Tolstoy, Eat Your Heart Out…….(birthday memories & skydiving deaths)

 

Best Experienced With:     The Rolling Stones;      Sympathy for the Devil

(This birthday missive is best experienced by right clicking on the link below to open the suggested background music in a new browser window)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Je8MXiwmNIk

“The devil is not wise because he is the devil…the devil is wise because he is old.”    That’s a fantastic quote.   Have no idea who wrote it or said it, yet have plagiarized it for decades.    Today’s my birthday.   I love my birthday because it means there’s another 365 days of experience in the noggin and more tools in the tool kit.    Some hate getting older.   I roll around in getting older like a Bull Mastiff rolling around in a dead fish at dog beach in Del Mar.    Getting older is wonderful and fantastical.

The Random has blessed me with the most fantastic dating partners in this galaxy or any tangential galaxy.    All have made my birthdays special, have made me laugh like a hyena, and have borne the tremendous burden that is dating me with patience and grace.  Dating me is not easy.   Some days it is Dickensian, other days it’s Kafkaesque, and all days it’s like dating Hank Moody.  Two birthdays with two folks stand out in particular.   These are those two days.

The Skydiving Birthday:  Wilmington, Ohio

While living in Cincinnati, my girlfriend Diana bought me a day of sky diving for one birthday.  Not that sissy tandem skydiving, the real skydiving where you do a static line jump at 8:30 and then two more jumps on your own by sunset.   All three scared the living daylights out of me.

The static line, arguably the easiest because all you have to do is remember to blink and breathe for a full twenty minutes, was the hardest.  No one wants to be the guy who screws it up and dies on the easiest skydive.   That’s analogous to being the five year old who dies their first day on a tricycle by falling onto the sprinkler in an unfortunate spot while cruising at low speed through the front yard.    There’s nothing heroic or brave dying during the static line sky dive.  In fact, people would most likely make fun of you for the rest of their lives if you die during the static line jump.   Did you see the movie “Tropic Thunder”?   If you die during the static line sky dive, the odds are very, very, very good you will be nicknamed Simple Jack posthumously.

For those of you who have not experienced the static line jump, here is how it unfolds.   You get six, maybe seven minutes of training in a classroom on the proper way to arch when you jump off the strut of the wing, you get two or three minutes to practice this arch while jumping off of a picnic table, and then you get forty-seven minutes of “DO NOT DEPLOY YOUR CHUTE ACCIDENTALLY BY PULLING YOUR EMERGENCY CHUTE WHEN WE ARE ALOFT WITH A DOOR OPEN.”   That’s the hour training to jump off the wing of the plane.

That final forty-seven minutes is critical because if you happen to be the moron who deploys their chute accidentally while the door is open and you are aloft, people will die.  More on that in a bit.

Are you married?   Do you have kids?    Remember that abject terror you felt the morning of your marriage or right before your firstborn got borned?      If you combine both of those two and then raise them to the power of four, you will not exceed the terror you will get at 5,800 feet, stepping out onto the strut of a little bitty wing of a white trash prop plane in Wilmington, Ohio.     Trying to look out at the horizon, yet looking straight down and wondering how the hell you are going to remember everything they taught you in that first seven minutes about arching while gripping the strut of the wing of the plane.    You have already not accidentally deployed your reserve chute inside the plane and passed the moron test, yet here you are about to step off the door step, grab the wing strut, and hope to God you don’t sissy out when your legs are flapping in the wind.   That is an interesting eighty-four seconds.    Here is how it looks from inside the plane.   That would be you with your legs dangling, gripping the wing strut like your life depended on it.

Which it doesn’t.   You could trip off the step, miss the strut completely, and fall screaming yet your chute would still deploy because you are tethered to the plane.    A monkey could do it without training.    More likely a bonobo because of their higher IQ, yet a monkey nonetheless.   Which is why you’d be posthumously nicknamed Simple Jack if you died during a static line jump.    Static line jumps are the Velveeta cheese spread and Wonderbread sandwich of sky diving.

