Labor Day 1994

A September in New York

It began just as another dull day. I sat in the chair near the pool in the health club on the 36th floor of a New York high rise, undisturbed by yet another woman that didn't take a shower, reading the September 1994 GQ (by Johanna Scneller), while earning my 7 $ an hour as a lifeguard:

Roy Raymond was shy. He was stubborn. He loved ideas and he'd listen to yours, but he liked his own better. He had a couple of great ones: His famous idea, Victoria's Secret, became a kingdom of stores and catalogues that put lacy underwear on many of America's wives and girlfriends.

But Raymond also made some bad decisions. He eventually lost control of the empire he had created and had to sell it. None of his subsequent ideas approached the success of Victoria's Secret. He lost $4 million, every penny he had, trying to repeat that triumph. As he neared the end of seven years of bankruptcy, the government slapped him with a $77,000 tax bill. Three days later, Raymond had one last big idea. Shortly after 5 A.M. on August 26, 1993, without telling anyone - which was his way - he dressed in a tan shirt and Levi's and put his wallet, holding $67, in his pocket. He parked his Toyota at one end of the Golden Gate Bridge, walked out to the middle along the east sidewalk and jumped 220 feet into the bay below. He was 47.

What a beautiful end. I just hope he approached the bridge from the South. Why pay the toll to the bastards? At least suicide should be for free! (this advice is taken from Abby Hoffmans "Steal This Book") You see misty San Franciscan dawn in August, and sun rising just above the magnificent Golden Gate arc. You watch the sun rising and the magnificent Alcatraz reveals itself bathed in Bay's fog. And you jump right into that purifying cold morning surf. This is a decision of the man with style. Dude is gone, man. And I am still sitting my bored ass around.

Pedro'sBut, when I am bored, the world just rushes to entertain me. Today there was a huge fire in East Harlem. An apartment building, I guess, abandoned probably, and set ablaze to collect insurance. Then all uptown-bound traffic was suddenly blocked on FDR at 96th exit in the middle of rush hour. For some reason vehicles moving downtown were stopped somewhat norther. Later a TV helicopter appeared to cover the barge that stuck under the Madison bridge between Manhattan and Bronx. Barge was on fire, too. Smoke was clearly visible from the sun deck of our health club. A mother with two daughters came cheerfully to see what "they just have shown on Television." A rare opportunity to check up on Television's truthfulness. Helicopter, used to capture images, was still circling over the smoke covered area. Yesterday, just two blocks south from the building, a man committed suicide. A thirtysomething jumped from a thirtysomething floor. Still, just in case Newton was not always right, he tightened a noose around his neck. In his fall he hit the glass awning over the entrance in the building (you know - those entrances nicely back lit with revolving doors and a concierge desk behind), which broke giving his body way. The rope was just long enough so that his head stood above the broken awning. Wow. What a perfect arithmetic.

Two to three hours I observed the commotion of people expecting something to happen and tons of police and EMS cars: police came instantly and closed traffic on 2nd Avenue in that block, covered the sight..., nobody gets any second thoughts about the victim's exquisite boots. When I went home from my job, they were still around. So, I asked the young policewoman with Marlene Dietrich's facial design, what's going on. She told me, that everything's over and they are packing up. People are just blood-hungry. Guy's attempt was successful: he died. I hope he is happy now, wherever he ended up being.

Sure, jumping off the tops of the buildings isn't always as promising as it used to be. Due to recent breakthroughs in medical sciences doctors could keep you up even if you are brain-dead by pumping blood through your body and breathing air into your lungs. A Japanese kid, a girl in her late teens, jumped off her window at twentysomething floor on 37th and 1st. Bad grades in school? She probably forgot that in the U.S. that doesn't count so much. She felt flat on her face and belly on concrete floor of the outdoors deck of her building's health club. Another girl of her age worked there as a receptionist that afternoon. She was the only one employee there, when the loud hollow <thud!> was heard. So she went outside with a premonition and a bad taste in her mouth. Japanese kid lied face down on the floor kicking her legs. So, apparently she was alive. The receptionist girl moved closer and turned the body. Splash was so strong that body had bursted, so stomach was open and guts were all over the place. Also, the Japanese girl face was gone. Her nose, eyes, mouth and all facial bones were smashed into her skull, and brains were dripping out. But she still breathed - gurgling and hissing like a dying person. So, the receptionist girl called the EMS, and they managed to keep her alive. The health club manager asked his employee later why didn't she administered mouth to mouth resuscitation breathing. Gasp. But the girl didn't have mouth or nose anymore. The EMS had to do tracheotomy to fix the oxygen tube and pump air in her lungs working around her destructed face. Well, managers always have to exercise leadership, which usually translates into giving shit to their subordinates, so they'll say something on any occasion even if that will be entirely idiotic.

