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First Bicycle

2014-06-27

Stories like this immediately face the problem of where to begin. The further back one goes, the richer are the memories and the more they have been molded and remolded by repeated remembering and re-associating. Each memory has more associations with the occurrences that follow. Each memory has been burnished to a shine like a stone in a tumbler, rolling over and over through the mental pathways that smooth and reduce it again and again.

The first bicycle I can remember was the one I got when I started going to junior high school. The grade school was only three blocks away, but the junior high was a mile and a half, all the way on the other side of town.
My father was adamant that neither he nor Vicki would give me rides to school in the car. The bus route that we were on was minimum route; any less than a mile and a half, and the student was supposed to walk to school. Some kid’s parents gave them rides and some walked. Usually the more affluent children got to ride in their parent’s cars.
My father got me a bicycle, which had one or two gears and was supposed to stop by reverse pressure on the pedals. Soon the brakes wore out, and I began to use my shoes on the pavement as brakes.
This method failed me on the small hill just before reaching the block on which we lived. I skidded into the side of a car that was passing on the cross street. I was unhurt, but my clarinet case was scratched. I had to tell my father about it, and he immediately took the bicycle in to get the brakes fixed.
Later, I was riding along one day and the top bar broke out of the bracket where it attached to the handlebars. This rendered the bicycle ineffective to operate. My father came and picked me and the bicycle up.
First, he had the frame welded back together. Then he took me to the bicycle shop, where they had a slightly used ten-speed Schwinn. I remember it was blue.
I wanted to start a paper route to pay for the bicycle, but my father insisted that would be detrimental to my schooling. He knew that the pay was miserable and the need to deliver the paper every morning whether it was raining or snowing made the job even more miserable.   At this time, he had just managed to convince me that doing well in school would be good for my future as well as making him more satisfied.
So he bought the bicycle for me, mainly because it was slightly used and a good deal. I soon blew up the tires by overinflating them, and this required a further investment which my father sighed about.

This blue ten-speed Schwinn with racing handlebars became my constant transportation for the next four years. I rode it to school, to basketball practice, to track practice, to debating meets, to visit my friends (of which I had approximately two), and to roam about the town and countryside on weekends.

I talked my father into buying me a motorcycle helmet because the “hairnet” type bicycle helmets that were in common use then seemed inadequate. These helmets, current issue in the sixties, were made of padded leather in a netlike shape and served the useful purpose of holding the skull fragments in place after a fall.
The motorcycle helmet was much better, although I never actually hit my head in the numerous minor crashes that I began to have. I frequently came flying across an intersection, unseen by a car that was attempting to cross, crashed into the front quarter of the car, and slid across the hood. I also made an art of crashing into open car doors while trying to ride between the traffic and parked cars. None of these incidents resulted in any visible injury to me or the bicycle.
In fact, the Schwinn ten-speed was made of steel and weighed about thirty-five pounds, almost twice as much as a “racing” bicycle. It had a rack on the back that would hold my clarinet case, and I carried my books in a backpack.
In those days, no-one wore a backpack, and this item of apparel caused no end of comment, and, initially, teasing, to which I was still subject in eighth grade. The teasing stopped after an incident that occurred, oddly enough, around the bicycle when I was in ninth grade.
Every day I rode my bicycle to basketball practice after school. There were two boys on the basketball team who still teased me on a regular basis, and the other members occasionally joined in. This was lessening because I grew very rapidly in these years, and when I was thirteen, I topped out at six feet seven inches.
On this occasion, it had snowed. In Jacksonville Illinois, the snow was usually wet.  It ran off the streets fairly quickly, but persisted on the grass and sidewalks. I locked up my bicycle to a pipe on the outside of the junior high school where we were practicing. These two boys, one black and one white, were the leaders in a vicious group tease directed against me at that point. The white boy and I became entangled while trying to punch one another and he grabbed my jacket (a light zippered cardigan.) He tore one side of the front of my jacket all the way from the neck to the side pocket.
At this point, the coach arrived in his car, and the teasing party had to break up. After practice in the locker room, I confront the white boy and showed him my torn jacket. Then I punched him in the face. He immediately put his head down and charged at me, trying to punch me in the sides. The back of his neck was exposed below me, right in front of my chest. I gave him my best imitation of a karate chop on the back of the neck, but it didn’t seem to do any good. Entangled again, we fell over and I hit my left forearm on the bench.
The coach came in and started giving us a hard time. The senior varsity coach came in and took me out in the hall. I told him about how they had been teasing me and the one boy had ripped my coat. While I was talking to him, I became conscious of an intense pain in my left wrist.
The varsity coach felt my wrist and forearm, and immediately became very concerned. He took me to the hospital in his car, and I had an Xray of my wrist. There was a nondisplaced fracture of my radius.
While I sat there in the waiting room, the nurse came and told me that my doctor was on the phone and wanted to talk to me. It was the doctor who had done my sports physicals, but I don’t think I had been sick more than once or twice before that. He told me that I had a broken wrist, and he was going to turn me over to Dr. Bone(his real name), who was an orthopedist.
Dr. Bone put a cast on my wrist and forearm, and the pain went away immediately. For four weeks, I had no pain and a plaster cast to write on
Since I couldn’t play basketball with a cast on, the varsity coach suspended the white boy who had torn my coat for the time that I couldn’t play. He threw the black boy off the team.

