Thursday, May 31, 2012

Two Deaths & a Beating

**When I write about work, I blend and blur details so as to not write specifically about patients and victims. I keep the essence accurate while smudging the defining lines. I might switch aspects and alter chronologies, but I never lie. These scenes have happened, likely more than once.**
We see such a range of incidents at work, from the absurdly mundane to horrific catastrophes, that it’s sometimes hard to keep things in perspective. What is a normal emergency?
I’ve found myself recently with a dearth of patience for Code-99 crybabies. I’m cognizant that each of us has differing pain & discomfort thresholds, and that in the moment, we each can lose perspective. That said, considering most of my work takes me into proximity with people suffering all sorts of ills, I have a decent barometer of actual vs. perceived vs. self-indulgent suffering. I can be wrong, which is crucial to keep in mind, lest I fuck someone over. But, generally, we can read a patient. And with every crushing injury or soon-to-be-fatal condition, I appreciate the human capacity to suffer and the gap between living, dying, and death. So when we get called to patently ridiculous non-emergency issues, it can be taxing to maintain professional neutrality. Really, the proper thing would/should be to take the person by the lapels and pointedly explain difference between a boo-boo and an injury.
The standard pain-level spectrum (‘On a scale of 1-10, with one being nothing and ten being the worst you’ve ever felt, how would you rate your current pain?’) is worthless. If they can tell me their pain level is a ten, a. they’re breathing just fine, and, b. it is far from a ten. I told the ER intern when I was there for a dislocated shoulder that my pain was about four or five. I was in ghoulish agony when I moved, but I was fine. ‘I’ve seen people at a real ten, and I don’t want that, so I’m not going to inflate it.’ He stared at me then repeated, ‘So, if one was nothing, and ten was the worst you’d ever felt, how would you rate your pain today, Mr. Norton?’
I taught my daughters early to identify pain vs frustration when they got hurt. I wish that was a universally proscribed skill. We responded to a woman who slipped stepping onto a curb. She fell over, scraping her back. She was upset and began yelling and crying at her old man. They called 911. Fire and medics responded with lights and sirens. The woman walked across the parking lot to meet us, saying that her back hurt like shit. (By walking and moving to point to where she fell and where it hurt, she demonstrated there was no paralysis, by the way...) 
Me; ‘So, you tripped, scraped your back, and you called 911?’ 
She: ‘Yes.’ 
Me: ‘Is there anything we can do for you? You appear to be moving appropriately. You have a small scrape on your back. You have full range of motion and sensation to your extremities [except, perhaps, your brain]. What is your complaint, ma’am?’ 
She: ‘My back hurts.’
With enough calls like this, the futility of a common-sense approach to health care, any sort of preventative intervention, education--it feels like we’re fucked for fair, and the waiting rooms will remain clogged with Code-99s forever more. Staff will be overworked, frustrated, prone to sloppy or error-pocked assessments, discourteous, numb. Insurance will keep the paperwork churning, the fees rising (largely to cover all the folks w/o insurance who keep coming through the doors w/ no real issues (nothing actually emergent).
The other night, though, we caught several that were reminders of the weight of this job, as well as providing stark contrasts (counter-points?) to all the nonsense calls.
The first came in later evening, before midnight. SOB call, updated en route to one unconscious. We arrived at a duplex, headed upstairs. Small unit, teenage kid on computer in small living room. Woman down narrow hallway still on phone with Dispatch. She waved us toward her then pointed into doorway. ‘I just dozed off. When I realized I didn’t hear his usual loud breathing, I woke up. He sleeps loudly.’
I stepped past her into a small bedroom. There was a large man face-up on a queen-sized bed. He was shirtless. His belly protruded even while horizontal. I touched his arm, ‘Sir? Sir!’ The skin was cold. I rubbed his chest then checked his carotid pulse. ‘He’s cold,’ I said while searching for (hoping for) a pulse.
‘The fan,’ his wife said. ‘We had the fan on.’
I checked his wrist. There was nothing. His neck was crimped forward from the pillow. A bad angle. A trickle of drool spilled from his mouth down his cheek to his shoulder. I put my hand under his back then beneath his neck. There was warmth between the skin and the mattress. I opened his eyes. They were gauzy. Fuck, I thought. I adjusted his head on the pillow, in case there was a gulp of air waiting to come forth.
The woman had left the room. I turned to my crew, still waiting behind me at the door--not enough space to crowd in beside me. ‘He’s fucking cold. I can’t find a pulse.’ I stepped back, motioning to Sandy. ‘Check, will you. I can’t find anything.’
While she checked for a pulse, I felt up and down his body. The surface was cool. There was warmth only where the skin connected to the mattress. Sandy shook her head.
He was dead.
In most circumstances, we will work someone, if only to give the family something to grasp onto while the reality sinks in. Unfortunately, once we start the process, the medics have to continue it, and we all work really hard for someone who is and will remain dead, and, after working hard in the apartment, we load the person and carry him/her down to stretcher and into ambulance and whistle to County, doing CPR and breathing for (the corpse) as the ambulance bounces and jerks down the city streets, and we pull into County ER, wheel the stretcher into the STAB room, and the doctor looks at the printout then at the medics and proceeds to criticize them for working someone who is clearly not coming back.
Thus, many medics get pissy with us for working someone whose condition falls clearly into the un-savable category. No matter how genuine or noble our intentions, ignoring the science of it makes for cranky doctors. 
Good faith efforts. Good Samaritan gestures. Customer service...
I sighed, touched the man one more time, and shook my head to my crew. We would not be working this man.
They looked at me. I looked at them, and him, then around us. There was not space enough in the room to work him, nor in the hallway. The living room, possibly. The landing outside the apartment? He was large, and cold. She’d said she’d just dozed off, but if a person is down (without circulation or breathing) for ten minutes there is no chance for a positive/normal resolution. Brain damage occurs by the minute. I had to weigh what I was seeing & feeling against the word of his frantic wife.
I walked down the hall to the main room, where the teen still idled on Facebook. The woman came out of the kitchen, looking at me expectantly. ‘Well,’ she said. I stared at her a moment, nonplussed. Our perspectives are so different. Her normal is that her husband is alive. My normal is people call us when someone is hurt or dead. ‘Is he okay?’ she asked.
‘I’m sorry. He’s dead.’ 
(That is an existential phrase. I am decreeing something significant. It’s fucking eerie to be the arbiter of existence.)
The other hard part about my job is what follows such statements. The woman’s world dropped away, leaving me standing before her, the emissary of death. ‘Noooooooo,’ she shouted. ‘No! No! No!’ She moved as if to hit me. ‘No! No! No! Do something. You do something!’
‘I’m so very sorry, ma’am. He’s gone.’
No! Do something. You do something!’
For the next several minutes, we repeated this. She screamed, yelled, wailed, implored. I stood in front of her, receiving her grief, repeating my paltry condolences and firm assertion that her husband was dead. The medics arrived, having not received the information of the DOA from Dispatch. They left. I sent my crew out to drop the equipment. Sandy came back up, standing behind me in the hallway. At some point, the teenager realized what was going on (belatedly, to be honest. I was disconcerted at the full-on involvement with Facebook, which, looking over her shoulder, was the same nonsense as on all of our screens. Perhaps she was accustomed to her mother screaming, a lot) and began crying, too. The mother was still yelling at me, but it was tapering, replaced by inconsolable wailing. I cannot do justice to the grief. The mom shoved her phone at her daughter, telling her to call (family).
Although he looked 55+, he was under 40.
His wife was pregnant. ‘Our baby--we have a baby coming! His baby!’
Their first kid was barely a teen. ‘Your daddy’s dead, baby! Daddy’s gone!’
There was no upside to this situation. ‘Nooooooooooooooo!
I stepped away to give them privacy. The only place to go was back to the bedroom. We must remain present until the police arrive, even in ‘routine’ deaths, which means we are present for the first five to fifteen minutes of grief. We then symbolize the reality of death, of loss. That is what I get paid for, to bear witness to the grief and suffering of strangers. To accept their rage, fear, panic, sadness so that they can move through the acute shock to the subsequent details.
