Trail Fail… Responding to Wild Sensibility’s Challenge…

If you spend time in the outdoors, eventually something will go wrong. It’s a law of nature. But if you survive, those epic failures become the best stories! We’ve all read about amazing accomplishments in the wild, but now it’s time to tell us about the not-so-great times and what you learned from them. Share your best #EpicTrailFail stories on your own page, include this paragraph as a header, and then provide a link in the comments here or here. We’ll curate and circulate the best stories in future posts. We can’t wait to read about what you’ve survived!
Arionis of Just A Small Cog and Rebecca of Wild Sensibility.


Back in my thirties, forties, and into my fifties, when my right hip went south (without me) I ran miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles on narrow rocky trails in the California chaparral and in the mountains east of San Diego. I ran up and down hills like a bitch. Everyone said, “You should be careful! You’re going to hurt yourself!” but I never did. Never. Not once.


The trail and I were as one. I felt those trails beneath my feet with the same knowledge with which we know the lines on our own hands. No one could keep up with me let alone catch me.

I bet you can’t even SEE the trail…

Why once — when I hit the trails to run off a disappointment — I ran up the steepest ‘face’ of one of the ‘mountains’, down the other side and up the next mountain. I didn’t know there was a guy running behind me, trying to catch up. When I finally stopped, and the guy caught up, he said, “Damn, woman, you’re fast. I’m fast, but I couldn’t catch up. Do you do this all the time?”

I gave the guy a hard look and thought, “That’s one fit dude,” and answered, “Pretty much every day.”

But pride goeth or love hurts or something and I fell in love. No, not with the guy who chased me. The guy’s name was Mike, and he was (IMO) beautiful and very smart. It turned out to be a pretty good short-term relationship, too, and it ended in friendship that was even nicer than the relationship. But this was the beginning when people are incoherent, babbling fountains of unasked questions, reading each other’s faces and looks and gestures. He was also 15 years younger, and that was one reason for all the incoherent babbling and face reading. It was a little scary. We hung out a lot as friends and had a blast. But as happens, the friendship grew and hit the infamous When Harry Met Sally moment. Neither of us was sure about it. Meanwhile, we kept hanging out, eating dinner, going to movies, talking, hiking, and riding mountain bikes and stuff.

Then, one quiet Sunday afternoon we went to Balboa Park. Balboa Park is near the top of any San Diego sightseer’s list. It is the location of the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Museum of Art. Many of its beautiful buildings were built for the American Exposition of 1915. It sits at the top of a mesa not far from the harbor and downtown. It is completely and totally flat. As flat as the valley in which I live now.

Mike and I wandered around, talking and (gasp) holding hands. As we talked I realized this was that miraculous, rare thing called “requited love.” Inside I felt like a million Lawrence Welk bubbles were dancing in my heart. I was so happy that I turned to physical anarchy to release my emotions. There was a small square of grass, small wooden stakes pounded into the earth on each corner, encircled by a flimsy white string about 18 inches above the ground. I did a perfect scissors jump over it and then another over the other side. And then I screamed like all the tortures of hell had suddenly found my left knee to be inexorably damned. I’d landed with my knee hyper-extended not knowing, when I jumped, how much lower the ground was on THIS side of the string than the the side I’d jumped from.

Star marks the spot

Mike helped me up, got me to my Ford Ranger and I drove home. “Walk it off, Kennedy,” echoing in my mind, but when I stepped out of my truck, I collapsed. My knee wasn’t going to hold me. I managed to stand up and limp to my house, let myself in and get past the dogs to the phone.

“Mike, I need to go to the ER.”

Sometime later — a year or so — Mike and I were no longer an “item.” He was in college taking a keyboarding class. One day, in the mail, I got his homework…

Fun with Fissures

California has naked geology in many places, fissures where the earth has broken apart. In these spots, Earth’s oldest rock is brought to the surface by seismic activity. Sometimes these fissures opened up a fresh-water spring.

