Thursday, June 11, 2009
The Stupidest Thing I Have Ever Done
I once did a very stupid thing, those who know me won't be surprised to learn.
Or maybe it was brave.
I can't decide.
In the early 1990s, when I was an editor in Syracuse, New York, for the Syracuse Herald-Journal newspaper, I went bunjee jumping.
At the time, I had achieved a certain degree of infamy for my George Plimpton-esque journalism.
I was a roving actor in a Renaissance festival, I went white-water rafting and hot-air ballooning, I got a tattoo for a story for the newspaper's teen magazine (pictured below), and was an actor with a few speaking lines in a low-budget straight-to-video film called "Constant Reminders."
And in perhaps my most frightening adventure, I was a stand-up comic at a real comedy club (pictured here), writing my own material and insisting that the audience not be told that I was a rank amateur. I've never been as terrified as I was before taking the stage.
Except, perhaps, for the time I went bunjee jumping.
I have a fear of heights, but that doesn't seem to stop me from climbing to the top of cliffs, or towers, or going up in the London Eye. I like to challenge my fear, but sometimes it backfires. I almost lost my lunch in the London Eye a couple of years ago, a seemingly benign attraction that to me felt like I was standing at a window in a skyscraper that was swaying in the wind. I barely survived.
A local radio station in Syracuse was sponsoring bunjee jumping from a huge crane. I remember the height of the crane as being something like 200 feet, or 60 meters. Not sure if that seems right. Anyway, it was high enough, especially considering that I would be leaping off the precipice directly over a parking lot.
Not over a river or a lake or a big stuntman's cushion, but over a parking lot. What was I thinking?
I didn't really get scared until the cage reached its full height, the gate opened, and I was faced with my leap.
I could hear the crowd below yelling "Jump!" I felt like a would-be suicide on a ledge, with a crowd below taunting me.
It was a long way down. A long way.
There was nothing to hold onto. I would just have to walk to the edge of the cage and, well, fall.
I couldn't back down, not with all those people watching.
You've really gotten yourself into a mess this time.
"No, Mr. Podelco, I expect you to die."
And when I finally did let go of the railing, and started falling, in that instant when my brain realized that I had passed the point of no return, that there was no way of backing out, I really did believe that I was going to die.
The freefall was brief, but long enough, thank you very much, and then the bunjee cord grabbed me, and I knew that I wasn't going to die, at least not on this day, and the fear that had gripped me so powerfully high up on the cage was forgotten, and the adrenaline kicked in, and I felt great.
Much like I felt in the green room at the comedy club after coming off stage after my "performance."
Makes my hands sweaty just thinking about it all again after all these years.
Dressed as a waiter in a swanky restaurant, I take a break from filming "Constant Reminders," along with a few other cast members.