The Waiting Room, Chapter 1

As a former artists’ agent, I’ve had the privilege of a nearly twenty-ish year relationship with Heather. During this time, we have done a lot of problem-solving and event co-hosting — from portfolio showings to minglers as well as founding the Community Table.  Each idea beholden to our shared belief that there is nothing more powerful in our industry than education.

Recently, we got to talking about the fact that right now, with everyone asking themselves how they will do what they were doing in a different world, that it is also a time of unprecedented waiting and wondering, of worry, fragility, and anxiety.

As freelance veterans, we also understand long-stretches of waiting come with the territory. Because regardless we are part of an industry that is hard-wired for immediacy, we also know the torment that can come with waiting.  We wait for emails, for a green light on a project, for feedback, for invoices to be paid, etc.  As Tom Petty sang to us, “The waiting is the hardest part.” And yet we have never talked publicly about how one learns to deal with the highs and lows that come with this part of the job. 

From this conversation was borne The Waiting Room — a collection of insightful and sometimes hilarious essays solicited from the team at Heather Elder Represents that tell their variety of tales about a memorable moment of waiting and about learning.

Ultimately, while we can’t fix all the stresses that we know come with the waiting, I believe that by sharing these stories that you will know you’re not alone, we truly are all in this waiting room together.

Onward.
Kate Chase, Creative Strategist & Guest Editor

Chapter 1

The Rodent, the Beast, and the Champion

by Brett Nadal, Artist

When I was about 22 years old, I was living in an apartment with my girlfriend (and one day wife) in Southern Illinois, which happens to be a very rural, beautiful and forested area of the midwest.  

Together, we adopted a very loving, healthy, and sometimes ferocious young Rottweiler mix. We named her Rudy (after Desmond Dekker’s music, not the movie). Rudy was always with us, even on assignment.

Every morning around sunrise, Rudy and I would hike through woods not far from our apartment. About 70 lbs, small for her breed, she would usually happily browse the forest floor for about an hour before we would head back home. But on this particular day, my attention had wandered from Rudy as we walked. I was halfway through a small clearing when I realized she wasn’t with me.  

I turned my head and bellowed “Come on, Rude!” 

Only about five seconds passed, enough time to hear my echo and listen closely to the forest before I could hear the approaching sound of cracking twigs under galloping feet, bursting from the thick was not Rudy.  Toward me quickly came an agile, small, hairy creature moving too quickly to identify and switching with incredible agility; zigging and zagging to throw off its predator in pursuit — Rudy — galloping at full stride, low and with death in her eyes.

In a moment, the small creature found itself in the clearing, with Rudy closing fast and nowhere to hide.  Cutting left, switching right like lightning and suddenly, heading straight for the only high ground it could find — me. It spun itself around my legs, my body, arms, and neck before I realized what was happening. I was using all my strength to stop Rudy from trying to climb after it not realizing it was already on top of my head, frantically trying to find it’s next move.

Pandemonium

In utter uproar, Rudy would lunge within inches of the rodent, teeth at full snarl, drool flying all over my face and jaws snapping as I desperately held her down by her coat. The squirrel would thrash from shoulder to shoulder with incredible speed, razor-sharp claws tearing at my skin with every pivot, chattering furiously.

Chaos. Hell on Earth. After a few moments, Rudy was calming. But like a demon, watching with a fire burning in her soul, her eyes fixed on her prey, she was waiting for a mistake. I could feel the squirrel frantically checking it’s surroundings from atop my head — to my left shoulder — back to my right. There I was perfectly still, alone in a forest clearing with my dog waiting to kill the squirrel on my head — like an asshole. The squirrel wouldn’t jump because it was afraid of Rudy. I was afraid to move because I believed it would bite my ears or scalp.  We had no idea what to do. We were just — waiting. A real fucking standoff.  

I grew up a city kid

I’m not supposed to be dealing with this shit. Rudy sat fixed, with a stream of drool running steadily from her mouth. She would kill me to have a go at the squirrel. The slightest movements would cause the squirrel to go frantic, and I could see every thread holding together. Rudy’s patience was snapping. I could feel the squirrel’s heart beating; I could hear it hyperventilating. I was the flimsy, fragile barrier between a raging fire and a pool of gasoline. Perfect desperation. Minutes were passing like this; I could only stand still. I just hoped the squirrel would leap and run, but it wouldn’t. It remained on my head in safety, the perfect crown of foolery. 

Truthfully, I was mortified. I could think only of diseases and my own health. I was convinced that if I made any move or attempt to remove the squirrel, I would be bitten, even mauled. There were moments I would convince myself I was in control, but it was a lie. I had no control. I was alone with two animals, and death was at stake. I just stood still.

I had seen Grizzly Man. Nature always bats last.

This was it; this is how I would die; as a young man of a blood infection from a violent squirrel encounter. At the very least, I would likely be disfigured for life. There would be a documentary about my stupidity and lack of manliness.

The squirrel became still. Rudy became still. I reveled in the peace. I got control of my breathing and more minutes passed as my mind raced hopelessly toward — no plans at all. I wanted only to be rescued. But, I was stuck.