It was fun hiking between the two highest “mountain ranges” in San Diego County. The ranges themselves had resulted from a combination of pulling and folding — like laundry? In between were fissure/valleys, often with small streams and springs.

Satellite view of where the Cuyamaca Mountains and Laguna Mountains pulled apart.

You can kind of see what I mean on the map — the area is actually pretty small — maybe only 16 square miles. It is exactly between the two ranges and near the spot where they split (to the north). There are two creeks (Indian Creek and Lucas Creek) and at the lowest part of these valleys is a small pool.

I had several hikes that took me to that pool — it’s important when you hike with a hairy dog that they have chances to cool down. One of my hikes took me to the mountain top from which I could see both ranges. The trail is on this map but hard to see. That mountain is in the lower left hand corner facing, pretty much just opposite the direction arrow.

There are a few ways to reach the fissure — one is going down the Noble Canyon Trail which is a mountain biker’s paradise so not the most fun hike, BUT once off the mountain bike trail, within earshot of the stream, there were (before the Cedar Fire) some very ancient manzanita.

Molly and me and the Grandfather Manzanita near Indian Creek, 2000? 2001?

One afternoon, hiking with Ariel, my white husky/low-content wolf, as I sat eating my picnic lunch against a hillside and Ariel swam, a mountain biker came thundering down the slope. He couldn’t see me, but he saw Ariel and crashed his bike. He came tumbling down the hill. Ariel just stood in the water looking at him. I got up and said, “Are you OK?”

“Is that a wolf?”

“No. Siberian husky.” I wasn’t given to advertising Ariel’s genetics. Ariel got out of the water, shook and walked over to say hi to the guy.


Another splendid fissure was in Mission Trails Regional Park, a spot now called “Oak Canyon.” In my mind’s eye, the Kumeyyay, while they were under the dominating thumb of Father Junipero Serra and building his damned dam on the San Diego River, retired to that canyon every evening for their dinner of wild bunny and acorns. Morteros and small cisterns litter the Precambrian Gneiss revealed in some seismic moment eons ago. It’s one of the only spots in that summer-sere place that is cool in the afternoons because of the deep shade of the canyon walls. The Indians had blocked the flow of water from the seasonal stream that runs through it with ONE round boulder, a dam that held water for their use 12 months a year in elegant simplicity.

The featured photo is my dog, Truffle, swimming at the place I named Indian Kitchen, Oak Canyon, Mission Trails Regional Park.

My dogs loved it.

Oh yeah, me too.

Manzanita and Rocks

The manzanita in this photo was a destination for Molly and me — a minor destination. The kind where you stop, look in awe at a hundreds of year old immense beautiful plant, sit down, give your dog some water, get up and keep going to a real destination. In this case, our destination was a small spring fed pool in a narrow fissure between some of the earth’s oldest rocks up in the Laguna Mountains.

I’ve known some rocks that are more than 1000 million years old — very common rocks, the bedrock of the Earth, pre-cambrian gneiss. They offered a lot of good lessons in patience through change.

Truffle Swimming

Truffle “fishing” in a seasonal pool in the “Indian kitchen”

These particular rocks had been used by Indian tribes for hundreds (thousands?) of years for all the things Indians can use rocks for — weapons, tools, cisterns, grinding holes, laundry. A person who was paying attention could imagine a small band of Indians doing their chores with the help of those ancient rocks, grinding acorns or maybe releasing the fibers of yucca to make sandals and ropes.

In October 2003 an immense fire — 273,246 acres — swept through parts of Southern California — both of these places, in fact. The ancient manzanita was burned to the ground. The oak trees north of this seasonal pond where my dog is swimming were burned to the ground, too. But the rocks — except for some staining from orange fire retardant — were still there, still the same. And the manzanita? The roots hold a manzanita’s life. By spring, shoots of the future had already emerged. I wonder what she looks like now, 15 years later.


