Bicycle woes

by Terry Hargrove

We recently had the Cruel Weekend here in Connecticut. The Cruel Weekend is a meteorological phenomenon that occurs every March, when the temperature flirts with 60 and everybody gets out and walks or jogs or washes the car. The forecast for tomorrow is rain and snow, but the Cruel Weekend has put spring in my mind, and once the idea of spring gets inside, there is no getting rid of it. Lord, how I want spring! Green grass, leaves, flowers, a pond I can wade into rather than walk over. And I want it all to be really slow.

The worst thing about this year’s Cruel Weekend is how I squandered it. I went to the movies! I know I should have been outside, but I’ve waited a whole year to see Watchmen fail to live up to my expectations, so I had to go on opening weekend to get the disappointment over with quickly. The extended Director’s Cut comes out in June, so I‘ll get to be disappointed all over again. When I came home, there sat Joey on the couch, looking sad.

“What’s wrong, buddy?” I asked.

“What’s wrong with him is he needs to be outside,” answered Nancy. “It hasn’t been this nice since last October, and all he wants to do is play games on the computer.”

“Why didn’t you take him outside?” I asked. I have to stop talking. It only hurts me.

“Why didn’t I… OK, sure. I’ll just stop ironing and washing clothes and fixing lunches and going to the store and cleaning the house.”

“Hey, I was busy, too,” I countered weakly. “I went to the movies. Come on, buddy. Let’s go ride your bike. Quick. What do you say?”

“I can’t ride my bike because I don’t have a helmet,” he replied.

Ah, yes. The helmet. You see, “Santa” brought Joey a bicycle helmet, but he foolishly brought one that was too small, because he was tired and didn’t know there was anything other than a one-size-fits-all bicycle helmet for kids Joey’s age. I have heard many times how foolish “Santa” must have been not to know this, but perhaps “Santa” isn’t as perfect as people think he is.

“What Joey needs is someone to ride with,” said Nancy. “He needs to see some good modeling. Maybe we, I mean Santa, should get you a bicycle, too. Then you guys could ride around whenever it finally stays warm for longer than a few hours. I think I have Santa’s phone number around here, somewhere, and I‘ll bet if I call him right now, daddy will have a bicycle before you know it.”

You know the old saying about confession being good for the soul? It isn’t. Maybe a dramatic confession helps craft a good movie, but in the real world, I don’t think it makes practical sense. I couldn’t stand by and let “Santa” shell out money for a bicycle for me. I didn’t have it! It was time to release another in a long list of secrets I had kept from my wife since 1995.

“Don’t call Santa. It wouldn’t do any good.” Here, I paused for dramatic effect. Time to throw it out there. “I, I, I don’t know how to ride a bicycle.”

There. I said it, and now the whole world knows. Nancy and Joey looked at me, then at each other, then back at me. Then they started laughing.

“Wait, wait, wait,” giggled Nancy. “You can’t ride a bike? I don’t believe that. There isn’t a man in America who grew up in the ’60s who didn’t ride a bicycle. You’re making this up.”

“Well, on a technical level, I guess I did ride a bike,” I replied. “Once.”

“Didn’t you ever own a bike when you were a kid?”

“Nope,” I said. “We were poor and there were a lot of us. Mom and The Dad couldn’t buy just one bike, they would have had to buy a half dozen, and that wasn’t going to happen. Oh, I remember seeing a bike in the front yard every now and then, but we referred to them as community bikes. For anybody to ride. The police called them something else. Stolen property, I think. But I had bike fear, a deep, and I must add, natural distrust for a thing that wouldn’t stand up straight when it wasn’t moving, rolled on wheels when it was moving and required you to pedal backwards just to stop. No thanks. I don’t trust them. Never have, never will.”

“I don’t wanna ride my bike ever again!” cried Joey.

“Great, just great,” sighed Nancy. “Now you’re scaring Joey. Joey, honey? Santa put a lot of money into that bike of yours, so don’t be like daddy, OK? Now, back to you, Lance. You say you rode a bike one time? What was that like?”

“Well, it was horrible. I pushed a community bike to the top of the hill behind the park, swung a leg over the thing, and nudged myself forward. I didn’t try to peddle. I just sat up there and hung on for dear life. It was terrible! I went flying downhill faster than I could run. Trees rushed past, the ground was a green blur. I wanted to scream, but I feared that would make people get out of the way, and I might need them to break my fall. So I clammed up and rocketed silently through the park. When I began to run out of real estate, I realized I didn’t know how to stop and I was running out of time! I had four choices: the rock wall (certain hospitalization), the horse shoe pit (possible death), Fat Charlie (I could bounce off him and he wouldn’t even know it) or my sister Connie. There was only time to aim for one of them.”

“Goodness,” said Nancy. “Did you hurt Charlie?”

“Aw, I didn’t hit Charlie,” I said. “I hit my sister Connie. Charlie was my buddy, after all. She had just come out of the library and the books went everywhere. I caught The Sound and the Fury across my teeth. I haven’t cared for Faulkner ever since.”

“That is just very, very sad,” said Nancy, trying not to laugh. “But at least you weren’t hurt. Little boys do the strangest things, and you were no exception. But why didn’t you try again? You know, get right back on the horse?”

“Well, I didn’t really have to,” I said. “I made sure Connie was OK, then got in my truck and drove home.”

“Your truck?”

“Yeah. I was 23 years old when I rode a bike for the first time,” I said. “I think once you pass a certain age, you can’t develop the balance skills necessary to ride a bike. That’s been my story for 30 years anyway.”

Nancy sat and looked at me for a long time. She has this ability to make a stare last just long enough to be really unnerving. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, she spoke, and her words were terrible.

“I am going to call Santa,” she said. “And he is going to bring you a bicycle. And you are going to learn to ride it. Joey can teach you, can’t you, Joey?”

Yes, I should be concerned, but if I know my Connecticut weather, it will be weeks before we have another warm Saturday. But Santa does need some practice before he lays out good money for a new bicycle. I think I’ll take a drive around the neighborhood and see if any community bikes are just lying around.


Terry Hargrove is a classic example of the dreaded “Fourth of Seven Child Syndrome.” He left his native Tennessee in 2005 to teach English and language arts in a strange and exotic land called Connecticut. He lives with his wife Nancy and their son Joey in beautiful but expensive Old Saybrook, home of Katharine Hepburn, who never returns his calls. He tries to follow in the steps of his hero Mark Twain, and just like Mark Twain, he is losing all his money. If you know how to get butterfly stains off a sofa, you can contact him at

3 replies »

  1. So – is Joey a good teacher?

    You could ask Santa for training wheels. It’s practically impossible to get up any speed at all with those things attached. Joey will be coasting down slopes at a healthy 20mph, and you’ll be panting along behind with the land speed of an arthritic seal.