Monday, December 20, 2004

apathy you can count on

We all like to think that we don't give a damn about our fellow man, but one never knows for sure until his disinterest is truly put to the test. The following is a heroing tale of a 27-year-old boy becoming a man through the direst of circumstances. All that's said here is entirely true, and any historical inaccuracies stem solely from a faulty memory. Don't laugh, this really happened.

Three weeks ago, I was in the car with my brother. He was driving (everyone who knows my driving history is happy to take the wheel); we were on the highway and it was pouring. We were cautiously heading down the far-left lane, trailing the car in front of us with just enough room for my brother to be comfortable, and for me to still be gripping my seat. Naturally, the car in front of us hit a puddle and lost control. The car started swerving around and slamed into the median, bouncing back into position in the left lane, but it was still out of control.

Now, it's entirely normal to worry about the safety of your car first, and then be concerned for the guy in front of you, but I like to think that I'm better than that, and guess what... I am. You see, I have a prior experience to rely on... I've faced adversity and have come through it without my pulse being elevated. I've been in the trenches while sipping my tea. I've been challenged, trodden on, and cast down, and you know what? I'm still standing. The guy in the car in front of us however, is probably unable to stand today.

I'm not sure what was going through my brother's mind, but I remember specifically what was going through mine (I made a point to laugh about it later): "What an idiot" and "I hope this asshole shoots across the freeway to the right, so he doesn't take us with him". This guy was swerving all over the place, and I had no idea where he was going to land. I was just sitting there calmly, rooting for the ideal outcome, thinking, "Shoot over, shoot over." Finally he shot over, and slammed into a ditch on the right side of the road; I was actually impressed... that thing caught his ass like a catcher's mitt catching a baseball. Good work, New Jersey. It wasn't the cleanest landing, but it efficiently kept the scrap metal off the road. We kept going... we had somewhere to be.

I know you're impressed. It's rare to see one's apathy bleed over into emergencies, but like I said, I have a prior experience to give me the confidence I need. This shit was just a day in the life... here's the real story:

The year was 2004, and it was January. I was working at the corporate office of the largest guitar and piano manufacturer in the world, although 'largest' refers to quantity, not quality. It was time for the Winter NAMM show, the biggest musical industry trade show of the year. For those of you who are involved in industries that aren't a joke, I'll be more descriptive. This event filled the entire Anaheim Convention Center with hack instruments and tens of thousands of well... hacks. All of the latest and greatest products were on display, consisting of Stratocaster knock-offs in different colors, manufactured in different countries. We had our Indonesian garbage proudly hanging in our 60' by 60' walkthrough display, and were also showing off our new line of Chinese band instruments... a tenth the cost of production!

I volunteered to work this thing as part of a 'moving-up' strategy in my company, but I'm not big on people, much less crowds. This event lasted four days, and on the third, we had Paul Stanley (the lead singer of KISS for those of you who have a life) at our booth, signing shit for his fans. I do my best to ignore the stupidity of other humans, but it's terribly difficult to do so when some guy in his 40's is explaining the story of how he finally understood himself when he first saw Paul Stanley (or someone else in KISS.. I don't know) spit fire on stage. You don't want to know how many such people are out there, and I'm still trying to forget that number myself.

Needless to say, by the end of this convention, my resolve was weakened. I was tired, the weekend that I would normally use to recoup from just being around thirty people was sacrificed to instead be around thousands, and I not only had to meet KISS fans, but I had to see Paul Stanley in the flesh (yes, in full makeup). I had spent 40 days and 40 nights fasting in the wilderness, and now at the end of it, my apathy was to be tested. Jesus knew his temptation was coming, I didn't; does this make me better than Jesus?... You decide.

The last night of the convention had just ended, and only the industry people were allowed to remain so that they could pack their stuff up. There was a nice company dinner with free drinks starting in about 40 minutes, but I was helping some chick find her driver's license. She was an invite of one of our sponsored artists, and I was friends with the guy who handled artist relations. Being apathetic toward others can't always be visible... not when you're trying to force your way up the company ladder. This chick was an idiot, but it would only take a phone call.

I'm on the phone with Barbara, the executive secretary, who's at our piano booth upstairs. The phone I'm using is on a table that I'm sitting at, positioned at the far corner of our claimed area. I'm therefore right in front of an intersection between two walkways.
Me: "Hey Barbara, this is Rand."
Barbara: "Hey Rand, is there something you need? I'm about to head out to the dinner; I have to get things set up."
Me: "I won't keep you long. I was just wondering if anyone found a driver's license."
A middle-aged man, pulling an empty cart, rounds the corner and falls flat on his face right in front of my desk. He didn't trip, he passed out.
Barbara: "Oh, I think I do have one, hang on a sec."
Me: "Okay, thanks."
About fifteen seconds pass by.
Barbara: "Rand?"
Me: "Yeah."
Barbara: "Is her name -insert whatever the hell that chick's name was here-?"
Me: "That's it, I'll send her up. Listen, I gotta go... some guy just died in front of me."
Barbara: "Okay, I'll see you at the dinner."

