Saturday, April 4, 2009

Jumping Eddie

“There’s no way you can do that without getting hurt,” I said.

“No, really, no problem,” Ed responded. We were on my back porch, my patio. Ed was sitting on his cool little bike with the banana seat. I think it was called a mustang. Like the horse. Like the car. Our patio was about three feet high, soft grass all around.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” I sang out.

“What are you, scared?” said our buddy Milenki. Mike was always daring us to do nutty stuff. Most of the time we weren’t crazy enough to go through with it.

“Ed. It’s suicide.” I was trying to talk him out of it. “The best thing that would happen would be for you to land in the grass and the bike hit you right in the crotch.”

“Hmmm.” I couldn’t believe Ed was even considering it. Milenki never even took our dares unless they were easy or a sure thing.

“Don’t do it, man,” I said.

“Do it,” said Mike.

“Don’t, Ed.”

“Do it!”

“You’ll get hurt, Ed,” I said.

“I give you a dime,” said Mike. It was all he had. “Don’t be a chicken, Schutz.” Milenki was a relentless teaser. “You said you were gonna do it, now don’t punk out on us.”

I loved Ed’s new bike. It was a shimmering gold and it had, what we all wanted, a banana seat. It wasn’t a full sized bike. Not quite. But it was really cool to an eleven year old in 1968. It was tough, groovy, radical. It was far out, cool beans, righteous, awesome. I wish I had a bike as cool as Ed’s.

My own bike was a leftover from my big sister Ruthie. It was a girl’s bike and it was obvious. That’s the way it was in my family. If something wasn’t broken it was handed down. With seven children it had to be that way. Ed only had one brother and he was way older, seventeen I think. So Ed didn’t have-hand-me-downs.

So here was Ed on this late spring day. It was after school, almost dinner time. There were dinner smells wafting over from my neighbor’s house. Sausage? Syrup? Maybe the Kadars were having breakfast for dinner. Maybe it was the Grynovich family from across the street. We’d all be splitting in a little while. Then homework, then the late evening stuff. No TV for me on a school night. I loved this time with my friends.

The sky was deep blue, just a hint of breeze. The three of us were on the patio. Milenki was teasing Shutz. Taunting him into jumping off the patio. I was trying pretty hard to talk some reason into him, but it was clear that Mike was winning. Mike won most of the time.

“Bock! Bock! Bock!” Milenki did his terrible chicken imitation.

“I’ve made bigger jumps than this before,” Schutz said. And he had too. I had seen him jump really high on a wooden incline we had built in Maysack’s Woods.

“Right, Ed, but you were jumping off a ramp. This is straight down. If you land wrong you could get racked really bad. It might mean the end of the Schutz family name, if you know what I mean.” He knew what I meant.

“Bock! Bock! You little chicken,” Milenki mocked.

“What’ll you give me?” Ed Turned to Mike.

“You’ll prove what a man you are, Schutzie. We won’t think you’re a chicken Schutz any more. We won’t think you’re ‘Yellow Eddie’.”

“Don’t listen to him, Ed. You think he would do it? This could be bad.”

“I know I can do it.” He eyed the distance to the end of the patio, to the ground. He inched forward ands looked over the edge. “No prob. Really. I’ll do it for a quack, Milenki.” It was our lingo for a quarter.

Mike reached into his pockets. He had his house key. He was the only one of my friends who had a key to his house. He was a latch-key kid before I had ever heard the term. He also had a little super ball, the kind you could get from one of those machines for a nickel. He had a paper clip, pocket lint, a nickel and five pennies. That was it. “Like I said, alls I got is a dime, Eddie. Will ya do it for ten cents? I throw in the super ball.”

Ed thought about it. Back in the day you could get two pretty big candy bars for a dime. Or two big bags of Sugar Babies which were Ed’s favorite. “Okay, but you gotta pay me in advance.”

“Uh uh – after the jump,” Mike said. Ed nodded and backed up his bike to the wall. We watched as Ed did a couple of pop ups, yanking the handlebars up and letting the front tire bounce back down.

