Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Most Enjoyable Concussion Story

Since all my lunch buddies were laid off last year, I've gotten into the bad habit of eating lunch alone in my office because -- get this -- it's "less depressing." (Yes, I'm misquoting myself.) After an 11:00 meeting, I decided to venture out and ask a co-worker if he wanted to go to lunch. This co-worker -- let's call him Thigpen -- is a huge Sonics fan and he rides his bike to work, so we have something to talk about. Thigpen was telling me a story about how his wife had a nasty fall on her bike, and she kept repeating the same questions, so I tried to tell a quick concussion story of my own. I didn't want to spend the entire 45-minute lunch telling this story, but that's what happened. Thigpen kept interrupting me with questions.

Here's how I wanted to tell the quick and dirty story:

A bunch of friends and I were playing tackle football in the park. There was a new guy named Brad that I didn't like1, so I was looking for a way to clobber him. One of my friends got to him first. Elden2 tackled him so hard that Brad's head whiplashed against the frozen ground. Brad rolled around for a few seconds, muttered something, and went into convulsions. He was literally foaming at the mouth. Elden called the ambulance3 and we all went to the hospital. When we finally were able to see Brad4, he kept asking the same three questions: "What happened? Does my wife know where I am? Where are my keys?"5

1 I didn't like Brad for two reasons. First, I was dating a widow1A with four daughters1B at the time, and he was trying to convince her to break up with me.1C Second, we were supposed to be working together on an online tutorial, and this guy refused to accept editing changes1D. I can see why poets and novelists might get protective of their text, but a technical writer?

1A She was a widow because her husband was killed in a bicycling accident. He was riding hard to meet one of his friends, and he probably had his head down since he was going about 30mph on a flat road. A bus1Ai turned left in front of him, and he crashed into the side view mirror, breaking his neck.

1Ai It was the substitute bus driver's first and only day on the job. She hadn't been through the mandatory training course. A couple days after the accident, a state representative called to tell the widow that they were willing to give her the maximum compensation allowed by the law. Since the law was created in the late 60s, and since the law didn't include a provision for inflation, the widow had to choose whether to fight that law in a conservative Utah court or take the relatively small sum of money.

1B The oldest daughter was 9 and the youngest had just turned 1. Cute kids. The widow was the provider and the deceased had been the homemaker, which was an odd arrangement in Utah County.

1C Brad was a Mormon who was married to a woman he had fallen out of love with. He couldn't divorce her because she had a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis. At least that's what he told the widow. He knew that I was no longer an active Mormon1Ci, so he urged her to break up with me1Cii.

1Ci I had just abandoned Mormonism for good around this time, but I was having a difficult time figuring out how I wanted to live. It wasn't easy to separate undesirable social programming from genuine personality traits. After crashing through several awful relationships, I started dating the widow. We saw each other for a year, and I think we helped each other through parallel dark periods. The fact that I wasn't a devout Mormon was a comforting barrier to both of us for a long time, but then it became a burden -- especially when people like Brad kept pointing out the futility.

1Cii I knew that he was saying bad stuff about me to the widow, but I didn't know hard he was pushing until after the concussion incident. He had fallen in love with the widow.

1D Here's one of the editing changes I wanted Brad to make. On the first screen of the tutorial, he wrote, "Click the right arrow button to proceed and continue." I told him to delete the sentence, because if users can't figure out how to click the right arrow, perhaps they deserve to stare at that screen for a couple of hours. No? Then if you're not going to delete the whole sentence, maybe you could just say "to continue" instead of "to proceed and continue." Brad then explained to me in painful detail why "proceed" and "continue" have two different meanings in this context, and why they are both relevant and necessary. I could have strangled and choked him.

2 Elden (aka, the Fat Cyclist) is a terrible football player, but strangely effective. He runs as fast as he can, most often in the wrong direction, and he hits people as hard as he can, even if they don't have the football.

3 Dug said the rule of thumb in cases like this is that the guy who wallops the victim has to call the ambulance, but Elden seemed too shaken up. This was before cell phones, so he had to knock on someone's door and ask to call 911. We also debated who should give CPR if it came to that. I'm afraid that conversation reflected poorly on me, but in my defense, I'll emphasize that Brad had a thick beard and he was foaming at the mouth and he was a lousy writer.

4 While we were sitting in the waiting room of the ER, someone mentioned that the game was going to get out of hand anyway, so it was a good thing we had to stop. Someone else took issue, so we went outside to finish our tackle football game on the field behind the hospital. If memory serves, my team was victorious.

5 His keys were in his pocket.