Yesterday, not long after my blog post went up, I got a text from one of my neighbors who’s currently a “snow bird.” “I want to read your hiking book.” She’s originally from San Diego and her grandson lives within sight of the main locale of the stories.

I texted her back, “It’s not happening,” with a little explanation, then I went about my morning. In the back of my mind was the book, of course.

The book is flawed. I don’t think there’s anything I can do about that. Its flaws are, in their way, reflections of MY flaws. I fixed the two new typos I’d found and closed the file.

Then I did my chores, thinking the book was a done deal, a closed subject.

I looked at Bear’s blue eyes, which are very beautiful but they are also, probably, the reason I have her.

“Whoa,” I thought. “Whoever bred Bear thought they were a flaw. Thought they indicated deafness or blindness or?” Then I thought of Dusty T. Dog. He was so flawed the shelter didn’t think he was adoptable. He’s STILL flawed, but WOW. For nearly 12 years he’s been my loyal, loving companion no matter WHAT.

Then I thought of Mission Trails Regional Park itself — the location of most of the stories in my book. It’s not perfect. It was never where I WANTED to be. It was simply what I had, the only place I could hike with my dogs during a long and VERY flawed time in my life. And it ITSELF was barely snatched from development and freeways — by whom? A group of San Diego citizens INCLUDING me! I, with all my flaws, was one small agent in the protection of 5800 acres of chaparral for future generations to see, know, enjoy.

BEYOND that, the place itself has seen a lot of life (and destruction) before it became a park — dirt bikes, ATVS, and people four-wheeling up the steep slopes. Stolen cars dumped in the stream and over the embankments. When I first started hiking there, a Ford pickup from the 40s rusted away in the stream leading to Oak Canyon. During WW II it was a military training base, including exploding shells (some unexploded shells have been found in recent years). There had been developer dreams of cutting across the hillside with a four lane freeway on the bed of a road that had been used by the water department. Neither it nor I are a pristine perfect flawless wilderness. I began to wonder if maybe it was a BETTER book because it’s not perfect.

And more… My father’s flaws, his MS, inspired me to propose, design, and raise the money for the building of a wheelchair accessible guided walkway to one of the most interesting historical features in California, Old Mission Dam.


Walkway to Old Mission Dam, Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego

Late yesterday, I decided to write a note for the readers of my book explaining its flaws, that Createspace COULDN’T print the cover right no matter what and directing readers to the website where they could see the actual photo (including the featured image for this blog), apologizing for my weak proofreading skills and the relentless and (to me) invisible typos (just now found another one 😦 ) and explaining that it all reflects my flaws and the flaws of the world as it is.

“Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” M. Teresa

As for “jolly” the word of the day, it’s one of those Christmas words. I never use it. Sorry WP.

Silent Night

On the high fire roads there were wooden stakes with pink, plastic strings functioning as flags. I pulled them up whenever I saw one and tossed it into the bushes. “They’re going to put a freeway through my park!” was my one thought. “I’m not going to make that easy for them.”

Then I learned it was an extension to a freeway I used sometimes to go to a canyon where I sometimes walked the dogs. The 52. I felt betrayed. I didn’t know this had been in the works for years before I even know of the park or, maybe, even moved to California. I kept pulling up stakes, but it didn’t matter because they’d started grading the road bed.

Then, they found little horses, remains of little horses, where they had planned to put a bridge. “This’ll stop them, I thought. No bridge for this highly important paleontological sight.” But no. They just dug up some horses to study, left the rest of them there, and built a bridge.

Then it was built, but it didn’t open, and it didn’t open, and it didn’t open. “What’s going on?” I wondered.

Events conspired to bring me to the park one December night. As I was heading down the hill with my dog, Molly, I was struck by the silence of the chaparral. It wasn’t a very pretty night; lots of ocean mist, no visible stars, just a night, but so very, very quiet. Molly and I slowed down to enjoy it.

The next day the road opened. I will always think that my being there on the last silent night was a specially conferred blessing.

