Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Head Versus Heart (It's a battle in Seattle)

Welcome Ladies and Gentlemen to the fight of John’s head versus John’s heart! It’s a battle in Seattle—winner take all! In this corner, weighing in at about 5 pounds, containing all of John’s capacity for logic and reason—responsible for his victories in college and in scholastic pursuit—the squishy but lean and mean fightin’ machine—John’s BRAIN!!!!! (cheers). In this corner, in the red white and blue trunks, responsible for John’s irrational feelings and impulsive nature—weighing in at 2 pounds or so of lean healthy muscle tissue— the reason for his near constant pursuit of girls and love of poetry—John’s HEART!!! (cheers)

Let’s get ready to ruuuummm--- Buuuullllll!!!! (bell)

Fictitious Imaginary Schedule (heart)

April 3rd—Arrive Seattle. Give a travel slideshow to an enthralled audience of family and friends (apologize to Mom for leaving Seattle so quickly after such a long absence).
April 4th—Go see your last remaining love interest in Seattle and tell her your true feelings before driving to Portland to beg Matt’s forgiveness before spending a week with his ex-girlfriend. Go to the funeral of one of your Dad’s friends. Weep in public.
April 5th—Caravan down to California with Michael and Brant and be sure to tell them that they’re you’re bestest best friends ever. Tell Brant you will soon be returning to Monterey for good. Enjoy the surf at Cannon Beach. Tell Nadia and Matt that you miss them and that someday you hope to return to the area.
April 10th—Call Todd and gloat about how you’re in Mendocino (his favorite place) and he’s still in Albuquerque. Tell him you’re thinking of him. You miss your old friends.
April 11th—Rendezvous with Holly Hatch. Console her about the rough year she has had and downplay the awesome year you have had. Tell her you’ve missed her.
April 15th—Enjoy brother bonding time in Vegas. Encourage him and tell him he’s awesome and share your regret at having enviously tortured him when you were younger.
April 22nd- - Fly to Seattle and spend quality time with beloved family.
April 25th—Fly to Kathmandu with that inspirational figure, Matt Fioretti. Confess how inspired you are by his triumph over aplastic anemia.
May 29th—return to Seattle in time for the wedding of one of your oldest friends (and possibly one of your best). Present her with the best wedding gift EVER which you will retrieve from Kathmandu.
June 1st—hop (hope) on the motorcycle with rock shoes and a computer and head to Jackson Hole to see Anna, do some climbing, and finish your novel in the style it deserves, in the same place where it began, for this “sense of an ending” as you are calling it.

Perceived Anticipated Actual Schedule (HEAD)—
April 3rd—arrive home and hang out with Mom and Bert and Jack and family.
April 4th—Attend funeral. Choke back tears.
April 5th—Begin road-trip to California. Read aloud from Dharma Bums, which you will get from the library in lieu of purchasing a copy. Be logical. Don’t apologize to Matt for going climbing with his ex-girlfriend. You have nothing to hide.
April 6th—Sit at the bar in Portland with Matt and Nadia and Brant and Michael. This will be easier than going to the beach because then you can continue down the coast from there. Plus the weather will probably suck. Make no such promises about living in either Portland or Monterey. Don’t be so maudlin, you incredible pussy.
April 10th—Hang out in Northern Cali. Don’t call Todd. He’ll want to talk. You’re with people, and plus it’s not your phone.
April 11th- go surfing, then rendezvous with Holly. When you meet her, be cool.
April 22nd—fly to Seattle.
April 25th—Fly to Nepal with Matt. Be friendly but depend on yourself, and yourself alone, on the mountain or elsewhere.
May 29th—fly to Seattle for Michelle’s wedding. Deliver wedding gift, but first allow her to pick from a selection of possible gifts, so that your present will be well-received.
May 30th—deliver modest but hand-picked wedding gift to Michelle at wedding. Don’t hit on any of her friends.
June 1st—with respect to the ending of the novel, take your mother’s advice—“just because it would make a good story doesn’t mean you should go do it”—and go nowhere near Jackson for any reason.
June 3rd—find work of some kind or starve.

Who will win? Cast your vote!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Secret Garden

Today I went in search of the Korean Airlines office in a quest to reconfirm my flight on Thursday, bound eventually for Seattle. I want to make damn sure I’m going home (or somewhere like it) in the near future.