Vicki used iron on mending tape to reconstruct the jacket.  It looked kind of dumb because the tape was light blue and the jacket was dark blue.  She balanced it out by putting a strip of mending tape on the other side to match.  At the time, and now when I think of it, mending the jacket didn’t seem like a good idea.  I wanted a new jacket, but my father didn’t want to spend the money for that.  Within a year, I had outgrown the jacket anyway.
When they took the cast off (I especially noted the cast cutter and the spreader tool they used) my forearm was thinner and whiter, but free of pain.
Most of the time I had the cast on, I still rode my bicycle to school. It was not difficult.
When my mother moved to Larkspur, California I was in eighth grade. Every summer, I took the train out to California and spent the summer with my mother and my sister. My mother asked my father if he could buy a bicycle that I could use in the summer since I couldn’t take the bicycle on the train. He agreed, and my mother got me a Peugot U-08 ten-speed. It had a taller frame than the Schwinn, and it was white. I rode this bicycle everywhere all summer. When I came back the next summer, the bicycle had been stored in a damp area and the bearings were frozen. The guy who owned the apartment my mother was renting showed me how to repack the bearings and this made me feel like a real bicycle mechanic.
When I was in ninth grade, I started taking classes in German at the local college, mainly because my father wanted to accelerate my schooling. When I was in tenth grade, I took three courses at the college and only one at the high school. In eleventh grade, I took four courses at the college. The principal at the high school wrote all this up in my record and decided to graduate me from high school after three years. This whole time, I was riding my bicycle everywhere, from high school to college and back.
At the start of my eleventh grade, my father decided that I should go to a better college. He had me apply to six schools: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, University of Chicago, Stanford, and University of California at Berkeley. I was admitted to all except University of California; I couldn’t claim residency in California because I only lived there in the summer.
I wanted to go to Stanford to be near my mother and sister, but my father insisted that I go to Harvard. They also offered me the best financial aid package. If I took out a National Defense Student Loan, I wouldn’t have to work part time while going to school at Harvard. In the end, I agreed to go to Harvard, mainly because it had the most prestigious name of any of the schools.

Right around that time, in April or May of 1970, the owner of the bicycle store organized his first annual bicycle race.  Since it was an amateur race, most of the entrants were kids from about seven to sixteen years old.  In fact, I was one of the oldest at sixteen.  First there were a dozen short races, from a hundred yarsds to a quarter of a mile.  Then there was the final race, two miles or eight laps around the dirt track at the local community college.  I was one of four entrants in the final race, and the only one with a ten-speed bicycle.  I walked off with the first prize, lapping the slowest of the other contestants.  I won a tie clasp with a small figurine representing a bicycle racer.

