Author: Cornish, Rick

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t
That’s sort of how I felt this year as I made the decision to run, or not to run, for the board again. For the most part, I like the work involved, I love the Association, everybody who knows me knows I love the attention. But there can also be a lot of stress involved, particularly the day-to-day chairman stuff; my wife and boys would love to see me retire; and I suppose one could make the argument that, after this past year’s financial problem, my leaving both the board and the chairmanship could generate a boost in confidence in the leadership team among the general membership. Sort of a fresh start. Well, you know my decision….you read my candidate’s statement yesterday, or at least some did. Still, it was one of those damned if you do and damned if you don’t situations.

Which brings to mind an experience I had back in my college days. There was a community of us living on South Third Street in San Jose, about 20 to 25 students, all close friends, who lived in separate flats in two huge Victorian houses converted to student housing. I’d just begun graduate school and was spending the evening the way I spent every evening—reading a novel about which I’d be discussing the next day in class, (I was a Lit major), when the phone rang. “It’s for you,” my wife said, “it’s Linda and she sounds upset.” Linda was a young woman, sort of a pre-goth I guess you could say…..always dressed in black. A stand-out eccentric even among all of us eccentrics, (after all, these were the hippie days) who lived alone in the three story Victorian across the street.

“Linda,” I asked, “what’s up?”

Our friend started sobbing over the phone. “I’m in jail. I, I can’t believe it, but I’m in jail and I’m really, really scared. You’ve got to help me, Rick, you’ve just got to. I’m so freaked out!”

Linda explained that she’d blown off a fix-it ticket on her old Dodge clunker a year before, was pulled over that night for the same broken tail light, and a quick check by the patrolman showed that she had a warrant, so off to city jail she went.

“The last buss leaves for Elmwood at ten. They told me if I’m not bailed out by the time the bus leaves, I’m gonna spend the night in County Jail. Rick, I don’t think I could handle that.” Hearing her voice, I didn’t think so either.

“So what do you want me to do? How much is the bail. I could scrape up maybe a hundred dollars from the neighborhood, but that will take time. Linda, it’s nine fifteen.”

“No,” she said frantically, “the money’s not an issue. Bail’s $175 and I’ve got more than enough to cover that, in cash, in my sock drawer. Just go to my flat, top left drawer of my dresser, under the socks. You’ll find a big wad of money rolled up in a rubber band. Please, please, Rick, hurry!”

“But how do I get into your studio,” I asked.

“Key’s underneath the welcome mat.”

“Okay, don’t cry anymore. I’ll be right there with the money. I promise.” We both hung up.

“What’s wrong,” Claudia asked?

“Linda. Jail. Got to get her out,” and I was gone.

Linda’s studio was a tiny little room at the very top of the Victorian, a sort of turret, a fashionable adornment at the turn of the century, and this old house was the biggest, the grandest, on the block. I flew up the three flights of rickety stairs, and then stepped across a little bridge with rails that led to the door of Linda’s tiny domed flat. I’d only been up there once before…..heights and I have never gotten along. I grabbed for the key under the mat. No key. I got down on my hands and knees, lit my cigarette lighter and frantically searched for the key in the darkness. No key. I tried the door. Dead-bolted.

I stood silently for a moment, breathing hard, my breath turning to steam as it hit the frigid air. It occurred to me that I hadn’t even put a jacket on when I ran out the door. I looked over and around to the right side of the dome and could see a light on in the bathroom. I leaned over the rail and could see the window. Big enough for me to fit through. Then I looked down three long, Victorian-era stories, to the ground. It was a little surreal.

“No way,” I said aloud, “no friggin’ way.” I leaned a little further over the rail and flicked on my lighter. There was a ledge, narrow but solid looking.

“NO WAY!” I almost screamed this time. I was, and am, deathly afraid of heights. Heights and snakes, my two phobias. I started back down, got one flight down the creaking steps, and then stopped.

“OH SH…..” Linda had spent her one call on me. The dependable guy in the neighborhood she must have figured. I turned and went back up. Using my butane lighter I leaned far over the rail this time and checked the ledge again. Then I looked up and saw there was some sturdy trim that led out to the window. On complete impulse, adrenalin gushing like a broken water main, I stepped over the railing and was on the ledge, inching toward the window. ‘Don’t look down, don’t look down. DO NOT look down.” Five, maybe six slow, careful shuffles and I was directly under the window. UNDER! Not at the window, but under the window. My heart sank. I couldn’t just step into the bathroom, I’d have to jump up, off the ledge, and then pull myself up and in.

With one hand vice-gripping the whitewashed trim of the old Victorian, I slowly let go with the other and reached up to see if I could push the window open. If not, if it was locked, then that was it. Mission unaccomplished, but I’d done my level best.

With a shove, the window opened. By standing on my tip toes, balancing on the ledge, I was able to get it open far enough to get my body through. At the same instant I let go of the trim and jumped up for the window with every ounce of strength I had. And in the next instant my upper torso was well inside the bathroom, my lower torso dangling in the air. I’d made it. And then I looked down. There, in the bathtub, directly under the window, sat coiled an eight foot boa constrictor. I knew it was eight feet and a boa constrictor because Linda had told us all about her pet snake, though none had ever seen it. Until now.

The snake gazed up at me with milky eyes. It’s tongue flicked out to catch my scent. It seemed to tense up, almost to constrict on itself.

In my mind’s eye I played through the scene of easing my self back out of the window, legs dangling, feeling around for the ledge with my feet while trying to regain a hand-hold on the trim with one hand while hanging on to the window sill with the other. Then I rolled through the footage of shimmying the rest of the way through the window and free falling head first into the awaiting coils of the boa, whose name I now remembered was Stinky.

I went with Stinky. I think he was more surprised at my decision than I was. In any event, I was out of the tub, out of the bathroom, out of the flat with the wad of money and down the three flights of steps before you could say ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ I made it in time to spring Linda.

“Oh, Rick, thanks so very, very much. So you found the key alright?”

“No,” was all I said.

Posted:  4/18/2005

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