By Alan Glynn
The ride to the rooftop bistro of the Van Loon Building in mid-town Manhattan, with no stops on the way, takes about twelve to fifteen seconds. A reverse trip, in reverse mood, and without the plush distraction of the elevator’s interior, to say nothing of no stops on the way, would take slightly less – say, between eight and ten seconds, depending on weather conditions – and result in a more generous but altogether less palatable helping of the kind of marinara dish served eighty-five stories above.
Or so you would imagine. Several years ago a young man from Kansas City, disappointed in love and terrified of the future, ‘took the plunge’ from the terrace of the Van Loon Bistro, freefalling into the asphalt bosom of the naked city. Soon afterwards that young man was one of the hottest celebrities on the current scene and an inspiration to millions. Embodying the indomitable American spirit of ‘bouncing back’, 28-year-old Carson Mumford simply picked himself up off the sidewalk, dusted himself down and marched along 48th Street into 5th Avenue, fame, fortune and a certain place in the history books. For on that night Carson Mumford discovered that he had a very special talent: a fall that would make short work of any normal man, flattening or squashing him into eternity, would leave Carson with barely a scrape.
In the months following his amazing discovery, several controlled experiments were conducted by a government agency and monitored by teams of medical experts. Their conclusion? “Bafflement. Pure and simple.” Dr Thurston Wallace of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “No broken bones, no internal haemorrhaging, no impact. He’s not made of steel and he’s not made of rubber, he’s just like you and me. In fact he’s a bit of a hypochondriac, always seems to have a cold or sinus trouble.”
Leaving the boffins and the bureaucrats to scratch their heads and wonder, Carson Mumford took the next logical step: he went public. Fighting an initial wave of incredulity (he was frequently dismissed as a circus performer, or worse, a religious freak), Mumford shrewdly teased the city’s appetite for mystery and spectacle. In a private interview with the mayor – in which Hizzoner was seemingly distracted and irritable – Mumford scored a coup by offering there and then to leap off the roof of Gracie Mansion, the official mayoral residence on York Avenue. In a press conference afterwards, a beaming mayor announced that in fifteen days time Mumford would be jumping off an as yet undisclosed Manhattan skyscraper with the full sanction and support of the city.
Media reaction was swift and wide-ranging. Each morning stories were run detailing the security arrangements; there were interviews, profiles, even cartoons. Current news-stories, from international crises to society divorce trials, were eclipsed by minute accounts of Mumford’s training program and diet, and by what some saw as opportunistic posturing by the mayor who hadn’t enjoyed such favorable media coverage in some time. At a deeper level, concern was expressed by some commentators about the psychological nature of the whole business. Were Mumford – and indirectly the mayor – merely encouraging what was a disturbing inclination in our society towards suicide? The word itself, in fact, was subtly side-stepped by all but a few commentators. Writing in his regular New York Post column, the pugnacious Drew Gould had this to say:
This method of suicide, though popular, must surely be the messiest. Blowing one’s brains out is messy but is generally confined to a single room. Depending on neighborhood and time of day, the Big Drop can discommode hundreds. Yet this hasn’t deterred Manhattan’s hara kiri brigade. Concentrating on Second and Third Avenues the statistics for high-rise suicides are, in fact, startling. Recently the Post even identified a curious ripple or domino effect which went up the East 70s one week on Second, across 79th over the weekend, and back down again the next week on Third. So does the mayor actually think he’s contributing to the health of this already beleaguered city by effectively choreographing a totentanz of the lonely and the afflicted, the depressed and the dispossessed?
A voice in the wilderness, Drew Gould’s misgivings were drowned out by a chorus of publicists’ slogans and barstool ballyhoo. Not since thousands craned their necks to see Harry Houdini’s strait-jacket escape over Broadway had the city been so in the thrall of one man, or so completely galvanized by a single event.
In fact Mumford himself was overwhelmed by the amount of attention the event was attracting and privately expressed doubts about his ability to satisfy the public’s expectations. What if the unthinkable happened and he couldn’t deliver?
But there was solid documentary evidence stacked high on shelves in the Pentagon, videos, eye-witness accounts, medical reports. “Sure he’s nervous,” said Warren Grable, former public relations guru and co-founder of Grable Buchannan Forrestal. “It’s like a shot at the title. The kid pulls this off and he’s going to have the whole world eating out of the palm of his hand.”
I didn’t exactly have an iron constitution back then and I suppose I was fairly gluttonous in my daily habits. I would go over to a Mexican bar across the street after work and have a few frozen margaritas and an order of mozzarella sticks and then get hungry and order a chicken burger with chili sauce, a salad and fries, some pecan pie with whipped cream, and then coffee, followed by a few more margaritas and a couple of cigarettes with each one. On my way home I’d get a soda and a slice of pizza with extra toppings of pepperoni, sausage and onions and a crunchy Reese’s peanut buttercup. I’d also pick up a six-pack at the deli and once home I’d break open the Jack Daniel’s and in between shots and beer chasers I’d do bong hits or occasionally someone would be around with some coke which usually meant a couple of lines every few minutes plus shots, chasers and bong hits. Then I’d eat some cheese and bread and cold cuts and watermelon and chocolate mousse cake out of the fridge, take a few Extra Strength Excedrin, a 500-mg capsule of vitamin-C, some B-12, drink a glass of milk, smoke a cigarette and go to bed. There were variations but essentially this was a routine.
The other half of my routine, of my life, was spent at work feeling like garbage and despising everybody I came in contact with. I would pass the day generating useless memos about anything from paperclips to lunchtime phone rosters, or faxing things I knew had been faxed the previous day or I would spend six hours re-organizing a perfectly adequate messenger service system, ingeniously gridlocking the city by color codes into independent ‘zones’, one service for each, Hercules Couriers, for example, going to the green financial zone or Quikdash to the blue commercial and retail zone – groundbreaking stuff in the office management field.
Weekends were a variation on my evenings, with half a dozen videos thrown in, horror flicks, classics, new releases, and then the Sunday papers to keep me abreast of events.
I shared an apartment on 11th Street with a Scottish guy called Jim. He was an illegal alien who worked in a cocktail bar on Third Avenue in the Nineties and spent a lot of his time messing with an 8mm camera trying to break into the glamorous world of film-making. He had a girlfriend who lived on Riverside Drive, so he spent most weekends at her place and really only used our apartment to stash his things in and change his clothes, which suited us both fine. I’d have preferred living by myself but I just couldn’t have afforded to without skimping on essentials such as chocolate and booze. I didn’t have much furniture, just a futon, a desk, a bean-bag and all the usual entertainment hardware, TV, VCR, CD player. The kitchen was old-fashioned, like the whole apartment, and was impossible to brighten up – so I didn’t really use it for anything, except to service myself from the fridge and to make pots of tea in, a slavish habit I’d picked up from Jim.
