Monday, May 31, 2010

Having a bad day? Compared to what?

Hi. How has your week been? Not too stressful, I hope.

Mine has been quite over the top. Some of my "customers" are very high stress and they find it easiest to put some of that stress directly upon my head. Some rightfully so, some I've been told, not so much. Or more precisely, not at all.

Just how stressful HAS this week been? Or last week for that matter, with this one giving it a good run for the money? How so? How can I explain? How can I draw this out and yet keep talking to you till you realize this was just another attempt to talk about strange and unusual times from the past? How can I even keep your attention for that long? Let's see.

I'll just say, this week has been slightly more stressful than I remember feeling one day years ago (harp music), while plummeting to the ground from about 3,000 feet up, having just foolishly let go of a perfectly good airplane, on one fine summer day. It was about just then that I had noticed my parachute was kind of open above me but had not quite really opened as I had been lead to expect it would. It was just flapping in the wind like a streamer held out a car window.

First, I really should mention, this experience I'm about to relate, took place the day after my High School friend Rod's birthday at his house. He had just turned eighteen. I was seventeen. I woke after a night of very strange things, my ex girlfriend I had JUST broken up with and my soon to be new girlfriend both being there, doing a variety of inebriates I had done and had yet to do, drinking at a keg and waking on the couch, to a hangover and the sounds, of all things, of someone dumping and counting, jar after jar of coins there on the living room floor. It was Jimmy, Rod's older brother.

I said, "HEY, knock it OFF!" Jimmy said, "Sorry, but I have to." I said, "Why?" and he said, "Because, I'm going sky diving." Then he said, "I'm done, later." and he ran out the door.

Shortly after the door slammed shut, Rod came down and said where'd Jimmy go. I told him and he lost it. "WHAT! Oh Hell, he told me he'd take me! I'm going!" and I said, "What? Then I'm going."

On the way there, he realized he didn't have enough money. So, I loaned him what I had. And when we got there, I said I wanted to jump too but I gave Rod all my money. Once I found I didn't need parent's permission as I wasn't eighteen (I thought I did and my mother already made it clear she wouldn't give her permission), I really wanted to go. But I was broke. Rod felt bad and between he and Jimmy, we got the $30 together for me and we all started our five hours of training (still hung over and jumping from a platform five feet up to learn parachute landing form, didn't feel none too good). Finally we were ready to go and we climbed into the plane.

I remember someone asking, do you know what position you are in, as we were on our knees, crowded into the plane to get the most jumpers up as possible. I said, "No" and they replied, "The preying position." Ha ha. Very funny.

I never should have flirted with the beautiful jump master as it was after all, her husband who packed our chutes. But, that was pointed out far too late.

Back to the chute. As I said, it was not inflating above me and thus slowing my descent nominally. Making things worse, I could not actually see it. The risers connecting me to the canopy were crossed against the back of my neck and so I could only therefore stare at my chest, where lay my chin just above where the emergency chute sat all nice and tightly secured to me and ready for instant deployment; oh, and of course that hard ground far beneath and beyond the chute on my chest, with its great grouping of fenced off meadowland that was currently floating gently up toward me at about 100 miles an hour. I could see it between my dangling feet.

After you jump out of the plane, you are supposed to take proper form to keep from tumbling terribly out of control, like Jimmy had just done, almost hanging himself in the fifteen foot static line that pulls the chute out. Jimmy was pretty scared, but hey, he jumped out. Rod had exited the plane fearless and in perfect form. Just the opposite of what I would have expected as Jimmy was always the fearless one. For myself, when dangling my foot, hanging outside the plane, looking down at 3,000 feet of nothingness, when the jumpmaster hit my leg and said, "GO!" I said, "WHAT!?"

She looked at me incredulous. "JUMP!" and hit me again. I looked, thought, "I'm not losing that $30 because I rode the plane back down" and thought, "I only have to relax my fingers and..." and it happened, the plane jumped out of my grasp and I was gone. Swimming for the plane didn't appear to be working. Then the static line snapped and the chute was pulled out. But....

It was all quite hard to miss, but what I missed most was seeing what the chute above my head was doing because, frankly, I just wasn't slowing down. You are supposed to count to six, then look up, check the chute opened, and make a decision, to relax and ride it down, or do some emergency procedures like cut away and pop the emergency chute.

I began to consider feeling stressed out, but I had been told you only have about ten seconds to make a decision on what to do in a situation like that at that altitude, so I really didn't have the time to stress out. Or to be afraid, which I thought I would save for either just before I impacted the ground, or just after I landed and somehow, continued to live. Which, actually, I was kind of counting on.

My hangover seemed to magically dissolve away. I guess adrenalin does that.

I remember thinking I needed to break away, pop the emergency chute; but then I thought, "I don't have $2.50 for an emergency chute repack. So...I'd best just get this one to work then; no sense in being embarrassed. That would really suck." Right. OK.

