Friday, April 27, 2007

Part 5 of The Man Who Fell ... "the morgue?!"

To catch up on the story, click on parts 1, 2, 3, and 4

At the assembly area there was a truck with a couple of “riggers” gathering chutes. With no little hostility George threw his bagged chute on the ground next to the failed reserve chute that the colonel had brought up. This caused one of the riggers to shout, “You’d better straighten them out!”

“They came out that way and they are going back that way!” George responded bitterly, “And I want two parachute malfunction reports filled out and I want a damned investigation!” He demanded.

At that, with the last of his superhuman will and strength used up, George collapsed and this time he could not get back up. At long last his team reacted and came to his aid. They picked him up and awkwardly placed his lanky frame across the back of the colonel’s jeep. By the time they made it to Womack hospital at Fort Bragg he was out of his mind and began to resist and struggle. He no longer knew any of the men with him and didn’t even know where he was.

t the hospital emergency room, before the medics could move him they had to restrain his combative body by tightly strapping him down on a gurney.
One of the doctors when told that the struggling trooper had fallen asked, “What, was he getting on or off the aircraft?” One of his buddies responded, “No doc, his parachute failed and I think it knocked his brains loose.” This retort turned out to be truer than he knew.

Georges’s memories of his experiences in the hospital are sketchy, mostly because his injured brain at the time would no longer consistently hold those memories.

There is one disturbing incident that stayed in his bruised grey matter and for good reason. When they first brought him into Womack, he dimly recalls the doctors working on him before his consciousness switched “off” again. When he woke up he felt cold, icy cold in fact. Curiously, he saw that he was lying on a stainless steel table with just a thin sheet over him. Turning his eyes, he noticed another guy on an adjacent table. He couldn’t see the man’s face but he could clearly see a toe tag dangling from his foot.

Putting two and two together, George realized he was now “parked” in the morgue. An unsuspecting guy bumped through the doors with a mop and bucket and began to swab the floor.
George watched him intently until eventually the fellow looked up and saw an obviously “living dead guy” looking back at him. Once again he saw a man’s eyes grow as big as pie plates. Needless to say, the surprised fellow stopped mopping and went for help. Evidently, against the army’s continuing insistence that he be deceased, George just refused to go along with that notion.

If George had been a normal man instead of the tough Green Beret that he was, perhaps things would have been different for him over the next 4 or 5 months. If he’d refused to jump when he saw the suspect parachutes waiting for him; if he’d just said his prayers when he saw it was hopeless during the plunge to earth; if he’d gone quietly into the darkness instead of fighting for life while lying paralyzed there on the ground; if he’d lain still when the colonel ordered him to; and if he’d shut up instead of responding so vociferously to the colonel’s commands… IF, IF, IF! But then again, if he’d done all those things he wouldn’t be George.

After the morgue incident, one of his next recollections was waking up, in a real bed this time, when a nurse came into the room. “She asked me if I’d like to sit up and helped me into a sitting position.” That moment with the nurse was the beginning of his active involvement in his physical recovery. Unfortunately, it was a rehabilitation that was done almost entirely on his own with very little help from the army.

When I asked him what it felt like during his recovery, George describes it as a “sickening hurt.”
And why would he not feel terrible? His body had sustained punishment that would certainly have killed the rest of us. The fact that he didn’t die has to have a lot to do with luck and his extraordinary will to live.

Consider the forces acting on him when he bounced off the ground at more than a mile a minute. His bones, tissue and fluids were hurtling through space, and then, instantaneously, reversed course into the opposite direction--a sure formula for death.

The g-forces must have been in the hundreds. His neck should have snapped, and probably would have if not for the rope of twisted risers holding his head mostly immobile, and as such, what almost killed him probably helped to save him. Also, George’s tightly tucked Parachute Landing Fall caused him to “roll” back into the sky instead of sticking into the ground like a broken fleshy dart. This masterful maneuver kept him alive but did not prevent some horrible physical damage. And who knows which of his many injuries he sustained from that 20-foot secondary fall?

Click to continue on to Part 6 of "The Man Who Fell." He's not quite done yet with getting back up and dusting himself off.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

American Idol Thoughts: Only 6 Left

American Idol Thoughts: Only 7 Left

The theme tonight was "Idol Gives Back." It was a very nice sentiment for the hugely successful show to parley it's popularity into a money raising event to feed children in the USA and Africa. It was a nice touch seeing Simon, Seacrest, Paula, and Randy out in the "real world," one that most Americans don't even realize exists. In fact, from my travels its how MOST of the rest of the world exists.

Update after Idol results show....What? They didn't vote anyone off? Seacrest says they didn't want to lose any idols during a charity week. So, they are going to roll this week's votes into next week and vote off two people. That's going to complicate the calculations a bit, but its kind of cool to get a change up every so often.

We didn't see him, but Bono was this week's singing mentor. I believe we will see a lot of him during tomorrow's special 2 hour "fallen idol” night. I think he had the most effect on how Blake performed tonight.

The theme this week was “Idol Gives Back” and so all the songs reflected soulful inspiration and hope--a very good Bono theme indeed! No wonder he signed on to do this week. He's such a do-gooder, isn't he?

The fact that Sanjaya was gone took a little of the excitement out of the competition for me. Of course I know the guy is not the greatest singer, but "AI" isn't only about that. It's a popularity contest for people who sing "pop" music. A whole lot of people liked the plucky young fellow and I miss not having him there. He was fun to watch, to see what he was going to do next. From this point on it all gets rather predictable.

1. Chris Richardson: Chris did an Eric Clapton-like unplugged version of "Change the World," one of my pop favorites. Listening to him sing it, I realized tonight that Chris' singing style reminds me a little bit of the 70's Seal & Crofts. I love those guys, so there you are. I particularly liked how he took the last verse and made it really much more up-tempo than Clapton's original score. I really enjoyed his singing this week, and from their comments so did Randy, Paula and Simon.

