The only 10-speed bicycle I ever owned advertised its make and model -- the Cherokee Cherokee -- on both bars. I never considered myself a snob or an ungrateful human, but when I look back on a number of key childhood moments, it’s impossible not to disappoint my now-adult, father-of-two self. When I see either of my kids act snooty or exhibit a version of themselves that flirts with thanklessness, a flash of rage fills me, and I want to dunk their domes in a sanitary toilet bowl; a sterile swirly they wouldn’t soon forget.
I think it was a Sears special, that roadster, and I’m pretty certain my mom gifted it to me for my 13th birthday. I’ve owned three bikes that I can recall, the third of which I bought myself off of a guy from Wisconsin named Salmon. It’s a Giant Iguana and I bought it for three reasons: a) he was selling it and I needed a bike and somehow came up with the $125 in 1994; b) I thought that Giant was an established, reputable, bordering-on-badassery brand; and c) The Salty Iguanas were the (in my mind) hippest ‘90s Lawrence, KS band that broke my live-music-seeing cherry, if you will. A year or so later I had Shimano components and a front-fork shock added to it with the assist of my buddy, Mike. I rode it some, but it has mostly sat or hung wherever I have lived. (Note: In editing, I’m reminded of a fourth, the one I learned on. I can’t really picture it, but I’ve got this The Wonder Years intro blob of a memory of practicing with both my dad and my stepdad. Fuck. Divorce is such a bitch.) (Additional note: Fuck. Now I’m remembering a fifth bike. Or at least a fourth. I’m recalling a blue bike and a black bike that came before my 10-speed, but I can’t remember if the blue bike’s the one I learned on. I’m pretty sure it is. We’re sticking with four. <director’s voice> Alright! Back to work, people!)
It’s the bike I own and ride now and it still looks cool with its nerdy, front lamp and vintage stickers. The rear wheel got bent years ago, and that shock has oozed grease for longer than I care to admit, but it’s my bike and it’s what I use when I go riding with the kids. I’m still proud of it and I still like riding it. I’m also too stubborn to replace it as it doesn’t seem as though it’d be a wise spend at all.
My mom surprised me with the Cherokee Cherokee, though, that day, as she opened the garage door to her shake-shingle Prairie Village house. And I was somewhat surprised and grateful to receive it, but my eyes cast judgment upon it at first glance, which I probably hated about myself then, but certainly do now and have in hindsight. It was red, fully functional, and got me out of dirt-bike mode, which had been embarrassing in our new neighborhood with every kid having transitioned to 10-speed land.
I mean, my buddy Mike hastened to diss it.
“The Cherokee Cherokee,” he said with volume and feigned gruffness. “And I thought the Roadmaster Scorcher” was bad. Mike’s parents had gotten him something a notch above the Cherokee, but each bike was a tough swallow as Nate zipped around on his Bianchi. He’d also had a different 10-speed and a badass dirt bike (a Mongoose, probably) with the pegs. And he still had them all. His parents not only gave him the goods, but they also let him have options.
Anyway…yeah, I rode that thing wherever a kid would ride his bike. To friends’ houses, the park, the pool, down the street to the Village Shopping Center then back up that brutal, undying hill.
I also used it to get places, though. And by “get places,” I mean errands. And by “errands” I mean to Peaches and Sound Warehouse at 75th & Metcalf or to Musicland or Sam Goody at Ward Parkway Mall. Once or twice to Xanadu for a poster or a tie-dye, but mostly to buy cassette tapes. Once old enough to drive, I had to save up to buy my car and I had to put gas in it and insure it and buy some of my clothes and pay some of my school fees (not to mention eating-out spends or reloading on alcohol and tobacco (when the time came)), but I always -- were it the bike era or the age of the vehicle -- managed to have some leftover for tapes.
And I would probably whine like an ungrateful brat on the ride there, cursing traffic and inclines, possibly the weather. Not the ride home, though. That shit was always dope. I’d have that plastic bag swinging from the handlebars -- some days fuller than others -- carrying the cargo of precious, new cassettes in that form-fitting plastic with the adhesive to seal it at the tabs. The ride home was blissful, the taste of victory in my mouth, the crack of the cassette hinge’s first opening in my ear, the smell of fresh liner notes in my nose.
And that’s where my money went in middle school and high school and college and a little bit after, too. It’s weird reflecting upon those memories and all of those dollars invested in sitting at a desk focused on active listening to and reading about the product you just purchased. And each thing took up space. You had to have them arranged and organized and stored, as opposed to now with just…household WiFi, a streaming subscription, and a device on which you can also watch shit on and from which you could send messages.
Anyway…money’s been a weird thing for me all of my life, I guess. I mean, growing up in the ‘80s probably didn’t help much -- and probably everyone thinks this about the generation of their childhood, but -- I always looked like such a dork. My clothes, my haircuts, my sometimes-janky knockoff gifts/possessions. Now, being an adult with some level of awareness and wisdom, I can look around and say, I recognize that I’m a dork and I’m kind of okay with it. It just feels weird to look back at pictures and sit with your memories that all kind of point to being put in a dork’s costume as a young person.
Another thing that’s probably true for parents -- I mean, we’ve got novels full of the When I was your age variety -- is that they think, believe, and feel that their kids have it better than they did. I’m no exception, hence the ragey toilet thing. And it feels totally justified and completely reality-checkish to think that very thing right now. With my kids.