I don’t remember much of the second and third lessons of that skydiving birthday.    They may have taught some crucial lessons like “don’t start a land war in Southeast Asia” or “ matter cannot be created or destroyed” or even “heat flows from a source to a sink”.   Important lessons to be sure, but I don’t remember the classroom portion.    All I can clearly remember is that 11,500 feet looks seven zillion times higher than 5,500 feet when you are standing in the doorway of a plane about to jump out solo.   They put a little yellow helmet on your head because that little yellow helmet will surely save you from certain death if you screw up.   All helmets create the illusion of safety, much like safety glasses on manufacturing floors.

Here is how you jump when you are learning with two instructors and you are not strapped in tandem, like a sissy.   One instructor climbs out onto the roof of the plane and dangles.   The other hangs out the door, along the side of the plane.   You then have five seconds to get into the doorway, get into the proper position, and launch yourself out…hoping they grab a handful as you arch.   That five seconds feels longer than your sophomore year in high school and it is three times as awkward.

What’s the upside?     Terminal velocity.       You reach terminal velocity before you pull your chute ripcord at 4,500 feet and terminal velocity may be the finest feeling in the universe.   That floating crap when your chute pops out is not the best part of sky diving.     Terminal velocity is the best part of sky diving.  Terminal velocity may be the finest feeling in the universe. That was an amazing birthday day.

While driving home to Cincinnati on that July 13th, I was addicted to sky diving and committed myself to return to Wilmington, Ohio every weekend for the next thirty-four to get jump certified.   This addiction commitment lasted exactly eight days until the next Sunday when the Cincinnati Enquirer had a front page article discussing how one of my jump masters had died the previous day when the person to whom he was tethered for a tandem (sissy) jump inadvertently pulled the reserve chute while aloft with the door open…causing both of them (tethered together) to get ripped out of the plane.   Which would not have been too bad, had that reserve chute not gone straight back and gotten wrapped around the tail of the plane, causing them to drag behind the plane until the reserve chute ripped in half, causing them to plummet to the ground from 7,000 feet……….

………thus ending my desire to get jump qualified in thirty-four weeks.  Clearly the woman (newbie) half of that tandem combo was not carefully listening when they did the forty-seven minutes on not “DEPLOYING YOUR CHUTE ACCIDENTALLY BY PULLING YOUR EMERGENCY CHUTE WHEN WE ARE ALOFT WITH A DOOR OPEN.”   She lived.   Don’t know if she went sky diving again.      If she did, that would be a cool story to tell the other skydiving students on the way up to altitude in the plane, though.     “Sure hope it goes better than last month when I killed the instructor and plummeted 7,000 feet to land in a big bunch of bushes, my fall cushioned by the dead instructor.   Is this your first time?  It’s my second time.”

The Bullrunning Birthday:  Pamplona, Spain

My favorite birthday adventure to date was the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, (otherwise known as the festival of San Fermin) with Kelley.

Kelley and I flew to Spain the week before my somethingith birthday.   We flew in business all the way to Spain, arriving in a stupor for our eleven hour layover in Barcelona.     For years, I have blamed this stupor for the worst meal I have ever eaten…..griddle fish.      Griddle fish, you might think, is a fish because the word “fish” is in the phrase “griddle fish”.   A fish cooked on a griddle perhaps?   Griddle fish is by no means a fish cooked on a griddle.     Griddle fish is a jellyfish with no tentacles, cooked to a rubbery texture and an inedible flavor.

If you are wearing flip flops or have a bathmat near your computer, take off one of your flip flops or lift the bath mat.   Put that flip flop or bath mat in your mouth and chew or suck on it for half a minute or so.   You have now tasted griddle fish.   Like it?

There’s a ying and yang to all of life and the yang to the griddle fish’s ying was the Museo de Picasso in Barcelona.    Famished, yet still stupored, Kelley and I made the most of our day in Barcelona by crossing the street and spending four hours looking at Picasso’s masterpieces.  If you truly want to experience Picasso’s Las Meninas, etc, show up at the Picasso Museum famished. jet lagged and stupored.     You are welcome.

Our eleven hour Barcelona layover complete, Kelley and I took off for Pamplona, cocktails in hand.

Kelley and I showed up blind in Pamplona, not knowing that there is a mandatory eighty-seven drink per day minimum.   All eighty-seven drinks must be red wine.    Walking from our hotel to town center at least forty-three people stopped us us and made us drink deeply from their wine skins.  Because Kelly was ridiculously beautiful.   I always outkick my coverage.

