“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
OK, it’s a lame quote. And it doesn’t make any real sense, because the moon is like, millions of miles closer to us than the nearest star, the sun, so, if we shot for the moon and missed we’d be…somewhere between the earth and the moon, and nowhere near a star.
Still, it reminded me of when I literally wanted to shoot for the moon. For a few years of my childhood, I really wanted to be an astronaut. REALLY. I read all kinds of books about space. I even read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time over and over again, until it stopped feeling like it was melting my brain and I started understanding it (I was in middle school). I begged my parents to let me go to NASA Space Camp.
But it turns out real space camp is friggin’ expensive.
Instead, one summer, I got sent to some science daycamp at a local elementary school. We made space suits out of tinfoil and Saran Wrap and learned about planets and space shuttles.
But we did not get to pull any G forces or play in any simulators. There was no freeze-dried astronaut ice cream. They might have served us TANG.
What a letdown.
Next time my science-loving dad gives me grief about being a grad student in English Literature, I’m going to say: “Maybe if you let me go to real space camp, I’d be an astrophysicist or something right about now.”
The other day, my friend shared a link to a story about dogs who help children learn to read, just by being passive, non-judgmental, non-correcting, patient listeners. When I saw it, my first thought was, maybe my mom wasn’t so crazy after all.
You see, when I was a kid, I was made to read to a pig.
Somehow, my family wound up with an oversized supposed pot-bellied pig someone had bought as a pet, but which outgrew their expectations. The pig came to live with us because we lived outside the city, on four acres, and already had quite a menagerie, including chickens, ducks, a parrot, sometimes other birds, fish, and dogs. At other points in my childhood, we also had a tarantula named Terry, a wounded woodpecker, and a chicken who thought he was a dog (a story I’ll have to tell another time). The pig was named Porky.
At the time, my mom told me that she was worried Porky was lonely. Pigs are very intelligent creatures, and can get a little crazy when they’re not happy (much like me). So my sister and I were dispatched with books and lawn chairs, told to sit outside Porky’s pen and read him stories. Now I’m beginning to suspect it wasn’t so much for Porky’s benefit, but ours.
Personally, I think this bodes well for my future career as an English professor, because I doubt any of my students could possibly be less engaged than a pig.
Porky later displayed a tendency to escape the pen and run amok in the garden, and was eventually turned into sausage. I refused to eat him, though, on the grounds that you just don’t eat someone you’ve shared stories with. I think it’s a good policy, in general.
Last night after dinner, as the sun started to go down, my best friend and I strapped on some helmets and sped off on our trusty cycles. We zoomed down the streets of our neighborhood, racing the daylight and each other, to the soundtrack of a thousand cicadas buzzing in the trees. We made a lap around the playground, but decided not to stop and play with the other kids, instead zipping off in search of another downhill to give us a dose of speed. As I flew down the hills, as much wind as the humid Southern summer air can muster in my face, I caught myself smiling wide, tongue half-out like an eight-year-old. In my mind, I was popping wheelies, if not in reality. We perched at the top of a hill, wondering if the bright light streaking across the darkening sky was an asteroid or an airplane, and we marveled at the giant pink-tinged moon hanging over a shining state capitol building, smiling down on our city with its chubby old man face. When we pulled up to our driveway, I half expected my mom to tell us to hurry up and get bathed before bedtime– tomorrow’s a school day.
It was a wonderful way to spend an evening.
It was also a wonderful twist to a bad situation.
On Friday night, after an all-ages dance party with friends and their children (complete with glow-sticks), we came home and, as usual, I opened the back door to let the dogs out into our fenced back yard. Ten minutes later, a neighbor knocked at the door, Bessie collared in one hand, Olive running across the street. “How the heck did they get out of the fenced yard?” Olive’s a runner, but it’s usually because she’s slipped past us at the front door. We captured her and went to check out the back yard. The alley gate was open. Neither one of us had been out the back gate, so we knew someone had been IN. That’s when we noticed my bike was missing.
Let me tell you, I loved that bike. It wasn’t fast, and it often wasn’t functional, but I loved it. It was a petite black Parkwood (I thought the name was special because we used to live on a street named Parkwood) with silver fenders and a silver basket on the front, and we bought it off of Craigslist. It had a sticker that bragged it was Made in the USA, and it was so heavy it must have been forged out of pure American iron. It was mine.
I try to have a hands-off attitude toward my stuff. I want to be the kind of person who would give my bike up to anyone who asked me for it. And, though I loved it, the loss of the bike didn’t bother me nearly as much as the feeling of violation, that someone had come into my back yard to take my things, and the fear and worry that one of my dogs could have been killed or hurt because the thief left the back gate open.
Because I like to bike to my church, I wanted a replacement bicycle. I started browsing Craigslist the next morning and found a listing for two matching, vintage French town bicycles, specifically 1974 Motobecane Nobly bicycles. The seller lived so close to us I could have biked there had I had a bicycle, and Jon and I went to scope them out. Just to see other options, we went to a bike store and I tested a cute little hybrid that rode like a dream and shifted gears with the click of a button. Less cute was the $400 price tag, though, so we left without making the purchase and went to see the Craigslist find. When we saw the vintage French bikes, we knew we had to have them, and $200 later, we were on our way home with our beauties.
And they are beauties. They’re painted a lovely copper color, and though the chrome was a little rusty, they polished up nice. They have fenders and racks on the backs, still sport 1974 bicycle license plates from Wichita, Kansas, and my favorite features are the working head and tail lights operated with a friction generator activated as the bikes are pedaled. They’re a sort of bike you don’t see very often in a world that seems divided among road bikes, cruisers, and mountain bikes/mountain bike wannabes– they’re basically city commuter bikes, more upright than the average road bike and outfitted with a cruiser’s fenders and racks, on skinny road bike tires, with apparently unusual 27 inch wheels.
Beyond the rust, the tires were dryrotted, the gears weren’t shifting, and the brakes were sketchy. My best friend/biking buddy/bunkmate Jon happens to be pretty handy with bikes, and by last evening had my bike newly shod in fresh tires and tubes, tuned up to the point that 4/10 gears (activated with levers at the center of the handlebars) are now working, and had the brakes mostly fixed. His Motobecane is still not up and running (the rear gears seem fully locked up and won’t move a bit when he pedals), but he hopped on his trusty day-to-day bike and joined me for our joyride. My new bike turned out to be much lighter and faster than my last bike and was a downright thrill to ride in comparison. Jon said he had trouble keeping up, and in truth, I left him in the dust a few times. He says he can’t wait to have his speedy new old bike fully operational so he can give me a run for my money. Maybe his will look as snazzy as this fully restored version.
I may never be Lance Armstrong, as I’m not particularly interested in cycling long distances, but I’m more than excited to have a time machine to transport me back to my childhood for evening jaunts around the neighborhood. Maybe after that we can catch fireflies in a mason jar.