Before and After Department

before coffee and after

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Reflections on janitors and dignity

Two names for you to look up sometime: William B. Crawford, janitor at the Air Force Academy; and John Profumo, janitor at Toynbee Hall. Everyone should know both these gentlemen’s stories.

I am given to understand that there are people who consider it an insult to be called a toilet-cleaner rather than a Credentialed Intellectual, and I could have sworn that one particularly famous Republican strategist of yore reacted with outrage to the idea that his son might demean himself by taking a job at McDonalds. (But as I can’t find references to the latter story anywhere, I presume that I am suffering from the Illusion of Memory and will not mention the strategist’s name lest I slander him.)

My feeling is that it is in no way contemptible to be a toilet-cleaner. It is, however, contemptible to be someone who holds toilet-cleaners in contempt. And if you consider that working at McDonalds is beneath your dignity, then a job at McDonalds is better than you deserve.

On the Kavanaugh accusations

I think there is a significant, and very dangerous, confusion between the obligation that an accuser’s friends and therapist have to the accuser, and the obligation that society as a whole has to her.

If you are the accuser’s friend or therapist, then you have a duty of personal loyalty to listen sympathetically. When your friend or patient shares with you a story of trauma, the context is therapeutic and the point is the patient’s mental health. I am never going to be the first to believe an accuser because I know how easily people are self-deceived and I know how shockingly unreliable memory is, especially in the case of trauma and after a span of many years, and most especially if the accuser has already been receiving therapy and has “remembered” what happened as part of a therapy session — the therapeutic profession’s irresponsibility in fostering false memories, especially as regards sexual assault, has been grotesque for at least a quarter-century. But I will certainly believe, at least initially, that any friend who shares such a story with me is sincere in their belief that what they are saying is true.

But the idea that society as a whole has a greater obligation to believe the accuser — the idea that society as a whole should join in the Orwellian question-begging word game of saying “believe the victim” as though the fact that someone has chosen to play the role of accuser establishes that she, rather than the person being accused, is “the victim”– that is, I think (and I say this advisedly and after careful thought) downright evil. We have JUST AS MUCH of an obligation to the person who is accused as we have to the accuser. He is JUST AS MUCH of a person, and a child of God, as is the accuser, and has JUST AS GREAT a moral claim on our charity. We have NO BUSINESS WHATSOEVER believing EITHER side on mere say-so.

Furthermore, the purpose of trials and hearings is ABSOLUTELY NOT the healing of the accuser, even if she is in fact a victim. It is the establishment of justice, specifically in the decision of whether or not to do deliberate harm to the accused. We do not hold trials, or Congressional hearings, in order to provide therapeutic healing to trauma victims; that is what therapy is for. We hold trials to determine whether a person is to be held guilty for a criminal act; we hold Congressional hearings to determine a person’s fitness for a position to which he has been nominated. An accuser who wishes her story to be taken into account in a criminal case must be prepared to go under oath and cross-examination; if she is not willing to do that, then we can all have compassion for her, but we would be worse than fools to overturn the presumption of innocence for this one single type of criminal charge. As for a Congressional hearing, the nominee has the right to at least the assumption of innocence that demands a preponderance of evidence — and again, if a victim does not wish to be heard badly enough to testify in Congress then she should return to therapy, where we will wish her well with all our heart, while staying out of the confirmation process.

I say again: in a therapy situation, we should listen — not to “the victim,” but to “our friend” or “our patient.” In a court of law or a Congressional hearing, we should also listen to the accuser (not “the victim” because we do not know whether the victim is the accuser, who could be a victim of assault, or the accused, who could be a victim of slander)…but ONLY if they are willing to enter into the courtroom, go under oath, and speak in the context that is appropriate for someone who is deliberately attempting to bring harm to another person on the grounds that he deserves it.

Anybody who says, “I don’t know what happened, but we have an obligation to believe the victim,” is either being dishonest or is very confused — for in calling the accuser “the victim” one presumes the truth of the allegation. But think about what we know, and do not know, whenever a woman accuses a man of sexual assault for the purpose of having him sent to jail or for the purpose of destroying his public reputation or for the purpose of destroying his career. What we do NOT know, is whether the man ever actually harmed the woman. What we DO know, is that the woman has every intention of harming the man. The question is whether the harm she wishes to do him is justified, and whether we will choose to help her harm him — and we have a moral obligation NOT to take sides purely on the basis that we always believe accusers — much less on the basis that we always believe people who possess our preferred genitalia.

You will rarely see, I think, a situation in which the preponderance of publicly available evidence is more heavily in favor of the accused than the present one — all four of the “witnesses” named by the accuser have flatly contradicted her, for example. I think it is highly likely that Kavanaugh is being vilely slandered, and that his wife and daughters are being put through hell, merely because a large slice of the progressive population believes that conservative white men (and, even more, women who dare to love and care about conservative white men) are evil by definition and deserve whatever harm can be done to them by any means. If these accusations are the only grounds for refusing to confirm him, then it would be a travesty for him not to be confirmed.

