Scaling the heights

Jan 3, 2001 at 12:00 am

Laura Hill has been a good friend of mine since I, 18 years old and looking like something barfed up by a mosh pit, kicked in the door of our college dorm and said, “I’m your roommate.”

Poor Laura. With her L.L. Bean wardrobe and Phil Collins tapes, she had never seen anything like me that close to her before. Two people more different aren’t usually thrown together outside of hackneyed sitcoms. Nonetheless, she loaned me her sweaters, became a great friend and is the only thing I kept from that year. Wise choice.

Laura and I both have mellowed since college, but some things don’t change.

She e-mailed recently asking if I’d go skydiving with her. I love Laura and wouldn’t want to offend her sensibilities, but instead of the polite “No thanks” that I actually offered, I wanted to say, “The only way I’d jump out of a plane is if someone inside was holding a gun to my head and I was guaranteed to waft gently down on top of a naked and welcoming Harvey Keitel.”

We’ve grown up, but our externals are still as different as when people were distinguished only as “punk” or “prep.”

Life worth living

Laura did find someone to jump with her, and during their discussion it came up that skydiving was listed on “101 Things to Do Before You Die,” a great special on the Travel Channel that lists all the critical things those in the know think you should take in before you check out of the flesh hotel. It’s full of stimulating, exotic suggestions and is a great story because everyone likes a list, and for those who work under pressure, death is about as solid a deadline as you get.

There are dozens of things on the list that I would like to do before I die, and a few that I have. One was easy: “Go on a swamp tour and learn to wrestle a live alligator,” specifically at Gatorland.

That’s right, Florida’s Gatorland is right up there with Stonehenge and bathing in the Dead Sea on a list compiled by the worldly wise as a critical experience.

Like parents seeing a kid graduate, I couldn’t be more proud.

The “101” checklist isn’t something that you Type A’s can tick off methodically. The average Joe may “ride a cable car in San Francisco” or “visit a nude beach,” but they won’t likely stay in the Presidential Suite at New York’s Plaza Hotel for $15,000 a night. And some things just won’t appeal to everybody.

“Sky dive in a spectacular place,” for example, thrills Laura to giddiness but would be on my list of “101 Things to Do Just Before You Die.” They also list playing golf at its birthplace in Scotland. Laura, who golfs, would like this, but I could only see golf if you planned on exiting the world by boring yourself to death.

People have wildly divergent hearts and, therefore, heart’s desires. When I asked one guy what 101 things he would do, I got, “Have sex 100 times, then eat a sandwich.” That didn’t make the Travel Channel list, but it’s not a bad idea.

A knowing glance

Still, since I know that Harvey Keitel, monkeys and Arabian music just don’t appeal to everyone, I wouldn’t list the 101 Things I Think You Should Do Before You Die. I can, however, think of a lot of Things You Should Know Before You Die. I don’t claim to be the philosopher queen, but here are my ideas:

1. How to fill out a ballot. Correctly.

2. Whatever evil thing you say about someone, someone else could be saying it about you.

3. How to speak another language.

4. How to read a subway map anywhere in the world.

5. Everything changes: Don’t get too comfortable.

6. How to dance.

7. How to pack.

8. Don’t wear painful shoes no matter how stylish they are.

9. Open mind; open options.

10. How to make polite conversation with anyone.

11. When to shut up.

12. How to take good pictures.

13. How to appreciate what you have at least as often as you whine about what you don’t.

14. How to drive.

15. How to drive a stick.

16. How much you have in the bank.

17. Bring beer.

18. What’s going on in the world.

19. Trust your gut even if it’s saying things you hate.

20. Live every day like it’s your last and treat people like it’s theirs.

21. Who your friends are and how to keep them.

OK, that’s only 21 things, but I’m not Gandhi, I don’t know everything. Feel free to e-mail suggestions to complete the list. It’s not just what you do before you die, it’s how you do it, and I’m willing to help. After all, it’s one deadline everybody has.

Liz Langley writes for the Orlando Weekly. E-mail [email protected]