It was 11th Street between A and B, so the neighborhood was lively and mixed and sometimes even scary, but I was usually oblivious to everything, floating dreamily through the color and music, the aroma of sensimillia, the occasional swish of blades, the relentless howl of police-car sirens.
I also had a girlfriend. She wanted to be an actress and apparently had some talent, so I knew our days together were numbered. She was beginning to land small parts and was therefore being exposed to the glamorous world of film-making where far more attractive specimens than myself came a dime-a-dozen. Auditions and read-throughs kept her very busy and although we hadn’t begun to fight or anything we occasionally caught each other out in frozen puzzled stares as if it was only a matter of seconds before one or other of us would run off screaming and frothing at the mouth, and more likely her as I just wouldn’t have had the energy. And I can’t suppose my gargantuan appetite helped either. I wasn’t fat but I was beginning to fill out, showing all the signs of becoming a blimp. Fat boys don’t make it into Calvin Klein ads and even if it was only in her dreams that’s where she was headed – the high production-value Oxford High Gloss world of rippling musculatures and not just flat but sunken, concave bellies (and I’d be left behind in the grimy world of black and white newsprint, probably forever stuck in the before photo of a before-and-after diet ad.) Resentment and self-pity aside, however, I think we both just changed, almost the way the weather changes, the way people do change in big cities, their circumstances and personalities shifting easily, dissolving, reforming.
I’d only been in New York for just under two years and it had been a curious, unreal time in which I’d drifted towards a state of almost total inertia. Most people go to New York to make their fortunes, I’d gone there to wait for mine. When my father died – in bed, having fallen no further than from grace – I was twenty-six years old and openly delighted at the prospect of inheriting a sizeable wodge of his cash. I hadn’t really known him that well, and besides, he’d been putting everyone so relentlessly through the paces of his death for so many years that when it finally arrived grief was found to be in short supply and the only emotion to be had for love or money was relief. He’d been in and out of hospitals on a regular basis for ten years, each time leaving a little piece of himself behind, a kidney, a lung, some stomach, each time working the family up into a frenzy as he shimmied and shilly-shallied at death’s door. So it’s not that I was particularly callous, it’s just that I’d grown up with the promise of death always in the background, a promise often colored with talk of money. I figured I was in for at least two million and some property, and maybe a couple of valuable paintings. I hadn’t really done much since college and had absolutely no plans for the future. It was just something I’d never developed a taste for, plotting a career, thinking about the future in terms of providing support for myself, all I had were vague notions of going on as I was, of somehow always being provided for, years were divided into summers and winters, you traveled a lot, you had a good time.
All of this changed at the reading of my father’s will. In it he stipulated that my inheritance was to be withheld until such time as I had supported myself in a ‘respectable’ job for at least two years. $10,000 was to be released to help me get started, but no more, and what constituted a respectable job was to be left to the discretion of our family lawyer, Dunbarton Hardy, who was ‘as clean as a hound’s tooth’, so I knew I hadn’t got a chance. It was like being called up for military service. Naturally I panicked and cursed and swore and went around in a blind rage, but after a few days this subsided and I called Hardy and told him I wanted my ten grand: I was leaving Kansas and going to New York to look for a job. If that’s what the emphysemic old bastard wanted, then I hoped he was watching, and had plenty of popcorn.
And pull it off he did.
Essentially a New York event, Mumford’s first sponsored jump – late reports of which were tagged on to primetime news-shows – took America by storm. A classic case of good timing and native pluck, it was just what America wanted to see – but could America believe its eyes? No amount of action replay had a hope of drowning out the chorus of encore that now swept the country. Cynics and supporters alike wanted a second look. The World Trade Center was discussed and, in an attempt to shift the focus from New York, the Sears building in Chicago, the world’s tallest, was suggested. After weeks of speculation, however, no announcement had been made. It was later to emerge that different camps had been vying desperately for the ‘privilege’ of representing Mumford. “You see, in terms of entertainment software, what was he?”, asks Variety columnist Lou Caswell. “He wasn’t a recording artist or a movie, and he wasn’t a series, he was more like a prize-fighter, so you’re talking one-shot events, personal appearances, which means exclusive coverage and merchandising rights. But Carson Mumford wasn’t a prize-fighter, so the promoters, who were the ideal ones to sign him, didn’t go near him.” Instead, he was approached by everyone from Coca Cola to Disney to Rupert Murdoch, but it was only when Mike Ovitz of CAA advised Mumford against the Sears Building, saying it would be a mistake to peak too soon, that Mumford found someone he could relate to and ultimately do business with.
Mumford’s second jump was a decidedly low key leap off the Woolworth Building onto Broadway at City Hall Place. It was low key in terms of location (the Woolworth Building had once been the world’s tallest, but that was over sixty years ago) and advance hype (the announcement was only made one week before the event). But the press and TV coverage on the day was phenomenal and Mumford became a world celebrity literally overnight. From Los Angeles to Budapest, from Santiago to Reykjavik, tens of millions cheered on the boy from Kansas who had beaten the odds and had crossed – no one could resist the parallel – over the rainbow.
Estimates of what Mumford earned on his first world tour – twenty-five countries, sixty-eight cities, plus the follow-up highlights video – range from $85 million to $110 million.
The tour was not short on controversy. Mumford was barred from entering several countries when it was discovered that dozens of teenagers across Japan had plunged to their deaths in attempts to emulate their hero. The tour was also dogged by violent incidents at a number of venues. In Prague a crowd went on the rampage when the authorities tried to limit the numbers assembling in Wenceslas Square and two nights later in Vienna a man who was mistaken for Mumford was stabbed seven times outside a hotel in the city center.
On his return to the US, however, Mumford received a ticker-tape parade down Fifth Avenue. He met with President Bush at the White House (accepting an invitation to chair the President’s Council on Feeling Good) and appeared on all the major network talk shows. A period of enchantment followed for Mumford during which he became the darling of New Agers, self-helpers and the keep-fit lobby, went on an extensive lecture tour and published an inspiring best-seller about his life and times, Jump For Your Love.
