Mr. Braceface

Posted on: June 30, 2008

Bernadette Regan

Life is like a grab bag. My co-workers scour Myspace hoping to catch a glimpse of next weekend’s fling. Me, my standards are even lower. I’m looking for someone to hold the other end of a rope. My more"than-just-a-climbing partner, has been out of town and our transient lifestyle leaves me feeling like the new kid in the cafeteria clutching a brownbag. I want to climb, so I solicit partners on the internet.

Yesterday, I met Mr.B. He called my cellphone 3 times, because I was 5 minutes late; but it was on silent and I miss the calls. Pulling into the parking lot, I look for the ‘red rose’, a man eating an icecream cone, no one’s around. Relief: I’m getting ditched. But I play along, organize my gear then trade my office shoes for approach shoes. With one maryjane off and one sneaker on a tan Explorer lurches into the spot next to mine. A goofy looking green-braces-filled grin greets me.

Thoughts race through my head, making me feel like the butterflies in my stomach are puking. Could this guy be a perv? The cellphone gets tucked into my pocket. He’s donning blue mesh Nair-ad-model-like shorts, his thighs aren’t at all Spartan-like, but his legs are tan and lean. A red tank top accentuates the shorts and deodorant is caked in his underarm hair. With his metal smile, dark wrap-around shades, and messy pepper-blonde hair I can’t tell if he’s young or old.

He’d been climbing all day, ate huckleberry icecream, and then his friend, our 3rd " my safety net " bailed on him. Mr.B is sore from doing sprints and beat from being in the 90degree sun, but psyched to do more. After all, this is the year to climb; next year will be the ‘Year of the Javelin’; and last year was ‘the Year to Sprint’. He brags that Steph Davis, while in town for a fundraiser, belayed him on a crack climb. He’s got the gobies to prove it, but he hates trad climbing, hates it.

I’d forgotten my guidebook. Mr.B hands me his tick-list: a 2-page document in 8-point font with lines of 10a-10d sport climbs. He suggests warming up on the Peanut. I cringe. A climb there had crushed my self-esteem, I’d since remedied that, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to kick off a new season with it. Hiding my hesitation, I agree, and suck it up.

Mr.B walks beside me on the steep narrow trail leading to the crag. His arms swing in wide arcs like an upside down metronome as he keeps up the rhythm of small talk. Even though thunderclouds now block the sun, I still haven’t seen Mr.B’s eyes. ‘Does your schedule let you climb a lot,’ I ask. But he answers another question. The one about work that I find irrelevant and always avoid. Mr.B is an IT specialist and can climb whenever he wants as long as a server isn’t crashing. In his free time he coaches middleschool track and competes in a running club. During the ‘Year of the Sprint’ his goal was to run a sub-60 second 400. I don’t tell him that my little sister does that weekly. He doesn’t ask my occupation, I smile.

By the time we get to the Peanut it is in the sun. Mr.B suggests another climb. I take the sharpend, we check each other’s knots and harnesses. Three bolts up it occurs to me that maybe Mr.B doesn’t know how to belay, I grip every hold harder. When I get to the chains, I opt to rappel. While lowering him the rope zips through my device; I aggressively shift my weight to avoid being lifted. Mr.B’s beefier than he looks.

The clouds return and we go to the Peanut. He wants to redpoint his nemesis climb. Last season he had tried it and ‘failed’. Since, he’s switched his diet and improved his core strength. He tells me I’ll love this climb because of my little feet. Seranading his size 13s with refrains of ‘ohshitoshitohshit’ he clumsily makes each clip. But from the ground, I can see that he is glowing with satisfaction. I lie and yell, “super smooth, man.” Again, he insists on being lowered, ‘it’s faster.’

The climb I choose next apparently sucks and he suggests another. Stymied before the first bolt it laughs at me from above, I can’t commit to a polished slanting foothold. Finding a stance I cling to a nubbin and gripe. Mr.B offers to be my human-stick clip. The goon almost toppled over while coming to my rescue, but pulls it off. With his chivalrous aid, I make the moves. The climbing doesn’t ease. I eke out as much dust as I can from the soft insides of my chalkbag. ‘Remind me next…time….huff…to… puff..bring…ahhhh…more.. ‘Bring more what?’ Phew… ‘chalk.’

On the way to our next climb, Mr.B points out where he earlier ‘watered’ the grass. This rock looks like melted strawberry and vanilla icecream. The first bolt is within reach and each of the following ones are at smile-making intervals. Mr.B’s up, this one will play to his strengths: power and big moves. This time he truly is smooth.

Done for the day we pack up our stuff. After every other climb Mr.B had lollygagged, leisurely removing each of his displaced-looking LaSportiva Tradmasters. Now, he’s out of water and ready to go-go-go. I finish stuffing the rope in my pack as he says, ‘ohhhh…. I was going to carry that…’

Walking back up the hill he slows for more chatter. Last week someone biked into the river, he carried lots of rocks up that hill, he eats burritos despite his diet. We practice saying, ‘escanda tortilla, por favor.’ (spelt tortilla, please) Cresting the final switchback he finally asks, ‘what do you do for work?’ The sun is setting, clouds linger, and random raindrops hit my bare skin. So, braceface, you want to climb again?