I checked the man, again. He was dead. I had made the right call, but it did not feel good. It is strange to stand before a newly dead person, amid his/her quotidian surroundings: bedroom, kitchen, living room, clothes, food, papers, pets. I haven’t figured out if it’s the actual absence of life-energy I detect from the corpse, or if it’s childhood fascination or superstition that the dead will suddenly sit upright and grab me. It hasn’t happened yet. I don’t think it will. But standing in a small room with a fresh (or relatively recent) corpse, amid their normal life--which is no longer normal and no longer life--feels pitched with a strange tension. Paranormal activity, in my mind...
The police arrived. I briefed the officers on what we found, how we’d found him, and her, and that we hadn’t noticed anything out of ordinary (other than dead man in the bed). I said another useless condolence to the now ‘merely’ sobbing mother and daughter, and we left. The ride back to the station was heavy and sad. We discussed whether we should have worked him. Had the fan not been blowing, and he’d been that little bit less cooled already, we might have given it a shot. Under 40 years, at that size, he likely suffered a complete heart failure. There are actually very few conditions of cardiac arrest from which we can rescue someone. That doesn’t make us feel any better about it, though.
I was up for a while after this call, writing my report, feeling awful, questioning whether I made the right decision. There’s always room for doubt, or examination, of actions. There must be--even if the choice is correct. An hour or so later, trying to find the doorway into sleep, I caught the tones before the first bell sounded. A medical down the street from the station, an assault victim. We drove around the block looking for our patient, since no one waved us down and there were several people milling about the street. ‘Hey, are you hurt?’ is a funny way to approach someone. We found him slumped on a bench. He’d been jumped, he said, by two dudes and a woman. She’d lured him and they’d slugged him with something. He had a deep gash on the back of his head. He didn’t remember much else. His wallet was gone. ‘Why’d they have to hit me?’ he asked, then asked again, the familiar scared and sad tinge to his voice. We bandaged him and helped him into the ambulance. A squad arrived and the officers stepped aboard the bus to get their report. Sometimes, it’s a guy walking home who gets mugged. Other times, it’s a john getting set up by the street walker and her pimp. Or it’s a drug thing. We don’t ask particulars and we don’t really care. We address their wounds and help the medics get them to the hospital, then, if necessary, we spray the blood off the sidewalk.
I’d fallen asleep, perhaps forty minutes after finishing the assault victim's paperwork. The bell snapped me upright, another medical. There’s less of an adrenalin surge after the initial wake-up with medical tones than with fire tones. Fire tones force me to force my mind awake immediately, which is hard on the system. Medicals, I can climb more reasonably toward consciousness--even sticking my head out window to vacate the sleep as we respond. Dispatch stated it was an Assist the Police call, which can be anything from forcing open a door to using a ladder to get to the roof to a Tasered suspect having cardiac failure. We rolled out, getting no new information on our computer screen.
A block away we got notice that the scene was safe and they needed EMS code-three (immediately). We pulled onto the block and were confronted by a baker’s dozen of squad cars. There were officers moving around but no guns drawn and no discernible panic or frantic edge to their movement. The driver slowed, looking for a place to stick the rig, and I jumped out, walking swiftly down the street. I passed officers but no one was shouting or barking info or orders. Reaching the address, I saw three young men sitting against the chain link fence, wrists manacled behind their backs. Several officers stood over and around them, but I couldn’t tell from the cops’ expressions whether these were suspects or hostile witnesses. An officer held the front door for me and pointed up the stairs, which I hustled up, the AED banging against my leg.
I didn’t hear screaming, yelling, or wailing. At the landing, there was an officer putting evidence cones over a scattering of bullet casings. He looked up, I tilted my head toward both apartment doors, and he nodded toward the one on my left. ‘He’s in there,’ he said, motioning me to watch my step as I passed his work area. I opened the door and met several more cops in the front room. Three feet into the room splayed on the floor was a man, arms and legs spread wide, mouth ajar. I looked at him a moment as I took in the action in the room. ‘This guy’s dead,’ I blurted.
There’d been no info from Dispatch about a shooting. Nor about his condition. I didn’t mean to say it aloud, especially before checking him, but that was what came out. Free verse... I stepped to him, knelt and checked for pulses. His eyes were open, staring at the ceiling. ‘Hey, man,’ I said, ‘can you hear me?’
I wasn’t getting a pulse. I put my hand on his chest and rubbed it. ‘Hey, man,’ I repeated. I looked him up and down. There were blood droplets on his pants but not much, and no entrance or exit wounds. Suddenly, I felt a convulsion in his chest and neck. His jaw twitched and he took a breath. Surprised me. Hate it when they do that...
I watched him a moment, still feeling for a pulse. No further movement. I rubbed his chest again. It felt rock solid. I looked more closely at his shirt. Below and beside where I was rubbing his chest there were three or four holes in his shirt. Hmmm. Close-range chest entrance wounds... He was done. Then his torso and neck stiffened and quivered again, and his jaws gaped further open a moment.
The medics reached the front door at this point. I moved to the other side of the man so they could see. I said I had no pulse but there’d been a couple agonal breaths. The younger of the two knelt beside me, checked for a pulse, and said, ‘Let’s get him down to the bus!’ He dropped their canvas litter along the man’s left side and motioned me to grab his upper body; he positioned himself by the legs. The second medic came into the room, looked around and down at us. ‘Did he arrest?’
‘Shooting,’ I said, looking at the bullet casings everywhere.
‘No. Did he arrest? Do you have a pulse?’
‘Negative,’ I said.
His partner started saying he wanted to load and go so they could work him in the ambulance.
‘Leave him. He’s done. This is a crime scene. Just leave him. Don’t move him any more.’
His partner was still hoisting the guy’s legs, side-stepping over to the canvas litter. He looked perplexed. I understood. Dead is dead, especially with penetrating trauma--such as a cluster of bullet wounds to the chest. Yet the agonal respirations implied some form of life within the potted body. I glanced at the young medic, then at his partner. Dead is dead.
We lay his legs and torso back on the floor and stepped away. This was the police’s scene. I helped the medics get their bags and the canvas together and we left. My crew were wending their way through the police officers. I shook my head and nodded toward the rig. ‘Let’s go.’
‘Was he dead already, or not even hurt?’
‘Definitely hurt. Definitely dead.’ We walked past more cops, most of them were milling about inside the perimeter being established by several officers with scene tape. I spied the two from the earlier call and approached them. ‘Sorry I left you with that. She was devastated. Rolled over and her old man was dead.’
The officer shrugged. ‘She calmed down pretty fast. It wasn’t too bad. Sad deal, but she started to think clearly again.’
I said good-bye and we got back on the rig.
The driver asked, ‘So, the guy up there, he was dead?’
‘You know,’ I said, ‘he was less-dead than that guy we had earlier. But dead is dead. Shot to shit point-blank in the chest.’
‘Yep. Hell of a way to go.’
We found out the next morning that the man had been assaulting his lady and a neighbor called 911. Police arrived and he met them at the door with a knife raised. They fired and had good aim. He had several felony arrests for assault, abuse, battery. It’s hard not to say, Fuck him. I feel boundless sorrow and sympathy for that woman and her daughter and the unborn child who lost their man. I have no remorse for a dead abusive asshole.
And if either of them had been slightly less dead, we would have worked the fuck out of them, trying to keep them alive, pull them back from death. It doesn’t matter how you got shot, or if you are an abusive shit, we will work to keep you alive. Unless you’re already dead. And then, there’s nothing we can do.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Everyday roulette.