Randy on Chris: "For the first time in a long time for're in it to win it!... That was great!"

Paula: "Great Song Choice... I'm really proud of you to see your journey to where you are now."

Simon: "...Your performance tonight reminded me of the very first time we saw you and all the potential you showed then....It was a good vocal with more soul, it was a kind of a sexy performance, did really well. I agree with Randy that the competition starts tonight."

2. Melinda Doolittle: I hope she wins it all. Her performances are always absolutely faultless and she's likeable, I certainly do. And since last week I have a bit of a crush on her too. The girl is hot. She sang Faith Hill's "There Will Come a Day." Once again, she sounded great. She always seems to throw a new nuance into her performances; tonight it was vibrato. She worked the heck out of that and it worked. Listening to her, the words that popped into my mind were, "powerful," "gospelly," "nice control," "beautiful!" Melinda was good from the very beginning of the contest, but she is fast approaching greatness. I don't know who is working with her, but they do good work. She's awesome!

Randy on Melinda: "I've said from the beginning you ARE our resident pro, and you keep proving me right. I don't know what to say anymore! ...Melinda is HERE!"

Paula: "There's no one like you... you're magical."

Simon: The "glum one" was uncharastically sweet-natured tonight perhaps in keeping with the show's theme. When Ryan came to him for his take on Melinda, Simon chuckled as Melinda purposely adjusted her expression to make sure she didn't have the dreaded "surprised look" on her face. At this point, Simon has her gun-shy about showing ANY false humility at all. Of course he too liked her singing declaring, "THAT was NOT a copy-cat performance. You actually convinced me that it was an original...a vocal master-class."

3. Blake Lewis: Ryan asked all the singers bland questions from fans and the answers were also just as bland. They need to stop doing it. It's a waste of time and I'm not interested. Blake went "out on a limb" telling us that his "biggest sacrifice" was missing his family and friends. Ho-hum. He sang a bit the same way doing the classic John Lennon tune "Imagine." Immediately, I recognize it as a dumb choice. After all, even I can sing that song. My point is that its too easy to sing and there's nothing you can do with it, heck, there's nothing you are ALLOWED to do with it. To change it up would be sacrilege. For me, his version of "Imagine" was "unimaginative." It was done well, but almost anyone can sing that song well. I'm afraid that Black is not long for this contest and it will be his own fault. Even so, the judges went easy on him, just like they always do. I have to wonder if he's got something on them? I'm beginning to think Blake could yodel Mary Had A Little Lamb and the 3 Musketeers would tell us how originally hip he did it.

Randy on Blake: "That was a great choice of an "amazing" song, but I kind of wanted you to do more with it..."

Paula: "At first I felt the same way as RAndy, but then I realized that that was the first time I've heard you do such an sensitive emotional performance ... and I really enjoyed it."

Simon: "Gloomy Gus Simon" also went on about how little one can actually do anything with such a classic tune as Imagine, but he cut him slack once AGAIN..."...You can't really BELT out that song... and it never really went anywhere, BUT you sang it with sincerity, so good."

4. Lakisha Jones: Lakisha keeps making bad decisions and tonight was more of the same. She attempted past Idol winner Fantasia's "I Believe," a very difficult song indeed. It soars, and Lakisha, in trying to fly with it, showed that she is NO Fantasia. Part of what makes an Idol is picking songs that you KNOW will make you sound your best. In this case, Lakisha merely showed us exactly why Fantasia won two years ago. Even so, she did much better than last week, although she once again pushed way too hard and very nearly shrieked the highest notes. Lakisha came off as slightly better than average tonight, well behind the quality of performance given by Melinda, Chris, Phil and Jordin.

Randy on Lakisha: "You had a couple little pitch problems... but I liked it. Its a very hard song to sing after FAntasia, I have to admit (not sounding like he really did)"

Paula: "You're a powerhouse of a vocalist...(she then minced around in typical Paula fashion before telling us what she really felt, kind of...) ...only Fantasia can sing that."

Simon: "I think what Paula was trying to say is that she preferred the Fantasia version." He also said in support of my contention that she pushes too hard at times: "Again I'm having an issue with the shouting." (At this point the audience booed him). "Will you SHUT UP!" (It worked, he was not allowed to explain himself further).

5. Phil Stacey: "My main man" did Garth Brooks' "The Change." Phil took the advice everyone gave him about appealing to the untapped country music lovers' votes and "tried" to sing another country song. The problem is he didn't sing it with the same country flare that he managed last week. Huge mistake. If he's going to embrace country and make his "new" fans believe it then he's going to have to make them embrace him, and I don't believe his performance tonight is going to do that. The song requires some real vocal stretching and Phil didn't quite get there this week. He MIGHT have IF he'd gone with the same countryish style he used last week, but alas! I think he WANTS to sing like Michael Bolton, but he doesn't have the voice. At best, he's only a second rate Michael Bolton. As Randy says, "Just keeping it real."

Randy on Phil: “Strong performance... Two in a ROW!"

Paula: "This was your best..."

Simon: “Good choice... Country suits you. (Simon also voiced my frustration that he didn't SING it in a country STYLE, but in acknowledgment of the voting dynamics he hedged his verdict and offered some heartfelt advice) "If you can connect with that country tone that you had last week I think you can be very successful...because I think people like you."

6. Jordin Sparks: Talk about ambitious! Jordin sang one of THE most difficult songs EVER to sing well, "You'll Never Walk Alone." The problem is I think she bit off a bit more than she could chew. But, I guess I'm the only one to think so, because the judges sure loved it. In fact they raved over it, and that puzzles me somewhat. I think what's happened is they have got on the Jordin Bandwagon and have lost some of their capacity to listen critically. In MY opinion there were several times when she was one octave too high for her range. She is good, but she is NOT unlimited and I definitely heard her NOT reach the top of several of the notes she was attempting. She was like a high-performance fighter jet trying to reach new heights and not quite finding them, instead having to nose over as gracefully as possible in an attempt to make it look (and sound) like she "meant" to do that. Maybe once the judges get a chance to really listen to her performance they will change their minds about their claims of perfection, because Jordin was far from it.