Hawk Eyes, Coyote Yips, Puma prowls

I was riding my purple, hard-tail mountain bike — a Nishiki, my first mountain bike and the only one of three that ever got ridden much — down a narrow trail. It was a fun trail, six miles of single track up a nondescript little chaparral canyon. I wouldn’t have been on any bike if I hadn’t hyper-extended my knee making hiking completely out of the question for 3 months. No insurance = no surgery. I was treated “conservatively” (what were they conserving? it was NOT my long term mobility) with a brace and semi-weekly exams and (on my own) acupuncture. And I got a bike. Mikey, one of the “Boys on Bikes” had gone with me to pick it out. Bikes were their lives so when I went to buy one it only made sense to take one of them along. Mikey demanded a red bike for me. The clerk said there were no red bikes. Mikey expressed his astonishment, “But red is Martha’s favorite color!” Purple ran a close second.

But I loved that mountain bike, and riding that trail reminded me of downhill skiing and of flight. One afternoon I was starting the return, the down hill slope — not a fast downhill at a steep angle, but a pretty nearly perfect consistent down hill run for four miles. A red tail hawk flew above me and I watched her flight instead of watching the trail. Naturally, I landed in a creosote bush. “Don’t watch ME. Watch LIKE me,” said the hawk. She was right. It is not safe to ride a bike on a trail like that without the eyes of a hawk.

I thanked her for the lesson and rode on as she soared above. Chances were good that I’d scare something out of the bushes as I headed down to my truck.

Then I thought: It’s not so much WHAT the other animals have as it is what they DO with it. I could hurt myself if I didn’t watch where I was going. I identified closely with those hawks for several years. I hiked with them soaring around me. I let them teach me what I was able to learn. I watched them train the young hawks to evade ravens and other air-borne enemies. Mom and dad and the young hawk above me, one of the parents dives for the young hawk. The young hawk takes evasive action soon enough or doesn’t. It’s that simple. “It’s life or death, kid.” If not? He’s attacked. If he does? He’s not — and more. The other parent flies below him and lifts its wings, making a small lift for the young bird. “Good work, kid!” Another dive, another feint, another evasion, another peck, another lift until the little hawk has learned how to stay safe in a world far more three dimensional than ours.

“That’s the best way to teach,” I said to the world at large, to myself, to the hawk. “Because it IS life or death.”
“What else WOULD it be?”

Not every animal is completely serious all the time. Coyotes aren’t. One afternoon — and you know the story? Coyotes come out at night? No, actually, they’re around all the time. One very warm chaparral afternoon, on a barren ugly hillside, blending in almost perfectly, sat a coyote. He was up the hill from the trail I was on, about 50 feet away. “Hi,” I said, looking up at him. “Yip,” he said, looking down at me, then “Yippp yip yip HOOOOO.” I answered. He answered. I answered, He answered. We carried on this conversation for about 10 minutes and it probably could have gone on a lot longer, but my dogs thought I had lost my mind. While I understand that these are wild animals and dangerous etc. etc. I hiked around them so much in the chaparral hills and the mountains where I live now, that I think they thought I was just part of their world. Hiking one afternoon (I always hiked about the same time every day so the animals would not notice me as much and I would become part of their routine world) I found myself followed by a coyote who seemed to think he was one of my dogs. “Dude,” I said, “you can’t hike with me. It is really a little freaky. Go on, now,” and he did. He left. But one afternoon — after I put my old dog Lupo to sleep after he sustained a couple rattlesnake bites from a snake in my yard — I went up to the mountains to put his tag on a fence post where I put the tags of all my dogs after they die. I was about 20 feet from the post when I noticed a young female coyote walking a few feet to my left along side me. I looked down at the collar where Lupo’s tag was. The brand was “Coyote.” I shivered. When I removed the tag, the coyote ran in front of me, giving me one look, and headed off across the hills. I felt she took the immortal spirit of my beautiful dog with her.