My friends are healing. I cannot begin to describe how horrific it was when the first notifications came in via email, message, the news, last night that there were significant firefighter injuries at the fire at Walker Church. I know the building, had been inside it several times for smells and alarms. Last time we explored it, I told my rank firefighter that, if ever we returned for an actual fire, once we ensured the congregation and workers were safely out, there was a VERY minimal window of permissible risk in chasing fire in the mighty arched rafters. Lightning strikes hit the tops of churches, and the fires can burn far above the reach of our equipment. We are trained and conditioned to make our way into the building and toward the seat of the fire. When the civilians have been accounted for, the only thing we're risking when we try to save the property is our own lives.


It is a glorious, historic beautiful old building that houses a wonderful, deeply involved community and congregation. True enough. But: once the lightning has started a fire at the roof line, we are looking at a losing prospective battle. Too much vaulted space, too much open air and old, dusty beams, too much concealed space in the rafters. We CANNOT go back in time. We CANNOT overtake what's already started ahead of us. We CANNOT defeat nature and physics with our heroic dispositions and noble helmets. When we forget these cannots, we put ourselves at jeopardy.

I was supposed to be working yesterday. I traded the shift with the opposite shift captain. That's how we make travel or family plans work with our schedules. We rely on each other. I got the info about the fire, then within minutes, about the injuries. I knew who was inside, and I knew how bad the building was. I didn't know who was hurt or how badly. The powerlessness & worry were nauseating. I was up half the night, staring at my phone. My crew. My co-workers. My friends. We have no control over when fires or catastrophes will occur, and we accept that it's the luck of the draw. But, being 1500 miles away, unsure who was hurt or how badly, knowing it was my crew, my rig, my shift... The guilt and responsibility were ghastly.

There are many cliches bandied about with this job. 'We know the risks.' 'Part of the profession.' 'You/we signed up for it.' Blah, blah, blah. Very few of the risks are worth it. Most are truly avoidable or minimizable. The very essence of unpredictable hazards is the same thing that OUGHT to remind us to take a steely, dispassionate, cynical approach.

We will will risk a lot to save a lot. We will risk a little to save a little. Life, property, environment--in that order. Once a structure is free of civilians (or there is no survivability profile), the only humans at risk are those of us assembled to address the incident. The lightning-struck church is ALREADY damaged. The majority of such church fires have a predictable outcome: catastrophic damage and high danger for firefighters. Even when we are pulled out to fight from the exterior, the massive roofs collapse, blowing the stone walls fifty or sixty feet into the so-called safe zone. Many firefighters have been hurt and killed in the collapse zones.

The news gave it short-shrift: 'Non-life-threatening injuries.' 'All are all right.' 'Five firefighters were taken to the hospital but the hole in the neighborhood where this magnificent church stood will not be filled for years.'
The burns hurt. They will require painful treatment. They will scar. Their hands will never be the same: skin damaged, discolored, sensitive to weather and elements--or, nerve damaged. For the captain working for me, burns to face, neck, shoulders, arms, flank--weeks if not months in the hospital and then the painful debriding and healing process. 'Not life threatening.' Perhaps. Life altering, certainly.

I don't want to be maimed or die in a fire. I don't want to get hit by a car while responding to a freeway collision. I don't want a rail car or propane tank to explode and vaporize me. I don't. I recognize the hazards of the job. Most of the time, we are safe, or safe enough. And that suffices. Other times, such as now, the thin line between good luck and no luck are all too visible. Our frailty and powerlessness are terrifying. There are times I want to walk away. Let others play these foolish odds...I'm going home.
I should have other career options, right? There are safer ways to make a living, certainly. Yet, my every shift reminds me that, whether the dice be cast already, we certainly don't know when our time is coming. I see the deaths, life-altering 'accidents,' near-misses and just-naileds: hard to say there's a reason or a rhyme, just the wheel spinning away.