Randy on Jordin: "One of the best vocals EVER by anyone on any of the American Idol shows we've ever had in six years! That was the hottest performance tonight right there!" (Wow! He really laid it on thick! Slow down RAndy!)

Paula: "...only someone who has great vocals can do that song...You were glorious."

Simon: He made a joke out of the gushing rave reviews just offered by Randy and Paula: "Well... Unlike Randy, I thought you were fantastic. ...(laughter) ...I think you can get a hit record with that."

PhilippinePhil’s order of merit for tonight:

1. Melinda
2. Chris
3. Phil
4. Jordin
5. Blake
6. Lakisha

My bottom 3 picks for tomorrow:

1. Phil
2. Blake
3. Lakisha

My bottom 2 for tomorrow:

1. Phil
2. Lakisha

Tomorrow's Fallen Idol will be:


After tonight’s performance, I predict that the final 2 will be:

1. Jordin
2. Melinda

The American Idol will be:


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Part 4 of The Man Who Fell ... "I guess I'm dead"

To catch up on the story, click on parts 1, 2, and 3.

The ambulance drove off. In his peripheral vision George saw a soldier walk over to him and then kneel at his side. The man checked for a pulse at both wrists and at the neck. He took a small signal mirror and held it to George’s nose and mouth looking for any sign of exhaling breath. Evidently finding no sign of life, he unhooked George from his equipment before once again checking for a pulse at his wrists and neck. He even laid his head on George’s chest listening for a heartbeat.

“I remember him looking down at me and he had a real sad look on his face” says George. “He walked away for a time, but then he came back and for the third time checked me for a pulse, and still he found nothing. He walked off again and then I thought, ‘I guess I AM dead, but a dead man can’t see… I have got to MOVE!”

George was literally trapped inside his body. “It was like I was tied down in every sense. I tried and tried to move but I couldn’t. Then the thought of my wife and baby daughter filled my mind. I struggled even harder to move and then “BING,” suddenly something “let go” and I found myself popping over from my back and unto my knees.”

Hearing the commotion, the old soldier hurriedly returned. Like all SF troops, he wore no rank or name tags on his fatigues, even so, George assumed the man was an officer because of his older age and air of command presence. George laughs when he tells it, “When he saw that I was suddenly alive after all, his eyes got as big as I’ve ever seen. He was in total shock. I was moving back and forth trying to collect my equipment, but I kept falling over.”

Later, George isn’t sure how much later, he found out that the older officer was none other than Colonel Aaron Bank, the famous founder of the Green Berets. If indeed it was Bank and it probably was, he told George, “Soldier, lie down and don’t move.”

He wasn’t about to lie still and let that deathly paralysis take over his body again and adamantly rebuffed him with a, “Go to hell!”

Haltingly, painfully, George continued to look for his equipment, but in his befuddled state he could find none of it and all the while he kept falling.

“I’m giving you a direct order soldier: Lay down!” Colonel Bank demanded.

“Kiss my ass!” George responded. (Although other Special Forces troops who were there say that he actually said something even MORE forceful—and it rhymes with “pluck dew.”)

The colonel could see he wasn’t getting anywhere with this contrary “Lazarus” and gave up, saying, “Well, I guess the best thing I can do for you is to try and get you the hell out of here.”

Staggering around and falling down, George concentrated on trying to straighten out his traitorous main chute. He noticed with disgust that it had dried up old cockleburs and twigs stuck all through it, none of which was in any evidence on the ground around him.

Unable to find the bag for George’s failed reserve, Bank picked up the chute and started dragging it up the hill. For a while longer George looked in vain for his lost gear but to no avail. Incredibly, he managed to get his chute inside the bag and began to carry it, following after the colonel. He would take a few unsteady steps and fall down, then get up, walk a bit more and fall again.

Finally, he found his team lounging beneath a large shady tree. He realized it was the tree he had seen from above on the way down. As he finally drew near, his team began to cheer and applaud. Hunt called out, “Good show W.!”

I asked George why none of his team had come out to help him or at least to pay tribute to his carcass when they must have thought he was a goner, but George could not say why. I think it bothers him today that they did not, but after speaking to another SF veteran I did get one semi-plausible answer for their apparent callousness.

Here’s what a local Green Beret vet told me, “When I had my jump accident and broke my leg, I didn’t want any help, and my buddies all understood that. It’s a Special Forces thing.” I’ll take his word for it, but it sure goes against my own natural inclinations to rush out and try to help a fallen buddy.

Click here to read Part 5 to see what happens to George next. He was hurt much worse than anyone could have imagined; and even though George survived his deadly plunge, “The Grim Reaper” was not yet done with him. Oh no, George’s problems are FAR from over—he hasn’t QUITE completely cheated Death just yet!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Part 3 of "The Man Who Fell" ... "Terminal Velocity"

Part 1 of "The Man Who Fell:" ... "Uh oh!"

Part 2 of "The Man Who Fell:" ... "malfunction"

George recalled the final seconds of his fall chuckling, “I heard Captain Jack Abraham Junior the III hollering at me from below. I saw him trying to direct his chute in an attempt to intercept me by pulling on his risers. T-10s are certainly not steerable, still, he tried. In trying to help me he was sacrificing himself because if I had hit his canopy, there was a good chance it would have killed us both. More from instinct than anything else, I reached out and made a swipe for it, but I just flashed past him.”

He paused, taking a sip of coffee before continuing, "It’s very quiet up there. You can hear everything. I heard another SF jumper yelling something at me. I remember seeing red hair under his helmet as I went past him, but I couldn’t catch what he was saying."

"I could see the ground coming at me very quickly. You don’t really have a sensation of falling; it’s more like the earth comes up at you. I knew there wasn’t much slowing me down if anything. I saw a tree below go from tiny to big in a matter of a second or two. Since that day I’ve tried to gauge what my falling speed was by watching trees flash by along the highway. You know, as you approach them and they get bigger and bigger? From that, I figure I was going faster than 60 miles per hour—at least.”