I am sharing a hotel room with Abe and a pigeon. Abe is mostly a good companion but the pigeon flutters around the fire escape all night and keeps me up. I am also kept awake by visions of the nightmarish novel The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Before I attempt sleep I read the following warning “Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever.You might want to think about that… you forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.” I slip into sleep only to see the ashen landscape of the novel in my nightmares, so I pick the book up again and read it by headlamp, like some poison I can’t stop devouring. The boy in the novel ponders “Why did I have that scary dream?” and his father replies “I don’t know. But it’s ok now. I’m going to put some wood on the fire. You go to sleep.” I think about whether I’m more like the boy or more like the father. Freud would say that I wear a beard because I am still a child underneath it. The pidgeon flutters and coos eerily in the darkness.

The next morning I awake and search for the Korean Airlines office, my mind ravaged by sleep deprivation. I wander around and enquire for directions until I eventually get what I want. The lady at the counter remembers me from four months ago when I last visited the office, is polite and waives the fee for changing the ticket, a gift of 100 dollars. She informs me though that once I get back into the US I will have to deal with Alaskan Airlines and try to change THAT ticket without paying a fee. “Welcome home to the USA—land of the fee” I say and she gives me a knowing smile, perhaps in comprehension of my pun and shares her experience with an American-run airline that recently charged her a fee to use the bathroom in flight.

I leave the building with Abe and we eat sushi in a restaurant nearby, careful to avoid meat. We eat what’s not quite sushi and I remember Laurel’s wisdom about how when you travel it’s never as good or as bad as you expect.

We walk toward home and pass by the Royal Palace of the King of Nepal, now converted into a museum by the Maoist-run government. Seeing as how King Birendra and all of his family have now been dead almost 10 years, it seems like the time is right to make money on the whole affair. We pass the long line for admission, Abe lights a cigarette on a flag-pole and we walk on down the road. It’s a normal day.

We then pass the “Garden of Dreams.” I have no idea what this place is except to say that I once poked my head in there with Fabrizio and we both agreed that it would be a place better visited with a chick. But I don’t have a chick. I have Abe and a pigeon. So we pay 2 dollars admission and walk in. It’s not too much. Just enough to keep the locals out, the thought behind the place now in line with the sentiments of those who constructed it, members of the Royal Family.
After walking around the magnificent garden, the whole place modeled on Greek architecture and culture, we are able to construct a story out of the scattered facts we gather from signs in English and mutterings of blasé tour-guides and guards. Apparently the place was built in the 1920s when some relative of the King won a bet on a card game for an astronomical sum of money—this no doubt all taking place while people starved outside in the streets. The garden was built and then it went into disrepair for many years, becoming overgrown and green—becoming a secret. It was set to be demolished when someone decided to do some gardening and open it back up for tourists. The statue of the goddess Nike was mutilated and made to look like Lakshmi, and the whole place became a tourist attraction for wealthy Nepalis and Americans below the poverty line, who are the only Americans who could be comfortable enough in squalor to spend long periods living in Kathmandu.

Abe and I take out our separate books and read for awhile, neither of us comfortable with the fact that we are there in this secluded, romantic, fountain strewn flower garden with just each other for company. He looks up from White Tiger and says “you’re gay.”

“You’re gay.” I reply. Also he looks like Jay Buhner with his goatee and Mariner’s hat. But I don’t say that. I’m too enshrouded in the post apocalyptic future of Cormac McCarthy. The protagonist of the novel reminds me of my own father the way he picked the boy up out of the snow. I remember being picked up out of the snow. Or maybe I’m the father and my father is the boy. I remember cooking Ramen for my dad as he lay dying in the tent, our roles reversed, myself now the care provider.

ME: What flavor of Ramen do you want Dad?
Jack: (inside the tent, sounding weak) I’ve got news for you. There are no flavors of Ramen. They all taste like salt.

The book’s echoes of fatherly wisdom stimulate these thoughts. Maybe the boy is someone I don’t know yet. This is what I think before I’m interrupted by Abe. He wants to go get some coffee at the Secret Garden Restaurant.

We sit down at their little café and order—Abe gets an espresso and I get an Irish Coffee. It comes out and we sit there reading our separate books. We are approached by a Dutch Girl whom I had asked to join us for dinner on the previous night. She never showed.

“Oh hey I am so sorry we didn’t meet you the other night. You must have waited?”

“It’s cool. Eventually we ordered dinner. Actually we were feeling ok about it. It relieved us of the pressure of having to be funny and entertaining and so we just sat there and ate like cave men, which was what we wanted to do anyway.”

“Oh! Well, I’m glad!”

Later Abe would tell me that he thought she was probably lying. I told her that I felt she was probably speaking the truth, after all, girls suck at finding stuff. I told him that there’s 2 things I hate: 1) people who are intolerant of other cultures and 2) the dutch. I was availing myself of the opportunity to quote Austen Powers, something I do when I can. He laughed and we considered the matter closed.