It takes about ten or so seconds to give 'I can't find my driver's license' girl directions to the booth upstairs (by the way, how the fuck do you lose a driver's license?). Now, this guy's been out for at least thirty seconds so far, and he's not moving at all. I step out into the walkway so that I can get a better view, and put my hands in my pockets. At this point, I'm just as surprised as you are that nobody's doing anything... this guy might be dying, and it's possible that he could be saved. I guess nobody but me has noticed yet.... either that or nobody who's noticed actually cares. He's starting to turn blue.

There were three types of badges for the convention, and everyone was required to have a badge. One was for industry people, one was for musicians, and the final one, the dreaded yellow badge, was for visitors. If you had a yellow badge, it means that you were irrelevant to the business, but your dad's cousin worked for Fender. Since your dad's cousin had no friends (a prerequisite for working for Fender), you managed to convince him to give you one of his slots on the guest list. I was joking a few days later about not being concerned about the corpse in front of me because it was wearing a yellow badge; this wasn't true... I just wasn't concerned about the corpse in front of me. Even so, the joke did well.

There are people all over, but it takes a while for anyone to notice our blue friend. I'm not sure if they notice him directly or if they wonder what the hell I'm staring at, but they finally realize what's going on and start yelling for help and begin trying to figure out what to do. You know, if they caught a glimpse of the blue guy only because they were wondering what that calm young man was staring at, it could be said that I was instrumental in saving his life... I try not to think of it that way, but it makes sense....

These people are beating the shit out of this deadish guy. One person's blowing as hard as she can into his mouth, while some man is doing CPR on his stomach. Dr. CPR's hands are disappearing into the blue man's gut about 4-5 inches deep; it's a good thing that guy's dead... I'd imagine that would hurt. A co-worker, Tony (the artist relations guy), comes over.
Tony: "What's going on?"
Me: "Oh, this guy's dying or something."
Tony: "Ahh."

I was really proud of Tony's ability to stay calm and disinterested at the time, but later, when we went over the details, I gained a whole new respect for the guy. It turns out that Tony knows CPR, but he decided not to help out because, "CPR doesn't save lives, it prolongs death." You humanitarians can't really get too mad at the guy though, these other morons clearly had the situation under control.

It's been a while, and the purple guy still isn't breathing. I'm waiting for his color to finally hit 'deathly white' so we can call it a day. This Mr. Purple is popular as shit at this point... everyone's coming over, running as fast as they can to get help, freaking out, and trying to help Dr. CPR get an extra inch or two deeper into the guy's gut. I'm sure he would be touched at the spectacle... if he was able to regain consciousness, that is. Another co-worker, Adam, comes over.
Adam: "Did some guy die or something?"
Me: "Almost... there's an army working on him now, so everything's cool. I think he started breathing again."
Some Desperate Lady: *franticly* "No, no! He's not breathing!!!"
Me: *shrugging slightly* "Oh, my bad."

I want to explain something.... I don't do drugs. This is the music industry. I'm therefore probably one of the few people there who didn't smoke pot within the last hour, and yet I'm the calm one. You see, drugs are a crutch... your apathy comes from a pipe... mine comes from within. This was nearly a year ago, and I can still see this lady's face in my mind. I remember thinking, "Jesus Lady, chill the fuck out."

This was fun for a while, but now it's getting old. This whole death or near-death act that this guy's putting on is taking way too long. He's definitely pushing up on his six minutes... although I guess I'm the only one who knows that it's been that long. If they do revive the guy, he'll probably be brain-dead, but they won't be able to verify that until later. The army will go home to celebrate a triumphant victory while the family Purple decides whether or not to pull the plug on daddy. I'm wondering how much traffic I'm going to have to face getting over to this dinner... I want to get this thing finished so I can get some food and drinks in me.

I'm back in our area, laughing it up with some co-workers. We're making jokes about me having killed this guy. This is just the kind of stress relief I need to switch into 'company dinner' mode; what a long convention this has been. I have to go from being around people to being around people... the night's far from over. I'm going to be in a small room with the company's president, all the VPs, a bunch of moronic....... Oh yeah, the dead guy... I look over my shoulder, and there are paramedics with him now. He looks white, but it's hard to tell the difference between 'alive' white and 'dead' white... especially from this distance. They're wrapping him up nice and tight on a stretcher. They better be careful with this guy... I mean, you want to talk about fragile? Let's face it, pulling an empty cart nearly killed him (or did kill him, I'm not sure). I don't see them putting a sheet over his face or anything, but I don't think they keep sheets in their emergency packs. Even if he's breathing, it's extremely likely that Mr. White's brain has gone to a better place. I crack a few more jokes and head off to the dinner. This has been a very trying day for me.

It's only on the rare occasion that a man's strength is truly tested, in which his apathy is either confirmed or rebuked. It's only through such testing that he truly becomes a man. This was my ordeal and my triumph. I'd be kind to hope that you found your own strength through the recounting of my experience.... but I, of all people, can honestly say that I don't care one way or the other.