Note: (Terminal velocity of a sky diver is about 125 mph, so considering the drag of his chute materiel and equipment, plus the fact that he slowed down initially by glancing off two of his buddies’ chutes, a 60 plus miles per hour closing speed sounds reasonable).

“I assumed the tightest PLF I could.” (PLF stands for Parachute Landing Fall). Sitting on my couch across from the room from me George demonstrated the PLF. With knees bent and tightly held together, he twisted his legs as far to his left as he could from the hip, while also twisting his upper body as far as possible in the other direction. He looked like a human spring or a corkscrew.

He explained, “The way it’s supposed to work, when a jumper hits the ground under his chute at 16 to 18 feet per second, his body rolls up the earth and the force of the impact is a glancing one up the jumper's side that actually flips him back into the air and unto his feet. That’s the theory anyway.”

I laughed, interrupting him, "And you say you did THAT for a living? Are you nuts?!" I said it trying to pull his chain a little.

George laughed right back, "Hell yeah! I loved it!"

When he saw that tree far below seem to instantaneously blow up to full size he concentrated on doing the tightest PLF he’d ever done. Instead of going into a screaming panic and fixating on the probability of death, he concentrated on following "the numbers" of his training. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing, allowing one to act even under the most unthinkable of circumstances.

With very little emotion he describes nonchalantly what it was like to hit the ground going as fast as a speeding car on a highway, “It was like a black explosion.” When he said it I could tell it wasn’t the first time he’d done so. He’s probably been asked that question dozens of times over the years.

He went on, “I was told that I bounced at least 20 feet back up into the air. All I felt was that black explosion and then moments later I felt a terrible “Whummp!” when I landed the second time flat on my back. Everything stayed dark, but then, next thing I knew, I could see blue sky and clouds, and then I heard a man screaming.”

George’s vision was stuck in an eyes-open straight-up gaze. The way he describes it he had only two senses still working; he could see and he could hear—that was it. He couldn’t move, not even his eyes, and he had no sensation of touch anywhere in his body.

Perhaps strangest of all was that he could not breathe, yet he did not have the panicky sensation of oxygen starvation that normally comes when a person can’t draw in air. The thought crossed his mind that maybe he WAS dead, but then he figured if that was the case then he shouldn’t be able to see and hear.

The fellow doing all the screaming was the red-headed soldier that had yelled at him as he plummeted past. Evidently the guy had been so transfixed at the sight of George streamering into the ground that “he hadn’t taken care of his own business,” as George says. The man suffered a nasty compound fracture to his leg and he was letting everybody know it.

George could hear vehicles approaching and then stop nearby. One was a jeep and the other an ambulance. He heard an authoritative voice say to the medics in the ambulance, “Nothing you can do for that guy. Go ahead and take the man with the broken leg in. I’ll pronounce that one dead and we’ll bring him on in ourselves in my jeep.”

George knew that he was the deceased fellow they were talking about and he struggled to move to prove that he was still alive if not kicking. Evidently the sickening sight of a man bouncing off the ground from 1250 feet at high speed had convinced everyone who saw it that no one could possibly have survived such a thing.

Note: I found a website that includes a description of the Sicily Drop Zone, the place on which George “bounced.” The person who wrote it seemed to have George in mind while writing the blackly humorous description:

Sicily Drop Zone: One of the main spots at Bragg for testing whether or not you’ve packed your chute properly. The ground is nice and sandy, so if your pack malfunctions, they can just cover you up like a cat turd.”

Part 4 of The Man Who Fell ... "I guess I'm dead"

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Part 2 of "The Man Who Fell:" ... "malfunction"

If you haven't read it yet, click on: Part 1 of "The Man Who Fell:" ... "Uh oh!"

The reason for George's "uh oh" is that normally at the “one thousand and three” count the chute would snap open with a violent jerk and he’d start riding it to the ground. This time, in the split second before he got to “four” he knew instinctively something was wrong. Sure enough, in an instant he could see nothing but the inside of his helmet. His head was being forced down so that his chin was firmly clamped to his chest.

Trapped under the confined darkness of his tilted helmet he felt his body land on the side of one of his fellow jumpers’ chutes. He fell down the side of the chute, partially collapsing it, before falling freely away again. Immediately he felt himself fall into another chute only this time he merely glanced off it before continuing his plunge.

He tried to push his helmet back up, but it would not go. He managed instead to push it far enough to the left to see with his right eye. Through his now uncovered right eye he saw that he was falling almost horizontally on his back with his feet slightly lower than his head. In this position he could see above him that his chute had malfunctioned in several critical ways.

Coming out of the “sock” the suspension risers had twisted into a thick rope all the way up to the canopy. It was the thick bulk of those twisted risers that was forcing his helmeted head as far forward as it would go. There was no way he could resist it.

He could see the canopy was involved in a complete inversion. Here’s how Wikpedia describes parachute inversions: (An "inversion" occurs when one skirt of the canopy blows between the suspension lines on the opposite side of the parachute and then catches air. That portion then forms a secondary lobe with the canopy inverted. The secondary lobe grows until the canopy turns completely inside out.)

George also saw that the inverted chute was folded at the middle into the worst “Mae West” that he had ever seen.

Wikpedia: (A "Mae West" is a type of round parachute malfunction which contorts the shape of the canopy into the appearance of a brassiere, presumably one suitable for a woman of Mae West’s proportions).

Unfortunately, in George's case, instead of a full blown “Mae West” there was hardly enough unsnarled canopy above him to form even a training bra.

In another split second the canopy laid horizontal into a “cigarette roll,” defined as:

(The parachute appears as a vertical column of cloth (in the general shape of a cigarette), providing the jumper with very little drag. It is caused when one skirt of the canopy, instead of expanding outward, is blown against the opposite skirt).

