Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Time I Jumped From a Perfectly Good Airplane

I love that title. Replace the “I” with “Ross” or “Joey” and it could very well be an episode of Friends.

Last week my son said "I mean, I might want to do it...but it's still crazy!" and it made me think about the time I went skydiving.

Skydiving is a perfectly fine activity for many insane human beings. You have to a certain type of crazy, though. Your average garden-variety lunatic would not be able to graduate the training. The cunning Hannibal Lector type of smart-crazy is called for.

The training consists of a half-day’s activities. We jumped off a 5-foot platform to simulate landing (landing with a chute, of course…they don’t prepare you for the other eventuality). They suspended us from the ceiling of a barn by a tangled mass of lines so you feel like a fish that just gulped down twelve fishing worms. (The goal in the latter exercise is to learn to bicycle kick to spin around and untangle the lines).

There is a lot of emphasis on locating the ripcord to your reserve parachute and pulling it. ‘Cause if you don’t, you die.

You learn that toggles are handles above your head, and they are used to steer. Pulling down on a toggle collapses the back part of the parachute and you turn in that direction. Pulling down on both toggles makes you fall faster, because it effectively collapses half of your chute. The instructor said it’s a lot like being on a rollercoaster. I love rollercoasters.

The plane I jumped from was a single-engine Cessna. Its wings extended from the top of the fuselage (NOTE: I love that word, fuselage. I finally got to use it. Sweet.) Thin struts extended from the tips of the wings, connecting to the fuselage (twice!) at its bottom. These struts will be important later on, when I get to the step: GET ALL THE WAY OUT AND HANG.

The Cessna was very small inside. There was one seat, and the pilot sat in it. He never even called dibs. He was a selfish man, obviously. I sat on the floor beside him facing the rear of the plane with my legs extended. The JumpMaster sat on top of my legs. Two other jumpers were crammed into the back cavity of the plane, stuffing it like a Thanksgiving turkey (NOTE: Happy Thanksgiving!).

The JumpMaster had gone to high school with the other two guys in the back, so instead of taking us to 3,500 feet he had the pilot take us to 4,000 feet.

Training and flight = $80
Insurance = $30
Bonus altitude = Priceless.

The wind shook the small plane as it circled back toward the airport. The JumpMaster clipped a cord onto the small pilot chute in my backpack and then he clipped the other end to the pilot’s seat. When I jumped, the cord – called a static line – would pull the pilot chute from my pack, which in turn would pull my main chute. Barring accidents. In which case, I would pull the reserve (or die).

The JumpMaster opened the door. The hinges were at the top, so the bottom opened outward and clipped to the wing above us.

The wind rushed inside and the noise from the engine flooded the plane. Look at my eyes¸the JumpMaster gestured. He didn’t want me to look down at the ground and freak out. He studied the ground below us, and he said:


I knew how to do this. We trained on it for an hour. There was a little step above the plane’s wheel. I turned to the doorway and put one foot outside the plane. The wind ripped at the leg of my jumpsuit. I scooted forward – just a little bit – and I found the step with my toes. I brought my other foot out and planted both feet firmly on the step. I never broke eye contact with the JumpMaster. He rewarded me by saying:


I went hand over hand along the thin strut under the wing. My body flapped like a flag in the wind. When I got to the tip of the wing I looked back at the JumpMaster. He gave me a thumb’s up. I looked up at a red dot on the wing above me and let go.

One one-thousand.
Make sure I am in perfect form, legs apart, arms open and head back.

Two one-thousand.
Wow, the plane is really far away already. It’s like a toy…

Three one-thousand.
It’s like a postage stamp…

Four one-thousand.
There’s my chute. Wow, it’s way up above me. It’s almost like a postage stamp, too.

Five one-thousand.
There are the toggles. Grab right one, grab left one. Give each a tug. The chute is fully inflated. I’m...safe?

Where’s the plane?

At this point my body went into what is called “sensory overload.” Basically, your brain freaks out from the change in external stimuli. It’s very weird, being surrounded by nothing for at least 4,000 feet in any direction. At first I felt like I was going up. The wind swirled around me. For a second I was sure that if I saw the plane I would try to climb back in it, and wished for it to appear.

