I took a break from the New Orleans / Uncanny Valley posts and went away for a weekend. Interesting as always. Do you realize that I don’t go off looking for interesting experiences? It tends to find me – not that I’m complaining…
I spent most of my time away this weekend at a coastal area southeast of where I live now. Some of that time was spent at a place called Bubba’s Love Shak. After an uneventful but fantastic evening eating the freshest seafood while watching the 2014 Olympics, I left the place after the weight of what I was told had sunk in.
Hearing that I had been diagnosed with “sparkle” was not easy to accept. News like that rarely is. First there’s denial followed by anger, then bargaining, and finally acceptance. After ten minutes, I was n the denial phase.
“It’s a good thing,” she said.
“Sparkle is a rare quality in a man,” she said.
“And you’ve got ‘sparkle,'” she said.
Her friend confirmed the diagnosis.
“Doesn’t Todd have sparkle?”
“Oh absolutely! Todd, you definitely have sparkle.”
They lied that it was a compliment. The three of us had talked about art and engineering and nursing and cars and financial planning and growing up in Appalachia and cutting fireplace tile. We discussed the excitement and fear of job changes, and the fear and excitement of letting go of the known and blindly grasping the unknown.
I gave them Mapping the Edge business cards, and the diagnosis immediately followed. My ears are in no mood to hear nice or sweet or charming. I’ve heard that all my life, from my flight test engineering co-workers to my Engineering Physics III students and photographic workshop students to just plain friends.
I’ve been called sweet until I could puke, and nice until my eyes rolled back in their sockets, and charming until I wanted to be less than but couldn’t figure out how. My inner ears longed to hear terms like, “ruggedly handsome,” or “manly,” or perhaps “bad-boy tough” or just “cool”. For the first time ever, I had been described as possessing sparkle.
She and her friend told me about another place they planned to visit. They explained a place where bikers planted the front tires of their motorcycles against the bar and revved the engine, creating a fog of white smoke, while the shredding of rear tires made eyes and throats raw. I considered the fun times I would have there. On another day.
“Isn’t that a waste of expensive rubber, and hard on sensitive lungs of second-hand tire smokers,” I asked. The two girls pretended not to hear – or wished they hadn’t. I considered repeating my question but the strong urge to urinate took over.
I excused myself like a gentleman or something resembling one. After I returned from peeing and washing my hands thoroughly with pleasantly scented kiwi-scented soap, my new friends had paid for their meals and drinks, and had moved on.
Our vacated seats had been claimed by competitive women. Two of them were engaged in an arm wrestling competition. Their biceps were the size of my legs after several months of power squats. I’m guessing. Two other women stood nearby. They removed their leather jackets and began flexing tattooed body parts, verbally sparring over which would take on the winner.
“Pardon me ladies,” I said. They pretended to be ignorant of my presence.
“Pardon me ladies,” I said at an impressive volume, almost rude enough to turn a head or two, if the place were not so noisy.
I extracted my fleece from behind one of the chairs. More precisely, I began to tug hard enough for the woman leaning against my fleece and not involved in hand-to-hand combat to feel the pressure of fabric being pulled against her muscular shoulders. She looked at me as if to say, if you had half a brain you’d stop annoying me now.
She didn’t lean forward as much as she relieved the pressure of her massive shoulders just enough to allow my jacket to react like a slingshot pulled to an extreme tension. My jacket released from behind her back as if launched from a cannon.
The bottom of the jacket delivered a stinging shot directly between my eyes. It felt like the single-tap of a .45 caliber handgun. I left the Love Shak, secure in the hope that the imprint of my jacket’s metal zipper into my forehead would become less apparent over time.
In the gravel parking lot, I straddled the saddle of my Fiat 500L. I flipped the switchblade key, inserted the metal strip into the ignition and fired up all four cylinders with the roar of a baby lion having a pleasant dream.
I felt reckless enough to waste finite resources, as long as the waste was momentary. I sparkled with acceleration, crunching gravel and spitting a few particles of gravel in the general direction of the main entrance of The Love Shak. They would remember me. Oh yes they would. Some day they will tell stories of the artist/engineer in the parking lot – the one with the zipper imprint between his eyes.
Once back in the motel room, I checked email before going to bed. I read the following in my Mapping the Edge inbox:
“Todd, it was a pleasure meeting you tonight. We stopped in at a few other places, but you remain the bright spot of our evening. Hopefully we will see you again. How about early March on the same street? We will try to find stimulating conversation until you and your sparkle return, but it won’t be easy. Stay amazing!”
What sweet, wonderful, nice people. Literally, they were just looking for fun and interesting conversation. That’s all. From one usually clueless about carrying on one of those things, it was cool to approach success without trying. Maybe that’s the secret. Don’t try. Just be.
I have minimal experience carrying on a conversation with strangers. Maybe the way to do that is to just be my MappingTheEdge self. Just be. Maybe that’s enough. What amazing people. The were so easy to talk to and the definition of entertaining.
What did I learn? When two nurses notice something and are obligated to point it out, accept it. They recognized symptoms of sparkle. Who am I to argue? Maybe with treatment I can learn to live with this disease.
Or maybe not. Back in the room, I shut the lid of my laptop with authority. I intentionally left my computer out of its protective case overnight, exposing it to the room’s less-than-optimum environmental conditions.
I slept like a baby as the dust settled on my exposed life. I felt dirty, like an uncharged laptop left out of its protective case overnight.
Sparkle my ass! I’m a bad man, even if a schizophrenic, trapped somewhere between mad scientist and whatever resembles normal.
Stop over-thinking and go make stuff!