Friday, March 06, 2009

Flashback Fridays

Inspired by last month’s foray into the archives in search of contest entry material, I’ve decided to feature a few weeks worth of Flashback Fridays—previously unposted oldies I’m pulling put, dusting off, and potentially re-working into an upcoming project. Today’s piece is from a proposal for a book that got prematurely abandoned. (The project was entitled Defying Physics: What Newton didn’t tell you about stuffed animals, deep dark fears, and women over 30—by way of explanation for the later reference to the book’s title.)

Biff and Alice

Circumstances forced us to spell out the raw facts of life to our eight-year-old son.

In support of a family-fundraising-slash-spring-cleaning event, Brandon had obediently collected his outgrown assets. The process had been thoroughly uneventful until it became time to price his wares.

There was some back and forth. Things lost their value, my husband was explaining, citing specific items from the gathered assemblage as evidence. Then the conversation turned to Biff and Alice.

I was curious how my husband might handle the query. A refresher look at the title of the book you’re reading should soundly argue my qualifications for tackling the sticky issue of depreciation with the younger generation. The concept has eluded me since my own youth.

In grade school, two classmates and I assembled some odds and ends in front of Sunshine Flagg’s house in a mildly successful attempt to fund an evening at the traveling carnival that had set up down the road. As Sunshine’s mother described it to mine later, managerial conflict was largely limited to disagreement over the pricing of merchandise. I wanted way too much coin for too little bauble, while Sunshine, on the other hand, seemed content to haul our treasures to the curb and simply give them away. (The third party, a neighborhood ruffian named Rob, was a late arrival to the venture and had to be included due to a distant relational affiliation with Sunshine. He somehow wound up taking a cut of the carnival goods in spite of the fact that his sole contribution to the venture was siding with whatever position was more controversial.)

The summer of the yard sale, when I learned the necessity of driving a hard bargain against the ravages of depreciation was the same summer I found out that, unlike my classmates, I did not care for Shawn Cassidy. It was also the summer Sunshine’s aunt Joan taught us the maxim “every cloud has a silver lining.” (My mother thought the observation to be sage, hard wrought advice from the voice of experience, but in truth was merely Aunt Joan’s response to getting to spend time with her boyfriend while supervising us at the aforementioned carnival.)

Thus, I have spent the intervening years in blissful rebellion against the laws of nature, the silver lining here that I can write witty, tongue in cheek prose about my aberrant tendencies. I am, however, tentative about inflicting my own children with such wanton disregard for what I’ve heard others describe as the way things are.

I was, therefore, relieved to hear my husband’s response from the other room. “Biff might be an exception,” he conceded. “What did I pay for Biff? Seven dollars?”

Yes, I agreed, seven dollars.

“I’ll bet you could still get seven dollars for Biff.”

Biff is an old, working class bike that my husband picked up at the thrift store after our daughter Allison’s fifth birthday when she was having difficulty learning to ride her birthday present—a shiny pink model she christened Alice.

We tried, with limited success, to create the scrapbook moment oft used as fodder for life insurance commercials where the father of a young rider runs down the road grasping the back seat of a shiny new two-wheeler. In the ads, the smiling dad slowly relinquishes his grip as the small rider gains speed and confidence and breaks into a toothless grin upon realization that she’s flying solo.

Dozens of such attempts had failed. My husband fatigued. Allison remained stiff, uncertain, afraid to tumble.

“She’s not afraid to crash,” my husband wheezed, “she’s afraid to crash Alice.”

Allison, my husband explained, did not need a support father to learn to ride. This was something she’d have to conquer head on, by herself and for herself –girl vs. front walk, the hard way. It made sense. That was, after all, how I’ve learned just about everything I know.

“You don’t need an Alice right now,” he explained to Allison after returning from the thrift store. Biff, my husband explained, was tough. Well aquatinted with pavement scrapes, Biff could handle the bumps and bangs of the learning experience. Biff, the heavy-duty pick up of the cycling world, wasn’t around to look pretty. Having spent his rust-free youth, Biff had moved on to a higher calling.

Biff’s tough-stuff, no nonsense reputation was never questioned, despite shades of pink and purple still visible beneath myriad scuffs and blemishes-- not even when he was deployed for Brandon’s own training days.

With the aid of Biff and several months’ growth, Allison became a top-notch cyclist. Astride Alice, she pedaled many happy miles, grew even taller, and is now tooling around on Slice, a hefty mountain bike. Brandon eventually grew into his own sleek ride.

Alice, having served her time parading around in streamers sporting little woven baskets and flashy wheel jewelry, is ready to get down to business. There’s a little girl out there somewhere who’s ready to take her scrapes and lumps and conquer the open road. A little shiny around the edges, Alice is still a rookie. She’ll go to a new home at the entry-level rate of $7.

Biff, however, is a seasoned veteran, having gone head to head with both my children’s most spectacular road wars. Survivor of training missions, tested on asphalt, gravel and forest floor, Biff has weathered wind, rain, ice and mud. It’s a wealth of experience he’ll take into his next assignment.

Biff’s not going anywhere for a penny less than $8.

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