Saturday, September 26, 2009

Evel Knievel, Role Model From Hell

If you were an American male, between the ages of say, 10 and 15 in the mid-70's, I'd be willing to wager that you have a story quite similar to this one.

You see, the mid-70's were the absolute heyday of one Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel, motorcycle stuntman-slash-self-destructive nut job with a death wish. Every few Sundays, my friends and I would gather around the TV and, thanks to ABC's Wide World of Sports, bear witness to an array of Knievlian feats. Fly a Harley over 26 double-decker buses? Check. Soar over 20 Mack trucks? Done. Sail over the fountains at Caesar's Palace, crash, and flop like a rag doll across the pavement breaking practically every bone in his body? Mission accomplished. Evel was gutsy. Evel was charismatic. Evel was an alcoholic, borderline psycho intent on jeopardizing his very existence for the entertainment of a schadenfreude-obsessed public.

We idolized him, is what I'm saying.

One Sunday afternoon, after watching one of his successful jumps, three of us were appropriately inspired to attempt our own version of Evel's "Watch Me Pull a 15-Mack-Truck-Long Publicity Stunt Out of My Ass" trick.

Of course, we didn't have a Harley. We had a Huffy.

We didn't have Mack trucks. We had metal trash cans.

We didn't have a cool cape and motorcycle helmet. We had an American flag beach towel and a New York Jets football helmet. The kind with the sticker on the back that said "Warning: Not a Protective Helmet".


All we needed now was an incredibly brave 9-year old willing to risk life and limb to entertain the rest of us.

In every neighborhood, there resides one kid who will do absolutely anything on a dare. Doesn't matter what it is, if it's preceded by the phrase, "Hey, (fill in name), I dare you to . . . " this individual will take it upon himself - it's always a guy, no girls are this moronic - to prove his manhood to all in attendance. In our neighborhood, this role was filled by Mike the Whip.

Here's a look at Mike's resume under the category of "Dares Taken", covering the period between his 8th and 12th birthdays:

June 12, 1973: Swallowed 57 cents in small change.

October 22, 1973: Jumped off the roof of his house.

April 5, 1974: Stole a six pack of Old Milwaukee from Stop n' Shop.

September 13, 1974: Called our fourth grade teacher, and I quote, "One hot mama." To her face.

March 18, 1975: Ate a live salamander.

August 2, 1976: Grabbed the mostly-developed right hooter of Debbie Esposito, a girl four years his senior.

August 3, 1976: Cheerfully took a beating from Vinnie Esposito, the very large, extremely hostile, and marginally psychotic brother of Debbie (one should note, however, that this was an unintended consequence of a dare, not a dare in and of itself).

All of which, of course, made Mike an obvious nominee for the title of Neighborhood Daredevil.

So, as Robbie and I dutifully set up the trash cans and a wooden ramp (a plank, actually), Mike the Whip suited up in the beach towel and Jets helmet, hopped on my bike, and pedaled down to the far end of the "launch runway," better known as Runyon Avenue.

Looking like Joe Namath on a three-day bender, Mike came flying down the street, towel fluttering behind him. He hit the ramp straight on and soared majestically through the air, successfully clearing three trash cans!

Unfortunately, we had set up FIVE trash cans.

You're probably thinking, "That was pretty stupid, STARTING with five trash cans." That's because you're smarter than we were. Basically, we started with five trash cans because we HAD five trash cans. If Mr. Wagner's gate hadn't been locked, it would've been six trash cans.

So Mike clanged off trash can number four while my Huffy careened into the Kellermans' front yard and the Jets helmet spun on the pavement like an official NFL dredl. Ensuing groans and whimpers were rendered inaudible by the towel wrapped around Mike's head.

"Is his leg supposed to look like that?" asked Robbie.

"I don't think so. It looks like he has two knees."

"Everyone has two knees."

"Not on the same leg."

Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on your point of view), Mike's mom heard the crash and came running outside. Being a mature adult, brimming with maternal instincts and unconditional love for her oldest son, and sensing the immediate need to get the situation under control, Mrs. the Whip reacted as any mother would.

She freaked out.


Well, technically, the "dumb ass" concept of hurtling through the air on a two-wheeled cycle o' death was Evel Knievel's idea, but we were pretty sure that wasn't Mike's mother meant. Her question, as it turned out, was rhetorical because by the time I had formulated a response (something to the effect of "we kinda all thought of it"), Mike was being loaded into the back seat of the Mom-mobile. In a dramatic vehicular stunt all her own, Mike's mom peeled out of the driveway, and sped off with Andretti-like focus to Somerset Hospital.