Here’s how it unfolds at the running of the bulls.   July 6th is always the kickoff party:  think of it as the Fat Tuesday of Mardi Gras.    Seven trillion Europeans and three hundred seventy Restofworldeans running around in white shirts and pants, accented by red bandanas, drinking red wine so that if you spill, it looks like it is part of the outfit.    Everyone gathers around a big statue in the middle of town to drink red wine.   If you are a moron, you climb the statue in Pamplona’s town square and jump off like this:

The real fun always starts on July 7.   Get it?   7/7.     Clever.

The running of the bulls starts on 7/7 at 8 a.m. and you can start lining up at 7:00 a.m.   7,7,7.    See the motif?    Makes it easy for the ridiculously intoxicated seven trillion three hundred seventy Worldeans to remember when to get there, when to warm up and stretch, etc.     8:00 a.m on 7/7 is when you run.

Kelley and I fell asleep at 6:03 a.m., woke up at the crack of 7:42 a.m. and sprinted towards where we saw them setting up the course the previous day.     Late and, again, somewhat stupored because of the eighty seven drink per day minimum, I climbed over a six foot barricade and saw this.   I took this photo.   I do not remember taking this photo.    Not at all.

Then, I ran.

I am a poor runner.   I can sprint with a world class runner for six or even seven feet at a very fast clip but when the course is longer than seven feet, I am a very poor runner.   The thousands of Spanish and other folks lining the streets (safely behind the bull barricades) saw this and immediately took up my cause.  They shouted “run, Forrest run” which, in Spanish, is” corrias, Forrest, corrias”.   This touched my heart and, without getting gored and running over only three gentlemen from Minnesota a la Terry Tate (office linebacker) and ninety-seven French people (just for sport), I made it into the arena before the last bull arrived.   Kelleeeeeeeeeey took that picture below from the stands and you can find me if you loook really hard.     Am wearing all white.     White, with a  a red bandana.      Go.

(HINT:  See the bulls?    See the only guy with his back to the two bulls?    Only had an hour of sleep)

Mentioned earlier that Kelly and I arrived in Pamplona blind.   Had no idea there was a bullfighting arena at the end of the run.   Moreover, had no idea what happened inside the arena or that they closed the big wooden doors once the last bull out of fifteen total arrived after the mile(ish) run.    Was tired because I am not a very good runner and saw a group of fifty or so folks sitting in front of a gate at the other side of the bullfighting arena while the rest of the folks meandered about, drinking red wine from wine skins.   Figured those fifty guys were somewhat stupored like me and joined them.

These fifty gentlemen taught me a song.    This song.  “A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición.”   You pregnantly pause right there and follow it up with “Viva San Fermín !, Gora San Fermín !”    The fifty of us said the last part with emphasis and, as we finished, the gate opened and a very large bull ran out, knocking down the two gentlemen behind me and to the left.   That bull literally jumped over our row and destroyed those two men.    Then everyone chased around that bull and hit it with newspapers and such.   When the song ends and the bull comes out, it looks like the photo below.   Not from below, though.   From below it looks far more interesting because you are sitting with your fifty friends looking up at the bull from a completely different perspective.   The bull looks much larger from below.

Remember earlier when I said terminal velocity may be the finest feeling in the universe?   Terminal velocity pales in comparison to sitting in front of that gate with my fifty new friends, singing “A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición.”, and waiting to see which way the bulls are going to jump when they open the gate.    The purpose of the eighty-seven drink minimum now clear, I sat there with my new friends for the next thirty minutes as they released bulls into the arena, then joined all my arena friends chasing the bulls around, hitting them with newspapers and such.    The run itself is eclipsed by the fun in the arena.

Kelley and I found each other when the arena shut down for the morning and made our way back to the hotel.   In the elevator I mentioned that the morning was my favorite morning ever and it was a shame that they only do it one day a year, to which the gentleman alongside us replied: “they do it seven days in a row, moron.”

Get it?   Starts on 7/7 and you get to do it every morning for 7 days.    Which I did, making that birthday week the finest damn birthday week ever in the history of birthday weeks in this galaxy or any other galaxy.

