MILESTONE ON KENNISON STREETIssue: Section:
“when greg goes deep with the assholism, it's the stuff of legend”
greg is not a particularly big fella. at least not when he's standing on the sidewalk, looking up at me in my yard, which rises steeply about two feet. we're an arm's-length away, but his head is level with my sternum.
he may not take up a lot of space physically, but in his mind, he is a giant.
he cultivates his bigness. he walks with a slow swagger as if his chest and arms were a cumbersome weight to haul around. they aren't noteworthy for their girth or density, as a matter of fact; just about average for a reasonably fit old guy, i'd say.
or maybe he moves at this pace so the imaginary stagehands in the imaginary rafters can keep the imaginary spots closely trained on his every move.
he keeps his spine lodgepole straight and tucks his salt n pepper bearded chin in and back when he talks, i suppose to foster the illusion of a charles atlas chest.
greg is kind of an asshole, really. i don't think he can help it. i think he was born that way. even when he's being nice, he has a tendency to talk about himself too much and glowingly, and will invariably say something offensive without meaning to.
like now. he's telling me, "i don't mean to be coming at this left-handed or anything," and his left hand is rooting around in his jeans pocket, so i look at it. is he apologizing for the skin condition, the purple blotches on his left forearm, i wonder.
but no, in an unpunctuated rush as two maple syrup moosepop suckers peel out of the pocket, he's telling me that he had been watching me and my son practicing braking on the bike the other day and it recalled to him the effort of working similarly with his son many years gone by who is now a helicopter pilot in utah and that he wanted to say (to my boy) "you're doin a damn fine job, son" and one day you maybe could fly helicopters too and thank you to me and keep up the good work and he thought we both deserved a maple sucker from vermont.
and by "left-handed" i think he was implying "awkward" or "clumsy" or "retarded."
the guy you're addressing, greg, might be all of the above.
but at least, in this instance, his assholism was unintentional and mild and counterbalanced by a saccharine hallmark sentiment.
when greg goes deep with the assholism, it's the stuff of legend. everybody on the block has witnessed it. greg is loud and florid, especially when he's pissed.
greg has it in his mind that the fifteen feet of public street directly in front of his house, six feet to the left of the north handrail along his steps and six feet to the right of his southern handrail, is his personal inviolate parking space. he defends it as if he were davy crockett determined not to lose the alamo a second time. i thought he was actually going to follow through with his threat to "break off your left leg and ream out your asshole with it" when the cable repair van stopped in the sacred turf. poor guys thought he was kidding, as it was greg's cable service they had come to restore.
they pulled up fifteen feet to let him park where he wanted, rather than test his resolve.
i've lived in the attic apartment in the house directly across from greg's for a few years. i've seen renters of the apartments below come and go. even when i have warned them, they all make the mistake at some point, and greg is on them, biblical in his wrath and invocations, instantly.
livers fresh off the grill, eyeballs bitten from sockets, bumpers wrapped around necks, your own tires from this piece of shit flaming in your kitchen--it's the sort of stuff they only need to hear once.
so i was pretty relieved when i heard the appreciation and saw the suckers. i don't park on the street, but i do experience some trepidation whenever greg swaggers toward me saying, "excuse me good sir" and interrupts a pretty engaging round of play-acting with the scoe wherein i was the president arriving at area 51 to take control of an aggressive alien invasion.
actually it was nice to get a little appreciation. any port in the storm. my body was sore and my several wit's ends long past and unraveled, in the campaign to get the boy riding a bike.
but, as of that day, we did it..
i think the whole learning to ride a bike thing went horribly wrong about three years ago.
roscoe turned seven at the end of april, and really had no experience on wheeled machines to speak of until a few weeks ago. he just wasn't interested and his mom and i never pushed him.
if i had to do it all over again, i would have insisted and maybe demanded that he get on the wee kid's bike every day from the age of four, with an eye to dropping the training wheels for his fifth birthday. there are many good reasons, i discovered, for sticking to such a plan. six really good ones, i think.
