Friday, July 29, 2005

In 1997 I jumped out of a perfectly good plane while it was in the air. I had just recently moved to San Francisco from New York city for a job at Oracle as a UI Designer. I didn't know anyone in the Bay Area, but I was attracted to the prospect of living in SF and Oracle had a really snazzy 4,400 sq ft gym. I figured if I didn't like it I could always move back to NYC. The only person I really knew was Paolo, a friend who had recruited me to work at Oracle. Early on Paolo introduced me to Sebastian, another new Oracle employee who was from Argentina.

Sebas and I were hanging out one day and he said he'd always wanted to try skydiving. I said that would be cool and that if he ever wanted to do it I'd be game. The Friday of that week he called me up and said he'd made an appointment for the two of us in Hollister, CA for the next morning at 7am.

We got up brutally early and made the drive to Hollister which is way the hell over in nowheresville. We signed in and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally we realized that they were doing a training and safety class inside for the jumpers and we were missing all of it. When they came out of the class we somehow still managed to go on the jump.

This was a tandem jump, meaning a jumpmaster would be strapped to my back and he would operate the chute. This way we could go up higher and freefall for a good 30 seconds before he pulls the ripcord. My guy's name was Bill. I also had the option of having the entire thing photographed and videotaped. This means another expert jumper will jump alongside with you while operating the cameras attached to her helmet with her teeth. Sweet, I signed up for that.

It was a full plane. There was no door to the hatch. We climbed to 13,000 ft ? (and I could be totally wrong about this height, I really don't know since we had missed the safety traning class.) My jumpmaster and I were the last on the plane to jump. This meant that I saw everyone else lean out and disappear over the hatch. Slowly and awkwardly, since Bill was tied to my back, we made our way to the open hatch. Between the doorway and the earth is air. The horizon looked like it curved just a little. Lots of trapezoidal farmland like a jigsaw puzzle.

My videographer, Jane, climbed out the hatch before us and hung onto the doorway outside of the plane, waiting for us to jump out. We leaned over together and then we're falling. I begin to yell exultantly with Jane about 5 yards away flying in front of us. I could barely hear my own screaming. Jane is circling us. I'm Superman, dammit! Superman!

Then Bill lets me know he's about to open the chute. He does. I feel a slight bouncy pull as we slow our descent. And then another few bounces. A few seconds later, Bill tells me to look up and I see the open chute. He hands me the reins and I steer for a little while. The one thing that struck me the most was how quiet it was. Beautifully quiet. I was also very out of breath, since all my yelling had me gasping for air but the oxygen was thin at that height. I sort of hyperventilate the whole way down. But i didn't care I was so exhilarated.

As we near the ground, Bill takes over the reins of the chute. The ground is coming up kind of fast and he says in my ear, "When I say 'Stand up', just stand up. Okay, Stand up." I stood up. And that was how we landed. Perfection.

A van picked us up to bring us back to base and while in the van Bill asked Jane, our videographer, "Hey, did you see what happened with our chute?"

"Yeah," said Jane, "I thought I saw something, but then I had to pull my own."

"It didn't open all the way," Bill said. "Half the canopy was folded under itself. I kept pulling and pulling to get it to open all the way. I thought to myself I'm going to pull just one more time and if it doesn't work, I'll have to rip this one loose and go to reserve." (Every jumpermaster has two chutes, the second is a backup/reserve in case the first malfunctions.)

"Well, that last pull did it. It unfolded and it was ok."

And i'm sitting there, listening to all this, happy as a lark because there's tons of adrenaline still flowing through my body because I had just jumped out of a perfectly good airplane and lived to tell the tale.

I tried to view the canopy malfunction on my video tape they gave me. But they actually edited it out! There's a shifty jump right when our chute opens to when Jane's own chute opens. Bummer. Would've liked to have seen that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

When our son, Milo, was born we had to decide whether to circumcise him or not.

Thirty years ago this wouldn't have been an issue, circumcision was believed to be the 'sanitary' thing to do. But in the last 10 years the American Medical Association has stopped recommending circumcisions. I consider the AMA to be pretty conservative so for them to reverse themselves gave me pause. And when I thought about it I realized that an unnecessary circumcision is pretty much genital mutilation.

I come from a family of doctors. My mother was a pathologist up until my middle brother was born. My oldest brother is in infection diseases doing AIDS research in Nairobi, Kenya and my father, well guess what, he's a urologist. That's right, the guy who deals with kidneys, prostates, enter-your-penis-joke-here. So I asked him for his thoughts.