Wandering in wild places has made me a “mutant” in many senses. I know there is more to who I am than “just” a human being. I have attributes of many other animals, attributes that only need to be taught to me by the other animals, lessons I can learn by watching and by living in their world — which is my world, too. It’s interesting to me that during my hawk phase, a term I used all the time was “seeing.” I felt blind. I felt that certain facts, truth, had been hidden from my view. In fact, a lot had been hidden from me. I knew this intuitively; some major elements of my life did not make sense logically. I wasn’t able to look at them straight on because I didn’t have the information I needed; I couldn’t SEE.

Just as the bushes from which my dogs flushed squirrels and rabbits hid prey from the hawks, my mother’s lies and secrecy about her true self hid from me information I needed if I were going to make sense of my life. That my being in the hawk’s world actually helped them see (food) was interesting. From them I learned I needed help seeing. I needed the help of others who knew more and could see more than I could.

My coyote days were a period of friendships and a kind of pack identity, even for me. In those days I had lots of (younger) friends with whom I hiked and hung out. Loyalty and a sense of humor are necessary traits for belonging to a group. The deterioration of my body as a result of years of hard hiking and injury would put me into a different world, one more solitary one.

When I saw the mountain lion — the culmination of years of hiking and becoming part of a landscape — I knew that a part of my life had come to a close. The animal I have “been” most recently is human friend to a horse. That’s another story.



Daily Prompt: First Sight, Whether a person, a pet, an object, or a place, write about something or someone you connected with from the very first second.

It was kind of strange because he was just a kid, a boy, 12 years old. He was in the garage with my ex-husband (good X, not evil X) and a bunch of other kids, including his little brother, Mikey. They were building and repairing bikes. He had a home-cut Mohawk, sun-bleached hair, green eyes, freckles and a crooked grin. He wasn’t even as tall as I am, yet, and I’m only 5’2″. He looked up at me from the vise where he had his bike fork. “This is Martha,” said my ex.
“Hi.” He grinned.”Hi,” I said, suddenly getting a kind of electricity from this kid, a feeling I’d had in the past when a relationship turned out to be important. I didn’t give it any thought at the time, but I remembered it, and Jimmy turned out to be one of my life’s best friends. I was 40.

Now don’t jump to weird conclusions. I don’t know about you, but there’s a part of me that IS a 12 year old boy. I have never BEEN a 12 year old boy, but that pre-pubescent moment, pre-romantic relationships, the first signs of adult physical power and skill, the liberty of being self-responsible in the “age of accountability” — well, I was happy at that age. At times I feel that all the other happiness in my life (though real) has been negotiated, compromised. At 40, I didn’t know my “inner 12 year old” wanted out.

That was the beginning of a 7 year adventure with a gang of “underprivileged” white kids and their homemade and patched together BMX bikes. Jimmy was the solid center of that gang, the sane and determined soul that held everyone and everything together. I spent my weekends with them — starting on Thursdays, usually — and a video camera I bought once I’d seen exactly what BMX is and how beautiful they were riding the jumps, and while most adults looked at me as the boy’s benefactor, it was a two-way street. Here is a story from our adventures that shows something of Jimmy’s importance to me in MY life. My life would seriously have been much less if I had not met him and spent four years filming wild boys and sharing their weekends. In this story, Jimmy is 13. His little brother, Mikey, is 9 and their friend, Ryan is 13. They all live on my street in a bad neighborhood (once San Diego’s “Crime Capital”)  City Heights.

Background: In 1992 I was chosen to go to Hong Kong to conduct a business writing program for Hong Kong businessmen through the American Language Institute. I was incredibly excited and worked it out so that after Hong Kong I would return to Guangzhou, to the university where I had taught 10 years before, and do the same seminar or whatever they wanted. I was going home.

China was the greatest love I had experienced until then and it was years before I recovered from the broken heart of having left. Not that I didn’t try to keep the wound open by studying about China, bringing home stray Chinese people I met at the post office, writing a book proving that Pearl S. Buck wrote from the Chinese rather than the Western literary tradition. In 1992 I was still “carrying a torch” for China and going back was all I thought of. Naw, that’s not not true. Looking through the journals I wrote at this time, I actually thought of many other things, many of them quite silly.

