Electrocuted at Club 33

For some reason, I decided to quit working at Disneyland. I don’t exactly know why. I think there was a girl involved. Wait, actually, yes, I know there was a girl involved.

Not her. I wish.

No, not that one.

But then after a few months waiting tables in Newport Beach, I wanted to come back. I missed the mouse. So, I trekked down to the little HR office that doesn’t exist anymore and pleaded to return to the Jungle Cruise, where, just a few months earlier, I had jumped into the river after closing as a way of saying goodbye in grand fashion. However, the HR dude had a different idea.

“You’ve worked in restaurants? How would you like to work at Club 33?”
“Wait. What?”

This fancy-ass place.

This fancy-ass place.

Club 33 is the sooper-secret, hidden, fancy-pants members-only restaurant inside Disneyland. Behind a non-descript door near the Pirates of the Caribbean exit lay what was, for decades, the only place in the park to get alcohol. And a not-bad chateaubriand. For a long time, Club 33 was a kind of urban myth, only unlike the kid on Facebook that needs a million greeting cards, Club 33 is very real.

Behind that door? Booze.

Behind that door? Booze.

Well, heck, I thought. This was a choice between $5 an hour and $5 an hour plus a chance to pull down $300 a night in tips from impossibly rich, glamorous famous people. I will hobnob with the stars. I will be witty, dashing and handsome in a tux. Disney princesses will be all twitterpated.

There’s a word for this kind of dream. It’s called “bullshit.”

Not buying what I'm selling.

Not buying what I’m selling.

Club 33 was indeed for the rich. In the 80s, it had a multi-year waiting list, a $10,000 initiation fee and a yearly upkeep fee. This was before you actually ate or drank anything, which was generally oversalted and overpriced.

But Club 33 was also for the Disney lifers. Disneyland was a union house (as a ride operator, I was actually a Teamster), which meant it was entirely possible for someone to put on a costume and a nametag at age 18 and never, ever take them off. Next time you’re there, take a good look at the employees. Look at the older ones. They’ve quite possibly been watching those spinning tea cups for decades.

That's a lot of goddamn chamomile.

That’s a lot of goddamn chamomile.

So, if you’re a 40-year-old dude that barely got past high school, and now you’re pulling down $300 a day on a union job from which you can never be fired, what’re the odds you’re going to quit?

Jimmy Hoffa says “zero.” He also says, “Go Giants!” every Sunday, but you can barely him hear him through the concrete.

Jimmy Hoffa says “zero.” He also says, “Go Giants!” every Sunday, but you can barely him hear him through the concrete.

I wasn’t ever going to be a waiter. I was a glorified bus boy that needed to run the goddamn custom ice crusher. A custom goddamn ice crusher, Italian-made, that spit out perfect little shaved crescent moons of ice that I would spoon into the customers’ water glasses with a gold ladle.

I am absolutely not making this shit up. There was a custom goddamn ice crusher. This was a classy joint. So classy, they made me buy leather-soled shoes, because they didn’t allow rubber. Rubber-soled shoes? What are we, farmers?

And it always jammed, that machine, which sat back in that tiny back hallway behind the kitchen. Well, not jammed. The hopper would get overfilled and the ice wouldn’t fall onto the crusher wheel. Which meant I had to reach up the spout and turn the wheel with my hand to get it started again.

I know what you’re thinking. “Dude, you don’t put your hand into the ice crusher. That’s how you’ll mangle your hand!”

But wait, it’s better than that! Who needs a mangled hand when you could have BURNING ELECTRICITY DEATH! Am I right? Yeah!

I set the wheel free, toggled the switch and saw a small spark.

And now, a brief word about George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison. There’s a dead elephant involved.

I am absolutely not kidding about the elephant.

I am absolutely not kidding about the elephant.

Long story short – Westinghouse was “Rah-rah alternating current!” while Edison was all “Fuck yeah direct current!” In order to prove what he said was the danger of AC, Edison electrocuted Topsy, a circus elephant that had killed three people.

That's a stone-cold killer right there.

Again, not making this up.That’s a stone-cold killer right there.

Unfortunately, Westinghouse won the War of Currents, and today, all of the electricity that pours out of American outlets is AC. Why is this bad? Well, despite being an elephant-murdering dick (no, really, a total dick), Edison was right. Alternating current is dangerous, and for a very specific reason. Here, let these guys ‘splain it to you.

2013-04-15 22_18_04-Alternating Current - The Physics Hypertextbook

My hand froze on the ice crusher switch. Yeah, yeah, yeah, froze, ice. It’s not a figure of speech.

Hand, frozen. Muscles locked up. Couldn’t let go. And crawling up my arm, pain. Like a million tiny Pain Goblins. ON FIRE.

BURN THE ROGANSSES!

BURN THE ROGANSSES!

As I thought to myself, “Hey, check it out, the hair on the back of my neck is standing up,” that’s when I also noticed that I was standing in a puddle of water. In leather-soled shoes. Does leather conduct electricity? Yes.

Not pictured: Absolutely nothing OSHA-compliant.

Not pictured: Absolutely anything OSHA-compliant.

What do I do now, I thought? I can’t die here. In Club 33. I believe I have previously mentioned how bad it is to die at Disneyland. Dude, don’t make Mickey angry. You’ll find out the real definition of “getting a Steamboat Willie.”

I pulled my arm off the switch. Yanked. Wrenched. Tore. Whatever, I pulled away, and every muscle in my body cried out “SWEET FREEDOM!”

And I found myself on the floor.

I looked up. Back hallway. Service hadn’t started for the night. Amazingly, nobody saw me. I have this knack of almost dying, of course, but worse, I have this knack of almost dying WHERE NO ONE CAN SEE ME.

I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and went back to bussing Michael Eisner’s table.

A few weeks later, I quit Disneyland the second time.

Because it’s better to be a quitter that’s alive than a lifer that’s dead.

TEAMSTERS REPRESENT!

TEAMSTERS REPRESENT!

a bucketful of chlorine

Gas masks for everyone! Wait, wait. Not you, Frank.

I’ve been holding off on writing this one because it’s the very best of them all. It has everything:

  • Death by curiosity
  • Death by suffocation
  • Death by drowning
  • Death by chemical burn
  • Death by generalized 70s malaise
  • Death by miscommunication
  • Actual death (not mine)
  • It even has an actual birth (also not mine) mixed in just for fun.

    But, honestly, the primary reason I’ve been holding off on this one is that my poor mother comes off looking like an absolute dingbat.

    I always think my mother looks like Sally Field.

    Now imagine Sally Field … ditzier.

    No, not ritzier, with an R. I said, ditzier. With a D.

    There you go.

    Anyway, we have to start with a chemistry lesson.

    Over there on the right is a floating pool chemical dispenser, also known as a floating chlorinator. Unscrew the cap, drop in chemical tablets and throw it into your pool. Water flows in through holes in the side of the device, and the tablets slowly dissolve, keeping the water in your pool properly sanitized and preventing the growth of algae.

    With me so far?

    This is chlorine.

    It’s the crazy psycho bitch of the Periodic Table.

    Look, look at this freakin’ model.

    There are two electrons in the inner shell, and eight in the middle shell. That’s fine, but there’s only seven in the outer shell. That shell can take up to 18 electrons.

    But only seven means this atom is ANGRY.

