It has been said that age is just a number. People who say that are liars.
Here is how a person knows if he or she is old, Just slip on ice, or trip and fall in public. When a young person ends up flat on his or her face in public, witnesses will often snicker or at least smile at their mishap. As one ages, bystanders might walk over to see if you are fine or yell out, “Are you OK?” You are officially old when people across the street or a distance away are running at full speed towards you before you have hit the ground.
The other day I decided to stop by the Memorial Union at Iowa State University to get a bobblehead I have had for a couple of years signed by former Cyclone basketball star Georges Niang. With all the construction on campus, it was easy to feel like a rat in a maze, just trying to get to the building. So, the number of people that showed up shocked me.
Wonderful experience. I came away believing Niang might be one of the brightest individuals on the planet when it comes to people and, if he wants to be the head basketball coach at ISU someday, the job is his for the asking. Carrying my newly-signed bobblehead, I decided to exit the building through one of the side doors, hoping this would help me stay to the right of the construction as I made the half mile journey back to my car.
I am a Norwegian. I am not going to pay to park on campus. I would have had to spend a whole $2.50 to use the ramp! Do you know what you can buy with $2.50? OK, not much, but it is the principle of the thing. Opening the door, I knew there was a step there. My mind even registered the step as my left leg moved out into the air past it. Time truly does slow down when a person is about to have an accident, which explains why some of my past relationships with women seemed longer in my mind than they were.
My mind noted I was falling. Given the stone slab, I even knew it was going to hurt, hurt a lot. Instead of being concerned about broken bones or the soft tissue damage that was about to result, my main concern was my bobblehead. If I had dropped it or slightly tossed it as I was going down, I am sure I could have avoided a whole lot of damage. Again, I am Norwegian. I think I spent a whole $8 for it at a flea market. Add Georges Niang’s signature, we are talking $10, maybe $12 to the right Cyclone fan. Not that I would ever sell it. In my mind — it might as well have been a Fabergé egg I was carrying.
Instead of protecting myself, I held up in the air this object. The person who sold it to me was so happy to get rid of it they did a jig like Mufasa in “The Lion King,” presenting his cub to his kingdom. I came down with all of my weight on my bad left knee, making a sound like shaking a cardboard puzzle box when it hit the stone slab.
Being a left-handed person in a right-handed world, God gives you little hints through out your life as to how you are going to accidentally die or lose a digit or two because nothing is designed with you in mind. Left-handed people are clumsier than the other 90 percent of the population because they are maneuvering in a world they don’t feel at home in. This means we fall more. Granted, Oprah and Barack Obama are left-handed. It makes the extra pain and the five times as likely to die in an accident thing almost worth it, but not quite.
I have had a whole lifetime of these missteps. My first real tumble was going down the back steps of my dad’s business when I was in my twenties. Did a real number on myself. Bleeding everywhere, I limped into his office for a little sympathy. He took one look at me and said, “Don’t bleed on the carpet.” Ah, compassion in the Norwegian world. It is right up there with leaving a large tip and hugging.
Still, you have this thing called pride and you don’t want to trip over your own feet in public, especially around attractive individuals that you might want to ask out. As much as Hollywood makes the whole rom-com, beautiful woman doing a pratfall thing endearing to the man she will walk off into the sunset with, in reality, it is not.
In high school, on my first date, at the end of the evening, I walked the girl up her porch. She turned and kissed me. I was so shocked that I said thank you, promptly turned to leave, and fell over the railing into the bushes. There is no recovery. There is no cute way to do a face plant. It is all arms and legs going in directions they shouldn’t and you just hope you do not split your pants, scream a profanity in front of a minister walking by or bleed on someone’s shoes.
I was saying a little prayer to myself as I hit the ground, “Please, don’t let anyone be around. Please, don’t let anyone be around. Let me keep a wee bit of my dignity, just a morsel.” If it was not for my knee sounding like a maraca being played by an epileptic in the midst of a fit, I am sure I could have heard the voice of God say, “Trevor, I don’t like you that much to spare you that embarrassment.”
About five feet from me, close enough to see what little self-esteem I had left scurry away like a squirrel with a nut, was the beautiful redhead! The woman who, if she lived next door to you, you would probably hate because she is so attractive the birds are always singing, a permanent ray of sunshine follows her, and, if she asks to use your bathroom, for some unknown reason it smells like roses for the next month.
No one tells another little secret that comes with age. Not only do you fall more often. It is harder to pick yourself up. Little kids are like those Weeble figures, the ones that a person can knock down and they rock right back up like nothing happened. In my twenties, I can remember falling down and rocking back and forth on my back, which allowed me to spring to a stand position on my feet. Thirties, it was still pretty easy to pick myself up.
Then one day, (no one tells you about this day) you might get down on the floor for some reason or you trip. You’re on the floor. Suddenly, the thought crosses your mind, “I don’t know if I can get back up.” From that day forward, every time your rear end is on the floor, it is like your own personal action adventure movie, Indiana Jones and the Quest to Pull Himself Upright. You have to put both hands on the ground or use a chair or counter to help pull yourself up.
Here is this beautiful woman, the sun forming a halo around her head as I look up at her, and I cannot stand up, even though my inner-voice is screaming, “Get up, Get up!” I might have been able to do it if I had just put the bobblehead on the ground and used both hands to push myself up. But I had spent $8 on the thing and $8 is $8. Even if I had wanted to do that, my DNA would not have allowed it.
Instead, resembling a three-legged cat, clutching my prized bobblehead, I crawled, showing her my best attribute, praying I had not spilt my pants and that she could now see Paris, back to the steps so I could place my one free hand on it to help myself up. Have you ever had one of those moments where you know it is best not to say anything? This, as she looked at me, was one of those moments. It was pretty clear she did not want to make eye contact. As she shuffled past me, I thought, “Well, things could not get worse.”
It was then, with my knee throbbing, I remembered that I had roughly a half-mile walk ahead of me on an extremely hot day. Limping like a soldier on the Bataan Death March, I took solace in my bobblehead that was still in one piece and that $2.50 for nearby parking was $2.50!
Trevor Soderstrum is a Story City native who has been writing columns for about 10 years or so. He’s been all over the world, and attended the summer session of The Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He loves to share his stories.