Thursday, September 24, 2015

Words of Walt Whitman

The words by Pope Francis today reminded me of this alluring quote.

"This is what you shall do: love the earth, and sun, and animals, despise riches, stand up for the stupid and crazy, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence towards the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul." Walt Whitman

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Bicycle Built For Mayhem

Back by popular demand - Guest Blogger Eric Crowe. Another Florida story.

The day the bear came home with us for dinner Mom was on the couch with her leg in a cast. She had broken it trying to teach me how to dismount my new bike. It was not simply a broken leg; it was a compound fracture of the ankle with three breaks in the leg.

See, our neighborhood was spread out and sparsely populated.  If I was going to visit even the nearest kid, it was all the way down to the end of Luzon Avenue and then up that sandy track to the O'Neils' house. If I wanted to visit somebody else, it was even farther (and more complicated). You couldn't just walk. It took too long to get anywhere, and if you went on foot to the O’Neil place without an O’Neil, you stood a pretty good chance of being shot, or eaten by their dogs. Uninvited visitors were not encouraged.

As I explained before, Luzon Avenue was where the last, outermost hint of suburbia abutted old country Florida. The only other kids on Luzon Avenue were the O'Neils. There was Mikey, who was my age, and his little sister Patty, and a shifting array of their cousins. But even the O Neils didn't really live on my street. They lived at the end of it, or really beyond the end of it. Their property started beyond the end of the road, but their house and barn and various other outbuildings were quite a ways up a sandy track. It started after the shell-rock ended. You couldn't even see their house from the end of the Luzon Avenue.  And it was in a different world. Although no one talked about it, the difference between those who lived on pavement, who lived on shell rock, and who lived on a dirt road signaled a definite cultural divide. But that divide didn't matter much to me, and even less to Mikey. What mattered was distance. 

So believe me when I say that I needed a bike.  What I wanted, and got, was not just a kid bike like I'd had before, or one like stupid Butchy Holmes still had, but a real bike, one with speeds.
I had pushed and pushed for a real bike, and was very glad to have gotten one. It was a thing of beauty, a bronze Raleigh three-speed that you shifted with your thumb, and pedals that allowed you to coast. It was worlds above and beyond the nasty Huffy that Butchy Holmes rode, with pedals that kept going round no matter what. But it was, ahem, kinda big. 

See, my father was a frugal man, at least when it came to bicycles. So he had purchased a 36" frame bike on the theory that if you were going to spend money on it, get just one bike. One that the kid could ride right up until he was in high school. In order to get on my bike, I had to lean it against a tree or a pole, and then climb onto it and push off. I had to push off because I could only reach the pedals when they were in the top half of a cycle. But then there was getting off.

The main dismount technique I had devised was to go as slowly as possible and then bail out. The semi-controlled crash was at best, frowned upon. While I tried to bail out where the bike and I would have a soft landing, this wasn't always possible. The results varied for both me and the bike, but they never looked good.

The subject of my dismount technique soon came up with my parents. Neither approved. My father thought it unlikely that the bicycle would last through high school if I kept crashing it, on even the softest of lawns. My mom just thought my dismount was ungainly and in poor form.

One Sunday after church and brunch (the wildest stuff seemed to happen on Sundays) Mom decided that she was going to show me how to properly dismount the bike. As an aside, I need to add that Mom worked selling advertising for the Palm Beach Post, and spent most of her time with people in old-money and tourist commerce Florida.  Those were her people.  We were Catholic, but not very strident about it. Going to church involved going to a diocese near the beach, far from our home and was almost always followed by brunch where they served Bloody Mary's. 

We had just gotten home from church and brunch. Mom still had on her hat with the little bit of veil that extended over the eyes and a suit with a below knee length, sheath type skirt and heels. None of this mattered.  It was time to show me a graceful dismount. She was tall enough to get on the bike with no real problem despite that sheath skirt. She began to pedal around on Luzon Avenue back and forth in front of the house where my father and I were standing in the yard. As she went by she would give little tips about bicycle etiquette and technique.

The sight of her pedaling around Luzon Avenue in her Sunday best was so arresting that it stopped Grady ONeil, who was heading home, dead in his tracks. As he sat there in his truck, just beyond the range of my mother's circuits, she swung into the yard to demonstrate the dismount. She was talking to us about how to balance on the top of the pedal and swing a leg over, and it appeared that she was demonstrating this very technique in super-slo-mo. Meanwhile, the bike was going slower and slower and slower. I was thinking to myself, "Okay Mom, I've got it.”  Then the bike went over with her still in the frozen yet graceful one-leg-in-the-air pose. The skirt had caught on the frame.

 After she crashed, we all rushed to her. It was not good. The bones were sticking out of her ankle and the leg was at an impossible angle.  My father rushed into the house to call an ambulance. 

Grady jumped out and left his truck in the road and was right there with Mom.  Before that day he had been just a kind of mean old cracker who lived up the road. From then on he and the rest of the O’Neils were friends. 

Grady was a rock in the crisis, calm and collected yet solicitous. He told me and Mom that it would be all right, we just had to hang in there until the ambulance arrived. While they were talking, Grady mentioned to Mom that while Lynne, his wife had recently made him take the pledge, i.e., foreswear any alcohol intake, there might still be some around.  It was kept on hand strictly for emergencies, he said, but this definitely qualified.  Mom agreed. With that Grady hurried to his truck and zipped up the road. He soon returned with a jar of clear liquid. He administered the treatment and by the time the ambulance arrived, Mom was, as they say, feeling no pain.