Our Saturday night routine with Tarzan was merely the catalyst for what we played out the rest of the week. On Saturday nights we had observed and studied with our mentor, now we had to discipline ourselves and practice hard to become like him. As protégés of Tarzan there were a number of tarzanian skills and characteristics that we committed to mastering.
One of the basic skills for any would-be apprentice of Tarzan was to perfect his yodel. Now, no one could yodel quite like Johnny Weissmuller, but we practiced intensely nevertheless. On any given day in our neighborhood, the Jacobson’s, Connor’s or Bolen’s could hear the unmistakable call of Tarzan coming from fifty feet up some tree. But as hard as I tried to perfect Tarzan’s yodel, my soprano boy’s voice prevented me from sounding quite like him. In the end I had to satisfy myself with sounding more like Boy, Tarzan’s adopted son, than like Tarzan himself.
Another ability of Tarzan that we all envied was the speed with which he could run barefoot through the jungle. He not only ran fast, but with lighting speed he maneuvered over, under or around anything he encountered on such a jungle run. The large woods that bordered our property served well as a training ground in practicing this skill.
I can still vividly remember preparing mentally for my bare-foot speed runs through the woods. I had to psych myself up because apparently my feet were not as tough as Tarzan’s and I invariably stubbed a toe or stepped on a thorn or sharp stick on my speed runs through the woods. Yet I quietly subjected myself to the pain as a part of becoming like Tarzan. Tarzan was no whiner!
Actually, I loved my speed runs through the woods. There was something very pleasurable about imagining myself as Tarzan while jumping over logs, ducking under branches, and leaping to perch on a stump or boulder. Then I would fill my lungs with air, beat my chest and bellow out a Tarzan yodel that would make cats cower and dogs howl.
One year for my birthday I asked my mom to make me a faux leopard skin swim trunk that I could wear when I was playing Tarzan. She lovingly designed and sewed that leopard skin loin cloth for me. The first time I put it on, I felt more like Tarzan than I’d ever felt before. I knew this would be good! I could’ve sworn that wearing that skin made me jump higher, run faster and be braver!
Once I went for a swim in my leopard skin swim trunk in order to wrestle a make-believe crocodile. I found that when my leopard skin trunks got wet, I looked like a drowned cat and the trunks got so heavy that I was in danger of losing them over my scrawny hips! I struggled to figure out how to categorize these moments of embarrassment into my Tarzan persona. (to be continued…)