Folded Mind #002: Freeze-Flattened Fingers from Sin City
About This Series: Just over thirty years ago, I started a journal. I’m gonna share it here, and reflect on it with my purported older-man after-the-fact wisdom:
After posting the first part of this series I’m calling Folded Mind, my friend Kim from high school reminded me that the journal originated from sophomore year Honors English. She also reminded me that our required journals were judged by number of pages, a ridiculous and ever-present metric… and one young writers deal with until fancy tricks like large print and double-spacing eventually graduate you to the metric of word count, as your outlets and judges evolve.
Nonetheless I resisted the urge to rebel with the tactic that Kim, my other friend Shannon, and even my own wife admitted to: padding out the pages with song lyrics. 😉
I just got a computer yesterday, and guess what? It doesn’t work!! First I got one that didn’t send out any signal. I took it back and now I got one that sends out garbled signals. Plus the printer doesn’t work. When you turn it on, it makes a horrible noise. The disk drive is the only thing that works. I just can’t believe it.
OK the whole thing works right now except GEOS. GEOS (Graphics Environment Operating System) came with the computer, fine. I go to use it, but it says I should make a backup copy first, fine. I go to make the copy, and BLAMMO, I don’t see the error light flashing and GEOS is erased. No big deal, I’ll call the company, see what to do. In any case, it hasn’t been a good week.
I’m worried about my fingers. The skin on the tips of them in peeling and cracking and doesn’t feel a bit like skin. Feels more like alligator skin. I wish someone would take me seriously about them. My mom thinks it’s nothing, but I don’t. Skin doesn’t just get warped for no reason. On one of these fingertips, I cut myself in science the other day. The cut’s not healing. It’s just stuck closed by the blood. Maybe it’s healing where I can’t see it, but it’s not healing on the outside.
God, I’m such a worry wart, hypochondriac idiot. I just reread my own journal. Can you believe it? Jeez!
I can already sense far too much irony in this process, in that I find myself looking back and sort of harshly judging these words from sixteen-year-old me wherein I am apparently harshly judging the words from myself written the day before.
Boy I must have really meant that last sentence because I just put this all away for almost two months, while I ruminated over it. This is the process, however, whereby I can “be” a writer, without all that troublesome process of actual writing: the meticulous maintenance of a masterful set of plans and schemes for future works, won’t they be grand! This aforementioned process is the very one I hope to arrest… by… I guess… biting the bullet and finally coming back to this.
See, the thing is, I should forgive young Dana for his considerable lapses in narrative in the first few pages of his first journal. But what I am less sure of is if I can forgive present Dana for setting out to write something new from that material, and turning out nothing of interest. Present Dana has a greater burden, that of showing some sort of progress!
I certainly (apparently) have the burden of setting the record straight, in some instances. For example, while it’s true that it took a couple of Commodore 64’s that we had to return to the store before we got one with an RF output that worked (which turned out to actually be an updated C-64c), my poor Blue Chip Daisywheel printer was unfairly maligned by yours truly. It seems young Dana, in his eagerness, failed to remove the packing screws that were screwed into the bottom of the printer to prevent the print head from moving while it was all packed up. It’s actually a mistake I would repeat a number of years later with a scanner, with similar results: I realized I was a dumb-ass in time to remove the screws before I broke the damned thing.
And, also for the purposes of correcting the record, I did eventually manage to get a functional copy of GEOS, but as it so turned out, nobody anywhere ever really needed a functional copy of GEOS. I probably spent all of twenty minutes in GEOS, the Graphic Environment Operating System for C64, because it was essentially like running a chuggy, joystick-driven, lo-res Mac interface… with a lot of slow disc-loading. GEOS ran for everyone like they forgot to remove its packing screws. It was especially useless with a daisy-wheel printer, as it ironically turned out.
But perhaps the greatest injustice for me to reverse in addressing this journal entry is to fill in all the interesting story details around my comments about my fingers. I mean, my later judgment that I was just being a hypochondriac was spot-on. Pretty much anytime I have a health concern you can accuse me of that and be spot-on. Somewhat overblown health concern and misguided self-diagnosis is so common in my extended family that I have since dubbed it “the family disease,” and there is no cure for the family disease!
