Falling down. The movie. The metaphor. And the consequences of gravity.
Updated: Aug 1, 2021
I think most people can agree that Michael Douglas will be most famously remembered for his role as Gordon Gecko in the movie, Wall Street. But, I believe, the movie Falling Down features his best performance. All the guy wanted was some breakfast.
But this post isn’t about the movie, Falling Down. It’s about actually falling down.
I’ve taken two really good falls in my life. The first was when I was six.
Growing up, our family did everything with two other families. Vacations. Holidays. Birthday parties. Everything. Each family had two kids—a boy and a girl. My sister, being three-years my senior, was the oldest of the group. I was the baby. And all I ever wanted (perhaps even to this day) was to keep up with the big kids.
One summer the three families decided to join a country club in Conroe, TX. It was awesome. Our parents would play golf and tennis and us kids would get dropped off at this sweet ass Olympic sized pool. We’d spend the entire day running around that place like a bunch of crazy lunatics.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Your parents would drop you off at the pool as a six-year-old and then just leave?
Yeah. That’s exactly what they did. It was the 70’s. You could do that kind of shit back then. Today, you’ll get Child Protective Services called on you if you don’t put enough sunscreen on them. But back then, things were a little more laid back when it came to parental supervision.
We’d spend the whole day at the pool, terrorizing the snack bar and sneaking into the clubhouse where there was always a buffet set up and a guy on the piano in the corner playing “Tiny Bubbles”. We had a lot of fun coming up with inventive ways to get in. The older kids would come up with the schemes and I’d usually be the decoy. Let’s just say we ate a lot of prime rib and made to order omelets that summer.
The Olympic size pool was complete with Olympic sized diving boards. The high dive was 3 meters. That’s about ten feet. But to a six-year-old, it was a skyscraper.
The scariest part was climbing up the ladder. So many steps. To me, it felt like I was climbing into the clouds. It was terrifying. But I was determined to do it. When you’re the baby of the bunch, everything is scary so you learn to just suck it up and ignore the fear so no one can say you’re a chicken. Or even worse, that you’re too little to play.
Once I got to the top and was standing on the board, it was as if I could see for miles in every direction. But I didn’t care about looking around. I wanted everyone looking at me. I was up there. I did it.
“Hey guys, look at me!”
“Way to go little man. You gonna jump?”
Well of course I was going to jump. Why in the hell would I suffer all that climbing if I wasn’t going to enjoy a speedy descent to a safer altitude? I was taking my time but I was just planning out my dive.
I remember standing at the back of the board. I wanted to go but my feet had trouble moving. I looked down at my sister. She had a concerned look on her face. She was only nine or ten years old but in the 70’s that was basically considered an adult.
My knees began to wobble. My stomach felt queasy. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea? Yeah. This definitely wasn’t a good idea. I wanted to bail. I wanted down. But I had never seen anyone climb down the ladder. Just climb up. Maybe it was against the rules? I didn’t know what to do. But my sister would know. She could help me out of this jam.
I looked down to see where she was. I couldn’t see her anymore. She had moved while I was spending all that time knee wobbling. But I knew she had to be down there somewhere. Where is she? I held on to the rail and craned my neck to peek over the side to see if I could find her. This was not a good idea.
Falling from a high dive onto the cement is not something that swimming pools expect you to do. I’m not sure if they even had lifeguards in the 70’s. They might not have been invented yet.
I had a few things going for me though. First of all, I was a chubby kid. A chubby kid who would turn into a chubby teen and then a chubby adult. Which is something I’ve always been self-conscious about and for as long as I can remember have been trying to remedy.
But on this day the chubbiness paid off. Because the second thing I had going for me was that I landed on my stomach and basically bounced when I hit the ground.
I remember lying in a woman’s lap. And I remember deducing that it was not my mother because a.) my mother was in the semi-finals of a doubles tournament and b.) my mother didn’t sing to me in Spanish.
The kind woman held me while my sister ran and got my parents. I rode to the hospital in the sheriff’s car. I don’t know why they didn’t call an ambulance. It was the 70’s so maybe ambulances had not yet been invented either. I sat on my father’s lap in the front seat. I remember asking if we could go out for Mexican food that night. I don’t recall if that request was granted or not.
I had a good 30 years of gravitational kindness before the next fall. The wait was worth it though. This one was a doozy.
