K.S. ANTHONY: 2020

17 December 2020

In Security

I had good days and I had bad days working security at El Cerrito Plaza, but most of my days were neither. I checked doors, I answered the phone, I told people not to skate or bike through the common areas. I did walk-throughs of stores, I ate Hot Pockets microwaved in my office or called whoever I was dating at any given time on my break. I talked to people, listened to people. I dressed up as Batman and handed out stickers and candy to kids for the Plaza’s Halloween trick-or-treat event. When there were problems, I tried to solve them peacefully. Most nights I’d finish and go have a few drinks at the Mel-O-Dee and bullshit with whoever was sitting around: very often cops from the next town over, some of whom, legend has it, got drunk and shot out the streetlights in the parking lot one night. Despite its proximity to Oakland and a population of 25,000, El Cerrito was very much a small town. The Plaza, at least then, was a small town in a small town. 

Occasionally there’d be a major incident – we had a couple of armed robberies, a few fights, a suicide on the edge of the property, an elderly driver who crashed his car into the doughnut store – but for the most part, security at El Cerrito Plaza was mundane: “nothing to report at this time,” as it read on my daily activity reports. Even when I was running towards a call of drunks fighting at Chuck E. Cheese or the undercovers wrestling with a shoplifter at the grocery store, I was never really scared at work. Stressed out? Sure. Tired? Definitely. Scared? No.

Except once. 

The sun was shining and since I wasn’t carrying a radio to talk to the chief or the management office, it was likely a Saturday afternoon in the summer of 2000. I had just finished a semester-long First Responder – emergency medicine and advanced first aid – night class certification at City College. I was on foot patrol along the east sidewalk, walking toward Lucky grocers when I saw a small crowd of people gathering around something in the parking lot. 

Then I heard someone screaming. 

I ran towards the crowd. As I got there, I saw what they were staring at. 

It was a girl, 19 or so, lying on the asphalt like she had simply fallen from the sky and crumpled there. She was motionless. Her face was blue. Her boyfriend was kneeling next to her, shaking her arm, and begging her to wake up in whimpering sobs. There was a desperate fear in his eyes and when he looked up at me, pleading and broken by fear, I went fucking cold. 

For that split second, I wasn’t just scared, I was frozen sick by the dread and terror and grief that was pouring from this kid in waves – and then I felt something inside me contract and expel it, replacing it with this warmth and light that I can only describe as grace. 

While intellectually I understand that it was a cascade of endorphins, hormones, and neurotransmitters flooding my brain to override my paralysis, there’s another part of my intellect that embraces the sheer mathematical impossibility of that moment – or any moment, really – as something miraculous, as something worth calling grace. 

And in that moment, I remember feeling like I was outside my body, watching myself from a distance, issuing commands as I knelt beside her. But more than that, I remember feeling an inexplicable love – mercy – for this girl and time slowing down, shutting the world out. 

I didn’t need to put my cheek to her mouth to know that I wouldn’t feel the soft exhalation of her breath and so I gently cupped her chin in my right hand, placed my left on her forehead, and tilted her head back to open her airway. 

I remember the tenderness I felt for her as she drank that light from me, the summer air filling her lungs and returning the color to her face, and how she seemed so small, and how grateful I was to see her eyes reflecting the sun welcoming her back to life. 

Adapted from a longer essay. – KSA 

21 September 2020

How Not To Write a Book Review

Four years and some change ago - in September of 2016 - I did what I still regard as the toughest thing I've ever done physically: a 9/11 GORUCK Light event, followed by what was then GORUCK's answer to 5Ks: the rucked Kill That 5k event that tied up its annual HTL commemorating the September 11 attacks in NYC.  

I don't remember why I signed up, when I signed up, or what I expected besides a beatdown, but I showed up with two things besides my ruck and a Source full of water: a hangover and a very badly wounded heart.

The Light wasn't scheduled as a Light: it was intended to be one of the short-lived Rucking University classes, meant to gently initiate people into the finer points of the genteel art of walking around with a backpack full of bricks, taught by GORUCK founder and 10 SFG veteran Jason McCarthy.  

Jason's attention span was -- you could tell he got bored easily. He was an excellent instructor, but immediately announced that the class would be patched as a Light: no better way to learn than by doing. 343 step-ups, some abominable number of push-ups, various exercises that left me with black and blue marks to match my 25L Rucker's color scheme, glimpses of redemption during the all-too-short water breaks when we (or at least I ) started to wilt in the heat, and a dip in the life-giving waters of the East River later... and the Light/University class was done. I was humbled, having suddenly realized how out of shape I was, and I was sore. But worse, I was uncertain. Did I deserve that patch? 

Then came the 5k. By then, the sun was high in the late summer sky. I had gone black on water. My legs seized and cramped all the way across the Manhattan Bridge and back and all I wanted to do was quit. I was fucking miserable. An intense-looking Cadre who had earlier introduced himself as Mocha Mike came up and talked to me as I dragged myself at the rear of the group, obviously concerned. I forced a tight smile and uttered one of the many GORUCK platitudes I had picked up: could always be worse. I didn't quit. I just forced myself to take one step at a time until I was done and Mocha Mike handed me that goddamn patch and shook my hand. 