REASON ONE: a four year old has not learned to effectively question authority (you) yet.
for his seventh birthday, his mom bought him a sweet schwinn falcon, a sturdy flashy 20" store bike that weighs about ten pounds more than my own road bike. roscoe deemed it exceedingly cool, even though he mistook a reflector for a spy's spotlight and waxed poetic mostly about the knobbiness of the tires.
most importantly, he expressed a willingness to learn to ride it. that in itself was a monumental proclamation from a kid who once confided to a friend that, "anything that i get with wheels on it, i have my dad cut into pieces and burn." (not true, by the way.)
the first sessions took place in a church parking lot. i had determined to strike while the iron was hot, if for no other reason than that the brief season of pleasant weather would be gone soon, and i had no intention of running around on boiling pavement in the humid tomb of an ohio valley summer.
which is exactly what i ended up doing. i realize that the catholic church has been struggling a bit lately, and they are not directly responsible for flukish turns of gnarly spring heatsnaps, but back in the flush times, you would think that the good parishoners of st. elizabeth's might have sprung for a few trees around the perimeter of their parking lot.
that place was grisly. wide open like a prison yard. heat baked us from 360 degrees. it was relentless, and other than a sliver of shade afforded by one corner of the building, there was no quarter. between runs, we scuttled back to this sliver to debrief, but even then the building we huddled next to radiated heat of an equal magnitude. the icewater i had brought along was warm steeped NALGEEN tea from the first interlude.
honestly, i don't know what i expected. probably more, though.
i figured pedaling would be a good starting point. so the first sessions consisted of me running alongside scoe on the falcon, one hand on the handlebars one hand on the seat, panting encouragement. up and back, up and back, up and back. early on i discovered that whenever i let go of the handlebars, even for a stride, the bike decelerated rapidly and the considerable mass of scoe and steel fell into my thigh. to avoid roadrash for all involved, my left wrist was taking a hellacious beating, correcting the trajectory by grabbing the seat when it listed beyond the critical point.
REASON TWO: a four year old weighs 100% less than a seven year old.
REASON THREE: a four year old has no concept of grading.
we travelled a few hundred miles that day and the next in the st elizabeth's parking lot. up and back. side to side. hide in the shade for a minute and discuss the need for speed, repeat the mantra that the only way out of a wobble is to pedal harder, first on the side that is tilting skyward. "if god himself comes down from heaven and tells you to stop right where you are, son, PEDAL HARDER." then back to the killing floor.
still, he wasn't getting it. running alongside, ignoring his observations that, "dad, you're dripping on me," i could feel brief intervals where he had achieved trim. i'd take my hand off the seat and ask him, "do you feel it?" he'd say, "yeah," and fall over onto me.
i didn't think he was feeling it, actually.
on the way back to the house, roscoe asked me, "so, for our first two sessions, what grade would you give me?"
this is new. he's in first grade, and it's the first time he's encountered the letter grade system. this kid is almost too smart for his own good. he loves school and excels, thrives, at it. why his teacher, who i adore and have full confidence in, chose to introduce the concept of A+ and A++ and even A+++, i will never know. on roscoe's scale, an A without at least some pluses to the right reflects a mediocre performance.
when i taught, i thought of a C as a way of saying, "you're about where you would be if you were awake during class." B meant, "right on; you're applying what you have learned." and A's, if i was stingy enough to give one, indicated mastery with a personal flourish.
truthfully, i thought about saying "C minus," but instead i said, "you're a solid B, buddy... we've got a long way to go. we stick with it, though, and you'll be ridin in no time." he seemed to accept that. Perhaps he was feeling C minus himself.
the next day, i picked him up at his mom's house after his school/ my work. he was in fine spirits until i told him that part of the agenda which involved riding the falcon up to a coffee shop about four blocks away.
his response was to crumple onto the grass in his mom’s front yard. he put an arm over his eyes to shield them from the sun and began projecting a stony silence. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I could feel the intransigence radiating from his body, which appeared to deflate into the soil at the same rate and frequency as the wordless broadcast.
there are few things as frustrating as seeing your own poor behavior modeled by your offspring.
