Saturday, June 11, 2016

Portrait of the Writer as a Young Jumper

 Long before you began wrestling with the notion of what specific profession or career choice you would follow, you understood with great clarity that you did not wish to be born.  Although there were some adults you knew who appeared to be bored, most of them were not, their only restrictions, as you understood such things then, the restrictions of the law and of responsibilities to others.

Adults could chose not to be bored; they could have adventures. Some of the radio serials you followed for a time involved younger persons, having adventures.  First and foremost on your list of favorites was Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, which you came upon about half way through its course of popularity. 

You did not so much admire the character enough to identify with him as you were able to experience envy for his adventures.  Even then, you were of the opinion you could effect better outcomes.  Your sister helped you put your relations with Jack to a close when you asked of the probability that Jack's adventures were written by adults and she confirmed.

The better way to sate your desire for the vicarious types of adventure afforded someone your age was to search for writers the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson, who gave you influential time away from boredom and made being your age seem not so limiting.  Nevertheless, you wished for adventures of your own, which led you once again to a consult with your sister.  "A true adventure," she explained, "has some element of risk."  She was quick to add an observation that became transformational. "A risk doesn't have to be actual; it can be in the mind of the person taking it."

These elements: your boredom, your awareness of which adventures best resonated for you, and your conflating risk taken with adventure experienced, led you to the first time in your life where you had the reputation for being a bad ass.

Schoolyard games of imagination helped you on your way.  In Cowboys and Indians or The U.S. Military and Indians, you were always first choice by the Indian Chief because of your convincing death scenes, including falling from the packing crates that stood for pueblos.  In Lone Ranger games, you were Tonto because, once again, of your ability to fall or to endure hardships in a stoic manner, and in Horatio Hornblower games, your role was to either fall from the rigging or be swept overboard by a giant wave.

There was nothing extraordinary about this ranking of social stratification you'd achieved. You were also known as good at kickball, and you were teased for being good at reading. None of these were negative as, for instance, one boy, Paul, who was good at math and had more than once been given a bloody nose because of it, or Deborah, who was so notably good at science that you became aware of at least three ventures in which a dead mouse was introduced into her lunchbox.

The quest for adventure led you, one remarkable day, to deviate your way home from school, accompanying a classmate home. He lived on Maryland Street, running east-west, about halfway between your school on Third Street and your home on Orange Street.  On that remarkable day, you saw with great clarity how the single-dwelling residences had garages bordering on patches of grass. You made an immediate connection. All one had to do was gain access to the garage roof, from which one could jump, then land in a grassy bed.

You jumped from garages for a week or so, in some cases three or four times from a particularly accessible garage, only challenged once and, to your then sensitivities, in a manner that made you respect adults.  "Boys are not encouraged to jump from our garage."  You later learned the family was British.

From time to time, you varied your route, taking instead Lindenhurst Avenue for your venture  s. The jumps were moments of unalloyed joy. You stepped to the edge of the roof, then propelled yourself out. 

For the long moments of your fall, your spine tingled, your heart raced, and your mind brought pictures of epic situations in which you had eluded pursuers, had the last word with skeptics, understood what it was like to be free of restraint. There was never a turned ankle or bruised knee, although your mother did begin to wonder why, of a sudden, there were so many grass stains on your whipcord trousers.

At length, you began to invite friends to join you on these romps, but most of them begged off after one or two jumps. But the momentum had already begun.  Elementary school boys are not known for their ability to keep such information to themselves. Now, you were known as The Jumper from Roofs.

Years later, as a whimsical but necessary requirement to graduate from the University of California, you had to either jump or dive from the high board into the swimming pool below. You stood for a moment at the edge, the water seeming a good way below you. But then you thought of your days as The Jumper and you stepped forth, into the crisp invitation of the morning.

However much an adult you are now, those jumping days from the past still excite you when you have written your way into a deliberate place where only risk and boredom seem to be arm wrestling.  You nod to your earlier self and step forward, into the frightening prospect of a paragraph.

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