Sunday, November 19, 2006

Throw mama from the plane: My weird skydiving adventure

Why did it take me 25 minutes to brush all the tangles out of my hair last night? I'll tell you why! When a man who looks like a linebacker for the Oakland Raiders physically throws you out of an airplane while flying 14,000 feet above the planet, you get a LOT of tangles in your hair.

Here's the story:

I've always been kind of a wimp. My older sister Ann was a bully and nothing delighted her more than to torment her sweet gentle girlie-girl sibling, the one with the collection of wannabe Story Book dolls. That would be me. And every morning our Ann would start out her day by sitting on my chest, digging her knees into my armpits and telling me that I was nothing but a useless good-for-nothing cowardly loser-moron-creep and WIMP. Thanks to my big sis, I whimpered a lot as a kid and spent far too much of my childhood hiding out in a muddy grave-like crawlspace under our tract house in a Republican-dominated suburb called Millbrae.

But I digress.

Anyway, I was a kid back then and I'm an adult now and I'm all determined to prove to myself once and for all that I am NOT a wimp! How? Hummmm. My first plan was to try to talk CentCom Middle East into embedding me in Occupied Iraq. That oughta do it. But the Pentagon steadfastly refused to support my anti-wimpification plan. "You, Jane, are a blogger," the CentCom MediaEmbed guy in Baghdad e-mailed me. "We don't take bloggers."

"But I'm a stringer for
Op Ed News!" I argued. "And I've written articles for CLG News,, Counterpunch, Novakeo and TruthOut. Even the Tanker Brothers love me!" Nope. No go. Aside from Robert Fisk, Dahr Jamal and 100 dead guys, no one over in Occupied Iraq is interested in freedom of speech. When George W. Bush blathers on about bringing Democracy to Iraq, he definitely didn't have ME in mind.

Since it was now pretty clear that there was going to be no non-wimp training course in Iraq for me, I began to check out other possible alternatives. I got an idea! Skydiving! What could be more scarier than that? Nothing. Nothing at all. So this weekend me and my son Joe headed out to
Bay Area Skydiving. I had something to prove and I was going to prove it if it killed me.

Then my brother Sam e-mailed me. "Have a good time," he wrote, "but I gotta warn you. I took a friend skydiving for her birthday and afterward we watched in horror while...well, I don't want to describe the details. Suffice it to say that I'm sticking to go-carts where the farthest you can fall is two feet."

Two feet? I have two feet. I now have two COLD feet! But Joe still wanted to go so I sucked it up and went along too.

The skydiving place was out in the middle of a former cow pasture and when we arrived the skydiver people gave us these cute little flightsuits to wear. Mine was all pink and turquoise and made me look like "Malibu Barbie Goes Snorkeling" circa 1982. Joe, sporting a black flightsuit with green epaulets, looked like someone you would find on the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise. Very Officer Sulu.

After waiting around for several hours for the cloud layers to clear, we finally went up into the sky in this really little plane. And then we came down. You know that I survived because you are reading this. But did my son Joe?

First my linebacker shoved me into the plane and then he shoved me out of the plane -- at 14,000 feet. YOU HAVE NO IDEA. You have no idea. What's your worst fear? This was pretty much mine. In that single moment of total insanity when we went out the open door of the plane and stepped into NOTHING, my entire life flashed before me. Can you possibly imagine the trust and courage it took to leave that plane and step out into space? You can't. I couldn't. It was insane!

It was lovely.

I flew like a freaking bird.

If the earth hadn't been there to stop me -- and my hair wouldn't have become so irretrievably tangled that I would have had to cut it all off -- I would have happily stayed in free-fall forever.

Then the parachute opened at 5,000 feet and I floated down toward the earth below, light as a feather. Not as good as free-fall but okay. And with a fabulous view!

"Would you like me to do some spins with the parachute?" asked the linebacker.


What surprised me most about the sudden descent was the effect it had on my body. Coming down from the sky that fast had made me dizzy and nauseous -- like a deep-sea diver coming up too fast and getting the bends. I felt exactly the same way that I had as a kid in third grade when Terry Tanner had double-dog-dared me to turn around in a circle 100 times in a row. If the freaking parachute had started spinning too right about then, I woulda barfed all over the cows 4,000 feet below. Eeuuww.

I had expected fear and/or exhilaration from the jump -- but had not expected decompression.

And neither had my son Joe. He had loved the free-fall but, as I found out later, shortly after his parachute had opened he had lost consciousness and totally blacked out. Then, with me sitting impotently in my parachute halter 1,000 feet above him, I watched in horror as Joe's limp body hit the earth -- and he didn't get up!

Oh shite.

This was just like the time when Joe was eight years old and playing football with Philip and Lonnie in Nigel's front yard and one of the boys had sort of accidentally broken Joe's arm and Joe was lying on the ground with his arm all sickeningly bent at a right angle in a place where arms aren't supposed to bend. "It's alright, Ma," said Joe as he reached over and re-set the bone all by himself. And did a good job of it too.

With my heart in my throat, I landed butt-first in the drop zone, snapped off my parachute and ran over to Joe as he lay in the cow pasture, unconscious. "My son! My son! What has happened to my son!" I screamed. Yep. I was still a wimp.

Gradually Joe regained consciousness, no bones were broken and he was not even sore. What an experience!

Would I do it again? Not on your life! Was I glad I did it? Oh yeah. That first few seconds when you realize that you have nothing under you but 14,000 feet of air? And that you are going to survive? And that you are flying? Priceless.

After we stopped off at an In-N-Out Burger drive-through in Livermore, Joe left to do a photo shoot in San Francisco for a musical called "Killing My Lobster"and I went home to untangle my hair -- still the same wimpy Jane, but somehow different too.

I had flown like a bird.