I was wrapping up a meeting on a recent Thursday afternoon when my phone buzzed, letting me know my wife had sent me a text. She is not a frequent texter, so it caught my attention and, since the meeting was at an end, I tapped the screen to look at the message. I hoped it might be an emoji-based expression of affection, but, figured it was more likely a request for me to pick up something from the grocery store on my way home. I was not expecting a photo of my garage filled with a mountain of trash with the caption: “Look what I came home to.” Upon closer inspection, which required taking off my glasses so my late middle-age eyes could focus on the details, I realized the trash was not trash, but was, in fact, a pile of everything in my garage that is normally found on the shelves therein.
The shelving system I had built three years ago had collapsed. Specifically, the standards that held the shelf brackets had ripped away from the wall on the left side of the garage, causing everything that had been neatly stored to be ejected onto the concrete floor. I did a mental inventory of the shelf contents and realized the heap included boxes of old toys that we are keeping until our children have kids of their own and an extensive collection of paint supplies, including drop cloths, paint brushes, paint thinner, and dozens of quarts and gallons of every shade of house paint we have ever applied to the walls of our abodes over the years. We are minor league hoarders when it comes to retaining cans of paint. More troubling was the knowledge that there was a Mason jar filled with acetone somewhere in that pile. I had put the volatile solvent in a glass jar because a) the plastic jug the acetone was originally contained within had cracked and b) I had an empty glass mason jar handy. I should have known better, since we live in an earthquake zone and glass jars filled with toxic chemicals are in a constant state of tectonic jeopardy. I also recalled that I owned two gallons of Thompson’s Water Seal waterproofer. I bought them on separate occasions for two different projects, neither of which required a whole gallon, but that’s how they sell the stuff and, when starting the second project, I had forgotten I already owned an almost full gallon can. When the opportunity to go to a hardware store presents itself, my default is to go shopping rather than check to see if I actually need anything. I scrutinized the photo and saw the concrete driveway in front of the garage was discolored due to some moisture. It was not a rainy day, so I assumed that a nasty swill of turpentine, acetone, and waterproofer were coating the driveway. While waterproofing my driveway could have merit, I figured the paint thinner and acetone would counteract any good qualities. I thanked everyone for their participation in the meeting and headed out the door to get home to help my bride.
I rushed to my truck in the office parking lot, started it up, and pulled out quickly. Too quickly, as I almost T-boned a co-worker’s car passing in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and felt my heart racing from the shock of the near miss and my fears about what waited for me at home. The ten-minute drive was blur of anxious thoughts. I knew no one got hurt, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what almost happened: my wife could have been seriously hurt, the minivan could have been badly damaged, and undoubtedly I would have a difficult clean-up process to minimize the environmental disaster that my failed storage system had inflicted on the driveway.
When I got home, I found the reality didn’t match my fears. The shelf standards came away from the wall because the screws holding them had pulled straight out of the wood they were screwed into. The standards, brackets, and wood shelves were all in good condition, and I could rebuild it. The toys were unbroken for the most part, no paint spilled, the two gallons of waterproofer were still contained, and, inexplicably, the glass jar of acetone didn’t break. The fluid that had watered down my driveway was a gallon of windshield washer fluid. My driveway was not a superfund cleanup site. In fact, it was more hygienic now, having been doused with a gallon of soap. More importantly, no one got hurt. My wife had backed the minivan out of the driveway twenty minutes earlier to pick up our son at school. It could have been so much worse. With one trip to the hardware store, I had new, and bigger, screws and an extra standard with brackets to distribute the load. I remounted the shelves and loaded them up before the night was over.
Even though it had all worked out, I was in a foreboding mood the following Saturday as I drove north to see a metal show in Tacoma. I had almost talked myself out of going, but I was meeting my metal brother Sean, so I decided to press on so I could spend time with my friend even if I wasn’t feeling like a metal warrior that night. The venue didn’t have much to offer in terms of parking, so I drove a couple blocks, ending up parked behind two other cars on a street in front of a house in a residential neighborhood. While I should have been happy that parking was free, I feared my car would be ticketed or towed away. To ratchet my anxiety up a notch, I walked to the venue wondering whether I had remembered to lock the car. I knew I was fretting unnecessarily, but I couldn’t help but think my car would probably be broken into shortly before the cop wrote a ticket and called the tow truck driver. It’s not unusual for me to consider everything that could go wrong while I’m trying to enjoy myself at a metal show.
The venue was a large bar, so Sean and I found seats at a table near the back where we could watch the opening acts perform. When the headliners – Metal Church – took the stage, my mood had only slightly improved. I was still wallowing in my fear and loathing of my decision to attend the show and put my vehicle at risk. The band played well, and halfway through their set, I got over myself and decided to get out of my chair and go up front to stand near the stage. It was time to bang my head with the “Gods of Wrath.” It was a good decision.
The music poured over me like a warm shower, washing away my anxiety. Live metal music is a tonic that quiets my worried mind and allows me to live only in the moment. There are no risks, dangers, or what-might-have-happened. There is only the music. The guitar riffs shredded my tension, the drums became my heartbeat, and the only voice in my head was the voice of vocalist Mike Howe standing in front of me shouting, “I know these are the badlands, somehow I’ll find my way!” I reached up and shook his hand, making a momentary connection with another old school brother in metal. As the band generated a joyous crescendo of heavy metal noise to bring the proceedings to an end, I raised my hands in a full metal salute. Jubilation, triumph, and exultation had replaced fear, dread, and apprehension.
I was happy and calm as Sean and I walked out of the venue. I’m grateful that we share a passion for metal music that can take us out of ourselves and wallow in exhilaration free of worry and woe. We said our goodbyes, and when I walked back to the neighborhood where I had parked, I found my car just as I left it: locked, unscathed, and unticketed. I had wasted a lot of energy worrying about what could go wrong before I walked into the joyful waters of the front row at the Metal Church show.
On the drive home, I reflected on the previous few days and come to a few realizations:
1. Yes, bad things do happen, they can really suck, and sometimes you can’t fix it.
2. I’m grateful for the disasters that aren’t so disastrous, like the garage shelving collapse that didn’t really do any damage.
3. I should try not to be afraid of small screws, Mason jars of acetone, tow trucks, parking tickets and all the other things that could go wrong.
4. I should go up front and experience joy whenever I can.
I got home safely around 1 a.m. with a grin on my face and the music of Metal Church reverberating in my body and mind. I have spent the days since reveling in how fortunate we were that the garage disaster was so uneventful. I’m strangely happy that my shelves collapsed so harmlessly. I have good friends that are facing real struggles that aren’t so easily escaped, and to them I send all the positive energy I have, so they can find their way through those badlands.
Don’t hesitate to “go up front” whenever you can. \m/