We had just bought our first house. The man who owned it before us was a woodworker and the entire garage was set up perfectly for a workshop. A friend who was looking to upgrade his equipment sold me his table saw, planer and jointer for $250. It was a steal and so began my love of tools and DIY projects.
I was determined to do a lot of the work on the house myself. And even though I did a shit job, I got a lot done. Once that was complete, my eyes turned to the landscaping.
Trees are beautiful. They’re great for climbing and giving out a little shade on a hot day. But they need to be properly maintained. We had big ones and they required attention, so I went to Home Depot to buy a chain saw.
A man’s first chain saw is a big deal. It’s a hell of a fun tool. I splurged and got a good one. You could take down a redwood with this son of a bitch. I tried to play it cool with the sales guy but eventually I had to fess up and tell him that I had never operated a chain saw and didn’t know a damn thing about how to use them. He took me behind the store, put a little bit of fuel in and taught me the basics.
The best part about a chain saw is the sound. You rev that sucker a few times and you just can’t help but go a little bit Leatherface with it.
I got to work on the easy stuff first. The low hanging fruit you might say. But soon my confidence grew and I was ready to tackle the limbs that were higher up. To reach them, I had purchased a 22-foot Multi-Position Pro Ladder with Powerlite™ Rails and an impressive 325 lb. load capacity. I had considered buying a lesser ladder but the Powerlite™ Rails really sold me.
The limb I had my sights on had grown out over the garage. It was a hazard. It needed to be dealt with by a man with a chain saw. As instructed by my wife, I was being cautious. And just as I promised I would, I wore protective eye-ware at all times.
I don’t know exactly how high up I was. It’s been a topic of debate since the accident occurred. But I do know that my 22-foot Multi-Position Pro Ladder with Powerlite™ Rails and an impressive 325 lb. load capacity was fully extended.
I can’t remember what caused me to fall. Did I slip? Was I positioned wrong? Did a sudden gust arise? I honestly can’t recall. What I do remember extremely clearly were the thoughts that ran through my mind as I succumbed to the inescapable and at times cruel consequences of gravity.
It was a hot day. Somewhere in the low 90’s. I was sweating up a storm. As I began to fall, I was enveloped by a cool breeze and I remember thinking that it felt very refreshing and pleasant.
But I also remember thinking that this was no time to enjoy the breeze. I had other things going on. Mainly, I was concerned with the fact that I was falling from a significant height while holding onto a still running chainsaw. I knew this was not optimal. I remember thinking to myself, you’re falling and you’ve got a chain saw in your hand. You should do something about that ASAP.
I rectified the situation by hurling the chainsaw as far away from me as possible. It sounded like an Evil Knievel stunt gone bad as it landed midway down the driveway, made a horrible whine and came to a rest with its motor still running.
The next thing I thought about was my kid. He was about a year old when this happened. We were in the thick of it as far as child raising goes. Those first few years are quite challenging from a physical standpoint. There’s a lot of picking up, carrying around a bunch of junk and butt wiping. I didn’t know what kind of situation I was going to be in shortly. But I knew I wasn’t going to come out of this unscathed and I worried about how my inevitable injuries would impact my parenting duties. How would this affect my butt wiping?
As I continued to fall, the next thing I thought about was my boss. I had just taken a new job. I had only been in the office for a few days. I’m not the best creative in the world and I’m certainly not the smartest. What I excel at most is attendance. I take great pride in maintaining a stellar record of showing up every day. This was going to endanger that and the prospect of having to miss work upset me. Also, I dreaded having to explain what was about to happen to me to my new boss. I worried that he was going to think I was flaky.
I’m still falling, mind you. But that’s going to end shortly. I remember looking straight up at the clear blue sky and thinking what a lovely day it was. My safety glasses were still firmly on my face but it gave me little comfort because I realized that if I was looking at the sky that meant I was falling backwards. This is not a good thing. I had learned firsthand from the fall I took as a youngster, that landing on your stomach had many advantages. And as luck would have it, I was still chubby. If I landed on my back that chubbiness would go to waste.
And that’s when I felt the hand of God.
You probably weren’t expecting a line like that from a guy like me.
Go on. Roll your eyes. Whatever. I’m not very religious and I’m still on the fence with the whole does God exist or not thing. Regardless, in that moment I remember thinking with absolute certainty, that it was the hand of God that was touching me. And here’s what it felt like.
