Tuesday, August 16, 2011

making friends

You may have heard this story. It's one of my favorites.

2005 was a dry year, by which I mean I didn't date anyone and I was going a little stir-crazy trying to fill the time. I took a lot of awesome classes, including many months of ceramics in Palo Alto.

One of the students was named Randy, and he wasn't strictly a student because he was about as good, if not as encyclopedic, as the teacher. He made beautiful, beautiful work: I have one of his bowls, and I'm looking forward to having a place to put it. It's thin and light, perfectly formed, with a stunning sparkly blue glaze that he developed himself.

Randy is also an abalone diver. Abalone is a large (more than a pound) mollusk that lives off the Califoria coast. They're severely restricted due to over-harvesting, because once you slice them into half-inch steaks and pound them with a hammer for ten minutes, they're delicious. You can only harvest a few each season per person, and it's illegal to wear scuba gear when harvesting, so you free-dive down with a special prybar. You have to surprise the abalone when you pry it off its rock, or else it clamps down and it's all blood and badness and using up the precious oxygen you have carried in your lungs, down there in the water with all the tidal currents and sharp rocks of the California coast.

Abalone divers are insane.

Randy and I got on well, and he invited me to a campout on Memorial Day Weekend with a bunch of abalone diver families who had been gathering for years. They were all insane, too.

There were a few guys nearer my age, in their early twenties. Friendly bunch. One of them was playing with pouring diesel fuel on the fire. (Diesel burns rather than exploding like gasoline, so while this is very male, it's not as bad as it could be. Somehow, women never find this reassuring.) We were getting along just fine, but they'd known each other their entire lives, and I was the new guy.

After a few more beers, Diesel Fuel Kid starts throwing a hatchet at a stump a ways from the fire, and not hitting it. The others tried too, with failure after failure. (What are they teaching these kids in school?)

Finally, I think. something I'm good at!

(I'm not sure if I'd ever thrown a hatchet before that moment. I had thrown knives, and I knew that hatchets were often easier. They've got a good weight to them, and the spin is easier to control. Ask me sometime, I'll show you.)

I judged it in my hand a few times to get a feel for it.


That broke the ice in just the right way.

I haven't spent much of my life being good at normal guy things. But if you're with the right people, you can do amazingly well being the guy who has a couple of beers and then throws an axe 15 feet into a log on the first try.

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