[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.]
The show that I'm working on, 10 Things You Don't Know About, has taken me to some very inspiring locations this season. Some of the activities I am tasked with reside outside my meager skill set. I do whatever it takes to get the shot. I figure I am lucky to have a job, so if part of the employment requires me to grow, so be it.
There was something I read in my high school yearbook, junior year. One of the seniors had put under his photo, “If you're not going to be smart, you will have to be tough.” I found this rather grim pronouncement to have the knock of truth. I had no idea how much.
Upon graduation, I went into full-time employment in minimum-wage jobs that were hard on the feet and back. I figured this what life was, and so, like millions of other people, I put my shoulder into it and got on with things. I did fine. When you have little, you often have little to worry about. I just did the work. Often in these places, I would take the jobs no one else wanted. It was like being one of the last picked to be on the team in gym class. Familiar.
I don't know if it's low self-esteem that makes me show up to every knife fight with a Toshiro Mifune – esque “It'll hurt,” empty-handed posture, but that's the corner I fight out of. When you lack coordination or any detectable trace of finesse, it will indeed hurt, and you have to be tough, or at least have a high threshold for pain and humiliation. I have none of these attributes, so things hurt all the time. I believe it is what's commonly referred to as “real life” and, come what may, you just deal with it. If you're smart, you don't do a lot of these things more than once. If you're not smart, you will call repeat attempts “practice.”
Don't get me wrong, I am not pitying myself. Being a monumental screw-up has kept things quite lively, engendering a strangely positive attitude. A lot of my life can be summed up with, “Why not? Sure, I'll go!” This is the curiosity-over – common sense override that is permanently embedded in my operating software. I would like to be able to tell you that it has served me well, but a good part of the time, it has led to stitches, fractures and overall pain. But at least it was real. So is working for the same boss in the same building until retirement, as my father did. To each their own.
Don't worry, this is going somewhere.
My boss on the 10 Things show is a very sharp guy. He is one of those smartest-guy-in-the-room types. We are in our second year working together and it is one of the best environments I have ever toiled in. His ideas are always good to go, so when he asks me if I will do something – polite, college-educated, fraction-of-my-age man he is – I just say, “You know me, boss, I'll always get the shot.”
I figure, if anything bad happens, at least there is some consistency in my life.
The boss needs me to do some underwater diving to realize his vision for one of our episodes. “Henry, would you mind taking classes to get certified for scuba diving?” Sure!
I wonder if he had any idea how much there is to know, or how involved the aquatic life is. Perhaps he just wants to see me in a wet suit so he can point to a screen and tell his friends, “I made that happen.”
I figured dive instruction would be a big deal. I was right and then some. To move around in the water with a life-support system on your back is at once an expression of humankind's high-functioning state and inexhaustible arrogance. Nothing says “You're not supposed to be here” like gearing up with cylinder, regulator, fins, etc., trying to be a fish. That said, scuba diving in open sea water is one of the most exhilarating and humbling experiences so far.
I get back to Los Angeles for a few days between locations. My diver's training manual is waiting for me. There's a test every few pages and, as you can imagine, there's a lot to know. I study for hours a day, trying to learn and understand all these new terms I need to be conversant with. A lot of it makes sense. As you descend, the air in your body decreases in volume but increases in density – and the opposite going back up. Don't explode. Got it.
I meet my dive instructor – cool guy, very patient. He'll need it. I get my gear, learn to put it all together, and off we go to a local pool to train up.
We get in the water right in time for a pool aerobics class. Topside, the air fairly shudders to beat-heavy music, with a woman yelling at partially submerged people. Under the water, relative quiet, row upon row of butts twisting away.
Days later, I'm standing on the shore of Redondo Beach, near where I used to live when I was in Black Flag. A group of men swaggers toward the water. They have all kinds of kick-ass gear strapped to them. One has an NRA sticker on his tank.
Minutes later, I am swimming underwater, breathing. It is a hell of a thing. The ocean is not a pool but I seem to be doing OK. Too soon, my first short dive is done. As instructed, I keep my eyes up as we ascend. To see the sun from several feet underwater is amazing. When my hands and head break through the surface, it is like emerging from a dream.
Life remains quite interesting.