And if he knows himself to be genuinely innocent, I hope he slams his accusers, and Senator Feinstein, with great big smokin’ lawsuits for defamation of character. (If he knows himself to be guilty then I would hope he would say so, but that clearly is not going to happen.)

Fair disclosure: I have painful personal experience with this topic in my own past, having been falsely accused of all sorts of vile things by a vengeful ex-wife. I know from bitter personal experience just how absurdly false it is to say that female accusers never lie. Thus I may perhaps be accused of over-weighting my personal experience. I do not think I do, but it is only fair to disclose the possibility.

The Nine Circles of Dante’s Caffè

I stumbled across this while looking for an illustration of the Nine Circles of Dante’s Inferno for a presentation to some middle-schoolers (don’t ask). We have the original illustration:

Dante's Inferno
Dante’s Inferno

And then somebody (I would love to credit them but can’t figure out who they are without entering a website that wants me to assure them I am at least 18 years old, which seems pretty sketchy) produced the Nine Circles of Coffee:

Dante's Caffe
Dante’s Caffè

Sean and I conquer (loosely speaking) Mount Evans and Mount Spalding

Sean and I are in Colorado at the moment. He is enjoying his first true vacation since taking the position at the Rudy’s store in Lubbock, and has been in Colorado (posting frequent video updates) since last Friday or so. I flew up Tuesday night to join him; so yesterday was our first full day together in Colorado. First item on the agenda: a quick trip up to the top of Mount Evans, which is the highest mountain in the Front Range and is, at 14,271 feet, one of Colorado’s “fourteeners.”

I should say that Helen gave strict instructions, before she let me fly out to spend a week hanging out with my twenty-five-year-old son in the Rocky Mountains, that I was not to allow Sean to talk me into doing Stupid Man Things, nor was I to instigate any Stupid Man Things on my own initiative. So before I tell this story let me stipulate that I do not consider us to have done a Stupid Man Thing, however much the appearances may be to the contrary.

We didn’t know how this was going to work out, to be honest, because once you get above 10,000 feet people start going down with altitude sickness. Every additional thousand feet you drop another three to four degrees Fahrenheit and the sun gets 5% better at burning your skin and blinding your eyes. At about 12,500 or so the trees stop growing. Typically you would find a place to spend a few days at eight or nine thousand feet to acclimate to the altitude…but I didn’t really have the time. So we figured we’d just head for Mount Evans and see what happened.

Mount Evans is hardly a challenging climb — you can drive, when the road is open, up to the burnt-out remains of a restaurant that used to be near the observatory there just below the peak, and the parking lot is already at 14,145 feet, making this the highest paved road, and certainly the highest paved parking lot, in the United States. From there a trivially easy trail gets you up to the boulder whose high point is the technical summit of the Front Range. The only real issue is the altitude…and the fact that the road to the summit has, as I write, already closed for the winter. At this time of year you can drive only as far as Summit Lake, down in the cirque formed with Mount Evans on the south at 14,271 feet and Mount Spalding on the north at 13,842. Summit Lake is at about 12,840; so it’s a thousand feet up to Mount Spalding and a bit more than 1,400 feet up to Mount Evans.

I would have laughed at a mere 1,400 feet in my youth, but I am now fifty-one years old, and for many years I have been almost completely sedentary because of back problems. But when last year I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, I decided I simply had to do whatever had to be done to get back into decent physical condition. I made major changes in my diet, of course; obviously, unless you are an idiot, you change your diet when your doctor tells you that you are now officially a diabetic. (That would be a much more intimidating disease if it were spelled “diebetic,” don’t you think?) But also, I went in for some intense up-front physical therapy, then joined a gym and started working with a physical trainer, and fortunately it was at about this time that Kai discovered tennis, so that now we play a vigorous hour of two of tennis three or four times a week. I’ve dropped twenty-five pounds and feel better than I have in years…but I haven’t gone climbing mountains by any stretch. 1,400 feet up and down, all at above 13,000 feet of altitude, seemed a tall ask. So, mindful of the injunction against the perpetration of Stupid Man Things, we determined to be wise and judicious in our choices. Which, despite the outcomes of said choices, I would argue we actually were; but that is for you, O Gentle Reader, to decide. (Actually it is for Helen to decide, and her verdict is already in, which to my relief was a verdict of acquittal. But you will no doubt form your own opinion.)

After a Starbucks stop at Idaho Falls, we headed south for Mount Evans, on a brilliantly lovely day with not a cloud in the sky of deepest blue. The drive was predictably lovely at first, then increasingly spectacular.
Idaho Springs to Mount Evans
I had been instructed by Helen to take lots of pictures and I did my rather pitiful best. For example, I tried to take a picture of a hillside of yellow aspens and green pines while we were stopped at Starbucks:

First picture of aspens for Helen
I try to take a picture for Helen

I sent that off to Helen and got back some constructive criticism about how it was a good picture but would be better if I had included more sky. So I sent her this one…
Sky and streetlight
…along with the comment that it was “complete with photobombing streetlight.” This is why Helen does not often bother to provide constructive criticism.

