Somehow, I had my dream bike, a Mongoose, at 11. I don't know how we got it. My Mom got it for me. Maybe she stole it. Probably she saved for it for awhile. It was all chrome and red and California.
What was California about, Serge?
I dunno. Nothing really. But when I rode it I felt like some scraggly blond-haired kid from California. A cool thin kid who took his pads off the bike and jumped it high off hills overlooking the tranquil refreshing Pacific in the evening, as the sun slithered down in a hail of western sky fires. A kid with two parents at home preparing shellfish for dinner.
That wasn't the reality, obviously. The reality was that I was just a lackluster kid. A kid about three-quarters the size of Tommy Lasorda. A kid who left the pads on his bike because one late autumn afternoon when I had decided it was time to take them off, to ride bareback like the wild boys did: I slammed into a high gutter curb in a mortifying attempt at jumping it; my tiny balls smashing into the naked demonic hunk of bolts called the goose-neck. A bruise the size of young Elvis formed on my inner thigh and hurt like hell for two weeks. My flesh turned urban camo.
So, I rode around the streets with my bike pads on.
There were places I would ride that are probably gone now. Under canopies of roping vine, down through dark tunnels of summer branches; a thousand flappy green fingers reaching out to touch my skin, to stroke my hair as I flew by. Down dirt rut trails behind buildings where older kids smoked. Zipping past thickets where adult weirdos appeared/vanished like battlefield ghosts. In and out of the dusty mists left behind by other kids who'd rounded bends ahead.
On certain evenings, as dusk settled on the land, I'd come up over a rise, popping a weak wheelie on the rock jutting out of the fallen leaves, and there would be a big six-point buck just standing there staring at me from ten feet away. My heart would stop in the moment our eyes connected. Then, like a lot of other American bucks stuck wandering/wondering in some suburban woodlot, he'd turn his head slowly, gracefully, and bound off. Before long some other kid would come up over the rise behind, pop his weak wheelie, and haul ass past me straddling my Mongoose. That was my buck. Not his.
Beer cans and fire pits from some deep night. Pizza boxes. Cigarette butts ground into the dirt and hidden from the world forever. The lazy drift of marijuana smoke from a dark nook by the crick. Beams of golden sun slit by still tree limbs, gilding a field of tall grass with beautiful hues. Girls in plaid catholic school skirts passing me on the trail, peddling furiously, pushing their Huffys and Schwinns forward and past me/though me, as if I wasn't even there on my Mongoose in that moment. Pheasants standing dumbfounded. Fried chicken bones on boulders. Sparrows and robins and doves perched on power lines. Six or seven feet of knobby wheel tracks in the low wet patches of trail. All of it, I'd pass along my way.
At home, with color faded from the world, the cars parked on the street outside my house still pinging warm engine pings, I walked my Mongoose down the narrow walk between our house and our neighbor's house six feet away. At the end of the sidewalk, I'd pick it up gently by its frame and drag it up the three steps to our tiny back porch, the back tire bumping off the cement: 1-2-3 times, and lean it up against the weathered gas grill.
For a second, I'd stand there, my hands in a C just above the handlebar, as I let the red rubber grip catch on to the lift handle of the barbecue. Every night, in new darkness, that same drawn-out second would pass until I knew the bike had found its balance for the long night ahead.
Then, exhausted and fulfilled, I'd walk in the back door to our over-lit kitchen and microwave some frozen meatballs to eat with my filthy young fingers in the recliner by the TV.