It was about a month after I left college and I found myself selling shoes in a small town in southern Iowa. The year was 1970 and I was oblivious to how my life was going to change because of my being “asked” to leave college. I was living on my own earning $75 a week writing poetry about living alone. One of the bright spots was my old high school speech teacher was living and teaching in the same community. She was one of my favorite teachers in high school who I secretly had a crush on. (I suppose it’s not a secret any longer.) I was pleased to discover she was living in the same town teaching speech and drama at the high school.
The high school drama department was putting on the production, The Music Man, and my friend asked me to help her with the production. How could I say no? I was still clinging to the dream of becoming famous in New York and Hollywood and had most recently been a theatre major in college. I was experienced. At any rate, I volunteered and we worked diligently for a couple of months preparing scenery, coaching the actors, and hanging drops (painted scenery which drops from the ceiling). It was quite the set.
Opening night was successful. The second night…was not so successful. About mid way through the production a scene had to be changed by raising one of the drops. There were about 4 drops suspended by rope and pulley stored in the 80 foot ceiling. As the drop was being raised the rope came off the pulley. There were 5 of us trying to pull the drop up, but it was stuck. About 25 feet up the wall was a little balcony and I figured that I could climb up there and gain some leverage on the rope and perhaps get it back on track. The theory was working well and with the 4 guys pulling from the floor, combined with my leverage the drop was raising. We had managed to get it up about half way. And, then…I began to learn some life’s lessons, combined with a physics lesson.
The rope was old and it broke between where I was holding it and the 4 guys on the floor. The drop was heavier than I was so as it started to fall the rope I was holding went up. It pulled me out of the balcony. Now, I did a quick computation and figured that if I continued to hold on to the rope it was going to take me 50 feet or so to the top, strain me through the pulley and then I’d fall a total of 80 feet. I figured that was a bad idea – so I let go.
It did feel like time stopped and I was moving in slow motion. I was falling onto to the stage from the height of about 25 feet (without a parachute) and I was sure I was going to die. I was falling head down hearing, “76 trombones lead the big parade…” Then I hit – luckily for me I landed on an actor who was delivering his lines. He didn’t know what hit him. Unlucky for him when I hit him I cracked his neck. Lucky for me I hit him because he slowed my fall. If I hadn’t hit him I probably would have broken my neck.
We did bring the play to a screeching halt and I remember hearing “Is there a doctor in the house?”
We both survived, his neck hurt, and he had to wear a neck brace. My back and kidneys hurt, but we weren’t dead and the show did go on. This was another encounter I had with gravity and as I learned from the horse and the windmill I confirmed that gravity rules.
© 2006 Robert Allen Hill