I was a teacher before I was a firefighter. From 1990-1994 I worked at two different (arch-rival) ex-military prep schools in Chattanooga, TN. Interesting cultural change, to say the least. I was a young, just-sober, sarcastic and angry Yankee trying to find his way in the self-proclaimed Buckle of the Bible Belt.
Spring of 1991, we had an incident that would likely be defined (off the record) as a 'near miss.'
There was a boy at the school, a junior boarding student from Brazil. His family was rich, likely more fabulously so than the garden-variety Old South gentleman princes, and he was an odd duck. I was a proctor or whatever-you-call-it of the dorm. This was the all-male school, still more traditionally evangelical (and wildly homoerotic, but, again, that's another story) and conservative than its rival. A weird foreigner was fighting an uphill battle, yet, my sense of it was that he was odd enough that he avoided the generic teasing and Lord of Flies male behaviors. Not that he wasn't an outsider and ostracized, but it seemed equal parts his own doing or preference. He found me curiously not-of-the-South and recognized that I was also an outsider. I found him amusingly awkward. I gravitated toward the outsiders, since it didn't take much to fall outside the good old boy network, and any kid gutsy or angry or dumb enough to run head-first (or to outflank) into the stonewall of tradition merited my general or specific support. Omar was prickly, awkward, grating, obvious/clumsy. But he wasn't stupid. We managed a few decent conversations over the year.

That spring, there was a magical week or so before Daylight Savings ended, when the equinox was already adjusting and dawn broke hours before the alarm clocks sounded. My husky Watt was still a puppy and we would walk far and wide before my duties started. That week in early April, I found myself enjoying the solitude of the sleeping campus as dawn rolled over the hillsides. It was similar to DC or Boston, yet different--just, different: smells, trees, quality of light. Watt & I repeated this pre-alarm rising for at least a week. I wasn't crazy about waking before six (I was putting in absurd hours as a first-year teacher, 80 hour weeks, easily) but it was so pleasant and interesting, I didn't mind.

On the Friday before Daylight Savings, I awoke, saw it was grey and gloomy instead of pastel and enchanting, and rolled over for another twenty minutes. Watt & I meandered through the center of the campus in a light mist, less awake than previous mornings. Walking between buildings, I saw one of the kitchen workers staring at something on the porch of a small one-room meetinghouse. I approached and, from the peripheral corner, I saw two feet and legs splayed on the porch. The kitchen guy was shaking his head. I got closer, then saw a couple police officers approaching from the other direction.

There on the porch, slumped against the door, was Omar. A semi-automatic rifle was wedged between his legs. He had ammo belts slung bandolier style across his chest, and a hunting knife strapped to his leg. The police were taping off the porch.
The gloomy morning. The supernatural aspect of the previous week's dawnings. The smothering mist and clouds through which the crackle of the police radio intruded. Omar's boots and legs jutting out like that. Decidedly dead. Not alive.
And all I could think was that he'd killed his roommate, a quiet, pleasant Japanese student (yes, they stuck the two international kids together, despite their having diametrically opposed personalities). My mind spun: the dorm. Not just his roomie. He'd massacred the entire dorm as they slept. Or just those he didn't like. He was the type of misfit who kept minute score of slights and insults. He'd told me I was all right, that--for now--I wasn't on his hit list. Sure, Omar. Thanks, dude. An honor, I'd thought. Now, I felt dizzy, calculating how many of my students he might have killed. The dorm parents, too.

This was before Columbine and all the rest. There were no Hostile Action procedures on file. No real precedent. I was staring at a heavily armed dead kid, my mind clicking over the obvious possibilities. I grabbed one of the cops and asked if they'd checked the dorm. They radioed and someone responded that all was well. No one else injured.

Lone gunman, single victim. Misfit. 'Don't spend too much time trying to understand, guys. This has no cause, nothing we could understand. It is the tragic, horrible act of a sick, desperate mind.' That is almost verbatim the school's official statement to the press, parents, and student body. Behind doors, it was more blunt: Omar was a sick twist. Loser. Foreigner.

I disagreed, but no one cared what I thought. To the starched bosses, I wasn't much different from him. A suspicious fellow traveler. I was repulsed by the school's naked, petty, desperate self-delusion. For a churchy-as-fuck school, they certainly missed a good teaching moment about loving thy neighbor (lest he blow your fucking head off instead of just his own), or about tolerance or understanding, or many other potential subjects. 'Don't spend time thinking about it, fellows. This has nothing to do with us.' Nothing.

I knew, to my core, that we got lucky. If there were two angels floating through his ravaged mind, the good one got up earlier or spoke louder. He was armed for bear and ready to wipe out the dorm, possibly all three of the dorms. The school is built on Missionary Ridge, a significant tactical site from the Civil War. He'd have had the upper hand on the responding police, let alone the panicked schoolmates running scared across the quad.

Instead, he ate the gun.

Thanks for that, Omar.

What I wondered, what kept me up a lot, was this: if it hadn't been misty and overcast, if I hadn't hit snooze, and instead taken my previous paths, I would have encountered Omar on his final walk. If I'd seen him from afar, I would likely have recognized Nature's warning signs (heavily armed teen wandering the pre-dawn campus) and run. If he'd seen me first... If I'd turned a corner and there he was... Would he have popped me reflexively? Would he have shot me deliberately, getting revenge for my relatively greater social status as the 'interesting' new teacher? Would he have shot the dog first? Would he have talked it out with me, before either shooting himself or me or both of us?

