The Fiend

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The Fiend

HE WAS CRYING. He was crying so loudly that everyone heard him and everyone watched him. It was because he couldn't make it. All his fingers (except the middle) had broken off. And without them he couldn't make it. Newsmen frowned. So did his mother. Finally he came down. Cameras closed in. So did his mother. Why couldn't you make it? John bit his lip. It was too hard. He said it again. While they removed him. While he said it. Again.

John was the world's best rock climber. He was only twenty but he was the best. He was a rare blend too. A bit of English for the slick. A bit of French for the recitals on top. Pluralistic. Integrated. He was ideal. Everyone knew it. His mother told them so. Nations applauded. Wrote books.

He took up climbing everything. After rocks there were the Sequoia. He left his rope behind because it dragged. Then there were the bridges. Everyone thought the rivets would satisfy him. They didn't. He went abroad for the cathedrals. Straddled gargoyles. But they weren't enough either. Then someone saw him at the shipyards between portholes. He was hooked on metals. Aluminum-glass skyscrapers. Moonrockets. He simply had the knack. Finally Aerojet General made a chrome-moly cube, and his congressman came. His mother sat in front predicting success. He did all four sides.

No one knew how he did such things. He used only standard paraphernalia. Regular shoes. Jockey. Diploma. Surfboard. What a magnificent specimen, they said. Yes, he really was. Of course he was mad. Insatiable. Alienated. Sexually deprived. But America loved him. He was so new, so much fun to watch. He was the first climber America understood. So they watched. Stomping between innings.

Near the end they built a stadium in Nevada. He stayed ten weeks since they paid him. An exhibition. The Pledge of Allegiance before show time. Then he couldn't do the cube. Even the west side, his favorite. That's when he broke his fingers and came down. His mother was disgusted. All the gentlemen and ladies cursed and screamed gyp. The owners announced ice hockey for the following Tuesday. Aerojet General got cracking on feasible orbits for the cube.

John was sorry. But he couldn't do it anymore. He told them he was having a breakdown. That it simply didn't mean much anymore. That he'd like to relax. Retire. Fish. His mother frowned and said she'd have him ready soon. Some home cooking perhaps. But he was never ready again. He quit, she said. He quit he quit he quit. A failure. Went mad.

John has been placed in the Smithsonian. Everyone remembers he was the best. But like all good things he broke down. Automobiles break down. So did John. A spectacle while he lasted. An attraction. A success.

He's encased beside The Spirit of St. Louis. Shaved. Reaching up. Of course his fingers have been replaced.

Ascent, Sierra Club, 1969