The 2011 Singersongwriterworkshop Birthday:  Yosemite (foiled)

This year’s birthday would have topped the running of the bulls.    Three months ago I signed up for singer songwriter workshop in Yosemite taught by Tim Bluhm of the Mother Hips and Steve Poltz of himself (solo) and The Rugburns.     Five days camping in Yosemite with only eleven other aspirating singer songwriters, learning the craft and playing music.

I am a poor guitar player and an even worse singer.  Just started playing the guitar twenty months ago and when I sing, it sounds like that sound you get when you throw a dozen rabid cats in a burlap sack and smash them into a wall while Freddy Kruger drags his blade gloves over a chalkboard over and over and over again.  Nonetheless, I eagerly signed up and was very much looking forward to July 13-17 in Yosemite.   For three primary reasons.

First, Steve Poltz is my favorite singer songwriter in the universe.    Mr. Poltz is witty, ridiculously brilliant, and magnificently talented.    Have brought friends to Rugburns and Steve Poltz concerts for fifteen years and 100% of them have left saying “holy cow that was ridiculously good.”    The first song I learned to play on the guitar over three painful (for my neighbors when I had the windows open) was Steve Poltz’s “Everything About You”, perhaps the best love song ever written.

Second, I have always wanted to learn how camp.   It looks easy; however, it may be like surfing where it looks easy, yet turns out to be challenging.    Learning to camp would have also added another tool to my tool kit and this tool will come in mighty handy when we hit the new Rapture deadline.   If I am left behind after The Rapture, am going to need camping skills.   And weapons.   Lots and lots of weapons.

Third, there are twenty-three half way finished songs here at the desk and the five days in Yosemite would have given me plenty of time to finish all twenty-three songs.   Or at least nineteen of the songs so I can record an album and a follow up EP.   Here’s a list of some of the songs.   These are real songs that I have written over the past twenty months because if you cannot get your little monkey fingers to play all the chords that real musicians put into their songs, write your own songs with only the chords your little monkey fingers can play without fretting too much.  Here are several of the unfinished songs:

“My Hot Girlfriend Has Hyperkyphosis and Prosopagnosia

“This Song has Thirty-Seven Verses & No Chorus”

“You & Your Troll Ugly Friends”

“Neck Tattoo”

“If Don Quixote Had a Shotgun”

“Dilettantes and Sycophants”

“I Know Calculus, But I Still Can’t Figure You”

“Codependent Elephants”

“Saks and Violins”

Mother Nature and The Random conspired against me on this year’s birthday when this email arrived late last week:

Gentleman-

 

I have a little piece of bad news about your trip. I spoke to the horse-packer today and he told me he thinks he will not be able to run stock into any of the lakes until end of July this year. There is over 200% of normal snow-pack for this time of year in Yosemite area, a record by far! We have been following the conditions closely and thought we were going to be ok for next week, but it looks like we are getting beaten down by mother nature again. 

 

Your trip isn’t the only one affected next week and we are very sorry to have to alert you to this so close to your departure. The melting pattern of the snow pack is unusually slow on top of the record depth.This trip is so special to everyone involved: you the guests, the guides, and the musicians so I feel awful having to cancel. 

 

However at this point, even if we can could somehow get up there the lakes are still frozen over,  the ground will be wet at best, the bugs will be bad, and the trails will still be covered in snow.  We sincerely apologize for the expense in flights and schedule changes that may occur. To that end for the Texas friends, Steve said he’s going to make it up to you guys with something special.

 

Let me know if you want me to send you a refund or move your trip fare onto next year’s trip.

 

Again, I feel awful that we have to cancel.

 

Best, Ian



Ian Elman
President
Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides
Chosen “Best Outfitter on Earth”
by National Geographic Adventure Magazine Nov/2007
and “Best Adventure Travel Company” Jan/2009

The 2011 Replacement Birthday

In love, life, and business you should always have a Plan B.    I have a gazillion miles on Delta Airlines because for work I fly them every hour, on the hour.   If Delta owns a plane, odds are I have touched it over the past twenty years.    If you are on a Delta plane, odds are you will see my name scrawled in black Sharpie marker in one of the lavatories.   Next time you fly, check the wall when you wash your hands.   Always wash your hands before leaving the lavatory.    Plan B involved using some of these gazillion miles to go to a new country.    Have been to forty-three countries and the goal is one hundred ninety-six countries before October 21, 2011.