In a fraction of the time it takes to tell it, George saw all of this through one eye and realized there was nothing he could do to correct it. He grabbed the rusted red handle of his reserve and pulled. To this day he remembers that the army warned them repeatedly that if they lost that handle it would cost them $6.75. Even in his dire predicament he was concerned about not losing it; but that worry was immediately forgotten as soon as he yanked it and nothing happened.

Normally, upon pulling the reserve handle located on his front, a jumper expects a small pilot chute to deploy, which upon filling with air draws the reserve canopy out after it. To his alarm, George’s reserve chute apparently had no operable pilot chute. Upon a hurriedly frantic inspection, instead of a carefully folded chute rubber-banded into place, all he saw was wadded-up squashed silk. His next thought was to start pulling it out of its canvas pouch with the aim of finding a skirt edge to try to get it to catch some of the air whistling past him.

Keep in mind he had jumped at just 1250 feet, so all this happened in the blink of an eye.

Frenetically, George pulled the clumped silk from its ancient canvas container. As it spilled out it gathered on both sides of his body and between his legs. All this flapping material around his body caught the wind causing his legs to fly up even higher, to about 45° above his head. He unstuffed and unstuffed, searching madly for an edge.

He lost all hope of getting his reserve to open however, when instead of an edge he came upon its apex or exact top middle. He knew then that inexplicably, there WAS no pilot chute, and he understood also that it was hopeless to try to get the chute to blow up.

At this point he remembers purposely trying to direct as much of the slick fabric up under him with the crazy notion of forming a cushion to land on. Again the attitude of his falling body changed so that now his head became higher than his feet.

George continued to plummet to earth. In the jumper vernacular he was known as a "streamer" because his double-malfunctioned chutes weren't providing any lift and instead were just "streaming" after him toward the ground.

Part 3 of "The Man Who Fell" ... "Terminal Velocit...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Part 1 of "The Man Who Fell:" ... "Uh oh!"

You’re going to love this story—I certainly do. I knew I was going to write it the moment I met the man and he told it to me. As Dean Cain says, “Believe it!”

Part 1. “Uh oh!”

I met George W. almost two years ago when he came to me for help in dealing with the Veterans Administration.

(Let me add that 99% of all veterans DO require assistance, as most of them soon realize, once they start the ordeal of filing for their VA disability benefits).

From the first I liked the guy. Tall and long limbed, almost gangling at his present 6’1”, he has a physicality that impresses even after what he’s been through. There’s a glint in his eyes that says, “Don’t trifle with me.” It’s an aura that surrounds Special Forces troops well into old age. He told me he’d like to get more of his ailments service connected, but he was leery about doing so after what the Veterans Administration had already done to him. (See what I mean?)

I asked him, “So, what conditions are we talking about that we can prove began on active duty?” At that, George began telling me a riveting story that horrified and amazed, yet his joking manner kept me laughing from start to end.

In 1955, George joined the United States Army at the age of 15, or 15 ½ as he says in his deep Merle Haggard sounding Oklahoma drawl. Big for his age and toughened from years of breaking horses, his recruiting sergeant knew he was underage and processed him in just the same. Years later, when already in Special Forces, an anal-retentive admin officer, a warrant, learned of George’s secret and thought it his duty to begin discharge procedures based on fraudulent enlistment. It went no where though once his company commander, Colonel Clark, found out. Clark duly informed his anal warrant officer that if he proceeded to kick out “HIS” sergeant then he would see to it that the rest of HIS army career would be very miserable indeed. The warrant “saw the light” and George’s secret remained undisclosed. As it turns out, perhaps it would have been better for George if he HAD been discharged.

Before “the accident” George gloried being in Special Forces, also known as The Green Berets; and he REALLY loved jumping out of airplanes—with a parachute of course. He had transferred over to SF from the regular army as a reservist where he had worked in Operations and Intelligence. Actually, before that he had put in to fly helos, but his 6 feet 3 ½ inches made him too tall to fit into the pilot’s seat. So, with SF looking to build up its reserve component, he applied and was accepted. He made it through jump school at Fort Benning before following-on to NCO School. By 1961 he was a SSgt and a team leader. As such, when they jumped into battle he was the last guy out of the plane.

On the morning of the fateful jump George had a premonition that something bad was going to happen. He remembers telling himself, ‘something ain’t right.” He says it’s always been like that for him. Perhaps his part-Shawnee Indian genetics puts him more in tune with a mystical side that the rest of us just ignore.

He was one of 96 jumpers that morning. They had been alerted for an operation and as far as he knew it was “real world.” The packed chutes were always set up in rows on long tables with the mains on the left and the reserves to the right. He was surprised to see waiting for them immaculate new T-10s with risers still bright yellow and factory fresh. The same was also true with the reserve chutes—all brand spanking new and looking good—except for the very last set—his! The uneasy feeling came roaring back.

He remembers, “Those old things were so used up that the original olive-green canvas had turned a muddy brown.” The reserve handle, normally painted red, was more rust than red.

George recounted the moment, “My buddy, “Hunt” saw me pulling on that faded old T-10 and he said, “My God! Are you going to use that? It looks like a dummy chute. Let me check the packing list.””

He explained that there were times that they would throw a dummy out of the plane over a drop zone to see where it landed, to gage wind conditions and such.

Sgt. Hunt read the packing list and said it looked okay. George continued to shrug off the bad feeling and decided to go through with the jump. He said a man can refuse to go anytime he wants, but that was very rare, especially for Special Forces troops. As they inspected each others rigs they already began to bet each other on which team would get out of the plane first, the right or the left side jumpers of each airplane—whichever “side,” or “stick” of jumpers out last had to buy a round for the other. It seems like a funny thing to bet on, but competition is competition.

From Fort Campbell, Kentucky they took off in three C-123 “Providers” for parts unknown. Once in the air they were told that the mission was cancelled but they would go ahead and jump into landing zone D2, named “Sicily,” at Fort Bragg, North Carolina from 1,250 feet. George had jumped into it several times and knew exactly what to expect. “D2 shapes into a little valley,” he recounts.

