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Effortlessly Average

Sort of half-heartedly leading the charge into mediocrity since, oh, let's say around 1987 or so.

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Location: Roaming (additional charges may apply), Argentina

Proof that with internet access and a powerful laxative, even insipid people will blog; the place where your excellence and my mediocrity collide; where my Karma whips ass on your dogma.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Two Sheets to the Wind -or- Why I'm Going to Hell, Part I

Recently I posted about my belief that I'm Hellbound. Then I thought, after I posted, that perhaps this one event may not be enough to kick me over the edge in to damnation. Maybe there could be a grey area within which I could wiggle myself into a short stay in purgatory instead. But as I thought more about it, it became obvious that, yeah, if Hell does exist, I'm already on the reserved list. This entry will be the first in a series spotlighting the many reasons why I'm doomed, or damned, or whatever.

My parents might sometimes say I was "difficult." For most of my life I'd have to say I disagreed. I mean, I got excellent grades, was almost unerringly respectful, did my chores, seldom used an apostrophe in the possessive "its," and never really got into serious trouble (reserving most of that for adulthood). Still, I did have my moments. It was during these times, these few times, that I imagine my mother and father would have preferred having a puppy.

Now I'll risk being tangential, but trust me, it'll all tie together eventually.

I'm not a religious man; can't say I ever have been. Perhaps it's because I was never really exposed to it as a true believer would be. Perhaps it's because I shun the moral teachings of the church in favor of the more debaucherous aspects of life. Perhaps it's because I'm evil. Although no; no, I don't think that's it. I don't think I'm "evil" because someone who's evil wouldn't feel like crying when he hears of a child having been harmed.

So what is it then? Well, if pushed I might just say I'm educated enough to recognize the hypocrisy and inconsistency of organized religion. That is not to say I'm an atheist, however. Because I'm not. I absolutely believe in a higher power; a greater authority. It's just that I think humans twist circumstance to suit their own selfish desires, be they political, financial, social, sexual, or whatever and I find it naive to believe the humans who run "the church" are immune from this. Humans wield religion as one of many tools used in an effort to justify the ills they exact on their fellow humans or in the pugilistic battle to gain more for themselves. Religion is just a convenient salve for those who do things most would, or should, consider reprehensible.

But that's a sermon for another Sunday. I only bring it up to say that my not being a religious man is a good thing, because it also means I'm not convinced there exists any physical place called Hell, which, at least as it speaks for Christianity, was invented by the Catholic Church as a means of controlling an increasingly difficult-to-control population. After all, how better to keep someone in line than to insinuate that if you piss off the church your soul will experience enternal torture? And that the only path to salvation is through obeying the word of the church? Indeed what I've written so far in this post is enough to have me burned at the stake in medieval Europe or modern-day Utah (although I think they prefer hanging). But again I digress.

Getting back to my childhood, it's not that I sought to do harm to anyone, I just had an active imagination and needed someone to "test run" my ideas. Take the time I talked my little brother, Mike, into jumping from our second-story bedroom window because I'd convinced him it could be done safely with a bedsheet as a parachute.

After all, it made sense to me. I routinely witnessed people floating softly to tera firma, dangling beneath what appeared to be, for all intents and purposes to a 12-year old, a huge bedsheet. So why wouldn't it work? I mean, I watched Merry Melodies; I saw Bugs Bunny do it numerous times. And aren't cartoons metaphores for real life?

I toyed with the idea of leaping from the rooftop, but in one of those weird quirks of perspective, the ground seemed a hell of a lot further down when looking from the roof than the roof did from the ground when I first got the idea. Or perhaps it wasn't perspective at all. Maybe it was wampum physics, or whatever that's called; I don't know for sure. I've never understood that field because I could never figure out what Native Americans have to do with it. Maybe it was some kind of weird, witch-doctoryish kind of thing that involved Peyote and using beads as currency. Witch doctors always freaked me out, too. I saw a movie once about an evil witch doctor who somehow reincarnated himself by impregnating a modern-day woman and growing to full man-size in her belly before clawing his way out. Creepy. So I figured if a witch doctor could make himself be reborn hundreds of years later by clawing his way out of some woman before immediately doing battle with Nel Carter (who was trying to stop his evil, witch-doctory ways), then is it that big a stretch of the imagination to think he could make that rooftop seem a lot higher than it appears from the ground? No, I think not. It's that wampum physics. Or is it quantum? I was never that good at history.

