There are times I think back to 1991 and just marvel at the relationship that Jill, my editor at Bicycles Today and I had. I can’t imagine any of my current outlets being willing to publish this kind of thing. To begin with, it’s fiction. And it’s depressing, quasi-modern fiction. And it makes terrible demands of comprehension on its audience… and yet a lot of people seemed to read and enjoy it…
To set the stage — this is a ‘Squid story’. This is the second Squid story; I’ve already published the first one and the third one. There were five Squid stories in all, written by me between the ages of nineteen and twenty-one, the last one being an R-rated novella published in the “Some Prefer Nettles” ‘zine. Anyway, this is set in the year 1987, and regards Squid’s struggles with self-doubt and the UPS schedule – JB
Somewhere, down the street, the muted but insistent basso rumble of what surely must be the UPS truck touches Squid’s ears and brings him up, swimming, from the reverie in which he has been engaged, depositing him none too gently on the blue couch of his family’s living room. Within half a second, Squid’s tentacles are up and weaving gently as he scrambles out of his couch to the window. The nature of his subdivision is such that every truck, heavy machinery being so unfamiliar to the groomed lawns and hopeful starter homes set back upon them, makes a distinct impression on the sonic fabric, and Squid’s ears are better than most, probably as a compensation for his inability to see anything past his nose without contact lenses.
With an ear to the window Squid traces the not yet seen truck’s path, imagining the softly rounded yet utterly flat-sided brown GMC meandering down Brock Street and from there to Riverside Green, and ultimately to his front step. He interprets the barely heard pauses and eager starts of the diesel as other happy customers receiving their parcels, the dun-suited UPS man eyeing his, Squid’s, box with a grin as he removes packs of mystery books for lonely, once-pretty starter housewives who answer the door in bathrobes and half-asleep, completely irreverent of the UPS dude’s true place in the hierarchy of life, which is only one step lower than David Lee Roth’s, and certainly higher than any professional sports player alive or dead.
Squid’s UPS man, Tom, is a close friend, having been present at many joyous bike part deliveries. Tom takes extra care of Squid’s packages and discusses his marriage with Squid’s mom, who, knowing about these things, lends an interested ear as Squid hops to the garage to spin a wrench or two in the cause of greater racing glory. Since Squid, parsimonious with his BMX dollar, refuses to buy parts at anything but the absolute lowest price, he is forever waiting on mailorder stuff, which is usually C.O.D. since his mom won’t use her credit card and personal checks from Ohio take up to eight weeks to clear all the way out in Cali.
Squid would be excited as usual if the delivery he awaits consisted of a simple brake set, or sticker pack, but this is different.Squid has determined that his troubles as a 15 Novice lie in the relative shortness of his Patterson frame. Scraping the top of five foot eleven and one fifty-five, and with a riding style best and most kindly described as forward on the bike, he wants a long frame. His prayers had been answered when Free Agent, a relatively new player in this year of Our Lord 1987, had introduced the “Limo” frame. When Squid saw that Todd Slavik, the Free Agent factory rider, had number 31, same as him, it was a done deal. Squid’s dad had agreed to pay for the thing, and six days and one Gold Card number later, the Limo must surely be ready to arrive at his door.
This is the third day Squid has stayed in the house from noon onwards to await the coming of the black Limo. The rumbling comes ever closer to Squid’s ears and seems to turn the corner, exposing itself in a bright flash of yellow to be, not the friendly UPS man and Squid Allen’s Ticket To Victory, but the damn garbage truck! Well. Back to the TV. The marketing monsters who run MTV have introduced a new show, “Club MTV,” now appearing on his television set, so Squid returns to the couch with all the bitterness of a dream deferred, bitterness that remains in his mouth when he gets a good look at what this show is all about.
Squid has numerous physical shortcomings, the most glaring of which is perhaps that he is universally regarded as facially ugly. Squid can’t afford a decent haircut, and he has no time to “do” his hair in the mornings, so his hair remains always in an unfashionable arrangement which makes his head appear to have a mug handle on the back. His build is also freakish; he has two powerful legs, nearly perfect, and an upper body that is so out of shape that he has not removed his shirt in public for years. Squid was a fat child and is now an awkward adolescent, if a tolerably big one. The kids who used to pick on him now avoid him, but a newer, bigger group of tube steaks has shown up in their place.
The people on Club MTV don’t have this problem. Their bodies are scantily covered and perfectly built; their haircuts, on the cutting edge of style. And they seem to be happy. Squid is not happy. Squid hates. Squid hates his comp and would rather wreck them painfully than win. He hates his high school in which he is about to be a senior because everybody, now that he thinks about it, looks fresh off the set of Club MTV. He hates the fact that he’s too young to drive, and that his old best friend hates him because Squid was jealous enough of his friend’s first happy relationship ever to wreck it. Squid hates his girlfriend because they met when she was short and now the chick is taller and heavier, much heavier, than he is and his father makes constant fun of her and wonders aloud in public whether Charles Barkely would be able to block her shot.
Squid hates his father when the old man isn’t buying him bike parts; when he is, Squid resents him.Squid can’t figure out why everybody on Club MTV is an obvious Winner with a capital W, and he is a Loser with a capital L, so much so that he can’t seem to win at racing or life or even interpersonal realtionships. Squid can’t figure out why the kid who sat next to him in American History last year has a perfect build even though he drinks, smokes weed, and never excercises, while Squid, who rides hardcore four hours a day every day, has a potbelly. Squid can’t dance either.
