The Guy I Never Was | Live Wire Radio

On our 217th episode, The Oregonian's music writer Ryan White read an essay about manliness called "The Guy I Never Was." Listen here and follow along with the transcript below.

The Guy I Never Was
by Ryan White

Last year, on one of those dying days of summer that always make me feel like every Bob Seger song except probably “Katmandu” and “Shakedown,” I stood atop a dune staring out at the Pacific Ocean.

On the horizon, kite boarders skimmed across the water. First I thought, “I could do that.” Then I thought, “I should do that.”

I imagined myself on the ocean, catching wind, grabbing air, bursting through a cool salt spray and into the bright wide open, at once untethered from, and totally connected to the Earth. Life, and all its possibilities, must seem limitless in a moment like that.

Later, my obscenely fit friends and I would haul our gear to shore, looking ruggedly awesome. Someone would start a fire by sparking a rock against his 5 o’clock shadow. Food would be grilled. Everyone would get drunk. Couples would wander off have obscenely-fit-people sex under the stars.

I guess I was imagining myself in “Point Break.” But it beat casting myself in one of those Viagra commercials about the AGE OF TAKING ACTION, which, let’s be honest, are really just about the age of a few guys who got out of the market in time to retire with boats and ranches.

Anyway, there I was on that sand dune, dreaming like a young man when the wisdom of a slightly older man came knocking. On my knee, apparently. Because was aching. Maybe it was the weather. Reality set in.

The more likely scenario was this: If I managed to get up on the board at all, a wind gust would grab the kite, yank me in the air, crash me back down to the water again, and again, just a clown in nature’s dunk tank. Probably I’d drown, only to wash up amongst the truly adventurous. Their mellows unfairly harshed, they would spark their fire. Cook their food. Drink their beer. Have their sex. But it would be a melancholy sexy time. Even dead I think I’d feel bad about that.

I went back to the rental to open a beer, search for some Advil, and sigh.

Practical Me is increasingly a problem. Practical Me is full of nagging reminders about what happened when Rugged Me called more shots.

Take camping. For two glorious years I was a platinum member of Marriott’s rewards program. I got a bottle of wine every time I checked in. Nature’s never given me anything but a sore back.

I have a friend who also doesn’t like to camp, but he bought a Jeep once, and felt like he should take IT camping. We set out with cheap gear, and no food. We hiked in, turned around, got back in the car. Stopped at store for food and beer, drove to campground, made a sad, useless fire that didn’t so much flicker as wheeze. Finally, we turned in and spent all night saying, “Did you hear that? What do you think that was?”

I’ve snowboarded -- once. Never have I been so proud to to do something not as well as the 6-year-old who shot past me just off the lift. A 6-year-old who probably made a dozen more runs that day while I hunched sipping a Mt. Dew like the oldest sap ever conned by X Games marketing. I was certain my tailbone had been driven like a nail through my spleen.

Cowboy work? Tried it. Moved cattle in Eastern Oregon. Bought an Indiana Jones hat for the occasion. Did I know how to ride a horse? Of course not. Did the horse know I didn’t know how to ride? Absolutely.

Was I asked to work an edge of the canyon on my own? Strangely, yes. Or maybe not so strangely. It was a pretty convincing hat.

I nudged the horse into gear and ambled off, giving a pull on the front of the hat and trying to spit cool. We came to a pond, whereupon upon my trusted steed took it upon herself to stop for a drink. Then just kind of hang out.

We talked. I asked her thoughts on perhaps moving. She cast a weary eye back at me, bored. I hopped down, grabbed the reigns and tried to walk her along. We got halfway up a hill when she figured that was far enough.

I climbed back aboard and gave her a kick, as I’d been instructed. Interesting thing: spurs exist for a reason. I was wearing hiking boots, the hat having eaten up most the budget.

Another weary eye my way.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out a lollipop, a Jolly Rancher no less. I went to work on the problem -- until the business end of the sucker popped off and jammed in my throat.

In that moment, I had one thought: Someone’s going to tell my Mom I choked to death on a piece of candy atop a horse I couldn’t reason with.

In the ensuing panic, I managed to perform the Heimlich on myself using the only the saddlehorn and the weight of my embarrassment.

I believe they probably still tell that story around campfires in Burns.

When I got back to Portland, I left the hat in the trunk of the rental car. I wasn’t going to need it again. Just as sure as I don’t need to invest in a wetsuit.

Practical Me spent that money already. There’s the mortgage. The car needs an oil change. I’ve got a daycare habit that would embarrass a coke addict. I’ve got a lot of grown up stuff to do.

And my daughter would like me to come tea party. I don’t have to bake or wear a bonnet. But I do end up sitting next to Elmo. That’s been awkward lately.

I still try to find time for Rugged Me. I play hockey. I own a circular saw. Could I build a cabin in the Canadian wilderness? I don’t know. The last thing I built was a garden box.

If I’ve reached the age of anything, it’s the age of practical self-awareness.

The truth is, standing on that dune, the water looked cold, and there’s no rule that says you have to spend the day in the ocean to make a fire and drink. I checked.

Plus, I like those tea parties. More than bumming out the beach bums, my untimely demise would negatively impact my ability to be Dad, and I’ve been digging that gig a lot.

Rugged Me might not like it, but I’m cool with it. I’m old enough to accept that I’m no longer that guy I never was.