Fanfare for the Common Man

  • Wednesday, September 25, 2013

 
Everybody had a Jeffrey growing up. He was the kid in your neighborhood who lived across the street, an only child who had all the best toys, and did all those stupid stunts the rest of us were afraid to try.
Jeffrey would do it, and do it first.
When the rest of our gang really thought we could fly like Superman with nothing strapped to our backs but
Mom’s good bath towel, Jeffrey took it to the next level. Jeffrey scoffed at our assorted bath towels. He was no dummy. He knew people couldn’t fly like Superman.
No, but they could parachute instead like Vic Morrow in COMBAT! While we couldn’t fly, we certainly should be able to parachute off, say, the corner of our neighbor’s roof and glide like a leaf in autumn gently to earth.
Jeffrey had a flair for the dramatic. If he was going to test Isaac Newton’s thought process, he wasn’t going to do it without an audience.
So with his Mom’s good bed sheet kite-stringed to his back, he gathered the gang together to show us how he planned to parachute off the corner of the roof and glide back to good old terra firma.
Did any of us try to talk Jeffrey out of jumping off the roof? Not really. We were only in fourth grade. We didn’t understand quantum physics, laws of displacement, or Newtonian fundamentals of gravity.
Back then I understood one elementary concept of Newtonian theory: What goes up must come down. How fast was up to Jeffrey’s parachute.
Jeffrey stepped to the edge of the roof, counted down from 10, and took flight in a graceful swan dive.
We gasped. He actually jumped.
And like most surreal moments, time seemed to stop.
Jeffrey seemed to levitate overhead, frozen in that moment’s pause between beats of my hammering heart.
His parachute opened. Then closed. And Jeffrey fell.
Like a brick.
A two-bounce belly flop into the front yard... a 12-foot fall from rooftop to earth - impressive on its own merit but not quite how Jeffrey envisioned things turning out.
Tommy, being in sixth grade, the only one to suspect Jeffrey’s jump had no chance of working, knelt down and looked at Jeffrey’s color-drained face.
“Chute didn’t open, Jeffrey.”
Tommy had a way of stating the obvious.
This seemed to wrench Jeffrey back to reality. His cheeks flushed red.
He caught his breath. His eyes squinched shut. Then he screamed all the way home like his Momma beat him with a stick, bed sheets trailing behind him.
For a parachute, Jeffrey’s bed sheets made a nice Superman cape.
Jeffrey was useful for a lot of things. He caught my first curve ball because no one else dared play catch with me. I broke his nose.
It was Jeffrey who devised the extortion scheme to fleece the Tooth Fairy for extra cash that summer so long ago, and we never tried to dissuade him from the notion that tying kite string to your loose front tooth and the bedroom doorknob really did work. The legal issues regarding the dentist bill were never completely resolved.
Every neighborhood gang had a Jeffrey, and I wonder, after all those years, what happened to him.
One year between sixth and seventh grade, Jeffrey’s family moved away. He just up and disappeared.
So I pay this homage to my childhood friend, who couldn’t tell the difference between bravery and stupidity.
Here’s to you, Jeffrey, a Common Man’s tip of the hat.
I could never tell the difference, either.

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