Where the Red Fern Grows Briefly Ruined My Life

November 14, 2018

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I never really considered myself easily inspired, but I guess the fact I still haven't thrown away my Beto for Senate bumper sticker proves otherwise. I frequently use external influences to motivate changes in my life. I am uncertain whether that is a good or bad thing. I was asking the Sane One what I should write about this week, and she said that I hadn't shared the "lead bicycle" story with you guys, which I think is one of her favourites. So, because I can't think of anything else to write about that doesn't yell at conservatives for being completely misguided, here we go.

 

Wilson Rawls wrote a children's story called Where the Red Fern Grows. For those of you heartless Communist kitten killers who haven't read the book, the summary goes something like this: broke kid really wants 2 coon hunting dogs, works his ass off for 2 years to save enough money and then trains them to be badass coon hunters but then they die and broke kid decides to enter an Episcopalian monastery and never touches a raccoon ever again. Or something like that. I read this book when I was in third grade and I marveled at the tenacity that young Billy Coleman had in pursuing a difficult goal. Right around that time my dad suggested I watch a movie that provided the missing link to my very first concussion. Just hang in there, it will make sense in the end. What's weird is that the movie was based in Indiana, the worst state in the country, but also where the Sane One comes from, so I guess it can't be 100% awful. The movie was the coming of age story called Breaking Away. The central character in that movie was Dave Stoller, a recent high school grad with only two interests in life, riding his bicycle and trying to get laid. I remember there was a scene where Dave is riding his bike on the road and a truck driver decides to help Dave by telling him how fast he is going over the miles and miles that they are traveling next to one another. I looked over at my silver Huffy bike with the one gear and brakes that worked when you pushed backward on the pedal and properly concluded that I probably couldn't take that bike out on Rt. 222 to race big rig truckers. I needed a proper racing bike with the curved handlebars. Many of you might have asked your parents for a new bike. I knew better. My parents' second favorite activity growing up was to think up of ways to make us stick out even more in a rural all-white community. Their favourite activity by a country mile was to say no to my myriad of requests. So I had as much chance of getting a new bicycle that would replace a currently existing and functioning bicycle as a Honduran asylum seeker would get a warm reception at a Southern Baptist church service (ironic, isn't it?). The chances were slim to none, and Slim was out of town.

 

However, the dilemma of my own coonhound struggle had been solved! I would buy my racing bike myself! Now there was only one problem to that. I had no money. I mean I have been desperately poor several times in my life. But in fourth grade (I'd been thinking about my epic quest for over a year and had moved on to fourth grade at this point) I was so poor I couldn't even pay attention. Why was I poor? I had no access to money, dickhead. We didn't get allowances. My parents (rightly so) didn't believe in bribing their children to do their chores. Although, lacking proper motivation, it is amazing how lousy a kid can vacuum the stairs if they don't want to. My only source of revenue was Christmas and birthday money from distant relatives which almost wasn't worth it, because I would invariably have to write the thank you notes back to them and my mother wouldn't let me embellish my gratitude at all. "Dear Aunt Helen, thank you for the five dollars. I am now .0000000005% closer to buying the Gulfstream VI private jet that I am saving for.  Love, Derek " was not an acceptable submission for my fascist editor suppressing my freedoms. I estimate that my revenue stream in fourth grade was about $20. I was an accomplished trader in school, but I was commodity-based and not focused on fiat currency transactions until later in junior high school. So when I decided to buy my bicycle, I had to start from absolutely nothing. 

 

I think my love of things taking a long time stemmed from the next two years. For motivation, I would read about how coal was formed. I came to admire Edmund Dantes. I despised Minute Rice. Ok, you get the drift here. No more silly examples. I refused to spend any of my birthday and Christmas card monies and wrote truly grateful thank you notes. "Dear Mae and Carl, Your gift is treasured beyond description. It is often said that giving a gift feels better than receiving it, but I can promise you that in this case, that is total horseshit. Super-duper Love, Derek." That one probably caused me to be grounded for my entire 5th grade year. I started to ask around for raking jobs, snow shoveling jobs, anything I could do to make money. I apologize to anyone who donated to the Kutztown Chinatown Restoration Fund. That was a dick move. That charity didn't exist, just like most of Donald Trump's don't either. No job was too small, and slowly I was accumulating quite a bankroll. All I needed to do was to take my $50 and find a quick cash game and win a couple big hands of Hold 'Em, and that racing bike was as good as mine! Ruefully, I discovered that 1. I didn't know how to play poker and 2. the Fraternal Order of Eagles wasn't admitting 10-year-olds into their cash game. So I had to keep on doing what I was doing. During this time, I had also sadly learned how much a racing bicycle cost. I didn't really think that one through before I embarked on this quest. I discovered that I would need about $150 to get a Schwinn, which is what my dad had. 

