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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

The memories are temporary; the pain lasts forever!

Posted on March 30, 2011 at 10:48 AM

Several years ago, back in the heady mid-2000s when investment property real estate loans and 130% mortgages were flowing like sweet wine, and terms like “toxic mortgage” and “asset devaluation” and “imploding financial sector” and “your loan has been denied! And, ps, we're foreclosing!” were still just distant, shadowy figments on the horizon; when the phrase “blood in the streets!” meant that you had probably taken an accidental wrong term off the 405 and now found yourself wearing red on the wrong side of Compton. Before any of this, Custom Theater and Audio had its best year ever with a company called Elan.


Everything was clicking in 2007. CTA was running on all cylinders with packed schedules, maximum truck roles and a full crew. The building boom in Myrtle Beach was building. AND booming! It seemed like a new builder or client was calling every day with some new project. “I need a massive prewire! When can you come?” “I need a 20 room audio system! With touchscreen controls everywhere!” “I’d pay anything to hear my iPod in every room of my home! EVERY!” Multi-room audio distribution was the propellant powering our rocket, and Elan was the company whose products we used.


So, Elan has – or should I say HAD; I believe this little perk has gone the way of so many other little company perks; Oh, Runco! You and your Mexico getaway! With tequila showers and money-pillow fights, how I regret never getting to attend you! How I regret even more that one invite that was passed along to me from Al Griffin when he couldn’t attend and then rescinded from me in that awkward “Umm, that invite was, uh, for Al...not, uh, you.” – this deal every year where they would recognize their top dealers by taking them on an all-expenses paid getaway. This was called the Elan Elite Club and was reserved for dealers doing over 6-figures for the year. Now in the years preceding – and, sadly, following – 6 figures was about 1 figure too many for us to qualify for the trip. But, ah, 2007 was a magical year. Unicorns were prancing about singing and dancing and leaving sparkly unicorn prints everywhere. Rainbows were high-fiving each other in the sky! Elves were spinning whatever it is elves spin into long strands of gold. And then weaving those golden strands into the core of obscenely expensive power cables. And then selling cables those to Mr. Cooper and then bringing us that cash to by Elan systems for their elf tree castle! It was a magical, wonderful I’m-going-to-Disneyland kind of time!


Here’s our award recognizing Custom Theater and Audio’s Outstanding Excellence in the field of Awesomeness.


So, deal was, as Elite Excellence members, your company received an all-expenses paid Golden Ticket aboard the Wonkatania good for two lucky people. Now, most companies went company owner and spouse style. A romantic getaway. “Honey, we did it! I know it was a long year, but let’s go suckle at the teat of my labors...together!” But not us. Al and I figured after 12 years of selling Elan, we’d earned this thing together so we were going to use it. Together. As partners. The business kind, not the life kind. So Elan flew the two of us down to Mazatlan, Mexico and put us up at a resort called El Cid. This roughly translates to, I believe, The Cid.


Now The Cid was an all inclusive kind of deal; meals, drinks, DRINKS, requests for fresh towels, lobby Internets, a man-servant to shade you while you stared out into the ocean...ah, yes, it was all there for the El taking. Walk past a bar, feel the urge for a Pacifico, grab one. Walk past another bar, grab a Corona. “Damn straight I want a lime, barman! Or as we say in Mexico, at The Cid, give me una lima! What do I look like, some kind of wandering transient!” Feel a sweat breaking out as you lounge by the pool? Wave your arms about and start shouting “Negro Modelo” to no one in particular.  Servants will materialize with chilled glasses of amber nectar to soothe your wealthy American dollar palate. (Remember...we’re back in 2007. And in Mexico.) All this and any other Mexican beers – or sub-standard house wines or tropical coladas or mid-shelf liquors – you feel like grabbing as you try to stave off melting in the Mazatlanian sun. When the country’s mantra is “Don’t drink the water!” you are definitely inspired to find solace in other drinking options.


I have never taken a cruise, but I imagine The Cid imparted the same sense of power and freedom that you feel on a cruise ship as you order 4 and 5 different entrees with dinner, take a single, sampling bite of each, slide the refuse into a pile, and then tell your server to perform a one-man show of the H.M.S Pinafore while he melts you some butter for your next order of lobster tails and tenderloins. And be quick about it! My palate is fickle and I’m *going* to change my mind! I ordered chips and salsa and guacamole and bucket of Coronas at midnight on several occasions. It was like I was getting a glimpse into a personal heaven. I’m starting to tear up right now in my sterile, guacamole and Corona-less living room...


Now, I was planning on immersing myself in all manner of Elan group activities. Team building meetings in the morning to discuss how we’re all so awesome and share our secrets for awesomeness over fresh Mexican orange juice and El Coffee? Count me in! Group dinners where we regale each other with tales of 6-figure installs and audio systems SO lavish that even money laundering drug lords would be embarrassed by their excess while drinking an entire village’s wine output for the year? Done! Al, on the other hand, had one thing on his Mexico mind: fishing. He booked numerous fishing excursions prior to even arriving, ensuring that he would have a convenient out from any group related festivus. (Joke was on him 'cause the fishing sucked! Bwa-ha-ha!)


