Saturday, October 31, 2015

Things Stupid Kids Do: Episode 1 (Storming the Castle)

In psychology there is a term to describe younger adults who feel that they are special or so unique that nothing bad can or will happen to them, regardless of the behaviors in which they engage (personal fable).

I don’t recall feeling especially unique or special as an adolescent, however, I do recall that feeling of not having to worry that something bad would happen to me; At least, nothing permanently bad (illusion of invulnerability). So, yeah, realistically I knew that I could be in a car accident, but there was no real feeling that if I was in a car accident it would be painful, disfiguring, or scarring. In fact, I think I believed that no accident could be bad enough to kill me. Worst case scenario: I would end up in a coma for a few weeks, then wake up with a couple of bandages and a hungry belly.

As a result, I made some bad decisions and acted on them.

Example one: Within serious jogging distance of where I grew up, there was a park that we would go to as kids to play (swing sets, etc.). It was located on a big chunk of forested land that had walking trails around a small lake (Kenoza). What was really interesting about this place was that it had a small castle, and it was (still is) fun to say its name. The castle was called Winnekenni (“winnee-kinnee” to some, “win-a-kinnee” to others) Castle!

Being bored pre-computers teens, my friend and I found our adventures through exploration of old, run-down, out-of-the-way places. Today those of similar ilk are referred to as “Urban Explorers!” I think we can all agree that being called an urban explorer is a way cooler title than “dipshit kid looking for trouble whilst trespassing.”

For some reason, our search for adventure brought us to the castle (perhaps to reminisce about the fun we’d had there as kids). Walking around, we visited the castle itself which always seemed abandoned and mysterious to us (everyone, probably).

The castle is not a very big one. Truthfully, it would probably have better served the role of barbican than castle. But because there was no larger castle-like structure to get to through this one, it makes a nice enough mini-castle. As we walked around the building, we noticed what appeared to be a power line or electrical cable hanging down the side of the castle.

“Think there’s any power going through that line?” One of us surely asked aloud, but both were already wondering. Saying it out loud was just our way of pointing out that someone was going to have to find out if it was a live wire or not.

My friend and I had long-ago settled the “who goes first” argument by simple agreement that we would alternate. No doubt we contracted the turn-taking agreement without discussion when one of us realized that we’d just finished doing something stupid. It didn’t seem fair to hog all of the stupidity, so one of us probably had said, “I went first last time.” So from then on we kept very good track of whose turn it currently was. No more arguments. Sometimes it was no big deal to be the one to go first, other times… well, it was a bigger deal. This was one of those times where it seemed like a bigger deal.

I was happy (for now) that it was his turn to go first. He grabbed the wire and touched it against as wide a variety of surfaces as he could find – except skin. It seemed pretty safe. Both of us moved the mental “whose turn to go first” peg into my column.

While he was moving the cable and trying to get it to reach different surfaces, it was apparent that the line was pretty well attached to something up on the roof. Looking up, we could see the line disappear between two battlements (merlons).

“Think there’s anything interesting up there?”

We had been fans of the Batman tv show and had always wanted to use a bat-rope to climb a building ala Batman and Robin. Even though we knew that the scenes in the television show of the crime fighters walking up a building were created by tilting the camera sideways, it looked like it should be easy enough to do for real.

My friend had not let go of the line yet, so he gave it a whirl. Basically it turns out that wall climbing works one of only two ways: (1) You can hold fast to the line and let your legs walk up the wall a little ways, or (2) you can pull yourself up the line one hand over the other while your legs stay in one spot until they lose traction on the wall and you just hang on to the line. There is no way for the hands AND the legs to move up the wall at the same time. So, turns out it was not at all easy enough to do for real.

Fatefully, there was a conifer tree growing about five feet away from the side of the building. While the cord was not quite long enough to reach around the base of the tree, we figured we could get a lot more slack in the line if we climbed the tree while holding on to the cable. In other words, we figured that we could tie the cable around the tree and just tight-rope our way across from the tree to the roof of the castle.

