There is a company called Meltwater News. Near as I can tell they are in the business of filtering and providing customized news for corporations. But what the company does isn’t nearly as interesting as the people who have worked there. On their website they’ve listed a staff with a former priest, lawyer, financial analyst, actor, news anchor, football player and ballerina. And along with this eclectic team are a professional paintball player and competitive tomahawk thrower.
First of all, how do you become a professional paintball player? More importantly, did someone actually put “competitive tomahawk thrower” on his resume and was that the reason he landed the job?
You have to admit, competitive tomahawk thrower has a nice edge. You can even drop the word “competitive.” Actually, forget “thrower.” Just put down TOMAHAWK. Who cares if you know three languages and helped create a food shelf network? You put TOMAHAWK on a resume you are going to get noticed.
I bet you would land an interview. And when you go, you definitely are bringing the TOMAHAWK. Just place it on the desk and pretend like it’s not even there. But it is. You know it, the interviewer knows it and that’s all that matters.
If being a competitive tomahawk thrower gets you noticed amongst a crowd of resumes, I wonder how former Olympians fare? Sure, tomahawks are cool, but what about jumpers, sprinters, vaulters and javelinist? Is javelinist even a word? Where does a disc thrower go after the summer games? Where do people, who have devoted their lives to a narrow pursuit, find employment?
For example, let’s create a former Olympian. Let’s call him Eton. And since he’s made up, let’s say he’s from Roccomania. Let’s say Eton has spent the majority of his life living in Roccomania learning how to throw a hammer, which is actually a metal ball. But calling an Olympic event a metal ball throw sounds vague and would not attract a world class athlete like Eton who will spend his life spinning and flinging a six pound metal ball the distance of a football field. And he will do this for the chance to represent his country and drink his weight in Austrian beer.
But what will Eton do once the games are over and all the beer is gone? Where does a former Olympian from a made-up country find work? More importantly, what will he put on his resume?
We should keep Eton’s resume sleek to make sure the key words stick out like HAMMER and THROWER. Plus, if H.R. gets a hold of Eton’s resume, there is one department where he will be a nice fit—I.T.
Anyone who has worked in an office has secretly wished there was an Eton on staff to show up with his hammer and permanently fix a frozen computer. But working with glitchy office equipment is part of the routine. Before we even head into work, we know it will take ten minutes for our computers to start; the phone lines will be periodically down, and our chances of getting in the building will be delayed if our key cards go on the fritz. We know this and we accept it. We know it’s a part of doing business. But there are some things in an office setting that should work no matter what. Never should we read a note next to the elevator: NOT WORKING PROPERLY.
What does this note even mean? Either the elevator works or it doesn’t. There should be no gray area. Never should you get stuck between floors for the better part of the morning only to have your manager say, “We told you the elevator wasn’t working properly. Now, how do you want to make up your time?”
One day I rolled the dice and jumped into the elevator with a married couple heading for a closing on a new house. They were a little concerned that the ride, which should have taken seconds, was moving onto minutes.
The elevator was having a bad day. There were moments where it almost stopped. There were times where it sounded like the irritable bowels of a former beer-drinking Olympian. And when the doors finally opened, the wife said, “Well, that took forever.”
I later wondered what kind of conversation I would have started with the couple if the elevator became completely stuck. Would they have panicked? Would the wife have snacks in her purse?
Survival! Escape! I love stories that put the protagonist in a box with no way out. That’s why I’m sitting in a fully reclined chair reading Elmore Leonard’s “Trail of the Apache.”
The story is about Eric Travisin, a 28 year-old cavalry officer given the charge of maintaining peace on the Arizona frontier by making sure that two hundred White Mountain Apaches are convinced it’s more fun to raise crops in a desert than it is to steal horses. (It’s not.)
Travisin’s job is uneventful until the Apache renegade, Pillo, is brought along with his men to live on the reservation sans their wives.
Immediately, Travisin sees a problem. Separating the sixteen Apaches from their wives is like separating congressmen from their lobbyist. It will not work. And Travisin knows it will only be a matter of time before Pillo and his men decide to leave, which happens after I make a sandwich.
Duty bound, Travisin gathers a posse and sets out for Pillo who shows no interest in covering his tracks. Travisin is puzzled. Escapees at least try to split up and leave no trace, but Pillo was doing the opposite by keeping his men together and leaving a trail that is the modern day equivalent of an escaped convict using his own credit card. It wasn’t difficult for Travisin to follow until he reached a ravine with a towering mesa on the other side. This was a problem for it’s really difficult to sneak up on someone who watching you scale a steep incline.
Travisin needed to think. He needed to wait. And as night crept into the valley, he picked one other scout for the dangerous assignment. He told his men to wait on their side of the ravine while he and his scout inched, stopped, waited and inched some more.
They took their time. They made no sound. I brewed some coffee.
Travisin knew he couldn’t sneak up on the Apaches. Each step sealed his fate. The closer he got to the summit meant his immediate death. But to make the ascent was his job. His caution was his regret.
“Not going to work,” I said, sipping my hot java.
Who did Travisin think he was? Blinded by duty, maybe he had no choice. Plus, it wouldn’t have made a good story if Travisin reached the mesa, turned to his men and said, “Let this mesa be the new reservation for Pillo and his men.”
So Travisin inched and I sipped. Travisin listened and I scanned to where he stopped. He was close. He could see the campfire. He could hear the horses. He could feel the fear in his body as he dropped to his belly and softly slid to the point where he raised his head.
“Oh, oh,” I said.
