I had some unusual career aspirations when I was a kid. The first career I ever remember trying on for size in my imagination was that of a bus driver. I thought driving anything with such a big wheel would make me happy forever. I’d spend countless hours in my basement with a bike wheel in my hand and rows of make-shift seats behind me, driving through my imaginary town blurting over my pretend microphone “Keep it down in the back,” or, “Have a good day ma’am,” or my dream come true, “Next stop, 7-11. Vrrooom.” I would even make the ‘vroom’ sound over the microphone.
That love affair ended with a crabby bus driver who kicked me off his bus for being a nuisance. I sat in the seat adjacent to his and talked his ear off, asking repeatedly if I could take the wheel, or give out a transfer, or open the door. Anything to get a taste of the job of my dreams. He got mad when he realized I didn’t have anywhere to go, and I’d be taking the route all the way back to where I got on, which was the beginning of the route. My future as a transit driver was not to be. Those guys were pricks and I didn’t want to be in league with pricks.
I didn’t brood for long, deciding what I really wanted was to drive a tractor, a front end loader, or one of those rigs with the super-sized shovels that pushed mountains of snow to the curb to create snowbanks. Not only would I be lauded by my peers for driving such a wicked machine, but I’d also be able to make mammoth snow hills for tobogganing or playing ‘king of the castle’. I could also take a house down in a couple of big scoops or plough a backyard in moments.
For a time I thought it would be stellar to be the guy who delivered chips to all the convenience stores, ostensibly because I assumed it would have guaranteed an endless supply of free chips. But I had a friend who was a masterful thief and was easily able to steal boxes of chips of all varieties, seemingly at will. The idea of more chips at my disposal became passe, and so too did my career aspirations as the chip guy.
The desire to be a stuntman consumed me – no, possessed me – for years. My imaginary dalliances as a firefighter, a fighter pilot, a marine, and a cowboy were all passing fancies; insurance careers in case I didn’t make the cut of daredevil super-stardom. They were subsumed well below the ultimate aim of television and movie awesomeness, even if getting to hang off the back of a fire engine at full speed was pretty amazing. The dream of being a stuntman was a constant in the mental mix of endless career hats I wore in my formative years.
I had all the Evil Knievel figurines and filled scrapbooks with costume ideas for my own trademark daredevil suits. I wish I’d kept my prototype cape drawings, because my recollection is they were stunning. My cape ideas and other artifacts of my pre-pubescent youth were obliterated by the onslaught of testosterone, which gave me lots of boners, seething rage, acne, and clouded my mind with macho ideas that led to a purge of all remnants of my dreamy, artistic former self. But it kept the flames of my passion for stuntman-dom burning bright.
As a kid, I knew I had to toughen up my body for the shock of stunt legendariness, or legendrification, or legendiferousness. I knew you had to withstand contusions and broken bones to be a stunt legend like “the Knievel”. I needed a few dates with some papier-mache and crutches to get some stuntman cred.
I took to rolling down stairs. Frequently. It used to drive my mother insane with fear, but I got pretty good at it. I didn’t realize until much later there was actually a method to falling down stairs. Huh. Who knew?
I’d do four-tire ramp bike-jumps over neighborhood kids and knew how to shake off an ass-over-tea-kettle face plant after things went awry in mid-air. My mother and friends could count on being repeatedly shaken from their Saturday afternoon cocktails by the sight of me plunging from the window of my second story bedroom into piles of leaves or snowbanks on the ground. Sometimes, I’d just see if could land from a jump off a high surface like a cat: on both feet. I did land on both feet, but usually then turned on an ankle and ended up in crutches, which did not discourage subsequent “accidents,” by the way. I got a lot of attention with those sticks.
I really, really, expected the falling down and self-destruction would make me a shoo-in to be the stuntman in the 1990’s version of The Six Million Dollar Man, which my eight year old self was absolutely certain was going to exist. I remember vividly, how I believed that, if you willed something badly enough, you could make it happen. I plunged headlong into many six foot fences as I tested this theory, running at full speed while mimicking the sound the bionic man would make as he jumped over a speeding car, or ran in slow motion, bionically, or threw a shoe at bionic speed at a gun-toting criminal. Having severely compromised many poorly-posted fences and being unable to regularly hit a large target in my backyard with dodgeballs I’d stolen from my school, I abandoned the idea of throwing projectiles at any thug brandishing a weapon.
I loved Steve Austin. Lee Majors, on the other hand, not so much. He stole Farah Fawcett away from me, which was only partly forgiven because he was the bionic man. I loved Farah Fawcett very much, or at least as much as an eight year old was capable of loving another human being. I assumed that Lee Majors had a bionic schlong to have landed such an ethereal beauty. It wasn’t fair. He had it all.
When The Fall Guy came to air, all grudges against Lee Majors were forgiven, and my dreams as a knockabout movie stand-in were still in full swing. I took my practice on the gridiron, getting the living shit kicked out of me every practice and every game. I had every confidence in the world that I could withstand the ill-effects of jumping out of a helicopter or plunging off a bridge into the river below, as I remembered happening every week on the Dukes of Hazzard, a show about blue-blooded rednecks that no black kid should have ever had affinities with. The sounds “Heeeee Haaaaaw” shouldn’t evoke fondness in the hearts of most blacks, but it sure as dickens put a smile on my ten year old face! It’s the colour-blindness that happens when you live in a WASP family as I did. I am not sure who I loved more, Daisy Duke or Rosco P. Coltrane. I’d call it a tie, coo, coo, coo.
I never did become a stuntman, in case you were wondering. At some point it occurred to me that Lee Majors was just an actor, and that stuntmen were underpaid adrenaline junkies whose careers were as short-lived as the thrills they sought. Too much grandiose philosophizing in my college days quickly turned me into a chicken-shit, which has taken years of real life, and kung fu, to fully root out.
Still, every time I watch a cheesy action movie with a guy getting his ass blown away by a semi-automatic, crashing through a window, and hurtling to the ground to meet his maker I think: ‘fuck my life, I go to a cubicle every day, when THAT coulda been my job.’ Then I brood for a little while, until the thought occurs that Six Million Dollars ain’t shit to make a bionic man.