The following vignette is from an email I wrote my mother, but it's a story I want to remember regardless. To give a little context, I spend half of my work days at the apex of what was once Mount Mazama, selling tickets for boat tour in the caldera below known as Crater Lake. To get down to the boat tours itself to Cleetwood Cove, tourists must walk the Cleetwood Trail -- a 1.1 mile hike down the side of a mountain. At it's steepest point, there is a 12-percent incline. They say it's one mile going down and six going up. I hike this trail at least three times a week; it does not get any easier.
So without further ado...
I'm sitting in the ticket shack on the top of the mountain. The ticket shack is the most boring part of the job (I'd actually rather clean the bathroom down by the water). We usually sell out all of our tours by 11:00 and then we're stuck in there doing menial tasks -- and there is much to do to prepare for the next day -- until the rest of the crew gets back up from Cleetwood Cove around 6:30.
So I'm making out tickets for the next day when I get a call on the radio: "Tickets, this is Cleetwood. Respond to this as soon as you can." I jumped up -- EXCITEMENT! -- and respond with my heartiest "This is Tickets. Go ahead." My coworker Steph down below says, "Are you available to assist in a carry-out? A gal down here cut her leg. The litter crew is on its way, but we need another body." It takes six people to operate the litter -- or gurney -- and they only had four rangers. "Yes," I said. "I'll lock up the shack and be down in 15."
As I'm getting all the padlocks ready and making a sign -- and obviously looking very dire -- tourists are asking me "Why is Crater Lake so blue?" and "How did you get the boats down there?" and all around standing in my way as I try to lock up the ticket shack. A woman asks for water and I say I'm in a hurry. She gives me a really pathetic whine and bitches that she just hiked that Cleetwood Trail and now she has to die of thirst. So I throw her a fucking bottle of water.
On my way down Cleetwood Trail, I feel super cool. I'm hustling with a radio in my hand and shouting, "Excuse me, folks! Excuse me!" One tourist must've recognized the look on my face because he shouts to a family farther down, "Out of his way! He's responding to a medical!"
Somewhere down the trail, I realize my shoe is coming off. When I bend down to tie it, I notice there is no shoe lace to tie; it frayed so much that it fell off. So now I'm hobbling down the trail, trying to keep it on. Even if I get to the bottom, I'm useless: Without a shoe, what can I do? I get to Cleetwood Cove and search for some rope in the shack down there. Nothing. I find a mini-bungee cord hanging on the wall. Perfect! I guide it through some holes and wrap it around my ankle. It actually works better than a shoelace; I'm thinking of getting one for the other shoe.
One of the captains hands me a Vitamin Water and tells me to head over to the bathrooms where everyone is gathered. I hobble the 50 yards to the bathrooms and there is a 24-year-old girl laying on the bench, surrounded by rangers. The EMT is asking her a bunch of questions. Apparently, she was climbing out of the water and slipped on a rock. She sliced her knee open when she fell and will need stitches. When I arrive, we move her onto the litter. I am volunteered to be at the head of the litter because I'm tall and her head needs to be elevated. I agree to it, but, once we start moving, I make it about 20 yards and give up. I tell them I can't be at the front and a law enforcement ranger agrees to switch with me. We switch out provided I wear this 100-lb. backpack full of oxygen tanks. At this point, I rather be leading again; I have flashbacks of Divine Child.
Going up the trail is pretty fun, though. It usually takes me about 20 min. to get back up, but here, it takes us an hour. The crew and the girl are cracking jokes. Given that the mood is so light, I allow myself to notice how very pretty this young lady is -- and subsequently feel like a total pig. (Ironically enough, when I sold her her ticket hours prior, I thought, "Damn, I'd like to see you again real soon!") Of course she's married, though. Aww bugger; that would be a great pick up line -- something about literally needing to be picked up, ha ha ha.
We get to the top where an ambulance is waiting. I laugh to myself when the EMT says she feels like she will vomit because that trail is so rough. (Haha, I do it everyday, you weakling! Once, I did it twice!) One of the rangers asks me to write down my full name and I imagine when he writes up his report later, a paragraph will read, "Handsome Xanterra dockhand Peter Jurich heroically flew down Cleetwood Trail in record time to assist in our very serious situation -- and with one shoelace at that! We could not have done this without him."
