2.11 – 10-Gallon Hat
“Are ya’ all making these things smaller these days?” the man joked as one of the flight attendants moved forward to help. It was a soft bag, and after a few strategic shoves, they were able to close the compartment door. The man looked around for someplace to put his 10-Gallon hat. Another flight attendant pointed to a small space in a compartment several rows back. However, the urban cowboy had no intention of having that much separation between himself and his hat. He shook his head and mouthed the words, “No. But thank you kindly,” exhaling as he took his seat next to Brig.
Another prayer unanswered Brig thought sarcastically as he turned his head back towards his window, hoping to avoid conversation with this man. Although Brig was looking the opposite way, he could feel the man’s eyes surveying him, sizing him up, trying to find a way to introduce himself. He looked like a guy that liked to talk, or maybe Brig was just being his usual dick self.
Brig leaned his head against the bulkhead and closed his eyes as the aircraft began to taxi towards the runway. He was finally on his way back to Hong Kong. It had been more than ten years since he had last set foot in the “Fragrant Harbor.” He wondered how much it had changed.
2.12 – Mountaineering
Brig was at a point in his life where young men pushed for greater independence. He desperately needed guidance from his parents, particularly his father. Well-meaning relatives and friends of the family tried to provide direction, but Brig shut them out, finding his only solace in climbing the mountains along the Wasatch Front, a sport he had taken up soon after his mother died.
July 14th, 1997
God, it was hot today. The sun was almost unbearable, and that last pitch was a bitch. But once we made the top, it was all worth it. Davey and I went up the Social Engineering line on Dead Snag Crag. Looking down Big Cottonwood Canyon, it reminded me of the John Muir quote, “Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” I wish I could climb all day, every day. When I’m climbing all I think about is that moment…I don’t think about all the other bullshit that’s going on.
Tomorrow we’re thinking Heisenberg, up Little Cottonwood. VII is in town, and he’ll have a nervous breakdown when I don’t show up for church, but he’ll get over it…or he won’t.
Oh yeah. I’ve got to remember to pick up more ‘biners. Stoked!
2.13 – Rebel Yell
As Brig became more rebellious, continually antagonizing and testing his father, Brenda became more obedient, driven, and sought every opportunity to please him. She embraced being a young Mormon woman and was every bit the role model that the Youngs were expected to be. Of course, Brenda lived without the pressure of being the first-born male. Still, she was too young to understand her brother’s attitude, and often chastised him for his bad behavior. Consequently, Brig and Brenda grew apart.
Brig’s circle of friends changed. He began drinking beer and chewing tobacco, two significant rule violations for members of the Mormon Church, and ones that threatened to derail him from fulfilling one of his most important responsibilities as a Young and as a Latter Day Saint – serving a Mormon mission.
One warm evening, Brig had been out drinking with some of his climbing buddies near the base of one of their local rocks, and boasted that he could free climb (without ropes) a specific route they had been contemplating. Of course his friends called “bullshit,” and Brig was forced to accept the challenge. To be fair, his buddies didn’t expect him to climb, and they certainly didn’t expect him to climb right then, but Brig was seventeen, over-confident, and buzzed on liquid courage. Even sober and during the day, the route would have been challenging. But buzzed and at night, Brig fell and landed badly. He broke his left arm and both legs in several places, but his head had miraculously gone unscathed. Doctors told him how lucky he was, and that he would need several months of rehabilitation. The doctor prescribed Demerol, and Brig learned that drugs could take away more than just the physical pain, at least temporarily.
2.14 – Boyfriends in Bolos
Brig jerked awake and instinctively threw his hands to his ears to protect them from the overly loud announcement from the flight attendant blaring over the airplane’s speaker. “Good morning once again passengers. We will soon land in San Francisco where it’s a cool 57 degrees. As we prepare to land, we ask that you return to your seat, buckle your safety belt and return your tray table and chairs to their full, upright position. We hope you have a great day and hope to see you again soon on United.”