But most of all, things seem to be happening around him and nobody notices. What is “rap”, and why do people listen to the stuff? Aerosmith is good enough for him any day. Why all of a sudden is every kid in America, including himself, being forced by the mass media to look up to illiterate ghetto kids who have made it big in some sport and now do dope and stuff all the time while people who do real and significant things, like Stephen Hawking, are ignored? What’s the matter with chicks in his school who wouldn’t talk to him because he wore a leather jacket and now ignore him and make fun of him for wearing the same stuff all the time? He spent the clothes money on his bike, and they laugh at that too. Why doesn’t he get invited to any parties? And why won’t all these people who are making his life tough, like the guys in his neighborhood and school and at his track, lay off, or even offer to fight him so he could release his aggression that way?
Squid is unable to nap on the couch, having slept until eleven, but he angrily switches off the TV and paces around the room. He walks out to his garage. There, the disassembled Patterson and components have been carefully laid out and cleaned, and await transformation into the third generation of Squid’s racing 20″. His cannabalized Redline RL20, missing its original Peregrine 48s and other components, seems to cry out to him for restoration, but Squid needed those wheels to race when he broke his Pro Class wheels and his brother needed the other parts, and who needs a freestyle bike anyway and he hasn’t got the money to fix it!
Then when Squid had wrecked his biggest enemy at West Jefferson and lost five spokes out of those 48s and taken his brother’s old racing wheels to replace them, the Redline had seen its last days as a whole bike, the broken 48s being traded for a set of Oakley Factory Pilots. For a racer, the freestyle bike is a perverse sort of embarassment; all racers want one but everybody knows that ‘stylin ruins your race form. But it’s the wave of the future; Squid and his old best buddy had been talking a while ago and figured out than by 1993 freestyle would be one of the biggest sports in the world and racing would be dead.
Squid wishes that wouldn’t happen, he wants to race, forever, turning Expert at 17 and Pro two years after that. Some dudes are going to college but that’s a trap. Squid’s going into the Marines as soon as he graduates.The garage is too depressing, so Squid wanders outside and sits on the front step. Breathless, Randy, a local, rides up. “Got your Limo?” Squid is unaccountably angered by this.
“Hey, man, if I had it, don’t you think I maybe, might be, riding it, not sitting on my tail out here on my front step. Don’t you think maybe I might be putting it together, not waiting around like some Beginner in practice staging? Plus, anyway, it’s certain to show up today. Only takes seven days outta Cali-it’s been eight.” Randy is unperturbed by Squid’s sullen outburst.
“Well, dude, it might take more than that, I remember when I ordered my Flights it took about…”
“When it shows up I’ll put it together and ride it over. You’re depressing me, man. It’s showin’ up today for sure.”
“Whatever.” Randy, that happy-go-lucky punk, cruises away on his full-chromoly blue Haro FST with Flights and a 41/16 gearing. What a wimp. Squid never rides under a 44, and he even rode a 45 indoors and won. As a Beginner. Before the Patterson got too small. Before Squid got too depressed to live. Maybe he needs lithium, ya know? Squid returns to the house, ignoring his mom and pausing to kick his little brother as hard as he can without killing him, mainly because his brother has never gotten second place or worse twice in a row and has trophied every single time he’s raced, plus he has all sorts of friends.
Back to the couch, but first he’ll have a Coke and maybe a BarBQ chip or two. Well, no chips, and one can of Coke left. Better take it. The meandering path to the TV, worn smooth in the carpet, accomodates his feet, but Squid doesn’t turn the TV on, for fear of encountering more babes from Club MTV who will never, ever, do anything but turn their noses down at him, even when he turns Pro and makes more than Pistol Pete. What a sellout, Pete is. Riding for Haro. Haro is freestyle only in Squid’s book. Those race bikes bite so hard Pete’ll never win again, probably. Eric Rupe’s the only consistent pro.
Squid lies down on the couch. Looking at the ceiling, Squid is beaten over the head with the realization that he had better do something soon with his life or he is going to be nothing, white trash, jobless, et cetera. Maybe he already is. The thing he fears most is going back to school, but maybe Dad’ll get him some new clothes and he’ll shuck his six foot three, basketball-dunking millstone chick from around his neck and get a real girlfriend, somebody who cares about him. Yeah. Right. What if the new frame shows up and it’s no good? Squid’s never ridden one. What if it is good but Squid just can’t win? Better rethink his priorities then. Winning’s part of the plan.
Life is so terrible, Squid is slow, ugly, and uncared-for, he’ll never, ever, make it to Club MTV, or even to TV in general except for the time when they opened the new track and he was on for twenty seconds, and the black wave seizes Squid and drags him down, down, into the black hole of being a Loser, but what do you know the basso rumble is back and this time it is the saving brown pop-riveted grace that drives up to Squid’s door and, grinning, places his future into his hands.
And so the column would have ended, except that Jill added a final sentence – “Squid is a Winner again!” I snarled at her that the end of the story was perfectly obvious… she noted that half the readership was under the age of 14. She told me later that she had not read anything so depressing in a long time… I considered that a compliment – JB