My Life

The Day I Lost Control of the Banana

It all started with a bicycle and a random gaggle of neighborhood boys.

Bicycles were cool. You simply had to have one if you wanted any kind of street rep. There was no discussion on the matter. If you did not have a bicycle, your rank in society was in question, at the very least, and you might even be subject to merciless torment, depending on the budding testosterone levels and the heat of the day.

I did happen to have a bicycle, which gave me a leg up, but it was a very questionable example of a bicycle. I’m not even sure how I came into possession of this thing, but it had been clearly modified over the years. Things were just not right. You couldn’t put your finger on it, but some critical wow factor was simply amiss with that contraption.

And it had a banana seat.

Now, I wasn’t schooled in the mechanical history of bicycles, but I knew enough to realize that they didn’t always have banana seats. I’m not sure if they ever should have had banana seats, those elongated, slightly-phallic things that could probably seat three separate individuals if everyone positioned themselves just right. I’m sure they were a fad at one point, but that era had faded into the dust by the time I assumed ownership of this vehicle.

So, I was cool, but only on a conditional basis. To seal the deal, I had to prove that I could also ride the thing, and ride it in a macho manner that would completely dispel any inclinations to brand me a sissy. I must prove my worth.

Bit of background: My training in the proper operation of a bicycle was notably minimal. This critical schooling took place when Mom was still married to Dad, and we still lived in Tulsa, so, at most, I was 6 years old. Dad plunked me on a bicycle he had found, (screw the training wheels), got behind me, and started running and pushing the bike when my own pedaling efforts proved unsatisfactory.

Dad ran faster and faster, my tiny feet flying off the pedals that were whipping around in a blur, and then with a tremendous grunt Dad shoved me forward with Herculean strength. I shot down the quaint little urban street with amazing velocity, left to my own devices. Dad did not believe in expending any wasted time on things like nurturing, carefully-controlled learning environments, or my undetermined capacity to save my own ass.

So basically, I had just a very few seconds to either learn how to control a speeding vehicle, or die. After several jarring pedal-whacks that tore hunks of flesh out of my legs, I managed to get my feet properly positioned and was actually somewhat responsible for the speed of the bicycle, although I had to pump my legs with incredible rapidity, looking like a hamster on diet pills.

The body can do amazing things in times of stress, and somehow I gained mastership of the bicycle. And the wobbling stopped. I could actually steer the thing. I did a few lazy arcs back and forth across the street, my heart still racing, but now in a good way. I was riding a bike, on my own and not dying. I eventually did a full turn and headed back up the street toward home, grinning and happy.

Dad was already walking back in the house. I hadn’t been killed, so he was done. No congratulations, no kudos. My smile and the speed of the bike tapered off. I was six years old, and already knew this routine, knew this wall. There was something missing in him, something he couldn’t give, or didn’t know how to give. I slowly pulled up to the curb in front of the house, dismounted, thought a bit about things that six-year-olds shouldn’t have to think about, then went to put my bike away.

Flash forward to the boys in the hood at the new house in Broken Arrow, after the divorce, with the neighborhood gang assessing my ride. One of the older boys had a question: “Can you ride that thing down The Hill?”

The Hill. This was located on the next street over, to the east. The area around our house and the accompanying street was flat as a board. As was most of the county. But here and there in the burg were these odd hills that rose dramatically out of the landscape. Probably had something to do with the pressure of massive glaciers back in the day, but who knows, I’m not a geologist. We just had these random hills, that’s all we knew.

And The Hill in question was a real humdinger. The street where it was situated started out flat as hell like most of the streets, but then you suddenly encountered this mind-boggling, very steep incline that shot up at an amazing angle. If you were in a car, you had to shift into a lower gear just to get up the thing, since the road was gravel and traction was always in question. So this menacing hill became a proving ground for the entertainment-starved boys in the neighborhood. If you could ride your bike down the hill and survive, what with the astonishing speeds you couldn’t help but attain, then you were fairly hip and possibly worthy of admiration.

I gulped and carefully considered my response to the inquiring older boy. “Well, I haven’t tried it on this bike.” (I hadn’t tried it on ANY bike, but I was hoping to save my ass here.) “This thing’s pretty old. Maybe I better wait until I get a better bike…”

Luckily, the gang took another glance at my modified ride and decided I was probably right, maybe not a good idea to take the Mt. Everest plunge on something as questionable as what was currently between my legs. But the big boys wanted to make a run anyway, so all of us made our way to the next street over.

