Ron Carlson

       Finally something characteristic in this week, the chance to sit at the desk, alone. As a teacher I try to facilitate that ability in others, and as a writer I visit it myself from time to time. As we all know: The writer is simply the person who stays in the room.
       But: the car goes in today–tires, brakes, the trimmings. Elaine picks me up at the garage and we wheel into the hideous Phoenix traffic. We’ve been away and the only sane accommodation is to curse and laugh. A kid in an old blue Impala comes screaming up behind us, his brakes smoking. He looks like somebody out of R. Crumb. Everybody for one hour today in the petrochemical Phoenix haze looks like someone out of R. Crumb. We all want to keep on truckin’, but there appear to be these other citizens in the way.
       At home I find Nick (13) in our bedroom watching television polishing his bicycle. He walks it out of the room under my instruction as if leading it to the gallows. His posture is of a sad old padre. We have just entered an era of BMX bicycles. Nick has one of these shiny little vehicles and it is the object of his affection. I understand this. I had a bicycle, I tell him, and I used it to go places. My good son Nick isn’t into that. His dream is to ride on fences, benches, steps, curbs, rails, tables, culverts, all kinds of places that escaped my interest as a bike rider. Things, in fact, I avoided. He hops, ramps, stands on the chrome pegs at each axle.
       However, Nick’s efforts to ride the western fences have not all been victories, and he has, in the terminology, biffed. He returns home from his fencing fully biffed, the skin taken from his elbows, knees, knuckles. “I biffed,” he says. Where’s the kid who six months ago would limp home crying? Now he comes in and heads for the hydrogen peroxide.
       Fortunately, in the summer of 1962, racing down Memory Grove above Salt Lake, my front wheel flew off, and that ancient biff grants me now a substantial measure of authority with my son. When I tell the story, Nick and his friend sit close. The scar on my knee is a big real thing, and it means I have my son’s attention for one more brief season.
       Late in the afternoon, our friend Darlene stops by to gather her son Kenny (13). With her is their French exchange student. Benjamin is 15 and I try some of my West High French. We determine: he likes rugby, and he is not hungry. I show him the garish red and yellow monster truck posters in the TV room. EXTERMINATOR SHOW! LA PUISSANCE AU SERVICE DE LA DESTRUCTION! Benjamin looks concerned, and I honestly don’t know how to tell him we peeled them from telephone poles near St. Tropez last year. What’s the phrase for telephone pole? He’ll think I’m saying Polish Telephone. I say Souvenir, and he nods seriously. This fine young man thinks we went to southern France to attend the monster truck show. These nutty Americans.