I blew half the ten grand in my first two weeks. I stayed a couple of nights at the Chelsea Hotel because I’d read about it and thought it might be agreeably bohemian. It was scuzzy beyond belief and cured me forever of the spurious attractions of slumming it – and effectively drove me uptown to the Carlyle where I could only afford to stay for two nights. I ate pretty well and got ahead of myself by buying a CD player and an answering machine before I had an apartment to put them in. In a panic attempt to economize I spent my fourth night at the Y on 34th Street. This was scuzzier than the Chelsea and the next day I went to an agency and put a deposit down on an unfurnished studio apartment in Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn. It was mid-January and freezing and once I’d ensconced myself in Brooklyn I didn’t want to step outside for anything, least of all to pound the pavements looking for a job. By the end of the second week, when I realized I’d spent half of my money, I began to feel uneasy. I had to find a respectable job – the longer I left it, the longer I’d have to wait for the pay-off – but just what was a respectable job? Perhaps more realistically the question should have been, who would employ me? I scoured the Post, the News, the Times, the Village Voice, huddled in a diner, drinking coffee, half listening to the background fuzz of neighborhood life, stuff like, Hey, Vinnie, shithead, get over here or Angela, you go out with that punk one more time you’re deadmeat. At the end of another week I’d set my sights on legal proof-reading. There seemed to be thousands of jobs available and it sounded respectable enough. I started with a company called Riddleberger Leffingwell, whose offices were actually on Wall Street. I had to work at night, sometimes all night, and in an office on the 40th floor, but it was easy work. Nobody bothered me and the pay was good. After a month I decided to call our family lawyer and let him know that I was fulfilling the terms of the stipulation in the will, “and all that ipso facto shit.”
“Legal proof-reading?” he said in a way that froze me to my swivel seat. “That’s not a respectable job. Jesus, Carson, you may as well get a job working at Pizza Hut or – “
“Oh come on . . .”
“Come on nothing. A respectable job has got to have prospects, benefits, a title. You can’t just be a service unit, anonymous and replaceable. You’ve got to contribute something.”
Over the next month I went to four job interviews but nothing came of any of them. Soon I was going to have to start earning money for real. My ten thousand was running out fast and I began having awful thoughts about rent and bills. I had hardly any furniture in my apartment and I needed to buy some new clothes. It’s not as if I was in any real danger of sinking below the poverty line, however, I could always retreat to Kansas and be provided for, but that would forestall my inheritance and I was determined to get this two years over with as soon as possible – that is, get it started as soon as possible. I sent out a new wave of freshly embellished resumés to a bewildering variety of potential employers, and then just sat around waiting for the phone to ring. After about two weeks of nothing, I got a call back from one of the first interviews I’d been on. The fellow they’d hired hadn’t worked out and could I come in for a second interview? The company, Bureaudex, which had its offices on 14th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, manufactured filing cabinets and general office furniture. They were looking for an assistant to the Product Development Manager, which would take care of the job-title problem, and were also offering a full healthcare plan, which would take care of benefits. As for prospects, the Product Development Manager, who interviewed me, obviously had high blood pressure, chain-smoked unfiltered Camels and was continually rubbing his chest and wincing. The job somehow seemed perfect for me. After all, what was a company that manufactured filing cabinets doing with a product development department? Because of computers, filing cabinets were naturally becoming obsolete, or close to it, and I could see from their offices that Bureaudex was suffering from a time-warp problem in general – they still had cumbersome electric typewriters, bottles of white-out, dial phones and Gumby doll pencils lying around. The door leading into the reception area even had one of those inset frosted glass panels with the company name on it. I felt if I got the job I could join Bureaudex in its state of cryogenic suspension and just re-emerge after two years unscathed and considerably wealthier. Whatever ideas my father might have had when he’d set this macabre little game in motion about drawing out qualities in me I didn’t know were there, I didn’t think that a spell with a company like Bureaudex was actually what he’d had in mind. All of this occurred to me during the interview and set my adrenaline flowing with the result that I probably came over as dynamic and self-assured. I was offered the job there and then and told to report for work on the following Monday morning. I called our family lawyer straight away and he said that he supposed it sounded alright but that he would check into it.
With the start of the two year countdown I began to relax a bit more and socialize. After my first couple of paychecks, I decided to move into a bigger apartment, a one-bedroom on Joralemon Street in Brooklyn Heights that I’d seen advertised on a notice-board in a local cafe. It was expensive but a lot more comfortable than my studio, and Brooklyn Heights was a nice neighborhood to live in, with its quiet tree-lined streets, its stately brownstones and, dangling over the incessant flux of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, its concrete promenade from which there was a breathtaking view of Lower Manhattan.
The summer was now beginning and I found myself going to a lot of rooftop parties and barbecues. At one of these I met a girl whom I found attractive, but after a few minutes of conversation I realized she was a radical lesbian-feminist and that it would have been more than my life was worth to have tried any of the (in retrospect) crass lines of conversation I might have employed in similar circumstances back in Kansas. I met a dizzying array of performance artists, designers, film-makers, musicians, psychics, waiters, barmen, proof-readers, production assistants, coke dealers and illegal aliens, and after an initial period of lying and of attempting to slot myself into one of these categories I began to take pleasure in telling people I was an office clerk from Kansas. In a few instances this even seemed to operate as a sexual turn-on and led those whose palates were jaded by the usual fare of chains, hot wax and gerbils to steer me into bathrooms, down into quiet stairwells or off in cabs to actual beds, but mostly, since everyone wanted to be famous and everyone had the same desire to be different, I was a little welcome light relief, I didn’t have to be sized up to see how much talent I had, I wasn’t a threat, I wasn’t going to dwarf and humiliate everyone by suddenly appearing in print, by being reviewed in the New York Times or profiled in Interview magazine.
My first six months at Bureaudex were fairly horrendous. I shared my office with Manny Spielvogel, the Product Development Manager, who was a genuinely nice guy but who lived on a planet all of his own. One minute he was pundit Manny second-guessing the young turks of the industry who weren’t going to know what hit them one of these days, and the next he was blubbering disaster-zone Manny snowed in under alimony payments, doctor’s bills, gambling debts and what could loosely and kindly be described as ‘girl trouble’. I spent most of my time drawing up proposals and preparing presentations, talking on the phone with clients and poring over sales-analysis print-outs – but ever more frequently, it has to be said, slipping down to the Greek diner on the corner of 14th and 8th to get coffee and blueberry muffins and kill as much time as possible talking baseball with the short-order chef, before trudging back up to start the cycle all over again, always nervous as I stepped into the reception area that Lucille, the receptionist, would accost me with news of some crisis such as an urgent phone message from a frantic supplier in Boise, Idaho, who hadn’t received the Fed Ex package yet or who had received it and couldn’t believe the figures we were quoting him and wanted to talk to Manny . . . Where the hell is Manny? . . . and meanwhile Manny is down the hall using a payphone pouring his soul out to some cocktail waitress.