So one of the excursions was this boat ride over to some island or isla or archipelago or something where you would have a land of enchantments reserved to entertain you. Sounds good, enchant me, Cid! So I met up with a guy named Stephen. It was pretty easy to pair up with him since it was essentially a couple’s cruise at this point and, well, since he too had come to Mexico with his business partner – ie: a dude – who has also decided not to visit the archipelago of enchantment, that pretty much left the two of us equally as the odd men out. Drinks, barman, for me and my new friend, Stefano! Turns out that he happened to work for a company in Greenville (Fusion Systems), South Carolina. Stephen’s store was close enough to mine that we shared similar product lines and the same reps and could discuss some similar business and market climates, but far enough away where I didn’t have to instantly hate him for stealing money from my child’s mouth and wonder if it would be more discreet to bump him over board or try to bury him under a bunch of burlap sacks on murder island and then speculate if anyone would notice if we came back from the island one man short.  


So on the boat ride over, free from the weighty thoughts of murder in a foreign land, Stephen and I chat it up and it turns out he’s really cool and we have a lot in common. And since we’re the lone singletons, Stephen and I end up hanging out for the day and do all the perfectly normal, totally hetero, man-and-woman, why-does-everyone-keep-saying-we’re-gay?! kinds of things. Stuff like sharing a sweaty and manly kayak ride out and around this giant rock. And taking a totally butch and kick-ass cowboy horse ride down the beach. Or languidly laying about sunning on the sandy beach.  See. Totally just two shirtless dudes hanging out enjoying Mexico. Not once did the song “Summer Lovin’” event think about starting to play.


Now, initially snorkeling was on the menu of possible activities. I’m totally down with some snorkel, but after feeling the water – and being told that “No, amigo. We do not to have the wet suit.” – I decided that under water activity was not going to be on my agenda. Next best thing is some above water activity in the form of kayak. Now, the kayaking is the first ingredient in this little walk down memory pain. Because for someone who is over 6-feet tall, cramming – or rather more correctly folding – oneself into a Mexican kayak with another guy and going for like a 3-mile ocean ride with a small-ass paddle when you NEVER kayak regularly is like mixing ammonia and bleach together in a small, ventless room to just kinda see what happens. What’s GONNA happen is back pain. But not immediate back pain. Oh, no. That would be too easy. That’s just what your back would be expecting! At this point, what the kayak is doing is laying the groundwork, biding its time, in an elaborate scheme to cripple you for life. The kayak ride is the guy walking the fields, casting all sorts of seeds around in the deep furrows of your spine and rib cage. He gets up early, before the hot sun, so he can have a full day of sowing as much future pain as possible. He is a hard and tireless worker, refusing breaks and avoiding any idle chit-chat as he makes sure that the seeds find good, deep, fertile soil in the back muscles where they can really take root.


Once we circumnavigated the volcanic rock – the only two-man kayak team to do it, I assure you (OK. The only two MAN team period, but I assure you that is merely a technicality!) – Stephen and I grabbed something to eat, dried off in the sun and then decided to do the next then any two totally straight guys would do on a trying-to-be-romantic-but-kinda-poor-and-shabby-scrub-of-dirty-beach would do. We went for a his-and-his horseback ride! Which is actually the best thing you can do once the seeds of back pain have been good and planted by the sitting, twisting and torsioning of a good long ocean kayak – with freezing sea water occasionally locking your muscles into place, of course. Jumping into a saddle and gallivanting down the beach at a spine and back and ball jarring clip-clop, clip-clop really helps to cement in the previous spinal mis-alignments and twists and turns. Pitting spine against disc in a compression battle to the death!


So cap that off by sitting on a stiff, metal, thrumming and bucking ship seat for the hour ride back to The Cid, and then sleeping in a bed with a mattress firmness somewhere between an autopsy examination table and the top of my pool table followed by a 3 leg, 12-hour plane flight! And you have all the ingredients for el gran dolor de la espalda! Or, as they like to say at The Cid, “Your back, senor. She is going to, how you say, punish you for this. This pain, she will make you, como se dice? Ah, si. She make you her bitch, yes? Ha! Bienvenidos al Cid!”


I get home and do two incredibly foolish things; I simultaneously picked up Lauryn off the bed and then turned. And that was the moment when all of those kayak seeds decide to simultaneously sprout into giant, blooming, towering Sequoia trees of pain. The Sequoia’s roots stretch deep and the branches reach wide and into the sky. And high above the tree are giant, Fourth of July explosions of searing pain flaring the length, width and breadth of my back. It is both beautiful and horrifying and feels as if someone has plunged a knife – a long one with a really pointy tip and a surprisingly wide blade – straight into my back, just to the left of the spine and right under the shoulder blade.

