|LIFE AS A LOSER #32: "FALLING OFF THE LEDGE."|
|By Will Leitch|
Don’t know if you’ve ever hung off the balcony of a Santa Monica apartment, teetering dangerously close to crashing to your death onto the deck of a restaurant owned by an enormously popular if English-challenged Austrian movie star, but let me tell you, kids, it ain’t fun.
When I left college a few years ago, I accepted a job with U. The National College Magazine, which the college student among you might recognize as that completely useless insert you used to get in your college newspapers. U. had a really cool setup for graduating seniors, one I was infinitely fortunate to benefit from. College journalists would apply for one of their fellowship jobs, and if they got it - which, for some reason, I did - they would be flown out to Los Angeles, given a Santa Monica apartment and have one more year to hold off the adult world by taking a job with flexible-enough rules that allowed you to play Uno with your boss at 4 p.m. every day without anybody seeming to notice.
They set me up with that sweet apartment, where I lived with my two co-workers, Marisa from Florida and Lynda from Michigan. Initially, I had expected to stay there only for a month or two, until the fiancee arrived and we found our own place, full of bliss and domestic tranquility. Obviously, it didn’t turn out that way.
One night, about a week after the ex-fiancee announced she was going to leave me and a week before she did, Lynda, her annoying boyfriend Billy, the ex-fiancee and I decided to have one of those patented “sit out on the porch and get obnoxiously drunk” nights that I later, after the ex-fiancee left, mastered on my own, thanks very much. Our building was owned by, of all people, Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose restaurant, Schatzi’s, was overlooked by our balcony. This was Ah-nuld’s personal place, a cigar bar and wine palace that was more intimate, less cheesy and definitely more expensive than Planet Hollywood.
Also below us was our parking garage, which had one of those brick drawbridge entrances that reached over to the balcony, about 15 feet below. An awning covering Schatzi’s saved the filthy-rich Republicans Arnold had over for cigar night from having to look at us undesirables above.
This drunken night, the reality of the ex-fiancee leaving was beginning to seep in, which meant I made a couple more trips to the liquor store, conveniently located across the street, than I ordinarily would (say eight, rather than six). The four of us sat and drank and gabbed and gossiped and pretended nothing was wrong - Lynda had been one of my closest confidants during this period - which became increasingly difficult to do as the wine and Rolling Rock continued to flow.
Lynda and the ex-fiancee had become friends in the short month we’d been out in L.A., and even though Lynda’s loyalty was to me, she knew what the ex-fiancee was going through. Lynda understood that the ex-fiancee was wracked with guilt because she was destroying a man who loved her, but still unable to be anything but be true to herself and her need to figure out what the hell she was doing with her life. (At least, I certainly hope she had a little guilt.)
So Lynda and the ex-fiancee decided to make another trip to the liquor store, and I was stuck out on the balcony with Billy, an obnoxious frat guy who, to me anyway, always seemed a little bit unbalanced, but look who’s talking. Billy glanced out over the awning, pointed to the foot-wide brick overhang 15 feet below and began to ludicrously boast.
“You know, back in my college days, when I was drunk like this, I would have jumped down on that awning and walked across that thing,” Billy said.
Billy had graduated four months earlier, so, obviously, his perspective was not to be underestimated.
He continued: “I’m grown-up now, too smart to do it, but it sure would have been fun in college.”
Now, readers, I’m 24 years old now and have grown to the maturity level of at least a 15-year-old, so today I would just scoff at such a stupid comment and make a note to trash him in a future writing. But at the time, after all the alcohol, something he said struck a chord with me.
Consider the situation: There I am, a whimpering simp, watching as the love of my life just leaves me, and I’m putting up little more than a pathetic gasp of protest. I’m spineless, helpless, sad, a schmuck, one of the losers. I’ve never done anything risky in my life, never chucked everything to move to the wilderness, never done something stupid just because it made me feel alive. If I were more of a risk-taker, less of a fuddy-duddy, maybe the ex-fiancee wouldn’t be leaving, maybe she’d respect me more, maybe she’d realize she was supposed to be with me, after all.
