Through A Glass Darkly
It’s happened again. Another birthday and all of a sudden we change tens place. At the risk of seeming coy, I won’t go into numbers but suffice it to say that there is an age (a decade really) at which you might, if you are truly delusional, convince yourself you are still young…ish. However, my new status is one which, unless you are so insane that your refrigerator tells you to go enlist in the Foreign Legion, you are now and forevermore old.
It hasn’t been easy. By way of laying the groundwork, I shall relate an anecdote: When I was twenty-nine-years-old, my second wife’s parents offered to take us on an all expense paid two-week vacation through western North Carolina, if I would drive. These were brilliant, interesting people whose company I relished. The offer included stays at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville and the Green Park Inn in Blowing Rock. Finally, our conveyance was a magnificent new, dark green Buick Electra 225 Limited with every option except it had an AM radio. (My father-in-law did not care for music but loved to listen to Davidson College basketball games.)
Needless to say I nearly broke a leg jumping at this opportunity. This is a clever segue into the point of the anecdote. I overheard my lovely wife telling her parents that she needed to forewarn them that “Mike falls down a lot.” She assured these wonderful people that it wasn’t due to the influence of alcohol or drugs but an innate and ungovernable clumsiness that manifested itself in my walking along seemingly perfectly normal and suddenly I would be on the ground looking puzzled. I was outraged at this defamatory and accurate description. Since I was in my twenties and weighed less than 145 pounds, it was hard to attribute this phenomenon to anything aside
from weak ankles and the attention span of a Mediterranean fruit fly. That is to say that at the time, I was neither old nor fat; merely clumsy.
Although determined to prove her wrong, I did, in fact, end up contemplating the sky and my in-laws from a supine position on the corner of Hardin and Howard Streets in Boone, North Carolina. I can say that in all truthfulness, there is no way to make that appear intentional as though you needed a little rest. High class and genteel as they were, my in-laws gave no indication they saw anything amiss, much as you wouldn’t stand and gape at your dog as he does his business.
If this were a 1940’s film of my life, you wouldn’t see me marching determinedly along as the calendar pages flipped behind me. No, as the calendar pages flipped behind me, you would see me turning my ankle, tripping, banging my knee, and occasionally just flopping out of the frame for no apparent reason. Within a thirty-month period, I succumbed to a device used in murder mysteries for centuries, the staircase. Strangely, though, falling down stairs did not kill me as it has done so many fictitious characters. In fact, I never even missed a day’s work from it. No, I would show up at work bent and bruised from the exciting descent from the day previous like a cartoon character who, after suffering a fatal-to-any-real-person bomb explosion, shows up in the next frame merely bandaged and using crutches or a cane.
As a result of these little oddities of behavior, I have done substantial damage to two Martin guitars. Martin is the last word in acoustic guitars. In my circle, damaging one is roughly equivalent to burning down the orphanage if you are a social worker. People still remember the first one vividly after forty-five years. It is the subject of stories and raucous laughter around the campfires at music festivals.
I attended a bluegrass festival in Lawtey, Florida with a friend of mine who drove a Volkswagen Westfalia Campmobile (camper). He was not a picker but I was an aspiring picker, with just enough competence to fool those who weren’t pickers. My friend and I polished off six bottles of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine (about a buck and a quarter a bottle) and I decided to go for a stroll with my guitar strapped on ready to play. It was midnight and the people camped in the campground were mostly off listening to music. I tripped over a hibachi in the dark and fell on the grilles with the guitar taking the brunt of the fall. It broke to flinders. It was an amazing thing that I sobered up immediately and completely. When I got back to Jacksonville the next day, I dropped by my closest friend’s house. He was on the phone talking to a mutual friend, a captain in the Air Force stationed in Delaware. He had heard from over a thousand miles away about a drunk Jackass who fell on his Martin guitar, reducing it to expensive scrap. He said the drunk jackass sounded like me. Our mutual friend revealed with much guffawing that it truly was I who had committed the unpardonable sin.
For the more recent event, I had the good sense to confine my acrobatic hijinks to a private picking session with only one other person around. As I fell off a sixteen-inch concrete pad onto a sidewalk, I gave a twist and ended up falling on my back and hitting my stupid head on the cement but the guitar was on top of me rather than vice-versa. My beautiful little wife was very concerned about my head until I pointed out to her that heads heal, guitars don’t. Then she became concerned about brain damage.
