It was the spring of 1964. Nearly four years earlier, a lanky American high jumper named John Thomas, favored to win the gold medal at the Rome Olympics, had placed third behind two dastardly Russian competitors, Valery Brumel and Robert Shavlakadze. The Cuban missile crisis was fresh in a young boy’s memory. The Russians were coming.
Valery Brumel and John Thomas
We had a gym teacher who told us that if America wanted to halt the spread of Communism, we’d have to do fingertip pushups and hold our arms out at our sides and rotate them, first forward, then backwards, in sets of ten. Things were that grim.
President Kennedy: “Are the kids getting enough high jump practice?”
My seventh grade friends and I even said rosaries on Fridays in October to thwart the Russian bear, in addition to attending Mass six days a week. For those of you who don’t believe in the power of prayer, I ask you–how’s that “Soviet Union” thing working out today? ‘Nuf said.
But the triumph over Communism didn’t seem so assured back then. Before we launched a pre-emptive strike through the Baltics, however, our first objective was to restore America’s pre-eminence in the high jump. We practiced during gym class, but that wasn’t enough, dammit! We needed to take extra jumps so we snuck into the gym after school only to find that the janitor had locked up the cross-bar so that there’d be no practice without adult supervision. Whose side was he on anyway? Commie pinko.
Like all good soldiers who face an impasse, we improvised. We tied two jump ropes together and hooked them onto the stanchions. I went first and, after clearing the ropes with my front leg, hooked them on my way down. I looked up from the mat to see a giant red wooden column hurtling towards me. Like those Russian missiles, its aim was deadly, and it hit me squarely in the head.
A general uproar ensued, and I was taken home by the mother of a girl named Karen, who examined me from the front seat. “You look,” she said, “like you’ve got a hard-boiled egg coming out of your forehead.” This was the sort of tender sympathy that brought Karen’s first marriage to a premature end.
Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers
To paraphrase Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers: why do fools, by which I mean men, do such stupid stuff? You may not want to, but scratch any man and you’ll find a self-inflicted wound that resulted from gross stupidity sufficient to be memorialized by scar tissue, like a roadside marker indicating where a drunk driver went flying into a tree.
“I, uh, was scraping paint off a ceiling light fixture. With a steak knife.”
I’m not talking about guys who blow off half their heads cleaning their guns. I don’t want a nasty email from the Victims of Self-Inflicted Lawnmower Injuries. I’m talking about non-lethal calamities that don’t prevent you from going to work Monday morning, albeit on crutches or with your hand bandaged, or in a splint.
Tom and Becky: “You stay here–I’ll go do something stupid to impress you.”
Like everything else that can go wrong in a man’s life, it’s the fault of women. Without Becky Thatcher, Tom Sawyer wouldn’t need to show off. If I wasn’t hoping that my wife would move into my first condo, I never would have impaled myself with a steak knife. Sure it was risky way to remove decades of paint and munga from a ceiling light fixture, but I know how she would have reacted if I hadn’t.
“You could have at least injured yourself a little to make me happy!”
She would have arrived at the doorstep, a look of hopeful resignation on her face: “This is the life I have chosen” it would have conveyed to me, without a word being spoken. She’d peek her head in the bathroom to see how clean it was, then wander around for a bit, before stopping and staring out the window, moody and sullen. “What’s the matter?” I would have asked tenderly. “I can’t believe you wouldn’t try to clean that ceiling light fixture just a little before I came over.” Women are like that.
“Your racket should stop before it reaches your forehead.”
Among the other scars of my own making that I bear are one formed by two stitches in my left eyebrow that were needed to close a gash from a tennis racket. My racket, held by me while taking tennis in college gym class. I was going to catch up to those snooty kids from prep schools and the suburbs whose strokes had been perfected during summers of leisure, while I harvested fescue and hauled ice to a chicken processing plant. Or I would die trying–which I nearly did when I hit myself in the head following through on my forehand.
The potato rake’s the one at the bottom.
I suppose my favorite–because its provenance is even more inexplicable than the others–is the faded scar on my right eyebrow that I acquired by hooking a potato rake over the limb of a tree one day while working on a grounds crew, using it to pull myself up. The rake slipped off the limb and came crashing down, opening up a cut that required three stitches to close. What was I doing hooking a potato rake over a tree limb? It was the ’70’s–everybody was off having sex with each other. I had to keep myself busy somehow.
“You are such a klutz!”
When your man comes out on the losing end of a battle with himself, you can help by getting the gauze bandage, adhesive tape and antiseptic, and cooing a few words of sympathy to him. Before you break out laughing.