“c’mon, buddy. we’ll just practice steering. i’ll be right there with you. i won’t let you wipe out. we’re not ready for that yet…”
see, i had warned him early on that wiping out was a natural part of learning to ride a bike. thought that might inoculate him against the scariness of the first big spill. Wrong. he was ready like when you’re watching a Hitchcock film. you know from the beginning that there’s a body under the tablecloth. the suspense is generated by watching jimmy stewart and the other dinner party guests gradually drift closer to that realization.
roscoe was waiting for the first crash and road rash like it was a goblin stalking him with a club.
call me Alfred, i guess.
REASON FOUR: 4 year olds are still immortal in their minds.
“c’mon, we can get a hot chocolate.”
his response was a guttural “rrwah,” a pint-sized imitation of the sound those closest to me know all too well. it was, however, a response, a wedge into a conversation.
after a few minutes of cajoling and wheedling and outright bribery, we were on our way.
the next day was a near repeat. by the end of that session, i was drenched and spent. my back was crooked, my wrists swollen and my knees groaning. we had played some world-class UNO at the coffee shop, but in all honesty roscoe’s riding had not improved discernibly.
he had said a curious thing during his protest in the grass on the second day, though. “but, dad, we skipped a step. i never got to ride with training wheels.” it was more a litigator’s introduction of evidence to support his case that learning to ride a bike was a hopeless endeavor than it was a plea for leniency and compassion, but it set me to thinking.
maybe it was time for me to stop being his training wheels. maybe i had erred on the side of caution, and by not letting him fall, i was robbing him of some necessary experience. maybe he was too dependent on me; perhaps some non-parental instruction was necessary. maybe focusing on pedaling or steering or speed or trim or balance independent of the other elements was obscuring the real obstacle: the kid had no confidence in his abilities, maybe?
maybe whatever... my approach so far hadn’t yielded much. something had to change. at one point i had tried to describe riding a bike as a process of tipping and reacting—you feel yourself listing left until your right pedal shoves you back to plum and then over too far until the left side does the same and if you keep doing it, you generate the speed that i PROMISE will erase that horrible sinking feeling produced by the wobble.
we were wobbling pretty bad. it was time to see if i was just talking out my ass about this PROMISE.
the first order of business was to find out if there was such a thing as training wheels for a 20" bike. yes, there is. no, they don't fit the schwinn falcon. the axle is too short.
it's the asphalt, i thought. that's a formidable foe, i thought.
in discussing the program and progress with roscoe's mom, she let me know that the guy she's dating had sold her the bike. he owns a bike shop. he had told her that there is such a thing as training wheels for a 20" bike, but they wouldn't work on the falcon because some part she forgot the name of was too short. she also told me that he had a ramp outside his shop that had produced some remarkable results. after about three descriptions, i gathered that it worked something like this: her friend lowered the seat to the rails and sat a kid on the bike. from this point, the kid didn't have to pedal. they could coast to the bottom and become accustomed to the feel of being in trim, thus circumventing several barriers to confidence. at any point, the kid could stop the scary descent by dropping their feet to the ground and stopping fred flinstone-style.
eight year old girls and pregnant elephants had spent twenty minutes on this miracle ramp and had gone on to wear the maillot jaune for many stages of the tour de france, apparently.
one kid had spent a night on the ramp and it straightened out his jump shot. that kid's name was lebron james.
i was a little hesitant about the proposition that this little guy's chicken legs could grind the battleship falcon to a halt on an incline without serious tumping, but i gave the green light. "take him to the ramp,” I declared.
she took a break from work and ran the boy and bike over to the shop. when he saw the ramp, roscoe threw himself into the grass and checked out. he refused to engage while her friend demonstrated the innocuousness of the ramp and its benefits. after a while, dood was relieved of his duties and scoe returned to an embarrassed mom's place of work, where i picked him up. (if you're reading this dood, whatever she said about roscoe behaving just like his father... yeah, pretty much.)
we took the bike over to a flat, grassy field in a park. this would become known as the "learning to wreck session."
the next day, in another flat, grassy field in a different park, we held what would be known as "the second learning to wreck session."
