Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Until We Meet Again, Mom Part 1

My mom in her younger years
I wanted to write about my mother at the time of her funeral but I just couldn't because the whole thing was just too unreal, the feelings too raw and recent. Three years have passed and I wanted to tell the world what a special lady she was. Probably, my words won't do that much justice and certainly one blog will never suffice but here goes.

Because I knew I would spend this memorial weekend with my girlfriend's family all the way over in Georgia, I visited my mom's grave the week before. It was a fun weekend. When I, saw this family having so much fun and showing so much love for one another, my mind drifted often to my mother.

Words that come to mind were selfless service, peacemaker, forgiving, sacrifice and love.   On the four hour drive back to Atlanta, I saw several things that reminded me of her.

One of the things I saw was a Cracker Barrel. That was one of the restaurants she used to take me and my sister to. It seems like a simple thing but for a woman with a fixed income of just over $500 per month, it's quite the sacrifice. Math says, on a $50 meal, it's one tenth of your income. Often she would save for months to throw a birthday party. It isn't until now that I realize the size of the sacrifice.
Our family Christmas party one week before I lost my hands

Another thing I saw was a car next to us with a Pennsylvania license plate. At a quick glance, it may seem like coincidence. From my perspective, the chances of a car with Pennsylvania plates driving in the middle of the night all the way in Southern Georgia at the same time that I was thinking of her was a sign. It reminded of her lowly upbringing as a foster child who had nothing but despite that, turned out so giving. There's one power that explains it, love.

Then a song by DRS talking about homies who have passed on starts blaring over the radio. "I tip my 40 to your memories..." Some of the passengers began talking about their passed homies. I'm thinking of my greatest homie ever. She was loyal and always there for me.

Then all of a sudden 'dear mama' by Tupac comes on. One previously obscure line in the song, stands out to me like never before. It goes, "all my childhood memories are full of the sweet things you did for me." Normally that line doesn't have much significance but for me, I've been trying to write a blog about my mother and write all my childhood memories and there are too many to write. My childhood memories are beyond full of the sweet things she did for me.

I wish she could have stuck around for my special smoked ribs. I didn't learn that recipe until after her passing.  She would have loved and bragged about them forever. She was my biggest fan and favorite cheerleader.

The first memory coming to my head, of my mother, is her picking me up from cleaning the theater. She had just punched out of her job at cleaning the ZCMI mall in downtown SLC and was driving the car with these white gloves. The plan was for her to drive over to the theater where I was helping my dad clean theaters and take me home. I would talk a lot to myself in my head, as a child, and still do. As I rode home with my mother, one of the conversations I had was a debate about why my mother was soooo nice and my father soooo mean. This lead to a conspiracy theory (you may or may not have noticed I come up with a lot of them) that my mom was my actual mom and my dad was adopted. I remember that night the feeling of love for my mom being so strong that I was love faded or high off of love. My brain was actually tingling. The white gloves stood out to me for some strange reason.

When she was working at the ZCMI mall as a janitor, mom would take us downtown often. One of her favorite treats to get us was a macadamia white chocolate chip cookie with this humongous white chocolate chip on top. When warmed up, i remember these cookies being absolutely delicious. She would also give us an allowance of 40 cents per week. I remembered going to the bank with her while she would cash her check and get change for all of us.

I remember a story, where one of my siblings was crying that he wanted a toy. My mother didn't have enough money to buy it but she loved to make us happy. Eventually, she did the wrong thing and shoplifted that toy for the crying sibling. She got caught. I don't remember the consequences but I do know that her love for her children and desire to make her kids happy was her highest priority.

Later on, she became diabetic from a prescription medication that destroyed her kidneys. Because of that, she lost her license and her kids became her personal Uber service. There was a house near by that had a drainage problem at the front curb because a section of their curb had sunk. Anytime they turned on their sprinkler, or it rained, or snowed, that sunken curb spot would build up a huge puddle. When I would give my mom a ride by that puddle I would put her passenger side tire in that puddle and splash that water on to the sidewalk. She would laugh and say, "Oh Sam!! You're silly!"

Her kidneys got worse and she needed dyalisis. As I would drive her around she would always buy me a Gatorade, herself a diet Pepsi, my sister a Gatorade and even the dogs got jerky sticks, even though it was a super sacrifice. I learned an important lesson from that. Her example taught me to be considerate of those around me. I try to be like her and if I'm in a group and want a treat, I try to make sure everybody gets a treat. 

This simple song reminds me of her:

“Give,” said the little stream,
“Give, oh, give! Give oh, give!”
“Give,” said the little stream,
As it hurried down the hill;
“I’m small, I know, but wherever I go
The fields grow greener still.”

Singing, singing all the day,
“Give away, oh! give away.”
Singing, singing all the day,
“Give, oh! give away.”

“Give,” said the little rain,
“Give, oh! give, give, oh! give.”
“Give,” said the little rain,
As it fell upon the flow’rs;
“I’ll raise their drooping heads again,”
As it fell upon the flow’rs.

Singing, singing all the day,
“Give away, oh! give away.”
Singing, singing all the day,
“Give, oh! give away.”

Give, then, as Jesus gives,
Give, oh! give, give, oh! give.
Give, then, as Jesus gives;

There is something all can give.
Do as the streams and blossoms do:
For God and others live.

Singing, singing all the day,
“Give away, oh! give away.”
Singing, singing all the day,
“Give, oh! give away.”

Although she was going through these trials, she always greeted people with a warm smile. Just like the song above, she would make the places she would go "greener still!" I think that is where I got that trait from. The church that we go to was "greener!" Even a place as miserable as the dialysis center, was "greener!"

