Commentary: A boy named 'Maximus'

Midwest neighborhoods of the 1950s frequently placed heavy demands on its youngest residents. Boys with dirty faces and torn jeans were committed to their portrayals of cowboys, firemen, soldiers, pirates, dare devils and occasionally, ill-defined monsters from the deep.

Maury and I were the semi-dynamic duo of South Harrison Street in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We were willing to undertake the dramatic roles expected of us, but we had a major challenge. With the names Maury and Wil, how could anyone take us seriously?

Decked out in Cisco the Kid boots, a Roy Rogers hat and Hop-A-Long Cassidy six shooters (I was not a slave to consistency in those days), I desperately needed a name that matched the intimidating image I knew I projected. Jake, Snake or Slade would have worked just fine, but I was stuck with Wil.

Maury was even more desperate for a manly handle, but I felt no pity for him since I was in hot pursuit of my own suitable alter ego.

Then 1954 happened. Victor Mature appeared in Demetrious and the Gladiators. This movie was described as a "sword and sandal" drama. That theme appealed to me, so accompanied by a mental crescendo of blaring trumpets, I entered my "Roman Phase." I accepted Victor, his bare-chested bluster and all the exciting sword antics as gospel. I imagined what his closet must have looked like filled with nothing but swords, leather skirts, sandals, and a battle-tested shield or two. Not a single Van Heusen button-down Oxford shirt in the bunch.

At this seminal point in my life, I was excited to be a Centurion. I had no idea what a centurion was, but I strove to be the best one possible.

One magnetic attraction to things Roman, besides chariot races and Coliseum side shows were the names: Augustus, Cassius, Faustinus, Gaius, and so on. In those days, everybody ended in the letters, "us."

I now had new fertile fields to search for a brand that would launch a completely new me. Roman themes weren't necessarily popular in northern Indiana in the 1950s, but I was an 8-year-old risk taker of the highest order.

I don't recall how it happened, but somehow I came across the magical name, "Gluteus Maximus." As I drifted toward sleep each night, I could see General Maximus victoriously leading his noble legions into battle after battle. So I decided that Gluteus and Wil would become one in the same. At last, I had a real name, an heroic image that was a lot larger than I was. But little did I know there was a significant downside or should I say "backside" to my newly honed identity. It was bound to happen. My world crashed down around me in fifth grade science class as we studied major muscle groups of the body. A diagram on the classroom wall introduced me to the real Gluteus Maximus. As soon as the bell rang ending that class, I was, again, nameless and without prospects in a cruel, cruel world.

Maury and I certainly weren't the only boys concerned with the imaginary footprints they'd leave in the world at large. Louis Lindley, William Boyd and Marion Morrison apparently faced the same challenges. Okay, I'll admit that these three guys confronted their demons a little more successfully than we did. They turned into Slim Pickens, Hop-Along Cassidy and John Wayne.

But I refuse to give up. Somewhere out there is a towering personification that wants to be me!

To comment on this column, email Wil Williams at wilaugust46@gmail.com.