EightAByte Industries

The online home of experienced technologist Ken Scott.

Longest Joke in the World


Lost in the Desert

So, there’s a man crawling through the desert.

He’d decided to try his SUV in a little bit of cross-country travel, had great fun zooming over the badlands and through the sand, got lost, hit a big rock, and then he couldn’t get it started again. There were no cell phone towers anywhere near, so his cell phone was useless. He had no family, his parents had died a few years before in an auto accident, and his few friends had no idea he was out here.

He stayed with the car for a day or so, but his one bottle of water ran out
and he was getting thirsty. He thought maybe he knew the direction back, now that he’d paid attention to the sun and thought he’d figured out which way was north, so he decided to start walking. He figured he only had to go about 30 miles or so and he’d be back to the small town he’d gotten gas in last.

He thinks about walking at night to avoid the heat and sun, but based upon
how dark it actually was the night before, and given that he has no flashlight, he’s afraid that he’ll break a leg or step on a rattlesnake. So,
he puts on some sun block, puts the rest in his pocket for reapplication
later, brings an umbrella he’d had in the back of the SUV with him to give
him a little shade, pours the windshield wiper fluid into his water bottle
in case he gets that desperate, brings his pocket knife in case he finds a cactus that looks like it might have water in it, and heads out in the
direction he thinks is right.

He walks for the entire day. By the end of the day he’s really thirsty. He’s
been sweating all day, and his lips are starting to crack. He’s reapplied the sunblock twice, and tried to stay under the umbrella, but he still feels sunburned. The windshield wiper fluid sloshing in the bottle in his pocket is really getting tempting now. He knows that it’s mainly water and some ethanol and coloring, but he also knows that they add some kind of poison to it to keep people from drinking it. He wonders what the poison is, and
whether the poison would be worse than dying of thirst.

He pushes on, trying to get to that small town before dark.

By the end of the day he starts getting worried. He figures he’s been walking at least 3 miles an hour, according to his watch for over 10 hours. That means that if his estimate was right that he should be close to the
town. But he doesn’t recognize any of this. He had to cross a dry creek bed a mile or two back, and he doesn’t remember coming through it in the SUV. He figures that maybe he got his direction off just a little and that the dry creek bed was just off to one side of his path. He tells himself that he’s close, and that after dark he’ll start seeing the town lights over one of these hills, and that’ll be all he needs.

As it gets dim enough that he starts stumbling over small rocks and things,
he finds a spot and sits down to wait for full dark and the town lights.

Full dark comes before he knows it. He must have dozed off. He stands back
up and turns all the way around. He sees nothing but stars.

He wakes up the next morning feeling absolutely lousy. His eyes are gummy and his mouth and nose feel like they’re full of sand. He so thirsty that he can’t even swallow. He barely got any sleep because it was so cold. He’d forgotten how cold it got at night in the desert and hadn’t noticed it the night before because he’d been in his car.

He knows the Rule of Threes – three minutes without air, three days without water, three weeks without food – then you die. Some people can make it a little longer, in the best situations. But the desert heat and having to walk and sweat isn’t the best situation to be without water. He figures, unless he finds water, this is his last day.

He rinses his mouth out with a little of the windshield wiper fluid. He waits a while after spitting that little bit out, to see if his mouth goes numb, or he feels dizzy or something. Has his mouth gone numb? Is it just in
his mind? He’s not sure. He’ll go a little farther, and if he still doesn’t
find water, he’ll try drinking some of the fluid.

Then he has to face his next, harder question – which way does he go from here? Does he keep walking the same way he was yesterday (assuming that he still knows which way that is), or does he try a new direction? He has no idea what to do.

Looking at the hills and dunes around him, he thinks he knows the direction he was heading before. Just going by a feeling, he points himself somewhat to the left of that, and starts walking.

As he walks, the day starts heating up. The desert, too cold just a couple of hours before, soon becomes an oven again. He sweats a little at first, and then stops. He starts getting worried at that – when you stop sweating he knows that means you’re in trouble – usually right before heat stroke.

He decides that it’s time to try the windshield wiper fluid. He can’t wait
any longer – if he passes out, he’s dead. He stops in the shade of a large
rock, takes the bottle out, opens it, and takes a mouthful. He slowly
swallows it, making it last as long as he can. It feels so good in his dry
and cracked throat that he doesn’t even care about the nasty taste. He takes
another mouthful, and makes it last too. Slowly, he drinks half the bottle.
He figures that since he’s drinking it, he might as well drink enough to
make some difference and keep himself from passing out.

He’s quit worrying about the denaturing of the wiper fluid. If it kills him,
it kills him – if he didn’t drink it, he’d die anyway. Besides, he’s pretty
sure that whatever substance they denature the fluid with is just designed to make you sick – their way of keeping winos from buying cheap wiper fluid for the ethanol content. He can handle throwing up, if it comes to that.

He walks. He walks in the hot, dry, windless desert. Sand, rocks, hills,
dunes, the occasional scrawny cactus or dried bush. No sign of water.
Sometimes he’ll see a little movement to one side or the other, but whatever moved is usually gone before he can focus his eyes on it. Probably birds, lizards, or mice. Maybe snakes, though they usually move more at night. He’s careful to stay away from the movements.

After a while, he begins to stagger. He’s not sure if it’s fatigue, heat
stroke finally catching him, or maybe he was wrong and the denaturing of the wiper fluid was worse than he thought. He tries to steady himself, and keep going.

After more walking, he comes to a large stretch of sand. This is good! He
knows he passed over a stretch of sand in the SUV – he remembers doing
donuts in it. Or at least he thinks he remembers it – he’s getting woozy
enough and tired enough that he’s not sure what he remembers any more or if
he’s hallucinating. But he thinks he remembers it. So he heads off into it,
trying to get to the other side, hoping that it gets him closer to the town.

He was heading for a town, wasn’t he? He thinks he was. He isn’t sure any more. He’s not even sure how long he’s been walking any more. Is it still morning? Or has it moved into afternoon and the sun is going down again? It must be afternoon – it seems like it’s been too long since he started out.

He walks through the sand.

After a while, he comes to a big dune in the sand. This is bad. He doesn’t
remember any dunes when driving over the sand in his SUV. Or at least he
doesn’t think he remembers any. This is bad.

But, he has no other direction to go. Too late to turn back now. He figures
that he’ll get to the top of the dune and see if he can see anything from
there that helps him find the town. He keeps going up the dune.

Halfway up, he slips in the bad footing of the sand for the second or third
time, and falls to his knees. He doesn’t feel like getting back up – he’ll
just fall down again. So, he keeps going up the dune on his hand and knees.

While crawling, if his throat weren’t so dry, he’d laugh. He’s finally
gotten to the hackneyed image of a man lost in the desert – crawling through
the sand on his hands and knees. If would be the perfect image, he imagines, if only his clothes were more ragged. The people crawling through the desert
in the cartoons always had ragged clothes. But his have lasted without any
rips so far. Somebody will probably find his dessicated corpse half buried in the sand years from now, and his clothes will still be in fine shape –
shake the sand out, and a good wash, and they’d be wearable again. He wishes his throat were wet enough to laugh. He coughs a little instead, and it hurts.

He finally makes it to the top of the sand dune. Now that he’s at the top,
he struggles a little, but manages to stand up and look around. All he sees
is sand. Sand, and more sand. Behind him, about a mile away, he thinks he
sees the rocky ground he left to head into this sand. Ahead of him, more
dunes, more sand. This isn’t where he drove his SUV. This is Hell. Or close enough.

Again, he doesn’t know what to do. He decides to drink the rest of the wiper
fluid while figuring it out. He takes out the bottle, and is removing the
cap, when he glances to the side and sees something. Something in the sand. At the bottom of the dune, off to the side, he sees something strange. It’s a flat area, in the sand. He stops taking the cap of the bottle off, and tries to look closer. The area seems to be circular. And it’s dark – darker than the sand. And, there seems to be something in the middle of it, but he can’t tell what it is. He looks as hard as he can, and still can tell from
here. He’s going to have to go down there and look.

He puts the bottle back in his pocket, and starts to stumble down the dune.
After a few steps, he realizes that he’s in trouble – he’s not going to be able to keep his balance. After a couple of more sliding, tottering steps, he falls and starts to roll down the dune. The sand it so hot when his body hits it that for a minute he thinks he’s caught fire on the way down – like a movie car wreck flashing into flames as it goes over the cliff, before it ever even hits the ground. He closes his eyes and mouth, covers his face with his hands, and waits to stop rolling.

He stops, at the bottom of the dune. After a minute or two, he finds enough
energy to try to sit up and get the sand out of his face and clothes. When
he clears his eyes enough, he looks around to make sure that the dark spot
in the sand it still there and he hadn’t just imagined it.

So, seeing the large, flat, dark spot on the sand is still there, he begins
to crawl towards it. He’d get up and walk towards it, but he doesn’t seem to
have the energy to get up and walk right now. He must be in the final stages
of dehydration he figures, as he crawls. If this place in the sand doesn’t
have water, he’ll likely never make it anywhere else. This is his last
chance.

He gets closer and closer, but still can’t see what’s in the middle of the
dark area. His eyes won’t quite focus any more for some reason. And lifting
his head up to look takes so much effort that he gives up trying. He just
keeps crawling.

Finally, he reaches the area he’d seen from the dune. It takes him a minute of crawling on it before he realizes that he’s no longer on sand – he’s now crawling on some kind of dark stone. Stone with some kind of marking on it – a pattern cut into the stone. He’s too tired to stand up and try to see what the pattern is – so he just keeps crawling. He crawls towards the center,
where his blurry eyes still see something in the middle of the dark stone
area.

His mind, detached in a strange way, notes that either his hands and knees are so burnt by the sand that they no longer feel pain, or that this dark
stone, in the middle of a burning desert with a pounding, punishing sun
overhead, doesn’t seem to be hot. It almost feels cool. He considers lying
down on the nice cool surface.

Cool, dark stone. Not a good sign. He must be hallucinating this. He’s
probably in the middle of a patch of sand, already lying face down and
dying, and just imagining this whole thing. A desert mirage. Soon the
beautiful women carrying pitchers of water will come up and start giving him
a drink. Then he’ll know he’s gone.

He decides against laying down on the cool stone. If he’s going to die here
in the middle of this hallucination, he at least wants to see what’s in the
center before he goes. He keeps crawling.

It’s the third time that he hears the voice before he realizes what he’s
hearing. He would swear that someone just said, “Greetings, traveler. You do
not look well. Do you hear me?”

He stops crawling. He tries to look up from where he is on his hands and
knees, but it’s too much effort to lift his head. So he tries something
different – he leans back and tries to sit up on the stone. After a few
seconds, he catches his balance, avoids falling on his face, sits up, and
tries to focus his eyes. Blurry. He rubs his eyes with the back of his hands
and tries again. Better this time.

Yep. He can see. He’s sitting in the middle of a large, flat, dark expanse
of stone. Directly next to him, about three feet away, is a white post or
pole about two inches in diameter and sticking up about four or five feet
out of the stone, at an angle.

And wrapped around this white rod, tail with rattle on it hovering and
seeming to be ready to start rattling, is what must be a fifteen foot long
desert diamondback rattlesnake, looking directly at him.

He stares at the snake in shock. He doesn’t have the energy to get up and
run away. He doesn’t even have the energy to crawl away. This is it, his
final resting place. No matter what happens, he’s not going to be able to
move from this spot.

Well, at least dying of a bite from this monster should be quicker than
dying of thirst. He’ll face his end like a man. He struggles to sit up a
little straighter. The snake keeps watching him. He lifts one hand and waves
it in the snake’s direction, feebly. The snake watches the hand for a
moment, then goes back to watching the man, looking into his eyes.

Hmmm. Maybe the snake had no interest in biting him? It hadn’t rattled yet –
that was a good sign. Maybe he wasn’t going to die of snake bite after all.

He then remembers that he’d looked up when he’d reached the center here
because he thought he’d heard a voice. He was still very woozy – he was
likely to pass out soon, the sun still beat down on him even though he was
now on cool stone. He still didn’t have anything to drink. But maybe he had
actually heard a voice. This stone didn’t look natural. Nor did that white
post sticking up out of the stone. Someone had to have built this. Maybe
they were still nearby. Maybe that was who talked to him. Maybe this snake
was even their pet, and that’s why it wasn’t biting.

He tries to clear his throat to say, “Hello,” but his throat is too dry. All
that comes out is a coughing or wheezing sound. There is no way he’s going
to be able to talk without something to drink. He feels his pocket, and the
bottle with the wiper fluid is still there. He shakily pulls the bottle out,
almost losing his balance and falling on his back in the process. This isn’t
good. He doesn’t have much time left, by his reckoning, before he passes
out.

He gets the lid off of the bottle, manages to get the bottle to his lips,
and pours some of the fluid into his mouth. He sloshes it around, and then
swallows it. He coughs a little. His throat feels better. Maybe he can talk
now.

He tries again. Ignoring the snake, he turns to look around him, hoping to
spot the owner of this place, and croaks out, “Hello? Is there anyone here?”

He hears, from his side, “Greetings. What is it that you want?”

He turns his head, back towards the snake. That’s where the sound had seemed
to come from. The only thing he can think of is that there must be a
speaker, hidden under the snake, or maybe built into that post. He decides
to try asking for help.

“Please,” he croaks again, suddenly feeling dizzy, “I’d love to not be
thirsty any more. I’ve been a long time without water. Can you help me?”

Looking in the direction of the snake, hoping to see where the voice was
coming from this time, he is shocked to see the snake rear back, open its
mouth, and speak. He hears it say, as the dizziness overtakes him and he
falls forward, face first on the stone, “Very well. Coming up.”

A piercing pain shoots through his shoulder. Suddenly he is awake. He sits
up and grabs his shoulder, wincing at the throbbing pain. He’s momentarily
disoriented as he looks around, and then he remembers – the crawl across the
sand, the dark area of stone, the snake. He sees the snake, still wrapped
around the tilted white post, still looking at him.