I don't know. There were many other outcomes that morning, none good. I find the notion that God spared the rest of us risible. Dodged a bullet, we did... When my parents worry I've chosen to work such a risky job, I acknowledge the risks. And I think, Yes, and I could have been the pre-Columbine Columbine, the seminal school shooting victim. Dead just trying to teach young men to think... There are near misses every day. There are surprise calamities daily, too. I haven't seen the dividing line between innocent and deserving victims, so I go about my way, appreciating the risk of it all and clinging fiercely to those I love.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Almanzo 2012, View from an (even older than Emery) old-ish guy

While Annie has her own range of idiosyncratic hobbies and pursuits—stage combat, music career, unicorn hunter—she genuinely puzzles over some of the things I choose to do (for fun). Not the whole plushie phase, I mean. She supports my endeavors with a big heart and a hug, and likely thinks it’s at least partially a sign of worthwhileness in me as a mate, but, still, she wonders. She really wonders. Last week, we stopped at One on One so she could search for old Stingrays for a video she’s making, and the topic of the upcoming Almanzo 100 arose. ‘Why,’ she asked, ‘would anyone want to do something like that? It can’t be fun. It certainly isn’t easy. It takes SO long. Why?’
This wasn’t my first time, but it was apropos, as we were approaching Hurl, inaugural Almanzo winner and all-around hardman. I laughed and repeated her question to him, clarifying that some will race the race (him) and others of us will simply ride the road (me). ‘Because,’ was the gist of his answer.
Because it’s there. Because it’s hard. Because Chris Skogen believes and puts it together. Some bridge between a charity ride and Riding the Divide for those who aren't local racers.
I was too mentally blown to jot down my thoughts after the race, which is unfortunate (for me) as they were, I’m certain, really insightful and inspiring. Some moments of clarity amid the grind and sufferage on the gravel might have stuck—but my hands were too locked on the bars to risk taking out the quill and inkwell to jot them on the Rapha ostrich-eggshell parchment I always carry.
I was mostly pondering the triad of challenges: mental, physical, and emotional, while trying to distinguish whether the emotional was stand-alone or (merely!) a resulting side dish of the former two.
In the final ten miles, I couldn’t tell whether I was fighting dry heaves or convulsive sobbing. It was a bit of both, gentle reader.
I first did the ride two years ago. My first century, my first gravel ride, my first time on the hills of the area. I was new to cycling and happened to hear Hurl talking with some guys at CRC about it. ‘Give it a shot,’ he said. ‘It’s beautiful down there.’ So I did. I finished somewhere around 8:40 or so. I’d packed too much—enough food for three people for two days, really—and had carried extra bottles in a musette bag (very dumb; it swung and swung and rubbed against my back, disrupting my balance). It was incredibly hard. I finished. I bonked at about 28 miles. The depths of lonely suffering were interesting and shitty. Returned that fall to do the Gentleman’s Ride with Martin Rudnik, Chelsea Strate, plus Jeff from QPB. I figured after a summer of riding and rolling in a group, I’d be able to come in easily before eight hours. Nope.
Those miles, and those hills, remain obstinate and unforgiving. I again packed too much stuff; likely didn’t eat right, suffered cramps, and, notably, was psyched out enough to walk most of the hills after Preston. The mental component really showed itself to me then: I knew more but had less gumption for the challenges, forfeiting on the hills w/o really attempting to scale them. Jay Road: fuck you; Oriole: fuck you; 38th Street, or whatever your hilly-ass name: fuck you, too. No, fuck me. I was cowed conceptually and belly crawled up all of them.
Last year, in the elemental morass, my hands and feet were done after mile 25 or so. I knew what lay ahead and the prospect of suffering further—let alone keeping a bike upright w/ no grip in my hands—was too much for this weekender. I’d also packed my full size Banjo Brothers backpack, which caused massive cramping in my lower back.
As with many, many others, it was a miserable day. Turned off at Preston, guided another lonely, lost straggler back to the base, and shivered for several hours even in dry clothes. I marvel at the folks who were able to finish: it wasn’t mental for me last year. My hands and feet were not working. Can’t fake that. How others were immune to the elements is something I’ve pondered ever since then.
This year: hot and windy. Garmin showed average of 88, high of 96. The gusts were ferocious and incessant. I packed three 20 oz. water bottles and about ten ounces of pickle juice. Still brought too much food, but managed not to cram myself w/ dead weight. Brought capsules of hydration supplement, some Gatorade mini-quenchers, other stuff. Went through at least eleven bottles of fluids plus a triumphant root beer from the roadside church. Banana graciously provided by volunteers at 65 mile checkpoint was delicious. I managed to avoid cramps and heat exhaustion.
I sweat a lot. In the winter, I can’t ride much when it’s below 20, because after about twenty minutes, I’m sweating so hard, no matter what my layering, that my core starts to get REALLY cold. Fingers and toes get cold fast, but the core shivers aren’t cool. When it’s hot, or even warmish, I sweat profusely & must be vigilant about losing too much fluid/hydration/electrolytes/salt. And I sweat so hard I tend to get saddle sores from the crotch swamp, but who’s asking?
I did spend a good amount of time riding alone, with others in sight, feeling miserable, deciding that this may be great and all but it’s not healthy for me. It’s a long time (relatively) out moving in the elements w/ no real escape or backup plan.
*Except: there is an option—I can/could choose to get off my fucking bike and take a break in the shade. But some part of me resists that. Even though I’m racing against no one, competing only w/ the elements, my body, my mind, I’m loath to ‘lose time’ unless I have to. Stopping for the root beer cost me five minutes, but it was a massive help to stop, refill bottles, and slug down that sasparilla-esque goodness.
Could I have finished faster? Obviously, yes.
Could I have finished slower? Most definitely, yes.
The wind and the hills weren’t conducive to finding like-speeded road buddies. I’d catch some riders, hope to form something productive, then one of us would slow or the other would press ahead. Besides, many of the freaks I saw probably resorted to cannibalism once things got lean… There is such a great mix of folks that Skogen brings in for this ride. Lots of serious athletes, sub-ten-percent body fat types with lots of obsessed amateur dedication and silly arrogance. Punk-minded folks on fixies and singles. Fat bikes, 29ers, tandems, the rogue unicycle! People well into Clydesdale range. Couples.
I’ve heard there’s an actual race, waaaay up front. Can’t imagine what that’s like, but I support the concept. For the rest of us, it’s a drive to survive. All riding the same course, with a range of experiences and speeds and skills from front to rear. All of us--EACH of us--is alone out there. There is no other way to get through it: we are each alone within ourselves. Saturday was hot, windy, dusty enough that there wasn’t much chatter; last year, the cold, muck, rain were prohibitive. Maybe Chris just wants us to shut up & suffer…
I'm a 45 year old hack who rides for fun--I started riding two years ago and will never improve to the level of either the 25 yo beginners OR the 45 year old retirees. I try to race because it scrapes the crud from the depths of my lungs. Chuck and the Behind-Bars/LGR team are wonderful and tolerate my ineptness, but it's not as if a big training block is going to get me beyond Cat 7... And that's fine. Looking at some of the fitness-obsessed, number-crunching, gear-fetishizing A-type dudes in the parking lot, I felt more affinity for the dude wearing his Jimmy John's delivery jersey and cutoff jeans.
The start is always faster than it should—peer pressure, adrenalin, too many people. I reminded myself I had HOURS of riding ahead and was already sweating fast by mile five, but I always just ride where I’m at. Haven’t learned how to actually pace myself, or, the competitive part of me tries to press on within limits I can muster. I recognized a fair number of people, and saw an inspiring range of self-serious to rollickingly comic dispositions. Several hours later, when the toll was taken, I was passing many a guy who seemed several categories above me. Dehydration plays no favorites.
There were certainly casualties of the road. I asked if they were all right, and most just glared at me, done. Toast. Spent. Several were walking through cramps. Some were sitting by the roadside, defeated. I noted that they all had water, and, since there wasn’t more I could do, and I had little room for extra exertion, or lost momentum, myself, I plodded on. I did share a bottle with a guy in final ten miles. He sucked it down then ripped off at a speed I couldn’t hope to match on my best day. ‘Fucking roadies…’
I missed Martin, since his energy is so positive and inspiring. Hurl had a shit day, as I saw him at mile 65 when ordinarily he’s done by the time I reach there. Mark Emery, Kevin, several others I recognize from around town. The 2F4Love guy was not sparing with his venom toward the conditions. There’s something pretty democratic about having big, small, short, tall, female, male, old and young riding the same, albeit individually unique, race, and, as Hurl said in other context, ‘Skinny guys don’t win races, fast guys do.’
I was really impressed by the widespread presence of Twin Six gear throughout the race. Not just rolling along with Ryan for a bit, but the variety of jerseys, the full kits, the Revolution/T6 army, many socks. For a local business, they have done well by the local scene and genuinely represent MN cycling; in turn, we show our love right back. I wish I'd snapped more photos, but--I didn't.
I liked that I didn't use my Camelback, as the weight against my lower back would have exacerbated the back cramps; I left the backpack at home, too. I have a Banjo Bros. trunk pack, which held my tools, a spare bottle, and spare eats. It's a great investment. For the Dirty Benjamin, I'm giving the single speed a shot, and will use the Camelback, I think.
The gracious volunteers who donated their time and water/treats were day-savers. Seriously.
We've had what's euphemized as a 'rough family patch' over the past year. Nothing too horrible, but real life intruding on heart, mind, spirit, free time. I wasn't able to ride much from late-July through October due to some domestic situation; then, December-April was sunk with some challenges with my daughter. A mild, nearly tropical winter 'missed' in terms of cycling or running outside. I'd like to have more time to ride, to 'train,' and all, but, I enjoy the time I have--which is more than many people's--and the important thing is to make family life work. I had bronchitis two weeks ago, and was ready to bag the race, less because of my lungs the the lack of miles in my legs. I'm glad I didn't.
The mental games started with the first stabs of fatigue, sub-30 miles. You can bag it. Just turn off at Preston. You don't NEED to do this. You showed up, you started, just take it easy... Past Preston, with 'refreshed' legs, hydration and a snack aboard, I was feeling better. Made it up Jay Road hill, and started guessing how many killers were left. You can do this. Some lonely hours and miles until the State Park, but no inclination to quit. After that, there were many arguments against ever doing such a ride again: You've got the wrong body type; your shoulders hurt in the stupid jersey; your feet are swollen and painful; bad circulation to your hands; in cold weather, you freeze--in hot temps, you melt and dehydrate, etc Over and over. And over. I was suffering. Thousand-yard stares were exchanged as we straggling loners passed each other. Grunts as greetings.
Crossing out of the final ravine, knowing it WOULD end, and end well (after five mere miles of wind-blasted rollers), I felt a wild impulse to drop into Annie's lap and sob. The release of so much tension and stress from the past year: situations where there really didn't feel like any means or options to give in, so I didn't. But, here, pushing myself in a literal metaphor for suffering, I felt the dueling impulses to quit and the terror of quitting, the fear of lost control and the enervating release of surviving that fear.
When I reached the parking lot, having hovered a moment to offer the guy I passed in final 500 yards the chance to cruise in together (it’s pretty lame to pip someone at the line for 300th place) before pedaling with resurrected abandon towards the line and Chris’s waiting handshake, I nearly broke down in tears as I collapse-hugged his mid-section. The emotions of the past year welled up. I exorcised nothing, but fought through a lot.