Mom wasn't loud. She wasn't boisterous. She had little money. This didn't mean she wasn't powerful. If an effect on people's lives can be judged by the amount of people at their funeral, she was powerful beyond measure.
I actually wrote one verse in a rap song about her. You can hear it in this YouTube video at about 9:14 but here's the lyrics:
From the day I was conceived her body took a jolt/
Before I formed a heart we shared the same pulse/
Nine months in the womb she was my lifeline/
Continues to be throughout my lifetime/
Step out of line pops beat me up/
She broke it up with enough is enough/
And a cast iron pan raised in the air/
I guess she'd seen more than she could bare/
A planet sheltering her moons from an anger fueled sun/
If no one believed in me, I knew there was mums/
She never expects less than my best/
My mother made sure that love lined the nest/
Made the most with less and kicks from Payless/
Hamburger Helper and a warm place to rest/
As the sun sets and she approaches death/
She never give up She live on in my chest

Mom's favorite thing was to see her children happy. She loved the holidays, hugging her children, and hugging her grand children. Her recipes for carrot cake, turkey stuffing, zucchini bread, and trifle are super delicious because of one ingredient not written on any paper, love! Again, gifts from her to some may seem small, she often gave $20-$40, but they amounted to a huge percentage of her income. With five grand children and four children, it added up quickly to nearly two fifths of her income. It didn't matter to her though, her happiness came from giving.

She also was forgiving. One time I was pushing her in a wheelchair up the chapel sidewalk. It was icy and there was snow on the ground. I had my hooks on the handles and needed to pick up momentum. So I began a slow jog behind her chair. The right tire hit a huge chunk of ice which caused me to tip
the chair and she fell out of the chair. She could have got mad but she laughed. Mom would forgive in an instant.

I love this picture to the right. Over my shoulder is a picture of Jesus Christ. If our goal in this life is to become like him, she was the person that closest approached what I believe Christ was like. If I can be like her, I think I will be in good shape.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Boy Scouts and Bear Lake

"I wish dad would have taken us to the mountains more when we were growing up." laments my younger brother.

It's around 11:30pm. My brother and I are roommates in a hotel in Colorado. We are laying on our beds, in the dark. The next morning is a competition. These long arguments or "discussions" have become somewhat routine during our competition trips.

"The mountains were too expensive. That's why Polynesian people don't do those kinds of sports." I retorted.

On our first trip as roommates we argued until 3am in the morning and then got up at 6:30am to get ready to race. We are both headstrong and would relentlessly try and get in the last word. Sometimes I would disagree with his opinion just to make him angry.  I think he might have been doing the same thing.

"There's always a way. There's always some applications for financial aid. They should have researched it. Plus, I think Poly people just don't want to do outdoor stuff. They like basketball and football." he responds while rolling from his belly to his side.

A lot of times the "discussions" are regarding race. Many times we talk about growing up. When these "discussions" began, our voices and tones sometimes had force and anger. Now we're more quiet and always come to the conclusion that we are different people entitled to a difference of opinions.

"You forget there was no Internet back then. You couldn't just Google 'financial assistance for poor people and outdoor recreation. I think that Poly people just never had the opportunity to do that stuff so how could they like it? Plus basketball and football is seen as a way to escape poverty. You don't see anybody escape poverty in rock climbing." I retorted while staring blankly at the ceiling like I could see a window into the past.

At the time of this discussion I didn't remember any outdoor experiences except the time my dad took us to the ski resort. He was working as a bus driver and drove the route that took skiers into the mountains. So he became a little familiar with the resorts and took us up there for a break. I remember we were all bundled up and got out of the car. We looked for ten minutes and left.
To my brother, it was probably like taking a kid to a candy store and then leaving without buying them anything because you couldn't afford it. To me, it was like taking me to a cold foreign country that spoke a language that I couldn't even begin to understand. I couldn't  fathom enjoying because nothing, from the clothes people wore to the way people talked, was familiar. I was just longing to get back to something familiar like sledding, Nintendo or hookie-bobbing.

Now that I think about it we did have a few great-outdoor experiences. I remember some that had no monetary cost like pulling over by a river or canal near the mouth of a Canyon and jumping into the deep cold rushing waters. Some costed money like the time I went on a week long Boy Scout camp to Bear Lake with Troop 811.

Recently I had the chance to go to Bear Lake Aquatics Base again, as an adult leader for that a same troop. Bear Lake is located on the northern border of Utah. It's different than most other lakes in that it's different shades of blue leave one wondering if you are in Hawaii or the Caribbean. This is why they call it the Caribbean of the Rockies. It's so clear you can generally see the bottom.
The trip brought back a lot of nostalgic memories for me. My first trip there, I was somewhere between 13-15 years old. I don't remember how much it costed but I do know that I was scared to ask my dad if I could go. 

As a young man, I was always ill prepared for camping trips with the scouts. It wasn't because I was trying to disregard the scout motto of, 'be prepared.' My sleeping bags were very thin with broken zippers. Usually the sleeping bags were supplemented with blankets. I used garbage bags as backpacks. Luckily, Bear Lake in the summer is warm. I don't remember being cold except in the water.

