If I skew the timeline just a bit, a decade on the front end and as much taking up the rear, this latest medical intervention explains much that would otherwise remain a mystery.

I have a history of not listening. It began when my tone-deaf mother sang me songs in utero, and the cacophony was so violent I tried to strangle my own umbilical cord. No luck.

To illustrate, I point to a near-death experience in my early 20s. Mike Parker, a good friend of mine, had recently acquired a throaty 1969 Chevrolet pick-up that sported a 350 engine and all-original, detailed interior. The white paint job was flawless, glossy in the peek-a-boo sun, and when we were climbing hills, it felt like we’d reach the top and just keep on going until our fumes stained the firmament.

One day, he and I were lounging at his parents’ house, considering life’s alternatives and hoping to scare up some adrenaline.

Enter bright idea.

Several of my cronies at the Seafood Grotto, a lard-layered barnacle on Eureka’s ass that sold fresh fish and clam chowder by the barrel, had recently discovered a passion for snowboarding, of a sort.

They’d arrange a caravan of crazies and drive up State Route 299 to Titlow Hill Road, where they’d find a promising spot to disembark and then careen back down the hill on garbage can lids, old road signs, sheets of plywood — anything that would turn toboggan in a snowy pinch.

Inspired by their tall tales, we ransacked the shed and garage, junk drunk and delirious, searching for a suitable surface to ride. After hours — really just 10 minutes — we gave up in frustration and grabbed a stack of cardboard boxes to offer at least some barrier between the frozen white snow and our freezing white asses.

In a day before ubiquitous cell phones, I called my then girlfriend Amy from Mike’s house to inform her of our plans.

Intuition can be a real bitch.

“Don’t go,” she said. “I have a bad feeling.”

Feelings? Who was she? Sally Jesse Raphael? Young men don’t deal in feelings, and we were after high adventure; if someone didn’t have a bad feeling, it wouldn’t be worth doing.

Yet then my mother, Eleanor, piled on with the Hoodoo VooDoo Prescience Parade. Then Mike’s mother.

Mike and I had a deep and meaningful conversation about how to proceed as we took the Route 299 exit toward Hell or High Water. Then we turned up the stereo, and the rock music rendered more conversation meaningless.

We found Titlow Hill Road just where our addled friends had left it. The truck’s transmission slammed into low gear and devoured the mountain. Despite worsening weather, we persevered.

In Blue Lake, it had been raining. The rain soon thickened into slush, which subsequently hardened into ice pellets. The hail battered the cab of the Chevy but failed to slow us down.

Finally, there was just snow. Lots of snow. Once we found a place that looked likely, we clambered out of the vehicle onto the frozen rocks and dirt of a random mountain turnout. Refusing to surrender to a growing sense of mortality, I pointed up the steep hillside like Babe Ruth would’ve identified which beer sign he meant to break with his next home run.

We climbed. Our low-top tennis shoes sank knee-deep into the fresh snow as we trudged up the mountain flank, and soon our puckered feet were numb to the touch. Denim also proved no barrier to the cold, nor my skivvies.

After 30 yards or so, I wanted a cigarette, yet the pack was rapidly disintegrating in my front pocket and my cherished Zippo had abandoned ship soon after we’d left the road.

Huffing huge billows of vapor and spit, hardly able to catch our fleeting breath, we reached a ledge on the hillside where a jutting shelf of rock formed a sort of diving board.

It wasn’t as high as we’d hoped, but Mike argued this was as good a spot as any, and I still couldn’t talk. So, I shrugged, then nodded.

We held out our double-thick cardboard platforms, stamped with logos and handwritten delivery instructions, and felt the biting wind kiss us goodbye. We dove off together, a perfect picture of masculine unity.

Immediately upon hitting the ground, Mike lost his paper sled and began tumbling ass over end down the hill. In my head flashed the classic cartoon scenario: he’d swell as he rolled, gathering sticks and snow and mud and skunks, ripping through the forests of Horse Mountain, laying waste to the watershed until he careened into a marijuana grow, acquired a few vagrant trimmers, then bowled straight into Willow Creek’s Bigfoot Museum, where he’d go on permanent display as the truly abominable snowman.


I had more luck. With momentum on my side, I skimmed the snow highway at decent speed, grinning from ear to ear and high-fiving Evel Knievel in my mind. Adrenaline fountained through my systems, and the top nearly blew off my head.

Then, disintegration. Water plus paper makes little bits of paper that fall away piece by piece until you’re riding your knees and forearms down a steep decline toward asphalt. So, I flipped around to offer my legs to the Gods in exchange for a short vacation in the ICU. Yet once I’d started this propeller motion, it couldn’t be stopped.