Other than a nasty sweat-induced saddle sore in/on my taint and some random sunburn striations, I'm fine. I'll be back for the Gentleman's Ride, motherfucker. The hills and miles and gravel will be no easier. It's what we each bring to the ride that shapes our experience of the ordeal.

Congrats to all who finished, who started and fell apart. To the winners of every stripe, and, once again, to the incredible warhorses who did 162 miles in the day, not just 100. Those people are hors categorie & batshit! Kudos and congrats.

Thanks as ever to Chris Skogen and his family, and his extended crew/family of volunteers. It is a very, very special event.

Monday, May 7, 2012

'My World Is Yours'

Rappers & Firefighters 

Dessa gave a speech as part of the Nobel Prize symposium in March, sharing her views on misogyny in hip-hop. It was thoughtful and thought-spurring, generous & interesting, too brief. I was struck by the similarities of macho posturing in rap ‘culture’ and in firefighting ‘culture,’ with similar false assumptions and norms persisting despite enormous proof to contrary, and with the active perpetuation of false ideology by many trying to fit in. 

In both cases, there is a connection between misogyny and homophobia--I’d suggest, anti gay-male homophobia is an extension of misogyny. Both stem from flawed and fraudulent expressions and/or conceptions of manhood. 

Some thoughts: 

Rappers. Early and mid-90s hip-hop & rap, there were cyclical 'conversations' (or witch-hunts) for the alleged gay MC that everyone claimed to know about but no one could identify. Innuendo and rumor were the primary modes of dis-course. 

