The Eiffel Tower Part 2: The Jumper
So, imagine this: You’re in Paris. One of the most beautiful, romantic places in the world. You go and see the Eiffel Tower as tourists do, when suddenly, you’re struck with a panic. It has somehow escaped you until this moment that you’re way too high up on the Tower that you’re afraid of heights. Desperately, horribly, unreasonably afraid of heights. You can’t stop imagining all sorts of horrible things. You can feel the Tower collapsing under your feet. The rush of air surging against your face as you fall faster and faster. You can hear the screaming of old the old lady next to you and the wet rumbling of her bowels giving way as she craps in her granny panties.
This would be a good time to mention that you’re reasonably drunk. The old lady next to you gives you a look like she KNOWS you just thought about her pooping herself. And then she turns and walks across the platform and hurriedly joins a group of onlookers intently staring at something just above the platform. And then just as it strikes you that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, on the platform is staring up at that specific point and not down at the view that they just paid and climbed a thousand steps to see, a human body plummets off the side of the Tower.
I can’t describe how it felt to watch someone commit suicide, other than the fact that I didn’t realize how absolutely gutting it would be to see. I felt as if the breath had been knocked out of me. I had the briefest flash of an urge to try and catch them, my body lurching forward a step before stopping. But it wasn’t just the futility of the moment that stopped me, it was also the applause of the crowd that had gathered on the section of the platform closest to where the person had jumped from.
I can’t tell you just how surreal or startling this clapping struck me. How macabre and violent is felt. I mean, normally, I think clapping when someone dies would be a good idea. Like, if they’re old and on their deathbed, if they’ve lived a long life full of accomplishments and regrets, then as their last breath leaves their body, I think it would be totally appropriate for someone in the back of the room to get a good slow clap rolling for them. Maybe throw some roses at their feet as it reaches its fever pitch. If all the world’s a stage and all the people merely players, why shouldn’t there be a lauding ovation at the end?
But this wasn’t the same. They weren’t clapping because they appreciated the person’s life. In fact, now that I had collected myself, I noticed that they weren’t clapping for the end of a life at all! Apparently, instead of falling straight down as God and gravity intended, they were falling away from the Eiffel Tower at about a 45 degree angle, and landing safely a mile and a half away at the foot of the Mur pour la Paix.
“Mother f*ker!” I exclaimed to no one in particular when I realized I had been so needlessly devastated. I mean, there was no way for me to be able to predict that people would be jumping off this thing for any OTHER reason than to commit suicide, and what sort of dumb a**hole would willingly jump off of something so high, anyways!?
“You dumb a**hole,” I yelled at the jumper, though it was very improbable that they heard me. And then my photographer instincts kicked in and I got into position to photograph the next jumper, dumb a**hole though they may be.
I shot a number of photos. A thought came to mind that it would make a much better story if I zip-lined off myself. It was just too bad that I had all my luggage on me. And a bunch of vintage camera gear. And that I was pooping myself in fear. I decided that it was about time I made my way off the Tower. Though, unlike the jumpers, I was going to take the stairs.
I was just as rubber-legged with fear on my way down, although now I was somewhat inebriated. And it was probably because of this last little tidbit that the singing began. It started quietly at first, a way to soothe my fears, but it became progressively louder and more hysteric the longer it went on. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been an actual song, but this was a song I was just making up as I carefully make my way down the stairs.
It went to the tune of, “The Girl from Impanema,” by Stan Getz and Antonio Carlos Jobim, which you would probably recognize as that sort of generic music you hear anytime there’s an awkward silence in an elevator. I wrote down the lyrics of my impromptu song as soon as I got to the ground and they went like this:
Don’t look down
We’re almost there
The Tower’s fine
And won’t collapse
Right under your feet
And send everyone
Falling to their
Going to happen
So just relax
You’re much more likely
To trip and
Breaking your neck
Or having a panic attack
You could just stop breathing
For no reason
Oh, God there’s a lot of kids
They’re all going to die on this Tower!
And it was right about then that a troupe of what looked like Girl Scouts walked past me heading up to the platform, each one giving the singing crazy guy a judgmental look.
When I finally got back down to the ground, I wrote in my journal that I was never, EVER going back up there again. I also wrote, “That place would be covered in barf if people knew what was best for them.”
But even though I was off the tower, I still felt a lingering shadow of panic. Despite my feet being planted firmly on the ground, I could still sense the same horrible height and sheer emptiness underneath me, as if at any moment, I might fall into the center of the Earth and be lost forever.
And somewhere in my subconscious, I knew that I was going to have to break that promise of never going on the Tower again if I was going to make it go away.
Continued in Part 3