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Fences Need Protection Too

There’s rampant fence

hitting in these parts

What are the possibilities?

• a car not stopping in time?

• a baseball bat unleashed?

• an errant fist?

• a UFO crash?

Regardless of intent

one sign should be added

underneath that says:

“What did fence ever do to you?”

The Things You See…

dear me, what a tree

all twisty and cartoony

so Seuss-like, you see

The Icarus Kid

Going through boxes I have in storage, hoping to find some very-much-missed artifacts from my past (such as an actual-size replica of the Maltese Falcon and a glow-in-the-dark skull from a 1970s-era Disneyland magic shop), I came across some things I’d thought were lost forever—several short stories that I wrote in my early twenties. I dusted off one of my favorites, made some edits, and drew an accompanying illustration. This story was a favorite of an old friend of mine, the late, great Mike Embley. He lived in San Francisco at the time, and tried to use his connections to get it published in an S.F.-based magazine. His friend liked it, sent it up the flag pole at the magazine’s offices, and no one saluted it—proverbially or otherwise. It deals with my childhood obsessions, reasoning, unshakable faith, and, let’s face it, stupidity. Unlike Ralphie in A Christmas Story, what I wanted most wasn’t going to shoot my eye out, but most certainly would have had me jumping off the roof of our house and breaking my neck…

When I was five-years old, I discovered the secret of flight. With my childhood wisdom and the knowledge gained through countless hours spent in front of the TV, I reasoned the problem out. The thought of walking out my front door; looking up and seeing a couple of birds flittering around in the sky; and leaping up to join them in their playful dipping and weaving through the air fascinated me.

I learned the story of Icarus, the boy who, with wax, attached feathers to his arms and learned to fly. Unfortunately, he got careless and flew too closely to the sun. The wax melted and he plummeted to his death. Poor Icarus had blown it. I wouldn’t.

One of my favorite television shows was Ripcord. It stared Larry Pennel (who would go on to play Dash Riprock in The Beverley Hillbillies), and Ken Curtis (who would go on to play Festus Haggen for 153 years in Gunsmoke). Ripcord was about a couple of skydivers who hired themselves out for various parachute-jumping-required jobs. I sat in front of the TV and watched each show laying on the floor with my chin buttressed against the palms of my hands. I waited for the moment, during each episode, when they would leap from the airplane and, with arms out and legs spread, soar through the air. Then, when they got tired of flying, they pulled their ripcords and landed neatly upon the earth. I studied each episode, and memorized the position of their bodies during free fall.

One Saturday morning, I decided to try out what I had learned. Our lush front lawn was encircled by small brick structures, and each of these was joined to the other by a single four-by-four post, thus creating a decorative but utterly useless fence. I climbed on top of one of the little brick monoliths and found myself a dizzying two-and-a-half feet off the ground. Visualizing the skydivers in my mind, I pursed my lips together and leaped out into space.

I landed on my feet.

I knew if I could just get my body parallel to the ground, with my arms out and my legs spread mimicking the Ripcord guys, I could fly.

So, I climbed back up and leaped again.

And again, I landed on my feet.

I tried again and again, gaining more and more courage. Each time, I got closer to the correct body position.

Finally, after what seemed like a dozen tries, I was determined that the next jump would be it. I climbed back up the fence, crouched down into launch position, then jettisoned my body out over the emerald green grass. No sooner did I realize I had actually done it, placed myself parallel to the world, I impacted the lawn stomach first.

I rolled around on the grass like a mortally wounded munchkin. I never had the wind knocked out of me before, and found the sudden inability to breath both disconcerting and terrifying. Slowly and thankfully, I regained the ability to breath normally again. As I pulled myself into a sitting position, I decided that flying was dangerously serious business that warranted more careful study.

I discarded the ripcord method completely. But that was okay, because I had a backup theory that was, I was certain, the answer.

Each weekday morning, my poor mother had to use everything short of dynamite to coax me out of bed to get ready for school. I would haul my leaden, listless body out of the covers and survey my room with bleary, sleep-encrusted eyes. I pulled on my clothes sluggishly and with difficulty as if I had too many limbs and not enough sleeves. My mother had the perfect name for me on those mornings. She called me a zombie.

On Saturday mornings, however, an odd phenomenon took place. At around 6:30 a.m., adrenalin shot through me, and I was out of bed in a single bound. My little sister, who suffered the same anomaly, followed me out into the family room. There I would turn on the TV, plunk down in front of it, and suffer through The Farm Bureau Report until The Captain Delta Show came on.

Captain Delta was a local kids’ show out of Sacramento. A guy with a dapper beard and mustache dressed up like a riverboat captain, sat in a crude set made to look like the wheelhouse of a boat called the Delta Queen. Behind him was a large painting of the mighty Sacramento River meandering into the distance.

