Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Territoriiality, Part Three

I didn't get my head (or my pack) together until noon the next day.

I felt lazy and bought a sandwich from the corner store on my way out.
It was predictably over priced and under filled, but I was already nibbling on it as I rolled north across the Little Pico bridge.

I worried vaguely about the geezer I had potentially stranded yesterday.  What if he and his shiny red pickup were still there?

No way, I told myself.  Anybody able to withstand afternoon gales while extolling the virtues of elephant seals could certainly find his way out of a  shallow slot canyon. Right? 

Worst case (and boy am I good at that kind of thinking!) what might have happened to him in the interim?

Well, first of all he would be extremely hungry. I wrapped up my sandwich and put it down on the passenger seat.

He would also be extremely pissed off, maybe a little imbalanced.  Near death experiences sometimes does that to people.

I considered my dilemma during the next five miles.  What to do?

Then it came to me. Stand on the cliff and get geezer's attention.

"Hey you dumb-assed docent!"

Next, throw down my sandwich.
When he went for it, I would toss out my rope.  Then run like hell back to my car, deliberately unlocked and keys in the ignition.

The plan had its disadvantages, of course. He would no doubt keep my rope out of spite.
But a small price to pay, I thought, when you consider a life might be at stake.

I tried not to think about such unlikely events, while I focused on the jade--to-royal blue ocean passing on the left. Random groups of Mr. Hearst's painted ponies loitered on my right.  Everything was good until my car rounded a bend and I saw red.

A red pickup to be exact.  I went by it slowly enough to a see the Toyota logo and a license starting with "7".  My heart thudded with a "this is bad, real bad" feeling.   I could barely drive. A few seconds later realized the truck was on the wrong side of the road and a half mile south of yesterday's drop point.

Crisis non-existent, I concluded, and pursued my original plan to drop down a steeper and much longer ravine.

Before long I was down, resting on the sand and comfortable.  My Jack Reacher novel was in hand during a perfect surf, a warm afternoon, and pages that turned quickly.

Paulie, an enormous steroid freak, was beating the bejesus out of Jack. Things looked real bad for the retired Major Reacher.

Then a disturbing thought.  What if the blue blazered docent guy drove by and recognized my car? He could follow my trail, shimmy down my rope, and convey his unhappiness about my pulling up the rope yesterday.
Now that would be annoying...

Worse (but equally unlikely) one or both of us might get so mad that a verbal altercation became physical.

Funny thought. For a while I couldn't remember the last time I was in a fist fight.
Oh yeah, high school, junior year during spring training.  We had our helmets off at the end of practice and were lining up for windsprints.  Mark Parker, a senior and my main competitor for the position of right guard, pushed me out of line not once, but twice.
Enough of this, I thought, and hit him blindside with one of the defensive moves we'd been learning.
I knocked him on his ass!
The last thing I remember as I stood in that line, was Mark out of corner of my eye. He sprung off the ground with  a combination of momentum and cocked fist and splattered my nose.

And though I lived through the 60's, that was easily the most psychedelic moment of my life.  My best friend told me later I hit him back but that's the kind of thing best friends, no memory of it.

I do remember coach Stoney standing between us and saying something like, "You two stop this shit!" 

Then he started to walk away, but stopped. H looked back at me with a grin. 
"So, Richardson, guess you want to be on this team after all."
My competition with Mark continued during future practices in a less pugilistic fashion.
He got the first string position, no surprise there, being a senior with more experience and better skills.
We avoided each other in locker rooms and hallways.  Our spat obviously wasn't his first dance, and now both of us knew that fists, in the absence of helmet and gear, hurt like hell.

Then I remembered Mr. Docent landing on the beach.  About my age and no less out of shape.  It would take only a couple of connected blows until both of us would lose interest.

I went back to my book, read another twenty minutes or so.  Now Jack was in a worse jam.
Another thug named Harley, had gotten the drop on him and pushing a P14 (pistol, Canadian made) against the very teeth loosened during his fight with Paulie.

But what if that chilly night on beach left Mr. Docent so deranged that he down a weapon?

That would be a problem.  I tossed a few recently collected agates toward some mark on the cliff. Reasonably grouped though nowhere near the accuracy that inspired fear in lump headed neighborhood boys.

But not so fast as a speeding bullet...

I put my mind back into the book.  Reacher took care of Harley with something unexpected--he always does.  The book was good and getting better. I read for another twenty minutes.

Then a real flash of adrenaline, and not just some random idea to decorate a blog entry.  I put the book down quickly and jogged up the beach with all the casual grace of a 62 year old.

Would the rope still be there?  Nice.  What if I arrived at the drop off point just in time to see my rope drawn up from above and heard high pitched laughter keening down from overhead cliffs?

Now wouldn't that be the pits?  No, not the "pit" as in the pendulum. But the "cask" as in another Poe story, "The Cask of Amontillado"!  I still remember a few lines:       

      I would be avenged...
        [and?] forced the last stone into its position;
        I plastered it up.

Better than rapier or bullet Montresor, the narrator, devised a revenge through masonry: withdraw fellowship and food, the two essentials of Fortunato's existence.  
Like withdrawing my rope! 

I arrived at the drop point out of breath and enormously pleased that the rope still was still there.
Well there you go, I told myself, and this is exactly what happens when you violate the morning one cup of coffee rule.

I returned to my pack, laughing at my own crazy thoughts.  But, before long I was shouldering my backpack. The afternoon was a little too hot and the kelp flies intolerable.

I was half way up the rope.  A rock gave way under my left foot. My right couldn't find purchase on a slick vertical slope.  For a moment I dangled like snot in the wind. 


Worse was the vision that came to me next, arriving like a flaming sun emerging from its eclipse--the PERFECT PAYBACK. Pull out the anchor-spike, but only partially.  Half way up the sheerest and straightest drop, with the stress of your full weight, it gives.

And afterwards, a blue blazered docent would brush the dirt from his hands and walk across a field to a red pickup. No fingerprints, no footprints. Taking his time while driving south until a pocket of cell phone coverage, he would eventually punch in 911. 

"Yes, at the bottom of a high cliff.  Looked unconscious, or worse...no idea who he is, never met him.  Poor guy, hope he's okay.
What?  Oh, sorry, my phone's breaking up, no coverage here--"
Well, good thing I called. Just looking out for the other guy...

And while I hung there like snot in the wind, I decided way I'm going out like that. There's always something you can do...

Third period PE, La Colina Junior High, and I was the rope climb king.  A thick rope, knotted by intervals, extending to the high vault of the gym ceiling. Using legs or feet strictly forbidden.  I was the spider closing on its prey.  And for one whole week, with most of the student body recovering from a flu epidemic, I was unbeatable.

So forget about your feet!
Use what's left of your upper body strength.  Pull yourself to a foothold--go all the way to the top.

And a few sweaty moments later, I was standing on the cliff.  No malevolent docent hovered nearby. 
Good thing for him, too. I might've punched him in the nose.

Well, there you go.
Karma bites you in the ass every time,
Either with its teeth--or your imagination.