Biff America: The gift of flight, the blessing of simplicity
Ryan Summerlin April 18, 2013
“But now my task is smoothly done, I can fly or I can run.”
– John Milton
Fly or run – Dave was one of the chosen few who could do both.
In today’s terms, Dave would be called “developmentally disabled.” Back in 1960 his condition was defined with much less compassion. Some termed him “retarded.” The older kids called him “Nutty Buddy.” The expression I liked best was one used by my mother. She said Dave Swift was “one of God’s chosen few.”
To my friends and me he was “Dave the Jet.”
Dave could fly. Whether heading to the candy store, to church or to the playground, he would travel at top speed, arms out like wings, usually making engine noises with his mouth. He was seldom seen in any other posture; Dave the Jet was a nonstop flight.
So committed he was to airborne travel, his mother had great difficulty getting him to taxi, arms down, to the altar at church to receive Holy Communion. Eventually, she succeeded; but if you looked closely, you’d see that, though his arms were at his side, his hands flayed out at the wrists in order to maintain spiritual loft.
I’m not sure how Dave’s parents convinced the school board to allow him to enter first grade several years late, or why they chose that year to do so. There were limited special-education choices back then. Maybe they just thought he was finally able to comprehend at a grade-school level. Or it could be because most of the neighborhood kids, we who knew him all our lives, were starting that year. All I know for sure was my first day of school I sat next to a man-child whose mother shaved him that morning.
While the rest of us were struggling with reading, writing and arithmetic, Dave sat in the back row coloring. He’d occasionally ask for permission to fly to the bathroom and would glide, without a sound, back to his crayons. When we would encounter important words like, stop, police, caution, poison, the teacher would interrupt Dave’s artistic endeavors and make sure he recognized them and knew their meaning.
I can’t honestly say if Dave attended class for a few months or a few days; I have only vague recollection of him in the classroom. In or out of school, I don’t remember him being unduly teased or taunted. Either we hadn’t learned, at that young age, the art of cruelty, or we were respectful of his size. Whatever the case, Dave’s academic career ended not long after it began. His undoing was an in-flight accident on the playground.
While on a holding pattern at recess, his right wingtip accidentally clipped the nose of a little girl. Though Dave apologized as well as he was able, the young child, alarmed by the sight of her own blood, ran home. Neighborhood gossip and misinformation led to angry phone calls. The school committee was unable to justify why a nearly 150-pound man was attending class with 7-year-olds.
One benefit of a simple mind is a short memory. After his expulsion, Dave went on much as before, flying for transportation and pleasure. While I sat in class daydreaming of summer and recess, I’d occasionally see him gliding across the empty playground. If our eyes met (perhaps only in my imagination) he would dip a wing in recognition, and fly off.
I hated school and the confinement it entailed. As I labored to learn the earthbound skills that seemed to come so easily to my classmates, my thoughts would turn to Dave. I’d imagine him free, and soaring in his simplicity. As I watched his human fuselage gliding off toward an imagined horizon and adventure, I’d think with envy, there goes one of God’s chosen few …
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com.