Six kids were chosen to accompany the Captain every day. One of the six, whoever was the luckiest (or cutest, I could never figure out which) was selected to receive the much-coveted “treasure trove.” This was a great prize that could be anything from a slip-n-slide to a race car set. As neat as this program was, I was more interested in the first feature that the Captain introduced.

The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves was the absolute favorite TV series of my childhood. Nothing short of full-scale nuclear exchange with the Soviets could have dragged me away from that show. Now, the thing was, I was so young that I had no idea an actor was playing the greatest of all DC Comics’ super heroes—I thought I was watching the genuine article`.

As I watched Superman in his exploits each and every Saturday morning, I formulated my theory. Superman was a very powerful guy. He could do all kinds of things with his amazing super powers. As Clark Kent, he could manifest abilities such as super strength, or x-ray vision, but he had to be in his Superman costume in order to fly. Clark Kent couldn’t fly; Superman could. They were the same dude, so what was the deal? Obvious answer: Superman had to wear his tights and cape to fly. Therefore, I reasoned, if I had a superman suit I could fly. It was so simple, I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t figured it out sooner.

I raced to the Sears Christmas Catalog and flipped through the pages until I came to the kids’ costumes. My eyes took in every outfit on the page—the doctor, the nurse, the cowboy and the cowgirl (based, I’m sure, on the outfits worn by Roy Rogers and Dale Evens), the Lone Ranger, and finally, Superman. It was a nifty costume. Sure it was baggy, and the cape had a dumb yellow string you had to tie around your neck, but it had a magnificent huge ‘S’ insignia on the chest. It was a Superman suit. It was the answer.

When the the time came, as it always did, when my mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I answered with assurance, “A Superman outfit.”

Her reply was, “It’s too expensive!”

I was incredulous. I took a step back as if she had struck me in the face. With three words, fifteen letters, an apostrophe, and an exclamation mark, my mother had denied me the single most sought after ability in the entire kid universe—the power of flight.

“Of course she was kidding,” I thought. “She has to be . . . she better be.”

As the days before Christmas passed, I grew more sure that Mom’s response had been a diversionary tactic. There was no way that a mother could deny her child such an important gift and hope to justify it solely by cost.

It was our family’s practice to open gifts on Christmas Eve. I unwrapped each present with trembling fingers of anticipation, giving brief, courteous attention to the gifts my sister was getting. As I opened my last brightly colored package, I felt panic building inside me. I pretended to be happy with everything I received that Christmas. I couldn‘t begin to tell you what those presents were, I can only tell you what that year’s Yuletide bounty did not include—a Superman outfit.

My last shred of hope was that maybe, knowing how much I had wanted the outfit, they were going to spring it on me as a surprise. But by the next day, this hope was abandoned too. With my heart weighing heavily in my chest, I resigned myself to the fact that not only was I never going to fly, but I would never know if my theory was correct.

The very next Saturday, I overheard my mother on the phone with my Uncle. There was no one I enjoyed visiting more than my uncle, aunt, and cousins.

My mom cupped her hand over the receiver, tipped her head back to look at my dad, who was standing behind her, and said, “Danny got a Superman outfit for Christmas.” My cousin, Danny, was six months younger than I was, and the closest thing to a brother I ever had growing up.

After the first tremors of jealousy passed through me, I felt a sudden rush of exhilaration. Maybe I would never fly, but, by gosh, my theory would be tested. Danny would fly. I immediately began to pressure my folks into a visit.

My uncle, aunt, and cousins lived outside a little town in the Foothill Basin. It took approximately twenty minutes to get to their house using the back roads. As I sat next to my sister in the backseat of our wine-colored Mercury Meteor, I could barely contain my excitement. This was going to be neat, no question about it.

After the longest twenty minutes I have ever endured, we pulled into my Aunt and Uncle’s driveway. I could hear our tires crunching over the gravel.

Their house was joined to a tiny garage by a cement patio. In the center of the patio stood a sprawling almond tree. The branches twisted upwards over the roof of the house. Along the edge of the patio was a white picket fence complete with a gate. It was through this gate that Danny made his entrance. He came to a stop with his feet set apart slightly wider than shoulder’s width. He saw that it was us and nodded. He planted his fists firmly against his hips. It was the classic George Reeves’ stance.

In his suit, he looked exactly like Superman. Well, that is, if Superman were four feet tall, sported baggy sleeves and pants cuffs, and wore scuffed-up brown oxfords.

My family and I got out of the car. Mom and Dad exchanged greetings with my cousins as they made their way to the front door of the house.