Rappers put stock in an identity, and a verbal construct, that was often binary--heterosexual (as opposed to homosexual), male (as opposed to female), warrior/gangster/player/conqueror (as opposed to weakling/loser/conquest). So much of a rapper's effectiveness was predicated on linguistic and imagistic prowess. The constant battling with foes real & imagined for respect, realness, turf (airspace or actual blocks of the city) put a premium on 'being a man.' No matter how wrong-headed this construction might be, it carried social currency. A man does this... and this... and this... Thus, to be a man, one must also do said things, lest one is perceived as not-a-man. Anyone who didn't do those things was suspect, vulnerable to the attack. Lose your manhood, lose your mic status, & vice versa. A dick is a dick is a dick, swinging hard and ready for action (but heterosexual action only, mind you). 

It’s no wonder women have had such a struggle earning legitimate respect in the rap world. This artificial dynamic by its flawed definition precludes women. It certainly cannot support or even allow the idea of a comfortably gay male among them. Whither the fear? If the easiest & most effective/common put down was to dis a man's machismo/manhood, calling someone a bitch or a faggot was a verbal disposal of him as a man, a rapper, a threat. 

Iceberg Slim’s theorem that a white man was, by definition, a faggot--a sexually inferior & insecure, less-manly weakling--isn’t far removed from this construct of masculinity in rap. A weaker man is a faggot or a bitch: two pejorative insults and identity assaults, removing manhood status from the dissed person. Less male, less Black, less skilled with mic or dick. Weak, wack. ‘Faggot, sissy, punk, queen, queer...’ (‘Language of Violence,’ Disposable Heroes) 

It’s heresy to argue instead that there could be an actual legit MC who was proudly gay, since the two were constructed to be inimical, if not polar opposites. Rap identities come from specific, direct articulations of black street/cultural identities. I am not the one to debate the myriad complex aspects that shape both the private and public layers of black maleness. A rapper’s persona, manufactured and shaped for public consumption, is an artistic license, but where the premium on (the concept of) realness is so high, the pressure to live up to an identity or persona removes the option of nuance or alternatives to the usual. The result can be a roomful of young men striving to out-tough each other on the mic, and on tape. A hysterical hyper-machismo--cartoonish but for the consequences of living up to the image: gun battles, sexual assault, beat-downs, fear and paranoia; closed-minded hysteria. 

The idea that a less-than-macho rapper was out there a conundrum: It's one thing to smear rival rappers with the queer label but, apparently, far more conceptually troubling to allow the existence of an *actual* gay rapper--one whose rhymes were strong while his orientation was gay. 

In the 60s, some Black Power adherents argued that it was important for black women to postpone/subordinate/sacrifice their (feminist) liberation to help their men achieve redemption in a culture that had systematically deprived black men of identity, manhood, self-worth, value. After the men gained agency, the women would get theirs. Except it didn’t really happen that way. Chauvinism or misogyny trumps solidarity. Where does this leave female rappers, MCs & fans, even? If it’s been declared an essentially (black) male space, with hyped-up machismo the primary currency, how to open the field for the women who love and practice the art? One school answers the question with typical chauvinistic simplicity: There is no space for women: They can’t rap--meaning they may not, or their work should be dismissed out of hand. NOTE: Women can’t rap just the way they cannot drive race cars, tell jokes, write books, lead nations, paint, fight, hunt... Only in the limited minds of those afraid of equality--or in those whose notion of what IS limits what can be. 

So many songs employ vicious misogynistic lyrics, deployed with humor or vitriol or both to bolster the rapper’s credentials. When challenged, if called out, the artist can hide behind ‘artistic license’ or ‘it’s just a rap, a rhyme.’ Lighten up, Sandy, baby. Or, Bitch can't take a joke

In the early 90s, critic Greg Tate took Public Enemy to task for, in their black nationalist fervor, demonstrating a glaring blindness to chauvinism and outright misogyny. Michael Franti addressed homophobic attacks, false notions of manhood in the mid-90s, making not just conscious, non-hateful music but also writing songs that called out this very toxic issue. So have the Roots, Gang Star. Far more prevalent are boasting, violent imagery, etc... Odd Future/Tyler the Creator, Eminem, NWA, Too Short, 50 Cent: the list is quite long of young men whose artistic expressions take what might be personal insecurities or issues with women (with their own identities as men, really) and blow them into horrific exaggerations. Note: most of these artists ‘mature’ out of it, looking askance on the idiocy (or worse) of their earlier selves. Unfortunately, that shit’s out there, in perpetuity. And successive micro-generations of young men are gobbling it up, taking THAT particular approach to articulate their own relationship issues. 

Locally, it was an easy decision to let my kids listen to the music of each AND all of Doomtree’s members than their peers in Atmosphere/RSE: too much misogyny in Slug’s lyrics; enough weak-MC quasi-homophobic bashing in Brother Ali’s earlier work. I think both are smart, powerful artists but too raw and ugly to play around the kids. Now, both men’s lyrics have matured, and both have a lot of sharp, smart things to say. But those early songs remain on disc, widely disseminated. Which is precisely the problem and my point. I remember arguing with a student in the early 90s about the Beastie Boys, noting that the same pro-women rappers of Check Your Head & Ill Communication were wildly less cool during Cookie Puss & License to Ill. One doesn’t negate the other, and we all grow (or should grow), but there’s an accountability for what we put out there. 

And, yes, I was a total asshole a whole lot when I was younger. I’m grateful I had chance to feel embarrassed at myself, and to be a better person for it. 

It’s possible--quiet easy, really--to write and rap lyrics that are powerful, funny, astute, clever, vindictive, and whatever else without deploying the bitch trope, the gold digger trope, the fuck ‘em just to see the look on their face trope (RHCP aren’t actually rappers; are guilty of same old shit). If, as Nikki Giovanni said, (the) ideal black man is a cool mind atop a hot body, there’s certainly room for men to show their right with respect, humor, compassion, courage. 

When guys listen to misogynist/homophobic lyrics, when they play it loud in their cars or quote it to each other when hanging out, they perpetuate the casual acceptance of women as objects, gay men as anathema. They also play the lackeys by consuming whatever drivel their heroes spit out--in their fandom they cut their own balls by accepting rather than challenging.

Refusing to break free of a restrictive, deceptive, limiting falsehood of identity means men hurt themselves, hurt their families, hurt their offspring, their communities, their future. As a city firefighter/emergency responder, I have spent over a decade witnessing myriad consequences of the conceptual embodied in fleshy realities--in the form of domestic abuse, absentee/vacated parenting, fatal decisions in name of pride or street cred, and the hundreds of victims of senseless, pointless black male on black male violence. The number of shootings I’ve been to where one, or more, life is ended and several more squandered & ruined, because of a macho posturing--it’s galling and heartbreaking. Rappers hewing to, broadcasting, sanctifying the code becomes the soundtrack of self-genocide. 