But the concern I had with the skin on the tips of my fingers is actually an interesting story, and I’m amazed that young Dana thought to note his concern but entirely missed the meat of the story: where the issue came from. I insisted quite mistakenly, in fact, that there was “no reason.” I had a very good reason for weird shit to be happening to my fingers. See, when I was sixteen I went on a trip to Vegas with my family, and there I went through a fairly stupid misadventure which practically destroyed the fingertips on my right hand, and left them without fingerprints for months.
My parents, like many others at that time, had bought into a timeshare in order to make it cheaper and easier to travel, something they very much enjoyed. Royal Aloha timeshares was, like most of them at the time, something you bought into which essentially contracted you for life, until you could find someone else to buy into it and take your place. While you’re a member of the timeshare, you have to pay monthly “maintenance fees” to keep the various condos and bungalows around the world kept up and available for use. In the case of Royal Aloha, that fee was $50 per month. My parents bought into Royal Aloha almost forty years ago for an initial stake of $6,000. Through sheer luck, three years ago, my mom, now a widow, was finally able to find someone to buy her seat in the timeshare… for far, far less. Needless to say, nobody wants a seat in a timeshare these days.
But back then, in the summer of 1987, the timeshare along with some cheap flights to Vegas was the key to an impromptu vacation for our family that year. We stayed in a condo, which had its own central area with a fairly small pool. This was handy because, when you’re sixteen in Vegas with your mom, dad, and seventeen-year-old brother, you’re a bit short of actual entertaining things to do that are aimed at you. This was particularly true in the late eighties. Vegas was a sight to behold at the time, but after I walked the strip and spent about a hundred bucks in the Circus Circus arcade–primarily by taking an actual crack at playing to the end of I, Robot (1983) from Atari–I had exhausted the entertainment options available for a teenager such as myself.
One of the promised benefits of traveling and staying in a timeshare, as opposed to a hotel, is “all the comforts of home” including a full refrigerator/freezer in the case of this Vegas condo. Later, when my parents would gift my wife and I with a stay at their Acapulco timeshare for our honeymoon, Monica and I would find that a mini-fridge sometimes also is the option presented. The Vegas condo presented a full height fridge, with the freezer on top, mustard yellow in classic seventies style. With two teenage boys staying in the condo, we made sure to fill it up with plenty of pop. As was my preference at the time, I preferred my soda pop with ice. In fact, when I was sixteen, ice in soda was practically the only way I ever willingly ingested plain tap water.
Being a fairly good boy still for a sixteen-year-old, at some point early in the trip I found myself–hands dripping with water–walking freshly-filled ice trays to the fridge to make new ice. Such it was that I discovered that our timeshare condo freezer had a metal floor when, upon placing said ice trays back in the freezer, the tips of each of my fingers (and thumb) on my right hand became flash-frozen to the floor of the freezer.
Yes, the exact same trick with a tongue and a metal playground pole from A Christmas Story: I had played myself. Each of the fingertips of my right hand, only the tips but including the thumb, had flash-frozen to the metal bottom of the timeshare freezer an in instant lock-tight grip.
I distinctly remember an unusual experience, right when it happened: the sensation of having one’s hand become stuck somewhere… and not knowing it until one turns to move away, and one’s stuck-fast hand yanks one to a stop with the makeshift rein of one’s own arm. The shockingly cold metal freezer bottom had instantly numbed the fingertips on adhesive contact. The shock of what happened traveled up my arm to inform me of the situation.
There was definitely a moment of incredulity. I mean, I was sixteen years old, growing every day. I was by no means even close to as big as my football-playing brother, considering that my hobbies then (as now) pretty much involved writing and artwork and computers, but I was healthy, active, and surely strong enough to remove my friggin’ hand from the bottom of this stupid freezer…
But I wasn’t, I soon found. My hand was stuck fast.