Once at the base of the mountain, us younger guys took up a watching position down below, while the older guys made the long trek to the top, pushing and shoving their bikes ahead of them since there was no possible way to ride up the hill. Then, one by one, the big boys plunged over the crest of the hill and raced downward, shooting past the peanut gallery at the base with amazing speed, the wind pressure flattening our cheeks into ghoulish masks as they zoomed to the right or the left of the ancient tree in the middle of the road.

Yes, dear reader, there was a tree right smack in the center of the gravel road at the point where the street leveled off. I guess somebody thought this was a really cute idea, leaving the tree standing and making drivers swerve around it. It was Oklahoma in the 70’s, need I say more?

Eventually, all of the older boys made their run, and then they raced home for dinner. The rest of the younger boys tagged along after them. Until it was just me at the base of the hill, staring up at the precipice above me as the lowering sun cast odd shadows across the landscape. And then madness seized me with its seductive hands.

I decided I was going to try it, hybrid bike be damned.

There I went, trudging up the hill, shoving my piece of crap bike ahead of me. To say it took a while is an understatement. It took forever. Loads of sweat and strain later, I reached the summit. Wiping my brow, I turned to survey the perilous descent below me. I could barely see the massive tree in the middle of the road, way down yonder. Oh boy. But something egged me on, maybe the ghost of a six-year-old that just wanted validation, and I was going to do this. I straddled my bike, took a deep breath, and rolled forward.

The first several seconds were deceptively easy. I really wasn’t moving that fast. I actually thought I might enjoy this little mission. But then gravity and physics muscled their way in, and before I knew it I was hurtling downward in a jaw-dropping rush of utter panic. I lost all sense of time and space. I was beyond anything that I understood. Things were happening so fast that my quivering brain could not process the input.

Then the handlebars started to shimmy. I was cognizant enough to realize that this was not a good development, but I didn’t know what was expected of me to correct the situation. The front wheel was wobbling at an alarming rate as I approached the final third of the descent. Oh, this was SO not good.

Then the front wheel took on a life of its own, jerking dramatically to the left and completely locking up the bike. It stopped moving, but I didn’t. Suddenly, I was airborne over the handlebars. Stupidly, I didn’t let go of those handlebars, clinging to them with some short-circuited fervor.

I slammed into the gravel roadway with a brain-rattling crunch. The demon bike landed on top of me, and both of us slid the rest of the way down the hill, completely out of control and subject to some law of nature that I hadn’t studied yet. As we tumbled head over heels, my bouncing body pivoted in a crucial way and I could see where we were headed.

Directly toward that freakin’ tree in the middle of the road.

Three seconds later, we hit the stupid tree. It stopped my descent with an alarming noise that didn’t sound healthy at all. The bike was wrenched from my grasp and landed somewhere else. Gravel dust was billowing all around as I tried to figure out if I would ever be able to walk again. It was too late to scream and I was too shocked to cry, so I just laid there as chalky grit covered my body.

Then I heard a car coming.

Some instinct that I didn’t even know I had kicked in. I scrambled to my feet (okay, great, I wasn’t paralyzed) and I frantically searched for the bike. (Why I even cared about the bike at that point, I don’t know.) I spied the twisted metal a few feet away. I staggered over to it, grabbed one of the handlebars that had failed me, and half-crawled to the side of the road, falling into the ditch just seconds before the car thundered past.

I laid there for quite a while.

Eventually, I stirred and stood up, and then assessed the damage. I was bleeding in several places, but nothing seemed life-threatening. The bike, however, was a complete mess. The front wheel frame was so jacked that the tire wouldn’t even turn. And the banana seat, interestingly enough, was split.

So I took a deep breath, sucked it up, and started dragging the bike home. It took some time, because I wasn’t in the best of spirits, and everything hurt. What seemed like hours later, I made it to our yard, still lugging the now-hated, non-functioning bike, blood still dripping. Mom came racing out of the house, and it wasn’t until that exact point that I started crying. This is where I need love, people. Everybody act accordingly.

