Updated Nov, 13th 2012
The Boy on the Bra Bike
As Christmas 1973 inched closer (that particular holiday takes forever to arrive when you’re 10 years old), I was getting excited. Despite a couple serious challenges to my social standing – a growth spurt had transformed me into the tallest, skinniest boy in my grade, and I also had the strictest father around — I felt like I was close to fitting in. No longer being a little kid asking for toys for Christmas, this year I would only ask for one thing: my first real bike. My friends were starting to get bikes too, usually a Schwinn or Huffy. I didn’t care which one I got, or even the color.
When Christmas finally arrived, we opened the gifts under the tree and there was no bike. But not to worry, I had seen this trick before. Dad would often hide one last gift in another spot, and lead you to it by requesting you go into another room for some lame reason. When he sent me into a utility room to put something away, I was certain this was the payoff. As I opened the door and turned on the light, what stood before me was the biggest disappointment of my young life. It was a bike, but it wasn’t a Schwinn or Huffy.
You see, Dad had this knack of always buying you the exact gift HE would like to have. The previous year he’d gotten Mom a gift we referred to as “the Hot Dog Electricutioner” — an appliance with half-inch metal prongs on each side, onto which you would screw both ends of a wiener and watch live voltage cook it like a death row inmate. She was also less than thrilled.
So on this occasion, Dad had rejected the wraparound handlebars and 10-speeds that were popular on bikes, and instead bought me a Sears Free Spirit. It had straight handlebars and metal fenders and looked like it was right out of the 1950’s. I was crushed.
But there was a bigger problem: at the time, the best-selling women’s bra was the Playtex Free Spirit. It seems hard to imagine today that these two products would share the same name, but this apparent indifference on the part of the Playtex legal team was suddenly a huge problem for me. Now I was going to be the boy on the Bra Bike.
Then I glanced up (probably to ask God, “seriously?”) and things got even worse. Dad had taken the money he saved by not buying the Schwinn and got a few accessories, including a very tall fluorescent orange flag with the Free Spirit logo on it (in case anyone had missed the small logo on the crossbar).
This flag was similar in size to the ones they give people entering corn mazes in case they need rescued.
I knew I had to turn around and give Dad a reaction, but I was busy processing the moment to figure out how things had gone so horribly wrong so quickly.
I forced a smile and muttered thank you as my eyes welled up. Dad seemed proud that he had inspired such emotion in me, and asked if I wanted to take it out for a ride. Now, I asked? A quick look outside told me it was freezing and gray, which suddenly matched my mood. You're right, he replied, maybe later when more kids might be out. I suddenly reconsidered: now was good.
The cold air struck me in the face as I rode by each friend's house on my new Bra Bike. I wondered what gift they got for Christmas, but mostly I was happy they were not outside to see mine. I considered my options: should I try and wrap it around an oak tree? This was before helmets, so risking brain trauma for this crappy bike seemed like a lose-lose. Roll it into the woods and claim it was stolen? Hard to imagine a delinquent committing larceny on Christmas day to ride off with a tall, orange Free Spirit logo flapping in the wind. What if I just go home and park it in the garage and quietly give up bike riding? Now that seemed like a plan.