Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Elm Street Busybody

I ride a bicycle everywhere, from Happy Foods to The Nut Barn and, occasionally, for that special gift, to Kitty's Kandle Nook. Almost all my errands are done by bike, inching my carbon footprint into the tiptoe territory. Should the need arise to appear as an extra in a remake of "Bonnie and Clyde, the Overlooked Bicycle Years,” I could be there, in costume, in minutes.

My daytime bicycle trips to the store are met with smiles and polite "hellos" from everyone, including Ted Wang of Wang's Health Foods, who always calls out, "Ten percent discount for bike rider!"  It's all very lighthearted and uplifting except for the Elm Street Busybody. Blessed with scowl marks, etched in her face from a lifetime of self-righteous indignation, she appears out of nowhere. Every time our paths cross, she screams the same thing, "Helmet!" It doesn't matter where she is, from her car window or standing on her front lawn, it's always, "Helmet!" shouted like a drill sergeant at a bunch of new recruits.

I'll admit, I'm the kind of bad seed that mothers warn their children not to emulate; an outlaw living on the fringe who once toted eleven items into the ten-items-or-less checkout lane at the grocery store, a crime that's had me looking over my shoulder for twenty years. When it comes to the helmet issue, I'm pro-choice, and, as I've said at many a Thanksgiving toast, "That turkey looks delicious. I'll darned well do with my head what I want."  I'm pretty sure Davy Crockett, if he were alive today, would scoff at the helmet, despite the fact that he fancied the furry head-gear. I suppose I live by the Katherine Hepburn quote, "If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun."

When I see a guy with a helmet, I think the poor bastard must've been the guy who actually wore those rubber boots his mother sent him to school with instead of tossing them in the weeds like any other self-respecting kid. But I would never dream of yelling, "Hey pal, ditch the helmet, your mom will never know!" It's his choice and not mine in which to meddle.

If this was two hundred years ago, I'm almost certain the Elm Street Busybody and her brethren would be leading a potpourri of lynch mobs, burning witches and ridding society of the colorful miscreants who challenge their moral superiority. If the Elm Street Busybody had her way, incorrigible renegades like me would do serious jail time for not wearing a helmet. I can imagine the conversation between my cellmate and me:

--Me:  What are you in for?
--Cellmate:  Killed two cops in a bank holdup; left two more wounded and trashed three squad cars in a high-speed chase. How 'bout you, what'd they get you for?
--Me:  No helmet while riding my bicycle.
--Cellmate: You're one of those, huh. Well, back off, man; I don't want no trouble.

As fate would have it, the other day, my doorbell rang, and who was standing on my porch, none other than the Elm Street Busybody with an armful of envelopes, pamphlets, and a clipboard. "Hello," she said, "I'm collecting for the American Heart Association. Heart disease is the nation's number one killer."
I interrupted her,"You live on Elm Street and carp at me like a banshee when I'm on my bicycle."
"Well," she said, "You should wear a helmet. It's for your own good."
"If you feel it necessary to be so sanctimonious, why don't you hike over to Carl's Fireside Fondue and holler "cheese!" at all the cheese-eaters? You just told me heart disease is the nation's number one killer."

Then I fetched my checkbook and wrote a check for one hundred dollars to the American Heart Association. I showed it to her and said I would deliver it to her personally if, for the next three times I pass her on my bike, she politely waves and doesn't scream anything about a helmet. I waved the check in the air. "Three times," I said, "That's all I ask. Three times."
She continued from her imaginary soapbox, "Don't think you're so god-damned special. I yell at bigger people than you. Big-shots, I give 'em the full whammy."
As she began her descent down the middle of my front porch stairs, I mustered up my inner Stanley Kowalski and bellowed, as he would've at Stella, the one word to punctuate our feud, "Railing!"
I'm guessing this is not over.....not by a long-shot.
A reservation has been made in my future for the full whammy.