It really is funny how bad I am at taking pictures…I have been going through all the pictures I tried to take from the car and they are practically all messed up someway or other. In some I have my finger in the way; in a couple I forgot that part of the windshield is coated with anti-sunlight glare; in more than half I was shooting into the sun in blissful ignorance that it would make streaks all over the picture. Also I took some pictures that would have been nice if I had had a good camera but that the iPhone wasn’t man enough to do justice to. There are a couple that I could turn into decent pictures by dint of cropping, but mostly they are all useless…which is why it is Helen’s job to take our vacation pictures.

Aspens and pines and highway
This part of the larger photograph is good though the photograph as a whole wasn’tSean seeks good vantage point for picture
Sean seeks a good vantage point from which to take picturesLovely hillside, bad camera
Lovely hillside, inadequately high-definition cameraIMG_1114
About the best I could manage; it earned a “Not bad” from Helen which is a major win for me

You had to admit, thought, it was a good time of year for vivid yellow aspens mixed with dark green pine. Also, since this is Colorado, it was a good time of year for encountering bong-equipped locals at scenic highway pull-outs. We stopped for me to try to get pictures for Helen (including the one above, which persons more skilled than I at Photoshop would improve by removing the power lines), and then up came a couple of pasty physically unimpressive white dudes blasting obscene rap music out of their car stereo…

You’re a ******* whore and I like it
You’re a ******* whore and I like it…
I’m a sick ****, I like to ****
I’m a sick ****, I like to ****

You think I’m exaggerating for effect, O Gentle Reader, but those were quite literally the lyrics. Just a couple of nature lovers out to enjoy the scenery, I guess. One guy emerged carrying, and toking from, a bong nearly as big as he was (I’m not sure how he fit that into his lap in the car). The other guy came up begging us for water. My feeling is, if you have not had enough foresight to provide yourself with enough water for your bong, you were probably using the bong to assist yourself in the planning of your expedition. But we gave them a couple of bottles of water — we didn’t want them to get dehydrated, you understand — and then went on our merry way.

In due course we turned onto the road into the park, noting that, per the road sign, we were ten miles from Summit Lake and fourteen from the summit. In short order we crossed the tree line into the tundra, opening up into one spectacular vista after another, which I enjoyed very much, though Sean was concentrating far too much on not falling off the guardrailless road into the abyss to have attention to spare for sightseeing.

Above the treeline
Above the treeline

And then we arrived at Summit Lake. We got out and looked around at the rather spectacular scenery, though since the first snowfall of winter has not yet occurred, there were only the tinest, sparsest remnants of ice tucked into the north faces of the cirque.
Summit Lake and its cirque
Summit Lake

For what follows, it will help you to have a good general picture of the entire area; so I will call on Google Earth for assistance:

Mount Evans, Mount Spalding, and Summit Lake
The setting of our story — Mount Evans is marked; Mount Bierstadt is directly behind it; Mount Spalding is the smaller peak looking down on the lake from the right

With due regard for my likely physical limitations, and for Helen’s injunction against Stupid Man Things, we had decided that rather than taking the short route up the hiking trail that the park ranger at the front gate had told us was 2.5 miles, we would walk up the road, which we understood to be a matter of four miles thanks to lots of switchbacks, but whose gradient would be easier. We understood it to be four miles from Summit Lake to the top because we knew that fourteen minus ten is four, and as mentioned above, the road sign had informed us that the park entrance was ten miles from the lake and fourteen from the summit. One of those numbers, we now know, has to be bad information; but we did not know any better than to trust said numbers at the time. At any rate, we would take the longer but easier route, and then if the altitude turned out to be too much for me, I could simply turn back and let Sean go on without me. If all went well, however, we figured we could come back down the hiking trail and basically make a complete loop. Assuming the altitude didn’t affect us too much, we figured we were looking at three to four hours, after which we would head out for a different adventure someplace else.

And as a matter of due diligence, I switched out my brand new tennis shoes at the lake for my old hiking boots that had been sitting lonely and unused in my Houston garage for the past five or six years. The Gentle Reader will please note that this was a Wise Man Decision, by any reasonable criteria, despite the unfortunate consequences that ensued.

Sean tests the waters
Sean tests the waters

After Sean stuck his hand into Summit Lake and exclaimed about how cold it was (having taken a bath many years ago in a glacier-fed stream in the High Sierra of California, I did not need to join Sean in that particular experiment — once in a lifetime is enough is what I say) we struck out up the road, and I was pleased to find that the altitude seemed to be having little or no effect. We set a quick pace and were able to keep it going steadily, without apparent shortness of breath. We had to stop when my hat blew off and Sean had to hop down the mountainside a bit to retrieve it for me, and we stopped again for Sean to pick some ice off of a little spring-fed stream that ran briefly along the roadside, and we stopped again to watch a marmot who returned the favor by stopping to watch us; but we didn’t feel any need to stop and rest. Frankly, I was quite surprised that it was going so well, though of course I was pleased. We passed the first mile marker well on pace and were nearing the second.

