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MARCH 17, 2009 1:11AM

Born to be Wild

Rate: 9 Flag

I was sitting in the back of the rusted-out truck with my father, who was probably drinking a can of some awful beer, and a big meaty guy who just happened to be blind. The truck was going faster than was probably wise across a cow pasture located in Sanford, Maine. From a distance, green and grassy, cow pastures look soft and fresh. At least this one did. But when your tail bone is resting on a bumpy metal truckbed, you realize you've been lied to all these years.

On the radio is Steppenwolf, playing loud, and the blind guy is singing at the top of his lungs.

I'd gotten up way too early in the morning, and I'd spent the last four hours doing a horrible job at parachute training. I realized some time around middle school that my brain did not control any parts of my body with precision except whatever was directly attached to my wrists. Dancing, sports, street fighting... I'm good at none of these. Part of the class involved jumping off a four-foot platform so that we could perfect a tuck and roll.

This platform was ghetto. I'd seen better bike ramps constructed by 8-year-olds with no sense and nothing to live for. So of course I didn't take this seriously. I'd do a terrible job, and it would just have to do. I'm not trying to get into Airborne school, fellas, honestly.

My father is scrawny, old (well at least I thought so at the time), and most definitely drunk, but that is probably what saved him. Being drunk is the perfect state for learning the tuck and roll. And I imagine he probably honed those skills throughout his life. He needed it for fist fights, car accidents, and that time he jumped from the stands straight into the bullring in Mexico City so that he could shake the bullfighter's hand.

The blind guy, who couldn't even see the dirt coming up at him, had no fucking problem with the tuck and roll. I did it over and over and over, improving not one whit, until the instructor got tired of looking at me and let me get in the truck wearing a quite unflattering orange jumpsuit.

When we got to the "runway" (and believe me, I'm not one to abuse quote marks, but this counted as a runway only in the instructor's imagination), there were a variety of parachutes to choose from. You chose according to your body weight and not your favorite color or cartoon character. My father chose his, and being a delicate flower, I chose the next smallest one.

The "plane" was in a similar shape as the "truck" that carried us here. The seats behind the pilot's seat had been torn out to carry worthless fools with a couple of hundred bucks (cash only) to spare. We sat in uncomfortable silence. Waiting. What's the delay? Is there a technical problem? Is anyone going to chicken out before we get off the ground? No, the cows must be scared off of the runway or there could be an unfortunate incident.

Can you believe the thing made it off the ground? We went up 3500 feet. This is a static-line jump, performed solo. What that means is that you are attached to the plane by a line, and when you get to the end of that line, the chute is deployed. So no matter how freaked the fuck out you may be as you hurtle toward the ground, the first cord will be pulled for you. And because you are solo, there's no one there to hear your religious about face or feel the hot wet burn of urine. Copious amounts of urine.

Solo also means that if something bad happens, you're pretty much on your own. There's a backup chute around here somewhere, and as long as you don't end up in the water or the trees, everything should be fine, and this will remain a simple monetary transaction recorded nowhere, and you will have fine memories for the rest of your life. 

 So on commercials, you see guys deftly tumble out of airplanes like they're jumping off a diving board or onto a trampoline. More lies. This particular airplane had a piece of wood nailed from one part to another (I can't remember that particular detail), and you somehow had to stand on that piece of wood, which is completely OUTSIDE of the plane by the way, grab the wing, and wait for the instructor to smack your leg. You simply let go after that.

Well imagine putting your legs out the door of plane pitching like a lifeboat in a hurricane. Imagine the speed of the wind as it hits your legs and promptly tries to carry you right out the door. The instructor steadied me, and I made it to the board. I grabbed the wing, and as soon as I got vertical, he smacked my leg. Just in time for me to be blown off the board anyway.

I'd been an atheist from the age of 15. I imagine if you were a poseur atheist or even just a romantic, you might turn to God at a time like this. When you jump from an airplane, you're suppose to do that graceful arching of your back, but there's no way to practice that in the Maine woods. Let's face it, no amount of practice would have helped me anyway. I tumbled over and over, helpless.

