The Jackass and The Zebra

I stared into the mirror at the 4 x 6 inch tattoo on my neck. This wouldn’t have happened without Google.

My birthday is Tuesday Dec 6. I was born in 1981. This year, I will be thirty. I’ve always felt like a bit of a geriatric. For six months, I used a wheel chair, a walker, and a cane. Actually, I never used a cane; I used a nine iron to support my hobble. My limp got better and my short game improved a ton. I spent a significant amount of time around stroke victims while I was recovering from a climbing accident. My hospital room mate, an old Los Gatos school superintendent named John, was thirty years my senior. When they fused my back, and my ankle, I saw a Los Gatos orthopedist, whose waiting room was filled with geriatrics. The stiff ankle, the fused back, the wear on my body… I’ve felt old for 6 years now. It’s not a pleasant feeling.

The Phoenix climbs a technical corner to a difficult crack traverse. A pumping fingers section to overhanging hands follows the crux. I fell all over it this spring. During one lead attempt, I tried to stuff a red alien into a yellow alien spot. Think smashing a square peg into a round hole. Unable to fit the cam in and scared to fall, I threw the piece over my shoulder into the poison oak and waterfall far below. I grabbed the crack, made two moves, realized I could use the red alien but I had just thrown it, and promptly took a monster winger.

At Jailhouse, I punted off my mega proj staring at the anchor, 5 times. 5 times. It wore me down. On Washington’s Column, I tried to climb the Quantum Mechanic. Instead, I got scared, I aided, and I generally got worked. Morale was low low low.

Everybody’s nice to you on your birthday. It’s a fact. People get gifts on their birthdays, they get called up by long lost friends and distant relatives, and people constantly acquiesce to your demands. Hey, it’s your birthday! According to a Johnson & Johnson study, you are 68.5% more likely to have sex on your birthday. Yahoo! What better way to guarantee having a great day then having a birthday.

With a steady feeling of depression kicking in, I decided I needed to cheer myself up, at least for a day. I thought and I thought and I thought about what to do. I Googled how to cheer yourself up. Dance, Party, Smile. There had to be something. While Google searched the interweb for an answer to my depression I checked Facebook. I noticed that it was almost my friend, Alex Evans birthday. Everyone was wishing him happy birthday. He was gonna go on a Happy Birthday climb in Yosemite, have Happy Birthday cake with a group of Camp 4 climbers, and even have hot Happy Birthday sex with his girlfriend. Hundreds of people wished him happy birthday on his Facebook wall. That’s what I needed- a birthday. So I changed my birthday on Facebook.

The response was overwhelming. Over a hundred people wished me happy birthday. Alex came up to me and was so surprised- he’s known me for 6 years and never realized that his birthday was the day before mine! Then Casey McTaggart called me, “OMG! We have the same birthday!” It was all so awesome! I forgot about tossing that cam, about punting on the sport proj, and about getting worked on Washington’s Column. For one day, I felt good. What a great feeling. Why couldn’t I feel like this everyday? I decided it’d be a good idea to have another birthday. People would just forgot in a few months right? So, I changed my birthday on Facebook again to 3 months later. I could go for another PARTY!

Thirty is a milestone year. The twenties are done. The carefree days of my youth are behind. Think mortgage, marriage, making a career. My first facebook birthday in June was a celebration. My second Facebook birthday in September was a sudden realization of how old I actually was. A geriatric. If I had three birthdays every year, by the time I was 50, I’d be a hundred years old. Reality settled in. All the notes, the phone calls, even the gifts, from my second Facebook birthday just reiterated the fact that I was aging rapidly. I was getting old.

There’s hipsters everywhere at Smith Rocks. They come from Portland on the weekends. Tattoos, skinny jeans, and serious attitudes. I joked about all the bad tattoos that the hipsters had. Wouldn’t it be funny to see a hipster with a bad unicorn tattoo? I joked at the crag. Then I Googled bad unicorn tattoos and what did I find? Rambo riding a unicorn! It was so bad it was awesome. This was beyond hipster ironic- this was universally ironic.

Kate Rutherford, Greg Garretson, and I drank wine, hanging out after a day of climbing at Smith. I showed them the Rambo picture.

