I was in Year Two and every day after school, at around 4pm, Tanya Johnson would ride past my house on a musk-stick pink big-girls bike. She was in Year Six, and ALWAYS had a chocolate bar or ice-cream as she rode along. I’d stare at her in wonderment. I was a hippie child and under any no circumstances was allowed to eat anything as exciting as a chocolate bar. In fact, I was one of those poor unfortunate children who was told carob was chocolate.
One day, Tanya applied the brakes on her musk-stick pink big-girls bike and stopped out the front of my house to say hi. I was so smitten with her – she always wore different coloured socks and had fluffy hair that looked like fairy floss blowing away. She started chatting. And she had a Bounty chocolate bar. Maybe it was the way I was staring at the Bounty in her hand like a cat following a laser pointer, or maybe it was the way my eyes widened whenever she’d gesture towards me with it, or maybe it was how, when she took a bite, I’d watch her mouth chewing, around and around like a clothes in a dryer, but eventually she looked at me and said, ‘Um, do you want some?’ I made a face like a clown pulling out a bunch of surprise flowers from a hat and closed my mouth around the end of the Bounty. My tastebuds exploded like a sprinkler system in a department store. It was every colour I’d ever seen as a taste. Like there was a Cyndi Lauper concert on my tongue and all my teeth were the front-row seats. Tanya laughed at my obvious delight and sped off, yelling, ‘See ya round!’ It was THE most important day of my life, thus far.
From then on, I’d wait outside my house by the side of the road for the familiar flap of her plastic streamers, the rusty squirt of her bell, the small skid as she’d back-brake out the front of my house. I’d sing out to her, ‘Bouncy girl’, ’cause that’s what I thought a Bounty bar was called. And she let me taste everything. I mauled Milky Ways, chewed on Chico babies, slobbered on her sherbert and wet her White Knights. My favourite was Flake, the folded chocolate bar, which I’d place on my tongue daintily like the lady in the ad and say, ‘Mmm, delicious’, which killed Tanya with laughter.
Eventually we got caught. I must have accidentally given my mother a Snickers smirk or something . . . And I had to watch Tanya and her musk-stick pink bike breeze by from then on. She’d ride past with an ‘I’m sorry’ expression on her face, and I’d wave sadly. And I’d never even found out what a musk stick tasted like.
[**Ding Di— ]
The first love of my life was a boy called Felix. He was an actor and a clown. I met him when I was still in high school. I’d left home when I was 16 and was living in a sharehouse auditioning for the big time. He was much older than me and he taught me all about the adult world, about responsibilities, credit cards, and so on – and how to make money being a professional tool. I learnt how to make balloon animals, face-paint, perform really shitty magic and... how to ride a unicycle. We each bought our first unicycle together. Learning how to ride one with him was the stupidest, hardest thing I have ever done and is probably best described with a montage:
Balancing, wobbling, jester hats, falling off, shopping-mall car parks at night, holding hands for balance, accidentally running over an old person, skidding, practising going round in little circles in our tiny courtyard, clown pants, card tricks, falling down, how-to videos and a very sore vagina.
I was also working during the week at a crappy book barn where I’d practise balloon twisting under the counter.
One week I got really sick. I got a severe rash on my lips and eyes and they swelled up – I looked gross. I called in to work sick so I could seek medical attention. Felix accompanied me to the doctor and, naturally, we went by unicycle. We struggled, bumping and grinding through the rough-arse streets of Sydney – it was good training. Turns out I had a staph infection. When I got back home there was a message on my answering machine from my boss: ‘Hello Emilie … So I saw you today, holding hands and riding a one-wheeled bike along the street… You’re not sick, but you are FIRED!’ I called back and tried to explain that I was riding to the doctors.
But you just can’t explain a unicycle as a serious mode of transport.
I was living in a share house in Fitzroy, Melbourne, with five New Zealander stoners. They used to spot on the stove. Spotting, for those who weren't living in a sharehouse in the 90s, is where you heat up two knives to red hot, get a piece of oily dope or hash, and sear it between the knives. Then you capture the smoke in a plastic bottle with the bottom cut off and suck it up. it’s pretty glamorous. There was always a permanent huddle around the fifth element on the stove, like wildebeest around a watering hole.
One of the New Zealanders, Ariel, had a vintage, metallic-green, 70s fold-up Raleigh bike, which was so many layers of awesome, it was a lasagne of awesome. It had dragster handlebars and a silver sprung seat, and it folded up neatly, like a pair of glasses round a nan’s neck.
