The Red Bicycle

Content Index: PC169

By Scott Nesler

Satisfaction is found somewhere between not giving a shit and caring too much. Or as Keith and Mick put it, “you can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes well you might find. You get what you need”.

The red bicycle rolled in on a beautiful fall weekend with a glimmer of understanding to the purpose of life.  This essay is written to a future self as a point of reflection in the memory of time.

The weekend started with the muffled voices of a couple teenagers coming from the garage. A weekend, where for a brief moment the gray past and future of a red bike traversed the satisfaction of a half a dozen individuals including the delivery of joy to two fathers and their fourteen year old sons.

The voices came from a garage so full of incomplete projects and material items its two bays barely fit one car. Competition for space included six bikes, two electric, two push, and one gas powered scooter, a wagon, three weed eaters, lawn and garden tools, and various small items bulging from shelves such as ball gloves, basketballs, footballs, and sand toys. Walking from the kitchen through the door to the garage was an act of frustration whose only defense was a sanctuary of not of giving a shit. Though like Church, this sanctuary was seldom attended.

If getting rid of stuff was simple, the garage would be a source of pride. With four people in the family, the wanting to do what is right, the desire to give to someone in need, the value of reclaiming a percentage of original worth, and the need to hold onto a memory tends to turn black and white to gradients of gray. For this reason the ten year old minivan remains parked in the driveway.

 

Friday was my son Andrew's fourteenth birthday which may have played a large role in soothing the pain of another bike taking residence in the garage. In the driveway along side of the neighborhood boy's bike was an old red ten speed. Stepping into the garage the story started to unfold. Let me start out by mentioning Joe is a year younger than my son. Joe and Andrew don't often hang around. From my take, Joe looks up to Andrew, though Andrew tends to be a bully to Joe at times. Listening to the conversation, the red bike was offered to Joe from his neighbor who was about to put it out for the garbage man. It was a win/win situation for Joe's neighbor. No guilt for adding a functional product to the landfill and a sense of satisfaction in making a child happy.

As a child some 40 years ago, I was familiar with the quality of a bike. East Alton had a bicycle shop named Franklin's. My brother Jack was about the age Andrew is now when his dream was to open a bicyle repair shop. He often visited Franklin's to grab the latest Schwinn or Raleigh catalogue. Though Schwinn still makes quality bikes, they were better 40 years ago. With a summer of yard work plus allowance a teenager could save enough to purchase a mid to low end Schwinn. Maybe a Varsity, Traverse, or Continental. Now Raleigh, they were the Ferrari of ten speeds. A teenager in East Alton could only dream of owning a Raleigh. The catalog Jack brought home specifically showed what differentiated the price range from one model to another. The welds, the center pull brakes, the front and rear sprockets, the chrome, the gear levers, cables, free hub, and cassette distinguished the price level.

Walking into the driveway my aim was to motivate Joe to take his red bike home. The Clayton Willard brand name on the bike did not ring a bell, though the quality of the welds, the front and rear sprockets, the deraileur hinted at a bike which I could not have afforded as a teenager. My suggestion to Joe was to get on the internet and research the brand. I told him if he came up with a few paragraphs I would help him post it on Craig's List.  But by all means I suggested he take it home.

Later in the evening I walked into the garage. Next to the lawn mower was the red bike. Holding my temper on what little time remained of Andrew's birthday I asked why the bike was in our garage. His answer was Joe sold it to him for a bottle of Gatorade. One of Andrew's complaints about Joe is his lack of motivation. Oh well, there may be opportunity I thought.. Now Andrew is the opposite of less motivated. He is insanely motivated to the point of driving his parents nuts and broke. His motivation often turns him into a monster to work with.  Occasionally it is a source of great pride.

A couple of months ago Andrew dragged home a Troybilt weed eater. Not a cheap one, but one of those with optional interchangeable attachments. I've seen these in the store for three hundred dollars. The weed eater did not work, but it did look salvageable. I might have been able to figure out what was wrong but lacked the motivation owning a functional weed eater. Andrew took on the challenge. After pulling it apart he realized all it needed was a couple new hoses, a connector, and a filter. So he gets on the internet finds the parts and goes to his mother who is willingly order what he needed for a little over ten dollars. Three days later the parts come in the mail and Andrew puts the weed eater back together. It starts right up. All would be great, except it being a very powerful weed eater and Andrew's admiration turned into several holes in the siding of the house.

Three weed eaters were mentioned earlier. The third came last trash day from Gene, the neighbor across the street. It was a clean looking Homelite model. Not the quality of the Troybilt, though it was manufactured by John Deere and guess the cost to be around a hundred dollars new. I didn't complain when Andrew drug it across the street. The sense of pride and productive time in fixing it was worth every bit of ten dollars. Andrew quickly figured out the problem was the same as the Troybilt. I joyfully volunteered to assist my son in the effort. My advice to him was to buy the parts locally. The internet is great place to purchase most anything at a completive price, though on small items under ten dollars the shipping is unreasonable.  So Saturday morning Andrew and I went to Milbradt Lawn parts in Creve Coeur.  Six dollars later we were back on Olive heading home. In less than five minutes Andrew had his second weed eater repaired. Now the Troybilt has a four stroke engine which does not require oil mixed gasoline. The Homelite model was two stroke. Not owning any equipment requiring a two cycle mix we needed to fill a second gas can. That and two empty gas cans caused a temporary delay for the test run.  My wife Lisa was leaving, so she took the gas can to fill up.

