Editor’s note: This is a story from ten years ago, written by my baby-bro, The Rooster. Remember at all times that Roo is habitually full of shit… But the leap The Roo took at that young age was indeed a solid 100 foot drop… No BS.
LIVING WITH MIKE
That I survived my childhood is amazing. To actually have grown to the age of forty and not become a mass murderer, ax killer or serial torturer of small animals is a miracle. You see, I have an older brother, six years my senior, Mike.
Mike, to those that know him, is an intense fellow. He has traveled the world and settled in a land where big balls are king—or rather to put it more politely- where strength of will is still an admirable and desired trait. Mike has come by this will through years of personal torture at the hands of older siblings—he is the middle child of nine.
He, in my mind, saw it as his duty in the game of “rights of passage” to find the weakest pup in the litter, the runt; namely me, and inflict as much personal pain as was humanly possible. Even when he was not the impetus for the pain he ensured that an opportunity for torture was not bypassed—as when I stepped on a bee that left its stinger imbedded in my foot, and he continued to flick the wound with his finger.
On one particular occasion, Mike decided to do something about the cars racing up and down 2nd Street. Maybe it was Dad’s idea, I’ll never really know. But Dad’s comments and “I oughtta’s” probably were the impetus for this idea Mike had.
See Mike, with me as unwilling participant, was going to get old lady Miller as she turned the corner and headed past our place. He had concocted a simple plan of “bait and switch” with me as the bait, or rather the switch.
Mike first dirtied me up, a kid who preferred above all else to be clean. Then he tackled me several times to add some real affect of pain, suffering and actual scrapes. As old Lady Miller rounded the corner and came whizzing by, Mike took a potato sack half-filled with dried cow manure, and banged it hard against the back quarter panel of the old lady’s car.
Old Lady Miller screeched to a halt and got out. Mike had hit pay dirt. He was screaming and bellowing about how she had hit “my little brother” and “he’s unconscious” (by order of the outlaw himself) and “probably a broken bone or two.”
I don’t think he was prepared for the next event, or at least had not thought the entire episode through.
Mrs. Miller snatched me up, carefully laid me in the back seat of her Plymouth and told Mike to “Get in!” She then ran up over the curb, crushing some of dad’s roses, and screeched away at breakneck speed. Mike’s only question was, “Where are we goin’?” at which Mrs. Miller replied, “To the hospital…” With one eye I saw Mike’s face draw white. He definitely had not bargained for this, but was in too deep to turn back.
At the hospital I made a miraculous recovery and told Dr. Flagg that I was OK and then informed him of everything that had happened.
I was not yet adept at telling untruths.
Dr. Flagg agreed to not tell Mrs. Miller, and reassured her that I was “fine, just a bump on the head.”
We, however, would not survive the wrath of our mother. By the time we got home, with Mrs. Miller forever in my service, our mom was already apprised of the situation. Mom was standing on the front steps waiting, wooden spoon in hand. Her only words as she smiled and waved an arm of thanks to Mrs. Miller was, “Get your father’s belt.”
My only thought was, I will never again trust my brother. But in the end it was he who took the beating for both of us.
Late that night when Mom recounted the story to my father, I heard him laugh. I know I wasn’t supposed to hear it, but deep in the belly of our home, I heard dad bellow with uncontrollable laughter at the thought of such a brilliant scheme gone wrong.
I don’t know what our mother was thinking when she let Mike “baby-sit.”
Maybe she thought that if I was tagging along, Mike would not enter into deviousness.
She was wrong.
On one particular occasion, a beautiful spring Saturday, Mike was to travel to an old rock quarry and party with his friends. Much to his chagrin, I was to tag along. Mike was not about to have his Saturday blown by an eleven year old stick of a child that lived in fear of anything un-sterile or dangerous.
With many threats of bodily harm, Mike swore me to silence.
Once at the quarry, I was enthralled. The beautiful blue-green, lime-hued water. The excitement of young men and women unencumbered by responsibility. The sheer thrill of doing something that mom would definitely disapprove.
Mike needed not worry that I would ever divulge his, our, secret.
