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Sunday, October 23, 2011

SINGING IN THE RAIN

I would have once said that cows were not smart enough to commit suicide, but Charles and Linda Everson have shaken my preconceptions. The Everson’s were celebrating their first wedding anniversary with a vacation in lovely Washington State, on the west slope of the Cascades, driving Highway 150 just outside the tiny community of Lake Chelan, when, without warning,  and out of a clear blue sky,  a 600 pound self-destructive rump roast plummeted from a cliff 200 feet above them and smashed onto their minivan.
The bovine aerialist left no note, but it must have been a suicide because even cows know that cows can’t fly. But would an act of suicide be a sign of intelligence? I wonder this because the only other creature besides cows who kill themselves, are humans, and humans are so smart we get to decide how smart all the other animals are. So even humans who kill themselves must be smarter than every other animal on the earth. So,  QED, a suicidal cow must be a cow genius. Because if they are not… then the whole relationship between intelligence and suicide will have to be reconsidered, particularly if your suicide should land you in the middle of somebody else’ life.
Los Angeles has its Colorado Boulevard bridge over Arroyo Secco, (over 100 suicides)...
 and Seattle has its Aurora Bridge (a jumper on average of one every three weeks), but the most famous portal to oblivion is the portal by the bay.
On average another human being chooses Phil Donohue’s “permanent solution to a temporary problem” by plummeting off San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge every two weeks. Cows are not allowed to cross the bridge on hoof, thus saving untold bovine lives. And the human suicides almost always land in the water, thus injuring no other humans, except for anybody and everybody who ever loved them. But what about the 26 human survivors who climbed over the aesthetically pleasing 4 foot high railing only to fail at something hundreds of losers have already succeeded at? It turns out they are the winners, but with a lifelong memento of their stupidity. Hitting the water at  75 miles an hour they suffer internal injuries and fractured legs, hips, spines, ribs, feet, arms, hands and necks, “lifelong” debilitating injuries. One police sergeant, familiar with the clean up from the bridges’ successes, suggested the authorities forgo the call boxes connected to suicide hot lines and instead install a diving board. It’s a cruel idea, but echoed in the comment most often shared by survivors. According to them, universally, their first thought after jumping off the bridge was; “Why did I do that?”
When, in December of 2004, a 32 year old Czechoslovakian man let go of the rope suspending him by the neck from a tree, he was also instantly certain he had made a mistake. In his case it was because the branch he was hanging from immediately snapped and he fell - shattering both his legs. But being resourceful and determined to prove to his wife that suicide would display how much he loved their daughter, this moron decided to cut his throat. Unfortunately for this Slovakian Sylvia Plath he chose a method which can only be described as “overkill”.  He decided to use a chainsaw. This was certainly dramatic,  but it also missed the point about loving his daughter. It also somehow missed his jugular and embedded in his spine. In other words, he lived. He might have echoed the immortal words of Terry Kath, late member of “Chicago” and Darwin Award Winner, who famously said, “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded.”  Or, more likely, our Serbian suicide want-a-be thought to himself, "Now, why did I think of that?" 
But choose to become one of the 35 humans who have used the Empire State Building in Manhattan to get a “leg up” on their self destructive stupidity and you have a good shot at injuring an innocent bystander as well as yourself, at least emotionally, as did Moishe Kanovsky, who on Friday 13th of April 2007 was interviewing a client in a 69th floor law office.
I don’t know what they were discussing but Moishe suddenly had an overwhelming urge to leave the building, via a window. He only made it down to the 30th floor abutment, but he had picked up enough velocity by then so that the impact dismembered him, and one of his legs made it all the way to the ground, landing on West 33rd street, right in front of the CafĂ© Europa and a Greyline tour bus filled with out-of-towners, ruining everybody’s lunch. But it ruined a lot more than lunch for his friends and family. And how would you feel about somebody whose last act on earth was to cause you pain?
The most famous suicide at the building on Madison between 34th and 33rd streets must have been Evelyn McHale, a 23 year old beauty who had been dumped  by her fiancĂ©. On May 12th, 1947 she left a note before leaving the 86th floor observatory (“…I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody”…), and managed to miss all the jutting abutments before landing intact on the roof of an empty limo. A photography student heard her impact and snapped the most romantic suicide photograph in history. Published by Life Magazine, what you see is her left hand coyly caressing her necklace, her stockings in almost suggestive disarray with her ankles demurely crossed. What you don’t see is that Evelyn probably fell apart when they picked her up, because every single bone in her body, from spine to pubis to her little toe, was shattered. And you don’t hear her thoughts in the 2 or 3 seconds between the leap and the impact, which all the evidence suggests, was probably, “Why did I do that?”