    This atom is not going to be IGNORED.

    If you had eight electrons in that shell, you’d have argon, which is like a harmless, perpetually stoned college roommate. Argon is barely useful, unlike its other inert buddy neon, the one that makes the pretty signs. On the other hand, if your atom had 6 electrons in that third, outer shell, it’d be sulfur, which just smells like a skunk, but at least skunks are cute. And sulfur has other uses. It’s even edible. Onions? Garlic? Sulfur.

    But no, chlorine has seven electrons in that damn outer shell, which makes it as reactive as your crazy, pissed-off emotion-junkie ex-girlfriend. You know the one.

    Anyway, chlorine has its uses (just like the … ahem … crazy ex-girlfriend), one of which is making your pool sparkling clean. The tablets for the aforementioned floating chlorinator usually come in three flavors — calcium hypochlorite, trichloroisocyanuric acid and dichloroicocyanuric acid, which is just like the one before it, only with one fewer crazy bitch atom of chlorine attached to it.

    Now, I’m not really a chemist (unless we’re talking about alcoholic beverages, in which case I’m a goddamn Nobel Prize winner), but Google tells me that there’s a number of different processes in which these ingredients — along with water, sunlight and plenty of time — will eventually give you hydrogen chloride, a colorless gas that percolates out of water and replaces the plain-jane air that makes the floating chlorinator, you know, float.

    Hydrogen chloride is bad news. It’s just a jump to the left of mustard gas.

    … and a step to the ri-i-i-i-ight …

    All right, now that we’ve got the chemistry down, let’s time travel back to June, 1977. I’m 8 years old. I’m swimming alone in the backyard swimming pool.

    Swimming? Alone? Eight years old? Sounds crazy now, but remember, it’s 1977. We’re 15 years away from mandatory bicycle helmets for children in California, much less an understanding that swimming pools are statistically more dangerous than having guns in the house. You’re on your own, kid. I’m still Ray Liotta.

    I don’t know why this shot of Ray Liotta from Goodfellas is my go-to example of 1970s neglect. For some reason, it just works.

    Anyway, I’m swimming alone in the pool with the floating chlorinator…

    Now, if you Google the words “floating chlorinator,” some of the first links that come up involve child safety, with very specific warnings not to allow children to play with them, because they look like toys.

    Naturally, I was playing with ours.

    Cannonball!

    At this point, if we were around a dinner table, my mother would chime in and say she was a responsible parent that was always sure to take the chlorinator out of the pool when I was swimming and that I just a playful scamp and it was only this one time.

    And if you believe that, I refer you to the name of this series of essays.

    Oh, I clearly remember us taking the chlorinator out of the pool AFTER the soon-to-be-detailed accident occurred. Barn door, horse escape and all that. But I also remember that, even after the Great Chlorine Caper, I was the one that took the chlorinator out.

    “Hey kid. Remember that thing filled with deadly poison you shouldn’t ever touch? Yeah, you know, the thing that almost killed you? Go get it for me. I’m Ray Liotta.”

    So, there I was. I’m cannonballing the thing. I’m dunking it. I’m whooshing it. Heck, I’m pretending it’s Stromberg’s secret ocean lair.

    You remember? That thing from this movie?

    Finally, I pushed the chlorinator underwater, flipped it over and let the “air” bubble to the surface.

    Tiny bubbles.
    Filled with mustard gas.
    Headed for my face.

    How did it feel to breathe that shit in?

    It felt like someone painted the inside of my mouth, nose and lungs with napalm.

    Here, let Wikipedia tell you how it feels:

    Hydrogen chloride forms corrosive hydrochloric acid on contact with water found in body tissue. Inhalation of the fumes can cause coughing, choking, inflammation of the nose, throat, and upper respiratory tract, and in severe cases, pulmonary edema, circulatory system failure, and death. Skin contact can cause redness, pain, and severe skin burns. Hydrogen chloride may cause severe burns to the eye and permanent eye damage.

    Imagine snorting a fine aerosol of essence of habanero. Only the burning never goes away. It just KEEPS ON BURNING. And then your chest feels heavy, as every cell in your respiratory tract decides to vomit up every molecule of fluid it owns.

    … ain’t no party like a pulmonary edema party, because a pulmonary edema party don’t stop …

    I instantly knew something was desperately wrong, and as by far the nerdiest 8-year-old at Jackson Elementery, I had pretty much correctly processed what had happened. I had just breathed in, more or less, chlorine gas. And the pain in my chest and foam spittle now leaking out of my mouth were Signs of Very Bad Things Happening Inside Me.

    I jumped out of the water. In retrospect, I could have passed out and drowned right there and then. Swimming, alone, remember? But thankfully, I was in the shallow end of the pool, standing on the steps, actually. Fortune favors the dumbass.

    With my mouth retching, I thought to take a drink from the garden hose, thinking that maybe I could wash away whatever was now painted inside my mouth. No luck.

    My wife: “Wait, you drank straight out of the hose?”
    Me: “Yeah. Why?”
    Her: “Your mother didn’t send you outside with, like, a bottle of water?”
    Me: “Bottled water? In 1977, bottled water was a punchline, not an actual thing. You have to wait until the 90s for the hydration gods — Evian, AquaFina, Brita — to show up.”

    Next, I did what all soaking wet 8-year-olds do when they realize they’ve become the victim of a chemical burn.

    Knock on the back door of the house.

    Her: “Knock on the back door? They locked you out?”
    Me: “Sort of. You see, the rule was, if you didn’t have a towel, you couldn’t track water into the house. I’d get in trouble. Sure, you’ll die on the doorstep. But at least you wouldn’t be in trouble.”

    My mother came to the door. What is it, honey?

    Now, the next few seconds are burned into my memory. Burned in. Right up there with name, rank and serial number. “My name is Frank, I live on planet Earth, and this is exactly what my mother said in the purest moment of crisis I’ve ever experienced.”

    Anyway, this is so, so not an exaggeration.

    “Mom, I need to go to the hospital. I just inhaled chlorine gas.”
    “Don’t worry, honey. The dog drinks it all the time.”

    Actually, no. I have no idea what she just said, either. And I really am Sally Field.

    Here’s what happened.

    I said this:

    She heard this:

    And yes, we had a dog which drank water from the pool. All the time. Now if only that dog had a set of car keys and directions to the nearest hospital, we’d be getting somewhere.

    Hop in, Frank. I totally got this!

    The next few minutes were bizarro-world. I knew I had to go to the hospital (have I mentioned the napalm?), yet my mother kept trying to second-guess me. You’re fine, she says. I’m throwing up more foamy spittle. It’s just water, she says. More foam spittle. This really hurts. Oh, relax.

    She calls my uncle Frank. I mentioned my amazing uncle Frank before.

    “How are you feeling?”
    “I’m feeling like I need to go to the hospital!”

    The three-way argument continued for a few minutes. And if you want to know what a three-way argument looked like in my family…

    After about an hour of this, Mom finally relented and we got in the car. I calmed down a bit. In the car. Driving. Hospital. Yes, this is how it’s supposed to go.

    Now, the first thing they do for a person that walks into an ER with this kind of issue is a gas mask of fresh, clean, cool 100% oxygen. I had the window rolled down and was sucking down a bit of the fresh air, and while that wasn’t 100% oxygen, I was feeling like I wasn’t going to die right that very instant.