Then, about fifty yards ahead of us where the road disappeared around a shoulder of the mountain, a pair of mountain goats strolled into view. We stopped; they stopped. I wondered aloud to Sean, “We’re not supposed to approach the wildlife; but what if they approach us?” We stepped off of the road and sat down on some convenient rocks until they turned and headed off the road up the mountain. I stepped back onto the road and heard a strange sound a bit like a cross between a slap and the sound of a walking stick on pavement. I took a couple of steps and heard it again. I looked down…

…and discovered that the toe of the plastic base of my left hiking book had come loose from the rest of the boot and was flapping with every step.


The flapping boot

This was, of course, extremely annoying. We discussed our options, one of which was to go down to the car and change shoes…but we were already halfway to the top, and by this time going down and coming back up was likely to cost us easily an hour. So we decided to keep going.

In retrospect, that was the wrong decision, due to a number of things we did not at the time know. In particular, we did not know that the road to the top was not four miles long, but instead was 5.2 miles long; so we were not even close to halfway.

So off we went again, this time with rhythmic musical accompaniment. We passed the second mile marker, and the third. We watched more marmots, and more mountain goats (or more likely the same mountain goats, said goats having taken a much more direct route up the mountain than ours). We were passed occasionally by bicyclists, none of whom were going very much faster than we were but by whom we were still duly impressed.

Then we got to the fourth mile marker…and we were still nowhere near the top. At this point we began to feel a certain sense of grievance against the Colorado Highway Department, Signage Division; but obviously we were not going to turn back now. Besides we were looking forward to reaching the bathrooms that the National Forest map clearly showed next to the parking lot at the top.

We set off again, and Sean handed me some beef jerky…and here I finally discovered that I was being affected by the altitude. The moment I closed my mouth to start chewing, I felt myself beginning to suffocate — suddenly I was gasping for breath. I hadn’t realized that for the previous four miles I had had my mouth open in order to get enough air; I just couldn’t move enough air through my nose to get the oxygen I needed. So I had to cast manners aside and chew my jerky with my mouth wide open. I found out later that Sean had noticed the same thing — but he had chosen to eat peanut butter crackers rather than jerky, and I am given to understand that any unfortunate person standing in front of Sean while he chewed those crackers, would have come to much grief.

More than a mile of hiking later, we finally got to the parking lot…and discovered that the bathrooms were closed. And by “closed” I do not mean that there was a cleaning lady blocking the way with her cart. I mean that every entrance had been boarded shut with plywood. I mean, those bathrooms were CLOSED. So it looked like we were going to have to exercise self-control until we could get back down to the bathrooms at the Summit Lake parking lot where we had started.

We headed up the trail that takes you the last hundred and fifty feet from the parking lot to the summit. I took pictures of Sean taking a selfie video on the highest boulder…

Sean on the summit cropped
Sean at 14,271 feet

…and then it was my turn to hop up on top of it.

And as I did, the plastic base of my left hiking boot fell completely off.

Time for another consultation, in which we made a decision that is eminently defensible under the state of our knowledge at the time, but which turned out disastrously. Obviously I had to get down the mountain. Also we wanted to get down the mountain to the bathrooms in reasonably short order. And we now knew that if we went back the way we came, I would have to walk more than five miles with a soleless left hiking boot. On the other hand, we seemed to be kicking the altitude’s butt; and the ranger had already told us the hiking trail was only 2.5 miles long.

So we decided to take the trail back.

Sadly, we did not have a topographic map of the trail. But more importantly, when the ranger said “trail,” we in our innocence imagined, you know, a trail. So off we set down the trail…which in short order ceased to be a trail in any meaningful sense, and instead simply became a chain of rock cairns providing the general direction along which one was expected to scramble in a traverse across the boulder field that is the back wall of the ridge defining the cirque between Mount Evans and Mount Spalding.
Trail from summit
Can you find the trail? Hah! Trick question!

Yes, the picture above shows just the first part of what we had, unwittingly, decided I should try to navigate with half a boot missing. Here’s what it looked like from ground level:
The so-called trail
Can you find the trail? Hah! Trick question!

So that was our “trail.”

Some ways down this “trail,” my left foot went completely through what was left of my boot. I removed the useless fragments that were left and started moving forward with one foot bare and one foot shod, and quickly realized the pace was going to be extremely, extremely slow. We estimated that we were probably about halfway down the trail — a very poor estimate, as it turned out, because as far as I can tell now with the help of maps and Google Earth we had probably one worked our way across about a quarter mile of that boulder field. But even with our over-generous estimate of progress already made, I was concerned about making it all the way down in daylight — I wasn’t sure when the sun was due to set at that latitude and date, but I knew I was going to be moving awfully slowly, and while I certainly hoped the trail was going to improve I had to take worst case into account.