My state of mind was such that a moron like Billy was starting to make sense to me, and, truth be told, it was all I could do not to start crying, fall to my knees, grasp Billy’s leg and start calling him “Mommy.”
“You know,” I choked off, “I bet I could do it. Why not? What do I have to lose. You know, fuck it.”
I climbed up on the rail surrounding the balcony, turned myself around and started to move down the 15-foot-wall, hanging on to the rail until I was ready to let go. I then made the mistake that so many movie protagonists had made before me: I looked down.
The realization hit quickly. The fall was much farther than my Boone’s goggles had anticipated, and there was a very good chance that if I let go, I would plummet to a ridiculously ignominious death. The awning was ... well, it was cloth and it wasn’t attached to anything resembling steel that would hold me up. The idea that I could fall on the awning and then walk to the brick overhang was ludicrous; it was much more likely that I’d go through the awning, crashing into the restaurant - which, mercifully, was closed - and smashing tables and glass and, if I were fortunate, breaking only my back.
Hanging there by my fingertips, I looked up at Billy, who was even more stunned than usual. He glanced down at me, aghast, and said, “What the fuck are you doing?” You know you’ve hit rock bottom when someone like Billy asks you that question and you have nothing even resembling a coherent answer.
At this point, Lynda and the ex-fiancee had gotten back, and Billy quickly filled them in on my predicament. The ex-fiancee began to cry and tried to give me her hand and pull me up. It wasn’t happening. My fingers were beginning to slip, and it was only a matter of time before I went down.
A matter of seconds, actually. Looking the ex-fiancee in the eye, I yelped as my last bit of grip loosened, and down I went.
I’d like to say my life flashed before my eyes, but I think I was too busy dealing with the heart attack to have time for much introspection. I hit the awning with what would have been a thud had there been something solid enough for me to thud on, and, somehow, it didn’t give. It certainly drooped, and I even heard some pretty haunting ripping sounds, but it held. For now.
Now that my life had been spared, I was faced with a different problem. I had no idea how to get up. Having never been on the track-and-field team in high school, I couldn’t exactly execute a standing 15-foot jump back to the balcony, and the drop to the concrete below was about twice that. So I stood there “ waiting for the awning to say enough already and send me through it “ and tried to figure out what to do.
Then the security guy came by. He echoed Billy’s previous query about what the fuck was I doing, and I profusely apologized, saying I had too much to drink and was an idiot, which was hardly news to him. He took mercy on me, though, and rather than calling the cops or just shooting me, he stepped back, lit a cigarette, offered up a bemused smile and watched to see how this imbecile was going to get himself out of this mess. There wasn’t anything much more interesting for a security guy to do at 2:30 in the morning, I guess.
I heard another rip. It was time to move, and quickly. I contemplated making the jump to the street, but, having somehow avoided serious injury so far, I thought I’d see if I could continue that streak as long as possible. Lynda, still shocked that her trip to the liquor store had put her stupid roommate close to killing himself, ran to her room and pulled the sheet off her bed. She then rolled it up and tossed it to me.
I was in no position to argue. Lynda and Billy held on to the sheet while the ex-fiancee was drooling in the corner, calculating when she could leave all this insanity. I took the sheet and yanked, putting my feet on the balcony and doing my best Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger impression. It took about five minutes - and two tries - but, at last, I grabbed a hold of the rail and Billy and Lynda pulled me up and over. I then sprinted inside and jumped under the covers.
The ex-fiancee left a week later. I’ve only seen her once since then and only talked to her a couple of times. She didn’t bring up the incident. God bless her.
It is an awful thing, being hurt, especially when the one causing the hurt is someone you trusted, someone who never meant to hurt you in the first place. It’s the type of suffering that’ll have you hanging off a balcony, piss-drunk, trying to explain to a security guard what, exactly, you were doing.
Well, OK. Maybe not you.