I don’t deal well with personal challenges. Ninety percent of the time, I’m like, meh, it’s not worth it. I got bigger fish to fry, bigger beers to drink.

But 10 percent of the time, I’m like, challenge accepted, and then I start sharpening various medieval weapons, because I’m going to hunt this challenge down, kill it, skin it, turn its shinbone into a pencil box. *shoots randomly in air* Let’s dance, chump.

Now I got challenged to do this thing, and it’s right on the cusp of turning from that 90% into that 10%, so whatever, I gotta write something now. *throws pencils randomly in air* Let’s edit, chump.

Quick and dirty, here we go. I almost fell out of an airplane.

Yes, you read that right. Fell, as in, gravity. Out of an airplane, as in, out of a airplane. In flight.

Let me ‘splain.

Like many How Are You Not Dead stories, they involve buddies or family in whom I place a foolish level of trust in. Therapists will tell you that you’re probably not recognizing how you’re own attitudes are contributing to the problem. But pfft, whatever, scientist. All being sciencey and stuff. Playing the empirical evidence card. I see your tricks.

Ultimately, this is a love letter to a soldier.

We’ll get to that later. First, we’re going to talk about Tom Cruise. I graduated high school in 1986. I worked at a movie theater. The No. 1 box office draw in 1986?

(Top Gun movie poster)
It’s classified. I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.

Look, my friends and I have never claimed to be truly original fellows. We’re not rugged individualists. We didn’t set sails for distant horizons.

We pretty much did whatever Tom Cruise told us to do.

Tom plays pool? – the color of money

We played pool.

Tom flips bottles? — cocktail

We flipped bottles.

Tom plays beach volleyball? – top gun

We played beach volleyball.

Yes, we’re all totally heterosexual. Why do you ask?

In 1986, the biggest box office draw was Top Gun, and everyone I knew wanted to ride motorcycles like Tom Cruise, get the girl like Tom Cruise and fly jets like Tom Cruise.

(picture of Val Kilmer)
The hair, though? That was Val Kilmer’s area.

Look, the movie Top Gun was a Navy recruiting pitch in 35mm Dolby digital. In the wake of the film’s release, the U.S. Navy reported that its recruiting numbers went up 500 percent.

When the movie went to VHS, Paramount offered the Navy the chance to stick an actual recruiting commercial to the front of the tape. The Pentagon turned them down, literally writing, “(the movie is) already a wonderful recruiting tool for the military, particularly the Navy, and to add a recruiting commercial onto the head of what is already a two-hour recruiting commercial is redundant.”

(picture of Tom Cruise)
If the government trusts me, maybe you could.

Of course we had ideas of running off and joining the military! Tom showed us how to be cool! We were going to go Mach 2 and blow shit up!

(picture of Tom Cruise)
Negative, Ghost Rider. The pattern is full.

OK, maybe not. At the time, I remember thinking I would never survive basic training in any branch of the armed forces. I was too curious to be a grunt. The drill instructor would tell me to drop and give him twenty, and I’d ask, “Why?” I drove high school basketball coaches up the wall asking why, why, why. If I tried to pull that shit at Parris Island, they would never stop beating me. They’d get so tired of kicking my ass, they’d have to fly in relief ass-kickers for long middle innings of ass-kicking. No, the military wasn’t going to be for me.

I look back now and realize I was a colossal weenie. More to the point, the delusions of being Maverick, Goose and Iceman …

(pictures of Slider, Hollywood, Wolfman, Cougar, Wizard)
… and Slider, Hollywood, Wolfman, Cougar, Wizard, etc. Yes, I know all their goddamn names.

… were competing against the realities portrayed in two other movies that came out around the same time.

(Full Metal Jacket and Platoon posters)
Released six and nine months after Top Gun, respectively.

Tom Cruise had his picture of what the military was like. Stanley Kubrick and Oliver Stone offered, shall we say, stirring dissent.

I was never going to learn to fly.

But Jon did.

I have four close friends that I met in high school. If the lens through which I view the world is four-color, Silver Age comic books, then Jon is one of the superheroes.