I love it when I make Kay laugh. When she laughs, all’s right with the world. Kay has what I call the pratfall sense of humor. She can watch a collection of videos on AFV where people are engaged in all sorts of shenanigans and end up falling on their bums, and her amusement will ascend with each humorous consequence. The sound of her laughter is much like that of the old cartoon character Muttley the Dog with her face turning red, the tears rolling down her cheeks, building and building until at any second one expects a lung to be expelled. And who among us does not secretly enjoy the humiliation of others? Which brings me to a story of my humiliation; one that has brought her much enjoyment in the countless retelling.
I love riding a bicycle. By age twelve, when I got my first official job as a paperboy, and for the next four years, I perfected my bicycle skills by riding my seven-mile route twice daily slinging newspapers, dodging traffic, and outrunning dogs intent on taking a bite out of my leg. That is why when we moved to Kay’s family farm, one of the first things I did was purchase a mountain bike. I could ride a ten-mile loop from my driveway and back through the countryside. I stayed on the surface streets, no off-road riding, with a nice mixture of steep hills and straight stretches. It was not an Ironman training route, but for thirty-five minutes, it doubled my heart rate.
On the back half of the loop there was a long stretch of road where I could really get up some speed, and I would try to go as long as I could without touching the handlebars; either leaning forward to reduce the wind resistance, or leaning back, arms outstretched, creating the sensation of flying. I rode this route nearly every day, rain or shine, the exception being in conditions of ice and snow, and in Tennessee, that was a rare exception.
The Fourth of July, 2001 was a day filled with heat and sunshine. We spent that 4th as we had done for years: attending the Whitland Avenue block-party celebration with thousands of other people singing patriotic music, hearing speeches, and listening to my father dramatically recite a portion of the Declaration of Independence while members of the Nashville Symphony played Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare For The Common Man.” But before that event, as always, I rode my ten-mile route.
When I hit the long, flat stretch of road and had built up sufficient speed, I released my hands from the handlebars. About halfway along that straight section, I heard a snap of metal. I could not immediately identify the source. I thought it might be a break in the link of the chain or a rock slung against the metal frame. Then suddenly my whole world shifted into slow motion while my whole life passed before my eyes. The seat dropped as if the clamp that held it in place had come loose, but then it tilted up before going airborne, and I began to slide backwards. I could not figure out what was going on or why, but my survival instincts were in overdrive as I desperately reached for the handlebars so I could put on the brakes. This was not like my old bike where the brakes were applied with the peddles.
My mountain bike had those stubby tires with no metal coverings over them to keep rocks and rain from flying up into my face or spraying my back. It was raw, exposed tire, akin to the high-powered saw blade that cuts through the log. There was no slowing down the speed. There was no altering the direction of my bum. There was no hero to come to my rescue.
The trajectory of my bottom was headed straight for the rear tire…yes, pun intended. It was a perfect landing with my cheeks folding over the tire like a set of brake pads. Indeed, said cheeks had the effect of brake pads probably because my reflexive buttock reaction as the spinning tire made its way into my posterior was to clamp down. This caused the bike to stop abruptly hurling me forward into the metal rod that once held the seat resulting in anterior damage. Insult to injury. Then I was dumped off onto the road, landing, yes, on my bottom and bouncing on top of the pavement for several feet.
I sat in the middle of the road, feet pointed forward, my hands and arms holding me upright as I blinked away the shock and confusion and attempted to assess the situation. It was not long before I heard a vehicle approaching from behind. I thought, “Great. I have survived a bike crash only to be run over by a car.” The vehicle turned out to be a tractor, and the farmer pulled beside me and stopped. He did not bother to dismount or turn off the engine. He leaned over and spat a shot of tobacco chew onto the road in order to make room in his mouth to ask his one-word question…“Problems?” I only shook my head (the breath knocked out of me muted all speech), and so he put the tractor in gear and eased on down the road. No inquiry of possible injury. No offer to help. No offer to call anyone. I imagine he was thinking that the damn-fool bicyclist should have known better.
By then, I was thrilled to be able to feel my toes wiggling inside my shoes and to watch my ankles rotate my feet. When I gingerly bounced my thighs and calves on the pavement, hope sprung into my heart that I might be able to get back home on my two wobbly legs. But I did not move until the farmer turned into a field. I did not want him to witness any more of my humiliation if I was unable to get up and walk. I took a deep breath and rolled over onto my knees, then slowly worked my way to a standing position. Being vertical was a success but taking those first few steps was victory. I gathered up the seat and the bike. It was the bolt that ran through the seat attaching to the metal rod that had broken. This catastrophe would have been averted had I had my hands on the handlebars. But no, I had to be the hot-dog.
“Where have you been?” Kay asked when I walked into the house. We needed to leave for the Whitland Avenue event, and she knew I should not have taken so long to ride my route. When I explained what happened, she gave me the quizzical look of a skeptic, so I turned around, dropped my pants, and bent over, and low, a great moon rose before her, and what to her wondering eyes should appear but the marks of tire tracks running through the center of my buttocks and the bright red abrasions on each cheek from bouncing along on the road like a skipping stone. Her reaction was a stuck record of “Oh my. Oh my. Oh my.” It was then that I noticed that my underwear looked as if it had been put through a shredder, but the material of my spandex bike pants was completely unscathed. Oh, the miracle of synthetic fibers. My one hundred percent cotton underwear never had a chance. I should do a commercial for spandex.
I continued to ride for several more years. You fall off a two-wheeled, mechanical horse, you get back on. But for many-a-day afterwards, when riding by the location of my ill-fated accident, the sphincter muscles would tighten, my legs would flinch, and my hands remained firmly on the handlebars. Yes, he can be taught. And, of course, this incident has provided my dear wife the opportunity for me tell the tale over and over at family functions, at parties, and to dinner guests around our table. I would get the playful elbow into my ribs, and the “Tell the story of when your seat broke on your bicycle.” Before I could even finish the prologue setting up the story she was laughing, unable to conceal the fact that she knew what was about to be told and viewed the story as a comedy…low comedy.
And even in bed last night while I silently read my book and Kay proofed this story, time and again, the bed would vibrate from her wheezing laughter and she dropped the pages to wipe the tears from her eyes. No matter how many times she hears this story it never fails to bring about spasms of laughter. Sign of a good story, I guess, and a good marriage. Yes, it does bring me pleasure to make Kay laugh even at my own painful expense.
Cover Art: Vintage picture of the rarely used Velocipede