All this athleticism would have really paid off except for the stanchion from the concrete pad to the roof of the little picnic pavilion. I banged the top of the guitar hard on the stanchion putting a dent in it about the size of my palm. Fortunately, as we were driving back from the harp conference where I had done my little dance, we passed within about five miles of the best luthier in the southeastern United States, Randy Woods. I dropped it off and returned ten days later to find my beautiful Martin guitar fixed so perfectly that even I have trouble finding where it was repaired. This little object lesson cost me about two hundred dollars. Small price to pay for a guitar worth more than four times what I paid for my first new car.
This charming inclination continues with my taking a walk down St. George Street in St. Augustine carrying my notebook with me. The notebook was, among other things, where I took notes to use in my writing. It was the residential end of St. George Street where the horse drawn tourist carriages go. Strolling down the sidewalk, I came to a declivity where there had once been a driveway, but was no longer. Not having noticed it (nor apparently anything else on God’s green Earth), my ankle turned and down I flopped. Not just on the sidewalk, but out into the middle of the street, where the horses perform their duties – and do their business. I lay on my back in the middle of the street and watched my notebook pinwheeling through the air in slow motion. Though I was a mere lad of fifty-two, the shock of the fall caused me to lie there like a dead person staring up at the sky through a gauzy filter of idiocy, until I realized that I was lying in the high-crowned middle of the red brick street, which was white. White. Yes friends, I was lying there in the middle of Saint George Street, like Cleopatra on her barge, in dried horse manure.
I was brought back to consciousness (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) by a woman’s voice calling, “Sir! Sir! Are you alright?” over and over. Looking over at her, vaguely interested from my place of repose, I noted that she was not enough younger to warrant her addressing me as “Sir”, as though I were old enough to be her grandfather. After her habit of repeating that same phrase for a couple of minutes without cessation became annoying enough, I commenced to bestir myself from my happy spot, and began the attempt to regain my feet, and as much of my equine besmirched dignity as I could gather about me. Looking around for my notebook, I finally looked at the woman and replied in a loud voice, “Not only am I all right but I do this often enough that I am no longer even embarrassed about it.” She went about her business then leaving me to mine and the horses’.
A few years ago, my wife and I were very much looking forward to a professional conference in Marco Island, Florida. We had not attended one in years. The day prior to our departure date, I was leaving to go to lunch. It was after school was out for the summer and the custodians were cleaning the school. I went down the long side hall of the school, cleverly stepping around a “WET FLOOR” sign. My feet went out from under me like a Three Stooges pratfall except my head hit the floor (uncarpeted tile) for real. I lay unconscious for approximately five minutes in a half-inch of wax stripper. Those of you who grew up with Roy Rogers and even Rockford might think that when you are knocked out you just shake your head and go about your business. You don’t; at least I didn’t. No, I staggered around like the town drunk and finally made it back to my office, where my secretary and one of my custodians took me out to the courtyard and turned the hose on me to get the wax stripper off. They called one of my friends out of a meeting to come fetch me and take me to a walk-in clinic (I had refused to go).
Concussion. We did not go to Marco Island. I was loony for a week. Oddly, I was completely aware that I was injured and not thinking clearly, but I could not shake it. It took a week.
This past year has been very fruitful in terms of quality, if not quantity, of failure in maintaining a vertical attitude. In September of 2016, I came out of a Barnes & Noble, went to step off the curb, caught my heel, and went down like a marionette with its strings clipped. This little lapse in concentration cost me two cracked ribs on the left side, which hurt like the devil for five months. Once again, I struggled to a sitting position, addled with the shock.
People gathered around begging me to let them call an ambulance. I declined and they found a young man strong enough to boost me to my feet (I had put on considerable weight and did not spring lightly back to my feet). Determined not to go to an emergency room, I drove painfully home. My lovely wife went into a tailspin and started saying things like “You have to go to the emergency room,” – wildly illogical stuff like that. Shaking my head ruefully, I sat down to rest and had a pain shoot through my side like a large caliber bullet. Thinking quickly, I came up with a plan: “I need to go to the emergency room,” I said, thoughtfully. This type of decisive, incisive thought is what makes a great leader.
Two more falls similar to that resulted in bruised ribs on the other side and a “…complete tear in your rotator cuff.” And the world keeps spinning, trying to hurl me to the ground. But I’m onto it. It’s not going to kill me. First I need to get that permanent “Mike Akers” plaque off ER examining room six.