Journals of an Insane Genius - May 2001
One of the tricks to public speaking is to 'know your audience.' Somehow the situation escalated from mentioning that I wrote a story while my dad was undergoing chemotherapy, to finding myself being introduced as the featured speaker at the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. The only problem I had was that, while I wrote the story during the chemotherapy, it had nothing to do with cancer or recovery and was (allegedly) a humor story. I really felt the story was inappropriate for the situation, yet I seemed unable to find a way to back out. I even went so far as to send a copy of the story to Eva, one of the organizers, but she insisted it would be perfect as long as I prefaced it with a few remarks about why I wrote the story.
So I opened by saying the article I started to write in February 1999 was about cancer. It began with the entire dictionary of medical terms that you never want to learn but that patients and their families have to try to understand. The unfairness that a man who had never smoked, raised five boys as a single parent, and was a good person, could develop leukemia. The story conveyed a general sense of being powerless and hopeless. A couple of paragraphs into it, I decided that even though I didn't know how this would turn out, this was not how I wanted to remember my dad. Since I knew he looked forward to reading my journals each month, I decided to write about one of the things that makes him an amusing and curious character, his tendency to go overboard while working on a home improvement project. He read the story while lying in a hospital bed with IV tubes running everywhere and feeling fearful and nauseated in a way that only chemotherapy patients will ever understand. Reading the story and remembering the events described gave him something to laugh about that day.
The chemotherapy and subsequent treatment worked, my dad is a cancer survivor, but my voice still hitches when I talk about the experience. There were several hundred people gathered around by this point and they loved every bit, even saying 'Awwww' at the end when I tied the entire thing together by pointing out that the theme for this event was 'A Celebration of Life' and the story was written in that spirit. Then I launched into the story of my dad building his Viking table and, despite trying to prepare them for it, I think I confused a few people. One guy, obviously a Tim Allen fan, cracked up through the entire thing.
My brief moment in the spotlight accomplished, I wandered back over to the Borderline Mensa area to help Rich set up the tent. About an hour earlier, Rich, Lori and I had struggled with the tent for about fifteen minutes. Okay, you know me and tools; Rich and Lori struggled with the tent while I provided witty banter, tempered by stage fright while waiting to speak. Like most borrowed tents, this one came in a heap with no instructions. The only thing that was unusual was that it wasn't raining. So there we were with our massive Mensa Group of the Year banner proudly displayed and a tent that would not cooperate. Rich decided that we must be missing some poles and drove back to the friend's house where he picked it up to find them. Needless to say there was some good-natured ribbing directed at us until he returned with the missing poles. The tent was up within two minutes of his return.
So now it's getting dark. Lori and her husband David (who eventually walked more than any of us without breaking a sweat - showoff) were already out on the track. It was in front of the band shell at the City Park and was outlined by over 2,400 luminaries purchased in memory of a cancer victim or in honor of a cancer survivor. It was tranquil and beautiful, but it kind of set my head spinning during the first lap I walked. It was difficult to get past the sheer number of lives affected by cancer.
Not being scheduled to walk until 1:00 a.m., I come off the track and find Rich at work setting up the tent next to ours. He's marveling over the superior design of their tent poles compared to ours. As he's finishing that one I notice three young ladies struggling with their tent in the site behind ours. I volunteer Rich's assistance along with my rock-steady flashlight holding abilities. Having worked out his own girlfriend situation months ago, he totally fails to pick up on the fact that one of the girls, a nurse, is at least pretending to enjoy my dry-as-a-martini sense of humor, and he has their tent up even faster than the last one. Someone from the next space over asks to borrow Rich's… well I don't know what it was. It had a light, and jumper cables, and a place to plug in both regular cords and automobile cigarette lighter powered appliances. As far as I know the thing was powering the stage lights as well. But I digress. Suffice it to say that after Rich single handedly put up five tents in the time it took most people to unroll theirs, there was no longer any ribbing (good natured or otherwise) about the Mensa team's ability to pitch a tent.
Our banner also attracted a lot of attention. Most heard joke was, "Borderline Mensa, is that the group for people who are almost geniuses?" Ha Ha! That joke just kept getting funnier and funnier.
Lori comes off the track leaving David to effortlessly rack up miles. Rich has disappeared into the tent and we're munching on white chocolate covered graham crackers when we hear a noise that sounds like Rich is attempting to shear a sheep using only a gopher that he is simultaneously asphyxiating. Turns out he was just inflating the air mattress using a portable, electric air pump.
David and Lori tag team it from 6:00 until 10:00 when their neighbors arrive to take over for two hours. Rich and I hang around to give breaks, but our team is dedicated so we end up just hanging around. At midnight Rich hits the track and joins a team of people we know from work. I'm left sitting in a chair picking up snatches of conversations from different groups as they stride around the track. Somehow, despite only hearing about fifteen seconds of every four minutes, I follow stories about someone planning on getting her navel pierced, someone who is thinking of leaving her cheating husband, someone claiming there is a gas price fixing scheme in Sierra Vista, someone preparing for a dog show, someone making wedding plans, someone glad to have just graduated, and a trivia game where you have to associate different cartoon characters with their catch phrase (They're GRrreeeaATT!)
Rich stays on the track for an hour and a half before coming off. I jump on and tag along with the same group of coworkers for the first half hour. Then, having finished their shifts, they leave. Saying that you'll walk for two hours between midnight and four a.m. is a lot easier than actually doing it. A pathetically bored person would count the number of steps around the track (513 around the outside edge, 382 around the inside edge - whenever I walked with someone again I made sure to stay to the inside.) Just as I thought he had fallen asleep for the night, Rich appeared and we tag teamed the last hour.
David showed up a few minutes early to walk the 4:00 to 6:00 shift. He seemed to be in a great mood despite having already put in two hours and having a very short night. Mary (Darth Mel's mom) showed up promptly at 6:00. It also got really cold and started raining promptly at 6:00. I told her that nobody expected her to walk in that kind of weather, but she was dressed for it and wasn't going to let a little rain (actually a lot of rain) stop her. I kept her company the first fifteen minutes or so, but I was feeling pretty wiped out so I left to go get her some coffee from Mountain Mocha. I also ran through McDonald's figuring that only an Egg McMuffin would rouse Rich from his slumber. Mary appreciated the coffee, but incredibly Rich didn't budge when I tossed the bag at him (the first time I have ever known him to turn down food).
Lacking a raincoat, I pull a garbage bag over my sweatshirt and walk the last half hour with Mary. It rained for almost exactly two hours, the same two hours Mary was on the track. Lori returned at 8:00 and her sunny disposition chased the clouds away. Rich regained consciousness a little while later and we started drying out the tent. Lori came over and told me to walk a few laps because Miss Pima County had arrived and I should go 'work that magic.' Excitedly, I jump out on the track and as I get around to the stage I see that it's Miss Pima County JUNIOR. She looks about twelve years old and just as I get back to where Lori is at to complain, Rich sums it up by saying, "Someone needs to feed that girl a steak." David, the Iron Man, takes over for a while and we finish with all four of us on the track. There's no way to be sure, but with the rain and all, I'm pretty sure that Borderline Mensa was one of the few teams to keep a person on the track continuously for the entire sixteen hours.