I dunno. They have it decent, I guess. No, better than decent.
What they don’t know, though, is that things have gotten pretty complicated of late.
I mean, just a handful of months ago, I took them to a Coinstar machine, and with our loot we bought Legos. Literally on a cold and rainy day, and as a gesture of kindness and gratitude for how good they were through the whirlwind of unexpected homeschool and quarantine.
And today, I used the last remaining piece and-a-half of bacon and folded it into their scrambled eggs, which I served with Monterey Jack, hash browns, grapes, and banana bread that my daughter and I made Sunday night.
I cooked the last six ounces of bacon last night for bacon cheeseburgers for dinner, essentially 86ing me on bacon. Today, after I dropped them off at their mom’s, I took the latest ration of coins to a Coinstar and cashed them in. One hundred twenty-nine dollars it yielded me. One hundred fifteen after they took their cut.
I’d made them think that this was a thing we could just do all the time, though, and now -- having faced Internet and electricity cutoffs this week (along with paying a plumber and an exterminator) -- I was deviating from the idea and using these funds for trips to the hardware and grocery stores. And I couldn’t get away from the vanishing images of those lone strips of smoked pork belly.
I never run out of bacon.
I mean, I live and shop by backups. It’s the chef in me. And bacon should of course be viewed as a luxury item. No one’s going to go hungry because they don’t have bacon in the home. No one’s quality of life is going to dip ‘cause Daddy had to “make the breakfast with no hog.”
That shit is bananas expensive, though, and I’m picky about my bacon. I insist on center-cut (thick for speshes occazeseges) and my go-to option for some time now has been the Hormel Black Label stuff, which rings in at like $8.39/pound. Think about it when you buy bacon. If you’re off-the-rack shopping at your local grocer, those packages are usually 12 ounces, so that price you’re seeing isn’t by-the-pound; it’s higher, Jack. And my par is a pack and change.
Now, when I would pedal the Cherokee down the street to the Village Shopping Center there tended to be one of only a few destinations. Perhaps Nill Bros. Sporting Goods. Maybe the Jones Store Co. Possibly Bruce Smith Drug. In all honesty, though, it was mostly Wendy’s and the video store. I don’t remember what it was called, but you could -- with the appropriate membership card -- rent anything. And I went all in -- I mean all in -- on horror movies. All of the Nightmare on Elm Streets, all of the Friday the 13ths, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, you name it.
I had a phase. I was intrigued by gore. And hey -- no shortage of boobs in those flicks, either. Am I right? I think I overdid it, though. I mean, I can’t watch scary movies now. Like, at all. They just give me an intolerable level of anxiety, and as I near the downward slide toward 50 years of age, I just don’t have room for that on my plate anymore.
One movie that I really enjoy, however, is I, Legend.
And that’s not even accurate. I don’t really enjoy it. I like it. It’s a good story. I’ve seen it a couple of times, so I know the parts that’re gonna make me jump. I just like it. In fact, I’ve considered asking my daughter if she’s interested in watching it with me. I don’t wanna give her nightmares or anything, but I’ve considered it as an example for introducing her to the genre.
If you haven’t seen it, it’s a pretty wild tale about disease cure gone wrong. Will Smith plays the main dude and late in the gig he gets rescued by a woman and a small boy. They take him back to his place and in the morning -- while he’s still struggling to recover from his physically rough outing -- the woman prepares some breakfast. When he wakes she tells him how wildly lucky she was to uncover a ration of the morning meal’s favorite swine product. And he gets pissed.
“I was savin’ that bacon,” he says.
I couldn’t get away from that line last night, and it haunted me again this morning.
I was savin’ that bacon, I said to myself as I discarded the rinsed, empty packaging. To be fair, I wasn’t, but I literally refrained from putting bacon in my cart this week at the store because I knew I wouldn’t have enough for it at the checkout line. I heard it run through my head again this morning as I crumbled those Tupperware’d pieces into our eggs.
I’ve taken to lowering my par-replenishment numbers when shopping. I’ve re-introduced Ramen into my life for the first time since college. I cut cable and the newspaper months ago, and refinanced my student loans for a lower monthly payment until last week when I turned off auto-pay and e-mailed them the line, “I can’t make these payments anymore.”
Yet none of it seems to be shifting me in a significant-enough direction that suggests that my kids and I can continue to live in this house. It’s sad and it’s frustrating and depressing and overwhelming and frightening. It’s also numbing and paralyzing to stand in the middle of it all as things appear to be collapsing, and to counter it all I want to do little more than nap.
This has been a pretty perfect house in a pretty perfect neighborhood on a pretty perfect block. As I once wrote on another blog post in another lifetime, this is my 25th home.
I thought it’d be my last.
It’s tough now, though, to think.
I mean, period.
It’s literally tough to think when you suddenly feel like you -- having been a person that has moved for a lot of different reasons -- now have a new one. And that new reason is hopelessly associated with the feeling of inadequate parenting and provision. I mean, it’s literally -- on occasion -- suffocating.
Sometimes the clouds part, though, and clear thought broadcasts its blue, and I can’t help but think about -- had I grown up with money -- whether or not my spending habits as a young person framed who I became. I have impulses and buy shit because I want it. Seldom do I save. I mean, I parcel aside, but I don’t demonstrate reserve, per se.
I dunno. I’m trying to figure it all out. Now and always, I think.