That was the last of our Evel deeds.

Until . . .

A few months later, after Mike's cast came off, the pins were removed, the scrapes and cuts had healed and my bike was (more or less) repaired, the three of us were sitting in Robbie's living room eagerly anticipating ABC's live telecast of Evel Knievel's attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon. Spanning the globe, bringing us the constant variety of sport. The thrill of victory, blah, blah, blah . . .

Anyway . . .

We watched in admiration as Evel prepared.

We got goosebumps when we saw him board the rocket bike.

We gasped when the chute opened prematurely.

We panicked as Evel floated downward into the Snake River.

We all looked at each other in silence. After the appropriate pause (let's say, five seconds), Mike said, "We gotta try something like THAT."

Naturally, we didn't have a rocket bike. We had a Huffy with slightly twisted rims.

We didn't have a canyon. We had a mud-filled ditch behind an abandoned warehouse.

We didn't have a cool cape and motorcycle helmet. We had a mostly-shredded scraggly towel and a scratched up Jets football helmet with the "Warning: Not a Protective Helmet" sticker sarcastically circled in black magic marker.

Well, one thing led to another, and about an hour later, Robbie and I were looking down into the ditch at an upside-down Huffy, a helmet missing its facemask, and a banged-up and bloodied 9-year old daredevil. Robbie asked what I thought was a pretty good question.

"Is his arm supposed to look like that?"


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Little Ms Blogger said...

OMG....Robbie's mom MUST have loved you...

My friend's son & his friends imitated stunts from JackAss which leads me to believe that boys, no matter the generation will do stupid ass stupid stuff.

As a girl, we get the pleasure to mock you for generations.

I bet Robbie is an ultra conservative dad and makes his kids wear bubble wrap when they leave the house.

~jill said...

this could have been written by either one of my brothers who, fortunately, did not play the role of Mike.

MikeWJ at Too Many Mornings said...

I read a post just like this one on another site. It was much better, though. :)

Grumpy, M.D. said...

Yeah, I was one of the guys who set up the gargabe cans.

I was too chickenshit to try the jump myself.

CatLadyLarew said...

My brother was the one to volunteer for all the stupid-shit ideas we came up with... actually, he suggested most of them. That's why his the winner of the most scars contest.

Chrissy said...

This is so funny. Why any of your parents let you out of their sight is beyond me.

Peter Varvel said...

For as long as I live, I don't think I'll ever forget the kind of pain specific to boys when your crotch slams against the bicycle's cross bar, the one located conveniently right in front of the bike seat.
This is why I never even came close to any Evel Knievel emulations of my own.

nonamedufus said...

C'mon, you wrote this post just so you could say "That was the last of our Evel deeds" didn't you.

Kat said...

Evel Knievel was responsible for inspiring my brother to be an idiot too. Boys.

nipsy said...

Ha...Hence the reason I try not to let my boys watch "the Best of"... I don't need more grey hairs yet..

And whooo hooo look at you all fancied up here in your new place.. I like it!!

Jeanne said...

I'm so glad I didn't have boys....

Pollyanna said...

I'm so glad I have girls! Although, I once tried a Superman stunt by diving off the roof of the garage and promptly landed flat on the deck. Yah, it didn't work out so well, but at least I didn't break anything :)

Eva Gallant said...

That was hilarious! lol I aloso went back and read Suldogs Beer Train. I liked this one beter!

Jules said...

I remember the boys in the neighborhood all trying to be Evil! What a great story!

Random Girl said...

Thank goodness I have a girl is all I can say. She will be pointing and laughing from the sidewalk at her idiot cousins for doing the same thing I'm sure. Only now it will get to be on YouTube for everyone to see and for those boys to brag about for years to come.

Kris said...

We had no one kid who was the daredevil . . . we all wanted to be Evel. But we didn't jump over garbage cans. Instead we built huge ramps over enormous holes we dug in the sandy ground.

No one ever got seriously hurt, because WE WERE AWESOME!

Also? We used to talk the undaring kids from the neighborhood into lying in the sand and lining up like garbage cans after our ramps. Ahem. And again?

No one ever got seriously hurt, because WE WERE AWESOME!

Man, what we would have given to have a kid willing to break some bones for our entertainment.


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