The Awkward Fellow

Flip flopped feet padding softly on the dark earthy trail, we come around a bend and find him. Two-dimensional boulders are hurling themselves through the air onto his head from an overhanging ledge. One arm lifted to shield his head, angular legs bent as if to flee, he stands unmoving in a state of perpetual action. His featureless face holds no mute entreaty. Without halting our steps and hardly noticing him, we hike on. We’ve seen him before and this is normal-- for him, that is. 

Caution: falling rocks!
Caution: falling rocks!

At the waterfall at the end of our trail, glassy arctic whiteness jumps off grotesque volcanic rock and melds effortlessly into the pool below. Here we find him again. This time he is trying to climb up the slippery rocks under the waterfall. His arms are poised in a perpetual flail and his feet are hovering above the treacherous stony stairway. He can’t climb it, of course, for he doesn’t succeed at anything he does. We hold up our digital cameras to frame the waterfall, careful to aim slightly off-center to keep the awkwardly falling fellow out of our memories. 

Funny Caution Sign

Caution: tide pools are slippery.
Caution: tide pools are slippery.

The next day we visit a tide-pool with salty waves busy filling and emptying rocky basins. But before we can gingerly step over to see if the closest pool has any hermit crabs, he jumps into our attention and clumsily slips on the wet rocks. Careless. Idiotic. We would not have recommended it, but then, he didn’t ask for our recommendations. He didn’t even make eye contact. In fact, we’re not even sure he has eyes. We give him a hopeless glance and then fix our attention on the more interesting characters in the tide pools. Would he ever learn? 

As if those accidents weren’t enough (“accident” is a misnomer-- his mishaps are foolish enough to seem intentional), he shoves his head underneath the closing garage door as we enter the house. His skull now looks like a coconut cracked in half. 

Funny Pedestrian Sign

Caution: tidal waves.
Caution: tidal waves.
Pedestrian crosswalk.
Pedestrian crosswalk.

Though this daring mute has had enough injuries to deny health insurance for his entire race, he has a heart of solid gold. With a lady on one arm and the control of traffic with a gesture of his hand, he gracefully strides into the crosswalk. There will be no jay-walking for this climber of waterfalls! But the next day we wonder if he will ever survive to marry the girl, for we find him with his hand in an electrical box (and he's not an electrician), oblivious to the pouring rain. Though charged with volts beyond normal human consumption, his countenance remains placid and he makes no attempt to alter his situation for better or for worse. 

His mind seems as off-balance as his body is, for he calls for unnatural attention with every daring deed he does. Swimming in high tide and tossed upside-down by a gigantic wave, driving on the wrong side of the street in his little boxy car, slipping on wet floors and falling on his tailbone: the one rule of his life must be to do unto himself as others would never do unto themselves. 

Caution: ground may break unexpectedly.
Caution: ground may break unexpectedly.

How, you may wonder, does a person come to be so misguided? Simple research will reveal to you that, as an infant, he was put in a rear-facing child carrier in the front seat of a vehicle. When he was old enough to toddle, he found plastic bags and stretched them over his head, and in his free time he loved to stand underneath collapsible tables, chairs, and strollers. For thrills he would lean on the fence of his crib until the latch broke. We don’t know if he was ever injured by these incidents, but we do know that he was undeterred by the danger, and went on to accomplish many another nobly foolish deed.

Just the other day I was walking a trail near the edge of a cliff, and saw him beside me, off the trail and much too close to the edge. He seemed to be frozen in mid-stride and the earth beneath him was crumbling into jagged pieces and falling to tragic depths below. If that fall doesn’t kill him, I have a fancy I will meet him again in Colorado, when my time in Hawaii is over. He will be diving head-first into my grandma’s three-foot-deep pool, or standing with god-like audacity on the top of a 14,000 foot peak enjoying the feel of a lightning bolt shimmying over his round and hairless head, or running clumsily up a down-escalator and getting caught between the stairs, swerving wildly and slamming his breaks on icy roads, or throwing himself head over heels into the chairlift gears at a Vail ski resort. 

Number of Queen's Bath Kauai drownings.
Number of Queen's Bath Kauai drownings.
Caution: Falling Coconut.
Caution: Falling Coconut.
Hanakapia beach warning and number of drownings.
Hanakapia beach warning and number of drownings.

Not only is he athletically awkward, but he cannot maintain a social standing for anything. It probably doesn’t help that he doesn’t have a face. And it is certainly not to his advantage that he can’t hold a job (he never washes his hands before returning to work), can’t follow simple traffic rules, doesn’t read warning labels, and embarrasses all his peers with his clumsiness.

His epitaph, when his nine lives are spent and he is finally spared the pain of more earthly mishaps, will read:

Winner of the 20__ Darwin Awards. Bravery and idiocy were unparalleled. Sacrificed his body for the safety-education of the masses. Submitted himself blindly, mutely, deafly, unfeelingly to whatever he was inclined to do. And nothing escaped his inclination. In remembrance, there have been erected placards at the scenes of all his daring ventures. You will find his picture* on yellow diamond-shaped signs, in many parts of the country, that many may see and know the many unthinkable accidents this man has suffered.

*Name has been withheld to protect the inept.

I don’t suppose there’s anyone else in the world with as dull, null, void, and vacant a face as his. Not even enough spunk to be mediocre, but somehow a little too much adrenaline to be safe.

© 2009 Jane Grey

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4 comments

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

In a way, I have to wonder if his heart is not full of noble intentions that he cannot express. That would make his utter failure at any simple task tragic. You tell his story well, and I'll never be able to look at one of those damn signs again without wondering about his identity!


Chris Ong 7 years ago

LOL. I did a comic strip of this same fellow many, many years ago. I created it fo my sister MaryBeth while she was off at excel. I called it "The Adventures of Mr. Safety Man." Alas in my story he had a bit more of a happy ending. He was left to eternal glory, spraypainted as a parking designation on a handicapped spot. Course he was a bit "blue" about it at the time.


Hannah Grosskopf 7 years ago

I smiled through the whole article. I think I traced some of the same thoughts that are in your article, in Understanding Comics. Specifically, the general or ambiguous nature of undetailed drawings and you ability to put yourself or anything else in the same place. It is particularly tragic that this unsung hero is so largely ignored. His selfless deeds are too frequent for comment, too common for notice like so many everyday wonders.


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 7 years ago from Oregon Author

Ha ha! Great comments! Thanks for reading.

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