Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Early Days

Between 1989 and 1995, my family and I lived in New Holstein, Wisconsin. We had just moved there after taking a trip to California that my Dad got fired from work over. There was some confusion over time off that he had been allowed, and then denied, by no fault of his own. As the old adage goes, "Fuck it, you only live once". My Dad had worked for a rotary broom manufacturer back in Michigan, and now we lived in Wisconsin so he could keep working in rotary brooms.

We lived on a 5 acre "hobby farm" with a 2-story house, complete with basement, full-sized barn and 2 sheds. I rode a BMX bike and listened to Motley Crue, AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Candlebox, Collective Soul, Cypress Hill, and Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks. I drew my own version of the cover of one of Dan Hicks' records where the seductive-looking worm lady coming out of the apple is offering a pack of Marlboros, in Crayola markers. I watched Tale Spin, Goof Troop, various Warner Brothers cartoons, The Simpsons, and Home Improvement while I ate Cool Ranch Doritos in the Papasan chair with the afghan blanket. I played with my stuffed dog, "Yuppie Puppy", and my tape recorder at the same time. He offered advice on life and when my Mom yelled at me to to turn off the Led Zeppelin guitar solo, and I said that she was the one who should be shutting up, he agreed. "She sure should", he said, in a tone of voice not unlike Tony in The Shining.

One day, my brother's friend had one of these motorcycles made for people my size over. Like some of the other ones that friend had, he started it by sticking a screwdriver where the key goes and turning it on that way. One day I was walking around fantasizing about building my airplane to fly back to California in, or making a map that led to buried treasure. They were putting around on this Yamaha YZ80 or something, and I was probably jealous that I didn't have one, while also afraid to ride it. Once they offered me a ride, I sheepishly accepted. They taught me how to shift through the gears. The more weird modifications I saw that he had done to it, the more bashful I became. They had taken off the clutch cable, so now I not only had to slam it into gear to take off, but I also had to find my way back to neutral if I wanted to stop. My heart was thumping away as fast as that little 2-stroke engine probably was.

I climbed on, and gingerly snapped it into gear. Time stood still. The whiteness of the barn's foundation in the full Wisconsin summer sun dazed me. I looked down at the gear shifter and tried to remember what they had told me. "One up, two down. Or was it two up, one down? Two up..." WHAM! In a daze, I heard murmuring voices around me. "Whoa! Are you okay dude?" one of them said. I looked up to see the white barn foundation wall in front of me, a metal post right next to the wall, and the bike, with it's wheel wedged right in the gap between the two. They were impressed with my macho first attempt on a bike. After they knew I was ok, they turned to the bike. "He even kept it running!" My brother's friend was astonished that the engine had not stalled. They flipped it upside-down like it was a BMX bike whose chain needed tightening, and spun the front wheel to see if it was bent. "Nope!" They asked me if I wanted to try again, but I was scared of it now. They were nervously impressed with me, as much impressed as relieved that they did not get me hurt and have to explain it to Mom and Dad. I declined and went inside to watch cartoons. So I was off to a slow, shaky start.

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