Hours into the flight and the men were told to get ready. They stood up and hooked up. The green light came on and the men began to jump in a rush from the plane. George quickly followed the line of men in front of him pulling his static line clipped to a cable running along the left side of the aircraft toward the rear door. With adrenaline surging through him he jumped from the dark cramped noisy airplane into wide-open silent blue. As he left the plane he began counting, “One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four…!”

At four he remembers thinking, ‘Uh oh.”

Part 2 of "The Man Who Fell:" ... "chute malfuncti...

Friday, April 20, 2007

Cho Hseung-hui's Blaze of "Gory"

I was haunted seeing Cho Hseung-hui’s fuming face on the news all day while he read his twisted manifesto into his own video camera, probably during a break in his record breaking killing spree. For a moment it was as if I was looking into my own tortured face more than 35 years ago. Of course I wasn’t the murderous freak that this character was, but I had my own teenage bout with anti-social self-hatred.

I remember many times looking in the bathroom mirror and being so filled with disgust that I felt like hurting myself; and actually, once, during a particularly low time, I exploded in rage and punched myself repeatedly full on the face. Inexplicably, not only did I hate myself but I hated practically everyone else in the world too. I saw the same self-loathing and spitting hatred for the entire world today on the TV in this Korean fella’s face.

It wasn’t just the tortured look on his face; Cho’s tirade against his fellow students also struck a chord. He ranted against their hedonism and wealthy trappings. Eerily, I distinctly recall feeling the same way watching other kids “strutting around” school showing off fancy clothes and cars while dabbling with new romance. I wanted nothing to do with any of that “normal” teenage stuff. To this day I’m not totally sure why I felt that way, but I think part of it was a visceral reaction against materialism and hypocrisy. I can remember feeling pretty strongly about some of that stuff, but perhaps it was more to do with some quirk in my developing personality that took some time to work through.

Even so, I managed to do well in school and even interacted with classmates and teachers; but I shunned parties and never attended a single school dance, not even the prom. I thought, ‘why should I, no one likes me anyway.’ Sound familiar? Cho's vitriol was also similarly laced with whining and self-pity.

I don’t think I was ever in danger of killing anyone or even ending my own life, but for several years I was a very miserable fellow indeed. As best I could, I tried to keep my torment hidden. Only my mother sensed that there might be a problem behind the sullen silence. I can laugh about it now, but several times back then she tried to tell me about “girls” and that they could be “fun.” Man! What awkward moments those were, but God bless her for trying. I think my mom was THE one person I NEVER hated.

Two things saved me and slowly brought me back into the world of “the normal.” The first was knowing that there were people who cared about me (especially my mom), and the second was endorphins.

One evening, I found a torn and faded Playboy Magazine along the railroad tracks while walking home after delivering newspapers in town. After checking out the naked ladies for awhile I read an interview piece with a marathon runner. Back then running wasn’t popular yet, and reading about what this guy put himself through for no real good reason to train for a torturous race that hardly anyone cared about intrigued me. It was then that I decided to try my hand at distance running.

I got up early one morning and gave it a try. Jogging shoes back then were heavy and ill-fitting and within a mile I had two very chafed and bleeding feet, nonetheless I was hooked. I discovered that I could “punish myself” physically and feel “noble” all at the same time. That magazine may well have saved my life, because I ran pretty much everyday from that time on for the next 30 years. In effect, I became addicted to endorphins, our bodies’ natural psychotropics released into the brain during heavy exercise; and whenever I started to get “the bad feeling” I would go out and run away from my demons. It always worked.

“Lost boys,” that’s the only way to describe us, especially Cho, this extra-special Lost Boy. And as I think about it, I’m convinced that in the Middle East it's the “lost boy types" that are especially sought after by Islamists to be strapped with explosives and sent forth to wreak havoc. It would be SO easy to talk a lost boy into ending it all, TOO easy!

To angry young men like I once was, the world seems VERY dark and hopeless; and truthfully, most of it has to do with sex, or the lack of it. Yes, sex! If I would have found a girl, or if one would have taken an interest in me, perhaps I would have felt valued, and probably, I would have been less angry at the world and at myself.

From what I’ve read of the dysfunctional culture that these young Muslim men are recruited from, they too have problems with relationships with women, or more correctly, the lack of any such relationships. Whereas the angst that I and Cho experienced was pretty much self-induced, these suicide/homicide bombers come from a society that forbids boy/girl relationships. I can speak from experience that it’s unnatural; it twists the mind, soul and guts, and ultimately causes hatred to bubble and seethe in the soul. I don’t know; sounds like an Islamist Cho to me.

I’m sure that Cho Hseung-hui’s problems were a heck of a lot more complicated and deep-seated than mine were. From what I’ve read on the Net his grandmother says that even as a boy he was withdrawn and unresponsive. From that, I’m not so sure that this guy was salvageable. From the day he was born it seems that someday something bad was bound to happen.

Still, I wonder how close I might have been to reaching the kind of psychopathic anger that causes young men to go into a killing rage. I think it must be like a slippery slope that once started down there’s no climbing back up from. In my case, I WANTED to end the inner anguish and I actively looked for ways to cope with it.

Cho seemed intent on just the opposite. He WANTED to end his pain all right, but only though dramatic self-immolation, and only AFTER first taking a whole bunch of other people with him. He was actually quite savvy in knowing that if he had died quietly by himself that no one would have taken any notice. I only hope that others don’t catch on and seek their own end in the same kind of “blaze of gory.” With 24-hour news the way it is, I’m afraid that’s exactly what WILL happen.

