Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

13,000 Feet

In Uncategorized on August 30, 2010 at 6:04 pm

On Sunday, August 8th, I jumped out of an airplane at 13,000 feet, fell through space at 120 mph for the shortest minute of my life, shot through double rainbows in the clouds, and managed not to get in the way as the guy strapped to my back brought us in for a safe landing.  Whoooo!

My father who art in Eagan surprised my stepmom, Diane, by bringing together all of the children and grandchildren in the family for a skydiving adventure to celebrate her 60th birthday.  As my brother Jordan put it, “It was super cool and we didn’t die.”

Preparing to Land

The level of anticipation is almost unbearable while waiting to skydive.  I told myself many soothing stories about how safe it is, and how there would be an expert running the business end of things while all I had to do was show up, and how the most dangerous part was probably the drive on I-94, but then there were an awful lot of forms to be signed and initialed, and there was a ten minute video to be viewed.  The film featured a man who was dominated by his beard, a kind of eastern mystic meets ZZ Top.  He passed on the zen like wisdom that once you choose to jump out of an airplane you are on your own, liability wise.

Although my lovely wife and children chose not to join in this adventure, I had the joy of spending time with my siblings and nieces while awaiting the jump.  Several of the kids got into some muddy mischief while our infants dozed under canopies, oblivious to the ridiculous lifestyle choices of their primary caregivers.  Watching the tandem jumpers land periodically was both reassuring and terrifying.  If they can do it, why can’t I?  Some of the more experienced skydivers displayed their skills by skating across the landing field as though on ice.  Show-offs.

I was on the third flight with my brother David and his wife Nikki, so far everyone had survived.  We took off and it was on, this was really happening.  I tried to calm my mind with some deep breathing techniques and was interrupted by a joke from my jumpmaster, Brian.  “It’s like the dog whose tail got run over said,” he yelled over the engine noise.  “It won’t be long now!”

It occurred to me that although I had seen many people wearing helmets, none of us were.  Apparently it was all or nothing.  Suddenly the door opened, the jumplights switched on, and my brother dared gravity to do its worst as he disappeared from view.  I swung my legs out and responded to Brian’s insistent slap on my shoulder by jumping out into nothing.

We were off, falling fast and raising our hands into the wind.  The jumpmaster directed our hands to turn left, then right, and as we approached terminal velocity the sensation was like that of flying as much as falling.  Abruptly, the parachute deployed, jerking me up in the harness and slowing us dramatically.

We floated above and through the cumulus with the distant cirrus overhead providing some perspective on how near to earth we really were.  After flying through the shadow of our own parachute surrounded by a double rainbow several times (we aimed for it using the hand straps as though it were a target), we were finally through the cloud cover and the earth took on its more familiar form.

The cars crawled like ants, the roads formed a perfect grid of fields, and a backyard pool was observed as we neared the airfield.  “Belongs to the guy who runs the bar in town,” Brian explained.  I knew which bar he meant, we had each received a free drink coupon as part of the experience.  At the last second, he directed me to land on my own feet, rather than relying solely on his, and my adrenaline surged once again.  I had done it!

One of the short term effects of skydiving is the sense of perspective it brings to fear.  Two days after the jump I was about to perform at a food co-op picnic in Gooseberry park, and the familiar pre-performance jitters started up.  “Shut up,” I told them, “you just jumped out of an airplane, and now you want to be nervous about playing guitar and juggling for a small group of exceptionally nice people?”

The perceived risks of both skydiving and creative performance are outweighed by the adrenaline rush and the feeling that comes after the fear.  You know the one.


“When The Children Cry” – Flash Fiction From The Daddy Dispatch

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2010 at 9:47 pm

At precisely eleven-eleven pm, Abel glanced up at the clock and listened carefully as the second hand swept noiselessly onward.  One of the periodic breaks in the crying had occurred, and the neonatal intensive care unit was silent.  As a medical resident, Abel had two major responsibilities: to do the jobs none of the other doctors wanted to, and to do them for thirty hours at a pop.  A copy of Stephen Hawking’s “The Theory of Everything” lay open on the desk, and the barely audible radio hummed the inoffensive tunes of adult contemporary.  His shift was nearly at an end, and Abel was finally alone with his thoughts.

“So, if the second law of thermodynamics holds, and Hawking is right about the nature of time and space…” he mused aloud.  “Then the Big Crunch would be the collapse of not only all space, but of all time…right?”