This story, along with an eerie present for Halloween (way in advance, too), was given to me by Bettina, the aquarobics teacher in the health club where I work. She is an unhappy creature, too. So, we always laugh, share stories on gravity accelerated downward mobility and play pranks on each other. Like two sorrow clowns, who make jokes to forget the tears. Those short moments of fun float like islands in an ever expanding pool of relentless sadness in which we are slowly drowning. I don't know how old is she, but she is older than me, I think. And she knows how unfairly she is underappreciated for her work. As if everybody could or should be an attorney to be respected in our new world order. As if lawyers did so much good for our society. And they are so boring and tiresome to hang around with. But she won't kill herself. She likes to gossip too much. She won't be able to miss it. Small-talk is her remedy.

Of course all this is supplemental to the steady diet of world news, which adds up to humans going to be an endangered species soon. "I don't know who's responsible for the atrocities in Haiti. This has been a violent society." - Jimmy Carter said on Haiti, impersonating Lord Owen's words about Bosnia. Somehow you don't want to be related to them (much less belong to them). Sometimes I feel I am not them. I am kind of virtual reality, and my thoughts are their actions. I do not exist in action. I exist just in thought. So, therefore I can't perish.

Today I was "benching" (gym-lingo for doing bench-presses) heavier than usual. Plus I was stoned. In the middle of the last set, I got a weird idea: what if I just drop the weight? Just relax my arms and allow the hundred sixty pounds heavy barbell fall free across my throat. I started to laugh. Hysterically, I believe. To outside world this was heard eventually as hissing and grunting, since I was still doing my set. Wouldn't that be so cool? Like a reverse guillotine: I would be able to watch it all its way down.

ScreamIt is also a good test of one's resolve. Jumping of the cliff or of the high rise or under the train; shooting yourself in the head, overdosing, even hanging yourself - all those suicide methods do not allow for a "last minute change of mind". Once you, overwhelmed with self-pity, absorbed by impulse, jump of your balcony, you can't come back, you can't decide somewhere around 17th floor that you don't really want to go all the way down. That's where the barbell suicide comes handy. Because no matter how certain of the purposefulness of your determination you might be, deep in the tortured shadows of subconscious your perseverance could be shaky: your body, that much worshiped shrine of yours (which you polish and take for joyrides in the gym daily, like some guys do with their Harley-Davidsons), might actually have traitorous, disloyal, back-stabbing desires to live.

I should patent the BPS Test (bench press suicide test) as a standard method of determining who is really suicidal and who is a fake. The really suicidal guys would end up dead, which would prove that they were really suicidal. Fakies, whose body survival reflex would win over their intellectual certitude, would badly hurt their anterior deltoid muscles and, of course, pecs, and maybe completely fuck up shoulders and/or elbows and/or wrists trying to stop the accelerated weight at the last moment.

Being alone...
It may be an eternal holiday
or a life in prison.

The dilemma is accentuated when you work-out, since such a daily regime may be a part of both: holiday and/or prison. You kind of start to ask yourself a question: what a difference does it make for me if I go to jail? Almost nothing would change for me. Actually the commute from my room to the gym would shorten, which is a positive development. Or maybe not, since we are just in the middle of the process of revenge that society at large takes on its outcasts for its inability to deal with real problems: so many prisons are giving up their gyms.

Much like a middle management clerk who hates his job but fears to lose it, so he beats his wife and kids and gets drunk instead of confronting his own misery: the State builds more prisons, outlaws more activities, puts more police on streets, whenever it is frustrated with its incapability to deal with deficit, health care, fall of standard of living and the disappearing world order.