And finally, I hope that we learn something from this. Cho had been flagged as dangerously mentally ill and yet there was nothing in “the system” to prevent him from buying deadly semi-automatic weapons because of confidentiality laws—even though to all intents and purposes, he was a little WMD just waiting to go off.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

American Idol Thoughts: Only 7 Left

American Idol Thoughts: Only 6 Left
I love American Idol. If I can help it, I never miss a show. Being exactly half way around the world from the U.S. East Coast these last five years I feel a bit disconnected from my country. Watching Idol provides a bit of an umbilical. I know a lot of people consider it silly pop culture, but I don’t care; I’m a fan.

It comes on here delayed by almost a full 24 hours. I watch it here on Wednesday and Thursday nights; Idol is on back home on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. I try to stay away from seeing anything about it on the Internet, but I admit I cheat sometimes, especially when it comes to the second show when the each week’s verdict is announced and another contestant becomes a “fallen idol.”

Tonight’s show started out with less frivolity than normal and properly so due to the Virginia Tech shootings. Ryan Seacrest delivered the opening message with exactly the correct amount of dignity and decorum.

The theme this week is “Country Night” with Martina McBride providing the mentoring chores. Surprisingly, at this point in the contest there are no country singers left in the running. The only “rocker” left us last week with the departure of the “rocker girl,” Gina Glocksen. I wasn’t sorry to see her go. She was due.

Follows is my take on what happened tonight on AI. I’ll be doing this until the final, giving my observations on each week’s show, as well as my predictions for the “bottom 3” and who I think will (or should!) ultimately go home.

1. Phil Stacey: The shaven headed crooner from the U.S. Navy kicked off the show with “Where the Blacktop Ends.” Phil has been one of my favorites from the beginning. He’s an older married fellow and he’s in the military—of course I like him! He’s my sentimental favorite; I hope he wins. He sang his song brilliantly. I’m not surprised; I always thought he would make a natural country singer and he is. I thought he had the second best performance of the night behind Jordin. Unfortunately, due to Simon's constant negative drumbeat against Phil, and probably due also to his marital status as "taken," Phil does not have much of a fanbase. It's unfortunate, but he may well leave us tomorrow--darn it!

Randy on Phil: “Dog, that was hot. If you want it, you can have a career in country!” Randy is right on the mark with this observation. I would buy Phil’s country albums.

Paula: She loved Phil’s performance; not surprising. Normally, the Idols really have to screw up for her to say otherwise.

Simon: “Finally! It took 10 weeks for you to make the perfect song choice… but I don’t know if it’s going to be enough to save you.” Phil was shocked that Simon at long last had something good to say about his singing. I don’t know why, but it seems that Simon has been overly tough on Phil the last two months. I hope this positive Cowell attitude toward MY “sentimental favorite” continues.

2. Jordin Sparks: This 17 year old is a big beautiful girl with a gigantic voice. Her country song choice was “A Broken Wing,” one of mentor McBride’s hits. It’s taken me awhile to warm up to this girl, but after tonight I think I’m a fan. I admit that I’ve been unfairly holding her age against her and I’m ashamed to say that because her daddy was an NFL athlete I figured she is just some spoiled rich kid. Well, maybe she is, but the girl can SING! Her big high vibrato range ripped that very tough song a new one and put it in its place. She nailed it. The girl goes after the highest toughest notes almost effortlessly, all the while I keep waiting for her to lose it way up there, but she never does. She’s an amazing performer, probably THE most talented Idol.

Randy on Jordan: “That was the BOMB!”

Paula: “Fantastic job. I loved how you built the song.”

Simon: “This is the first time after THAT performance that I believe YOU can win American Idol.”

3. Sanjaya Malakar: Every week this big-brown-eyed kid seeks to give us a new coif to marvel at, perhaps to take our attention away from his singing. He did it again tonight with some kind of Aunt Jemima looking thing consisting of unkempt curly hair pulled back behind a colorful bandana—not a good look for him, but who knows, maybe his multitude of little girl fans will love it. Last week he did Latin and did it pretty well. This week he did country and fell flat on his face. I like this kid and I always root for him to do well, but he really failed this time. He attempted to sing “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About,” which Martina McBride declared before his performance was the “perfect” song choice for him. Uh uh! Turns out she was dead wrong. Part of the problem is he had to follow fellow teen Idol Jordin who blew the doors off her song and left poor Sanjaya sounding even more average than he truly is. His voice, as usual, did not project, maybe even less than normal, and many of his notes fell flat. Actually, it sounded to me like he has damaged his vocal cords, kind of hoarse. Maybe he’s pushing himself too much trying to reach unattainable self-expectations. He needs to understand that his appeal is to the pre-teen teenyboppers and go with it. He will make a small fortune if he goes for that angle and I hope he does. He seems like a good guy. Actually, his best moment tonight was during the pre-singing tête-à-tête with Ryan when he answered that he’d like to see Simon sing a happy song because it would show off his true colors.

Randy on Sanjaya: “…keeping it real… that was just karaoke and bland for me dude.” Randy nailed it. Even I can sing as well as SanJaya, but I don’t have his puppy dog good looks—dang it.

Paula: Trying not to be mean she said, “Well, you certainly love adversity. You are just having a good time with it aren’t you?” Sanjaya managed to keep his teeth on display in a pseudo smile, but he was forcing it. He KNOWS he did poorly tonight.

Simon: Reverting to nasty cruelty, he really gave it to Sanjaya tonight. His first words: “…utterly horrendous!” Ryan Seacrest tried to run a little interference accusing Simon of NEVER liking SanJaya. It got personal at that point causing Simon to angrily demand, “Who RATTLED your cage? This was all funny for awhile, but that was hideous! …and I LIKED him last week BIG MOUTH,” all that directed at Ryan. Randy played peacemaker at this point interjecting to SanJaya, “Dude, I liked the hairstyle…” Poor SanJaya for once without even a hint of a smile, managing only a hurt disappointed look, had nothing to say.

