Most people would consider themselves unique and wholly different from the other 7,108,523,000 plus individuals on the planet (as of 0715 PDT on September 1, 2013. It’s hard to be more precise as the world population is increasing by two every second…) And you would have good reason to feel that way. We are, in fact, islands in the stream of humanity, each with our own singular personalities and different fingerprints. We have our personal histories, past, present and future. No two people, even identical twins, share the same genes, or style of jeans, for that matter. As my dear old Mother would say: “It takes all kinds to make a world.”
This got me thinking about the extraordinary aspects of my own life. I play guitar; a lot of people play guitar, and a lot better than I do. I can play the first few bars of “Over the Rainbow” on a Theremin, again, not well, but…can you? Very few people, a literal handful, can make music on a Theremin because of the challenge of using fine muscle movements to find musical pitches in the air separated by fractions of an inch. So that’s something that begins to define who I am relative to you and the other 7,108,525,800 (0733 PDT) meat bags on Earth.
What else can I claim as special, without sounding a braggadocio or bloated with ego? There might be a few things to mention…
When I was about five, my Dad took me to a men’s clothing store, then known as a haberdashery (great word.) This was in Kansas City, Missouri, in about 1956. Although I was too young to know at the time, this store was undoubtedly Eddie Jacobson’s Westport Menswear owned by President Harry S. Truman’s old friend and former business partner, Eddie Jacobson. (He and Harry owned a haberdashery in the nineteen teens.)
How can I make that leap? I met Mr. Truman that day in the store. I don’t know if it was coincidence, or my dad (who was very connected in the Westport area of Kansas City) knew he would be there that day. Too young to be impressed at the time, I have since thought long about this episode: I shook hands with the man who was directly responsible for the death of an estimated 105,000 souls, and the injury of 94,000 others by atomic bombing.
Much later in my life, I moved with my young family to Oregon, where, armed with a college degree in Biology and Chemistry, I went to work in the woods as a tree planter. Wait, what? Yes, I planted trees for three “seasons” (read “winters”) to make a living. The experience made a man out of me: my chest size increased two inches with accompanying upper body development from the continuous strenuous exercise of walking and swinging a hoedad. I ate like two horses, and collapsed into bed every night, asleep and dreamless before my head hit the pillow. The best part of the job was exiting the crummy every morning of the work week and smelling the pure fragrance of the Douglas fir forest. Then the fun began.
The “fun” involved bagging upwards of 1,000 fir seedlings in vinyl bags carried on the hips. This was repeated several times throughout the work day. My fellow misfits and me (one had a wooden prosthetic leg, believe it or not) would then set out on the hillside walking and planting side-hill 8 feet apart in a precisely spaced grid. Interestingly, for my Biology senior term paper back in deciduous forested Missouri, I wrote a diatribe condemning the horrors of monotonous monoculture forests, just like I ended up creating a few short months later in Oregon.
I was a poor planter in the beginning, but as my strength and endurance grew, I became one of the better “reforestation engineers” as we liked to call ourselves. Another interesting side note: Loggers hated tree planters. We were not manly enough, or brave enough, or smelly enough or something. We didn’t run the risk of accidentally cutting off our leg with a chain saw, and having to carry it out of the woods with us to the hospital. And yet I planted trees in a wind storm when 150 foot tall trees were falling in the stand next to us; I lost my footing and tumbled ass over tea kettle 100 feet into a ravine; and, to this day I can still feel the pain of an errant twig branch sliding into my left ear canal and piercing my eardrum. Not brave enough my tea kettle.
What I remember as the touchstone of my tree planting career is planting whole hillsides alone for days on end, known as “floating.” I work best alone. I am a confirmed lone wolf and do not play well with others. Floating suited me perfectly. I have suffered derision by stating that I like to be alone with my thoughts, rather than listen to headbanger music on a construction site. Oh well. Mother again: “To each his own, like the old woman who kissed the cow.” I don’t get it either, but it seems apt…
So what do I take from this experience that sets me apart just a bit? Over those brief planting excursions, I planted an estimated 250,000 Douglas fir trees. For dramatic effect, that’s a quarter of a million. A lot. More than your typical Arbor Day outing. And, probably, more than you.
But I’m not bragging…
Unlike Chuck Norris, however, I have never counted to infinity, twice. Once took far too long, and I have other things to do.
Like train your average citizen in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, a.k.a. CPR. In the early seventies, like 1970, I and another orderly working at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City were the only two people in the house who knew CPR. CPR was in its infancy, having been born in the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. The basic technique had been worked out: blow air into the lungs to oxygenate the blood, then push on the chest over the heart to “pump” the blood to the brain, heart and kidneys to keep them alive until definitive life support could be brought to bear. It worked. My friend, Ron Lewis, and I would respond from our stations on the wards to the Emergency Room when we heard “Code Blue” announced over the PA. Snatching the “crash cart” with all the supplies from the ER, we’d make our way as quickly as possible up the elevators and to the room where the cardiac arrest patient was lying in bed. Alone. He and I would routinely be the first to arrive, followed shortly by the doctors on call and the floor nurses. Ron and I would tag team each other doing CPR; this was before the two-person technique was developed.
Eventually, I was asked to instruct the nursing staff in the techniques Ron and I had learned by doing. We were not “certified” to perform CPR, much less teach it. But that didn’t stop us from doing our duty. The worst part of the whole experience? We didn’t have a practice manikin. Ron and I were best friends as well as work mates, thank God, because I would have to routinely lock lips with him demonstrating rescue breathing. I remember that like I remember the ear piercing…
In subsequent years I became an American Heart Association Instructor, training many, many people in the life-saving skill. An educated guess might be 3,000. As an EMT for 12 years I performed CPR on real people, locking lips before the AIDS epidemic changed everything, perhaps 300 times. As I never followed up on “my” patients as a stress management tool, I have no idea who survived or who succumbed.
On a related note: I rescued Stevie, my youngest brother, from the bottom of our swimming pool when he was just a tyke. My parents were having a patio pool party; Stevie slipped in unnoticed. I happened to look into the pool and saw him looking up at me wide-eyed three feet down. There was no drama, fanfare or emergency services. Besides me and Stevie, I don’t remember anybody noticing.
On a college field trip to the Missouri outback, Mr. Driscoll, my ex-cop Physiology professor began experiencing chest pain. Over the next several hours, he entrusted me with the whereabouts of his weapon, a loaded pistol, and had me drive him to the nearest medical center 80 miles away at high-speed in his vehicle in the middle of the night. I felt pretty good about that level of trust; he was a cop, and I was a long-haired college student. Do the math.
I’ve done some pretty stupid stuff, too, in my attempt to get as far from the madding crowd as possible: I’ve scuba dived with sharks sleeping in a cave, went looking for a reported family of sharks, alone, and induced my wife to pet a sleeping nurse shark on the tail. We lived to dive another day, unlike the nurse shark that reacted to being touched by a 14-year-old boy in Florida by latching onto his torso with a death grip which could only be treated by killing the innocent shark.
I also thought it was sui generis to dive in Hawaii during a tsunami alert. Naked.
By now you’re probably humming an old Patsy Cline/Willie Nelson tune in your head… “Crazy…”
There are undoubtedly more examples of my inimitable endeavor to be…myself, but I might be bordering on the boring, so I’ll close for now with this final anecdote:
What is the one truly unique aspect that completely separates me from the herd, the standout and unequaled fortuity for which I can take credit as the exclusive, exceptional and singular achievement on the planet?
My son, Jake, world citizen 3,869,000,001, give or take.