WING & A PRAYER 


WARNING: If you are a friend or family member of the recently-deceased Albert "Gus" Wing, you might just want to go ahead and turn the page. It's for your own good. Really.

Heaven's waiting room is a cool 71 degrees, and Bob Marley plays on the jukebox. Albert "Gus" Wing sits in a daze, wondering what happened to deposit him here, comfortably biding time with others who expect passage through the Pearly Gates. "Mr. Wing," a soothing female voice breathes, "would you come with me, please?" He moves as if to follow her, forgetting that his legs were severed completely by the plane he had jumped from minutes before. "Oh, that's right. Sorry," she continues. "Here comes the Ferrari."

Gus can hardly refrain from making "vroom-vroom" noises as the Italian performance car silently speeds him to the entrance to Heaven itself. There stands a saintly man, hair of silver and breath of mint. "Mr. Wing. It's ironic that you should find yourself named that," the man says condescendingly. Gus has no idea how he should respond. If ever there was a time to grin and bear it, it was now. "Right," Gus offers back. "Good one."

St. Peter responds, "No, it is honestly quite ironic. Not quite as ironic as the fact that you were given life and selfishly chose to end it by choosing a hobby like jumping out of a perfectly operational airplane, but ironic nonetheless."

Gus finds himself in a bind. Here was the man who apparently decided where his soul would rest, and he was blatantly baiting Gus into a verbal altercation. "You've obviously never made a jump," he respectfully retorts. Anyone who would cast aspersions on skydiving had certainly never experienced the thrill of getting a wind enema at 10,000 feet.

"Sure haven't, bud. I have also never tried to gargle with sulfuric acid or called Mike Tyson a crazy coon."

"That's different. Skydiving was a way of life for me. I would take pictures of other people just to see that look on their face ... the one that screams, 'What possessed me to do this?'"

"Whatever. You did it, and you're dead. Now look at you. You think that just because the rest of your life was spent selflessly, because you tried to be a 'good' person, I'm going to let you just waltz in here to Heaven instead of dooming you to an eternity of hellfire and brimstone."

Gus stares St. Peter in the eye and asks, "Just because I liked skydiving, I can't be a good guy?"

The response: "You can be a good guy, all right. But you're also a stupid guy."

"A stupid guy?"

"That's right. A stupid guy. Of all the ways to enjoy your leisure time, you had to select one that involved jumping out of a plane with a parachute strapped to your back. You could have gotten into golf, garage sales or even Civil War re-enactments ... but instead you decided it would be a hoot to throw yourself out of a plane and try to land. Look where that got you."

"Well, now, St. Peter, there are risks involved in everything. Just driving on the highways is about as dangerous as anything I can think of."

St. Peter exhales an exasperated sigh. "You 'thrill-seekers' are all alike. You justify these absurdly dangerous activities by rationalizing that life is full of risks. Of course it is! Warriors throughout history have put their lives on the line for noble causes, but you think it's acceptable that you died when you jumped out of a plane for no good reason?"

"Don't you get it?" Gus pleads. "To jump out of that plane helped me overcome so many other fears. Skydiving became an allegory of life for me. What could come my way that I couldn't handle if I wasn't afraid to jump out of a plane?"

"Minimal offense intended here," says Peter, "but that's quite possibly the lamest thing I have ever heard in millennia of doing this job."

Gus is at a loss. For as long as he could remember, he had achieved such a high from soaring through the air. Sure, there was always that little voice in the back of his head that nagged at him about the risk ... but as a man, he just used his innate ability to tune out nagging.

Interrupting Gus' introspection, St. Peter lays it on the line: "Here's the deal, Mr. Wing. You were a good guy who led a life of morality and decency, but undertaking a pastime like skydiving essentially reveals that a man has a lack of regard for life itself. I know you weren't aware of this at the time, but you were basically telling everyone in your life that while you enjoyed their company, you would prefer to pointlessly put your life on the line to get a few cheap thrills."

Words escape Gus once again. With so many skydiving enthusiasts across the world, why is he getting such a hard time? "Is it just me that you reserve such barbs for, or are you like this with every thrill-seeker's soul?" "Every stupid one of you. Every bungee-jumper, motorcycle-racer, matador and especially you skydivers."

"Why especially us?"

"Because the whole concept of skydiving is insane! You go through hours of training, suffer through the indignity of having a grown man dry-hump you as you fall to the Earth, and spend thousands of your hard-earned dollars to do it again and again! Each time you do nothing more than get in a plane with a packed 'chute, and risk life and limb so you can prove Sir Isaac Newton's gravitational theories to be true."

Had his life flashed before his eyes as he floated to terra firma sans legs, Gus must have asked himself if it was worth it to lose his life like that, to say goodbye to sunsets and Snickers bars just for the rush of skydiving.

Gus finally musters some weak clichés: "Everybody's got to go sometime, right? At least I can say I went doing something that I love."

"What, feeding your legs to a propeller? Sorry, I'm not buying it," St. Peter snaps. "There's nothing noble about skydiving. Even if you're parachuting into enemy territory, you're still not getting in here."

"What? Soldiers who die trying to get behind enemy lines through the air don't get in?"

"Hellloooo, McFly, there's a little commandment that says, Thou shalt not kill!"

"Oh. Forgot that one. So, where am I going?"

"I'll just say this: Tell Mitch Hedberg I said he's still not funny."

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