I looked down. My feet dangled below me, dancing on almost a mile of air. The farmland below looked like graph paper.

I calmed down and started to experiment with my toggles, turning in each direction. Then I tried the trick where you pull down on both toggles so you fall faster. I pulled them way down below my waist.

My stomach leaped up my throat and smacked me on the bottom of my chin. I let the toggles up, fast. No more of that silliness.

The ride to the ground took about five minutes. It would have been 30 seconds without a chute. A one-way radio in my ear started telling me where to turn, guiding me down to the circular landing area. It was a perfect landing, I hit with one foot with less impact than walking down the steps on my front porch. Right in the middle of the runway.

I hurried out of the way of the waiting Cessna and ran over to the ground crew, who helped me get out of my rig and jumpsuit. A surge of adrenaline coursed through me, starting a natural high that would last for a week. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. That night I acted out the story for friends, family, and several strangers.

Someday I’ll do it again. And when I do, I’m going to 12,000 feet so I can free-fall for a minute. I’m just like my son. It may be crazy, but I still want to do it!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Story of My Life

Over the weekend my wife and I joined some friends for a day of tailgating when the Buckeyes played Iowa. I'm glad the Buckeyes won, but the game shouldn't have been so close. That's all I'm going to say about it. I'm not going to go into a long-winded post-game summary, because I have a different story to tell. And besides, I'm about as qualified to talk about football as a penguin is to talk about flying.

Our kids stayed at our friends' house and played with their kids all day (NOTE: No need to involve CPS. Put down the phone. There was a well compensated babysitter on site). While we adults were watching a real football game, the kids were playing one of their own.

My son doesn't have a helmet, but his friend does. My son got to wear the helmet for part of their front-yard game of tackle football. Until they knocked heads. My son didn't feel a thing. His friend realized that the helmet does not offer bidirectional protection. In a brief moment of fair play, they agreed neither would wear the helmet. It was the best play of the day. (NOTE: Awww.)

My son was also enthralled with shoulder pads. They just jumped to the top of his Christmas list. He likes how "they make the muscles of your arm look so big." They are what all of his SuperIronSpider-MorphinBat-PowerMan costumes dream about being.

"There are third graders who play tackle football with pads. Can you believe it?" he asked me.

"Sure, why?" I asked.

"That's crazy! They could get hurt, playing tackle for real, and they're only in third grade."

"You played tackle the other day and you're only in second grade."

"I mean, I might want to do it...but it's still crazy!"

Story of my life.

Coming up next week: The Time I Jumped out of a Perfectly Good Airplane

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TheTooth Fairy

We were eating dinner last night and my wife noticed something.

"Max, look at me," she said to our 8-year old son. "Smile."

He gave her a tight lipped grin.

"Open your mouth," she commanded. He did, opening wide and trying to keep his lips over his teeth. We could still see it. Or rather, we couldn't see it.

"Did your tooth fall out today?" she asked. He's had a very loose top front tooth for a couple weeks.

"You little bugger!" I said. "I asked you if that was a tooth in your backpack and you said no."

Earlier that day...

When my son got home from school I emptied his backpack. After I pulled out his folders and library book I noticed an oddly shaped white object at the bottom of his book bag (along with several important rocks).

Upon closer inspection I discovered that the white thing was shaped like a tooth and it rattled when I shook it. Tape held the lid shut.

"Did you lose a tooth today at school?" I asked.

"No," he said and went right about his homework. Forget the plastic tooth, him going right into homework should have clued me in that something was amiss. But alas, I am a father and am therefore subject to severe lapses in reason and judgment.

"Okay," I said and went back to work.

We now return to the story already in progress...

"You lied to me!" I said, putting my fork down. "What's up with that?"

"I was going to trick you because I think you're really the tooth fairy," he said. My wife and I exchanged meaningful glances and started laughing. He was laughing, too, the gap from his missing front tooth now on full display.

"Dude, I'm not the tooth fairy," I said. "The tooth fairy has hair, and she does not have a goatee."