He reaches up and feels his shoulder, where it hurts. It feels slightly wet.
He pulls his fingers away and looks at them – blood. He feels his shoulder
again – his shirt has what feels like two holes in it – two puncture holes –
they match up with the two aching spots of pain on his shoulder. He had been
bitten. By the snake.

“It’ll feel better in a minute.” He looks up – it’s the snake talking. He
hadn’t dreamed it. Suddenly he notices – he’s not dizzy any more. And more
importantly, he’s not thirsty any more – at all!

“Have I died? Is this the afterlife? Why are you biting me in the
afterlife?”

“Sorry about that, but I had to bite you,” says the snake. “That’s the way I
work. It all comes through the bite. Think of it as natural medicine.”

“You bit me to help me? Why aren’t I thirsty any more? Did you give me a
drink before you bit me? How did I drink enough while unconscious to not be
thirsty any more? I haven’t had a drink for over two days. Well, except for
the windshield wiper fluid… hold it, how in the world does a snake talk?
Are you real? Are you some sort of Disney animation?”

“No,” says the snake, “I’m real. As real as you or anyone is, anyway. I
didn’t give you a drink. I bit you. That’s how it works – it’s what I do. I
bite. I don’t have hands to give you a drink, even if I had water just
sitting around here.”

The man sat stunned for a minute. Here he was, sitting in the middle of the
desert on some strange stone that should be hot but wasn’t, talking to a
snake that could talk back and had just bitten him. And he felt better. Not
great – he was still starving and exhausted, but much better – he was no
longer thirsty. He had started to sweat again, but only slightly. He felt
hot, in this sun, but it was starting to get lower in the sky, and the cool
stone beneath him was a relief he could notice now that he was no longer
dying of thirst.

“I might suggest that we take care of that methanol you now have in your
system with the next request,” continued the snake. “I can guess why you
drank it, but I’m not sure how much you drank, or how much methanol was left
in the wiper fluid. That stuff is nasty. It’ll make you go blind in a day or
two, if you drank enough of it.”

“Ummm, n-next request?” said the man. He put his hand back on his hurting
shoulder and backed away from the snake a little.

“That’s the way it works. If you like, that is,” explained the snake. “You
get three requests. Call them wishes, if you wish.” The snake grinned at his
own joke, and the man drew back a little further from the show of fangs.

“But there are rules,” the snake continued. “The first request is free. The
second requires an agreement of secrecy. The third requires the binding of
responsibility.” The snake looks at the man seriously.

“By the way,” the snake says suddenly, “my name is Nathan. Old Nathan,
Samuel used to call me. He gave me the name. Before that, most of the Bound
used to just call me ‘Snake’. But that got old, and Samuel wouldn’t stand
for it. He said that anything that could talk needed a name. He was big into
names. You can call me Nate, if you wish.” Again, the snake grinned. “Sorry
if I don’t offer to shake, but I think you can understand – my shake sounds
somewhat threatening.” The snake give his rattle a little shake.

“Umm, my name is Jack,” said the man, trying to absorb all of this. “Jack
Samson.

“Can I ask you a question?” Jack says suddenly. “What happened to the
poison…umm, in your bite. Why aren’t I dying now? How did you do that?
What do you mean by that’s how you work?”

“That’s more than one question,” grins Nate. “But I’ll still try to answer
all of them. First, yes, you can ask me a question.” The snake’s grin gets
wider. “Second, the poison is in you. It changed you. You now no longer need
to drink. That’s what you asked for. Or, well, technically, you asked to not
be thirsty any more – but ‘any more’ is such a vague term. I decided to make
it permanent – now, as long as you live, you shouldn’t need to drink much at
all. Your body will conserve water very efficiently. You should be able to
get enough just from the food you eat – much like a creature of the desert.
You’ve been changed.

“For the third question,” Nate continues, “you are still dying. Besides the
effects of that methanol in your system, you’re a man – and men are mortal.
In your current state, I give you no more than about another 50 years.
Assuming you get out of this desert, alive, that is.” Nate seemed vastly
amused at his own humor, and continued his wide grin.

“As for the fourth question,” Nate said, looking more serious as far as Jack
could tell, as Jack was just now working on his ability to read
talking-snake emotions from snake facial features, “first you have to agree
to make a second request and become bound by the secrecy, or I can’t tell
you.”

“Wait,” joked Jack, “isn’t this where you say you could tell me, but you’d
have to kill me?”

“I thought that was implied.” Nate continued to look serious.

“Ummm…yeah.” Jack leaned back a little as he remembered again that he was
talking to a fifteen foot poisonous reptile with a reputation for having a
nasty temper. “So, what is this ‘Bound by Secrecy’ stuff, and can you really
stop the effects of the methanol?” Jack thought for a second. “And, what do
you mean methanol, anyway? I thought these days they use ethanol in wiper
fluid, and just denature it?”

“They may, I don’t really know,” said Nate. “I haven’t gotten out in a
while. Maybe they do. All I know is that I smell methanol on your breath and
on that bottle in your pocket. And the blue color of the liquid when you
pulled it out to drink some let me guess that it was wiper fluid. I assume
that they still color wiper fluid blue?”

“Yeah, they do,” said Jack.

“I figured,” replied Nate. “As for being bound by secrecy – with the
fulfillment of your next request, you will be bound to say nothing about me,
this place, or any of the information I will tell you after that, when you
decide to go back out to your kind. You won’t be allowed to talk about me,
write about me, use sign language, charades, or even act in a way that will
lead someone to guess correctly about me. You’ll be bound to secrecy. Of
course, I’ll also ask you to promise not to give me away, and as I’m
guessing that you’re a man of your word, you’ll never test the binding
anyway, so you won’t notice.” Nate said the last part with utter confidence.

Jack, who had always prided himself on being a man of his word, felt a
little nervous at this. “Ummm, hey, Nate, who are you? How did you know
that? Are you, umm, omniscient, or something?”

Well, Jack,” said Nate sadly, “I can’t tell you that, unless you make the
second request.” Nate looked away for a minute, then looked back.

“Umm, well, ok,” said Jack, “what is this about a second request? What can I
ask for? Are you allowed to tell me that?”

“Sure!” said Nate, brightening. “You’re allowed to ask for changes. Changes
to yourself. They’re like wishes, but they can only affect you. Oh, and
before you ask, I can’t give you immortality. Or omniscience. Or
omnipresence, for that matter. Though I might be able to make you gaseous
and yet remain alive, and then you could spread through the atmosphere and
sort of be omnipresent. But what good would that be – you still wouldn’t be
omniscient and thus still could only focus on one thing at a time. Not very
useful, at least in my opinion.” Nate stopped when he realized that Jack was
staring at him.

“Well, anyway,” continued Nate, “I’d probably suggest giving you permanent
good health. It would negate the methanol now in your system, you’d be
immune to most poisons and diseases, and you’d tend to live a very long
time, barring accident, of course. And you’ll even have a tendency to
recover from accidents well. It always seemed like a good choice for a
request to me.”

“Cure the methanol poisoning, huh?” said Jack. “And keep me healthy for a
long time? Hmmm. It doesn’t sound bad at that. And it has to be a request
about a change to me? I can’t ask to be rich, right? Because that’s not
really a change to me?”

“Right,” nodded Nate.

“Could I ask to be a genius and permanently healthy?” Jack asked, hopefully.

“That takes two requests, Jack.”

“Yeah, I figured so,” said Jack. “But I could ask to be a genius? I could
become the smartest scientist in the world? Or the best athlete?”

“Well, I could make you very smart,” admitted Nate, “but that wouldn’t
necessarily make you the best scientist in the world. Or, I could make you
very athletic, but it wouldn’t necessarily make you the best athlete either.
You’ve heard the saying that 99% of genius is hard work? Well, there’s some
truth to that. I can give you the talent, but I can’t make you work hard. It
all depends on what you decide to do with it.”

“Hmmm,” said Jack. “Ok, I think I understand. And I get a third request,
after this one?”

“Maybe,” said Nate, “it depends on what you decide then. There are more
rules for the third request that I can only tell you about after the second
request. You know how it goes.” Nate looked like he’d shrug, if he had
shoulders.

“Ok, well, since I’d rather not be blind in a day or two, and permanent
health doesn’t sound bad, then consider that my second request. Officially.
Do I need to sign in blood or something?”

“No,” said Nate. “Just hold out your hand. Or heel.” Nate grinned. “Or
whatever part you want me to bite. I have to bite you again. Like I said,
that’s how it works – the poison, you know,” Nate said apologetically.

Jack winced a little and felt his shoulder, where the last bite was. Hey, it
didn’t hurt any more. Just like Nate had said. That made Jack feel better
about the biting business. But still, standing still while a fifteen foot
snake sunk it’s fangs into you. Jack stood up. Ignoring how good it felt to
be able to stand again, and the hunger starting to gnaw at his stomach, Jack
tried to decide where he wanted to get bitten. Despite knowing that it
wouldn’t hurt for long, Jack knew that this wasn’t going to be easy.

“Hey, Jack,” Nate suddenly said, looking past Jack towards the dunes behind
him, “is that someone else coming up over there?”

Jack spun around and looked. Who else could be out here in the middle of
nowhere? And did they bring food?

Wait a minute, there was nobody over there. What was Nate…

Jack let out a bellow as he felt two fangs sink into his rear end, through
his jeans…

Jack sat down carefully, favoring his more tender buttock. “I would have
decided, eventually, Nate. I was just thinking about it. You didn’t have to
hoodwink me like that.”

“I’ve been doing this a long time, Jack,” said Nate, confidently. “You
humans have a hard time sitting still and letting a snake bite you –
especially one my size. And besides, admit it – it’s only been a couple of
minutes and it already doesn’t hurt any more, does it? That’s because of the
health benefit with this one. I told you that you’d heal quickly now.”

“Yeah, well, still,” said Jack, “it’s the principle of the thing. And nobody
likes being bitten in the butt! Couldn’t you have gotten my calf or
something instead?”

“More meat in the typical human butt,” replied Nate. “And less chance you
accidentally kick me or move at the last second.”

“Yeah, right. So, tell me all of these wonderful secrets that I now qualify
to hear,” answered Jack.

“Ok,” said Nate. “Do you want to ask questions first, or do you want me to
just start talking?”

“Just talk,” said Jack. “I’ll sit here and try to not think about food.”

“We could go try to rustle up some food for you first, if you like,”
answered Nate.

“Hey! You didn’t tell me you had food around here, Nate!” Jack jumped up.
“What do we have? Am I in walking distance to town? Or can you magically
whip up food along with your other powers?” Jack was almost shouting with
excitement. His stomach had been growling for hours.

“I was thinking more like I could flush something out of its hole and bite
it for you, and you could skin it and eat it. Assuming you have a knife,
that is,” replied Nate, with the grin that Jack was starting to get used to.

“Ugh,” said Jack, sitting back down. “I think I’ll pass. I can last a little
longer before I get desperate enough to eat desert rat, or whatever else it
is you find out here. And there’s nothing to burn – I’d have to eat it raw.
No thanks. Just talk.”

“Ok,” replied Nate, still grinning. “But I’d better hurry, before you start
looking at me as food.

Nate reared back a little, looked around for a second, and then continued.
“You, Jack, are sitting in the middle of the Garden of Eden.”

Jack looked around at the sand and dunes and then looked back at Nate
sceptically.

“Well, that’s the best I can figure it, anyway, Jack,” said Nate. “Stand up
and look at the symbol on the rock here.” Nate gestured around the dark
stone they were both sitting on with his nose.

Jack stood up and looked. Carved into the stone in a bas-relief was a
representation of a large tree. The angled-pole that Nate was wrapped around
was coming out of the trunk of the tree, right below where the main branches
left the truck to reach out across the stone. It was very well done – it
looked more like a tree had been reduced to almost two dimensions and
embedded in the stone than it did like a carving.

Jack walked around and looked at the details in the fading light of the
setting sun. He wished he’d looked at it while the sun was higher in the
sky.

Wait! The sun was setting! That meant he was going to have to spend another
night out here! Arrrgh!

Jack looked out across the desert for a little bit, and then came back and
stood next to Nate. “In all the excitement, I almost forgot, Nate,” said
Jack. “Which way is it back to town? And how far? I’m eventually going to
have to head back – I’m not sure I’ll be able to survive by eating raw
desert critters for long. And even if I can, I’m not sure I’ll want to.”

“It’s about 30 miles that way.” Nate pointed, with the rattle on his tail
this time. As far as Jack could tell, it was a direction at right angles to
the way he’d been going when he was crawling here. “But that’s 30 miles by
the way the crow flies. It’s about 40 by the way a man walks. You should be
able to do it in about half a day with your improved endurance, if you head
out early tomorrow, Jack.”

Jack looked out the way the snake had pointed for a few seconds more, and
then sat back down. It was getting dark. Not much he could do about heading
out right now. And besides, Nate was just about to get to the interesting
stuff. “Garden of Eden? As best as you can figure it?”

“Well, yeah, as best as I and Samuel could figure it anyway,” said Nate. “He
figured that the story just got a little mixed up. You know, snake, in a
‘tree’, offering ‘temptations’, making bargains. That kind stuff. But he
could never quite figure out how the Hebrews found out about this spot from
across the ocean. He worried about that for a while.”

“Garden of Eden, hunh?” said Jack. “How long have you been here, Nate?”

“No idea, really,” replied Nate. “A long time. It never occurred to me to
count years, until recently, and by then, of course, it was too late. But I
do remember when this whole place was green, so I figure it’s been thousands
of years, at least.”

“So, are you the snake that tempted Eve?” said Jack.

“Beats me,” said Nate. “Maybe. I can’t remember if the first one of your
kind that I talked to was female or not, and I never got a name, but it
could have been. And I suppose she could have considered my offer to grant
requests a ‘temptation’, though I’ve rarely had refusals.”

“Well, umm, how did you get here then? And why is that white pole stuck out
of the stone there?” asked Jack.

