Tuesday, February 24, 2009
(part 145) STILL ALIVE
Continental Hyatt House
The street erupted below, as I clung motionless to the bottom of the steel frame. I did not fight the situation by moving unnecessarily, for fear of breaking the awning frame loose from the soft stucco wall, and sending me to my death.
I focused like a laser on what I was doing, knowing full well I had a single opportunity to succeed. Gathering all of my strength, I pulled myself up as far as I could, and hooked my right arm over the the bottom part of the framework at my arm pit.
From this position, I was able to leverage the rest of my body up into the waiting erector-set of steel. I continued eyeing the fasteners, securing the framework to the wall, hoping they would hold just a little longer, while I pulled my body to safety.
The roof of the structure that held the framework I was on, was two to three feet above me now, and I cautiously moved toward it, until my hands reached the top edge. With my heart pounding, I slid on my belly onto the rooftop and safety.
I looked back over the side, and could see the TV cameraman inside the window below, still pointing his camera at me. With one last wave, I disappeared from his view.
Twelve stories down, the crowd was going crazy, wildly cheering my acrobatic antics, and showing their complete appreciation. Relieved I was still alive, I stood up and raised my arms in the air, as a salute to my conquest, and acknowledgment to those below.
I then sat down and laid back on the roof, exhausted, wondering how many more times I would put myself into these insane positions, and for what? I knew if I continued to test the limits, at some point I would end up dead or seriously maimed as a result.
I quickly brushed off the thought and pulled myself back up into a standing position. The pain in my feet and ankle seared through my consciousness, and I knew I couldn't continue this for much longer. I moved to the edge of the roof I was now on, and looked down on the patio and pool area.
It was crammed full of police and fire rescue workers, rushing around looking confused and unsure of where I was at that point. They'd obviously heard the crowd yelling down below in the street, but didn't known why. They had not seen me hanging on the steel frame from where they were.
Smiling, as I now made myself visible to them, I yelled out cheerfully, "How's everybody doin' down there?" Responding to the sound of my voice, most of them shook their heads in disgust, looking at me like I was completely fucking nuts.
With the incident on the Tower still fresh in my mind, I decided I had to be able to get off this building alive, and without doing any further damage to myself.
I'd made my point, whatever it was, and now turned my attention towards devising a plan to gracefully and successfully ending the current crisis.
Where I was standing was only ten or twelve feet above the authorities, gathered below in the pool area. I knew could jump down to where they were without any real damage being done to myself.
I figured that jumping down to their location would give them an opportunity to get their hands on me, and would also appear to onlookers, as if I'd been caught by them, thereby putting an end to the incident, which was now my single goal.
As I continued debating with myself over the way I would end the day's craziness, I drifted back to an earlier time when life still held the bright promise of things to come.
* * *
In 1958, in St. Johns, Arizona, my brother Bill and I were getting ready to go on stage at the high school assembly, and sing to the entire student body for the first time. We were still new to the town, and were basically unknown by anyone there.
Coming from Tucson, we'd found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the white Mormons on one side, and the Indians and Mexicans on the other. There was a deep racial line dividing this place, and Bill and I were standing on it.
As I heard our names being announced to the crowd, I wondered how in the hell I'd gotten us into this mess. We stepped from behind the curtain of the auditorium's stage and up to a microphone.
I looked out on the hostile faces staring up at us, as Bill started playing his guitar. He'd launched into the chords of Little Richard's "Jenny, Jenny, Jenny," which was one of our best songs.
My terror quickly dissipated, as the sound of my own voice came booming out through the school's PA system. I looked out at the now totally surprised and approving faces of the whole student body moving in their seats to the pounding rhythm of Jenny, Jenny, Jenny.
At that moment I knew exactly who I was and what i was supposed to do, and my heart was filled with joy and the power of music. An hour later, Bill and I had become overnight sensations in the little northern Arizona town of St. Johns.
* * *
I smiled to myself, as the thoughts of the high school assembly, so many years before, faded into the electricity of the day, and the current situation. I stood on the edge of the roof sizing up the distance, and then jumped into the waiting crowd of police.
What I didn't know, as the crowd of law enforcement surrounded me, was how fed up the West Hollywood Sheriff's Department had become with my antics and the drain on their resources and time.
Rather than ending the day's giant public happening positively, and without injury, I was being arrested, handcuffed, and transported to Camarillo State Hospital.
I soon found myself in the grip of an angry group of cops, who were determined to have me, not only locked up, but put away, and this would prove to be one of the most frightening experiences I'd yet to encounter.