee, that week’s code to the men’s restroom (I’d visited the day before to make sure it was current), and specific instructions. The instructions stated to go to said restroom, pick the lock on the supply cabinet inside, retrieve a small item – piece of toilet paper, hand towel, anything – take a photo for proof, and return it to me. For the effort and fulfillment of the contract, there would be a sweet $50 and a crisp high-five waiting for him.

Is it technically burglary? Not a lawyer, but probably, yeah.

Pierre finished the locks, read my note, laughed, and politely preferred not to break the law (the coward!). We laughed, I said I understood, kept my fifty dollars, and quietly resolved to do it myself.

So a couple of days later, I donned my coat, smuggled my picks into the inside pocket, and went to that Peet’s Coffee for my real-world test, the test that would make me a real-life infiltrator. I parked in the public garage down the road and rolled into that cafe like I was Frank Ocean and it was the Bellagio. I ordered a coffee to secure my cover as a patron (and, let’s be honest, not be rude) while I cased the joint – as they say in The Business.

As soon as the lovely young woman behind the counter looked me in the eyes, a little voice in my head screamed, “SHE KNOWS!!” But I ignored the cold sweat running down my back and played it cool. While my drink was made, I stole on over to the bathrooms, entered the code I’d committed to memory, and slipped inside the men’s restroom. To my utter dismay, between the time I’d last seen the bathroom and this moment of glory, the cabinet had been vandalized. Some asshole had broken the doors off their hinges, emptied the shelves, and spray painted the rest.

I retrieved my coffee and left that place feeling an awful sense of loss. My dream of becoming the pettiest burglar of all petty burglars would die unrealized.

It would be about a year later I was in another coffee house somewhere else in town and when I went to the restroom there, I realized something that made my heart race, my eyes go wide, and my chest swell: this place, as well it seems, had a locked supply cabinet. I was back the next day, with my picks tucked in my coat pocket as they had been the year before, and I entered The Vault.

Problem was- Or rather, problems were that, for one, of the two bathrooms, one was down for maintenance, making potty-Demand suddenly outweigh potty-Supply. Secondly, I hadn’t hardly practiced since giving up on The Dream, and all that; and in my haste to make it back here, hadn’t thought to practice.

You ever had one of those moments where you’re in a public restroom and someone just tries the handle without knocking first? Of course, it’s probably locked, but the thought still suddenly strikes your mind, “OH GOD, did I remember to lock it?” This was like that, except instead of a psuedo-embarrassing, “You caught me on the pot” moment between adults, I still can’t rightly think of a good “This isn’t what it looks like” explanation for getting caught doing what I was doing.

So, after a number of heart-attacks at the jiggled handle and minutes listening to the whispers in the hallway, I flushed (as a cover) and left, The Dream still unrealized.

A couple days later, I asked Pierre if I could borrow that stash of locks I’d gotten him and that night spent probably four hours in a Rocky-style training montage, tearing my way through lock after lock until it became second nature.

I was The Key.

I wrote a new letter and was back the next day. Waltzed into that bathroom, had the lock popped and the cabinet opened quieter than a church mouse in maybe two minutes. One of the most undeservedly proud moments of my life, hands down.

The new note I’d written…well, I’ll be honest, I don’t fully remember what was in it. I know I put some “Play it Forward” cards in it but not specifically which ones, and the rest was basically just a list of compliments to whoever read it. And I’ll be real, ever since pulling that reverse-caper, I’ve wanted to go back and pick it again just to KNOW that my note’s been found, evidence that someone out there knows of my skills as an as-of-yet-not-quite-renowned infiltrator.

That, and I think part of me is just scared that they’ve installed a camera system or something, however unlikely or super illegal (I think?) that would be.

FIN

And that’s all for now, everybody. This one was fun. Catch y’all Tuesday!