I hiked a new trail last weekend. I chose a steep, demanding trail as opposed to the easy trail. They intersect high up the mountain, but the part I like is more challenging which means it has a lot less people, and therefore more wildlife. Normally during the early summer I look down while hiking, as rattlesnakes are pretty much everywhere, whether you see them or not. And normally I don’t wear headphones because I want to hear the rattle if I’m near one.
But on this particular day I had been watching my feet while missing all the cool birds and animals around me. So I started looking up. Now, as you have probably guessed, if I’m looking up I can’t also be watching for snakes. I looked down to change the song on my music player and realized that my next step was going to land on the back of a rattlesnake.
I jumped back, quite startled but then immediately puzzled. As I backed up a foot or two, I realized the snake was making absolutely no effort to move, to defend itself, or do anything for that matter. Once I realized he wasn’t coiling up to strike, I moved a little closer, and politely requested that he move off the trail so I didn’t have to go all the way back down. Apparently he was quite comfortable on the toasty warm trail, and didn’t seem interested. I also noticed that he was fat, but only in one small section. It was then I understood- he was relaxing after a tasty (I assume) meal. But that still left me with a dilemma.
I stepped a little closer, and again asked him to move. He had his rattles partially lifted up, in an “I’m a way-too-cool LA rattlesnake, and I’m not actually going to rattle for you”. As a musician in LA, that struck me as very similar to how crowds in LA react to a band. People are too cool to actually clap, and this snake was too cool to rattle. I guess he was a hipster. When I noticed this, I became more emphatic in my requests that he move.
And move he did, very slowly. Unfortunately, he moved to the steep side of the trail, and he was too full to climb the cliff, so he just kind of ambled to the side and stretched out. I did some quick mental guestimates on whether he could strike me as I passed on the narrow trail, and decided to go for it. The hardest part was walking slowly so as not to disturb him. I passed without incident, thinking he was probably the most mellow rattlesnake I’d ever seen.
The funniest part was my encounter with too middle-aged Beverly Hills type women coming down the trail, very loudly. As they got to them I mentioned there was a rattle snake down the trail a little ways. They asked me if I was sure it was a rattlesnake. I said yes. They countered with “we saw a couple of black snakes and thought they were rattlesnakes but they weren’t”. Of course not, because rattlesnakes aren’t black, and have rattles, hence the name. I mentioned the rattles to the ladies, and they countered with “but did he rattle at you?”. They obviously didn’t believe me. As they walked away I thought about suggesting they reach into the brush to see if it really WAS a rattlesnake.
I watched a girl at my gym as she texted recently. I noticed that she was quite expressive, which started me thinking. No matter how expressive she was, the person on the other side would have no idea. All the person on the other side would see is the message, and regardless of how many emoticons she used, the other person wouldn't really know what this girl looked like as she texted.
I realized as I watched this that humans are rapidly losing a hugely important part of conversation. That part is the inflection and expression we experience during a face-to-face conversation. My analogy is music. Live and uncompressed music is full of dynamics and range. As music is compressed to fit into a small digital file like and mp3, millions upon millions of bits of data are discarded. You can hear this when a music file is compressed. I'm sure at some point you've heard a song and thought it just sounded bad. It was probably over-compressed, which causes voices to sound tinny, cymbals to sound like an air compressor, and dynamics to vanish.
That is, to me, similar to what's happening as we rely more and more on texting and impersonal, non-verbal communication. We are in effect compressing human interaction, and losing much of what makes an interaction meaningful. And we become less and less understood. There's no one who uses email who hasn't been misinterpreted when someone reads their email or text. One might type with a particular inflection in mind, but when the recipient reads the message there is no inflection or expression to allow for the proper interpretation of the message.
Why does this matter? Because inflection and expression are what give words their full meaning. Without them we will begin to lose our ability to fully communicate, and with that, we'll also lose a part of our culture. So the next time you think about texting, stop and think about calling instead. At least that way, you can connect beyond the words. And if you really want to be daring, try to set up a time to meet. I guarantee you'll be more fulfilled than sitting home or at the gym and just hitting "send".
In my never-ending quest to stay in shape, I recently took up hiking. Los Angeles is a great place for this. There are trails all over Southern California. Some have waterfalls. Some have cliffs. Some have amazing views of the area. And some…….have a bunch of freaking hippies with couches (I guess I need to explain though for people that live in LA there is nothing odd about that statement).
I discovered a hidden hiking trail one day in the hills above the Hollywood reservoir that leads to a lone tree that can be seen from most of Los Angeles. It’s a steep, rocky trail that seemed best suited for rattlesnakes as opposed to people. But this was a man’s hike, and I reveled at the challenge. I hiked to the pinnacle of the hill, 1700 feet up, and looked out over the entire Los Angeles area, all the way to the ocean 25 miles away. This was my new retreat. A place I could go to escape the city. A place that few other people went to. Yep, this place was my place, until that fateful weekend
It was a hot day as I began my ascent up the hill. As I looked up I thought I saw a person at the top, near the “tree”. The tree is a bit of a landmark, and the only one on top of the hill. You can see this tree from anywhere in the LA basin, and there’s even a guest book at the base of the tree for visitors to sign and write down their impressions.
As I reached the top of the ridge, soaked in sweat and looking something like an unshaven, dirty serial killer, I saw a mirage. There were four girls sitting on a couch by the tree. And they were drinking wine. Now, the reasons I thought this was a mirage were multiple. This was my private place (with a guestbook), and it was a manly hike to get up there. There was absolutely no way what I was seeing was happening.
I walked along the path at the top of the ridge, towards the mirage, but the mirage remained as I approached the girls. Finally I had to accept what I was seeing. There was indeed a couch. And there were four girls sitting on and around it drinking wine. My brain was not getting it. Maybe it was the heat. I was, after all, feeling hot and dehydrated. But there was no denying it was real when one of the girls asked “are you one of the musicians”?
I was not sure how to respond. Yes, I am a musician but no, I’m not one of the musicians, whatever that meant. They offered me wine and asked if I wanted to stay. My first thought was that they were probably offering me poison for some hippie or witch ritual. My second thought was why in the hell someone would offer a hot, sweaty hiker wine. That seemed to be a sure way to get hurt while hiking back down.
While still bewildered, I thanked them and turned to walk along the ridge. It was then that I noticed backpacks and coolers piled under the tree. So I asked the girls what is going on, and how they got the couch up there. One began to speak but was quickly hushed by her friend. Now it was getting spooky.
I hiked away, along the ridge to another part of the mountain. As I completed that part of the journey and turned back to head back down the ridge to the hiking trail, I noticed more people, along the side of the hill…..and another couch. Okay, now this is ridiculous.
As I reached the trail to hike back down (remember, this is a “bad ass, manly hike” in my mind) a girl appeared at the top, wearing a sundress and moccasins. Yes, she hiked all the way up in freaking moccasins. Wow, these hippies have amazing powers! She then asked me where the drinks were, so I pointed her on her way and headed down. Apparently one of their powers isn’t flying, at least not physically.
During my hike down the hill, I came across every variation of person imaginable. There were musicians dressed as though they were about to play the Roxy Theater, hauling instruments and asking one question, every single time I came across one. “How much further”? I told everyone they were almost there, regardless of how far they had to go. I didn’t want them to lose faith. But wow, there is nothing funnier than people dressed for a night of clubbing hiking up a steep trail in 100 degree heat. The girls who didn’t get the memo were just precious looking with their makeup melting and running.
I guess the group was well-intentioned, but they weren’t very good at cleaning up. The couches will probably just rot up there. And apparently they also spread the news about the wonders of MY spot, because on July 4th I hiked up to watch fireworks, only to find at least 100 of them cooking hot dogs, drinking and smoking pot. I didn’t see anything on the news afterwards, but there is no way they all made it down in the dark, in an altered state, without someone getting hurt!
It went this way most of the summer. They even put a zip line up so they could ride from one part of the mountain to another. Not that I ever tried it. I’m not trusting a bunch of stoners to put up a proper zip line. But now that summer has waned, I guess they have gone back into hiding, and I have my tree back.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. I decided to take a vacation to Key West, and while there visit the church where my grandfather had been a minister. I set out to visit the church on a weekday, and I was concerned that it might be locked up, but I’d give it a try.
Now, back in those days I was a recent California transplant. I’d been a professional musician in Florida and moved to California to pursue my career. Of course, I’d adopted a more punk California look. It was somewhat menacing- long black hair, black t-shirts with skulls and other unpleasant images, long black shorts, and the ubiquitous black combat boots. My mom once commented that she would cross the street to avoid someone who looked like me. Even the first band I recorded with in California consisted of members of a band called Christian Death, who’s singer eventually died of an overdose. So I didn’t look like the type of person who would visit a church.
I arrived at the church, soaked in sweat thanks to my all-black outfit and combat boots during the middle of a summer heat wave, to find the front door locked. I walked around the church looking for an open door. Eventually I found one, and as I stepped inside I saw about a dozen elderly women, having a nice lunch, go from happy to terrified in an instant. They all looked at me as though they were waiting for me to pull a gun and ask for money. I smiled politely, and one of them asked if she could help me.
I asked her if I could see the parsonage. Now, your basic devil-worshiper, petty thief or punk-rock robber wouldn’t generally know what a parsonage is. And in fact, I’m not sure why I used that word other than I remembered my grandmother calling it that. At that moment a couple of the women went from terrified to curious, and one of them asked why I wanted to see it.
I told them my name, and mentioned that my grandfather had been a minister there. Immediately the fear was gone and all of the women smiled. One stated “your grandfather married me”. Then another said the same thing. My head began to spin! Had I just discovered that my grandfather had numerous wives? Even with just those two and my grandmother that would make THREE just in Key West. Suddenly the shoe was on the other foot. I apparently looked stricken while the elderly women began laughing. It was at that moment that I realized they were using the term “married” as a verb. Which was kind of obvious since he was THE MINISTER! For a moment, I lived up to my outfit.
One of them escorted me into the church, and told me I could stay as long as I wanted. I took some pictures and thought about what it was like to live in Key West back then without air-conditioning. As I left I thanked the women for their hospitality, and they told me it was a pleasure to meet me, though I imagine they discussed my sense of style and clothing for some time after that. They then told me that the church was closing the next week. Sometimes you just have to wonder why things work out the way they do.
I went to the store on a Saturday afternoon, and was delighted to see the girl scouts were selling cookies. I always buy a few boxes, so I put my groceries in the car and came back to buy. There were two girls holding signs, and one says to the other, as I’m standing in front of them, that she would get the next customer. When she stopped talking she began looking past me, as if waiting for someone better to show up. I finally broke the awkward silence and told her I’d like to buy some cookies. She looks at me with disgust and motions behind her with her thumb “they’re right there”. So I step behind her to the table, where the table attendant just looks at me with a blank stare.
Apparently this is the zombie Girl Scout troop. I tell her I want to buy some cookies. She tells one of the junior officers to help me. They finally take my order for 4 boxes, and hand me the cookies. Now I guess everyone is supposed to know how much they cost, but I don’t keep that kind of stuff in my brain. I have enough to worry about than to try to remember what Girl Scout cookies cost a year ago. Besides, who’s to say the price is the same every year? After an awkward pause, I ask how much. Again, with attitude, senior bitchy scout says “16 dollars”. Obviously I have inconvenienced them- maybe they were all Facebooking when I showed up. Or, being the zombie troop, were just waiting for nightfall. Whatever the deal was, next year I’m avoiding that troop. I came across this photo on the web- I think this girl was in the troop……..