Then I had beef jerky and whiskey after rucking 10 miles to War Stories and Free Beer the next night.

Somewhere in the space of that weekend, something in me changed. I don't quite know how to quantify it, but I suddenly figured out that, in-shape or not, beaten down or not, I was capable of... You know what? I will spare you the cliché.

And then my life got a lot worse.

Within a week of that event, my heart went from badly wounded to badly broken and I was unceremoniously laid off by the company I had helped build and twice moved across the country for. My stress was such that my beard began disappearing in patches. I couldn't find work. I was forced to reinvent myself.

I trained alone for a year and slowly rebuilt my life, surviving in the city by eating a LOT of quesadillas at home, drinking way too much, and remembering the misery of the Manhattan Bridge.

Other events came and went through 2018. I fell in and out of love with the toxicity of the FB GRT group, the stupid rumors, the incessant bitching. I made a few incredible friends. I found my spirit animal at the inaugural Star Course only to withdraw after 30+ miles. I did my first Tough (followed by the Light) for Operation Red Wings with John Belman that summer. I got smoked again for a 9/11 Light. I organized an overnight 30 mile ruck on Sept. 15: the anniversary of my mother's death. I can still taste the sewage in my mouth from doing burpees in the waters of West Point at the 25th Anniversary of Operation: Gothic Serpent T/L. Still hating myself for quitting in D.C., I licked my wounds for months, then returned to get patched in the Philadelphia, and then NYC two weeks later, 50 mile Star Courses. In early December I covered 12 miles with 50 pounds dry doing laps around Central Park in sub-30 degree weather in shorts and a t-shirt in under 03:30. I signed up for Selection, then immediately wrecked my shoulder on a trapeze (why? Because I hate heights and am terrified of trapezes, so naturally I had to do it) and was forced to admit to myself and team@goruck.com that I was not cut out for GORUCK Selection. 

But none of those things was harder than that first Light. That thing made it possible to survive and then thrive... in that order. 

For you it was a backpack company and Prufrock; the only woman you could ever really love and a dog that held your life together when it was imploding.

For me it was a goddamn steel plate and a backpack from a guy who somehow made all that shit work out and then wrote a book about it.

Five stars, Jason. Thanks for doing it.

K.S. Anthony

P.S. Oh yeah, the book wasn't bad either. 

26 March 2020

Plagues, Apocalypses, and Other Banalities

There aren't bodies or soldiers patrolling Manhattan's streets with mouths full of Copenhagen, but life under social-distancing/shelter-in-place/self-seclusion gets a little weird. I haven't left my building in three or four days and haven't traveled outside of a one-mile line in weeks. My interactions are limited to those I have online and with whoever is delivering my groceries.  I don't mind the solitude, but it's a strange going for a long time without seeing other humans. Not good or bad, just strange. I can hear my neighbors, hear the hiss of the few cars still on the road, but I never see them. Some people go for walks or get fresh air, but I choose not to.

I am not anxious or depressed. I'm not in denial, by any means: I think it will get much, much worse and I find some comfort in that. It allows me to focus on the things that are in front of me. It removes, as my dear, late friend Fred Dusel once said of his terminal cancer, the calculus of decision-making.

What I find intolerable isn't living under quarantine, but rather living under the weight of other people's assumptions. It hadn't occurred to me until recently that most people are optimists, believing in a tidy model of the universe where things always regress to the mean and  follow a predictable ebb and flow that they can model. They never really get that fat-tail, multi-sigma events (so-called "Black Swan" events that, according to standard statistical models should be so mathematically impossible as to be invisible) not only happen with observable frequency, but have effects that are incredibly unpredictable (and in this case quite destructive) with second and third order effects that are similarly unpredictable.

These are the forces that move history. They are not linear. It's significant that SARS-CoV-2 "jumped" from an animal (likely a bat) to a human: history moves in jumps.

The assumptions are that things will "go back to normal," that the pumped-up stock market is somehow a barometer of the American economy, that unemployment's all-time-high rate is simply going to be resolved by "opening the economy" by Easter. It's what I used to call the problem of inductive reasoning. Now I just call it stupidity, because when those models fail – as they are failing now – to continue to abide and operate by them doesn't just stall progress, it actually makes things worse. There is no reason to believe any of those things, no evidence that suggests that they are true except the same pretty narratives of exceptionalism that said they could never happen in the first place; that Americans "won't be scared by a virus," because that, somehow, would be letting it "win."

Hope is not my drug of choice. I like seeing things, even if I don't like what I am seeing.

People outside of friction-laden, hyperconnected megalopolises like NYC aren't seeing how bad it is. Whereas we've had an explosion of COVID-19 cases, other places are seeing them trickle in. For a lot of people, NYC might as well be on another planet: it exists less as a city than an idea, a spectacle. We were hit by a tsunami. Their pain may come in storms.

The only thing to do, as far as I am concerned, is to try to live with as much dignity as possible, which precludes dying with a tube shoved down my throat and smothered in a dirty ventilator. It also precludes tolerating imbecility or spending more time than necessary to indulge my personal catharsis so for now, that will be all.