THE LEAPING MAN by Alex S Johnson
It was the leap that sold me.
If like many of us you found yourself watching a lot of daytime TV, you couldn’t miss them: the commercials for Luck E. Dynamo’s Self-Made Man seminars, in which the reigning king of posthuman whipped an auditorium packed with impoverished, flabby losers into a froth of actuated potential. At some point in the ads, as Dynamo flashed the muscular heft of his jaw and showed his large, gleaming, even white teeth, booming out his tale of secular grace and second chances, men began leaping. I took it as an article of faith that elsewhere, in equal proportion but fluid as dolphins, women also leapt to Dynamo’s gospel, but these were guys, and that felt significant. Especially if, as I did, you fought hours of brain-jellying anxiety by day and the terror by night, wondering if anything like a livelihood gleamed from the future like the rim of some craft sent here from deep space to save humanity.
The move from horizontal to vertical and from there to launch mode looked like salvation; whatever was behind it, I wanted some.
So I did it—begged, borrowed and very nearly stole for a Self-Made Man seminar at the lowest possible membership rate. I wanted to see the leaping first-hand, feel deep in my toes the miracle of revelation that inspired it, and—please, gods, just for once—wrest myself from the surly bonds of earth to touch…whatever. I knew the words, had them memorized, but that wasn’t enough. I needed to hear with my own ears how Dynamo had crafted his empire of enterprise from readily available materials. How a 350-pound shlub received the Tablets of Prosperity. I was desperate to feel so buoyant and reckless that even at the $250 level, if only for a few unforgettable moments, I either forgot gravity existed or was seized by the will to bloody its nose. Take that, you…impersonal forces that try to keep me down…you’ll be hearing from…me. Then BOOM—human cannonball, baby. I’d figure it out from there, some atmospheric freestyle or other. Touched on the brow with the magic money sign by the Dynamo himself.
And then, there I was. I wore my lucky suit, which was also my interview suit, the one I wore in the divorce proceedings and, to be brutally frank, the working twin of a pair of suits. The other being so distressed, tattered and stained I can barely speak of it except in shamed whispers in a supportive recovery setting. Things happened around the time of my break with the former Mrs. Anthony Cranston, bad things…suffice it to say, I dressed to smash limits in the steel grey suit with a breath of padding in the shoulders, the one found nowhere near the scene of the terminal bender. I wanted to look, if not feel, my best standing next to my peers—especially if the roving, omnipresent cameras happened to catch me mid-air, fist pumping, nerve tips a-tingle with the happy juice.
In the beginning I felt let down, disappointed. Luck E. Dynamo (born Luke Dinormo) spoke well and convincingly, but like I said I knew the story by heart.
How he’d pounded out the rough outlines of his seminars in a trailer park while working nights as a mall security guard and fighting multiple substance abuse issues, an eating disorder and a craving for powdered donuts so powerful and magnetic it nearly destroyed the last shreds of his self-confidence.
About the first leapers, toothless meth heads to be sure, but inspired nonetheless by Luck E.’s prototype “my success story” presentation; an improvised trampoline setup, and a crude, badly edited video that still went viral.
How Dynamo came to understand the art of propagating faith in one’s own essence; that the throw of genetic die, environmental factors and deep personal quirk might constitute a brand, which with a little advance work and investment could grow to sell itself, draw an army of inspired salesmen, and so forth on down the line. So that what you started with and who you actually were became revealed, in the end, as the Luck E. bundle—all you would ever need to prosper. And how from there the money began to trickle in—not a huge amount at first, not all of it authentic currency, but just enough to convince Luck he was on to something real.
So far, so good, but it was also a little bit so what and what the hell was I thinking. The ads for the seminars had me convinced that at some point in the presentation, men would throw themselves in the air like business-suited versions of “Diamond” Dave Roth from Van Halen, but I waited and waited and never saw the least sign of lift-off. Even the many true believers Dynamo invited onstage at the end of his spiel to attest that they too were Self Made Men stayed firmly planted on the ground.
Something was wrong.