In June, I sold my Schwinn ten-speed to someone, I don’t remember whom. I went out to California and rode the Peugot all summer. I crashed one day when a motorcycle I was behind suddenly turned off to the right. I scraped my forearm and bent the front fork and wheel. We immediately had it fixed, and I went back to riding everywhere as fast as possible.When I first moved to Harvard to start school, my mother had my bicycle sent from California. I received it a few weeks after I started my freshman year. My room-mate, the local boy from South Boston, told me I couldn’t keep the bicycle in our rooms.
I went for a ride, up to the next square from Harvard Square, and came back. I locked the bicycle, in front of our house, onto a large vine root that grew up the side of the building, with a thin cable chain that had a combination lock. The next morning, it was gone, and the cable chain was lying on the ground, cut in half.
I was heartbroken
and assumed that my father would buy me a new bicycle. He refused to help me. He didn’t seem to think it was important.
As it happened, I had control of a thousand dollar scholarship from Merit Scholarships; I had gone through several difficult tests to get this scholarship. The administration people at Harvard had told me I only had to spend $250 of this each year, and my father told me to use the money for books and other expenses.
A new Peugot bicycle cost $200; the only model available was the PX-10. This was a completely different bicycle. It had narrow, sew-up tires, and it weighed only 21 pounds.
After some time, in fact, after Christmas, I went out and bought myself a new bicycle.
By this time, I had moved into the double bedroom at our rooms, and I hooked up a wire harness to hang my bicycle above my bed. I had no intention of allowing this bicycle to be stolen, and when I took it out for a ride, I never let it out of my sight.
To compensate for buying the bicycle, I decided to economize as much as possible, and I was able to avoid any expenses that weren’t absolutely necessary. The only things I spent money on were books.
At first, I would walk to the sandwich store to pick up sandwiches whenever we were hungry in the evening. This happened almost every night. After a while, my room-mate, the one from Exeter, refused to pay for my sandwiches any more. I then discontinued my sandwich delivery service. I think my room-mate didn’t understand the situation. He didn’t think my walking all the way to the sandwich store (about a quarter of a mile) was worth the price of a sandwich, even though he had money to spare. He was a jerk in many ways.
The bicycle made it possible for me to ride out to Wellesley whenever I wanted. It was about fifteen miles away, over half an hour of busy roads, but I did it many times.
Mainly this was because of my girlfriend. I met Julia at a small party in our house one evening in the late fall. She had long, straight blonde hair like most of the girls from Wellesley. I don’t know why I was attracted to her at all; she wasn’t that pretty, and somewhat overweight.
I just gradually got involved with her.
One night, I went to visit Julia at Wellesley; this was before I had the bicycle. It was very cold, and I had taken the subway and a bus to get there. I was dressed in heavy wool pants with long johns underneath. Julia had gotten the use of an extra bedroom in her dorm, designed for the use of visitors.
We went to the bedroom and laid on the bed, fully clothed. We were talking, and I got overheated–literally, too hot. I told Julia I was going to take off my long johns because I was too hot. She became distressed and told me if I was going to undress at all, she was going to have to leave me to sleep there.
Of course, I had no intention of molesting her; I was simply too hot with long johns. Nonetheless, I acceded to her wishes and left my pants on with the offending long johns underneath.
This routine repeated itself several times; each time I proposed to remove the long johns, she threatened to leave. Within a month after that, we were having sex with all our clothes off and no complaints from her.
I dated her basically to get into her pants; even though she had a nice personality, she wasn’t thin and her primary assets were on her chest. I wasn’t wild about her but I was faithful, at first.  Then I became indifferent.  I did continue to see her for a couple of years, but that was later on, irregularly.
Every spring there was a bicycle race between Harvard and Wellesley. I was inspired by the first prize, a new ten speed, and thought I could win this for Julia. I trained for several weeks before the race, going over the route as fast as I could.
On the day of the race, I went out with my room-mate, the one from Exeter. There were fifty bicycles entered in the race, and most of them looked very professional to me. My room-mate was impressed by the quality of the riders.
We took off from the athletic house, south of the river Charles. For the first five miles, we were all in a dense pack. It was hard to avoid bumping in to another rider. After ten miles, we rapidly began to string out. The leaders took off, and I realized there were several riders faster than me that I could not keep up with. I started getting cramps in my thighs during the last couple of miles and I had to ease off a bit on speed. By this time, I could see that I had no hope of winning. I finished fifth in the field, not in the money but good enough to impress my room-mate from Exeter.
It was very important to impress my room-mate from Exeter because he acted as if he was a good judge of everything. He usually found me wanting, although I knew he was secretly envious of my ability to attract women.
I remember that he found my hiking boots to be completely inadequate because they didn’t match the style of European boots that he was used to. My boots were Red Wing Irish Setters, and they looked like ordinary work boots to him.
