by Richard Daub
Day after Christmas, 1983, fifth grade, in the attached garage at Eric’s house—
“They got you a Huffy?” Eric laughed, referring to Carl’s new bike. “Huffys are for losers. Did they buy it at Sears?”
“I don’t know,” Carl said, knowing they probably did. His mother always took them to Sears to buy school clothes. “I asked for a Mongoose.”
In Massapequa, Mongoose was the Corvette of BMX bikes, while their “Supergoose” model was like a Ferrari. Huffys were like a Le Car.
Last Christmas, Eric’s parents—who’d told their children at an early age that there was no Santa or God—had gotten him a Mongoose “Californian” with maraschino red rims, grips, seat, and pads for the handlebar and frame.
This Christmas, “Santa” got Carl a Huffy “Challenger 3000” with dorky black-and-white checkered flag pads.
“I have an idea,” Eric said. “It’ll be classic.”
He started peeling the stickers off the Huffy. Carl did not object. Then, with a Phillips head screwdriver, he removed the bulky plastic chainguard, revealing the freshly greased chain that would stain the inside right cuff of Carl’s new Levi’s, another Christmas present, Carl finally able to completely phase out his Toughskins.
Afterwards they set out in the cold gray winter afternoon, Carl on his stripped Huffy and Eric on his Mongoose, riding two-and-a-half miles to the Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in neighboring Seaford, where both their families were members—despite their atheism, Eric’s parents were members for “appearances, etc.,” while Carl’s mother felt it was her obligation to force her childhood religion onto her children and new husband, who was raised Catholic but didn’t give a damn where he spent his Sunday mornings coming down.
“I knew it,” Eric said as they stopped in front of the bike rack just outside the entrance to the “Youth Activity Center”—the “YAC”—at the back of the church building. And there it was, chain-locked next to a flowery white wicker basketed “girl’s bike,” a supposedly rare “Miami Beach Limited Edition” Mongoose “Supergoose” with teal pads and lower frame bar stickered with the super cool supergoose logo in the lowercase black outline with yellow-to-orange sunset gradient fill, and chrome tire caps on both tires.
The bikes belonged to Garry and Jill, twin siblings from Seaford the same age as Eric and Carl, who Eric remembered from his one year of Sunday school back in kindergarten as being serious dorks. They apparently still were, according to Eric’s older sister, who attended the confirmation program at the “YAC” and said they were always there doing their homework and then would spend all their free time there, then groan when Pastor Roller started shutting the lights and they had to ride their bikes home, where they were not permitted to watch television, not even PBS, or consume sugar, or play with toys, not even when they were little. Yet, inexplicably, Garry had a seriously cool bike, which Eric would see from the car when his sister was dropped off at the “YAC” every Thursday afternoon—the same bike of which they were now removing the pads and chrome tire caps and, with the aid of a razor blade, carefully peeling the supergoose sticker from the lower frame bar, which they would then carefully reapply to the same bar on Carl’s bike—
On the first day back at school after Christmas vacation, Carl’s new wheels created a stir at the bike rack. He’d never had a cool bike in his life, and, since moving to Massapequa four months earlier and finding himself utterly lost in her mall culture, it felt good to suddenly be elevated from “loser new kid” to “the kid with the Miami Beach Supergoose.” He got nervous, though, when Zack, the dirtbag kid who smoked cigarettes and referred to himself as “Zaxxon” who’d slapped a “KICK ME” sign on Carl’s back during his first day at the school, seemed to be looking at the bike suspiciously while smoking his Marlboro, but ultimately said nothing.
Everyone bought it. Carl suddenly found himself on the cusp of being cool, and even a couple of girls looked in his direction—
On a chilly Sunday in February, Carl’s mother asked him to ride up to FoodTown and pick up a gallon of milk. Normally she would have done this herself, but his five-year-old brother was running a temperature of 103, and Rick, his new “stepfather,” was in China, or Idaho, or some such faraway place for his job of corporate industrial regional international global sales, so, at the moment, he was the man of the house with an opportunity to play hero with his new bike.
At FoodTown, there were a couple of beat up ten-speeds locked to the bike rack. Carl had a combination lock and chain wrapped around his raised seat post, but it was really cold and hardly anyone was around, so he didn’t bother with it and hurried inside. He knew exactly where the milk was and got to the express lane quickly, but the line was slowed down by an old lady writing a check.
Ten minutes later he finally emerged through the slow automatic door. His bike was gone, as was one of the ten speeds. Panicked, he scanned the parking lot but saw only parked cars—
“Fuck!” he said and hurried back inside to the cold foyer with the gumball machines and pay phones and called home—
“Mom, my bike was stolen!”
Ten minutes later her new “Polar White” Mercedes “C-Class” that Rick had bought her as a wedding present pulled into the fire lane, with sister and feverish brother in the back seat—
“Why didn’t you use the lock?” she screamed.
“I don’t know!” Carl cried.
For the next hour they drove all over the greater Massapequas—Massapequa, Massapequa Park, North Massapequa, East Massapequa—and some of the lesser ones, including Massapequa Heights, North North Massapequa, and Massapequaville, near the sanitarium—but they spied no one riding bicycles in the cold.
Finally, at dusk, Carl’s mother pulled back into their driveway.
“We’ll call the police,” she said, stamping out her Kent in the ashtray full of lipsticked cigarette butts, the cabin fogged from her smoking with the windows rolled up. “What kind of bike was it again?”
“Forget it,” Carl said.
“What do you mean, ‘forget it’? That bike cost $150!”
“How do you know? I thought it came from ‘Santa.'”
Carl knew that one stung, and he was glad. “Santa” should have gotten him a Mongoose in the first place. And she never should have cheated on Dad, and never should have moved them to this horrible place where all they cared about was clothes and bikes, and she never should have married Rick “The Dick”—
“I’ll call my cousin, Joe,” she said. “He’s a cop, he can look into it—”
“No!” Carl shouted. “I don’t want the stupid bike back! Just leave me alone!”
Carl got out of the car and slammed the door. He heard his mother say, “Hey!” but ignored it, storming into the house and up to his room, slamming the door and cracking it, which “The Dick” would surely notice but he didn’t care, it was over anyway—
Richard Daub is a writer of fiction and essays. He is the author of Pork Chops and Subway Cars (Essays), Dateline: Far and Near (Collected Articles), the r-daub-a-blog Reader (Collected Blog Posts), and, with his son, Emerson, co-authored The Adventures of HyperKid young adult fiction series. He is currently working on his first collection of short stories, The Greater Massapequas, and a novel to be named later.