Mom, after an initial panic at the sight of me, determined that I would live, patched me up, and said all the right things. I felt much better, even though I vowed that I would never ride a bike again. (This conviction lasted approximately three days.) Then Mom startled me with an absurd question. “Well, are you ready to head to the skating rink? Remember, we’re meeting my friend Sharon and she’s bringing Kerry and Kristy so you and your sister will have somebody to play with.”

Hold up. I almost died a tragic and dusty death, I can barely bend any of my limbs, and now you want me to go skating? With those Hellion Twins that I can’t stand to be around? You have GOT to be kidding me.

But she wasn’t.

I sighed and hobbled to the car, where I sat in the back seat and studied my new wounds and watched things flash past the window, waiting for the day when I made better decisions and had more control and there were no stupid trees in the middle of the road.

 

Note: This is a modified excerpt from one of my Memory Remix stories, “George of the Jungle”, originally published on 02/04/10. The banana bike was purple, by the way, not yellow, for those who might be curious, George. And the photo is of a tree in Spain, not the tree on The Hill in Broken Arrow. But still, it’s a tree.

 

50 replies »

  1. So many thoughts….
    1. The banana seat does bring other things to my mind. Not innocent things, for sure.
    2. Split banana. Again..the head doing nasty things.
    3. When I learned to ride a bike, I rode straingh onto the side of a rather large buffalo quietly minding its own business on the side of the road (the cows and buffalos on the road were not entirely Indian cliché’s in the 1980s). Thankfully, Indian buffalos are pretty inert. Other than the handlebar bending, the animal didn’t come after me.
    4. Your mom didn’t land you a juicy one on the rear when you returned? Mine did.

    Liked by 2 people

    • 1. And it’s the “other things to mind” that drove me to come up with the title for this blog post.
      2. Yep, we’re still on the same page.
      3. Wow, you had the artistry to slam into a buffalo while I took the rather mundane route of slamming into a tree. I greatly admire your creative foresight and planning.
      4. That came later. We were too pressed for time, as we had to get to the skating rink so Mom could look for a new husband… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had to Google ‘Banana seat bicycle’ and low and beyond I was shown pictures of what in England were called ‘Choppers’. This was as unfortunate as calling the seat a banana since the chopper is slang for the most delicate part of the male anatomy. NO wonder I grew up confused.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I had a spider bike (that’s what we called them), bright pink with a banana seat. I loved it. Reading how your father taught you how to ride made me wonder if he taught you how to swim. Oh my…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This tale brought back a memory of my brothers and their friends. What is it about males in clusters that brings out the machismo factor so strongly? They (brothers) built a bike ‘ramp’ (no handy hills to commit theoretic suicide upon) out of some old, splinter-ridden plywood, a couple of cinder blocks and some old tires. Then commenced to race up the ‘ramp’ and fly a few feet doing spins and other idiocies I’ve observed only males on bikes doing. The board creaked alarmingly and there were a few ear splitting cracks time and again, and then finally one of the friends (a loud mouthed sarky individual) took a turn and the board gave up it’s attempt at togetherness. It split, catching the front wheel of the kid’s bike, and hurtling him over into old cinder blocks and causing the bike to drag it’s occupant, face down, along the street. Covered in that pebbly tarmac tar stuff that they use in Utah in an attempt to foil the inevitable damage to road surfaces by the harsh winters and summers. This kid lay there face down and we all thought he was dead. A girl in the crowd (our next door neighbor) kept saying “My mom’s a nurse..” over and over..until finally someone said “Well FFS (and the F bomb was NOT dropped in 1975 Utah) GO GET HER. The boy was rescued, his face probably still bears the scars of gravel and cinder block chips, and I bet he had a hard time ever getting back on a bike for a very long time.

    Liked by 3 people

    • My son and his fellow brood built a ramp and for a brief few hours, it landed in our front yard. None of them had seen that sweet Southern Belle grow fangs and growl like a rabid dog before.
      Well, leave it up to my youngest daughter to “teach them a lesson.” She rode my sons’ bicycle up and over, hit the ground and dug a ditch about a mile deep with her mouth. The doctor called it a “degloved mandible.” She didn’t do it again and at the risk of torture and a slow death, the boys removed it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Okay, since I never know where my comment is going to land when multiple people have already replied to a comment, I’ll address all three of you with this one.

