July 4, 2012

Please watch where you’re going

The first time I threw up blood, it turned out not to be blood. I was probably 6 years old, though I’m not really sure. I know I couldn’t have been 7 yet, because the accident happened before I had my first existential thought, which came when I was 7.

My first existential thought, which was both exhilarating and terrifying, was: “There is a thing called ‘Jimmy Welp,’ and I am apparently in charge of it!”

But back when I was still 6, my family was having a picnic in the park in the small town in Indiana where I grew up. It was a luscious summer day. The park was about the most glorious thing imaginable and included all the amenities I would expect in heaven: a swimming pool, a concession stand that sold frozen candy bars, a couple of baseball fields, a shelter house, and a playground with all of the accoutrements a discerning 6-year-old needs: seesaws, swings and slides.

Being monkey-like, I had recently become a huge fan of monkey bars. But before my sisters and I could play, our mama and daddy insisted we eat our picnic food. I can’t recall everything Mama had fixed for the picnic, but it was probably chicken and corn on the cob and definitely homegrown tomatoes. Then, as now, I could eat the hell out of some homegrown tomatoes.

After we’d eaten and been excused to go play, I made a beeline for the monkey bars. About halfway across, I lost my grip and plummeted to the ground, landing flat on my stomach and knocking the wind out of my lungs and the picnic out of my gullet. What followed next was a considerable amount of screaming. What followed after that was a considerable amount of panic. Mama and Daddy saw a lot of red in my puke and, after some discussion of internal bleeding, piled the whole family into our yellow 1963 Chevy Impala and took me to the doctor. Diagnosis: not internal bleeding. Vomited tomatoes.

The second time I threw up blood, it was not really throw-up. I was in the very same park, not more than 30 yards from the monkey bars. I was about 12. A couple of friends and I were horsing around in the grandstand at the baseball field. The grandstand was a really cool old wooden structure that has since been rebuilt and near-immortalized in the movie “A League of Their Own,” an actual Hollywood movie about women’s baseball starring Geena Davis.

I say “near-immortalized” instead of “immortalized” as a reminder that everything is fleeting, even Hollywood and the United States of America, and maybe even Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” all of which will eventually be lost to history. But anyway, back before Hollywood spruced it up, the grandstand was pretty rickety. It had box seats, though, and my friends and I were walking on the railings between them, which were not meant for walking on.

Before long, I lost my balance and fell face-first onto the grandstand floor. Even worse, at the last instant, I saw a rusty nail that was sticking up out of the grandstand coming up at my face. Even more unfortunately, I instinctively did what falling people often do: I yelled. What followed next was that the nail pierced my wide-open yell and with it my tongue. What followed after that was a considerable amount of panic and enough blood to satisfy a Borgia Pope.

Someone ran to the concession stand and called Mama and Daddy, who raced to the park in their 1968 Chevy Caprice and took me to the doctor. Diagnosis: no stitches needed, just a tetanus shot. Because of all the blood, it seemed like a massive injury, but it was just a minor wound.

So why am I telling you this? I dunno. These stories just seem so ... summery. But I guess the point might be that if you want some action in your life, you’ve got to take some risks. And maybe another point is that things aren’t always as bad as they seem at first. And I guess another point is your tongue piercing might not look all that cool, especially if there’s a bloody Indiana grandstand attached to it. But I guess the most important point is: Please watch where you’re going.