Eighty-six feet below the roof of Storke Tower my partner Mr. Lister is yelling into a cell phone.
“OK, dude! You’re all clear for your final column! Good luck!”
“Thanks,” I yell back over the wind. “See you on the ground in a sec!”
Down below, Lister waves his arms and does a little devil dance. Way up above him, I stow the cell in my jumpsuit and flex my shaking hands. The dawn wind sends rolling shivers through my BASE jumping harness and endorphins vibrate in my guts.
BASE jumping – Building, Arch, Span, Earth – is insanely simple. Jump off a really tall object, throw your starter shoot, and try not to die. Most jumpers prefer a few hundred feet of clearance for any BASE jump, and Storke Tower would normally seem too low. Luckily my gear has a new explosively deployed canopy for quick stopping. The only downside is the canopy might stop me so fast that it breaks my neck.
I weigh these thoughts heavily, stand up on wobbly legs, and feel the wind against my back. On the horizon, the Channel Islands bathe in fog and I muster my strength. There’s no way I’m wasting weeks of planning and over $8,000 in equipment on the Nexus card. This is just a moment of hesitation, that primitive nanosecond when you see everything and decide to keep the eyes open or go home.
Off to the left, the San Miguel Dorms recall my wise-ass dorm days spent pissing off meatheads. Further to the left, atop Engineering II, ghosts of sophomore acid trippers walk the roofs with one shoe on for safety.
I look out over to the small airport, the wet slough, and then a beautiful pink condo out near Albertson’s where I once lived with six lost boys.
Now, anointed by the Fuck Towers, I.V. sprawls into view. Trees and houses turn neon orange in the dawn. Everything holds its peace, and the town looks like it might be innocent. My arms go up and out, like a condor. I have a six-foot wing span. The winds caress me toward death, paralysis or maybe nothing. Can’t I just free-fall and end all this on a high note?
Believe it or not, you can actually feel your center of gravity move through your hips and out into cold nothingness. It says, “You have committed.” Do not struggle. Do not attempt to abort. Above all, do not forget your training.
Gravity calls dibs, and I breathe out. I fall forward with eyes closed, then open, then fluttering. My toes spring off the Tower when my body is at a 45-degree angle to the horizon. Arch the back way back, and keep a death clasp on the starter chute. Never forget the training! Here comes the terror and the sinking. Scream if you feel like it. Just let it out.
My gut sinks like in every falling dream. Storke Plaza’s concrete rushes up at me like a spatula of doom. The wind is howling jet aircraft, and this is the part where I let go of the starter chute and pray. The starter chute flies, and then WHOOSH! The whiplash harness cinches up my whole body as I am slammed out of free-fall and plopped on the ground.
Lister quickly runs over and helps me get up. Pain jabs my lungs, and I’m positive I cracked two or three ribs. My partner throws the BASE gear in the car and hops in.
“Was it worth it?” Lister asks.
I moan, a “yes,” and I sit down in the car.
“How? What’s the point of your last column?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I guess it’ll be the same as all of the other ones.”
“More mindless entertainment?” Lister asks.
“Without a doubt,” I say. “Now take me to the hospital.”
Retired Nexus columnist David Downs goes on to financial ruin as a freelance writer with a degree in English.