4. Lakisha Jones: This woman USED to be my sentimental favorite UNTIL she started to show a little too much willfulness and lack of humility for my tastes. A couple weeks ago when she blew off Tony Bennett’s advice to lose an unnecessary “tag” at the end of a song THAT’S when I lost all interest in this fellow Michigander. Tonight she tried to sing “Jesus Take the Wheel,” and most certainly did NOT pull it off. First of all, it was a bit much when she tried to pander for “sympathy votes” by going on about her status as a struggling single mom. She did okay during the preamble of the song, but when she went into the all important “Jesus take the wheel” part she pushed it WAY too much. It came out screechy and overdone. And I don’t know if she’s trying to lose some weight, but if I were her I would get on that. Looks count in this competition, although I will say that her makeup made her look the most attractive she ever has—good job on that. After Jordin, Lakisha is THE best pure natural singer, but in a vote, because of her chub, Jordin would kick her butt.

Randy on Lakisha: “…pitch problems… you should have gone back to your roots and made the song more “gospelly.”

Paula: She agreed with Randy and said it came out like she was shouting, but in her Paula style she declared sweetly, “So what, you’re STILL brilliant!”

Simon: Always searching for the perfect metaphor he came up with this: “It was like eating a hamburger for breakfast, the song choice just didn’t work for you… and you shouted at us…it didn’t sound natural… wrong song choice.”

5. Chris Richardson: This boyband-singer-wannabe used to be one of my favorites, but no more. Gradually I’ve lost interest in him, mostly due to his limited singing ability. He chose to sing Rascal Flatt’s, “Mayberry.” It should have been the perfect choice for him since both he and Rascal have the same sort of nasally singing voice, but it didn’t work. Because he does sing through his nose there is no projection. He started out okay, but by the end of the song he was making flat notes and losing his connection with the song. It was less than a great performance and by the look on his face he knew it.

Randy on Chris: “…nasally…pitch problems…”

Paula: “…no joy, or love for what you were doing on the stage…”

Simon: “…nondescript, nasally, tinny. Insignificant.” At that Chris attempted to argue his side by telling Simon, “You realize that nasally is a singing style don’t you?” Simon rejoined just as Chris strategically cut him off, “…so (Chris), you’re telling us that you are singing that way on purpose?” Chris had already changed the subject to the Virginia Tech murders telling the camera and Seacrest that he had friends there and to "stay strong." During that Simon had his head down and shook it in apparent disgust. Obviously, either Simon does not think much of nasally singing, or he was upset that Chris might be using the tragedy at VA Tech to go for votes. Either way, Simon has got a point.

6. Melinda Doolittle: She’s the only truly—or at least self-declared—professional singer in the group. (According to my brother, in reality, ALL these idols are in truth “professionals.” He’s probably got a point.) Until tonight, I never thought of her as sexy or all that attractive, but not anymore! She had her hair in a new style that REALLY became her and got me liking what I saw. Even her attitude was different tonight. Normally she affects this not-entirely-believable humble doe-eyed facade that said “I’m just a nice girl without a mean bone in my body—please like me.” I was getting a little tired of that and she must have sensed others are feeling the same, because she turned all of that off tonight and came out as a sexy diva. Her country song was “Trouble is a Woman,” a tune that I’ve never heard before. She didn't perform it all that "country-like;' instead she made it her own adding a little urban flavor, and I can’t say this enough, it was sexy! Wow! Go Melinda! I think with this performance she surpassed Lakisha and has established herself as the second best singer behind Jordin.

Randy on Melinda: “Solid performance!”

Paula: “…picked the right song…”

Simon: It amazes me sometimes the way Simon and I think the same and this came through tonight when he asked Melinda right off the bat, “Please don’t be surprised by what I say...” He was hinting that her shocked look when people praised her singing was getting tiresome. Simon indeed praised her, as usual, “…Fantastic! …and I think I detected a bit of a Tina Turner attitude there… and for now on lose the shocked look when we tell you that you can actually sing.”

7. Blake Lewis: Just as with Chris, I’m afraid I’m losing interest in Blake as well. He’s an okay singer and certainly has his own “thing” going on, but he’s not that good. He’s better than Chris, but his range is limited although he is a very good performer. I put him just ahead of Chris and behind Lakisha. Tonight, he sang Tim McGraw’s “When the Stars Go Blue.” For me it was not a good choice. It was uninspiring and there were way too many notes that fell flat. For some reason or other the judges like him and they always seem to support him no matter how average his performance.

Randy on Blake: “…picked the right song… It was nice.”

Paula: “…as usual, you have the whole package…”

Simon: “It was not a performance that I’m jumping out of my chair over. It was just okay.” At this point Simon made his own sorrowful acknowledgment of the Virginia Tech tragedy and kind of used it to excuse whatever poor performances might have occurred tonight by the Idols, “…I know I speak for my fellow judges when I say that our thoughts and best wishes go out to the victims and families…” To the Idols he said, “I know its been a bit of a tricky week for you guys…” I thought it was classy for him to slip that in. Well done Cowell.

PhilippinePhil’s order of merit for tonight:

1. Jordin

2. Phil

3. Melinda

4. Blake

5. Chris

6. Lakisha

7. Sanjaya

Notice that none of my top singers were in the bottom 3!

My bottom 3 picks for tomorrow:

1. Chris (I know what he was talking about now when he argued with Simon about nasally being a singing style. He was actually trying to mimic the style of Rascal Flatt. And when I think about it, he's right; many country singers use the "nasal" style. Simon owes him an apology).

2. Phil (Only because he has not built the fan base he needs to continue). (Yay! I think when Randy declared him a country singer THAT caused him to pick up the country votes. NOW they have THEIR favorite and Phil has his voter base!)

3. Sanjaya (I called this one right. Not exactly rocket science!)

My bottom 2 for tomorrow: (I got these ALL wrong!)

1. Phil

2. Chris

Going home tomorrow will be:

Chris (If there's any justice it SHOULD be either Chris or Sanjaya!) (As I said, I like Sanjaya; but it was "time for you to go grasshopper." And So, he is... This week's fallen idol).

After tonight’s performance, I predict that the final 2 will be:

1. Jordin

2. Melinda

The American Idol will be: