Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews   entry Sept 2015   Allegro ma non troppo #14  (original pub. date, Lion Magazine, Oct. 1994)

The Devolution of Homo Inabilitatis
          The Ice Man Cometh Down with Pink Eye

I was up in northern Italy climbing mountains a while ago, and once again I was made aware of one of my many failings: I am not a survivor. It’s all right to admit this now that sensitive males such as myself are encouraged to take advantage of our new-found post-macho freedom to admit that we weep and can’t fix a car. Indeed, we are threatened by roving bands of tire-iron wielding (from fixing cars) women unless we so admit. OK, I confess.

I was up at about 8,000 feet, right below the permanent part of an age-old glacier in the mountains of Trento. It was right near the place where they found the Ice Man a while ago. Remember him? —the well-preserved remains of some poor frozen John Prehistoric Doe who had just been out hiking —like me— when it started to get dark and cold. He was weary, and the next ski-lift down the slopes wouldn’t be leaving for 4,000 years, so he decided to rest. He lay down and never got up. That thought crossed my mind as I was hiking. Also, the opening paragraph of Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro occurred to me:

…Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.
The Ice Man died —no fault of his. The tiger died —only Hemingway knows what really happened. It all spooked me, so I turned around. The next day I came down with a major case of conjunctivitis. At three in the morning my eyes we’re so swollen and glued shut that I thought I had gone blind in the middle of the night. “Help,” I said. I really said that. My wife started to laugh, which is a pleasant change from her normal reaction upon being awakened at three a.m.

It was just an eye irritation brought on by a few blasts of cold air, which also blew to smithereens any notions of intrepidity I had been flattering myself with. It got me thinking that I might not have done too well in the old days —before ski lifts and before cocoa (BC). In the age of hunters and gatherers, I would have been hunted and gathered —or, in the terminology of stone-age English teachers, I would have been a “direct object”. I can see me by the side of a neolithic road, wondering what ‘neolithic’ means and kicking my wheel because it won’t turn —and I haven’t the slightest idea what to do. Rub two sticks together? …no, that’s for that other thingie, that hot whatchamacallit. Two saber-toothed tigers are crouched behind a bush, watching me:

First tiger: “Man, that’s just your standard Mark II feldspar and quartz downhill roller. Downhill, dummy! What a klutz. Let’s eat him.”

Second tiger: “Hold on a second. If we clean this bozo out of their gene pool, we may be making room for a real man, like that guy who creamed Sam last week. Sammy charged and took a stone-axe right in the chops. That guy didn’t even flinch. I hear they call him the “Extinct-Maker”. I’m depressed.”

1st Tiger: “But what about Schwartz, Rosen & Chung’s persuasive argument in Better Caves and Gardens that klutzhood is a result of environment and not heredity?”

2nd Tiger: “Right, I forgot. Ok, let’s eat him. Come on, get him before he puts that Visine in his eyes. That stuff tastes like lizard poop.”

I wouldn’t do much better today, either. I can’t even use the proper terminology, such as ‘steering wheel,’ for cars. To me, it’s always been ‘that round thing near where you sit when you drive’. To this day I remember My Big Date in high school. She was huge. My car broke down and she had to push us to a filling station. A geezer of a grease-monkey (disregarding my own diagnosis that maybe the spark-plugs were empty) told me —I remember his exact words— that “the frimdork was disglottled”. He reached into the space up front where they keep the engine and started my car in six seconds.

None of this klutziness stopped me from buying a survival knife from one of those Gung Ho Killer Survival Nut catalogs —the ones that seem to think that I really need Israeli Commando Boots and an inflatable assault kayak. When the knife got here, it was sealed with metal strapping tape that I couldn’t cut because I had no knife. I couldn’t get my survival knife out of the box.

Also, I am a great admirer of Emergency Room doctors, the ones who size up the situation in a flash and start barking orders like, “OK, start an IV with a 2.7% solution of that red stuff and reverse the polarity on the warp engines.” Recently, I helped out with a First Responder classroom demonstration. It was my job to simulate cardio-pulmonary resuscitation on a dummy. I pushed too hard and cracked the dummy’s sternum and punctured its lung. The dummy died.

One dummy died, and another one’s eyes are still killing him.

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