Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Best of Citizen Nothing: Stuck at Niagara

As I watched water hurtle over Horseshoe Falls, I felt the undeniable urge to join the Niagara River and plunge to the rocks below.
I have no death wish, being far too narcissistic to think my demise will be anything but tragic for all involved, especially me.
But whenever I find myself on the brink of a cliff or the rim of a waterfall, a small voice always urges me to jump, making my stomach feel as if I had.
The urge is not unusual; many of my colleagues admit to hearing gravity's siren song whenever they stand atop a high place.
The impulse might be a tool of natural selection. Those too weak to resist will not pass on their gravity-defying gene.
Colorado or Arizona residents, gazing upon the Rocky Mountains or the Grand Canyon each day, must become inured to the urge. But the impulse must always be a surprise to central Ohio denizens, where the grandest natural features are no more than 35 feet high or 4 feet deep.
At Niagara, I knew my sons, ages 8 and 11, were old enough and strong enough to resist temptation. But I still experienced that top-of-the-roller-coaster sensation as they leaned far over the railing.
I fought another, even stronger, urge to pull them back from the brink, throw them on the ground, cover them with my body and hold them there until they turned 21.
Joe and Mike were fascinated with tales of daredevils going over the falls in barrels. And, fortunately, waiting in the motel room was a surrogate daredevil -- Sticky.
Joe befriended Sticky -- a 3-foot-long, 1-inch-square piece of pressure-treated lumber -- earlier in the week on the beach in Monroe, Mich.
My boys each fall into one of the two classic primate types: pounders and flingers.
Mike, the younger, is a classic flinger. He spent his beach time whirling along the sand like a waterspout, skipping rocks and throwing shells. If he had had a tail, he would have flown into the air like a kite.
Joe is a classic pounder. He was fascinated by the problem posed by a mysterious piece of plastic pipe sticking out of the ground. He sought out Sticky from the beach detritus, and boy and stick bonded as they persistently pounded and pried at the pipe.
I wasn't surprised when Joe insisted that his new friend accompany us on our travels. The boy can be as emotional as his old man, who occasionally finds sentimental value in stained T-shirts, unusual coffee stirrers or chewed pencils.
So, while Sticky was sort of a joke, he also became a full-fledged traveling companion, riding along in the car, listening as we read Harry Potter, joining us in our motel rooms, marveling with us at the strangeness of Canadian money and usually voting with Joe when the family chose a restaurant or sightseeing stop.
Mike, naturally, became irritated with the newcomer, and soon it became obvious, even to Joe, that Sticky was wearing out his welcome and his novelty.
I think the idea of sending Sticky over the falls, in an honorable sort of Viking/ Canuck funeral, struck the entire family at once. As we stood on the brink and felt the tug from the bottom, I looked from my wife, to Joe, to Mike, and as one the family shouted, "Sticky!"
Our plan was to take Sticky from our motel down the Incline Railway and nonchalantly sidle over to Table Rock. There we'd say a brief adieu, slide Sticky through the railing and throw him to immortality before anyone could say, "What are you people doing with that log?"
Alas, the affection between boy and stick was still too strong, and Joe conveniently forgot Sticky in the room when we left for the falls again that evening.
The oversight was probably for the best. The next morning, as we rode the Spanish Aero Car over the Niagara River whirlpool, we saw the great mass of debris that had poured over the falls the previous evening.
Had Sticky gone over, we probably would have seen his thin body floating 100 feet below us and laughed and cried ourselves to death.
Sticky accompanied us home. The plan now is to send him rafting down the Little Darby like Huck Finn down the Mississippi -- an end less dramatic, true, but also less stomach-churning to us flatlanders.

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