by the end of the second evening, roscoe was fairly accomplished at bailing out. i would run him across the grass until i couldn't keep up in my hunched position, give him one final shove and watch inertia grip the knobby tires four or five feet further on. the handlebars would jerk right or left, and the scoe would leap the opposite direction. over and over. it was apparent that the incentive to continue upright forward progress was being trumped by making preparations to ditch safely. still and all, he was learning something important, i told myself, and the glides were in fact increasing in length ever so slightly.
but, he was beginning to get discouraged, i could tell. for one thing, he hadn't asked about grades since the church parking lot. up to this point, i had been extremely mindful to try not to express any frustration. i had blown it a few times, to be sure. nothing years of therapy won't help, really, just the occasional, "aww dood, what are you doing? dood, you HAD it and YOU STOPPED PEDALING. what happens when you stop pedaling?... you FALL..." that kind of stuff. but, roscoe was beginning to pick up that lately i was employing the "if you can't say something nice..." dictum from BAMBI a little more often.
the penultimate ride of "the second learning to wreck session" ended in tears. we were on "the runway", a flat patch of packed dirt, and we were just hell bent for leather. i panted, "and awaaay.... we... go..." launched him and promptly crashed into the portside rear axle, which had been jerked perpendicular to my path right after takeoff. (those axles may be too short to accommodate training wheels, but they are plenty long enough to gouge the shit out of grownup shins.) when my fall was complete, my spine was actually grateful for the relief. offhanded, as much to let roscoe know i was OK as anything, i said, "dood, you're killin me."
he himself had gotten clear of the aborted takeoff. maybe he was experiencing some survivor's guilt or something. the combination of everything: the fear of crashing, all the effort with little yield, the heat, the pep talks, the strategies, the bruises and scrapes, the sweaty dad with all his promises and guarantees that cycling was fun despite the evidence--i guess it finally piled up on him. he dissolved into a puddle on the runway, crying like... well, like a frustrated 7 year old little boy. i cradled him up and sat him on my lap and held him. i knew we had listed too far, that it was time to shift our weight back to the other side, when he blubbered, "but, dad, i'm... not... trying... to kill... you i-don't-want-to-be-the-thing-that-kills-you-dadaaaaAAAwaah..."
the next few sessions were low-impact rides on sidewalks: up and down in front of the house, up to the coffee shop for a jones soda and some UNO. i kept a hand on the back of the seat and gave him my word that he wouldn't have to employ his considerable crashing skills. roscoe began chatting more on these rides, which i took as a sign of increasing comfort on the bike. and, without telling him, i was letting go a lot more frequently and for longer stretches. he'd pause during a discussion of hippogryphs, for instance, and i would casually interject, "dood, i wasn't touching the bike for the last ten feet."
"yeah, i know. but the thing that most people forget about hippogryphs is that they can't see you if you're standing still..."
pretty chill. at this rate, though, i imagined a photo finish between him mastering the art of bike riding and him defending a doctoral thesis.
it was a sunday, fine and sunny. we had had a leisurely morning. a whole lot of nothing, but different kinds of entertaining nothing. the kind of nothing roscoe was having trouble tearing himself away from for "something" like a bike session.
the "low fuel" light was glowing on his motivation meter. i told him we'd just do a quick 20 minute session to brush up on what he knew already. after two rides where i essentially carried him and the bike up and down the street, he asked, "so, that was, what, like 15 minutes? that means there's only five minutes left. can we break for water?"
"the inverse, buddy. the other way around. and no, we're not breaking for water."
the street in front of my house is the steepest hill in the neighborhood. it's not scary steep, and we're at the tail end, but there's still a noticeable grade out front. on the downhill runs, i noted that i rarely had to correct the bike. the boy was achieving trim. but he was also bailing for no discernible reason. every time. kamikaze style into the berm of the yard to his left. given his mood, i might have mistaken his decisions for spite. but i followed his eyes just before one bike-spike. at about the same time he and the bike reached that critical speed, he was looking with terror at the upcoming cross street. his nerve failed him every time. not because of the speed itself, but because of the consequences of not being able to stay out of the street. i tried to explain that it's a tiny lane that only connects to an alley. few cars ever even come out that way because the alley itself dumps into a major thoroughfare. we haven't seen a car all morning. there would be no way for a car to accelerate to ten miles an hour, anyway, and besides, there's a clearly visible stop sign.