“Dad left me here. Or, I assume it was my dad. It was another snake – much
bigger than I was back then. I remember talking to him, but I don’t remember
if it was in a language, or just kind of understanding what he wanted. But
one day, he brought me to this stone, told me about it, and asked me to do
something for him. I talked it over with him for a while, then agreed. I’ve
been here ever since.

“What is this place?” said Jack. “And what did he ask you to do?”

“Well, you see this pole here, sticking out of the stone?” Nate loosened his
coils around the tilted white pole and showed Jack where it descended into
the stone. The pole was tilted at about a 45 degree angle and seemed to
enter the stone in an eighteen inch slot cut into the stone. Jack leaned
over and looked. The slot was dark and the pole went down into it as far as
Jack could see in the dim light. Jack reached out to touch the pole, but
Nate was suddenly there in the way.

“You can’t touch that yet, Jack,” said Nate.

“Why not?” asked Jack.

“I haven’t explained it to you yet,” replied Nate.

“Well, it kinda looks like a lever or something,” said Jack. “You’d push it
that way, and it would move in the slot.”

“Yep, that’s what it is,” replied Nate.

“What does it do?” asked Jack. “End the world?”

“Oh, no,” said Nate. “Nothing that drastic. It just ends humanity. I call it
‘The Lever of Doom’.” For the last few words Nate had used a deeper, ringing
voice. He tried to look serious for a few seconds, and then gave up and
grinned.

Jack was initially startled by Nate’s pronouncement, but when Nate grinned
Jack laughed. “Ha! You almost had me fooled for a second there. What does it
really do?”

“Oh, it really ends humanity, like I said,” smirked Nate. “I just thought
the voice I used was funny, didn’t you?”

Nate continued to grin.

“A lever to end humanity?” asked Jack. “What in the world is that for? Why
would anyone need to end humanity?”

“Well,” replied Nate, “I get the idea that maybe humanity was an experiment.
Or maybe the Big Guy just thought, that if humanity started going really
bad, there should be a way to end it. I’m not really sure. All I know are
the rules, and the guesses that Samuel and I had about why it’s here. I
didn’t think to ask back when I started here.”

“Rules? What rules?” asked Jack.

“The rules are that I can’t tell anybody about it or let them touch it
unless they agree to be bound to secrecy by a bite. And that only one human
can be bound in that way at a time. That’s it.” explained Nate.

Jack looked somewhat shocked. “You mean that I could pull the lever now?
You’d let me end humanity?”

“Yep,” replied Nate, “if you want to.” Nate looked at Jack carefully. “Do
you want to, Jack?”

“Umm, no.” said Jack, stepping a little further back from the lever. “Why in
the world would anyone want to end humanity? It’d take a psychotic to want
that! Or worse, a suicidal psychotic, because it would kill him too,
wouldn’t it?”

“Yep,” replied Nate, “being as he’d be human too.”

“Has anyone ever seriously considered it?” asked Nate. “Any of those bound
to secrecy, that is?”

“Well, of course, I think they’ve all seriously considered it at one time or
another. Being given that kind of responsibility makes you sit down and
think, or so I’m told. Samuel considered it several times. He’d often get
disgusted with humanity, come out here, and just hold the lever for a while.
But he never pulled it. Or you wouldn’t be here.” Nate grinned some more.

Jack sat down, well back from the lever. He looked thoughtful and puzzled at
the same time. After a bit, he said, “So this makes me the Judge of
humanity? I get to decide whether they keep going or just end? Me?”

“That seems to be it,” agreed Nate.

“What kind of criteria do I use to decide?” said Jack. “How do I make this
decision? Am I supposed to decide if they’re good? Or too many of them are
bad? Or that they’re going the wrong way? Is there a set of rules for that?”

“Nope,” replied Nate. “You pretty much just have to decide on your own. It’s
up to you, however you want to decide it. I guess that you’re just supposed
to know.”

“But what if I get mad at someone? Or some girl dumps me and I feel
horrible? Couldn’t I make a mistake? How do I know that I won’t screw up?”
protested Jack.

Nate gave his kind of snake-like shrug again. “You don’t. You just have to
try your best, Jack.”

Jack sat there for a while, staring off into the desert that was rapidly
getting dark, chewing on a fingernail.

Suddenly, Jack turned around and looked at the snake. “Nate, was Samuel the
one bound to this before me?”

“Yep,” replied Nate. “He was a good guy. Talked to me a lot. Taught me to
read and brought me books. I think I still have a good pile of them buried
in the sand around here somewhere. I still miss him. He died a few months
ago.”

“Sounds like a good guy,” agreed Jack. “How did he handle this, when you
first told him. What did he do?”

“Well,” said Nate, “he sat down for a while, thought about it for a bit, and
then asked me some questions, much like you’re doing.”

“What did he ask you, if you’re allowed to tell me?” asked Jack.

“He asked me about the third request,” replied Nate.

“Aha!” It was Jack’s turn to grin. “And what did you tell him?”

“I told him the rules for the third request. That to get the third request
you have to agree to this whole thing. That if it ever comes to the point
that you really think that humanity should be ended, that you’ll come here
and end it. You won’t avoid it, and you won’t wimp out.” Nate looked serious
again. “And you’ll be bound to do it too, Jack.”

“Hmmm.” Jack looked back out into the darkness for a while.

Nate watched him, waiting.

“Nate,” continued Jack, quietly, eventually. “What did Samuel ask for with
his third request?”

Nate sounded like he was grinning again as he replied, also quietly,
“Wisdom, Jack. He asked for wisdom. As much as I could give him.”

“Ok,” said Jack, suddenly, standing up and facing away from Nate, “give it
to me.

Nate looked at Jack’s backside. “Give you what, Jack?”

“Give me that wisdom. The same stuff that Samuel asked for. If it helped
him, maybe it’ll help me too.” Jack turned his head to look back over his
shoulder at Nate. “It did help him, right?”

“He said it did,” replied Nate. “But he seemed a little quieter afterward.
Like he had a lot to think about.”

“Well, yeah, I can see that,” said Jack. “So, give it to me.” Jack turned to
face away from Nate again, bent over slightly and tensed up.

Nate watched Jack tense up with a little exasperation. If he bit Jack now,
Jack would likely jump out of his skin and maybe hurt them both.

“You remember that you’ll be bound to destroy humanity if it ever looks like
it needs it, right Jack?” asked Nate, shifting position.

“Yeah, yeah, I got that,” replied Jack, eyes squeezed tightly shut and body
tense, not noticing the change in direction of Nate’s voice.

“And,” continued Nate, from his new position, “do you remember that you’ll
turn bright purple, and grow big horns and extra eyes?”

“Yeah, yeah…Hey, wait a minute!” said Jack, opening his eyes,
straightening up and turning around. “Purple?!” He didn’t see Nate there.
With the moonlight Jack could see that the lever extended up from its slot
in the rock without the snake wrapped around it.

Jack heard, from behind him, Nate’s “Just Kidding!” right before he felt the
now familiar piercing pain, this time in the other buttock.

Jack sat on the edge of the dark stone in the rapidly cooling air, his feet
extending out into the sand. He stared out into the darkness, listening to
the wind stir the sand, occasionally rubbing his butt where he’d been
recently bitten.

Nate had left for a little while, had come back with a desert-rodent-shaped
bulge somewhere in his middle, and was now wrapped back around the lever,
his tongue flicking out into the desert night’s air the only sign that he
was still awake.

Occasionally Jack, with his toes absentmindedly digging in the sand while he
thought, would ask Nate a question without turning around.

“Nate, do accidents count?”

Nate lifted his head a little bit. “What do you mean, Jack?”

Jack tilted his head back like he was looking at the stars. “You know,
accidents. If I accidentally fall on the lever, without meaning to, does
that still wipe out humanity?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it does, Jack. I’d suggest you be careful about that
if you start feeling wobbly,” said Nate with some amusement.

A little later – “Does it have to be me that pulls the lever?” asked Jack.

“That’s the rule, Jack. Nobody else can pull it,” answered Nate.

“No,” Jack shook his head, “I meant does it have to be my hand? Could I pull
the lever with a rope tied around it? Or push it with a stick? Or throw a
rock?”

“Yes, those should work,” replied Nate. “Though I’m not sure how complicated
you could get. Samuel thought about trying to build some kind of remote
control for it once, but gave it up. Everything he’d build would be gone by
the next sunrise, if it was touching the stone, or over it. I told him that
in the past others that had been bound had tried to bury the lever so they
wouldn’t be tempted to pull it, but every time the stones or sand or
whatever had disappeared.”

“Wow,” said Jack, “Cool.” Jack leaned back until only his elbows kept him
off of the stone and looked up into the sky.

“Nate, how long did Samuel live? One of his wishes was for health too,
right?” asked Jack.

“Yes,” replied Nate, “it was. He lived 167 years, Jack.”

“Wow, 167 years. That’s almost 140 more years I’ll live if I live as long.
Do you know what he died of, Nate?”

“He died of getting tired of living, Jack,” Nate said, sounding somewhat
sad.

Jack turned his head to look at Nate in the starlight.

Nate looked back. “Samuel knew he wasn’t going to be able to stay in
society. He figured that they’d eventually see him still alive and start
questioning it, so he decided that he’d have to disappear after a while. He
faked his death once, but changed his mind – he decided it was too early and
he could stay for a little longer. He wasn’t very fond of mankind, but he
liked the attention. Most of the time, anyway.

“His daughter and then his wife dying almost did him in though. He didn’t
stay in society much longer after that. He eventually came out here to spend
time talking to me and thinking about pulling the lever. A few months ago he
told me he’d had enough. It was his time.”

“And then he just died?” asked Jack.

Nate shook his head a little. “He made his forth request, Jack. There’s only
one thing you can ask for the fourth request. The last bite.

After a bit Nate continued, “He told me that he was tired, that it was his
time. He reassured me that someone new would show up soon, like they always
had.

After another pause, Nate finished, “Samuel’s body disappeared off the stone
with the sunrise.”

Jack lay back down and looked at the sky, leaving Nate alone with his
memories. It was a long time until Jack’s breathing evened out into sleep.

Jack woke with the sunrise the next morning. He was a little chilled with
the morning desert air, but overall was feeling pretty good. Well, except
that his stomach was grumbling and he wasn’t willing to eat raw desert rat.

So, after getting directions to town from Nate, making sure he knew how to
get back, and reassuring Nate that he’d be back soon, Jack started the long
walk back to town. With his new health and Nate’s good directions, he made
it back easily.

Jack caught a bus back to the city, and showed up for work the next day,
little worse for the wear and with a story about getting lost in the desert
and walking back out. Within a couple of days Jack had talked a friend with
a tow truck into going back out into the desert with him to fetch the SUV.
They found it after a couple of hours of searching and towed it back without
incident. Jack was careful not to even look in the direction of Nate’s
lever, though their path back didn’t come within sight of it.

Before the next weekend, Jack had gone to a couple of stores, including a
book store, and had gotten his SUV back from the mechanic, with a warning to
avoid any more joyriding in the desert. On Saturday, Jack headed back to see
Nate.

Jack parked a little way out of the small town near Nate, loaded up his new
backpack with camping gear and the things he was bringing for Nate, and then
started walking. He figured that walking would leave the least trail, and he
knew that while not many people camped in the desert, it wasn’t unheard of,
and shouldn’t really raise suspicions.

Jack had brought more books for Nate – recent books, magazines, newspapers.
Some things that would catch Nate up with what was happening in the world,
others that were just good books to read. He spent the weekend with Nate,
and then headed out again, telling Nate that he’d be back again soon, but
that he had things to do first.

Over four months later Jack was back to see Nate again. This time he brought
a laptop with him – a specially modified laptop. It had a solar recharger,
special filters and seals to keep out the sand, a satellite link-up, and a
special keyboard and joystick that Jack hoped that a fifteen-foot
rattlesnake would be able to use. And, it had been hacked to not give out
its location to the satellite.

After that Jack could e-mail Nate to keep in touch, but still visited him
fairly regularly – at least once or twice a year.

After the first year, Jack quit his job. For some reason, with the wisdom he
‘d been given, and the knowledge that he could live for over 150 years,
working in a nine to five job for someone else didn’t seem that worthwhile
any more. Jack went back to school.

Eventually, Jack started writing. Perhaps because of the wisdom, or perhaps
because of his new perspective, he wrote well. People liked what he wrote,
and he became well known for it. After a time, Jack bought an RV and started
traveling around the country for book signings and readings.

But, he still remembered to drop by and visit Nate occasionally.

On one of the visits Nate seemed quieter than usual. Not that Nate had been
a fountain of joy lately. Jack’s best guess was that Nate was still missing
Samuel, and though Jack had tried, he still hadn’t been able to replace
Samuel in Nate’s eyes. Nate had been getting quieter each visit. But on this
visit Nate didn’t even speak when Jack walked up to the lever. He nodded at
Jack, and then went back to staring into the desert. Jack, respecting Nate’s
silence, sat down and waited.

After a few minutes, Nate spoke. “Jack, I have someone to introduce you to.”

Jack looked surprised. “Someone to introduce me to?” Jack looked around, and then looked carefully back at Nate. “This something to do with the Big Guy?

“No, no,” replied Nate. “This is more personal. I want you to meet my son.”
Nate looked over at the nearest sand dune. “Sammy!”

Jack watched as a four foot long desert rattlesnake crawled from behind the
dune and up to the stone base of the lever.

“Yo, Jack,” said the new, much smaller snake.

“Yo, Sammy” replied Jack. Jack looked at Nate. “Named after Samuel, I
assume?”

Nate nodded. “Jack, I’ve got a favor to ask you. Could you show Sammy around
for me?” Nate unwrapped himself from the lever and slithered over to the
edge of the stone and looked across the sands. “When Samuel first told me
about the world, and brought me books and pictures, I wished that I could go see it. I wanted to see the great forests, the canyons, the cities, even the
other deserts, to see if they felt and smelled the same. I want my son to
have that chance – to see the world. Before he becomes bound here like I have been.

“He’s seen it in pictures, over the computer that you brought me. But I hear that it’s not the same. That being there is different. I want him to have
that. Think you can do that for me, Jack?”

