Horatio:          ...think of it!
                                             The very place puts toys of desperation
                                             Without more motive, into every brain
                                             That looks so many fathoms to the sea
                                             And hears it roar beneath.


          Baby and I were walking the bridge the day it happened.
          We had a beautiful afternoon -- clear, breezy, plenty of sunshine, bright blue sky -- though the traffic thrashed loudly. It was a Sunday, and so we'd expected traffic, and all the pedestrians didn't seem unusual either, at first. Knots of them congregated here and there at the rail, mostly on the western or panoramic side of the bridge, the side that faces the ocean. They pointed and hollered at the sights and at each other, as most strollers on the bridge were wont to do; for the bridge is an exhilarating place, with its soaring height and the constant bluster of salt wind and automobiles.
           What was unusual -- so it seemed to us -- was the range of interest or concern common to every face we were able to see, and, as we looked over the rail, the really extraordinary number of people already caught in the forcefield beyond. Among the latter many were yelling and gesturing at the people still on the sidewalk, as if daring or enticing them to jump. Some were squirming around, practicing their backstrokes midair, and some lay still, in a meditative pose, or cupped a roach against the wind, suspended and quiet.
           I should diverge a bit here, as some of you may not be from around these parts. A little over one year ago this particular bridge was a favorite good place to go if you were looking to kill yourself. Its central span arcs 254 feet above the sea's level, at which, because the bridge crosses the entrance to the bay at its most narrow stretch, there is always a powerful current, sometimes as swift as ten knots, going one way or another with the tides through this natural venturi. Many bodies of jumpers were never recovered and, up until last year, out of some seven hundred recorded attempts only twelve people had survived the plunge.
          Upon jumping -- whether west, toward the ocean and into the sunset, or east, toward the bay and into a view that commands half the city -- if a body didn't have a heart attack on the way down the impact at sea level was almost certain to do the job; failing these one could be swept out to sea and drowned, or die of exposure in the chill waters. Sharks, too, were known to lurk below. In any case, a suicide attempt from this bridge virtually contracted to be beautiful and deadly, a sure combination.
           For some time there had been editorial campaigns, meetings and committees about doing something to prevent these precipitous exits, but the taxpayer's good money being short, and other problems more pressing within the municipality, and the lack of any effective preventive technique hobbled and bogged down any real progress toward airbrushing this stain off the reputation of the city's most famous landmark. The thrust of such prophylactic thinking some took to imply that any time Joe Blow so much as looked at the bridge, all other factors being equal, he must be nearly overwhelmed by an urge to kill himself. These people would have it that such malefic urges must occasionally torque at the breast of the most established citizen, as well as the least, and that such urges are an actual furniture of good citizenship. This eccentric opinion, unexpectedly amplified, moved those sensitive organs of citizenship, the newspapers, to reflect noisily that the citizen might prefer to be insured against the possible or at least facile realization of his own self-destructive impulsions.
          Further speculation indicated that this beleaguered citizen, if not himself untimely deceased, may have lost to the bridge someone intrinsic to his social circle, a person handy, for example, at conversation, which, though thought to be excruciatingly dull while its perpetrator was quick among his peers, has since by virtue of its absence been noticed as somehow essential to the arrangement of chairs at dinner. Such a host and the citizenry in general might like to be relieved of this sort of nuisance by the knowledge that when they do happen to rest their eyes upon the bridge, they will see it hung all bristling vigilant with nets, pincers, inner tubes, inflatable vests, lifeguards, searchlights, hooks, pikes, concertina wire, rubber sacks, plastic shields, helipads, &c., in order that unseasonable defection might be reasonably inhibited.
         Personal motivation manifested itself only in the most ephemeral ways, as speculation printed and broadcast, editorials, political gambits, research-grant hustles and social maze theory, until two entirely unrelated events rendered it simultaneously germane and academic. The first was the unfortunate suicide committed by a young woman whose senseless body, plunging from the bridge at nearly ninety miles per hour, crashed through the foredeck and hull of a small boat as it sailed out from under the looming structure. The boat sank in an appalling three minutes, and constituted a significant loss to its captain who, alone on board at the time, was rescued by a passing fishing vessel. His cargo, however, was not saved. This ironic chattel consisted of little wooden replicas of the famous bridge itself, manufactured in various sizes, by hand, in cottages up and down the coast, regularly collected and shipped by the captain to the city for distribution and sale as souvenirs. The accident set these little bridges adrift by the hundreds. Whole and in pieces, left to the whims of the sea, they littered the beaches, inlets, piers, and marinas of the coast for months, as to all who might come by them grim, miniature reminders of the infamous utility of the giant original. This incident provoked much discussion, of the order that something -- anything -- be done about the bridge's ominous potential for death.