    Mom looks at me. Again, this is an actual conversation.

    “How are you feeling?”
    “I’m … I’m OK.”
    “Then why am I driving you to the hospital?”
    “Just … drive.”
    “Do you want to get some ice cream?”
    “Just … drive.”

    Eight years old!

    We get to the hospital and talk to a nurse.

    “What’s the trouble?”
    “He drank some pool water.”
    “I INHALED CHLORINE GAS!”
    “What?”
    “I inhaled chlorine gas from a floating chlorinator.”

    The color drained from this woman’s face. The room exploded into activity. Mom got a cosmic-level comeuppance. At this point, I’m sure she was horrified, finally grasping the enormity of the situation. But in my 8-year-old brain, I’m thinking, “Hah! I really am sick! See? SEE?!?!”

    I spent six days in intensive care.

    It was one of those big open rooms with an open-plan nurse’s station in the center. This was my first trip to Extreme Makeover: Hospital Edition. The highlights:

  • This was the first time I ever had blood drawn. Vampires woke me up every two hours to monitor my blood chemistry. DUDE.
  • The first night, I couldn’t stop vomiting. Emesis basin? Please. I’m gonna need something more, shall we say, robust. They gave me mop bucket.
  • The second night, they rolled in a woman that had just given birth. She looked like she had gone a few rounds with Muhammad Ali. Wiped out. The doctor told her everything was fine, the baby was OK, had all its fingers and toes. That was kinda cool.
  • Kinda not cool was the third night, when the old guy across from me up and freakin’ died. Middle of the night, I awoke to the rustling sounds of activity. Fifteen feet away was my very own live episode of Grey’s Anatomy. The flatline “EEEEEEE!” alarms, 100cc’s of adrenaline, the paddles and everything. “CLEAR!” After a while, they just kinda stopped trying, flipped the alarms off and walked away. I fell back asleep. When I woke up, the bed was empty.

    Hey, you think the kid saw any of that?
    Who cares? It’s 1977.
    You sound like Ray Liotta.

    * The respiratory therapist had a T-shirt with a screenprint of human lungs. That was cool. He offered to bring me a Playboy. That was weird. Children’s Hospital, this ain’t.

    * Family came to visit me every day, one at a time because of hospital policy. Dad dropped in and provided his usual heavy dusting of you’re-doing-it-wrong-they’re-turning-you-into-a-wussy. My grandfather was sweet and kind and at a loss for words. My grandmother threw dirty looks at the nurses. Mom and Uncle Frank rotated in fresh comic books. His wife, my aunt Patty, frantically waved at me through the window in the door to the ICU. She seemed so excited, it was like she got a glimpse of the Beatles or something.

    Honestly, at the time, I recall thinking that the worst part was that I couldn’t watch TV. There were no TVs in the ICU, and finally, on the last day, they sent me to a regular room with a TV.

    I’ve never been so happy to see a trucking school commercial in the middle of the day during Donahue. I swear, just as soon as I can breathe normally again, I’ll start a new career…

  • 11 Car Accidents

    The 5-year-old wanted to know something.

    “Mama, how many times have you crashed a car?” he asked.

    “None,” she said.

    “Daddy, how many times have you crashed your car?”

    “Are we going to count both me hitting things and things hitting me?” I said.

    “Yes.”

    “Are we only counting when I was driving? Or are we counting all the times I’ve been a passenger, too?”

    “All the times.”

    “And does it have to be cars? Or everything?”

    “Everything.”

    “What about if there was no damage, and we all just walked away?”

    “Everything,” he said.

    “Eleven.”

    “Eleven?”

    “Yep.”

    “Holy shit,” said my wife. “You’ve been in 11 car accidents?”

    “I may be forgetting one or two,” I said. “But right now, I’m going to say 11.”

    “How are you not dead?” she asked.

    “Hey, that’d be a great name for the blog.”

    The Angry Hasidim

    The first time I visited New York City as an adult was March 1999. I had been to the city several times before as a kid, visiting They Who Must Not Be Named, aka the Rogan side of the family, so I had seen all the touristy sights. But this was the first time where I got to choose between the Statue of Liberty and a bar in the Meatpacking District called Hogs & Heifers.

    Not pictured: The Statue of Liberty

    It was a strange time to be in NYC, and strange circumstances. This was the very height of the dot-com boom, and I was visiting a conference thrown by the now-defunct Jupiter Communications, which had seemingly cornered the market in getting stupid people to throw stupid money after stupid consulting ideas. At this conference, I learned many, many fascinating things that I was completely unable to put into practice when everything went straight to hell one year later.

    Still, I had a great time.

    I mean, other than almost being killed by a crowd of Hasidic Jews.

    You wouldn't like him when he's angry.

    You wouldn’t think they’d be the fearsome type.

    You’d be wrong.

    Let’s look at some evidence.

    Superman. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Two Jewish guys from New York that liked to draw funny pictures.

    The Incredible Hulk. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Also two Jewish guys from New York that liked to draw funny pictures.

    Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky. Also two Jewish guys from New York. Is this a funny picture? How am I funny? What, am I some kind of clown? Do I amuse you?

    But, back to Frank’s Excellent Adventure in New York.

    Myself and a colleague from work named Jill flew into New York late on a Saturday night. Jill and I had a great time when we weren’t listening to freshly-minted billionaires talk about online heavyweights like Lycos, AltaVista and Pets.com. (cough, cough)

    Jill had a definite agenda for her New York visit, so I played Flava Flav to her Chuck D.

    • A bouncer barred us from one club because we lacked the proper fetish gear, so we went into Hogs & Heifers next door.
    • Jill took me to Meow Mix, a lesbian bar in the East Village — the place was featured in the movie Chasing Amy. I was literally the only guy in the room; I just did my best Ben Affleck. It didn’t work.
    • We hit Bar d’O in Greenwich Village, a showcase lounge for the greatest drag talent in the city.

    Hello, ladies.

    The first day, Sunday, Jill’s agenda had her taking in a Broadway matinee, which gave me the entire day in the city to fart around. While Jill had an agenda, I had no plan. I walked around Greenwich Village, got lost, and had some lunch. I hailed a cab and told him to to drop me off at the World Trade Center.

    During construction in 1971.

    I get a little sad thinking about that. I was one of those little kid nerds with the Guinness Book of World Records, so as a kid, I was in awe of a twin pair of buildings that were the tallest buildings in the world.

    My company had just moved to a new building, which I considered to be very big. But I think it would have fit into the *lobby* of one of the World Trade Center buildings..

    That’s when I noticed the Hasidim.

    Yo.

    Small groups, emerging from subway exits and parking garages. All walking in the same direction. A family here. A couple of men there. All headed … somewhere.

    Intrigued, I followed them. Pretty soon, I was mid-stream in a torrent, as more and more appeared from around corners. A few turned to dozens, and there was a buzz in the air. Dozens turned into hundreds. OK, I thought, this isn’t just anything. It’s something. They had a purpose. But I still had no idea what.

    The stream of Jews + Frank turned a final corner and we emerged onto Wall Street. Hundreds of Jews? Try thousands. The women and children had peeled off from the crowd, and where first I had seemed to be the odd duck in a massive family outing of rather formally dressed people, I was now just a lone gentile adrift in a sea of burly dudes, all dressed in black.