Manny died of a heart attack that November, on Thanksgiving, out on Long Island while playing cards with his mother, two of her girlfriends and an ex-brother-in-law who’d turned up from Ft. Lauderdale needing someplace to stay for a couple of nights. After the funeral, I slid noiselessly into Manny’s job and stripped Product Development down to its essentials. Inside a month the department’s budget had been halved and I was able to explain the cuts in terms of ‘high efficiency targeting’ and ‘vertical integration’. Upper management were happy to save money and I was happy to have so much less to do. They gave me a 20% increase in salary and left me more or less alone. I had their complete confidence, but I also knew that by the time they came to realize that Product Development was a dinosaur department, a gangrenous limb on the body politic of Bureaudex, I’d be getting ready to pack up and go anyway.
About this time I met a girl at a party who told me I had good bone structure. I immediately developed a crush on her and asked her out. Her name was Vicki and she worked for a PR company. She was from someplace outside Montreal and had acted in a small theatre company there and wanted to pursue an acting career in New York. I told her there were millions of out of work actors in New York, the phrase was in fact axiomatic, and there’d be no shame involved in dropping that particular ambition. She listened patiently as I asked, rhetorically, “Who in God’s name would want to go out on a stage and cavort in front of strangers, whipping up fake emotions?” I never really explained to her about my own circumstances, thus leaving her free to hit back with, “Well who the fuck could possibly want to work for an office furniture company?” These arguments, sometimes tetchy, sometimes good-humored, would flare and fizzle over languorous weekends, between bottles of Absolut and Chinese take-outs and re-runs of Green Acres, never amounting to anything, never drawing blood. We did have a good time, for a couple of months at any rate, but then the glamorous world of film-making beckoned, and after a few missed opportunities because of her daytime job she switched over to the more flexible hours of waitressing, which meant that our schedules began clashing and we saw less and less of each other. We continued our relationship, but with considerably diminished fervor.
In the middle of this winding down period I also had to move apartments. My landlord had tax problems and was forced to sell, and although legally I could have stayed I’d also been having minor but niggling run-ins with a neighbor over late-night disturbances and was as well pleased to leave. I found a sub-let for two months on 22nd Street and 3rd Avenue, a two-bedroom with enough furniture and bric-à-brac to fit out a whole apartment building. I never really got around to unpacking and had a difficult time getting a handle on the neighborhood which was a weird mix of I don’t know what, midtown, downtown, nothing I could put my finger on but after Brooklyn Heights too bland and too gray, with too many construction sites and old dark warehouses. The place on 11th Street I found through a friend of Vicki’s. It had more atmosphere as a neighborhood and in good weather I was able to walk to work, but even so it took me quite a while to get comfortable and since I wasn’t going to be staying for any longer than was absolutely necessary I had a vague, nagging sense of impermanence which kept me from decorating the place or putting any kind of personal stamp on it. Nevertheless it was here that I settled into the beginnings of what would become my monstrous regime of gluttony and indolence. I had a year and a half to kill and no real incentive to do anything but sit around and get drunk. Everything was on hold. I lost interest in going out and apart from time spent at the bar in Nostromo’s across the street from work most of my time was spent at my desk or in my beanbag, with occasional forays, respectively, to the fax machine or to the refrigerator. Stop-offs at delis and liquor stores took care of provisions and any other substances were delivered by obliging suppliers, happy themselves of a tranquil respite from otherwise hectic or occasionally even hazardous schedules. I did have a problem with hangovers, which became a fact of daily life, but since my daily life was spent at Bureaudex that didn’t matter, I was always rosy again by five, morning’s brittle melodrama – the waking up alive, the searing temple to temple agonies of bending down to put socks on, the queasy subway ride – all a distant memory, so that days, weeks and even months bled into one another in this way and I was just about able to tell the seasons apart and dress accordingly. I was also spending too much, too carelessly, on ounces, grams, eight-balls, quarts, pints, doubles, trebles, whatever, and in this Carnival of Measures each item naturally had a price tag and was subject to inflation. By late summer, therefore, my finances were in such bad shape that I was forced to take in a room-mate so I could split my rent and utility costs down the middle and save some money. It all happened rather suddenly, I was never really quite ‘there’ during the negotiations and I was extremely lucky that my new room-mate, Jim, turned out to be such an obliging and easy-going fellow. He drank a lot of single malt Scotch, passing up on most other things, was very good company and had that rare ability to distil his experience into perfectly formed anecdotes which he kept on tap and pulled into pint-sized glasses of conviviality whenever the occasion required. But almost from the first week of his moving in he was camping regularly up on Riverside Drive and apart from the cockroach-like proliferation of sodden teabags and sugar-encrusted spoons in the kitchen I was barely aware of his presence, and was left to the dubious peace of my own Job-like ashpit of creature comforts.
Inevitably, Hollywood beckoned. Several scripts were developed simultaneously but proved wide of the mark. They were either big-action special-effects or character-driven human-interest. Mumford, who wanted to avoid making a formula picture, and naturally had a huge personal stake in the project, labored over a screenplay himself which, if produced, would have come in at just under five hours and was basically a rambling too-honest account of his tortured days of obscurity in New York. But after about a year in development hell, Mumford’s script underwent a quick series of wall-to-wall re-writes and emerged as one of the hottest properties in town. Harrison Ford was signed to play Mumford but for unstated reasons pulled out almost immediately. This led to a fever of speculation about who would replace him and for a few weeks it looked like Bruce Willis (with Sean Young as Vicki and Ron Howard at the helm), but major shake-ups at the studio created further postponements and by the time principal photography began in April, Willis had been replaced by Tom Cruise, Young by Holly Hunter and Howard by Bob Zemeckis. On-set power struggles between Mumford, who felt his creative control slipping, and Zemeckis, who had very definite ideas of his own about where to take the project, fuelled Tinseltown gossip for months. Yet set against this negative press, a skyrocketing budget and a storm over allegations about contract irregularities (an incident quickly dubbed ‘Mumfordgate’), Jump For Your Love broke all records by making back its total budget several times over in its opening weekend, and then went on to save what was shaping up to be a disastrous Christmas at the box-office.
Amid all the glitter and the adulation, the awards ceremonies and the parties, surely only one question now remained for Carson Mumford.
These, then, were my circumstances in the lead-up to Black Monday, October 19th, 1987. On the Friday before, Vicki called me up and said she was going on location for six weeks, she had a small part in a low-budget independent film being made in Vermont and felt that as a move for her this was ‘key’ – and that furthermore we should probably give it a break for a while. “For which read,” I said, stupidly, “the second AD isn’t a fag and thinks you’re cute”
I spent the weekend kicking myself and indulging in ever-increasingly preposterous fantasies about life after inheritance, the details of which I won’t go into, suffice it to say that on Monday morning I had a calendar on my desk, and a calculator, and was working out to the day, to the hour, when I could finally quit my job, type up my resumé, slap it down on our family lawyer’s desk and demand my inheritance.
