One of my favorite books growing up was Jay J. Armes, Investigator: The World’s Most Successful Private Eye written in 1976 and published by Macmillan. I remember holding the hardcover book in my hands and wondering how the man on the cover, Jay J. Armes, was able to shoot a gun with hooks for hands.
I loved reading every minute of the book — from the horror of J. J. losing his hands in what I seem to remember was a terrible childhood accident with TNT, to the success of recovering Marlon Brando’s son Christian from the clutches of a kidnapper.
J. J. was so popular in the 1970’s that he had an entire line of Ideal action toys dedicated to his life’s work and achievements despite his disability and I bought them all and played with them all:
The greatest lesson Jay J. Armes taught me was that disabled people were spectacular: You take away a piece of them and all the other parts of the person become ten times stronger.
As a young boy growing up in White Bread Nebraska — where mental equanimity and physical identicalness were more valued than individuality — that was an important worldly lesson to learn in an early life.Instead of being afraid of people who were unlike me because of Race or culture or ethnicity or social status or disability, Jay J. demonstrated through the deeds of his life that all people matter and even those who look the least able to get the job done can, in fact, do the job better than you.
Who would think a guy with “bio-kinetic” hands could handle a gun with such a soft and masterful touch? Jay J. Armes’ book sensitized me to the social stigma that often chases away the dreams of the disabled. A few years after reading his book I volunteered for a job that, I was told, few teenagers were willing to do: I became a reader for the Blind. Every week I would travel to the home of a Blind man and his Blind sister and I would read their textbooks to them by candlelight.
It was eerie how they lived in the dark and would only light a candle when I came over to visit. I remember feeling sick to my stomach when I would look at the sister’s bare legs and see severe bruising up and down her shins from bumping into the furniture and coffee table. It took me years to learn the price of her living an independent life of her own in an apartment with her brother instead of in an institution was getting some bruises on her legs.
If I hadn’t read J. J’s book I probably would have turned tail never gone back the next day like so many who came before me, but I stuck it out with the memory of J. J’s life solidly in my pocket like a glistening and cherished memento of an experienced lived and never ended. Many years later I met a Deaf woman and fell in love with her the moment I met her.
If I didn’t have J. J’s lessons within me I do not believe I would have been open enough to look beyond my own shortcomings to see the wonder of a magnificent and talented woman standing before me.
I would have missed out on meeting the one true love of my life as my wife. You can see a current picture of Jay J. Armes below. As you can see he is still a tough cuss 30 years later and the terrific thing about J. J.’s book and the images on his website is that he is always smiling. He looks like the happiest guy in the world and he obviously doesn’t see himself as disabled in any substantive way.
Whenever I was down and feeling out growing into my teenaged years, I remembered the lessons in the life of Jay J. Armes. If J. J. could do it without hands, I could do it with my two hands.
He soldiered me on from afar and I continued to admire him from the pages of his book. Growing up as a fatherless child in the great unwashed Midwest, Jay J. Armes provided me examples of manhood that I could imitate and live in my own life.
I was lucky to find J. J. again via the wonder of the web. It was a thrill to speed back three decades to my childhood to once again remember and admire a great man and his legacy.
Has the web allowed you the pleasure of rediscovering your childhood heroes so they can erupt once again into the midst your current life and become even more valuable and revered as human touchstones today than they were in the mist of your past?