POSTED ON AUGUST 24, 2011:
Reporting on Tower Man
My heart caught in my throat over and over as Tower Man climbed and slinked along the rungs of the now-ubiquitous Clear Channel Communications broadcast tower.
That first Thursday, I sat in my car, parked half on the sidewalk, half on a side street, unsure what was happening.
He wasn't the Tower Man yet. He was still just William, the young man with bright-red socks who'd climbed the imposing, 300-foot latticework of ashy steel like a scared cat.
Then rumors and reports started coming out like a never-ending buzz from the tower itself: he was mentally ill, his mother had cancer, he'd walked to Dallas, he could resist hot metal, he was a no-gear rock climber...
But as I watched, press tags hanging from my neck and camera in hand, sneaking shade under paltry parking-lot bushes, the rumors melted away. I could only see William, Tower Man, scared human.
Despite Tower Man's vague history of mental problems, despite his rap sheet and the constant shriek about wasted tax dollars, I saw sternum-pinching humanity in his ill-fated climb.
How many of us have embarked on bad-idea adventures that lead nowhere but further into trouble? How many of us have thrown up our hands and said (most likely to no one but the dog), "F*ck it!"
How many of us have been at the end of the rope and reached for the last straw, our backs broken, our wills bent?
I'd say, many of us have found ourselves cloistered, awash in our own fears, biting the hand that's trying to feed us if only we'll come down and be sensible.
Many of us have walked the hard road, unseeing to the blisters on our hands and feet, oblivious to hunger and thirst, angry sun and pouring rain, hands slip-sliding as we hang on through another night, and then another and then another.
By day six on the tower, William was down to his navy cotton boxers, loose on his haggard, dusty body. Someone was selling one of his fallen white Nikes on eBay.
He was dusty and tired, not climbing anymore, but hanging on for dear life. By then, every local media outlet had a body on the ground, guys in khaki shorts handled cameras while ladies in heels stepped out of vans to do brief updates.
From our spots in the grass and on bleached-out concrete, we heard that national media was calling. Tulsa's Tower Guy earned his fifteen minutes of fame without ever knowing what was happening on the ground.
Throughout the standoff, a common refrain was, "This isn't news, stop paying attention to him, leave him alone."
But most of us were captivated or disgusted or who-knows-what, and for reasons that aren't clear to me even now, we couldn't look away.
Our necks craned, we kept our sights trained on Tower Man's movements. Parents brought lawn chairs and children, we took pictures with our cell phones and police shooed bystanders away as afternoons dulled to evenings, and still, the Tower Man would not come down.
As I took notes and asked questions and sat idly by, I was reminded of Everything is Illuminated, the first novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, who depicted the heartbreaking life cycle of a tiny, ill-fated Jewish village. He wrote, "The end of the world has come often, and continues to often come."
For 127 hours, Tower Man's world came to an end in ruthless daylight and we were captivated.
Now, Tower Man has been released from Hillcrest Hospital in good condition, according to hospital officials. Tulsa Police said he'll be cited for trespassing.
-- by Jennie Lloyd
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A42002