Getting High

I climbed to the top of the Jupiter Lighthouse a couple of days ago. I’ve been wanting to tour the lighthouse since our first visit here last spring, but I couldn’t get the kids to come with me, because the Jupiter Lighthouse and Museum has the M word in it and the kids announced two years ago that they are finished going with me to things with historic or educational significance. They’re big enough to bend my pinkie back until I scream, so I’m not pushing the issue.

So with my mother-in-law visiting (and so far she hasn’t issued any edicts or ultimatums) I’ve been able to do some of the things I’ve wanted to do since moving here, without having to make good on my threat to go alone, where people in Jupiter will feel sorry for me and know that I get no support from my family.

The lighthouse was just as cool as you would expect. I’m no fan of heights, but I have gone up some pretty high things. I did the Sears Tower when it was still the highest building on earth, before the Japanese put a curtain rod on top of a smaller building and reversed centuries of the short man’s syndrome that has gripped their culture. I’ve done the Empire State Building dozens of times, the Washington Monument a couple of times, and I went into the miniature Eiffel Tower-ette at King’s Island.

When we were in London two years ago, the kids and I climbed the 311 steps to the top of The Monument, built in the 1600s to commemorate the Great Fire of London. I hummed, “Late last night, when we were all in bed, Old Lady Leary lit a lantern in the shed . . . “ as I bopped up the steps. Halfway up I stopped to rest and saw pornographic graffiti that I didn’t get the disgusting meaning of until I read it out loud to the kids. At the top, a British couple made fun of me for calling The Eye a “ferris wheel.” So my trip down the steps was full of bitterness and anti-British mutterings. I got a certificate.

I think it’s interesting that you get a certificate for walking up the steps of a high building, but not for riding in old, rickety elevators that are far riskier. I’d like a plaque that says I rode up the teensy, pre-Cambrian elevator in the Philadelphia City Hall tower. When the elevator door screeched open, I crawled off on all fours and had to feign interest in the view of William Penn’s feet before the tour guide said they were closing and forced me back on the elevator.

My worst experience with tall buildings, though, was the Statue of Liberty. Pre-9/11, when you could still walk up to the coveted crown if you took an early enough ferry. Our friends Chris and Teri were visiting us in south Jersey and we all got up at some ungodly hour to drive to Union City and get on that 8 a.m. ferry to the statue. We flaunted our tickets that were marked CROWN to strangers, people in line with us and anyone who would listen. We didn’t notice that people were snickering. One lady took one look at the five little kids, toddlers and babies we had with us, raised her eyebrows and said, “Mmmm-hmm!” Yet no one had the good sense or politeness to say, “What are you thinking? You can’t walk up the stairs to the crown with those little kids!”

Even at the entrance to the stairway to almost-heaven, a guard just shook his head when I asked, “Can I take a stroller up there?” Yeah, right, a stroller.

The statue of Liberty may look like a matronly heifer, but she’s skinny, let me tell you. Until you’re inside her dress, you don’t realize she wears a junior size 1, forcing you to step sideways and spin in place a couple of times just to get to the next stair. And she’s tall.

My daughter will be in therapy well into her 30s because of her proximity to the edge of the railing as I carried her all the way up to the top. I knew about a third of the way up that there were going to be mental and emotional tolls. But not until the next morning did I experience the physical effects of carrying a clingy, chubby daughter, a purse, a backpack and a camera bag up a twirly never-ending staircase and back down. That next morning, I sat up in bed, swung my legs over the edge and stood up, only to collapse in a heap of pulled calf and thigh muscles.

So when I saw that the Jupiter Lighthouse had only 105 steps I laughed, scoffed, guffawed and openly made fun of the Kentuckians who wimped out and stayed at the first landing. “Asthma, my foot!” I said. “Get up here! It’s beautiful!” And it was. Great views, nice volunteer information-giver with interesting fun facts about lighthouses, and a cool, ginormous lens that you seriously would not want to look directly into when it’s shining.

And I got another certificate. Score.

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