Seconds later, a strong breeze disturbed the quiet of the roses and the still surfaces of the coy ponds, rustling the leaves of the nearby bamboo grove, planted there to shield the royal eye from the news of Kathmandu. The breeze blows a glass from the adjoining table and it breaks on the floor. This is the problem with a sanctuary. It can never fully shelter anyone from anything--it definitely can't shelter me from the guilt of having eaten three meals by the time the beggars on the street were rustling their cardboard shanties, waking from the restless and cold night. The car horns of the street are still audible in the distance as a Newar woman crouches at our feet to sweep the glass shards into a corner where they can’t hurt anyone of importance. She hunches over with one hand behind her back and stoops to reshuffle the dust on the floor. Her clothes are dirty.

How amny times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't see? For us, today, at least 7 or 8 times.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

So many different people in the same DEV-ICE

So I have done a lot of thinking about what I would name my climbing routes if I ever did a new line that required naming. My best idea so far came up when we saw a giant dark colored dike that ascended the east face of the middle Teton. We thought about it, and decided that we’d call it “who’s done the big black dyke?” but we didn’t have the balls to do the route.

Before I ever began climbing water ice near this particular obscure river gorge of the Thame valley, I thought about a name. I wanted to call my new route DEV-ICE after our faithful porter, whose name is Dev Kumar, or just “Dev.” After all, he hauled our gear up there.

The route was three pitches of pretty nondescript water ice (about WI4 in difficulty) and we were stoked to get to name a route upon reaching the top—but wait—what’s this? It looks like tracks in the snow at the top! Dammit!

I thought for sure that we were the first to go up there just because the route was so far off the beaten track, 2 valleys west of the Everest trail. Seeing tracks near the top of my climb just made me heart sink. To reassure myself that I am not a loser who only conceives of ideas after others have already pioneered them, I took a very careful look at the tracks and then began the (to me) well-known process of fictionalization. These aren’t human tracks! They are clearly the tracks of a sub human primate with huge feet—like the Yeti!

Messner and many others (when they were not hallucinating due to oxygen deprivation) photographed Yeti tracks like this when they were unhappy about the fact that they were not the first to be in a certain place. So now if you want to be the next human to ascend DEV-ICE and follow in the footsteps (pun intended) of the mythical Yeti, who apparently is a better ice climber than I am, all you have to do is fly to Kathmandu, fly to Lukla, walk 4 days to Thame in the dead of winter with all of your ice climbing gear, ascend a frozen and treacherous river valley, and then “enjoy”(insofar as this is possible) the miracles of water ice.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pointless in the Khumbu

The rented ice tools I have in my hand are completely pointless.

According to Dr. Abraham Maslow, we all struggle with various needs, one of them being the need for "self actualization." A painter must paint. A climber must climb.

So on this trip to the Mt. Everest Region, my lack of purpose is much akin to the pointless ice tools.

I began enough in earnest. This trek to Everest base camp and to climb Gokyo Ri was to benefit colon cancer and make everyone more "aware." I aimed to accomplish this by wearing my "rectum?!!! damn near killed 'em!" t-shirt, but the other members of the expedition did not share my enthusiasm and would not wear their t-shirts on the trail. As a group, we suffered this lack of purpose silently, only broaching the subject every few minutes as one of us would say "what are we doing with our lives?"

"We're spreading colon cancer awareness" I would reply.

As leader of the expedition, I have realized like Jack Handey once pointed out that "there's only one thing more important than the success of the mission itself and that is the respect of the men, so if you're not sure what the purpose of the mission is, you may not want to tell the men, because you might lose their respect." So when we came to Namche, and it was too cold to wear my "rectum! damn near killed em!" t-shirt, the purpose of the mission changed from spreading awareness of colon cancer to searching for the Yeti.

We started in a Sherpa village monastery where they reputedly have a Yeti skull locked up in a vault. We journeyed there, through many exhausting hours in the snow to bribe a monk into opening the vault. There it stood, the Yeti skull, proof positive that bones from other animals can creatively glued together to provide tourist income from which monks can derive some material security.

Later that night I was certain I smelled the Yeti, but it turned out to be Abe.

Our quest fort the Yeti not yielding anything more conclusive than a mono-browed German woman (human, it turned out) I decided to declare that it was time for ice climbing. Now I sit in Namche with a file and my crampons, sharpening, sharpening, making my life into something not so pointless.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

lost client-- REWARD! If found please contact aspiring mountain guide.