Then rumors started filtering through that afternoon about a stock market crash – something of the order of 1929. I’d just come back from the coffee shop and everywhere in the building telephones were ringing, tinkling, purring, faxes were screeching, lights flashing on and off, and computers appeared to be operating independently, graphs and tables generating exponentially on screens, as if the whole financial world, flushed from too heavy a lunch, were having a massive heart attack. The offices of Bureaudex were about the only quiet ones in the building, their sleepy atmosphere reassuringly unruffled by the vagaries of the Street. But as I settled back into work at my desk, aware that all around me, down the hall and on floors above and below, in the next building, all over the city, people were panicking, desperately trying to reach their brokers, suddenly entertaining awful and dire possibilities, I too experienced a sinking feeling in my stomach, a feeling of foreboding, vague and ill-defined but physical and not easy to ignore.
Later at the bar in Nostromo’s I heard more details and a lot of expert opinions: it was nothing, a hiccough, a temporary loss of ‘80s nerve, it was the swansong of the yuppies, it was the prelude to a depression that would make the World Slump of the early ‘30s look like a Park Avenue banquet. There was a vaguely hysterical atmosphere that evening with lots of wry comments and malicious jokes and that curious license to talk to anyone that issues from great public events, like assassinations or elections or the World Series. Yet bobbing up and down in this sea of schadenfreude, I noticed quite a few worried faces and drawn expressions. I drank enough tequila to get drunk, but I wasn’t feeling it and wasn’t enjoying the atmosphere. I went home early and tuned into the McNeil-Lehrer Newshour at eight o’clock, where it was reported that the Dow Jones Index had dropped 508 points in that one day and that the ripple effect on stock exchanges around the world was beginning to be felt and would almost certainly be devastating.
I went to bed sober with J.K. Galbraith’s The Great Crash 1929 but found it impossible to read, my eyes glossing over paragraphs I soon realized I wasn’t taking in a word of. Repeated efforts were useless. I then turned out the light to go asleep, only to find a riot of images flitting across my mind. As any avowed substance abuser will tell you, the sleep of the newly ‘clean’ is the sleep of the damned, and all night I swirled through a pageant of grotesque and misbegotten spectacles which left me drenched in sweat and exhausted and totally unprepared for the insipid whirr of my alarm clock and the banal logical demands of a normal Tuesday morning.
On the subway to work, as I stared down at the gigantic headline of my newspaper – BLACK MONDAY – and tried to chase the last rogue images of the night from my mind, a curious clarity of thought took hold of me and I began to examine my anxiety. I didn’t have a penny invested and was therefore in no danger of losing anything. I couldn’t imagine that my father’s investments, solid for decades, were in any danger, so what was I worried about? I concluded that it was some kind of archetypal anxiety, or suggestibility, or something – a timely reminder for all that what goes up . . . must surely come down. Not so very clear, I suppose, but already I was feeling better.
Waiting for me on my desk, however, was a message to call Dunbarton Hardy’s office in Kansas. I had to dial the number six times, as my finger kept getting caught and I’d then forget which digit I’d just dialed. My secretary looked over at me strangely and I blurted out, after my fourth abortive attempt, “Why can’t we get some goddamn fucking push-button phones around here? Jesus!!!”
Dunbarton Hardy informed me that certain initiatives he’d taken, that he’d been perfectly entitled to take, with my father’s investment portfolio, had apparently backfired. Everything was lost, everything, and I’d be lucky to inherit a paperclip. The house would have to be sold to pay expenses and what little there might be left over would naturally go to my mother, who lived in California with a 22-year-old trainee firefighter. It’s well for you . . . I heard him saying as I let the telephone slip from my ear to my shoulder and down into my lap . . . that you at least have a good job . . .
I looked down vacantly at the cream colored tube between my legs, Dunbarton Hardy’s voice distant now, incomprehensible, babbling acceleratedly like Officer Dibble’s superior’s in Topcat.
I gazed around my office. This was it. I had one hour for lunch. Two weeks vacation. A pension coming my way in a few short decades. I couldn’t breathe properly. My heart was pounding wildly. My throat was dry. On the other side of the room, my secretary half got out of her chair, unsure whether to come over and pound me on the back or run off screaming for help. I managed to struggle up and rush out towards the bathroom where I locked myself in a stall and promptly threw up into the bowl.
As I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, a thousand anxiety bites concertina’d across my brain. For starters, I couldn’t just . . . rent for instance . . . And did I walk out of Bureaudex and not look back, or did I wait? But how could I possibly talk to clients as though nothing had happened? Oh my god . . . what was unreal, pretend, a charade, was now all there was, and I couldn’t talk to anyone about it because I’d never told anyone in the first place. Which meant that how everyone else perceived me was how I was suddenly going to have to start perceiving myself – an overweight office clerk from Kansas with attitude . . . instead of the real me, which was now evaporating rapidly, disassembling, receding, slipping away, tidily being relegated to the status of an idle daydream, something misremembered, an hallucination.
I left the office saying that I was sick and had to go home to bed. The fact that I had the presence of mind to tell lies and keep my options open made me feel even worse. I hated that part of me that resisted throwing a tantrum, that would soon be rationalizing everything, manufacturing wisdom after the event, blocking the horror out into digestible bite-sized pieces . . . instead of embracing a darker, deeper tantrum, an umbrage the contours of which it’d be impossible to calculate or track.
Tossing back and forth between these extremes, and feeling a little nauseous, I got on a train where the first thing I saw was the BLACK MONDAY headline, and then other headlines: CRASH . . . COLLAPSE . . . DISASTER – but I couldn’t feel it as any kind of public event; it was my disaster and there just wasn’t enough grief to go around. I was sure there were whole companies going under but all I could think of was my own measly inheritance and how it had been allowed to slip through the grating and down into the sewers. This led to thoughts about my father and a surge of anger that I almost couldn’t contain. In my mind, I went back over the telephone conversation with Dunbarton Hardy and thought of half a dozen things I hadn’t said and should have said. But then I thought, what would it have mattered in any case? It was too late, no point screaming at him – even if I did want to bash his puritanical brains in with a fucking sledgehammer.
Looking around, I suddenly realized I’d spaced out and not only got on the wrong train but was heading uptown instead of cross town. I was on an F train pulling into Rockefeller Center at 47th Street, a vast red-tiled subterranean city of escalators, air-chutes and neon-lit passageways. Unable to think about re-routing myself back downtown, I got off and headed for the first stairway up to street level.