Jack nodded. This was obviously very important to Nate, so Jack didn’t even
joke about taking a talking rattlesnake out to see the world. “Yeah, I can
do that for you, Nate. Is that all you need?” Jack could sense that was
something more.

Nate looked at Sammy. Sammy looked back at Nate for a second and then said,
“Oh, yeah. Ummm, I’ve gotta go pack. Back in a little bit Jack. Nice to meet
ya!” Sammy slithered back over the dune and out of sight.

Nate watched Sammy disappear and then looked back at Jack. “Jack, this is my
first son. My first offspring through all the years. You don’t even want to
know what it took for me to find a mate.” Nate grinned to himself. “But
anyway, I had a son for a reason. I’m tired. I’m ready for it to be over. I
needed a replacement.”

Jack considered this for a minute. “So, you’re ready to come see the world,
and you wanted him to watch the lever while you were gone?”

Nate shook his head. “No, Jack – you’re a better guesser than that. You’ve
already figured out – I’m bound here – there’s only one way for me to leave
here. And I’m ready. It’s my time to die.”

Jack looked more closely at Nate. He could tell Nate had thought about
this – probably for quite a while. Jack had trouble imagining what it would
be like to be as old as Nate, but Jack could already tell that in another
hundred or two hundred years, he might be getting tired of life himself.
Jack could understand Samuel’s decision, and now Nate’s. So, all Jack said
was, “What do you want me to do?”

Nate nodded. “Thanks, Jack. I only want two things. One – show Sammy around
the world – let him get his fill of it, until he’s ready to come back here
and take over. Two – give me the fourth request.

“I can’t just decide to die, not any more than you can. I won’t even die of
old age like you eventually will, even though it’ll be a long time from now.
I need to be killed. Once Sammy is back here, ready to take over, I’ll be
able to die. And I need you to kill me.

“I’ve even thought about how. Poisons and other drugs won’t work on me. And
I’ve seen pictures of snakes that were shot – some of them live for days, so
that’s out too. So, I want you to bring back a sword.

Nate turned away to look back to the dune that Sammy had gone behind. “I’d
say an axe, but that’s somewhat undignified – putting my head on the ground
or a chopping block like that. No, I like a sword. A time-honored way of
going out. A dignified way to die. And, most importantly, it should work,
even on me.

“You willing to do that for me, Jack?” Nate turned back to look at Jack.

“Yeah, Nate,” replied Jack solemnly, “I think I can handle that.”

Nate nodded. “Good!” He turned back toward the dune and shouted, “Sammy!
Jack’s about ready to leave!” Then quietly, “Thanks, Jack.”

Jack didn’t have anything to say to that, so he waited for Sammy to make it
back to the lever, nodded to him, nodded a final time to Nate, and then
headed into the desert with Sammy following.
Over the next several years Sammy and Jack kept in touch with Nate through
e-mail as they went about their adventures. They made a goal of visiting
every country in the world, and did a respectable job of it. Sammy had a
natural gift for languages, as Jack expected he would, and even ended up
acting as a translator for Jack in a few of the countries. Jack managed to
keep the talking rattlesnake hidden, even so, and by the time they were
nearing the end of their tour of countries, Sammy had only been spotted a
few times. While there were several people that had seen enough to startle
them greatly, nobody had enough evidence to prove anything, and while a few
wild rumors and storied followed Jack and Sammy around, nothing ever hit the
newspapers or the public in general.

When they finished the tour of countries, Jack suggested that they try some
undersea diving. They did. And spelunking. They did that too. Sammy finally
drew the line at visiting Antarctica. He’d come to realize that Jack was
stalling. After talking to his Dad about it over e-mail, he figured out that
Jack probably didn’t want to have to kill Nate. Nate told Sammy that humans
could be squeamish about killing friends and acquaintances.

So, Sammy eventually put his tail down (as he didn’t have a foot) and told
Jack that it was time – he was ready to go back and take up his duties from
his dad. Jack, delayed it a little more by insisting that they go back to
Japan and buy an appropriate sword. He even stretched it a little more by
getting lessons in how to use the sword. But, eventually, he’d learned as
much as he was likely to without dedicating his life to it, and was
definitely competent enough to take the head off of a snake. It was time to
head back and see Nate.

When they got back to the US, Jack got the old RV out of storage where he
and Sammy had left it after their tour of the fifty states, he loaded up
Sammy and the sword, and they headed for the desert.

When they got to the small town that Jack had been trying to find those
years ago when he’d met Nate, Jack was in a funk. He didn’t really feel like
walking all of the way out there. Not only that, but he’d forgotten to
figure the travel time correctly, and it was late afternoon. They’d either
have to spend the night in town and walk out tomorrow, or walk in the dark.

As Jack was afraid that if he waited one more night he might lose his
resolve, he decided that he’d go ahead and drive the RV out there. It was
only going to be this once, and Jack would go back and cover the tracks
afterward. They ought to be able to make it out there by nightfall if they
drove, and then they could get it over tonight.

Jack told Sammy to e-mail Nate that they were coming as he drove out of
sight of the town on the road. They then pulled off the road and headed out
into the desert.

Everything went well, until they got to the sand dunes. Jack had been
nursing the RV along the whole time, over the rocks, through the creek beds,
revving the engine the few times they almost got stuck. When they came to
the dunes, Jack didn’t really think about it, he just downshifted and headed
up the first one. By the third dune, Jack started to regret that he’d
decided to try driving on the sand. The RV was fishtailling and losing
traction. Jack was having to work it up each dune slowly and was trying to
keep from losing control each time they came over the top and slid down the
other side. Sammy had come up to sit in the passenger seat, coiled up and
laughing at Jack’s driving.

As they came over the top of the fourth dune, the biggest one yet, Jack saw
that this was the final dune – the stone, the lever, and somewhere Nate,
waited below. Jack put on the brakes, but he’d gone a little too far. The RV
started slipping down the other side.

Jack tried turning the wheel, but he didn’t have enough traction. He pumped
the brakes – no response. They started sliding down the hill, faster and
faster.

Jack felt a shock go through him as he suddenly realized that they were
heading for the lever. He looked down – the RV was directly on course for
it. If Jack didn’t do something, the RV would hit it. He was about to end
humanity.

Jack steered more frantically, trying to get traction. It still wasn’t
working. The dune was too steep, and the sand too loose. In a split second,
Jack realized that his only chance would be once he hit the stone around the
lever – he should have traction on the stone for just a second before he hit
the lever – he wouldn’t have time to stop, but he should be able to steer
away.

Jack took a better grip on the steering wheel and tried to turn the RV a
little bit – every little bit would help. He’d have to time his turn just
right.

The RV got to the bottom of the dune, sliding at an amazing speed in the
sand. Just before they reached the stone Jack looked across it to check that
they were still heading for the lever. They were. But Jack noticed something
else that he hadn’t seen from the top of the dune. Nate wasn’t wrapped
around the lever. He was off to the side of the lever, but still on the
stone, waiting for them. The problem was, he was waiting on the same side of
the lever that Jack had picked to steer towards to avoid the lever. The RV
was already starting to drift that way a little in its mad rush across the
sand and there was no way that Jack was going to be able to go around the
lever to the other side.

Jack had an instant of realization. He was either going to have to hit the
lever, or run over Nate. He glanced over at Sammy and saw that Sammy
realized the same thing.

Jack took a firmer grip on the steering wheel as the RV ran up on the stone.
Shouting to Sammy as he pulled the steering wheel, “BETTER NATE THAN LEVER,” he ran over the snake.

THE END





PLEASE READ:

This joke was also a personality profile test…

It was the subject of a recent Educational Psychology Master’s Thesis, soon to be published, which investigated the way that someone responds to a webpage such as this correlates to certain personality tendencies.

The research confirmed a statistically significant correlation which strongly suggests a dependably predictive positive relationship between how a person responds to this page and certain aspects of his or her psychological profile. Thus, it is called the Personality Profile Assessment Test Hypothesis.

While the actual results looked at several complex factors, and depended heavily on questionnaires filled out by volunteers upon completion of their experience, I will simplify the results by discussing three main groups and their profiles. While these profiles may not be exactly fitting of each person within each group, they do strongly suggest a statistically significant likelihood of profile similarity.

11% of those who see this page take their time, enjoying the joke as they read it, enjoying the build up to the punch line, and even if the punch line itself wasn’t particularly humorous, they tended to enjoy the process.

56% begin scroll down to the punch line either before starting to read the joke or within a short period of time- usually 20 seconds or less. The vast majority of this group choose not to read the joke.

33% read at least 1/3 of the joke, with the intention of reading it all, but then begin to question their decision and the investment of time they are making. They go back and forth between deciding to continuing or to skip to the end (this vacillating may be unconscious at the time, and happen in a matter of moments). The vast majority in this group give up before finishing ½ of the joke, and scroll to the end.

People in the first group, who read the entire joke, tend to enjoy the journey of life, and take their time as they move towards a goal. When traveling, they tend to thoroughly enjoy the process, and are not uptight or stressed about single-mindedly getting to their destination. They also tend to be very attentive, patient and long lasting lovers, and enjoy intimacy and physical connectivity whether or not it is carried to completion.

Those in the second group, who scroll to the end before reading more than a few sentences of the joke, tend to avoid surprises and the unknown. They prefer to have a regular schedule and not to step out of their routine. They tend to be efficient, but are often lacking in enjoyment, spontaneity and passion. They tend to be less patient and more interested in the destination than the journey. When on a trip, they tend to focus on getting where they are going, rather than enjoying the process. During intimacy, they tend to not be able to enjoy it unless they are certain it will be taken to completion. The idea of just “playing around” a while, engaging in physical intimacy without the promise of full completion is, rather than simply enjoyable and connective, considered to be “cruel” and a “teasing” and is met with resentment. This group’s ability to enjoy depends largely on their need to know what is going to happen. They tend to be more self-focused lovers, and tend not to last very long in satisfying the other partner if their own satisfaction has happened or is within easy reach.

The third group, who decided not to read the entire joke after reading a third or more of it, tend to be commitment-phobic and lack the ability to move forward to completion when things become challenging. They are often procrastinators and frequently give up on tasks when they become more difficult. They tend to prefer to have big dreams than act on them in the real, challenging world. A significantly higher percentage of this group had Cesarean birth, and may not have had the benefit of that early experience of struggle and effort being rewarded with accomplishment. This group tends to not take big vacations which would take more effort to plan and implement, and tends to stay close to home or even stay home during time off. Promotions and career moves which are within reach but still require some effort and focus are frequently not fully tried for, although the perception will be they were passed up. In intimate relationships, this group tends to start out romantic and passionate, but it quickly fades and is replaced by lackadaisicalness and indifference, characterized in part by a sense of feeling it is not worth the effort to continue having a passionate, energized and complete experience during intimacy. There is a tendency to “peter out” both in intimacy and in other aspects of life, and to take the easier road, even if it leads to a less fulfilling life.


Disclaimer: This summary of the thesis results is not intended in any way to offer advice or therapy, nor is it intended to infer anything about whether anyone reading this page does or does not fit the personality profiles described.


15 Years? Really?

Note: This is a re-post of my friend Michael Wilson’s blog entry of his experience on 9/11. It is posted here unedited, in his original format from his blog. You can see the original here. I only post it to ensure that it is not lost to time and because I was so moved by his account. I consider him a kindred spirit. Like me, he spent most of his professional career in the brokerage industry and 9/11 had a profound effect on both of us, though as you will read, to a greater extent on him . Enjoy.

The day is always such a crap shoot. Usually I sail through it with a suspiciously light-hearted attitude that people aren’t sure how to take, just to mess with them a bit. Some years, like…13 I think, I wake up and spend the day feeling like I’m drowning in a sea of tears and blood.

There are two things that will hit the button and bring me back there; which is not to say they’ll cause me to dissolve into malaise, just that they’ll cause me to spin the roulette wheel of whatever it’s going to evoke a the time.

  • The easy one is images of the buildings.  So…social media is GENERALLY off limits today. But to be perfectly honest, my narcissism outweighs my trepidation more often than I should strictly be comfortable with, so…so it goes.
  • There are those huge saw blades they use to cut concrete when doing construction, edged in carbide nubs.  The concrete dust those things kick up is one of the most visceral reminders of getting caught in that cloud that day.  Usually you can see that stuff coming from miles away on the highway.  But every once in a while the smell will catch me unaware, and I can almost hear the little ‘ping’ noise as I shout to the universe “22 black.”

At some point in my backups and restores I seem to have overwritten the most recent version of this. I just lifted this off the old radio userland backup…

The bold, italic blocks are editorial comments to myself and reminders of things to add. I figured I should leave them in. It really is an “0.1” document, so take that into account.

The account…

It’s almost impossible to describe that sound. When you think of a crash, you think of a cacophony of shattering and twisting noises. A noise that hearts your ears with it’s pitch. But when you’re in side one of the objects in the crash, the experience is much different, almost inverted in a way. There was a resounding crunch almost too deep to be heard. It reminded me very much of the sound of a car crash from within one of the cars. A much more rounded sound.

It was a deep feeling as well. Most of that was likely due to the fact that I was on the 51st floor of the building.

At the time I thought it was a strangely strong lightning strike. As such I was completely calm and settled about the whole affair. Indeed I was excited, having a great fondness for a good electrical storm.

It was a few seconds before the “oh my god’s” started coming from all over the office. I looked up from my desk in time to see what appeared to be debris of some sort falling past the window. It was a sunny morning and the debris sparkled as it fell. The mind does some wonderful things while it’s trying to sort stimuli into proper order. The glass fell past the window in a cloud of sparkles, reflecting the morning light. It looked for all the world like someone had dumped a truckload of fairy dust off the roof of the building. It felt like long seconds, trying to process what it could possibly have been, before realizing what had happened. Of all moments of the morning, that makes me smile. It was certainly one of the loveliest things I’d ever seen.

My next thought was that a helicopter must have hit the building a few floors up. That would at least account for the shake and the debris.