I distinctly remember being tickled on my right side. I hate being tickled. Even when God is doing the tickling, I don’t care for it. So I reached over with my left hand to slap away the hand of God, which I know seems rude, but in the moment I couldn’t help myself.
The reaching over caused my body to turn in mid-air. Instead of landing on my back I come down on my right shoulder, which isn’t as good as a stomach but much better than a spine.
Upon landing, the first thing I do is hop up. Which isn’t advisable after a significant fall but no one was there to discourage me. Once on my feet I was quite pleased that I could stand. In my mind, that meant no significant damage and I took a bit of comfort in that.
I walk to the middle of the driveway where the chainsaw is still humming away. I reach down and turn it off. Then I decide, what I need is a good shower. A shower always makes me feel better. After my shower, I figure it would be wise to take a few Tylenol and lay down for a spell. It had been a heck of a day.
I wake up thirty minutes later in agonizing pain. Something is wrong and the Tylenol isn’t fixing it. I haven’t told my wife about any of this yet. I think I was embarrassed. Also, I was pretty sure that she’d take my chainsaw away.
I think to myself that maybe if I drive myself to the hospital, they’ll be able to get me straightened out and I can just keep the whole thing between me, my chainsaw, my 22-foot Multi-Position Pro Ladder with Powerlite™ Rails and an impressive 325 lb. load capacity and God the tickler.
I grab my keys and say I need to run an errand.
When I get to the emergency room, they ask me why I’m there.
“I fell and I seem to be in quite a bit of pain.”
“On a scale of 1 -10, how bad would you say the pain is right now?”
I don’t want to be dramatic and tell them it’s a 10. Even a 9 feels showy and unnecessary. Let’s not cause a scene here. I go with a 6 and for some reason start to explain that I played high school football in Texas so I’ve got a fairly good pain tolerance and the standard scale might have to be adjusted.
“What were you doing when you fell?”
“I was using my chainsaw to cut some limbs from a tree.”
“How high up were you?”
“I’m really not sure, but I just bought a 22-foot Multi-Position Pro Ladder with Powerlite™ Rails and an impressive 325 lb. load capacity and it was fully extended.”
“What did you land on?”
I look around at the other people in the emergency room. It’s a full house.
“Is this going to take a while?” I ask.
“Not for you.” she replies.
At this point, a man with a wheelchair comes up behind me. They ask me to take a seat and they take me back immediately for X-rays and an MRI. Afterwards, they wheel me into a room and the nurse helps me get into bed. The pain is excruciating now but I’m still hoping I can get back home quickly so as not to arouse any suspicion.
After a bit the doctor comes in.
“You took quite a fall, Mr. Eaker.”
“I did indeed. I’m feeling a bit of discomfort. Is there any chance I can get something for the pain?”
“Well, you have two broken ribs and a broken wrist that’s probably going to need surgery. You said your pain level was at a 6. Would you say that’s still accurate?”
“To be honest, I might have erred on the low side with that 6.”
“Yeah, I kinda thought so. We’ll get you something for the pain. But I want you to know how lucky you are. You’re my third chainsaw this month and trust me when I say, you came out best.”
That stuck with me.
At this point I called my wife and told her where I was and what had happened. I made sure to mention that I was wearing my safety glasses at the time of the accident. She came and picked me up. They gave me something for the pain but it wasn’t quite kicking in yet. I couldn’t even have the A/C on in the car because it hurt too much to have the air blowing on me.
I made it to work on Monday. I was on a shitload of pain killers but I was at my desk none-the-less.
When I was a kid, if you got perfect attendance at school, they gave you a free ticket to Astro World. I loved Astro World. But it was super expensive and I rarely got to go. I sucked it up all year long to get that free ticket every year.
In the movie, Falling Down, Michael Douglas’s character goes on a hell of a journey through the streets of Los Angeles trying to make it to his estranged wife’s house in time for his daughter’s birthday. I cry like a little bitch every time I watch the end.
In life, we all fall down from time to time. Most people do it figuratively. I tend to do it literally. But either way, it’s the getting back up that really matters. And if you’re lucky enough to work in advertising, you get to learn that lesson over and over again on an impressively regular basis.
The only advice I can give you is to stay chubby. Always put on protective eye-ware. And whenever possible, try your best to land on your stomach.