Yet just as I despaired, the icy cold grip around my heart ever-so-familiar from the night terrors, the chill sweat hovering on my skin, I felt it. A tingling in my toes, followed by a vast sense of relief. My flesh was melting, evaporating, and with it every tie to earth, limitation, the confinement to forms. I’d been seeking a saviour, a solution, a sign, but aid lay far closer—within me.
I saw my black dress shoes skimming the floor, as others turned to look, distracted from Dynamo’s sales pitch for advanced one-on-one seminars. All these men, I realized, had come to see the leaper, some hapless sideshow geek imbued without warning or rational explanation with the Power—without understanding a simple truth.
It was so intuitive, so freaking elementary. And you truly didn’t need outside assistance to make it happen.
“C’mon!” I said, watching myself as though from outside, a full two feet from the floor. Then three. My fist surged towards the ceiling. I pumped it. “It’s working! Join me!”
At some level my attitude and altitude in space seemed ridiculous—because it was. I understood so many things: the crafted gimmickry of the leapers in the commercial. The amount of marketing research involved. The sheer lie of it.
The stunning images that had brought me to the seminar peeled away like tacky wallpaper. But nothing looked so fake, false and tawdry now as the man himself.
I shifted to diagonal. The auditorium swam before me. So many hues of conservative, corporate blues and blacks and silvers and reds. So many pink and brown and black faces on which were written the tangible signs of dreams; their desire to be rich in America before they were too old to appreciate it, or the empire was irretrievably lost, or all of us were swallowed in a nuclear cloud. To be somebody, not just another fat, huffing dingbat nearly flattened by depression and fear.
Luck E. Dynamo had worked on our desperation for success, cooking up a fantasy of what it might look like. He’d shown us men in flight and led us to believe his message had propelled them there. But leaping wasn’t anything, when flying came naturally.
Yes, incredibly enough, we could fly. All of us. But not him.
I rotated back. Now others had kicked themselves free. We hovered, struck goofy poses, extreme parodies of the original Leaping Man—tongues thrust between our lips like dogs, ties askew, bugged-out eyes. We pretended to be Atlas or The Thinker, The Discus Thrower; a gymnast vaulting; seven lords a leaping. We rested on our backs, cycled through the air, caught stray fancies and cruised them the way hawks take thermal drafts. Men joined hands and executed flawless mid-air acrobatics. The air filled with an excited chatter, the energy of new ideas. Except for Dynamo, who said nothing.
All these men had caught on. The irony that but for the flimsy showmanship of this con artist, we might long ago have found our own stride. Not by metabolic booster shakes or cold showers at dawn, but along individual lines, however fraught with whimsy and weirdness, our own ineffable flavours, even sleeping in and leftover pizza. Some of us were cosplay geeks, for example, and that was fine. We were overweight, and nerdy, and had complete conversations with ourselves, and dressed as furry creatures or unicorns or robots. We—men and women alike—looked like slatternly hobbits on an off day. We didn’t have razor-cut profiles and machine-tooled jaws. But we were okay.
As for Dynamo, he had begun to sink. Psychologically. Physically. You could see it first in his face, on the enormous TV monitors planted above the stage on both sides; a sag in confidence, a slackening of the muscles, a dullness creeping into those too-vivid, too-keen cobalt eyes—the cold eyes of a predator, of a Tom Cruise, turned to mud and muck and void. Luck E. Dynamo was the asshole in the room, the bully we all loathed. He wasn’t our hero. He was a creep. Far from leaping, let alone flying, he could barely stand.
We began to stream out of the auditorium en masse. Looking back, we saw on the monitors Dynamo’s face begin to break up, his features buckling, distorting. Maybe he was trying to say something, but no coherent words formed, just gasps, groans and a long, anguished howl. He raised a half-hearted fist in the air, but it swiftly fell slack against his side. Then he fell to the floor, and lay there motionless, except for a twitching left index finger, emphasizing a point he didn’t have the juice left to make.
We flew down into the street, among the crowds, to share how easy it was: to walk, to hang, to loaf and take one’s ease, to strap a single horn to our foreheads; to fly, to pirouette, to play games and defeat or be defeated, unthreatened by the vagaries of chance and change.
And to say, with finality, fuck a leaping man.