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To make most of falls thrill, use a tether

I apologize in advance to morbid thrill-seekers. I hope that the insensitive and perverse will excuse me. But there is no way Nik Wallenda should be allowed to walk the wire above the Horseshoe Falls carrying tragedy on his back.

The man insists on working without a tether, a net, an inflatable air bag -- anything that would separate him from death should he misstep. The folks who signed off on the June 15 megastunt -- right up to the governor -- should demand that he reconsider.

Frankly, tying Wallenda to the tightrope should have been a condition of politicians' signing off on the glorified carnival stunt. How can responsible politicians -- admittedly, a contradiction in terms -- let a man take a do-or-die risk in front of a worldwide TV audience?

Wallenda is an impressive guy with exceptional dedication, guts and balance. He sounded, when I heard him a few months ago, confident that he could do this. In all probability, he can.

But this is not a sure thing. In 1978, Wallenda's grandfather perished in a 10-story fall. Not everyone, in the long and carnival-tacky history of Falls wire-walking, made it safely across. And no one ever strung the tightrope this close to the falls. That puts Wallenda in the maw of swirling wind, dense mist and any off-course gull.

Wallenda says he can grab the wire if he slips. If the cable is mist-soaked, I would not guarantee the grip. If he falls hundreds of feet, presumably to his death, it will be a very, very bad day. Particularly for Wallenda.

Imagine the looks on the faces of thousands of spectators -- many of them little kids -- if he drops into the churning water. Picture the horror in millions of homes if this episode of Reality TV features a death plunge. Aside from the human tragedy, imagine the stain on the image of the tourist attraction. I have a hard time picturing parents saying to their kids, "Hey, let's visit the place where the guy fell off of the tightrope."

There is a simple, tragedy-prevention plan: Tether him to the cable.

Only those with blood lust pumping in their veins would be disappointed. If he makes it across without mishap, it makes no difference that he was tethered. If he slips, he lives to walk another day. Maybe even the next day.

I get it. Danger is a large part of the appeal. Nobody would show up if Wallenda strung the wire between two porch railings on Pine Avenue. What draws people is the sight of a guy putting his life on the line (so to speak).

But I think the spectacle of a man walking on a wire above the rushing falls is intriguing enough to draw a crowd. Man vs. Nature. Athleticism vs. The Elements. The Falls as a Grand Stage. I think all of that works -- without the possibility, however remote, of seeing the Mother of All Bummers.

Recall what Didier Pasquette did in Buffalo two years ago. The French wire-walker -- on orders from the state Department of Transportation -- tethered himself for a walk between the mini-icons atop the downtown Liberty Building. Hundreds of folks gazing from the ground and through office windows were suitably awed.

Wallenda is human. If something goes wrong, I would hope there is no one who believes he should pay for a misstep with his life. Especially in front of a horrified audience of millions.

So let's be smart, not remorseful. We can have this both ways. Restaurants, bars and hotels get a huge one-time cash infusion. Niagara Falls appears on more prospective tourists' radar screens -- although, frankly, I think it is better branded for its natural appeal than for its sideshow potential. And Wallenda can stumble, without falling to his death. Just hook him to the wire.

Anyone disappointed by that precaution needs a few sessions with a therapist.