“I bet we could make that better,” Greg opened up Photoshop. “Enhance the background.”
The flames got replaced with a grassy flower filled field.

“Put a rainbow behind him,” Kate sipped some Merlot. “He should be shooting something. And a little burst from the end of his gun, like an explosion.”

“A laser?” I suggested. Greg clicked away at the image. Rambo had a laser.

“How about a rainbow?” Kate said. A few minutes later the image had reached perfection. The best picture of Rambo riding a unicorn shooting a rainbow crossbow ever.

I am in constant conflict with myself. I love climbing. Even when I’m throwing cams over my shoulder, punting on the sport proj, or jumaring, rapping, bolting, and hiking by myself. I love it. But there’s days when I don’t feel so young anymore. I look at my peers, the ones who are married, the ones with kids, jobs, and houses that aren’t station wagons. I get jealous. There’s times when I want to permanently remove myself. Destroy the possibility of ever living that lifestyle. Though I want it sometimes, it’s a hard one to move to. It’s easier for me to climb all the time, live on a budget, and travel. You get good at what you practice. Doing the things that make us grow, isn’t easy.
What’s more, I wanted to change myself. I wanted to be something more than I was. I didn’t want to blend in with the geriatrics I had spent so much time with. I wanted my youth back. I wanted to stop feeling 60 and start feeling 20 again. I wanted the perfect tattoo; the one that turned the jackass into the zebra.

I called a number of tattoo parlors around Smith. I even tried a few places in Portland; I figured the hipster capital would have someone who specialized in unicorn tattoos. I got the same answer from all of them. Expensive. Getting a little youth back doesn’t come cheap. I searched Google for an inexpensive way to get Rambo riding a unicorn on my neck. I found a viable option and I went for it.

I could hear their whispers from across the gym. I had stopped by the bay after my trip to Smith. A matching pair of hipsters adorned the Berkeley Ironworks lead cave. They had seen my neck tattoo. I could only imagine what they said to each other.

“That guy is way more punk than us,” a tat of a crying statue of liberty bounced up and down his skinny shoulder.

“Look at that neck ink. What a gangster,” she said. Roses marked the back of her hands and tattoed stars floated behind her ears. “I bet he totally passed the lead test.”

I felt bad ass. I stopped by Mortar Rock and tore my tips apart on Nat’s Traverse, falling at the end. Lucho, my long time climbing friend from San Francisco, came out with me. “That tattoo does make you look like a gangster.” Lucho never says stuff like that. Though, I kept falling off the end of the problem, I got a little more swagger.

The feelings lasted about a day, maybe a day and a half. Then I started to feel silly. I had a square 4 x 6 inch tattoo of Rambo riding a unicorn on my neck. What the fuck? What was I thinking? A neck tattoo in this recession economy, where the job market is tight, would squash my chances for future employment. Did I really want to eliminate the possibility of entering the rat race- a chance at a house and stability?

I stood staring in the mirror. I scratched at my neck hard, rubbing the skin red. Blue flakes fell into the sink. Google found my only affordable tattoo option. A company in China or Milwaukee or somewhere in between made temporary tattoos for a margin of the price. My nails tore at the flesh and the flakes floated into the sink. I thought of the ephemeralness of it all. Like the feeling of specialness from changing my Facebook birthday, the tattoo tough guy feelings wouldn’t last. I lacked the sincerity to be a true gangster. I couldn’t change my birthday every day. The feelings woud only last for so long. I'd need something more sustainable.

Part of growing older is learning to be comfortable with yourself, a challenge I feel on a regular basis. It’s 11pm on Dec 5. It’s almost my birthday. I’m gonna wake up tomorrow morning, have something to eat, and then go climbing. I’ll be 30. Maybe I’ll boulder at the Buttermilks, maybe I’ll climb some routes in Owens River Gorge. I’ll spend a little bit of time looking for a place to rent for the winter in Bishop. The house might happen, it might not. I’ll work a little, hang out with friends. I’ll try not to worry too much about growing up or staying young about changing my birthday on Facebook or getting a tattoo. I’ll just try to be something between a jackass and a zebra. I’ll just try and be myself for a little while.