"and besides that besides, i am right here beside you, buddy; i'm not gonna let you roll into the street."
knowing all that, with that level of reassurance, he bailed on the next three attempts.
"i know i know," he said, "it's just that: the sun got in my eyes/ my foot got stuck in the pedal (??)/ i thought i saw a hedgehog... look, over there!"
REASON 5: by the time a child has reached age 7, their bag of excuses is virtually bottomless.
"i have an idea," i said, even though it wasn't really a fully-formed idea. rather, it was more of a fuzzy intuitive notion. "we're going to the park."
"the learn-to-crash park??"
"no, the one right up the road. the one with the fort playground."
"how many minutes will it take?"
we arrived at george rogers clark park, unloaded the bike, secured the helmet and set out cross country.
"what are we looking for, dad?"
"we'll know it when we see it."
"dad, my stomach doesn't feel good."
(held my tongue, thinking about REASON 5)
"dad, i've decided that i don't think i want to learn to ride a bike."
"c'mon buddy. we're almost there. pick up the pace. chop chop."
"no. listen to me." he had stopped.
i stopped and turned around.
he was unstrapping his helmet. he said, "it's just not for me."
"aw, buddy. come on. yes, it's frustrating now. it's scary. it's daunting. it can be a real drag, learning. but once you learn, it is crazy good fun. you gotta trust me on this, roscoe." this may have been the 35th time i'd trotted out this worn soundbite, so i didn't hold it against him that he wasn't hearing it just now. i took it a little further, "but every. single. person. who has ever tried to ride a bike has done it... i don't think there has ever been a person in history who couldn't. they all went through the same thing. you can do this..."
"i want to be the first."
"what? the first what?"
"the first person in history who didn't learn to ride a bike."
"well, that's one way to get in the papers. c'mon buddy. we got a lot of fartin around to do after this... let's do this."
"i'd be famous, wouldn't i?"
"i guess for a few minutes."
"like what, fifteen?"
i'm dragging andy warhol's bike up a hill, for chrissakes, i thought.
a little further on, we came to a long gentle hill that opened out on to a flat, grassy meadow that stretched a hundred yards or so to a creek.
"this is it," i declared. i pulled the bike up beside a shade tree, aimed it at the expanse below, and before i was conscious of what i was doing, i had loosened the quick release button, dropped the seat to its rails and secured it there.
"i thought you said we were just going to do a short session today."
"i did. i lied. let's go. get on the bike."
"but, my stomach doesn't feel good."
"that's good. that's butterflies. it means you're nervous. a little bit of that is necessary; it 'll make you do things without thinking. let's go." i patted the seat.
roscoe straddled the saddle. he took hold of the bars. he didn't look well. "how many times?" he asked.
"until you get it," i said.
"how bout ten?"
"i think you'll get it before ten. you ready?"
"ok, let's go."
i rolled him back, then ran him down the hill. by the time we reached the flat, i could no longer keep up and had to fall off. his momentum carried him another ten feet. he jerked the bars left, reached some shade and bailed out.
"i thought you said you weren't going to let me fall today."
"i did. i lied. that was pretty awesome, dood. you were doing it there. let's go. back to the top." i was actually impressed by his intentionality. it really seemed like he had chosen to ditch in the shade and had applied some effort to get there.
back at the starting line under the tree, he remounted. "nine," he said.
it was a dreadful ride. from the beginning he was steering us away from the wide open and into the shade. "steer. steer," i exhorted. we bottomed out and he ditched.
roscoe just layed on his back in the clover. "eight," he mumbled.
"c'mon, back to the top. you're making progress."
i got the bike back up the hill and turned to see that roscoe hadn't moved.
he said, "i really don't feel like doing this." 'gee, really?' i thought. i just looked down at him. he continued, "this whole bike riding thing was all my mom's idea, you know."
