R/S: How did you blow apart your right hand?
Mark Pauline: I was preparing a rocket motor for a show. I had a pretty good instruction manual, and was finishing one of the processing stages which involved mixing the propellant, casting it, and then removing the mandrill which is a cylinder of metal that you put down the center of the propellant—you have to take that out after it cures. I’d tested the propellant by hitting it with a sledge hammer—it didn’t seem too sensitive. To get this rod out of the center, I thought I’d tap it with a hammer. I went outside, made a little wooden dowel to fit on top of it, and started tapping on the dowel with a hammer. Then it got stuck, and I said, Oh fuck, and then I hit it a little harder, and it moved some. Then I hit it again, and it just blew up, and it really blew up—blew me back about 2 or 3 feet away. I looked up and I was laying on the ground and blood just went in a sheet of red over my eyes. And then I shook it out of my eyes and looked at my hand, ’cause my hand felt funny, and all I could see was just the bones on my hand; there was no skin on any of the bones. Then they took me to the hospital and put me out and that was it.
None of the shrapnel hit me, so all I lost was a few fingers. More than anything I had lost time—all that time spent in the hospital, having to learn to work again with one hand. I had to think about what kind of state I was in that allowed that to happen. I don’t really consider it an accident, it was just a stupid mistake. Why do you do things that are really dumb? You just get in a funny mood and these things start to happen….
In terms of microsurgery, it turns out that some of the best surgeons are in San Francisco General Hospital just two blocks from my house. Over a period of 7 or 8 months they’re in the process of assembling what they can of my hand, to give me the basic functions: to pinch, to grasp. Those type of operations are basically experimental. They’ve done a real good job. It’s still hard to climb fences; it’s hard to carry five-gallon buckets, you know. But it didn’t take as long as I thought it would to be able to do things again. Like, I drove my motorcycle over here.
R/S: The last time I saw you, you were pretty worried about how you’d make money.
MP: Yeah, but then I got all these jobs and I just had to do them. So I guess I decided that I could do it. I was just having self-pity for myself when I talked to you. But you can’t do anything when you think those things—that’s a mental handicap.
I worry about having accidents. I don’t want to have any more accidents, but I’ve always really worried about accidents. I’ve always spent a lot of time thinking about all the awful things that could happen to me-I thought about it all the time. I either thought about doing awful things to other people, or the awful things that could happen to me. Every day I spent about an hour thinking about that, for years, ever since I was 7 or 8. You know, the things you daydream about—well, that was the 2 things I daydreamed about.
Now that I’ve had an accident, I still worry about things like that. But I never had an accident before, I never got hurt before, ever, in any way. I never got sick. I almost got hurt hundreds of times but nothing ever happened to me, it was just almost. It was just always a close call—more exciting than anything else.
But after it happens to you, it just teaches you that some things really are dangerous, and some things aren’t. It doesn’t mean that you can’t do the same things that you did before, you just have to know that there are better ways to do things, to keep yourself from getting surprises. But how you can think about: How am I going to avoid having a bad thing happen to me? It’s really stupid to spend a lot of time thinking about that. You don’t prevent those kind of things, you just don’t let them happen.