As some young men, older boys really, swam across the quarry to the far side, Mike included; not wanting to miss anything “cool,” I tagged along on my hijacked inner tube. As the boys exited the far side and began to climb a well-worn path in the rock, I too followed.
Up the path wound, away from the rock ledge and back into a weedy rock garden.
The path wound back and up and eventually we were standing on a precipice at least 90 feet above the water (OK, maybe it was only forty, or even thirty feet above the water, but what does an eleven year old know). The itch on the bottom of my feet told me that we were not up here for the view, and with that the first guy took a three-step sprint, yelled as if his life was over, and plummeted off the cliff.
I turned to walk back down the hill, but Mike grabbed my arm; “There is only one way back down to the water and that ain’t it, too dangerous, Ma would kill me if you slipped climbing down and broke your neck.”
At that point the trembling started and as each successive passenger of this journey jumped, I realized that my short life was coming to an end. Problem was that I couldn’t cry because that would just create more fun for Mike at my expense. Nope, I was going to have to do this, live or die.
Mike began to chant simple instructions, “Keep your hands and arms close to your side. Look straight ahead, don’t look down at the water, you’ll smack your face. Keep your feet together or you’ll be swallowing your nuts for a week. You can stand on the edge and just jump, but you should probably take a few running steps just to be safe.”
Simple, meaningful and probably lifesaving steps to take in order to survive this simply insane feat.
With trembling legs and itchy feet, I stepped to the edge. Maybe one last look of pleading and complete despair will change Mike’s mind on this one? Nope, didn’t think so, but it was worth a try. And with that I made my first unsuccessful (unwilling and unmeaning) attempt at killing myself.
Sure enough, the water slapped the bottom of my feet as if a Turkish prison warden had hit them with a cane. My ass and balls ached so it was obvious that I had left my legs apart at least a little, but I was alive; alive like I had never been before and with the intense awareness that adrenaline brings.
As the day wore on and the shadows grew long, it was time to leave this sacred place; the place where my virgin fear of heights was lost and my sense of adventure was stoked.
My brother Mike is a curious person—an out of body explorer, a being who’s spirit flies with Eagles. But to our grandmother, Nana, he was either “Brother Abraham” when she was mildly amused by his indiscretions; or the “right hand of the devil” when the indiscretions reached biblical impropriety.
On one particular afternoon, shortly after he had purchased a Kawasaki 175cc “enduro” trail bike, and set up multiple launch pads for jumping or wheely-ing off of, he decided to try an ill-conceived ramp—a short piece of railroad tie with an equally small piece of plywood on it.
The laws of physics were about to be a harsh teacher as he revved the bike up and took off at the impromptu ramp at full, first gear, speed.
He hit the plywood, which dutifully flattened under the weight, leaving the big block of wood impeding the motorcycles further progress.
It was funny to watch. As he got up, checked the scrape on his elbow, shook loose his neck (helmets were an outrage in Iowa at this time) you could see the light go on in his devious eyes. It was as if the greatest inspiration had taken place. With a wink he said, “Check this out.”
Granny, Nana, was on the other side of the shed raking leaves.
Mike moved the ramp under the willow tree in sight of Nana and gave a whistle, “Hey Granny, check this out!”
With that he wheeled the motorcycle around, popped the clutch in a weak wheely, revved the engine and bolted toward the collapsible ramp. He hit it the same way as in the first experience, but this time with much more drama, flipping head-first over the handlebars.
Making sure to keep his hand on the throttle to add the effect of an out of control crash, Mike lay there on the ground. Nana, a 77 or 78 year old woman at this point, sprinted—literally, with rake in hand—to Mike’s side. She was muttering about “this fool” or some such, but didn’t have much time to lament as Mike opened one eye and said, “Got ya, Granny!”
The remainder of the scene was the most funny, watching Mike attempt to run, crippled with laughter, as Nana chased him cracking him on the back with the rake shouting, “I knew that when they named you Michael it was to sit you at the right hand of the devil” or some such nicety.
The beauty of karma though, Mike has kids of his own, teenagers now. But that is another story.