I wish I could remember how old I was exactly when this happened. I know I was in grade school. It was the year that Ryan and I got new bicycles. Shiny new silver bicycles with red BMX pads that were supposed to keep your teeth from getting knocked out through the magic of an 8mm layer of foam, bikes with handbrakes - yes, handbrakes! - they were awesome. Our prides and joys. Before that we rode around on the old bicycles that were left over from another age but had survived in our garage like living, working, fossils.
We were only allowed to ride these bikes in our driveway and the driveway next door where Mrs. Turnis lived. Mrs. Turnis had a huge driveway but didn't drive due to advanced age. When you added these two driveways to the adjacent yards we had a pretty good area to ride around in.
Then, one day, my bike was gone. Ryan's bike was still there; we could tell which was which because we wrote our names on the inside of the rad BMX pads. Someone had come in the night, got into our garage, and stole nothing but my bicycle. I was crushed.
My grandfather, noting that there was another bike to be stolen, hatched a plan. He spent the next two weeks camped out in the garage with a forty ounce bottle of beer, a thermos of coffee, and a loaded semiautomatic 16 ga shotgun. Alas, the thief was happy with only stealing my bike, because my grandfather didn't shoot anyone over the following weeks.
As this happened when I was young enough that I wasn't allowed to roam very far (being allowed to walk the streets at all hours didn't come until years later), I had no idea that my bike was a scant two blocks away. This kid that lived in our neighborhood, Tommy Holiday, had it for days and I had no idea.
Then, one day while I was playing basketball or G.I. Joe or whatever the hell I was doing in the driveway an older kid from up the street came into my driveway. His name was Frankie. I knew Frankie because I knew his little brother Mike. If I was, say nine, when this happened then Frankie must have been more like fourteen. Normally fourteen year olds look at nine year olds as little more than vassals or prey, but Frankie was all right. A good egg, if you will.
Frankie walks up to me and says, "I know where your bike is. We're going to go get it."
Now, I was an intensely shy kid. I had panic attacks if I had to go up to the counter at McDonalds and ask for ketchup. I wanted that bike back, but was torn. My grandfather, who practically spent all summer every summer drinking beer in the garage overheard this conversation. He encouraged me to go with Frankie and retrieve my stolen property. He starts talking to Frankie, finds out where it is, then gives me some grandfatherly advice.
"You get your ass up there and don't come back without that bike." Thanks, grandpa.
I remember being very nervous about this whole thing. Other than my cousins I had never been in a fight before in my young life (though my cousins and I fought viciously and continually, it never occurred to me that these were skills that could come in handy with non-relatives). But then again I had a teenager - a teenager!! - with me. So off we went.
As we walked the two blocks to the Holiday house we encountered another neighborhood scallywag named Brian. Brian was in my class and had been since kindergarten. He was in his front yard with an old BB gun, the kind that looks like a Red Ryder without the forestock. I remember specifically that he was putting yellow dandelions in the muzzle and shooting them in a little three or four foot arc through the air, because the BB gun was so worn out that it wouldn't propel actual metal BBs anymore.
"What are you guys doing?" he asks.
Frankie says, "Tommy Holiday stole his bike, and we're gonna go make him give it back."
"I'm going with you," Brian announces. He shoots the dandelion out of his BB gun, brings it with us, and we're off.
Now I'm flabbergasted. Brian and I weren't really friends, as neither of us at the time were allowed to walk the two blocks to the other's house. All of a sudden it went from Frankie making me go take my bike back from this kid (he didn't make me, but that's how it felt at the time) to being in a freaking gang going into enemy territory to rumble with those greasy Jets. I remember feeling like I was going to throw up, but also feeling that my chances of getting my bike back were looking pretty good.
We make it to the Holiday house and, son of a bitch; there's my bicycle. The pads are all gone, but it was definitely it. A young boy can spot his bike like a young mother can spot her toddler on a playground, definitively and instantly. Tommy was busy taking the rear wheel off with a pipe wrench and a pair of pliers. I remember him looking up as we walked into his yard.
"That's my bike," I said. At the time this was a wildly bold thing for me to do. You have to understand that when I was a kid I took this asthma medicine twice a day. It made me so nervous I jumped if a cat purred when I didn't expect it. Except when I was mad, when it made me so nervous I flew into what they call red murderous rage. Saying this was an unfamiliar ground; it was a reasonable reaction to the situation. Maybe that's why I remember this so well; it was surreal in many ways, from having other kids actually helping me out, to being what passed outwardly for calm - it was alien territory for me.
"I found this bike," Tommy says. "Finders keepers."
"Bullshit. You stole that bike out of his garage. You're lucky his grandfather wasn't home when you did it. Try to steal it again and you're gonna get shot." Frankie was pretty eloquent when he wanted to be.
"Look..." Tommy begins.
This next part I will never forget as long as I live. Brian takes his BB gun that will only shoot flowers about three feet through the air, cocks it, points it at Tommy Holiday and says, "Put that wheel back on."
Holy shit! All of a sudden it's like being one of the Magnificent Seven! Tommy Holiday evidently didn't know that this BB gun was physically incapable of damaging anything but a flower, because that wheel went on fast. I remember Frankie and Brian and I sitting around talking while Tommy sweated through putting the wheel back on, then off we went. In retrospect I'm surprised the police didn't come see us about menacing people with BB guns, but then I don't remember calling the police when my bike was stolen either. I was too young to worry about police, but I did have my bike back.
Tommy Holiday moved away not long after this happened. Brain and I went to school together until we were seniors, but probably never said more than a hundred words to each other the whole time. Frankie I talked to for years and years afterward; he wound up working at the store half a block from my grandmother's house. He died in a motorcycle accident years later, seeing how fast he could take a sport bike up a 50mile per hour stretch of Rt 50. Brian I never think about, though I see him on Facebook once in a while. Frankie I'll never forget as long as I live.
Checks and Balances
8 months ago