There’s a panic moment that comes, when you’re stuck. It’s a moment where the disbelief that you can’t remove your hand from something seems to bypass the logical part of your brain that analyzes problems and develops solutions, and communicates directly to your body, which responds with unreasoned action. I started bucking and yanking against the grasp of the freezer, thrashing my arm until I noticed the entire (empty) fridge tipping forward in response. Acting on a barely-quick-enough survival instinct, I pushed back against the fridge to keep it from falling over onto me, and fell still.
My parent were around the corner in the rather small condo, in the bathroom, if I remember correctly, “What?”
“Heeeellpp! I’m stuck! In the freezer… I… just come here!”
It’s really too bad some of my memories of the next segment of this adventure are a but indistinct, but I was in a very action-focused state of mind. I don’t recall the look on my parents’ faces when they rounded the corner of the small condo to greet the sight of one of their boys standing with fear in his eyes and his hand in a freezer. I remember stammering enough explanation to get them moving.
My mom tells me that my dad immediately told me not to pull on it, for fear of me ripping off the skin. I do remember he ran immediately and filled up a pan with hot water, pouring it on my hand as my mom and my brother helped me lift. It seems to me now, looking back with the embellishment of distant memory, that when my hand finally came free from the bottom of the fridge (after two pans of hot water) it did so with a sound like that of some frozen space airlock finally opening after drifting for eons. I looked at my poor hot/cold, wounded hand, and my jaw dropped open in horror.
Those flattened fingertips you see depicted were bluish, hard, and totally numb. The top of my fingers, the nails and even the tips under the nails, were totally fine. But in my thrashing about with my wet hand, the pads of my fingers had been mashed completely down against the metal surface more and more. Now, even as I looked at my hand in the air before me, it still looked as if I had my fingertips pressed against a pane of glass, and I was looking at it from the other side.
It was really kind of awesomely freaky, especially because it didn’t hurt, like, at all. Of course I was concerned that I had killed my fingertips with legitimate frostbite. But as long as it was painless, and I could move my hand and pick things up, etc. I was confident that all that was injured was basically “soft tissue.”
My flat fingertips did indeed soften and plump out running upon my hand under warm water, but they remained totally numb for a while. And, of course, being sixteen and bored in Vegas, they also became my obsession for the remainder of the trip. I was certainly done mainlining I, Robot, that’s for sure.
Maybe a day or two later, my family headed towards one of the only other things to do in Vegas in the late eighties when you’re not yet twenty-one: a water park, called Wet ‘N Wild. As water parks go, it was fine, very crowded. I fretted a bit about my fingers on our way there, but before long I had forgotten about them and was taking water slides and gondola rides without a care in the world. All of that changed, though, after I spent enough time in the attraction that stood out at Wet ‘N Wild compared to other water parks: the wave pool.
Wet ‘N Wild had a powerful wave pool (stronger than the one I’ve since enjoyed at Water World here in Colorado) kicking into gear and creating big waves for body surfers in the middle of the giant, over-crowded pool to totally run down and cream innocent kids in their way, apparently. My swimming skills were alright, but not great. I didn’t really have any intention to join the surfer moshpit in the middle of the wave pool at Wet ‘N Wild when I stepped into it. I was honestly just looking for that fun feel of the waves, so like wading into the ocean …but without the salt, and the mystery of what horrible ocean critters may be lurking in the sand just under where your foot is headed, ready to bite. Ironically it was the harmless “ocean floor” of the wave pool itself that wound up biting me in the ass.
See, the floor of the thing was rough and porous, perfect for helping all the tourist feet in the wave pool find purchase as they waded their owners further in. But as I waded in, I reach a point in the pool where, when the wave mechanism kicked in, the combination of the waves and the undertow and the undulation of uncoordinated people around began knocking me around, and off my feet. Every time it would happen I would arrest my fall with my hands, trying to keep my head from dunking under the water.