“Careful, Ed,” I said, as if that would change a thing. He’d probably be okay, but I was worried. I’d never do anything like that, dare or no dare, chicken sounds or no. I was never any good at balancing or jumping. I could barely ride my bike no handed. Most kids in my old neighborhood could pop up, cat walk, do wheelies. Not me. I was worried for Ed.

The time had come. Ed backed up as far as he could go. Melinki and I jumped onto the grass. Ed put his right foot on the pedal. The look on his face was a blend of determination and fear. The breeze blew back his hair as he launched himself forward. He only had about ten feet to accelerate. He pushed those pedals as hard as he could and pulled up those fancy upraised handlebars as he approached the end of the patio.

The front of the bike flew up about a foot. But Ed was not going fast enough. He hadn’t timed the pull just right. The bike came down on its new chain and shiny sprocket. Ed’s eyes were wide with surprise and shock. The high handlebars twisted sideways as the bike came to a sudden stop. He arced upward and forward, seemingly defying gravity.

Not a sound came out of Ed until he hit the grass. He did get his hands out in front of him but it didn’t help since he landed squarely on the top of his head. When he did, Ed squeaked. Not the high soft squeak of a rodent, rather the loud falsetto squeak of a preadolescent boy in pain and surprise. After landing head first in the grass, he tumbled loosely onto his side. Milenki and I knelt down next to him.

“Oh my God! I think I broke my neck!” Ed screamed. “Call my mom! Call My mom!”

“Okay, man. I’ll call her right now.” I raced inside passing Ed’s gleaming bike in the grass. Its shining handlebars had dug a deep divot into the soft grass of the backyard. Otherwise it looked in great shape. I doubted if Ed would be jumping his new bike anytime soon. I wondered whether or not Milenki would give over the dime. I doubted it.

Ed was writhing on the ground when I returned from the phone. Mike offered, “If you can move like that I don’t think you’re neck is broken, Ed.”

I don’t think it was much consolation.

Ed’s mom and dad were there within minutes. My mom came out too. She overheard my phone call to Ed’s folks. Ed’s parents knelt down next to him. He was really wailing then. It’s funny how things seem worse as soon as you see your mom. He had pretty much quieted down until he saw her and then he cried harder than ever.

We were all scared about moving him. What if he had broken something? We were always told never to move someone if you thought there was a broken neck involved. We wouldn’t want to make things worse.

Soon an orange and white ambulance came screaming down the street. The white clad EMT’s raced to our backyard with a stretcher. It was rigid. Maybe they call it a neck board. They fitted a neck brace onto Ed and carefully shifted him over the board where they strapped him down so he his neck and head wouldn’t budge.

Neighbors were standing around their porches whispering about what might be happening at the O’Keefe’s. Soon Ed was put into the back of the waiting ambulance. A bit of color had returned to his cheeks and he had stopped that pitiful wailing. His mom was holding his hand which would have seemed pretty sissified under other circumstances.

Ed’s mom was crying. His dad, who was much older than his mom, was stoic as the ambulance guys popped him into the back and clunked the doors shut. I figured that he probably wasn’t hurt that bad since the ambulance left at normal speed, the lights swirling but no siren. If they thought he had a broken neck, they would have raced out of there with the siren blaring.

The neighbors went back inside and closed their doors. The street became quiet again. Folks went back to their regular diner routines. Milenki and I were standing at the end of our driveway. Now it was the end of our play time. Now we were back to our school night routine. Moms and dads were turning into their driveways from work; laundry hung on clotheslines, Garrison’s Jack Russell terrier yapped, starlings gathered on the power lines and TV antennas.

We kicked a rock back and forth like we sometimes did. I felt a little guilty. I wasn’t the one who dared Ed to jump off the patio, but I couldn’t talk him out of it. As we turned to go in for the evening, home to dinner, homework, baths and bed, I had one question. “You give Schutzie his dime?”

“Sure,” he said. “You think I’m a cheapskate or something?”

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