06 January 2008


I can only resort to movie images, like West Side Story, to access any schema in which to relate to male adolescence in New York City. I'll have to imagine taking the fast elevator to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, as I have daydreamed since childhood, to look out upon any New York boyhood cityscape of doing and daring. An adolescence in Brooklyn, or in any large American city, was a world away from mine.

Or, was it? Actually, it's archetypically similar: boyhood games of hard-fought competition and daring, whether in the street or field; running/cruising the city or town until near collapse; fights, friendships, and so on. Small town or big city, we were still prototypical American boys with much the same influences and responses--no matter the locale--and the essential characteristics of a boyish and, yes, puerile nature.

Did I tell about the time several of us boys were sitting on the eave of the barn behind ole Mrs. Shelton's house, like a line of crows, gazing down at the distant ground wondering what it would be like to jump off the tall roof? Wasn't this a productive way to spend some boyhood morning? We were having a vigorous Heckle-and-Jeckle discussion about this important topic when my feet suddenly slipped quite cleanly out from under me and I hurtled to the ground and made a perfect, uninjured, landing--by accident! Acting totally self-assured and stouthearted, as if it had all been planned, I swaggered and looked up at the others, who were both amazed and aghast at my apparent bravery, and I called out, "What's keeping you little chickens from jumping?" I played it like I was the most courageous boy since ancient Sparta. I was the Philistine warrior challenging and humiliating the Israelites (before Boy David appeared and Goliath was felled), calling each boy by name--"Pat Franklin, jump, you little chicken!"

This became part of my local reputation--Lee the Daring--even if it came by accident. I wasn't about to say otherwise.

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