Eventually, a tingling sensation began to arise in my ruined finger pads. And then a very uncomfortable sensation of heat. Then an electric mining sensation of needles and pins. Finally a deep and unyielding pain sunk into my fingers as I worked my way slowly, haltingly, toward the edge of the wave pool, lurching and pitching over as people ran into me and sent me down for another painful trip to the Wet ‘N Wild wave pool floor. I tried to take a look at my hand and ascertain what was going on but I had left my glasses on the side of the wave pool, and with the water and the chaos of people… I just waited until I could get back to my towel and my stuff to see why the hell my fingers suddenly hurt like they caught on fire while I was inside the wave pool. Even with my glasses, I couldn’t tell what was going on; the finger pads were just sort of pale and waxy-looking.
But later, in the car on the way home from Wet ‘N Wild, I watched in horrified fascination as I entered the next phase of the injury.
Slowly on the tips of each of the fingers on my right hand, including my thumb, arose the largest, most painful blisters I have experienced in my life. The skin covering them was incredibly thick, as if the entire layer of skin that made up the finger pads had grown a blister directly underneath itself and directly above, I dunno, the muscle layer. Yet even though they were ballons made up of skin that felt as thick as leather, they filled with so much pus that they ballooned way out, creating perfectly smooth, hard blisters. These inflated finger pads zapped me with pain at every contact, pushing their pus further into my finger through the blister’s edges, ripping apart good skin from the feel of it.
It was intolerable. But when I set about to drain one of the blisters, because I’m not into tolerating intolerable things, I found I had little choice: the single drained blister-finger howled in pain when the dead leather of the finger pad touched the… whatever tissue… underneath it. So, the other fingers tolerated the intolerable pressure, while I waited for the deflated finger’s pain to subside as much as I could. I’m sure other Las Vegas vacation things happened, as another day passed, but I have no idea what those things were. When I felt I hit a nice balance–when the yin of tolerating the overinflated fingers became even with the yang of the pain I estimated I would feel on each of them if I burst their blisters–I burst the fuck out of all the rest of those blisters.
I’ve always had a bit of a gruesome fascination with my own injuries–at times my variant of the “Family Disease” expresses itself as brutal scab-picking–and this was no exception. But I think perhaps maybe I have gone into enough gruesome detail for the taste of the average reader, and so I’ll spare you the specifics of bursting those other nine blisters, the clearing of the thick dead skin, and the arrival of the tender baby skin in the circular finger-pad-skin-portals left behind.
It was a long healing process, but it was probably only a few days before I had fully usable fingers again with sensation (too much sensation!), padded with thin, pink, smooth skin. What was surprising to me, as time went on, is that these finger pads were perfectly smooth–save for a few cracks and flakes of dead skin–for months and months.
For a long time I was convinced that my fingerprints wouldn’t be coming back. I had wiped out my identifiability; had destroyed my original fingerprints and created new, born-again fingers. These fingers could not be tied to me. as long as I committed any crime with my right hand only, I was uncatchable, a ghost, a phantom without identity.
I mentioned the unexpected bonus to my dad, and he–ever my tutor in the ways of common sense–quite rightly pointed out, “If it was that easy to lose your fingerprints there’d be thugs lined up everywhere with their hands in freezers.”
He was right. Before long, my fingerprints re-arose in the new skin, leaving me–if anything–even more identifiable, since the prints also retained the cracks and dead skin and imperfections that the new skin had in growing in. Ah well. There went my brilliant life of crime. I like to think if the technique had been reliable, I would have gone with something cool, like Cat Burgular.
As I was writing this, my mom, seventy years young and sharp as a tack, reminded me of events involved in the rescue of my hand, and the heroic quick-thinking of my dad, may he rest in peace. She also managed to regale me with the story of her dad, my grandad, and how he had cut of the pad of one of his index fingers when he was a kid. Apparently, his mom slapped the pad back on and bandaged the thing up. Later, after the pad had wondrously healed back onto the finger, my grandad noticed that the pad had been “reinstalled” upside-down, leaving him with a upside-down fingerprint on that index finger.
As much as it amuses me that I followed in his footsteps unwitting experimenting through misadventures in fingerprint scrambling, I hope for my son’s sake that the legacy stops here. My boy will probably fine after all, though. Apparently this fingerprint-focused offshoot of the family disease skips a generation. 🤞