Journals of an Insane Genius - April 2000
I am eleven years old and I am fast. I'm piloting a bicycle of my own design towards certain destruction and Mike, on John's bike, is right behind me.
As with my other four brothers, my dad bought me a brand new ten-speed on my tenth birthday. And like any boy that has waited ten long years for something he really wanted, I destroyed it in less than six months. Ten speeds, it seems, were not designed for jumping. The summer of 1975 was one of those endless ones that only children are fortunate enough to notice. Since I, like Dr. Frankenstein before me, had too much time on my hands, I knew I could give life to these dead bikes.
The monster bore little resemblance to any bicycle ever seen around the neighborhood before. The front tire was salvaged from one of Bill's old bikes. It was 27 inches tall. The rear tire came from the wreckage of Mike's. It was only 20 inches tall. It had moto-cross style handlebars, but at some point one of us had thought it was a good idea to jam a broom handle into one side. It seemed to me that my dad had a saw in his toolbox at one point, but by the time it occurred to me that I could cut the broom handle off, it had gone to the "let my boys borrow the tools graveyard". I had a go at it with a steak knife but got tired before I was even halfway through. Laying the bike flat on the sidewalk, I broke off as much as I could. The result was a spear pointed fourteen-inch stump hanging out the end. I rationalized that, like James Bond's Aston Martin in "Goldfinger", my bicycle needed a defense mechanism. The broom handle would allow me to give a little "Ben Hur chariot race" action to anyone that got too close. I should have painted the frame before putting it together. Too impatient to tear it down again, I decided I could keep the spray paint off the chain if I was careful. I managed to keep the silver paint off the chain, primarily because I ran out. The white paint went everywhere, seat, pedals, handlebars, my glasses. After running out of that, I finished it off with black. The paint job looked as good as it sounds.
"Brakes are essential to a bicycle", I thought to myself, "Too bad I don't have any". Already showing signs of the brilliant engineer I was to become, I formulated three workarounds to this limitation. First, I could always take my foot off the pedal and stick it on the front tire. During the first test drive I proved that this method would stop the bicycle. Abruptly. As I was lying in the street with the bicycle on top of me and my foot wedged between the forks that held the tire in place, I decided that this should be used in emergency situations only. The second workaround was to drag my foot along the ground. While the braking action was more controlled, it was hampered by the fact that the bike was too tall for me so I had to stand on the lowered pedal with one foot while dragging the other. I also had to ignore the discomfort of the banana style seat jabbing me in the back. The third workaround was that I would never, under any circumstances, tell my dad that I was riding a bike with no brakes.
The gear ratio was designed for high-end speed. With the tiny set of sprockets that were attached to the rear wheel, the chain would only stay on the larger of the two sets of sprockets attached to the pedals. Head craned back to the sky, veins protruding from my neck, I would stand straining against the pedals as the bicycle would slowly begin to lumber forward. Once it was moving I became the fastest thing in the neighborhood, just what a nearsighted and woefully uncoordinated kid such as myself needed.
So Mike and I are racing along the paths through the small stand of trees in Haskell Park that, growing up in a city, we referred to as a forest. Some kids from around the block had set up a ramp in the parking lot at the foot of the hill coming out of the forest. It was probably only about a four foot drop off of the end, but it seemed more like ten at that age. Either way it was a bad idea waiting to be put to good use. We ride over to check it out and, naturally, someone decides to attempt to poke fun at my bicycle. I defend myself by pointing out that at least I'm not so stupid as to build something I'm too chicken to use. A heated debate over the merits of the construction techniques used on my bike and their ramp follows. It looks like it's going to end in a draw, but then someone dares Mike.
It was a known fact that you should never, ever dare Mike. The reason being that Mike would do it. The ramp was almost as tall as he was at the time, so I figured he was bluffing. Wanting in on the joke, I announce that I'm going to jump off first. We headed back the trail a bit to gather speed. My plan was to hit the ramp at an angle and jump of the side somewhere just past the middle. I figured Mike would follow.
It's funny how time slows down during a catastrophe. Being older and having had a running start, I flew off the side of the ramp well ahead of Mike. I hit the ground with a bone-jarring thud that made my teeth click together. I had enough time to swing my bike around and watch Mike. Amazed, I saw he was going to go straight off the ramp. You could tell he was in trouble moments after he left the ramp. Not hard to figure out because the front tire had decided it didn't want any part of the landing and had separated itself from the bike. This may have been the first time I ever saw anything even close to a panicked expression on Mike's face. He briefly considered his options and, deciding the front tire had a good idea, followed suit. The tire bounced on impact, Mike didn't. Obviously when you're engaged in this sort of activity, you're not thinking safety to begin with, but as Mike slid along the pavement on his chest I was thinking that it was too bad he wasn't wear a shirt.
We all rushed over to where Mike had come to a stop, each of us using the opportunity to try out the wittiest curse word we had heard lately. The expletives ceased briefly when Mike sat up, but then continued with a vengeance as we all stared in horror at his chest. I emptied both barrels shouting out the 12-letter granddaddy of them all as a preamble to, "what happened to your nipple?!?" Panic once again washed over Mike's face. Amazingly, he didn't cry or moan, he chose to freak out instead. "Aaahhh! My Nipple!" We never did find the nipple. But eventually it found Mike. Sometimes they grow back.