A Movie Stunt in Real Life

Here's an old one from 2005:

I'm being tacitly evicted from my Salem apartment because my landlord hates me; she's refused to renew my lease because, among other things,I've continually denied the presence of a cat she knows lives here. So,I'm busily packing up my stuff and getting ready to move back to Portland, after spending a year sort of recuperating here in our state capital.
Today, I discovered that TV and movies lie. In any action movie,there's almost inevitably a scene where someone or something starts a rapid slide or fall from the top of a building, the side of a mountain,or a chasm that's suddenly opened up in the surface of the earth. The action hero reaches out a hand, and somehow manages to save the person or object from a terrible fate, single-handedly (literally) pulling them back to safety.

I can tell you, though, that in real life if the doomed object is an air conditioner that's started to plummet from a 2nd story window, when the protagonist of the story reaches out to save the air conditioner from smashing onto the pavement below by grabbing hold of the device's power cord, the story does not have a happy Hollywood ending.

Originally, I'd intended to pull the little 40 pound unit back inside the apartment to carry to a new home in Portland, but couldn't quite get a grip on it. I meant to lift the window just a fraction of an inch to get a better grip, but it stuck, and when I exerted a little more pressure, it lurched a full inch. This was just enough to free the air conditioner from the window frame that had been holding it safely in place since May, and my little white air conditioner succumbed to gravity's grip, immediately disappearing out of my sight.

I had enough time to have a feeling of horror; it was that same horror I felt as a child when a helium balloon would somehow escape my grasp and begin its ascent, rapidly rising just beyond my reach and up farther than any grown-up could reach. If only I'd held on better to that balloon....and the air conditioner.

Like the action hero, I wanted to save my little air conditioner from becoming just another broken pile of twisted metal and plastic debris on the pavement below, and I also had a brief mental image of it landing squarely on the hood of one of the cars parked in the lot below my window...the puzzlement of the owner of a 97 VW Jetta who, leaving work expecting a quiet drive home, would approach from afar wondering why someone had left something sitting on her car, realizing as she walked closer that the heavens had opened up and spewed forth a torrent of Hampton Bay room-sized air conditioners on her car (one air conditioner being sufficient to constitute a torrent).

Acting faster than I could have imagined, I grabbed the power cable of the rapidly descending air conditioner with my right hand, intent on stopping it and carefully hauling it back up to safety.

Instead of being heroic and saving the day, I discovered that I was more like Wile E. Coyote suddenly finding that the anvil he thought he managed to tie to the RoadRunner's foot is instead attached to his own just as the slack from the rope is about to run out, pulling him off the edge of the desert cliff ending with his head and body flattened on the top of the anvil. Rather than stopping the air conditioner, the air conditioner started me. I pitched forward, and was probably only saved by my forehead solidly striking the window frame. I had another fleeting to moment to realize that the end of the cord was approaching my hand just as the 3-prong plug burst through my grip like an Alien baby bursting through the chest cavity of some poor sod; soon, I heard the inevitable conclusion of my air conditioner's short flirtation with flight. It sounded crunchy.

My forehead was bleeding and when I looked at my right hand, I noticed that my ring finger had a couple of large craters in it and the top few layers of skin were flapping about like jagged translucent surrender flags. And though I couldn't see any flames, I was quite sure my entire hand was on fire. It took a couple of seconds for me to appreciate the gravity of what had just happened, and for a full 5 seconds I couldn't do anything but look at my mangled hand in wonderment that my straight-out-of-the-movies plan to save my air conditioner had gone so far awry. It was a couple of more seconds before I could bear to look out the window and see the mangled mess of metal that used to keep my apartment cool and comfortable. Fortunately, there were no cars in the space below, so I managed to avoid having to explain the situation to some angry mall employee who just wanted to go home without finding their car besieged by falling appliances.

Now that I've put my hand back together, I want to express my disappointment with the movie industry for convincing me I could be a hero to falling appliances everywhere. RIP, little air conditioner that showed what can happen when you Try This At Home.[1]

  1. Cover image by IceNineJohn. Licensed under Creative Commons. ↩︎