                                           * * *

Firefighters... Like lumberjacks with bushy mustaches, red suspenders, and shiny axes--and the simmering homo-social machismo. 

 It’s a traditional job with a supposedly clear identity, having the security of a presumptive norm: The career was all male and all white in many/most US cities for generations. Firefighters of yore were firemen: brave, brawny, noble, sooty. Guys. Not a job for everyone--who runs into a burning building when everyone else is running out? Fair enough--except: false reasoning mis-states what’s essential in the job. Men and women, black, brown, white--it takes someone special to do the job, certainly. But it’s not whiteness, nor maleness, that makes one essentially special.

Racial and gender progress have been painfully slow in most departments--often requiring court orders to open the station doors. Many departments have slight racial mix and far poorer gender ratios. Men of different races may not see eye to eye, trust each other, or get along, but they are, at least, men: He-Man Woman-Hater’s Club in all its glory. Women provided a conceptual shock for firefighters--and for the public. ‘What? Some girl is gonna pull me out of a burning building? Ha!’ 

Typical firefighters (in the sense of Consolidated’s ‘Typical Male’) invest a good deal in maintaining an image of themselves as heroic, stoic, macho, competent, unflappable strong men. I first became interested in the Mpls Fire Dept via several female firefighters I knew. Only after I met more people did I realize the degree to which the women, no matter their skills and competencies, were marginalized, dismissed, vilified. Men were uncomfortable and, rather than admitting they had things to learn, clammed up in defensive resentment. It remains psychologically necessary for some/many guys on the job to undermine and trivialize the regular and special achievements by women. Why? To reinforce their delusional status quo. The same fireground tactics by a woman will be riddled with scorn, criticism, or mockery--and a guy’s actions will be the work of a ‘real fireman’ or an example of someone ‘doing what had to be done.’

I got hired in a deluge of diversity (which still netted, unsurprisingly, far more than enough white men like myself) at the turn of this century. Minneapolis is/was relatively progressive as a city and a fire department, but neither are without big issues. MFD’s diversity was result of 30-year Federal injunction: hiring freeze & wave of retirements of Vietnam-era firefighters (overwhelmingly white males) put the department well understaffed. Fire Chief told Mayor, let me hire, I’ll solve the overtime & budget issues AND I’ll solve the diversity issues. She said Go; he said OK, and here we are. 

The rank and file were predictably resistant to having enforced diversity. The bristling resentment of ‘unqualified’ minorities and women of all stripes was rampant in many quarters. A collective narrative of end-days was spun from the mighty Lazy-Boy arm chairs across the cities: ‘She couldn’t even lift the axe...’ ‘He can’t read but he’s connected to that black guy downtown...’ ‘She can’t even reach the rope--pathetic.’ The need for reassurance and perpetuation of patently untrue myths (black men’s racism, illiteracy, shiftlessness; white women’s weakness and conniving; black women’s utter Otherness...) drives this toxic hot air into both Scripture and paranoia. 

Within this cauldron of boiling resentment, rancid racial and gender pride, and impotence, it is an easy step to Fidelity Tests. A (white) man who liked working with women, or who who wasn’t oppressed with African-American crew members was, sadly, suspect. A race & gender traitor. With a new generation arriving to give the old guard reactionaries ample grist for their beer-hall tears, the specter of a gay firefighter arose. Now, there had/have been the same number of closeted gay firefighters as closeted any-other-sort of workers for however long. Them’s the odds. But an actual queer?! As with the rap world, the incredulous gossip became hysteria (too shitty to register merely as the hysterical irony it is: Rooms full of leather-daddy looking guys who prefer male bonding to their wives’ company getting their panties in a bundle over the threat of an actual out gay co-worker). And it was vile: ‘No way that fucker is sleeping in the dorm with me.’ ‘I’d let him die in a fire.’ ‘Hell, I’d shut the door and pull out the line.’ 

The need to scapegoat, to witch-hunt (queer-bait?) reflects a group need to maintain surface order: If HE is that, & he is not us, then WE are not that. Phew, everybody’s safely hetero now. By running from one suspect to the next among the new hires, the gossiping queens--I mean, the Real American Heroes--could perpetuate a parlor game or a fantasy draft, rather than looking at what they were actually scared of. Instead of admitting that a woman, a minority, a gay man could adequately do the job, the white men clung together, throwing one hyperbolic injustice up after another. Predictably, a good many of the new hires leapt to join the safe haven of gratuitous entitlement: if all it took to gain acceptance of these hard-eyed men was white skin, a cock, and antipathy toward all of Them, a great many newbies had an easy choice. Many of them felt the same bigotry, too, but, by 1999, the rest of society had progressed more than within the atavistic fire station caves.

Speaking of which, there have been out gay cops for at least fifteen years, so why no openly gay firefighters? Or, even, so why the overkill homophobic hysteria? Most guys say it’s because of our shift work--we live together for twenty-four or forty-eight hours at a time--and particularly the sleeping arrangements. That is such a threadbare, pathetic rationalization--beyond the reductive slur that gay men would be predatory in the dorms--and so hypocritical from a bunch of self-aggrandizing, homoerotically obsessed macho men. The banter is coarse, crass, and callous around the stations. Cruising the streets on the rigs, there is a constant adolescent narrative and barely suppressed catcalling whenever the crews pass women. Male bonding is fraught with really dubious iterations (groups of guys watching porn together; drunken wrestling; nude poker) that are laughable in contrast to the expressed fear or ‘principled’ objection to homosexuality. 

I wonder at these similarities between rappers and firefighters with this extension of compulsory heterosexuality into hyper-macho caricature. The creation and reinforcement of an identity that’s both inaccurate and fraudulent, yet which is posited somehow as an essential trait, it is so laborious to maintain, so barely able to remain propped up (how much willful denial must occur). With very little scrutiny, the illusion collapses. Yet before the collapse, how many people’s lives are significantly ill-effected? From the men who live twisted lives to protect/fulfill these bloated types, to the women used as pawns, props, beards so the guys can maintain their postures, to the young men and women--boys and girls, really--whose minds are imbued with the false rhetoric of the insecure. For, at root, an easy solution exists: Don’t Believe the Hype.