    While not an actual photo of the event in question, it looked exactly like this, and since this is what you get when you Google "Hasidic Jews demonstration New York City," I'm going to roll with it.

    The NYPD was waiting for us, herding everyone into manageable groups, using the same blue barricades I saw every New Year’s Eve with Dick Clark.

    You can say a lot of things about the NYPD. "Unprepared for large groups of people" is not one of them.

    Bing. A light went on in my head. Oh, I get it. I’m in the middle of a demonstration. Something political. I guess I’m just a little slow on the uptake…

    And then, from the distance, a voice on a loudspeaker started speaking in Hebrew …

    … and SHAZAM I’m the only one not shuckling.

    Click the image to hear Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg explain shuckling.

    Mind you, I’m not mocking the Hasidim for the shuckling. I was raised Catholic. Entire generations of Catholic school children have one bad knee and one huge thigh. Turn to the right! Kneel! Genuflect!

    Stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight.

    Regardless, I don’t have the black suit, I don’t speak the language and I’m not bowing and swaying. Saying I was sticking out like a sore thumb is an insult to sore thumbs worldwide. Religious garb? Umm, no. I was even sporting a jacket emblazoned with the logo of a videogame developer whose most significant contribution to the world was a game called TOTAL ANNIHILATION.

    Seriously, man, try not to say the word "annihilation" when standing within a crowd of angry Jews.

    A particularly wizened old coot was moving through the crowd, handing out a flyers … or perhaps prayers, since Hebrew is Greek to me. Get it? Hebrew … is … Greek. OK, moving on.

    Anyway, the old coot looked me up and down, muttered something under his breath and moved on. No prayer for you!

    I was being buffeted from all sides by the shuckling. Just imagine a very, very religious mosh pit. Or perhaps a rugby scrum with hats and tefillin.

    I briefly considered trying to crowd surf.

    Sometimes the voices in my head use visual aids.

    Despite my delusions of achieving instant immortality among the younger Hasidim (because you know they’d still be telling the story about the time the crazy guy went all Lollapalooza on their religious demonstration) the shuckling scrum went from “Hah-hah, very funny, you’re not one of us” to “Beat it, asshole; can’t you see we’re praying here?” I started getting shoved around. Then I started getting elbowed and slapped upside the head.

    I looked for an exit and I KID YOU NOT an NYPD cop named O’Malley waved me over.

    An Irish cop in New York? No way!

    “Hey, man, can I step under this sawhorse?”

    “Beat it, asshole. Can’t you see they’re praying here?”

    Never let it be said that Irish cops in New York aren’t sensitive to the values of the religious community.

    I took Officer O’Malley’s advice and indeed, beat it. I stepped into a bodega, where my multicultural New York experience went briefly Dominican.

    “What the hell is going on?” I asked.

    “No se,” said the guy behind the counter.

    I found one guy standing on the sidelines who, while Orthodox, was not Hasidic and seemed willing to talk. He explained that what I was seeing had nothing whatsoever to do with the U.S., but was instead a demonstration in support of a segment of Israeli politics.

    I walked. It was several blocks before I found the “end” of the demonstration and I could move safely around it. I wandered down to the South Street Seaport and its tourist-friendly view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

    And me without a camera. Oh wait. Google.

    Three Hasidic teenage boys had peeled off from the crowd, doing what teenagers always do — hang out. Take off the black suits and throw them some Chuck Taylors, and they’d be just like me and every other dude in the world. Hanging out at the mall. They probably played videogames when their parents weren’t watching.

    Rated A for Awesome.

    The Hailstorm

    Stick around for the comedy, but if you want to skip right to today’s lesson, it’s this: “Don’t get caught in the open during a hailstorm that has gone past ‘golf ball’ and has edged up to ‘kiwifruit.’”

    Look tasty, don't they? Now imagine them made of ice, hurtling at your head at 32 feet per second, squared.

    So, let’s get acquainted with pain:

    F = ma

    There it is. Pain. Just look at it. Sitting there, all sciencey and shit. Mocking you.

    Force equals mass times acceleration. It’s Newton’s second law of motion. In other words, “big things hurt, and little things moving really fast hurt, too.”

    But let’s get to the hail.

    Weather was a bit of a mystery to me when I was a kid. I grew up in Orange County, Southern California, which has two seasons — perfect and not-quite-as-perfect. The joke is that in California, you only need to see the weatherman twice a year.

    April: Hi folks. It's going to be 72 degrees and sunny every day. See you in October. October: Hello again. It'll rain a few times from here until spring, but for the most part ... 72 degrees and sunny. Merry Christmas.

    It wasn’t until 1995, when I was 27 years old, that I lived in a place where snow on the ground wasn’t anything other than a bizarre, freak occurrence that disappeared in a matter of seconds. I vividly recall waking up one morning in Kirkland, Washington, and thinking, “Weird. I don’t remember driving to the mountains last night…?”

    How does this work? Is someone going to just bring me a danish? How will they get here? By dogsled? I'm puzzled.

    This is a long way of saying that, when I was in the second grade on the day of the hailstorm, the idea that weather could kill you wasn’t something on my 7-year-old radar screen.

    The school bell rang, and everyone piled out. It had rained earlier in the day, and my grandmother had made arrangements with a classmate’s mother — she would offer to drive me home if the weather was bad. I met her in the parking lot, and she offered me a ride, but it was barely spitting rain at that point, so I declined. “I like walking in the rain,” I said. And she let me go.

    This is another example of 70s sensibilities. Every kid was a free-range kid. Can you imagine a mother today, tasked with giving a 7-year-old a ride home, allowing said 7-year-old to decline the offer?

    “Hop in.”
    “No, thanks. I’m good.”
    “You’re seven. Shut up and get in the car.”
    “Seriously, I’m good. It’s what — a mile? — to my house? In the rain. I’m good.”
    “Get in the car.”
    “Chill out. I got this.”
    “Again, you’re seven.”
    “Annnnd? Your point being…?”
    “That you’re seven. That’s my point.”

    But no. She offered, I declined, and I skipped off.

    Straight into Mordor. And despite what Boromir says, you apparently just walk right in, too.

    Ten minutes later, the “spitting rain” turned into “Genesis chapters 6 through 9.” And the cold day turned ominously colder. I really had no idea what was coming.

    I crossed the one major street between my neighborhood and the school’s and turned down the alley, and …

    Sidebar

    “Wait a minute,” said my wife.
    “What?” I said.
    “An alley?”
    “Yeah, an alley. It lead from my neighborhood to the big street I had to cross.”

    Like this. The alley is that little thingy with the cinderblock walls on either side. Thanks, Google Maps.

    “How big was this street?”
    “You know, big. Major artery. Six lanes.”

    Not pictured: Frank on the bus. The bus was for wussies.

    “And you walked to school every day? Down an alley.”
    “Yep. One time, there was this rabid German Shephard in the alley. Growling, foaming at the mouth and everything, and I had nowhere to run…”
    “And how old were you?”
    “Well, I started walking to school in the first grade, so…”
    “Six years old?”
    “Well, five. I was a year ahead. Plus, the street had this wicked drainage canal beside it, and when it rained, it filled up with whitewater, and every year, some kid would be swept away and…”
    “How are you not dead?”
    “Hey! That’s a great name for the blog!”