When I think of the loud and endless stream of expletives that poured forth, I think of certain historical events in which similar strings of words might have been put together. I'm thinking, OJ in the Bronco. The guy that thought he spilled Ebola in Reston, Virginia. Most definitely Harry Whittington, after being sprayed with buckshot by Dick Cheney. Oh, and that guy in the Crying Game.

I felt a huge tug, looked up, and saw that somehow the chute had opened without tangling me up in it. I started to laugh. The view was lovely. Maine, especially 20 years ago, is wild and lovely in the summertime. I had quite a few minutes of serene reflection before hearing the ungodly holler of the guy whose title I thought was "Cow Shoo-er" but now appears to have been "Corporate Vice President of Steering Me Away from Stuff that Will Kill Me." And here's where I nailed it. My hands, you see, were in charge of steering, and I landed barely outside the circle.

Unfortunately, parachutists land like feathers, oh, NEVER. Especially not when they lie about their weight. I mean, who wants a bigger parachute than their father? I slammed into the ground, neither tucking, nor rolling. I couldn't get up.

My mother and grandmother were actually watching this spectacle. I'm not sure why they wanted to witness my death, but they were there, and they brought a cooler. I tried to raise up my arm to make sure everyone knew I was OK, but the hysterics had probably begun as soon as I drove off in the truck.

Every year, we spent a month of summer in Maine, and every year, someone went to the hospital up to Bridgeton. That year, I went. My foot was probably not broken, but I never got the X-ray. For about 10 years afterward I had a lot of problems with that foot, and I resprained it several times. I still cannot jog. That was the last dare I ever took from my father, the daredevil, who would perform many astounding feats with the years he had left, injuring himself countless times and nursing his wounds mostly with alcohol. In 1996, he came home in the middle of the night, tripped over a plastic recycling bin in the driveway, and severed his spinal cord. He lay there all night long, alone, until a neighbor found him lying there early the next morning. He never walked again. He also never drank again. He died seven and a half years later in Casco, Maine.



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I can't say I've ever had quite an adventure as this. You write vividly, thanks for sharing.
Unlike Annie Lennox, you'll never have to write "We should have jumped out of that airplane after all..."

Good story. Thanks.
Take it from a guy who has done some real stunts over the years. Never try stupid shit sober.
You are sooo wonderfully sarcastic! I'm attracted like a magnet to that. Three times in my life I've been signed up to jump, but something always came up. It's still on my bucket list, though now there are several tandem jumps before solos. I'm not thrilled about having some guy strapped to my back in that position if you know what I mean. If I can find a cute little instructor though, yeah where do I sign the waiver.

Sorry about your Dad. He sounded like a lot of fun.
Nope, never, un-uh ... no way ... no. no. no.

Sorry about your dad, angrymom ... but it sounds like you guys had some big adventures along the way :)

Great story!!!
Oh, HELL no. I will not even look out the window of a tall building. Nope, nope, nope. You're a braver soul than I.

How sad that your dad was hurt in such a pedestrian way--I'm sure he would have preferred it to be part of a big adventure that he could tell grand stories of for the rest of his life.
Your dad sounds like he was a hoot! I can't believe you did it. Not me - not enough beer in the world, know what I'm sayin'?

But I do have a question.... Did you say a prayer?
No ma'am. Turns out I'm a real atheist :)
Great story.... now vividly painted into my mind's eye. I spent years up in Maine in the Naples, Brighton, Harrison area, along Long Lake.

To this day I remember a prefect day of water skiing and boating with my Dad, and at the end of the day, riding home to the camp we stayed at and seeing the parachutes high up in the sky, so colorful against the bright blue sky.... and hearing my father mutter...

"Look at those idiots..."

Sorry about your Dad, thank you for bringing back a memory of mine... Rated.