Monkey Claws

March 10, 2011

Every community has its subcultures. Small groups within the larger local community or even within the larger world as a whole, if you want to go that big.
Portland, Ore., for instance, basks in a substantial microculture of rock climbers. As I hail from a town where, unless you are in the presence of an elite group of fitness enthusiasts, rock climbing is considered only a blithe diversion that simply involves jumping on a wall and reaching for the nearest rock. It can be done in jeans and tennis shoes with seemingly no athleticism required.
However, try that at a gym in Portland and I think the climbing gang would turn from friendly to taking you outside before you could ask what a harness was for.
My friend, Jill, aka the beginner climber, signed up for a climbing class one afternoon. I accompanied her, figuring I would skulk around the gym, looking tough, somehow entertaining myself for about 45 minutes I guesstimated. How long does it take to show someone how to put on a harness and hold a rope?
Apparently, very long.
The class was blocked out for 2 ½ hours.
On top of that, to find this open class in the first place, Jill had to call all of the gyms in Portland. Needless to say, they take their rock climbing very seriously.
And I didn’t see anyone in jeans.

We walked in to a room filled with not average people but stealth, monkey-like, chalk rubbing, forearm-ed, “live to climb” climbers.
Suddenly, my pride in owning a personal pair of climbing shoes no longer seemed any sort of bragging right, considering that everyone in the gym looked as if they’d battled numerous mountains and won; whereas, I won’t even consider stepping onto a real rock unless I see railings.
The climbing experiences I had up to this point added up to approximately four times and spread generously over a five year period, which warranted me about as much street cred as a cigarette to the fitness world.
The gym was complete with gymnastics rings and weight machines. These people weren’t here for the fun of it.
I forced myself to observe, putting aside the obvious creep vibe I felt sure I was giving off, and stood in the corner, watching the humans around me turn from regular, vertical forms into clinging, horizontal, crouching creatures. Hanging from ceilings, grappling with gravity.
I wondered if they were hiding secret monkey claws under their sleeves or gecko-like adhesive pads on their fingertips.
If this talent is for real, it won’t be long before these same people are scaling apartment walls, Spider-Man-esque. Working for good or for evil. The beginnings of a mutant community.
And I’m plannin’ to get on board.