Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Drunk and close to death

This happened earlier this summer but I decided to post it here anyway, because... surprise, I'm bored.

This past July I was living in Alaska and selling fur coats to tourists. Ed (my business partner) and I had spent a good portion of the evening celebrating our new apartment with libations (we had just left a living situation which was less than ideal). The night progressed as nights like that are wont to do, and after Ed turned in for the night, I decided to go outside for a final cigarette. I wasn't planning on being out there for very long, so even though it was raining and kind of chilly, I was dressed in just a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. After I finished my cigarette, I naturally wanted to go back inside. This being the case, I tried to open the door, only to realize that it had locked automatically after shutting (this apartment had one main entrance to a hallway which opened upon several individual apartments). Since I was a brand new tenant, I of course didn't have my key with me... so there I was, barefoot, in the rain, wearing naught but the bare necessities, locked out and getting cold. I spent about 10 minutes yelling at the top of my lungs, hoping to wake up my partner, but probably succeeded only in waking up half of the block instead.

After looking around and exploring for a bit, trying to figure what to do, I noticed that on the side of a building which was situated right next to my apartment there was a scaffold which went all the way up to the roof. So, I did what any judgment impaired person would do... I decided to climb it to see if it was in any way possible to hop from one rooftop to the other. I could see my kitchen window glowing enticingly from the ground, and I judged that if I could get onto the roof of my apartment building then I would be able to walk right over to the window, open it, and climb inside (the kitchen window was almost perfectly level with the roof, occupying as it was another part of the building which stood a little higher than the surrounding rooftop).

I had been standing outside for about half an hour; I was damp, cold, somewhat inebriated, and everything I touched was wet and slippery. I spent a few more minutes thinking it over and, seeing no other recourse, proceeded to climb the scaffold. When I was about halfway up, several things became apparent to me which weren't obvious from the ground: first, I realized that I was going to have to scale quite a bit more rooftop than I had originally thought in order to get on an even level with my own apartment building. Secondly, the roof of my apartment was several feet lower than the roof of the building which I was climbing, so there would be no easy place to stand from which to jump from one roof to the other (yes, I was seriously planning on jumping from rooftop to rooftop). Finally, the roof I had to climb, which was made of widely corrugated sheet metal, was slanted at about a 45 degree angle... much steeper than I had originally thought. And to top it off, it was installed so that it was corrugated vertically, so there were no easy places to hold on to. There was nothing for it however, so once I reached the top of the scaffolding, I situated myself along a line of bolts which held the roof in place and proceeded to crawl up, very slowly, using those bolts as hand and footholds. About halfway up I was level with the roof of my apartment building, but I saw no easy or readily apparent way to cross. So, I continued on to the top, hoping that I might still be able to jump from there. Boy was I surprised when, upon reaching the apex, the roof didn't continue down the other side in a similar manner, but instead abruptly ended. I peered over the edge and was presented with a 15 foot drop down to another slanted area of rooftop. I couldn't do anything there, so I slowly crawled backwards until I was level with the roof of my apartment building again.

My situation was this: I was about 40 feet up, lying on my stomach at a 45 degree angle, and holding onto a few nuts and bolts. To my immediate left was the flat, wide roof of my apartment building, with about a 4 foot gap separating the two roofs. If I had been wearing shoes, and if it weren't raining, and if it had been daytime, and if I'd been sober, I probably could have balanced on that angle and made the jump. However, being somewhat impaired and standing on a slick, steeply angled piece of wet sheet metal about 40 feet in the air, cold, barefoot and shivering, I was pretty unsteady. I stood up anyway, very slowly, bracing one foot on some of the bolts sticking out of the roof and contemplated my chances. I looked down and imagined myself falling that long, dark drop, bouncing off of the dumpster in the alley below and coming to rest as a broken bag of bones. That's when I realized how shnockered I was, and I backed away from that drop in a small panic. A little to quickly... my foot slipped. I landed face down on the roof and slid backwards, grasping at the short stubs of the bolts. I managed to stop myself when my feet hit the edge of the scaffolding which, luckily, protruded up several inches past the edge of the roof.

My heart was beating pretty rapidly by then, and I just lay there and rested for a while. I could see my kitchen window from where I was perched; so close but still impossible to get to. I yelled again for about ten minutes, hoping once more that Ed would hear, wake up, and go to the window. I had no such luck; he was three sheets to the wind and ensconced in a deep slumber. So, after I recovered from my state of petrification, I climbed down. It took me about three times as long to get down that scaffold as it did to climb up, mainly because I couldn't see where I was putting my feet. I did finally manage to get down to the ground, and when I did, I was so glad to be off of that roof that it didn't suck quite as bad having to wait until morning for Ed to wake up and open the door...

...and although an embarrassing story, it serves in retrospect (safely and with a liberal dash of morbid humor) as a reminder as to how profoundly stupid I've been (and still could be) when drinking.

That wasn't really a 'near death' experience, but I came pretty close to trying that jump, which almost certainly would have resulted in my death.

Now, HERE is a bona-fide near death experience.

The closest I've ever come to actual, undeniable death is about one second away. Back in 1992, I was driving my old beat up car on the local back roads. There are railroad tracks out in those boon docks that cross the oil roads and there are no signals or lights or anything. It's up to the driver to be observant for coming trains. Well, one night I wasn't being observant and I was driving really slowly on the back roads, nursing a quart of beer (oh yeah, I was also depressed about this chick who I was in love with whom I had just found out was getting married) and I crossed one of these railroad tracks. I wasn't paying any attention - you know, basically consumed with misery and drinking my beer, driving really slow, with the radio up really loud, and the dense vegetation apparently blocked the approaching headlight. So, I cross this track and it was just about one entire second after I had cleared them that a train went roaring by behind me. Scared the ever-loving shit out of me, I can tell you that.

I can just read the headlines if I'd have gotten scrubbed by that train... "Local man commits suicide over unrequited love." LOL.

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