Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The Hot Seat

I had the opportunity to travel to Reno, Nevada this week to present a Positive Coaching Alliance workshop to the amazing people from all the Boys & Girls Clubs in the area. My wife came with me and we made a little mini getaway out of it.

It was a great trip, but I had little bit of a fatherly crisis after we had dinner, which was a tad disconcerting so close to Father’s Day.

If you’ve never been, Reno has an idyllic little cutsie river walk in the middle of the biggest little city in the world. The Truckee river burbles and bounces through the heart of old downtown Reno, with shops, hotels, and restaurants lining its sides. Unfortunately, there are quite a few homeless folks lining its sides as well.

My wife and I were walking off an amazing Italian dinner at Marcolini’s Italia – a small little place that comes with my largest recommendation. My wife said that the owner told us the chef was from Hell’s Kitchen, but I distinctly heard him say she was from Helsinki with my sub-par hearing in the room full of background noise.

We’ll never know which one of us is correct, because there’s just no way to check. But it’s a moot point if she’s from Hell’s Kitchen the cooking show, Hell’s Kitchen the actual New York neighborhood, or the capital of Finland. Who cares, because the lady can flat out cook Italian food!

We wandered across a little wooden foot bridge adorned on both sides with beautiful hanging baskets of flowers, out onto an island in the middle of the river with a little park. We sat down on the large smoothed-out granite rocks on the bank across the river from the West Street Plaza, which has wide concrete park steps that come right down to the water. Mallard ducks were paddling in the current near the steps, patiently waiting for tourist snacks.

We were enjoying the scenery when, from the top of the plaza up by the street, we saw him. He had the classic dirty tan, smudged clothing, and overstuffed backpack of the standard Reno homeless meth guy. But this guy had something else going for him. He had a very expensive office swivel desk chair.

It was the kind with the tight black mesh breathable seat and back, and sixty-seven levers to control all your lumbar/height/swivel/tilt/arm angle needs. He rolled it through the plaza and to the top of the river steps, smiling proudly and swiveling it back and forth, swiveling his head along with it, looking for someone to share his joy.

No one shared his joy.

He was clearly not happy that no one liked his new chair as much as he did – or at all – and his demeanor soon changed. His smile went from “proud dad” to more of a Jack Nicholson vibe, and down the steps he came, dragging his prize possession behind him – much less carefully than before.

It’s an ungainly thing to manhandle an office chair, and he made it look even more ungainly than it is. He lost five of the six wheels on the flight of concrete steps down to the water, so rolling the chair became more difficult when he finally got to the last wide step at the water’s edge.

My wife and I sat on the rocks on the other side of the happy little river, making bets on what he was planning next. I won the bet when he picked it up over his head and threw it into the river.

Our theory at the time was that he was just a jerk.

It was more downward trajectory than outward, and the chair was submerged only a foot or so from the step. As he crouched down to touch the chair, our theory changed to maybe the chair was on fire in his meth-induced hallucination.

Then, in a move no one saw coming, he produced a ten-inch fillet knife with a bright orange handle from his belt under his shirt, and stabbed the bottom of the chair a couple times. That was the cue for the two guys sitting on the steps six feet to his left to call it a night and head home.

Our theory then changed to a possibly flaming chair, but definitely covered with either snakes or baby dragons. When our hero was confident that the chair had been properly extinguished and/or rinsed, and either rid of vermin or just generally perforated, he grabbed the wheel-deficient base and hauled his prized possession back onto dry land.

He carried it back up to the top of the stairs and lovingly slammed it a few times onto the top of one of the four-foot-high concrete pillars that marked the top of the stair flight. This effectively disabled one of the chair arms completely, although it remains unclear if that was an objective or a side effect. There might have just been one more snake or baby dragon hanging on. Who knows?

He left the chair atop the pillar to drain while he went back down the steps and collected all five of the dislodged wheels, returning to the chair to reattach each one to its original position, more or less.

He then righted his swivel chair back to the ground on its newly replaced casters, and rolled it away from us to the side of the plaza area, where he again picked it up above his head and hurled it up into a planter area under a tall pine tree. He then crawled up over the concrete planter wall and joined his swiveling buddy under the tree, where they both melted further back into the undergrowth until we lost sight of them for the evening.

Now, normally, I’d be happy with a great dinner and an unexpected free show. So, why the Father’s Day crisis, you might ask?

Well, last year we sent our oldest son off to college in Reno. For a minute or two on those rocks by the river, I was seriously rethinking the intelligence of that decision.

On the one hand, Son Number One is a big dude, and could probably pick chair guy up over his head and hurl him further out into the Truckee River than the swivel chair made it. On the other hand, the probable hallucinations and the definite fillet knife had me a bit concerned.

But then I remembered two things that put my mind at ease. First, they keep the college in a magic protective bubble that can only be entered by students and staff. (I don’t know how they do it, but they do.)

And second, we released him into the wild already, and he was well prepared for the adventure. Every town has meth swivel chair guy. Reno just seems to have a few more than the national average, but we raised a young man who’s smart enough to steer clear of him, so we’ve done all we can.

A month or so after this Father’s Day, we’re going to release the second young man from the nest. Boise, Idaho probably has a few less chair stabbers than Reno, but that point is also moot. I’m really not worried about these boys, and that’s the best Father’s Day gift I could ever get.

See you soon,



Copyright © 2024 Marc Schmatjen


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