Jimmy was out of school and hanging out with me whenever he could, including going with me to work. He had conceived a code of honor in relation to those who mattered to him, his family, his friends, that they should be defended from all the dragons and monsters and evil-doers.

I was married. It was a marriage that possibly should have worked, but it didn’t work. Bottom line, both of us were just not good at forming an intimate relationship with anyone in our close environment. Jim didn’t see such a thing between his parents as he grew up, and I grew up in a house where the closer I was to someone, the more likely they were to hurt me. By 1992, we were very near the end of our marriage, but we didn’t know it yet. Jimmy was the first to point it out to me, and the “man” who demonstrated that what I needed and what I had were not the same thing. That is what this story is about, the wisdom of a 14 year old boy offered to a 40 year old woman, and a kind of love that opened my eyes to a world I hadn’t known anything about.
We leave tomorrow and Jim’s passport is still not here. The INS had a problem legitimizing Jim’s presence in the U.S. He was not born here, but rather in Canada, and we’ve had a whole run around with getting this taken care of so Jim can go with me to Hong Kong. Jimmy shows up early in the morning; he’s going to help me photocopy materials for the class. He jumps in the truck.

“You must be excited!” he says.
“I’m very excited. But we haven’t gotten Jim’s passport yet.”
“You’re taking that guy? Why are you taking him? He doesn’t even like you.”
I’m stunned. “He’s my husband.”
“So? Take me.”
“You don’t have a passport, Jimmy, or I might think about it.” I look at his home-hacked Mohawk, home-poked ear piercing, and know I’d be proud to have him along. Those elderly Chinese women I knew on my old campus, who had come from the mountains of Hai Nan Island, would just think I’d brought my own tribal warlord.

We’ve been listening to Right Said Fred — “I’m Too Sexy”. The boys mimic the video in a way that that makes parody out of parody with their skinny boy chests, the random safety pin hanging from the random pink nipple, the briefs with the elastic separated from the cotton in back, the jeans falling down not out of fashion but because they’re too big, the worn Vans. Mikey, Jimmy’s little brother is the funniest, doing his little “…walk on the catwalk.” Jimmy turns on the music. Right Said Fred takes us all the way to the intersection of Chamoune and University at which point Jimmy giggles and says, “I’m…too sexy for this tape!” ejects it and throws it out the window in a winsome, elegant little over the shoulder toss.

I laugh. The serious moment has passed. We arrive at school and are ready to begin our last minute prep, when the boss tells me that he got a fax explaining that the program has been cancelled because there was a “fire in the venue.”

“Fire my ass,” I think. “They don’t want me and this is their way of saving everyone’s face.” Fuck the Chinese. I am over my love affair. I see them for what they are. Not me. Damn them. I know exactly what had happened. The ALI lacks the cultural awareness to fully appreciate that sending a young woman is something of an insult; to begin this relationship — which they hope will turn into a lucrative contact — they should send the boss.

Jimmy and I get back into the truck. Jimmy says, “I bet you’re disappointed.”
“Yeah.” I’m actually fighting tears. “I really wanted to go.”
“Maybe there’ll be another chance.”

We’re silent. No music, no talk. Damn. I bought very nice clothes for this.

My husband, Jim, is home when we arrive. Ryan and Jimmy’s little brother Mikey are there, too. Ryan is a great kid with a weird mom. Ryan’s big liability is that he is physically as beautiful as any girl. Tall, slender, enormous blue eyes, blond hair. He’s wearing his Guns n’ Roses “Use Your Illusion II” t-shirt which Jimmy mocks mercilessly. Jimmy has intuitively — and accurately — determined that Ryan needs a thicker skin or he’s going to be crucified.

