Pride kept me from succumbing to my searing lungs. No way I was going to let Larry drop me tonight, no way, not if I wanted to save a shred of self respect. Not if I wanted to look him in the eye when the ride was done. I just focused on the rivets of his Brooks and tried to stay on his wheel. It was always this way riding with Larry, but tonight he was pushing the limits even further. Larry loved testing the line between balance and chaos, between control and catastrophe; loved riding his bike. Larry rode with pride, precision, and swagger, he was the best bicycle rider I’ll ever meet. Larry’s bike skills come from his reckless youth back in Stinkin Lincoln where he raced BMX, even then he could make the bike do whatever he wanted. He was confidante and fearless. Tonight though he was seething, challenging control, looking for an answer or trouble. I was just trying to keep up. Stop light stops Larry and saves me from getting dropped. There’s a beautiful brand new Jag with Larry doing a track stand impossibly close to it without touching. Maybe the guy looked at Larry wrong but probably Larry just wanted to do some damage; he turns the bars and puts a four inch scratch in the driver’s door with his right brake lever. The automatic window of the Jag goes down and before the guy can say a word Larry, with his massive shoulder length hair (never once did he wear a helmet) turns to the guy and glares “want another?” Smooth as silk that window goes right back up in silence. Larry bolts and I’m after him. “You see that guy, Mayo?” he said about a block away, momentarily coming out of his funk. “You’re crazy tonight Larry,” which was just what he wanted to hear.
I had been doing a loop in Washington Park when this guy passes me on a BMX bike riding a wheelie. It was cool to see until I tried to catch him. I couldn’t. He matched each of my efforts, played a masterful game of cat and mouse. Played my arrogance beautifully too: I’ve got a handmade Italian beauty, I’m wearing lycra, he can’t beat me on one wheel. After about a mile he lets me pull up alongside him and he says, “bet you hate me don’t you.” I did. “Check this out,” he says. He drops down on two wheels and bolts for a park bench with a homeless guy sound asleep. Over the curb, onto the grass he charges the park bench, bunnyhops the whole thing lengthwise, bum and all, his crank just about eye level. “Pretty cool huh?”, he says, catching back up. “What’s your name?” I asked because I didn’t know what else to say. “Larry, Blarry, whatever, you?” “Mayonnaise.” “You the same Mayonnaise that’s got that radio show?” The signal so weak and the hour so late I never thought anyone ever listened. “You heard my show?” “Yea, that night you called the prostitute was pretty funny.” I’d caught hell for that. “Come back tomorrow, I’ll bring my TommaSPAMi we’ll do Lookout Mountain.” Off he goes, but then suddenly slices back around and shouts as loud as he can, “Mayonnaise, you don’t know **** about music.”
My uncle “acquired” a 54cm Masi in a deal that fell through. One night I showed him how a Pollack pulls up his socks, and twenty minutes later after he finished laughing, he took me out to the barn and showed me that brand new Masi, “why don’t you have it, I’m never going to ride it.” Larry had a maroon Tommasini he saved every freaking cent to buy. “You didn’t buy it but you’re gonna earn it,” he said when I told him about my uncle. He was sending me to Campy College where I’d learn a bit of respect, if I was lucky. “Take it apart and put it back together,” he said. I spent nights in Larry’s apartment learning to take the bike completely apart and then back together again, tuned to his exacting standards. I’d go over and he’d give me simple instructions, “break down the bottom bracket.” or “take the rear derailleur completely apart” while he smoked b’s, read bike magazines and blasted the stereo. Larry wouldn’t answer any questions, but he wouldn’t let me leave until it was right either, “is it the wrench that turns the nut or the nut that turns the wrench,” is about all he’d ever say. I was getting pretty good when one night I came back from the bathroom and Larry was taking a jig saw to my rims . “What the **** are you doing Larry?” I said. He shrugged and left the room. “Guess your gonna have to learn how to build up a set of wheels” he said, coming back with a sweet pair of Mavic rims he bought for me. “Better get started cause I’m not driving you home”, he said, “and you owe me for the rims, I ain’t your damn uncle.”
Larry had just a few records that we listened to over and over again, which became a soundtrack to the time, and a memory enhancer years later. Pere Ubu’s "The Modern Dance", Television’s "Marquee Moon", Talking Heads "Fear of Music", "Ramones", Gang of Four "Entertainment", Public Image "Metal Box" (in a round metal tin he had shipped over from England). Over and over again until I couldn’t help but like them (he had a copy of "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" that we never played, I didn’t mention my copy was worn through). He hated loaning me his records but he was proud to hear the familiar crackles on his vinyl over the airwaves once a week. On a whim one day we drove all the way to Stinkin Lincoln to see a band his buddy called from Minnesota to say was great. Nothing but boilermakers, vomit and Husker Du for two days. These records were great but nothing as pure as the moody punk of Joy Division. He took pride in the English pressings he owned ("Closer" had just been released) and assured me no one in the whole state was cool enough to even know about this ****. Larry loved Joy Division and we listened to "Closer" and "Unknown Pleasures" all the time. I learned to love Faliero Masi, to true a wheel, to repair a sew up, to prep a race-ready bike with that music playing. I’d learned to love the little devices for their simplicity and design, for the purity of being human powered. Out on the stony streets late at night Joy Division was the sound of a camaraderie, the sound of panting, of approaching chaos, of testing fear. Youth pushed to the limits, our spirit taking flight, soaring on our journey to see the face of God.
As Larry rages through the streets he completely undoes me. I’ve tried to match him but I can’t. I’m spent and he knows it. He softens and speaks for the first time in awhile, “Ian Curtis killed himself.” I didn’t know who he was talking about and he knew it. “Joy Division,” he clues. Ah, that Ian Curtis. “I always said I wanted to die young,” he said as we watched the cars race by. All he’d have to do is relax his left hand and roll into traffic, he’d be dead before an ambulance ever came, violently too, as a speeding car would crush him like a beetle. “I ought to jump right in front of that truck,” he said, nodding to an oncoming semi. “Why would you want to ruin a perfectly sober truck driver’s day?” I said, saying the exact words he would’ve said to me. Traffic breaks and I take the lead home.