It’s funny but there’s a banal mathematical shock, still, in trudging up out of this particular station and being greeted by the Time-Life Building and the Paine Weber Building and all those vast monolithic slabs that line Sixth Avenue in the Forties and Fifties. The street isn’t quite one thing or another and you get a sense of giddiness, vertigo with both feet on the ground. As I arched backwards to find the skyline, a man with a briefcase bumped into me and called me a jerk. I struggled to regain my balance and moved over towards a mailbox on the corner. It was a sunny morning and despite the trauma of the previous day the city seemed relaxed, with traffic flowing along at a gentle, almost sleepy pace. Over at the foot of the Time-Life Building a group of tourists were standing with their backs arched trying to comprehend the scale of the massive object before them. Others were taking photographs by the fountain. At the ‘walk’ light I ambled across the avenue, glancing first to the right and sensing the huddled expanse of Central Park just visible twelve blocks away, and then to the left where the traffic and parallel lines of buildings trailed towards a meeting point at the blistering horizon. As I approached the fountain, the thunderous roar of its jets gradually emerged from the blanket hum of the traffic. There were already a few office workers sitting around it, holding Tropicana orange juice cartons and reading the latest issue of People magazine. I sat down, soothed by the sound of the rushing water, and loosened my tie.
I stayed there for about an hour and a half, switching rapidly from panic and despair to idle distraction, my attention lighting on any passing spectacle, a flock of Japanese businessmen, a seven-foot Texan, the Avenue of the Americas’ seemingly inexhaustible supply of beautiful women.
The hardest thing was realizing it wasn’t just a question of money: the deep-pile rug of my childhood was also being pulled out from under me. I was losing the house in Kansas where I’d grown up. I’d go back and even after only a year everything would be strange, the life of the city would have altered in a hundred little ways, there’d be new buildings everywhere, there’d be a different mayor, half of my friends would have babies. I saw it all in one hot paranoid flush. And how could I not have known? Did I really expect when I was growing up that life was going to coast along in a magical flurry of perfect seasons? Did I never once imagine a glitch in the system? A heart attack, say, or cancer, or a serious road accident? Or swift and brutal relegation to the lower ranks of rent slavery in a vast metropolis? Anything could happen to us at any moment, and embarrassingly obvious as this may seem, it struck me at the time as an idea that by ignoring I had caused to collapse in on top of me. I felt exposed and stupid and lonely, a dangerous and unpredictable combination of emotions I had no idea how to control.
Headachy and half hungry I got up and started walking west along 47th Street. A part of the way down the block I realized I was heading for Times Square, so I turned back. I swung right with the vague intention of getting down into the Thirties, which is deadbeat country when you’re on Sixth Avenue, vacant lots, shoe repair joints, pawnbrokers, nothing to remind you of the vast wealth and opulence in the life of America from which you have just been summarily excluded.
Twenty minutes later, I changed direction again and wandered east over towards the river. I was drifting aimlessly now with no idea of what to do next. I didn’t want to go for a drink because that would have been unbearable, getting a happy glow on for about thirty minutes and then plummeting again and maybe breaking down in tears at some bar beside a guy eating the clam chowder lunch special. After another while I stopped and got a slice of pizza which I ate standing in a doorway.
I don’t know if it was this perspective I had on the street – the standing in a doorway feeling only a notch or two above certified down and out, watching the people with jobs and lives go by – or if it was the coiling up in me of tension since, really, yesterday afternoon, but I began thinking seriously, vividly, about doing something violent, taking some hostages maybe, or opening fire in the middle of a department store.
I tossed my last shard of pizza crust into the gutter and took off back towards Sixth Avenue. As I walked, plans formed and dissolved in my mind, but I slowly realized that I was heading for the Time-Life Building again and that whatever atrocity I was going to commit I was going to commit it there, in the lobby or up on the fiftieth floor or on the sixtieth floor, or however many goddamned floors the building had.
My moods were flitting too rapidly now for me to think straight about anything. I went from feeling silly and self-conscious to feeling ashamed about being unoriginal (as in umpteenth New York psycho waltzes across the tabloids for a morning, big deal) to feeling really angry, and only for the fact that I was walking with great determination, really fucking out of control. Then I’d have two straight blocks of logistics . . . where was I going to get my hands on a gun and how was I going to use it without dislocating my wrist or blowing a hole in my skull? Then I thought, just let some bastard bump into me like that scumbag this morning with the briefcase and I wouldn’t need a gun, I’d rip his face off with my bare hands. I kept repeating over and over in my mind that this was the right thing to do. Just taking it on the chin, going on with normal life, would be disastrous, humiliating, utter defeat. I had to react in some way commensurate to the awfulness of the situation. I’d grab a gun from one of those sixtysomething security guards they had in all these buildings, from behind, just slip it out of his holster, and there, I’d have my first hostage. By the time I got to the Time-Life Building it was almost five o’clock. It had felt like I’d been on a direct route back from where I’d eaten the slice of pizza, but in fact all afternoon I’d been weaving up avenues, over cross streets, skulking around the cornerstones of gigantic buildings – delaying for one reason or another . . . to examine the sidewalk outside the Chrysler Building on Lexington, for example, or to count the windows of the Seagram Building on Park. But now as I walked over towards the lobby entrance at the foot of the Time-Life Building, I could feel that it was getting late, the sky was dimming over, crowds were milling everywhere, women in severe pinstriped dress-suits, men in trench coats, all with briefcases, hundreds of them, flapping, colliding, darting back and forth over the concrete like molecules in a dish.
My heart was pounding like a jackhammer but just before I hit the revolving doors I heard a voice from behind calling my name. I turned around and must have had a crazed look on my face because the person who’d called my name looked fairly surprised when he saw me. It was Henry McDaniels, a coke dealer I knew. Seeing him sparked off two reactions in me: a feeling of being thwarted and an almost Pavlovian impulse to ingratiate myself with him.
“Yo, my man, what’s up? You lookin’ mean.”
“Hi, Henry. No, I’m just . . . bad day at work.”
“Forget that shit, man. What are you doing now?”
“Er . . .”
Redirected helplessly, I trailed after Henry into the lobby and across to the elevators. I glanced over at a security guard who had his hands behind his back and was leaning against the wall. He was built like a mountain and looked like bullets would bounce off him. I was completely frustrated now and felt that I’d lost any grip I had on the situation. I didn’t know what I was drifting into except that we were probably visiting a ‘client’ of Henry’s and that it would be either embarrassing or bizarre or both.
We were in a packed air-conditioned elevator and I was sweating. Henry looked down at me and said, “Chill out, man!”, and then, after being jostled further back into the car by new arrivals, “Damn! Don’t any of these people ever go home? It’s five o’clock already.”
We got out on the thirty-fifth floor. Henry’s client was a tanned athletic sleazeball who ushered us into his office and indicated to his secretary that we were not to be disturbed. The guy wasn’t much older than I was but his office was about fifty notches above mine on the success-indicator scale – if that’s how I chose to look at it.
“So Henry, I trust you didn’t come out of yesterday’s little scrape too badly.”
“Whoa, Tom, I never invested a dime in my life. Go with the cashflow, know what I’m saying?”
