At the top of Killer’s Hill in Green Brook
Park, Billy Flynn motioned me to pull up
for a pow-wow. I did so on my wobbly,
banged-up, twelve-year-old Rollfast bicycle
I’d inherited from my big brother, Lew
—paint flaking off; tires utterly bald—
still, it was (as adults said) transportation;
and, barring a flat or broken chain,
got me everywhere I needed to go.
How like a demigod Billy Flynn appeared
on his brand new J. C. Higgins Flyer—
with its shiny red frame & whitewall tires.
He dazzled every lad he overtook that day,
sounding his imperial Sears-Roebuck horn;
shouting “out of my way!” as he zoomed by
in a sudden rush of glory. Now this lord
of locomotion was slowing down to a stop.
What could he possibly have to say to me?
“How’d you like to swap bikes?” Billy Flynn
began. “Your Rollfast for my J.C. Higgins?”
(I’d yet to hear the word incredulous—but
that’s exactly what I was.) “Are you kidding?”
Billy glowered. “My bike’s red. I hate red!
Yours is green. Green’s my favorite color.”
It was my first encounter with a deranged
mind; but I knew (from watching Mr. Ed)
that everyone always humored the insane.
For two thrilling weeks I did just that,
racing Billy’s chariot all over town,
showing it off to friend and foe alike.
Instinct told me not to let my father know
I’d become the neighborhood barter king.
So I hid my triumph behind our pigeon
coop until a Mrs. Iris Braxton phoned my
mom to ask: “Is it true your son is riding
around on my son Cecil’s stolen bicycle?”
Brakes locked. Kickstand came down.
(I knew at once my wild ride was over.)
The police stopped by to sort things out
and, after clearing me of criminal intent,
rolled Cecil’s J.C. Higgins out of our yard;
put it in the trunk of their squad car; and
drove it back to the Braxton family castle.
(They returned my Rollfast six days later
with two flat tires and a broken chain.)
The point’s not that we’d been taken for
a ride but that we all learned something
useful. Cecil learned not to leave his bike
(or, later, his Jag!) in the driveway overnight.
Billy that, despite what the judge claimed,
bicycle theft did pay—but only for two weeks
and only on a jalopy. I learned to avoid the
Billy Flynns of this world; shun its Madoffs
and ignore emails from Nigerian princes.
The cops learned nothing they didn’t already
know, best expressed by muttering, “Kids!”
Minutes later they were in a high speed chase
with some jerk committing Grand Theft Auto.
This poem first appeared in Exit 13.
Used here with the author’s permission.