With the 20/20 vision that the rose-coloured glasses of hindsight provide, history can be boiled down to more clichés and monumental confrontations for the most part. Clashes replete with victors and losers. The making and breaking of civilizations. Bush V Gore, The Romans V Everyone, Napoleon V debilitating shortness, the American Public V the chance at decent healthcare… The list goes on. The foundations of history are cemented in time on the bedrock of epic struggles and here we revisit another, for the education and enlightenment of the listener.
It was in the middle of the Summer of Joel; joyous, simpler times when we were free to play endlessly in the mornings and watch R-Rated movies in the afternoons. No parents, no chores and oftentimes no underpants, we were like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, or Oprah and that other lady that comes round too often. Actually, did Huck and Tom ever meet? Hmm. Maybe like Sonny and Cher but without the breakup bits. Anyway, they were simpler times. A large portion of our adventuring in those days centered around Joel’s 70cc Honda motorcycle which I’m sure his Dad bought from someone who also happened to sell human organs and semi-automatic weapons. Maybe they did a trade of some kind. No matter, because the bike was amazing. It had a great rolling Stones tongue sticker and another feature: No guard for the muffler, so if you sat on the back at the wrong angle you got massive 3rd degree burns on your inner thigh and had to explain to mum how you’re weren’t hiding smokes in your pants and could she leave you on the bathroom floor in peace please. I didn’t care if I never got to steer because sitting on the back was just as fun, and was a position unhindered by annoying fine-print, like responsibility and sober. I even built a wooden sled once so Cory could haul us around on the grass. Fun until I slid over a rock, nearly requiring a bowel resection and recurring nightmares about a faucet washer the doctor brought along, the impending utility of which was explained in vague terms and pats on the head by my parents. The achilles heel of the little Honda however, was that power wasn’t really it’s forté. I know this may surprise some of you, since it’s engine was about half the size of the one in my sister’s barbie corvette. Sure, Joel carried me for thousands of miles in the caring embrace of it’s 70 cubic centimeters of raw grunt, but it had the power to weight ratio of a Galapagos turtle; accelerating slightly faster than Larry King‘s eyebrow growth in summer. This led me to the absurd assumption that I might, just might, be able to beat it in a race on my BMX. I figured if I fixed the race enough to even the odds, it might actually be winnable. So, with eternal glory as the stakes, since neither of us had any money, I proposed a race on the 100yd sprint track on the school field. Joel scoffed and said I was an idiot, which on the one hand was entirely true, according to historical evidence, but on the left hand meant he was falling completely into my trap. Beguiled by the glint in my eye, he heartily agreed to the face-off and we gathered near the starting line. We were like birds of prey, to be honest, or giant cats. Joel with his fingers tightly on the accelerator thingy whose name escapes me, gunning the bike and ignoring the angry backfires. My toes digging through my fake Reeboks to the sharp steel teeth of the pedal below, leg tendons taut, making up for the muscle atrophy that had plagued me my whole life. There was no starting gun, checkered flag girl or eye-witnesses, so I surreptitiously mumbled “GO” under my breath and spent off like a malnourished bolt of lightening.
Everything went quiet and time stopped. My surroundings faded into the background. The loud complaining of the Honda as it lurched off the line behind me. The clumps of grass cracking my chin into the handlebars and giving me instantaneous arthritis, on the world’s bumpiest running track other than whatever option they give you at Guantánamo. The humming bird waving gaily at me, wings slowly beating as it moved aside. My speed was never measured that day. We probably didn’t have the technology or the wisdom to even contemplate speeds like that back then. There was only one other time in my life I’ve pedaled faster, but that’s for another time. But my hypothesis had been correct: The BMX and my skinny legs had more than enough power to beat the honda off the line, even though in a much longer race, like Paris to Dakar for instance, or maybe 102 yards, it would have gained the upper hand. As I practically flew over the finish line, arms aloft to soak up the adulation from the invisible crowd, I could hear 70cc’s of roaring power coming swiftly behind me. Sure, it took a while to get going, but the Honda name wasn’t going down without a fight. Joel zoomed past me, and then curiously continued on. Curiously, because there was nothing further on but the thick adobe wall of the school grounds. Lesser, fearful men would have applied the brakes at this point, but Joel was no mere mortal. The bike slammed into the wall at what was now a pretty decent speed, flinging Joel off backwards into the air, crashing firmly on his buttocks down the slight embankment. Here it gets pretty weird: Joel leapt to his feet, grabbed a nearby stick and started beating the weary Honda, all the while shouting “stupid bike!” and rubbing his butt. It must make quite a noise, crashing a motorbike into a wall, because the rest of Joel’s family appeared out of nowhere and grabbed him like a bunch of NY cops before he could do any more damage to the concussed two-wheeler. Even after my glorious win, I was completely ignored and celebrated by myself on the swings. Oh well. For days later you could see Magnum P.I. outside their house with his tools, muttering and cursing under his breath, trying everything he could to straighten out the banana-like front forks on the Honda. Joel didn’t ride it for a while after that; preferring the freedom and solace that being grounded provided. Another of history’s great skirmishes sadly destined to have no victors whatsoever.