Friends in High Places_lowres


I was not cursed with excessive talents as a teenager, so it's easy to remember the one I had for jumping.

As in jumping from high places into wet places. Like jumping from the top of the bridge over the Bayou St. John where it meets the lake. Mind you, this did not involve diving into water. This was strictly belly-bust stuff.

One summer night at the old Audubon Park pool, I thought to impress a couple of gals. They were from out of town, some place like Sorrento, so I thought perhaps they would be easily impressed. Still, I lacked a plan and, in my confusion, found myself on the ladder leading to the top of the high-dive at the deep end of the pool. I glanced down at the gals. In spite of themselves, they were watching with some interest.

Still lacking a clear plan, I found myself on the board, then at the end of it, then turned around on it, each additional step fueled by a desperate attempt to please and a total lack of judgment as to what to do next.

I went off the board to my immediate regret. Panicking, I grabbed for the board, a move which brought my lower body swinging under the board. Tearing my grasping hands from the board and putting me file-straight and upside-down. From there, a straight-down knifing into the water. A move that would have impressed Greg Louganis, so it really did the trick on a couple of gals from Sorrento.

"Do it again!" they begged in unison and repeatedly. I only flashed a shrugging smile and mumbled something about not being a show-off ...

Thoughts of hitting the water from a point higher than wisdom came flooding back to me not long ago. An unhappy man stopped his car atop the Crescent City Connection and jumped. I have no idea how often this particular method of leaving the planet happens. The local news media don't keep stats on jumpers or at least don't share them. But stats or no, people continue jumping from high places in unhealthy numbers.

My impression is that their planned landing is more often than not in water. And why not? If you're thinking long and hard about flinging your form into a 200-foot fall, do you want to reflect about finishing that fall on a concrete sidewalk? No. Even if suicide is the goal, there has to be at least a sliver of the notion that somehow you are going to land feet together, cleaving the water cleanly and admirably. Even now, there's something about hitting water that sounds mildly fun.

Don't be fooled. At such a height, your body is traveling about 75 miles per hour when you hit the water. That means you have about four seconds to feel the winds caress your body and to imagine taking up skydiving. Just before you hit -- breaking feet and ankles, shattering vertebrae and ribs, puncturing lungs and livers -- and only then, if you're one of three out of 10 jumpers who survive the fall, do you get to think about swimming the Mississippi River in this condition. And maybe toy with the troublesome thought that he/she/it wasn't worth it.

Perhaps it's residue from my Freshman Comp class, but I always find myself wondering what the final note says. I mean, this is likely your final chance to express yourself in this life, so don't blow it. Few notes of this kind find their way into public print, though they are at least as interesting as what a condemned man has for a last meal. ("The warden said Duffy requested ham, eggs, sweet potatoes, wieners, a pecan waffle in cane syrup and lime Kool-Aid.") Perhaps jumpers are people of actions, not words. One Harold Wobber was the first to leap from the Golden Gate Bridge mere weeks after it opened in 1937, and his goodbye message was "This is as far as I go."

There are those who feel that we should do everything possible to protect jumpers from themselves and that would include erecting barriers on popular bridges. This has caused some concern in Canada, where experts are debating what's to be done with the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, second only to the Golden Gate as a jumping-off site. "We want to make sure that if we put a bubble around the bridge, that everyone's not going to go somewhere else," declared Andre Girard of the Federal Bridge Corporation.

I will assure Monsieur Girard, on my honor as a former minor-league jumper, that bubbles and barriers will not halt the true jumper. The true jumper wants his last gesture to be a spectacular one, breathtaking, enough to make the gals from Sorrento gasp.

I might jump as soon as I can leave a good, literate note, following a last meal ordered from a four-star menu. I've written such a note, but my editor insists on reading everything I write and penciled this in the margins: "Unclear references. Verb-tense agreement. Poor antecedents."

I'm working on a rewrite.