    End Sidebar

    The hail started falling. At first, it was cute. “Hey look! It’s like snow, only hard. And in little icy balls. Tra la la, la la…”

    I don’t remember actually saying “tra la la la, la la,” but I was a rather innocent little lamb. It’s entirely possible.

    Five minutes later, I was in the iciest plane of hell. The world had turned white. The sound of the crashing hail was deafening. It was like I was at a Norwegian death metal concert and Ymir the Frost Giant was hucking kiwi-fruit sized hunks of ice at me.

    GRAR! KIWIS HAVE MORE POTASSIUM THAN BANANAS!

    Besides taking a gatling gun’s worth of body shots, hail was hitting me square in the head. More than once, I took a shot to the noggin, and looked up in time to see that specific ball of hail rebounding off my cranium.

    “Gee, Frank. Did you try to take cover? Like, under a tree or something?”

    No! I already told you that I missed the weather-can-kill-you class! I honestly didn’t know what to do. I had (ha ha) frozen up. It was total deer-in-the-headlights moments, only instead of a deer it was me, and instead of headlights it was HAIL THE SIZE OF KIWI FRUIT.

    'Sup.

    A man emerged from his house and ran out to his car, presumably to move it out of the hailstorm. I ran up and pounded on the driver’s window, pleading to be let into the car where I would be safe. Dude just looked at me like I was an alien.

    Who, me? Rescue the elementary school kid that's bleeding from the nose and ears? Son, this is the 70s. You're gonna hafta toughen the fuck up. Screw it, I'm just going to pretend I don't see you. I'm Ray Liotta.

    I stumbled down the street a little farther. I passed a house that displayed a sticker from the Safe House program.

    Remember that? You could sign up and display a sticker in your window, and in theory, a child in trouble would know to knock on your door and get some assistance.

    I knocked. No one was home.

    So much for that idea. I kept stumbling down the street. Three more houses and a few more hail shots to the ribs later, a sane, adult woman finally spotted me and called me onto her porch.

    “Look at your face!” she said.

    “I’m OK,” I said.

    “Why didn’t you use that dictionary to protect yourself?”

    I looked down. Yeah, forgot all about that. I had been carrying 200-page student dictionary the entire walk home. A great, big, fat book I could have used to at least shield my bleeding-from-three-orifices head.

    FAI ... oh, wait. That's one's on me.

    It finally stopped hailing, the ice turning back into rain. The nice lady asked if I lived nearby, and when I said yes, she went back inside her house without another word.

    Again, let’s look back at the 70s-style level of caring. A battered child is on your front porch. Your reaction?

    What do I look like? Ray Liotta? Beat it, kid.

    I went home. My grandmother was angry at me for refusing the ride from my friend’s mother. In hindsight, she definitely had a point.

    She gave me cookies, and I’m not sure she told anyone about the bleeding-from-the-ears part.

    And I still don't trust them.

    The Catamaran and the Sea Snakes

    I'm on a boat, I'm on a boat.
    Everybody look at me, 'cause I'm sailing on a boat.
    I'm on a boat, I'm on a boat.
    Take a good hard look, at the motherfucking boat.

    I was nearly crushed when I fell between two moored boats in a harbor. When I hit the water, I screamed like a little girl, clawed at my rescuers like a drowning chimpanzee and thoroughly embarrassed my preteen self.

    And I reacted this way not because of the danger of being, you know, crushed. You see, someone told me there were sea snakes in the water.

    The Yellow-Lipped Sea Krait is among the most venomous snakes in the world. It has everything and absolutely nothing to do with this story.

    Everyone has a superpower. Something they can do better than just about anyone else. Like how that one guy you knows can cook a perfect steak, or how that other guy is blessed with perfect pitch or the ability to do calculus in his head.

    Me? I’m practically dolphin-esque in my ability to swim. And I have a freakish memory for useless facts. I have a third superpower, but it’s significantly less useful — I can roller-skate much better than any man my size has a right to be able to do. Seriously. Six-foot-four and 300 pounds, and yet the hard-won skating skills are still there.

    Now, if I could only find a men's underwater roller-derby-and-Jeopardy league.

    But in San Felipe, Mexico, both of my primary superpowers — the swimming and the memory — failed me spectacularly.

    My Uncle Frank is the reason for the roller-skating. He managed a full-scale roller skating rink in the late 70s, right at the zenith of roller disco. I spent multiple nights a week there. I can still hear it. Roller Boogie. We Will Rock You. Barracuda. Ballroom Blitz. “All skate. This is an all skate in the normal skating direction.”

    I had these. I am absolutely not kidding.

    Uncle Frank and his wife, Patty, decided to hang up the skates in the early 80s. They had a wild idea. They bought a 36-foot catamaran and sailed it from Newport Beach, California, around the tip of Baja California, and up to San Felipe, Mexico. Given their level of sailing experience — both freshly Coast Guard-certified — this was its own How Are You Not Dead story.

    But that wasn’t the wild idea.

    The actual wild idea was using the boat and the town of San Felipe as the centerpiece of a vacation charter service. The business model was, you pay them money, they drive you from Orange County to San Felipe in their 70s-era Ford van, they take the boat out and tool around the Sea of Cortez for a while, and they drive you back. If you’re imagining an air-conditioned charter bus, a white-sands resort and someone bringing you champagne and fresh tropical fruit, just stop. This is a 600-mile roundtrip through the ass-end of California and Mexico. In a van. Not a bus. A van.

    This.

    But my Uncle Frank was amazing. For a very brief time, he actually made this work. Sort of. He moved onto other things. And sprinkled in there were four family trips to San Felipe to see the boat.

    Probably the best depiction I could find of the boat we're talking about.

    Let’s talk for a minute about San Felipe.

    And seriously, it'll only take a minute.

    San Felipe was not a resort city in the early 80s. It’s apparently much better now, but at the time, San Felipe had no real economy. The fishery had collapsed. No oil, no minerals, no farming, no factories. A tiny airport, likely suitable only for drug smuggling. It has a beach, yes, but the water is murky and silty from sitting too close to the mouth of the Colorado River. There’s no “there” there.

    The boat was moored in the man-made harbor, which consisted of two rock jettys that formed a rough letter “C.”

    There it is, courtesy of Google Maps. Note the distinct lack of amenities such as "civilization" and "rule of law."

    The harbor was guarded by federales with M-16s, but there wasn’t much to protect.

    • A few rusted-out shrimpers. Nice people, but the boats would make the guys from Deadliest Catch run far, far away.
    • The “school ship,” a vessel owned by the local fishery school. Not once did I see this thing move, nor did I ever see anyone on it.
    • Various semi-abandoned small boats with years and years of barnacles clinging to the hull.
    • Uncle Frank’s boat.

    It was bad news, man.

    Compared to the San Felipe fishing fleet, the F/V Northwestern is a paragon of safety and seaworthiness.

    Nobody swam in the harbor. Uncle Frank told me the shrimpers emptied their raw sewage directly into the harbor.

    And oh yeah, there were sea snakes.

    Yo, what's up.

    I don’t know exactly who told me there were sea snakes. But it seemed perfectly plausible. The water outside the harbor was always the color of a chocolate milkshake, and inside the harbor, it was black. The ruins of Atlantis could have been hidden under there, for all I knew.

    Naturally, I fell off the boat between the catamaran and one of the shrimpers. Right between them. You know, exactly where you don’t want to fall, at risk of being turned into hamburger between the two hulls.

