Daily Archives: June 14, 2012

The Illusion of Survival

Several years ago during that pesky time when the publishing house had accepted Desert Emergency Survival Basics for publication, but I hadn’t yet seen the contract they were proposing, the editor was asking for re-writes and a number of changes in the final draft. We discussed it on the phone a number of times and I was pecking away at it, but holding back until I’d seen what they were bringing to the table. 

But before I got too far along I got a call from him because of a news event.  A family in Oregon, or Washington had taken a back road in the National Forest, gotten snowed in, and died because they didn’t apply some of the basics suggested in the Survival Book.

Him:  The scope of the book is broader than the name suggests.  It shouldn’t require a lot of work to make it a general survival manual.

Me: A lot of work’s already gone into it.  And I’ve already re-written it the way you suggest earlier.  You’ve got it in front of you.  Before I do any more work on it you and I need to talk about money.  Every time I’ve asked about what you’re offering as an advance you’ve hedged.  Said you needed to discuss it with the boss.

Him:  We don’t usually offer much in the way of advances.  We’re not that big, even though we offer a lot of titles.

Me:  Then you and I probably don’t have much to talk about.  You know and I know I’m never going to see a penny beyond the advance.  I have a fair idea what’s contained in your standard contract.  I’m not going to lift another finger on this book until I see an advance, and if it’s not enough to pay for my time already, hearing you’re going to be flexible about changing the contract details.

Him:  I’ll talk to the boss.  But that book needs to be published.  That family might have survived if they’d read it.

Me:  I’ve got some survival issues of my own here.  Hypothetical people who might die won’t pay my rent.  I’ve already done the work.  But if you’re proposing to print that book and give it away so neither of us makes anything on it what you’re saying might make sense.  Appeal to my better nature.

Him:  I can’t do that.  We’re in business.

Ultimately they sent me the standard contract and offered a token advance.  The willingness to alter the details of the contract didn’t include changes that would have allowed me to eventually get paid for my labor by eliminating provisions for them to squirm out of paying.

I’ve thought about that a lot over the years and eventually concluded the entire concept of survival and survival books qualifies as a cruel hoax.  An ironic illusion.  Because human beings are going to experience death inevitably as a means of exiting the vehicle.  Some are going to die getting lost in the woods.  If they survive getting lost it’s almost certainly going to be luck, instinct, or common sense.

As an example, somewhere earlier on this blog I described a snowstorm Keith and I got caught in on Santa Rita mesa, and how the GPS seemed to be lying about where the truck was.  How we believed the GPS instead of what we knew to be true, and more-or-less quickly found the truck.

That same snowstorm, not too far away, a kid was lost.  The news was full of it, Search and Rescue eventually was ready to give him up for dead.  But the kid, clothed in a light jacket, used his brain, sheltered under a rock ledge, and made it out after five unlikely days.

Which isn’t at all the same as saying the kid survived.  He won’t.  Neither will anyone else.

Old Jules

Harmless Lunatics, Constraints and Contracts

Good morning readers.  Thanks for coming by for a read this morning.

Back during the last century I used to know a guy in Socorro, New Mexico named Dennis Tolliver, who’d dropped in from some other century and could never quite get the hang of things.   He ran a successful business, worked hard, was considered trustworthy in most ways, even though his business involved selling used automobiles.

In that part of the country everything’s located far enough from everything else to argue compellingly that a person needs a vehicle.  Among the people who went to Dennis to fill their vehicle needs were those who’d proven themselves unworthy of credit.  But Dennis didn’t mind.  He’d sell anyone a car and if need be, he’d carry the note himself.

But even though Dennis was a local legend, even though everyone who bought a car from him knew precisely what to expect, people sometimes wouldn’t make their payments.  They knew Dennis didn’t mind.  He didn’t worry when they fell behind three months.  He’d spot them stopped for a red light, walk up and throw them out onto the pavement, and drive the car back to his lot to sell it again.

A few years before I became acquainted with him Dennis got himself a felony record for armed robbery and resisting arrest.  He was on his way through Grants, New Mexico one Sunday morning and decided he wanted some booze.  Stopped into a grocery store, went through the “NOT SOLD ON SUNDAY” ribbon blocking off the alcoholic beverages section, and took his bottle up to the register.

Clerk:  I’m sorry.  I can’t sell that to you.  I’d lose my job.

Dennis:  Why?

Clerk:  It’s against the law.  They’d fire me.

Dennis:  Hold that thought.

Dennis left the bottle on the counter, went out to his car and brought a Government 1911 Colt .45 out from under the seat.  Went back inside, showed it to the clerk and racked a round into the chamber.

Dennis:  Okay.  The price on that bottle is $7.95.  Here’s $20.  I’m taking it.  You do whatever you need to do.

Dennis settled into his car and took a few swigs while he watched through the store window as the clerk called the cops.  He was on the tarmac opening a can of whupass on the first one that showed up when two more arrived and he was hauled off to the slammer.

As nearly as I could tell the felony record never bothered Dennis, never influenced his behavior in any way.  The police were prone to leave him alone, which was appropriate, because Dennis was a fundamentally honest man.  He lived by his own contracts and promises, and he gave others the benefit of a doubt when it came to living by theirs.

But I’ve digressed.  I was actually going to write a bit about my own lunacies, my contracts with my cats, with my chickens, and the vice grips of necessity and options a person can find himself examining.  Even if he’s a lunatic, a hermit, and lives close to the bone.

At least I never had to be Dennis, or someone else.

But I guess I’ll just have to leave you with Dennis to think about and I’ll mull my own business over in private.

Old Jules