It was about then that a few people started running. Shouts of “everybody out” accompanied the stampede of employees. I noted in passing that Dean, our fire marshal, was among the first out the door. Well, so much for making sure everybody’s out.

I could smell the energy level rise, until the whole office seemed to buzz around me. In retrospect, this is the sound of one person going into deep shock.

I stood up and looked around. I had started to walk out, but hadn’t gotten all the way out of my “cube” before I thought to pack my backpack. it seemed unlikely that we were really going to evacuate, and if we did, we’d get about halfway down before they told us everything was secure, and to return to work.

But in the event that we didn’t get back in the building that day, I wanted my bag with me. So for about 2 or 3 minutes I packed
my notebook, the “peerless” cartridge (a 20gig external hard drive, used for backups, etc) and a couple books. After a moment’s hesitation I decided to pack the whole peerless drive as well (this is the ‘dock’ the cartridge plugged in to.)

Slowly I started walking out the door. I ran into Henry on the way out, confirming that everybody else had already gotten out safely (he also mentioned that the computer room was smoking.)

  • People coming over to look at the debris.
  • Debris on all sides of the building.
  • Watching Dana’s hair fly by.
  • Acrid smell coming from the computer room.

So I had my bag and my jacket on, and I made my way to the stairs. I don’t remember much about the journey to the stairwell other than the act of walking out the door to the hallway and seeing it fairly busy with most of the office standing around the emergency phone trying to figure out quite what to do. I seem to remember Dan having been there, but other than that the only face I remember is that of Henry, with whom I walked out.

I paused for a moment realizing I had to go to the bathroom, but for some reason thought better of it. In retrospect, a notion that evokes no small amount of laughter.

The stairwell was pleasant insofar as such things can be. People were pretty shaken. Clearly everyone’s neurons had all fired at the same moment and there was a bit of edginess about the whole affair in the beginning. But it was mostly nervous laughter.

One of the reasons I live in New York City is for the people. This is a statement that evokes all manner of oxymoron jokes from the ministries of puns throughout the world. But that’s only because they don’t know any better. I don’t mean that New Yorkers are such warm, welcoming, hospitable people in a day to day sense. But New Yorkers don’t generally have a lot of time or patience for bullshit. And when there’s a panic situation, the amount of panic is pretty much limited to the bridge and tunnel people. No offense, but when there’s an emergency in New York, stay the hell in Bayonne or Scarsdale.

We were descending at a decent pace, when a man lost his footing to the left of me and up a couple steps. One of a pair of early 40s round latin women screamed at the top of her lungs. An offense I found it hard to forgive at the moment. Aside from that things were pretty quiet. The gentleman, who was clearly caught in an emotional state with which I am not particularly familiar by the look on his face and the strange paralysis that seemed to overtaken him, was caught before he hit the deck by several people, strangely unable to move his own legs enough to stand up again. Such was the spirit of the descent.

  • Cell phone discussions
  • “Nah, it’s such a strong building though”
  • 1993 Veterans
  • Women’s shoes all the way down

It was a good 10 or 15 floors before we started hearing “Get to the right!” from several floors above or below us. In the beginning this evoked a modest effort to scrunch along the walls as extremely distressed people came down with a clear-headed escort, or firemen went up, overloaded with gear (including 1 or 2 compressed air tanks, 6′ polearms, a vast length of hose and sometimes drinking water, to say nothing of their suits) would come up, sweat poured off them like a bad special effect.

People were quiet, just watching the express lane when it was called for. The only thing we knew was that we were part of “the masses” and that perhaps this wasn’t a particularly ordinary circumstance.

34th floor?

My bladder was beginning to govern my mind (having descended from 51 in an amount of time I have no ability to calculate or rederive) I needed a solution. So I opened the door and walked out into the hall. The smoke was fairly thick, which I didn’t understand. I thought I had seen forms moving behind one of the glass doors, so I went inside the office and talked to a couple people.

There were a bunch who were just standing around waiting for the staircase to clear before beginning their descent (a phenomenon I noticed at many more ‘poke my head in’ moments on the way down.) Among them were a couple veterans of the ’93 bombing who “weren’t going to die by being trampled to death.”

A kid (about 25) dressed in 1985 conservative garb (suspenders, power tie and all) was on the phone trying to figure out and report (in a rather coldly financial way) what had happened. A request for directions to the bathroom resulted in my worst fears realized. They were locked on all floors, and nobody around had the key (these were apparently all squatters from higher up.) So I went back to the stairs.

Strangely, when I got there, nobody had moved. Henry said “Yo, you missed it. Some wounded came down.” This didn’t have the air of rubbernecking excitement that putting it on paper might imply. It was a simple fact. Someone standing next to me leaned in and near-whispered “yeah, it was pretty bad, a bunch of people had to turn away.” I could only imagine what that meant. It occurred to me then that those could only have been the wounded that were able to walk down the stairs.

From then on, when someone shouted “Get to the right” people hustled.

It was about the early 30s where the smell of smoke began to get dense. People were looking down the middle of the stairs trying to figure out how bad it was going to get, and would we have to get off and wait in one of the offices until things had cleared. My spider sense went nuts at the idea. No, it was better to just go down through it. After all, the firemen were coming up. Eventually that was what reassured us. They told us to keep going. It would get worse for a couple more floors, but then the air cleaned up, which it did.

It was about then that I first had the thought. “What if the fire is in the stairwell 20 floors down and there’s no way out?” It was a kind of understanding that caused me to become more calm. No, calm isn’t the right work. Calculating is better. I was anything but calm. It just wasn’t being expressed by sweating and having that strange “I’m about to burst into panicked tears” facial expression that seemed to rule the day. I wasn’t spending a lot of energy trying to reassure people so as to reassure myself. I was just being an observer, more and more detached form the reality of what was taking place as I descended each step. I could feel myself getting farther away with each new detail. It was as though the heat of my own fear drove me out of my body.

We caught some word from people going up that a plane had hit the building. I could imagine that being an accident, but it didn’t seem too likely. It wasn’t long after we started getting news that we got the telling piece of information. It wasn’t one plane, it was two. One hitting each tower. For some reason I don’t quite understand, most people didn’t seem to do the math. People repeatedly declared how strange that was.

I have to imagine that I felt and heard it, but I just don’t remember, or can’t place the time closely enough to explore my surrounding memories for some telltale sign. Maybe the buildings were just that well insulated. yeah, it seems pretty thin to me too.

Perhaps it’s the cynic’s lot to accept such truths more readily than normal people. The The couple people who seemed on the ball enough to handle the news (and close enough to me that I wouldn’t have to shout it) and I spoke a bit about how it could only have been a terrorist attack. They would shake off my hypothesis (or rather, the effect of hearing it) with a resigned “yeah, you’re right.”

But still, through all of this weirdness, no panicking. Only the rivers of sweating faces of the overloaded firemen and people in other more official uniforms I didn’t quite recognize coming up. The civil, if terrified, people going down.

Now, down below the 30th floor, the firemen were in the individual floors with their pokes, prying apart vending machines to get at something to drink. There were also firemen just dropping bottles of water on the way up the stairs because they were just too damn heavy. Promptly someone would pick them up and offer drinks to the others until the bottle was empty or accepted in it’s entirety.

My heart began to sink and I became heavy with guilt as the “rescue workers” (as is now apparently the polite euphemism) went up the stairs to do whatever they possibly could. Not knowing what that even might be. A part of me, a big part of me, wishes I could remember more if not all of those faces. I didn’t know it at the time; that they were climbing to their deaths. It was a couple days before I had another thought about that… They may have known full well.

See, I’ve waited too long to pen this account. But it is only now I can keep my head clear and eyes dry enough to get a significant amount of words out on paper.

In the mid-20s, the flow of firemen became fairly consistent. People stayed to the outside edge of the stairwell by default now as best they could. Descent was extremely slow, taking a couple minutes at each floor. It was here I believe a number of people switched to other stairwells. Some advantage seemed apparent to them. I didn’t find the going quite that slow, and frankly I wasn’t that bothered.

On 22 was where they were all congregating. They were stopping on the way up for a breather, and going up in shifts of 8 or 10. All of them had radios and they were referring to each other by what company they came from. It did me some good to see them resting. They were human after all, and after what I’d seen already, I was beginning to wonder about that.

Things began to speed up dramatically down in the low teens. People’s spirits were lifting and the line was getting a bit faster. More frequently though, the floor in the stairwells would be wet. After all, it was almost over.

By the time we got down to the 6th floor, the water was coming off the floors themselves, pouring out from under the doors and down the steps. This was causing a fair bit of excitement. People began to try and make time getting down as quick as they could, sacrificing basic safety rather readily. By the 3rd floor it was difficult to walk. But you could hear the police at the bottom telling people to move on.

It wasn’t until I got out the door at the bottom of the stairwell, nearly pushed by the police, while they were looking at nobody in particular, yelling to keep moving, run, get away from the building. But the stairwell exits into the bottom of the building which is at least 2 floors underground.

I walked out the door into the lobby and saw some destruction for the first time.

The marble facades on the walls (the 3 or 4 story high walls) had come down in several places, leaving debris scattered everywhere. The turnstiles were battered to bits, presumably by the firemen who had larger things to get upstairs than just themselves. The floor was covered in 3 foot high piles of marble and plaster. They had dug a trail from the doorway out through to the mall entrance.

Everything I remember from those few minutes is white and gray. The color of concrete.

As we single-filed out of the stairwell, people were bewildered. There was destruction, the first signs of it with plaster and marble covering the floor in 3 foot deep piles that had been quickly shuttled around to clear some relatively safe pathways out to the mall. They stopped, looking to the police and FBI for some kind of information. But there was only one thing they would get:

“Keep moving. Do not stop to talk on your cell phone. Walk this way out to the mall. Move as fast as you can. Get away from the building.”

“But what’s goin’…”

“Keep moving. Less talking more walking. Let’s go. Let’s go.”

wouldn’t make eye contact

There seemed to be hundreds of cops and FBI agents around, all saying the same thing; herding us into the mall, down a specific path. Positively herding us.

“Run as fast as you can, get away from the building.” They were programmed to not interact with us in any way, not to say anything that would cause us to stop and try and talk, just to get us out the door.

The sprinkler systems in the mall were going full blast and the floor is a glossy tile. The LAST thing a thinking person would do is run across that floor while it’s covered in an inch of water. In retrospect, yeah, I probably could have trotted a bit.

We were herded around a couple corners to an escalator exit that came up in front of Borders. By the time we got there the sprinklers had been shut off. Not that it mattered much, I was already soaked to the bone.

We got up the stairs and it was more of the same…

“Keep moving. Run! Run away from the building as far as you can get.”

“How many blocks?”

“Just keep going.”

“But how far?”

“As far as you can get.”

“Which direction?”

“Any direction, just go!”

This was representative of the conversations I heard between people just trying to understand their plight and those who were expected to know more than us.

So we walked. Some trotted, but not too many. We were out of the building, what could possibly have been the need? More debris maybe. But they were being a bit melodramatic about that if that was the reason. It occurred to me finally that I wasn’t even half way up to start with. If they were evacuating the whole building then just to have the crowd there would be dangerous, so of course they would want us “as far away as possible.”

Satisfied with my own explanation I walked off in the direction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Worse comes to worse, I’ll just walk home that way and figure out what’s going on later.

I remember my route fairly precisely. I could rewalk it in a heartbeat if it were there anymore. Unfortunately I don’t think I ever knew the street names so it would be of no use to anybody.

I walked diagonally across the street in front of Borders off to the left and passed in front of Staples, still amazed at the police presence.

It wasn’t until I was in front of J&R Computer World that I turned around and saw what had become of WTC-2.

I could see the flames. From what amounted to 6 blocks away from the building and 60 floors down I could see the flames.

My mind was as empty of thought as it has ever been. I had absolutely no reaction. For seconds I watched it burn, thoughts slowly returning to the charred remains of my mind. “I’m not going to die by getting trampled to death.” Was the most coherent thing I remembered. No sir. I’m deeply sorry to say, you weren’t.

I returned to my exodus with hundreds of people on the street. Slowly people began to realize what was going on as they turned around for the first time and looked at what I had just seen, and screamed. People stopped to take pictures. Occasionally I had the presence of mind to scream at them “Are you fucking stupid !?!”

I heard the source of a noise in my stomach and bones. It was a sound of cosmic import. I turned around a bit quizzical. I watched as each successive floor blew out with flames, then smoke. The sound would have been deafening but it was almost too low to even hear. My feet heard it, my stomach and bones heard it, and my spirit was fractured by it. In a steady meter, obscuring the floors above them in smoke that rose to the top of the building (and above) each floor exploded, pausing only a fragment of a second before the one below erupted, obscuring the next floor up in it’s entirety. I couldn’t help but think of it as the perfect movie effect.

I trotted a bit, sprinted for a little while, but not very long, then went back to a fast walk as the screaming people came on. Frankly I was far more afraid of them than anything else, so my speed was intended to match theirs so I could ‘bodysurf the crowd’ rather than getting trampled by a bunch of panicking morons.

I turned around to see which way I would be most likely to dodge them when I saw the cloud of smoke and ash beginning to snake it’s way between the buildings. It took a good 10 seconds to register, then I did some very quick math and started tearing off in more or less the direction of the bridge, having come to a frightening conclusion.

You can’t outrun the cloud. No, it’s not a movie tag line. You CAN’T outrun the cloud.

I noticed as I ran that it was getting quiet behind me. There weren’t any screams. but it wasn’t a “clear” sensation. It was a great thing, a monster that swallowed screams and the people who made them, swallow them whole. And it was going to get me, strangle me, and kill me.

My shoes started looking a little grey as strange particles of ash blew forward between my feet. I turned around to look and there was nothing. Just grey. By the time I turned back around to face forward the rest of the world had disappeared.

Silence.

Complete and perfect.

Deadly.