It was a bitch to climb the prickly bristly sappy tree high enough to get in line with the battlement. The tree was not a lumbering one, meaning that the higher we got, the more precarious it felt. The slightest wind put a sway into the trunk that made me rethink what we were trying to do. But my friend expressed no hesitation or doubt, so I figured everything was ok to proceed (illusion of transparency: look it up).

The thick plastic insulation around the line made it too difficult to tie around the tree in the same way as we might have been able to tie a rope. Of course, even if we had a rope, we would not have the advantage of it already being secured to the castle roof-top. We had to make do with what we had. Our solution was to wrap the cable about sixty-eleven times around the tree until it didn’t seem like it could just unwrap itself once we stepped on it to cross the few feet to the battlement.

Now that the cord was secured to the tree and to whatever it was attached to on the castle roof, it was time for phase two: tight-rope walking across.

It was my turn to go first. Because my friend was taller than me, the tiny voice of reason in my head wanted to use this fact to find a way out of doing this stupid thing. He would have had a much easier time reaching out between the tree and the castle than me… so maybe he should go first again?
I made the offer and it was declined.

Fine. Eyeing the setup, I had to admit that it looked perfectly simple and relatively safe to walk across that short distance to the castle. So I took a breath and committed.

To stand on the cable, I had to climb a few thinning branches beyond where it was wrapped. Slowly. Try not to look down. One small movement at a time. Right (coward) foot on cable against the tree. Try not to look down. Left (brave) foot probing toward the castle about half way along the stretch of cable. Try not to look down. Let go of tree with my left hand. Try not to look down. Slowly and wobbly stretch my brave arm toward castle. Try not to look down. Slowly let my weight accumulate on my brave foot. Hyperventilate as suddenly my weight on the middle of the wire pulls the tree-top closer to the castle dropping me barely to shoulder height with the edge of the roof!

Ok, now what has happened here is that I am balancing on a wire that has taken the shape of the letter “V” and both of my feet are being pinched by the bottom of that letter. I am high enough up that I do not want to fall. The nearest tree branches are too spindly to trust my weight on them without cracking, so I can’t go back to the tree. So I am committed to trying to grab the edge of the battlement and pull myself up to the roof. This is where adrenaline teams up with knowing the consequences of failure.

I could not see anything beyond the edge of the castle upon which my left hand was pressed upon. My right hand was pushed against the side of the castle for balance and support. I took a leap of faith and kinda jumped up with both arms stretched as far onto the battlement as I could reach and (lucky!) fingers found the far edge of stone and I was able to grab enough of it to haul my stupid ass to the top. As my weight left the cord, the tree swung back away from me to straighten up. It looked perfectly simple and relatively safe again.
Next was my friend’s turn. He’d seen what to expect so he made it seem pretty easy coming across. Of course, he did have the advantages of being taller and having longer arms to grab the edge of the roof. Plus I was able to help him climb up.

Sitting for a minute and looking at what we had just done, I admit that my heart was still pounding and I had small scrapes here and there. But best of all, I knew it was going to be him going first when it was time to get back down. Did I mention that it was going to be night soon?

As they say, it’s the journey, not the destination. The roof of the castle was unremarkable (almost). We looked around for a better way down (nothing). We took in the view from all sides (boring). Then figured we should get down while there was still a little bit of light left (smart).

First thing before we were getting ready to head back over to the tree was to double check that the part of the cable tied to the roof was secure (and not attached to an electrical source that might kick on unexpectedly). What we discovered was that the cable had curved around a big square fixture on the roof and had barely snagged itself to keep from detaching.

In other words, if we’d flicked the cable from the ground a few times, it would probably have come loose.

In other words, if we’d bounced around on the cable while crossing to the castle, it would probably have come loose.

In other words, we were super lucky that one of us didn’t smucker ourselves on the ground.

In other words, we were stupid kids doing stupid things.