Then he took the knife, called for silence, asked if the performers were ready, and then started using the blade as a baton to conduct a full orchestral symphony of pain. I’m sure it was an amazing performance. Men were wearing tuxedos and Jaeger Le-Couture watches with multiple complications and women beautiful one-off Versace gowns and clutching exotic Prada handbags. I think I may have actually cried out, “Bravissimo!” and shed a single tear during a particularly moving passage. It was a full encompassing, wonderful sonorous orchestra of pain, featuring a full string section where every player was an experienced First Chair soloist that swelled fortissimo and receded to subtle pianissimo. The conductor was stunning and thorough in his cruelty, urging each bit of pain to reach its fullest, maximum potential. When a pain didn’t sing to its fullest, he took it aside and tutored it like Joan Crawford on a bad hanger day. He played the spine, producing adagissimo pain that crept its entire length and radiated out to the fingertips and toes on my left side. When that pain movement threatened to become tolerable, he twisted the baton ever so subtlety, the deep back muscles responding to the requests for incalzando, as he worked the ribs with the deep, sharp stabbing, air-sucking prestissimo pain. It was a nuclear winter of complete suffering and pain. The crowd exploded in rapturous applause.


I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t lay. Dana had to help me in and out of chairs and bed and lead me around like a barely functional shell. Imagine Sharon and Ozzy. Except with way more pain. And far too little medication. I never really empathized with back pain sufferers before. I believe my sentiments on the matter were closely along the lines of, “What a bunch of complainers. Your back hurts! Suck it up and get on with life!” Now I got it. I got it loudest and clearest. The pain was spherical and endless. It was Interstate I-10 stretching out onto an infinite horizon. It was not a long time ago and it was in a galaxy very, very excruciatingly near. When it wasn’t an acute, high-frequency, “Seriously, I think my spine is trying to pierce through my skin!” kind of pain, it was a dull, throbbing memory of that pain. Or just laying there in complete and utter stillness while you waited for the next bout of ninja pain to sneak up and attack you.

I woke up at 3 in the morning and Ozzy-hobbled to the shower seeking some form of solace. I walked around. I stood in a corner. I pitied the sad state my back had become and wondered why it had betrayed me. I thought about how nice it would be to die and just lie there in back free pain.  And yet somewhere off in the distance, I heard the gentle strains of mariachi music and the lilt of a kayak softly laughing to itself in cool waters while a chips and guacamole delivery man made sweet, pain-free love to his woman. He looked up at me and smiled, the wink of sun off a gold tooth producing a single shard of pain, and mouthed, “De nada!”


So the next morning, I got up and headed to a chiropractor. Never been to one before and always kind of thought they were the bastard, step-children of the medical industry. Like, “Well, your grades weren’t quite good enough for US medical school, so you can either pursue something on-line from outside of the country or become a chiropractor!” All I’d ever heard was that once you saw a chiropractor, you were hooked for life. They were like legalized heroin salesman. Except the initial sample wasn’t free. It was $65. I walked into his office with all of the grace of a Frankenstein.


“Rah! Back hurt! Need see doctor! Mrahhh!”


As I robot walked back to his office, the doctor breezes in, asks me a couple of questions, feels my back for a bit, touches my neck and then not so gingerly pushes me down flat onto his table face first.


“Rah! Back hurt! RAHHH! Have doctor no mercy or heart for hurt! Monster angry-sad-cry!”


He then starts twisting, turning, pulling, and cracking my back in all manner of motions and positions. It’s like he is a WWF champion intent on proving something to skeptics and he is working out all of his anger and new pretzel-maker moves on a rag doll. I occasionally reward a particularly aggressive adjustment with a pained “Muh...Uhmph...” Meanwhile my neck and back are making sounds reminiscent of crushing and grinding handfuls of walnut shells together and then shaking the pieces around for awhile before scattering them about on a tile floor. He pulls out this device that he calls “The Activator” but that I call a “precision limpy.”

He pushes the tip of The Activator into an area and then presses the plunger delivering a focused THUMP! which apparently tells the area that it has been bad and that if it doesn’t stop misbehaving it will be sent to bed without supper. The doctor says that I have pulled two rib heads out of place, and that only multiple visits and much manipulation and adjustment can return some semblance of peace and tranquility to the angry people of my back. I left feeling somewhat more human and over about six visits gradually returned to life as I had once known it.


So, why do I bring this up now? Good question. First, I recently reconnected with Stephen on Linked In. He’s still funny and has become a blog reader. So, huzzah! Second, my back started hurting me again this past weekend. I had to endure an entire stabby weekend waiting for Monday when I could go and get the sweet relief of some adjustment and Activation. Upon saying, “Take a deep breath and let it out...” and then pushing and twisting my back to-and-fro and hearing my back once again crackle like he was crushing a pallet of bullet wrap in his hands, releasing a tidal flood of endorphins into my blood stream, the doctor said, “You’ve been away a long time.”

I even managed to avoid a snarky comment when the nurse asked, “Doctor, will you be wanting to make another appointment?” I mean, come on, lady! We both know the drill here! Of course he’ll be wanting to make another appointment. OK. It’s this coming Friday morning. And, my back and I are actually pretty excited about it. Thanks for the memories, El Cid. I'll probably never be able to forget you...

Categories: March 2011, CTA

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