“Are you hungry?” I ask Jim, thinking we could all go to Taco Bell, but while we’re eating lunch, it hits me what has happened and the whole world seems a little askew, surreal, dishonest. I am really disappointed and angry; I’m sad, in fact.

We walk down the street a bit. The light is flat ugly and white. We pass a dead yellow cat in the gutter, really the last thing I need to see at that point. It looks like Sandy, the cat owned by my Chinese brother when I lived in Canton. It seems to represent all my now flattened dreams.

At home I ask Jim if he wants to go hiking with me. A few hours under the open sky will make me feel better, but I’m lonely in my disappointment and don’t want to go just with the dogs. Jim he tells me he has a Toastmasters thing, so no; he won’t go along. As I turn to go inside, I hear Jimmy yell something but the angry noise in my head, angry at the Hong Kong businessmen, my boss and now Jim, blocks the words. Jimmy takes off on his bike. I change clothes as fast as I can thinking, “Fuck Jim,” get in my truck and head to Big Dog Health and Fitness Spa (Mission Trails) for a couple of hours with Molly and Truffle to do as my mom says, “Get my head on straight.”

When I return my whole life changes.

Jimmy is sitting on the curb in front of my house. “What are you doing?”
“Waiting for you,” he says. “I went home to ask my mom if I could go with you, but when I got back, you were gone. You’ve had a big disappointment today and you shouldn’t have to be alone.”
“Wow,” I think. I was gone at least two hours. To Jimmy I say, “Well, go ask your mom if you can go with me for pizza.”
“Can Ryan go?”
“Sure, and Mikey. I’ll go clean up. Come back in about an hour, OK?”

This is our first of many, many trips to Woodstocks. Good pizza, indestructible atmosphere, and the ability to feed half a dozen boys on $20. We sit in the corner that will later become ours, and we play Megadeath “Anarchy in the UK” on the jukebox, then Iron Maiden, then Metallica. We discuss their comparative merits. Only Metallica has any merits. We use paper plates for Frisbees, plug the tops of the salt shakers with torn napkins and loosen the tops on the pepper shakers. We sprinkle too much chili on Ryan’s pizza and then the best moment comes. Ryan goes to the men’s room and comes back. “Martha, can I borrow fifty cents?”
“What for, Ryan?” I’m amused and flabbergasted; he’s 13 and there’s only one thing for sale in the men’s room. We’ve already put enough into the jukebox. It’ll play our four selections over and over for the next hour.
“They have these cool stickers in the men’s room. I’d like to buy one.”
Jimmy actually gets Coke up his nose at that, and then it sprays everywhere. At nine years old Mikey has NO idea, and I’m trying not to laugh.
I say. “I’m pretty sure they’re not stickers. I think they’re probably condoms.”
“Are you sure? The ones on the machine have cool spiders and stuff. One says, ‘Spyder Skiwear’. It’s got this cool spider on it. I want that one.”
“Ryan, people probably put stickers on the condom machine.”
“Do you want to come and look?”
“I don’t think the other guys in there would appreciate it if I went in there to check out the condom machine.”
“Yeah, sure.”He wipes the Coke off his face with his napkin and follows Ryan into the men’s room. Mikey and I wait and wait and wait. They finally come back, both laughing like maniacs. I hear Jimmy say, “Dude, you gotta’ learn to read.”


Post Script: Not long after this, I got a video camera because I wanted to make a movie of our adventures. We wanted to film this scene so we staged it at Woodstocks. It required I follow the boys into the men’s room with the video camera. We actually did this, but the challenge of getting the men’s room to ourselves and acting out that bit was more than we could handle without side-splitting laughter. It took about 8 tries and a couple of surprised — and embarrassed — men. I had to be the one with the camera since all the boys were too goofy to film that shot.

As for Jimmy and the rest, well, Jimmy ultimately rode pro BMX; he got the sponsorship he always dreamed of. He and his brother, Mikey, both graduated high school — that made their mom both relieved and proud. I still know Jimmy. He’s very happily married with two kids (his lifelong dream was to be a dad).