I couldn’t hear myself breathe. I couldn’t feel the air entering my lungs. I couldn’t see my own feet. I looked down at my clothes, and could only make out the barest outline of myself, if that was even him. There was no sound, there were no people. There was no Brooklyn Bridge to run to. There was no East River to get to where the cloud would have dispersed. There was no City Hall, no fountain, no J&R. There were no cop cars. There were no camera wielding fools. There were no cops or FBI agents, no matter how well armed. 500 panicking screaming people within 100 yards of me were gone.

Just like me.

There was no lower Manhattan, no new York City, no United States, no North America, no earth, Solar system. No milky way galaxy. No universe. No black, no white. No hope, no light. No love, no life.

Nothing.

Nothing but grey.

Nothing but fear.

Nothing but death.

And me. Alone. Again. Still. After everything in my life. To die, alone.

Fuck you too.

Huge deep panic breaths. Every breath I take is killing me. Put your shirt over your mouth. “But I can’t see.” Just walk.

I had been untethered from everything. All I wanted was something to put my feet onto that could move, something to grab on to that was made of steel.

There was someone else moving out there, in the infinity of 10 feet away. I got to him and put my hand on his back. We walked for a while and got separated. It must have been a hallucination.

I found a wall and followed it with one hand. but I didn’t know where it led so I moved away from it and walked out into the street. But I don’t know which one.

This shirt (over my face) is doing me no good.

I couldn’t see anything. I felt my lungs filling up with this crap. How much would it take to kill me? Before my lung capacity was reduced to the point of suffocation?

I saw the lights of a cop car and approached it. I looked at the driver’s side window, but couldn’t see in. Cops were doing important things. I wasn’t important enough to bother them. Besides, all that ash would just get in their car.

A fence… I didn’t know any fences around there. I must not’ve been there. Which way then?

Another form, moving quickly.

A cop hat.

He sees me.

“Give me your hand. We’re going to run.”

I may have said something about not wanting to die.

He didn’t wear a mask. But I think he had glasses. Shorter than me by about 5 inches, with a grip I was thankful for.

We ran.

“You’re going to see a triangle of light in the upper left side of your vision. When you do, keep running to that.” What the hell did that mean?

It wasn’t long. I could see it. We were running under something. The Bridge! It was the overpass to the bridge.

“I see it.”

He ran with me for another second.

“It’s clear there.”

“I’m not going to die. I’m good. I’m ok.” I was reassuring him (or was it me) and letting him know that he could let go and get back to whatever important stuff he had been doing before getting sidetracked by running into me.

He was gone. But I was here, and there was color and people and New York City. Damn I love New York.

I came out on the “wrong” side of the street. Out from under an overpass I didn’t recognize (until going back to retrace my steps.) There was an FBI agent armed with a combat shotgun and a vest. “You’re on the wrong side of the street. You need to be over there.”

“Dude after what I just came out of, I’ll go wherever the hell you tell me as long as it’s not back that way. Damn, he couldn’t even smile.

My thought seems to be tightly tied to my ability to see, because as the detail of the world emerged from the cloud, my brain popped the clutch and lit up the tires of my mind.

I vaulted over the guardrail to get on to the right side of the street and started walking. I am I and I had deep purpose. There were things that needed to be done now. Between steps I could summon up as much spit as I could to get the grit, gravel, dust, and ash out of my mouth and throat.

My teeth crunched and I spit continuously for the next 10 minutes.

I walked north. Everybody walked north. It was only a block or two before there weren’t very many people covered in ash the way I was. As I approached Canal street, people started looking at me funny. (Well, truth be told people started looking at me funny 30 years ago, but that hardly helps the point.) I stood for a moment on some island near the Manhattan Bridge, I think. It might not have been that far up.

The moment I stood still people started feeling guilty about being overcome by their urge to crowd. there were a couple guys begin worn by “nice” suits (read: expensive as they were boring.) I think one had a yellow tie and a beeper. he started talking about having been down on wall street when they evacuated. He looked like he had just stepped out of the shower, talking to me about a harrowing experience. What a little bitch-ass.

“Where were you when the building came down?”

“What?”

“You know, when it fell.”

“WHAT!?! It didn’t occur to me that I hadn’t turned around. I did. There was only one tower. “IT’S FUCKING GONE?”

“Yeah man.”

It took me a minute to rejoin the conversation. There were only the two of us talking before. He didn’t seem to need my attention. But I snapped back, having replayed from the beginning.

“Look at me, where the hell do you think I was? Just below city hall, in front of J&R. I’d just gotten out of the building.”

“THAT ONE?”

“No, the one that’s still there.” Because at the moment, it was.

A couple oriental people asked what questions they could with the English they knew. Frankly I don’t remember them. I was happy to stand there and answer people for a while though. Something in me understands the need of people to have a first hand account. After all, you’re reading this, aren’t you.

In my left periphery I saw a short hispanic man kneeling with a disposable camera tilted on it’s end trying to get a discrete picture, as if somehow I was too big to get into frame otherwise. He saw me notice him and ws overwhelmed with shame. As he started to turn around, his head slung between his shoulders, I smiled and waved him forward.

Giddy at the opportunity he took the picture, paused a second, then handed his camera to a friend, came over and put his arm around me. We smiled as he took the shot. Then they switched places. I just laughed, really hard. Dust billowing from my lungs. “Come to New York, see a real-live terrorist attack! Get your very own picture taken with a real-live victim.” What I wouldn’t give for a copy of those pictures.

Eventually I said my polite good days and started walking North. On a lark I dug out my cell phone. It was working but all the lines were busy. My sister Liz was clearly the person to call. This classified as “emergency” status. They’d all wonder where I was, if I was alive, and where I’d go. If they’d bothered to trust their instincts they’d know the answers to all those questions, but I’m not here to bore you with my own metaphysical cosmology. Failing that though, I’d call Liz and she’d get the word out. Of course i could have called Laura just as readily had I known where she was.

In those first 20 minutes, when people were still finishing up their first couple breaths, you could see the fraternity of New York City already in full tilt. Like I said, New Yorkers don’t have a lot of patience for bullshit. And there was no bullshit in the way here. Something larger than us had happened, and it had given us purpose. It’s a sense of purpose whose flare will die down, but will be integrated forever into The City, forging us all a bit closer together. You could smell the difference.

Someone once posed the question “How do you wake a person who’s dreaming they’re awake?” I know the answer now. You crack the walls of their dream reality with something they have no choice but to handle, and no basis or tools for handling it.

So many conversations erupted spontaneously in those next few blocks. Buses filled to capacity and beyond were picking up whoever they could, then just heading North to whatever destination they could reach. People in cars were picking up anybody who caught their attention.

Electronics stores with televisions in the window gathered clusters of a dozen or two people at a time, riveted to the news. Cars pulled to the side of the street had their doors open and the radio blaring the updated news.

I’ve met people I would like to have kept in touch with. Other alumni of the event. I wish I remembered them. But I don’t.

A very well dressed oriental gentleman approached me and my fly-by-night coterie (my clothes, hair, skin, and backpack white with ash after having been through the sprinklers, then the cloud, gave me away.) He was wearing a bow tie. Who wears a bow tie? He held out his business card towards me with a shaking hand. “I…I…Iwwwas llllate.” He stuttered. “I worked on the 82nd floor of building 2. Are any of the people I worked with alive?” Somewhere in there he said that he wasn’t sure he was making himself clear, so that’s why he was holding out his card.

“Well, they started evacuating tower 2 as soon as the plane hit tower 1, which was a 20 minute time difference. It’s just chaotic down here. I wouldn’t worry too much.” In the immortal words of Edward Norton “I’d like to thank the academy.” There was no way I was going to tell this poor guy that no, I think everybody he worked with was just blasted off the face of the Earth.

People were crowded around parked cars with their doors open and radios on, listening to the breaking news.

I had given up on putting my cell phone back in my bag after every attempt, and just kept hitting redial hoping that at some point I’d get in a window and get through to Liz’s work number. She’d deal with the rest of the calls. It occurred to me that I was walking there as well. She works on 44th street, around the corner from Grand Central Station. It was an easy 3-4 miles away. It was just the easiest place to know to get to. My father works in the Empire State building, but you couldn’t get me near there with a cattle prod and duct tape.

After some length, but still south enough that the streets had names, not numbers, there was someone standing on the sidewalk nearly shouting “Does anyone need anything?” It was a fairly peculiar site. He was standing underneath some scaffolding in front of a large pair of open doors in a stone building, like an old carriage house, scanning the crowd for something. Then he caught sight of me. “Excuse me… do you need something? Men’s room? Some water?”

“No, I’m good man, thanks. Wait, you know, I’ve had to go to the bathroom since I was on the 51st floor of that building.” I knew something mundane was bothering me but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I probably would have gotten all the way uptown before realizing it.

“Right through here sir.”

There was a woman in the men’s room since the ladies room was out of order, so a couple of us waited outside. As I did so I took a bit of a better look around where I was. The people were predominately black, with a couple exceptions. Several of them were missing teeth. They weren’t dressed very well and they all had the same look in their eyes as they watched the exodus from lower Manhattan. It was pure sorrow and compassion. They looked to me and nodded, asked how I was. Better off than most, I think. Better off than most.

Unfortunately there was no mirror in the bathroom, but the relief was an ecstasy without words. I stepped outside and started talking to a couple guys standing there watching all this goin on shaking their heads. One white guy, a big “biker stereotype” looking fellow and an older less-descript black guy. they were standing there smoking some thin chestnut colored cigarettes I see now and again. I talked with them for a good 15 minutes about who knows what.

Finally I started North again, but paused.

“Hey, where am I anyway?”

“You’re on Bowery.” There’s one in every bunch, usually it’s me.

“No no, this place. What is it?”

“Oh, this is the Bowery Street Mission.”

“Ok, thanks a bunch.”

Of course it was. What the hell else could it have been. A place where people come to blame their impulse to do good on God. Hey, whatever works. It’s the doing that matters, and these people were doing it. I wasn’t.

I couldn’t help but think, as I looked around at the people there and thought about them later, that these are people who have had struggle in their life. I understand that everybody’s pain is based on their own experience and position in life and that it’s not possible to compare. But these people were working on the border of living and surviving. I’m not. I know where my next meal is coming from. If I was particularly worried about it I could probably buy all my meals for the next year tomorrow just to be safe.

Here were people who dedicated some significant portion of themselves to helping others keep their heads above water (or on the wagon as the case may be.) I was diddling with computers at a bond market company. You can argue that my job helps the economy and therefore benefits everybody. But it would be pretty damn thin and I wouldn’t take you very seriously.

I have some idea of my potential as a human. It’s one of those very very few things I believe that sets me apart from most other people. Not that I’m capable of anything more than anyone else, but that I have some visceral idea of the limitlessness of that potential. And there are people in the world that need help. And yes, it IS my responsibility to help them.

Enough of that for now.

I wasn’t half a block away from the mission before I heard it. My body recognized the sound, but my brain didn’t. I looked forward to see people shouting and pointing in a fairly predictable direction. I turned around but couldn’t see anything so I ran up the block to where everybody was standing and turned around again. I still couldn’t see anything. It didn’t occur to me why.

“What happened?”

“The second tower just came down.”

Oh. Again my mind was wiped completely clean. The destruction was complete. People talked and guessed about how many floors were still standing but that didn’t seem to make much sense.

I understand something now, about my reaction to those events. I wasn’t emotionless. I was experience a level of emotion that could not even be fractionally expressed. The reason to express emotion is to manifest it. To make it real in the world. Sometimes that includes removing yourself from it. There was simply not enough tears, or enough wind for screaming that could possibly express the weight of those buildings coming down on my heart. The attempt would be nearly insulting.

With new resolve I walked North.

People kept what they thought was a “safe” distance from me. I must’ve been quite a sight.

The rest of the trip to 44th street is a bit of a blur. Probably because it was largely uneventful. I walked with a strangely refreshing singularity of purpose; something that, with a massive case of ADD, I don’t get the chance to enjoy very often.

By the time I arrived, more or less, I had been able to get through on my cell phone and leave a message that I truly enjoyed: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Yes I really said that. In fact, I left that message on 4 answering machines that day. Life is not worth living if not for the sake of humor. And nothing is quite as funny as humor borne of hardship.

I saw Grand Central approaching a block or so away, and all of a sudden I was stopped. Wait, where exactly DID Liz work? I knew it was around there somewhere. So I started weaving between blocks in the low 40s slightly east of Grand Central, to no avail. I remembered going to see her at the office and hanging out outside one of the back entrances that had a weird button with no sign, just there on the wall, about six feet up. Someone had clearly drilled through the marble facade to make sure that thing was there, with no indication of what it was for.

For the first time. I decided to sit my ass down. So I chose a nice marble building and backed myself up against it and plopped down on the sidewalk. It occurred to me that I must have looked like a really nasty homeless person with an attitude. That was followed almost immediately with the strange thought that it might not have been a terribly inaccurate comparison.

Sitting down wasn’t going to get me anywhere, and I had a funny feeling that I was the punch line in one of the universe’s simple little amusements. Besides, I was far too high strung to stay in one place for too long. I stood up and turned around to look at the building I was sitting against. Little button in the wall. I laughed and a puff of dust came out of my mouth.

Yep, this was it. Again I reinforced my image as a crazy person, laughing in this state. While people were on ‘smoke break’ out front of the building.

I walked in the building, quite purposefully, and walked right past the guard.

“Uhm… Excuse me.”

I hit the elevator call button and one opened almost immediately as the guard rounded the corner.

“Excuse me! Sir?!”

I walked in and hit #4. The doors closed.

Yeah, you’re excused.

Ding.

I left the elevator and knocked on the door to my sister’s place of employment, making great ash smudges in the glass that pigpen would have envied.

Poor Ruth, the receptionist. I knew her from nights out with Liz and her posse from work. She looked like I was a ghost coming to kill her. It took a couple seconds to realize she need to buzz me in.

“Uhhh… Uhmm.”

“Hi I’m here to see Liz Wilson?” An attempt at disaster humor that was completely lost on poor Ruth.

“She’s not here. Laura came and got her and they went to her apartment… Uhh… Liz’s that is… thinking that you’d go there.”