Skip had finally died in this same hospital two months earlier, and Abel preferred to think about the cosmos than about all of the suffering his brother had endured.  It was bad enough that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer at age 31, but then to not die, for so long, and for so many times.  Abel no longer planned to be an oncologist, having seen firsthand how messy the end of life can be.  How utterly painful and embarrassing.  But now, as the cacophony of crying resumed, he had second thoughts.

The song about life being a highway ended, and the one about how only the good die young began.  Skip, always the comedian, had tried to use that line at their mother’s funeral, the one about how only the good die young.  Abel had been mortified until their Nana spoke up from behind him.

“It’s true you know, about only the good dying young.  Your mother was such a good baby.  She never cried.  Well, never for no apparent reason anyway, and she never got upset about things the way your aunts and uncle did.  And to pass like this, so suddenly and peacefully, well that was your mother for you.”

“She got hit by a damn bus!” Skip protested.  “How the hell is that peaceful?”  The tightness in Abel’s forehead ratcheted up another notch.

“You know what I mean,” said Nana.  “She didn’t suffer, and that’s what counts.”

Abel found that the babies in the ICU took turns crying for the most part, but on many shifts there would be an example of the extremes, an infant who screamed non-stop, or more unsettling, one who did not make a peep.  One such angel lay just four feet from him, wakeful and calm.  Abel fought back a sudden urge to pinch her toes just to make her cry.  He hadn’t cried yet himself.  Not since Skip finally left.

How many times had Skip died already?  Eight?  Nine?  Too many.  Too many goodbyes, too many jokes that were not funny, too many awkward silences about how Skip was supposed to die first, not Mom.  And now he was gone for real.  Gone for good.

People didn’t remember his real name was Cain until they saw it on the gravestone.  Just like in the bible, only Abel died first in that story.  Abel barely remembered the funeral.  Alone in a room full of people.  Nana had been there, strong as ever, and she noticed what the others had not.

“I’ll cry for you, dear boy,” she had whispered.  “I know how it was with you, how long it was.  It was so hard for you, and for him.  That part is done now.”

“Thank you, Nana.” He had mumbled politely.  Another well intentioned condolence in an incomprehensible series.  Now he wondered.

Abel flipped open his phone, then snapped it shut.  “It’s too late,” he thought, looking back up at the clock.  Eleven-thirty.  She would be up, likely watching television.

“Call Nana,” he over-enunciated.

“Connecting,” replied the disembodied voice.

“Nana, it’s me.  Are you up?”

“Wouldn’t answer the phone if I wasn’t, what’s up with you?”

“I need to know if Skip cried all the time when he was a baby,” Abel began.  “And if I did.”

“Oh, you cried all right, but only when you needed something.  Or when he punched you.  Other than that you were an angel.  Now your brother was another thing entirely.  ‘Course he wasn’t Skip then.  Skip was always funny even when you knew he was hurting bad inside.  I’m speaking of Cain.”

“I’m listening, Nana.”

“Your mother would feed him, burp him, rock him and just about sock him and he never would be quiet.  Lord, how he must have suffered!  Doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him, kept saying that some babies just cry and cry.  Colic, they called it.  I called it horsepucky then and still do.  Your mother should have had her head examined naming you boys like that, people naturally assumed all of the crying and the carrying on was due to the story.  Well that’s a bunch of bologna too.  Some people just suffer more than others, that’s all.”

“Thanks, Nana.”

“Guess that’s my cue!  See you soon, Abel my boy.  Don’t work too hard.”

The phone clicked shut and the babies resumed their chorus.  Abel watched the clock and waited.  The angelic infant nearest to him continued to observe the world into which she had recently arrived.

Walking to the newborn baby girl, he took in the slate blue eyes, the bald crown of her head, the delicate yet tenacious existence of new life.  He thought of his brother’s suffering, both at the beginning and at the end, and he thought of his own.

Smashed drinking glasses never reassemble themselves, cars never un-crash once they have collided, and the dead never awaken, but babies don’t know that yet. They are not yet aware of the arrow of time, which goes only in one direction, toward greater entropy, greater chaos, greater darkness.  But what else was there?  Something about how the perception of time is an illusion, that the beginning is the end, and in a finite yet expanding universe there is always room for hope.

“Maybe we’ll be on the same plane when it falls out of the sky,” he told the peaceful one.  “Try to have fun in the meantime.”

Juggle Baby Blues

In Uncategorized on August 2, 2010 at 12:47 pm