So we decided that Sean would head off down the trail at full speed while I limped along making as much progress as I could make; he could get my shoes (and avail himself of the comfort facilities) and then head back up the trail to meet back up with me. It seemed to me that, while this was extra work for Sean, it guaranteed that we would get down the mountain with plenty of daylight to spare. (We already had realized that Mount Evans was going to consume our whole day, of course.)

Off Sean went, while I continued making my way across the boulder field, pretty much one-legged, or more often three-legged, using both hands when possible to crab-hoist myself across gaps and keep the weight off my bare foot, which was getting the crap beaten out of it by all those not-exactly-smooth-and-gentle-to-the-bare-foot rocks.

And then the bottom fell off my other hiking boot.

My theory, by the way, is that during all those years of sitting unused in a non-climate-controlled Houston garage, the glue on the boots had rotted. Having said that, however: if you think I’m ever again going to buy Coleman hiking boots, you’re out of your mind.

Well, there seemed little to do but keep going; so I did, moving now as if I were approximately 90 years old. There was a bad moment where I leaned forward a bit too far and one of the water bottles fell out of my jacket pocket and rolled about fifteen feet down the mountainside. I have very strong opinions about littering in the wilderness; so I slowly and painfully worked my way down the water bottle, then even more slowly and painfully worked my way back up to where I had been five minutes earlier. But eventually I neared the point where Sean and I had assumed the trail bent back down toward Summit Lake. I got to the saddle, and the other side of the ridge came into view…

…and I was horrified to discover that I was barely halfway around the cirque, at best a third of the way along the trail, with no sign that the quality of the trail was going to improve. (Looking back, I am actually impressed that I had managed to move at least three or four hundred yards without hiking boots, but no silver lining was apparent at the time.) Even worse, the trail appeared to fork into two trails, despite the fact that the map showed only one. One of the choices appeared to dive straight down into the cirque, meaning that if you weren’t intimidated by an extremely steep descent you could cut the length of your journey dramatically. But what if that wasn’t the one Sean had taken? On the other hand, what if it was? In fact, how could I keep going on either route, given the possibility that Sean would head back along the other route and then find himself wandering around the back side of a steep boulder field, at nearly 14,000 feet of elevation, with the light beginning to fail, looking for a father who wasn’t there…no, clearly not a choice. Obviously I had to just stop and wait for Sean to get back — which really sucked for Sean, whose job of bringing back my shoes was, as was now clear, a much bigger job than either of us had realized.

I began to consider what would be the right course of action if the light failed as Sean got back. It didn’t take much thought to decide that trying the descent in the dark — obviously we had not bothered to bring flashlights along with us as there had seemed no conceivable way that we would still be on the mountain at sundown — would be just about the stupidest thing we could do; so I now realized it was actually possible that I would actually wind up waiting until the next morning to descend. This was an annoying possibility; but there just didn’t seem to be any choice but to wait until either Sean showed back up or something else happened to alter the facts of the situation. So I tried to make myself comfortable sitting on one of the rocks, and settled in to wait.

And in case you’re wondering why I didn’t just call for help on my cell phone: in the first place, there was no reception. In the second place, I had used up the battery trying to fulfill my wife’s injunction to take lots of pictures.

Meanwhile Sean had been fighting his way down the main trail — he had not taken the shortcut, but had continued on around following the cairns. He was in a pretty foul mood because not only did the trail not get better, but it went all the way to the summit of Mount Spalding and then worked its way along the top of the ridge north of Summit Lake, in many cases right next to a sheer drop-off down which one wouldn’t stop bouncing, in the case of a bad misstep, for literally a thousand feet. And there were parts where it was not a trail at all but literally required short bursts of rock-climbing — or else the trail was so badly marked that Sean was off the trail without realizing it.

Mount Spalding with Sean's route

Then he finally got to the parking lot, where his mood got even fouler — because the bathrooms were closed.

He stalked to the car, grabbed my shoes, and set off back up that trail and thousand-foot climb…because what else could he do?

I had been sitting placidly at my post for about half an hour when there was a sudden burst of activity. First I heard voices and then a couple who looked to be in their sixties came along the ridge on the official trail. And before they got down to where I was, a young man’s head popped up from the direction of the shortcut, followed by his brother and his father, the latter of whom was roughly my age. (As I was later to learn their names, I will go ahead and introduce you now to Ron Riley, the dad, and his sons Adam and Will.) We all paused to chat, and then two more guys came up along the main trail, one of who seemed quite energetic and the other of whom (subsequently introduced as Jordan) was clearly having some trouble with the altitude. Suddenly it was Grand Central Station at fourteen thousand feet.