REASON 6: a four year old is incapable of such insidious manipulation.
i layed the bike over and started down to where he was. "no, buddy, i think we all agreed it was time, remember?" i told him to consider the reasons for learning to ride a bike, things we had discussed countless times since the campaign had begun: freedom and independence; fewer trips in the car to give the planet a break; traveling with his two-wheeled buddies on play dates; improved coordination; the sheer exhilaration of the act itself; practice for driving a car later. all the while i was plucking clover flowers and making a bouquet. now i stood up to let him ponder the case for bike-riding. i went over to an overgrown area and added some other wildflowers to the bouquet. "i need something string-like to tie this together."
roscoe rolled himself to his side and began searching. a minute later he brought me a long strand of weed that was perfect: pliable but firm, just the right size. "thanks, buddy. that's perfect." i tied the bouquet together and said, "all right, let's do this thing."
we got him mounted up. i told him, "just put your feet down to stop before you go into the creek. ready?"
i took two steps, shoved him and stopped in my tracks. my boy hurtled down the hill, leveled off and... KEPT PEDALING. he traveled in a straight line into the meadow, turned his head as if he were looking for me, kinda lost the steering to a bump and a wobble, then slowed to a halt and hopped off. i was leaping back at the shade tree. i was hooting. i was hollering. i was clapping. THIS was the MORE i think i had been looking for. i shouted down to him,"DOOD, LOOK WHERE I AM! THAT WAS ALL YOU DOOD! WOoOoOHOOOOO!" i carefully paced off the distance between us.
"...35, 36, thirty SEVEN," i shouted when i stepped to his rear tire. we exchanged a high five. yesterday his record solo flight was 5 paces. today he had traveled roughly 111 feet on his own. "let's do some more, man. that was just AWESOME."
"so, does that count as two rides, dad?"
"i'll count it as two, alright, two more rides that i'll LET you do because you are going to be so stoked i won't be able to get you off the hill. let's hit it while we're hot."
the next ride was a carbon copy, but he ate up another 30 feet of meadow before running out of steam. i don't think i'd shouted that much since the atlanta braves won the world series back in... uh, never mind that. i was just supremely happy to see the effort. more importantly, though, i didn't hear scoe's tally when i reached him. he was beaming. he told me, "now, THAT was fun!"
oh hell yeah.
he had a couple more blistering jaunts into the meadow, but he was tiring by then. i told him that if he reached the big tree beside the creek we would leave the park right then that instant and go and upgrade his battered nintendo DS to a brand new DSi. i revved him up and shoved him off. he was gone, daddy. when i saw him standing to pump through the slight uphill incline before the big tree, i started calculating the available balance in my bank account. oh, shit. he wanted it.
i was only a little regretful when he lost the battle and ground to a halt about eight feet from the tree. he said, "one more try."
uh huh. that's what my boy said.
he didn't reach the tree, but set a new record of 57 paces unattended. maybe there was something to bike shop boyfriend's magical mystery ramp, after all.
we got rained out for a couple of days, but then had another excellent session on a different, steeper hill. roscoe's steering was improving and his movements were becoming more graceful, less abrupt. he seemed more comfortable at higher speeds, less prone to panic. he had stopped counting the number of rides required to fulfill his perceived obligation to me, and i had given up pacing off his epic journeys into the distance. he had been gored by the handlebars in a high speed wipe out and had bashed a tree and didn't seem fazed by either. i think he was getting it.
roscoe stayed with his mother for the next few nights. because of the weather and other after school commitments, he didn't get on the bike the rest of the week. i came to pick him up on saturday morning. he was in good spirits. we went over the agenda and got ready to roll. his mom decided that right then would be a good time to practice on the bike. i didn't think that right then was a good time to practice on the bike. right then was a good time to get in the car and leave. from roscoe's expression, i think he was more aligned with my thinking. but i held my tongue.
she wheeled out the falcon and roscoe strapped on his helmet. i looked down at my adidas shower shoes and grimaced. i am not prepared to do this, i groused inwardly. "i think you are so ready for this," i heard her tell roscoe.
she pushed and jogged alongside of the boy, down the sidewalk. roscoe wasn't giving it much effort, i could tell. he was listing heavily into her.
she let him go and he toppled immediately.
ok, so when can i respectfully call this complete? i was thinking. at what point will it not seem like i am undercutting her efforts?
