It was 1976. As we looked at the springy shoes in the store, my mom expressed concern that my brother would break his ankles. Shaking my head, I vehemently disagreed. Christmas was coming and I really wanted him to have these. Anyways, the things were designed for children, I argued. They wouldn’t have been invented had they been the cause of broken bones. Right? She glanced at me sideways, then focused back on the shoes. Against her better judgment, she reluctantly tossed them in the cart, slowly shaking her head, wondering why she was letting a six-year-old talk her into such madness. I was elated. “He’ll be very sensible with them, I’m sure!” The gift was so off the charts awesome, Christmas was sure to reach new heights this year. It just had to with these suckers in the cart.
Christmas rolled around and I could hardly contain myself as my brother unwrapped his present. As predicted, he loved the shoes! They were made of metal and were portentously painted emergency red. But as we strapped those beauties onto his feet, we saw no visions of intravenous lines, or cardio paddles. Nope. We saw the ability to fly; or at the very least gain one hell of a vertical.
You wore your regular shoes with these bad boys, and just strapped the metal contraption right to the soles. Kind of like old roller skates, but instead of wheels, they had two giant springs per foot, attached to a bright red metal platform which secured your ability to walk in them. I never got to try them out. Too dangerous. My feet were too small. But I watched in awe as my brother navigated himself around the house, grimacing in concentration, arms outstretched for balance, looking like a glorious Frankenstein. Clunky, loud, ruinous to wood floors… but I may as well have been watching the caterpillar’s metamorphosis. I could see the wheels of his mind spinning like a garden whirly. But it wasn’t until a few weeks later that his true inspiration took flight. We had to wait for it to warm up a little.
As the weeks passed, the plan developed, which he explained to me with top secret clarity. I was to tell nobody his intentions- nobody. I solemnly nodded in loyal assistance. In fact, my part was crucial to the mission. My God. The pressure. If Dad found out… and I was an accessory… I shuddered at such a vision. But Scott, as a 10-year-old boy, lived life on the eternal precipice of total disaster. I should have known the springy shoes would bring out the best and worst of that unrestrained mind. The truth is, I would have followed Scott to the moon and back, even if our only mode of transportation was a ladder built of tetanus embedded barbed wire, but I felt responsible for his well-being in those shoes. After all, it was I who convinced my mother he’d be sensible in them. And as I listened to the details of his plan, even to a six-year-old, they weren’t sounding too sensible. Not if sensible meant safe.
Several months back, my parents had begun construction of a two-story tree house for us. It was a fabulous concept that was only ever ¼ complete. What we had was a large platform, held up by four solid support posts, one story off the ground. No walls. No roof. We used a ladder to climb up to the top. It was built right next to a gargantuan old oak tree, so the leaf-covered branches poured over the top, the only justification for its name, tree house. It was to be the headquarters for my brother’s near brilliant springy shoe madness.
Scott showed me a rubber coated electrical wire which, he explained, would be tied securely to the top of the tree house. The other side, he showed me, would be tied around his torso. This is where my part would be introduced, so I needed to pay close attention. It would be up to me to tie the knot perfectly. Through careful calculation he had surmised that it would be best to secure the knot under his arms, high up the back. The cord was to be his safety wire to ensure he stayed within this orbit. It had to be tied high up his back so that when he sprang into the atmosphere he would be sure to project face first. This was very important. He needed to see where he was going. I nodded agreement. He then recapped the entire plan as a mental dry run for this fantastical feat.
He would tie the cord to the tree house, I would then tie the other end of the cord to his torso, he would then strap on the springy shoes, leap off the tree house, hit the ground with his springy shoes, project into the air traveling only as far as the “safety cord” would allow, and then apparently come catapulting back to the earth, landing perfectly upright, arms outstretched with bent knee position, as had been practiced for many weeks now.
It was show-time.
We would commence this activity at 6:00 a.m. two days from now- Saturday- to be sure that mom and dad would still be sound asleep while the experiment took place. We needed no interference from minds as tragically grounded as those belonging to our parents. After all… we were learning to fly here.
Friday night was spent in nervous anticipation, but Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee kept us plenty occupied with the Shock Theatre showing of The Creeping Flesh. I mean, who could possibly think about tomorrow while viewing a British horror flick? Our minds were busy contemplating if evil truly was a sickness that mankind could be cured of… We finished the movie and finally fell asleep.
Six a.m. arrived and we popped out of our beds, spring-loaded, though there was nothing giddy about our demeanor. We were as sober as astronauts as we marched outside to our flight laboratory. Silently, so as not to awaken anyone else who may have the mind to thwart our impending adventure, we gathered our materials.
My emotions were mixed as I secured the wire knot under Scott’s arms, high up his back, as instructed. It was an odd combination of brotherly pride, fear of my father, guilt for my mother, and let’s face it… part of me wondered if Scott was minutes away from breaking every bone in his body. But the mental intruders of fear and doubt were quickly ushered out a door marked “unwelcome” and I tried to relax. There was no doubting the brilliance of my brother. He would never willingly put himself in danger, I was sure of that. I closed my eyes, wished him good luck, and watched him jump.
The springy shoe flight simulation experiment could only be cataloged as a colossal failure.
Looking back, all I can say is Thank God. The truth is, for all his calculations and double calculations, he failed to consider one important factor- the length of the “safety cord”. In fact, he never touched the ground. Leaping off the platform of the tree house, I watched aghast as he hit the short extent of his cord, halting with a violent jerk, my sublime knot holding firm, though now having ridden way up into his underarms. Arms flailing skyward, legs kicking two feet off the ground, he managed an urgent garbled order to his trusty assistant, still on top the tree house platform.“GetMeDownGetMeDownGetMeDown.” He repeated rapidly through clenched teeth, without raising his voice- still cognizant of the hell he’d receive if Dad happened to wake up and peer out his bedroom window at the sight of Scott dangling there like a demented lab experiment, still jerking disturbingly, and swaying gently in the wind. I grabbed my face in my hands, silencing my instinct to scream, got my mental faculties together, and scampered down that tree house ladder to rescue my brother. The knot was high above my head, and now way too tight from the anomaly of the experience, but I somehow loosened it enough for him to shimmy free.
We quietly stood staring at the cord, still secured to the top of the tree house. We then examined the angry wire-induced raspberries around Scott’s torso where my knot connected to him had held firm. He removed the springy shoes from his feet and walked toward the house, the cord silently swaying like the proud pendulum of some giant grandfather clock, the shoes unapologetically resting below. I followed behind him. Not sure what to say.
“Does it hurt?” I asked him, sorry for his pain.
“Not so much.” he said a little stiffly. We both kept walking.
“You know,” Scott contemplated, already a little lighter, “it’s probably a good thing it turned out this way. As hard as I hit the end of my safety cord, I realize now that had I actually reached the ground, I very likely would have broken my ankles.” The sting of failure had delivered the gift of clarity.
I felt immediate relief. He was going to be fine! Maybe he hadn’t flown, but we learned a little something about gravity that day, so it wasn’t a total wash. To him it wasn’t a failure at all. It was simply an experience. It didn’t turn out the way he hypothesized it would, but so what. On to the next experience…which would never again involve springy shoes, but always a small sense of the gloriousness of invention and danger.