Young and Stupid

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When I was 19, immortal and free of the need of my parent's permission, I jumped out of an airplane. My exit off the wing was perfect but I botched the landing and broke my leg. On the way to the hospital we celebrated with a special herb from Columbia my buddy and I had saved for the occasion. Arriving at the hospital serenely happy, I was immediately whisked into surgery and outfitted with a large, heavy cast. I still have three heavy screws in that leg.

You'd have thought I would learn something about risk, but I was 19. Living on a lake with a bunch of other rowdy kids, I promptly took our tiny sailboat out with my broken leg, an old broom for a paddle and no life jackets. If I had gone overboard, I would've sunk to the bottom like a Mafia hit.

A month after the parachuting accident on our way home late one night after some serious partying, my friend swerved to avoid a possum crossing the road. Of course no one was wearing a seat belt, as the car rolled three times. Chuck Berry was playing 'No Particular Place to Go' on the eight-track as we came to an abrupt end in a ditch, headlights shining up into the darkness, windshield gone, tires hung up on fenders.

We managed to extricate ourselves and limped to the hospital. My friend had broken his neck and I had a cracked sternum to add to that broken leg. As soon as my cast was off I bought a nice Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. No helmet! By the end of my 19th year I had been arrested and thrown into the Knox County Jail and tear-gassed at an anti-war rally in D.C.

I did survive that last teen year, but barely.


For 45 years since then I've been free of major illness or injury, thanks in no small part to equal helpings of luck and adult common sense. But recently I took a serious fall while running and this week I had rotator cuff surgery. I have lost the use of my right arm for six weeks. It may never get back to normal. But I managed to survive young and stupid. I'm hoping older and wiser is just as forgiving.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.