The Rileys decided they would go back down by way of the main trail along with Jordan, and this seemed to me to be a solution to my problem. So I explained my predicament briefly and asked if they would mind keeping an eye out for Sean coming back up the main trail — in case he came that way — while I went ahead and started down the shortcut, where I would intercept him if they came that way. They had not noticed that I was sitting there barefoot until this point, but now a sort of Geneva Convention was held to determine what could be done to protect my feet during the descent. Everybody began contributing items to the cause. I started to thank them, and Ron simply brushed it off: “Listen, at fourteen thousand, we all have to help each other.” And I accepted the help with good grace because he was of course right: if the positions had been reversed, I and any other decent person would have been doing exactly what they were doing.

The remnants of my left boot had gone down the mountain in Sean’s backpack; but the various pieces of my right boot were still secured in different places around my person because, as noted above, I have strong opinions about littering in the high country. So:

First, I put extra socks on both feet. Then, for my right foot, I strapped the top half of my right boot back on, then set my foot back into the plastic base. Then we took somebody’s extremely large tube sock and pulled it as far up my foot over the boot and base as it would go. The Rileys all had extra socks in their pack because they had not been sure what the weather would be like, and the gentleman whose name I never caught (he said good-bye and headed on up toward the summit and I didn’t see him again) contributed his belt. With the combination of my own belt, his belt, and one of the spare stretchy socks, I lashed the whole contraption on as tightly as I could.

This left the left foot. One of the Riley boys contributed an ankle brace, which I stuck my bestockinged foot through as Step 1. I lashed this down as tightly as I could with another of the spare stretchy socks. Then I took my hat off, turned it upside down, put my foot into it, and lashed it into place with a strap repurposed from a Riley backpack.

I wish I had taken a picture of all of this, but as I say my cell phone battery had drained.

Ron decided to send Will back down with me while Adam and Jordan headed off down the main trail in search of Sean. He meanwhile wanted to check to make sure Sean hadn’t tried to take the shortcut and taken a wrong turn that would have gotten him potentially into trouble on the cirque cliff face. So I stood up, and Will and I set off down the shortcut.

The shortcut
The shortcut, with my approximate route marked, as best I remember — though when I did it there was no snow so don’t be too impressed

The jerry-rigged shoes actually worked surprisingly well; I was able to get at least a couple hundred feet down the slope — well past the first, and only truly steep, part — within five to ten minutes. And then there was some hollering from the top: Adam’s head appeared over the edge of the ridge, announcing that he and Jordan had already met Sean, who had made frankly incredibly time back up the trail but who was looking pretty well and truly — and justifiably — knackered. (Which is to say, if the Rileys hadn’t shown up, Sean and I would have been fine because we’d have had plenty of time for the descent thanks to Sean’s near-heroic exertions — but I am still deeply grateful to the Rileys all the same, obviously.) So Adam had gotten my shoes from Sean and hustled back to give them to me, only to discover to his surprise that I was already well down the mountainside.

From there it was all pretty straightforward. Sean and Jordan decided they much preferred to take the shortcut — after all, if I could do it wearing a hat as a shoe, how dangerous could it really be? The sun was behind the ridge already, but we figured the light was a good two hours from failing completely; so things were now looking good. I worked my way on down a couple hundred more feet until I reached the tundra, at which point I said to Will, “You may be surprised to hear this, but I somehow seem to have a lot of rocks and grass burrs in my shoes.” Adam had nearly caught up with us now with my tennis shoes; so I sat down and began disassembling the contraptions that had proved so surprisingly effective. Adam caught up with us; I got as many grass burrs out of my socks as I could and put my shoes back on; I put my belt back on, shook the burrs and rocks out of my hat and put it back on top instead of on bottom — it was surprisingly none the worse for wear; so, you know, good hat. Then we waited a while for everybody else to catch up; but Jordan seemed to be having difficulty. Eventually Sean, who had already gotten halfway down to where the Sons Riley and I were waiting, climbed back up to Jordan and relieved him of his backpack. (There was no shame in Jordan’s needing help; he had only been in Colorado three days and simply had not yet acclimatized, and the combination of the altitude and the climb up the main trail from the base had worn him out. It happens; no shame in it.) And then we all made our way back to the parking lot.

Mount Evans overview with my and Sean's routes
The shortcut (in red) compared to Sean’s route along the main trail (in blue)

Boots post-failure (cropped)
The boots, having failed to serve

Hat after serving as boot
The hat, having served with distinction as a boot and come out apparently none the worse for wear. The hat is made by a company called Tru-Spec if you want a surprisingly tough hat for your very own.

