Have you seen the Taco Bell TV commercials with the guy who earned a reputation taking dares?
As a kid, he shaves off an eyebrow. In high school, he parks the principal’s car on the roof. He sneaks onto the court where pro basketball players are practicing and sinks a shot. All on dares. Or double dares.
I’m not sure what the point of the ad is, but the daredevil kid is my hero.
I know how it feels to be double-dared.
The first double dare I can remember came when the 12th Street Kids were playing in the neighbor’s backyard. They had a great slide, almost as big as the one at the park, not one of those little kid slides. Long enough that we could get up a good head of steam. It was super fast because we made the first couple of trips down with waxed paper under our bottoms.
There was a big, granddaddy maple tree in the yard and some of the green, flexible branches hung over the slide. One day, my friend, Kevin, put them to good use. He grabbed one of the branches and leapt off the top step of the slide. The branch bowed and stretched and deposited Kevin gently on the grass below. Tah-dah.
The minute he let go, the branch snapped back up with the sound of a whip slicing the air.
He looked up at me, watching from the top step of the slide. “Go ahead, try it,” he taunted. “It’s fun.”
Kevin was a couple years younger and quite a few pounds lighter than me. I looked at the branch. I looked at Kevin.
I turned and scooted down the slide.
“I dare you.”
“I double-dare you.”
That’s all it took. I climbed the ladder. Turned. Took the branch. Closed my eyes. And took one giant leap for kidkind.
The next thing I knew, I was on the ground, flat on my back, still gripping a piece of the branch. I didn’t hurt. But I couldn’t breathe. I panicked and took off running, as fast as I could.
Kevin was in hot pursuit, screaming bloody murder.
Still, I couldn’t take a breath. I fell over in the grass. There was an adult kneeling over me, telling me to calm down.
It seemed like forever, but they told me it was just a few seconds. Finally, a breath came. And another.
Pop came running out of our house. By the time he got there, I was breathing normally and sitting up. Pop picked me up and carried me home. I was pretty sore for a couple days.
But I did it.
Another double dare came in the sixth grade. We had our first male teacher in the history of St. Paul School, Mr. Harrigan. He was strict and I guess we were a little bit afraid of him.
One day, when he had to leave the room, he told us to read in silence. One of the guys had enough reading. He climbed on the chair and did an awesome Mr. Harrigan impersonation. The whole class laughed.
I, who had never even had a check mark on my report card ever, was sitting up front. When Paul jumped off the chair, he motioned for me to come up.
“I dare you.” A couple more kids chimed in. They double-dared me.
Reluctantly, I slithered up to the front. I climbed on Mr. Harrigan’s chair just as Mr. Harrigan walked in.
I won’t tell you what happened next. Let’s just say Mom made a rare trip to school and I didn’t get to watch Red Skelton for a few weeks.
In high school, I never got in trouble. It just didn’t sit well with the other guys. At St. Henry’s Seminary out on 59th Street, it was lights out at 10 o’clock in the dormitory. That was it. Life shut down at 10 p.m., unless the Eagles had a basketball game.
Toward the end of senior year, someone hatched a plan to sneak out and sleep on the roof. No way, I said. Do you know what would happen if they caught us?
My roommate decided to go for it. He double-dared me.
We put on black, like a couple of cat burglars. We stared at the ceiling until midnight, our clothes on under the sheets. Right after one of the priests made his rounds, we grabbed blankets and pillows and climbed out a window and onto the roof.
We stretched out on the gravel, looked at the stars and talked all night. We snuck back in just before daylight. The good padres never found out.
I figure after more than 40 years and St. Henry’s no longer in existence, we’re safe.
Bring on those daredevil tacos.