This is an update on my very first Fanfare for the Common Man column titled “An Ode to Jeffrey.”
I wrote the first incarnation of this column back in 1990 and it has appeared in newspapers and magazines from Key West, Florida, to somewhere in the Great White North of Canada.
It was a column about my best friend growing up, and this column has been around for almost 25 years.
Everybody had a Jeffrey growing up.
Jeffrey was the kid 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 neighborhood 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 extreme.
Jeffrey was no dummy. He knew people couldn’t fly like Superman.
No, they parachute instead.
You see, Jeffrey thought outside the box.
While we couldn’t fly like Superman we certainly should be able to parachute off say… the corner of our neighbor’s roof and glide like a leaf in autumn gently and nonviolently to earth.
Remember how Wile E. Coyote did it?
Jeffrey did it like that but with a flair for the dramatic.
If he was going to jump off any roof and test Isaac Newton’s whole thought process, he wasn’t going to do this without an audience, and with his Mom’s good bed sheet kite-stringed to his back, Jeffrey gathered all the neighborhood gang together to show us how he planned to parachute off the corner of the roof and glide, safely and slowly, back to good old terra firma.
Did any of us believe that Jeffrey might succeed?
We were only in fourth grade. We didn’t understand quantum physics, laws of displacement, or Newtonian fundamentals of gravity.
Did any of us try to talk Jeffrey out of jumping off the roof?
Back then I understood one elementary concept of Newtonian theory: What goes up must come down.
How fast was up to Jeffrey’s parachute.
With the neighborhood gang gathered round to watch and World War I flight goggles affixed firmly in place, Jeffrey stepped to the edge of the roof, counted down from ten to one, and took flight in a graceful swan dive.
We gasped in true awe.
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.
Jeffrey’s parachute opened.
And Jeffrey fell.
Like a brick.
A two-bounce belly flop into the front yard… a twelve-foot belly flop no less from rooftop to terra firma, impressive on its own merit, but not quite how Jeffrey envisioned things turning out.
Tommy, being in sixth grade and the oldest of the neighborhood kids, and out of all of us, the only one who suspected Jeffrey’s jump wouldn’t really work and 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.
So I pay this homage to Jeffrey, my childhood friend, who couldn’t tell the difference between bravery and innocent ignorance. I always wondered how he lived to be ten.
Here’s to you, Jeffrey, a Common Man’s tip of the hat.
I could never tell the difference either.