“Why always so loud?” Brig asked under his breath as he sat up and rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands.
He glanced over at his neighbor, who looked as though he hadn’t moved the entire flight. His white shirt still looked freshly pressed and his hat was placed lovingly on his lap. Brig surprised to see that the man was was wearing a bolo and in this semi-conscious state, Brig’s eyes accidentally met the other man’s.
“Going home?” the man asked Brig, who was still groggy from his nap and the drugs.
“Are you on your way home…to San Francisco? Visiting friends, or just passing through town?”
“Um…no.” hoping his brief answer ended the conversation.
“No? No what? No home? No visiting friends?” the big man smiled and persisted. He was trying to be friendly, oblivious to Brig’s growing agitation.
“Getting out,” Brig pronounced the word “out,” emphatically… o-u-tah!
“Getting out of…” Tex was starting to pick up on the negative vibe and finished his question tentatively “…Utah?”
“Just out man. Just out.” His aggression began boiling over. “…and why are you so interested? Are you writing an article for ‘Dumb Ass’ magazine?”
“Well, excuse me for asking…”
“No. Excuse me,” Brig retorted, not letting the man finish his sentence. “I’ve given you every sign, used all of my body language skills, to communicate to you, without being rude, that I have no interest in speaking with you. None! Look. We’ve had a good flight. I got some sleep. You protected your hat.”
Now it was the cowboy’s turn to be confused, “What?”
Brig observed that their conversation had attracted the attention of a few of the other passengers. He raised his voice so that they could hear better, “It’s not you, it’s me. We had a good time together, but it’s over.” As if choking back tears, Brig continued. “It’s over! Do you hear? We’re done! I need to move on.” Another dramatic pause. “If you love me…if you’ve ever loved me…” pause. “Never speak to me again.” Brig turned to his window and dabbed at his eyes with the back of his hand.
The man looked around, embarrassed, well aware of the implication. “You’re crazy,” he said to Brig. “He’s crazy,” he said to the other passengers who were pretending not to have noticed.
Brig smiled at his blurred reflection in the hard plastic window.
2.15 – Spiritual Touchstone
Upon turning eighteen, all worthy young Mormon men fall under enormous social pressure to serve a “mission.” Serving a mission involved leaving home, volunteering two years of their life to teach Mormon doctrine, and attempt to convert as many non-Mormons to their religion as they could. Brig had the added burden of being the only son, in arguably the most notable modern Mormon family since The Osmonds. Brigham senior had served a mission in the Philippines, Brig’s grandfather (VI) in Mexico, and all of his great-grandfathers before him had served somewhere in the world dating all the way back to the first Brigham Young.
Brig was a neurotic mess as his eighteenth birthday approached. He needed to tell his father that he was not going to serve a mission. Not only that, Brig had developed an obsessive desire to climb Mount Everest, and needed to convince his father to pay for the expedition. While convalescing from his fall the year before, one of his friends had given him a copy of the September 1996 edition of Outside magazine. It was the edition that included the article “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, who wrote about the 1996 disaster when eight climbers died attempting to climb Everest. Although the story was a tragedy, it had planted a seed of thought in Brig’s brain that was at times all-consuming. He carried the magazine everywhere, and when the magazine began to fall apart, he made copies. When he learned that the “Into Thin Air” article had been published as a book, he paid $180 for an illustrated hardcover edition signed by the author. The book replaced the Book of Mormon as his spiritual touchstone. He marked passages that were particularly meaningful to him with a yellow highlighter, to the extent that the book became more yellow than not.
Brig decided that he would first ask his father for the money to climb Mount Everest. He anticipated that his father would reject his request, especially when he learned that it was likely to cost more than $60,000. Brig would plead, and his father would eventually point out that Brig would soon be going on a mission. At that point, Brig would promise that if his father approved the trip to Everest, he would go on a mission within a year of his return. In Brig’s mind, it was an excellent compromise.