Monday, April 9, 2001

Three Blazers in a Row

Growing up every neighborhood had one. For us it was television's Van Patten family that lived kitty-corner behind our house. As far as I knew they never did anything exactly illegal (with the exception of the time Bobby threw rocks at me) but there were far too many undisciplined, unruly children in the clan (far too many for even the observant compassionate conservative child to count) for the parents to keep an eye on.

For some reason the family just annoyed me. And it wasn't just the kids- Mr. Van Patten had a ham radio and there would be the lazy summer evenings when I was trying to do some serious TV watching where his muddled baritone voice would come booming out of our television speakers. Bobby Brady didn't need the competition as far as I was concerned.

When the suburb began expanding and the city decided to build a house across the street tearing down the tree we used to hang out under, and destroying the best snow sledding hill in the neighborhood, all of us kids watched in fascination the process of a house being built. There was a big ditch that we played in and one day young Jimmy Van Patten put a wood plank elevated by a big rock next to the hole and told us all he was going to make the leap across. This was in the hey day of Evil Knievel so all of us kids cheerfully told Jimmy we didn't think he do something so brave/foolish.

The memorable afternoon arrived and I remember anyone who was somebody in the neighborhood was on hand to watch. Jimmy circled the hole several times on his little one- speed bike and I secretly thought there was no way he would actually attempt the jump, but rather would come up with some excuse to save face and leave us all muttering about what might have been.

The sun was beginning to set and the crowd was growing impatient with the unique suspense that hung heavy in the air. Finally Jimmy declared he was good to go. He lined himself 20 feet up from the ditch. He had the most serious look on his face and I almost blurted out that he shouldn't do it. There was no way he could possibly clear the hole and land safely on the other side. No way.

He began to pedal his bike as fast as it could go across the worn out dirt pathway leading up to the ultimate challenge. I had the choice spectator spot of being on the side edge of the ditch. Jimmy's front tires hit the front of the improvised launching ramp and I remember letting out an involuntary squeal, part delight, part warning, as he lifted the front wheel towards the darkening sky. It was one of those life altering slow motion moments when things seemed to exist in a photograph.
The bike cleared the requisite distance all except the back wheel which clipped the slope of the ledge sending the rider off to the side. There was a sigh of relief that he landed safely outside the ditch but there was a noticeable lack of applause or appreciation for his attempt. It today far surpasses any example of personal courage that I can possibly muster.

I'm afraid the most bold thing I can say I've ever tried was completely revealing my heart to another and falling head over heals in love in the process. And though that may not be Jimmy Van Patten/Evil Knievel heart stopping stuff, I think a lot of people would find it hard to dig deep enough inside and come up with a similar nerve.

Life presents a lot of holes to jump over. Often times it makes it all worthwhile just being able to share the challenges and the frustration with a willing and listening ear. Sometimes it's not. But as the unique alum from Sebeka High (home of the fightin' Trojans) thankfully pointed out, that no matter how dark this society can sometimes appear, we live in a place where even a 17-year-old niece living in rural Minnesota can discover the wonders of Tom Waits. How freakin cool is that?

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