Great. Liz lived on east 6th street. Almost all the way back. I chuckled and shook my head.

“Well, what the hell would she think that for?” A rhetorical question. I really didn’t want to walk downtown 2 miles (20 street blocks to a mile in New York. So…44 to 6 is almost exactly that), especially not against the tide of crazed desperate New Yorkers, however tightly bonded they were.

Christie, another friend of Liz’s came in about then and “oh my god”ed up a storm. So I started with the “yeah, I was in there.” and went through the highlights. Ruth had been on the phone. She started relating what I was saying, but then resigned herself to just holding the phone out what I talked. It was a pretty strange scene as people came in and out past me wondering who I was.

Yep. Back South. It was a much quicker walk down to East 6th street. I went east a couple blocks to get away from the madness, but it was still like trying to iceskate uphill.

There’s a little strip-mall looking arrangement in the low 30s down on 2nd avenue or so. They have a bunch of cafe’ tables out. But the whole thing is pretty contrived in a Murray Hill kind of way. I became quite the attraction as I walked through there.

I don’t remember what got me stopped to talk, but there were a few separate groups there. One girl asked me about people she knew in the high 90s. This was beginning to get old and somewhere down in there I cracked…

“Wanna know what I think? I was on the 51st floor of building 1 and I damn near didn’t get out.” She handled it pretty well. they must not have been great friends. Besides, what was I going to say: “I think your friends have been liquefied.”?

Another girl approached me in almost the same spot ( probably just waiting until I was done with the first one) and started talking about how how she’s spent almost 10 years setting up this deal where she’d be working with some company (I think she mentioned a phone company, but I can’t be sure) and she finally got the deal, started working in WTC the day before and moved into an apartment 2 blocks from there 3 days earlier. She wanted to know if she had an apartment.

I felt really bad for her. She ventured a bunch to come out here from some middle America suburb state to try and make it happen in the big city. She didn’t know anybody out here. But I was just not clear enough in my head. I didn’t know what to tell her, other than I didn’t know what to tell her. Frankly I should have taken her with me. It was the only right thing to do. But I didn’t. I kept walking.

I was beginning to get a blister on my thumb from hitting redial. But the phone did something strange this time, on about 31st street, it rant. I held it up to my head and Liz answered her apartment phone.

“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” No WAY I was going to waste an opportunity like that.

All I really remember was a whole lot of incoherent excitement and sniffly babbling.

“I’m coming there. I’m on 31st street. I’ll be there when I get there. It won’t be real soon.”

“Uhm… Uh… Ok… Uhm.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty happy I’m alive too. I’ll see you in a few.”

I eventually got there of course. It was about an hour later, factoring in all the mini encounters and conversations I had on the way down.

I stopped at the corner deli and bought a 2 liter bottle of regular coke, a half pound of salted cashews and some other yummy stuff.

She buzzed me in and I started climbing the stairs. I really learned to hate stairs that day. When I got to the 3rd floor I could hear Laura out in the hall. I started thinking about what they must be doing and had a uniquely sharp thought.

“The television MUST be off before I get there.” My message was relayed and the telltale sound of “dramatic news background music” died. I didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to deal with the news yet.

Now this is where I’d put some emotional scene about the cosmic relief of being together with my sisters. I’m sure it happened pretty much that way. But frankly, I don’t remember anything like that. My memory skips forward to sitting on my ass on Liz’s floor so I wouldn’t shit up her couch and taking off my shirt and backpack, then plumpfing down in a newly formed cloud that would make pigpen green with envy.

Liz, Laura, and Dan were sitting around wondering what the hell to say. they were doing an honorable job at trying not to stare. But frankly, nothing would have bothered me less.

Another 50frigginthousandpages goes here

As a recovering son of a recovering Catholic, I can speak on the subject of guilt with a certain first hand authority. Nothing in all time had made me feel as guilty as surviving that event. No act of distrust, no slight on another person however damaging, accidental, naive or intentional has made me as
nauseous as being amongst the “rescued” on September 11th.

Stay tuned for the epilogues, They’ll be pretty uplifting. I promise. (Assuming I can find them.)

My Heart Attack

Note: The following is an account I had posted to Facebook years ago. I figured I might as well post it here for posterity’s sake.

On Tuesday, February 21st, we had Mexican for dinner. Everything was cool. Around 9:00 pm the girls turned in and I told Karen I was having a little indigestion. I took a couple of Tums and everything got a little better. However, I couldn’t sleep and decided to go into the office around 11:30. Everything was going fine until around 3:00 am when the “indigestion” came back. I took a couple more Tums, a Sprite Zero and a walk around the office hoping to “belch it out.” No dice. I wasn’t having pain, but it felt like someone was doing chest compressions on my sternum. So, I decided to go down to the lobby and check-in with the guard to make sure someone else knew what was going on. By the time I got there, I had decided to call 9-1-1. I walked up to the guard and said, “This may sound strange because I’m standing here talking to you, but I may need an ambulance.”. His response… “Who are you?!?” I suppose he was not prepared to have anyone in the building at 3:30 am let alone be calling 9-1-1.

The ambulance shows up and I’m not having any of the traditional symptoms. No shortness of breath, no increased pulse, no sweats, nothing. I walked myself out to the ambulance, sat down on the gurney, the EMT hooked me up to the EKG and then said, “Open your mouth and raise your tongue. I’m gonna spray this in your mouth and it’s gonna give you a headache.”. We then decided on Baptist hospital and before we got out of the parking lot at American Center, all the pressure was gone. I told the EMT as such. Her response? “That ain’t good.”. I’m sure your reaction is the same as mine was. “How can alleviating all my problems not be good?”. She said, “Because that was nitroglycerin I gave you and if that solved the problem, you’re most definitely having a cardiac issue.”

We arrive at the ER where there were apparently no other patients because approximately 137,432 people came to my assistance coupled with the normal ER accouterment… EKGs, IVs, blood draws, chest Xrays, etc. After a couple of hours, the lead doc decided that all my tests came back clear. The decision was made to admit me, wait a couple of hours and run the tests again. If everything came back clear again, we would schedule a stress test and I would probably go home that afternoon. Flash forward to about 10:00 am (a couple of hours in ER doc speak is approximately 5 hours)…

Around 10:00 am I’m in a regular room at Baptist and they run all the same tests again expecting to send me to a stress test. However, this time, the enzymes that get released into the bloodstream when there is cell damage in the cardio system, popped positive. Doc comes in my room in front of God and everybody, except of course, my wife because she had stepped out to call her mother and announces, “Well, Mr. Scott, you’ve had a heart attack.” Apparently we all had a bewildered look on our faces because just as my mom came back in the room from retrieving Karen and giving her the news, they send in a councilor. After convincing them I didn’t need one, she leaves and the doc says they are canceling the stress test and scheduling an arteriogram. Fun, fun! Now, I get a garden hose shoved through a hole in my groin to my heart and get to be awake for the whole thing. Turn the page…

So, time rolls around for the arteriogram and at least all the nurses are funny and cute (way to go HR) especially the one that gets to shave me. Anyway, they take me in and explain how things are going to work. Don’t know if you have ever had one before, but it’s pretty neat outside the fact that your ultimate mortality is in play. Everything is in 3D and you get to watch it as things go live. Pretty cool. The bottom line for me is that the cardiologist and cardiac surgeon are expecting to put in a stent while they are doing the arteriogram and send my “too young to be going through this” ass home in a few hours. BUT AW HAI-UL NAW! My blockage is in one of the main frontal arteries leading to the heart right before it forks into two others. There is not enough room between the blockage and the fork for a stent to work properly. So while I have a single blockage, I get double bypass surgery. Woo-frickin’-hoo!

I meet with the cardiac surgeon who tells us that I will go in for surgery at 8:00 am Friday morning. In the meantime, I will spend two lovely nights in the gracious confines of the Baptist Hospital Cardiac Care unit. I will be connected to every sort of machine, tube, and wire imaginable and be abruptly woken from deep slumber every two hours to drain my body of all its life-giving fluids as well as to share in the humorous and somewhat bizarre antics and life stories of each nurse assigned to my care. My time here is thankfully short-lived and fairly uneventful and the time finally comes to prep for surgery. Let me assure you that when a man in scrubs enters your room carrying only an electric razor and a roll of paper medical tape and says in a deep Southern voice, “I’m here to shave you” it’s quite disconcerting. Anyway, several minutes later I am shorn like an Australian sheep in the spring and being whisked away to surgery. This is the last memory I will have of seeing my family and friends for another 13 hours or so.

I go back to the surgery prep area which I find out later is the same as the surgery recovery area and can only be described as a place similar to the body farm in the movie “Coma.”. The anesthesia… The aneteths… The anetheseeth… Aw, hell, the good drugs dude, starts explaining to me how everything is gonna go and that he noticed that in my records there is a note about issues I have had with anethes… Anesthesissi… Crap, good drugs in the past. I responded, “Yes sir, but that was when I was younger and I am sure things have changed.”. His response? “I’m sure you won’t have any issues today.” YES! Just the good drugs dude I wanted. “He’s the GOOD MOOD DUDE!”. Arby’s would sell a lot more stuff at a higher profit margin with that slogan. Anyway, he tells me they are ready for us in the OR and says, “OK, here comes the good stuff…” as he starts to suppress the plunger on a syringe attached to my IV. Never saw him detach it.

The next thing I remember is waking up in the body farm, but instead of Michael Douglas standing over me, I have some crazy-assed weird scientist character from a 50s B movie. His name is Frederick and for the past 10 hours and for the next 14 or so, he is my best friend. He’s even better than Good Mood Dude because he doesn’t just get you high and leave. He’s there for the whole trip. He brings water, and ice chips, and Sprite. He removes respiratory tubes, monitor wires and provides the most delicious alternate consciousness that one can buy for an inordinate amount of pain, suffering and insurance premiums.

And so begins my disjointed, bizarre journey through recovery. I don’t remember much of it except flashes. What I do know is provided by the family members that were allowed to come back to see me for about 10 minutes every 2 hours except between the hours of 8:00 pm and 9:30 am the next morning.

Recovery…

Bizarre place where there is no sense of time or day. Where your closest friend is a strange cat who is both the most disconcerting and comforting person you have ever met. The little time I remember here is probably the most intriguing to me. The rules are such. Beginning about an hour or so after surgery, family can come back to see me for 10 minutes or so every two hours. It’s a long, torturous process for Karen. She endures it like a trooper and apparently my progress through the whole thing keeps her almost as high as I am.

Apparently, the first time she comes back to see me she is accompanied by a nurse named Jennifer that took care of me during the initial hours but of whom I have no recollection. Upon first seeing me, she is pleased with how I look despite having a respiratory tube in along with every other wire and contraption connected. I also am approximately the same color as wax paper. I’m pretty sure they did not need the monitors because they could have checked my blood flow from across the room with an LED flashlight. Karen tells me she is there and asks how I am doing. I try to respond vocally, but cannot because of the respirator. So, while she is holding my hand I start to do sign language. Not ASL, but the single-letter, Helen Keller sign language that most people learn in elementary school. The nurse asks what I’m doing and Karen responds, “I think he’s doing sign language.” “Oh, I don’t do that,” she says and walks off. Strange nurse. Didn’t really matter because apparently, I’m the only one in my family that does it either. I was signing “I hurt” which Karen eventually guessed as “pain” and I got hit with another round of delicious liquid Dilaudid. I have no memory, yet, of this encounter.

The next visiting time, Karen comes in to find me off the respirator and doing better. I’m still loopy as the fringe on your grandmother’s Afghan blanket, but much better for the wear. No particular interaction of note with Karen, but my parents come back for a few minutes. My dad asks me how I’m doing and I respond, “It’s a bitch, but I’m ok.” My Dad has been rock-solid through all this, but that statement is the one that seemingly gets to him. Go figure.

These visits go this way every two hours or so, until the last one of the evening at 8:00 pm. At that point, I am quasi-lucid and this will be the only visit I remember with any clarity. Each time, Karen has come back for 7 or 8 minutes and then let my parents come back for a couple. I have no recollection of ever seeing my parents, but this one with Karen I remember. Prior to her arrival, Frederick has asked me if I would like to sit up on the side of the bed and put my feet on the floor. Despite being hooked up like a human car battery, we accomplish this feat. So, when she comes in, I decide I want to duplicate it for her. Frederick agrees, but he has other patients he has to attend to and it will take several minutes. Karen is thrilled because she gets to spend more time with me. What she doesn’t realize is that the half-hour or so she spends back there freaks out everyone in the waiting room. However, we repeat my miraculous event and she is on cloud nine. Apparently, me sitting on the side of the bed with my feet on the floor only eight hours after open-heart surgery is a feat somewhere between a Cirque du Soleil performance and Jesus walking on water. She returns to the waiting room both thrilled and dejected because it will be 13 hours or so before she sees me again.

Now at this point, I am coming out of the fog of narcotic cocktails I have been swimming in and all has been moving forward with wonderful speed and progress. However, the darkest, most painful event of my life is about to come about and I have no warning. Sometime after Karen leaves, Frederick and I repeat my momentous bed sitting extravaganza, only this time it almost immediately brings about a fit of nausea. I start to dry heave. Frederick goes into immediate action and brings me a plastic bucket, puts it in my hands at my chin and looks at me with the most sympathetic look I have ever seen. It reminds me of the much played out scene in war flicks where one soldier holds another while the life slips out of him. Frederick just mumbles, “I am SO sorry. I can’t do anything until you’re finished, but I’ll take care of it when you’re done.”

The next couple of minutes, despite the stream of mind and body numbing drugs flowing through my system, are the most painful I have ever experienced. A freshly sawed sternum wired together, numerous muscular traumas and newly glued incisions, 12 total, coupled with chest tubes, catheters, and various medical cabling are not the things to have amidst college-hangover-style dry heaves. I cannot imagine what kind of pain it had to create for me to have a memory of such pain through the drug fog. As soon as I finish, Frederick takes the bucket and hits me with another bolt of Dilaudid that keeps me out until I wake up in my regular hospital room around 9:30 the next morning. God bless him.

