April 23, 2007

"Will the bicycle kids retaliate?"

got my first taste of lawlessness over ten years ago at the Park n’ Swap in Apache Junction, Arizona. At that time, I was a plump elementary school student and my mother’s concern for her family's cholesterol meant that fast food was a somewhat rare indulgence. At the Park n’ Swap, however, where she’d set up shop for her first time, there was not a home-cooked meal to be found, so she gave my brother and I each a bit of money and sent us off in pursuit of sustenance at the McDonalds just across the street. Blessed with this rare opportunity, we agreed that the best course would be to pool our resources and get a twenty-piece Chicken McNugget sack. We made the transaction and, greasy bag of chicken product in hand, we set off back to mom’s table.

We’d only just reentered the Park n’ Swap, thrilled with our purchase which I held up as if it were some sort of talisman, when a kid on a bicycle swooped by and snatched the bag right out of my hand. He convened with his friends, also on bicycles, and the pack of them circled around and rode off. It took a moment for the shock of what had happened to sink in, and in that moment we realized that neither my brother nor I could catch the bicycle kids, that nobody else had either noticed or cared, and that all of the effort our salivary glands were making were now for naught in the absence of those chicken nuggets. We were hungry and powerless, and before those bicycle kids I’d never fallen so low after riding so high.

Ten years later, I was attending school in New York City and had gotten an internship at a television program. As part of the yearly Halloween festivities out at the studio, I decided to participate in the pumpkin-carving contest. I had purchased two pumpkins and spent the rest of the night fashioning a somewhat cartoony version of a dragon's head jack-o-lantern (utilizing items that could be found in my apartment, including light bulbs, paint, make-up, a black wig, and toothpicks). The pumpkin’s innards remained in a grocery bag in our kitchen for a couple of days. And as such things are wont to do, they developed a substantially foul odor. The evening before Halloween, as I set off to catch a midnight movie, I decided to take my bag of pumpkin guts and drop them in a garbage can on the way to the subway. Outside, the low fog and smattering of early trick-or-treaters lent the night an enjoyably spooky vibe. I had only made it a couple of blocks away from home, however, when a fellow walking down the sidewalk toward me body-checked me into the gate, grabbed my bag and ran off. Again, I was frozen for a moment as I confirmed that I was not hurt, that the guy had already rounded the corner, and most importantly, that he’d just stolen a rancid bag of pumpkin guts from me. And it began to dawn on me that while he was not on a bicycle, he surely must have hid it right around the corner to serve as his getaway vehicle. And that he was surely convening with his cronies and smacking his lips as they opened up the bag to get a look at their spoils. And that what had in fact happened what that I had inadvertently visited revenge on the bicycle kids ten years after the McNugget Incident.

I cannot help but wonder, though, whether this latest incident concludes this tale or I’ve instead initiated some cycle of revenge that will continue from here. Will the bicycle kids retaliate? Are we at the dawn of some sort of feud? The pumpkin wielding Hatfields and the bicycle riding McCoys? Will there be little red-haired kids shaking their fists at the kids riding hoverbikes, long after I’m gone? Let us pray that sanity prevails. And in the meantime, I’ll clutch anything delicious a little closer to me as I walk down the street.

Contributed by Nathaniel Wharton

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