    We had just pulled in from … I don’t know? Whaddya call it? A pleasure cruise? The wind was never right for sailing. We ran the outboard and aimed for a distant rock island, white with guano. I drank “Hecho en Mexico” Cokes and tried to keep from going mad.

    Anyway, we moored, pulling up next to a shrimp boat. I had a job — sit at the front of the boat and, with my feet, keep Uncle Frank’s catamaran from running into one of the abandoned skiffs, also moored to the shrimp boat.

    I stuck my foot out, pushing the skiff. Except instead of going straight back, it caromed off the shrimp boat and aimed for the catamaran hull again. I reached out farther and pushed it again. No luck. Farther, push. Dammit, it ain’t right, someone’s going to yell at me for letting our boat get scratched. I extended my foot out even farther. And my ass slipped off the gunwale and I fell right into the water. Sploosh.

    Do you hear someone screaming? I don't even have ears and I swear I hear someone screaming.

    So, there I was, just thrashing in the water. And my sea snake memory is going apeshit. Pages from encyclopedias are flipping through my mind like a scenes from a carnival of pure snakey, snakelike murder.

     

     

     

    I had completely lost my mind, and with it, my memory superpower, which would have told me the following…

    Western Pacific. As in, the other side of the goddamn world.

    Two guys yanked me out of the water before I was turned into chum. Or sorted into House Slytherin.

    Even more embarrassing was the fact that, even at just 12 years of age, I was a full foot taller than my two rescuers. They gave me the look you give a Great Dane when it’s intimidated by a Chihuahua at the off-leash park.

    I can't even look at you right now.

    And I spent the rest of my life assuring my mother that yes, I could swim quite well, thank you. Thank you, no. Don’t need the water wings. I’m good. Really.

    The Ewok on the Motorcycle

    Everyone needs a friend like Eric Beaumont. Funny, creative, warm, welcoming. But most of all, generous. Generous with his time, his friendship, and certainly generous with all the quarters he spotted me for videogames. He and I both went into the videogames industry, on different paths, but my path was paved by the stream of quarters that came out of Eric’s pocket.

    Eric was also generous with his moped.

    A glorious, glorious Puch moped. Single cylinder, 49cc, two stroke engine producing 2 (count 'em), 2 horsepower and a top-speed of 28 mph. Thirty, if you really, really cranked it. Going downhill.

    Borne on the back of that moped (and take a minute to imagine the sight of two 6-foot-4 high school kids sharing one of these things), we were able to hit multiple arcades and malls. It was wonderful. Eric drove. I hung on. I ran out of quarters. Eric spotted me his, knowing that I would repay him if I could, but also knowing that I never could. Everyone needs a friend as good as Eric.

    But that’s not the amazing thing about Eric. What was really amazing was that Eric shouldn’t ever have let me near his moped, with my record of two-wheeled motorized idiocy. He saw what trouble I could get myself into first-hand, and he let me ride on his moped anyway. THAT is a friend.

    Our story consists of three parts.

    Part 1: The Cousins

    Years before I had met Eric, I visited cousins in upstate New York. They had a little 50cc motorcycle, just big enough to get yourself into trouble. In my two weeks there, with near daily rides, I never mastered shifting gears. No one simply explained them to me. I would just go up to fourth gear, plow through gears 1-3, get to fourth and stay there.

    Part 2: Taking Toby’s Moped for a Slide

    Before I met Eric, my step-father, Roger, acquired a moped just like Eric’s for twenty bucks. Seriously. He lived in an apartment complex, and a moped had been chained to a lamppost for about a year. It hadn’t been moved — the tires were flat, and the kickstand had even sunk into the asphalt. Roger figured the owner had moved and left the moped behind, so he snapped the chain with a bolt cutter, filled the tires, changed the sparkplug and lo and behold, the damn thing fired up. He presented it as a gift to his oldest son, Toby. Later, the owner showed up and saw what we had done, and instead of blowing his lid, he just asked for a nominal twenty bucks, which Roger instantly paid.

    I was incredibly envious, because to me, the moped represented freedom.

    Roger was much smarter than me, though, as I rather promptly crashed the moped, proving that I couldn’t be trusted.

    It didn't look anything like this. But promise me something. Promise me you'll never Google the phrase "motorcycle crash." Just trust me on this, 'kay? If you need me, I'll be over here, huddling in the corner, trying to unsee what I just saw.

    Toby and I were taking turns riding the moped around the apartment complex parking lot. I took a corner too fast, and laid the moped down like someone sliding into second base. Scratched myself up pretty good. Did that stop me? Of course not! Again, I refer you to the name this blog.

    Part 3: The Ewok on the Motorcycle

    Eric and I had a friend named Brett Carpenter. Brett had a motorcycle. A real, honest-to-goodness, fire-breathing motocross bike. The three of us headed out into the Irvine hills, planning to ride amid the partially graded spots that would soon house multi-million dollar mansions.

    “Ever ridden a motorcycle?” Eric asked.

    “Sure!” I said. “My cousins had a little 50cc bike in New York. Rode it quite a bit.” Note that nowhere in that sentence will you find a literal untruth.

    Brett rode first, deftly going over small jumps. Eric hopped on and took his turn, his skill the equal of Brett’s. Then it was my turn.

    Let me offer a defense,Your Honor, of the debacle that came seconds later.

    • Brett’s bike was a 250cc model. Five times more powerful than my cousin’s bike. Simple math has never been my forte.
    • Brett’s family was a family of gearheads. In later days, Brett drove a hot-rodded MG roadster juiced up with aviation fuel. God knows what they had done to that bike.
    • The bike’s power band was wildly different than anything I had ever experienced. It was rigged to go from zero to Warp 9 faster than you can say, “Dude, be careful.”

    Now, I am confident that you gentlemen will review, without passion, the evidence that you have heard, come to a decision and ... wait, what? We're talking about Frank? Oh, different deal. Sorry. Screw that guy.

    So, I hopped on, put it in first gear, twisted the throttle to the max and took off.

    Eric said his initial reaction was that I had been sand-bagging them all along. That I was really a super-experienced rider and had been downplaying my experience. “Oh, he’s going to show us up. The jerk.”

    Eric was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    In about two seconds, I realized I was in waaaaay over my head. I was just stuck, with the throttle wide open at the peak of the first gear power band. The proverbial deer in the headlights. Except deer are smart enough to generally avoid riding motorcycles.

    Later, Eric said, "You looked just like that Ewok on the speeder bike from Return of the Jedi."

    Brett said he was running through all the things I could do to get myself out of the situation. “Let go of the throttle. Pull the clutch lever. Pull the brake lever. Something.

    I jumped off the back of the motorcycle. I just let go with both hands and magically floated to earth, landing on my feet. The bike drove itself another 20 yards or so before falling into the dirt. I turned around to look at Brett and Eric, who were running toward me.

    “Whoa,” I said. “I’m OK. I’m not hu…”

    Brett ran right past me. He couldn’t care less about me. Brett had priorities.

    “My bike!” he said.

    “Yeah, that was way more powerful than I expected. But it’s OK, I’m not hurt or anyth…”

    “My bike!” he said.

    While Brett took stock of the actual damage (there wasn’t much,thankfully), Eric sauntered up.

    “Should’ve pulled the clutch,” he said.

