Let’s talk about daredevils. Did that make you smile? It should, the thought of daredevils should make you smile, it makes me smile. I look for them everywhere, I want to see them ride by my porch on their BMX bikes. It happened yesterday, Megan and Sam and I were drinking coffee and this marvelous master of mayhem glided by slumped on his seat letting his freewheel spin with that seductive ratcheting click. Anywhere he was going I wanted to follow. Daredevils move fast, like they are just ahead of the wind, like they are moving ahead of time, in front of time, as if the thing that is time is right behind them chasing them. And as long as the brave Daredevil keeps their wits, keeps their balance, grabs and pulls and flips at just the right moment then time has no chance. They stick the landing and are already moving before the hands stopping clapping. I see it when the barista grabs and clears the steam from the wand with a hot rag and is already moving for the porta filter before the tiny hiss leaves the ears. They are moving ahead of time, propelled like a surfer on a wave, making a vehicle of the motion, making a gesture against static.
There is nothing static about a daredevil. They challenge the notion of boring, while becoming bored easily. I cherish watching daredevils do anything, do the dishes, drive to work or give a hug, because it is always exciting. The eye of a daredevil twinkles when they arrive, their smiles infect rooms, I am always happy to see them, there is no-one they aren’t happy to greet.
Their minds calculate everything around them, constantly evaluating the gap and the weight, judging if they can make the distance, can they sneak through ahead of danger, can they hold the weight long enough, can they throw it, catch, throw it again and stick it? Doesn’t really matter if they make it, they can’t not go for it, they can’t just sit there being bored, they must test the gap. So they dive, lean, thrust straight into the space the rest of us are afraid to enter or have simply ignored. They make space where the rest of us thought there was only impossible, closed off, shut and stuck. A daredevil knows the odds, they add them up as second nature, they imagine the thrill and the necessity of breaking through the smallest inconceivable cracks in any system. They explode our notions of what is possible, they show us new paths to getting from here to there, and they usually throw in an extra twist for good measure. Because it is not always just about achieving motion it is about the sweet brilliant booty shaking glory of the journey. If you pull off a stunt and didn’t thrill the crowd a little doing it then you have missed an opportunity and missing opportunities is a daredevil’s worst fear. They don’t fear being awkward, or falling down, or hurting themselves or their reputations. They fear missing the chance to live like a giant, live like a defiant comet in the vast nothingness of space, live like a cascading avalanche, live like the perfect set of waves off the hardest break on the perfect day when no-one else is willing to try. The Daredevil tries when others watch.
The first real daredevil I met was Ralph Hawkins, my uncle visiting from California. He sat by the pool turning brown drinking cans of beer and smoking cigarettes and occasionally entering the pool in the coolest way any of us had ever seen. He would start from the back of the diving board arms to his side like an Olympian, quick breath and then that twinkle, and that rye smile like he knew exactly how he was about to blow our minds. Then he would hurtle himself at the end of the board and launch in what can only be described as a leap and bounce that took him above the roof line. His body would curl and grabbing his knees he would summersault as we lost our collective breath, and then he would straighten like a plank and plunge into the water surfacing almost instantly pulling water off his face with the palm of his hand through his beard. He had a beard in the eighties, a really good one, not the lack of chin hiding beards so many of us deploy, but an honest perfectly pointed beard. We all just sat on the edge of my grandparent’s pool completely stunned. Ralph pulled from his beer and taught all of us how to throw our bodies into the water, fearless and brave and with a twist.
Many of you know that my grandfather Merlin loved pancakes, he loved breakfast with people, and Ralph was good at breakfast, he was a marvelous chef. I stood in the kitchen next to him, I remember being short, I remember being shorter than his elbow, I remember watching him make bacon in his swimsuit. I remember him looking down at me and telling me that he had asbestos fingers and that he could flip bacon in a pan with his bare hands. And then he did it! I asked my mom what asbestos was and she said it meant Fireproof. My uncle was fireproof.
You will never find the daredevil you aren’t looking for. You will never see that glint, that sparkle, that wink if you don’t look people in the eye and check to see if they are moving just ahead of time, gliding twisting in and out of the clutches of those that would catch them and hold them up and make them boring. Ralph moved ahead of time, he was not bound by mundane contrivances of the every day. He was fireproof, he outlived so many, he out did himself every time. And I can’t ever remember a time I wasn’t happy to see him, not once. As a child in a small town celebrities are rare, and Ralph was the perfect celebrity, always arriving on his own schedule and with a variety of adventure in hand. As an adult I saw him even less, but his influence on me is profound and woven into the DNA of my person. The Patrick you have met is in large part due to Ralph, my aspirations and dreams and the way I love my friends and family and work to make community, that is Ralph at work in me, that is me trying to get the attention of the Daredevil.
Time caught up with my uncle on a Friday about a week and half back, he walked himself into a hospital on his own two feet and he quietly slipped away from us, he made one of those classic fucking exits that we all dream of, one that stuns and causes the audience to lose their collective breath. He had someone with him at the very last moment someone making good decisions that he had planned for, because a Daredevil is always calculating the gap and he knew exactly how close he was playing it. I miss him in that part of my heart that is my youth, somebody just reached into my basement and ripped out another beam that was supporting my soul. While I can’t ever put those specific structures back, I can add new ones like you.