In which little Joshie, age five, discovers why falling down a flight of stairs is a bad thing.

When I was about five years old, growing up near Washington D.C., my parents told me to be careful of the stairs. We lived in a ranch house with a semi-finished basement. Because it was someplace company didn’t normally go, the stairs weren’t carpeted, but were left as bare wooden planks. For some reason, my parents told me to be very careful around the stairs. Their explanation involved something called, “falling down”. Now, I was only five years old at the time, and hadn’t even started kindergarten yet. Nevertheless, I was a scientific lad, and approached life from an experimental frame of mind. One day I decided to find out what this whole “falling down the stairs” thing was all about. I opened the basement door, got a good running start, and threw myself into the empty space above the staircase. I soon discovered exactly what “falling down the stairs” entailed. It involved a lot of pain and fear and disorientation. When I reached the landing where the stairs turned to the side, I stopped tumbling. I have vague memories of my mom silhouetted at the top of the stairs saying something like “WHAT WAS THAT?! ARE YOU OKAY?” I was shaken, not damaged too much, and made an instant decision to never deliberately fall down a flight of wooden stairs ever again. The key word is “deliberately”. Like most people, I’ve fallen down stairs accidentally several times since. My most notable instance involves the time my feet somehow caught on the carpeting. My entire body pivoted at the ankles so that I faceplanted on the carpeted landing at the ground floor. It’s notable because of the glasses I wore. They were quite large, and since I have terrible eyes, the lenses were quite thick at the edges, filed to be quite sharp around the edges. When I landed face-first, the bottom edges of my glasses actually cut into my cheeks. It happened on both sides of my face, so I figure my nose must have actually turned inside out for a millisecond or two. Stairs are interesting for more than just falling down then. One day about 15 years ago, when visiting England. I stopped by the costal town of Whitby. To get from the oceanside piers at the bottom to the old medieval abbey at the top of a cliff, you have to go up a staircase built into the side of the hill. It’s a famous staircase for two reasons: 1) It’s the one Dracula would have had to walk up when he first arrived in England in the fictional story about him. 2) No one can agree on how many steps the staircase actually has. Officially it has 199 steps, but depending on who you talk to, it can have anywhere from 197 to 201 steps. My brother and I decided to put it to the test, and arrived at different conclusions. I said it had something like 199 steps, and he said it had 201 (or vice-versa.) Even though we went up the exact same steps at the exact same time, we had different answers. A mystery! This is obviously weird and eerie and the result of psychic phenomena! Then we did a few seconds of critical thinking: when you count steps, do you count the bottom landing you start from as a “step”? I’ll bet most people don’t. When you get to the top surface, do you count that as a step? Some people might, some might not. I guess how far up or down you do depends on where you start counting from.