Henry planted himself on the side of Tom’s desk, a massive Olympic swimming-pool sized affair over by the window, and started chopping lines.
“By the way, Tom,” Henry said, not looking up from the work in progress but waving in my general direction with his free hand, “Meet my good friend Carson,” and then to me, “Carson, Tom.”
“Make yourself comfortable, Carson.”
I nodded, not knowing if I was coming across as polite or like a maniac, but Tom’s attention was firmly focused on Henry, so I suppose it didn’t matter.
I drifted over towards the window, half including myself within the range of conversation. Considering that about twenty minutes earlier I’d been literally ready to kill, I couldn’t understand why I was being so well-behaved. It was getting dark now and out of the corner of my eye I took in the blue wash of the city below, traffic on Sixth Avenue a shimmering rivulet at the bottom of a deep neon gorge . . .
PLAYBOY: Since the phenomenal success of Jump For Your Love over four years ago you have become something of a recluse. The tabloid press have kept you in the public eye with a series of sensational reports about your private life, but we assume the truth is somewhat different.
MUMFORD: Well, yeah. I stopped doing interviews after Jump and after I’d fulfilled my contractual obligations on that project because I was sick of reading the distortions and inaccuracies they were printing. But of course that made things worse because then they just made the stuff up, total fiction I had less than zero control over. I mean, one story had me living over the border in Mexico, smoking crack all day and picking up thirteen-year-olds. The Enquirer wrote that I beat up on Jennifer (Mumford’s wife) and gave all these intimate details about arguments we’re supposed to have had. I mean what is this shit? Personally I can take it, but when I see my wife crying, with a copy of The Enquirer or People magazine in her hand, then I’m sorrry, I just run out of patience.
PLAYBOY: Quite a lot of controversy surrounded the making of Jump For Your Love. You and Bob Zemeckis came to blows more than once on the set. Budgets over-ran. Industry heavyweights talked of another Heaven’s Gate. Even though the film was ultimately succcessful, where in your view did the problem lie?
MUMFORD: Well, for a time there the project was the hottest thing around, the book was still a bestseller and we were ready to go, but suddenly this shit with the Japanese happened and months started drifting by. I think our ‘sell by’ date just came and went. Then out of the blue we’ve got Bob coming on board, the suits are all over him and overnight Jump For Your Love is a Bob Zemeckis project. It was like a battle over custody rights, you know, and in that situation everybody suffers.
PLAYBOY: It’s pretty well accepted that in the period between the end of your world tour and the release of the movie you were a major role model and inspirational figure in the life of America. We wonder how you feel about that now, and if the Carson Mumford of today –
MUMFORD: – could inspire a slug? –
PLAYBOY: – if the Carson Mumford of today harbors any regrets, we were going to say, about how that period seemed to atrophy into what some saw as a demeaning, petty squabble over screen credits and percentage points?
MUMFORD: Look, anybody who gets involved in public life, whether it be politics or entertainment runs certain risks. You never really know where it’s going to take you. I just fell into it, literally, and in a few months was carried on a wave of public adulation into a realm of experience very few people even dream about. I was just a snotty kid from Kansas who thought the world owed him a living and then all of a sudden I’m on the cover of every magazine in the western world, being interviewed and grilled for opinions about things I had no business even discussing. I’m not trying to abrogate my responsibility here, but let’s face it, I was manipulated and used –
PLAYBOY: Yes, but surely given the exceptional nature of your talent, you –
MUMFORD: I wouldn’t call it a talent, and even if it were, even if I were able to raise people from the dead, do you think I wouldn’t have needed an agent? Someone to represent me? Do you think I wouldn’t have had to face the media? That stuff eats you up, and sure, you get greedy and you lose sight of what it is you’re doing but . . . I blame the corporations. They’ve made our world unwholesome place. They’ve made me unwholesome.
Things got animated. Tom and Henry were horsing around, leap-frogging over pieces of office furniture and playing softball with rolled up charts and an unopened pack of potato chips. Henry showed Tom a couple of things on the computer Tom didn’t know and Tom blew Henry away by reciting Darryl Strawberry’s batting averages for the last five years.
I was buzzed and feeling very nervous.
After about half an hour Tom said he had a couple of phone calls to make but that did we want to join him for some cocktails afterwards in a place he knew just around the corner? If we waited down in the lobby he’d join us in about ten minutes. In the elevator on the way down Henry started bitching about how Tom never paid him, how he always paid but only when he wanted another eight-ball or ounce which he wouldn’t pay for.
“Yuppie motherfucker never has cash.”
Down in the lobby Henry lit up a cigarette and the security guard whose gun I’d earlier been going to swipe came over and told him to put it out.
I suggested to Henry that we blow Tom off and get in a cab and go downtown someplace but Henry said to wait until I got a load of the joint Tom was taking us to. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. I was completely dependent on Henry now and although I was heavily buzzed anxiety was eating my stomach out. My mind froze if I pushed it in any direction. If I thought, for example, apartment or office or telephone call to Kansas I got what felt like a spasm in my brain and I literally had to shake my head as if to wriggle away from the thought. I could see that Henry was getting pissed off with me, too. I just wanted to walk away but I couldn’t. Then Tom appeared and he and Henry took off again on some bullshit, with me trailing behind.
The ride to the rooftop bistro of the Van Loon Building on 48th Street took about twelve to fifteen seconds and mainlining up through it Tom rattled off some pop statistics about the building for us: enough air-conditioning to cool the suburbs of a small mid-western city, so much marble it consumed the entire output of Italy’s Carrera quarry for a whole year, a 25th floor 4,000-seater arena suitable for boxing matches, trade shows and political conventions, 260 luxury suites – “
“ – with wraparound terrace, wet bar, woodburning fireplace,” Henry said in a jokey whisper.
Tom ignored this, continuing, to the silent opening of the elevator doors, “ . . . and the Bistro, as you can see, is something else.”
It was a re-creation, not of any interior, but of an entire Italian piazza. “The city space as glorification of the ruler,” Tom was saying, “and, in the context of the building, an emblem.” Each dining booth was a miniature palazzo, the central square a checkered marble dancefloor. Tom bantered with the maitre d’ and we were ushered over to the Palazzo dei Innocenti.
“It’s basically a sophisticated supper club,” Tom was saying, “It’s got topline acts, bizarre cocktails . . .”
I peered out of the window. The same untold quantities of electricity, the powdered crystal city . . .
“And of course the fact that it’s called a bistro, well, that’s a private joke between Mr Van Loon and his patrons.”
“Shit, Tom, what are you in PR now?”