Because of The Rapture.   Have to use up all your miles before the end of days.   Or give them to Harold Camping’s church so he can fly to Tijuana and visit The Bambi Club.

Plan B for this year’s birthday was was Juba, South Sudan.    Last Saturday, South Sudan became the world’s one hundred ninety sixth country after fifty years of conflict and a vote in January where over ninety six percent of the residents voted to create their own sovereign nation.     Who better to celebrate your birthday with?    I imagined flying into Juba on the 14th, getting off the plane, heading downtown and drinking the native White Bull beer with other birthday celebrators until I headed home the next day.   No hotel, no bags…just twenty-four glorious hours with my fellow birthday revelers.    Delta does not fly to Juba.     Foiled.

Plan C was to fly to Tunisia, get someone to drive me to the Libya border, and get a photo flipping off the general direction of where Muammar Gaddafi would be.   That was going to be my 2012 holiday card.     Delta could get me into Tunisia on the 13th, but not our again until February, 2016 (or some other silly future date).  Foiled yet again.

Plan D was to fly into Burkina Faso and spend a day taking photos in front of banks in the capital city.   Look at your spam folder in your email accounts.   Read the emails from all the folks in Burkina Faso who have fourteen million dollars here in the United States and need your bank account number to get the money out…after which you will get five million dollars.   And a pony!    That would have been an awesome photo collage for my 2012 holiday card:  me in front of four Burkina Faso banks with a fist full of dollar bills and Burkinian Fasosian wampum.     Would have been 327,000 miles to fly business class to Burkina Faso on Delta.    You can get to Saturn and back for 327,000 miles on other airlines.  Hat trick of foliation.

Plan E (Ivory Coast), Plan F (Bogata, Columbia), and Plan G (Pointe Noire, Congo) were mostly also 327,000 miles and subsequently discarded as back up plans over the past two days.    Why?   Because clearly The Random wants me to finish all twenty-three songs and I could not have done so whilst sipping a Bloody Mary in the business class section of a Delta plane headed to Africa.    When The Random speaks, we should all listen.     And I always, always wash my hands before leaving the lavatory.   As should you.

The photo above is the new plan for this year’s birthday adventure and it is a damn fine plan.   Plan your work and work your plan.

Eat your heart out, Tolstoy.    I now own you.

Thanks for visiting this evening.

And happy birthday to me…

Good night, Bethany.   Mind the raptors, my dear…..

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Tolstoy, Eat Your Heart Out…….(birthday memories & skydiving deaths)

  1. Happy Birthday, Here’s to adventure travel and airline miles!
    M

  2. Anne

    Happy Birthday! I wish I knew you better so I could suggest a memorable birthday adventure. But wearing fake nose and glasses is a good start. Hope it was a good one!

  3. Mom

    Dearest Dan;
    One of my finest moments and greatest memories was on July 13, 1965 when you were born! Happy Birthday!!!
    Love, Mom

    • surfer1965

      Ummmmm. My girlfriend thinks I was born in 73, mom. You just salted my fields and left me alone again. Just kidding. The cats don’t care where I was when they shot Kennedy, just as long as I feed them three times a day. Love you. Thanks for carrying me around and such. And thanks for going to Juvenile Court with me. Twice.

      Love you

  4. Jill Helgerson

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAN! I think you should add swimming with dolphins and walking across the glass bridge at the Grand Canyon to your list. Enjoy your concert and your much deserved vacation.

  5. Melinda Drury

    Yet another great read from you my brother! Hope you had a fantastic day! By the way, Mike and I and the girls went to Tunisia in 2002 with the Marcy family…had a great time! Try to get there!
    Love you,
    Mel

  6. Scott

    Happy Birthday Dan ! Great story as always. Always enjoy reading about what takes place within the “MOM”… precious real estate that is. Genius !

  7. surfer1965

    Just read “Motorcycle Diaries” and when I turn 50 am going to follow Che’s route for three weeks. You are all invited to come along. Here’s the route

    http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=113456810080381760235.00047821368e54d052728&ll=-15.623037,-60.46875&spn=56.938286,74.707031&z=3&source=embed

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