Instead of sixteen renegades, Travisin counted over sixty Apaches in Pillo’s camp. It was no wonder why Pillo wasn’t trying to hide his tracks. He was building a small army. Travisin may have been a competent tracker and a seasoned military man, but there was no way he was going to arrest sixty well-armed Apaches. He needed to think. He needed to reassess. He was too distracted to see the butt of a rifle come across his forehead.
“Nice move,” I repeated from the comforts of my worn leather chair. I poured a second cup of coffee and waited for Travisin to regain consciousness. “How are you going to get out of this one?”
I wondered why I was trash-talking a fictional character. I knew I was in the moment. This was it. Once he realized his scout was dead and he was surrounded by sixty hostile Apaches, how was Travisin going to escape? More importantly, did I have any desert?
As Pillo ranted about the injustices against his people and I munched on some Girl Scout cookies, Travisin surveyed his dire situation. Even though he knew his original intention to sneak up on an Apaches was foolish, he quickly remembered the most important rule of all when confronted with an impossible situation. Go big!
“Pillo speaks with a large mouth, but only wind comes out.”
That’s all Travisin said but it was enough to stop Pillo’s rant, which gave Travisin time to start his own diatribe on how he was going to bring Pillo and his men back to the reservation and if they did not oblige, he was going to reduce their meal allowance, put them under 24 hour surveillance and confiscate their rewards cards. He then took it to another level and said, “Usen sent me. Ask Gatilo. Ask him if he was ever able to sneak up on me. Ask him if I am not the wolf.”
The Apaches were stunned for at that moment Travisin equated himself to an Apache God. I even forgot about my Girl Scout cookies and that was enough time for Travisin to start walking out of the camp.
Before anybody knew it, Travisin was in a full sprint and heading back down the mesa. The Apaches were quick to close, but it was too late as Travisin recklessly slid into the ravine and to his awaiting posse hiding behind boulders and trees.
The Apaches may have had the numbers, but the posse had the fortification to carry the day.
“I had to be bold or not at all,” Travisin later admitted after he re-arrested Pillo and what was left of surviving Apaches.
“Yeah right,” I thought. How can anyone get away from that many Apaches? Can you really trick someone into thinking that you have all the cards when you don’t even have a pair of threes? But then I remembered a similar situation on the South Dakota prairie.
In college I liked to bike. But if wanted to go for a long ride, I needed to get out of the town of Yankton, South Dakota preferably heading south on Broadway Avenue, which once was commemorated as Tom Brokaw Boulevard in honor of the famed NBC News Anchor and hometown hero.
Broadway turns into U.S Highway 81 when it crosses the Missouri River into Nebraska. The bridge that spans the river is unusual for it has two lanes stacked on top of each other much like a double-decker bus. For motorist the design works for there is no oncoming traffic. For cyclists it is a challenge to keep your speed for there isn’t much room for motorist to pass and there is none if that motorist is driving a semitrailer.
Most times I crossed the bridge without incident. But on this day a trucker got on the bridge right behind me and I had to expend all my energy to hustle to the other side.
When we reached the other end of the bridge, the trucker thanked me with a friendly blast of his horn. I waved and grimaced. The mad dash had already depleted me. I turned right along the river road and headed west.
This was my favorite part of the ride. Although biking west usually means going against a steady wind, the road is buffeted by cliffs, trees and winding curves, allowing an easy run along one of the great American rivers. I took my time to enjoy the view as fishermen in boats cast for walleye and catfish and eagles hovered above to see what they missed.
Eventually, I reached the halfway point, Gavin’s Point Dam.
At eight thousand feet long and nearly eighty feet high, this earthen dam was completed in 1957 without the help of one beaver. The construction of this dam was the reason Tom Brokaw’s dad came looking for work in Yankton. This is where a young Tom worked as a tour guide, charging double if people wanted to hear his announcer’s voice. Last of five hydroelectric dams on the Missouri, Gavin’s Point is also the smallest, which at the moment brought little comfort as I biked back into South Dakota.
Unfortunately, the rest of the ride was uphill. That’s what rivers do. Over time they slowly carve into the earth and create valleys. My ascent up County Road 153 was going to be steady, steep and would probably finish me. Still, I made the ascent. Slowly I pedaled until I reached County Road 50 for the final turn.
What should have been a mad sprint home felt more like a slog. My pedals turned, my tires rotated, but I moved like I was biking through a pond of molasses. I had no energy to notice anything around me, especially a German shepherd advancing from the rear.
The first warning was the bark. It wasn’t a warning or a friendly hello. It was a low rumble, the kind of growl that says, “I’m coming and there isn’t anything you can do.”
I picked up my head and looked back. The German shepherd was in a full sprint and had me locked in its sights. Where did it come from? Off in the distance may have been a farm house, but at the moment all I saw were wild eyes and angry teeth. There was no doubt this dog wanted to eat me as it sailed down the bluff like an angel of death. What do you do? What could I do?
As the German shepherd reached my back tire, my heart leapt. I should have panicked. Instead, I stretched my right index finger to the frothing teeth and with a command of a Midwestern news anchor, I bellowed, “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!”
The German shepherd halted… then realized it didn’t have to, but already it was too late. The dog was now flatfooted while I was screaming across the prairie.
“Often when you haven’t time to think, you are better off,” thought Travisin when given a moment to reflect on his run-in with Pillo.
I have no idea what came over me with my encounter with the German shepherd. Maybe deep down without even knowing I was able to conjure the Golden Rule and momentarily turn myself into a god. I’d hate to think what would have happened otherwise considering I had nothing else, not even a resume builder.