 

Year one melted into year two, and I steadfastly raked as many leaves as I could, shoveled my fair share of driveways, and didn't spend any of my gift monies. One of my favourite things to do back then was to read the Sunday papers from back to front. That meant all the sales circulars as well. Well, around Memorial Day in sixth grade, I was flipping through the Boscov's sale circular, and there it was. A sale on bicycles! I saw a bike with racing handles on it and it was only $99.99! I had that much! I was a little peeved that it took me the same time as Billy Colman from Where the Red Fern Grows, but oh well, I had made it! I told my parents that I had enough money saved for my very first large purchase, and honestly the second purchase of my entire life (the first being the Whitney Houston tape back in third grade, refer back to Born In The USA Made Me an Asshole to hear about that). Off we went to Boscov's, which is like Kohl's if Kohl's decided to give up. I excitedly went to the bike department to take my first gander at the bike that soon would be mine. There it was! A Columbia 10 Speed bike with a white frame and blue handlebars! Now back in 1986, you didn't buy goods made in China. Hell, you didn't even buy Ming vases made in China. The quality was just not what it is today. I didn't understand the repercussions of that penciled statement on the frame: Made in China. I didn't care, it had racing handlebars and ten speeds to pedal with. You know how you sell a $100 racing bicycle? You cut corners. So maybe it wasn't the lightest bike in the world. Lead is a perfectly acceptable metal to make bicycle frames from. Maybe the wheels can be round-ish? Like perfectly square? Square wheels are great, because then you don't have to put a water bottle rack on the bike, because you can't go far enough to get thirsty. Brilliant! I didn't care, because as it had curved handlebars, it was clearly a racing bicycle, which is all that mattered. I worked up a nice sweat pushing the bike to the cash register and that was where the first mishap happened. In my excitement, I had not calculated sales tax. The bike was $107.74. I had exactly $100. I looked up to my parents for advice, but they had decided that was a good time to go check out the sweet sales on waffle irons or something. I then discovered that the cashier had neither read Where the Red Fern Grows nor had any interest in donating to the Kutztown Chinatown Improvement Association. I was screwed. My parents did come to the rescue with a collateralized short-term debt obligation with a very reasonable 17% APR. All we needed was the SEC filing to come through and I would have the $7.74 needed to complete this transaction. Ok fine, maybe they just lent me the money and told me that if I didn't pay them back, I would be visited by Vinny "Knee-Crusher" Gambino. At that point, I was fine with any of my body parts being crushed as long as that bicycle was hydraulically lifted into the car and I could get it home.

 

Obviously I was super excited to ride the bike when I got home. I should probably point out a key bit of info at this point in time. I had absolutely no preparation for riding a ten-speed bicycle. I didn't research it, I didn't ask around, I was too busy trying to save money for the bike and didn't properly plan what to do once I had it. It couldn't be that hard, right? I was soon about to find out. In order to get to the highway, you have to go through a little part of town. So off I went to go race tractor trailers. After I got two blocks to Kemp Street, I was actually farther than I had ever been on a bicycle. I got there so quickly! This racing thing is a breeze! I turned right (the wrong way to the highway, by the way) on to Main St. Now Kutztown is built on a valley. That means the end of Main Street, where we lived, was on the top of a hill, and the end of West Main Street was also on the top of a hill. As I made a right turn, I was now going downhill. Lead frame square-wheeled bicycles still pick up some speed from gravity, and I was soon going faster than I had ever gone in a racing position. This was my first experience with squeezing brakes to stop as well. I was coming to an intersection and I needed to brake. I was concentrating on braking too much and not looking up when WHAM! I hit, dead-on, a street sign with my front tire and went flying toward the street sign pole. My head was the first body part to make contact with the pole and I knocked myself out. I was about ten minutes into my ownership of a racing bicycle and I had just lost consciousness running directly into a street sign on fucking Main Street for many witnesses to see. Or maybe not, since no one came to my aid and to see if I was ok. When I came around, I noticed that my front wheel was absolutely unrideable. I had to push my bike back home and explain to my parents that some repairs would be required. I think they were more upset about the maturity date of the loan being pushed back than they were with yet another head injury (I fractured my skull in 2nd grade).

 

Ok, short story long, the moral of this story is that even though I really wanted a bike, I didn't properly prepare for it. I hadn't considered all the factors that racing bike ownership meant. And because I didn't prepare, I paid the consequences for it. Now the obligatory tie-in to adoption. Many adoptees want to reunite with their biological relatives. Notice how I didn't say biological families? Because family is not made by biological connections. Anyway, a lot of people want this connection so badly. They are all-consumed with this desire. But they don't prepare for it besides wishing for it and working toward making it happen. They don't really prepare for the consequences after the first reunion. They don't plan for what changes will come to everyone because of the meeting. Riding a bike is a lot like meeting biological relatives. If you don't prepare properly, you just might get knocked on your ass. Instead of a street pole, it's a request for $100,000 to go buy a taxi. I should keep an eye out, I hear Boscov's is having a sweet sale on Columbia taxis. What could go wrong?

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