          The second incident was the perfection and commercialization of a patented gravity forcefield. Within a year of its introduction, and less than six months after the dispersion of the little wooden bridges, the city government caused to be installed a forcefield network which controlled the entire length of the bridge. Along each side of the span this marvel extended a sort of tube of weightlessness designed to catch and hold in suspension any individual or thing should might happen into its scope, until such time as the authorities might arrive to fish out the wayward article. Though in any case an effective deterrent, the collateral notion seemed to be that a potential suicide suspended in the invisible grasp of this device would be severely embarrassed by his public display, more or less as if he'd been clapped into the stocks in the town square with a large capital 'S' painted on his forehead, and thus inhibited from renewing his attempt to end his life in so public a fashion. Accordingly, in a fit of legislated avuncularity, no penalty, beyond mandatory psychiatric council, was proscribed for a person chagrined in this manner.
          From the very first day of construction and installation until well beyond the last, pickets who represented themselves as members of the 'Right to Die Coalition' conducted peaceful demonstrations on or about the bridge. Their case was that suicide is a private act, over which no entity outside the individual can exercise judgment; that one should be as responsible to one's own person in a self-destructive mode as in a constructive one; that this particular bridge was as good a site at which to perpetrate this right as any other and, in fact, being far more effective than most, was admirably suited for it; and, furthermore, to legislate public suicide out of the public eye was merely to sweep yet another fact of life under some sort of moral rug.
         The nearly daily scenes of organized protest were marred only occasionally. A young man, haranguing workmen not to aid in depriving the world of one of its most useful manmade creations, was carried away by the emotion of his appeal and made what the newspapers impatiently dubbed a salto da fe -- a leap of faith. As might have been expected two or three people, each apparently acting on the assumption, perhaps cherishing the hope, that he might be the last on record as having done so, flung themselves from the bridge during the final hours of construction.
          In the weeks following the completion of "Project: Wait!", much detritus collected in the two fields, for they were extremely sensitive, and just as indiscreet. The trash usually found along a freeway or sidewalk now floated alongside the bridge as well; this included the obvious beer cans, muffler clamps, and hubcaps -- but the devices were so effective as to disallow the whimsical escape of so much as a cigarette butt, not to mention loose stones, newspapers, condoms, and rain, so that this famous bridge with its famous forcefields became more famous for its asteroid belts of refuse. At first the bridge authorities, publicly announcing that they were working on the problem, quietly turned off the fields once a week in the middle of the night at maximum ebb, thereby plummeting the trash into the bay and sweeping it out to sea. But environmentalists and a couple of suicides soon got wind of this rather efficient practice and forced an injunction against it. Subsequently a special cleanup crew with unique machinery and techniques was designed and put into service.
          As soon as the effect on roadside detritus achieved notice, individual humans began to experimentally, then playfully, throw themselves into the forcefields and squirm around in them, gleefully avoiding the especially contrived retrieval devices that cast after these less than hapless and not particularly despondent victims. These people made the additional discovery that one could actually 'swim' a full circle -- vertically, or in any other direction -- like a looping airplane. Reports varied but one likened the experience to writhing in a large volume of transparent gelatin, excepting, of course, the degree of fluidity and the magnificent view. Firsthand testimonies were duly monkeyed in the tabloids (CREEPS DOMINATE FIELDS was one headline I remember) with the predictable results that the authorities spent more and more time and money skimming the adventurous out of the forcefields. These policing efforts were soon overwhelmed and, finally, so popular had 'getting jumped' become, everybody but the newspapers realized that, although throwing oneself with abandon off the bridge into its forcefields may be vulgar, it certainly did no one any harm. Thus it came about that of any given sunny Sunday, as the bridge teemed with automobiles full of onlookers, any number of people might be found wriggling or sunbathing along either side of the entire length of it, with a population bias on the western or 'sunset' side. And the police more or less looked the other way. To have spent an hour or so 'jumped' or 'suspended' on Sunday afternoon became a socially acceptable pastime, especially among the young, whose avant guard jumped while drunk or stoned. Certain lengths of the span soon became popular hangouts for the besotted, while other stretches were more popular with the stoned. It became not uncommon for a jumpee to find himself floating in company with a suspended quantity of vomit, or among a slowly dispersing nebula of stems and seeds.
           It was into just such a Sunday scene that Baby and I had walked.
           We hadn't gotten, nor had I intended to get, into this fad yet, but the time must have seemed right to Baby. She stopped walking before we'd gotten midspan.
          Heyy, now, that looks like fun, she said, leaning over the rail.