So, I did the obvious thing, what anyone might do. I pulled apart the risers and snapped my head back, only then realizing how much strength it took to keep the risers apart for more than a second or two as they were supporting all my weight and so, I had to let them snap back into place. At which point, I found I was now staring straight up at the streaming tube-like, "cigarette roll" (as they call those malfunctions); a funny looking arrangement of a Hell of a lot of 1.1 rip-stop nylon all not inflating and there far beyond that, a truly beautiful, silent, blue sky.

Technically, this type of "function" as they like to call them, is known as a "compression twist", but at the time, I really wasn't caring what the correct technical term for it was. It can happen when you twist the chute as you put it into the pack, so when it extracts it spirals and compresses, holding itself in a tube shape, and so it can't inflate as air has no entryway.

I noticed that it was really quite quiet falling like that through the sky. Except for this one noise, and what was that anyhow as it was getting quickly getting louder? I thought about it for a moment (just part of a second, don't worry) and realized finally that it was me, passing through the air, at 100 miles an hour (go ahead, stick your head out the window of your car at 100 mph some time, and you'll see what I mean). There were some other minor sounds from material flapping, or loose harness webbing, but other than that, just the screaming of the air shooting past my ears seemed to take up the majority of my attention.

At about that point, when I realized that my head was stuck back, the riser were holding my helmet back and that I could have it either way, but not easily transition between the two extremes. So, I figured that well, I might as well try to fix it. Besides, I didn't really want to watch my knees being shoved up into my hips should it come to that. I figured I'd feel it either way and no sense in sensory overload, ya know?

It was at that moment that I thought to put into play my brilliance and act accordingly. So, I pulled the risers apart as wide as I could so that the chute above me could inflate and I could sit there happily and relaxed and watch the show of a colorful spectacle of yards of nylon spinning rapidly around up above me, so that it could open to its full and glorious 28 foot diameter of canopy. I was surprised as I pulled them apart, that I was actually able to hold them far apart, and again, I think it was the adrenalin. But then the amazing happened.

I wasn't considering a small overlooked item. That being physics. You see, when you have what you might call an "air anchor" and you try to move it against that of say 190 pounds of dead weight plus gear, well, the larger "air anchor" wins and the dead weight (yes, me) spins instead.

At which point I began to spin uncontrollably as the inflating parachute above instead got to watch my spectacle all with feet flying out as I did a strange little meat puppet twirl. Unbeknownst to me, not so far below on the ground, down there beneath me at the landing zone or LZ, all the other sky divers were watching in shared fascination and sheer horror.

"Why in the Hell isn't he cutting away and deploying his reserve!" They wondered.

Fascinated, they watched the display of me spinning, after having not broken away from the malfunctioning main chute sooner and using the reserve chute; and all in horror at having lived moments that felt like hours to the more experienced jumpers as they watched the far more inexperienced sky diver (my esteemed self) not breaking away from the "compression twist" (something that has killed many sky divers and one time parachutists for nearly a hundred years or more).

I finally had a grand finale as I snapped to and stopped spinning quite suddenly. I was a little dizzy and I had to let my eyes catch up to my head and allow my vision to focus again, but I was very happy to note that I no longer heard any high speed winds, and that above me (yes, I could now look up quite easily through the now uncrossed risers) there was finally a beautiful open and fully inflated "commando" parabolic canopy doing what it was meant to do: slow descent to a reasonable and much more fun speed.

I was now able to enjoy a quiet, and beautiful descent, with a massive view of the entire region below me. It seemed to last forever, until I got within about 40-50 feet of the ground at which point, things seemed to increase in speed and the culmination of the jump. That being, the landing.

Which actually went quite smoothly and I actually hit the ten foot wide target of pea gravel. I was exhilarated. After all, I was the only one that jump who hit the target. The other more experienced jumpers already on the ground had all missed. Which happens, as the jumpmaster in the plane can only zero in on one or a few jumpers to hit the target as the plane is continuing on in a line at about 100 miles per hour. The new "square" chutes make this less an issue now a days.

After I landed, I lost my happy feeling quickly after kissing the ground (literally) and got chewed out by the "ground-master", the guy that guides you in; and yes, I did get down and press my lips to the soft fragrant moss and clean beloved dirt of that beautiful collection of fenced off meadows in the forest. Ah, the Earth is a wonderful thing at that point and not every the really annoyed groundmaster could completely quelch my good feelings. And he knew it. And let it go. But made it clear, that rather than go through what they just witnessed, with a new jumper (no tandem jumps back then), they were all have pitched in to pay the cost of a repack for the emergency chute.

Once again, Life was good.

And thinking back on it, that wasn't even as stressful as this past week has been for me; that week that I would one time experience some several decades later.

Its good to know that you can nearly always count, no matter how things are at the time, that they will at some point in the future, be even more intense than what you are currently going through.

Makes you think.
You know?

No comments:

Post a Comment