Last winter I survived my first parachute jump, no thanks to me. Afterward, when the cashier at Skydiving Adventures in Hemet, Calif., handed me a certificate, she said, "Everybody gets one." The document proclaimed: "I set aside man's traditional fears to experience a new dimension in life." A more truthful assertion would be: "I collapsed like a house of cards to peer pressure to experience abject terror and humiliation."
Though accustomed to living somewhat dangerously—if famished, I do not bother rinsing grocery-store produce; when driving on vacant highways, I sometimes forgo the use of turn signals—I have never harbored the least desire to skydive. Right up until the day before I stepped gingerly onto the itty-bitty platform welded to the Cessna's right wing, marshaling every iota of self-control to keep from screaming, "Mommy!" I had no intention of ever jumping out of a plane.
I was in California, enjoying a pleasant dinner with my brother-in-law, Greg Noyes, a shaggy, 28-year-old free-lance cameraman from Manhattan Beach. I was springing for the meal, so Greg had invited along his apartment-mate, Don Levine, who shares Greg's disinclination for refusing free food. Sometime after Don had asked me if he could order a "couple desserts," I asked Greg and Don what was on the next day's agenda. I was thinking in terms of sunscreen and sand.
"We've got something in mind a little less passive," said Greg.
"A bit more exciting," added Don.
"That must be the kind of snappy one-two dialogue that makes you guys the most eligible bachelors in Manhattan Beach," I said. These two couldn't pick up girls with tranquilizer darts and a forklift, and all three of us knew it. "Mind telling me what you're talking about?"
"We're going skydiving," said Greg. "You're perfectly welcome to join us."
Having determined that they were serious, I told them, "Thanks but no thanks." I blustered something about it being a bad idea to "tempt fate."
But the words rang false. If I was that concerned about tempting fate, I wouldn't live in New York City, where I've survived three mugging attempts and—more harrowing—six sessions of Opera in the Park.
"You could always come along and just watch," Greg suggested. "No one would have to know you wussed out of the adventure of a lifetime." It was his way of promising to phone all of our friends and tell them just that, the instant he touched down.