As an adult at this camp, I had better equipment. My sleeping bag is awesome! It's called a sleeping pill and it has vents so you can adjust the temperature of the bag. I also have a nice headlamp. My backpack/garbage bag has been upgraded to a suitcase. The only thing missing for me is a good sleeping pad. I slept in a pretty hard ground for the first two days. Luckily the Bishop, my ecclesiastical leader for my church, Bishop DeMoux left me his air mattress and I slept like a baby the last three days.
One of the worst memories of that camp, back in the eighties, was the showers and the toilets. The showers didn't have any privacy and the toilets were an outhouse with toilet seats on deep holes with the strong smell of ammonia. I learned they are called a kaebo. In fact, I didn't want to use either but that very thing caused me to need to do both. I held in a number one so long that I had an accident and while in the kaebo, I decided the best thing to do was to throw the underwear in the hole. (lol-ing right now)

I hadn't planned on taking a shower but after the outhouse accident, I needed to go investigate the shower house. It was very reminiscent of the junior high school showers except at the junior high we just showered by wetting our upper bodies and kept a towel on over our shorts but there was nobody doing that plus my bottom needed cleaning the most. To add to all that, the water was not hot, nor was it warm, it was cold.

Most of those things have changed at that camp, thanks to generous donors. There are private showers. They have hot water. Well, it fluctuates between hot, scalding and cool depending how near you are to the water heater and how many people are using the showers (hahahahahaha).
One thing that hasn't changed is the toilets. They are still the same stinky little kaebos. At least I'm not shoveling a hole and getting bit by mosquitoes while squatting in the woods like the summer of 2014.

Despite the Kaebos and showers, as a young man, this camping trip was one of my favorite scout camps in my life. Because of it I became familiar with things I never could have at home. I developed a love and familiarity for Bear Lake that would help me share the experience with my brother and sisters. We never went to Disneyland or Disney World but we could definitely afford the two hour drive to Bear Lake.

I remember being intimidated by the swimming test they had at the camp but because it was required to do other activities, I was motivated to give it a try. The water is cold in the testing area which adds another dimension to the test. I attempted a few times and was only able to pass half the test. It was only a half victory but it gave me confidence to try again and pass the test later.
As a 39 year old, I retook that test and the confidence I obtained from long ago had been increased to the point that the test was easy. During that test in the summer of 2015, I remembered and could see myself swimming my little heart out as a teenager. At the same time, I was encouraging the young scouts I was with to pass the test. As an adult, I could see how it would benefit them. Some of them, I brought down to the test several times to try the test and became their loudest cheerleader.
When the young ones passed, I noticed a confidence in their step and swim stroke. It was awesome!
Flashing back to when I was a boy, I remember many of the badges costing $10 to $50. I had come to the camp with no cash. As a younger boy, I got all my badges in Cub Scouts but when I became a Boy Scout, I became disinterested in Boy Scouts. So, I really didn't care too much for badges. My leaders paid for my Archery class and they had a snorkeling class that you could earn a patch for free. I signed up for that.

One of the requirements of the snorkeling class was that I had to dive down and pick up this huge rock and bring it to the surface. I remember hearing the instructions from the camp counselor and thinking, "say that again, what do you want me to do?" Back in those days though, I was a shy child and so I didn't say those thoughts audibly. When my turn came, I swam towards the rock, expelling the air from my snorkel. Time felt like it slowed down and I felt like I was swimming in slow motion. I got the rock and swam to the surface. After that, although I am not a professional snorkeler,  I became a huge fan of snorkeling. The familiarity with the sport has allowed me to snorkel in Hawaii, Samoa, Jamaica, Cayman Islands and Mexico.

As one of the leaders of the boys I wanted to help the boys get familiar with something new. As they passed the swim test, we decided to sign up for an hour of tubing. They had a blast and it was a great reward for passing the swim test. We had a contest to see who could stay on the tube the longest. I teamed up with one of the boys and we hung on to the tube the longest. Check out the video here. (coming soon)

Like I mentioned before, after an illustrious Cub Scout career in which I got all the badges, I lost interest in scouting. Although I didn't participate much, I am grateful for the Boy Scouts of America program. It gave me, a teen from a low-income family, experiences that I would have never been afforded. I gained a lot of base knowledge in a lot of topics that would help me later on in life. It also gave me respect for the limited resource of the great outdoors.

Without the Boy Scout program I wouldn't have the great memories from the difficulty of the swim test, fear of the snorkeling rock, stealing the flag games in the wilderness, etc. Most importantly, I wouldn't have felt the confidence that came from achieving those specific difficult challenges at that camp. Later on in life, I would be able to repeat that process over and over with changing circumstances like missing limbs.

Now don't get me wrong, it wasn't just because of the Boy Scouts of America but the program is an excellent place to challenge young men to achieve. To that I give my phantom Scout salute!

During the camp, I met a young Polynesian kid. He reminded me of myself. I saw his backpack, a garbage bag. He didn't have much of sleeping bag. Our troop played Steal the Flag and I invited him to come play. He asked to take a picture with me on my phone.
Someday, I know he will look back and remember all his experiences at camp. He'll also remember the other Polynesian guy, the one with no hands.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Help! An Amputee at the Waterpark!

 On Monday, August 18, the No-Handed Bandit hit the water park with his niece and nephew, from henceforth I will call them niblings (non-gender plural form for niece and nephew). It wasn't the first time to a water park and it won't be the last. I have a water park season pass and I hadn't used it this year plus I wanted to spend time with my niece and nephew before they hit the rebellious years. Funny because some of the things they learned from me probably weren't good things.

It started off as we came into the parking lot. Now mind you, a lot of what I'm about to say is not fact but opinion. This water park is in Provo and I find it fascinating that as a very conservative town, they have a ton of regulation. One of the regulations I despise is the streets that surround the water park are a no parking zone. This pretty much forces you to park in the water park's parking lot. The cost to park there is $7. If you know me, you know I don't mind telling people my opinion. So as we pull up to the parking lot attendant's window, which just happens to be conveniently located in my side, I pay him the money. He says his thank you and then I say, "Thank you," and a medium pause and then burst out, "For ripping me off!" My sister, who is driving, puts the foot on the gas and zooms away while we are laughing out loud. I don't know if that was a good thing to teach my niblings and they probably think I'm crazy but the latter is very likely.

After entering the park, we find a little spot to lay are stuff. My sister is very pregnant so she won't be able to ride many rides. She will be spending a lot of time on a chair or in the wave pool. The kids will be running around with their crazy uncle, who will not be wearing prosthetics, and our first matter of business is renting tubes. This always introduces the question, where do we put the wrist band? I'm usually propping my leg up on the counter while suggesting they put it around the ankle. This time the band is too skinny but my niece suggests they put two bands on her arm. It works.

Our second mission, we decided to get wet in the wave pool. My sister joined us. I took my tube and was flipping, rolling and bouncing off it. At times, the tube was right side up and other times it was  upside down. Suddenly I hear a whistle. The life guard is yelling at me to turn the tube so the handles are up. I asked, "Why?" He replied, "Because people drown when the handles are upside down." I can be a smart-aleck at times. This was one of those times. I replied, putting my arms in the air, "What does it matter? I can't grab the handles anyway! I got no hands!" He said, "Just flip the tube over." While giggling, I comply.

Provo is a very homogeneous town. Again, that's my opinion. To me, there aren't too many people who think outside of the box there. Or if they do they don't let it show and I believe it is because there is a fear of being different. From the 2010 census, the city is 84.8% Caucasian. A stat from the year 2000 taken by the Association of Religion Data Archives says Provo is 98% Latter Day Saint or "Mormon". Now, if you add in the fact that we are in an expensive water park, that makes it even more homogeneous considering that poverty rates of minorities are higher and they won't be as likely to be able to afford the water park.

At this point you may be wondering, "Now what in the world does all this have to do with being an amputee at the water park?" Ok, I'm getting to the point right now, LOL. I am a "Mormon" or a Latter Day Saint but other than that there isn't very much more that I have in common with the population inside the water park. In what seems like sea of blonde hair and blue eyed-people, a tall, tan guy with no hands is standing out like a sore thumb. Naturally people are staring, pointing and whispering at an alarming rate in my vicinity. I can imagine now how self-conscious an injured zebra might feel while surrounded by a pack of laughing hyena. 

I really had never felt so self-conscious in my whole amputee life. Every other time where a normal person would have felt self-conscious, I have been able to block it out. Usually, a simple smile breaks the ice and everybody is chill but the smile wasn't working and I couldn't figure out why. Thinking back on it, I'm chalking it up to the homogeneity in handling a disfigured person. The worst way, to me, for people to handle it is for the kids to be told and signaled to, "shhhhhh and don't look." My problem with that is it takes away my secret weapon, my smile. To add to the conundrum, I'm not wearing prosthetics and the prosthetic arms generally brings the "cooooool" reaction from most little boys.

Our first ride we go on is a multi-lane race slide called, Avalanche Mat Racer. For the ride, one must retrieve a mat at the bottom of the ride and carry it up to the start. When on the ride, one must lay or sit on the mat while the descend in a race to the finish. Just our luck, there is no line for the mats. We go on the ride relatively fast and at the bottom, people are waiting in line for their turn with the mats. While walking to the people in line, I let the niblings know I beat them and ask if they want to go again. We all agree to go again.

As we approach the people waiting for a mat, I see people that had just slid with us just keep their mats and go ascend to the beginning of the ride. I consciously say to my niece and nephew in a bellowing voice, "Let's give our mats to the people waiting and get in the back of the line." 

One thing I learned as a child was a thing called, "sharing". You may have heard of it and try to pass it on to my niblings. It goes along closely with respect and not thinking you are better or above anybody else. I remember when playing Nintendo with my siblings, we would give each other the controller after even one guy died or one guy passed a level. My father taught us that vocally and sometimes forcefully. When playing basketball or football, he taught us that almost subconsciously. He made a big deal about making sure everybody gets to score points or gets to touch the ball. I believe that to be a cultural thing. Samoans want everybody to join in on the fun.

Contrast that with what I learned, as an eight-year-old, at a sleepover at my elementary school friend Andy Brimhall. We were playing Mike Tyson's Punch Out on his Nintendo. He takes a turn and gets his character knocked out on the game. To my utter disbelief, he keeps the controller. "Ok, that's fine. Maybe they will just play their three guys and then let the others have a turn in a fair and systematic fashion," is what I'm thinking. Well, I was wrong. After he got all his guys knocked out, he just said, "I want to try again." Somehow the way these guys were raised up is that the more assertive you are the better. Well, I wasn't raised that way and so my passive self got to play one time that day and my turn only lasted until my guy got one TKO.

Fast forward back to the water park as an adult amputee. My niblings and I are waiting at the back of the line for mats. Three young men, just finished with the ride, decide they are taking their mats and skipping the people waiting for a mat to go back on the ride. I was angered by this but held it in. The man in front of the mat line says, "Hey, bring those mats over here." The boys come over and one starts complaining, "Oh so it doesn't matter that we had to wait ten minutes for these."

For me, it's one thing to have been caught red handed and sheepishly give up your mat with a laugh but to complain like it's your right to keep the mat because you had to wait before, that just sets my temper aflame. Plus, the fact that these younger guys were talking back to a father who was trying to get his kids a mat to slide on didn't help my temper either. As a young child we were thought to respect our elders. 

"What did you say?", I bellowed. I already knew what they said. They started to speak and I said at a higher than normal volume, "I don't care if you had to wait ten minutes for your tubes! Haven't you ever read the Book of Mormon where King Benjamin said to treat everybody fair!" Always grasping for something familiar in this teaching moment, I took a highly educated assumption that they were Mormon. Well what do you know, one of the young men's says the most aggravating words one can say to me when I'm angry, "calm down."

I think I've written about my father's angry eyes but just in case I haven't, my dad had one key indicator that something you may have done has gotten you into the no turn back zone of his ire, his eyes. If any cartoon could describe it, it would be the one where the pupils of the angry eyes become a nuclear explosion! As my brother attests to, I had the highest rate of talking back to my father of all my siblings. When I got in the ire zone, that was when I knew I was getting the belt, a broom, or anything he could get his hands on. Upon retrospect, that was partially where I learned respect but also I learned something bad. I learned, subconsciously, respect by physical or vocal force was normal procedure. 

Combine this force with an irritation with unfairness and you get me before the accident. After the accident, I became more likely to tell people about my feelings. Unfortunately for a while it was always in a more aggressive and hostile voice. I've been working with my psychologist on being more assertive than aggressive but in this occasion I was more aggressive.

In a Stone Cold Steve Austin voice, I said, "WHAT!" He replies, "Ok, Ok. Calm down." I told him, as I walked within striking distance, which happens to be very, very close when I'm not wearing my prosthetics, "I'm not going to calm down. You want me to elbow you in your head?" Of course you might be able to guess what he said, "Calm down." Luckily, I was able to regain control of my anger and get my mat and walk away.

While in the line with my niblings, I had feelings of regret and sorrow for the explosion of anger. I also feel shame for being a bad example for my niblings. One thing I've learned to do though, is let that sorrow help me to think about and see what I can do better in that situation. Then I've learned not to let that sorrow drag me into depression. So while in line I mentioned to one of the passing lifeguards that they definitely should have a lifeguard watching the line making sure that everybody shared their mats. He didn't do anything about it. At that point I just could either let it go or go talk to the managers. I decided to let it go and like most things when I let it go people around me, this time my niblings, let it go.

Now, my family and I had to get to the business of rides. I had gone to the water park in 2014 but just rode all the rides without actually looking at the rules. A year later and a little more conscious of the "rules" against amputees, I began to read the "rules." Many of the rules state if you are a using a prosthetic device, you will not be allowed on the ride. I feel bad for those using prosthetic legs because they are often not allowed on many rides because if they took off their prosthetics they would have to hop up stairs on one leg. At the same time I'm mindful that a lot of people working at these places, aren't educated or familiar with amputees and might be confused on the difference between no prosthetics allowed on the ride and no amputees on the ride. Most amusement parks I have to be ready to get to the front of a line and not be allowed on the ride or have an explanation of the difference between using a prosthetic device and just being an amputee. After all the anxiousness of thinking about what to say if questioned or stopped and sent back, I was let on the Cave-In ride with no questions asked.

The next ride we decided to try was the Vortex, a ride some people call the toilet bowl. We trade in our single tubes for a triple tube and head over. While walking over to the ride, I explain to my niblings that they may not let me on the ride. We jump in line to the ride, the lifeguard approaches us. My heart rate rises. He says, "You can't ride the Vortex with a triple." With I sigh with relief, I suggest we go on the ride next to the Vortex, the Boomerang. They agree.

Again waiting in a long line to get turned back can be disappointing but the alternate, warning management that you are an amputee that is coming to the park, can create problems too. Calling ahead, can get you disqualified for most rides before you even start. The infamous rule is three points of contact. I have had the best success rates of getting on rides has been the element of surprise. I know a lot of amputees who aren't allowed on rides but in my opinion this shouldn't be a question of how to restrict adults from rides. It should be to find out ways to help amputee adults ride safely. Also, I wouldn't mind signing a waiver to ride rides that I deem safe. The only exception would be if I was going to hurt someone.

My niblings and I make it to the front of the line and we decide I should be on the front of the triple tube because I'm the heaviest. The attendent let us ride, no questions asked. My niblings probably didn't know how steep that ride was going to be. At the end of the day, my niece said that was her favorite ride.

Now we take our triple tube and head to the ride called Shotgun Falls. As we approach the front of the line, I start reading the rules. A couple of them catch my attention. One falls under, "The following persons may not ride this ride:
*Guests whose health or physical condition could be affected by this ride
*Guests with braces, casts, or prosthetic limbs
Add that to the rule, "Hold onto the handles at all times." I was really concerned about this ride. To my surprise, no questions were asked and the lady even said have a good ride.

In our triple tube, we descended quickly. At the bottom of the ride is a long runway with deeper water to slow down the tube. Now here's where that rule of holding on to the handle all times comes into play. A short lesson in physics should demonstrate what happens next. Newton's first law of motion says, "An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force." 

During the ride, the tube and the riders are the objects in motion. The water at the bottom Provides the  unbalanced force, in this case friction. I was not holding onto the tube so I was disconnected from the mass that was being acted upon. While the tube stopped underneath me, my mass continued to be an object in motion. I went forward about two feet, while the forces that slowed me down were gravity and then friction. 

It would have been more dangerous if I was on the back because I would have smacked into my niblings. At the same time, it was a blast. I was laughing and telling and listening to stories with my niblings the whole way to the tube exchange. 

We exchanged our triple tube for one double tube for the niblings and a single tube for me. The Vortex, had a surprise waiting for us in the line and his name was Joseph. Now Joseph was the little boy just ahead of us in line. He was very talkative to the red-headed girl he was with, who I assume was a relative. I initiated a conversation with him by asking, "You ready for the ride?" Joseph began telling me all the intricacies of the ride. He wanted to come out of the Vortex facing the front. 

When he saw my residual limbs with missing hands, our conversation stopped. Joseph went up to the red-headed girl. I could see him point and whisper, "That guy has no hands." At that moment, I changed the subject by pointing at a pigeon, and speaking aloud, "Look that pigeon is gonna poop!" Hahahaha the old change the subject technique, which I have become a master of, worked again. Joseph started yelling at his mom, "Look mom a pigeon!" Then the pigeon flew away.

We began our conversation again when I asked, "Is that your mom?" I found out he was from England but he had lost his accent. I asked him to check my British accent if it's correct. As I attempted to a British accent, it kept coming out Australian. He advised me that I should have his mom check my British impersonation. The wait on the line went by fast during our time consuming conversation. 

Soon, Joseph was loading up on his tube for the ride but before he left, he said, "OK Sam I'm going to wait for you down at the bottom." A good feeling came over me. My niblings went first. Sure enough, Joseph was down there waiting for me to come out the Vortex. He was very impressed that I came out forward, LOL. We exchanged pleasantries and I gave him my version of the high-five, the high elbow bash.

That was the end of our rides. My sister didn't want to stay long. We did hit the wave pool one more time and try out my waterproof Galaxy S5.

I hope that by reading this blog, people can learn about some struggles an amputee may go through at an amusement park. Also, I hope my niblings learned a little bit of good things from me. I hope they may have learned that although I lost control of my anger, it's good to stand up for fairness. It would also be great if they have learned to make new friends or at least be cordial to people. Another thing they might benefit from is learning to forgive yourself after making a mistake. Most of all I hope they learned to smile and have fun in any situation!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Almost On Top of the World: Part 6 of When Limbs Break a Tree Calls onIt's Roots for Strength

My life had made a full 180 degree turn. In December 2007 I was this sniveling mess of a man, begging for the attention of a cheating wife, who couldn't afford to go anywhere or do anything. Including my PT Cruiser, that I had bought to try and win the woman back, I had rallied up a debt of near $80,000. My credit cards  were all maxed out just trying to win her love and I was fighting for a relationship that the other party had abandoned several months ago. 

Three years later, I had finally come out of that funk. I was going places that I had always dreamed of like New York City,
San Diego
and to top it off my college team, the Utah State University Aggies, had beaten our big brother rivals, Brigham Young University, in football.
The woman I had married was now an ex-wife. It had finally occured to me that I wasn't in love with her, just who I thought she was. That meant I could allow myself to move on.

Excluding the scary experience I had had at work, (see part 5 of when a trees limb breaks it calls on its roots for strength) everything in my life was now in order. The hunt for my "REAL" eternal partner in crime (an expression for wife not a confession of crime plans)  was in full swing and I was searching high and low. This weekend my hunt would take me to Atlanta, Georgia.

Ecclesiastes or, the Preacher 
1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 
7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 
8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

This scripture comes to mind when I think about a humans ability to compartmentalize their lives. Compartmentalizing my feelings was something I learned to do at an early age. When I was a child, there were a lot of times when I would get spanked and cry and then in the next moment I was expected to be over it. In fact sometimes my dad would ask, in the middle of a beating, the rhetorical question because of how loud we were crying, "Do you want to cry?" My gut reaction was, "Yes, yes in fact I do want to cry." Luckily I didn't go with my gut but rather with my mind reading skills which told me, "He's asking that question because if I don't stop crying then he's going to give me a reason to cry."

As a youth I compartmentalized nearly everything with the corporal encouragement of my dad. If it was time to be sleeping, I had better be sleeping or else. I even remember getting spanked for not being asleep when I actually was sleeping. It was the strangest thing to wake up to a sore bottom with only having remembered a faint dream about getting spanked.

When it was time to have fun, I really had fun like there was no tomorrow. When it was time to play football, I did it like nothing else mattered on the planet. If I was time to play basketball, everything was forgotten except basketball.

I compartmentalized the scary incident that happened on Thursday December 9, 2010 and went into dating mode. Dating mode, to me, is where I get to know someone enough to see whether I like them enough to get into a serious exclusive relationship. I consider a date to be any activity where I'm getting to know somebody. It's not a difficult task to get into dating mode for me. However, getting into that serious exclusive stage is extremely difficult and more rare than a three-toed Pygmy sloth. In my lifetime, I can only say I have been in three relationships. There are a few reasons for this futility and while telling the story of meeting this young woman, who I will call Susan in this blog for anonymity, I will tell you what I have found out about myself.

That Friday, December 10, 2013, we set two light poles, nothing extremely dangerous. By one 'o clock I was driving to Denver International Airport. On a funny side note, by 1:30 pm I was getting a speeding ticket.

As a child, one memory stands out that represents some of the reason why I'm timid when it comes to the opposite sex. (I'm laughing out loud just thinking about it) The neighbor across the street had a trampoline and also a pretty female about my age lived there as well. She would jump on the trampoline often. Her blonde her would bounce in rhythm with each leap she would make. A couple of times she waved at me and smiled. Often, I would kneel with my chin on the window sill, watching her jump on the trampoline.

One day, I was gawking at this neighbor girl and my dad walked in and said jokingly, "What you staring at?  You in love with the girl?" You could insert a sound here of a needle on a record being pushed sideways to explain what just happened. I was busted and ashamed. Later on I remember him mocking me by repeating several times in a short tune, "Samoana is in love," and all of my siblings joining in on the tune.

I know he was joking now but at the time, I was embarrassed. It's not wholly his fault, I was shy all through high school and junior high school. It was a socially awkward time for me, in which when I look back in my journals I can see I was super depressed. In fact the whole idea of putting my lips against someone else's lips grossed me out. People are super surprised when I tell them I never went to prom or any school dances for that matter.

I met Susan on an Internet dating site for Latter Day Saint, or "Mormon", people. I found her pictures to be very cute. We moved our relationship from the dating website to the social media world of Facebook. Eventually I called her. My sense of humor involves a lot of "talking trash" and she was able to hang with me in that arena. I used to call her phone and do my voice impersonations on her voicemail. She had this lisp that and southern accent that I found very attractive. Until this particular weekend in December of 2010, we had never met.

She picked me up from the airport in a GMC Jimmy, which see affectionately called "Jimmy." We had many conversations about our cars, playing as though they had names and personalities. Often I would talk smack about Jimmy over the phone to Susan, just to see if I could get her wound up.

I had devised this whole scheme about meeting Susan for the reason that I had wanted to play her in Monopoly. Really I wanted to get to know her better. I had expected her to read between the lines because a person doesn't fly all the way across the country to play Monopoly, unless it's like the monopoly championship. All of this was a ploy that I had used, finding a 'MacGuffin' if you will, so that I can actually get to some other goal. (a Macguffin was a word Alfred Hitchcock used to describe a plot device or goal that a protagonist uses but it turns out to be unimportant) I used a lot of MacGuffins to avoid being clear and concise and having to say, "I want to get to know you," because I still feel sort of embarrassed to just come out and say what ever it is that I'm feeing towards a girl.

Also, when in need of something to say just resort to the MacGuffin. We didn't have a Monopoly board so I brought it up that we needed one. While on our way, we got pulled over. Jimmy got impounded and we were standing out on the curb, waiting for a ride from one of Susan's relatives.

I know she was very embarrassed about the whole thing. One of my favorite jokes was calling later and asking if Jimmy was on parole yet.

Her relative came and we went to eat at an IHOP or Waffle House, I forget. They dropped me off at my hotel and more fun would ensue the following morning.

Atlanta has a few things to offer, among them is the World of Coke and the largest aquarium in the United States. That's what we did.


You may be asking, "How in the world did Monopoly become the MacGuffin?" Well if you are asking that, I'll explain it. She also professsed to me to be "the Champ" of Monopoly.  I told her how my dad and siblings used to always play Monopoly. I didn't tell her that I always used to come in third but I did challenge her to a game. Throughout all our phone conversations I never said much about how good I was at Monopoly I just let her talk all the crap about it. She claimed she was going to beat me so bad and talked all sorts of trash. Realistically, I didn't think I was going to beat her but I got her to tell me one of her tactics on winning Monopoly and that was that she never did trades.

Saturday night December 11, 2010 this highly anticipated Monopoly game took place. Just like my life at that moment, most things went my way. I got a couple of monopolies and soon she realized she wanted a trade. At that moment, I told her that I was going to use her own strategy on her and not give her any trade at all. 

I had won but life, just like the game of Monopoly, doesn't always go your way. In the game of life, I was on a roll. I had rid myself of $80,000 in debt. I was enjoying getting to know a woman who had potential to be my eternal companion. I was visiting places I had always dreamed of. Little did I know that in two days I would be getting every bad card you could find in the chance pile and mortgaging all my properties. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

DEEEEEE-STRUCTION : Part 7 When a Tree Loses It's Limbs It Calls onIt'sRoots for Strength

My foreman, Larry, had a saying for when things went wrong, "Deeeeee-strucion!" It sounded something like this : . The first time I heard about it they, Larry and our lineman, were talking about a shed the lineman had destroyed. He had been digging next to this shed to put in underground power lines. If you have ever ran a backhoe, you know that some controls can be very sensitive. The lineman had pushed the lever to swing the bucket-arm. "SMAAAAASHHHHH!!!" The bucket, In a tight alley, had swung right into the wall of a shed. I forget what the lineman's name is but i'll call him Jed, short for Jedi. (lol) Jed apologized to Larry. Larry sort of screamed, "DEEEESTRUCION!" in the voice of a monster truck radio advertisement. I don't know if he got it from that or from some old eighties hair band group but whenever things got smashed up or broken either Jed or Larry would exclaim, "DEEEEEESTRUCTION!!"

I have some pictures of what the official Sturgeon, the subcontractor company I was working for, incident report. I hope they aid in the storytelling.

December 13th, 2010 will live on for the rest of my life as a day of, "DEEEEEEESTRUCTION." There is a social worker who has told me that trauma memories are stored at a cellular level, meaning your cells remember traumatic experiences and recall them especially on anniversaries of the event. A lot of things she says, I take as superstition, including this until December 13th, 2014. It was a normal anniversary date for my accident. I spent it teaching snowboarding to my nephew, Ephraim. Not wanting people's pity, I didn't announce it on facebook or tell anybody. All day, I kept getting an additional phantom pain that I don't normally have. It felt like electrical pulsating about two times an hour. So maybe there is something to this cellular memory. ( ) Sorry for doubting you Ann (Social Worker). I'll give you that one but I'm still pessimistic about the tap therapy (lol).