I awake in my regular hospital room just as Karen and my parents are coming in. I feel exhausted but pretty good considering what I have been through. Everyone is excited to see me and are pleased to see that I look pretty good under the circumstances. The next few hours are a steady stream of dozing off and being brought back to consciousness by a nurse to draw blood, take vitals or dispense meds. At this point, I’m only taking hydrocodone and trying my best to only take it when absolutely necessary. I still have a catheter in, a PICC port in my neck, an IV and two drainage tubes sewn into my chest. Moving is uncomfortable, but I manage.

Within a few hours, one of the techs asks me if I am ready to go for a walk. “Heck yeah! Anything to get out of this bed.” So, he brings in a walker along with all the extra stuff I will need to drag along with me to accommodate the various things hooked to my carcass. I get up out of bed and start to ambulate out of the room. The floor I am on is not very big, but down one hall and back is about 350 feet. I make that trip pretty successfully without too much hassle. Everyone is quite impressed. I, on the other hand, want to be wind sprinting down the hall. Patience is not one of my better traits.

Over the next few days, I manage to make it a little further with each trip until I am completely circling the floor. Karen is ecstatic. Every day her smile gets a little bigger even when it is accompanied by a few tears, some of joy, some of relief and some of concern. But I have one more hurdle to leap before I can escape my prison. The day finally comes when the doc says they need to remove my chest drainage tubes. Now, Karen had given me a warning that this would probably be “uncomfortable.” Liar. It hurt like a sonuvabitch. For the uninitiated, the drainage tubes (actually, one tube with a “Y” split before it enters the body) are roughly the size of your index finger. They are a couple of inches apart and protrude just below my sternum. They are massively uncomfortable because they interfere with your breathing and every move you make puts pressure on them. But anyway, the doc lays me back in the bed, snips the stitches holding them in and tells me to take a deep breath. Deep breath?!? I haven’t had a deep breath in almost a week at this point, but I make a valiant attempt. At this point, he YANKS them out of my chest. Now, I’m quite sure he eased them out with the utmost care and medical know-how, but everything in my body told my brain that he YANKED. Instant pain. But just like the nausea in the recovery unit, it was immediately followed by relief. Only this time not chemically induced. Most of the pressure to which I had become accustomed, was gone. I could breathe without difficulty. I was quite pleased. He stitched the incisions back up in a few seconds and was out the door. “Aahhh, much better…”

“Mr. Scott, I also need to remove your catheter.” Crap.

Later that evening, free of all my tethers, save for the remotely monitored EKG unit I was wearing, Karen and I make several laps of the floor. We make it back to the room and I get word that I most likely will be going home the next morning. Woohoo! Everything is returning to normal. The nurse comes in and informs me that I am doing great and tells me that the monitoring lab called the nurses’ station to let her know that my heart rate rose to 130. She told them, “I don’t think that’s gonna be a problem. He and his wife just went down the hall bookin’.” Yep, that’s me, the Usain Bolt of “cabbages” (the nurses’ nickname for patients with Coronary Artery Bypass Grafts). The next morning we load up and bug out.

I’ve now been home for 10 days. I have graduated from the recliner to the sofa to sleep. I’m walking 2-3 miles every morning with additional walking in the afternoon. My incisions are healing well. Most of the swelling is gone and I feel great. I return to my cardiac surgeon on March 20th for a check-up. I think he will be quite pleased.

Waka Waka Bang Splat

In a recent magazine poll, readers established “waka” as the proper pronunciation for the angle-bracket characters < or >. The following poem appeared recently in the magazine.

 

The text of the poem follows:

 

< > ! * ‘ ‘ #
^ ” ` $ $ –
! * = @ $ _
% * < > ~ # 4
& [ ] . . /
| { , , SYSTEM HALTED

 

The poem can only be appreciated by reading it aloud, as such:

 

Waka waka bang splat tick tick hash,
Caret quote back-tick dollar dollar dash,
Bang splat equal at dollar under-score,
Percent splat waka waka tilde number four,
Ampersand bracket bracket dot dot slash,
Vertical-bar curly-bracket comma comma CRASH!

Favorite Quotes

“A gun is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an axe, a shovel, or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it.”

– Alan Ladd, Shane (1953)

“Ehhh, good enough.  -Mediocretes

‘Good’ and ‘enough’ are lacking well defined qualitative and quantitative parameters, respectively, so this gets us absolutely nowhere. – Semanticles.

Well, technically, ‘Mediocretes’ and ‘Semanticles’ aren’t valid Greek names nor did the ancient Greeks have the concept of ‘ehhh’ as phonetic symbolism or onomatopoeia. -Pedanticles”

-Twitter thread

“Here’s to a long life and a merry one, a quick death and an easy one, a pretty girl and an honest one, a stiff drink and another one!”

-Unknown

“To friends and enemies, neighbors and lovers.  Six of one, half a dozen of the other.”

-Ken Scott

“So never ever save old bottles of bourbon.  They’re meant to be enjoyed with friends and family at the moment.  It’s not about the whiskey.  It’s about the lives you touch and the people you meet.  And the whiskey is a by-product of a good relationship.”

-Freddie Johnson, 3rd Generation Buffalo Trace Employee

“True courage is being afraid, and going ahead and doing your job.”

-Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr.

“People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

-Richard Grenier

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.”

-Colin Powell

“Flanders: But, Reverend, I need to know. Is God punishing me?
Reverend Lovejoy: Oh, short answer, ‘yes’ with an ‘if.’ Long answer, ‘no’ with a ‘but.'”

-The Simpsons

“Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.”

-Marcus Tullius Cicero

“I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I am pleading with you with tears in my eyes: If you f*ck with me, I’ll kill you all.”

-General James “Mad Dog” Mattis

“False is the idea of utility that sacrifices a thousand real advantages for one imaginary or trifling inconvenience; that would take fire from men because it burns, and water because one may drown in it; that has no remedy for evils, except destruction. The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm those only who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes.”

-Cesare Beccaria, “The Right to Arms and the American Philosophy of Freedom”

“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.”

-William Barclay

“I believe that every good Jew, every good Christian, and every good Muslim, if you believe that love is the central value of the religion, you have to ask yourself, why is that? The reason is, we are not God; we might be wrong. Every one of us—I might be wrong about what I’ve been advocating here tonight. It’s only when you recognize the possibility that you might be wrong or, to use the language of Saint Paul, that we see through the glass darkly, that we know only in part, that you can give the other person some elbow room.”

-Bill Clinton

“Ever notice how the Democrat party, the party that fought the hardest to keep their slaves, the party that started the KKK and has supported its members even into the 21st century, the party of Jim Crow, the party of George Wallace, segregation and “standing in the schoolhouse door,” the same party that now claims to have exclusive rights to the fight against slavery and the fight for the people, is once again the party that does nothing more and nothing less than enslave the people by telling them what they will be permitted to say and what they will be forced to say, by trapping them in welfare schemes, by telling them what they must buy and what they will not be allowed to eat, by telling them whom they will serve, by telling them what they will and will not be allowed to tolerate, by telling them when and how and even if they will be permitted to defend themselves, and, ultimately, by telling them what they will believe? The Democrat party, under the veil of “progress,” is, always has been, and will always be the people’s biggest threat to liberty.”

-Greg Walrath

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

“When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”

-Benjamin Franklin

“I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”

-James Madison (1794)

“Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.”

-Mike Tyson

“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”

-Max Ehrmann

“The superior man, when resting in safety, does not forget that danger may come. When in a state of security he does not forget the possibility of ruin. When all is orderly, he does not forget that disorder may come. Thus his person is not endangered, and his States and all their clans are preserved.”

-Confucius

“May you never go to hell, but always be on your way.”

-Traditional toast/insult

“There is little use for the being whose tepid soul knows nothing of great and generous emotion, of the high pride, the stern belief, the lofty enthusiasm, of the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

“Welcome to Tennessee, patron state of shootin’ stuff.”

-Bobby Lee Swagger in “Shooter”

“Son, don’t be the best in town, just be the best ’til the best comes around.”

-Buddy Guy

“Taboos are the enemy of history and of truth.”

-Dinesh D’Souza

“Fight with a happy heart and strong spirit.”

-General James “Mad Dog” Mattis

“I’m going to plead with you, do not cross us. Because if you do, the survivors will write about what we do here for 10,000 years.”

-General James “Mad Dog” Mattis

“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

-General James “Mad Dog” Mattis

“Find the enemy that wants to end this experiment (in American democracy) and kill every one of them until they’re so sick of the killing that they leave us and our freedoms intact.”

-General James “Mad Dog” Mattis

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

-Will Rogers

“I hope we shall crush… in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

-Thomas Jefferson

“After all, where would we be without the knowledge that Democrats are pinko-communist flag-burners who want to tax churches and use the money to fund abortions so they can use the fetal stem cells to create pot-smoking lesbian ATF agents who will steal all the guns and invite the UN to take over America? Voters have to decide whether we’d be better off electing Republicans, those hateful, assault-weapon-wielding maniacs who believe that George Washington and Jesus Christ incorporated the nation after a Gettysburg reenactment and that the only thing wrong with the death penalty is that it isn’t administered quickly enough to secular humanist professors of Chicano studies.”

-P.J. O’Rourke

“Untutored courage is useless in the face of educated bullets.”

-Gen. George S Patton

“Suppose the Second Amendment said ‘A well educated electorate being necessary for self governance in a free state, the right of the people to keep and read books shall not be infringed.’ Is there anyone who would suggest that means only registered voters have a right to read?”

-Robert Levy, Georgetown University Professor

“We sometimes think our duty is to make everyone safe. It’s to preserve liberty. It’s not to make a society that’s absolutely safe.”

-Idaho State Sen. Jim Rice

“When you go home tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today.”

-John Maxwell Edmonds, The Kohima Poem

“Shoot twice and go home.”

-A Swiss officer when asked by the German Kaiser what the 250,000-strong Swiss army would do if the Germans invaded with 500,000 men

“Si vis pacem, parabellum” (If you desire peace, prepare for war)

-Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus

“No one can make you look like a fool. They can only point out that you are.”

-Unknown

“Any man who thinks he can be happy and prosperous by letting the government take care of him better take a closer look at the American Indian.”

-Henry Ford

“Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue”

-Bob Dylan

“Truth becomes treason in an empire of lies.”

-Ron Paul

“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”

-William Pitt

“It is better to risk saving a guilty man than to condemn an innocent one.”

-Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet)

“At the end of the game, the king and the pawn go back in the same box.”

-Italian proverb

“Belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence.”

-Sir Robert Wilson

“The lessons we learn are written on the tombstones of others.”

-Reid Henrichs

“Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change – this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress.”

-Bruce Barton

“ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ (Come and take them)”

-Leonidas I of Sparta to Xerxes I of Persia upon being commanded to surrender arms at Thermopylae

“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”

-John Adams

“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”

-Mark Twain

“As democracy is perfected, the office of President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be occupied by a downright moron.”

-H.L. Mencken

“I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”

-Nikos Kazantzakis

“What is the essence of America? Finding and maintaining that perfect, delicate balance between freedom “to” and freedom “from.”

-Marilyn vos Savant

“It is not the breaking of a man’s doors and the rummaging of his drawers that constitutes the essence of the offense; but it is the invasion of his indefeasible right to personal security, personal liberty and private property, where that right has never been forfeited by his conviction of some public offense.”

-Justice Joseph P. Bradley

“We cannot allow our economic life to be controlled by that small group of men whose chief outlook upon the social welfare is tinctured by the fact that they can make huge profits from the lending of money”

-Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“[I do not] carry such information in my mind since it is readily available in books.”

-Albert Einstein when asked what was the speed of sound

“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can defend.”

-Unknown

“Any community that gets its laughs by pretending to be idiots will eventually be flooded by actual idiots who mistakenly believe that they’re in good company.”

-Rene Descartes

“Peace is that brief glorious moment in history when everybody stands around reloading.”

-Thomas Jefferson

“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government – lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”

-Patrick Henry

“I have a very strict gun control policy: if there’s a gun around, I want to be in control of it.”

-Clint Eastwood

“When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”

-Thomas Jefferson

“Avat victoria curam.” (Victory favors the prepared)

-Unknown

“No Free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”

-Thomas Jefferson

“Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation. . . Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”

-James Madison

“Are we at last brought to such humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in possession and under our direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?”

-Patrick Henry

“The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.”

-Alexander Hamilton

“That the said Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of The United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms…”

-Samuel Adams

“And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms….The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants”

-Thomas Jefferson

“Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined”

-Patrick Henry

“The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

-Thomas Jefferson

“Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence … From the hour the Pilgrims landed, to the present day, events, occurrences, and tendencies prove that to insure peace, security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable . . . The very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference – they deserve a place of honor with all that is good”

-George Washington

“A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.”

-George Washington

“I predict future happiness for America if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the PEOPLE under the pretense of taking care of them”

-Abraham Lincoln

“The powers delegated by the Constitution to the federal government are few and defined”

-James Madison

“It is the duty of the PATRIOT to protect HIS country from the government”

-Thomas Paine

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquence. It is force. And force like fire is a dangerous servant and a fearful master”

-George Washington

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

-Benjamin Franklin

“The so-called assault weapons ban is a hoax. It is a political appeal to the ignorant. The guns it supposedly banned have been illegal (as above) for 78 years. Did the ban make them “more” illegal? The ban addresses only the appearance of weapons, not their operation. Will increased cosmetic measures make anyone safer? They, like all efforts at disarmament, will put the citizenry more at risk. Disarmament rests on the assumption that all people are good, and, basically, want the same things. But if all people were basically good, why would we, increasingly, pass more and more elaborate laws? The individual is not only best qualified to provide his own personal defense, he is the only one qualified to do so: and his right to do so is guaranteed by the Constitution.”

-David Mamet

“This irreconcilable conflict is between those who believe in the sanctity of individual freedom and those who believe in the supremacy of the state.”

-Ronald Reagan

“Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms should be a convenience store not a government agency.”

-Unknown