Christian offers me his hand, inviting me to join him. The basket floats just above the ground by about a foot or two. I take Christian's hand and step aboard. My added weight causes the basket of the hot air balloon to touch down on the earth with a soft thud.
I said "thud."
I see Crockett handling the burner, which heats the air until it causes the envelope to raise heavenward. The envelope is the actual balloon part of the hot air balloon, and the basket can also be referred to as a gondola. That's Mister Gondola, to you.
"Let's do it," Christian says, looking at me but talking to Crockett.
"Okay, boss," Crockett says, and gives the burner a boost.
Slowly, the magnificent beast defies gravity and pulls away from the earth. It lifts us higher and higher into the atmosphere. I look over the edge of the basket, and see the airport growing tinier and tinier beneath me, the people looking like ants. Ants with arms and walking on two legs, that is.
"Do you feel reckless?" Christian asks me, with a mischievous grin on his face.
"You bet I do, boss," Crockett answers.
"Not you, you idiot," Christian barks at his right-hand man. "I'm talking to Ana."
"You bet I do, Christian," I answer.
"Not you, Ana," he tells me. "Can't you see I'm talking to Crockett? Can't anyone follow a simple conversation?"
Neither of us say anything.
"That's an open question," Christian enlightens us. "Either of you can answer."
Crockett answers by goosing the burner even more.
I answer by moving closer to him.
"I feel reckless," I whisper seductively, feeling the warmth of his body. I had always heard about the mile-high club. I wonder if this is what Christian has in mind. With Crockett right there? Oh my, that would be naughty.
Christian reaches down and pulls out something long and hard.
A bungee cord.
He secures it around his feet, opens the gate to the gondola, and dives off the side in an Olympic-quality exemplification of bungee jumping. When he reaches the end of the bungee cord's elasticity, it snaps him back, and he sticks a graceful three-point landing any Russian gymnast would be proud of.
"Your turn," he tells me, as he removes the bungee cord from around his ankles.
Uh, uh. No way. I'm against euthanasia, and I'm not talking about Chinese children.
"No," I tell him
"You won't believe how exhilarating it is..."
"...or how alive you'll feel..."
"...when you stare death in the eyes and laugh in its face."
"How many times do I have to tell you..."
"There will be a Hostess Twinkie waiting for you when you get back," he bribes.
What can I say, his bribing works. If bungee jumping doesn't make me feel more alive, the Twinkie sure will. Do you know what I like most about Hostess Twinkies? There's two of them. And I'm not just saying that because of all the free Twinkies the company is paying me with for product placement.
"I just need to know how much you weigh."
"Your weight. I need to know how much you weigh so I can choose the proper length of cord."
"Aren't they all the same?"
"Of course not, Ana. You do understand physics, don't you?"
If I wanted to understand physics, I wouldn't have slept through my classes in college.
"Mumble, mumble, mumble," I mumble.
"What, Ana? I couldn't hear you, you've got to speak up."
I think about it. Control freak that he is, he'll never stop pestering me. So, should I tell him in pounds, in stones, or use the metric system? I decide to go with pounds. It sounds thinner.
"Good girl," he says, and chooses the proper length of cord.
He secures one end to my ankles, and double-checks that the other end is attached properly to the gondola. He must really care for me, if he takes the time and effort to make sure I don't die a horrible death.
"Make me proud," he says.
"I will, boss," Crockett answers.
I do a graceful swan dive off the side of the basket in an attempt to impress Christian, and my body cuts through the brisk air like cold steel. I drop toward the ground faster than Bill Clinton's pants at the Miss Arkansas pageant. I feel so free as I plummet toward the earth, so... alive. Darn that Christian, it is exhilarating. I wish I could fall forever, like that Chinese girl at the end of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and I'm not just saying that because Ang Lee promised me a part in his next movie.
The bungee cord stretching, stretching, stretching...
My face slams into the ground.
I shouldn't have lied about my weight, I think to myself.
There's a pause, and then the cord snaps back up with a force so great my head hits the bottom of the basket. Which forces me to go down, and not in the fun way, again hitting the ground. I leave an imprint this time of my nose, eyes, and open mouth.
I shoot back up. There's a dent where my head had hit before. I leave another one. I keep slamming up and down, up and down. Oh my goobers, it seems like it's never going to end.
Basket! Ground! Basket! Ground!
WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!
By the grace of Lord Xenu, one of Newton's Laws of Motion finally kicks in and I find myself just dangling by the bungee cord off the side of the hot air balloon.
"Ana!" I hear Christian call from above. "Are you okay?"
I'm too stunned to answer. Also, the chunk of grass stuffed into my mouth like a good sex act gone bad doesn't help. I feel the cord being tugged on above me, but, between Crockett and Christian, they're unable to pull me up.
"Doobie!" Christian calls out, his voice in a panic.
A whiff of burning herbs whooshes past me, the pungent smell lingering.
"Yes, Harry?" a familiar voice slurs. He must pause to look around, because he says, "Talk about being high."
I can almost picture Doobie's moist, round eyes blinking in the high altitude.
Christian ignores Doobie's faux pas with his name, and quickly commands, "Quick, Doobie, get Ana!"
"Yes, you four-eyed mumble, mumble, mumble."
There's another pause. Then I hear Doobie take a deep drag from one of his special hand-rolled cigarettes.
"Liftus elephantus!" he exhales.
Somehow, I find myself back in the basket. I look around and see only Crockett and Christian.
"Are you okay, Ana?" Christian asks, concern in his eyes. With a gentlemanly swipe of his sleeve, he wipes the green gobs of concern away.
I spit out the chunk of real estate from my mouth...
Spit! Spit! Spit!
...and assure Christian that I am.
There's such loving concern in his eyes, as he gently cleans the dirt from my face.
"You've soiled yourself," he tells me.
"Trust me, that's not soil," I tell him back, wrinkling my nose.