Autobiography: Rock In The Stream.

(Here’s another excerpt from my autobiography in progress. Links to other excerpts are at the bottom of this page.)

I’m often told I have a calming effect on people. Once, for example, I was Christmas shopping with a friend, and he told me he has mild panic attacks when he goes to malls, especially during the holiday season, but something about my company soothed him and kept him relaxed. I hear that sort of thing often.

It’s true; I’m uncommonly imperturbable, and my placid demeanor is catching. This trait serves me well in emergencies, and especially so when my job was to provide phone support at an IT helpdesk.

Yeah, like one of these.

Yeah, like one of these.

People who call for help with their computers are often in their worst mood and ready to vent their rage at the first available target. This would have been me, but I was usually able to cool them down enough so they could help me help them solve their problems, and by the time the call was over they were happy and grateful. I began these conversations with a Tyrannosaurus rex on the other end of the line; when they ended, I said goodbye to a gentle duck-billed hadrosaur, as torpid and satisfied as if she’d just eaten a hearty meal of tree ferns.

(Yes, I know a T. rex couldn’t have held a phone receiver with its tiny arms and hands; obviously in my analogy the prehistoric carnivore is wearing a headset. Don’t be a wiseass.)

"Grrr! Tell me how to download my Outlook files!"

“Grrr! Tell me how to download my Outlook files!”

I’ve had this super power, this preternatural tranquility, for as long as I can remember. I recall an incident from my childhood. I was just a wee tad when it happened; certainly no older than six or seven.

My family and several families we knew from church went camping at a Georgia state park. I think it was Hard Labor Creek State Park, but that’s probably wrong and isn’t important. Someone brought an enormous canvas tent. It was shaped sort of like a squatting rhinoceros (without the horn), and was easily big enough for all of us to share: 12 or so adults and a similar number of children.

Supper was a picnic. The meat was grilled on one of those big disposable aluminum pans you can buy at a grocery store; this pan was filled with red-hot charcoal briquettes.

I don’t know why the campsite didn’t have a proper grill, like all campsites do at state parks today. Maybe it did have one, and we just decided not to use it for some reason. But the moms prepared the meal, which we ate, and then everyone played board games and talked and threw a Frisbee around and did all the usual camping things for the rest of the evening until it got dark.

At bedtime, we all went into the tent and piled into our sleeping bags. Someone left the aluminum pan and its hot coals on the picnic table. There were so many grownups, I assume it must have been one of those situations where everyone thought someone else was going to take care of it.

The tent was long, but not especially wide. Only the two campers closest to the front could exit without having to step over other people. My family’s share of the floor was about halfway back.

A yurt would have been much cooler. Who doesn't like yurts?

A yurt would have been much cooler. Who doesn’t like yurts?

The next morning I was the first to awake, and consciousness returned accompanied by a powerful call of nature. I was sleeping next to my mother. I quietly slipped out of my sleeping bag, stood up, and stepped gingerly between each of the sleeping bodies, kids and grownups alike, to make my way to the flap at the front of the tent.

I emerged in my pajamas and bare feet, blinked at the bright morning light, looked at the picnic table, and then walked on the dewy pine straw over to the edge of the woods, fifty yards away, where I tended to my morning business.

After this was done I returned to the tent, re-entered, tiptoed again past all the slumbering grown-ups and kids, then slid carefully back into my sleeping bag next to her.

Then, finally, I put a hand on my mom’s shoulder and gently shook her awake. “Mama,” I whispered softly in her ear, “The picnic table is on fire.”

Autobiography Project:
Paradise Glossed.
Paradise Glossed, Part 2.
Untitled First Blog Post.

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