"Take away the risk in life," Butch says, as he jerks Sweetie's safety harness tight with a snap, "and what have you got?"
"T-bills?" Sweetie squeaks.
Sweetie and I are learning how to rock climb. I'm here because I believe stepping outside the comfort zone is what keeps us alive. Sweetie is here because I promised I'd buy him dinner. He prefers cash, but he will recreate for steak.
While Butch continues to wax eloquent on the existential philosophy of rock climbing, I loosen Sweetie's safety harness before he starts singing castrato.
"That which does not kill us makes us stronger," Butch says, pulling off his T-shirt.
"Nietzsche," Sweetie nods.
"Conan the Barbarian," Butch corrects, flexing his biceps. Sweetie rolls his eyes at me.
"Dinner AND a movie," I say.
The indoor rock climbing club is a maze of man-made caves, with little fake rocks jutting out all over the walls. Lean and tanned rock climbers, suspended by safety ropes, hang all around us like Lycra-covered ornaments on the Flintstones' Christmas tree.
"He's not wearing the appropriate gear," Butch says, nodding toward Sweetie as he dusts his fingers with a little rosin. Based on what Butch is wearing, appropriate rock climbing gear is a pair of painted-on leggings, rubber-grip slippers and a little cloth rosin pouch that hangs off your safety harness. I'm sorry, but controlling interest in Microsoft wouldn't coerce Sweetie to slip into spandex.
"I'll see if I can get him to lose the Rockports," I say.
"You do that," Butch sniffs. "I don't intend to lose a climber today."
On that note, I survey our impending summit. One wrong move on the beginner's wall, and you plummet a heart-stopping three feet. I figure we have a greater chance of meeting our maker toppling off a toilet.
"Butch," I ask, "when you shake your head, do you spit concrete?"
"Let me see if I've got this straight," Sweetie says as I double-check his rope. "The goal is to climb up the rock wall ... then climb back down. Does the name Sisyphus mean anything to you?"
"I'll pay you five bucks for every wall you climb," I say.
"Make it cash," Sweetie says limbering up his fingers. "I don't want to be thrown into another tax bracket."
Dunking his hand into Butch's rosin pouch (which in itself is a rather risky proposition), Sweetie surveys the wall. Then, with Zen-like concentration, he grabs a finger hold.
"You're paying him to climb the wall?" Butch asks in disbelief. Body smashed flat and fingers spread, Sweetie slowly works his way from rock to rock up the 90-degree summit like a tree frog.
"Sweetie is a capitalist," I explain, as a crowd of climbers gathers to watch Sweetie dangle upside down by one toe and his pinkie under a synthetic rock overhang. "He won't invest unless he gets a return."
Butch frowns. "Are you comfortable with that kind of relationship?"
Actually, it's what keeps me alive.
Write P.S. Wall c/o Universal Press Syndicate, 4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111.