The Meaning of Cliffhanger: Boons beyond the edge of safety

It has come up more than once over the last several weeks, most noticeably after the recent release of the latest installment of the Cliffhanger stories, The Curse of Santa Maurta as to what’s behind the name. The name of Cliffhanger for me is a personal one for two reasons, first I grew up loving the Jules Verne inspired films, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Island at the top of the World. Those films were done with a style and approach to adventure consistent with the best cliffhanger serials of their day and I fell in love with the optimism of how they combined science and adventure—much which was refined so well in the 1980s by the Indian Jones films, and Back to the Future specifically in the character of Doc Brown. I think I always wanted to grow up into something of a mix between Doc Brown, Indiana Jones, and Dirty Harry—and all of those stories were very top-heavy in the swashbuckling cliffhanger style of story telling typical in early cinema. For me personally the start of a love for cliffhangers was in the Disney classic, Island at the Top of the World. I always loved the fearless desire to solve problems in that movie while pushing to see what was around the next corner always presented in the style of a cliffhanger.

Also, for as long as I can remember, up until just yesterday, I have had a nearly obsessive quest to live life on the edge. I love danger and taking very large chances. When I was a kid I was always the first to jump from one cliff face to another while in a high adventure explorer post. And now I am involved in politics and transactions with other human beings that could have perilous consequences with even a slight misstep. But, in spite of giving peace a chance—I just can’t do it. If there isn’t a certain amount of danger in my daily life—I’m just not happy. I have always believed that some of the freshest and most innovative ideas come to a mind on the edge of reality—pushing the limits—and somewhere in that science is the key to invention.

My first jobs before I was 19 years of age consisted of a body-guard, a repo man, a fashion model and other colorful, short-lived enterprises consisting of living a very fast life as quickly as possible. It was on the way to a live stage performance as a model that I decided to marry my wife and chose a way of life that didn’t involve taking so many chances—thinking at the time that at some point my luck might run out. It turned out to be the very best thing for me as my first endeavors emerging straight out of a stable relationship were a gunsmith, an inventor, and an entrepreneur by starting a little company called Cliffhanger Research and Development. I desired greatly to invent new tools and concepts traveling to trade shows and filing patents on my ideas—and I did this for several years—until I was in my mid-twenties and realized what was stacked against me–politically. The world seemed poised to destroy the type of adventurous spirit I fell in love with in movies like Island at the Top of the World, and wanted to stuff my spirit into a box to be controlled. During this period of my life I met mayors, the extreme wealthy and learned to read the tides of politics. I learned a lot from one particular woman who lived in Indian Hill and had a very successful husband who spent most of the year traveling around the world avoiding his wife. I wondered often why a man like him would leave the fruits of so much labor behind to avoid his responsibilities in marriage, as his wife at the time had a lot of influence in the media around Cincinnati. After many offers from this woman and her immediate friends around Indian Hill to become a gigolo to them—it was an obvious conclusion that their husbands were driven by the same condition that pushed me along—a need for danger and adventure in their lives. However, I didn’t want in my wake such chaos and destruction. There had to be a better way, which displayed clearly to me that a new philosophy was needed in our culture that was clearly missing.

Instead of becoming wealthy from all my adventures I ended up being sued, owing a lot of money in taxes to the government, and putting a lot of strain on my own marriage just from some of the sheer risks that I always wanted to take. All of my endeavors where legitimate and well in the spirit of Doc Brown, but the world was deliberately standing in my way for some reason, and that condition became the next danger to overcome. It was the reason why I named my company Cliffhanger Research and Development. Much of my life was coming from the edge where literally every day could have been the end of my life as I knew it, and I was most comfortable in that position. I needed, and still do, to know that life is unpredictable from moment to moment and that anything can happen.

Over the years I’ve learned to waltz with this tendency of mine without leaving so much destruction in my wake. The desire to live life as a cliffhanger has become quite an asset instead of a liability—I never have a shortage of fresh ideas to solve complicated problems—because as I’ve always felt, most good ideas come from the edge of acceptable reality—the parameters of safe travel, intellectually. So I can take massive chances to my heart’s content—the luck never runs out not because its given out by some strange unmet gods, but because it’s internally generated through natural optimism, and I live a pretty good life without any regrets. I would still like to make my living as an inventor, but in the barriers to entry to that marketplace I found a much more lucrative target—the failed philosophy of Eastern and Western civilization.

The best way to tackle many of our modern problems and all the inventions that are being held back from human civilization because of a failed way to embrace a proper philosophy is the reason I created the character of Cliffhanger to fight crime and a world hell-bent on internal personal destruction. The characters in my Cliffhanger stories come directly from my past which is vibrant and full of color in a way that is unique. Really the lessons I learned living life so recklessly on the edge in my late teens and twenties has given me an insight into things that I haven’t been able to find in any books or stories that I have ever read. For me it goes back to that woman in Indian Hill who had it all—a wonderful home in an exclusive community, all her bills paid into the future for a hundred lifetimes of excess lifestyle, a beautiful pool in the back with a pool house larger and better furnished than most wealthy people’s homes, and a husband who liked her enough to marry and at least keep her from having to work for an employer. She had the adoration of the Cincinnati media and could call up some of the wealthiest people in the country any time she wanted. But she wasn’t happy—and her husband wasn’t either. They had lost their edge to life—the very thing that made them fall in love with life, and made them rich in the first place. They lost as they tried to secure their holdings with political maneuvers that took their fortune and placed it on the safe bets—thus destroying them as people.

For many years thereafter a friend of mine and I worked as part of his tree trimming business. We would climb trees and remove them from dangerous precipices on the property of many wealthy people. The men were always the same no matter where we went, and the women all had that hunger in their eyes for some needed adventure. During their climb for wealth they had lost something—that edge some sports teams have when they have a lead late in the game, then start playing it safe to protect it. More often than not they shockingly lose the game in the final seconds. The reason for that behavior became an obsession of mine.

I could now in my life become one of those people—but I avoid it like the plague. At a stop light just this week the temperature was 32 degrees outside and it was pouring rain at 6 AM. I was on my motorcycle as usual, my tires were bald from a hard winter of everyday driving, and the bike nearly slid to every stop I made. A guy pulls up to me at a stop light and yells, “F**kin’ ride hard man! You rock! Livin’ the dream!” He was of course referring to a middle-aged man riding a motorcycle on bald tires in near freezing conditions in a pouring rainstorm during early morning rush hour traffic. He desired himself to be out in the danger of life with me, but likely he was taught at some time in his past not to do things like that for fear of his own safety. Instead he takes other chances against life itself, like drinking too much, having relationships with other people who are dangerous and unhealthy and approaching safety in his life with a passive-aggressive rebellion they think nobody notices—like getting a tattoo where they think nobody can see.

Like the heroes from the movie Island at the Top of the World I have discovered in people something they don’t know much about themselves—perhaps not to the degree that I feel it—but most people do. There is a deep child-like yearning for adventure—for cliffhangers in their life where each day is a new one, and they never know what might happen. I am most happy in those conditions. I love the fire and I seek to stand right in the middle of it wherever it’s at. Because within it there is a boon to society that lives out on the edge, over the cliff—and often you have to hang over and extend yourself to reach it. So I invented Cliffhanger as a character to explore those boons. It is my hope that people who find their lives too safe and un-tempered in the fires of life will get what they need through my Cliffhanger stories. The safest way to bring people the needed danger their lives demand is through a character that is as fearless as anything ever put to print. But for those stories to have validity, they have to come from something tangible, and in the case of Cliffhanger—it does—a life lived hard and without a single day of reflection into something safer.

Rich Hoffman


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