Why learn to balance on two wheels when you don't have to?
I don't remember exactly when I learned to ride a bicycle, but I'm pretty sure I was the last of my peers to acquire the skill. I have a vague notion that it wasn't even necessarily my idea. Somehow we ended up borrowing an old and rusted girls' bike with training wheels, a literal vehicle for shame and embarrassment. I knew that the whole world was watching me as I wobbled up and down the sidewalk. Ha, ha! Look at that kid who hasn't learned how to ride a bike yet! I kept my head down, tried to keep my balance, and wondered how I had unwittingly fallen behind the rest of the pack. Like every childhood drama, it seemed terribly important at the time.
My first experience with self-propelled vehicles was the classic tricycle, which by all accounts I heartily enjoyed. It was the standard, all-metal model with a runner between the back wheels. I am told that it was stolen from our front yard one night, a heartless thievery that I do not recall, yet I am willing to cast blame upon the anonymous robber for activating latent neuroses. If ever I am called to plead my case before a jury, I'm blaming whatever I did on the tricycle thief.
The news came while I was at work, courtesy of a text message from my wife. It was not unexpected. We had been discussing the issue for months, but it took a surprising amount of courage to see our decision through to its implementation. Staring at my phone, I sighed with the knowledge that what was done was done, and life would never be quite the same. "It's official," read the message. "Our land line is no more!"
Maintaining a phone line into our home was costing us $420 a year, an expense that was hard to justify now that everyone in our family of four carries a dedicated cell phone. There were few advantages to keeping things as they were. We did liked the peace of mind that came with communication redundancy, the smug assurance that should sun spots interfere with satellites and cell towers, we still had a sure-fire means of making and receiving calls. Also, it was easier to have someone just pick up an extension rather than engineering a three-way cell phone call. And it's nice to hear the phone ringing throughout the house and be able to answer it quickly without being tethered to a device. But $420 for such luxuries? We realized that never would we have taken on the expense as a new expenditure, and it became clear that we were keeping a land line mostly because we had always had one. Not much of a rationale for spending money that could be better used elsewhere.
"We kept getting jostled from all the kids dancing with wild abandon."
This Monday will be the tenth anniversary of one of the most improbable and unusual adventures experienced by my parents, and I am the one to blame. By the time it was all over, our quirky story had been covered twice by the local newspaper. Mom and Dad became small-town celebrities for a brief time, recounting the incident for everyone from fellow church parishioners to Dad's doctor. They came across favorably as loving parents who gamely went along with a bit of outrageousness solely to indulge their youngest son. I was 32 at the time; they were 67.
The story began more than 20 years earlier, though none of us could have known that at the time. Who would have thought that a few nonchalantly expressed words from my father would have such a long-range impact? Who could have foreseen how the longevity and vicissitudes of an aging rock star's career would one day illuminate those forgotten words with the intensity of an enticing marquee? But that is what happened, and Dad saw to it that he was a man of his word, even if it meant fulfilling a casual promise decades later.