As a child Andrew named half of our basement Meyer Shelves. After moving into our house in Chesterfield eleven years ago one of the first projects Andrew and I worked on was replacing all the doors upstairs with new six panel ones. With Andrew by my side, I routed out slots for the hinges, cut to size, painted, and hung the doors. Upon completing the project Andrew and I decided to replace the particle boards shelves in the basement with the old doors. When this project was done, Andrew and I would go downstairs to appreciate our hard work, the cleanliness, and order of stuff. My comment was, “come on Andrew lets go admire the shelves”. Thus half of basement in the house became known as Meyer Shelves.

Andrew has moved from the basement to the garage as his dwelling to build and explore. Don't let me mistake you in thinking Andrew is just a motor head. No he loves computer too. A little over a year ago I told him if he saved, I would match him on buying the same laptop computer I recently bought for a new job. Several months later with his birthday money, allowance, and money from doing odd jobs he accumulated enough where I had to fulfill my end of the deal to purchase his Lenova G550 laptop from NewEgg. Like Linus and his blanket, Andrew and his computer are inseparable. Saturday evening as the red bike's short journey continued his laptop played its part on a shelf in the garage.

 

Andrew and I have tried the Craig's list experiment before. The first attempt is described in an essay named, For Sale Taboo Subject. The father/son bonding experience was less than optimal, though it was a start. Andrew's youth prevented him from fulfilling his end of the contract and my demands and expectations were too high in this initial effort.   Though as a father I recognized a need to learn patience. As a child Andrew may have seen a need to cooperate. In the end the effort prevented a functional television from going to the landfill, acquired a forty dollars split for Andrew and I, and planted a seed for the future.

Saturday afternoon Andrew accepted the opportunity to repeat the exercise. As I polished the oxidized red paint and made the chrome wheels shine to show room quality Andrew created his own Craig's list account. We exchanged ideas for the arrangement of words. The only source of conflict was the word German. I suggested German provided a perception of quality from names like BMW, Mercedes, Porche, and Audi. Funny I did not think this would be a point of contention since he's been learning the language for two years. Eventually he was convinced. By the time I finished polishing, Andrew was done word-smithing.  We agreed to price the bike at sixty dollars to allow for ten dollars of haggle.

By the time we started putting up a white board as a backdrop it was dark out side. I pointed out how Uncle Jack would make a profit by using Craig List to sale bikes he bought at yard sales. About two months ago Jack called me on a Saturday morning asking what to pay for a Giant hybrid. From his description I said seventy five. He talked the seller down from one hundred to sixty. When seeing the bike a couple weeks later I was very impressed.   We looked it up on the internet and determined the bike was four hundred dollars new. He complained it was too tall for him and later sold it for one twenty.  I doubt he could have gotten more, seeing the pictures on Craig's list.  It was difficult distinguishing the quality of this Giant from a two dollar Murray.

Lisa is very good at photography. I explained to Andrew the value of taking good pictures. That he needed to illustrate the quality parts such as the derailleur, chrome wheels, brakes, and sprocket. I told him to get a close up of the welds, the condition of the paint, and lack of rust. I mentioned Craig's List allowed up to four photos per item. He grabbed his younger brothers 5 MP Kodak camera and started shooting. Thinking he was not up for the job, I went and grabbed Lisa's 12MP Canon and flash. After taking the four pictures I ran downstairs and photo-edited them with GIMP. Andrew already had his pictures loaded on the computer. Though I told him my pictures were better, in the end I was convinced otherwise. From his fifteen and my four we chose three of his and one of mine.

A few minutes after Lisa returned with the gas Andrew had the Homelite weed eater running like new. With the red bike posted on Craig's List the focus was now directed at selling the Homelite weed eater. I new it would be a more difficult sale.  People aren't interested in fixing a used weed eater and words nor pictures can convince the quality.

A few minutes after getting the Homelite weed eater running, the phone rang. A gentleman asked if we had sold the bike. He mentioned he would be in Chesterfield around 9am on Sunday. Sunday morning rolled around where Andrew and I hung out in the garage. 9am passed but we did not hear the phone ring. 10am we went back in house where we heard the phone.  The gentleman sounding frantic, "I called at 9am but noone answered, did you sale the bike already?". "No", I said. He mentioned he would be over in a half hour. The gentleman who promptly showed up was about my age. He said he was from Arnold and he wanted to buy it as a surprise for his son's 14th birthday. He said he has a similar quality bike as old as this one. The gentleman was so excited about getting the bike for his son he paid the original asking price of $60. He provided the money with three twenties. I separated the twenties into two hands, one twenty in one hand and two twenties in the other. I first handed Andrew the two twenties telling him it was his. Then I handed him the remaining twenty telling him to ride over to Joe's house and give him the other twenty. Andrew may have felt he fulfilled the sales transaction with Joe over a bottle of Gatorade. I new that was unfair and I saw an opportunity for a life lesson. Andrew got on one of the several other bikes in our garage and headed over to Joe's house. Before the gentleman from Arnold left Andrew returned with a glimmer in his eye. Maybe Joe's suprise when Andrew handed him twenty dollars captured a similar glimmer. My tears swelled up as the gentleman drove away. Tears with anticipation of his son witnessing the red bicycle for the first time.  With the sun at my back I watched the car fade in the distance. At last the peddle sparkled a goodwill farewell.

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1For Sale - Taboo Topics00002-27-1009-12-12

 



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Life is like riding a bicycle; you don't fall off unless you stop pedaling. Claude Pepper

 

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