He also cast aspersions on my down sleeping bag, although I knew it was top of the line. He told me at first that down was no better than any ordinary insulating material. After a visit to the North Face camping store in Boston, where they had a few down bags, he realized his mistake and apologized to me for the only time in his life. Later I became disgusted with him and tried to avoid him, although I spent a lot of time with other kids from Exeter.
At the end of my first year, I dropped out of college. This was mainly at the urging of my sister, who came to visit me in May at the beginning of what was known as “reading period”, a three week period during which we were supposed to study for exams.
When she arrived, we called my father. First, my sister was on the phone with him, and I remember that he was yelling at her. He was unhappy that she had dropped out of school. Then she handed me the phone and he continued to yell at me. After I hung up, I decided to drop out of school.
My first plan was to ride my bicycle across country to California. This plan was impaired when I had another accident. This time, I simply over-rode Julia’s rear tire as we were riding into Cambridge. I feel and badly scraped my right elbow. The bicycle had bent handlebars. The handlebars were easily replaced, but I neglected the scrape and it became infected.
After three days, it began to hurt, and I went to the infirmary early one morning after a sleepless night. The resident on duty cleaned out the wound, dressed it, and gave me a prescription for penicillin tablets. He explained that the red streak running up my arm from the wound was inflamed lymph vessels going to the glands in my armpit.
The wound immediately stopped hurting and rapidly improved, although a few pieces of gravel remained inside to give a stippled effect to the scar. By the time it healed, however, school was letting out, and a friend from Wellesley suggested another friend who was driving out to California as a transportation solution.
The other friend turned out to be a girl who was not really on a tight schedule at all. She had an apartment in Cambridge, and her father paid her credit cards. She was going to buy a small car for the trip.
The day I met her, we went out to dinner at a small Italian restaurant. She was wearing a low-cut dress, and I noticed that she seemed to be trying to draw my attention to her breasts. We went to her apartment and had sex. I slept there that night, and the next morning she gave me a nice blow job.
I was hooked. I went with her to the car dealer and she bought a small Renault. I got a bicycle carrier for the back and mounted my bicycle to it. I took off the front wheel and stored it on the back seat.
I remember visiting her mother’s house: it was a very large Colonial place, with split rail fences around the yard. I mounted a three inch “laughing Buddha” (really a Chinese god, Ho-Tei) on the dashboard. We struggled a little with the manual transmission and the manual choke, but we immediately got on the road headed West. We intended to stay off the highways and stick to two lane roads as much as possible, and this worked out everywhere except for a few roads in Idaho.
As it happened, neither of us had driver’s licenses. She didn’t tell me righrt away that she didn’t have one, only after a couple of days. During the entire trip, we only saw one or two policemen. It took us two weeks to cross the country, driving far North into Montana and Idaho.
We stayed at motels; at first, I wanted to sleep in campgrounds, but she changed my mind quickly. The first night, we stayed in a campground and ended up sleeping under a picnic table because it started raining.
She paid for the gas and motels with her father’s credit cards. I had a small amount of money that I had left over from the National Merit Scholarship; she paid for most things. We frequently ate in restaurants and had a few beers at local bars. Every night when we stopped she would go to the local store and get a bottle of wine. She drank most of it each night.
At first, we had sex every night, but after a while I started getting bored with her and slacked off. She wasn’t any prize. One day, we didn’t talk at all as we drove through Colorado. She got mad and started arguing with me. Finally we came to a town and stopped at the local bar. We made up our fight over a couple of beers.
When we got to California, she wanted to go down to San Diego to see our friend from Wellesley. We stopped in Sausalito, where my mother was living. I unloaded my bicycle from the back of the car and reassembled it.
That summer I rode a hundred and fifty miles up Highway One to visit Point Arena, where my sister was staying. On the way back, a wire broke in my shifter and my rear derailleur became unusable. Riding up and down all those hills was bad enough with a functioning shifter.
I stopped in Jenner and turned inland on Route 116, to Santa Rosa. There was a bicycle shop, and there I stopped overnight to wait for it to open. In the morning, I bought a new wire and installed it.
In the fall, I left the bicycle with my mother and hitchhiked back to the East Coast. I got a job in a pool table factory in East Haven, Connecticut. I spent the fall there, living in an attic apartment with three kids who were attending the Culinary Institute of America.
Julia came to see me there at least once. We were having sex and the condom broke. Julia nearly became hysterical with worry that she would get pregnant; fortunately, that didn’t happen. In January, my father wrote a letter to the freshman dean at Harvard, asking to re-enroll me in school.
This was despite the statement that the dean had made to me when I went to see him and told him I was dropping out. He recommended that I should stay out for a full year to have a really edifying experience. I only recently learned that in that letter, my father stated that I planned to graduate from Harvard in three years and go to medical school. The dean replied that he thought this was a bit too ambitious, but I could certainly return for the spring term if I wished. Apparently, in the letter my father stated that I had “learned my lesson” or something like that. I didn’t know if I had learned any lessons (I have left out a few details in this story to condense the story of the bicycle to its more essential features.) but I was happy to return to school since I seemed to have mastered the job of warehouseman in the three months I spent at the pool table factory.