Once prisoners were punished by hard backbreaking physical labour. (That was when prisons were self-sufficient, like let's say in China they still are.)

Today we want to take away prisoners' weight-lifting privileges. I guess times have changed.

Oscar Wilde, while doing time, was sometimes denied pen and paper, as another form of cruel and unusual punishment. Now we want to take away TV from prisoners.

Will we indeed free our prisoners from our warden?

Then, we prohibit use of drugs in prison (tough we are in no position to actually enforce that rule in overcrowded prisons largely governed by drug-lords). We convene this prohibition on the premise that drugs are illegal, which is true. But we should then ask ourselves why drugs were made illegal in the first place!? If we did that we would find out that we as a society decided that drugs are illegal because the health care professionals among us believed that drugs were harmful to our health, which, in most cases, holds the water, too. Therefore, in the case of prison population, considering the ban on weight-lifting and even more health-deteriorating measures passed into a law in the State of Mississippi, it seems to me inefficient, peculiar and sanctimonious to proscribe drug use in prisons. Why on earth would somebody want murderers and rapist to live longer and stay healthy? Let them overdose.

You, the government, you may (if we, the people, continue to let you): Build more prisons. Impose harsher penalties. Follow the 3 strikes you're out sound-bite like the most sacred mantra. Lower the felony age. Cancel probation and revoke bail. Make doing time more unbearable. Make more crimes punishable with death penalty. Declare certain misdemeanors or just plain unorthodox behavior - intolerable. Demand people to carry ID on them ALL the time. But, please, don't try to convince us in efficiency and uniqueness of such actions. It is pretty much kind of legal system that countries like China and Soviet Union had way before the U.S. even thought of it.

We should duly note that it didn't and it doesn't work there very well. It is hard to contemplate it would work excellent here.

If you are on Cuba you escape TO prison - whether it is an American one in Guantanamo bay, or a Cuban one. You are fed in prison and you are free, at last. Nobody gives a damn about what you think any more. Young people inject themselves with AIDS infected blood preferring slow and awful death in isolated island of freedom in Pinar del Rio, to life in Castro's Cuba. What a perverse revenge: to drain the resources of the hateful society by a slow suicide. Do we care? Of course not. Clinton heeds Jorge Mas whose sole interests are to slip in Castro's boots, after thirty years of anger and impatience. He doesn't give a fuck about how many young Cubans have no future with the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

Cut The Crap from roqueros The Clash:

Yes I am the dictator the more guns I got the better
Yes I am the liquidator I carry the gold Beretta
You know there once was freedom
You know how dangerous that can be
The people used to dance & sing
& they used to run wild in the streets
But now I am the voice
Howling from your radio
From my armour plated Cadillac
You'll hear what I say goes
Yes I am the dictator I satisfy the U.S. team
I always do my killing in the woods & keep the city gutters clean
Cos I need a few more dollars
For my fighter pilots to be free
To dive bomb on the population
If they go running wild in the streets
Yes I am that voice ... etc.
Yes I am the crusader I spent twenty years in exile
But now I am the invader and I'm never never gonna die
Yes I am the dictator my name is on your ballot sheet
But until my box has got your cross you know the form is incomplete
And you know.......etc.
(play very, very loud)

I went running in the evening. Around the "beruehmte" (German for celebre) reservoire in the Central Park (now the Park of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis). September evenings are the only acceptable climate New York ever produces. They are also created for running. Right temperature. Right amount of breeze. Right amount of humidity. One guy that I passed followed me until the end. I love competitive types. Since I am too much a teenager to allow somebody to actually pass me, I push myself harder. Before the end he started sprinting. So did I. I've heard him shouting "Damn!" somewhere behind me when I passed the line. 9'31" It is a relieving experience for my battered ego to actually be winning at least somewhere.

But, I should be a superb runner, shouldn't I? Don't I know so much about running? I am running all my life: from my family, from the school, from the army, from my country, from the stupid war, from the stupid regimes, from the stupid people... Finally there was nobody left to run away from, so I started habitually to run away from myself. And I am fast, you bet.

