Steve and Barry
Joy Ride
by Steven Deutsch

I was eleven when my older brother taught me to ride. My father had children late and hadn’t the stamina to chase me up and down Hopkinson Avenue while I learned to balance on two wheels. Besides, my parents couldn’t afford to buy me a bike. The kids my age had been zipping along on their bikes for five or six years and I could imagine their catcalls and insults as I tumbled from the seat or did something on the bike that was unimaginably stupid. I was frightened as I came down the tenement steps. At eleven, I was frightened of nearly everything.

“The exact opposite of his brother,” my family would say, as if in chorus. My brother was a tough guy in the run-down neighborhood in Brooklyn which we called home. In the fifties, Brooklyn was home to dozens of street gangs. Decked out in motorcycle boots and jackets and armed with zip-guns and switchblade knives, they fought each other for girls, for territory and for the sheer joy of it. My brother, Barry, was a Brownsville Bouncer. I didn’t want to disappoint him.

He was patient that day. Running me up and down the street on a newish Schwinn as I slowly got the hang of it. By the afternoon, I had it and set off not too shakily on my own. But as I turned the corner to Chester Street, an older boy I didn’t know screamed, “That’s my bike,” and took off after me.

I rode like the wind. I rode triumphant. Sure, my parents would make me give the bike back, but for now I pedaled like my life depended on it, a grin growing and growing on my satisfied face.

PHOTO: The author (left) and his brother Barry, mid-late 1950s, Brooklyn, New York.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The story is fiction with a smattering of the truth. The neighborhood, Brooklyn, and my brother as a tough guy are real enough. He would have been perfectly capable of stealing a bike to teach me to ride. And, as he was seven years older than I was, the idea of making him proud—whatever that might mean—was always with me as I grew up.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steven Deutsch, a semi-retired practitioner of fluid mechanics as applied to mechanical hearts and valves, lives a quiet life in State College, Pennsylvania, with his artist wife, Karen. He has published poetry and short fiction.