I woke up twice that day in 2010. The first time, I did my normal routine. My alarm went off and I dressed myself for weather in the teens. I wore an under-layer of thermals, a hoodie, a pair of Carhartt jeans, some Carhartt heat insulated coveralls, a coat and some warm Bogs brand boots. I warmed up the car and made the short 5 minute drive to the yard, where we kept our trucks and materials. The gate to the yard had a padlock that I opened nearly every day, as I did my duty to warm up the trucks and fill out the truck inspection sheets.

 After the scary work of moving a corner pole phase, as talked about in the blog entry , I was looking forward to have the other apprentice come back and return to a three man crew. Mitch, the other apprentice, drove into the yard with his blue dodge Ram dually with the diesel engine. I greeted him with a huge smile and asked if he had passed his journeyman's test. He replied no and proceeded to tell me what they failed him on.

We warmed up our trucks and as was custom, drove them to our normal breakfast spot, The Moose.
I ordered my usual breakfast, French toast combo. As Mitch and I ate breakfast, I told him about my scary story of moving a corner pole in the bucket by myself. He seemed more concerned about his journeyman's test he had just failed. I filled out the safety report and Mitch and I signed it. This is the first discrepancy I have from the official safety report. We never made te safety report up at the show up. It was always at breakfast.

Larry didn't eat breakfast with us. A lot of days it was just me and Mitch eating breakfast and filling out the safety report. On those days, we would meet Larry outside the restaurant and he would sign the safety report there. That day was no different except, I believe, Larry asked about Mitch's test. We were all hoping that Mitch would have passed that test so we could have two journeymen on our crew. 

Everything else, continued to go according to normal. We installed a new pole a few feet from the pole we were going to transfer the wire from.  Until about 11:00 am, Mitch and I were up about 30 feet in the air and he recieved a message on the phone that said he needed to be in Salt Lake for a meeting before the board concerning his failed journeyman's test. He decided he needed to leave early that same day to get there on time. 

Here I was working as a two-man crew on 14,400 volts. We had set the pole, before the other apprentice left. Now I was to move the primary wire to the new pole. My foreman would help by using another bucket truck to lift the wire as I guided and tied it in to the insulator. 

The original report says my foreman was in the air with me. 
Later on the report would be amended to say: 

The next step was for me to cover it with rubber hoses and a blanket, that way if any incidental contact were to occur it might have a chance in protecting me. Once that was done, I felt a relief. I felt safe. The rest of the work could be done at a safe distance. 

After lunch we put a new transformer on the pole 

and I descended for some parts. 

I ascended in the bucket.

It was cold and rubber gloves made my hands even colder. I assumed the situation was safe because of my rubber cover and I felt like my minimum approach distances, the distances recommended by OSHA to be safe to work at near high voltages, would not be breached. Before getting to my working position, I called down to my foreman, "Can I take off my rubber gloves?" An answer in the affirmative caused me to rejoice. Class 2 gloves were difficult and stiff to work with, especially in the cold.

 I cut one secondary supply service, wires at the voltage used by the customer, into the transformer with no problem. We had jumpered these light pole services, with long jumpers, to supply the street lights with power the Friday before. 
I remember being a little nervous about how to cut the wire while holding both sides of the wire. Then I remember looking down to throw the scrap piece on the ground. My foreman was cleaning all the scraps below the pole so I didn't want to trow it on his head. I looked over my shoulder to the truck, thinking I could throw it near the bed so he wouldn't have to carry it far. That was all I remembered from inside the bucket.....

I believe if it was in fact a "fishing rod movement," it was because one end of the scrap piece got caught up on the cable below. I think I yanked on it and the wire came springing up after coming free. If that is the case, it was a dumb move to thrash. There was probably a sense of complacency and a feeling of being safe because of the cover. In no circumstance could I see myself doing a "fishing rod movement!" l may be dumb but I'm not that dumb....
The report talks a bit about the time where I was unconscious: 

My memory kicked back in, I barely opened my eyes. I thought everything that had happened before had been a dream. I tried to get up to get ready for work again. My arms wouldn't move.  I realized I was strapped on a stretcher being carried. Then I could hear a chopper. I asked, "Where am I?" A man's voice responded by asking me my name and address. I began to respond, "Samoana Matagi." He asked me again and pain started to permeate from my hands. I screamed, half irritated by being asked the same question, "SAMOANA MATAGI!" Then I started moaning and screaming. A man's voice kept asking me questions. I moaned, "Why are my hands burning?" and screamed till blackness.....

I have always thought that we should have had a four man crew. In my opinion, when an accident happens, there are a lot of people responsible. When the office noticed the journeyman on our crew had quit, they could have sent a journeyman to keep the crew at four. The foreman could have always  called the office to request a lineman from the union hall. Of all the people responsible, the one I had the most control over was me. 
I failed to stand up for my own safety. There were so many ways I could have avoided the accident. I could have worked with gloves on. I could have not held the neutral while throwing the scrap piece. It's good to learn from your mistakes but not good to dwell on them. Accidents happen and hindsight is 20/20.
 There was one expression that could describe the whole incident; DEEEEEEEEE-SRTRUCTION! ( My life was destroyed physically, mentally, and even spiritually. I was 15 inches from not losing my hands at all. Electricity travels at the speed of light. It took the electricity, 14,400 volts, milliseconds to destroy my hands. The wires that caused the burns barely glanced.
I was also a few chest compressions away from losing my life. Thankfully, Larry saved my life. The chances of the wire not hitting a six foot long protective rubber sleeve are so slim, add that to the chances of me surviving, and the chances that it would have happened to two brothers, it all makes me want to believe in destiny. I believe part of my destiny has been to steal back life, figuratively, a bandit with no hands taking back life that was taken from him.