I told myself when I started to write on Open Salon some 13 months ago that I’d never recycle past posts. After all, the thing we used to call network television that produced a definable season from September to May with reruns reserved exclusively and predictably to the summer months has degenerated into an exercise of scheduling schizophrenia whereby a “season” can consist of only a half dozen episodes that go into reruns before you’ve even had a chance to learn their broadcast times.
But, as many a politician and celebrity have learned, “Never say never.”
Below I’ve reposted a remembrance that appeared on Christmas Day last year. Perhaps because it was posted on Christmas it garnered not a single comment or rating point. Perhaps its lack of acknowledgement was due to my being on Open Salon only a month, with few friends yet designated. Perhaps it was a combination of the timing, with even the most addicted OSers too busy that day to scan new posts (where were the non-Christians when I needed them?), as well as my neophyte status that left the post, “The New Bicycle,” a lonely orphan. My ego certainly clings to those rationales; otherwise, the only explanation left is that not a solitary soul out there liked it or disliked it enough to leave a comment.
When I wrote the post last year, it had a twist at the end that turned the essay about a particular Christmas past into an exaltation of what had just occurred a few weeks before in the Presidential election. I removed the twist ending in today’s rerun. First, I thought it was enough that the post was a Christmas story exclusively. Second, the past year has dampened—somehow as I knew it would—the fires of hope for change that so expertly had been marketed and packaged for the voters’ consumption. Perhaps that’s too cynical. Perhaps even the packagers and marketers of hope and change themselves were naïve followers of the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, and Santa Claus who believed that the natural laws of political physics in this country would somehow be suspended, lead could be turned into gold, and male pattern baldness could be reversed.
If you’re curious about the original ending, you can hit this link to the original post. For the rest of you, I hope this little story provides a chuckle or two en route to a nice holiday season for all of us built not on the tendency for the country to wallow in seasonal material excess but rather family connections and the awe that comes with acknowledging one of the great miracles of humanity. I refer, of course, to last night’s stunning victory by the Dallas Cowboys over the heretofore undefeated New Orleans Saints to keep their playoff hopes alive. Football, after all, is what the holiday season is all about--am I right or am I right?
THE NEW BICYCLE
When I was nine in 1965 all I wanted for Christmas was a bicycle I could call my own. My older sister's heavy, bulbous Schwinn, handed down to me now that she was off to high school, simply was not the answer. On the plains of West Texas, riding a girl's bike, readily identifiable by the lack of a cross bar in the frame, was an excellent way to get the beans kicked out of you on the school playground.
Even though Schwinn was considered the Cadillac of bikes, this model--with its tires fat as kielbasas and wide, springy seat designed for comfort rather than speed--condemned me to be a perpetual loser in any game of bike tag. I desperately needed a boy's bike. If I'd been familiar with the Faust legend back then, I'd gladly have gift-wrapped my soul to the Devil for the ultimate in bipedal technology, a three-speed "English" racer. What's a little eternal damnation compared with being able to outrun Tommy, Gomez, Bobby, and Ricky through the magic of a twist-grip gear shifter?
However, reality tempered my velocipedic lust. My sister had gotten the outrageously expensive Schwinn when my dad had been flush, or, at the very least, in the throes of one of his occasional "We may be poor but my kid deserves the best" bouts of angst. (For me, that thinking got me an American Flyer train set that cost a whole week's pay--when I was only two.)
Unfortunately, my lobbying for a new bike coincided with one of the many lean financial periods in my dad's life as a long-haul trucker. I knew this because my mom had started weeks before Christmas saying things like, "Christmas isn't just about presents, you know." This clearly was code for "You're gonna get clothes for Christmas and feel good about it!"
My mood grew darker when I saw the Western Auto Christmas circular advertising a sleek, black Texas Ranger bike complete with streamers dangling from the ends of the handlebars. It wasn't an English racer, which in 1965 topped $100 (about $449,000 in today's currency); but it was, to me, as close to the pinnacle of pedal-driven engineering excellence as I'd ever hope to touch.
As luck would have it, my dad needed a part for our aging Plymouth and was headed to the local Western Auto one Saturday morning. I insisted on going along. While he was at the parts counter I beelined to the bicycle section, spotting immediately the object of nine years of highly distilled desire.
The circular’s 1x2 photo didn't begin to do justice to this...this sculpture. The frame’s angles were anything but conventional: raked, sleek, screaming of speed, speed, SPEED! This was to bikes what those creations on "American Chopper" are to motorcycles. It had thinnish tires with nifty slim whitewalls; aerodynamic chrome fenders in which I could see every freckle of my face; a headlight for extending the day's adventures well past dusk; and--holy Joseph and Mary and the Baby Jesus in swaddlin' clothes!--a built-in horn button just like my sister's Schwinn!
I nervously looked around to see if anyone was watching. The coast clear, I extended my trembling index finger to the button and pushed.
Heads, including my father's, snapped around in my direction as if I'd set off an air-raid alarm. My dad lasered me one of his patented "Do that again and I'll kill you and make it look like an accident" glares. My head sheepishly pressed down into my chest. "Sorry," I silently mouthed to him. He returned to the business at hand.
I reached for the bike's price tag to remind myself why I was living a pipe dream: $49.95. Worth every penny, I was sure; but it might as well have been a million dollars when my family of four was living on maybe $200 a month.
The two or three weeks before Christmas were one of the darkest periods in my life. My shoulders sagged with utter hopelessness and despair. The full bicycle rack at Travis Elementary mocked me every morning. I avoided all Christmas circulars in the newspaper. I barely touched my mom's signature fried chicken, an immediate sign to her that I was coming down with polio or tuberculosis or, worse, vegetarianism.
"What's wrong with you?" she finally asked. A silent shrug of the shoulders. "Well, maybe I should take you to Dr. Balman for a shot," she probed.
That was the equivalent of threatening to tear out a POW's fingernails. I spilled about the ignominy of riding my sister's bike, the consequent threat of physical annihilation, the gulag-like existence my life had become without the Texas Ranger bike. Tears, symbols of an irrevocably crushed soul in the prime of his life, waterfalled down my chubby cheeks. My mother took my face in her hands and gazed down like the Madonna.
On Christmas Eve night, with everyone in bed, I awoke at about 3 a.m. Because I slept on a sleeper sofa in the living room of our tiny two-bedroom house, I could see the silhouette of our spindly tree centered in the picture window. In the glow of a street lamp shimmering through that window, I saw the faintest reflections, like a simple Picasso line drawing, of a Texas Ranger bike parked by the tree.
I knew I was dreaming; but I never wanted to wake up as I climbed out of bed and approached the apparition, certain it would vanish if I tried to touch it. But touch it I did. Cool and curvaceous, electric and elegant, magnificent and...mine.