    “Yeah.”

    “Or just let go of the throttle,” he said.

    “Yeah.”

    “It’s OK. You just got stuck in the power band. That’s the trouble with that bike.”

    Like I said — that’s a friend.

    I never rode another motorcycle alone again. I’m a passenger, not a pilot.

    Damn right, Frank.

    A Quick Word From My Mother

    When my mother heard I had embarked on a project to recount all the ways I’ve nearly met my maker (or at least the Angel Second Class in Charge of the Severely Maimed), she gleefully jumped in with additional suggestions. You know. Things that nearly killed me. That I was either too young or too scarred by the experience to remember.

    Shh, it's OK. The monsters didn't get you. Soon, though.

    Most of what she sent me I actually remember, and already have on a list of future posts. She likely remembers these stories quite differently than I do. She’s the type that remembers things like the funny looks on people’s faces as I’m, say, being wheeled into intensive care. For me, on the other hand, what I really remember is, you know, being wheeled into intensive care.

    Yes, these are actual emails from my mother.

    Dragged Out to Sea

    You and I were meeting the family at the beach for a cookout. You were about two years old. As we walked down the beach, in the wet sand by the sea, you were nicely toddling along beside me. The tide was going out, so as I looked around for the others, you quickly decided to chase the water as it went out. So, as you go running after the water, a big wave comes in, knocks you over and then starts dragging you out to sea. How far out, I can’t estimate, but I can still see that little blond head being pulled under the water.

    I just turned around to see you being dragged out! Fortunately for both of us, I was a quick runner and was in fast enough to rescue you. The water was up to about my waist. A couple of surfers also started to get to you. You suffered no damage, physically or emotionally. Actually didn’t seem to notice.

    Gotta love the detail about the surfers. And I think she’s right, I probably didn’t notice. Oxygen deprivation does that to a tiny little mind.

    Sigh. You know, I had potential once. Once.

    Abandoned in Catalina

    Mother sleeps on the ground at the dock all afternoon due to motion sickness medication. Kid has to wander around and entertain himself.

    Let me fill in the details here. She decided on a weekend outing to Catalina Island, a two-hour boat trip from Los Angeles. Just the two of us.

    Thinking ahead (+1 point), she took some Dramamine pills before the trip over. But then she miscalculated the dose (-10 points) and spent the day asleep on a small patch of grass. Leaving me to wander the tourist town of Avalon by myself for the day (-15 yards and loss of down).

    I was 8 years old. Eight.

    I rented a bike. Only because they wouldn’t let just any abandoned moppet rent a car, I suppose. I gave myself little missions to accomplish, and then I’d check back with her every hour or so.

    “You OK?”
    yeahyoujustkeepplaying.
    “All right. Gonna ride over to the Catalina Casino and check that out.”
    thatsoundsgood.
    “Hope I don’t get kidnapped or anything.”
    whazzat?
    “Nothing. Go back to sleep.”
    youarethegreatestson.

    I made that last part up about being kidnapped.

    I mean, I’m sure that guy in the clown makeup really did just lose his dog.

    The Wedge

    My favorite joke about The Wizard of Oz goes like this:

    At the end of the movie, the Wicked Witch of the West — how does she die?

    She melts when Dorothy hits her with a bucket of water.

    Where does Dorothy find the bucket of water?

    It’s sitting in the corner of a room in the Witch’s castle.

    OK, if there were a substance that could melt you in a matter of seconds … what are the odds you’d keep an open bucket of it in your house?

    I mean, it’s not like it’s a surprise to the Witch. She says, “Don’t touch that water” right before Dorothy flings it at the Scarecrow. Presumably, the Witch knows to stay inside when it rains.

    Listen, baby, baby. I know you're pissed off at this Dorothy chick. I mean, we all saw her drop a house on your sister. But first things first. How's about we get the bucket of acid out of your bedroom?

    Which brings me to the Wedge.

    The Wedge is a stretch of beach in Newport Beach, Calif., lying right at the tip of Balboa Peninsula, just northeast of the mouth of Newport Harbor. Geologically, the Balboa Peninsula is just an overgrown sandbar created by a combination of sand deposits at the pre-historic terminus of the Santa Ana River, and sand dredged up out of the estuary during the early 1900s when plans were made to turn the estuary into a commercial shipyard.

    This was long before civilization was invented.

    The city fathers realized all of this sand would just erode away into the ocean and block the harbor mouth again, so they wisely scrapped their plans and turned their attention to a better locale.

    Just kidding, they just stupidly pointed a rock jetty straight out into the ocean. Problem solved, right?

    Pictured: Problem solved.

    While they correctly factored in the south swell of the ocean, they didn’t predict what this man would do to the psyche of the Southern California teenager.

    Meet the Father of Surfing.

    You see, the rock jetty angles out against the prevailing south swells. Waves that hit the jetty are reflected right toward the beach, wedging (see what I just did there?) into giant mega-waves. Moreover, the steep underwater geography increases the size of the waves as they approach the beach and creates a steep shore break.

    Woo! Surf's up! Wait, wait ... this sucks.

    They invented surfing in Hawaii, but the Wedge is like Hawaii’s messed up little cousin that likes to get ripped on meth and throw rocks at police cars. You go to Hawaii for soul-surfing and becoming one with Mother Ocean. You go to the Wedge to try and kick Aquaman in the balls.

    Pro tip: Don't try to kick Aquaman in the balls.

    Let’s just admit it — the Wedge is dangerous and should be dismantled. Here, I’ll let Wikipedia explain it for you:

    Between the Balboa Pier and the Wedge, waves are referred to as a shore
    or beach break. When the crest of the wave comes crashing down, regardless
    of its size, it lands in water no more than 1 to 2 feet deep, and it
    will sometimes land directly on to the sand. This condition causes
    uninformed and inexperienced swimmers to be at extreme risk of a spinal
    cord injury. If a person is to "go over the falls,"
    (fall with the water in the crest of the wave), he will commonly strike
    his head on the sand below the shallow water. Shore break waves are
    much thicker and stronger for their size than waves that break
    farther out. Their thickness increases the force in which they
    strike the ground. Lower Newport sees many spinal cord injury victims
    every summer who often end up as quadriplegics.

    The Wedge is so famous, that on particularly big days, crowds show up just to watch the mayhem.

    Kind of like spectators at a NASCAR event.

    Naturally, the Wedge was my favorite spot.

    Remember her? There's an area of the beach that will kill you. What are the odds you'll try to go there as often as possible? Before you answer, pretend you're Frank.

    More than anything else, the Wedge is perfect for body-surfing. Lots of waves in short succession in a small space with wide, shallow bowls. Plus, body-surfing is easy. It’s casual. Body-surfing is like hunting pheasant — something gentlemen do when they’re not hunting lions and tigers and bears.

    President Obama showing you how it's done.

    The Wedge is anything but casual.

    Pretty sure the Secret Service would frown on this.

    One thing you have to understand is that, because the best waves are found closest to the jetty, an informal hierarchy develops among the surfers. Essentially, the better you are at this, the closer you want to get to the jetty. I was never very good at this, but I liked to think I was better than the non-Wedge surfers.


    The very worst thing that happened to me was going over the falls. I was a little slow getting to the next set, and instead of diving through it, the wave stood me up vertically. As I was about to go over, I looked left, and spotted a guy in similar circumstances. In my last split second, I was contemplating my place in the universe, my hopes, my dreams. The other guy was screaming like he had just won the Atlantis lottery.

