Christopher L Johnson’s Heroic Act
By Mark Burrow
People don’t understand what it is to be a hero. They think it’s about sport or the military. The obvious stuff that you see in documentaries and films.
I’m talking about something else entirely. It’s a person who doesn’t care what others think. They’re the sort of individual who looks at the laces looped through their shoes and says, “You know what, I won’t be needing these today.”
We’ve become so stale and conventional in our norms and values, so mannered and moulded. Think about the dogs. They can be groomed and bathed, trained to play fetch, but they won’t think twice about licking their genitals in a public place.
That’s the spirit of heroism right there.
Let me be the type of man who isn’t afraid to try to lick his own testicles in public.
The cynics and trolls don’t get it. They think I’m talking about rebelliousness. It makes me laugh so hard I want to puke on their eyeballs. A hero might be rebellious, defying convention, but he or she goes beyond that to create something truly mind-blowing.
Take Christopher L Johnson. He was dismissed as a disturbed young man by the authorities. They called him crazy, a lad who went off the rails due to a bad upbringing. For me, he was the first hero I ever saw in the flesh. Try as I might, I can’t think of anyone who comes close to the influence he had on me.
And I know what you’re thinking: “What about Snake Plissken?”
Snake comes close. In many ways, I have tried my utmost to model my life on Snake in Escape from New York, and yet my experience of Christopher L Johnson is deeper. Perhaps it was in part because I hardly noticed him at school in the beginning. He was one of the outcast kids. He didn’t have friends and seemed to be absent a lot, missing registration without any explanation.
He might be the object of the odd mum cuss now and then as his surname changed three times in five years. He had tape holding his spectacles together and couldn’t kick a football properly. I first started to suspect he had hidden qualities when we were taken to Battersea Park for athletics. It was there that I saw him walk the 1,500 metres.
It was remarkable. I mean, he didn’t try once to move at so much as a jogging pace.
Our PE teacher, Mr Butler, turned red, screaming: “Run, boy, run.”
Christopher L Johnson refused point blank. “I’m a conscientious objector,” he said to Mr Butler as he strolled across the finish line. “You know that already.”
Mr Butler ordered him to get changed and wait on the coach.
There was more to Christopher L Johnson than met the eye, but not once did I believe he’d become a hero for our time. It was about a year after the 1,500-metre debacle when he transfigured into myth and legend.
In complete secret, he had been cutting a single page out of each of his latest father’s extensive collection of pornographic magazines. Like a connoisseur, he only chose the most offensive and graphic images. He then set about patiently stapling each page together, top to tail.
It was a sunny Friday lunchtime when he decided to unveil his creation. Standing in the playground, he removed the pages from his rucksack and started sprinting as fast as he possibly could between us kids. He hollered the word “fanny” over and over, holding up the first page and letting the nude images unfurl behind him in a blurry trail of filth.
I remember watching the male teachers chase after him. The beautiful irony of seeing how Mr Butler wasn’t fast enough and finally resorted to blowing his whistle in desperation. Christopher L Johnson made it onto the playing field. The boys and the girls cheered at his zigzagging and then there was a collective groan as he was finally cornered and tackled to the ground.
Some of the boys set about picking up the pages that had torn loose, showing them to the girls.
They all missed the point. They didn’t have the ability to process what they had seen and what it meant to watch a hero in action.
I wanted to give him a firm handshake. I wish I’d had the chance to thank him. I still think about how he was led to the Headmaster’s office, circled by teachers like a Prisoner of War who had been captured after attempting to escape.
Except this was no failure.
I don’t know what became of him. In my mind, I can see him running across the grass, pages flapping over his shoulder like an airplane pulling an advertising banner.
Frozen in time. Utterly heroic. Perfect.