After that, the ambulance took off and I was left again to minding the ticket shack, despite having two hours less to do all the shit I needed to do. I ended up getting it all done before 6:30 and the crew was up the trail by6:45. We were late for dinner, but the cook kept the cafeteria open for us, so we cleaned up while he made our burgers. The day had actually been a very pleasant change of pace.
I am sitting in a dimly lit dorm room in the middle of the Cascade Mountains, listening to the hail storm outside pummel the roof of this dilapidated shack I call home. I question whether this building can take this deafening applause any longer, or whether an ice rock will penetrate my window and thus my bedroom, allowing for a very crowded evening up here. Dinner is a short hike away and, should I choose to eat anything tonight, I may need to suffer a beating from Mother Nature, who has reared her ugly side very few times since the beginning of my sojourn.
Such is life at Crater Lake.
Two and a half months ago, I set off for the mountains of Oregon, for a world of less technology and less connectivity than most have ever known. Out here, days go by with neither the need nor the desire to turn on a cell phone of any kind. It is this reason that primarily attracted me to this place. After six years of college and resulting indecision, a little bit of wilderness can do the body very well. Since leaving, I've chanced upon several incredible insights of the subjects of love, manhood (I can grow facial hair!), career and sustainability, but none strike me so much as that which I am feeling right now: the wanting to return to my city boy roots.
In the city, it is hard to have a clear mind. There is too much noise, too much traffic and too much outlandish activity. The wilderness is not like that. At first, it is haunting to just listen to the wind and wonder why you're cell phone is not ringing. But it's something that must be embraced --at least to me -- to achieve that clear mind again.
But the truth is, a clear mind can go to waste in too much wilderness. Crater Lake is one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen -- just a blip on the grand scale that is the Great State of Oregon -- and it's a shameful day when one wakes up and is no longer impressed by its majesty. My feeling is that the human race is too far gone down the path of social networking for anyone to live now as I do without becoming a little stir crazy.
I have everything I need out here, but am feeling that crazy looming over -- even though I have the opportunity everyday to hike miles and miles of this beautiful earth. I am suffused these days with an energy that calls me home to a the city, to a place where much happens and nothing goes away unless preceded by a "Everything 90% Off" sign.
In a sense, I feel like this adventure of mine has had the opposite effect on me. I came out here because constant social activity and consumption of needless amenities had turned me mindless and impersonal. Turns out those items of interest are not only an imbedded part of my American spirit, but also a very necessary part of what drives me.
A journalist is essentially a contradiction to himself: While writing is a very personal career goal that requires a certain aloofness, a journalist also needs to feed off social connectivity and always be available. I'm doing my best to stay fresh out here -- to think and write often and not turn to drink out of boredom at 11:30 a.m. -- and by all means have succeeded, but I've developed a kind of appreciation for my other home -- the one not filled with 69 other wandering souls.
I'm excited to get back home next month. I want to run through the streets of Detroit and throw streamers in the air. I want to hug strangers in Dearborn bars and do an article for the Press & Guide about residents in bars that do like to be hugged by strangers. I want a city and a newspaper and consistent WiFi that lets me push my own selfish agenda.
This is Sean Aiken. He is a little older than me and he is very very happy.
I have been thinking a lot about happiness recently. More specifically, that there are so many people out there who do not know what makes them happy.
Myself included. Happiness has never really struck me as something that requires thought. Friends, well-orchestrated music and delicious food usually do it for me. Everything that comes in between those are just noises. I'm supposed to hate my job -- that's just a part of being human, right?
Last semester, a beloved professor of mine told me that loving your job is often more important than loving your significant other. "You are going to spend more time with your job than with your sweetheart," he said, "so you better choose your job well." In thinking about this, I realized how very true and very sad that is. I don't want to spend eight hours everyday for the rest of my life just so I can spend a precious few with those I love. Worse yet, why do those eight hours have to be spent doing something I hate?
Sean Aiken understood this when he set out to do his One-Week Job Project. He understood that THE REST OF YOUR LIFE is a long time, and that there is no way to know what you love if you don't explore any and all options. A few weeks ago, my friend Kira bought me a book of the same name -- saying that it reminded her of me after I told her I was moving to Alaska to join the salmon season. I never followed through with those plans for several reasons, but Sean's book inspired me to make another choice.