I approached Danny, and, after giving his attire a cursory once over, gave him an approving smile. As everyone was moving about getting ready to get the post-holiday visit under way, I got close to Danny and said softly, “Have you figured out how to fly yet?”

I held my breath. What if he had already taken the suit for a spin? My theory would be proved correct, but I would have missed out on the initial discovery. Danny shook his head and said, “Nope, I haven’t”

Of course, I thought, if he had been able to get up in the air, I’m sure he would have flown over to our place for a visit and given my parents a heart attack.

“Great,” I said, as I looked around to make sure the adults weren’t going to be in the way, “let’s get started. We’ll go out back where we can run some secret tests.”

Danny followed me, his cape waving gently behind him. When we got ourselves situated, I lost little time in briefing my cousin on the fine art of the Superman flying technique.

I was, after all, an expert. I’d logged something like 2,000 hours in front of Saturday morning TV studying Superman’s every move. He didn’t simply jump into the air. No, it was more involved than that. He ran, pushed off on one foot, landed on both feet, went into a squat, and used both legs to propel himself mightily into the air. So, it was a run-hop-and-jump technique that I described to my cousin in the greatest of detail. I took a couple of steps back and told him to give it a try.

He took a deep breath, took the requisite step, step, and hop. When he came down on both feet, he put everything he had into his leap into the air.

Had Danny defied the laws of physics, and soared into the blue sky, executed loop-the-loops, barrel rolls, and power dives I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised. That’s what I was expecting. But, after a better-than-average leap for a boy his age, Danny came down with his feet crunching against gravel, sending tiny pebbles shooting out from under the soles of his shoes.

He looked at me and said, “Almost.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “you almost have it.”

He tried a half dozen more times, going, we imagined, a little farther each time.

I said, “I think you better work on the way you hold your arms during take off.”

“My arms?”

“Yep,” I nodded, “Superman only flies with his arms a certain way.”

This was true. Superman flew, in every episode, with his arms extended at almost 45 degrees with his hands flat, and parallel to his body. I went over this with my cousin. He took in every detail, nodding with complete understanding. Finally, we agreed he was ready.

I stepped back again and waited with even more anticipation. We had it this time. I watched as the little, baggy-suited, Oxford-clad Superman prepared to launch himself up, up, and away—out of his backyard, over the haunted woods (that’s another story), and into who-knows-how-much adventure. He used the patented take-off technique flawlessly, in mid air, he got his arms in perfect position, and damnable gravity pulled him back to earth. This time, Danny went down to his hands and knees.

He got up and dusted himself off as he walked back to me. He said, “That 3as better. I flew further that time.”

I nodded. “We almost have it. There has to be something we’re overlooking.”

“But what?” Danny scratched his head and added offhandedly, “I bet if I could jump off of something, that would do it.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “like the roof of your garage.”

“Perfect!”

We walked over to the side of the garage and looked up at the roof. It was, for our diminutive forms, an insurmountable distance.

“How’re we gonna get up there?” I asked.

Danny though for a moment. “Well, I could fly us up.”

“What a great idea!” I practically shouted. “Wait a second,” I added, “we can’t figure out how the suit works.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot.”

There was only a moment of silence that passed between us, then I smiled, “But we could still try it.”

Danny agreed this was an excellent idea. He got behind me, reached around and grabbed me like a tiny wrestler attempting the Heimlich maneuver. He lifted me off the ground and jumped. That didn’t work. We jumped up at the same time. That didn’t work either. I tried jumping first, to lessen the weight for the split second he needed to get off the ground. No dice.

“Boy, are you guys jerks!”

We turned to look at Danny’s older brother, Dave. He was standing astride his bicycle. One of his greatest joys in life was picking on us. “You two morons are hopping all over the place like a couple of stupid pixies.”

Danny’s reply was short and provocative, “Takes one to know one!”

“Yeah,” I agreed.

Dave—who subscribed to the personal code of never allowing a slight by a kid, younger than he was, go unanswered by a punch in the face—let his bike fall to the ground. He walked toward us menacingly, with his fists clenched. He grabbed Danny and wrestled him down to the gravel. I jumped onto my older cousin’s back and tried a choke hold. He flipped me off his back with ease, and I went skidding along the ground. I nursed my scraped-up right hand and looked to see him torturing Danny. He had him in a head lock. Danny’s shouts were muffled by his brother’s arm pit. Dave smiled joyfully as he administered the dreaded and heinous “Dutch Rub.” (This involved running one’s knuckles briskly over the top of the victim’s head, thus causing friction, thus causing an intense burning feeling, and thus creating the sensation that the scalp and skull were being seared away, and that surely brains would be exposed at any moment. All of us kids were uncertain why the Dutch would come up with such a horrible torture technique. It had to have been a mistake, for surely only Nazi scientists could have developed it.

