Fat Boy Tries to Ride a Bike

People, especially my brother Joe, got so much unadulterated joy from my skiing post that I decided to go to the childhood story well once again. In case you don’t remember, I’m the chubby one…

My brother Joe and I both got our own bikes one glorious Christmas. We were about eight or nine if I remember correctly. There are pictures of us on top of our new wheels by the tree, smiling from ear to ear. We didn’t agree on much back then, but new bikes were unanimously wicked awesome.  The only problem was we couldn’t rush outside and give in to instant gratification, because in the Northeast you can’t go outdoors without freezing to death between December and March. So the bikes sat in the garage until thaw. But when that day finally came, boy were we ready for Christmas!

My Dad came out with us onto the street in front of our house. We lived in the middle of a big horseshoe.  So there we are out on Manor Drive. The bikes both had banana seats and a long oval bar behind it which was called, Mary El informed me, a “sissy bar”. My Dad had hold of both sissies and jogged with us as we started to petal. As we built up speed Dad let go of the bars. In the movies this is the part where the kid looks around in panic, realizes he’s actually riding a bike by himself, and starts doing wheelies. I wobbled violently left and then right, trying to fight handlebars that clearly had a mind of their own, zig-zagged hard to the left and ran into a neighbor’s hedge. Joe rode all the way to the end of the street, skidded sideways like Erik Estrada in Chips, saw me dangling from a bush a began laughing his ass off. Joe was good at laughing at other people’s expense, especially mine. He would go on to major in it in college. But this was an early glimpse of the genius he was to become.

As I tried to disentangle my front wheel, Joe rode right by me, his face red and tears leaking out of the sides of his eyelids. I pulled branches from between the spokes and walked the bike back to my father. Dad gave Joe a withering look, but I could still see him laughing that shaking, quiet church-laugh. He was doing little figure eights with the bike, like a fish in water. Damn skinny Joe.

We began again. This time my father made it a little bit further down the street. But my old nemesis gravity reared it’s ugly head once more and my confidence was already shaken to its core, so down I went again. This time it was sharply to the right, into our neighbor’s wooden fence. I was pretty sure I heard chuckling from behind the closed doors and windows.

My Dad had had it. He bought the whole Hollywood bike deal too, but now he was winded and his arms were tired from picking up his fat son. He had gone one for two. Joe was by now doing veteran bike tricks, flying past with one hand, no hands, one leg… The pain of my bloody knees were in counterpoint to his joyful preening and carrying on. I trudged my new bike back to our house, broken and battered. I remember standing just inside the screen door and looking out at my brother frolicking in the street, hot tears of envy burning down my face. I hated him. I hated him down to my nine-year-old core, and if there was a fair God I hoped he would smite that skinny, smirking SOB down.

Then a miracle occurred. Joe had gone up the slight hill  and was now pedaling down the hill and around the big curve in the horseshoe at the approximate speed of sound. He had a big smile on his face and was shouting out in joy. Or so I thought. When I wiped away my tears I realized what I was witnessing was a look of fear. I could now make out the shouts–”I don’t know how to stop, I don’t know how to stop!” My heart leaped. He was headed toward my father’s car, parked in front of our house. It was an old, sturdy Mustang, green as I remember it, but that may have been colored by my envy. Joe was going so fast I could hear his tires whistling. He hit the back bumper of that Mustang full bore and the bike stopped dead. Joe, however, continued at the same frightening rate of speed over the handlebars, landing spread-eagle on the back window. He didn’t move. Could God have killed him for me? What kind of awesome power did I possess?

He finally moaned and we knew he was alive. As my parents ran to Joe’s aid, I stood inside the screen door laughing through my tears. Never before or since had my prayers been answered so quickly, and with such vehemence. In retrospect I probably would have saved that particular “get out of jail free card” for a greater purpose, but at this moment all was right between me and the Big Guy Upstairs.

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