I graduated with a degree in journalism. Naturally, I should get a journalism job, right?
Not so sure about that. When Crater Lake National Park in Oregon called me with an opening working on their dock all summer, I had a decision to make: Do I pursue a career or adventure?
As society would have it, I'd stay in Michigan this summer, working my part-time job of six years, seeking out that coveted entry-level position. And there are good points on that to be made. But they are obvious and I will not list them because they are indelibly trumped by the prospect of hiking, mountain climbing and boating three days a week. The chances of that happening here are slim. Besides, knowing I'm an aspiring novelist, my friend Joel asked me, "What would've happened if Hemingway spent all his time in an office?"
Some people luck out. They discover what drives them early and follow accordingly. Most of us, however, do not. And it is not our faults. College is designed to specialize us: to train us in a field, which makes it virtually impossible to cross over into another. Our degrees are often chosen on a vague whim or hobby.It works out for awhile -- you learn new things, you meet cool people -- but then it hits you: This is going to be the rest of my life. Do I really enjoy it?
I do not know what I like. However, I do know what I don't like. I don't like offices and I don't like negative people -- who can almost assuredly be found in an office setting. So do I absolutely need to do that so I can better achieve happiness? When will that happiness come? I recently met someone who, upon hearing about my memoir, said, "One day I'll get crackin' on that novel. One day." This man is in his 40s. When will "one day" come? When?
Why does everything need to be a means to an end? Why should I work my tail off now to find happiness later in life? We deserve to be happy now. You do not deserve to put your life on hold any longer. On Sean's website, he asks you to make a promise to settle for nothing short of what makes you happy.
A few days ago, my friend Jake brought to my attention a mini-comic handed to him by what could only have been a religious fanatic. The comic is titled "Allah Had No Son" and can be read in its entirety by clicking on that title. The story opens with a Christian man and his son walking past a mosque with a group of men outside praying. "What are they doing, Daddy?" the boy asks of the kneeling Muslims. The father answers, "They're praying to their moon god, son."
One of the praying men overhears this and confronts the father. "I heard what you said, you infidel. The holy Qur'an says I could KILL you for saying that!" The demonized Arab goes on to say that the boy and his father should fear his people and that a Muslim flag will soon fly above the White House. "Think it's impossible? England was our first target... And the Islamic religion is bringing England to her knees."
In a manner loyal to Teddy Roosevelt's famous slogan, the Christian man explains the origins of Islam, stating that Allah is a mere idol upon which the Prophet Muhammad founded his phony religion. Coincidentally, the man has photographic evidence to back up his argument -- which is funny until you realize how absurd the pamphlet is.
(The Bible scripture he quotes is incredibly confusing and contradictory, and would not be my first choice if I were in his shoes: "All things were made by him (Jesus); and without him was anything made that was made... (John 1:3) He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not." (John 1:10))
As the pages move forward, we see the Muslim man lose focus of his argument and, ashamed, accept that Allah is not the way with embarrassing haste. (The clincher, I think, were the mansions; the Christian said God wants "the lost people of Islam" to "live with Him in mansions in Heaven.") He learns that Allah had no son to save his followers from Original Sin and begs for forgiveness. The Christian man says God loves and forgives him and the boy sees how much smarter his father is than the silly turban man.
This whole thing got me thinking about a recent Detroit Free Press article I read about the Hutaree. The extremist anti-government Christian militia briefly put Southeast Michigan on the national radar when its plans to attack law enforcement officials were debunked. Until recently, a federal judge was to release the nine members until their court hearings. What reminded me of the article was this quote by U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts:
“The United States is correct that it need not wait until people are killed before it arrests conspirators. But, the Defendants are also correct: their right to engage in hate-filled, venomous speech, is a right that deserves First Amendment protection.”
"Hate-filled, venomous speech." To me, it is absolutely no contest that these Hutaree members should be locked up until their hearings. It matters very little to me that there is no evidence proving they were actually going to carry out their plans. The only evidence that can prove that is if they actually carried out their plans.
