The escape bicycle
December 24, 2015 § 12 Comments
When I was a kid I used my bike for everything. It took me to school. It took me to 7-11. 7-11 was a convenience store that was open from 7:00 AM until 11:00 PM. Every other store in Houston opened at 9:00 and closed at 5:00, or maybe 8:00 if it was the Sharpstown Mall.
And only 7-11 was open on Sunday. Back then people had weekends.
The 7-11 was where all the bad kids hung out because it had a pinball machine. Pinball machines were super expensive. They cost a quarter but you got five balls and if you were good you got a replay until they switched out the machine.
One of the worst kids at the 7-11 was Tommy van Pelt, but we all called him Tommy van Pound because he like to beat people for fun. He didn’t care if you were older or younger, bigger or smaller. He once even beat up an adult.
He smoked of course even though he was only thirteen, and he got free cigarettes. His mother was crippled and always sent him to the 7-11 to buy cigarettes. As payment he always kept two packs for himself.
“Don’t your mom care you’re stealing her smokes?”
“Fuck her,” he’d say.
I liked the pinball machine but scrupulously checked to see if van Pound’s bike was leaning against the window glass before I went in. He had beaten me up a couple of times and they weren’t like my brother’s beatings, where he always held something back.
Tommy’s were vicious and he didn’t care if he broke out your teeth and he’d kick you in the head when you were on the ground.
My best friend in 8th Grade was Bobh Brunnell. That’s really how his parents spelled his name. Bobh was like every kid in Houston, he liked to blow shit up, but unlike the rest of us he actually knew how.
One day Bobh came over to my house with a record album. It was 1978 in the summer. “Hey, man, check this out.”
I looked at the cover. It was four weird dudes in makeup. “Looks stupid,” I said.
“Fuck you it’s the best music ever.”
“What’s their name?”
“Kiss. Can’t you fucking read?”
“That’s the dumbest name ever.”
Bobh put the record on my parents’ record player. We weren’t allowed to even look at it because we broke everything, so we only used it when they were gone. “How about THAT?” he said as the music blasted.
“It sounds like shit,” I said.
“You are a dumb bastard who don’t know good music from shit. Plus the bass player blows fire out of his mouth.”
“The fuck you say.”
We didn’t have YouTube or cell phones or cable TV or BetaMax or VHS but Bobh had been prepared for my skepticism. He took out his fan magazine and it showed Gene Simmons spitting fire.
“That’s pretty fucking cool,” I said.
“I figured out how to do it,” said Bobh.
“The fuck you say.”
“Let’s go out in the garage.”
Nothing good ever happened when you left air conditioning in the summer for the fiery humid heat of the closed-in garage. We left the house and went out into the backyard with the gas can. “You are gonna burn your fucking face off,” I said.
“The fuck you say. I been practicing.”
“Practicing on what?”
“Down at the pool. You just have to know how to spray right. It takes a lot of practice to spray right but once you get that down you just light the spray and it whooshes up like a motherfucker.”
“You are gonna get burnt all the way down to your dick. You ever done this before?”
“No but I ain’t worried.”
“I ain’t either but I ain’t the dumbass drinking gasoline, either.”
Bobh had filled his mouth with gas until his cheeks bulged. I handed him the lighter and stood way off. With a mighty spew he lifted up the lighter and lit the gasoline. It made the biggest fireball you ever saw, but was all gone before the flame could travel back up the stream and burn his face off his head.
He was beaming with pride. “I told you I could do it.”
“You are a crazy and dumb fuck.”
“Want to try?”
“I’d rather be a chicken than fried chicken,” I said.
The rest of that summer we worked on burning things with Bobh’s oral blowtorch until he developed huge bloody mouth ulcers from having gasoline in his mouth all the time. By that time we had found a magic shop on Bissonnet that sold flash powder. I had a model car collection I had built over the course of my lifetime, so we spent several weeks blowing it up car by car.
We learned that if you crammed the flash powder into a tiny space it blew shit up. I had a Super-8 movie camera and we would tie a car to a string, load it with flash powder, and drag it along until it blew up.
When we ran out of cars we decided to blow up the Bellaire Swimming Pool. We planned it down to the smallest detail, including our getaway bikes which we would lean up against the side of the building. Once we’d launched our attack we’d sprint away to freedom.
There was a big counter atop a brick wall. Bobh went to the counter with me and started talking with the girl who was working the register. I pretended to drop my money and then crammed the flash powder bomb into an open chink in the bricks at the end of the little wall that we’d scouted out beforehand.
Then I lit the fuse and we ran like hell. In broad daylight, of course.
Everything went according to plan except that when the bomb went off, instead of knocking out a few bricks it blasted out the side of the wall. If anyone had been standing near it they would have had their legs blown off.
We didn’t know any of that because we were already on our getaway bikes. But we didn’t get far because we had to cross the park, whose grass was wet and muddy and soggy so that our tires sunk into the muck, and worst of all, who should be standing there smoking a cigarette but Tommy van Pound. “What are you two queers doing?” he said as he grabbed the bars of our bikes.
We were both shaking with fear. The blast had made a huge sound.
“You two queers done something and you’re running the fuck away, aren’t you?”
By that time the pool people were upon us. They took us back to show us the damage and they had even called Champ Undermiller, the guy who ran the city gym and pool.
In those days every town had a Champ Undermiller, a guy in his 30’s who’d grown up there and hadn’t made it as a pro baseballer or footballer so he coached kids and managed the public gym and pool. He was a nice guy and an asskicker at the same time.
“Bring these two to my office,” he said.
We were taken to the gym and shoved into Champ’s office. Champ was staring at Bobh in disbelief. “I coached you since you were five,” he said. “And this is how you repay me?”
“I’m sorry, Champ,” said Bobh.
“Sorry? Sorry about what, for Chrissake?”
“Sorry for blowing up the swimming pool.”
“Oh, fuck the swimming pool. We’ll fix that. That’s not what I’m pissed off about.”
Bobh, who’d been hanging his head, looked up. “What are you pissed off about then?”
In a combined look of rage and disappointment and disgust, he pointed his finger at me. “I’m pissed,” he shouted, “because after all I’ve done for, all your parents have done for you, and the great life you have ahead of you if you want it, you’re hanging out with HIM.”
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