    Pictured: Winning the Atlantis lottery.

    The wave flipped me over, tumbled me around like a sock in the washing machine, and I hit the sand, shoulder-first. I actually felt the bones in my neck C R A C K.

    But believe it not, it was the good kind of crack, like cracking your knuckles. No damage at all. I actually felt better. Again, the Grim Reaper let me go. “Not now, dude.”

    Of course, this brush with a watery grave didn’t exactly stop me. I kept going back to the Wedge, but I never forgot my visit to Poseidon’s chiropractor, and in the hierarchy, I’m definitely over with the cowards.

    Eventually, I took up another ocean sport.

    Something safer. Something gentlemanly.

    Something with less of a chance of random, violent death.

    Perfect.

    The Nile Princess

    Ever heard the urban legend about the girl that was killed at Disneyland, crushed between two moving walls on the America Sings attraction?

    Sadly, it’s not a legend. It really happened. There have been several folks that have died at Disneyland, and I almost joined them in ignominy. My story of near-legend status involves an aptly named deadhead.

    I was a ride operator at Disneyland for two years, working on Big Thunder, the Tiki Room, the Mark Twain, Columbia and the Jungle Cruise.

    Yes, that Jungle Cruise.

    You may remember the Jungle Cruise as a 15-minute boat trip past scenes of animatronic animals, with a wannabe comedian on the mike.

    My name is Dave, but you can call me Julie McCoy, and I'll be your cruise director. Get this kid away from me.

    What was working at Disneyland like? It was equal parts amazing and soul-crushing. I watched a gymnast dressed like Tinkerbell fly down a zip line and crash into two burly guys, who had to park themselves at the end of the line and hold a mattress upright to break her fall. Amazing.

    But I also got to see Tinkerbell do her thing Every Damn Night. The first three times is hilarious. The next 30 is soul-crushing.

    In other words, the bloom comes off the rose pretty damn fast. It’s the Happiest Place on Earth. Right up until the moment you have to corral a brainless group of tourists.

    So, the dirty little secret about Disneyland employees is that we enjoyed the job the most when we had the park to ourselves.

    This'd be great if it weren't for all the damn paying customers!

    But to be honest, the Jungle Cruise was awesome. Besides the Army, where else do you get to see 18-year-olds paid to play with guns.

    Walt demonstrates the proper way to motivate employees. Yes, the guns were real.

    Spoiler alert! Jungle Cruise boats are on an underwater rail.

    That's the rail behind the hippo. By the way, the animals aren't real. Just destroying your childhood, aren't I?

    And the rail is just a big circle. The boats are in a single-file line, in other words. You fill up with passengers, take off from one end of the dock, loop around, and drop your passengers off at the other end.

    Like this. Simple, right?

    The system is all very elegantly timed, if you stop and think about it. Disney engineers are actually really good at their jobs. There’s a maximum of 10 boats on the rail, with only three or four at the dock taking on or dropping off passengers at any given time. The other boats are out on the ride itself, spaced out by the inherent timing of the system, and the physical design of the ride itself, which hides other boats from view (as one boat enters the Hippo Pool, for example, the previous boat has *just* exited seconds before, and is now out of sight, aroound a corner). When everything is done right, there’s an illusion of being alone in the jungle.

    But it doesn’t always go right. No plan survives contact with the enemy.

    Pictured: The Enemy

    Guests are sand in the well-oiled Jungle Cruise machine. Guests want things like “service” and “convenience” and “entertainment in exchange for their entrance fee.”

    Which brings me to the deadhead.

    If you’re a bus driver or in the airline industry, you might know the non-Jerry Garcia meaning of the term “deadhead” — a trip without any passengers, or any commercial vehicle trip designed to merely get the vehicle itself to the right place at the right time. Just move the vehicle from Point A to Point B so you can actually use it for its intended purpose.

    In our case, the boats are on a rail, like I mentioned. You can’t change lanes. Slower vehicles can’t move right. If Grandma Okie insists on stopping for pictures with her little Okie grandkids and can’t remember which button is the shutter, the 30 guests in the boat behind her just have to wait. And as the ride operator with the microphone, let’s just say it’s Evening at the Improv, and I’m fresh out of material.

    "So, anyone here from out of town? Please, God ..."

    Deadheads are a means of addressing spacing problems like Grandma Okie who won’t get off the boat. You just send a ride operator out alone in his boat, which frees up space at the dock for other boats to disembark passengers.

    For the ride’s lead, the manager, it’s a black mark. You’re not serving guests fast enough, and somehow this is your fault.

    For the ride operator, though, a deadhead is 15 minutes of blissful silence. It’s just you, the boat and the fake animals. Nobody asking you where the bathrooms are. Nobody asking you when the 9 o’clock parade starts. Just you and your 18-year-old non-thoughts.

    "I wonder if Cinderella is single?"

    One typical night, I’m sent on a typical deadhead. I try to hide my giddiness and zoom off into the jungle, which because of crafty landscaping and nearly 50 years of the best horticulturalists around, is pitch black if I leave the boat’s lights off, which I do.

    Now, I still have to drive the boat. Well, I mean, I’m not steering. But I have to operate the throttle. And  I still have to play the game, so to speak — I have to keep the proper spacing, so I’m not ruining the illusion of boats being alone in the jungle.

    In my case, I was actually standing on the prow of the boat, working the throttle with my foot, looking backward. I was trying to gauge how far back the next boat was.

    This model is the best illustration. The throttle is the little gray handle. I'm standing on the prow, looking aft, toward that smokestack. Pay attention to that smokestack -- it's important a few paragraphs later.

    Yes, that’s right. I’m driving the boat forward but looking backward. I’m 6-foot-4, which means, standing on the prow, I’m about three feet taller than that smokestack.

    I’m about to have my appointment with the Grim Reaper.

    You see, I forgot about the archway.

    That archway. The one looming over the river. The one just tall enough for the smokestack to pass under.

    I’m not going fast — maybe 5 miles per hour. But it sure is a surprise when the archway slams into the back of my head. The boat keeps moving forward, and the archway pushes me down onto the boat canopy and SCRAAAAPES my head as the boat passes beneath.

    Yeah, it was kinda like that.

    It was all over in a second. I was so disoriented, I nearly fell out of the boat. Which really would have been the highlight of some tourist’s visit. As it was, my hat was knocked into the water, and it took me a minute to fish it out of the drink.

    This asshole saw the whole thing, and I think he's still laughing about it. Hardy har har. You're made out of rubber, jerkwad.

    My mind raced the rest of the deadhead. What if I had been killed? Well, my corpse may have fallen overboard. The boat would’ve kept sailing without me. And remember, it’s pitch black and the water is dyed a deep river green. They’d think I just jumped out somewhere and walked off the job. It’d be days before anyone found my body.

    Wrong ride.

    But what if I didn’t fall overboard, though? The boat would’ve still made it all the way back to the dock via the rail. That would’ve been an interesting sight. “Oh, look, here comes Frank. Hey, Frank, whatcha doing there, buddy? Taking a nap?”

    Creepy just to think about it. I like to think I’d have figured out a way to get some payback.

    From the grave.

    "So, anyone here from out of town?"