2007-07-20 - 12:48 p.m.
“John, you’re about the closest thing to a brother I have, so take this as a kindness, but…are you fucking stupid?”
Apparently, that’s not her name…
I had, I thought, a beautiful name picked out for her. I’d put some thought into it, and worked it out. Granted it was a reference to a Eighteenth-century historical figure, about whom most of my knowledge stemmed from a science fiction show, but it seemed pretty, and, well, rather right to have a geeky tie to the title.
Nickname of Madame de Pompadour, liaison to King Louis XV, uncrowned queen of France, actress, courtesan…fantastic gardener, or so I’ve heard.
Maybe it was the historical significance, or the link to a favorite TV show. Maybe I just really thought it was pretty. But that was it. That was the name. It was christened.
Not so much.
With a steel-toed boot lodged into pavement, and my skinny little forearms struggling to hold up two-hundred and thirty pounds of angry machinery, I looked down to my brand new scooter, muttering...
“You think it’s too prissy, don’t you?
I revved the throttle after finally standing it up, and she leapt out, with me chasing behind.
I don’t have, what you might call, a good relationship with motorized vehicles. Hell, just vehicles in general. We don’t exactly seem to see eye to eye. I’m generally not fond of throwing myself around at high speeds, and they don’t seem to appreciate being putted around by someone with the apparent driving skills of a lobotomized sea turtle.
We see each other across the room, nod cordially, and then quickly pace in opposite directions muttering disparaging epithets under our breath.
It’s what we do. It’s how we operate.
My grandfather did most of the bike lessons for my sisters when they were growing up. By the time I was to leap upon the twin wheels, he was in and out of hospitals. So, my mom booted my dad out into the front yard to help me learn my way around that awkward transport.
I fell. A lot.
And I had the training wheels on.
Sporting a scabby knee after all of twenty minutes in heated discussions with the bi-axeled devil, my dad, humanitarian he was, ushered me back inside, where the safe, enveloping glow of Saturday morning cartoons could dull the sting of Bacatrecin. I liked it better there.
I wanted to drive, though. That, I couldn’t wait for. If only for the reason that I could drive out to the local movie theater and take in my solo, three movie marathons, without mumsy dearest psychoanalyzing my apparent anti-social behavior.
Unfortunatly, the rule in our family was to wait till seventeen to get your permit, despite the fact that state law allowed me to get one at sixteen. For a year I railed against my mother’s apparent lack of patriotism for questioning the U.S. Government.
And then, after I finally did take the test, the government ended up siding with my Mom.
No, it didn’t help that the gentleman giving me the test was mocking me three ways from Sunday; calling out to his buddies on the street to watch ‘how he fucks up this left turn. No, seriously, man. You high or what?!”
I didn’t help that my nerves were vibrating at a frequency that could be heard by dogs.
It didn’t help that my Dad, convinced I should learn to ride a bike before I went for a car, kept insisting, “Question 13B…you’ll never get it unless you’ve ridden a bike.”
No, none of that helped, but still, it doesn’t change the fact that I failed my driver’s license test because I couldn’t back into a space.
I failed on parking.
Most would have laughed it off, and then gone to take it again. I would have, probably. But then I realized my Dad had his car commuting hours back and forth everyday, my Mom wouldn’t let me even sniff the steering wheel of her Acura, the fifty bucks I had saved up wouldn’t buy a decent skateboard, and I really, really, didn’t feel like even taking the chance of failing on parking again.
Parking...I mean, my God...
My friends had already ripped me about five new ones for he faux pas, and any request for a ride was greeted as an opening to tear yet another asshole into the bleeding corpse of my ego.
So, I never got my license. Never learned to ride a bike.
I went out to a sidewalk college in Iowa that only occasionally demanded me jump a bus. (Although wheeling those kegs in a Radio Flyer was somewhat less than ideal.) Then I moved to New York, where owning a car is a verifiable sign of chemical imbalance, or, at least, insanity. Seriously, since insanity can be defined as repeating the same actions and expecting a different result, how else would you explain people who park on the street and get surprised every time their front bumper gets banged up?
Sure, I’ve driven in emergency, when I was the only sober one at the party, but outside of three or four odd instances, me and engines have kept a fair distance.
It might have been best that way.
“Hey, man, you need to get a second helmet.”
“For the ladies.”
You get more than a few comments riding around on a scooter, or so I’ve learned in the last week. Sure, the two wheeled aren’t that terribly rare in my neighborhood. Every restaurant with delivery service has some kid strapped to one. (Back up career plan!) Still, we get looks. The gent on the bike with the helmet advice for one; the two ladies behind him for two.
Thing is, of course, they’re checking out the scooter. Not you. So often the scoot gets looks and not me, that I’m starting to gain an affinity for those ladies who have to continually insist, “Hello! I’m up here!”
Then again, do I really want them taking in my dorky-rendition-of-Speed-Racer look? That's the problem with helmets: The safer the helmet, the geekier it looks. Full face helmets can look cool…on a motorcycle. On a retro looking scooter, though, it’s ketchup on ice cream. Just doesn't match. And you're left with a choice: Death or doofy.
Considering my history, I’ll have to contend with being a big motha-fuckin’ doof. With a big ass helment. And a full face shield. And big honkin boots. And a leather jacket. In ninety degree heat. And tin foil wrapped around my knees. (I heard it helps.)
As for ladies creeping up on the back of my scooter, I’m thinking not so much, at least until I can take a turn without slamming my feet into the street, and cursing like I’ve got a splinter in my ass. It’s something of a prerequisite.
They’ve only half paved Bedford Avenue. I’m on the other half, rumbling over potholes grooves and oil tracks, trying to keep hold of the handlebars that seem to keep wobbling around like a bit of jello perched atop a blender.
And there’s a cop behind me.
“Okay, hon." I say between bounces. "We just need to get to the light.”
I lean forward a little to even the balance, scoot my hips to avoid a particularly gaping hole, and bank left to avoid a benign looking, but possibly problematic bundle of sand, all while still cruising at what feels like a brisk thirty miles per hour. Then the cop goes right ahead and passes me on the left, yawning along the way. Despite a wobble or two, I make it through the construction area without incident.
I pull to a stop, and the engine rears back gently into a slow steady purr.
She likes that name better.
Now, I’m not saying we’ve forged a viable relationship yet...but at least we’re talking.
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