If you aren’t lucky enough to live within jumping distance of the Empire State, almost any tall building can be pressed into service. A resourceful young woman in Tokyo recently used the 11 stories of the Ikebukuro Parco department store to validate her depression, She also managed to involve an innocent 47 year old man on the crowded street below, when she landed on him, fracturing his skull. Also in Tokyo during the same year, a 55 year old woman chose to pull a Humpty Dumpty off the 10th floor of a college laboratory building and landed on a 20 year old student, fracturing her skull as well.
This type of collision is to be expected in a nation with no religious prohibitions against suicide. On average, a Japanese commits suicide every 15 minutes, (32,000 a year in a country of only 127 million). In Japan you are five times more likely to murder your self as you are to be killed a car accident, and a lot more likely to get squished by a falling Kamikaze accountant. I don’t believe in an after-life, but if there is one I don’t think you want to begin it by having to say, “I’m sorry. Did I do that to you?” Because, karmatically speaking, that’s just suicidal.
The Japanese are literally dropping like flies drunk on sake and bent on seppuku, or, more correctly, like a crowd of oriental Peggy Entwistles - she being the blond who in 1932 took a header off the “H” in the Hollywood sign above Hollywood. But Tokyo doesn’t have such a suicide sign or even a suicide bridge like the Golden Gate. But they do have a suicide apartment building - the Takashima-Diara Complex.
It’s huge; 14 stories tall and with 10,000 residents. And in 1977 alone 150 people jumped from its roof, windows, balconies and ventilation shafts. And not one of them was a resident of the building.
They traveled from all over trendy Japan after a family of three took the leap-of- lack-of-faith and made the evening news. In 1978, in response to the mounting morbidity littering the court yard, stairwells and ventelation shafts,  the building was turned into a high rise gulag, surrounded by the kinds of barriers normally seen in zoos to keep the animals from escaping.
There is not an unrestricted panorama to be viewed from inside the structure, with netting and grating below windows and balconies and jamming the air shafts, all to prevent anyone from falling more than a dozen feet at a time.
The roof ledges are blockaded with spiked and curved fencing, as if to ward off an invasion of giant pigeons, all installed to discourage any humans from expressing their urge to fly. And still the humans are jumping from Takashima-Diara, just in smaller numbers.
But the idea that someone stupid enough can be stopped, that anything could be made truly "fool-proof", was disproved by an English genius who, in 2006, seemed to have found a reason to live by devising a complicated method of killing himself. First he purchased a 25 foot length of PVC drainpipe. Then he tied the handle of a heavy butcher knife to a rope, and dangled the knife over the opened top of the drainpipe. Then he lashed the PVC to a power pole. The PVC was light enough to transport easily while the power pole provided stiffening and strength and a roughly 90 degree angle to the earth.
He then placed his head beneath the open bottom of the pipe and let go of the rope. The knife fell down the narrow pipe (which kept the pointy end pointed down) until it penetrated the skull and imbedded in the inventor’s brain, which killed him...eventually.
Police described it as “…one of the most elaborate and bizarre suicides…” they had ever investigated. But, added the spokesman who witnessed the scene, “It must have been an incredibly painful death.” As Hamlet put it, “Aye, there’s the rub”, or more accurately, there’s the pointy end of the dagger. Most people chose suicide to end an emotional pain, as if unaware that their actions will very likely replace it with an extraordinary amount of physical pain. And nothing can put your petty personal problems into perspective like five or six minutes of a trip to the dentist. Of course, in that condition it almost seems reduntant to ask, "Why did I do that?"
Which brings us to the very precise and extremely close Demeester family of Coulogne, France; Rene and his wife Marie-Christine, both 55, and their children, Oliver, age 29, and daughter Angelique, age 27. On a September evening they gathered in their modest home for a meal. The stew pot was on the stove, but the table had not yet been set out. Instead there was a note on the table which read, “We messed up too much. Sorry”, followed by instructions for the care of the family poodle. And hanging above the note in a neat row, like beef in a butcher's freezer, was the family itself.  By all accounts the family was not in dire financial straights, but had suffered a few setbacks. And somehow, to them, this seemed like a logical choice. Said one cop, “It looked like a scene of an execution”, except of course, in an execution, the deceased is dropped so their neck is cleanly broken, and death is nearly instantaneous, while in this case the four of them must have bounced around for one or two minutes, dancing desperately, gagging away their last moments of life while watching each other gag to death. And if they could speak from beyond the grave I bet they would each say; “Why did we do that?"
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