Thursday, December 02, 2004

Fear of Heights

Ok, I admit it. I'm afraid of heights. It doesn't strike all of the time. For example, when I'm rock climbing, I rarely think about it. Now that I think about it, the burning pain in my arms and legs as I try to force my pathetically out of shape body up the side of a wall probably goes a long way towards freeing my mind.

Over the years, I've tried to conquer my fear by facing it directly. I'd volunteer to fix my parents roof, or I'd go to the Empire State Building and force myself to look down. Sometimes I was successful, and others would leave me paralyzed with fear and wondering how I was going to extract myself from my situation. What may have appeared to be my quiet contemplation of nature as I sat with my legs dangling over a cliff was really me thinking "I wonder how embarrassing would it be to ask that eighty year old woman in the walker to come over and hold my hand as I get up and walk away from the edge?"

A few years ago, I was on a business trip to Atlanta. It was one of my first trips (long before I realized just how much business trips suck) and I was excited to get out and have some fun. I had seen enough movies to know these journeys were all about anonymous sex with strangers that you meet in hotel bars and, goddamit, I was gonna get me some of that.

Anxious to begin, I dropped my suitcase on the bed and proceeded directly to the lobby bar. Sadly, the sole customers were two nearly toothless old men. Now a smart person would have seen this, cruised through the lobby and out into the street and found the closest bar where he would immediately start drinking and fraternizing with the locals. Those of you who know me realize that I'm not a smart person, so you're already ahead of the game here.

Instead, I stood in the lobby, feeling lost and desperately wanting to hold a drink in my hand and try to look cool. This was long before I realized that in order for me to look cool everyone else had to be drinking, preferably to the point where their judgment was not only impaired, but nearly obliterated. Sensing defeat five minutes into the night, I began to trudge back toward the elevators, when I came across a sign for the Sun Dial Bar, located 75 stories up and offering a panoramic view Atlanta. "Ah, that must be where they hide all of the women," I thought, as I pressed the button for the elevator that would take me to my destiny.

I clambered into the empty elevator car, and started humming to myself as it began it's ascent. I didn't realize two things at the time. First, it was an express elevator. Second, it was a glass enclosed elevator that offers magnificient views of the city. I confidently pressed the button and reacted in shock as I left the concrete cocoon in the lobby to begin the ride up. The lights dimmed and a tape of soothing music began to play. A narrators voice came over the speaker, telling my just how lucky I was to be taking this ride, and describing the beautiful sights that I'd see on the ride up - somehow assuming I that I'd remain conscious for the entire time.

Thinking to myself "I can get through this," I bravely turned towards the glass and held on to the brass railing with all of my strength. I was okay for the first twenty stories or so, but then things began to careen out of control. I swear I could hear the narrator saying "You are now 30 stories up. If the elevator were to crash, you would plummet to your death in approximately 10 seconds. From the look on your terror stricken face, I'd imagine that you'd scream like a bitch the entire way down."

Squeezing my eyes shut, I slowly turned back to face the elevator doors, stepping as close to them as possible in order to limit my peripheral vision. That's me. Always thinking in a time of crisis. Breathing a sigh of relief, I opened my eyes. Big mistake. The elevator doors were so highly polished that they clearly reflected the scene behind me. Meanwhile, the sadistic narrator kept telling me exactly how high up I was. I would have ripped out the damn speaker if I didn't worry that it would ruin the structural integrity of the elevator, or cause a massive short circuit that would bring about my demise.

After what seemed like an hour, I finally reached the 75th floor, whereupon my knees, which had been locked in fear, promptly gave out causing me to collapse onto the carpet of the Sun Dial Bar/restaurant. I climbed shakily to my feet, stumbled over to the bar and promptly ordered the biggest drink they had. The remainder of the evening was spent in a near catatonic state. I stared like a zombie at the lights twinkling far, far (far, far, far, far) below as sipped my drink and contentedly drooled on myself.