In high school my PE teacher told me "you'd never be much of the fighter" - I was 125 pounds, and nobody had ever seen a 120pound football player - "so, let's teach you at least how to run away."

Running. Like Forest Gump. He must have been so happy. There are times when I feel sorry for not being born stupid. (And that guy Murray is predicting a meritocracy in this country, meaning that a hereditary caste of genetically advanced individuals would govern! What an idiotic idea. Plato thought so twenty five centuries ago, and it never happened. Those with highest IQ mostly hate to hang around this world anyway, least would they like to rule.)

Instead I've been given the power to understand, which just brought me sorrow and insecurity. Which made me burn my wings much too often.

So, I decided thoughtfully to carefully avoid responsibility. Run away. Fast.

When I was six I used to run away from a soccer ball. If I spotted the ball in my team's half, I'd run over to the opponent's half of the field. If I saw the ball is advancing on the left wing, I'd run to the right. As fast as I could. This was why my team always won. Because I rarely allowed to be touched by a ball. A few dramatic instances in which I failed to avoid the ball, lead to tragic consequences for my team (and for me after the game was over). Obviously, the magic of winning was in not really playing.

I feel like I've jumped in a skydive from the plane first and then to showoff I decided to be the last to open a parachute. Eyes wide I am falling into the abyss. From time to time I roll over, grinning victoriously, to see if everybody opened their chutes. By the way this is also a suicide that allows you a "last minute change of mind" much like the bench press: you can open the parachute anytime until like a few hundred feet before the impact (a few seconds). There the price is strained shoulders. Here the price is broken legs, arms and/or spine.

Now, when others are opening their snazzy umbrellas and taking over the skies, I just gave up on survival: since I abhor the broken legs or broken arms (not to mention broken spine, brrrr) way more than death, and I am already so close to the ground, my rig still packed, that I can't elude to break something if I open the chute now. Maybe I'd be better of dead. I was first to jump. I was last to consider opening my chute. I kept both promises. I never promised to anybody that I would open my chute in the end. I thought I would. But now, now it is just too late. Gravity accelerated downward mobility.

It was too late for Andrew Gaertner, too. "A troubled teenager committed suicide yesterday by lying down in the path of a Westchester commuter train." was written under the wide smiling teen picture in a Daily News article. He laid his head on the rail just seconds before the train passed. He was decapitated. There was no suicide note, just school books in his knapsack. That was the silent end of Andrew Gaertner.

Emilio Bonilla, a despondent young man of the Bronx, couldn't keep it to himself, and lived (though, he was arrested for reckless endangerment and cocaine possession): he called Howard Stern. Stern, of course, told him not to jump, or at least to wait until Stern's new movie would be released. Emilio laughed. Two people listened K-Rock in their cars and spotted Emilio. Police came later. I rarely listen to Stern. Not because I don't like his show, but because I most often sleep in the time of his show. People who have day jobs listen to Stern, while they wash their teeth in the morning and while they drive to their jobs. He brightens them up. The guy is funny. People who lost their day jobs due to downsizing or some other bullshit reason but still wake up every morning at 6 or 7 am out of habit and then watch in disbelief the world around them rushing to their jobs, they are the ones who call in the Howard Stern's show. He is a therapist for them. Being on the air, listened to by a million people, suddenly being so important, is the best therapy for someone who just lost his/hers job. Although, only a few individuals would go that far in order to be admitted to the Stern air as Emilio Bonilla has: calling in to announce how they are about to jump of the George Washington Bridge.

Emilio chose a good bridge, too. Of eleven people that tried to commit suicide from the George Washington Bridge, four were successful. Other bridges do not have as good track-record. A despondent young woman (the adjective "despondent" seems to be official way to describe somebody who wishes to commit suicide) Connie Mercure managed to wriggle out of her coat, after a cop grabbed it, and then she leaped from the Verazzano Narrows Bridge. She survived the fall with a broken leg and some internal injuries. The 230 feet drop to the water from Verazzano's midspan, obviously, is not enough. Other bridges don't come even close: Brooklyn Bridge's distance to water from midspan, for example, is just 90 feet, which doesn't qualify for a good suicide.