So, better to not tempt fate; I decided my bedroom window would be a lot better launching point. As I stood inside my bedroom looking out the window, down to the patio ten or so feet below me, my confidence in my parachute plan wavered. So like all great scientists (or boys looking to try something they aren't sure will work): I decided to get a patsy - no, unsuspecting victim - no, "volunteer" - to test drive it for me.

But who? My sister was only two at the time, so that lended itself to certain advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, she was young and impressionable. After all, she thought paint tasted good so how bright could she have been, really? Also, she would be easy to launch out the window and would therefore constitute a lower mass which the bedsheet - no, parachute - would have to slow. On the other hand was the negative side: after watching her repeatedly try to stack those colored plastic rings in the correct order on that plastic yellow cone, it became obvious that she lacked the dexterity required to make my test launch a success. Besides, there was also that whole "Mom, I accidentally killed the baby" thing that still banged around in the back of my mind and which, by the way, I didn't relish having to go through. So the baby sister was out as a possible test paratrooper.

How about my older brother, Larry? He was certainly impressionable in his own way because more than anything he feared not being able to do something that I could. He had proven this the time I convinced him I'd jumped over a car with my bicycle and he tried it too, with disastrous results. How disastrous, you may be wondering? Well, remember the beginning sequence of the Six Million Dollar Man, where the experimental jet aircraft Steve Austin is flying crashes during landing? Yeah, imagine that, but instead of a jet airplane, substitute a red Huffy with a long, white banana seat and blue and silver streamers on the handlbar grips. In my defense, I never actually told him I'd jumped the car. He merely came outside, saw the ramp, and asked what it was for. I replied "for jumping a car on my bike again" and he assumed that I'd already done it. I merely failed to mention that at that point it was merely a plan that couldn't be executed until I could find someone willing to park their car beside it. In his zeal to prove that as the bigger brother he could do whatever I could, he took off down the driveway and hit the ramp before asking the more obvious questions, among which would be "have you ever done this before?" and "did you succeed or crash horribly?"

So yeah, Larry could be conned into- no, "convinced" - that being my parachute test subject was an honor befitting a big brother. The problem for me was in imagining what would happen if the launch did not end with success. In this scenario, with Larry as my test subject, we'd both have black eyes and a fat lip, but only he would have had the joy of soaring through the air with a bedsheet flapping in the wind above him. No, he wouldn't do, either. I mean, where would the aircraft industry be today if Orville punched out Wilbur for talking him into flying that first experimental airplane?

In my mind, I deduced that what I needed was a test subject old enough to operated the controls (and by controls I mean the clarity of mind to hold his arms upright as he flew through the open air) but lacking the physical stature to cause me harm if the test failed to produce the desired result. And, said test subject had to be able to survive the fall should said paratrooper experiment deviate from the set parameters, causing said test subject to take a side trip to the scene of the crash.

That could leave only one person: Mike.

Mike had been party to many of my adventures of discovery, although I think he called them tortuous experiences designed for my entertainment alone. But hey, that's just semantics.

Mike was the kid you could depend on to allow himself to be tied into a box which was in turn strapped to a skateboard so we could determine if the axiom that the safest place in a car crash is inside the car also held true for skateboards.

Mike was the kid who, when seated next to the window, could be depended upon to repeatedly perform the Fake-Punch-Face-Smash. The way this works is, you lean over to him and say "Hey Mike!" while pretending to punch him in side of his head. His reaction is to quickly turn his face away from the oncoming fist, only to smash his face into the car window.

Or the time he ate the onion, thinking it was a caramel apple. Or when he sat in the shopping cart while Larry and I pushed him down the loading ramp behind a department store. Yeah, that was my little brother, alright.

There was only one problem with Mike as my paratrooper test patsy - I mean "pilot." As the go-to man in many of my experimental quests for fun, Mike had nevertheless become quite the cynic in his later single-digit years and wouldn't likely leap out the window just because I told him to. He'd require some convincing; you know, to prove it was safe first. I think you can see my dilemma. I didn't know if it was safe, that's why I needed Mike.

At the time we lived in an apartment with both a front and rear entrance. The bedroom I shared with Larry was over the rear, sliding-glass door, entrance. At the bottom of the stairs was the front entrance, the view of which was blocked from the living room by the kitchen and hallway walls. From his position on the couch and with his attention focused on the cartoons on the television, Mike would never notice someone coming down the stairs and slipping out the front door, say, with a rolled-up bedsheet under his arm. And if that person were to, say, go around the building to the rear entrance and come inside laughing and excited about having just parachuted from the bedroom window, well, there's no reason for Mike to think it didn't really happen, right?