At the parking lot I discovered myself to be a person of great interest — somehow word had already gotten down to the parking lot that there was somebody up on the mountain whose hiking boots had “blown up.” My guess is that the guy who gave me his belt summitted quickly (he certainly seemed to be in great physical shape), and that he told the folks up there about me, and that one of the people he told was about to zoom back down the road on his bicycle, and that when he got back to his car he had a great story to tell. At any rate, folks were very happy to get to actually see the guy who had been wandering around barefoot on the mountain, and one of them actually asked for pictures of the “blown-up” hiking boots. So some stranger in Colorado now has pictures of me posing with pieces of a disintegrated hiking boot. Jordan’s parents, who had gotten worried because he was taking far too long to come back down, were greatly relieved to see him and very grateful to Sean and the Rileys for taking care of him; so they drove off with a happy ending. Meanwhile I told the Rileys that the steaks that evening were on me if they would tell me where the best place in the area was to buy steaks; Ron informed me that the best steaks AND the best margaritas in town were to be had at, of all things, a local Vietnamese restaurant; I said that I am a big fan of cultural appropriation and would be happy to subsidize some of it; and he offered to lead the way.

This was looking like an all’s-well-that-ends-well situation; but there was still one major problem outstanding: how exactly was I going to tell Helen how we had spent our day without being found guilty of having done a Stupid Man Thing? We got in the car and headed off, and as soon as I caught a brief spurt of wireless connectivity I texted her as follows:

“We climbed the highest mountain east of California today, up to 14,000 feet. All is well and we are impressed with our physical conditioning.”

Which was true, so far as it went, though it was a bit, shall we say, incomplete. (Actually it wasn’t even true, because Mount Evans is only the highest mountain in the Front Range, not the highest mountain in Colorado, but my point is I thought it was true when I texted it. Not a lie, is all I’m sayin’.) But for the full story, I thought some strategically structuring of narration would be highly advisable, and I didn’t want to be fighting bad service while narrating strategically. So I figured I’d call her after dinner.

Meanwhile Helen responded to my text with a patented-by-Helen “Oh my Gosh!” She says this frequently when I have done something that veers dangerously close to being a Stupid Man Thing, or said something that veers dangerously close to being an Obnoxious Husband Statement; and it is always said with the same intonation: “OH my GOSH!” I chuckled and told Sean about her response, and also about the standard meaning of “Oh my Gosh!” Then I settled back to enjoy the ride…and suddenly something occurred to me and I broke out laughing.

“What’s so funny?” asked Sean with interest.

And I explained that it had suddenly occurred to me that we were on this road trip, and had gone off to do a spot of fourteening for the fun of it, and had seen things go not at all according to plan, but had met up with some locals and ended up having a rad time with all misfortunes ending up to be comic ones — “and it just occurred to me that I am way too old to find myself starring in the Extreme Days movie.” (This joke is very funny if you have ever watched the movie Extreme Days. If you are so unfortunate as not to have seen that movie, you should take my word for it that the joke is very funny and laugh anyway, out of respect for your Gentle Narrator.)

So we went to dinner, and the steaks and margaritas were in fact as good as Ron had promised, and the Rileys were great company and we had a great time and parted with very cordial mutual good wishes. (Sorry, Helen, I forgot to get pictures of the Rileys.)

And then, finally, I tried to call Helen…but she was in the shower so we had to wait a bit longer. We get onto the freeway headed for Colorado Springs, and after half an hour or so Helen calls back. I say, “Honey, I need to explain something to you before you see on the credit card statement that I have just spent $170 for dinner in a restaurant.”

And Helen, to Sean’s delight, says, “OH my GOSH!”

So I tell Helen the story, assuring her at the outset that we have not spent the day doing any Stupid Man Things. It takes a certain amount of time to tell the story, with much incredulous and obviously eye-rolling interjectional commentary from Helen. (It does not help that at least twice I say “alcohol sickness” instead of “altitude sickness,” leading Helen to suspect that perhaps a bit too much alcohol has been involved in the dinner, if not the adventure itself.) Meanwhile every so often Sean, to my mystification, says a number out loud: “Three.” A bit later: “Four.” And so it goes, until I reach the end of the story, and Helen tells me that she agrees that we were merely Unfortunate But Resourceful Men rather than Stupid Men, and I give Sean my widest, most exaggerated, toothiest grin complete with vigorous thumbs-up, and he laughs immoderately but silently so that Helen will not wonder what he is laughing at, and we say good-night and hang up.

Which leaves me with one last question: “Sean, what was all that with the numbers?”

And he answers, “I was counting how many times she said, ‘OH my GOSH!'”

On the U.S. Open travesty

Congratulations to Naomi Osaka, who played a great match, and who pretty thoroughly kicked Serena’s butt, and who absolutely earned her U.S. Open championship. I am now a fan.

As for Serena Williams…

Serena didn’t play well, threw a McEnroe-style tantrum, got pretty much exactly the same penalty McEnroe got in a similar situation years ago, and lost the match pretty much exactly the same way McEnroe did. We tend to excuse bad temper in elite athletes on the grounds of “competitive fire,” though I myself don’t buy into that — I instantly rooted against McEnroe no matter whom he was playing as soon as the fit-throwing started and have felt similarly about bad-tempered players in any sport ever since. (Having a really terrible temper myself that I had to work very hard to learn to control, I don’t appreciate people who can’t be bothered to learn to control their tempers, and I have zero flips to give for athletes who lose their composure over officials’ calls to the point where their play suffers, because part of being an elite athlete is dealing effectively with bad breaks.)