So rather than tumble like Mike, I was now pirouetting on my ass — the denim long gone, thanks to friction — at a fair clip as Mike heard only every fourth word of my dying prayers due to a suddenly realized Doppler Effect.

Then, all was still. I calmed the seas of my inner ear by pinching my head between my knees and horking.

Once I stood up, and noticed Mike waving at me from some 20 yards below, I covered my eyes against the snow glare and sought out the truck in the distance. It was about as far as we’d left it. We’d managed maybe 30 yards.

Soaking wet with ice water and sweat, dehydrated and distraught, we floundered over our own footprints back down the trail until we climbed shivering into the truck.

We said little as he turned the truck around and started the miserable drive home. It had been bad, yes, but with some hindsight and humor, it could still make a useful story to tell. Such was the currency of the day.

I remember turning to Mike, the words of reassurance rising out of my gullet, when he said it.

“Oh shit.”

If you’ve never driven in snow, it’s hard to believe how little of the stuff is necessary to disconnect four wheels from the ground. While avoiding a large drift of snow in the center of the road, Mike had swung wide toward the edge and caught a shoebox size clump with his left front tire.

My life didn’t flash before my eyes, but possible deaths sure did as we coasted gracefully toward the sheer edge and over it. It seemed forever before we landed on the driver’s side and plummeted down the mountain like poop in a chute.

With no shoulder harness, I remember falling into Mike, my head bouncing off his thigh as a wicked scene unfolded on the big screen in front of me. Trees, laden branches, the scuff of dirty snow as we plowed through it.

Finally, the truck slammed through some slimmer trees then collided with a massive pine, crushing the windshield into a trillion square pieces and collapsing the cab like bootheels on a tin can.

Once the truck stopped, I could hear Mike talking, though I couldn’t understand him. I tried to sit up, but my head slammed off the mangled frame before I could even begin. If I’d been upright, I’d have been dead.

Mike sprained his ankle, and I was unhurt. It took several tries to jack my door open, but once we did, we were able to exit the smoking vehicle and crab-walk out onto the snow.

I had visions of the shouting match to come. Mother and lady friend, in perfect harmony, belting out the obvious. Told you so. Told you so. Told you so.

After we fought our way back up to the road, no easy feat considering Mike’s injury and the shock that threatened to put us both to sleep, we stood there on the wet asphalt waiting for rescue.

Hours passed. Finally, a Ford Escort emerged out of the gloom. A man in the passenger seat was rolling down his window even as his frizzle-headed wife punched her tiny feet down on the accelerator. They zipped past us, looking both bewildered and frightened.

It began to snow again.

When all seemed lost, a red Ford Ranger emerged from the wall of white that surrounded us. The cab of the truck was full with three heavily-wrapped individuals clutching beer cans between their legs, distinguishable only by the misshapen tips of their red noses.

We explained our predicament, and the driver invited us to ride in the back of his rig.

“Never mind Charlie, he’s alright,” the driver said.

Sure enough, we were accompanied down the mountain by an old dog, sad-eyed and flatulent, who even still gave more than he got from us.

We persisted through snow, sleet, hail, and then finally, thick curtains of rain that pounded our unfeeling limbs all the way into Arcata.

To this day, I’m accused of not listening. Amy complains that I can tune her out when I’ve made up my foolish mind, or she’s saying something important that I just don’t want to hear. I’m like an old man who can’t hear a word but scolds the world for mumbling.

Here’s my excuse: Several years ago, when my wife and I were split, I had the misfortune of sharing a bedroom with a rotund yet charming fellow who was battling sleep apnea. At night, he donned a Vader-ish mask of clear plastic and tubes to keep his breathing continuous in the dark hours before dawn. Even still, when sleep finally caught up with him each night, he sounded like a seal gargling peanut butter with a chest cold.

One night, desperate for shut-eye and out of options, I deliriously wadded up a piece of paper — torn from an old housewares catalogue — then jammed it into my ear.

The next day, I woke up for work and went about my daily business, forgetting entirely the paper nugget that now obscured my eardrum.

It took me several years to remember that night, and a couple more to tell anyone else.

Finally, this Friday, a doctor donning a series of lenses, screens, blades and claws that reeked of a bad steampunk novel, screwed a narrow tin funnel deep into my ear canal and drew the petrified wad of spit, paper and wax out of my head.

Suffice it to say, the volume came up. And with that plug of wax went the last of my excuses for smiling and nodding, pretending to hear whatever was said.

Sure, the mountain adventure occurred more than a decade before I plugged things up. Even still, it represents the last broken barrier between myself and responsible adulthood. From now on, I can’t just shine people on.

Damn this world.