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Fall guy; according to his doctor, the problem of taking spills was not a medical condition after all - it was simply that he was a klutz.


I have been accused of being unbalanced. Ican hardly deny the charge. As a child I never crossed a creek on a fallen tree trunk without falling in. (It didn't matter if the tree were a sequoia large enough to traverse in a double-decker bus. I still fell in.)

Age has not added to my balance. WhenI climb a stepladder in the fall to put up the storm windows, I always end up with my feet sticking out of the shrubbery at grotesque angles.

My doctor assures me there isnothing wrong with me. My semicircular canals are still semicircular, and my eyes are in the right place. After a thorough examination a few years ago, he told me, "Your problem seems to be that you are simply a klutz."

My wife observes that there stillmay be some physiological reasons for my condition, however. My feet, she notes, are relatively small (9C) in relation to my body (44 regular). She points out that when she first met me some 18 years ago this gave me the shape of an ice-cream cone. (If you have ever tried to stand an ice-cream cone on a counter top while you put your change back in your pocket, you understand the problem.) She says that as I have "matured," my shape has changed from that of an ice-cream cone to something close to a child's toy top. The ice-cream scoop is now in my midsection, but my balance is no better.

Normally, I can cope with thisproblem. I just walk and move carefully. But as winter approaches in my native Midwest and nature insists on coating the ground with ice and snow, I am frightened senseless. While other men display their macho and self-assurance by strolling across the ice and snow with great nonchalance, I creep like a 90-year-old man.

My wife--who can run across alake of frozen petroleum jelly after soaking her feet for three days in STP--understands my ego problem and helps me deal with it. When we walk together in the snow, she takes hold of my arm as if she were a helpless female balancing herself on the strong arm of her man--and then she holds me up until we are safely home.

I suspect that my particular, overblownfear of falling on the ice can be traced directly to a spectacular fall I once performed for a large audience while I was in college. It happened as I was leaving the English building, which sat at the top of a hill, connected to Earth by a finely polished sidewalk.

The sidewalk was covered with ice,and the university grounds crew had been out all morning going over it with emery cloths in the hopes of lowering the enrollment. As I left the doorway, I began to fall. The odd thing, however, was that different parts of me seemed to fall at different times. I would be almost to the ground, and then I would catch myself and think I was going to be able to stand up; then some other part would fall and I would recover, and so on. All the time I was moving down the hill at a rather alarming rate of speed.

The distance I fell was later estimatedin a wildly divergent fashion. One observer suggested I went from the English building to the business building--a distance of about 100 yards--in a little more than ten seconds, never really standing up and never really falling down until the very end. Another passer-by said the estimate was right but that considering both my horizontal and vertical motion, the distance was more than three miles.

I am not sure. My immediateestimate was that I had fallen for several days and had circled campus at least four times.

In any case, when Ifinally hit the ground I had split the seam in the back of my pants and, somehow during my long fall, had managed to collect a girl's scarf, a beginning algebra book, a worn guitar strap, and half of a red sweat shirt that said "iana" on the front in big, white letters.

A crowd gatheredaround me--some to check my condition, some to retrieve items I had taken from them and a few to complain about my indiscriminate grabbing of body parts. A few of the more sensitive people just stood around laughing.

Such a fall marks a man forlife--particularly when that man is of the variety who on dry pavement couldn't walk across the Isthmus of Panama without tumbling into either the Atlantic or the Pacific ocean. That's why I spend my winters inching down sidewalks and looking intensely at my feet.

The only bright side of my phobiais that it always gets better when the weather gets better. A lot of unbalanced people don't have that to look forward to.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Herron, Bud
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1986
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