          It was true that under ordinary circumstances Baby would try anything, during which experiments I generally held her purse. We stood there, and as I tried to decipher the consternation evident on the features of all the faces around us -- after all, I was thinking, if they don't like it, why don't they just move on? -- Baby tugged at my sleeve and said, C'mon, Honey, let's do it too, let's get jumped.
          Don't be ridiculous, I said. What's in it for me?
          Here, asshole, she said, and handed me her purse.
          I held it and watched, still wondering about the appalled yet curiously fascinated expressions up and down the sidewalk, as she lifted a long leg up and straddled the wide rail. Once astride it, she hesitated. She could have been a little scared. After all, it certainly must have looked to Baby exactly as if she were about to kill herself. It looked that way to me. There were a bunch of happy looking people and a lot of trash floating out there, beyond the rail, but, even so, they looked very insubstantial against all that thin air and the tiny sailboats, far below. Baby looked sideways at me, and I couldn't resist a smile, as if to say, Yeah, so? and she frowned and pouted, then stood up on the railing, defiant; and holding her nose with one hand and pointing up with the other she executed a kind of timid hop, backwards, over the side. She fell about eight feet, decelerating all the way, then oscillated, coming back up a couple of feet, then down a few inches, up an inch. And there she hovered, as if dangled from a spring or rubber strap whose coefficient perfectly understood her mass; giggling and squirming.
           Hey, she shouted, come on! It is fun! and she waved at me, as if she'd just run into a line of surf that looked inviting but might have been thought too cold for immersion. In spite of myself, I gave a little wave in return.
           She hung there, two hundred fifty feet above the glinting ocean, but not far from a disheveled, vacant-looking fellow who, observing Baby's classy entrance, rolled, wiggled, swam and serpentined his way over to her, where he struck up a conversation. He must have been an old hand at getting jumped. The traffic was loud enough to prevent my overhearing their remarks, but as I stood there squinting, a very excited young woman came rushing down the sidewalk with one arm crooked under a clipboard. She word a 'Right to Die' armband just above her left elbow, its insignia a skeleton with one raised, clenched fist.
            A great day, she effused, stopping next to me to make a mark on her papers. We've nearly made the quota.
           I excused myself to her and inquired, What quota?
          Why, we've nearly gotten it, she said, and held the clipboard under my nose. I could see that its papers were covered with figures and calculations, but they were meaningless to me. One number, written in digits larger than the rest, was circled heavily in red pencil.
         Gotten what, I asked. What's this seven five nine?
         That's how many we need, she bubbled. Seven hundred, fifty-nine. And we're only a very few short.
         Oh, said I. Is this a petition? You mean you really don't know? It's... Well. Now that you mention it, it is a sort of petition.... Her voice, already closely contested by the noises of wind and traffic, was suddenly lost in a great roar that went up from the crowd milling about the rail further up the sidewalk, at the center of the span. These and some of the people already suspended began to chant the number seven five nine, seven five nine, seven five nine.
          My goodness, I heard the girl say. She pushed past me and pointed. He must be the one. We've done it!
          Following her gaze with my own I saw a man standing alone on the railing. He bowed deeply to the crowd beneath him, who cheered him loudly. After several fancy adieus on his part, consisting of additional bows, florid salutations performed with the hands, the blowing of kisses, and even a curtsy, I'd begun to understand, and shoved the girl with the clipboard away from the guardrail. The young man with Baby had his arm tentatively about her shoulders, and smiled as if beatified. Baby's eyes, round and tense, caught mine. As another, louder cheer went up, her eyes smiled and she laughed outright at the consternation undoubtedly blatant on my own features. A third time the crowd cheered, and the man on the rail jumped. He fell as Baby had before him, and though his oscillations were more pronounced -- he went down perhaps eight or ten yards, rebounded upwards two or three yards, went down again a couple of feet -- his additional weight did not destroy the forcefield. The people suspended in its grip bobbed gently, like gulls on a swell. I made my decision. Glancing up the length of the bridge as I vaulted the railing I saw that many of the bystanders, perhaps out of premeditation, perhaps spontaneously, had come to the same conclusion as myself. As we cleared the last bit of structure I could see that the void was full of falling bodies, enough so that as Baby and I embraced, as I looked into her eyes -- those lovely, mischievous eyes that did not retreat from the gaze of my own, oh, so foreverly -- my fall was hardly interrupted. Our combined mass buckled the entire field on that side of the bridge and Baby and I, and nearly eight hundred others, minus the thirteen of us, survivors predicted by the harsh statistics of experience, fell towards our deaths.
           And a victory, of sorts.