The main differences I see between McEnroe’s situation and Serena’s are twofold:

(a) Serena’s instinctive go-to response, in which she is enthusiastically backed up by sportswriters, who are overwhelmingly politically-left-leaning, is to start hurling around accusations of racism and sexism. On the court, she called the umpire a “thief,” but she very quickly pivoted to the much more politically safe accusations. The moment she cries either racism or sexism — or both — there are instantly a bunch of people who will excuse pretty much any behavior on her part. McEnroe didn’t have nearly so many enablers.

I was sorry to see her choose to play it this way; having a bad temper myself I can understand losing it, but for God’s sake, woman, own up to it like a grown-up.

The thing is, racism and sexism are not what made her destroy her racquet — she did that because she was getting her butt kicked by a younger and, on that day, considerably better player, and she couldn’t deal with it emotionally like a grown-up. And racism and sexism are not what made her call the umpire a “thief.” Bad behavior is bad behavior even if other people also behave badly — even if they not only behave badly but also get away with it, what you’re doing is still bad behavior and you still own it. I couldn’t stand McEnroe and hated to see him win simply because he behaved like such a childish jerk; I have lost most of my respect for Michael Jordan as I’ve learned more about his true character; Al Davis was a scumbag; I think it a disgrace that the Bad Boy Pistons have championship trophies…but my admiration of David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Steve Largent has never dimmed. Sports are an intrinsically unimportant activity; in sports, there are things far more important than talent and rings, and that will always be the case.

Williams did try to undo some of the damage once she finally came out of her self-obsessed oblivion enough to realize what she was doing to Osaka (the cynical would probably say “once she realized how bad a PR disaster it was going to turn out to be if she made it easy for people to blame her own bad behavior for Osaka’s misery,” but I would prefer to think that she was at least sincere once she finally woke up to the situation). But by that time the damage was done — and notably absent from her attempt to undo the damage was any sort of sincere on-the-spot apology for her behavior. I can understand her being frustrated by the coaching penalty, especially if she genuinely didn’t notice her coach’s gesture; but she eminently deserved the point for smashing her racquet, and for God’s sake she called the umpire a freakin’ thief even knowing perfectly the well that she already had two violations and a third would cost a game. For the USTA chairman to praise her afterwards by calling her asking the crowd to stop booing a “class move from a true champion,” and by saying that Serena showed “a great deal of class and sportsmanship” is pretty desperate special pleading; Serena created the situation at least as much as the umpire did and is at least as much to blame, and while her behavior during the match — the behavior without which the situation would never have arisen in the first place — might be understandable, and even excusable by those who think they do the badly-behaved a favor by making excuses on their behalf, still not even Williams’s own father could have called that behavior “classy sportsmanship” with a straight face. Her final gesture was better than nothing, but it was way too little and way too late.

(b) BUT…the other difference between Williams and McEnroe — and this is MUCH the bigger and more important difference — is that sports fans were generally much less tolerant of bad behavior in McEnroe’s day and not many people made excuses for him or booed the winner when McEnroe’s antics, and the resulting penalties, contributed to his defeat. But in a stadium full of modern New Yorkers, bad behavior is not objected to, because New York sports fans are pretty damn badly behaved their own damn selves. (The only American city in which it is generally thought less pleasant to watch a professional sporting event than in New York, is Philadelphia — though to be fair to New Yorkers, in my own personal experience from the ’80’s, they were not NEARLY as bad as the fans in the old Veterans Stadium used to be when I used to go down from college to watch Eagles games.) There is absolutely no, none, not the tiniest smidgen of even the vaguest and most half-hearted of excuses for those fans to have booed the last few points, to have booed the winner, to have kept booing EVEN DURING THE TROPHY PRESENTATION. If you held the U.S. Open in Denver the next five years in order to motivate New York sports fans to stop being the dog crap sporting America ought to scrape off its shoes, it would be simple justice.

Serena’s behavior was bad, and I wish she would just apologize for it rather than trying to paint herself as an Innocent Victim, but God knows I understand what it’s like to lose your temper and do something you ought to be ashamed of. So while I don’t excuse her behavior, I do empathize with her, because I’ve been there myself and can’t be sure I wouldn’t act as badly in similar circumstances, though thank God I haven’t gone through life with a bunch of sycophants surrounding me trying to tell me my temper tantrums were nothing to worry about because I could just blame other people. The people around me have cared enough to hold me accountable, which is the only reason I have any decent control of my temper today. (It is this respect, rather than in being white and male, that I am truly very much privileged by comparison with Williams; I had a family-and-friend circle of edifiers rather than enablers.) I feel more sorry for Serena than angry at her, though given her behavior during this particular match I was happy to see her lose it — or would have been if I hadn’t been too busy being impressed with Osaka for winning it.

But those Flushworthy fans deserve a good Singapore-style caning. Just vilely contemptible.