“I don’t think it will really work. Do you really think it will work?” If Mark heard me, nothing in his demeanor showed it. He knew it would work. I was still fuzzy on the details, and I was pretty sure Mark was too. But his confidence had nothing to do with niggling details. Mark was an idea man. His confidence came from his grasp of the big picture. And we all agreed on the big picture: when a radioactive spider bites you, you get super spider powers.

From the cartoon on Channel 17, I never really understood how Spiderman got his powers, but Mark had the more authoritative comic books. He explained the whole thing: Peter Parker was in a science lab, and a radioactive spider got loose and bit him, and then he got spider powers. We ate this stuff up.

Mark was the youngest of several brothers, so even in third grade an air of worldliness attached to him. He knew things the rest of us didn’t. It wasn’t just that he knew things; it was his casual, can-do attitude toward life’s great mysteries. This was a young man, after all, who had baptized his own dog.

So when Mark came to school with a plan to give us all super spider powers, he had our attention. He had a spider in a jar. All we had to do was to get the spider radioactive and let it bite us.

I thought getting the spider radioactive would be the hard part, but it wasn’t really. Mark had checked out a book of optical illusions from the school library. On the back cover was a swirling spiral that seemed to spin when you rocked it back and forth. He held it a few inches from the spider’s jar and set the spiral spinning.

This seemed mighty low-tech and dubious to me, and I said so. But the words were hardly out of my mouth when the spider collapsed in a curled-up little heap. Mark raised his eyebrows and gave a knowing nod, as if to say, “This is to be expected.”

“Is he dead?” asked one of the boys.

“Not dead,” Mark answered. “Radioactive. Now, who’s going to go first?”

We all looked at each other. In principle, super spider powers were a good thing. But actually to let a radioactive spider bite you…none of us were very sure about that. Even Peter Parker hadn’t let a spider bite him. It was an accident.

“Look here,” Mark said. There was impatience in his voice. “When this spider wakes up, he’ll only be radioactive for a minute or two.” I’m not sure how he knew this. “We need to decide who’s going to get bit. William, why don’t you go first?”

William appeared to be weighing the pros and the cons. “So what kind of super spider powers will I get?”

“You know, like on the TV show,” said Mark. “You can walk up walls. Jump over buildings. Shoot webs out your wrists.”

William looked carefully at his wrist. “Where’s it going to come out? The web.”

Mark had to think on that one. “We’ll have to cut a little hole. Right there.” He swiped a thumbnail across the soft white underside of William’s wrist.

That’s where he blew it. William wasn’t going to let Mark cut him, and neither were any of the rest of us. Mark cajoled another boy or two, and we all argued back and forth for a while, but negotiations broke off with the recess bell, and we mostly dropped the whole thing.

I don’t know what became of the spider. But I like to imagine him awakening from his swoon and stalking across the Miller Elementary playground, his eyes aglow with radioactivity. He’s looking for an unsuspecting grade-school hero—one who won’t be made to choose greatness or choose against it, but rather will have greatness thrust upon him in the form of a spider bite and the dawn of super spider powers.

  • Patrick
    2:58 PM, 20 September 2010

    Love it! The synergistic powers of childhood imagination and naivety are in collusion to impart superhuman abilities- and are halted only by the simple fear of pain.

  • Lance
    5:24 PM, 20 September 2010

    An excellent line–
    “Mark was the youngest of several brothers, so even in third grade an air of worldliness attached to him.”

  • Amy
    11:00 PM, 20 September 2010

    it’s a good thing you never got your Spidey Power. Then you might not have found out about your Author Power. Childhood super powers may take me right back to your disillusionment post…

  • On Canine Baptism « Jonathan Rogers
    3:43 PM, 29 September 2010

    […] Canine Baptism By Jonathan Rogers, on September 29th, 2010 No comments In a recent blog post I made an off-hand mention of the fact that my friend Mark baptized his dog. A number of people […]

  • Mark Yarbrough
    1:01 AM, 10 December 2010

    Well, well, well. It has been a few years my friend. I will have you know my dog is still alive and kicking, result of a proper “presbyterian” sprinkling. As for me, I am just climbing walls and spinning a few webs. It helps to stare at the optical illusion book I never returned to Miller. Would hate to see the late fee’s on that one. You brought back some fond memories that were long forgotten. Thank you. Hope you are well and would love to hear from you sometime. Best regards, Spidey

    • Jonathan Rogers
      12:13 AM, 10 December 2010

      Glad to hear your Presbyterian dog is doing so well, Mark. I’m a little afraid to ask this, but do you remember either the radioactive spider or the dog-baptism?
      Thanks for stopping by, Mark.

  • Mark Yarbrough
    10:58 PM, 10 December 2010

    Never fear. Yes, I do remember these events. I had not thought of those things in years but got a great laugh upon conjuring them back up. All true. The dog was sprinkled and I was a huge spiderman fan.

  • Sally Apokedak
    11:49 AM, 9 June 2011

    Great story And how cool that Mark came by for a visit. I was jubous, too, about the spinning optical illusion thing, but now I’m wondering how Mark knew you were writing about him. He might have superpowers after all. 

    • livingoakheart
      9:33 PM, 9 June 2011

      What does jubous mean? I have searched several dictionaries and cannot find it.

      • Jonathan Rogers
        10:05 PM, 9 June 2011

        Jubous is country talk for “dubious.” The grandfather of a friend of mine pronounced it “jubulous,” which is even better. Sally has moved to Georgia in the last few years; she thinks she’ll fit in if she talks like that.

        • Sally Apokedak
          10:27 PM, 9 June 2011

          Oh, I didn’t see you there, Jonathan. I thought you would be busy writing that book. 

      • Sally Apokedak
        10:22 PM, 9 June 2011

        Sorry. My comment actually made no sense even if you knew what jubous meant. There was no way you’d figure it out from context. 
        Jubous means dubious in Southeastern US old-timers’ dialect, apparently. I have no idea if I’m spelling it correctly, because, you know, it’s a made-up word. (Grady used the word in The Charlatan’s Boy, but I’m not overly confident in his spelling.)

        I thought Jonathan made the word up, but apparently not. He’s heard it fall from the lips of old-timers. There is a longer version of the word–jubilous, I believe. (Maybe?) Which sounds like it means happy and not doubtful.  

        Maybe Dr. Rogers will find time to shed more light on this some time. We should pray for him that he’ll be able to get his book done so he can come back to the blog. 

        Sorry for making you check all those dictionaries. I feel awful about that. I shouldn’t have used it. But you know how it is with characters you love–you start to speak like them. Don’t you? Am I the only one that does this? ha ha 

        I’m kidding. I don’t use the word normally. But we do, in our family, have words and phrases we’ve taken from books we love. And we use them among ourselves. 

        • livingoakheart
          11:13 PM, 9 June 2011

          Thank you. And no, you’re not the only one who does this–at least you’re using ‘English’, though, and not Quenya!

          • Sally Apokedak
            4:04 AM, 10 June 2011

            Well, it’s kind of English. Which is why you put it in quotes I guess. It’s English mixed with old-timerish. But, yes, closer to English than Quenya. 

  • Fellow Traveler
    12:52 AM, 10 June 2011

    So funny…

  • Loren Warnemuende
    8:35 PM, 10 June 2011

    What I’m still pondering is “What kind of spider was it?” You could have experienced oh, so much more than super powers!

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