I could not remain in this state

The comfort was an alluring trap, a time bomb. I realized that the three of us had achieved a state of calm, and I found just enough peace to plan my next move. Slowly, with the careful, neutral tenderness of reacting under gunpoint, I reached into my coat pocket and felt for my phone. As I shifted the phone out into my hand, the squirrel jerked and chattered in horror for a moment, and again, we all froze. 

I gently held the phone out to where I could see it’s the screen and dialed my girlfriend, Lydia. Too afraid to raise the phone anywhere near my head or on speaker, to startle the beasts, I held the phone only close enough to hear her pick up.

“Brett? What?” I heard her yawn into the phone, still likely in bed.

I chose to whisper with as loud of breath as I could, hoping my words could be heard. “Lydia, I need you to come to the woods right now.”

The squirrel shifted to the other side of my head at the sound of my voice. Rudy jerked and froze again, waiting for the animal to either leap or attack.

From the other end of the phone, “Brett?? Hello?”

I’m pleading, “Lydia, please listen. I’m here in the woods and I need help.” She hung up. Jesus, fuck. I called back.

“Brett?” she said, now clearly waking up.

I raised my voice a little louder, “Lydia, do not hang up. I’m in the woods.”

Now she’s paying attention, “Yeah? What’s going on?”

I start explaining, “I’m fine, but I need help. There’s a squirrel,” The squirrel chattered into the phone as it shifted to my shoulders. “…I’m fucking stuck here and there’s a squirrel on my head. I need you to come to the woods, please — Lydia? You need to come to the woods.”

She replies, “Oh, for fuck’s sake.” She hung up again. I call back. She answers, “Hey! What, now!?  I’m coming!”

I had to explain to her that I didn’t really know where I was. I just hiked into the woods. This was before the ability to send people location pins, so in my slightly less frantic state of mind, I described to her where I walked. She swore she had it.

So then, I had to wait. 

At first, I felt alone, but then I began to become calmer, even bolder, knowing help was coming. I began to play around with getting the squirrel off my head. I wiggled my head; It wouldn’t budge — like a rock-solid bareback rider. If I took a step, Rudy would jerk into a pounce-prep position. The squirrel would frantically shift around my shoulders, chattering curses at Rudy. Every few moments, Rudy threatens to lunge again. I calm her; the squirrel gets upset. It’s a cycle that will never end.

10 more minutes.

I think it starts to develop a trust for me. I began to like the squirrel. I really don’t want it to get hurt. I begin just to enjoy the moment, and actually realize that it’s not likely anything like this will ever happen to me again. I will think back on this as an older man, and it will make me happy.

I began not to worry about Rudy attacking. I was just feeling the weight of the squirrel. I could feel its soft little body leaning against my ear. I was one with nature, I had no worries. I think the squirrel could tell and I could hear it’s breathing become more controlled. I tried another step — Nope! Fuck that. The squirrel was immediately frantic. I was stuck. Suddenly Rudy jerked her head back toward the direction home. I turned my head as the squirrel climbed on top to get a better look as well.

The three of us, just watching the tree line.

I could hear the popping of twigs under feet in the woods. It was from Lydia! My savior! “Lydia!” I whispered. She emerged from the forest into the clearing, holding a keychain size can of mace. She extended it in front of her. “No! No! That’s bad! That would be bad!” I pleaded, “Please don’t use that, or we’ll all die here.”

For a moment, she looked at me with unblinking, enormous eyes. Suddenly she began to choke with laughter, holding back tears, because it was true. It was all true and I had a witness. “Please, Lydia, just take Rudy. Please just hold her back so I can get away from her.”

Lydia raised the mace toward the squirrel and her other hand toward Rudy’s collar as she walked gingerly without taking her eyes off my head.

“Brett, don’t you fucking move.”

She took Rudy and pulled her back four or five paces away from me and watched with her mace ready at blasting position. I walked, slowly.

“What are you doing, Brett??” she’s wondering.

I was moving toward a tree. I was in the middle of a clearing and I knew the squirrel wouldn’t jump off, so I walked. The squirrel rode atop my head like Washington crossing the Delaware, until we reached the tree line. Nothing.

“C’mon, go,” I said. But it wouldn’t move. I had put my shoulder up against tree. Then, almost, as with reluctance, the squirrel slowly grabbed the tree and climbed on.  

This was goodbye. Praise the Lord. We had done it. I would live. My ears were attached, my eyes intact, and I could tell the harrowing tale. Plus, nobody was maced.

We walked home together, laughing so hard we couldn’t speak. 

Today, Lydia and I are married with four children and Rudy is still protecting the entire family from squirrels.

One moment, you’re doing everything right, enjoying your routine. Then, the next moment, circumstances will erupt out of your control into a test of your nature. There’s beauty in every circumstance. If you stay calm and control what you can, you’ll examine any situation for the better. Also, unexpected events often make great stories.  

Please note, we will be publishing new chapters, a collection of essays, every Saturday for the next eight weeks. See you next Saturday with Chapters 2 & 3 from Jason Lindsey and David Martinez. Come join us in the waiting room.

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