That job was certainly a location at which I learned a few things. The first was that good quality pool tables are very heavy. The tables with one inch slates were the worst; these were made in three pieces that fit together with pins. We built wooden crates to hold the three pieces for transport in rail cars or trucks. We then wrestled the crates onto forklifts. The forklifts drove into the truck trailer and we unloaded them from there.
In February, I returned to Harvard and found myself assigned to Kirkland House. This was a low status house that had the reputation of being for jocks. In a letter, my mother informed me that the bicycle had been stolen from her when she was at Golden Gate Park. She had gotten off the bicycle and was sitting nearby when a passing stranger picked up the bicycle and rode off with it.
She sent me the money to buy a new bicycle, which I did. This was a fine machine but I don’t remember the brand name except that it was Japanese. I rode this bicycle all over everywhere. That spring I finished up some courses I had left behind and a couple of new ones. That summer, I took organic chemistry. This was the notorious hurdle to going to medical school, required of all pre-meds and considered the most difficult course of all. Taking it in the summer would condense the work to a manageable eight weeks, with classes every morning and labs every afternoon. There was less detail than in the course given during the year, but it covered all the essentials and qualified as a full year of organic chemistry.
My new room-mate at Kirkland House was also from Exeter, but he was a much finer fellow and we hit it off right away. His name was Robert Charles Morrison. He also took organic chemistry that summer, and offered to share his rooms with me.
In the meantime, however, I had met a woman who worked in the labs at Tufts. I went to a party with Robo, and she was there. I was impressed with her figure, and her nipples showed through her blouse. I brought her back to my rooms after the party, and we tried to have sex.
I was so excited that I came as soon as she put her hands on my penis. I apologized, but she didn’t seem to mind. She slept there with me that night.
The next night, we went out again, and again headed to my rooms to bed. This time, she surprised me by going down on me and giving me a fantastic blow job. By the way, she was black as the ace of spades, had no children, and had a fine figure with big breasts and big hard nipples. She invited me to move in with her that summer.
It wasn’t until later that she found out I was only eighteen; she was twenty-eight. We had a good relationship, but I really couldn’t get along with her while we lived together. It wasn’t her room-mate, a thirty year old faggot, but her possessiveness and my own immaturity. When summer school started, I moved back in with Rob-o.
I remember one night, a friend came to visit me at her apartment. We sat on her bed and chatted; he wanted to go out to a bar, but I said I wasn’t interested– too tired. Later on, I found out that he thought I was just living in this apartment, not having sex with her. He was Jewish, and I guess he couldn’t get his head around the idea that a nice Gentile boy like myself would want to have sex with a black woman ten years older than me.
The day of the crash was the day before the last lecture and last lab. I don’t think we had lab that afternoon; I don’t remember. I don’t think so because I think the crash happened at lunch-time and I didn’t miss any class or lab. If I hadn’t been able to do the last lab I might have failed the course, and I was real shaky the day after the crash. I know I missed the first two hours of the lecture because they didn’t let me out of the infirmary until ten o’clock.
The only detail I left out of “Bicycle” that I can think of now is that, the day after the crash, my girlfriend (the black one) came over to the rooms. My knees and elbows were bandaged up. She took pity on me and gave me another blow job; it was highly satisfactory.
I still rode a bicycle but it wasn’t mine. It belonged to a friend of Robo’s from Exeter who had coveted my brakes; since the brakes were fairly intact, I removed them from the crashed bicycle and he installed them on his bicycle. For this, he let me ride his bicycle and I took him up on the offer several times.
At the end of senior year, I built a bicycle on an old frame that he had. That one never really was satisfactory. I got a flat tire for the first time with sew-up tires, and this turned out to be tedious to fix.
I have left out a lot of details from “First Bicycle” and I hope to get back to them later. There were several women I had sex with and even a long hike; some of it is important, but there are a lot of things that would distract from the bicycle itself, which is the most important thing. I can fairly say that I was an avid bicyclist from eighth grade until the crash.  Afterwards, I didn’t ride very much.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Cathy Seitz permalink
    2014-06-28 18:37

    I found this a good read. Lots of detail, some humor, interesting plot. A few improvements I would suggest: you said twice, in different paragraphs, about the Wellesley girl, that you did not know why you wanted her. And at the end–I was not sure what crash you were talking about–there were so many in the story. (Which was funny). Oh–and not enough about me (your sister)!

    Like

    • 2014-06-28 20:18

      Thanks for the comments. Removed the redundant description and inserted actual reason for dating Wellesley girl. Later I will write special story about you.

      Like

      • Cathy Seitz permalink
        2014-07-05 23:42

        Now you’re scaring me. Run it by me before you put it on this site, please. It would probably be fine, but you can never be too rich or too thin. Or too careful. You know what I mean.

        Like

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