I have not done much guiding work. It usually doesn't work out for me. I have a tendency to get lost, I'm a bit reckless, and inappropriate things tend to come out of my mouth occasionally, making me a poor liaison to the foreign cultures I encounter. But sometimes the best work is the only work, and vice versa.

Currently I am working as a mountain guide. My job started 2 days ago when my client, a 22 year old from Utah named Abe, telephoned me to say he was at the airport in Delhi, but with a beer in one hand and a hookah in the other, I was unable to answer the phone and I missed the call, forcing my one and only client to get a hotel in the tourist ghetto and wait until tomorrow to call me from among the loud car-horns, scam artists and garbage munching cows of Pahar Ganj, a place where friends don't let friends stay. I went so far as to purchase a train ticket for him, and I made it pretty clear in an email how he was to use it. I thought for sure he would figure it out, but I had forgotten that people who hire guides often do so for a reason.

The next morning, I had one desire and one responsibility, and I had to yet again balance these conflicting forces, in a day that would unfold as metaphor and microcosm for the eternal struggle in my brain. My responsibility was to get Abe on the train, and my desire was to meet a girl. As soon as I woke up, all hung over from the previous nights "double fisting" the sense of responsibility crept in like the headache which had seemed so distant mere hours earlier in the consequence-free environment of perfect inebriation. Responsibility is a sort of hangover I suppose. I realized I probably didn't have enough time to meet the girl. But desire doesn't accept defeat that easily.

I called her and we made plans and as any girl would, she showed up later than she promised only to find me hectic, my sense of responsibility driving me into temporary insanity, which looked like pacing back and forth, thumb tapping on any hard surface, and a look of being elsewhere. I was so powerfully enamored of the girl though that I soon forgot this and we piled into a rickshaw to drive several miles in the opposite direction of the train station, an act which my sense of responsibility found irksome, at this point taking the form of that annoying little angel on my right shoulder. I didn't have an accompanying little devil figure. I don't need one.

Disembarking our rickshaw, the girl and I walked and talked and I found her to be agreeable in a way which caused me to separate myself from her at the last possible moment, giving myself just enough time to fight traffic to North Delhi and meet Abe at the train. My sense of responsibility was especially nagging here, as we were very uncertain as to whether we would get to the station before the train departed. We got there with 7 minutes to spare and made our way to the platform as the train was pulling away. Abe wasn't there.

Assume what you may about my character based on certain irresponsible actions you may have observed me doing, but know one thing-- when something goes wrong my sense of responsibility can take over, almost to the point of becoming obsessive. On the train I was frantic. Where the fuck is Abe? Why couldn't he get on the train? I bought him a ticket! Why didn't he call? Is he dead in a ditch, did he fall victim to a hijra scam, did he get bit by a cobra, why can't I calm down, could he be elsewhere on this train, what does he even look like, and is he going to pay me back for the ticket? I raced through the cars on the train tripping over old ladies haggishly begging in the aisle, the dirty dust reshuffling char-boy, the circus acrobat contortionist, the men shoveling trash out the open window of the train, the rank latrines which spill their waste out onto the tracks, all the time calling Äbe! Abe!" over the louder voices of the vendors selling Chai. He wasn't there. I used my ipod to help me calm down and talked with my friend Nate Meyer (Nate Meyer!)the temporary victim of my obsessive personality, and slowly soothed myself into a fitful sleep.

The following morning I read this in my inbox.

Hey John, I fucked up. I came to the train station and my naive american dumb fucked brain fell for a scam. I was told by a young indian man the train was delayed by 9 hours, tooken to a government indian travel agency, and took a private ride down to Agra, where I am now, and will be taking a train to Veranasi from Agra tomorrow at 9pm. I shelled out $200 dollars, plus bought some cool crafty shit that the driver led me to. Anyways I will be in Veranasi at around 9am on mar 5. A thousand apologies for the anxiety and worries i caused you, I realized I should have waited and meet you at the indian tourist beaureu at the train station, but I fucked up. So I hope your train ride goes well and I will meet you on the 5th. I'll check my mail tomorrow to see how everything went for you. Oh, and I will reimburse you for the ticket money that I lost. First day in India...yea fuck it. I'll see you in Shiva land.

Ok. I'm relieved and quite entertained. My skills as an English major have endowed me with the power of close reading-- just as the body language expert is able to tell you the seemingly obvious fact that crossed arms mean closed mind or anger or something, so also am I able to tell you that Abe might be needing a guide based on the fact that he used the word "tooken." But I also know I'm going to like this guy. He also said "fuck it." Abe, we're going to get along just fine. Just call me "Mr. Responsibility." And say it respectfully.