Yet another idea is to get the cops kill you. Moe Pergament, a 19 years old compulsive gambler, decided to have police take his life over a $6000 gambling debt. In a "last act of desperation" (Daily News. 11/17/97), Moe bought a cheap plastic gun toy and pointed it at the first constable in sight. Actually, he took his dad's car and drove real dast getting the cops to pull him over, and then he charged at them with his toy gun. They shot him four times. They shot him dead. Among other farewell cards in the car, the officers found this note addressed: "to the officer who shot me!"

All that can't surpass this story: At the 1994 annual awards dinner given by the American Association for Forensic Science, AAFS president Don Harper Mills astounded his audience in San Diego with the legal complications of a bizarre death. Here is the story:

On 23 March 1994, the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound to the head. The decedent had jumped from the top of a ten-story building intending to commit suicide (he left a note indicating his despondency). As he fell past the ninth floor, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast through a window, which killed him instantly. Neither the shooter nor the decedent was aware that a safety net had been erected at the eighth floor level to protect some window washers and that Opus would not have been able to complete his suicide anyway because of this.

Ordinarily, Dr. Mills continued, a person who sets out to commit suicide ultimately succeeds, even though the mechanism might not be what he intended. That Opus was shot on the way to certain death nine stories below probably would not have changed his mode of death from suicide to homicide. But the fact that his suicidal intent would not have been successful caused the medical examiner to feel that he had a homicide on his hands. The room on the ninth floor whence the shotgun blast emanated was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. They were arguing and he was threatening her with the shotgun. He was so upset that, when he pulled the trigger, he completely missed his wife and pellets went through the window striking Opus. When one intends to kill subject A but kills subject B in the attempt, one is guilty of the murder of subject B.

When confronted with this charge, the old man and his wife were both adamant that neither knew that the shotgun was loaded. The old man said it was his long standing habit to threaten his wife with the unloaded shotgun. He had no intention to murder her - therefore, the killing of Opus appeared to be an accident. That is, the gun had been accidentally loaded.

The continuing investigation turned up a witness who saw the old couple's son loading the shotgun approximately six weeks prior to the fatal incident. It transpired that the old lady had cut off her son's financial support and the son, knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun threateningly, loaded the gun with the expectation that his father would shoot his mother. The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus.

There was an exquisite twist. Further investigation revealed that the son, one Ronald Opus, had become increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to engineer his mother's murder. This led him to jump off the ten- story building on March 23, only to be killed by a shotgun blast through a ninth story window.

The medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.

Weird, isn't it? Well, I live in a rent-controled apartment with a roommate, a cat, a bicycle and a variety of mostly unuseful furniture (this is written in 1994). The apartment is, of course, not in our name. The apartments like ours real-estate people 'round here call studio 'cause it definitely sounds better than to say: the shower is dripping, the radiator is whistling and steaming, the lights go off when refrigerator turns on, and you need an exquisite knowledge of mechanics to operate the toilet (read Jitterbug Dance for more in-depth explanation of the meaning of the word studio in the real estate jargon). Before any of us leave that beloved place we have to secure the window with the ski-pole and tie the lock on entrance doors with the peace of rope, then pull the rope while closing the doors (otherwise the lock would come off). Instead of killing our own domestic roaches our cat brings us some of the backyard stray-roaches - bigger specimen - to play with. The landlord wants us out, and doesn't cash our rent checks. On top of that Dusko (the roommate) insists on small TV (although we have a bigger one) since it better fits the room. Room? What room?

All those resumes and all those essays and letters to different places. Nobody cares. I have a job that barely covers my rent and basic nutrition. Which is about what the slaves were being given in the South. Yesterday I broke my tooth. Today my stereo broke. For Croatian ethnic community I am too American. For American show-biz I am obviously too Croatian. INS is too busy going to Carribean cruises to (after seven years) finally solve my asylum case. And I already had so much shit in my previous lives. So, why care about anything anymore?

Looking for a job that would utilize my special skills like Croatian language, while I couldn't get accused of stealing jobs from my American peers, first I applied for a position at the Voice of America. They need foreign language radio broadcasters. I worked at the radio station in Zagreb/Croatia/Yugoslavia several years before I came to the U.S.