This city's residents always have been exceedingly stingy with their adulation. Thus, it was with their customery indifference that they learned of an unidentified fellow who parachuted off the 110-story World Trade Center here the other day and sped away in a waiting car.
The New York Times, which would play the end of the world with customary restraint, ran the story on page 37; the zestier tabloid Daily News gave the story a modest page 5 display. Cab drivers, those bellwethers of local opinion, pressed to philosophize about the event, barely gave it the dignity of a shrug.
Nor did the police seem overly concerned. Five days after the great leap, when police were reasonably certain they had identified the jumper -- after four people had called to take the credit -- they still were not rushing to press charges.
"I don't really know what we're going to do," said a World Trade Center spokesman, adding with no apparent intent at humor, "We're really still up in the air."
New York ennui -- what is quite like it? In fairness, of course, it should be pointed out that this was not the first parachutist to take the leap, merely the second. And he was only the latest in a series of adventurers who have come to view the World Trade Center as a sort of jumping off point. There was Philippe Petit, a French street performer who walked a tightrope between the twin towers in 1974 to considerable acclaim.
George Willig, a mountain climber, scaled the south tower in 1977 to become a folk hero, for a time. In between, in 1975, Owen Quinn, a unemployed construction worker, parachuted off the roof, saying later that he had done it to draw attention to poor people.
Quinn was charged with disorderly conduct and made 15 court appearances. In his case, the adulation was slim. It may be that New Yorkers are not partial to parachutists, or that parachutists are just harder for TV crews to catch.
Nonetheless, when a fellow (or a girl) straps a chute on and does something silly, it seems someone ought to pay attention. So we called up the most recent chutist, one Van Rafuse, age 23, in his home in Morristown, N.J., to chat.
Such information as how many jumps he had made (657 -- these fellows always know exactly) and his type of chute (some sort of square job that's easier to steer than a round one) did not interest us. Nor did we give a hoot about the "why for." ("Tough to answer if you're not a skydiver," said Rafuse soberly. Good. Don't.)
No, fascinating to us was how Rafuse had gotten past the Trade Center's security system (he put the chute in a shopping bag and stapled it with a receipt sticking out, truly a master touch) and how he selected P-Day and prepared himself spiritually.
"The reason, I did it Saturday was the winds were very low and they were coming from the southeast -- pushing me away from the building," he said. "But when I first got up, it was such a gray, overcast day, I didn't think I would do it. I just sat around the house with some friends, eating Dunkin' Donuts, watching Roadrunner cartoons. Every time the coyote would fall over the cliff -- you know how he does it -- friends would laugh like crazy and say, 'Hey, man, that's you!"
The flight was fine, as expected. Touchdown was a snap, pardon the expression. He sped away in a waiting car driven by his brother-in-law, and kept anonymous because he didn't want to get in any legal trouble.
But it shortly became evident, particularly as he had told everybody in the skydiving community, that the police would soon get wind of him, so he contacted them first. And odd problem for everyone, as it turns out, because the police can't find anyone who can make a positive eyewitness identification, and because even if they do, at most Rafuse can be charged with a misdemeanor, and you can't extradite from Jersey for that.
Thus, the entire business has been temporarily put on hold; the police searching for their eyewitness, Rafuse going about his life.
In which part of the time he's a college student. And the rest of the time he's a security guard.