"And she doesn't like it if you try to trick her," my wife added. "Where's the tooth?"

He surrendered the tooth and we went through several more adamant rounds of denial. We couldn't believe the nerve of that kid! Too funny...

Later that evening...

"The kids are asleep, it's time," my wife said. "How much should we give him?"

"A buck is the going rate. That's what he got last time." I opened my wallet. A ten, a lottery ticket (estimated value $65 million), and several receipts. "Shit. How much do you have?"

"A five. We're losers," she said.

Wait, it gets better...

I didn't have a dollar. She didn't have a dollar. But we knew who did have a dollar. The little fiend who tried to trick us. My wife snuck into his room and got his money box and brought it back to our bedroom.

"Do you think he knows how much is in here?" she asked me as she pulled out the cash and selected a one-dollar bill.

"I'm sure he does. But if we give this to him and he puts it in there and then counts it it will be the right amount," I reasoned.

She put the dollar under his pillow and came back with the plastic tooth. We fished out the real tooth and admired it for a moment.

"Damn. Now we have to put this back," I said, fingering the plastic tooth case.

"Your turn."

I crept into his room, cringing as the springs in the doorknob moaned and the hinges creaked. Both kids stirred briefly, but were clearly sound asleep. I tiptoed to the bed and slipped the tooth case under his pillow and then got the hell out of dodge.

The next day...

He still believes in the tooth fairy. But I'm wondering what kind of post Santa Clause is going to inspire this year...

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Candy Quota

I'm disappointed in my kids. They totally missed their candy quota this year. Socialism be damned, we distribute that kind of wealth in this family and now I'm in the poorhouse.

I'm not sure what led to the downturn in productivity. We went a half-mile down the road and then came back down the other side of the street. You would think a mile's worth of candy would be a good amount. I should have pushed them farther. Some of the slowdown can be attributed to my kids' socializing with other kids. Each classmate they saw caused a time delay, and on several occasions it distracted them from hitting a door.

I am very disappointed in my neighbors. A mile of houses and only one Twix. And it was one of those little bite-sized ones, not even a full stick.

There was a moderate yield in both Snicker's and Butterfinger's, but between both kids we only nabbed 3 Reese's cups. What's up with that? I can understand no Nutrageous or Fifth Avenue, you hardly ever see Nutrageous on a good year and Fifth Avenue's are almost a Butterfinger so you don't really miss them. But only 3 Reese's cups? Come on, people!

Also appearing in a disappointingly low quantity were Kit-Kat's. This classic treat should be given at least once every three houses, and if there is a mix of treats it should be a neighborhood by-law that Kit-Kat's are included in the mix.

Another curious absence was the SweetTart (no chewy or regular), which is inexcusable. There was only one pack of Smarties, and that's very odd because Smarties are a staple for Halloween, kind of like jellybeans are for Easter. At least we didn't get any of those Necco wafers this year. Got them last year. I didn't like them as a kid and I don't like them now.

We have plenty of Baby Ruth's. Here's some Halloween candy trivia I just made up: did you know that Baby Ruth's are not named after the baseball player but are actually named after the candy bar they threw into the pool in Caddyshack? I think I might update Wikipedia with that little tidbit.

We do have an unusually large proportion of Almond Joy's, which are kind of a minority candy, usually handed out as part of a sweet affirmative-action program. This year my son decided Almond Joy's are a new favorite, and he grabbed all that he saw. If I ever find out that he was turning down Reese's cups and Kit-Kat's for Almond Joy's he's gonna be in biiiig trouble.

I don't really like Almond Joy's. I can stomach them, but when I eat them I always remember the time in high school when I ate too many of them when I was drunk. I'm not going to get into the dirty details of what happened later that evening, but let's just say that coconut is really tough to get out of the carpet in the bathroom.

Oh well. The kids were cute in their costumes (Police Officer and Skeleton), our jack-o-lanterns looked awesome and didn't get smashed, and we had our neighbors over for food, drinks, and games. All in all it was a great holiday, hope you had a good one, too.