Laughing and excited, I threw open the sliding glass door and jumped into the house, and quickly headed for the stairs leading to the bedrooms, making sure Mike noticed the sheet dragging behind me. The bait was set.

"Hey, what did you do?" Mike would call after me. "I thought you were upstairs."

The fish saw the bait.

"I was!" would come my trailing voice as I continued for the staircase. "But I just found something totally cool!"

"Whaaaat?"

The fish is swimming around the bait. Just a little... closer... little... fishy...

"You can totally parachute from the window up here!" would come my distant voice as I closed the door to my bedroom, loud enough to make it known that if Mike didn't hurry his butt up, he wasn't going to be able to join.

With my ear to the inside of my bedroom door, I could hear Mike's footsteps quickly coming up the stairs.

The fish had taken the bait. I had my test pilot.

Quickly I crossed the room and started to climb onto the window frame when Mike came into the room.

"Wait, I wanna do it!" he half shouted.

"No way, bro. This was my idea, I get to do it."

"Oh come on, you got to do it once already. Let me have a turn. Mom and Dad told you to be nice to me, remember?!" Like Ben Rogers to Tom Sawyer and his white-washing, I had convinced him that not only was it fun, but his idea to proceed.

"Ok, fine. Whatever. But hurry it up, I want to go again."

I climbed down from the window sill and thrust the sheet at Mike. Mike took the sheet, gathered the four corners into his hands, and climbed up into the window. Then just sat there, staring down.

"Come on, boner, let's go!" came my voice from behind him.

Like an iceberg breaking from a glacier, Mike began, sloooowly, to slide down the outer side of the wall until finally gravity took control and pulled him into a non-stop flight to the patio below. Somewhere along the short trip, he made a feeble effort to extend the sheet above his head, but it was already too late. He landed on the patio and rolled off the side onto the lawn, wrapping himself in blue and white striped cotton/poly blend material along the way.

"It didn't wooooorrrrrk!" he Howler Monkey'd back up at me.

"Well of course not, doorknob" I returned, "you didn't leap out and throw your arms up! All you did was slide down the edge! You can't get any lift that way. Geez!"

Thirty seconds later he was back in my room, perched in the window again.

"Ok, so I have to jump out? Why? Is that what you did?"

"Yeah, duh! In order to make it work you have to jump away from the building so the sheet has the room to billow out. Then throw your arms up and out so it can fill up with wind. Here," - I grabbed the fitted sheet from my bed - "use this one instead. This is for babies."

He protested about not being a baby, but his primal instincts kicked in enough to make him take the sheet anyway.

"Ok, now. This time leap out from the window, throw your arms up and out and it will work."

"This better work or I'm telling Mom and Dad."

"Hey, Bullwinkle, you told me you wanted to do this, remember? I was going to go myself, but nooooo, you had to go first. As I recall you even threatened to tell Mom and Dad if I didn't let you go first."

He sat for a few moments in the window. Then with one great push, he leapt from the window out into open air, hung there for a moment, then again fell like a brick to the ground below. In that brief second that exists between when you realize you're not flying and actually begin to fall, Mike's face twisted into the mask of someone who just realized his plan is about to go disastrously wrong. Somewhere between this moment and the din of his body crashing into the Weber grill below, I heard his "AAAAAUUUGGGHHHhhhhh..." Followed by the sound of him bouncing off the BBQ grill, into the ice chest and finally coming to rest twisted, bloodied, and bruised among the row of bicycles. The sheet, having been abandoned by Mike at the apex of his flight, floated somewhat more gracefully down next to him.

I shouted from the window above. "See? The sheet floated down nice and soft! You just didn't hang on!"

Epilogue: Like all great scientists who suffer catastrophic setbacks in their research, I was forced to pay handsomely to avoid being punished by the overseers of juvenile equality and protection (known more commonly as Mom and Dad). My entire candy stash, two weeks' allowance, ownership of my "ocean model" (which was achieved by mixing in a jar two parts gasoline, two parts rubbing alcohol, and a few drops of blue food coloring), and a month's unlimited use of my skateboard later I had purchased Mike's co-operation in the cover up of "Project Air Dancer."

It never has made sense to me that it failed so badly. For years I wondered, Why didn't it work? And all I can think of in reply is that maybe I needed sheets with a higher thread count.

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