He said that americans tend to be circumcised because it was thought to be cleaner for the genitals. But europeans are generally not and they don't seem to have the sanitary issues that americans were concerned about. So now they abstain from suggesting one way or the other and let the parents decide. He brought up a few interesting cases where young adults or adult men without circumcisions would develop a situation where the foreskin would continue to grow beyond the head of the penis. At which point a urologist would have to perform a circumcision.

Obviously it's a painful experience and one argument is to have it done as an infant so that the experience would be more tolerable, since one doesn't recall their infancy. The counterpoint is that even though you don't remember infancy it doesn't make the pain any less for said infant. Also, if the advice is to have it done as an infant as a preventative measure in case the foreskin grows beyond normal - well, how potential is this case scenario? There isn't enough statistics to definitively show the probability because, again, most american males are circumcised.

Other reasons fathers have their sons circumsized are: because the father is and wants his son to be the 'same way' (I thought this fairly lame - genitally mutilate my son's penis for cosmetic reasons???); because then they won't feel awkward when they're young adolescents in the gym shower, singled out for looking funny (again, cosmetic); religion (I'm not Jewish, although my wife's grandfather was Jewish her family doesn't identify themselves as Jews.)

At this point, Merritt, my wife, let me be the sole decision-maker on this, since clearly I was very troubled over the ramifications and I was doing a very thorough job of researching it. (She also said something about not having much experience with non-circumcisions anyway.)

Then I asked my brother, the infectious disease doctor in Kenya, what he thought. He was very clear. He had been reading about some preliminary medical research showing that non-circumsized penises had a greater chance of catching sexually transmitted diseases (or perhaps I should say circumcized penises had a lesser chance of catching STD's?) So if I thought my son would ever be sexually active, cut it.

My brother's point stuck with me and I ultimately decided to have it done. I also decided to witness the procedure since I was the one who made the fateful decision. That was a very stupid idea. Don't do this. Just hand the baby to the nurse and wait for them to give him back to you. Man, was that a bad idea.

My oldest brother just had a baby, a son. And when it came time to circumsize him, his wife had second thoughts. My brother was like, "Honey, we have to do it. I just told Fred to do it, so we have to do it." And it was done.

Then a few weeks later this article in the SFGate and another from the AFP confirmed my brother's report.

Monday, July 25, 2005

We're back from San Francisco (San Pancho), Mexico! It was a very relaxing trip. The weather was hot and humid and it rained about a a quarter of the time but the location was perfect. It was far enough off the beaten path from the hubub of tourism. The house itself was quite nice, right on the beach with its own pool. It was recently built and there was a lot of thought put into the design with an open air kitchen and upstairs bedroom, and a closed 1st floor bedroom with air-conditioning. The pic above was the view from the kitchen.

We basically hung out, swam, ate, swam and read for the majority of the time. The beach was great but the ocean waves tended to be rough, definitely too rough to swim with our son, Milo.

Getting there was very easy. Just a 3 and a half hour flight from SFO to Puerto Vallarto, MX and then about an hour drive north. Puerto Vallarta had its own Walmart so you can imagine what that town was like. But where we were was much more rustic, in fact, you had to drive to PV just to find an ATM or post office! One neighboring town was Sayulita which is kind of a surfer's destination but still pretty nice.

I think two weeks was just a tad too long. I was definitely ready to come home.

We are going on a 2 week vacation to San Francisco. San Francisco, Mexico that is; also known as "San Pancho". It's a small, off the beaten/touristy path town near Puerto Vallarta. We're renting a house that has its own pool which is good since July is an extremely hot (non-ideal) time to be vacationing in Mexico. However, we're very excited for the trip, to use our spanish (Merritt's is fluent, mine is pretty good), check out of American reality and immerse Milo in a foreign language environment. You can see more info on SF, MX by clicking here.

Although the house has internet access I will not be packing the laptop. I repeat I will be without internet connectivity for two weeks straight. I doubt there will be any internet cafe's where we're going (although you never know) so this will be an interesting experience for me. Merritt's looking forward to it.

Today is also our 4th year anniversary, so this trip is a bit of a anniversary present as well. I discovered that the 4th anniversary material is either "books, flowers and fruit" or "electrial appliances". More info on anniversary gift material's here.