Danny shrieked, “Stop! Stop it!”

In a fit of what could only have been described as temporary insanity, I tackled my big cousin. This caused Dave to let Danny go, and he rolled into the fetal position and grabbed his head moaning and crying.

Dave snagged me in a head lock and unleashed a dutch rub on me as well. In what my older cousin lacked in the variety of punishments he unleashed upon us, he made up for with his zeal. It felt as if, at any moment, my head was going to burst into flames. I knew if I didn’t think of something fast, I was going to become just another grim statistic in the dubious phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion. I resorted to the best defense a little kid has: I yelled and screamed for my mom.

“David, what are you doing to those boys?” my aunt’s voice rang out from the back porch.

Still holding me in a head lock, he replied, “Nothing.”

“Is too!” Danny yelled.

“Leave them alone!”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Right now!”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

David let me go. I sat down next to Danny. We wiped tears from our eyes, snot from our noses, and cradled our bruised heads.

David looked down at us and said, “Losers!” He walked off, picked his bike up and got on it.

Danny shouted after him, “Weenie!”

“Creeps,” Dave sneered over his shoulder.

“Moron!”

“Idiots,” Dave was almost too far away now, but we couldn’t let him get in the last cut.

“Fart face!” Danny offered. We looked at each other and gave approving nods.

Dave looked like he was going to get off his bike again.

Quickly, Danny pointed at him and said, “You come at us again, we’ll scream so loud you’ll get into big trouble.”

Through clenched teeth, Dave uttered his favorite phrase, pronouncing each word with gusto, “Big, fat, hairy deal!” With that said, he rode off and left us alone.

We got up, dusted ourselves off and put our minds back to the task at hand. We stood in the shade next to the garage racking our brains for a solution. Then Danny said, “Hey, what about the roof of the dog house?”

“Right,” I shouted. “That’s perfect.”

We climbed up onto the dog house. The roof had a sharp slope and our footing was, at best, precarious. Since we were only about four feet high neither of us feared for his safety. Danny was especially cocky since he knew that not even bullets could harm him while he wore the suit. I didn’t say anything, but the suit hadn’t faired too well against Dave.

That afternoon, my cousin must have leaped off that old dog house a hundred times. Each time he‘d say he’d gone farther, that we were on the right track. I tried idea after idea. I surmised that maybe the cape had a lot to do with the whole thing. I attempted to hold his cape at different angles, or make sure to throw it in the air when he jumped. Even though we were faced with repeated defeats, we did not give up. I was proud of my cousin, for he was every bit as determined dedicated to the endeavor as I was.

Our visits to my cousins ended the same way every time. The screen door would fly open, its hinges squeaking in protest. My Dad would stride down the cement steps and announce loudly that it was time to go. My Dad used a tone that strongly suggested that he would brook no questions, crying, or stalling of any kind—only immediate obedience.

That was what brought our grand experiment to an end that afternoon. I looked at Danny and said, “Keep practicing.”

“I will. We’ll figure it out next time,” he assured me as we approached the Mercury Meteor.

I opened my door and got in next to my sister. Our car was surrounded by my cousins. My uncle warned them all to get away from the car it they’d get run over. As I rolled down my window, Danny leaned on my door and said, “Next time we can try other stuff with the suit, like throwing rocks at me and watching them bounce off my chest, or rolling a boulder on top of me, or something.”

I smiled and agreed, “That’ll be great.”

We pulled away, and I turned around to look out the back window as I always did and waved to Danny and the rest of my relatives. I took my last look at the Superman outfit. We didn’t know it, but there would be no more experiments with the Superman outfit. There would be other games to play and adventures to be had. The suit probably ended up discarded at the bottom of Danny’s enormous blue toy box, and then, as with so many treasures from childhood, somehow disappeared forever.

I sat back in my seat and settled in for the ride home and immediately became lost in my thoughts. We hadn’t tried everything. If only we had gotten one more try, just one more was all we would have needed. I was tired, and a little disappointed, but not defeated. For a few brief moments that day I glimpsed the joy that Icarus must have felt when he took that step, step, hop, and jump beyond human ability. I knew Icarus’ secret, but I’d never be able to prove it.

TV-aficionado Cat

Spellbound by old film

Weissmuller venerated

Cheeta is stupid though

Old Rusty Nails

misshapen metal

pulled from weather-battered wood

bereft of purpose

Impediments

Treacherous going

Journey from mind to paper

Obstacles abound

Writer’s Block

frustrations abound

second draft hesitations

if I could just fin…*

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Explanation to follow.