i walked down to the site of his last feeble attempt. "i'll give you a push-off," i offered.
i pointed him down the long flat sidewalk. i said, "lemme see some speed buddy," and flapped in my sandals a quick five feet. i could feel that he was in trim. i didn't think. i had no idea what to expect. i shoved him.
and he didn't fall. or bail. or wobble. he just kept pedaling. and getting smaller and smaller and smaller as he receded down the block.
his mom was squealing and clapping and hopping, shouting to him, "YOU'RE DOING IT! YOU'RE DOING IT! GO BO GO!!"
i was absofuckinglutely dumbstruck.
blow. me. down. his mom was right as rain. spot on. he was so totally ready for it.
what did i know?
we did a few more trips up and down the block, just to make sure it wasn't a fluke. no fluke, the kid could definitely ride. i pointed him in the direction of the coffee shop we had used as a destination in the steering/peddling phase seven or eight hundred years ago. i gave him three dollars and told him, "when you get to Heine Brothers buy me a large coffee with room for cream. i'll get your hot chocolate when i get there."
he replied, "large coffee with room for cream." i didn't really think he could get there. there are some steep sections and a few nasty turns. besides, he wasn't very adept at braking yet. but, the confidence that he had in himself was electrifying. little guy thought he could do it!
roscoe didn't make it to Heine Brothers. he said, "sorry, dad, i lost it trying to get around a parked car."
we wrapped it up after a few more photo-op rides, and headed back to my place for some R&R and braking training.
we were in the front yard about a half an hour later, playing "Area 51" when greg came over. i had been thinking about how a friend had been complaining a few days earlier about the frustrations of dealing with a contractor who was taking too long to remodel his kitchen. he had concluded by saying, "but, that's all First World problems." i loved that perspective. i was feeling grateful for that pearl of wisdom, for the luxury of having nothing more serious to worry about than whether my child could ride a bike.
and yet, it was a milestone. we had accomplished something. maybe here in the first world, where we don't have to teach our kids to hunt for supper or how to scavenge from chemical plants or fire AK-47's at rival gangs or find water from succulent plants or slaughter goats, teaching a kid to ride a bike stands in for a rite of passage. it requires instruction. it requires persistence and patience. it requires a team of people to assist in the training. and it requires that the parent let the child go.
so, perhaps that's why i was touched by greg's sentiments. in the course of the brief encounter, greg had drawn himself up tall and addressed roscoe, "son, i want you to know that i remember when i was doing the same thing with my boy. we worked on that every day. and sometimes it was frustrating. but, he kept getting up, kept trying. and, you know what? now my son flies helicopters in utah." he had told roscoe this a few minutes earlier. roscoe wasn't any more impressed the second time, but he remained respectful.
for me, though, i now had a little more insight into why greg seemed to be so moved by our efforts. judging from the timeline that i could piece together from our conversation there in the yard, greg had lived in the house across the street for fifteen years. the son he was so proud of would have been ten at the time, and in minnesota.
greg had come from minnesota to louisville on a job. "the woman i loved all my life lived in that house," he said, pointing over his shoulder.
i have no idea what the mother of his son thought about that. didn't find out if they were divorced at the time. didn't ask. didn't find out about the custody situation. didn't ask.
the long and the short of it: greg had chosen to stay with the woman he was so crazy about. that choice meant less time witnessing his son growing up. maybe he had some regrets. maybe this conversation was kooky asshole greg's attempt at assuaging a little smidge of his guilt.
i don't know and i didn't ask.
we lean too far one way, then stomp down the other way. over and over. we wobble and crash and hurt ourselves and the ones closest to us. we fall seven times and get up eight. we change strategies and pedal through it all. sometimes there's somebody holding the seat or offering a ramp, but ultimately we have to do it by ourselves. and then one day the shifts from side to side become less drastic as we approach the speed we need. our bruises and scrapes and raspberries start to seem worth it, and without even thinking about it, man, we begin to ride.
i said thank you to greg as he was leaving.
and i meant it.
"would love to talk some more, greg, but now we gotta learn how to stop this thing..."