      Embeecee: Your hysterical story (“GO GET HER”!) is similar to what some of the much older boys did around the same time as me not watching out for that tree. They had these go-cart racer things (I’m sure the contraptions had a name, I don’t remember it now, but they ran on gasoline) and they would terrorize the neighborhood, sputtering all over the place. One day, they also built a ramp, smack in the middle of the street, so the idiocy was already evident. The first three or four boys achieved flight and great acclaim. Then one fool gunned it too much, lost control before he ever GOT to the ramp, and slammed into the back-end of a pickup parked in the driveway of one of the school principals. Needless to say, there were no more ramps built after that point.

      Laurel: Love the description of “dug a ditch about a mile deep with her mouth”, although I’m sure your daughter (and you) weren’t impressed with the situation at the time.

      Osyth: Males are NOT to be trusted, ever, never mind the bikes…

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  5. And it didn’t occur to me until after that last incredibly long comment, but I noted that in your story and mine, no tender fruitage of the vines were damaged. Given the proclivity of teenaged boys at the time to wear only jean shorts and go commando, that’s simply amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. OMG. The first thing that popped into my mind when I read “banana” was….well, I think you know. You’ve talked about “pickles” so i just figured..hey, there’s no telling what he calls other things. I think you’re safe with hooter. (at least that’s what I call them.)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “I was six years old, and already knew this routine, knew this wall. There was something missing in him, something he couldn’t give, or didn’t know how to give.”

    I want you to know that when I read that statement, my brain froze and I was stuck on that street next to you, trying to pat your back or tousle your hair or something… anything.
    Anyway, glad to hear you didn’t break anything, and in spite of taking you skating, I remain a big fan of your Mom.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I had a red sparkle banana seat, on my red Scwhinn Sting Ray. The cross bar was sanded clean by the Daily Oklahoman bag that hung between the ape hanger handlebars. Sting Rays were the “bike de choix” of the paper route set. Some guys tried with side baskets, but we scoffed. My dad also scoffed at training wheels, so there were none. And that bike was six feet tall. The hill was on Barnes, and ended on the bridge over the creek. It was unpaved and littered with small whiskey bottles, a testament to the glory of facing the suburbs about to be entered. Ahhh…No wonder there’s a generation of people addicted to Preparation H. And Bactine. And have way more scar stories than their children.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have no idea what my bike was, other than purple with a banana seat. But I did do the paper route thing, albeit in the manner of riding in the back of my stepdad’s Bronco, madly rubber-banding the thick-ass Sunday edition of the Tulsa World, handing my efforts off to said stepdad who would then hurl them out into the predawn night, belching and reaching for another beer. (I’ve got some stories on this, somewhere. Might need to dig them out.) Life was different, then. And possibly better than the over-protected youth of today..

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      • Sunday, if the weather was bad or football practice was on (otherwise I was on my own) I’d sit on the tailgate of the station wagon after folding ALL the papers first, at all three drops the paper driver made on Sundays. One parent or the other would drive, the dog would lick my ear and all of them were retentive about where the paper landed. My father would say things like “You call yourself a quarterback?” We should dredge the paperboy stories pond. Purple is cool!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’ve got plenty of dredges from the paperboy stories pond, from “Picking out a donut at Winchell’s at 1am on a Sunday morning” to “It’s now 6am and I can’t even remember how a rubber band works and if I spot one more dumb-ass cow chewing its cud on the side of an extremely-remote country road, I’m going to go postal”. Yep, we could do a story collection, mmm hmm…

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  9. Your account is gripping. I was so worried for you, heading down the hill on your crazy bike…and then that blasted tree!! I had to read quickly to find out how badly you were injured.

    The account of your 6 year-old self is triumphant and crushing, all at once.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I love sharing nostalgic stories, because we always look back on older times with a warmer heart than we had while those things were happening. It gives the events a little glow they wouldn’t have otherwise, even if the story involves stupid little boys doing questionable things… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, Super! Thanks for the compliment. And yes, I have self-published two books so far, both of them travel tales concerning family vacations. (I know, that sounds incredibly drab, but initial appearances are often misleading here at Bonnywood.) If you liked the post above, you’ll get along fine with the books, and you can find out more deets by scrolling up to the top of this page and perusing the two books links in the far right column. I appreciate you asking!

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