Cord Jefferson is a writer worth reading, if you can catch him — I first noticed his byline at Wonkette, I think, or maybe Slate, and places like Gawker. To get you in the right mood for the weekend, here’s a lovely year-end memento from The Awl:
I have never been a physically daring man. I’m afraid of heights such that my palms begin to sweat when I go up high flights of stairs in shopping malls. I’m awful at skiing, made slow and hesitant by an unyielding and morbid fear that I will propel into a tree or somehow shatter my femur in a devastating tumble. In middle school, when I joined the football team, in an attempt to realize my father’s thinly veiled desire that I be a quarterback, I was decidedly not one of the star players. To be very good at football, you need to be able to snuff out the voice inside of you that says it’s better for everyone if you do not hurtle your body at great speeds into another person’s body. I couldn’t squelch that voice, which only got louder after I watched a massive and overeager boy named Ryan bend my friend Mike’s leg the wrong way during a hitting drill, breaking it in two places.
Some people don’t have a voice urging reticence and caution. My friend Chris doesn’t, largely due to the influence of his father, Leo. Leo grew up in Tucson, Arizona, which at that time wasn’t even the mid-sized strip-mall Mecca it’s become today. Though in many ways he’d had an average middle-class upbringing, Leo’s father was an abusive alcoholic, prompting him to move away from home and get his own place as soon as he could put together enough money, which he earned laying pipe for a construction company. He married his high-school sweetheart, a half-Japanese woman with permanently rosy cheeks named Martha, and soon they were having children. Chris was first, and then his sister, Kelle….
What I appreciated most about Leo, and what was most different about him from my parents, was how much time he spent in the outdoors. My father once said to me, “All the camping I need to do in this life I already did in Vietnam”; my mother, while lovely and doting, always preferred a bridge game to a fishing rod. I grew up a child who found many of my most enriching experiences indoors, in front of a computer or a book or a movie. For that reason, Leo’s stories about his far-flung wilderness adventures were exotic to me, stirring a curiosity deep from within, as if I were listening to an alien describe a cocktail party on the moon…
It’s impossible to be raised in such an environment and not emerge with a siren’s song in your guts and heart pulling you toward adventure and danger. From my father I took, among other things, a love of jazz and an affinity for wearing loafers with no socks. Chris took from Leo the desire—nay, need—to push his life to the limit. Besides sailing boats and going fishing and going hunting and all the other things Leo taught him to do, Chris builds and rides motorcycles; rock climbs, occasionally in the middle of the night; hikes the mountains around his house in Tucson; and cycles the softly sloping and winding roads that stretch out into various corners of the endless Arizona desert. To accomplish all of his various activities in a timely manner, Chris will occasionally demand his friends stick to a rigorous schedule—”Up at 8 and out the door by 8:30″ and that sort of thing. He calls this “being a Leo.”
Chris, with his love of exploration and impulsiveness, has grown to be my closest traveling companion over the years, and thus, not incidentally, the major balancing offset to that cautious voice in my head warning against risk and bodily injury. Chris is the guy who, after spending all night barhopping in Budapest, demands you climb out the hotel room’s skylight and dangle your legs off the roof. Chris is the guy goading you into leaping from your hotel balcony to your passed-out friend’s hotel balcony in order to sneak into his room and obtain an iPhone charger. Chris is the guy driving his motorcycle 80 miles per hour five feet away from a sheer cliff drop on the Croatian coast. In late 2011, I ended up staring off a 50-foot rock looming over the Adriatic Sea in Dubrovnik. Below was Chris, who had already jumped and was now treading water while screaming at me.
“Just fucking do it!” he shouted. “Don’t think about it! Everyone’s staring at you! Aren’t you embarrassed?”…