One day I was wearing this glittery top that Ariel really liked, and she said, ‘Hey, swap you my bike for it?’ And I was like BOOYAH!, transaction complete. It was true love, me and my vintage, metallic-green, 70s Raleigh fold-up bike spent very little time apart. I rode through the artery streets of Fitzroy every day, past palimpsest walls and newly converted warehouses. I was in my twenties, I was a poet, I was ratshit poor and had very few responsibilities, and I was unbelievably happy. I have never felt so utterly free as I did then. I rode with the sun on my back and the wind in my hair, because back then you didn’t have to wear a helmet.
Once, while I was cruising down Brunswick St, a man poked his head out of his car window and said, ‘I’ll give you $200 for that if you wanna sell...’ And I smiled broadly and said, ‘Hell no, MOFO! (actually I probably didn't say that cause I wouldn't really have known what it meant) Sure, I could barely pay my rent, but I wasn’t going to part with my 70s, metallic-green, fold-up Raleigh bike for anything.
Until one day, after Ariel had spent some serious time around the old fifth element with her herd, she came into the loungeroom, sat next to me and said, ‘Um, Emilie I feel I need to say something to you... You’ve been using my bike a lot without even asking me, and I don’t mean to be a bitch, but, could you not? I was completely dumbfounded. Could she really have forgotten she gave it to me? She thought I was nicking off with it every day? She thought this relationship was an affair?
The next day, I saw her on the way to the kitchen wearing that glittery top I’d given her, and I said, ‘That’s nice. Where’d you get it?’ She paused, looked down at the top, looked up at me, and burst out laughing. Yeah, that’s right, transaction complete. It was my bike, mofo.
[***Ding Ding Ding]
The last bike I got was a silver mountain bike, an Apollo Altitude. I got it for my 30th birthday, from my boyfriend. He hid it in our roof and got it down in the night when I was asleep, so when I stumbled out in the morning, all bleary-eyed and 30 years of coffee-desperate, it was standing in the lounge room, proud, shiny and magnificent. It may as well have been my 11th birthday for how excited I was. A brand new bike! It was like every Christmas I’d ever experienced folded in upon itself and then duplicated, like gremlins. It was amazing – my first-ever adult bike. It said that my future was certain and I was going to ride into it, with gears.
But I think maybe my boyfriend just got it to taunt me with. So he could fire off ahead of me on his orange superbike, with his admirable but irritating athletic ease. We’d sometimes ride along Merri Creek to Clifton Hill, where a ludicrously steep hill takes you up to the park above the creek. We called it Arsehole Hill. You need to get a good run-up, slap your bike into first gear and pedal like mad – only, you never get a clean run-up, because it starts just around a sharp corner, so you can’t know for sure if someone was coming down. For a while, somewhere in 2008, someone had stencilled Arsehole Hill with markers at various intervals all the way to the top. It went:
This is stupid
Are you serious?
and just before the top,
By the ‘Are you serious’ mark I’d be red-faced and puffing wildly, standing on the pedals, wheels shaking, almost at a standstill, before I’d inevitably have to dismount and do ‘the push of shame’ to the top. My boyfriend would glide past in front of me, still sitting down, in fourth gear. He’d wait at the top for me to push my suddenly heavy, stupid silver Apollo bastard Altitude Death-wheeler with great patience. My face would be red as a lantern, my eyes bulging like Rodger Dangerfield in a sauna. My boyfriend would calmly offer me a bottle of cold water, which I’d grab and suck at like a koala in a bushfire.
I’ve had the Apollo for years now but have since moved to the hills, which is very adult but not very bike-friendly. The only cyclists you see there are in goggles and matching Lycra. So my Apollo lives mainly in the shed. Behind it is my metallic green, Raleigh fold-up, vintage 70s bike, which now has cracked white tires and a bell that’s so rusty it’s turned solid. Above that hangs my unicycle, which I’ve now dragged through two cities, and more that fifteen share-houses. I can’t let them go. How do you say goodbye to a bike? Caked in so many different kinds of mud from so many different moments. They’re a monument, a diary in chains, spokes and brake pads.
I’ve lingered over the eBay sell button, but could never bring myself to let them go.
Perhaps I’ll bury the three bikes together, like a time capsule. I’ll lay them down, one on top of the other – first, ironically, the Altitude, which saw me up Arsehole Hill to Clifton Hill on many inspirational jaunts. Then the Raleigh, folded carefully, closed like a book. Then the unicycle, that sweet cyclops, resting on top – like three kings in an ancient tomb, or a preserved testimony to one woman’s Critical Mass, a triple-decker Chariot of the Gods.
Then, maybe in 500 years, archaeologists would dig them up and wonder at their meaning. It represents evolution, they’ll say. ‘From the single-wheeled juvenile, to the one that unfolds to reveal a more mature two-wheeled form, to the fully formed adult.’ Oh yes, they’ll agree. It clearly represents the cycle of life.
Either that, or a lasagne of awesome.