Similarly, I don't think the Constitution should protect the speech of the above comic. As a journalist, this puts me in a strange place. During a class period of one of my last semesters in college, I got into a short debate with a visiting law professor who contended that ALL speech (except "FIRE!" in a theatre, and the like) is protected under Constitutional law. I asserted that some should not be, like the above examples. Of course, my opinion held little clout, but it was fun to pretend it did.
Is there actually a place in society for hate-filled venomous speech? Is that the same as asking whether we need to protect those who can't protect themselves? I ask because, if so, it is OK to make outlandish accusations to get your point across, just as it is OK to plan killings without actually doing them. Very different examples, yes, but more similar than you'd think. Individuals like the Hutaree members -- anyone who feels they've the right to murder whomever they see fit -- are who they are because they read the stuff presented above. And believe it.
Aren't they kind of the same? One is blatant murder, and the other sets the groundwork for it.
Thank you for the "I Miss You" card with the sad teddy bear on it. I was really hoping it was a response to my angry emails long since forgotten, but I was wrong. The card was a very cute gesture, but I regret to inform you that I do not share your sentiments. It has been a year since last we spoke you have not gotten the hint by now: It's over. I have since accepted to the fact that, because I am not interested in your product, I simply will never have sex ever again. (C'mon -- that IS what your ads are going for.)
We had some good times, I know. Like that time your product didn't work on my face, despite what Jessica Simpson said. Or that time I sent you a check for $40 for a shipment I didn't order just to shut you up. To think, all the time, you were planning to send me to a collection agency anyway, making me pay you an additional $40. LOL. You scamp. You devil. I hope you find happiness in your budding career as a comedian. But I cannot be a part of that future.
It was nice of you to reach out to me the way you did, though. I see you on TV a lot, but I no longer wonder what could've been like I used to. No longer do I stay up at night wondering if I would've gotten that job, or if she would've liked me more. I've accepted that I will remain underemployed and single, living in my mother's basement for years to come.
JOHN: How did the interview go? PETER: I didn't get it. That's the last time I go into a job interview dressed as an astronaut. JOHN: They have no vision.
I did not go to a job interview dressed as a spaceman, but I may as well have. I recently had an interview for a very competitive internship. I was proactive in my approach -- had in been in touch with them for the last two months -- and had the backing of a reference close to them. The interview seemed a formality; I was the only candidate they were slated to interview.
Even though the cards seemed stacked in my favor, that never means they actually are. In my assumption that I already had the job, I made a grave mistake: The interview went really well until an employee asked, "So are you familiar with what we do here?"
I wasn't. In all of my excitement, I did very little research. As a journalist, I schlepped Rule Numero Uno.
My arrogance got in my way and I received an appreciated email detailing where I went wrong in the interview (though it doesn't mention my incessant "Umm"s.) I spent a few subsequent hours beating myself up, but eventually came around to another reason I was caught off guard.
As a writer perspective, little of the work I do involves anyone else, so I don't blame myself for not being able to articulate the "teamwork" portion on a professional scale. At a human perspective, however, I should've made the following list weeks ago. As a reminder to myself, I compiled this list of generic questions one will most likely hear at a job interview. It's my goal to have answers to all of these next time around. Not answers to memorize, but at least a readily available guideline.
What are your personal strengths and weaknesses?
Where do you see yourself in five, ten years?
How might your friends describe you as a person, not as an employee?
What are you looking for in an internship? In what circumstance would this experience be successful to you?
Did you enjoy attending WSU for journalism?
Tell me about your writing process. How do you approach a story?
Tell me about a particular obstacle you faced as a journalist and how you confronted it.
Tell me about a time you disappointed yourself and what you learned, would do differently?
Is there a time that you had improved upon a process that had been in place for some time?
When working in a team, how do you handle someone who is not pulling their weight?
What leadership qualities might you bring to a team environment? Examples?
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY: Do you have any questions for us? (Always have questions prepared. Keep dialogue moving. You'd assume that "No" looks like it means you did your homework and know everything, but you get nothing but awkward dead air at the end.)
Of course, if anyone has suggestions of what else to expect in an interview, I'm very open to it. In the meantime, I think I will try the pirate outfit next time...
With any luck, you are enjoying my writing. If that's the case, maybe you'd like to check out my memoir, "Typing With One Hand." It's all about my adventures in Catholic school, high school and college -- a life after brain tumors.