I thought about my old blue French racer last night in that small space between dreams and sunrise.

I had wanted the gold Armstrong same as a friend had which was far better than my straight up Schwinn with the bloated tires and heavy frame. My father took me down to the store where I pointed out the bike but he shook off the owner and pointed to the blue ten speed down the rack. When the store owner pulled it out I saw the price tag and knew at ninety dollars it would be at least a week’s pay for my father. I was terrified my father would be angry with me if I showed any kind of interest but how couldn’t I with the wax shined blue frame, silver cables pointing to gears and brakes, and handlebars that curved like fast roads on racetracks. He had me take it for a ride but I still wasn’t sure he would buy it and doing my best to avoid disappointment I said no, I wanted the Armstrong. But father leaned into me, the stubborn brown eyes I would inherit staring into mine, and said no, the Armstrong is junk. This is better.

I would ride that blue racer down to the triangle near the school, near Benny’s barber shop and ride round and round, counting off the laps until Benny would come out and motion me inside.

He’d usher me over to the chair, sit me down on the tough red leather and with hands palming the blue porcelain armrest, he’d shake out a cotton apron and snap it crisply but with a slight tug to make sure it wasn’t too tight.

“The world is going to be different,” I would tell him, “men will go to hair stylists to get their long hair shampooed and trimmed, and dried with hand-held blowers!”

Benny would laugh and say “Oh that’s silly!  I suppose all the ladies would come to barber shops like mine for a hot towel and a shave!”

“It’s going to be different,” I’d say as he finished with some dabs of lather and razor along my neck.

Then I would go next door to Jack’s to pick up some chocolate flavored licorice, or maybe a bar of vanilla Turkish Taffy that I could shatter into bits on the counter and ball them up piece by piece in my mouth.

“It’s going to be different,” I would tell Jack, “people will pay four dollars each for a cupcake!”

Jack would wipe his hands on his apron before he took the change from me, a penny a piece for the licorice or five cents for the taffy.

“Four dollars!”, he would scream as he wiped his hands on his apron before he took my change. “Four dollars! What are they made of…gold?”

Outside I got on my bike and rode over to Ike’s Toyland on Clarkson, shelves stuffed with board games and models. I picked out a box with a gray battleship and walked up to the counter where Ike stood by the register. Three boys were poking at each other in the front over by the box with the stickball bats, fighting over which color to choose. They picked out the blue one, checking the tape on the end, grabbed a rubber ball and put down two quarters.

“It’s going to be different, Ike,” I would say as I put the model and a tube of glue on the counter. “Kids will have little screens like tv sets in their hands and they’ll play battle games with children all over the world, even in China!”

“Who cares about China!” Ike would say, “Besides how could they possibly hold a tv set in their hands!”

I’d walk outside, shoving the bag with the model under my shirt for the ride back home, passing the boys with the stickball bat and ball on their way to the schoolyard for a game.

At home my mother would be by the stove getting dinner ready as she always did. When I came in, she stopped, and brought over a small bowl with cut up fruit and sweet syrup in it for me to eat when I sat at the table.

She sat down with me, her breath easing out as she folded herself into the chair, one hand in her lap, the other bent on the tabletop with a kitchen towel in her hand.

“It’s going to be different, Mom,” I would say, “people will buy their food in boxes and put them in machines to heat them up in seconds!”

She would laugh, pulling a crumpled tissue from her apron pocket and wipe it across my cheek.

“Who would eat something like that?” she would say.

We would pick up a deck of cards and play a game of Go Fish before my father came home. Dairy for dinner she would say which meant pot cheese and noodles even though I didn’t really know what dairy was except it had something to do with cows.

“It’s going to be different, Dad,”I would say as he took off his creased khaki uniform shirt and unlaced his work boots. “Cars will have computers that will make all the decisions about lights and heat and which way to drive!”

“And I suppose,” he would say, a bandage still wrapped around from a misplaced hammer swing when he tried to get a tire off the rim, “that they would have to hire astronauts from Cape Canaveral to fix them when they break down!”

I thought of these things while resting quietly in bed, an old dog in one corner of the room and another across my feet. How different it was. How different they wouldn’t believe it would be.

kubrick Shoe Shine Boy [Mickey and a friend walking down the street.]
Photo by Stanley Kubrick, 1947
via Museum of the City of New York

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