It was Super Bowl Sunday, February 7th, 2010, and I was chopping up a three gallon bucket of pico de gallo. It takes a lot of chopping to fill a three gallon bucket. The bartender walked up to my little cooks window and said, “Here comes Mumbles.” Mumbles was this schizophrenic old man who was insanely brilliant at times, but more often incoherently mumbling some grand paranoid delusional theory. I looked up in the direction I assumed he was wandering in from in mid chop and slice–there went the tip of my thumb. I started to scream, “FUUUUUUU….” then muffled my profanity by chomping my teeth down on my forearm. I looked back down on the cutting board and there was the tip of my thumb almost perfectly blended in with the diced tomatoes.

I wrapped my finger in a towel and placed the tip of my thumb in a plastic container and set it in the fridge. It wasn’t a big chunk, not enough to expose the tip of bone, but it was probably about 1/4″ of missing finger, and it took the tip of my thumb nail with it. I was outside applying pressure and smoking a cigarette while I waited for the bleeding to stop when one of the owners came out–he had seen all this go down on the cameras–and handed me $80; he put his finger to his lips and said, “Shhhh. Go across the street and get some band-aids and whatever you need to patch it up. Keep the change. Let’s not tell anyone about this.”

There was a Rite-Aid across the street, separated by the downtown trolley tracks, and as I gathered materials and navigated the aisles the blood started to soak through the towel and drip onto my boots and pant leg. I gathered up some superglue, rubbing alcohol, neosporin, gauze, and athletic tape.

There was no employee restroom, so I made a bloody mess of the unsanitary and disgusting public bar restroom warding off bacteria by soaking the tip of the thumb in rubbing alcohol. Then I went back into the kitchen with a blob of superglue on the meat of my open wound, slapped on the amputated tip, cleaned up the protruding glue from around the wound, walked over to the stove and turned the flame on medium-high and cauterized the tip of my thumb back together. I got rid of the cutting board, sanitized everything and finished prepping the three gallons of pico de gallo, and then continued through eleven more grueling and throbbing hours until the end of that heinous shift. The thumb is better than ever.

I have a thousand stories that follow a pretty similar theme. I could tell you about the time I almost lost three fingers on my left hand by slamming them in the flange of an automatic garage door–I used electrical tape to keep the fingernails on until I finished work.

Or there was the time in Tahoe when I used duct tape to hold the tip of my toe on while we sent the gnar. Twelve pitches later and back at camp my toe had fused with the duct tape and I had to use a knife to cut it off; Dave let me use his clippers which helped.

Oh, and that time that I crawled five miles out of that canyon in hundred degree heat dry heaving and covered in salt crystals from dehydration–I got to the car and started chugging 120 degree water; I made it halfway through the bottle before I spewed acidic boiling vomit all over the cab of my shitty two door Saturn (which I loved–still do). My kidneys still haven’t fully recovered from that ordeal.

OH! And that other time when I got caught in a blizzard seven miles from my car on top of a mountain in sneakers and a flannel shirt! When I got back to the car I couldn’t even grip my keys because my hands were so cold and numb. You bet your ass I bought some state of the art technical gear to keep that from going down again! Oh, but then again… Chacos…

Whatever the occasion, whether it’s in the mountains, or desert, or work, or wherever, sometimes we just got to cowboy the fuck up and handle shit. Sometimes brain power just ain’t enough, and we have to depend on elbow grease, stubbornness, and pure bullheaded grit to get through heinous situations, and that’s what cowboyin’ up is about. Quit your cryin’, quit your blaming, and just handle it–right here and now!

So next time you’re world begins to spiral out of control and everything feels hopeless and lost, grab some metaphorical duct tape, macgyver some unlikely solution to your problem–preferably the most direct path, cowboy up, and handle the business. It may be just the thing to save your ass when there’s nobody around to help and no cell service to get some.

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