“Let me tell you something, Henry. This building we’re sitting on top of fascinates me, and you know why? Because it represents America in a way the Empire State or the Chrysler never did. It represents – “
“But Tommy, tell me it isn’t . . .” Henry pursed his lips and searched exaggeratedly in mid-air for the right words. “Tell me it isn’t . . . in questionable taste.”
“Of course it is, Henry, it’s a monument to questionable taste, to bad taste, but not only that, it’s . . . it’s . . . look, in 1929 my grandfather jumped out of a fourteenth floor window – didn’t know that did you? – and he wasn’t the only one. They say now it’s one of those legends that built up afterwards, folks on Fifth Avenue delicately picking their way around all the ruined investment bankers splayed on the sidewalk, well maybe, but my grandfather, G. Ramsay Baldridge III, did it, man, looked out of that window and saw deliverance.”
I excused myself to go to the bathroom.
“Sure, Carson,” Tom said, “it’s over there on the right, by that fountain.” He turned back to Henry. “Because you know what the dominant emotion of America was at that time? Fear.”
“You don’t say,” I heard Henry saying as I left the table. I could see Tom wasn’t going to shut up and I was becoming very agitated. I hated them both and the fact that I was up here and the whole stupid place and my helplessness and the churning in my stomach. I didn’t actually need to go to the bathroom, so I went over towards the terrace to have a look at the view from that angle. Through the security grill you could see the city just like you could see it from through any of the windows. The security grill was the same stuff they used at stadiums to seal off crowds and I wondered if anyone had ever tried to break through it. Perhaps I’d be better off trying to get into an office downstairs somewhere and doing it right – from a window, from an ledge.
“See they were jerks back then,” a man beside me was saying to a young woman in a black evening dress, “all that abolition of poverty stuff, Hoover’s permanent plateau of prosperity – “
The young woman moved forward suddenly and kissed the man on the lips. I went back inside and across the marble floor. I didn’t want to return to the table so I veered over towards a corner where there was a telephone and a door leading into the kitchens. I slipped through this door into what was a blaze of neon. Everyone in the kitchen was dressed in white and all I could see before my eyes was a silvery fluorescent glare. Ideally this should have been a long tracking shot as I high-fived my way through the kitchen to a back exit, cigarette dangling, broad cocky grin, the black of my dinner jacket smartly contrasting the searing whiteness all around me, but instead I fumbled, almost knocking over pots and colliding with waiters and ignoring a growled, “Hey, mister, where you think you’re going?”
I went out through a back door onto a blocked-off section of terrace. It looked like a blind alley, except it was eighty-five storeys up in the sky. There were garbage cans and card-board boxes strewn everywhere. The terrace wall was fairly high. There was no security grill.
“Excuse me, sir, but you’re not supposed to be out here.”
“Give me a minute, will you?” I said to the young kitchen hand who had been sent out to retrieve me, “I just need a breath of air. I’m bit nauseous. Just a minute, okay?”
In a rapid sleight of suggestibility I actually did feel nauseous. I also had the growing sensation of being carried along by events a little too quickly for me to keep up with. I couldn’t face going back inside, because that would have meant either dealing with Henry and Tom, or simply negotiating my way out of this awful building on my own, and then what . . . taking up where I’d left off before Henry spotted me? A bar? 11th Street?
I didn’t know. I was cornered and facing a brick wall.
I glanced up, however, and saw that the brick wall I was facing was open at the top. This was the tallest building around, and all that was visible now was the swirling blue mist of the electric night.
I leapt up to meet it.
Clutching the top of the wall and pulling myself up, I balanced on my belly and dangled over the abyss. Far below I saw minute dots of traffic streaming along 48th Street. A little over I saw the rooftops of several tall buildings. More grandly, I could see the city and the awesome darkness of Central Park spread out beneath the night sky. I remembered other times I’d had views like this, startling and spectacular vistas that dragged life kicking and screaming into perspective. There was that time from the law office on Wall Street where I’d worked, and of course the first time I’d arrived in New York, landing in La Guardia at night, still a little squiffy after a well paced half a dozen Johnny Walkers, the avenues appearing as celestial beams of light, coruscating giddily, one after the other, as the pilot sashayed us over from Brooklyn, around the base of Manhattan and over to Queens. Less than an hour later, as a dimming afterglow at ground level, I’d sped down the FDR Drive in a cab, the Colgate clock to my left, a flickering meter in the middle, the blurred succession of cross streets to my right – speed and light, it seemed, being the two least dispensable elements of life in a city where the process of transformation was perpetual, never-ending, and where the possibilities of action, among the milling crowds, the rivers of human traffic, had long been reduced to the simplicity of convergence, which might get you into trouble and might not, and divergence, which in the long run was nearly always convergence postponed . . . my own uncertain dance between the two having been acted out in various different neighborhoods, apartments, local diners, delis, liquor stores, movie theaters, to say nothing of the succession of nebulous, shifting ranges of acquaintances floated into and drifted out of, lost now to the city’s congenital, interior, unstoppable diasporizing . . .
I lost whatever balance I had at that point and fell tumbling off the wall into the strangest whirl of sensation. I saw myself falling headlong towards the city – as though from a much higher point – hurtling down at what looked like a vast microchip, in which my life, encoded for so long, was now rapidly decoding, unscrambling. I saw flickering movements at the edges of my vision, like coils springing off a circuit board or huge serpentine cables thrashing about, but which could have been, in reality, for all I knew, glass towers sprouting up out of the dark sidewalks below. The drop seemed to last for a long time and I was aware of having concrete but confused thoughts, about falling bodies, velocity and acceleration, per second per second. Then I seemed to be anticipating contact, a surge of innocent bystanders, people hovering over me, a prurient shuffling, a hubbub . . . sirens . . .
But suddenly it was over and I was face down in the gutter, licking the asphalt. All I could hear was the sound of someone breathing . . . in and out, in and out, in and out. I wasn’t sure if it was me or someone else, so I shuffled around. Staring down at me was a large woman in an open fur coat and high-heels. She had a lot of make-up on. She reached a hand down towards me and rasped, “Need any help, Sonny?”
Without thinking, I leapt up and ran along the sidewalk, hugging the buildings, towards Fifth Avenue.
Also premiering this fall on NBC is a new action series, Dalton Dropper, based on the life of Jump For Your Love’s Carson Mumford, the skyscraper man. Each week, special investigator, Dalton Dropper, will find himself in hazardous circumstances that require a spectacular leap from some tall building or tower. Mumford himself will kick off the series in a sensational pilot episode in which he finally tackles the Sears Building in Chicago, a ‘gig’ that has eluded him for many years. Thereafter Mumford will act in an advisory capacity on the show and the action sequences will be handled by a special effects crew. “I’m excited about the project,” Mumford says, “and delighted to be working again.”
The show is sponsored by Amalgamated Equity, a division of the Oberon Capital Group.